A Call to Serve - Judges 5
This morning we continue our look at the story of Deborah in Judges 5. Last week we saw in quite graphic terms the victory of Israel over the Canaanites. Chapter 4 tells us the facts of the story. In chapter 5 there is a more theological reflection in what is known as the song of Deborah.
Deborah identified the problem that existed in Israel in verse 8
When Israel chose new gods,
war erupted at the city gates.
Yet not a shield or spear could be seen
among forty thousand warriors in Israel!
As a result of their rebellion in choosing “new gods” the Lord allowed Israel to be oppressed by King Jabin from Hazor which was North of Israel. In addition to the oppression there was also social decay. There are no excuses. Israel was responsible for what happened to them.
Jabin’s general, a man named Sisera had 900 iron chariots! Israel had none! Pointing out that the Canaanites had 900 iron chariots is like saying we went up against a tank division and were severely outmanned. Or it might be like taking on a battleship in our fishing boat. Or like the a small island taking on the US military.
The end of the song talks about Jael's heroic act of killing Sisera and then there is a picture of Sisera's mom waiting for her son to return. It is a reminder that these are REAL people. Frankly, the more violent the actions, the more offended we are. We recoil at some of the things we read here. We wonder what kind of God would let this happen, much less celebrate it?
We are offended because we have a weak view of sin. We see sin as a “mistake,” a “breaking of the rules,” or as a bad choice.” As far as God is concerned, sin is rebellion, treason, it is a deliberate rupture of our relationship with Him. It is rejection. The Bible talks about it as adultery. If you have ever been rejected in a relationship through divorce, adultery, or bad breakup, you know the pain this causes. It is like someone took our love, our heart, and just threw it away as if it were nothing. When you love as much as God does, that rejection is even more offensive. We see sin as a misdemeanor, God sees it as a capital offense. He is holy and will not tolerate such disregard forever.
The True Hero of the Story (1-5)
Let’s get to the heart of the text and look at what Deborah says in her song.
“Listen, you kings!
Pay attention, you mighty rulers!
For I will sing to the Lord.
I will make music to the Lord, the God of Israel.
4“Lord, when you set out from Seir
and marched across the fields of Edom,
the earth trembled,
and the cloudy skies poured down rain.
5The mountains quaked in the presence of the Lord,
the God of Mount Sinai—
in the presence of the Lord,
the God of Israel.
Deborah does not focus on Barak or Jael as the hero of the story, she pointed to GOD as the redeemer of the people. He was the One who saved them. In verse 4 Deborah recounted God making the rains pour down. The rains caused the chariots to be mired in mud, neutralizing their advantage. In verses 19-21 we see more details.
It seems to me, we are quick to take credit for God’s actions and quick to blame God for OUR actions! Deborah realized the odds were stacked against Israel. The only way to victory was for God to act. When he threw the armies into confusion Deborah knew it was a supernatural work of God. God did what no one dreamed possible.
Perhaps you feel the odds stacked against you today. Don’t ever forget: odds don’t take into account that you are a child of God! There is nothing the world can do to snatch believers out of His hand. There is no disease stronger than He is. There no situation beyond His reach. The Lord is Supreme overall and when you are in His hands . . . you can only watch and wonder at the work of God.
The Faithful and Unfaithful (6-17)
Much of the rest of the song, Deborah praises some of the tribes of Israel and rebukes others. It is not easy reading. The conflict was in the North part of the land of Israel. What Deborah is going to do is list the tribes that should be commended because they stepped up and fought and then she rebukes the tribes that watched from a distance.
There are 5 tribes mentioned who came and fought, in verse 14-15 we read,
They came down from Ephraim—
a land that once belonged to the Amalekites;
they followed you, Benjamin, with your troops.
From Makir the commanders marched down;
from Zebulun came those who carry a commander’s staff.
The princes of Issachar were with Deborah and Barak. (Judges 5:14-15)
In verse 18 she adds,
But Zebulun risked his life,
as did Naphtali, on the heights of the battlefield.
In the time of crisis, the men of the tribe of Issachar rushed to join Barak in battle. The people of Zebulun, Benjamin, and Naphtali were right there on the front lines. The odds were against them but they rallied to the call. In fairness, the battle was fought in the area of Naphtali, Zebulun and Issachar. The point is: they stepped up. Ephraim and Asher were further away but they joined their brothers in battle.
At the end of verse 15, we read about the tribes that did NOT help,
But in the tribe of Reuben
there was great indecision.
Why did you sit at home among the sheepfolds—
to hear the shepherds whistle for their flocks?
Yes, in the tribe of Reuben
there was great indecision.
Gilead remained east of the Jordan.
And why did Dan stay home?
Asher sat unmoved at the seashore,
remaining in his harbors. (15-17)
It is interesting (to me) to look at these tribes on a map. However, listing the various tribes leaves most of us with a blank stare. Some tribes are not mentioned at all. The point is: some served and some refused.
A quote was attributed to Albert Einstein,
The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil,
But by those who watch them and don’t do anything.
Similar to this, Martin Niemoller wrote several variations of this:
First, they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me
Therefore, continuing to raise issues and questions on abortion, so-called physician assisted suicide, withholding food from babies that are deformed, genocide (the killing of people simply because of their ethnicity), freedom of religion (even for those not Christian), and other topics is so important. Once we allow one life or group of people to be treated as less valuable, we move a step closer to being deemed unnecessary ourselves.
In this time of escalating violence, moral recklessness, selfish indulgence, and indifference others, God's people cannot remain silent! Unfortunately, even in churches it is getting hard to get people to be involved in ministry. How often do we put sign-up sheets out and have to beg for weeks to get people to volunteer? Sadly, even among God's people, there are more people who complain than DO.
