“And she would sit under the Palm of Deborah, between Hormah and Beth-El on the mountain of Ephraim and the Sons of Israel would come up to her for judgment.”
If there is any question as to the type of leader that Deborah was, we need to put that to rest up front. In the previous verse, we see her introduced as a prophetess, so there is clearly a spiritual element to her leadership, but here we see her issuing judgments and thus we must recognize that there is a civil authority that she has. It should be noted, though, that while other judges offer sacrifices at times, Deborah does not fulfill a priestly role in the context of her account.
We have already pointed out that Deborah is the exception to the rule as to her role in such leadership, but seeing these facets does help us to better understand the role of the ancient judge. For while there would later be three branches of government in ancient Israel (Prophet, Priest, and King), here we see the judges fulfilling all roles as needed. And thus, in many ways, the Judge forms as a kind of “type” or foreshadowing of Christ — the one who perfectly fulfills all three functions.
It is interesting to note that the Palm of Deborah is probably not a reference to this particular Deborah, but instead to the Deborah who was Rebekah’s nurse (introduced in Genesis 24:59), who died in this area (Genesis 35:8) and thus the name of the area was given to be “Allon-Bacuth” — or the “Oak of Weeping.” Such a notable landmark would have been a quite appropriate place for the solemn task of judging over disputes amongst God’s people. Sadly, disputes in our world have become so common that we often do not take seriously the gravity of such situations. But here are those to whom God has given infinite grace, bickering amongst one another. How can this be?