“When the princes in Israel take the lead,
when the people willingly offer themselves—
praise the Lord!”— Judges 5:2
Every Friday at the Sabbath meal, it is the Jewish tradition for the husband to sing the words from Proverbs 31:10–31 to his wife, praising her as an eishet chayil, a “woman of valor.” It is the highest compliment one can bestow upon a mother, a wife, a daughter. But what constitutes a woman of valor? During this month as we celebrate the women in our lives, enjoy these devotions from the teachings of Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein on what it means to be an eishet chayil.
Anyone who has raised daughters knows how important it is to provide them with strong women role models to emulate as they grow up. This is particularly needed in our culture that all too often celebrates the beautiful, the wealthy, or the famous (even the infamous).
Thankfully, the Bible provides us with a number of outstanding female role models who can inspire women of all ages along a desired path of character-building and leadership. Among those notable women is Deborah. Her story is found in Judges 4—5.
As a prophet and a judge, Deborah had a unique role in the story of God’s people. She was known for her wisdom, holding court “under the Palms of Deborah,” where the people came to her to resolve their disputes. As with the others judges of that period, Deborah was not merely an arbiter of justice. She had been appointed by God to help deliver His people from bondage. At the time of Deborah’s leadership, the people of Israel had been oppressed for twenty years by the Canaanites.
Deborah’s leadership in the face of this great challenge stands in stark contrast to her second-in-command, Barak. Whereas Deborah took charge as God commanded her and ordered her military commander, Barak, to face Sisera on the battlefield, Barak refused to go without Deborah. Even when Deborah told him that God would grant the Israelites victory, Barak needed more assurance.
Barak’s response shows that he trusted in human strength rather than in God’s promise – as Deborah did. As a person of true faith, Deborah was willing to step out in obedience to God’s call, no matter what the circumstances. Because of her close relationship with God, Deborah was able to lead — and succeed — when others hesitated and balked.
In her victory song following the Israelites’ defeat of the Canaanites (Judges 5), Deborah praises those people who “take the lead” and the people who “willingly offer themselves” to obey and accomplish God’s work. In other words, leaders like herself!
Deborah is an inspiration to all who are committed to following and obeying God. Her story challenges us to be willing to take charge and obediently follow what God has called us to do. And her story reminds us to focus our energies on what we can accomplish — rather than worry about what we can’t do.
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