JUDGES

Deborah

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Judges 4:1-22

INTRODUCTION

I find it most illuminating that our SBC literature chose to skip over the episode involving Deborah and Jael. Recently, the SBC has been issuing statements which seem the downgrade the role of women in the church. Only by skipping such passages like the one involving Deborah can Christians justify such views. Only by looking at the total Biblical witness regarding women should we come up with a comprehensive view regarding the role of women in the church. Any other approach will simply mean that our own personal prejudices and biases (and not the Bible) are dictating what we believe.

One word, though, before we look at the story of Deborah. By no means am I advocating that men abdicate their role as the head of the house, nor am I promoting that women should be pastors. God has designated the father/husband as the one who bears the lion-share of the responsibility for the spiritual, educational, physical, emotional, and psychological development of the family. It's not that the woman does not share in that responsibility; it's just that the lion-share of the responsibility falls upon the man. It follows that if he is ultimately responsible, then he must have the final say in the home. He is wise to listen to his wife (Pilate would have been a lot better off if he had listened to his); however, since God ultimately holds him responsible instead of the mother/wife, then he needs to have the freedom to make certain decisions which affect the family. We'll look at the pastor later in the lesson.


GOD DISCIPLINES ISRAEL (4:1-11)

Israel once more has fallen into sin. This time the author of Judges claims that after Ehud died, Israel fell into greater sin. As a result, God disciplines the Israelites by allowing the Canaanite king Jabin of Hazor (north of the Sea of Galilee) to oppress the northern tribes of Naphtali, Zebulun, and Asher. He is aided by his general Sisera who has at his disposal 900 iron chariots, a formidable force during those days. At the same time, Deborah is judging Israel. The people recognize that the Spirit of prophecy is mighty in her; therefore, whenever people wanted to have a wrong redressed, they would go to Deborah for judgment. Her headquarters was in the land allotted to Ephraim, more towards the south of the land of Israel.

One thing we need to note about Deborah here. Of all the judges, she is the only woman listed. Now some have claimed that God chose Deborah to be a judge because He could not find a man willing to rise up to the challenge. The implication then is that whenever God can use a man, He will use the man instead of the woman. Whereas that may be true, it is also true that nowhere does the author of Judges claim this. We need to be careful in the way we interpret the Bible. When we make absolute statements, we need to make sure that they are based upon absolute statements in the Bible; otherwise, we are probably substituting our own biases and prejudices for the Word of God.

Deborah summons Barak from the tribe of Naphtali and instructs him that God wants him to deliver the northern tribes from Canaanite oppression by raising an army to engage Sisera in battle. Barak consents to the command with only one condition—that Deborah accompany him on this endeavor. "Oh sure, it is easy for you, Deborah, to send me off to battle some 50 miles away while you sit here underneath the palm tree in Ephraim. Come with me if you believe your own word to be true." Apparently, Barak did not have the faith that God would make him successful if he went alone in this campaign. He felt like he would need Deborah as back-up support. Deborah consents to Barak's condition but informs him that because of his lack of faith, that even though he would be victorious, he would not receive the glory for the victory; instead, the glory will fall upon a WOMAN!

At this point, the author introduces the woman Jael, who was the wife of Heber, a Kenite, who lived in Kedesh, north of the valley of Jezreel (the home of Sisera) and south of the city of Hazor. The Kenites were related to Jethro, Moses' father-in-law. When the Israelites had left Egypt to occupy Canaan, many of the Kenites had cast their lot in with Israel and supported them in their take-over of Canaan because they knew that God was with them. The author of Judges informs us that at this point in time, peace existed between the Kenites and Jabin king of the Canaanites. On the surface, it looked like when push came to shove, the Kenites would support the Canaanites in their conflict with the Israelites; however, the bond between the Israelites went further back in time and deeper in feeling. This will help explain what happens later.


THE BATTLE BETWEEN BARAK AND SISERA (4:12-17)

At Deborah's command, Barak sends out the summons throughout Naphtali, Zebulun, and Asher for the fighting men to assemble on Mount Tabor located to the north of the Valley of Jezreel, that is Armageddon. Sisera and his forces are located at Harosheth-Hagoyim which is south of the Valley of Jezreel near the river Kishon. By waging the battle at Mount Tabor located right between Harosheth and Hazor, Barak was able to cut off the lines of communication between Jabin and Sisera, preventing Sisera from asking for reinforcements and engaging Jabin in the battle. Ten thousand men respond to Barak's summons. When Sisera gets wind of what is happening, he marshals his forces of 900 iron chariots and heads north for Mount Tabor. When Deborah sees Sisera approaching, she cries out to Barak: "Arise! For this is the day the Lord has given Sisera into your hands. Behold, the Lord has gone out before you!" The image is that of the Lord as their general going out before the Israelite army.

Although the narrative does not specify this, the poem about the battle in chapter 6 leads us to believe that as Sisera approached with his chariots, God sent forth a rain storm which caused the Kishon river to overflow its banks. The result was that the Valley of Jezreel became muddy which caused Sisera's chariots to bog down. Nine hundred men in iron chariots is a formidable fighting force against 10,000 men on foot; however, when the mud stopped the chariots and Sisera's forces had to fight the battle on foot, 900 men against 10,000 was not good odds. The result was a complete rout of Sisera's forces. Those who survived the battle fled back to Harosheth-Hagoyim, where they were pursued again by the Israelites forces. Sisera, on the other hand, headed north by himself towards Hazor, hoping to find shelter in Jabin's fortified city.


