Building a People of God With Unusual Characters: Deborah Judges for God’s People

Building a People of God With Unusual Characters  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  39:29
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Building a People of God With Unusual Characters

We are coming to a different part of our reflections on the amazing and unusual characters whom God uses to build his people.
Moses brought God’s people out of Egypt, after more than 400 years subject to the whims of the Pharaohs. The Joshua was called on, as his successor, to bring the people into the land that God had promised on oath to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
So Joshua, a soul of true character who was a man of prayer, who heard from God and encountered God’s angels and saw many victories, helped the Israelites to gain a foothold in Canaan, the promised land.
There was the victory at Jericho that opened up the gateway to Palestine, and struck fear in the hearts of the people who where in the path of the advancing Israelite armies. And city after city fell. Territory was gained, many of God’s enemies where killed, and Israel lived in housed they had not built, at crops they had not planted, and enjoyed the fruit of the land that God had given to them.
The task was not yet completed when Joshua, after leading them so far, had to lay aside his own sward and spear. The situation was simple:
Joshua 13:1 CSB
1 Joshua was now old, advanced in age, and the Lord said to him, “You have become old, advanced in age, but a great deal of the land remains to be possessed.
So it was time to pass on the leadership to others. In fact, it was time for the clans of Jacob’s sons to receive their inheritance and take up the tasks of securing their own boarders.
>>>But this could only be done through faithfulness and grit. Now it was time for. . .

Joshua’s Last Admonition to Israel

As he gathered the people of Israel together, he laid out the history of exodus, the red sea, the manna, the water from the rock and the pillars of fire and smoke that the Lord had used to show his presence. He spoke of the law of God that had been given through Moses and was now being passed on to them through Joshua.
So now Joshua challenges them to step up and live for God.
Joshua 24:14 CSB
14 “Therefore, fear the Lord and worship him in sincerity and truth. Get rid of the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and worship the Lord.
There it is. Yahweh God is worthy of our worship. Get rid of your idols and the idea of other powers that might save you. Throw away the gods who are impotent because they are simply man-made idols of wood or stone or metal who have no muscles, no voice, no power to move.
Now, take up the challenge, and serve the Lord, Yahweh God.
Joshua 24:15 CSB
15 But if it doesn’t please you to worship the Lord, choose for yourselves today: Which will you worship—the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living? As for me and my family, we will worship the Lord.”
Joshua 24:16 CSB
16 The people replied, “We will certainly not abandon the Lord to worship other gods!
>>>But after his experience with Israel to this point, he was not very confident about their loyalties. So he pointed out their frailty of faith in. . .

Joshua’s Challenge to Israel

Joshua 24:19 CSB
19 But Joshua told the people, “You will not be able to worship the Lord, because he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions and sins.
Joshua 24:20 CSB
20 If you abandon the Lord and worship foreign gods, he will turn against you, harm you, and completely destroy you, after he has been good to you.”
Joshua said “God is too holy for you” which is why a man-made idol is more manageable for most people; not because it is a real god, but because it isn’t a holy and just God who keeps his promises of blessings and of curses.
But the people were sure they could do it, and said,
Joshua 24:21 CSB
21 “No!” the people answered Joshua. “We will worship the Lord.”
OK, put your money where your mouth is.
Joshua 24:23 CSB
23 “Then get rid of the foreign gods that are among you and turn your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.”
And so they promised they would:
Joshua 24:24–25 CSB
24 So the people said to Joshua, “We will worship the Lord our God and obey him.” 25 On that day Joshua made a covenant for the people at Shechem and established a statute and ordinance for them.

Joshua’s Death and Legacy

Joshua 24:29 CSB
29 After these things, the Lord’s servant, Joshua son of Nun, died at the age of 110.
Now, to be fair to the people who had made these promises of fealty before Joshua, they didn’t at first abandon God, for we read at the end of the book of Joshua,
Joshua 24:31 CSB
31 Israel worshiped the Lord throughout Joshua’s lifetime and during the lifetimes of the elders who outlived Joshua and who had experienced all the works the Lord had done for Israel.
Still, they ceased their offensive battles with the Canaanites who possessed the land and were an abomination to God because of their idolatry and prostitution. Instead, the Israelites got lax and their future was always on a knife-edge of doing God’s will or just settling for what they had.
>>>There are notes that we have about. . .

