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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

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DEBORAH (‘bee’). 1. Rebekah’s nurse, who accompanied her mistress to her new home on her marrying Isaac ( Genesis 24:59 ). She was evidently held in great reverence, as the name of the site of her grave in Bethel shows, Allon-bacuth , the ‘terehinth of weeping’ ( Genesis 35:8 ).

2. The fourth of the leaders, or ‘Judges,’ of Israel; called also a ‘prophetess,’ i.e. an inspired woman one of the four mentioned in the OT of the tribe of Issachar ( Judges 5:15 ), wife of Lappidoth ( Judges 4:4 ). Her home was between Bethel and Ramah in the hill-country of Ephraim; here the Israelites came to her for judgment and guidance. She was the real deliverer of the Israelites, who had sunk into a state of feebleness and impotence, through the oppression of Jabin, king of Hazor (see Barak). A personality of great power and outstanding character, she was looked up to as a ‘mother in Israel’ ( Judges 5:7 ), and was instant both in word and in deed in fulfilling her calling of’ Judge.’ Her rôle is the more remarkable in that the general position of women in those days was of a distinctly subordinate character.

Deborah’s Song ( Judges 5:2-31 ) is one of the most ancient and magnificent remains of early Hebrew literature. It is a song of victory, sung in memory of Israel’s triumph (under the leadership of Deborah and Barak) over Sisera and the kings of Canaan. The vivid pictures which the poem brings up before the mind’s eye make it certain that the writer (whether Deborah or another) lived at the time of the events described. The parallel, and somewhat later, account (in prose) of the same battle ( Judges 4:4-24 ) agrees in the main with the poem, though there are many differences in the details. The Song is divided into four distinct sections:

Praise to Jahweh, and the terror of His approach, Judges 4:2-5 .

Condition of Israel prior to Deborah’s activity, Judges 4:6-11 .

Gathering of the tribes of Israel, Judges 4:12-18 .

Victory of Israel and death of Sisera, Judges 4:19-23 .

The chief importance of the Song lies in the historical data it contains, and in the light it throws on some of early Israel’s conceptions of Jahweh. Of the former, the main points are that at this time the Israelites had securely settled themselves in the mountainous districts, but had not as yet obtained any hold on the fertile lands of the Plain; that unity had not yet been established among the tribes of Israel; and that the ‘twelve tribes’ of later times had not yet all come into existence.

Of the latter, the main points are: that Jahweh has Hi a dwelling-place on the mountains in the South; that, therefore, He has not yet come to dwell among His people, though He is regarded as specifically the God of Israel; that He comes forth from His dwelling-place to lead His people to battle; and that His might and strength are so great that the very elements are shaken at His approach.

The Hebrew text is in some places (notably in Judges 4:8; Judges 4:10-15 ) very corrupt; but the general sense is clear.

3. The mother of Tobit’s father; she seems to have taught her grandchild the duty of almsgiving ( Tob 1:8 ).

W. O. E. Oesterley.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Deborah'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdb/​d/deborah.html. 1909.
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