Series: Thru the Bible
Message – Deborah…a Mother in Israel
As we progress through the book of Judges a few things will become clear.
- God is faithful, true and just. In fact without God those very words have NO clear definition for they find their definitions in His character.
- Man’s tendency is that of unfaithfulness towards God, belief in lies and a heart attuned towards injustice.
- Power, authority come from and are within the complete control of God.
- God is merciful – meaning full of compassion and tender hearted.
- God pities man because man does not really know Him. If this is true – then why no mercy for angels? Well, one of the KNOWN differences between man and angels is that man has never seen God’s face – not even Adam NOR Jesus when He was in the flesh. We do not know with perfect clarity WHO we are rejecting. Angels on the other had seen God themselves, been fully exposed to the glory of His person and character and therefore their rebellion was against someone they KNEW. THAT is unforgivable!
“(1) These are the nations the LORD left in order to test Israel, since none of these Israelites had fought in any of the wars with Canaan. (2) This was to teach the future generations of the Israelites how to fight in battle, especially those who had not fought before. (3) These nations included: the five rulers of the Philistines and all of the Canaanites, the Sidonians, and the Hivites who lived in the Lebanese mountains from Mount Baal-hermon as far as the entrance to Hamath. (4) The LORD left them to test Israel, to determine if they would keep the LORD’s commands He had given their fathers through Moses. (5) But they settled among the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. (6) The Israelites took their daughters as wives for themselves, gave their own daughters to their sons, and worshiped their gods.”
So we see what appears as a dual and even contradictory purpose in God leaving these nations alive, but in the end they are one and the same purpose. The reasons stated were…
- To teach the future generation how to fight in battle.
- To see if they would obey.
But in order for Israel to have victory they had to walk in obedience to the Lord and TRUST Him to deliver their enemies into their hands. So, both are true and are NOT at all contradictory.
Othniel becomes Judge
“(7) The Israelites did what was evil in the LORD’s sight; they forgot the LORD their God and worshiped the Baals and the Asherahs. (8) The LORD’s anger burned against Israel, and He sold them to Cushan-rishathaim king of Aram of the Two Rivers, and the Israelites served him eight years. (9) The Israelites cried out to the LORD. So the LORD raised up Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb’s youngest brother as a deliverer to save the Israelites. (10) The Spirit of the LORD was on him, and he judged Israel. Othniel went out to battle, and the LORD handed over Cushan-rishathaim king of Aram to him, so that Othniel overpowered him. (11) Then the land was peaceful 40 years, and Othniel son of Kenaz died.”
Now we have some unpacking to do!
First let’s remember the cycle I mentioned to you last week which will become familiar to you in a sickening sort of way before we reach the end of this book. [SLIDE003]
Also as something to hold onto for later – recognize that with Othniel, the enemy was said to have been delivered over to HIM. This is important for later!
Also, now that we have encountered the 1st of Israel’s judges, let’s get better acquainted with the scope of their office and functions.
The Hebrew word for judge, is much more broad than our modern concept of judging in that, based upon the way in which it is used it CAN encompasses all the facets and functions of the entire American form of governance: That being the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial.
How do we know which applies to judges in the book of judges?
1st – How did God define the judges?
2nd – What method of governance was God allowing in Israel at this time?
3rd – As we progress through the book – what do we see them doing?
To answer the 1st question we simply return to Judges 2 and read what God said about His purpose for the judges.
Found in Judges 2:18-19, God said, “(18) Whenever the LORD raised up a judge for the Israelites, the LORD was with him and saved the people from the power of their enemies while the judge was still alive. The LORD was moved to pity whenever they groaned because of those who were oppressing and afflicting them. (19) Whenever the judge died, the Israelites would act even more corruptly than their fathers, going after other gods to worship and bow down to them. They did not turn from their evil practices or their obstinate ways.”
So we see here we see a dual purpose for the judges.
1st and most importantly, they served as God’s moral voice for the law. They reminded the people and were in fact to be living examples to them of God’s character in action as described in the Law. To enable them to do this His Spirit would be upon them as we will see many times in the book. They were like those in the New Testament who are given AS GIFTS to the body – in that they were “energies” in Israel – they pointed to and influenced towards God.
In addition to this they also functioned somewhat like the judiciary branch of our North American government. They did not make nor truly enforce laws but, they acted as judicial informers.
They would and could make rulings – but it was always in keeping the edicts of the pre-existing Law of God. They did NOT have governing authority in that they did not create laws, directly enforce them nor did they have the authority of a King to decree punishment on those who broke the law.
