In my journey to becoming FEARLESS, I’ve found a lot of women to look up to… Women who challenge me and motivate me and encourage me and inspire me. Some of these women I so relate to. And others I can’t really relate to at all — but I’d like to!
I’ve learned that courage comes in all kinds of shapes and sizes.
Living fearlessly may look different for me than it does for you — or look different for me in this stage of my life than it did twenty years ago.
That’s one of the things I love about the two Women of Valor I want spotlight today…
The book of Judges tells us the story of a woman who chose not to sit on the sidelines – or “under a palm tree” – when a national crisis called for action:
“Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading Israel at that time. She held court under the Palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites came to her to have their disputes decided.” (Judges 4:4-5)
One day, God gave Deborah a message for Barak, commander of the armies of Israel. At last, He was ready to destroy the heathen nation that had oppressed His people for more than twenty years. God wanted Barak to ride out against Sisera, commander of the Canaanites, and engage him in battle at MountTabor. But Barak wasn’t very brave – or else he was very superstitious. In awe of Deborah’s spiritual discernment, the special connection she seemed to have with God, Barak insisted that he would not set one foot in the direction of Mount Tabor unless Deborah promised to go with him.
Now whoever heard of a general refusing to send his troops into battle unless a woman (a wife and a mother, no less) led the way? It was ludicrous, ridiculous, even to Deborah herself. Yet God’s Word must be obeyed; His purposes accomplished, His will be done. So Deborah acquiesced to Barak’s request.
“’Very well,’ Deborah said, ‘I will go with you. But because of the way you are going about this, the honor will not be yours, for the Lord will hand Sisera over to a woman.’” (Judges 4:9)
As the battle was about to begin, it seems Barak was still wavering in his resolve, still in need of encouragement and reassurance. So Deborah – perhaps a little impatiently – said to him: “‘Go! This is the day the Lord has given Sisera into your hands. Has not the Lord gone ahead of you?’” (Judges 4:14)
God was true to His Word; He gave His people the victory. But it was not Barak or any of his soldiers who killed the commander of the enemy army. That honor belonged to another “housewife” – Jael, who sweetly invited Sisera to avoid capture by hiding in her tent, and then drove a peg through his head.
Then there’s the story of Esther, the orphaned Jewish girl who won the most famous beauty pageant of all time. Through a miraculous series of events, she was chosen to be the bride of King Xerxes – ruler of the Babylonian Empire. Esther’s cousin Mordecai learned of a sinister plot to annihilate the entire Jewish race. Mordecai called on Esther to approach the king on behalf of her people, to beseech him for mercy and protection.
At first, the young queen was flabbergasted at the thought, completely overwhelmed by the magnitude of the request – the risk involved in approaching her notoriously temperamental husband, and the doubtful outcome of such an enterprise. She would quite literally be risking her life. But Esther’s cousin admonished her to recognize the responsibility that comes with privilege. “To whom much is given, much will be required.” (Luke 12:48) Neither the role of innocent victim nor helpless bystander was an option for the queen. “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape.”(Esther 4:13)
Esther had not chosen to go into battle, but the battle had come to her. She needed to understand that God had not given her the privileges of royalty to make her happy or keep her comfortable or entertained. He had allowed Esther to become queen – He had placed her in the palace – for this very moment, this very crisis. God had a plan to deliver His people, and He wanted to use Esther to accomplish it. Mordecai told Esther that if she refused, he was sure God would find another way – but her disobedience would no doubt cost her dearly. “For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish… Who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?”(Esther 4:14)
One of the things that strikes me about these two women – Deborah and Esther – is the contrast between them. Deborah was obviously a very articulate, educated woman. She had to be, having been chosen by the people themselves to rule over all Israel and to administer justice – to teach God’s law and explain to His people how to apply it to their circumstances.
Esther, on the other hand, went to beauty school. It’s unlikely she knew how to read or write; matters of state were certainly beyond her scope of expertise.
When the courage of men failed, Deborah rose to the occasion and rode into battle without hesitation. She was the original “warrior princess;” she relished the opportunity to devastate – decimate – the enemies of God. (Read her uproariously joyful and triumphant victory chant in Judges 5!)
Esther was shaking in her shoes, just thinking about approaching her admittedly psychotic husband. It was, after all, against the law for her to appear before him without an invitation or prior permission. She was terrified, absolutely worried sick about what she was going to say. But she did it.
Sometimes in my journey, I feel a touch of holy boldness. I get a sense of Deborah’s fierce courage. I’ve even experienced a little of it in my own life. Other times, I feel a lot more like Esther — desperate but determined.
Either way, I’m reminding myself that His power is made perfect in our weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:9) And just as God’s grace was sufficient for these Women of Valor, it’s sufficient for you and me today.
* Parts of this post are excerpted from my book A Way With Words: What Women Should Know About the Power They Possess (Crossway Books, 2010)
** Special thanks to artist Donna Smallenberg for giving me permission to share her beautiful artwork with you!