Deborah - Israel's Servant Leader

2 “When the princes in Israel; take the lead,
    when the people willingly offer

    praise the Lord!

3 “Hear this, you kings! Listen, you rulers!
    I, even I, will sing to the Lord;
    I will praise the Lord, the God of Israel, in song.

4 “When you, Lord, went out from Seir,
    when you marched from the land of Edom,
    the earth shook, the heavens poured,
    the clouds poured down water.
5 The mountains quaked before the Lord, the One of Sinai,

    before the Lord, the God of Israel.

Judges 5:2-5 (NIV)

In the early 1960s, upon reading Hermann Hesse’s Journey to the East, Robert Greenleaf developed his idea of The Servant as Leader. As he read, he became convinced that “the great leader is seen as a servant first” (7).  Greenleaf, in many ways, became the guru of this movement to redefine successful leaders.

Long before the 20th century, however, we see outstanding examples of leadership that embrace the role of servant.  In a time period anywhere between 1380 and 1050 BC, a great servant leader provided direction and counsel to Israel.  Her name was Deborah.  At the beginning of this blog, you read some of the lyrics she composed.

Scripture informs us that Deborah held a heavy plate.  She was a wife to Lappidoth (of whom we know little), a prophetess, a judge, and a national leader.  Imagine her day:  she encouraged Lappidoth in whatever he did; she spoke words from God; she settled disputes over stolen donkeys; and to top it all off, she held the hand of Barak, the general, as he went to battle.

Deborah, the busy wife, prophet, judge and leader, and one of whom Greenleaf would be proud, exemplified the leadership that trusts and encourages followers and gives credit where it is due.
  1. Trust and Encourage Others -
    When Barak took time to contemplate the 900 iron chariots owned and used by the enemy, he suddenly went weak in the knees.  I guess his parents misnamed him considering the fact that his name means “Thunderbolt”! 

    He does not completely refuse to march; instead he asks for assistance.  He will go into battle if, and only if, Deborah, his trusted leader will join him.  Servant leaders are willing to assist when their followers have times of weakness, despair, fatigue, and any other hindering element.  As you lead, take Deborah’s example and trust and encourage your followers.

  2. Give Due Credit –
    Deborah’s lyrics take 30 verses in Judges.  At the beginning of this blog, you read just four of those verses.  In those four verses, Deborah speaks of her Lord SIX times.  She testifies that she will praise the Lord, sing to the Lord, and make music to the Lord.

    Deborah, while fully aware of her own great abilities, capable skills, and vast success, refused to exalt herself.  God deserved the credit and she offered Him His due.  As you lead, take Deborah’s example and give God His due.

I can advocate servant leadership all day long and you may be somewhat convinced – if you are not already.  Yet we all know that the question in need of answering, is, “Does it really work?”

I will let you decide; and to help you do so, let me give you this parting gift – the success story of Deborah and her leadership.  At the end of her story in Judges, chapter five, we find this commentary,

Then the land had peace forty years.

Not bad for a servant leader, not bad at all!

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