Sand and palms, breeze rolls in off the sea, sun beats down and she hears the cries of her children. She settles land disputes, answers the widow’s claim and listen’s for God on the wind; Israel, Yahweh’s ever unfaithful bride and Deborah her prophet and mother. Her story a bit obscure, tucked inside the history of the shophatim eclipsed by the conquest of Joshua, the sun standing still, the bloodshed and battlecries of men; Deborah’s is a story of faithfulness, a witness to shema, to hear and obey God. We tug at the threads of the Tanak to find her and the song of her victory to know her more, this woman and warrior.
Considered some of the oldest material in the Hebrew Canon, this ancient poetry, the Song of Deborah found in Judges chapter 5, is shaped by the actions of female characters around whom the story is fashioned. Deborah, the mother of Israel who leads the armies to battle at Meggido, Jael who is blessed among women and Sisera’s mother who waits in vain for the return of her son.
For those of us currently obsessed with the Game of Thrones series--and who isn't--perhaps Deborah is an ancient Daenyerus Stormborn type, if only with more clothing and much darker hair and skin. Both are women who step into their destiny, who rule and lead and rescue those placed in their care, those who call them Mother or Mhysa. While Deborah’s beast is a mule not a dragon such as is Daenyerus, both are women driven by providence to rise.
It seems important to tell Deborah’s story maybe now more than ever after the dust has settled and many have forgotten her song. It seems important to remind ourselves of her strength and courage even now while the battle rages on about women and if they can be used by God and if the ways in which they might be used are limited because of their own Divine image bearing gender.
There are books to tell us how we should live, Christian Women’s Bible Studies fashioned around idols of perfection held up as our standard, we women who love God. But before all that, before stories were interpreted and illustrated according to the context and cultures of the modern era, there was a woman who ruled the people of God.
Deborah of course, would not have had any sort of military training, would never have run drills or have learned how to lead armies of men into the fray. It is true, God’s call met her, led her outside of the norm, counter to a proscribed female role but that’s what God’s call will do, take you outside of yourself, carry you into lands you do not know, ask you to depend on God rather than what you know or where you’ve been or how much you can do.
The Hebrew word shema is to hear and obey. Different than the English equivalent, there is no need for a second word, to hear God was to obey God. How would our lives change if upon hearing God’s call we did that crazy, unreasonable, unbelievable, illogical thing, answered the tug in our spirit that cries, “Go, Be, Do.” For Deborah it meant leaving the palm trees, exchanging her perch for a saddle and finally 40 years of peace for Israel.
Today I am praying for all my sisters, women and warriors, for clarity of call and certainty of mission even as you trod uncharted territory and leap into waters unknown. May you find comfort in Deborah’s song and know that God has always called and the faithful have always answered, that gifts usurp gender, that fear and doubt are not from God. Today as you rock babies and close deals, prepare dinner, wash laundry and convene committees sing her song and find the will to rise.
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