BY PASTOR T. O. BANSO
Two people are called Deborah in the Bible – the nurse of Rebekah, Isaac’s wife, (Genesis 35:8), and the only female judge in Israel (Judges 4:4). This message focuses on the latter. Judges 4:4 says, “Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, was judging Israel at that time” (NKJV). Judges chapters 4 and 5 record her story.
Deborah, in Hebrew, means a bee. Bees are known mainly for two things: their sting and the honey they produce. Their sting produces pain and the honey produces sweetness. Deborah’s leadership caused pain for the Canaanites and joy for the Israelites. She galvanized the Israelites to secure their liberty from twenty years of oppression under the Canaanites and caused joy for her people.
She motivated Barak to mobilize a ten thousand army at Mount Tabor – ten thousand men of the sons of Naphtali and of the sons of Zebulun. God lured Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, and his chariots and warriors to the Kishon River to fight the Israelites.
The Israelites defeated Jabin’s army, and the commander of his army fled. He sought refuge in the tent of an ally, Heber, the Kenite. His wife, Jael, covered him with a mantle, gave him milk to drink, and granted his request to stand at the door, telling anyone asking of him he was not there.
While Sisera was asleep, Jael took a tent peg and a hammer, went softly to him, and drove the peg into his temple. It went down to the ground. Jael killed him while he was fast asleep.
Deborah, the wife of Lappidoth, was a prophetess and judge in Israel. She was the only woman among the Judges in Israel whom God raised up at different times to judge that nation. She came on the scene at a time in the life of the nation when they suffered under the severe cruelty of the Canaanites. She did not only deliver the word of God to Barak to raise and lead an army to fight the Canaanites, she went to the battle with Barak. Barak had said that he would only go to the battle, in obedience to the word of God, if Deborah would go with him. At the end of the story of Deborah’s ministry, the Bible says Israel knew peace for forty years. Do not forget they were under the oppression of the Canaanites for twenty years.
9 Lessons from the life of Deborah
There are lessons to be learned from this woman in the two chapters of her story documented in the Bible. I will limit myself to nine.
1. Maintain a healthy balance between marriage and ministry. This is how Deborah is introduced in Judges 4:4: “Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, was judging Israel at that time” (NKJV). The name “Lapidoth” or “Lappidoth” is translated from the Hebrew word Lappiydowth, which means flames or torches.
According to the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, “some have taken words rendered wife of Lappidooth (‘esheth lappidhoth) as a description of Deborah, and have translated them, ‘woman of lights,’ i.e. maker of wicks for the sanctuary; or ‘woman of flames,’ referring to her prophetic zeal.” It, however, describes these explanations as more interesting than probable.
The name Lappidoth appears only once in the Bible. The Bible tells us nothing about this man. There is nothing to suggest that Deborah was not still married to Lappidoth at the time she was judging Israel and was a prophetess. She is not described as his former wife! In other words, she combined her calling as a wife with her ministry as a prophetess and judge. She called herself “a mother in Israel” (Judges 5:7). One could assume that she successfully fulfilled her ministry and family responsibilities without allowing one to hinder the other.
If this is true, ministers of God have a lesson to learn from her. A minister should live a balanced life. As a servant of God, let there be a healthy balance between ministry and other departments of your life. In particular, do not let the family and ministry conflict with each other. The challenges of marriage (1 Corinthians 7:28b) should not be allowed to truncate the fulfilment of destiny.
2. Have an intimate relationship with God. Deborah could hear from God the message she delivered to Barak to raise an army because she had an intimate relationship with God. Judges 4:6-7 says, “Then she sent and called for Barak the son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali, and said to him, ‘Has not the LORD God of Israel commanded, ‘Go and deploy troops at Mount Tabor; take with you ten thousand men of the sons of Naphtali and of the sons of Zebulun; and against you I will deploy Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his multitude at the River Kishon; and I will deliver him into your hand’?’” (NKJV). Remember the Bible calls her a prophetess. Deborah had prophetic power.
Cultivate an intimate relationship with God. Have an unbroken fellowship with Him so that you can hear His voice. Don’t be someone who used to hear the voice of God. “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:22-23 NKJV).
