(dehb' aw rah) Personal name meaning, “bee.” Deborah is the name of two women in the Bible, Rebekah's nurse (Genesis 35:8;
Genesis 24:59) and a leader of pre-monarchic Israel (Judges 4:1;b15).
1. Deborah, Rebekah's nurse, died and was buried near Bethel. She had been part of the household of Jacob, Rebekah's son.
2. Deborah, the leader of Israel, is identified as a prophetess, a judge, and the wife of Lapidoth (Judges 4:4). She probably lived about 1200 B.C. or slightly later during a period of Canaanite oppression. Deborah is described in
Judges 5:7 as “a mother in Israel” because of her role in delivering God's people. After Moses, only Samuel filled the same combination of offices: prophet, judge, and military leader.
Deborah served regularly as a judge, hearing and deciding cases brought to her by the people of Israel. She held court at “the palm tree of Deborah,” in the southern part of the territory of Ephraim, between Ramah and Bethel (Judges 4:4-5). Nothing is said about the procedures at her court or about the extent of her jurisdiction.
As a prophet, Deborah summoned Barak and delivered an oracle giving him God's instructions for a battle in the Jezreel Valley against the Canaanite army commanded by Sisera (Judges 4:6-9; compare Samuel in
1 Samuel 15:2-3 and the unnamed prophet in
1 Kings 20:13-15). Barak obeyed, and the Israelites won the battle. Some scholars believe that Deborah as prophet also composed the victory poem she and Barak sang in
Judges 5:1. Deborah's authority under God was evidenced by Barak's desire to have her present with him in the army camp (Judges 4:8,Judges 4:14) and by the testimony to her leadership in the song (Judges 5:7,Judges 5:12,Judges 5:15).
Pamela J. Scalise