Once upon a time, many years ago, before lockdowns, before kids – Sarah and |I were invited to a party – I think it may have been a 21st party – and it was a fancy dress party – cool, love those – and the requirement was that you and your partner had to dress up as biblical characters – so course there were a few couples going as Mary and Joseph , a few brave Adam and Eves,.
But my good girlfriend, armed with a sense of humour and with considerably more bible knowledge than I decided that we should go as Sisera and Jael. Now those of you whoknow who Jael was and what she did – will now realise how this led to a very awkward evening, full of explanations and concerned looks.
We’ll get to Jael in a bit – It’s an interesting story, as is how it fits into the bigger picture of Deborah this morning. But I want to start – you don’t have to turn with me just yet – with a verse or two in Romans 5.
4 For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.
5 May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, 6 so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
We are going to be spending time in a story this morning – 100s, thousands of years old. Apparently one of the oldest recorded stories in the bible…Why? TO make us go, hmm, that interesting – to tickle our brains? To make us feel good that we remember the details…and confirm how first class our bible knowledge is… no -
Endurance and Encouragement. To give us hope – and hope is a forward look – we consider these stories, we remember these people and events – and we are encouraged for tomorrow.
Right, let’s go to Deborah, sitting under a palm tree in the book of Judges if you wouldn’t mind heading over there.
This morning is part of a series on Women in the Bible – you would have heard Lawrence last week talking about Ruth and Naomi, we have some other brothers (uh literally, brothers) coming in the next few weeks – but this morning it is Deborah. So, Debbie – if you’re in the back there listening – this one is for you.
Deborah the judge – Deborah the Prophetess - - Deborah the military leader.
In the time of Judges – God’s people if you remember from our series a while back on the Judges – there’s this rollercoaster ride – of the people doing really well and then falling into their own ways – doing what’s right in their own eyes – so God puts in place a Judge – to bring them back, to lift them, to steer them correctly – which lasts for a season…. until again the people do what was right in their own eyes
Lets read together, Judges 4 please.
4 When Ehud was dead, the children of Israel again did evil in the sight of the Lord. 2 So the Lord sold them into the hand of Jabin king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor. The commander of his army was Sisera, who dwelt in Harosheth Hagoyim. 3 And the children of Israel cried out to the Lord; for Jabin had nine hundred chariots of iron, and for twenty years he had harshly oppressed the children of Israel.
4 Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, was judging Israel at that time. 5 And she would sit under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the mountains of Ephraim. And the children of Israel came up to her for judgment. 6 Then she sent and called for Barak the son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali, and said to him, “Has not the Lord God of Israel commanded, ‘Go and [a]deploy troops at Mount Tabor; take with you ten thousand men of the sons of Naphtali and of the sons of Zebulun; 7 and against you I will deploy Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his multitude at the River Kishon; and I will [b]deliver him into your hand’?”
8 And Barak said to her, “If you will go with me, then I will go; but if you will not go with me, I will not go!”
9 So she said, “I will surely go with you; nevertheless there will be no glory for you in the journey you are taking, for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.” Then Deborah arose and went with Barak to Kedesh. 10 And Barak called Zebulun and Naphtali to Kedesh; he went up with ten thousand men under[c] his command, and Deborah went up with him.
11 Now Heber the Kenite, of the children of Hobab the father-in-law of Moses, had separated himself from the Kenites and pitched his tent near the terebinth tree at Zaanaim, which is beside Kedesh.
12 And they reported to Sisera that Barak the son of Abinoam had gone up to Mount Tabor. 13 So Sisera gathered together all his chariots, nine hundred chariots of iron, and all the people who were with him, from Harosheth Hagoyim to the River Kishon.
14 Then Deborah said to Barak, [d]“Up! For this is the day in which the Lord has delivered Sisera into your hand. Has not the Lord gone out before you?” So Barak went down from Mount Tabor with ten thousand men following him. 15 And the Lord routed Sisera and all his chariots and all his army with the edge of the sword before Barak; and Sisera alighted from his chariot and fled away on foot. 16 But Barak pursued the chariots and the army as far as Harosheth Hagoyim, and all the army of Sisera fell by the edge of the sword; not a man was left.
OK, a nice long passage – that you all fell asleep during – lemme quickly give you the key players here. We have two nations – the Israelites (the children of God – ok, the goodies) and the Canaanites – the other guys. The Israelites are being judged – advised, led, by Deborah, Debrah, Dvorah – a prophetess. Let’s just make a quick comment here on Deborah – she is a groundbreaker – a glass ceiling smasher of note - one of only 5 Prophetesses mentioned – and the ONLY – ONLY just one Female judge. This is textbook patriarchal society. Men dominated. That’s the backdrop.