2ndly they acted as deliverers of Israel. They would do the warring FOR Israel, lead Israel in battle or give Israel God’s instructions for war.
This is all in keeping with the 2nd reason we know what the judges did and that is God’s method of governance for Israel at this time. God had instituted a Theocracy – not a monarchy. As such the judges did not have ruling…executive power.
Much like the prophets, they could INFORM but NOT enforce.
As to the 3rd reason we know the function and scope of responsibilities of the judges is because of what we actually see them doing through the book which gives an account of their actions.
The book of Judges functions in the Old Testament MUCH like the book of Acts does in the New Testament. It gives us an account of acts of Israel and it’s Judges during the early years of the Kingdom.
The next judge was Ehud
“(12) The Israelites again did what was evil in the LORD’s sight. He gave Eglon king of Moab power over Israel, BECAUSE they had done what was evil in the LORD’s sight. (13) After Eglon convinced the Ammonites and the Amalekites to join forces with him, he attacked and defeated Israel and took possession of the City of Palms. (14) The Israelites served Eglon king of Moab 18 years. (15) Then the Israelites cried out to the LORD, and He raised up Ehud son of Gera, a left-handed Benjaminite, as a deliverer for them. The Israelites sent him to Eglon king of Moab with tribute money.”
Notice two things here…
- Both Othniel & Ehud were called “deliverers” – that speaks to the nature of a judge.
- The Israelites sent him. Suggesting that as a Judge, they were servants in Israel – NOT it’s leaders!
“(16) Ehud made himself a double-edged sword 18 inches long. He strapped it to his right thigh under his clothes (17) and brought the tribute to Eglon king of Moab, who was an extremely fat man. (18) When Ehud had finished presenting the tribute, he dismissed the people who had carried it. (19) At the carved images near Gilgal he returned and said, “King Eglon, I have a secret message for you.” The king called for silence, and all his attendants left him. (20) Then Ehud approached him while he was sitting alone in his room upstairs where it was cool. Ehud said, “I have a word from God for you,” and the king stood up from his throne. (21) Ehud reached with his left hand, took the sword from his right thigh, and plunged it into Eglon’s belly. (22) Even the handle went in after the blade, and Eglon’s fat closed in over it, so that Ehud did not withdraw the sword from his belly. And Eglon’s insides came out. (23) Ehud escaped by way of the porch, closing and locking the doors of the upstairs room behind him. (24) Ehud was gone when Eglon’s servants came in. They looked and found the doors of the upstairs room locked and thought he was relieving himself in the cool room. (25) The servants waited until they became worried and saw that he had still not opened the doors of the upstairs room. So they took the key and opened the doors–and there was their lord lying dead on the floor! (26) Ehud escaped while the servants waited. He crossed over the Jordan near the carved images and reached Seirah. (27) After he arrived, he sounded the ram’s horn throughout the hill country of Ephraim. The Israelites came down with him from the hill country, and he became their leader.”
This actually means that he went before them. The word “leader” is NOT to be understood as a ruler, king or even a military admiral. It just means he took point in the assault.
This is seen in the humility of the following statement.
“(28) He told them, “Follow me, because the LORD has handed over your enemies, the Moabites, to you.” So they followed him, captured the fords of the Jordan leading to Moab, and did not allow anyone to cross over.”
Notice that he did not say, “Follow me for I am God’s anointed and I am your leader!” No he said, “Follow me, because the LORD has handed over your enemies TO YOU.” Which is different than God said concerning Othniel, though the basic thought is the same.
“ (29) At that time they struck down about 10,000 Moabites, all strong and able-bodied men. Not one of them escaped. (30) Moab became subject to Israel that day, and the land was peaceful 80 years. (31) After Ehud, Shamgar son of Anath became judge. He delivered Israel by striking down 600 Philistines with an oxgoad.”
Deborah (and Barak)
“(1) The Israelites again did what was evil in the sight of the LORD after Ehud had died. (2) So the LORD sold them into the hand of Jabin king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor. The commander of his forces was Sisera who lived in Harosheth of the Nations. (3) Then the Israelites cried out to the LORD, because Jabin had 900 iron chariots, and he harshly oppressed them 20 years. (4) Deborah, a woman who was a prophet and the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time. (5) It was her custom to sit under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites went up to her for judgment.”
