Barak told her, “I will go, but only if you go with me!” “Very well,” she replied, “I will go with you. But since you have made this choice, you will receive no honor. For the Lord’s victory over Sisera will be at the hands of a woman.” So Deborah went with Barak to Kedesh. - Judges 4:8-9
Leadership comes in many styles, and leaders come in various shapes and sizes. Not all leaders are big, bold, brassy, and bossy. Some are quiet, humble, gentle, and caring. Some leaders develop in old age, while others appear to be gifted leaders from adolescence. God plays no favorites when it comes to leadership. In fact, sometimes he seems to delight in raising up the unexpected and appointing the unlikely. Like Deborah!
King Jabin had been a thorn in Israel’s side for twenty years. During this time, Deborah rose to a position of prominence as judge and prophet. Then the children of Israel cried out to the Lord in their distress. In response, God spoke through Deborah and commanded Barak to fight King Jabin’s army. God even promised to give Barak victory. But Barak did not want to go alone. He said he would only go into battle if Deborah went with him. This she did, the battle was won, King Jabin was overthrown, and Israel lived peacefully for forty years.
This incident says much about leadership. The Lord had clearly imparted gifts of discernment and communication to Deborah. As she exercised these gifts, she was confirmed as judge and prophet. From her remarks to Barak, it seems clear that it was unusual for a woman to be in her position in that culture. Some say she was only in this position because Barak was such a weak man, but she was a judge long before Barak came on the scene. It would seem more appropriate to say that God sovereignly raised up a woman as a leader because he wanted this woman to lead!
On the other hand, Barak is often portrayed as weak and ineffectual, but he did rally ten thousand men who followed him when he led them into battle, and he did win! So much for weakness and ineffectiveness! It would seem more appropriate to say that he put more “confidence in human effort” (Phil. 3:3) than in the Spirit of God. His eyes of faith were perhaps a bit clouded, while Deborah’s vision was strong and clear. As a result, Deborah warned him that the honor of victory would accrue to a woman rather than to him, and that is precisely what occurred.
From this we can see that leadership is more about vision than gender. Godly leaders are willing to walk by faith rather than by sight. They can plunge into the unknown trusting God’s word. People will follow such leaders, and as leadership is all about “followship,” this is critical. If they aren’t following, you aren’t leading.
For Further Study: Judges 4:1-24
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