During a time when the Israelites were living under the 20-year period of oppression of the Canaanites, we find Deborah, whose name is an anagram of “she spoke,” and who is referred to as lappidoth esheth or “woman of torches/fiery woman,” serving as a judge of Israel (Jg 4:4).
Part of her role as judge would have been settling disputes between Israelites, much like Moses. Her additional title, prophetess, would have meant she was sought after for decisions about political & religious matters. The Song of Deborah (Jg. 5) describes a time of total breakdown of order in Israel, telling us that Deborah brought order.
The Israelites cried out under the oppression of the Canaanites, and in Deborah’s role as judge and prophet, she calls Barak, declaring him to be the one, commanded by God, to take Israel into battle, thus officially initiating plans for battle. He agrees, but with the condition that Deborah goes with him.
We might be tempted to think that it was unheard of for a woman to be involved in this type of leadership role. But we know from one of the earliest writings, that it was common practice for female prophets to be given the role of inspiring armies. It is likely that biblical readers would not have found anything strange about Barak’s desire for Deborah to be involved in this battle.
Throughout the story, Deborah’s womanhood is not hidden but intentionally named and emphasized, being called prophetess-woman, and a “mother in Israel” not because of children (if she had any, they are not spoken of), but because of her role as counselor leading up to war, as well as her role in preserving Israel through her military advisement & leadership.
Deborah served as a leader who spoke with authority, announcing God’s presence and prophesying of God’s victory. Her words are her weapons of battle.
The story of Deborah points us to God by speaking with divine authority, declaring God as victor over their oppressors.
The Canaanites were defeated and Sisrea fled, encountering another woman, but we’ll talk about her later…
Main Source: Frymer-Kensky, “Reading the Women of the Bible”