Israelite Victories and Failures

Joshua 13:13 CSB
13 but the Israelites did not drive out the Geshurites and Maacathites. So Geshur and Maacath still live in Israel today.
Joshua 15:63 CSB
63 But the descendants of Judah could not drive out the Jebusites who lived in Jerusalem. So the Jebusites still live in Jerusalem among the descendants of Judah today.
Joshua 16:10 CSB
10 However, they did not drive out the Canaanites who lived in Gezer. So the Canaanites still live in Ephraim today, but they are forced laborers.
Joshua 17:12–13 CSB
12 The descendants of Manasseh could not possess these cities, because the Canaanites were determined to stay in this land. 13 However, when the Israelites grew stronger, they imposed forced labor on the Canaanites but did not drive them out completely.
Well the pattern was set, and it was a matter of relying on God or relying on human strength. The tribe of Judah had some other successes when they remembered this:
Judges 1:4 CSB
4 When Judah attacked, the Lord handed the Canaanites and Perizzites over to them. They struck down ten thousand men in Bezek.
Judges 1:19 CSB
19 The Lord was with Judah and enabled them to take possession of the hill country, but they could not drive out the people who were living in the plain because those people had iron chariots.
Oh, so many ups and downs are recorded in this part of the Old Testament. It is really the setting for everything that continues in the relationship between God and Israel for the next centuries.
Judges 1:21 CSB
21 At the same time the Benjaminites did not drive out the Jebusites who were living in Jerusalem. The Jebusites have lived among the Benjaminites in Jerusalem to this day.
Judges 1:22 CSB
22 The house of Joseph also attacked Bethel, and the Lord was with them.
Judges 1:27 CSB
27 At that time Manasseh failed to take possession of Beth-shean and Taanach and their surrounding villages, or the residents of Dor, Ibleam, and Megiddo and their surrounding villages; the Canaanites were determined to stay in this land.
Judges 1:29 CSB
29 At that time Ephraim failed to drive out the Canaanites who were living in Gezer, so the Canaanites have lived among them in Gezer.
Judges 1:30 CSB
30 Zebulun failed to drive out the residents of Kitron or the residents of Nahalol, so the Canaanites lived among them and served as forced labor.
Judges 1:31 CSB
31 Asher failed to drive out the residents of Acco or of Sidon, or Ahlab, Achzib, Helbah, Aphik, or Rehob.
Judges 1:33 CSB
33 Naphtali did not drive out the residents of Beth-shemesh or the residents of Beth-anath. They lived among the Canaanites who were living in the land, but the residents of Beth-shemesh and Beth-anath served as their forced labor.
Judges 1:34 CSB
34 The Amorites forced the Danites into the hill country and did not allow them to go down into the valley.

Victory Comes From the Lord

and if the people of Israel keep forgetting that, if they keep watering down the mission they have been given to fully possess the land, if they leave behind those things that will temp them, then they will simply give in.
>>>That’s when we hear. . .

The Judgement of God from the Angel of the Lord

Judges 2:1 CSB
1 The angel of the Lord went up from Gilgal to Bochim and said, “I brought you out of Egypt and led you into the land I had promised to your ancestors. I also said: I will never break my covenant with you.
THAT is the promise of God’s faithfulness. And it requires the faithfulness of Israel.
Judges 2:2 CSB
2 You are not to make a covenant with the inhabitants of this land. You are to tear down their altars. But you have not obeyed me. What have you done?
Since they have been unfaithful in their following of God, the Angel’s report from God is dire:
Judges 2:3 CSB
3 Therefore, I now say: I will not drive out these people before you. They will be thorns in your sides, and their gods will be a trap for you.”
And this is just the statement of why we have in the time of the judges. . .

The Sad Record of Religious Relapse

Judges 2:11–12 CSB
11 The Israelites did what was evil in the Lord’s sight. They worshiped the Baals 12 and abandoned the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed other gods from the surrounding peoples and bowed down to them. They angered the Lord,

The Wretched Result of Rebelling Against God

Judges 2:13–14 CSB
13 for they abandoned him and worshiped Baal and the Ashtoreths. 14 The Lord’s anger burned against Israel, and he handed them over to marauders who raided them. He sold them to the enemies around them, and they could no longer resist their enemies.
Judges 2:15 CSB
15 Whenever the Israelites went out, the Lord was against them and brought disaster on them, just as he had promised and sworn to them. So they suffered greatly.

The Lord Has Not Abandoned His People

Even though his people, the Israelites, had abandoned him.
Judges 2:16 CSB
16 The Lord raised up judges, who saved them from the power of their marauders,

Israel Still Rejects Yahweh God

Judges 2:17 CSB
17 but they did not listen to their judges. Instead, they prostituted themselves with other gods, bowing down to them. They quickly turned from the way of their ancestors, who had walked in obedience to the Lord’s commands. They did not do as their ancestors did.
>>>The Cycles in Judges Reveals

A Downward Spiral for Israel

Judges 2:18 CSB
18 Whenever the Lord raised up a judge for the Israelites, the Lord was with him and saved the people from the power of their enemies while the judge was still alive. The Lord was moved to pity whenever they groaned because of those who were oppressing and afflicting them.
Judges 2:19 CSB
19 Whenever the judge died, the Israelites would act even more corruptly than their ancestors, following other gods to serve them and bow in worship to them. They did not turn from their evil practices or their obstinate ways.
Judges 2:20–21 CSB
20 The Lord’s anger burned against Israel, and he declared, “Because this nation has violated my covenant that I made with their ancestors and disobeyed me, 21 I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations Joshua left when he died.
This is just filling out the patterns of the Angel’s Message I shared a few minutes ago. And trouble kept coming as judges rose and fell, and the people sometimes followed and usually failed.

