Judges 4.1-24 Faithful Calling

May 6, 2012 Series: Judges | {Un}Faithful (Part 1 of 2)

Topic: Old Testament Passage: Judges 4:1–4:24

Intro: Judges & the Story of God
I think it is important that we remember how we read the Bible before delving into another dark and confusing episode in Judges. Many approach the Bible as if it is some kind of cosmic road map or a guide for daily life. We use it like we use Google, when we have a question, we look for a verse. And while the Bible does provide a lot of helpful wisdom and information, but answering all of MY questions is not what the Bible is for, BECAUSE, that is not what the Bible is about. In fact, the Bible is not about men at all. The story of the Bible is about God, his name and his fame. The salvation of men is simply the medium God uses to reveal his awesomeness to the highest degree.

Since the Bible’s primary purpose is not to teach us what to do, but to display who God is and declare what God has done, we won’t waste our time searching for some perfect 3-part moral lesson to apply to our lives from Judges 4. Instead, we’re going to see how today’s passage confronts us with God too big to comprehend or explain. Not only does Judges help us see that no one, not even God’s chosen people cannot escape the effects of sin, we also see that unfaithful people and their unfaithful choices cannot stop a faithful God from completing his mission. Inexplicably, God even USES unfaithful choices to bring about salvation. Though he is silent, he is always working; and though things are unexpected, he is never surprised; and though things feel chaotic, he is always in control and his plans always come together.

In the book of Judges, God’s plans have been somewhat uniform—Israel sins, God punishes, Israel cries, and God delivers through an individual. Today’s story is not about one judge, but three—TWO OF WHICH ARE WOMEN—confusing us to exactly which one is the deliverer. Today’s story of Deborah, Barak, and Jael starts like a bad joke—a judge, a general, and a harlot walk into a bar. The first is a faithful female prophet, the only identified as filling the office of a judge. The second is a partially faithful general, the only one affirmed in the New Testament for his faith as a judge. And the third is unfaithful pagan, the only one who actually does the delivering.

Jabin & Sisera (1-3)
Judges 4 is the narrative of what happens and Judges 5, the song of Deborah, gives us commentary on what happens. With the death of Ehud, there is nothing or no one left to restrain them from pursuing whatever “new” gods show up. When Ehud was alive, the people remained faithful. When he died, they quickly sinned again. The Israelites prove that there is one that that never changes—apart from God, men are sinful to their core. There is nothing EXTERNAL that can fix the INTERNAL problem we have. Ultimately, the Israelites reveal what will become the superficial religious hypocrisy that Jesus himself encountered centuries later: These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me (Matthew 15.8). Israel’s faithfulness wrongly depended upon something external to keep alive. And when they didn’t have the security that came with a particular man or a way of life, it all fell apart. How do I know if Jesus is my savior? Ask yourself: if when your "savior" dies, will your life become more meaningful or meaningless?

God punished their idolatry by “selling” them to Jabin, the king of Canaan ,who reigned just North of the Sea of Galilee. Jabin was not so much a name as it was a title for the leader of the Canaanites like Pharaoh was for the Egyptians. Joshua had previously defeated a King named Jabin. Now, apparently, power has returned and this kingdom has a substantial army led by a commander named Sisera. Sisera has a force of 900 chariots at his disposal, which he uses to oppress Israel CRUELLY for 20 years. The nature of that cruelty is recorded in Judges 5.30 when Sisera’s cold-hearted mother is worried about her cold-blooded son who has not returned. She says:

8 “Out of the window she peered,

the mother of Sisera wailed through the lattice:

‘Why is his chariot so long in coming?

Why tarry the hoofbeats of his chariots?’

29 Her wisest princesses answer,

indeed, she answers herself,

30 ‘Have they not found and divided the spoil?—

A womb or two for every man;

spoil of dyed materials for Sisera,

spoil of dyed materials embroidered,

two pieces of dyed work embroidered for the neck as spoil?’

In other words, Sisera is an evil man who has spent the last twenty years conquering the men of Isarel, raping the women of Israel, and pillaging the riches of Israel. Eventually, Israel cries and God in his perfect justice (like the King and no thumbs) raises up two women to bring down this rapist.

