According to the Bible Deborah’s title and hence office/vocation was prophetess

Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time.” ‭‭Judges‬ ‭4:4‬ ‭ESV‬

It is true that she was making judgment calls for those who came to her men and women alike.

“She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the people of Israel came up to her for judgment.” ‭‭Judges‬ ‭4:5‬ ‭ESV‬


The question is, was she making judgment in the quality and office of a prophet who sits in the council of God and hears God’s decrees which she passed onto the people as per the definition of a true prophet (contrasting false prophets). That’s essentially being a mouthpiece for God and not the progenitor of the judgments

“For who among them has stood in the council of the Lord to see and to hear his word, or who has paid attention to his word and listened?” ‭‭Jeremiah‬ ‭23:18‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Or did she stand in judgment in the quality and office of a judge with God given wisdom as per Solomon who exercised wisdom and made the decisions himself not standing in the council of God to hear God’s decisions.

“And all Israel heard of the judgment that the king had rendered, and they stood in awe of the king, because they perceived that the wisdom of God was in him to do justice.” ‭‭1 Kings‬ ‭3:28‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Or was it some other explanation I’m not aware of

Consider her “judgments” and whether they sound like prophecies or pronouncements.

“She sent and summoned Barak the son of Abinoam from Kedesh-naphtali and said to him, "Has not the Lord, the God of Israel, commanded you, 'Go, gather your men at Mount Tabor, taking 10,000 from the people of Naphtali and the people of Zebulun. And I will draw out Sisera, the general of Jabin's army, to meet you by the river Kishon with his chariots and his troops, and I will give him into your hand'?"” ‭‭Judges‬ ‭4:6-7‬ ‭ESV‬‬

That doesn’t sound like her initiative or judgment call

“And she said, "I will surely go with you. Nevertheless, the road on which you are going will not lead to your glory, for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman." Then Deborah arose and went with Barak to Kedesh.” ‭‭Judges‬ ‭4:9‬ ‭ESV‬‬

That sounds like prophecy and not a prouncement.


The reason I ask is because Deborah is used as an example for women in ministry. But the NT only points to men in (spiritual authority) ministry however allows for the expression of spirituals gifts of both men and women and allows administrative roles/ministry to both men and women i.e. deacons and deaconesses. And the only exception for a woman in ministry is when she is ministering to other women. I don’t want the subject in the footnote addressed, I’m just setting the context of where this question came from and why.

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    It's hard to avoid the footnote! It's also hard to avoid the conclusion that the interpretation of Deborah's role is going to be influenced by one's views on women in ministry elsewhere in the NT. My personal view is that (1) I disagree on your NT views on women in leadership; and (2) in context, Deborah functions as judge in the same way the men in that book - Samson, Gideon, Jephthah etc - functioned as judges. Apr 18, 2019 at 21:07
  • @PeterKirkpatrick If you can point to one example of a woman in ministry that wasn’t a deacon (administrator) with her husband present, in the NT then I would be interested to hear why you disagree. As for Deborah judging as the other judges that was my question and one sentence in the comments isn’t sufficiently to my liking. Certainly you’ve not made a strong case Apr 18, 2019 at 21:49
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    I wasn't trying to make a case. That's why it was a comment and not an answer. Your reply tends to prove my main point, which is that it's going to be hard for anyone to answer the question without being side tracked by your footnote. Apr 19, 2019 at 22:06

3 Answers 3


The word שָׁפַט "shofeṭ" is closer to ruler than judge. The NIV translation is better than others when it says that Deborah was "leading" Israel rather than "judging" it. Other than Deborah, the "judges" did not actually judge. They were military leaders who commanded the allegiance of their tribes in times of crisis by virtue of the power in battle.

Deborah is the exception to the rule. She alone, prior to the emergence of Samuel in the next book, is a "judge" who judges. The statement "the people of Israel came up to her for judgment" is unlike any other biblical description of these leaders.

The text is too sparse for us to know how her function as a prophetess related to her wisdom as a judge. However rabbinical tradition held her to be a great prophetess indeed. In the Talmud, Deborah was one of the seven prophetesses God raised in Israel, including also: Sarah, Miriam, Hannah, Abigail, Huldah, and Esther (Meg. 14a). Among these, Huldah is notable for confirming the truth of Book of the Law found in the Temple (2 Kings 22), so we have at least one precedent for a prophetess also providing a important halakhic ruling. Male prophets definitely did act as judges, especially Moses; but others also provided judgements to kings and people alike. So it is probably safe to presume that Deborah's gift of prophecy informed at least some judgments that she made. However some of her rulings must have been issued on the basis of her human wisdom as a teacher, leader, wife and mother.

(Ironically there is one Israelite leader other than Deborah in this era who governed as king for three years and must have issued many judgments. He was Abimelech, the son of Gideon (Judges 9). But he is considered an anti-judge rather than a ruler approved by God as the others are.)

As the OP mentions, Deborah does eventually prove a capable war leader even though she did not directly command troops. Rather, she is a kind of talisman for Barak, the general. He goes to war only because Deborah promises to go with him, and in the end it is actually a woman, Jael/Yael, who kills the enemy commander. Deborah's prediction that Sisera will be killed by a woman is definitely presented by the author as a prophecy.

