Monthly Archives: May 2016
Then Deborah and Barak the son of Abinoam sang on that day, saying, 2 “That the leaders led in Israel, That the people volunteered, Bless the LORD! 3 “Hear, O kings; give ear, O rulers! I– to the LORD, I will sing, I will sing praise to the LORD, the God of Israel. 4 “LORD, when You went out from Seir, When You marched from the field of Edom, The earth quaked, the heavens also dripped, Even the clouds dripped water. 5 “The mountains quaked at the presence of the LORD, This Sinai, at the presence of the LORD, the God of Israel.
6 “In the days of Shamgar the son of Anath, In the days of Jael, the highways were deserted, And travelers went by roundabout ways. 7 “The peasantry ceased, they ceased in Israel, Until I, Deborah, arose, Until I arose, a mother in Israel. 8 “New gods were chosen; Then war was in the gates. Not a shield or a spear was seen Among forty thousand in Israel. 9 “My heart goes out to the commanders of Israel, The volunteers among the people; Bless the LORD! 10 “You who ride on white donkeys, You who sit on rich carpets, And you who travel on the road– sing! 11 “At the sound of those who divide flocks among the watering places, There they shall recount the righteous deeds of the LORD, The righteous deeds for His peasantry in Israel. Then the people of the LORD went down to the gates. 12 “Awake, awake, Deborah; Awake, awake, sing a song! Arise, Barak, and take away your captives, O son of Abinoam. 13 “Then survivors came down to the nobles; The people of the LORD came down to me as warriors. 14 “From Ephraim those whose root is in Amalek came down, Following you, Benjamin, with your peoples; From Machir commanders came down, And from Zebulun those who wield the staff of office. 15 “And the princes of Issachar were with Deborah; As was Issachar, so was Barak; Into the valley they rushed at his heels; Among the divisions of Reuben There were great resolves of heart. 16 “Why did you sit among the sheepfolds, To hear the piping for the flocks? Among the divisions of Reuben There were great searchings of heart. 17 “Gilead remained across the Jordan; And why did Dan stay in ships? Asher sat at the seashore, And remained by its landings. 18 “Zebulun was a people who despised their lives even to death, And Naphtali also, on the high places of the field.
19 “The kings came and fought; Then fought the kings of Canaan At Taanach near the waters of Megiddo; They took no plunder in silver. 20 “The stars fought from heaven, From their courses they fought against Sisera. 21 “The torrent of Kishon swept them away, The ancient torrent, the torrent Kishon. O my soul, march on with strength. 22 “Then the horses’ hoofs beat From the dashing, the dashing of his valiant steeds. 23 ‘Curse Meroz,’ said the angel of the LORD, ‘Utterly curse its inhabitants; Because they did not come to the help of the LORD, To the help of the LORD against the warriors.’ 24 “Most blessed of women is Jael, The wife of Heber the Kenite; Most blessed is she of women in the tent. 25 “He asked for water and she gave him milk; In a magnificent bowl she brought him curds. 26 “She reached out her hand for the tent peg, And her right hand for the workmen’s hammer. Then she struck Sisera, she smashed his head; And she shattered and pierced his temple. 27 “Between her feet he bowed, he fell, he lay; Between her feet he bowed, he fell; Where he bowed, there he fell dead. 28 “Out of the window she looked and lamented, The mother of Sisera through the lattice, ‘Why does his chariot delay in coming? Why do the hoofbeats of his chariots tarry?’ 29 “Her wise princesses would answer her, Indeed she repeats her words to herself, 30 ‘Are they not finding, are they not dividing the spoil? A maiden, two maidens for every warrior; To Sisera a spoil of dyed work, A spoil of dyed work embroidered, Dyed work of double embroidery on the neck of the spoiler?’ 31 “Thus let all Your enemies perish, O LORD; But let those who love Him be like the rising of the sun in its might.” And the land was undisturbed for forty years. – (Judges 5:1-31 NASB)
At the conclusion of the war, after Deborah has defeated the enemies of Israel, she and her general sing a song of victory, the spoils of war, and the death of their enemies. They sing of the deeds of Jael, the grief of a mother whose dead son will never come home, distributing captured maidens to the victorious warriors; and they sing a request that all enemies of God die.
