Be strong and courageous.
Do not be afraid;
do not be discouraged,
for the Lord your God will be with you
wherever you go.”
The Old Testament really likes numbers. In addition to there being a book by that name, the Hebrew scriptures highlight God’s presence by recording things like ages of leaders, numbers of troops, dimensions of buildings and furnishings, amount of land, and sizes of families. But one number that isn’t included in scripture is the number of women who led the Israelites. In fact, throughout its entire massive history, Israel has been led by only two women. From 1969-1974, Golda Meir served as Prime Minister and more than 3,000 years before her was a prophetess named Deborah.
These statistics wouldn’t be surprising to women like Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook. In a TedTalk from 2010 , she quoted that of 190 heads of state, only 9 are women. That number has since risen to 13 but other numbers have stayed about the same. In the corporate sector, only 15% of women hold seats on boards and in the non-profit world, women lead only 20% of the time. Sandberg says women often hold themselves back and she offers three pieces of advice:
Sit at the table. Be confident in your talents, believe you deserve the A, the promotion, the spot at the table where all the big decisions are made.
Make your partner a real partner. She says that in marriages where chores are split evenly there is a 50% decrease in divorce.
Don’t leave before you leave. Planning to have a family doesn’t require you to rethink your career or step back from it.
If asked her three suggestions for women in leadership, Golda Meir presumably would have said things like, be stubborn, be tireless and compromise is not an option. I believe her predecessor Deborah would have said something a bit different. Despite the number of generations separating her from us today, Deborah led in a way that continues to set a standard for both women and men.
We read about Deborah in the fourth chapter of Judges. The Israelites had been conquered by the Canaanites who were a fierce and powerful enemy. One day she sends for Barak, the commander of her army. She tells him to lead his troops in an attack against the Canaanites. Barak thinks she is crazy and rudely tells her he will only go if she goes first. She stands up, tells him that because of his attitude the record will always show that God delivered the Canaanites not into the hands of a great warrior named Barak but instead, into the hands of a woman. With that she sets off to battle.
The fighting is intense, the Canaanites are overcome but for the commander of their army who escapes. Barak smugly points out Deborah’s loss and tells her the record won’t say the Canaanites were conquered at the hands of a woman after all. Deborah corrects Barak, reminding him that she said “a” woman, not necessarily her. Meanwhile the commander of the Canaanite army finds the home of Jael, a woman he believes is an ally. Inside Jael offers him food and drink, after which he lies down. When he has fallen asleep Jael finds a tent peg which she drives hammers through his temple and into the ground. The Canaanites are defeated and Deborah returned to the palm tree from which she ruled her people.
Three words of advice from Deborah?
Never ask someone to do what you wouldn’t do yourself.
Don’t let someone else take credit for your idea.
Don’t demand all the glory but allow others to have part in the victory.