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?