This song celebrating the death of an enemy troubles me.
I was appalled at the celebratory tone that pervaded our society at the death of Osama bin Laden. On Facebook I posted Proverbs 24:17 “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles.” A Christian Facebook friend who had served in the military took offense and started quoting scripture back at me. His view, if I understood it correctly, was that violence is a necessity in order for Christ to be communicated to certain people groups. He firmly believed in “just war” and that the targeted killing of individuals was necessary and acceptable. He unfriended me on Facebook shortly thereafter.
I read the same Bible, and worship the same God as this man, but have come to a radically different conclusion. Violence is never the God honoring solution to a problem. My theological belief is that Christians are called to live at peace with one another and with the world around them. To live at peace is both to refrain from acts of violence, and to work toward removing the causes of violence in this world.
I believe that a violent reaction to violence only spawns more violence. We are called to share the Good News of Jesus to all the world. The Good News is that through Jesus we can be united with the will of God. I believe that violence is outside of the will of God.
How can I believe that violence is outside of God’s will when passages like Deborah’s Song are in the Bible? How can my former Facebook friend believe that violence is necessary when Jesus says, “If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also…” (Matthew 5:39). There are no easy answers; we live in a tension. We live in a fallen world in which evil things happen. My view is that killing people is always evil, even if it may be justified. Lots of people do not like that and it is a hard to live out.
Regardless whether you are a pacifist or an advocate of “just war” there are parts of the Bible that we must all struggle with. Do we turn the other cheek, or do we go to war and celebrate our victories? We can not just ignore the difficult passages that do not line up with our theology. I am not always sure what to do with stories like the Song of Deborah. I will not brush it off as, “well, it was a different time, a different covenant, and a different people”; but, I also will not accept that God sanctions murder. Living out our faith is hard.
- Write down three ways you contribute to violence in our world.
- Write down three ways you can work to eliminate violence in our world.
- Think of the last person about whom you had thoughts similar to those expressed in the Song of Deborah; take five minutes and pray for that person.
- How do you incorporate the song of Deborah into your understanding of God?
- If you are a pacifist how does your theology interpret the celebratory nature of this song? If you are a just war advocate how do you respond to Jesus’ instruction to turn the other cheek?
- Is violence ever Godly?
Deborah said to Barak, “Arise! For this is the day in which the LORD has given Sisera into your hands; behold, the LORD has gone out before you.” So Barak went down from Mount Tabor with ten thousand men following him. 15 The LORD routed Sisera and all his chariots and all his army with the edge of the sword before Barak; and Sisera alighted from his chariot and fled away on foot. 16 But Barak pursued the chariots and the army as far as Harosheth-hagoyim, and all the army of Sisera fell by the edge of the sword; not even one was left.
17 Now Sisera fled away on foot to the tent of Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite, for there was peace between Jabin the king of Hazor and the house of Heber the Kenite. 18 Jael went out to meet Sisera, and said to him, “Turn aside, my master, turn aside to me! Do not be afraid.” And he turned aside to her into the tent, and she covered him with a rug. 19 He said to her, “Please give me a little water to drink, for I am thirsty.” So she opened a bottle of milk and gave him a drink; then she covered him. 20 He said to her, “Stand in the doorway of the tent, and it shall be if anyone comes and inquires of you, and says, ‘Is there anyone here?’ that you shall say, ‘No.’”
21 But Jael, Heber’s wife, took a tent peg and seized a hammer in her hand, and went secretly to him and drove the peg into his temple, and it went through into the ground; for he was sound asleep and exhausted. So he died. 22 And behold, as Barak pursued Sisera, Jael came out to meet him and said to him, “Come, and I will show you the man whom you are seeking.” And he entered with her, and behold Sisera was lying dead with the tent peg in his temple. 23 So God subdued on that day Jabin the king of Canaan before the sons of Israel. (Judges 4:14-23 NASB)
Deborah is the Judge of Israel. The Judges were leaders who God had raised up to bring Israel back into a right relationship with God. There is a general theme in the book of Judges of each Judge having more and greater faults than the ones who came before. Deborah creates a problem in understanding this theme. It is difficult for a contemporary reader of Judges to pick up how this is true of Deborah. Deborah appears to be a wise leader who focuses on following the will of God. What was Deborah’s fault?
