American Journal of Biblical Theology
April 22, 2007
Copyright © 2012, J.W. Carter Scripture quotes from KJV
There is no question that the many days of our lives can be punctuated with events and experiences of a dramatic nature. We may experience the mountain-tops of great blessings and the valleys of great challenges as we are engaged in the journey of life. This is true both for those who have turned to the LORD in faith and those who have not. When faced with the prospect of a great challenge there can be an overwhelming temptation to avoid it. We might not want to “get involved.” We may feel inadequate for the task. We might be exhausted by the consequences of our current circumstances, or discouraged by their outcomes. We may have the exact gifts or skill-set that the LORD may use in a situation, but because of our fears and lack of confidence, we may choose to deny that skill-set and hope that the LORD will use someone else.
It is God’s purpose that we live in community with one another. Just as our lives are individually challenged by dynamic circumstances, so are the social groups within which we engage ourselves, whether these be those closest to us such as families and friends, church fellowships, or even business and civic organizations where the LORD has allowed us to serve. As events occur among these groups, we depend upon people in that group to step forward and lead.
If God’s purpose is to be worked out in any of these settings, it is necessary that faithful believers act upon their faith by serving the LORD with the skills, talents, and resources that they have been given, doing so in a way that brings glory to God and benefit His kingdom on earth. This is true for both those who are called by the LORD to lead, and those other who are called to follow godly leadership. God can use a group that is so organized and submitted to Him to accomplish many great and wonderful things that would not be possible without the LORD.
THE IMPORTANCE OF GODLY LEADERSHIP
Joshua 4:1. And the children of Israel again did evil in the sight of the LORD, when Ehud was dead.
Certainly, the experience of ancient Israel was eventful, and was characterized by the mountaintops of blessing and the valleys of challenge. Like any group of believers, the Israelites were made up of people with varying degrees of faith in the LORD. As is generally true in any social community, the direction that the nation of Israel took at any given time was largely shaped by its then current leadership. We may be reminded that while Joshua led Israel across the Jordan River into the promised land, the nation experienced a time of spiritual and physical blessing as the people followed Joshua and populated many of the cities and rural areas of Canaan. However, when Joshua and the elders who served with him died, the people quickly turned away from the LORD and sought after the things of the pagan world within which they found themselves immersed.
Following the death of Joshua, the nation had been through several cycles of apostasy and deliverance as (1) the people would turn away from God, removing themselves from His hand of protection, (2) they would suffer the consequence of that choice, (3) the LORD would raise up a leader, referred to as a Judge, whose gifts and skill-set would be used of the LORD deliver the nation from the consequence, and (4) the people would turn to the LORD during the time that the judge served. However, after the judge died, the nation would soon return to their apostasy to restart the cycle.
Chapter four of the book of Judges brings us to the beginning of the fourth such cycle. The first three found deliverance in the work of Judges by the name of Othniel, Ehud, and Shamgar. As long as the people submitted themselves to the godly leadership of the Judge, the nation lived at peace. However, once the leadership of the Judge ended in their death, the nation gradually and consistently lost its focus on the LORD and slipped back into apostasy, turning away from the LORD and immersing itself in the pagan world around it.
This scenario is not unlike that which people of faith find themselves in today. As families of faith, we are immersed in a secular and pagan community that would draw us into itself if we do not maintain godly priorities in our lives, priorities that are exercised by those who are the leaders in our families, usually the parents and grandparents. Churches also need its faithful members to step up and take the lead when failure to do so could allow the fellowship to turn away from its God-given task of glorifying Him.
When people of faith succumb to their fears and self-centered sins, and fail to bring Godly influence to the body, the results can be dramatic:
Judges 4:2. And the LORD sold them into the hand of Jabin king of Canaan, that reigned in Hazor; the captain of whose host was Sisera, which dwelt in Harosheth of the Gentiles.
Often, when we turn away from the LORD, we get exactly what we are asking for. When we do not establish godly authority in our community, the vacuum is soon filled with the ungodly. Without godly leadership, the people turned to the authorities of this world, a world that is populated by the ungodly. When Israel left the hand of the LORD’s protection, they entered into the international/intertribal intrigue that characterized the world of their day: a world that was populated by warring tribes and nations.
By the time the nation turned after Ehud’s leadership, the region was controlled by a war-lord by the name of Jabin who came from Hazor, a city that had been virtually annihilated by Joshua when it was ruled by a king by the same name. Over a period of about 20 years, the Israelites were entirely under the control of Jabin and Sisera, his military commander.
