Deborah - Great Women of the Bible
Great Women of the Bible
Judges 4:1-10 (Judges 4-5)
Good morning and welcome to worship. We have had another beautiful weekend and God has a beautiful week ahead of us. Beautiful, but dry… so we continue to pray for rain! Welcome also to those of you joining us online, we are blessed to gather in worship with you!
It was good to see so many of you here last Monday night as we looked toward the future of who and what God is calling us into. If you were not here and didn’t receive the email, this past Monday, September 12, 2022 at 6:00 PM, at a Special Called Congregational Meeting, we voted unanimously to return to the historic name of the church as depicted on the plaque in the Narthex, The First Methodist Church of Brownwood. As Bart Johnson and I reviewed documents this week, we realized that this is the name on the deeds for this building. It truly is a symbol of our continuity in ministry as the people called Methodist here at First Brownwood.
The Leadership Team also presented a resolution to affiliate with the Global Methodist Church and it too passed unanimously. And, as seemed appropriate, we followed the business portion with a time of worship, led by members of the Common Ground and Sanctuary worship teams and concluded with Communion. It was a time of remembering our past, thanking God for the present, and looking hopefully into the future.
Now, we didn’t gather to hear the minutes of Monday’s meeting, did we? We are here at this point to hear a word from God.
Today, we are continuing our series of the Great Women of the Bible. Last week we considered the often overlooked story of Abigail and saw the difference beauty makes in our lives. Today is a 2 for one, we are looking at one of the great stories of a powerful and wise woman, Deborah, but she isn’t the only heroine in the story.
We find Deborah’s story in the 4th and 5th chapter of Judges. Turn with me to the book of Judges, it’s the 7th book of the Bible after Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, and Joshua. As you flip over there, I want to share a little about the book of Judges.
First of all, it isn’t for the faint of heart. This book tells some messed up stories. I mean, it starts out with the continued conquest and annihilation of people groups. Chapter two introduces a common practice in the ancient near east of cutting off toes and thumbs of captured kings. Chapter three tells the story of Lefty and the Fat Man, where the climax of the story is Ehud the Israelite kills Eglon, who is so fat that the 2’ dagger disappeared in the fat and he couldn’t retrieve it. These are not the stories we find in our Children’s books… well, we find some of them but they are quite sanitized. Has anyone ever seen a cartoon depiction of Samson standing over 1000 bloody corpses holding a jawbone of a donkey with blood oozing off it?
The entire book is a roller coaster of war and peace. Peace leads to complacency and over and over we read the words, “Israel once again did evil in the eyes of the Lord.” Over and over again…
Some interpret God’s actions in these moments as punishment. “The people did evil, so God punished them under king so-and-so from somewhere.” But that really isn’t what happened. Here is the pattern… The people followed Yahweh, the God who saved them, who brought them out of Egypt, then, as they lived among the other people and their god’s, they began to forget Yahweh and they chose to follow the Canaanite gods.
Yahweh is a God of choice, a God of compassion, a God of charity… and, God gives the people what they want. They wanted to follow the other gods of the land, so God, Yahweh, lets them. Then, the people realize the oppression that they are under, the realize that life was much better under God, and they return to God. They cry out to God and God hears them, God sees them, and God responds.
Let’s be honest, the book of Judges is messy. Sometimes, we just try to avoid it all together. Who wants to read these dark and confusing stories? Why would we want to read these stories that seem like a broken record of following God and falling away from God… over and over again?
We read this and we are confused… unless, as we read the book of Judges, we begin to recognize our own story. Yes, Judges is messy, but so is our life. Yes, Judges seems to be like a broken record of falling away from God, then returning to God and fighting battles, and living in peace with God, only to find themselves once again falling away from God and crying out in a time of pain… But, isn’t that our story too. Life is good, we are at peace, and then we kinda forget God, we stop coming to church, we stop reading our Bible, we stop going to small groups, we stop praying, we stop giving… we stop being the person God created us to be… we stop living the life God gave us to live and things don’t work as well… our funds don’t go as far, that sin that so easily entangles us creeps in… and soon we find ourselves far from God and we cry out… right?
As messy and strange as the Book of Judges is, it is the story of our life told like a bunch of dramas and action movies smushed into one big soap-opera.
