Tonight as we continue in our series in the book of Judges we reach chapter 5; it would be great if you could have that open in front of you.
It's an incredible chapter, with much to say to us so I want to get to it as soon as possible, but it's helpful to quickly recap chapter 4 because the two chapter are closely connected.
Chapter 4 contains a detailed account of how a military commander called Barak led the Israelite army in a victorious battle against their cruel oppressors the Canaanite people. The canaanites are represented by their King (Jabin) and his chief military commander (Sisera). Let's pick up the story at chapter 4 v3:-
“Because he [Sisera] had nine hundred iron chariots and had cruelly oppressed the Israelites for twenty years, they cried to the LORD for help."
And God listens to their cries for help (even though they did not deserve it) and speaks through a woman called Deborah to Barak to say 'God is going to use you to free his people. Now go, raise an army and attack Sisera. God will give you victory'. Barak is not sure at first, but with encouragement from Deborah he does what he is told and in v15 we read:
“At Barak's advance, the LORD routed Sisera and all his chariots and army by the sword, and Sisera abandoned his chariot and fled on foot.”
Against the odds, Sisera’s army with their iron age military toys are destroyed and Sisera escapes, on foot. He runs to the tent of a woman called Jael. She does a great job of welcoming him, offering him milk to drink and a bed after his exhausting battle. But while he lay fast asleep she smashes his skull with a tent peg and kills him.
After that King Jabin doesn't last long and so the cruel Canaanite oppressors are destroyed and Israel has peace from her enemies.
And that is where we have come to in our journey through this great book. Chapter 5 is a song written and performed by Deborah and Barak right after this epic battle. I'm sure you will have seen programmes that show a certain sports match or competition and then discuss and analyse it. Well chapter 5 is a bit like a music version of a programme like that, only this time the analysis is about the battle that has just taken place.
As we look at it together we're going to focus on the main ideas and ask what is God saying to us today through this part of the Bible. The first thing we see is that:-
1. IT IS GOD WHO SAVES HIS PEOPLE
As Deborah and Barak look back to all that has just happened, how do they react?
They sing a song of praise to God! Why? Because they know that in the final analysis it is God who has just won the battle. So they praise him. Look at v2-5:-
3"Hear this, you kings! Listen, you rulers!
I will sing to the LORD, I will sing;
I will make music to the LORD, the God of Israel.
4"O LORD, when you went out from Seir,
when you marched from the land of Edom,
the earth shook, the heavens poured,
the clouds poured down water.
5The mountains quaked before the LORD, the One of Sinai,
before the LORD, the God of Israel.
They are celebrating the fact that God stepped in and saved his people. How had he done that? Remember, Barak had got together a small 'non-professional army'. Barak took them up mount Tabor where they would have been able to look down on Sisera and his professional army with their 900 iron chariots gathering together in the valley. The Canaanites had a massive military advantage yet they lost the battle in an unexpected way.
This is what happened: just as the battle began, God sent a massive storm from Seir in the desert land of Edom. This was unusual because rain like that usually comes from the sea not the desert! It took Sisera by surprise and the flash floods caused the river to overflow. We see the result of that in verse 21:
“The river Kishon swept them away, the age-old river, the river Kishon.”
Who did this? God did. God is involved in saving his people from the wicked hand of Sisera. And that is why God is being praised! It was God who sent the storm, who controlled the clouds and opened the heavens. It is God who saves his people. God both initiated and completed the whole thing from beginning to end. And what makes it even more amazing is that they did not deserve such kindness from God: Verse 8 tells us that they had 'chosen new gods' and been unfaithful to him!
What do we learn from this about God? We see that he is in total control. The Canaanite had a god they called Baal – they though he controlled the clouds and the rain, but they were mistaken. Baal was not real. Baal had no power. Only the LORD God could save his people. And what was true back then is still true today. God is a God who saves his people. We too have been unfaithful to him. We too need help and rescue. And God has rescued us, when we did not deserve such kindness. His rescue plan involved not armies and warriors but Jesus – who came to earth, lived a perfect life and then died instead of us to make it possible for our sins to be forgiven. Once again God initiated and completed the whole thing from beginning to end.
Do you realise that you cannot fight against God and win? Do you see what kind of God he is? If you think you can play around with God, then you have got the wrong idea of God. When the rulers of the world gather against him, the Bible says God laughs. Human opposition to God is always insane. If we stand against him we show we have no idea who God is. So if you are fighting against God, it is time to face the fact that you are fighting a battle you cannot win.
Maybe you are a Christian who is knowingly going against what God wants for you. Maybe like Jonah when God asked him to go to Ninevah, you are running away in the opposite direction. God wants us – his people- to live a holy life and become more and more like Jesus in our character – are you with him or fighting against him? He wants us to join him in the task of telling the whole world about his plan to save those who cry out to him– are you with him or fighting against him? He wants us to love our communities and countries and work for them to be transformed by the Christian gospel – are you with him or fighting against him? In those areas where you are not working with him, do you realise who you are picking a fight with?!
