The Uniqueness of Deborah

When DC Comics decided to kill off Supergirl in their series Crisis on Infinite Earths in 1985, it upset more than a few fans.  Kara Zor-El was introduced in 1959 as a way to capitalize on the popularity of Superman.  The problem was, that was the only reason for introducing a female version of Superman, for money.  There was nothing unique about her story and actually convoluted the story of Superman, that he was the sole survivor of Krypton.  DC Comics had a character floating around that they knew was only there to make money and wasn’t there to be a unique woman.  She was essentially a female Superman without her own identity.

DC Comics wrote an excellent storyline for her death.  Many fans felt that was the best Supergirl story they had ever read.  Of course, no one stays dead in the comics.  Years later, they brought her back with a unique story and as a unique character.  This was not simply a female version of Superman, but a girl with her own story.

This initial approach of DC Comics has caused me to question the way women have been treated over the years.  It seems that a hero arises, becomes popular, and then to cater to the women, a female version of that same hero is created to appeal to those who want a hero who is a woman in the same vein.  Say what you like, but in the comics, movies, novels, it happens quite frequently.

Men and women were created by God uniquely.  When God created woman, He was not making a female version of a man, He was making a woman.  Eve has her own identity.  Man and woman were created for each other, and thousands of years has borne out the fact that we cannot get along one without the other.  This does not mean that a woman is nothing without a man (or vice versa).  God has created each of us as individuals. 

Men cannot do what God created women to do.  Men cannot exceed in the ways that women exceed.  There is no need for women to compare themselves to men, or try to be a female version of a certain man.  Women have been created by God for reasons that He knows and that He reveals in His word.  This is not to say that men and women cannot do many of the same things.  Men and women can both be teachers, preachers, doctors, lawyers, athletes, etc. etc. etc.  But let’s not feel the need to compare between the two.  Statements like “Men are better athletes” or “Men are doctors but women are nurses” or “Only boys grow up to be astronauts” are sexist statements that have given men a bad name.

When we read about Deborah in the book of Judges, see chapters 4-5, we read about a unique judge of Israel.  Three judges had ruled before her, all men.  Joshua had been before that and Moses before that.  The patriarchy was strong.  The first judge was Othniel who judged Israel by leading them into battle.  Second, we have Ehud who, again, led the children of Israel into battle.  His story is unique though.  Left handed, snuck a dagger under his thigh, surreptitious assassination, then he led the children of Israel into battle.  Shamgar, also a warrior, judged Israel in pretty much the same way.  But now Deborah steps out of normalcy and into her uniqueness.

She will not be like any of the judges after her either.  She will be the only female judge.  She will also be one of the few that does not lead the children of Israel into battle.  Jair, Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon have no record of battle.  It is possible they did but it is not recorded.  Deborah specifically refrained taking active part in the battle when it was time.  So how could she be considered a judge over Israel?  Let’s look at her rise to prominence.

In her song (did I mention she has musical talent?) she sings about a time when the main roads of travel became empty and travelers took obscure roads instead, see Judges 5:6-10.  The oppression was beginning as Israel had chosen new gods.  War came as a result and Israel had no weapons.  It was during this time that Deborah “Quwm”.  This Hebrew word can be translated “stand up” or “arise”.  It has a very forceful intent.  It has the idea of establishing, confirming, and proving oneself.  There is a striking parallel between Deborah (a Mom) and these rulers over Israel riding on white donkeys, which was a symbol of prominence.  What were these people of prominence doing during the oppression?  Nothing, that is until Deborah gave the order.  What was Deborah doing?  Let’s look at Judges 4:4-6.

Deborah was faithfully giving the word of the LORD to anyone in Israel who would listen.  She had a regular place to preach (prophesy) underneath a specific tree.  Lapidoth is only known to us as her husband.  If it weren’t for Deborah, we would not know anything about him.  Deborah arises as a mother in Israel and as a wife.  Anyone who wants to hear from God, during this pagan chapter in Israel’s history, could come up and hear the words of Deborah as she taught under the palm tree named after herself.  She may have even sung to them after the pattern of Miriam.

Deborah saw beyond the current reign of Hazor into freedom for the children of Israel.  Her own children could one day be free.  She saw this.  She tried to convey this to the leaders in Israel, men physically stronger than her, but with faith weaker than hers.  They saw the chariots of iron led by Sisera, a man who struck fear into the hearts of many.  Deborah saw the faithfulness of her God.

What can we say about Barak?  He went.  He was obedient.  Yet he faltered.  He must have believed Deborah’s word because he obeyed, but something held him back from going by himself.  When Deborah tells Barak to lead the children of Israel into battle, he says he will not do it unless Deboarah accompanies him.  Deborah praises the leaders who responded to her call in her song.  In Judges 5:14-18, Deborah praises those tribes of Israel who risked their lives, especially Zebulun and Naphtali.  She seems to chide Dan, Asher, and those tribes of Gilead for not coming to take part in the victory.  Remember her song was after the fact, long after the victory had been won.  There is also a special curse for Meroz, some city or clan that boycotted the entire event, Judges 5:23.  Why didn’t you come to take part in the victory?  Were you afraid?

Notice her honorable mention of her fellow woman, Jael.  In Judges 5:24-31 she closes with a gruesome recap of how a woman outfoxed the most fearsome warrior in all those lands.  Sisera bowed down before this woman and lay dead at her feet; what a trenchant way to word what happened!  She was obviously gifted in poetry and speaking wisdom.  And then, oh then, she mockingly plays the part of Sisera’s mommy saying “Oh when is my baby coming home?”  And the women are answering, “Oh he is dividing the spoil right now, he is bringing you home a beautiful scarf.”  And then cutting to her outtake, “So let all Your enemies perish, O LORD.”  Youcha!  Her words have some bite!

Let’s step back to my original thought.  What if men were trying to market the book of Judges to women?  I could easily see them taking Deborah and completely reworking her character to make her into a female version of the other judges.  Let’s make her tough, give her a weapon, and have her march into battle.  They would eliminate all the years of her raising her children, speaking patiently to Israel, rebuking them for their idolatry, and marching alongside Barak with the entire tribe of Issachar as her personal bodyguards.  They would strip away her beautiful singing voice, her gift for writing songs, and her caustic wit.  In essence, they would take away the real reasons for her heroism.

Men, like it or not, there is a female judge who had all the authority of the other judges.  Ladies, like it or not, this female judge let the men do all the fighting.  And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Have fun and stay busy – Luke 19:13

-The Orange Mailman

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