Judge Deborah (4-7)
At the time, Israel is being led by a female prophet named Deborah from the tribe of Ephraim. Prophets were divinely inspired predictors, teachers and watchmen. Most of them were men, most hated, and most asked to do some strange things (like walk naked for 3 years, Isaiah). Deborah, like some kind of divine Judge Judy, holds court under a palm tree, judging Israel in the hills of Ephraim. She held a position authority to help mediate social conflicts, make decisions, and at times speak for the Lord who would tell her what to say. It would be wrong to think that Israel’s faithlessness has resulted in women being a leader. If anything, men’s abdication of leadership has resulted in a women stepping up to lead. Judges 5.7 says that, when things were difficult and dark, Deborah arose as a MOTHER in Israel. In other words, Israel needs someone through their childish times. We all need people in our lives that will mother us, especially when we act like children. And a “good mother” is not some who shares their opinion or affirm yours. This is the kind of person who is wise enough to lead you to the WISDOM of GOD; one with the courage to tell you the truth.

Deborah simply is a billboard, a facebook page, a twitter account for God. She is not real creative in what she says—the only words she speaks are God’s Words, or words that point everyone to God. She is what we should all hope to be in our words and actions—an amplifier for God’s will, a spotlight for God’s glory, a prod for God’s mission. Other than what she says, God is fairly silent throughout the entire text.

General Barak (8-16)
The second “judge”, Barak, is commander of the army of Naphtali. He is the warrior, the general, the might of hand of Israel. Speaking for the Lord, Deborah tells him to gather 10,000 troops and go to Mt. Tabor and wait for Sisera ,commander of the Canaanite army. She also tells him that God is the one who will draw out the army and God is the one who will defeat the army. The only responsibility man has is to follow God onto the battle field. Barak responds by saying: “If you will go with me, I will go, but if you will not go with me, I will not go.” While Barak’s request might seem harmless enough, it is unfaithful. After hearing God’s Word, Barak adds a condition to it. He says I’ll obey if this happens, otherwise, I’m out. And though Deborah gives into his request, it is not without consequence. Whether it is because he is a bad listener or a coward, Barak’s conditional obedience means that his enemy will be defeated by a woman. This would have been shameful for the general being defeated and the general leading the victory.

Even though he is told that he will fight, but that a woman will get credit for the victory, Barak goes to battle—he is partially faithful. He rallies several other tribes and gathers troops atop Mt. Tabor as instructed. As promised, God draws out Sisera who comes to battle Barak and, as promised, God defeats Sisera an unconquerable Canaanite army using weather. Judges 5.20-22 seems to imply that a torrential downpour helped defeat the chariots. Every man was killed and Sisera is the only one to escape. He takes off on foot, running north toward Kedesh to the home of an ally.

Heber and the Heroine (11; 17-22)
Strangely, Heber is not home but his wife Jael is, and they seem to know each other quite well. Heber is Kenite, same as Othniel. But instead of joining Judah, Heber had separated from the Kenites and gone north and, it seems, made peace with the Canaanites. From what we can tell, they are not faithful to Yahweh. Now scholars and Jewish rabbis disagree on exactly what happens next. There are two approaches. One is simply that Sisera fled to Jael and begged for help because he knew her. The second is that Sisera laid with Jael, knew her intimately, and was going to use her to hide. Regardless, Jael knows Sisera and, my guess, is that she knows his reputation and despises him for it.

She comes out of her tent to invite him in, “Turn aside, my lord; turn aside to me; do not be afraid.” A married women inviting a man into her tent would have been on the level of adultery, but perhaps they were just “good” friends. Feeling safe , a frightened Sisera enters the tent and Jael covers him. He asks her for water, but Jael gives him milk which was probably more like a meal of yogurt than a refreshing drink. She then covers him again. Sisera tells her to stand watch at the door and lie to anyone who asks if he is in there. Exhausted from all kinds of activity, Sisera falls asleep. And as he is sleeping, Jael gets close enough to him to drive a tent peg into his face, and he sank between her feet. Sisera dies without a fight at the hand of a woman who was the wife of an ally. And through her, whether faithful or not, we see God’s judgment. This is not simply the ultimate disgrace because a warrior is killed by a woman, it is the purest justice as Sisera, a violent, cruel, abuser is killed by those he abused.

