Judges4 and 5: DEBORAH

(A) Introduction. Read Judges4 and 5.

This exposition does not provide a thorough commentary on Judges 4 and 5. I am majoring on the different Judges in this series and what we can learn from them. So I am going to examine the qualities that Deborah possessed that challenge us today.

She was:

(1) Outstanding.

Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth was leading Israel at that time. She held court under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim and the Israelites came to her to have their disputes decided. Jd4v4to6.

Deborah would never have overcome the prejudice against woman unless she was remarkably accomplished. Many disputes would have been dealt with locally by village or tribal elders. Only the very difficult cases would have been brought before the leader of the tribal confederacy. Deborah must have been a very intelligent and forceful women.

Sometimes the male supremacists in the church need to be reminded of the other prominent women of the Bible: Miriam, Ruth, Abigail, the Queen of Sheba, Esther, Anna the prophetess, Mary of Bethany and Priscilla. I think Abigail must have been like Deborah. Her husband, Nabal a Calebite, was surly and mean in his dealings. But she was an intelligent and beautiful woman. 1Sam25v3.

Many remarkably gifted women have graced the church since Bible times: Elizabeth Fry the prison reformer, Dame Cicely Saunders founder of the hospice movement, Gladys Aylwood the missionary to China, Corrie ten Boom -author, preacher and teacher and Catherine Booth. It is interesting that such was William's high regard for his talented wife that from the beginning all ranks of the Salvation Army were open to women.

I think men should think carefully before they make it difficult for gifted women to serve the church in ways for which their gifts equip them.

(2) Upwardly mobile.

It seems amazing that Deborah was able to rise in status until she became the leader of the tribal confederation. One of the reasons for this was the state of emergency in Israel. An alliance of Canaanite city states led by Jabin king of Hazor dominated the twelve tribes at this time. The Canaanites with their superior weaponry controlled the valleys and plains. In the days of Shamgar son of Anath, in the days of Jael, the roads were abandoned; travellers took to winding paths. Village life in Israel ceased .... . Jd5v6and7. The Israelites took refuge in the hills and moved about using the trails of shepherds and goat herders.

It is often in times of national emergency that unlikely heroes come forward. David had his chance of slaying Goliath because no one else fancied the job. Esther earned her place in the history of her people by acting wisely and bravely to save the Jews from genocide.

Serious labour shortages during the last World War meant that women were finally given the chance to do jobs traditionally reserved for men. There was even a corps of women pilots in the RAF until the end of the war when sadly their services were dispensed with.

It seems to me that women are held back in the church until long term decline means that there are insufficient men to occupy their traditional roles. The Church of England, Methodists and United Reform denomination would be in a bad way today without their women ministers. Even Grace Baptists are forced to appoint women secretaries and treasurers due to a lack of men capable of and willing to do these jobs.

(3) Enterprising.

Deborah didn't accept the status quo. Her attitude wasn't, "The Canaanites have dominated for 20 years and there's nothing we can do about it." The prophetess didn't believe it was in God's will for the Israelites to be in thrall to the Canaanites. She wanted to set her people free to live in villages again and to travel and trade as they wished. Deborah was prepared, like the boy David, to act against the enemy.

All the great Christian reformers were prepared to act, to take the initiative and to campaign against vested interests. For example, Lord Shaftesbury after only two years in Parliament, commenced his efforts to alleviate the injustices caused by the Industrial Revolution, which included acts that: prohibited employment of women and children in coal mines, provided care for the insane, established a ten-hour day for factory workers, and outlawed employing young boys as chimney sweeps. This was only achieved at a cost: Lord Shaftesbury disappointed his father, was derided by his contemporaries and deprived himself and his family of many of life’s luxuries in his lifelong campaign for social justice. It took 40 years to establish the 10-hour working day for factory workers.

(4) Realistic.