JAEL'S SLAUGHTER OF SISERA (4:18-22)

Sisera flees north towards Hazor but is unable to make it all at once first because of the distance involved and also because of battle fatigue. On the way to Hazor from Jezreel lies Kedesh where Heber and Jael have pitched their tents. Knowing that the Kenites and Canaanites are on friendly terms, Sisera seeks refuge in the tents of Heber and Jael.

Jael welcomes Sisera with open arms. Knowing that he is exhausted, she encourages him to lie down and rest. She covers him with a rug—maybe to make him think that she is camouflaging him. When he asks for some water, she goes even one step further and gives him milk to drink. When he asks her to tell any intruders that no one is in the tent, she readily agrees. She assures him that he is in no danger of an outsider coming in and harming him—she says nothing about danger from an insider. He goes to sleep thinking that he is completely safe; however, when Jael realizes that he has fallen into a deep sleep due to exhaustion, she takes a tent peg in one hand and a heavy mallet in the other, and drives the stake right through his temple. Jael, like other women in ancient times, was accustomed to pitching tents. She was able to drive the stake through his temple so hard that the tent peg went right through his head and impaled his head to the ground. When Barak arrives, Jael invites him into the tent and shows him the body of Sisera.


IMPLICATIONS OF THE STORY

This story should cause us to stop and rethink some of the attitudes we have towards women in the church. I fear that some of our attitudes are based upon an erroneous interpretation of certain Pauline passages. Normally, whenever God uses a woman in a dramatic fashion, we point to the story of Jael and Barak as proof that God only used a woman because He couldn't find a man who was ready to be used; however, whereas God did use Jael because Barak did not exercise faith, He still did not have to use a woman. There were a lot of other men in Israel who would have willingly put the stake through Sisera's head if given half a chance. The truth is that probably God simply chose to use Jael since Barak had not exercised faith.

With regards to several NT passages, I feel that we need to look just a bit more clsely than we have in the past:

  1. James 3:1: "Let not many of you become teachers . . ."
  2. 1 Tim. 2:2: "I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man but to remain quiet."
  3. Gal. 6:6: "Let the one who is taught the Word share all good things with him who teaches."
  4. 1 Tim. 5:17-18: "Let the elders who rule well be considerd worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, 'You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing' and 'The laborer is worthy of his wages.'"
  5. Eph. 4:11: "And He gave some as apostles and some as prophets and some as evangelists and some as pastors and

With regards to James 3:1, each Sunday our church has at least 30+ teachers teaching adults in SS. This does not include all those teaching youth on down. With regards to 1 Tim. 2:12, the teacher in Paul's churches exercised authority, something the SS teacher at First Baptist does NOT exercise. The only authority in the SS class is the Word itself. Whereas because of serious training some teachers may be more expert in interpreting the Bible than others, that does not make them authorities in the chruch. Any teacher who tries to exercise authority over his or her class is going to experience a rude awakening. With regards to Gal. 6:6 and 1 Tim. 5:17-18, the teachers in the Pauline churches were paid for their efforts. In fact, the elders who taught Paul's churches received double salary (honor as in the sense of honorarium) than the elders who were involved in non-teaching and non-teaching activities. Now what SS teacher gets paid at FBC? Finally, and this is the clincher, the teacher in Paul's church was the pastor. In fact, teaching was one of the primary functions of the pastor. Look closely at Eph. 4:11. Some claim that Paul is speaking about 5 spiritual gifts instead of 4; this, however, is spurious in light of the fact that Paul uses the word "some" only 4 times and not 5. There are only 4 gifts in this verse, not 5; the gift of pastor-teacher is one gift, not 2. If we are going to use Paul's verses to get rid of women teachers in the church, then we are going to have to get rid of all the male teachers in the church who are not pastors.

All this is to say that the teacher Paul is referring to in these verses is most likely the pastor and not the person involved in the lay organization which did not come into existence only ~150 years ago. This is supported by the fact hat Paul very seldom even uses the word "pastor" in his epistles. In fact, the word "pastor" is used hardly at all in the entire NT. This is strange in light of the fact hat the pastor holds the key role in the church. The truth is probably that the NT does refer to the pastor; however, when it does, it refers to him as elder, teacher, or overseer (see 1 Tim. 5:17 again which combines elder and teacher, and also 1 Tim. 3:1-7 which links the gift of teaching with the pastor). In this case, the pastor is always to be male; the same, though, cannot be said about SS teachers in a lay-led organization.

Well, what about women pastors? Is there a problem with that? Definitely. More than any other person in the church, the pastor has the responsibility to convey the image of God and of Christ to his congregation and to the community. When God chose to enter the world, He chose to become man. He could have chosen to become a woman; however, He did not see fit to use the woman as the mode of His self-revelation. Moreover, when Jesus related to God, He related to Him as Son to Father, not as Son to Mother nor as Daughter to Mother.

So why does the male fit his role better? Because a male can portray the masculine nature of God far better than the female can. A male naturally and appropriately portrays masculinity, whereas when a woman tries to act masculine, it comes off as being unnatural, perverse. How masculine is God? C.S. Lewis, quoting Augustine, says that God is so masculine that we all become feminine in our relationship with Him. He goes on to say: "But Christians think that God himself has taught us how to speak of him. To say that it does not matter is to say either that all the masculine imagery is not inspired, is merely human in origin, or else that, though inspired, it is quite arbitrary and unessential. And this is surely intolerable: or, if tolerable, it is an argument not in favor of Christian priestesses but against Christianity."

Whereas this may seem strange, one fact backs this up. Every denomination which is intent on ordaining women as pastors and priestesses is also engaged in rewriting the Bible, eliminating masculine references to God. Those denominations call God "She" or "Mother God." It's not that some women aren't better at pastoring than some men--some are far better at it than men! It's just that women pastors by their very gender undermine the image of God as being masculine.