Deborah - Unlikely Heroes
Judges Deborah Judges 4-5 Pastor Pat Damiani July 2, 2017 When Todd Beamer left his home at 6:15 a.m. on Tuesday morning for a business meeting in California, he had no idea that only a few hours later he would become an unlikely hero. There was nothing in Beamer’s background that would have suggested he would become a hero that day. His life was a lot like so many others. He had attended college, where he played baseball and basketball, and earned a business degree. After earning his MBA degree a couple years later, he married his wife, Lisa, and eventually became an account manager for a software company. Todd and Lisa were members of Princeton Alliance Church where they taught Sunday School and worked in youth ministry. Most important of all, he was a staunch Chicago Cubs and Bears fan. The day before Todd and his wife had returned from a trip to Italy, but instead of heading for San Francisco that evening for a meeting at the Sony corporation the next afternoon, he opted to spend time with his family and take a flight out the next morning. His flight, United Flight 93, was scheduled to leave Newark at 8:00 a.m., but it was delayed 52 minutes due to runway traffic delays. At 9:28, while the plane was over eastern Ohio, it was hijacked by terrorists who took over the plane’s controls and turned it around and headed for the White House. Several passengers on the flight were able to make phone calls and learned about the two planes that had already crashed into the World Trade Center and another that had crashed into the Pentagon. So Beamer and a group of passengers and flight attendants decided to act and came up with a plan to storm the cockpit and fly the plan into the ground before the hijackers could carry out their plan. Beamer and another passenger recited the Lord’s Prayer and the 23rd Psalm and then Beamer turned to the others and said, “Let’s roll.” Shortly after 10:00 a.m. that plane crashed into an empty field in Shankville, Pennsylvania at 580 miles per hour, only 20 minutes of flying time from its intended target, the White House. Everyone on board, including Todd Beamer and the other unlikely heroes, were killed. Before that Tuesday morning in September 2001, no one could have imagined the team of unlikely heroes that would be gathered together that day. But the whole idea of unlikely heroes is not new at all. In fact, the Bible is full of stories of how God takes ordinary people and transforms them into unlikely heroes in order to accomplish His purposes and promises. And although maybe you’ve never really thought of it in those terms, I believe God wants to transform every one of us in this room this morning into one of those unlikely heroes, very possibly in a way that you can’t even fathom right now. So this morning, as we look at an account where God brings together three of the most unlikely heroes ever to accomplish His purposes, I want you to put yourself in that story. I want you to think of what it must have been like to be Deborah or Barak or Jael and to use those thoughts as a catalyst to get you thinking about how God might be wanting to use you. Go ahead and turn in your Bibles to the book of Judges. You’ll find it right after the book of Joshua, where we left off on our journey through the Old Testament over a month ago. The period of the judges lasted a few hundred years and it was a time of transition for the people of Israel. Under the leadership of Joshua, they had moved into the land that God had given to them in keeping with His promise to Abraham hundreds of year earlier. But now Israel existed more as a loose confederation of tribes. They did not have one leader like Moses or Joshua and they did not yet have a king who ruled over the entire nation. During this time, the life of the Israelites is characterized by the same cycle which repeated itself over and over: The people did what was evil in the sight of the Lord God did exactly as He had promised and subjected all or part of Israel to the rule of surrounding pagan nations. The people cried out to God God raised up a deliverer who “judged” God’s people The land had rest And then the cycle would repeat itself all over again. In Judges 3, we read about the first two judges. The first judge, Othniel, delivered Israel from the hands of the king of Mesopotamia. The second judge, Ehud, delivered Israel from the king of the Moabites. That brings us to Judges chapter 4, our text for this morning. And here is the main theme that I want you to look for as we study this text: God often uses unlikely people and uncommon means to accomplish His purposes and fulfill His promises. [Read Judges 4:1-3] After Ehud dies, the people do evil in the sight of the Lord again and so God sells them into the hand of Jabin, the king of Canaan. Jabin had a powerful army, led by Sisera, that included 900 chariots of iron, which were by far the most sophisticated military equipment of the day. And for 20 years Jabin cruelly oppressed the people of Israel, who finally cried out to the Lord for help. [Read Judges 4:4-5] Here we are introduced to the first of our three unlikely heroes – Deborah. Her name means “bee” which is appropriate because she literally was as busy as a bee. In just these two verses, we learn that she was a wife, a prophetess and a judge. But interestingly, she is never described as a “deliverer”, like her predecessors. Before we go any further, I think it’s important to address what I believe are some inappropriate ways that this text has been used. The story of Deborah is not intended to teach about the equality of women