If the book of Judges were a movie, I’d be watching it from behind a cushion. In disgust. And I would probably leave before the end. It’s not pretty, but this is God at work, having mercy and carrying out justice for his people and for his glory time and time again. Through the uncomfortable narrative, amongst the violence and gore, what can we learn about God and us? Here are some lessons we can take from chapter 4:
1. Know your place.
Deborah was a woman. Her being in a position of leadership and authority was not the norm as far as we can see in the Bible. The role of women tended to be one of helper and they were in submission to men. Yet here we see Deborah, a godly woman, judging in Israel. This involved governing over decisions and conflicts of all the people- male and female. Then we see her boldly directing Barak the military commander to go into battle, and declaring that the glory he would have had from the victory will go to a woman. Deborah could confidently act in this authority because she knew where it came from- God. She was a prophet who heard from God directly so when she spoke it was with the confidence that she was speaking truth. And she knew she was in the position ordained for her by God. Her confidence in God’s word was such that she had no problems accompanying Barak into battle, although presumably she had no military training. But God had said that Barak should go and that they would be victorious.
If you have your identity, your words and your actions rooted in God and in Biblical truth, you can be confident in who you are and have authority in what you say and do, no matter whether it is counter-cultural or not. Deborah was a rarity in the Old Testament because she had God-given authority and could hear his words. Now we all have access to the Word of God and if we are followers of Christ, his authority. Your place is as a child of God- an heir to his Kingdom. You don’t have to shy away from who you are or what He has called you to.
2. Know where your hope lies.
Barak wanted Deborah to go with him into battle and because of this Deborah said that “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.” Barak’s request might not seem so terrible. He sees that Deborah is full of faith and that she hears from God- she would be a wise choice of wingman (or wingwoman!) to take with you into battle. But Barak’s ultimatum- “If you will go with me, I will go, but if you will not go with me, I will not go.”- demonstrates a lack of faith in God. He has promised to give Sisera into Barak’s hands, the battle is won before they start- but this promise isn’t enough to move Barak to action. God wants to use you where you are and who you are. Have your hope and your trust firmly rooted in him and you don’t have to worry about the outcome.
3. Know whose side you’re on. Jael was a Kenite. the Kenites were descendants of Moses’s father-in-law, add-ons to the children of Israel. Unlike the Israelites, Jael’s family were at peace with the King of Canaan and by extension his commander Sisera. I assume that due to the lack of modern technology, Jael could not yet have known about the current state of affairs on the battlefield when Sisera turned up on her doorstep. She would have been playing it much more safely by looking after him and maintaining peace with all sides. But she knew whose side she was on and chose to fight for God’s people.
We are in a battle. We need to remember that and know that whilst we might want peaceful relations with the people we are living amongst, this should not be at the expense of standing up for God’s ways and fighting for his truth. Romans 8 v 31-34 says “ If God is for us, who can be against us?” If you choose to battle for God’s kingdom, you have his backing and nothing to fear.
4. Know that you have countless second chances.
This is the story of what happened when Israel cried out to God because they were being oppressed. Judges, and much of the Old Testament, sees this story repeated again and again. God loves to rescue and forgive and show grace and mercy, time after time after time after time. Barak, who showed fear and misplaced faith, is able to celebrate and revel in God’s victory in chapter 5, and in Hebrews 11v32 even gets a mention in the ‘hall of faith’ as one of those who achieved great things by faith. God is gracious and can still use us in our weakness. What’s more, Jesus died for us to pay it all. A Rend Collective song states “Countless second chances we’ve been given at the cross”. Take your second chances, run with them, serve God with them, fight with them.