So, with that in mind, let’s look at Deborah. Turn with me to Judges 4
After Ehud’s death, the Israelites again did evil in the Lord’s sight. 2 So the Lord turned them over to King Jabin of Hazor, a Canaanite king. The commander of his army was Sisera, who lived in Harosheth-haggoyim. Sisera, who had 900 iron chariots, ruthlessly oppressed the Israelites for twenty years. Then the people of Israel cried out to the Lord for help.
Deborah, the wife of Lappidoth, was a prophet who was judging Israel at that time. She would sit under the Palm of Deborah, between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites would go to her for judgment. One day she sent for Barak son of Abinoam, who lived in Kedesh in the land of Naphtali. She said to him, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, commands you: Call out 10,000 warriors from the tribes of Naphtali and Zebulun at Mount Tabor. And I will call out Sisera, commander of Jabin’s army, along with his chariots and warriors, to the Kishon River. There I will give you victory over him.”
Barak told her, “I will go, but only if you go with me.”
“Very well,” she replied, “I will go with you. But you will receive no honor in this venture, for the Lord’s victory over Sisera will be at the hands of a woman.” So Deborah went with Barak to Kedesh. At Kedesh, Barak called together the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali, and 10,000 warriors went up with him. Deborah also went with him.
Let us pray
Ok, there is a lot to unpack here, and even more to share as the story continues to unfold. And, we are half-way through with our time, so we’ve got to move kinda quickly.
First, the word again. Again, they did evil in the sight of the Lord. We already talked about the pattern of the Israelites is our pattern, right. I hope that you are not falling away from God. I hope and pray that you are close to God, that you let Christ dwell in you richly, that you remember what Jesus did for you on the Cross and you are living a life going on to perfection in the Lord.
But I know that isn’t true for all of us. Some of us have been struggling with our relationship with God. Some of you online, someone online is struggling with an addiction, you had done well, but now it’s like a python, it has its teeth in you AGAIN and it is surrounding you and tightening its grip.
Again… again… you have fallen from God. But here is the promise, God hears. God listens. Cry out to God and God will send a Deborah, or a Barak, to your aid. Cry out to God and be willing to accept the peace that comes with Christ. It doesn’t matter if your again is a 2 day, or 2 week, or 2 month, or 2 year cycle… it may even be a 20 year cycle – But God sees you. God knows you. God wants you to return to him. There is so much power in that word Again! Because, with that Again, comes the hope of Christ.
Jabin, a Canaanite King.
Ok, Jabin, the King of Canaan. First, let me say, some scholars argue that this story can’t be true because Joshua defeated and killed King Jabin in Joshua 11. That was like, an entire generation before Deborah and Barak faced him. How can that be? Right? Well, how many Pharaohs where there? How many Caesars were there? Most believe that Jabin was a dynastic name for the kings of Hazor. 18th, 17th, and 13th Century BC texts from Egypt and Hazor all refer to the king as Jabin. Why is this important? Sometimes we find what we think are discrepancies in God’s Word. Things that don’t line up… but the more we learn, the move ancient documents we find, the more we realize that the discrepancies and perceived inconsistencies have an legitimate answer.
Now a little more about this King Jabin. He was the power in the territory! He had a General under him named Sisera with 900 iron chariots. That’s a lot of mobile attack vehicles, but nothing compared to 10,000 soldiers, right? Wrong. Sisera’s army was a trained professional military. Those 900 chariots probably each had 3 soldiers, a driver and 2 archers. They alone could have overtaken the 10,000 Israelite farmers who formed a militia. But, if they had 2700 Chariot Soldiers, they likely had as many or more foot soldiers. The likelihood of a ragtag group of farmers and sheep herders was pretty unlikely.
This is where Deborah comes in. First, I want to clarify… Deborah is a woman… and she is a leader… Let’s keep in mind, the Israelite people were not a united kingdom at this point. They are a family spread over an area the size of Central Texas. Israel was the name given to Jacob when he wrestled with God, and his 12 sons were the foundation for the 12 tribes of Israel. As time went by, the families grew into clans that each took up resident in regions of the Promise Land, the Fertile Crescent as some call the region today, or where modern-day Israel or Palestine is. The entire country is about the size of New Jersey.
So, during this time, there weren’t kings or anything like that, there were Judges. These Judges not only settled disputes between the families, they also served as the mouth piece of God. They were prophets – they proclaimed the truth of God to God’s people.
