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Judges 4:4:

Now Deborah, a prophet, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time.

The text doesn't directly comment on how she came to be judging Israel. How might she have gotten such a position? How did people typically get positions like this?

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There are mainly two ways in which the Judges were chosen by the people:

  1. By proving oneself to be a mighty warrior and capable to lead and protect the people.

  2. By providing the people with guidance in biblical law and literally judging them and settling their disputes as Moses did in his times (see Exodus 18). Or by delivering divine messages to the people as the prophets of Israel were used to do (which also involved predicting the future, finding lost items etc.).

The first one was actually the most common way in which the Judges were chosen. Starting with Athniel Ben Kenaz who saved his people from Kushan Rishatayim (Judges 3:8) and judged them for forty years this was the most common and natural way. All the famous warriors like Samson, Gideon and Jephthah were actually chosen this way--by fighting a decisive battle which gave the people their independence. You might not think of it as the people electing certain individuals to lead them in war; it was a natural process. Once they proved themselves capable to lead, the people willingly accepted their leadership and the leaders were naturally chosen for their position (the only exception Jephthah which was chosen by his people to fight the Ammonites. see judges 11). That is not to say that the judges didn't judge their people in the literal sense at all, but that it wasn't their main function, only to protect them and lead them in war. The Akkadian cognate of the hebrew word שפט sapitu means more of a governer than a literal judge and fits well with the judge's function during this period.

The second way was much less common, but we do find it clearly in Eli the high priest of Shiloh which is said to have judged the people in 1 Samuel 4:18. He is not described anywhere as a warrior, and he doesn't seem to have any connection to the battlefield either. It is more likely that he was chosen for his expertise in biblical law (as he was a priest) and by judging his people in all areas. It seems that this is also how Deborah was chosen by the people, she was a prophetess and provided them with divine guidance and was naturally chosen to judge them (see Judges 4:5 where she is clearly described as judging the people under the palm tree). It is not likely that Deborah won over the people by fighting their enemy since she was a woman. Furthermore, when they rebelled against Jabin the king of Hazor she sent for Barak to lead their forces in battle; this clearly indicates that she wasn't in the position to do that.

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Deborah was chosen by God to judge Israel during a time when Israel was much weakened and plagued by the idolatry of surrounding nations. During her song in Judges 5:6 we learn that the

"highways were unoccupied, and the travelers walked through byways."

Vs. 7 continues to tell how oppressed Israel had become.

" The inhabitants of the villages ceased, they ceased in Israel, until that I Deborah arose, that I arose a mother in Israel."

The villages had ceased to be occupied because of the dangers from the Jabin, king of Canaan. The people had been reduced to living in fortified areas for protection to guard against attack. (See Clarke's Commentary on Judges chap. 5 [here].1)

Deborah arose at God's instruction. She did not become a judge or prophetess of her own will. God chose all of His prophets and judges. The very next chapter describes the process by which the angel of the Lord convinced Gideon that God would be with him (Jud. 6:11-40).

God chose Moses to be His prophet for the exodus from Egypt (Ex. ch. 3). God next chose Joshua to lead the people into Canaan (Josh. 1:1-3). God chose faithful David to be king over Israel (2 Sam. 6:21; 1 Kings 8:16; 11:34; Psa. 78:70) God chose Ezekiel the priest for His prophet during the Babylonian captivity (Ezek. 1:3) God chose Daniel during the Babylonian captivity to have an understanding of visions and dreams (Dan. 1:17).

When God sent a man to speak to Eli he very plainly stated in 1 Sam. 2:30,

"Wherefore the LORD God of Israel saith, I said indeed that thy house, and the house of thy father, should walk before me for ever: but now the LORD saith, Be it far from me; for them that honour me I will honour, and they that despise me shall be lightly esteemed." (KJV)

It was always the faithful ones that God chose to be his messengers, prophets, and judges (Num. 16:7; 17:5). Even though the scriptures do not relay all details about every prophet, we can know that He chose Deborah, both a prophetess and a judge (Judg. 4:4-5), during that time of oppression because she was faithful and would do His will.

Recommended reading: Debohah: The Woman God Uses here

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  • (+1) yet is it really because they were the faithful ones that God chose them? In Jud. 6:11-40, Gideon doesn't seem to be that trustful. The angel is working quite hard to persuade him to become more confident. – Constantin Jinga Jan 28 '18 at 16:52
  • Gideon was faithful. His lack of confidence was because he had not led anyone in battle, and had only been farming up till that time (Judg. 6:11). The angel of the Lord greeted Gideon in vs. 12 as "thou mighty man of valour." when he had not yet fought any battle. God knew what Gideon could do, and God always chose a weaker man or weaker army in order to show that it was His will by which battles were won, and not by man's strength. – Gina Jan 28 '18 at 18:27
  • So it is God’s trust in Gideon that is nourishing Gideon’s trust in God? – Constantin Jinga Jan 28 '18 at 18:34
  • God is omniscient. He knows our hearts. He chose Gideon for his faith, and proved to Gideon that He would be with him. Not building his confidence in himself but his reliance upon God. God was providing assurance that He would be with Gideon. – Gina Jan 28 '18 at 22:08

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