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Gone was freedom beyond the walls, gone indeed from Israel. When I, Deborah, arose, when I arose, a mother in Israel. (Judges 5:7)

This is a typical translation of the verse, but I have noticed that some bibles translate it "a mother of Israel" (GW) or "a mother for Israel." (NLT) Deborah was certainly more than just a mother in Israel. My Hebrew is not strong enough to offer an opinion based on semantics so I'd appreciate help with this. But the real question is: does this verse mean to tell us that Deborah rose above her station as a mere mother to become a prophetess and one of the greatest judges? Or does it mean to tell us that she as a kind of ancient Golda Meir, a/the Mother of Israel?

I don't mean this as an either/or proposition. Other interpretations also welcome.

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The answer to this question hinges on the meaning of the preposition attached to the word בְּיִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל = "in Israel". In this case the preposition is that first letter, בְּ, which actually occurs twice with the same meaning which I set out to below in the parallelism of the Hebrew (NASB):

“The peasantry came to an end, they came to an end in Israel,

Until I, Deborah, arose, Until I arose, a mother in Israel.

[Further note that "mother" has no Hebrew article in this instance.]

There is an almost identical (except for the addition of the conjunction, "and"" phrase in 2 Sam 20:19, "mother in Israel" which refers to a city/village/town -

I am one of those who are ready for peace and faithful in Israel. You are trying to destroy a city, even a mother in Israel. Why would you swallow up the inheritance of the LORD?”

Lastly, "mother of Israel" would need no preposition but two successive nouns to give "mother of Israel". The presence of the preposition "in" ensures the common translations.

Thus, Deborah, in Judges 5:7 does not refer to herself as "the mother of Israel" but "a mother in Israel".

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Compare 2 Samuel ch21 v19, where the city of Beth-maacah is described as "a mother in Israel". It appears that " mother" can indeed be part of an expression which implies important status. We may notice also the sequel in v21 when the local wise woman representing the city in negotiations with Joab makes a decision on behalf of the city (to throw a fugitive's head over the wall) entirely on her own authority without consulting anybody else. It seems that the earlier Israelite society did not regard women and mothers as "mere".

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  • +1 yes... I happened to study the story of the wise woman of Abel Beth-Maacah just today and noticed that. I didn't get the feeling, though, that she didn't consult anyone. "In her wisdom, the woman went to all the people, and they cut off the head of Sheba." Commented Sep 6, 2023 at 0:21
  • @Dan Feffermaan Yes, but she had already given the answer that the surrender would happen. This implies that "in her wisdom" was telling them, not consulting them. Commented Sep 6, 2023 at 6:59

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