Othniel vs. Aram

The cycle of the Judges is clear in the story of Othniel, the first judge of Israel in the verses of Judges 3:7-11 “7. The Israelites did what was evil in the Lord’s sight; they forgot the Lord their God and worshiped the Baals and the Asherahs. 8. The Lord’s anger burned against Israel, and he sold them to King Cushan-rishathaim of Aram-naharaim, and the Israelites served him eight years. 9. The Israelites cried out to the Lord. So the Lord raised up Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb’s youngest brother, as a deliverer to save the Israelites. 10. The Spirit of the Lord came on him, and he judged Israel. Othniel went out to battle, and the Lord handed over King Cushan-rishathaim of Aram to him, so that Othniel overpowered him. 11. Then the land had peace for forty years, and Othniel son of Kenaz died.”
Over and over we have the same cycle of events, only the names have been changed.

The Israelites do evil in the Lord’s sight.

The Lord withdraws His protection and Israel is subjugated

Israel cries out the the Lord

The Lord raises up a Deliverer

The Deliver is Successful

The Enemies of Israel are subjugated

The land has peace.

So even though the situation and the style of victory differs, the cycle repeats clear through the book of Judges.
It was true for Othniel, then Ehud, and then Shamgar, and we will see how it was true for the First Female to Judge Israel. By the way, after she is gone, the cycle continues.
The book of Judges is so full of spiritual and moral decline that the graphic stories within it are sometimes hard to even tell.
>>>Today, our real story is about. . .

Deborah, the First Female Judge of Israel

whose story is told alongside the story of Barak, a man who became the conquering general against the King Jabin of Canaan and Sisera his general.
>>>So back to the beginning of this part of the story, in Judges chapter 4, and

Guess What the Israelites Did?

If you said they did

Evil in the Sight of the Lord

then you’ve kept up so far.
Judges 4:1 CSB
1 The Israelites again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord after Ehud had died.
That’s step 1.
Now, for step 2:

A New Oppressor for Israel

Judges 4:2 CSB
2 So the Lord sold them to King Jabin of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor. The commander of his army was Sisera who lived in Harosheth of the Nations.
Step 3 is right here, too:

Israel Cries Out to Yahweh

Judges 4:3 CSB
3 Then the Israelites cried out to the Lord, because Jabin had nine hundred iron chariots, and he harshly oppressed them twenty years.
It’s time for step 4:
At that time,

Deborah the Prophetess is Judging Israel

Judges 4:4 CSB
4 Deborah, a prophetess and the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time.
But although Deborah is already Judge over Israel, she is not herself the deliverer that God will use.
Her days looked like this:
Judges 4:5 CSB
5 She would sit under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites went up to her to settle disputes.
>>>That’s when Deborah, as Prophetess, Sees that