Well, Deborah was a woman.
The Israelites were a patriarchal society living in a region flooded with patriarchal societies. To be led by a woman would carry a social stigma that would be difficult for many within the nation of Israel to accept, and would encourage other nations to view Israel as being weak. There is an implied rebuke in her leadership that would resonate with a patriarchal society: “Look, you had to have a woman save you.”
The story of Jael amplifies this rebuke of Israel’s patriarchy. Deborah prophesied that the Lord would give Sisera into the hands of Israel. But this does not happen in battle; it does not happen through the power of warriors, or the strategy of men. Sisera is brought into the hands of Israel by another woman; and a foreigner at that. God used the trickery of Jael to accomplish what the army/men of Israel could not.
The contemporary take aways from this story have little to do with gender or patriarchy. Rather, the first take away is that God raises up leaders we would not expect. Sometimes the leader we need to follow is not the person who looks like a leader; the leader we need to follow is the person that God has established as leader. It can be very difficult to follow someone who you believe is not worthy of leadership; but, at some point in your life, that is exactly what God will ask you to do. Let God choose your leaders.
The second take away is that God uses everyday people to fulfill prophecy. God can use anyone God chooses to fulfill God’s plans. God used Jael, a foreign woman, to destroy an enemy of Israel. God is bigger than my family, my church, my tribe, my nation, my world. God is bigger than my opinions, my prejudices, and my theology. God can, and will, use all kinds of people to accomplish God’s will on earth.
It is an amazing experience to open our minds to the fact that God can use anyone, and open our eyes to see the amazing things God is doing. For too long the church has been focused on excluding people. When we recognize that everyone is an agent through whom God may work a miracle, it becomes far more difficult to exclude those who may be different from you or me.
- Look for how God is using the people around you (e.g. the strangers, the enemies, the non-Christians).
- Look for how God is using you to speak to the lives of others.
- Write a list of people you would never follow; then look for the leadership qualities those people possess.
- Are there people I would exclude from leadership based on a personal trait or characteristic (e.g. ethnicity, age, gender)?
- What are my faults? How can God use those faults?
- Do I allow God to work, or do I try to force God’s hand?
But when the sons of Israel cried to the LORD, the LORD raised up a deliverer for them, Ehud the son of Gera, the Benjamite, a left-handed man. And the sons of Israel sent tribute by him to Eglon the king of Moab. 16 Ehud made himself a sword which had two edges, a cubit in length, and he bound it on his right thigh under his cloak. 17 He presented the tribute to Eglon king of Moab. Now Eglon was a very fat man. 18 It came about when he had finished presenting the tribute, that he sent away the people who had carried the tribute. 19 But he himself turned back from the idols which were at Gilgal, and said, “I have a secret message for you, O king.” And he said, “Keep silence.” And all who attended him left him. 20 Ehud came to him while he was sitting alone in his cool roof chamber. And Ehud said, “I have a message from God for you.” And he arose from his seat. 21 Ehud stretched out his left hand, took the sword from his right thigh and thrust it into his belly. 22 The handle also went in after the blade, and the fat closed over the blade, for he did not draw the sword out of his belly; and the refuse came out. 23 Then Ehud went out into the vestibule and shut the doors of the roof chamber behind him, and locked them. 24 When he had gone out, his servants came and looked, and behold, the doors of the roof chamber were locked; and they said, “He is only relieving himself in the cool room.” 25 They waited until they became anxious; but behold, he did not open the doors of the roof chamber. Therefore they took the key and opened them, and behold, their master had fallen to the floor dead. 26 Now Ehud escaped while they were delaying, and he passed by the idols and escaped to Seirah. – Judges 3:15-26 (NASB)
When I have led youth groups I tell this story at Halloween; teenage boys love it.
There are some interesting things going on in this story. Ehud is the second judge which God raises up in an effort to bring the Israelites back to God. This is the beginning of the running motif in Judges by which Israel does evil, bad things happen to Israel, Israel cries out to God, God raises up a Judge to deliver Israel, Israel repents, the judge dies, Israel does evil, rinse and repeat.
