The name “Deborah” in Hebrew means “bee.” We could easily dismiss this as an anecdotal piece of trivia until we remember that in Hebrew culture names are incredibly significant. The magnitude increases once we note that Deborah was raised up by God to be a judge over Israel during a time when the Israelites had, for the most part, abandoned God. A more detailed synopsis of this departure from obedience can be found in Judges 2:10-23. Judges 5:7 (BSB) says, “Life in the villages ceased; it ended in Israel, until I, Deborah, arose, a mother in Israel.” Those who have studied Hebrew literature will find it interesting that the words “ceased” and “arose” are repeated in the verse. In English, we might underline a word, write it in bold, or in all caps to show emphasis, but in Hebrew, they would repeat it. This is obviously an important bit of information.
Where is the significance of the word “bee” in this account? I believe it is coupled with the importance of the word “mother” from the same verse. Deborah arose as a mother in Israel. She was a mother bee. Maybe we could even say she was a queen bee. Let’s put aside the negative connotation pop culture has placed on the term “queen bee” and look instead at the natural role of the queen bee.
The queen bee is the mother of the entire bee colony. There is not one single bee in the hive that was born without her personal DNA. Her whole job is to create offspring. Spiritually speaking, a disciple of someone is an offspring of sorts. They are a mentee who is loved and cared for by the mentor, even learning to be like them and to do what they do. The best example of discipleship is in the Gospels, where the life of the closest followers of Jesus is recorded. They did what He did and went where He went.
Secondly, there is no functionality of the hive without the queen bee. She is so important to the life of the hive, that once a queen is at the end of her lifespan and no longer effective to the hive, they will replace her immediately. More than any other bee, her role is absolutely vital to the existence of the bee colony. Without a queen bee, the life of the hive would cease to exist.
“Life in the villages ceased; it ended in Israel, until I, Deborah, arose, a mother in Israel.”
In a time when Israel had, by and large, departed from God and His guidance, a judge named “queen bee” took a stand under the divine inspiration of the Lord. She took a stand against the oppression and suffering caused by disobedience. As an act of mercy to His people, God lifted her up as a mother. He gave her His blessing to be an influencer in both word and action. He gave her eyes to see the despair around her and the passion to say, “Enough. Mama’s here. Mama’s going to make everything better.”
What a beautiful illustration of God’s love that He would send a mother to care for his prodigal children. I believe God wants to do the same thing today. May the Deborahs of our day rise up and restore village life as we once knew it.