God in Control
What are we supposed to learn from such a crazy story? No moral lessons, no clever clichés, no simple applications, just ONE profound truth but one profound truth about God. From a faithful women under a tree, through the cowardice of a general, to a seductive woman with a tent peg—God proves He is in control of every detail, writing the story to maximize His glory—while saving his people.

He is not simply in control in the sense that he is there to catch all the pieces if everything goes wrong. He is in control in the sense that he is moving the pieces around, like an all knowing, perfectly good and wise chess master who thinks an infinite number of moves ahead, to ensure it goes all right according to HIS purposes. And to some that is terrifying to imagine a God governing everything—but what is more terrifying is imagining something is out of his control.

Here we see God uses every individual who ever lives, whether that person is a faithful disciple, a partially faithful believer, or an unfaithful pagan to accomplish his mission. I can almost be ok with a God that BIG, I just don’t like a God that silent. I don’t do well with God’s silence—when I don’t know the plan, how it all works out, why it had to be this way. He never tells me, probably because I wouldn’t believe him. This text shows me that even when MY GOD is silent, I can trust that HE STILL ACTIVE in my life. He is listening. He is watching. He is working. His wisdom is employed. His love is present. His justice is coming. Dare I say that sometimes, crazy may actually the sign of God’s presence, not his absence. There is a sense that God is tirelessly weaving together a tapestry of people and circumstances, over many years, through all kinds of circumstances, to make the MOST BEAUTIFUL picture possible. Most of the time, we only get to see the backside—the ugly confusing side—where the picture is unclear.

We have narratives in Scripture like this, where three people’s lives intersect by the hand of God, and just when we wonder if God is there it says verse 23 says, 23 So on that day God subdued Jabin the king of Canaan before the people of Israel. We need crazy Scriptures like this because God uses them to strengthen our faith to God gives us a moment of grace and says LOOK…SEE…and for one 20/20 moment, our own craziness makes a little more sense. We are reminded that every devastating experience, every overwhelming joy, every person you encounter, everything you see, hear, taste, touch, every irritating circumstance, every mistake you make, or every success you enjoy, everything you think you control or is out of your control is never outside of God’s sovereign bigness. That is not a truth you can just go…huh…too. It is deeply disturbing and comforting truth that changes how we experience everything.

Conclusion in Christ
And what does this have to do with Jesus? The God of the Bible is bigger than we can explain or comprehend. He is so big he made everything out of nothing. He is so big that e knows all things past, present, future, and possible. He is so big that he does the right thing, at the right time, in the right way, always and without fail. He is so big that he is never surprised, his plans never thwarted, his grace never resisted, and his justice never denied. And he intended to show JUST HOW BIG HE WAS by saving men with a crazy, backwards, unexpected plan to became small. Acts 4.27-31 27 for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take . The story of Jael and Sisera is the story of Jesus and Satan. Just as God sold his people into the Canaanites against then delivered them by crushing the head of the leader the a wooden stake; so God gave men over to Satan and sin, selling his own son into the hands of Gentiles and Jews, then crushed the head of Satan with a wooden cross.

The glory of the cross proves that God is bigger than any of my sin, your sin, their sin, or any sin that has come or will come into my life. And a deep conviction of God’s authority over all of this— should inspire us, like it did the Israelites, to fight confidently EVEN if everything feels like it is falling apart—because it really NEVER IS! Though he seems silent, he is always working; though things are unexpected, he is never surprised; and though things feel chaotic, he is always in control with a view of deliverance despite our unfaithfulness. And the craziest unfaithfulness of men, will never stop the faithfulness of God; in fact crazy is where he works best.

More in Judges | {Un}Faithful (Part 1 of 2)

July 1, 2012

Judges 9:1-57 {Un}Faithful Rule

June 24, 2012

Judges 8.1-35 {Un}Faithful Zeal

June 17, 2012

Judges 7.1-24 Faithful Odds