The words “up to” was a typical way of speech. It did not imply geography but was much like saying going “over to” such and such a place. It is interesting that Deborah did not judge in the gates, like was typical but rather under a palm tree which was named after her in her honor.
The words, “for judgement” mean just that. The types of judgement were those relegated to the lower courts but concerning which they were unable to decide. The fact of Deborah being a prophetess made this job considerably easier.
However, the people did not just seek her out, but there were times when God directed her to seek them out as in the case of Barak.
“(6) She summoned Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali and said to him, “Hasn’t the LORD, the God of Israel, commanded you: ‘Go, deploy the troops on Mount Tabor, and take with you 10,000 men from the Naphtalites and Zebulunites? (7) Then I will lure Sisera commander of Jabin’s forces, his chariots, and his army at the Wadi Kishon to fight against you, and I will hand him over to you.’”
This is a prime example of the types of judgments made. Deborah is not here issuing a command to Barak. That would have been inappropriate for any judge but especially a woman. She was directed by the Lord to call Barak out in his negligence or disobedience. Barak already knew what God had commanded him, but was sitting idle…effectively doing nothing to pursue the will of the Lord. So, presumably more in the capacity of prophetess than judge, she called for him and asked him this rhetorical question. In reply…
“(8) Barak said to her, “If you will go with me, I will go. But if you will not go with me, I will not go.”
Now clearly Barak had issues…but it should be known that Barak was no straight up coward – regardless of how this sounds. As we keep reading he charged into battle without any hint of a second thought.
Barak’s problem seems to stem from a lack of trust. Ironically not in the prophetess, but in the certainty of God’s command ending in success.
This is abundantly clear in that he would only go if she was willing to brave the going as well.
Now this could be understood in two ways. As we will later see – nobles of the tribe of Issachar had stood with Deborah in this matter. So it is possible, given some of the oddities of the Hebrew way of wording things, that Barak was actually saying, “Unless you and all who are with you come with me – i will not go”. This is at least hinted at in the 5th chapter when in a song, it says that the nobles of Issachar were with Deborah and the warriors of Issachar were with Barak.
There is yet another possible reason for Barak’s seemingly cowardly response to Deborah. He being mindful of her being a seer in Israel may have been saying, “I know God commanded me to go, but I am uncertain if that means I will WIN the battle. You are a seer in Israel and therefore know for certain how the battle will go. If you are not afraid to go with me – then I have not only the certainty that God commanded it, but that victory rather than defeat awaits me in the going.”
“(9) I will go with you,” she said, “but you will receive no honor on the road you are about to take, because the LORD will sell Sisera into a woman’s hand.” So Deborah got up and went with Barak to Kedesh.”
Now, this prophecy is fulfilled in an unexpected way. These words make it look like Deborah will be getting the glory for the kill, rather than Barak. But the shame on Barak would be greater than even that…for God was going to deliver them from the foreign king not only by the hand of a woman but that of a foreign woman to boot! A woman not even in covenant with the God of Israel would deliver Barak that day!
Back when I was a bull-headed, egalitarian willing to take on ANYONE who would challenge my theological standing on the matter – I used to rely upon Deborah as my killing blow in arguments.
I would bait my opponents by asking if God is a God Who does not change and if so, IF He ever placed a woman in the position of authority over a man then, the New Testament statements which appear to disagree with this, must be interpreted in a different light – because God does not change and will not disagree with Himself. Then I would claim that Deborah was not only a Judge but a prophetess in Israel and one of national standing having men report to her not only in regard to spiritual issues but matters of war as well. Not only that she went into battle holding Barak’s timid hand and won the victory for him and the glory that was supposed to go to him as a male and tribal leader was awarded to her as prophetess, judge and warrior in Israel. Oh, I’d lay it on thick. But truth be known, I never even bothered to read the entire account in its context and when I finally did, I read it with eyes FULL of bias so I only saw those verbal clues which supported by pre-existing beliefs.
To me Deborah was “Xena the Warrior Princess”! Little did I even know that NOTHING in the account shows that she ever even picked up a sword or actually went into battle. In fact, we know she didn’t, because that would have been to ignore the command of God that those who fight for Israel be MEN of war and only those who fit a certain requirement – one of which was that they had to be circumcised into the covenant – something Deborah was quite incapable of doing!
Also, notice that Deborah actually makes a case here against the egalitarian movement in her statement, “there will be no glory for you, for the Lord will sell Sisera into a woman’s hand”. So we have to ask ourselves and our egalitarian friends, what difference does it make if it were a woman’s hand IF that was not out of place? This was clearly stated as a judgment AGAINST Barak to take the glory that belonged to him as a man and leader in his tribe and give it to a woman who was not even an Israelite.