3. Be usable by God. She was a vessel unto honour. When God has an assignment, He looks for persons He can use, not just anybody. In Isaiah 41, God wanted to give to Jerusalem one who brought good tidings. He said, “For I looked, and there was no man; I looked among them, but there was no counselor, who, when I asked of them, could answer a word” (verse 28 NKJV).
Isaiah 59:16 says, “He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no intercessor; therefore His own arm brought salvation for Him; and His own righteousness, it sustained Him” (NKJV).
All the judges of Israel before and after Deborah were all men; but, probably God couldn’t find a man He could use at that time. Therefore, He used Deborah because she was usable. Deborah said of the precarious condition in the land at that time because of the cruelty of the Canaanites and her emergence, “In the days of Shamgar, son of Anath, in the days of Jael, the highways were deserted, and the travelers walked along the byways. Village life ceased, it ceased in Israel, until I, Deborah, arose, arose a mother in Israel” (Judges 5:6-7 NKJV).
Be a vessel unto honour; let God be able to use you whenever He is looking for someone to use. Live a holy life; run away from sin. “But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay, some for honor and some for dishonor. Therefore if anyone cleanses himself from the latter, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work” (2 Timothy 2:20-21 NKJV).
4. Be a trusted leader and an encourager. When Deborah sent for Barak and delivered God’s message to him to raise an army and fight the Canaanites, who had been oppressing Israel for twenty years, he did not doubt her. He trusted her that the message was from God and was ready to obey. He, however, requested that she must go with him. Some have interpreted this request to mean a sign of weakness on his part. Nevertheless, the Bible lists Barak among the men of faith (Hebrews 11:32). Apparently, he only wanted to carry the anointed along and not that he was weak.
Deborah, a woman, not only promised to go with him to the battle, she went, which encouraged Barak to do what God had asked him to do. “And Barak said to her, ‘If you will go with me, then I will go; but if you will not go with me, I will not go!’ So she said, ‘I will surely go with you; nevertheless there will be no glory for you in the journey you are taking, for the LORD will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.’ Then Deborah arose and went with Barak to Kedesh” (Judges 4:8-9 NKJV).
The fact that Deborah went with Barak paid off because she motivated him to attack the army of Jabin, king of Canaan at the right time, and the LORD gave Israel victory. “Then Deborah said to Barak, ‘Up! For this is the day in which the LORD has delivered Sisera into your hand. Has not the LORD gone out before you?’So Barak went down from Mount Tabor with ten thousand men following him. And the LORD routed Sisera and all his chariots and all his army with the edge of the sword before Barak; and Sisera alighted from his chariot and fled away on foot. But Barak pursued the chariots and the army as far as Harosheth Hagoyim, and all the army of Sisera fell by the edge of the sword; not a man was left” (Judges 4:14-16 NKJV).
Be a trusted person or leader and an encourager. Do not be an untrustworthy person; do not be a discourager. Everybody needs encouragement! Paul told Timothy, “Until I get there, focus on reading the Scriptures to the church, encouraging the believers, and teaching them” (1 Timothy 4:13 NLT). Similarly, he also told Timothy to, among other things, encourage his people with good teaching (2 Timothy 4:2). Hebrews 3:13 and Hebrews 10:24-25 urge believers to encourage or exhort one another.
5. Cultivate the discipline of gratitude to God. Deborah gave to God the credit for the victory in the war between Israel and Canaan. She did not say that Jabin’s army was defeated because she went with Barak. Neither did she say the victory was achieved because of anything special that Barak did. Judges 4:15 says the LORD routed Sisera and all his chariots and all his army with the edge of the sword before Barak; and Sisera alighted from his chariot and fled away on foot.
Deborah acknowledged that God gave Israel victory. She, together with Barak, sang, “When leaders lead in Israel, when the people willingly offer themselves, bless the LORD! ‘Hear, O kings! Give ear, O princes! I, even I, will sing to the LORD; I will sing praise to the LORD God of Israel. LORD, when You went out from Seir, when You marched from the field of Edom, the earth trembled and the heavens poured, the clouds also poured water; the mountains gushed before the LORD, this Sinai, before the LORD God of Israel’” (Judges 5:2-5 NKJV).
