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Deborah, Barak, & Jael

Last week we began looking at some of the heroes and the zeros in the book of Judges.  The book of Judges is full of some very colorful characters and provides some of the most fascinating and bizarre stories in the Bible. We first looked at Ehud, a left-handed man, considered to be disabled & weak because of his left-handedness. And yet, it was because of this ‘disability’, that God was able to use Him to free His people from the oppression of the fat king Eglon.

Now you’ll remember that we talked about the cycle of sin in the book of Judges. Israel would sin, God would send an oppressor to punish them, the people would cry out to God, and God would have mercy send them a judge – that is, a rescuer to rescue them. However, as soon as that judge died, the people of Israel would go right back to sinning and the cycle would begin again. Sin, oppression, rescuer – sin, oppression, rescuer.

And as we can see in Judges chapter 4 – verse 1 – that is exactly what happen.

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. 3 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.

Judges 4:1-3

There’s that pattern. Ehud dies and Israel again does evil. So God turns them over to King Jabin and his army commander, Sisera, who oppresses Israel for 20 years and then finally, the Israelites cry out to God for help and He sends them a rescuer. We continue in verse 4:

Deborah, the wife of Lappidoth, was a prophet who was judging Israel at that time. 5She 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.

Judges 4:4-5

Now this is interesting. Here we have a female judge – who also happens to be a female prophet. Now female prophets are not completely unheard of – though they are pretty rare. There are only a handful of them mentioned in the Bible. So being a female prophet wasn’t entirely unusual. But being a female judge – that was unusual. Of the 14 judges mentioned in the Bible, Deborah was the one and only female judge.

Is this significant to our story this morning? I believe it is. In fact, as we’ll find out later, it seems this whole story revolves around women doing things that they normally wouldn’t be doing. But for now, just make a mental note of that little bit of information and we’ll get back to it later. On to verse 6:

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. 7 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.”

 8 Barak told her, “I will go, but only if you go with me.”

Judges 4:6-8

Hold on here a second. I want to read that last verse in the NIV because it kinda expands that thought a little bit.

 Barak said to her, “If you go with me, I will go; but if you don’t go with me, I won’t go.” Judges 4:8

What’s going on here? Barak has just received a direct command from the Lord. Verse six said “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, commands you.” This wasn’t just Deborah talking – this message was from God Himself. But how does Barak respond? Does He say, “Yes, Lord, whatever you say – I will do…”? No, He doesn’t. He says to Deborah, the one who is simply delivering the message for God, “If you go with me, I will go; but if you don’t go with me, I won’t go.”

Now do you suppose that’s the kind of response God is looking for? Not hardly. God is looking for people who will say, “Yes, Lord, I will go.” No conditions. No strings attached. Just plain and simple obedience. But that’s not how Barak responds. Barak lays out the conditions for his obedience. “I will go only if you go with me.” But hang on a second. Before we condemn Barak for his conditional obedience, perhaps we’d better look at our own lives.

How many times have you and I bartered with God?  How many times have we said “Ok God, if you’ll just do THIS for me, then I’ll do this for you? Maybe God lays it on your heart to support a certain missionary, so you say, “Well, God if you make my boss give me a raise, THEN I’ll start supporting that missionary.” Or maybe you know that God wants you to share the Gospel with your neighbor so you say “Ok, God, if you get my neighbor bring up the topic of religion, THEN I’ll share my testimony with him.

And we put all these conditions on our obedience to God. That’s not the kind of obedience that God is looking for. When I was a kid, if my parents asked me to do something, they expected me to do it right now. I remember a phrase that they used – they said “Delayed obedience is disobedience.” That little phrase has stuck with me all these years and I think the same thing applies for conditional obedience. Conditional obedience is disobedience. When we start putting conditions on whether or not we’re going to obey God – that’s really no different then outright disobedience. We need to be careful to obey God on His terms – not ours.

Because when we don’t, as we’ll see in the case of Barak – we miss out on God’s best for our lives. Verse 9:

“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.”

Judges 4:9a

Barak’s conditional obedience cost him the honor of victory. God would still ensure a victory, but the honor of that victory would not go to Barak – but to a woman – which in those days especially, would be quite humbling for Barak. So instead of being the hero – as He could have been – it turns out that Barak will end up looking more like a zero. Let’s see how it all pans out… We continue in verse 9:

So Deborah went with Barak to Kedesh. 10 At Kedesh, Barak called together the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali, and 10,000 warriors went up with him. Deborah also went with him.

 11 Now Heber the Kenite, a descendant of Moses’ brother-in-law Hobab, had moved away from the other members of his tribe and pitched his tent by the oak of Zaanannim near Kedesh.

Judges 4:9b-11

Just to clarify who this Heber the Kenite is, He is not actually an Israelite. You might remember Moses’ Father-in-law, Jethro who was a Midianite. And we’ll hear more about the Midianites a little later on in this series when we look at the story of Gideon. But for now, Heber the Kenite, a descendant of Jethro the Midianite, is a neutral party. He is on friendly terms with the Israelites and, as we’ll see in a moment, he’s also on friendly terms with Sisera & King Jabin. Verse 12:

 12 When Sisera was told that Barak son of Abinoam had gone up to Mount Tabor, 13 he called for all 900 of his iron chariots and all of his warriors, and they marched from Harosheth-haggoyim to the Kishon River.

