Flawed Saviors (Judges 4-5)

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Humanity seems to have a universal and timeless fascination with superheroes. Whether it was the Greek gods/goddesses of ancient history (Zeus/sky, Poseidon/sea, Artemis/wilderness, Ares/war, Athena/wisdom, Apollo/art, Aphrodite/love, Hades/underworld) or the golden age of the comic industry. After the launch and success of Superman in 1938 began a whole genre of characters with secret identities and special powers known as superheroes: Batman & Robin, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Flash, Captain Marvel, and Captain America (my son’s favorite). Today, along with these superheroes are new Avengers like Iron Man, Hulk, Hawkeye, Black Widow, Thor, Spiderman, Falcon, Doctor Strange, Black Panther, and others.

What makes all these superheroes admirable is not only their superhuman powers but their ability to face common fears and inspire ordinary individuals to do the same.

The Bible has its superheroes too. Hebrews 11:32-34 say, “what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets—who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.”

The Bible is unique among ancient texts because of its willingness to acknowledge the flawed nature of its heroes. Today we continue our series in then book of Judges with new heroes of Deborah and Barak, among others.

EXAMINE           Judges 4-5      Fearful

Judges 4:1-3 1 And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord after Ehud died. And the Lord sold them into the hand of Jabin king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor. The commander of his army was Sisera, who lived in Harosheth-hagoyim. Then the people of Israel cried out to the Lord for help, for he had 900 chariots of iron and he oppressed the people of Israel cruelly for twenty years.

Scripture portrays we are addicts to sin.

Israel repeats its cycle: rebellion, rebuke, repentance, renewal. As an outside reader, we are tempted to shake our head in disbelief at how Israel could be so foolish in repetitive sin and unfaithfulness toward the Lord. Yet, deep down, we know that we are no different. Deep down we are all addicts. Certainly, there are life dominating sins such as gambling, substance abuse, promiscuity, or pornography. Yet, there are also basic sin patterns that we cannot break such as anxiety, anger, unhealthy food habits, and unusual fears. Some of these may be the result of sin’s curse on basic physiology, while others relate to habits and obsessions within the human heart. The point is that humanity’s default is not good but depraved, and we need a savior – a Judge who is both perfect (without sin) and permanent (defeats death); only Jesus can be our rescuing judge.

  • Relapse requires reform. One cannot continue repeating the same behaviors expecting different results. Until the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of change, we will continue unhealthy habits. How does one implement reform? Reform happens with the outside help of a wise and compassionate advocate.

Judges 4:4-5 Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time. She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the people of Israel came up to her for judgment.

God provides the people an advocate.

Deborah the prophet was leading Israel.

