Life and family
Her full name is "Deborah, wife of Lappidoth." (Hebrew לַפִּידֹ֑ות) (Judges 4:4 ) That could mean the wife of a man named Lappidoth or simply "the woman of the lamps," because Lappidoth is the plural of לַפִּידֹ֑ lappid a lamp, torch, or flame. Some Rabbinical commentators identify this Lappidoth with Barak (Hebrew בָרָ֣ק, a flash of lightning) and suggest that Barak/Lappidoth was a furnisher of lamps for the Tabernacle. However, Deborah seems to have been an Ephraimite, while Barak was clearly a Naphtalite. (Judges 4:6 ).
When Judge Ehud died in 2724 AM (on or about 1280 BC), the people of Israel slid into sin yet again. Then Jabin, a Canaanite king, reoccupied the city of Hazor. He had the technology of iron working, and he built a regiment of 900 iron-armored chariots. He stationed these at Harosheth-hagoyim, or literally, "Harosheth of the nations." (Judges 4:1-3 ). From there these chariots could strike at any of the major highways of Israel, so that they became unsafe, and could also deny the Israelites access to good farmland. (Judges 5:6-8 )
This sad situation continued for twenty years, and then Deborah began her career as a judge. She was a prophetess, and that meant that God often gave her some knowledge of future events. But the real meaning of the term prophet is one who testifies in God's Name, and Deborah was accustomed to doing this. She would also hold court under the "palm tree of Deborah" (a possible reference to an earlier Deborah who was nurse to Rebekah) and there administer justice.
One day she received a clear vision from God of a way to draw King Jabin and his military commander, Sisera, into a battle that he would lose. So she summoned Barak, a Naphtalite, and gave him the order from God: to recruit a force of ten thousand men, part Naphtalite and part Zebulunite, and take station on Mount Tabor. Sisera would attempt to draw Barak out to the Kishon River, and there Barak could defeat him.
Barak was capable but timid, and he told Deborah that he would go to Mount Tabor only if Deborah accompanied him. Deborah consented to this, but advised Barak that the victory would not redound entirely to his credit, because Sisera would fall to a woman. But in saying that, Deborah was not talking about herself, but about Jael, wife of Heber the Kenite, with whom King Jabin had a peace treaty.
Barak traveled to Naphtali and then to Zebulun and succeeded in recruiting ten thousand men. He led these men to Mount Tabor, as Deborah had instructed him. Then, at the opportune moment, Sisera heard tell of Barak's army and immediately moved to the Kishon River with his 900 chariots and his infantry.
This was a fatal mistake, because the Kishon River was overflowing after a torrential rain, (Judges 5:21 ) and its shores had turned to mud. (Judges 5:4 ). Deborah apparently led a small diversionary force of her own, composed of Benjamites and Ephraimites, to attack Sisera from the rear. When Sisera turned to meet this minor threat, Barak's division rushed down Mount Tabor and attacked him in full force. Sisera's chariots and infantry were wiped out to the last man. (Judges 4:15-16 )
Sisera deserted his troops and tried to escape. Barak's forces pursued Sisera's army as far as Harosheth-hagoyim, and then Barak chased Sisera himself. He found his dead body in the tent of Jael, wife of Heber the Kenite. She had lured Sisera into her tent and then killed him by driving a tent peg through his head. (Judges 4:22 )
Deborah would continue to administer justice for twenty more years after this.
Deborah appeared as an occasional character in the two-year television series, Twice in a Lifetime, in which persons who had recently died as a result of bad life choices would sometimes get a chance to return to earth at a moment of decision that they had handled badly. Deborah would hold court, and Jael would prosecute.
- Jones, Floyd M., The Chronology of the Old Testament, Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2004, p. 278
- Hirsch EG, Levi GB, Schechter S, and Kohler K, "Deborah," The Jewish Encyclopedia, n.d. Accessed December 15, 2008.
- Dolphin L, "Deborah the Prophetess," September 12, 2003. Accessed December 16, 2008.
- Telushkin J, "Deborah," from Jewish Literacy, New York: William Morrow and Co., 1991. Reprinted by the Jewish Virtual Library. Accessed December 16, 2008.
- Easton MG, "Deborah," WebBible Encyclopedia, ed. Paul S. Taylor, n.d. Accessed December 16, 2008