Girl History Month – Deborah The Matriarch

Deborah the Matriarch

Deborah the Matriarch

Deborah was a prophetess, the fourth Judge of pre-monarchic Israel, and a famous military leader. She led the Israelites to victory over the Canaanites and brought forty years of peace to the land.

She is known as Deborah the Prophetess, Deborah the Judge, Deborah the Matriarch, and Deborah the Mother of Israel.

dore deborah

The Book of Judges chapter 5 tells the story of Deborah’s victory in poetic form. This passage  is called The Song of Deborah and is set forth below.  It is one of the earliest samples of Hebrew poetry and is unique in its portrayal of a woman military leader. It is thought to have been written by Deborah herself.

Deborah the Prophetess

Deborah the Prophetess

Not much is known about Deborah’s personal life. She was probably born in central Israel to the tribe of Ephraim and may have lived from 1200 B.C. to 1124 B.C.  This would would have made her about 36 years old at the time of her victory over the Canaanites, and 75 at the time of her death.

Icon of Deborah the Judge

Icon of Deborah the Judge

Deborah is the only woman judge mentioned in the Bible.  She rendered her judgments beneath a palm tree between Ramah in Benjamin and Bethel in the land of Ephraim. (Judges 4:5)

Judging Under the Palm Tree

Judging Under the Palm Tree

In Hebrew, Deborah’s name, דְּבוֹרָה, translates as ” the bee”.

Deborah and the Bees

Deborah and the Bees

The Deborah number, a dimensionless number used to characterize the fluidity of materials, is named after her. It was originally proposed by Markus Reiner, a professor at Technion in Israel, who was inspired by the Song of Deborah:  “The mountains flowed before the Lord.”  The Deborah number is based on the premise that given enough time even the hardest material, like mountains, will flow.

Deborah is also a Saint. Her feast day is November 1st, All Saints Day.

Icon of St. Deborah

Icon of St. Deborah

Song of Deborah

Of chiefs who took the lead in Israel, of noble deeds by the people who bless the Lord,
Hear, O kings! Give ear, O princes!
I to the Lord will sing my song,
my hymn to the Lord, the God of Israel.
O Lord, when you went out from Seir,
when you marched from the land of Edom,
The earth quaked and the heavens were shaken,
while the clouds sent down showers.
Mountains trembled
in the presence of the Lord, the One of Sinai,
in the presence of the Lord, the God of Israel.
In the days of Shamgar, son of Anath,
in the days of slavery caravans ceased:
Those who traveled the roads
went by roundabout paths.
Gone was freedom beyond the walls,
gone indeed from Israel.
When I, Deborah, rose,
when I rose, a mother in Israel,
New gods were their choice;
then the war was at their gates.
Not a shield could be seen,
nor a lance, among forty thousand in Israel!
My heart is with the leaders of Israel,
nobles of the people who bless the Lord;
They who ride on white asses,
seated on saddlecloths as they go their way;
Sing of them to the strains of the harpers at the wells,
where men recount the just deeds of the Lord,
his just deeds that brought freedom to Israel.
Awake, awake, Deborah!
awake, awake, strike up a song.
Strength! arise, Barak,
make despoilers your spoil, son of Abinoam.
Then down came the fugitives with the mighty,
the people of the Lord came down for me as warriors.
From Ephraim, princes were in the valley;
behind you was Benjamin, among your troops.

From Machir came down commanders,
from Zebulun wielders of the marshal’s staff.
With Deborah were the princes of Issachar;
Barak, too, was in the valley, his course unchecked.
Among the clans of Reuben
great were the searchings of heart.
Why do you stay beside your hearths
listening to the lowing of the herds?
Among the clans of Reuben
great were the searchings of heart!
Gilead, beyond the Jordan, rests;
why does Dan spend his time in ships?
Asher, who dwells along the shore,
is resting in his coves.
Zebulun is the people defying death;
Naphtali, too, on the open heights!
The kings came and fought;
then they fought, those kings of Canaan,
At Taanach by the waters of Megiddo;
no silver booty did they take.
From the heavens the stars, too, fought;
from their courses they fought against Sisera.
The Wadi Kishon swept them away;
a wadi…, the Kishon.
Then the hoofs of the horses pounded,
with the dashing, dashing of his steeds.
“Curse Meroz,” says the Lord,
“hurl a curse at its inhabitants!
For they came not to my help,
as warriors to the help of the Lord.”

Blessed among women be Jael,
blessed among tent-dwelling women.
He asked for water, she gave him milk;
in a princely bowl she offered curds.
With her left hand she reached for the peg,
with her right, for the workman’s mallet.
She hammered Sisera, crushed his head;
she smashed, stove in his temple.
At her feet he sank down, fell, lay still;
down at her feet he sank and fell;
where he sank down, there he fell, slain.
From the window peered down and wailed
the mother of Sisera, from the lattice:
“Why is his chariot so long in coming?
why are the hoofbeats of his chariots delayed?”
The wisest of her princesses answers her,
and she, too, keeps answering herself:
“They must be dividing the spoil they took:
there must be a damsel or two for each man,
Spoils of dyed cloth as Sisera’s spoil,
an ornate shawl or two for me in the spoil.”
May all your enemies perish thus, O Lord!
but your friends be as the sun rising in its might!
And the land was at rest for forty years.

One thought on “Girl History Month – Deborah The Matriarch

  1. You make history so interesting. Maybe it’s because you talk about women in history. Very, very interesting.

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