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The Israelites again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, after Ehud died. So the Lord sold them into the hand of King Jabin of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor; the commander of his army was Sisera, who lived in Harosheth-ha-goiim. Then the Israelites cried out to the Lord for help; for he had nine hundred chariots of iron, and had oppressed the Israelites cruelly twenty years. "At that time Deborah, a prophetess, wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel."
The Word first stresses that Israel was in real trouble, and had been for twenty years. I've often read interpretations that say God only used a woman because no one else was available. Personally, I find it difficult to believe that God could not raise up a single man capable of doing the job in twenty years time, particularly when He had Barak on hand. The only account of a judge in Judges that involves all of the tribes of Israel is the story of Deborah. In that same line,some interpretations that would have us believe Israel was not truly trouble. Again, I would see twenty years of oppression as a legitimate threat.
Next the Bible introduces Deborah herself. She was a prophetess. None of the other judges bore such a title. The Word proclaims that not only did Deborah hear the Lord as judge, but as prophet too. More, Deborah acted as a war prophet, a role many would think inappropriate for a woman. We can't get around it, this lady was a leader, this lady had the authority of two offices granted by the LORD. Often she has been belittled by the church, but God made a point of doubly blessing Deborah. She was probably a married woman, though her husband Lappidoth received no other mention than to establish he is her husband.
Only after establishing her as prophetess and wife does the Bible tell us she judged Israel. Judges 2:18 tells us, "Whenever the LORD raised up judges for them, the LORD was with the judge, and he delivered them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge; for the LORD would be moved to pity by their groaning because of those who persecuted and oppressed them." In English the term judge generally means to render judicial decision, however the Hebrew word sopet means to rule or exercise lordship.
Too, the Book of Judges share a similar stylistic device as the Book of Luke, it introduces stories that contrast with each other. In Deborah's case, her willingness to immediately accept the call of the Lord stand in sharp relief to Gideon's indecision and Barak's hesitation.
"She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the Israelites came up to her for judgment. She sent and summoned Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali, and said to him, The Lord, the God of Israel, commands you, Go, take position at Mount Tabor, bringing ten thousand from the tribe of Naphtali and the tribe of Zebulun.
"I will draw out Sisera, the general of Jabin's army, to meet you by the Wadi Kishon with his chariots and his troops; and I will give him into your hand. Barak said to her, If you will go with me, I will go; but if you will not go with me, I will not go. And she said, I will surely go with you; nevertheless, the road on which you are going will not lead to your glory, for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman. Then Deborah got up and went with Barak to Kedesh. Barak summoned Zebulun and Naphtali to Kedesh; and ten thousand warriors went up behind him; and Deborah went up with him."
Deborah, as prophet and judge, hears the voice of the Lord, then in her authority as prophet summons Barak to hear the Lord's command. In placing a restriction on his agreement, Barak may have been challenging Deborah's right, or authority to give such a prophecy. The narrator of the account subtly contrasts Barak's hesitation with Deborah's zealousness.
Deborah willingly joined Barak. The prophecy then appears to change, Sisera will be delivered into a woman's hand and not Barak's own. Is this a punishment? Perhaps, or perhaps its a clarification. Deborah had said Sisera would be delivered into Sisera's hand, then said Sisera would be delivered into a woman's hand, seemingly a change. But, in verse 14 (see below) she will call what is to happen to Sisera being delivered into Barak's hand. Nonetheless, Deborah went into battle with Barak, at the insistence of the general.