The story in Judges 4 is one of those stories that challenges ancient social stigma. There are a few leaders in this book that we would not expect to see God choose to lead Israel based on the context and society of historical Israel. But what God proves through these stories is that God isn’t always on the same wave length as the culture around us. God’s love is inclusive using all sorts of people, not exclusive
Israel does evil in the sight of the Lord now that Ehud was dead. Ehud dies and the people lose their leader, so they turn back to idol worship and ungodly sacrifices and the Bible says God sells them to the hands of Jabin. When the author writes “God sold them, or God handed them over, or God left them to” whatever evil they get taken over by that’s not necessarily literal. This is the way they relate to God. They believe that everything good was a gift from God and everything evil was a curse from God. When you did good you received good, when you did evil you were repaid with evil. God isn’t waiting for you to do evil to punish you. Sometimes the evil we experience isn’t a punishment from God but rather a consequence of our choices. When we leave the protection of God’s circle we are subject to whatever is around us. When the Israelites worshipped other gods and sacrificed their children in fire to these gods they were leaving God’s circle, and without his protection they were conquered by the enemies that encircled them.
If you read the stories of the judges you’ll see that every time God brings up a judge to lead them as soon as that judge dies the people turn back to their idols. Their relationship with God was only based on who was leading them. That’s why in the story of Exodus when Moses is gone up the mountain for a long time they get worried and form the golden calf. Your relationship with God should never be contingent on someone else. If your relationship with God is based on your spouse, based on your parents, or based on whatever preacher is standing up on the pulpit from week-to-week then I hate to break it to you, but you may not have a real relationship with God.
What happens when your spouse isn’t around? What happens when you’re not around your godly friends? What happens when the pastor moves away? Is your relationship with God still there? You can’t have a real connection with God if it’s only based on whoever is around you because as soon as they’re gone, so is your spirituality. There’s no such thing as salvation-by-association. It’s only through our own personal relationship with God that we can be saved.
God Doesn’t See Labels
We read in the first few verses about a woman named Deborah. Not a lot is known about Deborah. All we know for sure is that she’s the wife of Lappidoth (whom we know even less about). But she’s important enough to have her own grove of palm trees named after her. This grove was located between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim. So it would be safe to assume that Deborah was an Ephraimite from the tribe of Ephraim. The tribe of Ephraim along with the tribe of Manasseh were considered half-tribes in Israel. The tribes of Israel consist of the sons of Jacob with Joseph’s tribe being divided into half tribes for his two sons Ephraim and Manasseh.
Deborah is not a likely candidate to be a Judge of Israel, but God doesn’t see labels. If you expect leaders to come out of any tribes, you’d expect them to come out of Judah or Levi. Out of these tribes you have some of the Bible’s greatest leaders like Moses, David, Solomon, and Jesus. Deborah comes from a half-tribe, the tribe of Ephraim, and then on top of that, Deborah is woman! We are dealing with an entirely patriarchal society and context. Women were generally considered subservient in Old Testament times, so to hear of a woman leading Israel was almost entirely unheard of. Deborah is the only woman in the Bible considered a Judge or Leader of Israel, and she is only one of 4 Prophetesses the Old Testament mentions by name.
God wasn’t bothered by her lineage. God wasn’t bothered by her gender. God called her as a prophet to communicate directly with God and speak those messages to Israel. God called her as a literal Judge to weigh legal cases and dispense sentences. God called her to lead Israel as a Judge/Leader in the book Judges. God called her to as a military strategist, becoming the General of the 10,000 man army that would face the Assyrians and Sisera.
God doesn’t see labels when it comes godly leadership. In the ancient society being a woman was considered a handicap in the context of leadership. But it’s in spite of these labels, in spite of stigma, in spite of societal context that God called Deborah to lead all of Israel into peace. Your worthiness of being called by God into leadership has absolutely nothing to do with your skill set, your experience, your qualifications, your titles or your gender. Your call to leadership is entirely based on your connection with God. The only reason Deborah was revered and respected as a Judge and Leader is because they recognized and valued her strong relationship with God.
