After a three week break we’re back in the book of Judges and we now come to Deborah, a prophetess – Judges 4:1-24. While you’re turning to that chapter can I remind you that the title of this book – Judges – describes the leaders or judges Israel had from the time of the elders who outlived Joshua until the time of the monarchy. And their principal purpose is perhaps best expressed in chapter 2:16:
The Lord raised up judges, who saved them out of the hands of raiders.
And since it was God who permitted the oppressions and raised up deliverers, he himself was Israel’s ultimate Judge and Deliverer, as we see in Judges 4. So first
THE NEED FOR SALVATION AND SANCTIFICATION
Now Judges 4 is full of shocks and surprises, even a hammer and a tent peg, but not at the start. It begins with the same old story. V1:
After Ehud died, the Israelites once again did evil in the eyes of the LORD.
Once again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord. The very tone of that phrase suggests the actual reality of the monotony and slavery of sin. Yet they fell for its chains so often, as we know only too well ourselves. It is clear isn’t it that we cannot save ourselves. Even though the land enjoyed peace for 80 years (Judges 3:30), apart from Shamgar’s Ramboesque skirmish with the Philistines when he killed 600 of them with an ox goad, lessons were not learned and they once again did evil in the eyes of the Lord. In the relative peace and prosperity they forgot the Lord and turned to other gods, which our nation has also done over a similar time period. Let’s pray that the credit crunch, which seems to be in part a judgment from God, turns people’s hearts away from the gods of materialism and back to the one true God. You see there is a specific evil being referred to here in Judges 4. Look back with me at chapter 2:10-12:
10 After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the LORD nor what he had done for Israel. 11Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD and served the Baals. 12 They forsook the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshipped various gods of the peoples around them.
They turned away from the one true God and served, followed and worshipped various gods of the peoples around them. They abandoned the God who had not abandoned them and instead went after what was false. Why? Well no doubt money, sex and power were attractive. But those verses suggest that they also found it difficult not to conform to those around them. They found it uncomfortable to be different, to stick out of the crowd. Perhaps you’re facing similar issues. You’re finding it difficult to follow Christ at school, university or in the workplace. The peer pressure has caused you to blend in and now you’re buckling under that pressure and your faith is on the line. Or perhaps you’re in a wrong relationship which is in danger of pulling you away from the Lord. Instead of being distinct you’re finding yourself drifting and simply imitating the culture around you, just like the Israelites, especially under the Canaanites (v2-3) the enemy they were supposed to have destroyed. Putting the one true God first is a thing of the past.
Well it’s time to wake up, repent and follow the true King. The New Testament tells us that our enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). Instead submit to the true King who loves you and wants the best for you, even though that will mean denying ourselves daily, taking up our cross and following him wherever he leads. You see Jesus is king; He is a demanding king. He demands our all. He wants us to totally serve Him in every area of life. He wants us to hold no area back. There’s a story of a man in Haiti who wanted to sell his house for £1,000. Another man wanted very badly to buy it, but because he was poor, he couldn't afford the full price. After much bargaining, the owner agreed to sell the house for half the original price with just one condition: he would retain ownership of one small nail located just over the front door. After several years, the original owner wanted the house back, but the new owner was unwilling to sell. So the first owner went out, found the carcass of a dead dog, and hung it from the single nail he still owned. Soon it became impossible to live there, and the family was forced to sell the house to the owner of the nail. What’s the point of that story? The point of the story is that if we don't surrender all of our life to the control of King Jesus, if we give Him all but one small nail, then Satan will hang his rotting garbage on it and make us unfit for Christ.
You see as the heat is turned up on Christians in this country where will we stand? With Christ as our King or with the Canaanites, so to speak? Well things are hotting up for Christians in the UK. “Christians must reclaim their place in the public square”, wrote Michael Nazir Ali, the Bishop of Rochester last weekend following the suspension of Caroline Petrie, a Christian nurse, who offered to pray for an elderly patient to recover from illness. Then on Monday it was revealed that teachers could, in the future, be disciplined if they discuss their religious beliefs with pupils. And during the week a five year old girl was reprimanded for talking about Jesus, heaven and hell at school. Her mother was then suspended from her duties as the school receptionist for seeking support from her church over the matter. It also emerged last week that a foster mother has been struck off after a Muslim girl in her care converted to Christianity. The woman has been banned by her local council for failing to prevent the teenager from getting baptised, even though the girl was 16 and made up her own mind to convert. The carer, a churchgoer in her 50s who has fostered more than 80 children, has also been forced to move out of her house due to the loss of income. Where will you stand when the heat is on? Men and women of faith are needed as this passage will remind us as instruments for the glory of God.
The Israelites broke the covenant and rejected God. So 4:2.
2 So the LORD sold them into the hands of Jabin, a king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor. The commander of his army was Sisera, who lived in Harosheth Haggoyim. 3 Because he had nine hundred iron chariots and had cruelly oppressed the Israelites for twenty years, they cried to the LORD for help.
And the gracious and merciful Lord heard their cry for help and he answered them as we’ll see from v4 onwards. Who here tonight needs to cry out to the Lord for help, whether you’re compromising with the enemy and in danger of being totally devoured or if you simply recognise your need to repent and have a fresh start through faith in Christ who loved you and died for you and who can set you free from the slavery and power of sin? The Lord will hear you and help you as you turn to and trust in him. He heard the Israelites, which brings us to Deborah, Barak, Jael and the true source of salvation.