Leaving the hand of the LORD’s protection can land us in a dangerous place. We as a social community will always follow some form of leadership, either a godly one that leads us toward God’s purpose, an ungodly leadership that draws us away from Him, or a lack of leadership that allows evil to fill the vacuum. We find the latter circumstance at this point in Israelite history.
A CRY FOR HELP
Judges 4:3. And the children of Israel cried unto the LORD: for he had nine hundred chariots of iron; and twenty years he mightily oppressed the children of Israel.
When we consider the history of Israel, and its estimated population of about two million, we might think it odd that they were no match for Jabin. Their history is full of accounts of the destruction and fall of mighty armies who stood in their way. We may not be quite as aware of a simple truth: Israel was a nation of farmers, not warriors. They were skilled at the use of agricultural tools, but were not only unskilled with weapons of iron, but they did not have any. Without the LORD to fight for them, Sisera’s chariots (complete with sword-laden soldiers) were a formidable and indomitable foe. Any resistance to Jabin’s demands could be met with brutal and final violence against which Israel had no defense. Jabin was free to raid and plunder the Israelite communities at will.
After twenty years of such treatment (a full generation) the people remembered the LORD who had fought for them in the past, and cried out for His help.
Why do we wait so long to pray? We often find ourselves faced with challenges that are beyond our ability to meet, and yet we exhaust ourselves in the effort, failing to cry out for help until we find no other alternative. We often call upon God as a Last Resort rather than our First Resource.
GOD CALLS FAITHFUL PEOPLE …
Judges 4:4-5. And Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, she judged Israel at that time. 5And she dwelt under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in mount Ephraim: and the children of Israel came up to her for judgment.
When there was a need in the community, the LORD raised up “Judges” to minister to the people. A “Judge” was simply an individual who trusted in the LORD and was available for His use. Deborah is described as a “prophetess,” one who has a deep understanding of the Word of God. Deborah is a woman of faith who has a gift of wisdom that comes from a relationship with the LORD, a wisdom that comes from no other source. Those who do not know the LORD do not and cannot understand the wisdom that one gains from a relationship with the LORD and an intimate engagement with His Word. Consequently, we have many such prophets and prophetesses today. These are those people who love the LORD and their study and application of His Word is a fundamental part of their lifestyle. It is these who can teach and apply God’s word to daily living. This is an accurate description of Deborah.
Because of her faith in Him, God could use Deborah for His purposes as she could sense the Holy Spirit leading and guiding her and her decisions. As she observed the state of Israel and its perennial enemies who terrorized them out of Herosheth, she knew and had confidence in one man who she knew could lead the Israelites against Jabin within the protection of the LORD: Barak of the tribe of Naphtali.
Judges 4:6-7. And she sent and called Barak the son of Abinoam out of Kedeshnaphtali, and said unto him, Hath not the LORD God of Israel commanded, saying, Go and draw toward mount Tabor, and take with thee ten thousand men of the children of Naphtali and of the children of Zebulun? 7And I will draw unto thee to the river Kishon Sisera, the captain of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his multitude; and I will deliver him into thine hand.
It has been eighty years since Israel has been led into battle by the LORD. The stories of their deliverance were handed down from their great-grandfathers. There were few, if any, people still alive who had witnessed what Deborah was remembering. There were few alive who even met anyone with such experience. However, from her relationship with the LORD, she had confidence in Him that He would lead them today as he did for their great-grandfathers if they would just trust in Him. With her understanding of God’s purpose, her belief in Him, and in Barak’s faith, she called upon Barak to form an army of ten thousand men from the tribes of Naphtali and Zebulun and meet Sisera at the river Kishon.
Of course, Barak would jump at this opportunity to serve the Lord…
… WHO NEED ENCOURAGEMENT AND SUPPORT.
Judges 4:8. And Barak said unto her, If thou wilt go with me, then I will go: but if thou wilt not go with me, then I will not go.
Deborah fully knew that Barak possessed the skill-set to lead the two tribes against Sisera. She also knew that the LORD would deliver Sisera’s army into Barak’s hands. It is evident that Barak was not as confident as Deborah. Why would Barak be so hesitant to go up against Sisera?
We should never forget that those who we choose as leaders are subject to the same limitations that are set upon any person. Those who are leaders certainly understand this well. Those who are called to positions of responsibility in the Kingdom of God are not called to go it alone. We are a community, and as such should recognize that our leaders need:
Encouragement. There is much that would serve to discourage those who are called to lead. They often face their Jabin and Sisera from both within the church and without. They are often under satan’s attack more than those who are not willing to serve. Consequently those in the community of faith should always be quick to serve as an encouragement to those who minister, and never serve to be a source of discouragement.