or to promote “biblical feminism”. Nor is it to be used as a theological treatise on the role of women in the church – either to promote or to attack the idea of male leadership, a concept which I believe is addressed very clearly in the New Testament. Rather it is the story of a woman who becomes an unlikely hero because she is willing to listen to God, communicate what she hears and to remain faithful to God in the face of overwhelming circumstances. We’re going to return to those attributes a bit later. The fact that Deborah is a woman does make her an unlikely hero. In the culture of the day, women were viewed as merely possessions and in general they had very few rights. And it was very rare for a woman to be a prophetess. Deborah is one of only 9 prophetesses mentioned in the entire Bible – 4 in the Old Testament and 5 in the New Testament. [Read Judges 4:6-7] Deborah summoned the second of our unlikely heroes – Barak, whose name means “lightning” – and she prods him by reminding him of what God had already called him to do. God had commanded Barak to take 10,00 men from the tribes of Naphtali and Zebulun to fight against the Canaanite army. And God had promised that if Barak was obedient to do that, God would give Sisera and his army into Barak’s hands. And that would result in Barak being a hero in the eyes of his people. But Barak is not only an unlikely hero, he is also a reluctant hero. [Read Judges 4:8-10] It’s really easy to read this account and to think that Barak is some kind of big sissy who is unwilling to go into battle unless Deborah goes with him. But I think it’s important that we look at this account in the context of Hebrews chapter 11, where Barak is listed in the “faith hall of fame” and where he is held up as an example of those whose faith enabled them to do great things for God. There is really no way to know Barak’s mindset here, because it’s not revealed in the text. But it’s not surprising that Barak would have been fearful to take his meager army into battle to face a far larger and better equipped foe. But because of his lack of faith in immediately obeying God’s command, God is going to do something very unique by giving Sisera into the hand of a woman, who will get the honor instead of Barak. At this point in the story, the reader is led to believe that woman will be Deborah, But God has another surprise in store, as we’ll see in a moment. So Barak takes his 10,000 men and Deborah accompanies him as he heads into battle. The next verse seems almost out of place and irrelevant, but as we’ll see, it is actually very important to the story. [Read Judges 4:11] Apparently Heber had separated himself from the Kenites and aligned himself with Jabin and Sisera and the Canaanites and settled in Kedesh, which was very near where the battle was about to take place. We’ll see the significance of that in just a moment. [Read Judges 4:12-16] In the song in Judges 5, we learn some more details about the battle. What God instructs Barak to do here doesn’t make any sense militarily at all. He is to take his men up onto Mount Tabor and then come down from the mountain to attack the troops of Sisera on the plain below, where his 900 chariots would be the most effective. But apparently as Sisera’s troops gathered in that valley, where the Kishon river flowed, God caused a thunderstorm to come and the rain overflowed the banks of the river and the chariots became useless in the resulting mud. And so God did just what He had promised and allowed Barak and his men to completely wipe out Sisera’s army. But in all the chaos Sisera had fled so there was still one more thing that Barak needed to do – find and capture or kill Sisera. [Read Judges 4:17-24] Here we’re introduced to our third and most unlikely hero of all – Jael – whose name means “mountain goat”. We know nothing about her except that she was married to Heber the Kenite, the guy we were introduced to back in verse 11. As Sisera flees the battle, Jael invites him to come into her tent and to take refuge there. She covers him with a rug and when he asks for some water, she instead gives him some nice warm milk and he falls asleep. While he is sleeping, Jael takes a tent peg and drives it through his skull, killing Sisera. A little while later Barak shows up, planning on being the hero who captures or kills Sisera. But as Jael invites him inside the tent, he finds that a woman, Jael, has already done that, thus fulfilling the prophecy of Deborah that God would deliver Sisera into the hand of a woman and rob Barak of any glory. I can’t think of another account in the Bible that better illustrates the principle that we want to take from this passage today: God often uses unlikely people and uncommon means to accomplish His purposes and fulfill His promises. God uses a female prophetess and judge, a reluctant military leader and a woman who knows her way around a tent peg to accomplish His purpose of delivering His people from under the cruel had on the Canaanites. So what can we learn from these three unlikely heroes that we can apply in our own lives? First, let me share two important implications – one about how we see God, and one about how we see ourselves: IMPLICATIONS FOR US 1. God can’t be “put in a box” When it comes to His character, God is always consistent. He is always holy, just, righteous, loving, truthful and gracious, among other things. Throughout the Scriptures we see that His character is consistent and we can rely upon it. That obviously doesn’t mean that God always exercises all aspects of His character equally in every situation, however. For