The fourth chapter of Judges tells the story of Deborah, a godly widow who was one of Israel’s Judges in the Old Testament, prior to the rise of the Israelite monarchy. All Israel came to her to judge their disputes, and God prophesied to Israel through her.
When Israel was threatened by Sisera and his armies, Deborah prophesied that the oppression would soon be broken. She led Barak and an army of 10,000 Israelite warriors, and Sisera’s army was destroyed.
Then Sisera himself was killed at the hands of a righteous woman named Jael. She made him feel safe, and gave him a cup of milk to drink. After he fell asleep in her tent, she used a hammer to drive a tent peg through his head. In the following chapter of Judges, Israel’s victory is celebrated in the Song of Deborah.
St. Ambrose and St. Jerome observed that St. Deborah is a good role model for the encouragement of godly women:
And so according to history, that the minds of women might be sitrred up, a woman became: a judge, a woman who set all in order; a woman who prophesied; a woman who triumphed; and joining in battle array, taught men to war under a woman’s counsel. But in a mystery, it is the battle of faith and the victory of the Church.
~ St. Ambrose
And I think that her (Deborah’s) judgeship has been narrated and her deeds described, that women should not be restrained from deeds of valor by the weakness of their sex. A widow, she governs the people; a widow, she leads armies; a widow, she chooses generals; a widow, she determines wars and orders triumphs. So, then, it is not nature which is answerable for the fault or which is liable to weakness. It is not sex but valor which makes strong.
~ St. Jerome
For she (Deborah) showed not only that widows have no need of the help of a man, inasmuch as she, not at all restrained by the weakness of her sex, undertook to perform the duties of a man, and did even more that she had undertaken. And so one widow both ruled many thousands of men in peace and defended them from the enemy.
~ St. Jerome
And to show that the needs of the household were not dependent on the public resources but rather that public duties were guided by the discipline of home life, she (Deborah) brings forth from her home her son as a leader of the army, that we may acknowledge that a widow can train a warrior; whom, as a mother, she taught and, as judge, placed in command, as, being herself brave, she trained him and, as a prophetess, sent to certain victory.
~ St. Jerome
In this passage written by St. John Chrysostom, Christian women are encouraged to imitate Deborah and other saintly women of old:
For nothing, nothing is more powerful than a pious and sensible women to bring a man into proper order, and to mold his soul as she will. For he will not endure friends, or teachers, or rulers, as he will his partner advising and counseling him, since the advice carries even some pleasure with it, because she who gives the counsel is greatly loved. I could tell of many hard and disobedient men who have been softened in this way.
For she who shares his table, his bed, and his embraces, his words and secrets, his comings in and goings out, and many other things, who is entirely given up and joined to him, as it is likely that a body would be joined to a head, if she happen to be discreet and well attuned, will go beyond and excel all others in the management of her husband.
Wherefore I exhort women to make this their employment, and to give fitting counsel. For as they have great power for good, so have they also for evil. A women destroyed Absalom, a woman destroyed Amnon, a woman was like to have destroyed Job, a woman (Abigail) rescued Nabal from the slaughter. Women have preserved whole nations, for Deborah and Judith exhibited successes worthy of men; so also do ten thousand other women.
Wherefore Paul saith, “For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband?” ( 1 Cor. vii. 16.) And in those times we see Persis and Mary and Priscilla taking part in the labors of the Apostles ( Rom. 16 ); whom we also needs must imitate, and not by words only, but also by actions, bring into order him that dwelleth with us.
~ St. John Chrysostom (Homily 61)
Indeed, St. Deborah can even be seen as a type of the Theotokos, as commemorated in the feast of The Protection of the Virgin Mary. As Deborah led the armies of Israel to victory, so Mary the Mother of God protects us, and is the “unconquerable Leader of Christian captains and armies.”
O Lady, having a never-failing wealth of mercy, Thou dost stretch the hand of help to all the ends of the earth: and dost give healing to the sick, relief to the suffering, sight to the blind, and to all everything that is expedient for them as they cry aloud in thanksgiving:
Rejoice, indestructible fortress and bulwark of Orthodox kingdoms.
Rejoice, principle adornment of holy churches and altars.
Rejoice, truest guard of holy monasteries.
Rejoice, vigilant Helper of stouthearted city governors.
Rejoice, unconquerable Leader of Christian captains and armies.
Rejoice, holy mirror of justice for judges who take no bribes.
Rejoice, perfect knowledge for teachers and those who bring up children.
Rejoice, Blessing of pious homes and families.
Rejoice, our Joy, protect us from every ill by Thy precious Veil.
(Ikos 3 from the Akathist to the Protection of the Theotokos)
Blessed Deborah, pray for us!
Blessed Virgin Mary, pray for us!