The Story: Deborah, a judge and a prophetess, governed the nation of Israel before Samuel anointed Saul as king. She is the only female judge listed in the Old Testament book of Judges and was both a political and spiritual leader.
During Deborah’s term of service, the Canaanites, led by a commander named Sisera, oppressed the Israelites. Acting on the command of God, Deborah called Barak, an Israelite military leader, and encouraged him to send out 10,000 troops against Sisera, whose forces were much bigger and stronger than Israel’s army.
As Barak and the Israelites moved against Sisera, the Lord threw the Canaanite army into confusion. Barak pursued them, and the Israelites destroyed the entire army. Sisera fled on foot to the tent of Jael, a Kenite woman. Jael drugged Sisera and then assassinated him as he slept. As a result, the Israelites defeated the Canaanites and enjoyed 40 years of peace. Read the full story in Judges 4-5.
The story offers four lessons in leadership for women in the workplace.
1. God can use women any way He wants.
The writer of Judges doesn’t offer an opinion on whether or not Deborah was in a role that was socially acceptable for women. However, it is clear from the story that Israel’s success and Sisera’s destruction resulted from Deborah and Jael’s obedience to God. Knowing that God can use you in any role, don’t be afraid to serve with excellence, confidence and obedience in the capacity where God has placed you.
2. When men are unwilling to assume leadership, don’t be afraid to step up.
Barak and Deborah were not married. They were colleagues, not soul mates. The relationships between men and women in the workplace differ significantly from the relationships within the home and within the church. While the New Testament gives clear guidelines that wives are to submit to their husbands, this does not mean that women should submit unilaterally to every man, simply based on gender. Similarly, the Apostle Paul provided guidelines on how men and women may serve within the church, setting aside (arguably) the roles of pastors and overseers for men. However, nothing in Scripture precludes women from holding positions of leadership in the workplace or in government, and several passages, including this one, highlight women in secular leadership. While it may not be the calling of every woman, if God has called you to leadership within your workplace, “do it enthusiastically, as something done for the Lord and not for men …” (Colossians 3:23, HCSB).
3. Be careful not to usurp the authority or responsibility of those with whom you work.
Deborah went with Barak as he requested, but she did not lead the troops into battle. She did not usurp Barak’s authority as a military leader. Leviticus 10:1-4 illustrates the danger of usurping authority. By presenting “unauthorized fire” before the Lord, Aaron’s sons took on responsibility that was not meant for them. As a result, God’s fire literally burned them up. When we usurp the authority of others and take on responsibilities that God has not asked of us, we risk not burning up — but burning out! When burn out occurs, the work will go on and no one will mourn for us. While it is one thing to encourage those with whom we work to do their jobs, we should never attempt to usurp another’s authority or responsibilities, especially when the motivation is our own self-promotion.
4. When we are obedient to the work God has called us to do, our enemies will be defeated.
Deborah was confident of the work God had called her to do. Jael was faithful to defeat Israel’s enemy when the opportunity presented itself. Because of their obedience to take on difficult tasks, Israel defeated the Canaanites and enjoyed 40 years of peace. Working with excellence within the responsibilities assigned to us results in satisfaction and natural opportunities for growth and advancement. It also reduces anxiety and stress. When we are obedient to the do the work God has called us to do, enemies — such as busy-ness, anxiety and restlessness — will be defeated, and God will give us peace.