“When the leaders took the lead in Israel, When the people answered the call to war– Praise the LORD! (Judges 5:2 NET)
In honor of Women’s Sunday, I decided to call our attention today to a couple of amazing chapters in the Bible. Judges 4-5 tell us of the courage and determination of two very special people who answered the call to war for the Israelite nation. These two very special people happened to be women.
setting the stage
It is important to understand that we are thinking about the period of the Judges. That was a period in which the Israelites as a people rarely showed much courage and spiritual discipline. The people as a whole were constantly falling away from their faith, and as a result were often oppressed and controlled by other nations. There were brief periods of revival, and these corresponded to the Judges. The judges were people with special skills and strength from God who rescued their people and challenged them to trust God. As a result of the Judges, there were periods of time in which the people of Israel were able to be victorious over their enemies and see peace in their land.
In this particular period, the Israelites had been oppressed and controlled by king Jabin of Canaan. This had gone on for twenty years (4:3). Now, if you fast-forward to the end of this story, you discover that as a result of the courage and strength of these two women “the land had rest forty years (5:31). That means that by following God’s call to do something extraordinary, these women ensured that their nation would have peace for an entire generation. That is pretty significant an achievement, no matter who you are.
the cast of characters
The main characters in this little drama we are looking at today are as follows, in the order in which they appear in the text:
Sisera, the enemy captain.
Sisera, was the captain of the army of king Jabin. He had the latest of warfare technology – nine hundred iron chariots – and he used them against Israel.
Deborah, the prophetess and judge.
Deborah, was one of the leaders who emerged during this difficult time to rescue God’s people from the results of their own sin. God had called her as a prophetess, and it was from that ministry that she had made a name for herself as a wise woman. She was already judging Israel internally because people came to her to help settle disputes they were having within Israel. But God put another task on her heart as well – one that related to the next character on the list.
Barak, he Israelite army commander.
Barak, son of Abinoam was God’s choice to lead the Israelite armies. But he had not done anything. Deborah summoned Barak to herself and told him that he was going to go into battle against Sisera. It was at this point that Barak makes a crucial statement.
• Barak said to her, “If you go with me, I will go. But if you do not go with me, I will not go.” (Judges 4:8 NET).
Lots of people criticize Barak for making such a statement. They think he is being a coward to hide behind this woman. I don’t think Barak was acting cowardly at all. I think he was making the wisest of decisions. He knew God was with Deborah. He knew he needed God’s power and wisdom to defeat Sisera. So, Barak asked her to come along and help.
Deborah said yes. She did point out to Barak that if she assisted him, then a woman would get the credit. She was a prophet, after all, so she was actually prophesying that a woman would be a crucial player in the coming Israelite victory.
Barak said that he could live with that. It was a wise decision because getting victory with someone else’s help is way better that being defeated all by your own lonesome. Barak had the wisdom to look beyond appearances and trust God for victory, even if God wants to use a woman to achieve that victory.
• Then Deborah said to Barak, “Go! 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 ten thousand men following him. The Lord threw Sisera, all his charioteers, and all his army into a panic before Barak’s assault. Sisera left his chariot and fled on foot (Judges 4:14-15 NET).
His army defeated, himself on the run, Sisera is just looking for a safe place to rest and stay out of the way. He chose the wrong place.
Jael, the nobody housewife.
Jael was a housewife. Her family was not at war with Jabin. She had every right to stay within the confines of cultural expectation and do nothing that day. But God chose her to defeat the mighty war captain Sisera that day.
• Meanwhile, Sisera had fled on foot to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, because there was peace between King Jabin of Hazor and the family of Heber the Kenite. 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 blanket. 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. 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.’” 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. (judges 4:17-21 NET).
When Barak and his armies arrived on the scene of the crime, they discovered that God had accomplished a mighty victory that would last for a generation. And the architects of that victory were not kings or generals or elders or priests. They were two women who dared to step outside the boundaries of what society expected of them, and follow God with courage.
To the women of this congregation, I challenge you to be warrior women like Deborah and Jael were. Expect great things from God and attempt great things for him. Don’t allow your gender or your social status or financial standing or anything about you to keep you from doing that.
To the men of this congregation, I challenge you to see with God’s eyes, and stop being limited by your own. Be a Barak. Recognize God’s imprint on people’s lives, and let those people lead you into his will. You might have to look hard to find a leader like that, but you may be lucky enough to be a Lappidoth or a Heber. Oh, you say you don’t recognize those men? They are the husbands of Deborah and Jael. What a blessing it was to them to have wives like that.
Lord, thank you for the women you have blessed us with as a congregation.