And Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, she judged Israel at that time.…
1. In an age and a season of perpetual unrest, how refreshing is it to the spirit to have before us the example, albeit in a remote past, of one judge who could dwell under the palm-tree between Rama and Bethel, and to whom the children of Israel could go up for judgment. If the right kind of men, a few of them, could be set free to think, to advise, to originate, to counsel, what a gain would this be to a people laden with care, full of intellectual and spiritual perplexities, and feeling themselves terribly alone in their difficult and embarrassing way. For lack of this many lives go utterly astray, and many minds are wrecked on shoals and sandbanks of doubting. It might be said that the two offices of action and thought are only kept distinct in the present state of things, and that those who want counsel have no lack of help from an innumerable crowd of writers. Unhappily the thinkers are too often too much isolated from action, so that they run into vain and profitless speculation, having neither help for this life nor hope in that which is to come. It is the combination which helps: the judge sitting under the palm-tree, but Israel coming up to him for judgment. The moral of it all is, busy men, snatch moments for reflection! let no day be quite without it!
2. We see the true place and dignity of woman here in the positive and in the negative. Deborah was a prophetess. God spoke to her. She saw within and beneath the appearance of things. She did not allow the visible to crush out the invisible. She was not appalled by the nine hundred chariots of iron. She knew that there was still a God in Israel who rules in the kingdom of men, and though He bears long with evil, and sometimes sets up over nations the basest of men, He can yet be called on by prayer, and in the long run will make it to be well with the righteous. In a great emergency she became an influence; she called Barak to her, set him his task, assured him of his commission, and even consented at his request to accompany him on his march. This was heroic, but it was also feminine. Deborah did not assume the command of the army; she was the influence, she was the inspiration, but she left the leadership and the generalship to another. Not for nothing have we the record of another woman on the same page with that of Deborah. We shrink instinctively from the bloodstained hand of Jael. She has overstepped the line between the feminine and the masculine — nay, between the enthusiast and the fanatic. The excitement of victory might draw forth the impassioned cry even from one of the male sex, even from one of God's utterers, "Blessed above women"; but that cry has never found even an echo in evangelical hearts; that cry has given trouble and pain to champions of revelation. We cannot receive it as the voice of God's Spirit, except in some modified and softened-down form, in which it hails, and justly hails, the victory as a victory of the cause of the monotheistic idea as against the polytheistic; as a victory of the cause of progress, of the cause of development, and therefore in some sense the cause of mankind and of the world.
3. One last thought occurs, and it might seem at first hearing to conflict with the foregoing; but it is not so. Deborah says to Barak, "Hath not the Lord God of Israel commanded?" And he replies to her — a woman — "If thou wilt go with me, then I will go: but if thou wilt not go with me, then I will not go." She rejoined yet again, "I will surely go with thee: notwithstanding the journey that thou takest shall not be for thine honour; for the Lord shall sell Sisera into the hand of a woman." We are not concerned with the last phrase — "God shall sell Sisera into the hand of a woman." Scripture readers see the hand of God every-where — go so far as to say, "Shall there be evil in the city, and the Lord hath not done it?" We ask what was the point, what was the characteristic, the differentia in the faith of Barak, that the Epistle to the Hebrews should single him out for mention? And we find it here in the self-forgetfulness of Barak in doing God's work. What if one woman set him on it, and another woman is to finish it? What if the journey he took was not to be for his own honour? Shall that stop him? What will the troops say if they see a woman marching by his side; see him consult her about his tactics; hear him confess that she is his monitress and his inspirer? Shall that thought deter him? No. He has God's cause in hand; God's honour, not his, is the thing to aim at. Here is faith forgetting itself in the cause. It is a grand heroism; for lack of it much good work is spoilt and much forborne. There is a phrase which more often disguises than precludes the self-glorifying. Humble instruments all call themselves; yet the same modest disclaimer asserts the instrumentality. Propose to omit the name from the subscription list or the list of patrons, where will the humble instrument be then? "The journey which thou takest shall not be for thine honour." No, for one woman suggested it and another woman shall complete it. What then? Faith is willing to have it so; for faith is the sight of the invisible, and this arrangement will show the Invisible, the Doer.
Parallel VersesKJV: And Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, she judged Israel at that time.