Throughout history, leadership roles have often been dominated by men. This was especially true in biblical times. However, there were a few remarkable women who served as judges and leaders in the Bible. Though small in number, these women provide invaluable examples of godly leadership and courage.
In the Old Testament, judges served as temporary military and civil leaders over the Israelites before the time of the kings. Their primary role was to defend the Israelites from their enemies, settle disputes, and promote obedience to God’s laws. Though most judges were men, the Bible does mention two female judges – Deborah and Huldah.
- Only two female judges are named in the Bible – Deborah and Huldah
- Deborah was a prophetess and the only female judge during the period of the judges before the monarchy
- Huldah served during the reign of King Josiah and was sought for her wisdom and prophetic gift
- These women exercised spiritual, military, and civic leadership with wisdom and faith in God
- Their examples display that God can gift women like men for leadership when they walk in obedience to Him
In this post, we will take a closer look at these two amazing women and their vital contributions during their time. Though few in number, they provide a lasting model of godly female leadership that continues to inspire women today.
Deborah – The First Named Female Judge
Of the twelve judges named in the book of Judges, Deborah is the only female judge mentioned. Very little is known about her background, but the text provides some fascinating details about her role as a leader. She is first introduced in Judges 4:4 (NKJV):
Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, was judging Israel at that time.
Right away we learn three important things about Deborah:
- She was a prophetess – Deborah had a recognized gift from God of receiving direct revelations from Him. As a prophetess, she would have been considered a spiritual leader among the Israelites.
- She was married – Unlike some female prophets (Exodus 15:20), Deborah was married. This demonstrates that her role as a judge and prophetess were not at odds with marriage.
- She was judging Israel – Deborah exercised the role of judge over the nation of Israel. In the midst of oppression by Jabin the king of Canaan, Deborah called Barak to lead an army against their enemies, displaying her authority and leadership.
In the account of her judge-ship, we see Deborah exhibiting strong wisdom, discernment, and courage:
- Wisdom – Deborah summoned the military commander Barak and told him exactly when and how to attack the Canaanites. Her strategy led to a successful victory for the Israelites (Judges 4:6-7, 14).
- Discernment – Deborah had the discernment from God to appoint the right commander for the task at hand. She saw potential in Barak that he did not see in himself.
- Courage – Though Barak displayed fear and reluctance, Deborah boldly obeyed the word of the Lord and rallied Barak and the troops to courageous action (Judges 4:8-9).
Deborah stands out as an exemplary leader who operated in sync with God’s leading to deliver His people. After 40 years of peace, Deborah continues to judge Israel, making judgments from under a palm tree where the people would come to her (Judges 4:4-5). Even after the victory in battle, Deborah remained a respected leader in Israel.
In the song of Deborah recorded in Judges 5, we gain more insight into her role as a civic leader. As a judge, Deborah would settle disputes brought to her from the people, much like a modern judge settles court cases. The song first praises the Lord then proceeds to evaluate each of the twelve tribes of Israel—possibly indicating how Deborah responded to needs and disputes within the tribes in her judgments.
As both prophetess and judge, Deborah represented spiritual authority, military leadership, and civic justice given from the Lord to bless Israel during her time. This diversity of giftings made Deborah a powerful and multi-faceted leader.
Huldah – The Prophetess Who Verified Scripture
The other female judge of the Bible is the prophetess Huldah, who served during the reign of King Josiah. We read about her in 2 Kings 22 and 2 Chronicles 34.
After the Book of the Law (possibly Deuteronomy) was discovered during temple renovations, King Josiah asked Hilkiah the priest to inquire of the Lord about the book. Rather than going directly to Jeremiah who was also prophesying at the time, Hilkiah took a team to:
Huldah the prophetess, the wife of Shallum the son of Tikvah, the son of Harhas, keeper of the wardrobe. (She dwelt in Jerusalem in the Second Quarter.) And they spoke with her. (2 Kings 22:14 NKJV)
This verse tells us a few things about Huldah:
- She was sought out as a prophetess in Jerusalem when the king needed a word from the Lord.