instance, in the account we’ve been looking at this morning, while God still loved His people when they chose to do evil in His sight, He disciplined them by putting them under the control of the Canaanites. And when the people called out to God, He exercised His grace and mercy by sending a deliverer, or in this case three unlikely heroes who all played that role to some degree. But even though different aspects of God’s character were emphasized at different times, that doesn’t mean that His character changed. But when it comes to the methods that God choose to use, we need to be really careful about trying to figure out exactly how God is going to work. I can’t think of even one other place in the Bible where God chose to work through a team like the one He put together here in Judges 4 or another instance where a tent peg was the weapon of choice. I wonder if after that, there were people in Israel calling for stricter regulations on tent pegs and hammers. As I’ve often told people before, be really careful before you say “God always…” or “God never…” I’m convinced that God has a sense of humor and that as soon as we think we have Him figured out, He’s going to do something completely unexpected just to remind us He is God. As we talked about last week, that’s actually a really good thing because it helps us maintain our sense of awe. So this first implication deals with how we see God. The second deals with how we see ourselves… 2. God is capable of making anyone – including me – into an “unlikely hero” I have seen various preachers and commentators approach this passage with the idea that the only reason God chose two women - Deborah and Jael - to carry out His plan was that the men of Israel had failed in their leadership responsibilities because they were too afraid of Jabin and Sisera. So God had no choice but to select a couple of woman. But I hardly think that the Creator of the Universe had run out of options and concluded that these women were the best option He had left so He would just have to go with them. Even though He certainly doesn’t need us, God chooses to work through ordinary people like you and me. He does that regardless of our gender, race, physical abilities, natural talents, finances, or any other factor that we might use to pick out someone to do a job. The fact is that God can use whoever he wants, whenever He wants, however He wants. If God could use a female prophetess and judge who lived in a male-dominated world, a reluctant military leader and a housewife with a tent peg to be the instruments through which He freed His people from oppression from the Canaanites, then certainly He is capable of using any one of us. I know for me the knowledge that God actually chooses to work through me humbles me greatly. To think that the God who spoke this universe into being even knows who I am, alone wants to include me in His work here on earth, is unimaginable to me. Making me into an unlikely hero is obviously God’s work. But God will never force me to become that hero. He invites me to join with Him where He is already at work, but I have to make the choice to say “yes” to that invitation and allow God to use me and to make me into that unlikely hero. Deborah, Barak and Jael all have something to contribute to our understanding of… HOW TO LET GOD MAKE ME AN “UNLIKELY HERO” 1. Listen to God All three of our heroes apparently did that at least to some degree. But it is Deborah who best demonstrated this principle. As a prophetess, her job was to first listen to God and then to communicate what God revealed to her to the appropriate people, just like she did with Barak. And obviously God had also communicated to Barak what He wanted him to do. And although we’re not told specifically, it seems likely to me that somehow God had revealed to Jael that He wanted her to kill Sisera since that was the fulfillment of the prophecy He had communicated through Deborah. Today, God’s primary method of communicating His will to us is through His Word and the Holy Spirit. So if I want to listen to God, then the best way to do that is to spend time reading my Bible and praying that God’s Holy Spirit would help me to see what God is saying to me. 2. Do what He says Deborah and Jael both demonstrate the importance of obedience here. Deborah goes to Barak and confronts him with the truth and then she puts herself in harm’s ways by accompanying him to the battlefield. And, like I just said, we don’t know exactly how God communicated to Jael what He wanted her to do, but it is clear from the song in Judges 5, that was God’s idea and not just something she had thought up on her own. And as hard as it must have been for her to do what she did, she didn’t hesitate to obey God. Obviously, Barak failed at this point the first time. And yet he is still presented as an example of a man of faith in Hebrews 11. I think that is an important lesson for us. Just because we fail God once doesn’t mean He is done with us. We just need to confess our disobedience and move on and make sure we obey God the next time. But as we see here, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t consequences to our disobedience as Barak forfeited the fame that could have been his to Jael. 3. Refuse to be discouraged Again this is where Barak’s example is helpful to us. When He was confronted by Deborah, he could have very easily concluded that he had blown it so there was no sense going forward now. But rather than wallow around in self-pity, he chose to be obedient the second time around and let God use him to accomplish His plans. 