A Prophet and a Judge


Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.—Hebrews 11:6 (NIV)

Michael Nekora

Rahab and Sarah are the two women named as heroes of faith in Hebrews .chapter 11. If no women had been mentioned, some might argue that women had a less important role to play in the plan of God, or worse, that none of them had faith. Of course neither contention is true.

In Hebrews 11:32 we are told there isn’t time to talk about Gideon, Barak, Samson, and Jephthah. These all belong to the period following the death of Joshua, a period when the nation was ruled by judges. In nearly all cases a "judge" in the Book of Judges was a military figure, a deliverer.

"Then the Lord raised up judges who saved them out of the hands of these raiders. Yet they would not listen to their judges . . . When the judge died, the people returned to ways even more corrupt than those of their fathers . . . They refused to give up their evil practices and stubborn ways."—Judges 2:16,19 (NIV)

Great leaders lead; people follow. Great leaders die and... and what? Generally a power struggle takes place. The movement splinters and the vision is lost. People drift away and go back to doing what they were doing before, or perhaps what they always wanted to do.


Barak may be the least known of those named in Hebrews 11. It is interesting he is mentioned at all since when it comes to faith, his partner had more faith than he did. His partner was Deborah. The following account describes what happened at about the half-way point in the period of the judges:

"After Ehud died, the people of Israel sinned against the Lord again. So the Lord let them be conquered by Jabin, a Canaanite king. The commander of his army was Sisera. Jabin had 900 iron chariots and he ruled with cruelty and violence for 20 years. Now Deborah was a prophet and she was serving as a judge for the Israelites at that time. One day she sent for Barak and said to him, The Lord has given you this command: Take ten thousand men and lead them to Mount Tabor. I will bring Sisera to fight you at the Kishon River and I will give you victory over him. Then Barak replied, I will go if you go with me, but if you don’t go with me, I won’t go either. She answered, All right, I will go with you, but you won’t get any credit for the victory because the Lord will hand Sisera over to a woman. [They gather for war.] Then Deborah said to Barak, Go! The Lord is leading you! Today he has given you victory over Sisera."—Judges 4:1-8,14 (Good News)

Sisera’s entire army was defeated in the battle, probably because the Kishon River experienced a flash flood and mired the 900 chariots making them useless. Sisera flees on foot in an opposite direction while his army is slaughtered. He accepts an offer of hospitality from Jael, a Kenite woman whose husband is apparently away. He hides in her tent and tells her to say he is not there if anyone should ask. Jael kills him by driving a tent peg through his head while he is asleep (Judges 4:21,22). So Sisera was handed over to a woman as Deborah predicted, but it was not the woman Barak thought it would be. It was Jael.


Deborah is a respected woman in Israel and she is a prophetess. She is not really a "judge" in the military sense of the word, not a deliverer. Barak is a "judge" in that sense. Deborah is assumed to be the author of Judges chapter five which contains a poem of unusual Hebrew beauty celebrating the victory God gave them that special day. This battle was so momentous that Barak’s name appears in Hebrews 11. The battle is also mentioned in a psalm: "Do unto them as unto the Midianites; as to Sisera, as to Jabin, at the brook of Kishon" (Psalm 83:9).

"And there was peace in the land for forty years"(Judges 5:31). If Israel had remained faithful to God, the peace would have been much longer than 40 years. But again they lost the vision of their forefathers and followed their own preferences. Invariably that got them into trouble. The last verse of the book of Judges offers a weak excuse for what they did: "In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes" (Judges 21:25).

Except for the words in Judges chapters 4 and 5 we read nothing more about Deborah in the Bible. How did she became so influential in Israel? Of all the people the nation could consult for judgment in Israel, Deborah appears to be the one they preferred. One day she sends for Barak, and what surely must be a testimony to her status in the nation, he comes. He wants to believe the Lord has a message for him, but his faith is not that strong. He wants Deborah at the battle too; only then will he go to war. She has such standing in Israel that her presence makes all the difference to him.

Deborah’s position in Israel is even more impressive when we consider how patriarchal Israel was under the law. Those who served the tabernacle were all male. The kings were male in Israel though the land of Sheba did have a queen in the time of Solomon. Jewish men had the right to divorce a wife in whom they found no favor, but wives seemed to have no similar right. A woman’s place was supposed to be in the home, raising the children.

God Does the Unexpected

In spite of the patriarchal arrangement, God picks a woman to speak for him. Deborah is recognized as a prophet in Israel. This is just like God. He does not do the expected thing. When we meet Gideon, the next judge, he says of himself: "My clan is the poorest in all Manasseh and in all my father’s house none counts for so little as I" (Judges 6:15, Knox). When we meet Jephthah, we learn he was illegitimate (Judges 11:1). Although we know we should not judge a book by its cover, most of us do it anyway. God never does.

Our own society has long been patriarchal just like Jewish society. It was only in the beginning of this century that women gained the right to vote in U.S. elections. Only in recent years have women been allowed to hold certain jobs. Women only recently have received the same education as men. It has taken a long time but one may even say that some congregations of the Lord’s people have learned that women are better at some jobs than men.

We see in Deborah a respected women in Jewish society. Although no woman was called to wander with Jesus in the highways and byways of Israel as an apostle, women did freely converse with him. On the day of Pentecost when the holy spirit came upon the faithful ones, Peter explains what is happening by quoting from the prophet Joel: "And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy" (Acts 2:17).

Women had a valuable contribution to make in Old Testament times and they have a valuable contribution to make within the body of Christ. Let no one ever say to any member, male or female, "I have no need of you" (1Corinthians 12:21).

The history of Israel shows how quickly people forgot what God did for them. A new generation often walked differently than their parents.

Let it be a lesson for us. Let us resist the pressure to become like our heathen neighbors because we have forgotten what we have learned, or because the vision of the kingdom appears to tarry. It will not tarry. It will surely come.