- She was married to Shallum who held an important position in the king’s court.
- She lived in the Second Quarter—possibly indicating prominence and influence.
Though little is known about Huldah herself, we see in 2 Kings 22 that she exercised tremendous spiritual authority during her day. When Hilkiah and the king’s servants came to her after finding the Book of the Law, she verified that it was indeed the true word of God.
Then Huldah said to them, “Thus says the Lord God of Israel, ‘Tell the man who sent you to Me, “Thus says the Lord: ‘Behold, I will bring calamity on this place and on its inhabitants—all the words of the book which the king of Judah has read— because they have forsaken Me and burned incense to other gods…’” (2 Kings 22:15-17 NKJV)
Imagine the responsibility on Huldah’s shoulders in this moment! The recently rediscovered Book of the Law would shape King Josiah’s entire reign. The people looked to her as God’s mouthpiece to confirm the authenticity and authority of Scripture.
Huldah also spoke the word of the Lord to King Josiah himself:
“Thus says the Lord God of Israel: ‘As for the words which you have heard— because your heart was tender, and you humbled yourself before the Lord … I also have heard you,’ says the Lord. (2 Kings 22:18-19 NKJV)
Through Huldah, the Lord affirmed Josiah’s sensitive heart and responsive leadership. Josiah responded in wholehearted devotion to God’s word and instituted massive religious reforms in Judah. Huldah’s prophetic ministry played a pivotal role in this revival.
As prophetess and counselor to the king, Huldah provided critical spiritual leadership to the entire nation. Her partnership with King Josiah led to one of the greatest seasons of repentance, renewal, and rediscovery of God’s word in Judah’s history.
Key Lessons from These Courageous, Godly Women
Though only two female judges are named, Deborah and Huldah provide invaluable models of courage, faith, and leadership that apply to women of every generation:
- Obedience over cultural expectations – These women boldly obeyed God’s calling over their lives rather than conforming to cultural gender roles. They let the Lord define their leadership capacity, not society.
- Courage over fear – Both Deborah and Huldah spoke God’s word courageously despite potential backlash or rejection. They honored the Lord above all else.
- Faith to confront challenges – These judges had the faith to confront military enemies (Deborah) and lead spiritual renewal (Huldah) during tumultuous times in Israel’s history.
- Wisdom from above – Deborah and Huldah constantly relied on divine wisdom, not merely human understanding. They flowed in the spiritual gifts God had given them.
- Partnership with male leaders – These women exhibited partnership and teamwork to accomplish God’s purposes. They were secure enough to utilize the strengths of leaders like Barak and Josiah.
- Humility and boldness – At times they led boldly; at times they followed humbly. They balanced gentle service and courageous leadership.
Deborah and Huldah will forever stand as shining examples of what God can do through a woman fully yielded to Him. When God calls a woman to lead, she should respond in faith knowing that He will equip her thoroughly for every good work.
As the Lord said to Deborah:
“Has not the Lord God of Israel commanded…?” (Judges 4:6 NKJV)
And as Huldah confirmed:
“Thus says the Lord God of Israel…” (2 Kings 22:15 NKJV)
When God commands, we can walk forward in obedience, boldness, and faith in His provision and empowerment.
In summary, only two female judges are mentioned in the Bible – the prophetess Deborah and the prophetess Huldah. Though few in number, they provide invaluable models of godly courage, leadership, and faith for women of all generations.
Both Deborah and Huldah exercised spiritual, military, and civic leadership during crucial times in Israel’s history. They operated in partnership with male leaders yet boldly obeyed God’s call over their lives. They provide timeless examples of wisdom, discernment, and obedience to God’s voice above all.
Their stories remind us that God can powerfully use a woman when she makes herself fully available to Him. When God calls a woman to lead, she should rise up in faith, knowing that the Lord delights to equip those He calls. Deborah and Huldah continue to inspire women everywhere to pursue the gifts and callings God has placed on their lives.