In the end it is not a stretch to call Deborah the greatest of the judges prior to Samuel. She alone was called a prophet. She alone actually issued rulings from her seat of government "under the palm of Deb′orah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of E′phraim" where the people of Israel came to her for judgment. She proved victorious in war like all the other judges. But in contrast to the other major judges, she alone had no hint of scandal in her administration.


To answer this question, there is another question need to be answered first.

How do we identify which part of our wisdom and abilities belongs to God and which belongs to our knowledge?

It is not easy to have a clear cut to the answer. In my experience, I had encountered something I knew but couldn't carry out well, and I had something initially I doubted if I could do it, but carried out smoothly. I also had something that was out of my control, but it happened to my prayer. This reminds me of Zechariah 4:6 NIV;

‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.

Therefore could we say Deborah did prophesy by the Lord Spirit, and did judging by her own wisdom? Didn't her wisdom come from the Lord Spirit as well?

Answer to the footnote

Today the liberal activists may have voices to claim the Bible an evidence of sex discrimination. Do we believe this is the purpose of the Bible? If either side used the Bible in their own argument, would they fall into the circumstances that written in Isaiah 6:10

Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes.[a] Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.

These activists may find themselves difficult to accept when the Bible claimed everyone borne unequal. Paul said in 1 Cor 12:29-30

29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles?

30 Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?

We borne unequal but we receive different gift, so that we together will become One.


Deborah addressed, to the Israelites who ask that – to what Scriptures had to say about matter dear to their hearts (also legal matters). But Deborah was not a judge (שׁפט) as the other judges. Indeed, although in the letter to the Hebrew (chapter 11) are mentioned some women, as Sarah and Rahab (verses 11 and 31), when this letter speaks about the ‘judges’ (and list some of them, see verse 32) Deborah is lacking. This is significant of a differently understood meaning – respect of the usual meaning - of שׁפט.

Another clue to consider.

“Bachmann points out that the succession of statements in this passage is exactly the same as in “Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron,” “Huldah the prophetess, the wife of Shallum,” “Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel,” etc.” (Lange’s Commentary)

So, the assignment affinity between Miriam, the Moses’ sister, and Deborah helps us to understand that to be a prophetess did not indicate an automatic prerogative to command to other people (indeed, the rebellion Miriam backed was spurred just from Miriam’s desire to obtain a command position). “[שׁפט] It denotes at large all regulation and disposal, omnem ordinationem et discretionem”, says Cocceius.

Joseph Benson commented (bold emphasis is mine): “A prophetess — Such a one as Miriam, Exo 15:23; Huldah, 2Ki 22:14, and divers others; but the word prophets, or prophetesses, is ambiguous, sometimes being meant of persons extraordinarily inspired by God, and endowed with the power of working miracles, and foretelling things to come; and sometimes of persons endowed with special gifts or graces, for the better understanding and discoursing about the word and mind of God. Of this sort were the sons of the prophets, or such as were bred in the schools of the prophets, who are often called prophets, 1Sa 10:5; 1Sa 10:10. And because we read nothing of Deborah’s miraculous actions, some have thought she was only a woman of eminent holiness, and knowledge of the Holy Scriptures, by which she was singularly qualified for judging the people according to the laws of God. It appears, however, from Jdg 4:7; Jdg 4:9, that she was endowed with the gift of prophecy, properly so called, or of foretelling, at least in some instances, future events. Judged Israel — That is, determined causes and controversies arising among the Israelites, as is implied, Jdg 4:5. And this Jabin might suffer to be done, especially by a woman. […]” (Commentary)

The Cambridge Bible commented (bold emphasis is mine): “she judged Israel] i.e. in the sense of Jdg 2:16, Jdg 3:10 (see notes); ‘delivered Israel,’ though in the Hebr. the verb is vocalized as a ptcp. [that is, participle] she was judging, perhaps on account of the following at that time; it can hardly mean that Deborah exercised authority as ‘judge’ before the deliverance, for everywhere else it is the deliverance which establishes the judgeship, according to the Dtc. compiler. The next verse, however, interprets she was judging in the legal sense, and therefore adds that during the period of the oppression the Israelites came up to her for judgement; it would appear that Jdg 4:5 is an explanatory insertion.”

Another factor to point.

The Bible account at Judges 4:4 reads: “At that time Deborah, a prophetess, wife of Lappidoth, was judging (שׁפט) Israel.” (New Revised Standard Version). Anyway, the previous account at Judges 2:16 reports: “And the Lord [יהוה] raised up judges, to deliver them from the hands of those that oppressed them: but they would not hearken to them” (Douay-Rheims Bible; “Then the LORD [יהוה] raised up judges to rescue the Israelites from their attackers.” (New Living Translation).

Thus, the main work of a judge would be to save Israel from their enemies. It appears, then, that the phrase at Judges 4:4 about Deborah ‘judging Israel at that particular time’ does not mean that Deborah was usurping the place of a man and that she was fulfilling all the duties of a judge in Israel. Unlike Samuel, Gideon or other judges she did not judge all Israel and act as their deliverer or ‘savior’. In fact, at Nehemiah 9:27 the term ‘saviors’ is used rather than ‘judges’ (compare Judges 3:9, 15).

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