This is one of several posts in a series studying the Biblical book of Judges. If you missed the previous posts, just scroll down a bit and you can catch up.
In these chapters we read the story of one unique judge and one major battle. Here’s the story.
Barak is commanded by God to lead the Israelites against the armies of Jabin, the evil, oppressive king of Canaan. Sisera, Jabin’s general, had amassed nine hundred iron-rimmed chariots and countless trained soldiers. Clearly, conquering them would be no small feat. Deborah, speaking on God’s behalf, encouraged Barak to do his job. Barak agreed with the condition that she go with him. She agreed but warned Barak that he would not receive the glory for the victory. That would go to a woman. That woman was Jael.
Jael posed no threat to Sisera or the armies of Jabin, so her tent seemed a good place for the general to hide and rest after fleeing the battle. Jael soothed Sisera with warm milk and a cozy blanket, then hammered a tent peg through his skull while he slept.
Chapter four tells this story in prose and chapter five re-tells it in poetic form, a song sung by the Israelites to honor God and our three main characters.
Let’s look a little closer at each of these characters and what we can learn and apply from their stories.
- Judges 4—5
- Hebrews 11:32—33
Deborah is the only known female judge. The author’s of Women of the Bible, one of my favorite devotionals, describes Deborah’s character this way:
“Her vision of the world was shaped not by the political situation of her day, but by her relationship with God. Though women in the ancient world did not usually become political leaders, Deborah was just the leader Israel needed – a prophetess who heard God and believed him, whose courage aroused the people, enabling them to throw off foreign oppression.” (p. 107)
Deborah’s name means “honey bee.” That doesn’t mean all of her words were greeted with sweet surrender. It may, however, say something about her approach to her job.
The rest of the judges climbed up on their soapboxes and preached to the people what should be done then jumped to action (often a violent battle or assassination). Sometimes they jumped right to the murders then told the people what to do after. Either way they were very proactive, emphasis on the active part.
Deborah appears to have been much more gentle, nurturing, even. She sat under a tree and people came to her. She didn’t go out and tell people what to do. Rather, she waited patiently for them to seek her and the wisdom God gave her. Even when she accompanied Barak into battle, it appears that she didn’t participate in the fighting (notice the omission of her role in the Hebrews passage listed above). She was a “mother of Israel” (5:7) with all the protective, motherly attributes.
At first read, Barak seems an insipid fellow, a reluctant leader greatly lacking in faith. In fact, his behavior is very similar to that of Gideon, a judge we’ll learn about in a few weeks. He wants to believe God. He wants to do great things for God, but he lacks confidence. He lacks confidence not only in God, but also in himself that he could actually be used of God. Sound like anyone we know?
4:6 – It seems, from the wording of this verse, that God had commanded Barak to action before soliciting Deborah. Barak’s weak faith, however, is not the news here. He was “normal” in the company of Israelites of his day. Deborah was the one of extreme faith.
4:8 – Deborah agreed to go up with Barak. One might suggest that she sat hidden on the sidelines offering him quiet moral support, but her role was clearly a visible one, one that earned her praise from the Israelite armies, as evidenced in the song sung in chapter 5. (See verses 7 and 12. It is unlikely that she would write about herself in the third person, unless she sought to immortalize herself, which is contrary to her godly character.) She may not have fought with a sword, but she was recognized as a leader.
“Deborah didn’t abandon Barak for his lack of faith. Rather, she accompanied him and gave him strength in accomplishing God’s purposes.” (Glahn, p. 30)
- Whom have I abandoned?
- How may the results have differed if I had stayed and edified rather than leaving in judgment?
- Whom can I support now?
- Judges 4:17—24
- Judges 5:24—31
- Psalm 20:7
The Kenites (of whom Jael belonged) were a nomadic tribe whose survival depended on their ability to stay clear of local and political disputes. Jael’s recorded actions spread far outside of her comfort zone into a very dangerous position. Her willing involvement here – even greater: her initiative! – shows her confidence in Yahweh’s ability to deliver the Israelites from their enemies.
We all like our comfort zones and, in all honesty, would much rather stay in them! But sometimes God has greater plans for us than comfort.
- When was the last time you went outside of your comfort zone because of your convictions? What were the results?
- What signposts can you create to warn of apathetic rationalization?
What is in your hand?
In Exodus 3 Moses met God’s call with several excuses. After a lengthy discussion back and forth, God asked Moses “What is that in your hand?” It was a staff, a mundane tool for a mundane profession. But God used Moses and that staff again and again throughout Moses’ life to reveal Himself and His wonders.
In Judges we find similar examples of God using someone with what was already in hand. Shamgar used an ox goad, and here Jael uses a tent spike. For Jael pitching tents was a regular part of life. She didn’t have a sword or miraculous power, but she did have a hammer and tent peg. She used what she had to bring glory to God.
While growing in our gifts and talents is always a positive endeavor, God does not expect us to be perfectly gifted before we serve Him. Rather, He wants us to be willing where we are with what we have.
- What is in your hand that God can use?