Support. Encouragement is accomplished with wise and kind words. Support is accomplished with substance and action. Barak would call an army of ten thousand men out of two of the smaller of Israel’s tribes. Ten thousand Israelites would have to join Barak in this effort, one that would appear impossible to anyone without spiritual discernment. Even an army of 10,000 so poorly equipped was no match for Sisera’s chariots. Often we will withhold support simply because we do not understand or share the vision of those who minister to us. 10,000 Israelites would be called upon to trust the LORD as they also must trust Deborah and Barak in order to support them in this effort. This is an example to all of us to support those who lead though love and trust, not necessarily by agreement. Such support can take the form of substance or action, meeting the need of the body under the leadership of the minister in any capacity that the LORD would lead, possibly through material support, or by joining the leader in the work
Prayer. Just as we often call upon the LORD last, since such a call is done through prayer, it is often our practice to engage prayer as the last work rather than the first. Having experienced a ministry that was bathed in prayer by those who supported me, I have felt the peace and the power that comes from such prayer support when facing challenging and even frightening situations. The scriptures are clear in their call to a relationship with the LORD that includes communication with Him through prayer, and those prayers have a substantive power and purpose.
Judges 4:9. And she said, I will surely go with thee: notwithstanding the journey that thou takest shall not be for thine honour; for the LORD shall sell Sisera into the hand of a woman. And Deborah arose, and went with Barak to Kedesh.
Barak’s need for confidence was sincere. Certainly, Barak clearly understood the inability of Israel’s army to defeat Sisera on its own, and he was experiencing a genuine fear of the disaster that would come upon the two chosen tribes when they go up against Sisera’s swords and chariots with their hand-made weapons and farm implements. Recognizing his fears, Deborah, rather than try to change him, chose to support him, showing that support in both words and action.
We should probably not get too tied up on gender issues when we observe Deborah’s prophecy that Sisera would be defeated at the hand of a woman. The point that Deborah is making is that the LORD would not call upon Barak to engage Sisera in direct battle. The LORD had another, far more humiliating, plan for Sisera. The idiom, “into the hand of,” literally means “under the total power of.” Sisera would be “delivered into the hand of a woman” by the LORD. This woman would single-handedly assassinate Sisera, eliminating the necessity for Barak to meet him in battle. The gender of the assassin is not the issue. The issue is that the LORD would deliver Sisera into the hand of an assassin. The fact that the assassin is a woman only serves to further illustrate that the work will be done by the LORD as He arranges Sisera’s demise.
Deborah’s willingness to accompany Barak, and her words of encouragement served to settle Barak’s fears.
THE BATTLE IS THE LORD’S
Judges 4:10-16. And Barak called Zebulun and Naphtali to Kedesh; and he went up with ten thousand men at his feet: and Deborah went up with him. 11Now Heber the Kenite, which was of the children of Hobab the father in law of Moses, had severed himself from the Kenites, and pitched his tent unto the plain of Zaanaim, which is by Kedesh. 12And they showed Sisera that Barak the son of Abinoam was gone up to mount Tabor. 13And Sisera gathered together all his chariots, even nine hundred chariots of iron, and all the people that were with him, from Harosheth of the Gentiles unto the river of Kishon. 14And Deborah said unto Barak, Up; for this is the day in which the LORD hath delivered Sisera into thine hand: is not the LORD gone out before thee? So Barak went down from mount Tabor, and ten thousand men after him. 15And the LORD discomfited Sisera, and all his chariots, and all his host, with the edge of the sword before Barak; so that Sisera lighted down off his chariot, and fled away on his feet. 16But Barak pursued after the chariots, and after the host, unto Harosheth of the Gentiles: and all the host of Sisera fell upon the edge of the sword; and there was not a man left.
Barak, Deborah, and the army of 10,000 witnessed something that Israel had not seen in generations. Because they trusted in the LORD, and went to the battlefield under His command, the LORD “discomfited” Sisera’s army. This term literally refers to a riot breaking out in Sisera’s army as they turned on one another. The Israelites simply watched as Sisera’s army destroyed itself. Now, faced with an army of 10,000 Israelites, the few who remained in Sisera’s army, left without its deserting commander, fled back to Harosheth. As Barak advanced, he had a battlefield full of swords to simply pick off the ground, and before they could make it back to Harosheth every man in Sisera’s army, save one, was killed.