A secondary motif is that each judge is flawed in someway. Ehud’s flaw is relatively minor, he is left-handed; however, the flaws of the Judges become progressively more severe. Why is left-handedness a flaw? Two reasons. First Ehud fails to live up to his family name as Benjamite means “son of my right [hand]”. The second reason is that the left hand was commonly the “impure” hand as it was commonly used for bodily functions. Really this whole story is layer upon layer of bathroom-humor (which is, again, why teenage boys like it). However, being left-handed was one of the reasons why Ehud was able to smuggle a weapon in to the King’s private room.
My grandmother was left-handed. I heard her tell stories of how, when she was growing up, adults tried to force her to be right handed. They would tie her left hand down and do all kinds of awful things. How many times was Ehud rejected by his family or tribe? How many times was he passed over because he was different or flawed? Yet, God used Ehud’s flaws and differences to deliver Israel from the Moabites.
There are people in your church, your family, and your community that are considered unclean or flawed. They are looked down on and refused positions of leadership or honor. They are rejected, not because they are incapable; but, because they are considered to be unacceptable. They are the outcasts, they are other. God uses the outcasts and the other to deliver his people.
We are very bad at judging other people flaws. Often, a perceived flaw can be a remarkable strength. Ehud’s flaw delivered Israel, and he was only left handed. Imagine what the flaws of the people in your church are capable of delivering.
- Create a penalty for when you catch yourself judging people who are different (e.g. a “swear-jar”).
- Serve a group that is different from you every week for the next year.
- Create an opportunity for someone who is less privileged than you.
- Who do I consider to be flawed, or “other”? Who do I not want to associate with?
- How has God used my flaws to deliver the people around me?
- Does it cause me internal discomfort to think that someone with one of the following labels could be a leader in my church: quadriplegic, veteran, mentally ill, woman, high school dropout, bi-polar, gay, drug addict, alcoholic, ethnic, wealthy, young, old, stutterer, liberal, autistic, conservative?
All that generation also were gathered to their fathers; and there arose another generation after them who did not know the LORD, nor yet the work which He had done for Israel. 11 Then the sons of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD and served the Baals, 12 and they forsook the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt, and followed other gods from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed themselves down to them; thus they provoked the LORD to anger. 13 So they forsook the LORD and served Baal and the Ashtaroth. 14 The anger of the LORD burned against Israel, and He gave them into the hands of plunderers who plundered them; and He sold them into the hands of their enemies around them, so that they could no longer stand before their enemies. 15 Wherever they went, the hand of the LORD was against them for evil, as the LORD had spoken and as the LORD had sworn to them, so that they were severely distressed. – Judges 2:10-15 (NASB)
One of the difficulties of leadership is that it requires you to look in three directions all at once.
A leader must look to the past. The past has tremendous lessons to teach and we must learn from those who have gone before us. The past is also full of heroes and champions of the faith on whom we can rest during times of struggle. If every generation was forced to figure everything out for themselves we would never get anywhere; the past is the foundation upon which we build. As leaders we must be students of history and not be so arrogant that we refuse to learn from our mothers and fathers.
A leader must look to the present. A leader must be aware of what is going on in the here and now. What needs must be attended to immediately. Who is hurting? Who is in danger? Who needs to be celebrated? The present is what we are building and creating. The present is influenced by the past, but we can turn the present to anything we choose (both good and bad). If we spend all of our time focused on the past or the future, we will miss the good and bad things going on around us right now. The danger of missing the good is that we may fail to notice a new leader. The danger of missing the bad is that we may allow destructive forces to become enmeshed into our organization.
A leader must look to the future. Where are we going? How do we get there? If we want to build something that will last longer than we will it will take a great deal of planning in the present. Creating a vision and developing a plan to accomplish that vision is necessary. We must also understand human nature and outline how the organization will avoid common pitfalls. Setting concrete plans in place is a task which is commonly ignored by leaders in the church.
Too often churches look to the past and the present, but ignore the future. They fail to set future generations up for success. Then as a generation ages, it wonders why their children have turned away from God. A church must plan for next year, and next decade, and the next generation, and three or four generations after that. When looking to the future there must be a very long view.