Deborah accepted her limitations. She was a prophetess and judge but not a soldier. Deborah needed help to do God's will and break the power of the Canaanites. So Barak was approached to raise an army to attack the Canaanites. Deborah said to him: "The LORD, the God of Israel, commands you: 'Go, take with you ten thousand men of Naphtali and Zebulun and lead the way to Mount Tabor.'"

Most successful campaigns require the co-operation of several Christians. The great apostle Paul needed the assistance of Barnabas, Silas, Titus, Timothy and Tychicus. He often sent Timothy, Titus or Tychicus off to visit the churches on his behalf. See exposition on 2Cor8v16to24.

William Carey is well known as a trail blazing missionary to India but he would not have been so successful without the support of the Baptist Missionary Society whose secretary was Andrew Fuller. When Carey agreed to go as a missionary to India he told the Missionary Societies' committee: "Remember that you must hold the ropes." "This," said Mr. Fuller afterward, "we solemnly engaged to do, pledging ourselves never to desert him as long as we should live."

Large scale evangelistic outreaches like the Billy Graham crusades involved large numbers of Christians working together. Successful smaller scale efforts to reach people with the gospel like Christian camps, Beach Missions and Holiday Clubs also depend upon a team effort.

As Christian we need to know our limitations. There are times we have to ask for help to carry on God's work.

(5) Imaginative.

There are times that a vivid imagination is the enemy of faith. We can imagine the worst. Now Deborah like many women was able to empathise with others. At the end of her victory song she imagines Sisera's mother waiting anxiously for the return of her son. The mother cries: "Why is the chariot so long in coming? Why is the clatter of his chariot delayed?"

Yet Deborah's imagination did not stifle her faith and prevent her taking action. She could easily have visualised the destruction of Barak's small force and done nothing.

I think many of us are inhibited from taking the initiative in Christian service because we imagine all the things that could go wrong. No one volunteered to take on the Philistine champion, Goliath, until David stepped forward. All the other brave men in the army imagined they would have no chance fighting a giant. My imagination would deter me from going to Indian today let alone in the 19th Century - all those germs and parasites poised to invade my intestinal tract - cobras in dark corners just waiting to strike.

(6) Confident.

Deborah was a woman of faith. She had faith in Barak notwithstanding his lack of confidence. Barak said to Deborah in response to God's promise: "If you go with me, I will go, but if you don't go with me, I won't go."

Above all, the prophetess had faith in God. He would give the Israelites the victory over the vastly superior forces of Sisera. God promised: "I will lure Sisera, the commander of Jabin's army, with his chariots and troops to the Kishon River, and give him into your hands." Jd4v7.

Faith does remove mountains. Over and over again the Judges gained the victory over their enemies because of their confidence in God.

True faith that something is in the will of God leads inevitably to action. Just consider the faith of those who set out to build the great cathedrals of England. William Tyndale believed that it was the will of God to translate the Bible from the Hebrew and Greek into English. John Foxe describes an argument with a "learned" but "blasphemous" clergyman, who had asserted to Tyndale that, "We had better be without God's laws than the Pope's." Swelling with emotion, Tyndale responded: "I defy the Pope, and all his laws; and if God spares my life, ere many years, I will cause the boy that driveth the plow to know more of the Scriptures than thou dost!" Tyndale succeeded in his monumental task. The authors of the Authorised Version borrowed heavily from his work. What did Tyndale get for his pains? He was tried for heresy, choked, impaled and burnt on a stake in 1536.

(7) Supportive

Deborah didn't remain in her comfort zone under the palm tree when Barak with 10,000 men from the Naphtali and Zebulun made their way to Mt Tabor. Deborah accompanied the army to support Barak and strengthen his resolve.

Barak was more concerned for Deborah's support than the fact of sharing the glory of victory with a woman.

Even Jesus felt the need of human companionship in the Garden of Gethsemane prior to the ordeal of the cross. Paul longed for the company of Timothy and Mark as he languished in prison awaiting his fate.