  • Deborah’s name means either “bee”[1] or other variation of a word to mean “speak”[2]  
  • Woman/Wife of Lappidoth. Deborah is identified as either a woman of fiery spirit[3] or she’s the wife with her husband with this name. If this is her husband, we do not know anything about this man other than he’s Deborah’s husband. Side note to women: who you marry matters. You can marry a man who can extinguish or empower your flame; choose wisely. Side note to men: make it your goal to encourage your wife’s gifting.  
    • For me: My wife went to college on a football scholarship; grad college magna cum laude in 3-years (I grad thank-the-Lord in 5-years); obtained MBA while working ft and supporting me through seminary; and today invests in our children’s education and the lives of others with profound spiritual depth.
  • Female prophet & judge in Israel
    • Deborah is the only female judge that we have record. 6 women are explicitly identified in the Bible as a prophetess: Miriam (Ex 15:20), Deborah (Ju 4:4), Huldah (2Ki 22:14), Noadiah as a false one  (Neh 6:14), and Anna (Lk 2:36), and Jezebel as self-proclaimed and certainly false prophetess. We also know the prophet Joel anticipated a future time when men and women would be filled with God’s Holy Spirit and prophesy (Joel 2:28-29), which was fulfilled at Pentecost (Ac 2:17-18) and the early church (Ac 21:9, 1 Cor 11:5; 14:1, 5).
    • Wise in decision-making as a national leader.
    • Courageous leader to rally warriors and a national army and assist in leading into battle.
  • Mother in Israel (Judges 5:7). We’ve lost national fathers/mothers, not to mention personal.
  • The fact that God raises up a judge/advocate during Israel’s downward spiral indicates God’s forgiving love and fresh grace are able to give anyone a second chance. Some people hold grudges but God hands out grace for those who call upon Him in sincerity.
  • God raises up a female judge as a bright spot for Israel. It’s a wonderful blessing for a woman to fear the Lord and exercise her God-given gifts and talents.
  • Yet, the example of Deborah is also as an indictment on the men of the nation (Ju 4:9; cf. 9:54). Deborah was not seeking to assert herself as a leader but articulate the word of the Lord personally to individuals needing discernment and privately to Barak. While women have equal value as men and equal abilities, God has reserved the office of pastor for men.[4] I realize this may be controversial among some, this has been consistent in our doctrine.[5]
    • Biblical context:
      • Remember setting of Judges was also during a time of low morality & spirituality.
      • Yet, there is nothing revealing in Scripture to indicate anything wrong of Deborah being called and equipped by God in these roles.
      • Deborah does prefer Barak to lead the army and when he doesn’t she steps up.
      • Deborah is identified as the wife of Lappidoth. Uniquely, the male leaders are not identified in relation to their spouse. The hint is that God’s primary role for her was her home, but she still has a significant role in the nation.
      • In OT, women could not serve as priests.
      • Likewise, in the NT we see a pattern for male leadership – humble boldness.
        • Jesus calls 12 disciples all men. Yes, females in large numbers and prominent roles follow as His disciples too. But all the cornerstone disciples were male. Jesus was never afraid to upset social or cultural norms and He chose not to do so in selecting apostles for the church.
        • Early Church was led by male apostles and teachers.
          • 1 Tim 2:11-3:7 indicates role of pastor/elder is solely for male.
          • Yet, women still prayed and prophesied (1 Cor 14), served as deacons (Rom 16), and discipled others (Acts 18, Titus 2).
          • Overall, Scripture teaches equality of identity, value, gifting, but distinctive in roles within the family and the church. 

Judges 4:6-10 6 She sent and summoned Barak the son of Abinoam from Kedesh-naphtali and said to him, “Has not the Lord, the God of Israel, commanded you, ‘Go, gather your men at Mount Tabor, taking 10,000 from the people of Naphtali and the people of Zebulun. 7 And I will draw out Sisera, the general of Jabin’s army, to meet you by the river Kishon with his chariots and his troops, and I will give him into your hand’?” 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.” 9 And she said, “I will surely go with you. Nevertheless, the road on which you are going will not lead to your glory, for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.” Then Deborah arose and went with Barak to Kedesh. 10 And Barak called out Zebulun and Naphtali to Kedesh. And 10,000 men went up at his heels, and Deborah went up with him.

Deborah exhorts Barak, on behalf of the Lord, to battle against Sisera. Yet, Barak is fearful and only will go if Deborah goes with him. Deborah promises to support Barak but prophesies a female will receive the glory.

Why do we allow fear to frustrate our faith?

  • We fear loneliness. As Barak sought the support of others, so we draw similar encouragement. Yet, standing up for God may require you to stand alone. God is a majority against any multitude. You may stand or walk on your own, but if God is with you, then you will never be outnumbered. Whatever circumstances that surround your life, they do not exceed God’s wisdom and power. Trust in God means you are never doomed or hopeless. The Almighty God of angel armies and the King of kings stands by your side through thick and thin. Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world (1Jn 4:4).
    > Focus on gratitude. You can focus on what you don’t have or what you do.

  • We fear failure. Israel had been enslaved for some time and had repeated failures. Barak did not want to be the cause of defeat. Likewise, we can fear failing God or others which causes us to withdraw and sit on the sidelines. Yet, we often have an incorrect definition of failure and success. Failure is not just lacking success but also being successful at stuff that doesn’t matter for eternity. God hasn’t called us to be successful but faithful. Our greatest fear should not be of failure but at being faithless or succeeding at things that distract us from obedience to God.
    • When we face our Maker, we will not wish we… watched more TV, scrolled longer at Facebook, took kids to more sports vs church, worked for more overtime pay, traveled more vacation trips, held more grudges, took more revenge, or shied from sharing Jesus with family and friends. Success will be hearing Jesus say, “Well done my good and faithful servant.” The words “well done” indicate a relationship with faith and works before our Lord (cf James 2:21).

