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Deborah and Jael: Unexpected Leaders

In a time when Israel was doing what was right in their own eyes and evil in God’s eyes (Judges 4:1, 17:6, 21:25), God chose certain people to bring the Israelites back to Him. Many times, God went with an obvious choice for a leader, but at other times He chose unexpected people to lead and deliver Israel. In Judges 4 and 5, we learn about two women, Deborah and Jael, who help deliver the Israelites from Canaanite oppression.

Deborah

Deborah was a judge and prophetess, but also held other roles. God appointed judges to settle disputes, lead, and deliver Israel from the cycle we keep seeing within the book of Judges: idolatry→oppression→crying out to God→deliverance→peace (and repeat). It was not normal for women to be in leadership roles, but God used Deborah in mighty ways.

After the previous judge died, the LORD sold the Israelites into the hands of the Canaanites and one of their kings, Jabin (Judges 4:1-2). Deborah was leading Israel during this time. She told Barak, a military leader, that the LORD wanted him to take 10,000 men to Mount Tabor. God would lead Sisera, the commander of the Canaanite army, to the Kishon River, where Barak and his army could fight them (Judges 4:6-7). Barak refused to go without Deborah going with him, and Deborah agreed to go (Judges 4:8-9), helping give Barak the confidence to lead. When Sisera heard what was happening, he and his troops went ready to fight (Judges 4:12-13). The Canaanites quickly panicked when they went and Sisera ran away (Judges 4:15).


“Barak refused to go without Deborah going with him, and Deborah agreed to go, helping give Barak the confidence to lead.”


Jael

Now enters Jael. Jael was a Kenite woman married to a man named Heber. Kenites were a tribe of people on good terms with the Israelites, many Kenites having settled among them. When Sisera fled his army, he ran to Heber and Jael’s tent because there was an alliance between Heber’s family and the Canaanites.

Jael invited him and was hospitable toward him, but she had different motives than protecting him. When Sisera fell asleep, Jael took a tent peg and drove it into his temple to kill him. She had killed the Canaanite army commander, a major step in rescuing her people. The victory had been completed in the hands of a woman just as Deborah had prophesied (Judges 4:9). Deborah even called Jael “the most blessed woman” in her song praising God for the victory (Judges 5:24).

Role of Women

Both Deborah and Jael were unexpected people that God used to help deliver Israel. During a time when women were not typically in powerful roles, God used both Deborah and Jael for his plan to overcome the Canaanites. The story draws attention to inverse “gender roles.” While Deborah was a strong and decisive leader, Barak was shown as passive and subservient to a woman. Jael and Sisera were also opposites. Since women were the ones who won the battle, it would also have been insulting to the Canaanites that the Israelite women were more powerful than the most powerful Canaanite men.


“Since women were the ones who won the battle, it would also have been insulting to the Canaanites that the Israelite women were more powerful than the most powerful Canaanite men.”


I am so thankful to have attended churches with strong Christian women present. At my home church, the children and youth ministers are women. They walk out their lives and ministries with humility over everything. Many women in modern society try to show that they don’t need men in their lives, but that is just not true. God made both men and women, and we need each other.

As a woman in Bible college and as one who wants to teach about the Bible, I often think about and wrestle with my role in the kingdom. How do I serve God with what I believe He has gifted me without disobeying Scripture? Even though Scripture does set aside some roles for qualified men, it is encouraging to see so many women serving God in important ways throughout all of history.

The True Source of Victory

While not everyone reading this is a woman, a lesson that is applicable for all who hear this story is that God chose and chooses unexpected people to do His will. This is seen all throughout Scripture, from Abraham to Moses to David to Mary (these are just a few people out of countless examples).


“God chose and chooses unexpected people to do His will.”


Another lesson is that while these people helped God’s will be complete, it wasn’t the strength of these people that did it, it was the strength of God that accomplished everything. Judges 4:14-15 talks about how the LORD gave the enemy into the hands of the Israelites so they could defeat them. The true source of victory in this is not from Deborah and Jael; it is from God alone. As Deuteronomy 20:1-4 says,

“When you go to war against your enemies and see horses and chariots and an army greater than yours, do not be afraid of them, because the LORD your God, who brought you up out of Egypt, will be with you. When you are about to go into battle, the priest shall come forward and address the army. He shall say: “Hear, Israel: Today you are going into battle against your enemies. Do not be fainthearted or afraid; do not panic or be terrified by them. For the LORD your God is the one who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory.”

Maybe you feel like you are too unqualified, small, or even powerless to do great things for the glory of God. The good news is that He has used many unexpected people for His kingdom purposes, and he will use you, too.

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