It may be however that you are not a Christian yet, in which case you need to know the Bible says that whether you realise it or not, you are living your whole life fighting against God. If you don’t believe that – ask yourself who makes the decisions in my life? Who do I live for? If your answer is 'me' then you are against God. As our creator he deserves the right to be number 1 in our lives. And one day Jesus is coming back again and on that day there will be a battle involving the whole world. All those who have not made their peace with him will face his full force against them. You have a very important decision to make. Will you remain against God, or will you cry out to God for help and accept that God has made it possible for you to be saved through Jesus.
Do you know enough to make your mind up about Jesus? If so, then decide – are you for him or against him. If you do not know enough, then find out more. Get hold of a copy of one of the gospels and read about his life, join a Christianity Explored course or speak to a Christian friend.
Notice that although it is God who saves, he also involves his people. Verses 10-11 are fascinating. They describe how news of the victory travelled – in a day when email didn't exist that happened by word of mouth. Listen to how they describe what has happened (v10-11):
You who ride on white donkeys, sitting on your saddle blankets, and you who walk along the road, consider 11the voice of the singers at the watering places. They recite the righteous acts of the LORD, the righteous acts of his warriors in Israel.
See how God's action and the actions of his warriors are connected! God works through his people, which leads onto our second point
2. THOSE WHO LOVE GOD WORK WITH HIM
Most of the rest of the song involves Deborah and Barak remembering who joined in with the battle and who did not. In verses 14-18 we have a list of which tribes of Israel fought with them and which tribes didn't. Verse 14 begins with those who did join in:-
14Some came from Ephraim, whose roots were in Amalek;
Benjamin was with the people who followed you.
From Makir [or Manasseh] captains came down,
from Zebulun those who bear a commander's staff.
15The princes of Issachar were with Deborah;
yes, Issachar was with Barak,
rushing after him into the valley.
However halfway through verse 15 we come to those who did not join in:
“In the districts of Reuben
there was much searching of heart.
16Why did you stay among the campfires
to hear the whistling for the flocks?
In the districts of Reuben
there was much searching of heart.
17 Gilead stayed beyond the Jordan.
And Dan, why did he linger by the ships?
Asher remained on the coast
and stayed in his coves.”
In the tribe of Reuben we read there was 'much searching of heart'. However at the end of the day they just didn't join in. Oh it's not as if they didn't consider it: they discussed it thoroughly, thought about it, talked about it, pondered it but in the end they chose to stay. Maybe they though 'it is not a good time to be away, so let's stay here and take care of our sheep rather than be at war”. Maybe they just wanted a comfortable life, nothing to distract them from the ancient equivalent of a night in front of the telly. Maybe they convinced themselves that it was not a 'no', just a 'not now'. A dangerous move: because saying no to God now begins a pattern where it gets harder and harder to say 'yes'. But at the end of the day they just didn't join in.
Dan we read 'lingered by the ships' and Asher 'remained on the coast'. They were too pre-occupied with a profitable maritime business career to worry about what the Lord's was doing. At the end of the day they too didn't join in.
These tribes were not the only ones. Take a look at verse 23:-
'Curse Meroz,' said the angel of the LORD.
'Curse its people bitterly,
because they did not come to help the LORD,
to help the LORD against the mighty.'
We're not totally sure where Meroz was, but though they were not one of the tribes of Israel, they had been expected to help out, probably because they lived right next to where the battle took place. But they were not willing to risk their lives to help either.
Notice – and be warned- that at the end of the day Reuben and Gilead and Dan and Asher and Meroz were on the side of the enemies of God. True they were not actively acting against God, or actually fighting with the Canaanite army. However refusing to fight with the Lord puts them on the same side as the enemy.
In contrast, in verse 18 two tribes are singled out for a special mention:-
“18The people of Zebulun risked their very lives;
so did Naphtali on the heights of the field.”
Both those tribes joined in to the point of giving their up lives. Jael too is counted among those who were willing to get involved in the battle, despite the cost.
So are you for him, or against him? That is the question of the hour.
But the song has an interesting way of putting that. In verse 23 we read that Meroz 'did not come to help the LORD'. We too are asked, ‘are we willing to help the Lord? But does God really need our help? No of course not! He could have destroyed the Canaanite army and their 900 chariots without a single one of the Israelites being present! So what does this show us?
It shows us that all those that love God will also work with him.
We see that over and over again. Look at v2:
"2When the princes in Israel take the lead,
when the people willingly offer themselves—
praise the LORD!"
9 My heart is with Israel's princes,
with the willing volunteers among the people.
Praise the LORD!
What do you notice? Deborah and Barak are excited by those who willingly offer themselves to be involved in the Lords battle and they praise God for it.