In your role as a leader keep your eyes always focused on the past, the present, and the future. It can be tough, but it is absolutely necessary. If any one of these three time periods is neglected, or over-emphasized, it can cause problems in the church for multiple generations to come. Be sure to set a solid foundation for your grandchildren and your grandchildren’s grandchildren. We are all interconnected. We are still recovering from the problems of our ancestors (slavery, patriarchalism, church schisms); to the best of our ability we need to clean up our messes now, and not leave them to our descendents.
- Make a list outlining:
- Your anchors to the past.
- Your activities in the present.
- Your vision for the future.
- Who are your heroes? What ancestral baggage are you struggling with?
- Do you hold the past, present, and future all up in prayer?
- Which time period do you neglect? Which do you spend too much time thinking about?
Now it came about after the death of Joshua that the sons of Israel inquired of the LORD, saying, “Who shall go up first for us against the Canaanites, to fight against them?” 2 The LORD said, “Judah shall go up; behold, I have given the land into his hand.” 3 Then Judah said to Simeon his brother, “Come up with me into the territory allotted me, that we may fight against the Canaanites; and I in turn will go with you into the territory allotted you.” So Simeon went with him. – Judges 1:1-3 (NASB)
Joshua’s Tomb – 2007
For the first time in over a generation Israel has found itself leaderless. Moses brought the Hebrew slaves out of Egypt and led them as they wandered in the wilderness for forty years. Moses raised up Joshua as the leader who would bring the Israelites to the promised land. However, Joshua did not prepare a successor. Israel has gone from slave, to follower of Moses, to follower of Joshua; but, now there is no one to follow. So the Israelites do the smart thing; they ask God.
God instructs the Israelites to send Judah into the land first to drive the enemy out of the land’s promised to his tribe. Judah asks Simeon to go with him and promises to help Simeon clear his land as soon as Judah’s land is cleared. It is important to note, however, that God does not appoint a new leader to replace Joshua as Joshua had replaced Moses. It seems clear from this, and other passages, that God’s plan was for Israel to have no primary leader except for God. Of course there would be secondary leaders (priests, judges, and tribal chiefs); but, there would be no single human who would rule over all the peoples of Israel, only God.
The book of Judges is the story of how this plan failed. The story of how the Israelite people moved further and further away from God’s ideal and chose to follow their own desires.
It would be good for our churches today to look to the book of Judges as they are developing their organizational structure and selecting leaders. God’s ideal for Israel was that God be the primary leader who worked with a small group of secondary human leaders. These secondary human leaders took on differing roles and responsibilities. Some were accountable for military campaigns; some for religious ceremony; and some for maintaining civil matters. Is it possible that our churches should be structured in a similar manner?
As humans we seem to be drawn to pyramid shaped leadership structures in which one person is the ultimate authority for our organization. This structure is easy to understand and it allows us to put all the blame or praise on the one person at the top. If things are going well we reward that person; if things are going poorly, we find a new person.
As Christians, however, we may be called to develop a church without a single human perched at the top of our structure. I think all Christians would agree that God is our ultimate leader and authority; but, what if there was no single human leader at the top our church structures? What if there was a group of secondary leaders who each took responsibility for a different aspect of the church? Would that be a better way of organizing our church?
Regardless of whether there is a single leader or a group of leaders, whenever a church seeks to replace a leader the most important thing to do is to seek out God’s counsel. Time spent in prayer, seeking guidance, and inquiring about God’s opinion, is never a waste.
This is true whether a church is looking to replace a pastor, an elder, a Sunday school teacher, or a custodian. Every position within the church is a position of leadership and God cares about all leaders. We must always ask God, “Who is it you have prepared for this role?”
A church should never rush the replacement of a leader. A church should only move forward, once they have discerned a clear direction from God.
- Pray for the leadership of your church.
- Ask God to speak to the hearts and minds of the church regarding both the organizational structure, and the people to fit into the structure.
- Take the time to be a blessing to the leaders in your church.
- What organizational structure is best for your church?
- Do you take time to pray over who should be called to each leadership position (from custodian to elder)?
- Is God calling you to a certain leadership role?