Bible Women and War 1

Warfare has been a constant as long as human beings have roamed the earth. The sad truth is this: war happens. We do everything we can to avoid it, but combat occurs, both in distant parts of the world, and in our own towns (Orlando, Beirut, Minneapolis, Aleppo, New York, etc.).

What might we learn from Bible women regarding warfare and conflict? What were their experiences? What were their unique contributions? And how did their efforts lead to peace, which is the goal? Some may be surprised to find women in combat roles in the pages of the Bible. Yet they were there: leading the troops, murdering enemy generals, and being carried away as war trophies.

In addition to fighting, women also grieved the effects of war. They mourned the loss of their sons and husbands on the battlefield and their daughters to those who stole them away. They grieved the loss of potential grandchildren; they suffered famine and became refugees.

For the next eight weeks, we’ll take a look at eight Bible women and their relationship to conflict and war. We’ll look at those who led from the front and those who suffered at home. And with God’s help, we’ll make some progress toward that all important goal: Peace on earth. 

This week: Deborah

Likely characteristics: Courageous, Wise, Powerful, Diplomatic, Prophetic, Decisive, Strong.

Deborah’s story

Deborah is no “Judge Judy” here. Being a judge in Deborah’s day was not just about solving disputes. Rather, she was the top political leader of Israel (from about 1107 BC until her death in 1067 BC), trusted by her people because of her intelligence, diplomacy, faith, and foresight.

And it was that foresight that sparked her story. Towns near and far were being attacked by the Canaanites, a tough and cruel people. Girls were carried off as spoils of war, towns were looted, young men were killed, and widows left to fend for themselves.

Knowing that waiting to wage war would most likely cause the annihilation of her people, Deborah met with Barak, the local general.

“Ride out,” she said, “for the Lord says it is time. Go to the top of Mount Tabor and take 10,000 of our best men with you. God will call out Sisera, the Canaanite general, and he will meet you there.”

“For the Lord says it is time.” In those short seven words, Deborah confirmed her role both as God’s prophet and servant. No more waiting, no more hesitation; the future of Israel was at stake.

Stunned, Barak offered a rather surprising response, unusual for a male leader of his time: “I will go, but only if you go with me.”

Side by side, he and Deborah rode out on their horses, waited until God told Deborah that it was the right time to attack, and then watched as God caused a huge flood to destroy their enemies. Only one man escaped: Sisera, the leader of the Canaanites. And he made a deadly mistake, stepping into the tent of a mysterious—and lethal—woman. (See next week’s blog.)

Consider this

Deborah holds more political and military power than any other woman in the Bible. Warrior, prophet and judge, she is essential to a comprehensive understanding of Judeo-Christian history. Using God as her strength and shield, Deborah was indeed “mother in Israel”: (Judges 5:7) she loved her people, forecast the looming danger, took steps to fight it, and was on the front line, ready to lay down her life if need be.

Hers is a unique story of balance. She did not shy away from conflict. Rather, she walked right into it, and took thousands of soldiers with her. But as it turned out, God managed the war for her. God annihilated the other side. Wow. Lots of angles to this story; lots to think about.

There are some who do not trust women in leadership positions, yet this story challenges that belief. One would think that if God recognizes the leadership strengths of women, others might as well—especially over thirty centuries later.

What might we learn from Deborah?

  • A woman of faith can lead her people to victory—and spiritual health.
  • Sometimes God calls us to be on the front lines.
  • Within the heat of battle can be found God’s voice–if we listen, as did Deborah.

For reflection

Deborah is referred to as a “mother in Israel.” Why might that term have been used to describe her?

Re-read the Song of Deborah, known as one of the oldest parts of the Bible. How does it compare to the Song of Hannah? (1 Samuel 2:1-10) The Song of Mary? (Luke 1:46-55)

Deborah, with God’s guidance, guided her troops to be ready–yet she was able to stay on the offense. What does that mean for modern warfare? Is God’s hand involved in global violence today? If so, to what extent?

Collaborative leadership describes the relationship and actions of Deborah and Barak. How were they ahead of their time? Given that such a model of leadership is found in the Bible, what ramifications might that have?

Artwork: Bud Holland Photo

Text excerpted from Bible Women: All Their Words and Why They Matter.