We have Barak – let’s call him the general – he is tasked with leading the Israelite army. And on the Canaanite side, his counterpart – Sisera the commander of the Canaanite army.
So there Deborah sits, under her palm tree, with the children of Israel coming to her for guidance – and you already can’t help but wonder – how she wound up in that role – she’s just introduced into the narrative quite abruptly – it must have been quite something to break into that scene – I wonder if growing up in this male led society she would have known that she was destined to be a ruler. Anyway, she is clearly a person of wisdom, and great influence (an Old testament influencer, if you will). And someone, we find out, with courage and determination.
Inspired by God, she calls for Barak and says enough is enough – they’ve been tormented and oppressed by Jabin and Sisera for twenty years – they are under Canaan’s rule, and (hashtag) time is up – it’s time for a revolution – it’s time to overthrow the status quo.
And Barak, being the strong, Alpha male leader, ceases the opportunity to help out this damsel in distress – and says, sure thing, lil missy, lemme take over from here. Time for some man power hey – actually no, not quite – did you notice that in the verses we read – he says, er… can you come with me please – unless you come with me into the battle – bukaaak buk buk – I ain’t going. Is he scared – timid? Afraid that unless Gods appointed judge isn’t right by his side he won’t be successful? So much for Barack Obama yes, yes we can – Barak the Israelite – no – no I won’t – defiance – refusal to obey.
So Deborah decides to join him – and they head off to battle together. But you know what Barak – there will be consequences to your actions here – we’re still going to win - a memorable victory that will be spoken of thousands of years from now – hey, here we are – but you won’t get the glory – pointing to the future victory – seems to imply that Deborah herself is going to personally be attributed the coming victory over Sisera and his army – but we learn later that that’s not quite the case either. Spoiler alert.
So Sisera moves his camp into position, and Barak moves his camp (with Deborah alongside) into position – and we get to verse 14. Time to rally the troops. The male leader Barak has already shown reluctance – maybe fear… and let’s see – the amazing speech Deborah gives to rev up Barak and his men – you know, one of those classic Churchillian wartime broadcasts - we’ll fight them on the beaches, Nope – just a sentence or two, about now being the time, and the Lord has gone out before – but she begins with, and I loooove this – a two letter word, which comes through translated in the New King James version as - – UP! UP!
No begging, no pleading, no trying to convince or make her case – from a bold position – a command – UP – get up off your ___ and get to it – NOW.
Now I, along with many if not all the husbands in the room this morning – know firsthand what it’s like to be at the receiving end of such an exhortation – such a message. The beautiful powerful wise Judge that lives in my house does not hesitate – whether I’m trying to have an afternoon snooze, our lounging about on the couch fiddling on my phone when there is a job to do – she will use that word. UP. And she’s right sometimes – ok, mostimes…. OK pretty much all of the time… and Deborah is correct here – now is not the time to second guess yourself and be nervous and timid – God himself has arranged this battle, this moment in history, he is in this fight – what do you, warrior have to do? – get UP – and get going. ACT. Move. Fight. Just get on with it already, there isn’t a moment to lose. UP!
And guess what happens – Sisera’s army is routed – all his army fall by the edge of the sword – not a man was left – a famous victory comes in battle. Who did it – of course, God did it – but how – he uses his appointed people as unlikely as they may be. – female prophetess – a female judge – I mean, even a female calling the shots on the battle field – this is pretty unheard of. High fives all round, victory cries I’m sure, maybe Deborah whips out her not book and starts penning the song the read in Judges Five…..
But check this out – go to verse 17 and follow along with me – the story is not over just yet – now we move into act three – it seems this man Sisera is somehow still alive. Dun dun duuuuuun….
17 However, Sisera had fled away on foot to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite; for there was peace between Jabin king of Hazor and the house of Heber the Kenite. 18 And Jael went out to meet Sisera, and said to him, “Turn aside, my lord, turn aside to me; do not fear.” And when he had turned aside with her into the tent, she covered him with a [e]blanket.
19 Then he said to her, “Please give me a little water to drink, for I am thirsty.” So she opened a jug of milk, gave him a drink, and covered him. 20 And he said to her, “Stand at the door of the tent, and if any man comes and inquires of you, and says, ‘Is there any man here?’ you shall say, ‘No.’ ”
21 Then Jael, Heber’s wife, took a tent peg and took a hammer in her hand, and went softly to him and drove the peg into his temple, and it went down into the ground; for he was fast asleep and weary. So he died.
