‘Deborah’ – please, don’t swat this bee! (Judges 4:1 – 5:31)

  1. A well-honoured prophetic name

My son and his wife were already active in Christian ministry when their children were born. No wonder, then, that they gave each a name of a biblical champion of the faith – Joshua, Deborah and Naomi. But why did the parents of the famous deliverer of Israel confer on her the actual Hebrew word for a bee – Deborah?

  • Maybe they hoped that, like Deborah the nurse of the nation’s matriarch Rebekah (Gen 35:8), she would grow up to be motherly. If so, their desires were fulfilled; she sang about herself as ‘a mother in Israel’ (Judges 5:7).
  • In those times when their country was frequently invaded and occupied by foreign troops, did they long that Israel would again become ‘a land flowing with milk and honey’ (Exodus 3:8)? Well that too became a reality through her service to the nation: ‘the land had rest for forty years’ (Judges 5:31).
  • Did the baby’s parents wish her to become a queen bee and cause the tribes of Israel to swarm together from their rural isolation? Eventually they swarmed around her whenever she held court under that palm tree (Judges 4:4-5), and then swarmed to Barak to form a victorious army that drove out Sisera’s Canaanite army of occupation – despite their ‘chariots of iron’ tanks (Judges 4:3, 12-15)! And they buzzed when her song of victory reached Top of the Pops (Judges 5:1-31). When she gave voice to her lyrics: ‘I will make melody to the Lord’ (Judges 5:3), the whole nation responded: ‘the sound of the musicians at the watering places, there they repeat the righteous triumphs of the Lord’ (Judges 5:11); ‘Awake, awake, Deborah! Awake, awake, break out in a song!’ (Judges 5:12). After all, the Hebrew name Deborah derives from dabar = ‘a word that causes an event to happen’.
  • And did they hope she had a lethal sting? She certainly attacked injustice and oppression (compare Isaiah 7:18-19; Deuteronomy 1:44; Psalm 118:12).
  1. A much-swatted bee

On a summer’s day, when a honey bee takes an interest in our picnic we reactively try to swipe it away. (The harassed creature might land on human flesh and inject its painful sting.) Similarly, critical Bible scholars down the years have taken a swipe at Deborah. They have argued that she was part of God’s judgement on backslidden Israel ‘in those days [when] everyone did what was right in his own eyes’ (Judges 21:25) which was ‘evil in the sight of the Lord’ (Judges 13:1). So (say the critics) God gave them ‘losers’ as judges: (‘sinister’ = Latin for left!) left-handed Othniel (Judges 3:12-30), womanising playboy Samson (Judges 13:1-25 14:1- 20 Judges 15:1-20 Judges 16:1-31) and feminist Deborah (Judges 4:1-24 Judges 5:1-31).

‘Calm down, dears!’ Let’s look at the facts. For a start, she was essentially a ‘wife’ and ‘mother’. In fact, the Hebrew text of Judges 4:4 says: ‘Now Deborah, a woman, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time.’ Nor did she claim to be ‘the mother of Israel’; she simply described herself as a mother in Israel’ (Judhges 5:7). She judged Israel in the style of any good mother adjudicating between squabbling offspring – more efficiently than many an aggressive father may have done! Nor did she presume to lead the army like some Amazon warrior, a Boudicca or a Joan of Arc. Instead, she called Barak by the prophetic word of the Lord to execute his military calling. True, he declined to go unless she joined him, but that was because he trusted her sharpness of prophetic perception about the ideal hour to attack. It would appear that the heavens then opened unseasonably, turning the battlefield into a quagmire that bogged down the enemy’s state-of-the-art ‘tanks! (See Judges 5:4-5).

            *She displayed a genuine team spirit and is still a female role model of faith.

This entry was posted in Liberating Women. Bookmark the permalink.