 14 Then Deborah said to Barak, “Get ready! This is the day the Lord will give you victory over Sisera, for the Lord is marching ahead of you.” So Barak led his 10,000 warriors down the slopes of Mount Tabor into battle. 15 When Barak attacked, the Lord threw Sisera and all his chariots and warriors into a panic. Sisera leaped down from his chariot and escaped on foot. 16 Then Barak chased the chariots and the enemy army all the way to Harosheth-haggoyim, killing all of Sisera’s warriors. Not a single one was left alive. 

Judges 4:12-16

So God brings about this great victory. All of the enemy chariots and all the enemy warriors were wiped out. Not a single one was left alive. But what about their commander? What happened to Sisera? Well, here is where we meet the hero of the story. verse 17.

 17 Meanwhile, Sisera ran to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, because Heber’s family was on friendly terms with King Jabin of Hazor. 18 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.

 19 “Please give me some water,” he said. “I’m thirsty.” So she gave him some milk from a leather bag and covered him again.

 20 “Stand at the door of the tent,” he told her. “If anybody comes and asks you if there is anyone here, say no.”

 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.

 22 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.

 23 So on that day Israel saw God defeat Jabin, the Canaanite king. 24 And from that time on Israel became stronger and stronger against King Jabin until they finally destroyed him.

And thus ends another slightly bizzare story from the book of Judges. Did you know this kind of stuff was in the Bible? Fat kings getting stabbed last week – tent pegs driven through a guys head this week? What in the world is this stuff doing in the Bible? What lessons are we supposed to learn from that?

Well, you might be surprised.  We’ve already learned a lesson about conditional obedience and how important it is to obey God on his terms – not ours. We could also learn about the mercy of God – rescuing his people from their enemies even after they abandoned Him and worshipped idols and did evil in the sight of God. We could learn about the power of God who helped Barak defeat Sisera. We didn’t really focus on this today, but those 900 iron chariots of Sisera back then would be like tanks today. So for Barak and his group of farmer’s with pitchforks to defeat Sisera’s professional army with the backing of these 900 tank-like chariots was incredible. It was an act of God.

But there’s another lesson in there that I want to draw your attention to today. And that is the lesson of these two women. Both of them were doing things that you wouldn’t normally see women doing. Women weren’t normally prophets. Women weren’t normally judges. Women didn’t usually go into battle. Women didn’t usually invite visiting men into their tent (That was a huge cultural no no back then.) And women didn’t usually drive tent pegs into the heads of sleeping generals.

And yet, that’s exactly what we see going on. Why? Why didn’t God stick with the norm and have just another man prophet and man judge? Why didn’t God have Sisera killed by maybe a random arrow or by falling and breaking his neck? Why death by tent-peg? It all seems very odd to us. If we had scripted this story, I’m sure we would have written things very differently. But maybe that’s the point?

God’s ways are not our ways. In fact, the Bible says in Isaiah 55 verse 8 & 9.

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the LORD. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.”

Isaiah 55:8-9

You might remember a few weeks back when we talked about the holiness of God. God’s holiness means that He is above and beyond us in every conceivable way. And of course, that includes his thoughts and his ways. They are so far above and beyond our thoughts and our ways. So it shouldn’t surprise us that God scripted this story to be so unlike anything we would have come up with.

And maybe this story is here to remind us that it’s God that scripts our stories too. Maybe parts of your life haven’t turned out the way you thought they should? Maybe you’ve had stuff happen in your life that been unexpected –  unwanted? Maybe you’ve been thrown a major curve-ball in your life that totally changes everything?

And there are two ways that you can react to that. On one hand, you can panic… You can get stressed out… You can get discouraged…You can lose hope…

Or… You can realize that it’s God who scripts your story. It’s God who has allowed this to happen. And it’s God who has a plan. A good plan!

But his ways are not your ways. And His thoughts are not your thoughts. You might not understand it. You might not ever know the reasons why. But you can be sure that God is still sovereign. God is still good. And He is the one who is writing the script.

Imagine how the disciples felt when they saw Jesus hanging there on the cross. What a curveball that was! They had waited all their lives for the Messiah – the one who would save them and restore the kingdom of Israel! They had spent three years with Jesus – watching Him perform miracles – hearing Him talk about the coming kingdom of God. They had already been discussing who gets to sit on the thrones next to His – and then this. Their leader, their friend, their Messiah was hanging there, dying on the cross.

That was not what they had planned. That’s not how they would have scripted the story.

But aren’t you glad that their thoughts were not God’s thoughts and their ways were not God’s ways?

Because it was only by Jesus’ death on that cross and His resurrection from the dead that you and I can have the hope of eternal life. Aren’t you glad that God was writing the script?

Remember that this week when life throws you those curveballs. When things don’t turn out as you expect. His ways are not your ways and his thoughts are not your thoughts. But you can take comfort and hope in this – that our God is a good, good God – and He is writing the script.

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