“(10) Barak summoned Zebulun and Naphtali to Kedesh; 10,000 men followed him, and Deborah also went with him. (11) Now Heber the Kenite had moved away from the Kenites, the sons of Hobab, Moses’ father-in-law, and pitched his tent beside the oak tree of Zaanannim, which was near Kedesh. (12) It was reported to Sisera that Barak son of Abinoam had gone up Mount Tabor. (13) Sisera summoned all his 900 iron chariots and all the people who were with him from Harosheth of the Nations to the Wadi Kishon. (14) Then Deborah said to Barak, “Move on, for this is the day the LORD has handed Sisera over to you. Hasn’t the LORD gone before you?” So Barak came down from Mount Tabor with 10,000 men following him. (15) The LORD threw Sisera, all his charioteers, and all his army into confusion with the sword before Barak. Sisera left his chariot and fled on foot. (16) Barak pursued the chariots and the army as far as Harosheth of the Nations, and the whole army of Sisera fell by the sword; not a single man was left. (17) Meanwhile, Sisera had fled on foot to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, because there was peace between Jabin king of Hazor and the family of Heber the Kenite. (18) Jael went out to greet Sisera and said to him, “Come in, my lord. Come in with me. Don’t be afraid.” So he went into her tent, and she covered him with a rug. (19) He said to her, “Please give me a little water to drink for I am thirsty.” She opened a container of milk, gave him a drink, and covered him again. (20) Then he said to her, “Stand at the entrance to the tent. If a man comes and asks you, ‘Is there a man here?’ say, ‘No.'” (21) While he was sleeping from exhaustion, Heber’s wife Jael took a tent peg, grabbed a hammer, and went silently to Sisera. She hammered the peg into his temple and drove it into the ground, and he died. (22) When Barak arrived in pursuit of Sisera, Jael went out to greet him and said to him, “Come and I will show you the man you are looking for.” So he went in with her, and there was Sisera lying dead with a tent peg through his temple! (23) That day God subdued Jabin king of Canaan before the Israelites. (24) The power of the Israelites continued to increase against Jabin king of Canaan until they destroyed him.”
Song of Victory
“(1) On that day Deborah and Barak son of Abinoam sang:
(2) When the leaders lead in Israel,when the people volunteer, praise the LORD.
(3) Listen, kings! Pay attention, princes! I will sing to the LORD; I will sing praise to the LORD God of Israel.”
Deborah here acknowledges those who rule in Israel and does not place herself among them. She DOES however, cry out and plead for them to give ear to the wisdom of her words!
“(4) LORD, when You came from Seir, when You marched from the fields of Edom, the earth trembled, the heavens poured rain, the clouds poured water. (5) The mountains melted before the LORD, even Sinai before the LORD, the God of Israel.
(6) In the days of Shamgar son of Anath, in the days of Jael, the main ways were deserted, because travelers kept to the side roads.”
Here the time of and immediately following Caleb’s younger brother as judge, is mentioned all the way until the current day of Jael – the woman who took Barak’s glory by killing the foreign king.
It is described as a sad time in Israel’s history which even though Ehud judged well and delivered Israel from the Philistines, people still lived defeated lives. This is illustrated by the fact that the Israelites kept to the backroads rather than traveling down the main roads. They were pitiful and scared. They came to a place where they even deserted their own villages. While much could be said about this time, one unavoidable truth is clear here, and that is, that the leaders of Israel (all men) were not diligent in doing their job of leading and delivering from the hands and oppression of their enemies. So how does God judge them? By sending a woman (even two women) to aid in their deliverance!
That in NO way is a bad reflection on Deborah. SHE was faithful to God and set an example of such before the nation! Nevertheless, Isaiah clearly states that should a woman ever rule in Israel it would be a judgement of God against Israel. While that is NOT what happened with Deborah since she did not rule or reign, it was a still a judgment of God to deliver the men of Israel from their spiritual slumber by sending a woman as both seer and judge…and it was precisely BECAUSE being a judge was NOT a position of authority that God orchestrated the using of her to defibrillate His people into obedience again.
Isaiah 3:12, “Childish leaders oppress my people, and women rule over them. O my people, your leaders mislead you; they send you down the wrong road.”
