The Ministry of Deborah
The Old Testament of the Bible gives an account of various stories of real men and women that were mightily used of God for His purposes. However, the Old Testament is far more than an collection of books with nice stories, it is also a mirror image, a shadow, a type and teacher of spiritual truth often overlooked in the New Testament.
Through the lives and experiences of the characters of the Old Testament, we see ourselves within the real-life situations in which they found themselves. It is only with the illumination of the Holy Spirit that we see their experiences for what they really were, an example of how God works in the lives of everyday people and an insiders view of His character, methods and mind. It is with this as a backdrop that we analyze the story of Deborah.
"Then Joshua, the son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died at the age of one hundred and ten. Then the sons of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord, and served the Baals, and they forsook the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt, and followed other gods from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed themselves down to them; thus they provoked the Lord to anger.
So they forsook the Lord and served Baal and the Ashtaroth. And the anger of the Lord burned against Israel, and He gave them into the hands of plunderers who plundered them; and He sold them into the hands of their enemies around them, so that they could no longer stand before their enemies.
Wherever they went, the hand of the Lord was against them for evil, as the Lord had spoken and as the Lord had sworn to them, so that they were severely distressed. Then the Lord raised up judges who delivered them from the hands of those who plundered them. And yet they did not listen to their judges, for they played the harlot after other gods and bowed themselves down to them. They turned aside quickly from the way in which their fathers had walked in obeying the commandments of the Lord; they did not do as their fathers." Judges 2:8,11-17 NASB
The Cycle of Frustration
After the death of Joshua, the nation of Israel drifted away from the commandments of the Lord and turned to serving others gods. In His mercy, God raised up judges to lead them back to serving Him, however, after each judge died, the children of Israel returned to serving other gods, until they were oppressed again, then the cycle started over again. It was within this period of time that the Lord raised up a godly woman by the name of Deborah to lead His people back to Himself. Israel had entered a pattern of apostasy, then oppression, then repentance, then deliverance, only to be followed by apostasy as the judge died and there was no one lead them. As the end of the book of Judges says, "In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes" (21:25).
The "type" or "shadow" here reveals the perplexity in the soul of mankind when there is no king to lead. The king here is obviously the Lord God, with the nation of Israel representing God's church, the bride of Christ in the New Testament. The cycle of apostasy, oppression, repentance and deliverance is the pattern we follow when we "turn aside quickly from, ... the commandments of the Lord". Think of examples in our own lives. As we allow other things to control and dominate us (play the harlot after other gods - money, status, greed, lust, envy, etc. - and bow down to them), we drift away from God (apostasy). The further we move away from Him, the more the false gods oppress us until we cry out for deliverance (repentance). He sends us a "judge" (His Word, minister, friend, etc.) to deliver us from the "plunderers" and "oppressors" and set us on the right course again (deliverance). The only problem is that no real change takes place in our hearts and the cycle starts all over again.
Now, chapter 4 of the Book of Judges tells us that Deborah was a prophetess, the wife of a man named Lappidoth and was "judging Israel at that time, and she used to sit under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the sons of Israel came up to her for judgment." (vs. 4-5) I've come to realize that when scripture goes into detail like this, there is something here in the symbolism. This is where this story gets interesting.
The Role of Intercession
Deborah's name is translated as "bee", taken from the Hebrew root word "dabar", also meaning "to arrange, speak, subdue". She was married to a man whose name meant "to shine like a lamp". She sat under the "palm tree of Deborah" as the place of judgment. The exact imagery of the palm tree can't be determined, but Psalms 92:12 may give a clue, "The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree, ...". Perhaps it was a symbol of her standing with God, or that "righteous" judgments were given from that place of position and standing. Regardless of the exact meaning, the location held great significance as demonstrated below.
"She used to sit, ... between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim". Now, Ramah actually means "high place" as in the "seat of idolatry". Idol worship then, as it does now, is done in the "high places" of the earth. Some people from the mountains of California and Washington can probably tell you what goes on there and give you a good idea of the spiritual warfare and activity that takes place. Bethel means "house of God", with Ephraim translated as "double fruit" or "fruitfulness". Now, to remove the imagery here and put this in every day language, this passage could be translated as follows:
"Now Deborah, a prophetess, one who "speaks, arranges and subdues" by the power of God, the wife of Lappidoth, the one who "shines like a lamp", was judging Israel at that time and she used to sit under the palm tree of Deborah, the place of "righteousness", between the "high place and seat of idolatry" and the "house of God", in the hill country of "fruitfulness", and the sons of Israel came up to her for judgment". (vs. 4-5; my words added).
Now, the imagery becomes a little clearer. Deborah was raised up by God to judge the ways of Israel from the place or position of righteousness (palm tree of Deborah) and to intercede for His people, to stand in the gap and speak against the idolatry (Ramah) in the hearts of the children of Israel and get them to turn to the house of God (Bethel) and to inherit Godly fruit (Ephraim) instead of the fruit of the enemy. Deborah's job was to declare the will of the Lord and to keep his people from eating the fruit of their ways.