DEBORAH, BARAK, JAEL AND THE TRUE SOURCE OF SALVATION
Throughout the rest of the account there is great emphasis on the true
source of salvation. Look at verses 4-10:
4 Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading [or judging] Israel at that time. 5 She held court under the Palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites came to her to have their disputes decided. 6 She sent for Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali and said to him, "The LORD, the God of Israel, commands you: 'Go, take with you ten thousand men of Naphtali and Zebulun and lead the way to Mount Tabor. 7 I will lure Sisera, the commander of Jabin's army, with his chariots and his troops to the Kishon River and give him into your hands.' "
8 Barak said to her, "If you go with me, I will go; but if you don't go with me, I won't go."
9 "Very well," Deborah said, "I will go with you. But because of the way you are going about this, [b] the honour will not be yours, for the LORD will hand Sisera over to a woman." So Deborah went with Barak to Kedesh, 10 where he summoned Zebulun and Naphtali. Ten thousand men followed him, and Deborah also went with him.
And when Deborah orders the attack, she assures Barak in v14:
"Go! This is the day the LORD has given Sisera into your hands. Has not the LORD gone ahead of you?"
The writer of Judges also ascribes the decisive action to the Lord, both in v15 and in v23:
15 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 16 But Barak pursued the chariots and army as far as Harosheth Haggoyim. All the troops of Sisera fell by the sword; not a man was left. 23 On that day God subdued Jabin, the Canaanite king, before the Israelites.
Now look at v14 again as we also see how the saving God is described:
14 Then Deborah said to Barak,
"Go! This is the day the LORD has given Sisera into your hands. Has not the LORD gone ahead of you?"
She’s depicting the Lord as the warrior who fights for his people. Dale Ralph Davis in his excellent commentary on Judges points out the vigour and virility of this imagery, imagery which is largely foreign to today’s church and tells this story about President Teddy Roosevelt.
“While Teddy was a student at Harvard, he taught a Sunday school class. One day a boy came to class with a black eye, admitting he’d been in a fight. On Sunday no less. A bigger boy had been pinching his sister, the lad said, and he got into a fist fight with him. Teddy said, ‘You did perfectly right’, and gave him a dollar. The church vestrymen thought this was going too
far and released Teddy from his Sunday school duties.”
There’s almost an unwritten cultural law that God should always be gentle, soft and nice. Strange then that the God of the Bible is the warrior. The Strength of Israel is not the soft wimpy graven image of current western imagination. The only real hope of God’s afflicted people is in a strong Lord who ‘in righteousness judges and makes war ‘(Rev 19:11).
So the Lord God is clearly the source of salvation but he frequently uses means and human instruments to bring it about. For example, how did the Lord rout Sisera (v15)? Well from the Hebrew of that verse and chapter 5 we know the Lord brought a rainstorm. The river Kishon then swelled and flooded the area so that Sisera’s chariots became stuck in the mud. So as Barak’s infantry charged down from Mount Tabor all Sisera’s tactical advantage went down the drain. God’s timing of the rainstorm was perfect. He was and is in control.
God also uses human instruments. But he does so in a way which reveals him as the giver of salvation. Deborah teaches this in v9 when she discloses to Barak that
‘it will not turn out for your glory on the road you are going, for it will be into the hand of a woman that the Lord will sell Sisera’.
This only emphasises the fact that ultimately it is God’s doing. How many of us need to be reminded as Barak was by Deborah, that the road on which you are going will not lead to your glory? It is the Lord who brings victory and we shouldn’t care which human instrument seems to shine the most therein. It is all for his glory – the CU mission, Christianity Explored, clayton.tv, JPC and HTG. As God displays his glory in delivering his people, he takes pains to keep anyone from obscuring that glory.
Not that human instruments are irrelevant or can’t be an example of faith to us. No God wants to use us for his glory. Hebrews 11:32-34:
32 I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets, 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies.
Barak has sometimes been seen as a weak man of little faith from v8&9. But in v8 it seems likely that Barak is only acknowledging the fact that he is but an instrument and that in this venture he will need God’s clear direction through Deborah, a wise, godly woman, a prophetess and judge.
Psalm 20 says:
7 Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.
8 They are brought to their knees and fall,
but we rise up and stand firm.
As we live for the Lord Jesus Christ will we trust in him and stand firm in his strength, knowing that he has won the victory through his death on the cross and resurrection from the dead?
Thirdly and finally A SMASHING SALVATION v17-22
17 Sisera, however, fled on foot to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, because there were friendly relations between Jabin king of Hazor and the clan of Heber the Kenite.
18 Jael went out to meet Sisera and said to him, "Come, my Lord , come right in. Don't be afraid." So he entered her tent, and she put a covering over him.
19 "I'm thirsty," he said. "Please give me some water." She opened a skin of milk, gave him a drink, and covered him up.
20 "Stand in the doorway of the tent," he told her. "If someone comes by and asks you, 'Is anyone here?' say 'No.' "
21 But Jael, Heber's wife, picked up a tent peg and a hammer and went quietly to him while he lay fast asleep, exhausted. She drove the peg through his temple into the ground, and he died.
22 Barak came by in pursuit of Sisera, and Jael went out to meet him. "Come," she said, "I will show you the man you're looking for." So he went in with her, and there lay Sisera with the tent peg through his temple - dead.
Now some of you might be asking how do v17-22, the account of the slaying byJael of Sisera in the tent with a hammer and a tent peg fit in the Bible? Well it’s not meant to be directly imitated! Let me make that very clear! However the Bible does approve of Jael’s act. Deborah’s song commends Jael (5:24-27). Should that really bother us? Sisera severely oppressed Israel and probably enjoyed raping captive Israelite girls. The victory could now be completed (v23-24):
23 On that day God subdued Jabin, the Canaanite king, before the Israelites. 24And the hand of the Israelites grew stronger and stronger against Jabin, the Canaanite king, until they destroyed him.
We should rejoice in a God who lifts us out of the mud and mire, sets our feet on a rock, and puts a new song in our mouths. Let God worry about the mud and the mire; let us sing the new song!