Barak Is the Chosen Deliverer

by the choice of God. But Barak just doesn’t feel it.
Here’s how it breaks down: Deborah calls Barak as the Lord told her:
Judges 4:6 CSB
6 She summoned Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali and said to him, “Hasn’t the Lord, the God of Israel, commanded you, ‘Go, deploy the troops on Mount Tabor, and take with you ten thousand men from the Naphtalites and Zebulunites?
There is even a plan that Deborah is given:
Judges 4:7 CSB
7 Then I will lure Sisera commander of Jabin’s army, his chariots, and his infantry at the Wadi Kishon to fight against you, and I will hand him over to you.’ ”
>>>Barak is a little low on his confidence, although he is a fine warrior. But he is certain he can’t raise the army by himself.
Judges 4:8 CSB
8 Barak said to her, “If you will go with me, I will go. But if you will not go with me, I will not go.”
Now, Deborah the Prophetess-Judge is certain of God. She is confident enough to encourage Barak, but the glory will go to another:
Judges 4:9 CSB
9 “I will gladly go with you,” she said, “but you will receive no honor on the road you are about to take, because the Lord will sell Sisera to a woman.” So Deborah got up and went with Barak to Kedesh.
and with Deborah’s support, Barak was prepared to handle business:
Judges 4:10 CSB
10 Barak summoned Zebulun and Naphtali to Kedesh; ten thousand men followed him, and Deborah also went with him.
There is a bit about Heber the Kenite, who was a descendant of Moses’ father-in-law. He had moved into the land of Canaan with his wife. But now, back to the situation at hand:
The Enemy gets word of the army of Barak, and musters his forces:
Judges 4:12–13 CSB
12 It was reported to Sisera that Barak son of Abinoam had gone up Mount Tabor. 13 Sisera summoned all his nine hundred iron chariots and all the troops who were with him from Harosheth of the Nations to the Wadi Kishon.
Which is a pretty formidable army, with cavalry and the tanks of the day.
>>>But that is exactly what the Lord put in front of Barak and Deborah, for they needed to defeat the whole army, not just a detachment or brigade.
Judges 4:14 CSB
14 Then Deborah said to Barak, “Go! This is the day the Lord has handed Sisera over to you. Hasn’t the Lord gone before you?” So Barak came down from Mount Tabor with ten thousand men following him.
And as Barak leads the charge with the Israelites from Zebulun and Naphtali, they struck panic onto the seasoned forces of Jabin and Sisera:
Judges 4:15 CSB
15 The Lord threw Sisera, all his charioteers, and all his army into a panic before Barak’s assault. Sisera left his chariot and fled on foot.
So Barak pressed on to destroy these oppressors of Israel in the Promised Land:
Judges 4:16 CSB
16 Barak pursued the chariots and the army as far as Harosheth of the Nations, and the whole army of Sisera fell by the sword; not a single man was left.
Now, do you remember what Deborah told Barak when he said he wouldn’t go call up an army without her? She said “The Lord will sell Sisera to a woman.”

Sisera Dies at the Hand of Jael

Here’s how that happened:
Judges 4:17 CSB
17 Meanwhile, Sisera had fled on foot to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, because there was peace between King Jabin of Hazor and the family of Heber the Kenite.
The reason there was peace between King Jabin and Heber the Kenite was because they were not seen as part of the Israelite invaders; instead, just Midianites or something similar.
Well that’s fine. But that fact won’t do General Sisera any good.
Jael, wife of Heber the Kenite, begs him to accept the hospitality of her tent:
Judges 4:18 CSB
18 Jael went out to greet Sisera and said to him, “Come in, my lord. Come in with me. Don’t be afraid.” So he went into her tent, and she covered him with a blanket.
Sisera, worn out from running and afraid of the Israelites, wasn’t above hiding under a blanket in the tent of another man.
Judges 4:19 CSB
19 He said to her, “Please give me a little water to drink for I am thirsty.” She opened a container of milk, gave him a drink, and covered him again.
Judges 4:20 CSB
20 Then he said to her, “Stand at the entrance to the tent. If a man comes and asks you, ‘Is there a man here?’ say, ‘No.’ ”
Milk to a tired man is like a sleeping potion, and that is what Jael needed to carry out her work under God’s plans.
Heber was definitely not at home, and there would have been some scandal here, but the story is not about scandal but about God working his will through people who will follow his lead.
Calmly, quietly, and purposefully,
Judges 4:21 CSB
21 While he was sleeping from exhaustion, Heber’s wife, Jael, took a tent peg, grabbed a hammer, and went silently to Sisera. She hammered the peg into his temple and drove it into the ground, and he died.
and that is when Barak showed up, wanting to finish the decimation of all Jabin’s forces. That included the general, Sisera.
Judges 4:22 CSB
22 When Barak arrived in pursuit of Sisera, Jael went out to greet him and said to him, “Come and I will show you the man you are looking for.” So he went in with her, and there was Sisera lying dead with a tent peg through his temple!

Barak is Successful because of Jael

Judges 4:23 CSB
23 That day God subdued King Jabin of Canaan before the Israelites.
and the forces of King Jabin of Canaan were

Destroyed, Not Just Subjugated

Judges 4:24 CSB
24 The power of the Israelites continued to increase against King Jabin of Canaan until they destroyed him.
And after the song of Deborah and Barak tells all the gruesome details, at the end of chapter 5 we read:

The Land Had Peace

Judges 5:31 CSB
31 Lord, may all your enemies perish as Sisera did. But may those who love him be like the rising of the sun in its strength. And the land had peace for forty years.
Yep, the same cycle. With some differences of language and feel, it will continue to repeat.
But this is more than just a cycle, remember I said it is still a spiraling downward of the religious and moral state of the Israelites.
They were dependent upon Yahweh God in the wilderness. But now as they settle in the villages and cities Canaan, they don’t see the need for a deliverer when they can just melt in to the culture of the land.

The Message of the Book of Judges

Deborah was a fearless leader of the people, but she relied upon the Lord at a time when it wasn’t clear that anyone else was wise enough to do that.
We need to be on the side of the Deborahs of our faith-family tree. We need to be solidly on the side of the Lord our God who has delivered us from sin and fear.
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