(First read Judges 4:1-24)
There’s Someone I’d Like You to Meet: Deborah the Judge
Today I would like to introduce you to a woman named Deborah. She is known to us as one of the Judges who were the leaders of Old Testament Israel from the time of the death of Joshua (who took over for Moses) until the time of Israel’s first King – Saul. The marquee names – i.e. the more famous Judges would include men like Gideon and Samson – but here, in a rather important position fairly early in the Book of Judges, we come across Deborah.
She is a remarkable woman – the passage refers to her as a prophetess. Now this is long before there was any such official position in Israel known as the “Prophet.” Deborah must have had an amazing insight – a perspective far beyond the average – which made her aware of the movements of God’s Spirit. The passage tells us that her husband was Lapidoth – the name means “firebrand” – he must have been a wild one – it would take a person of a fiery spirit to be his partner in life – and Deborah for sure seems to be that.
Deborah is Judge in Israel during a particularly difficult period of time – Israel has been cruelly oppressed for 20 years under a Canaanite King by the name of Jabin – and by Sisera, the commander of his army – a rather powerful army. The people of Israel had cried to God for help – though if the truth be told – they had gotten themselves into this situation – note that our passage begins by telling us in the very first verse that they “did evil in the eyes of the Lord.”
In God’s providence, the time has now come to throw off the chains of Jabin and Sisera – so Deborah calls for Barak – his name means “lightning” – who was the battle leader for Israel – and she says in effect, “Call out the troops – God has given Sisera into your hands – the victory is assured – let’s get at it.” Barak however is not so sure – in fact – he’s a little bit of a coward in this situation it seems – and thus he responds – “Well OK, but I’m only going if you go with me!” I think the Biblical writer shows wonderful restraint here as he records Deborah’s words in response – “What? Why you chicken you!! I tell you God’s got it covered and you’re still too yellow to go into battle – OK then, I’ll go along and hold your hand – but because of the way you are going about this, Barak, you will not be honored – instead God will hand Sisera over to a woman!”
The next part of the passage tells the story of the battle – things do indeed go well for Israel – the army of Sisera is routed and Sisera flees on foot until he comes upon the tent of Jael – a Kenite woman. The Kenites and the Canaanites under Jabin have a treaty – thus the woman is very hospitable to him – he feels safe. But this is a big mistake. Sisera has forgotten that the father-in-law of Moses was a Kenite – and so despite any treaty the Kenites might have with the Caananites – they are first and foremost loyal to Israel and to the God of Israel.
These are rough times we are talking about here – and the description of Sisera’s death is a very straightforward one. I like the commentator who decided to be a bit more discrete and put it this way – “No sooner had he fallen asleep than she took a wooden tent peg and a mallet, stealthily crept up to him, and transfixed him.” Transfixed him indeed!! And thus it is that Jael, the Kenite woman is praised far and wide for the defeat of Sisera the Canaanite, rather than Barak – just as Deborah had foretold.
“OK,” you say – interesting story – but what is the point of it all for us today? We are far removed from Israel living in the land of the Canaanites – though the events of this week around the world remind us that we still sometimes live in violent and rough days. We are trying – most of us anyway – to live our lives as “good” Christians – struggling with the day-to-day realities of life – desiring to be faithful to Christ – wanting – wishing we could do even better.
Deborah gives us the key to accomplishing this – by being available to God. Deborah calls to Barak saying, “Ok, now is the time to do something great for your people and your God – God has given everything – including your enemy – into your hands – everything is covered – let’s go.” Barak responds with “Are you sure? – do we have enough money to pull this off?? – do we have enough soldiers??? Is the battle plan good enough?? Are our swords sharp enough? Have we had enough training?? You know I’ve never done anything quite like this before!!”
There is a quote which gets at the heart of this – I wish I knew who the author is – but the quote is right-on-target: “God never asks about our ability or our inability – just our availability!”
One of my favorite hymns is “Here I Am, Lord.” In the song each verse comes from the lips of God – and then ends with these words: “Whom shall I send?” In other words, “Who’s available??”
The chorus follows, representing the voices of the faithful who are willing to be available:
Here I am Lord, is it I Lord?
I have heard you calling in the night.
I will go Lord, if you lead me
I will hold Your people in my heart.
Are you available?? God, in Jesus Christ, has made Himself available to us and for us – in the supreme – in the ultimate way. He knows our doubts – our fears – our excuses – He knows our cares and concerns – our hearts. He says to us – “I have overcome the world,” i.e. I’ve got it covered – trust me on this. And then He looks at you and me and asks – “Are you available??”