> Focus on growth. Failure can teach you lessons for future victory.

  • We fear death. Barak was being charged to face an army with 900 iron chariots while all he had were foot soldiers. Surely his life flashed before his eyes. Likewise, our fear of death can cause us to not relate to others, never risk, and live a grim life. Instead, we can give ourselves fully to the mission of God trusting in the resurrection.
    > Focus on God. Only Jesus overcame death and offers resurrection hope.
    • Tube that flexes – twists and knots… until firm tube placed inside helps to sustain outward pressures.
    • Psalm 56:3-4 “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise and trust; I shall not be afraid, what can flesh to do me?”

Judges 4:11 11 Now Heber the Kenite had separated from the Kenites, the descendants of Hobab the father-in-law of Moses, and had pitched his tent as far away as the oak in Zaanannim, which is near Kedesh.
Who were Kenites? Kenite tribe meaning is “smith,” and the group seems to be nomadic blacksmiths.[6] Moses’ father inlaw was a Kenite and a priest of Midian.[7] In this case, Heber & Jael traveled and interacted with different people groups and were likely intermediaries between both Israelites and the Canaanites, the latter as a blacksmith for their chariot horses and weaponry.

Yet, the fact that Heber the Kenite separated from the Kenites and lives by an oak tree is God’s sovereign setup. As we will see, God is providentially working behind the scenes to put people in the right place and right time to accomplish His work.

  • Today’s circumstances are God’s creative construction for His perfect plan.
    *Nahum 1:3 “His way is in the whirlwind and storm, and the clouds are the dust of His feet.”
    *Psalm 37:7 “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him; fret not”
    *Romans 8:28 “We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose.”

Judges 4:12-24 God eliminates His enemies.

In these verses the tempo picks up with the battle between Barak and Sisera. Deborah exhorts Barak to trust the Lord for victory over Sisera and all his chariot army. Earlier in Judges 1 we saw chariot armies were difficult to defeat. Yet, nothing is too powerful for God.

Deborah’s plan works to come from the mountains (high ground against chariot riders) and also lead them along the river’s edge. V.15-16 indicates two actions: the Lord routed Sisera (we see who’s battle this was from the beginning.[8]), and that Sisera exits his chariot and flees on foot. Why would he do so? We note in the next chapter 5:21 that the river flooded the area, so the chariots were bogged down in mud and ineffective; this too was the divine hand. Sisera flees his own army leaving the reader wondering how would Deborah’s prophecy be fulfilled? His escape leads him to the tent of Heber & Jael[9].

Jael appears harmless as she invites Sisera inside, covers him with a blanket and provides him milk (instead of water). Sisera commands her to stand guard (is there a man inside – NO!) while he sleeps. While he dreams, she drives a tent peg through his head. And if it’s not obvious, he dies (v.21). Afterwards she walks outside to post on instagram #NailedIt

Barak on his pursuit of Sisera (and glory), happens upon Jael’s tent. Thinking he has an easy prey finds a dead one. God’s glory is never to be robbed.

Judges 5 God exalts His servants. This chapter is Deborah’s (and Barak’s) song of victory. Their song will also praise Jael as “most blessed women” (5:24-27). The psalm educates the nation’s history, exalts the nation’s heroes, and ultimately evokes the holiness of Almighty God before His enemies. The closing line says it all: “So may all your enemies perish, O LORD! But your friends be like the sun as he rises in his might.” (5:31)

  • Ex 20:5-6 “I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.”
  • Gal 6:7-8 “Don’t be deceived: God is not mocked. For whatever a man sows he will also reap, because the one who sows to flesh will reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will reap eternal life.”