4. Use whatever God has already provided Jael really didn’t have a weapons with which to carry out the plan to kill Sisera. So she just used what she had – a wooden tent peg. We do know that she would have been very skilled with that tent peg and hammer since in that culture the women were responsible for setting up the tents. But there is no evidence she had ever used one as a weapon. One of the most common ways that we tend to make excuses for not serving God is to focus on what we don’t have – money, time, physical health, talents, skills, etc. But don’t you think that God already knows that when He calls us to serve Him? And He has promised to supply everything we need to carry out the task that He has given to us. So instead of focusing on what we don’t have, we need to focus on using what God had already provided. 5. Trust Him for the results The text is really clear here that everything that occurred in this chapter was 100% dependent on God and not on anything that Deborah, Barak, or Jael had done. The chapter begins in verse 2, by pointing out that it was God who had sold His people into the hand of the Canaanites and King Jabin. And the chapter concludes in verse 23 by making it clear that it was God, and not Deborah, Barak, or Jael, who had subdued Jabin. While all three of them had been used by God in that process, the results were completely in God’s hands, not theirs. This morning we have seen that… God often uses unlikely people and uncommon means to accomplish His purposes and fulfill His promises. And nowhere is that more evident than the way that God provided for our salvation. Think about the extent to which God has gone to make it possible for us to have a relationship with Him. He has certainly done that though unlikely people and uncommon means hasn’t He? God sent His Son to be born into this world, not as a famous businessman or politician or athlete or celebrity, but rather to be born into obscurity and laid in a manger where the only people that even knew about his birth were a few shepherds and some stargazers. No paparazzi, no TV cameras, no newspaper stories. And then when Herod found out about this “king of the Jews” His family had to flee to Egypt to save His life. This young Jewish boy grew up in relative anonymity, learning His father’s trade of carpentry. And even when He does appear on the scene to begin His ministry, that public ministry only lasts a little over three years and his most loyal followers include a bunch of uneducated fishermen and a despised tax collector. And just when those followers expected Him to inaugurate a new kingdom that would overthrow the oppressive Roman government, He was instead arrested and sentenced to die and put to death on a cross. And then three days later, He just as unexpectedly rose from the grave. Can you think of any more unlikely way for God to make it possible for sinful human beings like you and me to have our sins forgiven so that we can have a relationship with Him? But that’s the thing about grace. It’s almost always unexpected in both its timing and its scope. And if you’ve never experienced that grace in your life, we invite you to do that this morning. I’ll talk more in a moment about how you can do that. When you woke up this morning, my guess is that you weren’t thinking about being a hero. But that is exactly what God has called each one of us to become. I hope that is a really exciting idea for you this morning. It certainly should be. When we think about the fact that just three people who were willing to become unlikely heroes were used by God to overcome the vaunted army of an entire nation, it should cause us to marvel at what He could do through a whole roomful of people who were willing to be used like that. That’s a pretty exciting thought, isn’t it? [Prayer] As we get ready to close our time with a final song, I want to invite you to respond to what we have learned from God’s Word this morning: If you have never said “yes” to Jesus by putting your faith in Him alone, then we invite you to do that this morning. God loves you so much that He did quite the unexpected by sending His Son to this earth to take on a body of flesh, live a sinless life, die on the cross for your sins and then rise from the grave to prove his victory over sin and death. But you have to actually receive that gift by saying yes to Jesus. For the rest of us who have already done that, perhaps God is calling you to become an unlikely hero. Maybe He has already been speaking to you about something He wants you to do and like Barak, you’ve been afraid to actually follow through and obey Him. So this morning, will you say “yes” to God and ask Him to equip you to be obedient to Him? Perhaps this morning, you just need someone to pray with you. As we sing this final song, we’ll have some people up front who are available to pray with you about these decisions or about any other need in your life. Discussion Questions for Bible Roundtable 1. On one hand we see that God expects immediate obedience. On the other hand, Jesus told His disciples to consider the cost before making a commitment. How do we reconcile those seemingly contradictory ideas? 2. What are some other examples of “unlikely heroes” in the Bible? How did God equip each of those people to do what He had called them to do? 3. Share an example from your own life of a time when God called you to be an “unlikely hero”. What obstacles did God have to overcome in order to equip you to do that? 4. What are some things we could do as a church if we were fully committed to letting God develop us into unlikely heroes?