Types and Symbols
As the story continues, Deborah called for Barak, the son of Abinoam from Kedesh-naphtali to tell him that God had called him to fight against Sisera, the commander of army of king Jabin of Canaan, who at this time was oppressing the Israelites. Barak expressed reluctance in doing this without the involvement Deborah. She agreed to go with him and under her leadership, Jabin and Sisera were defeated. The army was gathered at Mount Tabor, with Jabin's army destroyed at the river Kishon. These individuals and places also represent imagery which is worth a closer look.
Barak's name is translated as "lightning" and "flashing sword", with his father's name translated as the "father of pleasantness". Barak came from Kedesh-naphtali. Kedesh means "to be clean, consecrate" and Naphtali means "my wrestling". The picture scripture draws here is fascinating. The "flashing sword" (Barak) is the son of the "father of pleasantness" (Abinoam), and they dwell in a place that has a compound meaning of "consecrate-wrestling". This could be a type of symbolism that points to the involvement of the Word of God (Jesus), the son of the Father (God), "cleaning" and "consecrating" us as we "wrestle" with the Word in our lives. Didn't Jacob "wrestle" with God before he was delivered and changed?
The Old Testament is full of "types" and "shadows", which are meant to reveal a truth regarding the ways and methods of God. David was a "type" of Christ, as was Ezekiel, Moses, Jonah and many others. They did not always display the complete character and ways of the Lord, but some part of their life was a demonstration of a part of Christ, to help us understand Him better. Abinoam and Barak could be "types" of God the Father and God the Son in this passage of scripture.
War of the Flesh
Jabin, king of Canaan also has an interesting meaning as well. Jabin is translated "intelligent" and Canaan is translated "humiliated", taken from the root "to bend the knee, humiliate, vanquish". I think he represents the human mind, the part of us that would like to "humiliate" the Spirit of the Lord in us. He represents the flesh that would seek to dominate the spirit. He is what is in all of us, the man of flesh that wants complete control, that uses human logic and "intellect" to filter out the mind of Christ.
Now, the Lord told Deborah to march to Mount Tabor with men from the tribes of Naphtali and Zebulun and that He would "draw out to you Sisera, the commander of Jabin's Army, with his chariots and his many troops to the river Kishon; and I will give him into your hand" (vs. 6-7). Now, you should have figured out by now that there is significance here as well.
The Place of Brokeness
Mount Tabor is translated "to be broken". Naphtali, as already stated means "my wrestling", and Zebulun means "habitation", or "reside". If you're really sharp, you can see this coming a mile away. The Lord was telling the Israelites to attain a position of "brokeness" (Mount Tabor) by "wrestling" (Naphtali) and "residing" (Zebulun) in the place to where He had called them to. Surely we cannot be "broken" and "reside" in the "secret place of the Most High" unless we wrestle with our own sinfulness. Yet this is exactly the place where we can defeat the flesh, the old man and our mind and will (intellect) that the Word says is "enmity against God".
Verse 2 of this chapter says Jabin "reigned in Hazor", which is translated "fenced in, surrounded, a village, town or yard". This imagery suggests that Jabin (our intellect) reigns over a "fenced in village" or better yet, a habitation, a dwelling place. Doesn't this speak to our mind reigning over the habitation of God, our bodies. Paul spoke to this in Romans 12:1-2:
"I urge you therefore brethen, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect." NASB
The key to our "spiritual service of worship" is through the renewing of our minds. The defeat of the power of the mind and the flesh which Jabin represents.
Finally, as the Israelites move against Sisera and Jabin's army, their victory comes near the river Kishon, which is translated "bend; to set a trap and lay a snare". Sisera had placed his army near the river Kishon when he heard that Barak had gone up to Mount Tabor. The Lord sent a flood (5:20-21) to wash away Sisera's forces and make their iron chariots (4:3) useless in the now muddy banks of the river. "... Barak pursued the chariots ... and all the army of Sisera fell by the edge of the sword; not even one was left". The flood of the Lord defeated their enemies, as He "set a trap and laid a snare" at Kishon.
Influence of a godly Woman
The Lord God used a woman named Deborah to speak a word, encourage and lead the warriors of Israel against the enemies of their day. I believe Deborah represents women with a prophetic voice that God has sent out in this day and time to speak a word of encouragement and lead their brothers in the final assault against the prince of this world and the devices he uses to enslave us. There has been numerous "words" from various organizations regarding the raising up of women to stir up, lead and walk along side men in the coming days. I think this brief passage is a great illustration to that affect.
Deborah was a prophetess and intercessor that judged the things of God and was used mightily to free her people from their enemies. Our enemies today are more internal than external. We are enslaved by our hearts and minds that are unwilling to follow the commandments of the Lord, but would rather "play the harlot after other gods". How the Body of Christ needs more Deborahs to lead us away from the circle of apostasy and oppression.
Some of you reading this may be "Deborahs" in the making. Perhaps it's time for you to be revealed and you will say as she did:
"...I will surely go with you; nevertheless, the honor shall not be yours on the journey that you are about to take, for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hands of a woman, ..." (Judges 4:9 NASB)
Willie Jefferson 1/8/97
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