APPLY/THINK

Biblical Womanhood from Wendy Alsup
http://www.theologyforwomen.org

Final piercing truth and penetrating applications:

  • God has a high calling for women. Biblical womanhood isn’t merely about females sipping tea and speaking about caring for the children (though nothing wrong if they do). In the context of a local church, the temptation is to focus on a single role withheld – that of elder/pastor – yet there are multiple callings for women to serve in high-risk missionary adventures or meaningful leadership positions. 
    • Deborah led Israel with national and spiritual implications.
    • Jael felt the freedom to take initiative in communicating to Sisera and crushing God’s enemy.
    • Women can initiate and have gospel influence in the home, the church, and in society – whether that is potus or gov office, business ceo or owner, or any other role, women are equally able to fulfill these roles as men.  
  • Key is work for the Lord’s praise more than the world’s expectations.
  • God works in ways unnoticed until hindsight.
    • God put in heart of Heber & Jael to separate from Kenites and relocate in position that would lead to receiving a fleeing army general.
    • God fought the battle to give victory for His people (Judges 5:20 “The stars fought from the heavens, the stars fought with Sisera from their courses.”)
    • God sent rain from the clouds to flood the river and muddy the land for the chariots get stuck leading to the Canaanites downfall (Judges 5:21).
  • Key is to keep walking in the way of God.
  • Fear does not have to be final. Barak was fearful and did not want to go into battle alone. Barack’s fear could have been the end of the story. It’s likely Deborah was also fearful facing chariot warriors as a female prophetess. However, Deborah chose to allow her faith guide her fears. She trusted the Lord’s promise and power to help her overcome all that she would face.
    • Likewise, we all have fears. There is nothing sinful about being afraid. In fact, one person has said courage is fear that has said its prayers. Christians do not need to panic or be paralyzed by whatever we face. Instead, God’s people can confidently face our fears knowing our circumstances are in God’s hand and He always intends our good.
  • God blesses willing servants but rebukes spectators. Deborah indicates a lack of unity among the Israelite tribes. Some are engaged while others abstain.
    • 5:2 “the leaders took the lead in Israel and the people offered themselves willingly, bless the LORD!”
    • 5:9 “My heart goes out to the commanders of Israel who offered themselves willingly among the people. Bless the LORD.”
    • 5:14-15 Ephraim (Deborah’s tribe) marched into the valley with Benjamin; same with Machir (Manasseh) and Zebulun; and the princes of Issachar assisted Deborah and Barak…
    •  5:18 Zebulun risked their lives to the death; Naphtali too

BUT

  • 5:16 “Why did you sit still among the sheepfolds to hear the whistling for the flocks? Among the clans of Reuben there were great searchings of heart. Gilead stayed beyond the Jordan; and Dan, why did he stay with the ships? Asher sat still at the coast of the sea, staying in his landings.”
    • 5:23 “Curse Meroz, says the Angel of the LORD, curse its inhabitants thoroughly because they did not come to the help of the LORD”
  • When someone lets you down, lift them up to the LORD. Don’t allow their failures hinder your focus.

ULTIMATELY, there is only one who will never let you down


The Lord Jesus Christ is faithful to go to war and always work for us,
Jesus forgives by taking the pegs of justice for us
Jesus is our song and Savior.
Ultimately there is only one who will never let you down: *The Lord Jesus Christ is faithful to go to war and work for us. *Jesus forgives by taking the peg of judgment for us (Isa 22:23). *Jesus is our song and our salvation.


[1] Scalise, P. J. (2003). Deborah. In C. Brand, C. Draper, A. England, S. Bond, E. R. Clendenen, & T. C. Butler (Eds.), Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (p. 408). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.

[2] Hess, “The Name Game: Dating the Book of Judges” in Biblical Archaeology Review 30.6 (Nov/Dec 2004), 38-41.

[3] https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/deborah-bible

[4] https://www.9marks.org/article/may-women-serve-pastors/

[5] See https://growinggodlygenerations.com/2014/05/01/cross-centered-worship-pt-2-1corinthians-14/, https://growinggodlygenerations.com/2019/06/16/the-church-leaders-1-timothy-3/

[6] Brand, C., Draper, C., England, A., Bond, S., Clendenen, E. R., & Butler, T. C. (Eds.). (2003). Kenites. In Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (pp. 978–979). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.

[7] See Judges 1:16; Exodus 3:1. 

[8] See similar language in Ex 14:13, 24; Josh 10:10; Judges 3:28; 1 Sam 7:10.

[9] Jael means ascending animal, or more specifically wild goats. Her ascending nature in the narrative has some irony. https://biblehub.com/hebrew/3277.htm.

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