In Christian service we need the help and encouragement of others. During the two years I looked after my invalid father and continued to teach I was glad of the support of my church. People came in to sit with my father while I was at work. It was an important transitional period that lasted until I was prepared to resign from teaching to care full time for my father.

(8) Resolute.

Deborah didn't get the support of all the tribes. No help was forthcoming from Dan, Asher, Reuben or Gilead. These tribes settled to the east of the Jordan and had troubles of their own from the Moabites, Ammonites and Midianites. However, Deborah criticised these tribes for not helping their brothers to deal with the Canaanite threat. She was especially scathing in her criticism of Meroz because it was probably a town directly threatened by the Canaanites. The inhabitants of Meroz were content to let others fight their battle for them. Deborah showed her determination by carrying on despite not receiving the help from those who should have provided it.

William and Catherine Booth carried on with their mission to the East End of London and further afield despite being opposed by many Anglicans and Methodists. They were nothing if not determined to reach the lost with the gospel.

We are never going to get all the help we need or would like but we must carry on the best we can. It is amazing that large, well-attended churches care so little about the small struggling fellowships on their doorstep. I used to conduct Sunday School Anniversary services for Mr Goddard who did his best to maintain a witness in the village of Hoxne. He would often tell me of a Grace Baptist pastor who always refused his invitation to conduct these services because they were not a good use of his time. This pastor of a comparatively large church was not willing to support or encourage Mr Goddard in the work he was doing.

(9) Appreciative.

Deborah gave credit where it was due. In her song of praise she acknowledged the accomplishment of Barak, the contribution of the troops from Ephraim, Manasseh, Zebulun, Benjamin, Issachar and Naphtali as well as the heroism of Jael. The prophetess sings: Most blessed of women is Jael.

It is not easy to see much merit in Jael's actions. Her people were in alliance with Jabin, king of Hazor. She welcomed Sisera into her tent, provided him with a refreshing drink of yoghurt and a bed to sleep on. Jael then violated the prevailing convention of hospitality by killing Sisera where he lay. She hammered a tent peg through his head and into the ground.

The only thing in her favour is that by her action she secured 40 years of peace for God's people.

Perhaps the incident teaches us that we need to be ruthless in our attitude to evil - particular wickedness that infects, divides and weakens the church. As Paul argued in his first letter to Corinth, it is possible to be too tolerant. See exposition on 1Cor5.

Anyway, we can all follow Deborah's example of giving praise where it is due. It encouraged me whenever I get a positive response to my website. The folk who attend my small church invariably express appreciation for the ministry of the itinerant preachers who conduct our Sunday services. As a result they all like coming to Brockley and I do not have a problem booking preachers.

(10) Vindicated.

Deborah's faith was vindicated. God gave the Israelites the victory. He sent a violent thunderstorm to the area which caused flash floods. The river Kishon flooded. So the 900 iron chariots of Sisera got bogged down and rendered useless. The lightly equipped, mobile Israelites in the unprecedented conditions were able to get the upper hand. See ch5v4 and vs20and21.

Over and over again God gives his church and individual Christians the victory by unexpected means. Corrie ten Boom was imprisoned by the Gestapo but in a wonderful way this prepared her for a post-war ministry that was a blessing to thousands. Missionaries were expelled from China and the church went underground but there it flourished and grew. William Tyndale was foully put to death but his translation of the Scriptures into English formed the greater part of the Authorised Version and as such for hundreds of years was an immense power for good.

(11) Devoted.

Deborah was devoted to her General, to her people but most importantly to her God. She sings to the LORD and praises him for their deliverance. Her victory song ends with a lovely benediction: "So may all your enemies perish, O LORD. But may they that love you be like the sun when it rises in strength." Ch5v31.

May that be true of us - to be like the rising sun - enlightening, cheering, warming - the source of all good things.

Adoniram Judson said: 'The motto of every missionary, whether preacher, printer, or schoolmaster, ought to be "Devoted for life."'

ANY COMMENTS FOR JOHN REED: E-mail jfmreed@talktalk.net