It has been said the church is like a football game. 22 men who are desperately in need of rest, doing battle while 60,000 people, desperately in need of exercise, cheer and hoot those who are on the field. The Lord has not called us to be spectators. He calls us to the front lines! However, He also promises He will be with us.
Reasons People Give for Not being Involved
Let me give you some suggestions for why I think people spend time on the sidelines instead of getting into the game. Why do we talk about God more than we serve Him?
We are not qualified. We believe there are others who can do it better than we can. And much of the time there ARE people who can do it better than we can. BUT . . . those people are often so busy doing things they are exhausted and are no longer able to do things WELL.
What we forget is the simple truth: God does not need our talent. He needs a willing heart. God will supply what is lacking. You may feel unqualified. You may BE unqualified, but, if He is with you and in you . . . you have all the qualification you need. He calls us to dare to trust Him.
We don’t have time. The adage is true: if you are too busy for the truly important things in life . . . you are too busy! If we don’t have time to serve the Lord, then we need to cut out some other things from our life. If you are too busy to spend time with Him, you are too busy and need to make some changes.
Maybe it would help if you turned it around. What if God was too busy for you? Let me stress as I often do: If you do not make time for the most important thing (the Lord) everything else will be out of balance. It is possible that the reason you don't have time is because you are actually serving something or someone other than the Lord!
We have a competitive Spirit. There seems to be a notion if we support another church or help them out, we are somehow losing something. When someone attends a different church than ours it feels like we must fight to get them to our church. What is happening is we are fighting against ourselves! Satan doesn’t have to do anything when the church is devouring itself. We are allies, not enemies! We are supposed to be advancing the Kingdom of God rather than our own “brand.” Many have walked away from Christianity because of bickering among believers.
We see this with our concerts on occasion. There are churches that don’t want to advertise a concert unless they themselves are hosting it! Somehow, we have to find a way to build bridges instead of walls. I’m not saying we should ignore theological differences. What we believe does matter. However, why can’t we discuss these things as friends and brothers and sisters who are seeking to find and understand the truth? Why can’t we be civil and open our Bibles together? Why must everything be a contest? When will we be willing to let His glory and honor come before our own?
We have “served our time.” When it comes to serving in the church, people often say, I have “served my time.” How much time is that exactly? What verses in the Bible talk about retirement? When is it that we can no longer be concerned about the work of the Lord? How do we staff our Sunday School, our youth, our children’s ministries, our boards and committees if discipleship has term limits? Do we really want to say to anyone new to the church, “Welcome, It’s your turn; Now, get to work!” Is it any wonder people are hesitant to join a church? They are afraid they will get “dumped on.”
We have separated ourselves from Fellowship. This may be what happened to Reuben and Gilead. They took their inheritance on the other side of the Jordan River. Their intentions may have been good and pure at first, but over time the rest of Israel may have seemed distant and detached. This in turn made them not want to get involved.
Gary Ingrid writes,
You can mark it down: A voluntary lack of fellowship with other believers will inevitably produce a lack of enthusiasm for God’s work. This is an important issue in our time when polls tell us that many people who profess to be Christ-followers are living independently outside of active church fellowship. There are two huge problems with this attitude. First, it is direct disobedience to the Lord’s clear exhortation: “Let us not give up meeting together” (Hebrews 10: 25). Second, love for fellow believers is an evidence of salvation (see 1 John 3: 10, 14). If we can easily absent ourselves from fellowship, it should make us wonder about the true nature of our relationship with the Lord. (Hearts of Iron, Feet of Clay)
You have stopped Growing. A Christian who does not have a growing Christian faith will develop a stagnant Christian faith. You will lose interest in the things and people of God. It is true: you are either growing or declining. You are NEVER standing still. We have all known people who started out with great enthusiasm, but they faded. Why? Because they never developed roots. When the novelty wore off or when trouble came upon them, it was easy to simply walk away.
It is not enough to dissect and render judgment on the tribes of Israel. Our job is to learn and grow from these examples. God calls us to boldly follow Him. He wants us to serve Him wholeheartedly, enthusiastically and joyfully. He summons us to stand against the forces of Satan and those Satan has convinced to follow him.
The contemporary church in America is losing its grip on the idea of service. There is a desire to be entertained. Many want to come to church, sing songs, learn stuff, and the come back the next week. We want a faith that makes no real demands. It is just pleasant.
One commentator writes,
Participation in the kingdom of God is praiseworthy. Nonparticipation is shameful, perhaps in some cases abominable. This is especially true when his people’s lack of involvement is based on their self-centered, self-serving interest and apathy. Christianity is not a spectator sport; it requires involvement. Just as God is holy, passionate, and zealous for righteousness, he expects his people to be the same. . . When we choose not to participate in what he has ordained as part of the establishment of his kingdom, we become supporters of another program, a program that is not of God, a program dictated by the gods of this world.
So let's take this home. Where is there a need in God's Kingdom work that you can fill? It might be here at the church; it might be outside of the church. It might involve leading a program, or it might be as simple as visiting someone who is alone or hurting. It is not about how many people you are involved with, it is about a heart attitude that says, "Lord, here I am, send me!" It is about a willingness to get involved, to play your part, to get in the game. You don't know where to start? Check out the empty sign-up sheets downstairs, pass out business cards to friends and neighbors, be kind and supportive to all people at all times.
Here is the question we should all ask: When the story is told about my life, will I be seen as one who responded to the call of God? or will I be one of those who were too always too busy with other things? Did you live passionately for the Lord or was it something you did on the side? Will there be people in Heaven who heard about Jesus from you? Will you be commended or ashamed? Are you part of the problem, or part of the solution?
ãCopyright May 20, 2018 by Rev. Bruce Goettsche
 K. Lawson Younger JUDGES, RUTH (NIV APPLICATION COMMENTARY) p.165