Welcoming Our Matriarchs – Deborah

DEBORAH – By: Susan Glass


My name is Deborah.  I am often referred to as a Prophetess and a Judge; not the kind of judge who has studied the law as in the Hebrew word DAYAN, since I, a mere woman did not have the opportunity to study.  But instead a judge as in the Hebrew word SHOFET –a leader of extraordinary character.

I lived not very long after Joshua had led our people across the Jordan, maybe about 100 years or so later (approximately 1,300 BCE to you).  Life was not so easy.  God had promised the land to us and Joshua had led our people into many fierce battles against the Canaanites and others who occupied the lands.  But we had not yet completely routed the enemy from our promised land.  So, we lived amongst our enemies and didn’t feel so safe.

Before I tell you about my early life, let me get the big story out of the way, the one that everyone thinks of when my name is mentioned.  It involves a battle.

One day I felt the presence of God telling me to meet with Barak, one of our bravest warriors, and to tell him that he should gather 10,000 men to do battle with Sisera, the Canaanite general.  Barak was reluctant; he knew that Sisera had 900 chariots, so powerful that they were almost like tanks and he questioned whether the Israelites were up to the task.  He made a most unusual request of me – he said that he would only undertake such a mission if I would accompany him to the battle.  And I surprised him – first, I said yes (warring is not usually a job for a woman) and then I told him “I will surely go with you.  Nevertheless, the journey that you take shall not be for your glory, for God will deliver Sisera in to the hands of a woman.”  (He probably thought that I was the woman who would take the glory, but he was wrong.)

So, Barak set about gathering men from all the tribes.  Not all the tribes agreed to participate; so what else is new!  On the day of the battle God sent a heavy rainstorm, and the Canaanite chariots became stuck in the mud and were useless.  The Canaanite army was destroyed, just like the Egyptian army was destroyed when Moses led us across the Sea of Reeds.  No wonder the story of Deborah is the Haftarah portion when the story in Exodus is read.

Sisera, the Canaanite general managed to get away.  And now enters another clever woman.  Jael, an acquaintance of mine, had street smarts and she was very strong.  She used her guile and a tent peg, which she hammered into Sisera’s head, killing him.

The bottom line is our military victory brought us about 40 years of peace and my reputation was enhanced tremendously.

So now you know a bit about the public me.  Let me speak about things that are less well known.  My brother and I were raised by a loving father after our mother died far too young.  Our father loved us and he loved God and our tradition and spoke to us often about our history and our beliefs. After rejecting many suitors, I fell in love with Lapidoth and married him.  As was traditional, he brought me to live in his parents’ home, far from my family.  His father was a sweet man but his mother, who was a Canaanite, was sharp-tongued and didn’t like me (so what else is new?).  I tried to love her but it was hard.  Her idols were all over the house and she couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t pray to them.  In fact, we Israelites kept coming into contact with people who prayed to idols; you can see, touch, feel, move idols.  Our God was so much more difficult to relate to.  As a result, many Israelites would pray to the idols; we had a real problem with assimilation.

But I want to get back to my own story.  My husband, Lapidoth, led caravans; he was such a brave man.  But he was gone so much of the time – naturally, as a result, he did his thing and I did mine.  And what was my thing?  Well, after I helped my mother-in-law with the chores, I really needed to get away from those idols and her constant criticisms, so I walked in the nearby hills.  I thought about the history of my people and about what God wanted of me.  In my head, I talked to God.  After a long while, I truly felt God’s presence.  He didn’t talk to me the way he had talked to Moses, but I so often felt at one with God and knew what he wanted of me and our people.

So, there came a time when I spent less time walking in the hills and more time sitting under the palm tree near the family home.  Little by little people started coming to sit with me, usually to ask about something that was troubling them.  At first, I remember talking to a few women who had been recently widowed and didn’t know how to live their lives in a meaningful way.  Over time, I guess I gained a reputation as someone who could see into the future, mostly in small ways.  And, as they say, the rest is history.  Especially after I helped the Israelite people beat Sisera and the Canaanite army.

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