Whatever your labels may be they don’t matter! Whatever negative thoughts the devil has placed in your mind about yourself don’t matter! Whatever negativity the world tries to push on you doesn’t matter! God loves you, God values you, God cherishes you, and God has called you for your own divine purpose. You are called to play a role in God’s plan that no one else can fulfill. God doesn’t see the labels the world tries to put on you, and neither should you.
Fortune Favours the Bold
In verse 6-8 of Judges 4 we begin to see a secondary character come into the picture; Barak. Deborah is Judge of Israel, but God is calling Barak as well. God isn’t exclusive in His callings. He calls multiple people into His purpose, but that in no way lessens the importance of your personal call. Deborah had no problem sharing the leadership of Israel with Barak, because she knew God had called him also. Barak, however, isn’t as confident in God’s leadership as Deborah and he cowers.
Deborah delivers a word directly from God to Barak. God’s word promises that Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his troops will be delivered into the hands of Barak. Barak refuses to go because he is afraid. There’s a Latin phrase used often in the military, “audentes Fortuna iuvat” which means, “Fortune Favours the Bold.” Fortune favours the bold, and God’s blessings favour the faithful. God promises the victory, He promises the outcome, but we must be bold enough to act when He calls us to action.
Just like in Joshua 6 God had called them to battle promising to go before them, promising to hand their enemies over to them. There has not been a battle or war that God had ever called the Israelites to that He did not promise to be with them or give them a victory. The fortune of God, the blessings from Him favour those who are bold enough to have enough faith to answer His call. God is looking for men and women bold enough to charge into His purposes. Men and women bold enough to trust that when God promises a victory He is faithful and just to complete it
When God promises you something, it doesn’t matter how impossible the odds, how death-defying, how scary, or how ridiculous the task may be He will always keep His promises. You might not be able to see how He’s going to do it; you might not be able to see when He’s going to do it; you might not even be 100% sure when He’s going to do it, but just be sure enough to step out in faith whenever God asks you to. Fear is a self-imposed prison that will keep you from becoming what God intends for you to be (Rick Warren).
Barak and his men were terrified of Sisera’s army. They had 900 iron chariots, which was, in those times, no minor accomplishment. The Assyrians were mastering the manipulation of iron weaponry and equipping them to their cavalry all the while the Israelites are stuck with outdated weapons. They didn’t have bows, or horses or even wooden chariots. They had slings, staffs, and short swords. Their weapons were no match for Sisera’s iron chariots. Barak was afraid, and refused to go without Deborah. He had enough faith to believe that if Deborah went with them that God would be faithful, but that was his faith in Deborah’s relationship with God, not a faith in God.
We hear stories about God coming through for other people; we hear stories about modern miracles; we believe that God came through for them, but do we have enough faith to believe that God will come through for us? When God calls you it’s because He wants to come through for you! God wants to perform your miracle in your life! God wants to bring you into glory, but if we lack the boldness to step out in faith we may miss out on the glory God has for us.
Don’t Let Glory Pass You By
God didn’t want someone else, God wanted Barak, but because Barak lacked the boldness to answer God’s call the glory would go on to another. It wasn’t not just another soldier that the victory would go to, Deborah says that Sisera would be delivered into the hands of a woman. This was a military exploit so the expectation is that it would be a soldier (a male) to capture and kill the Assyrian General, but God says Sisera will be delivered into the hands of a woman, and we’ll read on in a bit that this woman Jael was the wife of a man who broke off from the Israelites and made a pact with the enemies of the Israelites.
God does not shy away from using unexpected people to complete His purposes. He’ll even use people you thought were against you to fight for you. If you don’t step in, there will always be someone else willing to do the job you’ve neglected to do. But God has called you! If He calls you, it’s because He wants you to be a part of the miracle He’s working! God’s plans aren’t ruined if you refuse to cooperate, but the glory God has planned for you will go to another unless you’re willing to let God use you. God wants to take you to higher heights, and deeper depths. He wants to take you to places you’ve never been before. He wants to have you conquer difficulties you never thought you’d conquer. He wants to have you be part of miracles that surpass natural logic and reason. He wants to glorify you as a partner in His plan for Kingdom living, but don’t let the glory pass you by.
