Leading Like Deborah – Part One

In Chapter 4 of the Book of Judges, we are given a glimpse into the life of Deborah – the only female judge over Israel mentioned in the Bible. We can learn several valuable lessons in leadership by studying this chapter. In this two-part series, we will examine those lessons.

1) Prepare for the Position

Other than a brief introduction, we don’t know much about Deborah’s history. We aren’t sure how she came to be appointed a Judge over Israel or what her life was like before that. We can, however, learn something about her life simply from her name. “Deborah, Wife of Lappidoth,” when translated from the original language of Hebrew, means “Bee, Woman of Torches.” Let’s break that down a little bit. Names carried a lot of weight in Biblical times; they told you about a person’s character.

Bee: Yes, like a bumble bee! Have you ever heard the term “busy bee”? These little insects are super-focused on their most important task: making honey. I’m taking a little liberty here, but I wonder if Deborah was this way with her most important task: God’s calling on her life.

Woman of Torches: Throughout the Bible, fire represents the presence of God. Deborah had such an intimate and close relationship with God that her name literally said so.

So what does “Bee, Woman of Torches” teach us about leadership? We have to be prepared for the position. Deborah didn’t gain the authoritative title of Judge and then begin to pursue the things that would make her suitable for the position. She was all of those things beforehand; she was called “Deborah, Wife of Lappidoth” before she was ever called a judge. Deborah’s life, from what we can assume based on her name, was characterized by a love and pursuit of God. She was prepared to lead people to live the same type of life before she was ever actually leading them because Deborah knew that she couldn’t lead other people into a deeper relationship with God if she hadn’t first been there herself. Her relationship with God made way for her position over the people, and not the other way around.

If you want to be a good leader, you’ve got to be prepared before the opportunity ever presents itself. Would people say that you’re hyper-focused on God’s calling for your life? Would someone characterize you as carrying the presence of the Lord? Here’s a good question to ask yourself: How’s the flame on my torch? If you want to lead the people around you to go further in their walk with God, then you’ve got to walk that path first. If you want to fan the flame of passion for the Lord in others’ lives, then you’ve got to fan your own flame first.

Your relationship with God can’t be replaced by your work for God. The first step to being a good leader is to lead yourself, to be prepared for the position.

2) Influence through Investment

The purpose of the Judges of Israel was to unify the people, protect them from harm, and identify their sin so that repentance could take place. As a leader of people, your job description may look pretty similar. It might be something like: care for and shepherd your group/team. In order to accomplish this, you’ve got to have influence.

The ability to be an influence in peoples’ lives doesn’t come from a title over them; it comes from investment in them. Spend time with your group, gain their trust, and get in the weeds when life gets hard for them. That is exactly what I imagine Deborah did. She showed up daily, she listened (to what was probably quite a bit of whining and complaining over seemingly small things), and she shared wisdom. By investing in the Israelites, she gained influence in their lives.

Leaders who want to influence their people in an impactful and lasting way that points toward Jesus have to invest in those people. Show up regularly, listen carefully, and share wisdom lovingly. You’re going to encounter messy situations with the people you lead and it is your role as their leader to help them get out of that mess. If you love God and love people, influence through investment becomes easier.