So Deborah, as a Prophet (of Prophetess) hears from God and calls for and proclaims to Barak, “You are going to lead 10,000 soldiers against Jabin and Sisera. And God is going to win the battle.”
Here’s where some people misunderstand this text. Barak’s reply is, “I’ll go if you go.” Some think he was a coward because he said this, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Deborah represented God. She was the voice of God for the people. By having Deborah with him, he and all the clans of Israel knew that God was with them.
Deborah is brave and courageous. She doesn’t balk at his request, because she already knows that God is going to defeat Sisera… but she says something a little unique –
“I will go, but the honor of defeating Sisera will not be yours, it will go to a woman.” And, I’m sure that he… just like you… are thinking that the honor is going to go to Deborah, but nope… we’ll get to the 2nd heroin in a moment.
We get this little interlude in the story as the armies prepare for battle. It seems out of place until later in the story, but we learn of Heber, a descendent of Moses, who lives near where the battle is to take place… then, back to the action.
The armies assemble, the trumpets are blown and the battle ensues… except we read in the poem that gives the details of the battle, that a rain came and bogged down the chariots… throwing Sisera and his men into a panic. At this point, Deborah tells Barak – “get up and get going… the Lord is fighting this war for you.”
Then, 10,000 men from mainly the tribes of Naphtali and Zebulun as well as men from several other tribes rush into battle, chasing the enemy from their chariots and through the hillsides… But Sisera got away, or so he thought.
He flees on foot to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber – remember, the interlude before. Evidently Sisera seemed to be a friend of the family and Jael offers hospitality. Before we get to what happens, flip over to chapter 5 and you will get an idea of what was expected to happen. Beginning in 5:28 we get a picture of Sisera’s mother watching for him, but knowing that he is probably delayed from the spoils of war, namely in verse 30,
“Are they not finding and dividing the spoils; a girl or two for each man.”
In other words, she would have expected him to do what soldiers did back then, rape, pillage and plunder.
Ok, now, ;let’s pick up at 4:18. Now, get ready, this isn’t what you are expecting.
Jael went out to meet Sisera and said to him, “Come into my tent, sir. Come in. Don’t be afraid.” So he went into her tent, and she covered him with a blanket.
“Please give me some water,” he said. “I’m thirsty.” So she gave him some milk from a leather bag and covered him again.
“Stand at the door of the tent,” he told her. “If anybody comes and asks you if there is anyone here, say no.”
OK, let me interrupt the reading for a cultural lesson. There were specific laws that governed how a guest should react when receiving hospitality. Jael graciously opened her tent to him… but really, Sisera should have gone to her husband first. So, he’s crossed a line, but not too bad. Then he starts making demands… bring me something to drink! Guard the door! Lie for me!
At this point Jael may very well have been thinking that he was considering her a spoil of war and resting up to do who knows what with her, so, she took matters into her own hands, literally.
Pick up at verse 21
But when Sisera fell asleep from exhaustion, Jael quietly crept up to him with a hammer and tent peg in her hand. Then she drove the tent peg through his temple and into the ground, and so he died.
When Barak came looking for Sisera, Jael went out to meet him. She said, “Come, and I will show you the man you are looking for.” So he followed her into the tent and found Sisera lying there dead, with the tent peg through his temple.
And so the story ends. Barak gets the victory, Deborah is praised among the people, and Jael becomes the one celebrated for overtaking the mighty general.
So, what do we do with a story like this? Where is the redemptive value in this?
Here is one thing I see.
The enemy will throw obstacles in your way… but as long as you have God, you can face your giants.
Barak knew that he is to face a seemingly insurmountable force… an army that had oppressed the people of God for 20 years. Hundreds of chariots, thousands of trained merciless soldiers… but he was not afraid. He wasn’t afraid to face a great enemy in battle as long as the Lord was on his side.
So, he invites Deborah along for the ride. It wasn’t a matter of who gets the credit as long as God’s will is done.
Deborah was a great leader, she wasn’t scared to say and do the impossible because she spoke for and represented God. She wasn’t saying the impossible because nothing is impossible with God.
I’m not going to get into how handy Jael was with a hammer and stake… but you get the point, at lease Sisera did.
God’s word is true and right and trustworthy
We can face whatever comes our way as long as God is with us
Jesus became flesh and dwelt among us… God is with us, God is with you.