If God had not helped Israel, they would have been no match for the Canaanites. They had a superior army and they had been oppressing them for twenty years. Psalm 33:16-17 says, “No king is saved by the multitude of an army; a mighty man is not delivered by great strength. A horse is a vain hope for safety; neither shall it deliver any by its great strength” (NKJV).
Learn to always give glory to God for any progress you make or success you achieve. Don’t appropriate to yourself what God has done. Do not say that you achieved anything by your power. You could have done all you did and still failed! Who gave you the wisdom, strength, etc. that you used? Was it not God? Do not say like Nebuchadnezzar, “Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for a royal dwelling by my mighty power and for the honor of my majesty?” (Daniel 4:30 NKJV). God humiliated him for seven seasons because of his pride.
Cultivate the discipline of gratitude to God. The psalmist said, “What shall I render to the LORD for all His benefits toward me? I will take up the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the LORD. I will pay my vows to the LORD now in the presence of all His people” (Psalm 116:12-14 NKJV). That was a grateful person. That is who you should be. Do not say your power and the might of your hand have gained you anything (Deuteronomy 8:17). Render praises to God; if you have made a vow to Him, pay it (Psalm 56:12).
6. Develop a caring heart. Deborah possessed a caring heart – the heart of a mother. She was concerned about the state of things in Israel. She said her heart was with the rulers of Israel who offered themselves willingly among the people (Judges 5:9). According to her, “Village life ceased, it ceased in Israel, until I, Deborah, arose, arose a mother in Israel” (Judges 5:7 NKJV). As a mother, she did not forget her sucking children (Isaiah 49:15).
Cultivate the heart of a mother – you do not have to be a woman to do that. Cultivate the heart of a father also, and you do not have to be the man to do that. Paul talked about these in 1 Thessalonians 2. Paul said he was gentle among the Thessalonian believers, just as a nursing mother cherished her own children (verse 7). He also said that as a father did his own children, he encouraged, comforted, and charged every one of the Thessalonian church (verse 11). Develop these qualities of both a mother and a father. Feed, care, encourage, comfort and charge. Deborah was a mother, but she also possessed the qualities of a father! That was why she could go with Barak, a man, to war.
7. Be a secure team leader. Deborah was a secure team leader. She acknowledged the contributions of others to the victory, but she didn’t emphasize her role. She was a secure person. She gave credit to others for the victory achieved. In her song, credited to her and Balak, she acknowledged the leaders who led and the willingness of the people who willingly offered themselves (Judges 5:2).
In verses 13-15a, she said, “Down from Tabor marched the remnant against the mighty. The people of the LORD marched down against mighty warriors. They came down from Ephraim — a land that once belonged to the Amalekites, and Benjamin also followed you. From Makir the commanders marched down; from Zebulun came those who carry the rod of authority. The princes of Issachar were with Deborah and Barak. They followed Barak, rushing into the valley” (NLT). Verse 18 says Zebulun risked his life, as did Naphtali, on the battlefield.
Nehemiah also behaved like Deborah, acknowledging the contributions of others to the rebuilding of the wall of Jerusalem, as outlined in Nehemiah 3. Do not appropriate to yourself what others have done. Give credit to who credit is due. It shows you are a person of integrity. It also encourages them to do more. In addition, it may serve as a challenge to those who have not done anything or much.
8. Be a focused, determined, and fearless leader. Deborah proved to be a focused, determined, and fearless leader. She was not distracted or discouraged by the non-cooperation and indecision of four tribes – Reuben, Gilead, Dan, and Asher. Just as she acknowledged the contribution of other tribes to the victory of the Canaanites, she said, “But in the tribe of Reuben there was great indecision. Why did you sit at home among the sheepfolds— to hear the shepherds whistle for their flocks? Yes, in the tribe of Reuben there was great indecision. Gilead remained east of the Jordan. And why did Dan stay home? Asher sat unmoved at the seashore, remaining in his harbors” (Judges 5:15b-17 NLT).
