Deborah judged Israel from a central location in Ephraim between Ramah (5 miles north of Jerusalem) and Bethel (10 miles north of Jerusalem). She is described as "sitting," (Judges 4:5, yasab, "to sit" translated as, "She used to sit under the palm of Deborah" in ESV. Translated elsewhere as "remain," "inhabit.") which means she was presiding over the government and courts of Israel near the tomb of Deborah (This other Deborah was Rebekah’s hand-maiden who was buried under an oak tree just south of Bethel according to Genesis 35:8. She would have helped Rebekah, Isaac’s wife, raise Jacob and Esau.) The position of being seated was similar to King Saul “sitting” in 1 Samuel 14:2 under a pomegranate tree outside Gibeah only 2 miles south of Ramah to oversee his war council of 600 men.
It is interesting to note that the sons of Israel ‘ala, “went up,” (Judges 4:5) to her at Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim. In Judges 20:18, 23, 27 ‘ala is a technical term meaning “to go up to the high place to inquire or seek guidance from a deity.” Due to the failure of the priesthood to carry out their duties, the collapse of their education institution, and their refusal to obey, and thus, be able to seek guidance from the Lord, the people have had to turn to Deborah who is a woman used by God in order to speak to and lead his people.
Deborah’s authority covers all of Israel since she sends word to Barak in the city of Kadesh in Naphtali 90+ miles away which is at the furthest extend of Israel’s territory 17 miles north of the Sea of Galilee. When Barak arrives Deborah gives him a detailed battle plan that has already been established. Barak’s assignment is to recruit 10,000 men from Naphtali and Zebulun and move those troops toward Mount Tabor. This movement of Israeli troops will draw the Canaanite General Sisera with his chariots into the Jezreel Valley which the Kishon River has been known to flood in as little as 15 minutes. At that point the Lord will hand Sisera, his troops and their chariots, which will be stuck in the mud, over to Barak.
The cultural of Israel, at this point in history, and throughout the book of Judges, is plagued with cowardly men whose souls can only seek their own security and their own selfish satisfaction. This is the result of their lack of faith which is a manifestation of their ignorance of God. Barak manifests this attitude when he responds to the Word of the Lord spoken to him by Deborah by saying:
“If you go with me, I will go; but if you don’t go with me, I won’t go.” (Judges 4:8)
To which Deborah confidently replies,
“Certainly I will go with you. But because of the course you are taking, the honor will not be yours, for the Lord will deliver Sisera into the hands of a woman.”
Barak and the men of his generation were selfish cowards. This is the case for all men in any generation who are void of the knowledge of God and are living without confidence in their Savior and Lord. Likewise, men in a biblically illiterate church will be cowards in need of constant approval from people and motivated by self-glorifying works of religious hypocrisy.
When the Lord called Moses, Joshua and others he promised them that He would certainly go with them and secure the victory. It is interesting that the Lord doesn't have a chance to promise his presence with Barak, since Barak asks for the presence of Deborah instead. Deborah, on the other hand, is fully confident that the Lord's presence will be with her and Israel's troops. She is not afraid to go.