Though the battle was the LORD’s the defeat of Sisera’s army still came about because of the faithfulness and courage of Deborah, Barak, and those from Naphtali and Zebulon who would follow them. Had Deborah not responded to the LORD’s direction, and Barak responded to the call to lead Israel, Sisera would never have suffered such a defeat.
How many times do we miss experiencing the LORD’s working around us simply because we, as leaders, do not move upon the LORD’s direction, pressing our own personal agenda instead? Similarly, how many times do we miss experiencing the LORD’s working around us because we will not support the vision of our leaders? Had either of these sins occurred in Israel, Sisera’s army would have stood, and Israel would have fallen.
Judges 4:17. Howbeit Sisera fled away on his feet to the tent of Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite: for there was peace between Jabin the king of Hazor and the house of Heber the Kenite.
The Kenites were the descended family of Moses’ father-in-law. After crossing the Jordan River, the Kenites settled among the Canaanites in the “wilderness of Judah.” Though they had become immersed in Canaanite culture sufficiently to have the complete trust of Jabin and Sisera, they still maintained loyalty to their Israelite roots. In this passage we meet Heber and Jael. It was Heber who alerted Sisera to the gathering of the Israelite troops at Mount Tabor. His motive for “assisting” Sisera in the intended defeat of an uprising Israel is unexplained until Sisera fled to his tent on the plain of Zaanaim where he is met by Jael, Heber’s wife.
Judges 4:18-20. And Jael went out to meet Sisera, and said unto him, Turn in, my lord, turn in to me; fear not. And when he had turned in unto her into the tent, she covered him with a mantle. 19And he said unto her, Give me, I pray thee, a little water to drink; for I am thirsty. And she opened a bottle of milk, and gave him drink, and covered him. 20Again he said unto her, Stand in the door of the tent, and it shall be, when any man doth come and inquire of thee, and say, Is there any man here? that thou shalt say, No.
Sisera’s desperation is clearly shown by his behavior as he entered the tent alone with Jael, Heber’s wife. Surely Sisera was accustomed to giving commands to his Canaanite people, but Jael was not a Canaanite. God had used Heber and Jael to put in motion a plan that would destroy Sisera without costing any Israelite lives. It was Sisera’s choice to flee to Heber’s tent: Heber, the descendent of Moses’ wife’s family, a part of the nation he had been marauding for years and now attempted to destroy. Assuming that Jael would follow his commands, he placed himself completely under her power, in her own home. His trust in her was only strengthened when she gave him milk instead of the water he asked for. If he had any realization that Jael was an Israelite, any thought that she was a threat to him was buried deep under his own arrogance. His own self-confidence covered him like the mantle that Jael spread over him. Finding himself relaxed by the portion of milk, and lying on the ground under the covering, the exhausted Sisera fell asleep.
Judges 4:21-24. Then Jael Heber’s wife took a nail of the tent, and took an hammer in her hand, and went softly unto him, and smote the nail into his temples, and fastened it into the ground: for he was fast asleep and weary. So he died. 22And, behold, as Barak pursued Sisera, Jael came out to meet him, and said unto him, Come, and I will show thee the man whom thou seekest. And when he came into her tent, behold, Sisera lay dead, and the nail was in his temples. 23So God subdued on that day Jabin the king of Canaan before the children of Israel. 24And the hand of the children of Israel prospered, and prevailed against Jabin the king of Canaan, until they had destroyed Jabin king of Canaan.
Deborah’s prophecy came to pass very quickly after she shared it with Barak. Indeed, the LORD had delivered Sisera into the hands of a woman, an Israelite woman who had the courage to be used of the LORD in a way that would save many Israelite lives and would restore peace to the nation, a peace that would last for another forty years.
When we choose to depend upon the LORD instead of upon ourselves, we place ourselves in a position to be blessed by Him in ways we could never imagine. Sisera and Jael had been terrorizing the Israelite community for years. The roads were not safe, and the Israelites lived in constant fear of Jael’s attackers. By trusting in the LORD instead of their own designs, the Israelites placed themselves in a position to witness how the LORD would deliver them in a way that they could never have believed. That trust in the LORD started in the heart of one woman, Deborah, who trusted God and sought Him for the solution for the nation’s dilemma. Her faith was known among the Israelites to be genuine enough that when she called upon the nation to rise up against their attackers, they did so. Consequently, we do not remember Deborah and Barak because of their overwhelming success on the battlefield, but rather because of their true and living faith that brought them confidently to the battlefield. The LORD blessed Israel with the defeat of her enemies, yet used Deborah, Barak, and the people of the tribes of Naphtali and Zebulon in His plan to save the nation.