God Will Never Forget You
God had promised to deliver the army of Sisera into the hands of Israel and He did exactly that. The next chapter which is called “The Song of Deborah” describes how this battle was won. When Barak and his 10,000 men went to Mt. Tabor, Sisera took his iron chariots in pursuit. They came to the base of the mountain near the Kishon River. He entered the Wadi Kishon, that is the valley of Kishon, but it had recently rained significantly and the valley floor was turned to mud. This mud rendered Sisera’s chariots almost entirely useless. The greatest threat to an Israelite victory was now made ineffective by mud.
Barak was still afraid, even seeing Sisera’s army stuck in the mud he was still too afraid to attack. Deborah had to step in and say “Go! This is the day the Lord has delivered Sisera into your hands! Look! God has already gone before you!” Finally they charged down and slaughtered Sisera’s army, and the general himself run away on foot, reaching the tent of Heber Jael greets Sisera and invites him to take refuge inside her tent. She covers him with a blanket and Sisera asks her to lie about his presence there if anyone were to come by and ask. Traditionally a man wouldn’t enter a woman’s tent without the presence of her husband, it was considered taboo. So the pursuing Israelites would have no reason not to believe Jael had she lied to them telling them no one was there. Even though Heber had abandoned his ties to Israel and made a pact with the Canaanites Jael retained some form of loyalty to Israel.
When Sisera asks for water she brings him curdled milk. This wasn’t rotten milk that she offered, she was offering a thicker drink, a kind of yogurt. Sisera is exhausted from running, he’s laid down to rest, covered in a warm blanket, and brought a heavier cream drink all of which leads him into sleep. As he lays there sleeping, Jael grabs a tent-peg and a hammer. She comes up to the sleeping general and she drives the tent peg through his temples into the ground and at that moment Barak comes through in pursuit of Sisera and Jael walks out to meet him and take him to the dead general. It was Jael, a foreign woman, married to a man who had betrayed Israely that would fulfill Deborah’s prophecy and be used by God to kill the Assyrian general that had plagued Israel.
The stars of this great epic aren’t any of the 10,000 soldiers, and it isn’t the Israelite general Barak. Judges 5, a song about the victory against the Canaanites, one of the earliest known Biblical poems isn’t written about any of these men, it’s written about Deborah, and Jael, women who were used by God in tremendous ways to being about deliverance for Israel. Women who, for their time period, were unconventionally and unexpectedly used as leaders in a patriarchal society. Barak missed out on a godly legacy because he lacked the faith and the boldness to believe what God had promised to be true
But even though we may be like Barak, lacking the faith to answer God’s call, lacking the boldness to charge in even when we see God working; even though the glory may pass us by when we refuse to work in God’s purpose God will never forget us. That victory may not have been won by Barak, but God still left him with his own legacy.
And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets who through faith conquered kingdoms
Hebrews 11:32, 33
When the author of Hebrews talks about all the Heroes of the Faith in chapter 11, who were examples of faith in God, they include Barak in a legacy of faith. God will never forget you no matter how many times you screw up, or fail, or refuse to answer God’s call. Even when we are faithless, unsure, or too afraid to step out in faith God doesn’t give up on us. He’ll keep calling us, and proving His faithfulness until we build up the courage to finally step out in faith trusting that God will do all and more of what He’s promised. The Level of your Legacy will be determined by your Courage to your Calling.
God thank you for not seeing me the way the world sees me. You don’t listen to the negativity, you don’t see my disabilities or my weaknesses, all you see is potential. I pray that you would give me the faith to be bold enough to step out and follow you wherever you would lead me. Let me claim the glory you want to produce in my life through the miracles you want to work through me. Thank you for never forgetting me even when I’m unfaithful. Help me to trust in you knowing that you are always faithful and that you always come through on your promises. Amen.