Deborah, the Original Wonder Woman

It took me by surprise. I hadn’t expected to connect with my daughters’ choice of movies. Super Heroes? Not my genre. Woman Power? Not my mantra. War and destruction? No thanks. There were many reasons to find something else to do while the family streamed Wonder Woman 2017, but wanting to be present with my family, I engaged in the movie.

As I sat resisting the temptation to over-analyze the movie’s metaphors, I found myself drawn into the storyline. The heart of the iconic Diana became surprisingly believable as the creators showcased not only her warrior prowess (a common contemporary theme), but also her nurturing and protective heart. Truth be known, I was deeply moved, finding a character with whom I strongly identified in a story that strangely dug at my heart.

A unique composition of incredible physical and emotional strength, our heroine Diana displayed a mothers’ heart in defending the men, women, and children of Veld, Belgium during World War I. While gender stereotypes would place Diana far from the battlefield as men did the fighting, she put her life on the line, moved by a deeply tender heart that became relatable to the those of us in the mortal world. 

As I was drawn to Diana’s heart in the movie, I was reminded of my admiration of the prophetess Deborah, from the book of Judges in the Bible. Deborah’s appearance in Scripture is brief but powerful. She is the only woman recorded to have led ancient Israel. She was fourth in the line of Judges following the death of Joshua, reigning around 1240 B.C.. Deborah was successful in bringing peace to the land, just as her predecessors had done. Judges 2:18 tells us, 

“When the LORD raised up judges for (Israel), the LORD was with the judge and delivered them from the hand of their enemies.”

Judges 2:18 NASB

We are not told exactly how long Deborah sat as prophetess (Judges 4:4) and judge (v. 5), over Israel, but we are told forty years of peace followed her victory against Jabin, King of Canaan (5:31). Although her story is that of ancient culture and war, it continues to hold inspiration for us today.

I admit, though I had been a scholar of the Bible for years, I had avoided studying the character of Deborah for many of the same reasons I was not drawn to the Wonder Woman movie. She was a judge. That didn’t interest me. She led an army to war. I didn’t relate. I’ve always placed high value on the shepherding gifts when it comes to my personal heroes.

However, there are convincing reasons to hold Deborah up as a hero. She was a confident woman but her confidence did not rest in her own abilities. Rather, she was woman who praised and credited God. 

Hear her song of credit to the Lord for victory: 

“Listen, O kings! Give ear, O princes! I will sing to the LORD; I will sing praise to the LORD, the God of Israel.” 

Judges 5:3 BSB

Further, Deborah opened a window into her heart when she proclaimed, 

“In the days of Shamgar son of Anath,
in the days of Jael, the highways were abandoned;
travelers took to winding paths.
Villagers in Israel would not fight;
they held back until I, Deborah, arose,
until I arose, a mother in Israel.
God chose new leaders
when war came to the city gates,
but not a shield or spear was seen
among forty thousand in Israel.
My heart is with Israel’s princes,
with the willing volunteers among the people.
Praise the Lord!

Judges 5:6-9, NIV

In stopping to examine Deborah’s heart through her song, I was suddenly moved by the ancient character. As a woman who rightly saw herself as a mother over her people, her heart was with the princes in her land. She would advise them when they came to her. She would defend them when they were under attack. She would preserve the people through her love for the next generation. I doubt Deborah sought a seat of power. Rather, it was given to her because of the heart she carried within. 

Deborah heard from God. She obeyed when no man had arisen. She rejoiced, having been the instrument of God, giving all credit to the LORD. I believe Deborah was trusted and followed in Israel because of her faith and courage. Though some would not follow her (as is recorded in Judges 5:16-18), they benefitted nonetheless from her leadership and the forty years of peace that followed her victory over Canaan.

In recent years, I have come to understand leadership like Diana’s through the lens of personal character, and as a result, Deborah has become a heroine in my eyes. Rather than seeing a leader as someone who holds great power, I have seen through the Scriptures how often God chooses a person with a heart like His own and a willingness to follow His ways. Years ago, a supervisor of mine displayed a poster on his wall, the essence of which read, 

“A leader is someone who is followed, not because of his/her appointment, but because others see him/her as someone in whose footsteps they want to walk.” 

Since a godly heart is what God desires, we can become more confident in leading because of our love for God and for those who follow. Leadership is not about gender (though I have had many encourage me specifically as a woman who is willing to lead). It is about nurturing, loving, and serving those who follow (I am not addressing ecclesiastical structure here). The Apostle Paul would add that leading is about equipping others as ministers of the gospel. This is the essence of making disciples. We equip and send the equipped to do the equipping. When we walk with others, preparing them for the spiritual battles we all face in daily life, we, like Deborah, act as mothers in Israel. 

As an application from the life of Deborah, we can listen for God in the midst of any circumstance. Even if no one around us is listening, we can obey God and find deliverance. When we see God work, we can celebrate what He has done, and rejoice that He has used us in His plan. We can listen for God’s call to intentionally step forward. The courage and grace God gives are sufficient to meet our needs. 

I am honored now, in seeking to follow the example of Deborah, a true Wonder Woman of her day: courageous, compassionate, and drawn to action. Deborah was truly a heroine when her compassionate heart led her to act as a Mother in Israel.

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