Deborah the Prophetess

Art by Yvonne Gilbert

Deborah is (I think) my very favorite woman of the Bible. She was wise, courageous and a strong leader who listened to God. The Bible calls her a prophet, which means she listened to what God told her and then shared it with God’s people. But she was more than just a spiritual leader. She also held political, judicial and military leadership positions. 

Deborah’s story is in the book of Judges. During this period of history, the Israelites have been delivered from Egypt and the desert and are living in the Promised Land. But they (like us) tended to have “spiritual amnesia”–they went through periods of time when they would forget about God’s great goodness and provision to them and would fall away him. So God sent “Judges” to communicate his desire for them to return to Him. Deborah was one of these judges. At the start of her story, it had been 80 years since the last judge and the Israelites have yet again, forgotten about their God. 

Because of this, God allowed the Canaanites (their enemies) to take over. The Canaanites persecuted the Israelites so badly that many of them had taken to the hills–staying away from main roads and villages so that they would be safe.

Let’s read Deborah’s story in Judges 4. We also can gather important details in Judges 5, which is a song Deborah wrote to celebrate God’s victory. 

There are a lot of names in this story, so here’s a list of characters to help you keep track:

  • Deborah: Judge, leader in the Israelite community
  • Barak: commander of the Israelite army (God’s people)
  • King Jabin: ruler of the Canaanites (enemy)
  • Siseria: commander of the Canaanite army (enemy)
  • Kenites: a tent-dwelling tribe that was neutral (at peace with the Canaanites)
  • Jael: a woman of the Kenite tribe


Watercolor by Claudia Hafner


You’ll notice in Judges 4:3 that is says the Israelites finally cried out to God and asked Him for help. Cue Deborah.

Deborah kept “court” under the Palm of Deborah, probably a large palm tree near her home. People came to tell her about their disputes/disagreements, and she would help them settle their cases. She must have been quite respected for men to come and seek her wisdom. 

God told her that the Israelites were to fight the Canaanites and he would give them victory. So, Deborah sent for Barak, commander of the Israelites army. Now, Barak listened but then says he will only go into battle IF Deborah goes with him. 

There could be MANY reasons Barak wanted to Deborah to go. First, she represented God and, clearly, she could discern His voice. He would want her there in case God revealed other plans. He may have been unsure of victory (we’ll talk about this more in a sec) and was insecure of what exactly may happen. But whatever the reason, Deborah made it clear that if she went, God would give the honor of victory through the hand of woman and NOT through Barak. 

Before we head into battle, you need to understand the Israelites had NO chance to win this battle– at least by the world’s standards. A little research shows:

  • The Israelites had no weapons (save probably some farm tools) because the Canaanites had stolen and oppressed them so much. 
  • Their army would not have been as well-trained (they were mostly farmers).
  • They were greatly outnumbered.
  • The Canaanites had 900 iron chariots. The fact that their chariots and weapons were made out of hard iron gave them a HUGE advantage. And these chariots were “suped-up.” Each one would have as many as 10 horses, one driver and four archers. The chariots would carry extra arrows and weapons and the sides of the chariots had scales and sharp knife blades to cut enemy soldiers as they drove over them. Those are some pretty scary chariots–a weapon in their own right. 
  • Plus the valley where God told them to hold the battle was flat, meaning it would be the BEST place for Sisera’s chariots to roll on through. 

If you were a betting gal, who would you put your money on? The Canaanites or the Israelites. Well, good thing God was on their side.

Here’s what happened:

While the Canaanites were in the Kishon valley, the Israelites came down from the hills.  There was an earthquake. It started to rain, sleet and hail. Flash flood! The flat valley began to fill with water as the nearby Kishon River overflowed. And what happens when water meets dirt? MUD! The chariots got stuck. The Canaanites greatest weapons were useless! 

And the Israelites got the victory! Every single one of the enemy army was killed except the cowardly Canaanite army commander Sisera who ran away from the battle to hide. .

The story is not quite done and takes a great, dramatic twist, but we’ll follow up with that tomorrow in part two….when we meet another amazing woman named Jael.


What made Deborah unique? (Describe her)

  • Wife of Lappidoth
  • Only woman of the 12 judges mentioned in the book of Judges
  • Political, military, judicial and spiritual leader
  • Prophet-She heard God’s voice and spoke His truth
  • Brave, wise, confident

What was her purpose?

  • To lead God’s people (Israelites)
  • Hold court as judge
  • To speak God’s truth to the Israelites.

Did she allow God to fill her for His purpose? 


Explain how she was/wasn’t used for His purpose.

She told Barak that he was to fight Sisera’s army and that God would give them the victory. And, she went with Barak into battle.

 Key scripture: My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. John 10:27

(Deborah heard God’s voice AND had the courage to speak His truth to Barak. )

5 thoughts on “Deborah- the leader who listened to the Lord

  1. Pingback: Jael-the brave tent-dweller ‹ VESSELS

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