Yiiiiiikes - I’m not sure they cover that too often in Sunday school, which is why, to get back to Andrew and Sarah and the dressup party, had some very concerned friends that evening –
Jael – who was Jael? Well, a nobody really – not even an Israelite! This was no pre orchestrated plan of Deborah’s and Jael’s – this was an ordinary person – taking the opportunity put in front of her – by a sovereign God – who will use whom He chooses - even non Israelites, yes – to achieve what He wants. Her husband was an ally of Jabin and Sisera – Sisera has been defeated in battle, his trusty chariots and horses are no more – he is literally running for his life. On foot – he runs into the camp looking for refuge and shelter – Jael offers him hospitality - comfort - come lie down on this blanket – you want water – aha here’s some milk – sure, I’ll watch the door and see that no one discovers you here – The Talmud retelling of this story in the Jewish faith tells us she was even MORE hospitable that that – but I’ve already scarred your children enough for the morning – so we won’t get into that.
Sisera is so exhausted – he’s so relieved – he is finally able to rest in this safe refuge – and you can read there what happened next.
What a shameful way for this mighty warrior to go – HE’s been leading atriumphant army for 2 decades – this is no dignified death on the war field – this is a coward’s death on the run, having been defeated in battle, having his armies slain – and now, the cherry on the cake – to die at the hands of a woman. God really knows how to get a message across, doesn’t he.
And you can now see here how this links back to what Deborah said to Barak – Sisera will be defeated , but the glory will go to a woman – she was talking about Jael – a woman she never even knew existed. The prophetess knows her stuff.
Now Jael is an interesting character to study – why did she do what she did? She wasn’t an Israelite – was she just so unhappy with the 20 years of Jabins cruel rule? Was she wise to the fact that Sisera had been defeated – and thought, he’s a goner anyway, I might as well get this done myself?
What about her methods? She invites this guy into her house – this liar tricks him – misleads him – that’s not very honourable – remember hospitality in these days was taken veeery seriously – and her behaviour went against some pretty established norms at the time – I imagine one of them being – don’t drive a tent peg through your guests head while he is asleep…
What a story – sjoe. Who needs to waste time on Netflix when you have such action, such drama, such a thriller in the good book. And so, this morning, we remember the story of Deborah, and of Jael.
I wonder which part of this story has resonated with you. What will you remember?
We like to insert ourselves into these stories and apply lessons – this is a story about a strong female leader – breaking down barriers and societal norms leading boldly and decisively, even when surrounded by weak males. Right on. Maybe you feel that’s speaking to you – rise up strong woman! Maybe you’re a parent and you look at your daughter growing up and you’re thinking …well how is she gonna fit into this world – is there a place for a leading woman – well take a picture from this story – there is a role – oh the old testament is awash with powerful men calling the shots – so let’s not forget the story of Deborah.
Maybe to you this story is speaking about timing, and opportunity – UP – the time is now. Take your god given moment, take your shot – it’s a kick in the pants to act decisively on something – or an encouragement to go home and tell that man of yours to GET UP and GET TO IT.
Maybe you hear this story speaking of consequences – Faithful Deborah serving the Lord and God coming through as a consequence – or Barak – being fearful of acting – and having the glory of a mighty victory taken away from him – consequences man. Sisera was a bad man living in open rebellion of God and his mercilessly tormenting his people – and he dies a shameful embarrassing cowardly death.
All good, let the Lord speak to you. Hear what God has to say to you. But I would suggest you underline all that with this final thought – and guess what, you’ll hear it again next week perhaps – you may have heard it coming through last week. This story is not about us – this story isn’t even actually about Deborah, or Jael, or the evil Sisera, or the nation of Israel.
This story is about God – listen to the next verse 23 – summing up the story
23 So on that day God subdued Jabin king of Canaan in the presence of the children of Israel.
– this story reminds us of who God is, and how He works. That He is the one who arranges the timing – He is the one who moves the chess pieces into place – whether that piece is a leader – a person of influence, a bold judge – or a that peace is just a pawn – a lowly wife in an enemy camp. He is faithful to his word – he tells Deborah that they’re going to win the battle – they win the battle – She tells Barak the glory won’t be his – the glory isn’t his. God is true to his word. And, God can use – ANYONE. Male, Female, Rich, poor, mighty warrior, lowly homemaker.
Our hope then is not in who we are and what we can do - our hope is in God and what he can do. We then look , through scripture, through stories and see what He has done, so we can look forward and have assurance of what He can do. Hope.
Lets end where we began – These things are written to encourage, to exhort, to enthuse, to teach us and to give us endurance – our hope is in that very same God, who is at work throughout these stories, and who is at work in each on every one of our lives.
To this I hold, my hope is only Jesus
For my life is wholly bound to His
Oh how strange and divine, I can sing: all is mine
Yet not I, but through Christ in me