The LORD has promised abundant life to those who place their faith and trust in Him. The account of the defeat of Jael serves to remind us how that abundant life is found. It is not found by gathering and hoarding the “good” things of this world, for those things will never truly bless us. It is found by placing our trust in the LORD and letting Him use us in ways that bless others, and in so doing, bless ourselves. When put ourselves in the hands of the LORD, we are in a position to witness His solutions to the challenges of our lives, solutions that we would never realize if we worked out our own solutions with our limited human wisdom.
GIVING ALL OF THE GLORY TO GOD
Judges 5:1-3. Then sang Deborah and Barak the son of Abinoam on that day, saying, 2Praise ye the LORD for the avenging of Israel, when the people willingly offered themselves. 3Hear, O ye kings; give ear, O ye princes; I, even I, will sing unto the LORD; I will sing praise to the LORD God of Israel.
The fifth chapter of the book of Judges is a poetic song of praise to the LORD that recounts the deliverance of Israel from their enemies during their journey since Joshua died, and since it is a praise that is lifted to the LORD by Deborah and Barak, it recounts in detail the events surrounding the miraculous deliverance of Israel from Jabin and Sisera. This chapter provides a unique opportunity to compare the presentation of the same story in two different literary forms: the prose of Chapter 4, and the poetry of Chapter 5.
By recognizing and remembering what God has done for them, the collective faith of the nation of Israel was strengthened as they witnessed the LORD’s presence and His work among them. It is evident from the text of Chapter-4 that Barak’s part in leading the army of Zebulon and Naphtali was important, and he did, indeed lead the tribes into the battle. However, his part in the battle is minimized as the work of victory was accomplished by the LORD as Barak and the Israelites simply witnessed the dissolution of Sisera’s panicking army in front of them. It was after Sisera jumped from his chariot and ran and the remaining Canaanites fled that Barak and his soldiers pursued and destroyed them.
We see in this narrative some important characteristics of true godly leadership:
1. God calls forth ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances, people who are limited by their own shortcomings, but strengthened and focused by their sincere faith in God.
2. God calls people to exercise the gifts that He has given them for His purposes. Deborah’s love of the LORD and a sincere desire to know His will placed her in a position for the LORD to call her to exercise those gifts for His purpose. Her gifts led her to an intimate understanding of God’s will and purpose for Israel. Her heart and her knowledge of the LORD allowed her to serve as a Judge in Israel as she shared that knowledge with others. Barak was given gifts that empowered him to be a strong and determined leader. Recognizing this, Deborah called upon him to lead Israel against Jabin and Sisera, an impossible task when considered without spiritual discernment. Barak was initially hesitant to take on the task, but did so when he understood that it was the LORD’s calling.
3. Those who are served by spiritual leaders find support and encouragement from them. We observe that Deborah did all she could do to encourage and support Barak, who by his own willingness to be used of the LORD was also encouraging and supporting her. However, more significantly is the response of the people from the tribes of Zebulon and Naphtali who were willing to follow Barak and Deborah to the battlefield with no assurance of success other than their faith in the LORD to deliver them, a faith that was promoted by Deborah and Barak’s own faith.
4. When spiritual leaders follow the LORD’s will, the LORD can do a miraculous work. Barak and Deborah did not approach the army of Sisera using their own agenda or strategy, but rather were willing to wait upon the LORD and watch Him work out His will as He used them within His agenda. Godly leaders do not find themselves exhausted by their own frustrated attempts at unsuccessful problem solving, but are strengthened and encouraged as they witness the LORD’s work around them.
5. True spiritual leaders give all of the credit to the LORD. There is no hint of either Deborah or Barak taking any personal credit for the defeat of Sisera and Jabin. In fact, their response was to publically praise God for what He accomplished as they made it very clear that He is to receive all of the praise.
What can we accomplish for the LORD if we would adopt these simple traits of leadership? What can we accomplish for the LORD if we unconditionally encourage and support those who the LORD has called into leadership.
Let us consider God’s call upon our lives as He has empowered all who place their faith in Him with gifts, talents, and interests that God can use to further His purposes in this pagan, Canaanite world. Then let us watch His miraculous work around us as we wait upon Him, offering all we have to Him for that work.