We should not be surprised. God is pleased when his people willingly join in with what he is doing: which is to see his kingdom grow.
But don't make the mistake of thinking that God cannot move forward without our help! If we love God we will work with him and he will use us, in his grace and mercy, in our weakness, by his strength. He used Barak – who may have been a bit hesitant, but In Hebrews 11 is commended for his faith. God works through his people. But if we refuse to join him, then God simple uses someone else! He does not need us!
A wonderful example of this is in the story of Queen Esther later in the Old Testament. Her people are in danger of being killed and Mordecai is trying to persuade Esther to speak up and get involved in God's cause. Listen to what he says to her in Esther 4:14:
If you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father's family will perish..
See the principle at work? It's not as if God would struggle to see his kingdom grow without me or you! However, it pleases him when his people willingly join in with seeing his kingdom grow. And if I do not join in? Then God use someone else to achieve his purposes, but – and this is serious - I will be standing on the same side as his enemies.
This song draws our attention to being WILLING to work with God. And by that I do not mean working on the staff of a church (though for a few of us it might mean that)! I am talking about an unforced, voluntary involvement in what God is doing in this world 'not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be'.
Working with God doesn’t of course mean killing those around us who are not Christians. It means fighting with him – rather than against him – as he works to refine our character and change us to be like Christ. In other words in the area of Godly Living. It means fighting with him – rather than against him – as he works to grow his church in this country and throughout the world. In other words in the area of Church growth. And it means fighting with him – rather than against him – as he lovingly transforms our communities and countries by the Christian gospel. In other words in the area of Changing Britain. Which areas are you not joining in with?
Now we are to be willing to working with God in these areas. Why is that important? Why are we not being encouraged to be obedient?
Imagine that a wife is greeted by her husband with a hug and kiss. Do you think she would prefer to be kissed because he felt he had to, out of a sense of duty because it was his job as her husband! Or would she prefer him to kiss her willingly, lovingly and because he wants to? Now I'm no expert in these matters but even I know that forced affection out of a sense of duty is not the best way to express love for your wife. When we do something for someone because we want to, that demonstrates how much we value and love them
Who are those who love the Lord? It is the willing volunteers of verses 2 and 9! Who are the enemies? It includes those who are not willing volunteers! See the link? Those who love God will also work with him.
Willing service to God is the best way to demonstrate our love for him. You see it is possible to serve and obey the Lord but not to love him. In the same way that it is possible to obey a police officer or a tax man and not like them very much or serve a boss even if they drives you crazy and you cannot wait to leave and get another job.
Genuine heartfelt love for God will overflow in willing service to God. I'm not saying the obedience doesn't matter. After all Jesus did say 'If you love me you will keep my commandments'. However it is true that obedience should be an expression of love.
God is after our hearts. He wants us to willingly join in with his plan to grow his kingdom. Reality is however that sometimes we do obey God just because it is the right thing to do. It is after all better to obey unwillingly than to disobey him but surely we should not be happy with that! Our goal should be that we are so transformed by his grace that we willingly, joyfully serve him, like men of Zebulun and Napthali.
So are you willing to lay down your life for our great God and saviour? If you know that you are not willing, do you want to be? Do you want to have a love for God that is so intense, so passionate, so joyful that we willing serve him and his kingdom, even at great cost.
How do we develop willingness like that? By remembering how good Jesus has been for us by dying instead of us on the cross so that we can be forgiven and restored in our relationship with him. As we realise how much he loves us, especially given that we did not deserve it, that will transform us so that we are willing to love him back.
The key verse for understanding this chapter is verse 31:
31"So may all your enemies perish, O LORD!
But may they who love you be like the sun
when it rises in its strength."
The song ends with a prayer. Deborah and Barak looked forward to a time when God will destroy not just Jabin and Sisera, but all his enemies. The nearest equivalent prayer in the New Testament is in the prayer that Jesus taught us to pray. What they pray for us is exactly what we pray when we ask 'Your Kingdom come, your will be done'.
As we end, I want you to see something very important. Deborah and Barak are not very different to us! They were women and men of faith. They had to trust that God would save his people, even when it was not obvious how or even whether God was in charge. As we wait for Jesus to come again we can feel like that. They could look back to all that God had already done and so can we: Jesus died and rose from the dead, so we know that he is in control, that he is saving his people and that he will destroy all that is evil.
For Deborah and Barak following God meant praying that his enemies would perish and for his kingdom to grow and then choosing to work with him to see that happen. We too, as the people of God must pray that his kingdom would grow and then choose to work with him.
If we are the people of God, we need to be those who pray like that: who long for the day when everything and everyone who are opposed to God will be destroyed so that we can enjoy peace. Only when that finally happens – when Jesus comes again - it will bring with it a peace that covers the whole world and that lasts far more than 40 years.