“(7) Villages were deserted, they were deserted in Israel, until I, Deborah, I arose, a mother in Israel. (8) Israel chose new gods, then war was in the gates. Not a shield or spear was seen among 40,000 in Israel. (9) My heart is with the leaders of Israel, with the volunteers of the people. Praise the LORD!”
Rather than the warrior queen, the egalitarians attempt to turn Deborah into, the depiction she offers of herself is that of a mother with young. Possibly the notion is that of a mother nursing her young…Why nursing? It shows loving and solicitous care in nurturing and strengthening. It is NOT a reference to a ruler or a warrior.
Israel had lost its way and followed other gods. This caused dissension in the gates (the places of judgement). Far from lording it over the leaders in Israel, this godly and precious woman of God’s heart is WITH THEM – especially those who volunteer to follow God’s leading.
“(10) You who ride on white donkeys, who sit on saddle blankets, and who travel on the road, give praise! (11) Let them tell the righteous acts of the LORD, the righteous deeds of His warriors in Israel, with the voices of the singers at the watering places. Then the LORD’s people went down to the gates. (12) “Awake! Awake, Deborah! Awake! Awake, sing a song! Arise Barak, and take hold of your captives, son of Abinoam!”
This is a general call for all those of nobility (not royalty, but those of wealth and prestige) to praise God and tell of His righteous acts and those of His warriors. In response, the people are metaphorically depicted as going to the places of judgment and crying out to God for a judge and God answers in the most unexpected way – with Deborah reminding Barak of who he is and what he has been commissioned by God to do!
“(13) The survivors came down to the nobles; the LORD’s people came down to me with the warriors. (14) Those with their roots in Amalek came from Ephraim; Benjamin came with your people after you. The leaders came down from Machir, and those who carry a marshal’s staff came from Zebulun. (15) The princes of Issachar were with Deborah; Issachar was with Barak. They set out at his heels in the valley.”
The nobles and princes are said to be with Deborah – either as advisors and counselors or simply in support of her, while the rest of Issachar came for war to join with Barak. And perhaps this had already happened and as I mentioned earlier may be what Barak meant by his statement “unless you go with me”. Maybe this was simply a poetic way of saying, unless Issachar comes with me.
“There was great searching of heart among the clans of Reuben. (16) Why did you sit among the sheepfolds listening to the playing of pipes for the flocks? There was great searching of heart among the clans of Reuben. (17) Gilead remained beyond the Jordan. Dan, why did you linger at the ships? Asher remained at the seashore and stayed in his harbors. (18) Zebulun was a people risking their lives, Naphtali also, on the heights of the battlefield.”
This was a type of statement against these tribes who valued their “peace at a price” more than inheritance by means of war.
“(19) Kings came and fought. Then the kings of Canaan fought at Taanach by the waters of Megiddo, but they took no spoil of silver. (20) The stars fought from the heavens; the stars fought with Sisera from their courses. (21) The river Kishon swept them away, the ancient river, the river Kishon. March on, my soul, in strength! (22) The horses’ hooves then hammered–the galloping, galloping of his stallions. (23) “Curse Meroz,” says the Angel of the LORD, “Bitterly curse her inhabitants, for they did not come to help the LORD, to help the LORD against the mighty warriors.”
“(24) Jael is most blessed of women, the wife of Heber the Kenite; she is most blessed among tent-dwelling women. (25) He asked for water; she gave him milk. She brought him curdled milk in a majestic bowl. (26) She reached for a tent peg, her right hand, for a workman’s mallet. Then she hammered Sisera–she crushed his head; she shattered and pierced his temple. (27) He collapsed, he fell, he lay down at her feet;he collapsed, he fell at her feet; where he collapsed, there he fell–dead.”
“(28) Sisera’s mother looked through the window; she peered through the lattice, crying out: “Why is his chariot so long in coming? Why don’t I hear the hoofbeats of his horses?” (29) Her wisest princesses answer her; she even answers herself: (30) “Are they not finding and dividing the spoil–a girl or two for each warrior, the spoil of colored garments for Sisera, the spoil of an embroidered garment or two for my neck?”
“(31) LORD, may all your enemies perish as Sisera did. But may those who love Him be like the rising of the sun in its strength. And the land was peaceful 40 years.”
I hope this message will bless you richly…not because I taught it, but because it reveals Christ. He alone is our blessing and if in any way – whether big or small, 100% accurate or even just partially so – I have revealed our great God and Savior to you in a relationally knowable way, then this was time well spent on both our parts.
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