Do not expect everybody to support you in your pursuit of any venture. Their lack of support cannot stop the success of anything God has called you to do. Under Nehemiah, the rebuilding of the wall of Jerusalem also faced some opposition. Nehemiah 3:5 says the Tekoites made repairs, but their nobles did not put their shoulders to the work of their LORD. Notwithstanding this, the work was successfully completed. Not even Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the servant, the Ammonite and Geshem the Arabian, Prophetess Noadiah, and the rest of the prophets working against the project could hinder the work.
Some people make people’s lack of cooperation of some persons as an excuse for not doing what God has asked them to do. You should start with those who are willing and cooperative. There may never come a time when you will have 100 percent co-operation. Neither Deborah nor Nehemiah got it. Even Jesus did not. “Farmers who wait for perfect weather never plant. If they watch every cloud, they never harvest” (Ecclesiastes 11:4 NLT). The New King James Version says, “He who observes the wind will not sow, and he who regards the clouds will not reap.”
Be focused, determined, and fearless, and do what God has assigned you to do. Fear not. Be courageous. Have faith in God (Mark 11:22). God, who calls you, is faithful; he will do this (1 Thessalonians 5:24).
9. Do not allow gender discrimination or other forms of discrimination to hinder you from fulfilling your divine assignment. As I said earlier, Deborah was the only female judge in Israel, but she was a strong woman. She had no problem judging all Israelites, including men who came to her. She equally had no inferiority complex sending for Barak to deliver a message from God to him to raise an army, which God would use to defeat the Canaanites and terminate their twenty-year-old oppression of Israelites (Judges 4:4-7). She was a woman; yet, she accompanied Barak to the battle (verse 10).
God does not discriminate based on sex, race, or tribe. “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. For ‘whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved’” (Romans 10:12-13 NKJV). Galatians 3:28 says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (NKJV). According to Colossians 3:11, there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all.
Do not feel inferior to anyone or let anyone make you feel inferior because of your race, tribe, sex, or other things that make you different from others. Fulfill your destiny or ministry. Paul wrote to the Colossians, “And say to Archippus, ‘Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfill it’” (Colossians 4:17 NKJV). Archippus was Paul’s fellow soldier and an official in the Colossian church (Philemon 2).
Paul also wrote to Timothy, a young man who was his son in the ministry, to also fulfill his ministry (2 Timothy 4:5). He had earlier told him in 1 Timothy 4:12 to let no one despise his youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, and in purity.
Make no excuses. Fulfil your ministry; make full proof of the call of God upon your like whether in the gospel ministry or in any other sphere of life. Paul said, “But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God” (Acts 20:24 NLT). Be committed to fulfilling what God has ordained you to do on earth.
Conclusion: Learn from Deborah’s life. Paul said in 2 Thessalonians 3:7, “For you yourselves know how you ought to follow us, for we were not disorderly among you” (NKJV). Deborah is a good example for both men and women to emulate. Proverbs 21:11b says a wise person learns from instruction. Apply the lessons in this message to your life, and your life will also be outstanding.
If you are not born again, you need to give your life to Jesus now. I urge you to take the following steps: *Admit that you are a sinner and you cannot save yourself and repent of your sins. *Confess Jesus as your Lord and Saviour. *Renounce your past way of life – your relationship with the devil and his works. *Invite Jesus into your life. *As a mark of seriousness to mature in the faith, start attending a Bible-believing and Bible-teaching church. There they will teach you how to grow in the Kingdom of God.
Kindly say this prayer now: O Lord God, I come unto You today. I know I am a sinner and I cannot save myself. I believe that Jesus is the Son of God who died on the cross to save me and God raised Him on the third day. I repent of my sins and confess Jesus as my Lord and Saviour. I surrender my life to Jesus now and invite Him into my heart. By this prayer, I know I am saved. Thank You, Jesus, for saving me and making me a child of God.
I believe you have said this prayer from your heart. Congratulations! You will need to join a Bible-believing and Bible-teaching church in your area where they will teach you how to live your new life in Christ Jesus. I pray that you flourish like a palm tree and grow like a cedar of Lebanon. May you grow into Christ in all things and become all God wants you to be. I will be glad to hear from you. The Lord be with you.
T. O. Banso is the President of Cedar Ministry International, Abuja, Nigeria.
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