Monday, January 21, 2013

DEBORAH - an unexpected role

This week, I taught about Deborah in my Sunday school class. As I've mentioned before, I am doing a series on women in the Bible. It's been fun, interesting, convicting and challenging to dig deeper into the lives of these women.

Most of them, I've heard of and heard stories about. I do get tickled, though, when the women in my class gasp and say, "I never heard THAT story before!" or "Is that really in the Bible??"

Yep, much of the Old Testament is not what you'd call G-rated, but it sure is interesting!

So, this week, I decided to delve into the life of Deborah - the only female judge of Israel. She's really the only woman leader who was over ALL of Israel. There were women who led other women - like Miriam - but besides an ill-fated, short-reigning queen mentioned in the Kings, Deborah was it.

Before we are introduced to Deborah in Judges 4, God gives us a bit of background in verses 1-3. "Then the sons of Israel again did evil in the sight of the Lord, after Ehud died. And the Lord sold them into the hand of Jabin king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor; and the commander of his army was Sisera who lived in Harosheth-hagoyim. The sons of Israel cried to the Lord; for he had nine hundred iron chariots, and he oppressed the sons of Israel severely for twenty years."

Just to give a little background to this story: Joshua had led Israel into the Promised Land, but after he died, the people had a hard time staying on the straight and narrow. They would start marrying their pagan neighbors and then get caught up in doing a little idol worship on the side. In the book of Judges a clear cycle can be seen as you read through the book (and you really should because Judges has some of the most bizarre stories in the Bible - seriously!).

First, the Israelites would fall away from God and start in with the idol worship. God would allow them to be oppressed by another nation. They would toil away under this oppression and finally repent and cry out to God. God would then raise up a judge to deliver them. Things would be fine for a while and then they'd get off track again and the whole cycle would be repeated.

This penchant Israel had for following after other gods is something you can see throughout the entire Old Testament from Judges on.

So, this time around, God had allowed Jabin the king of Canaan to oppress Israel. When Israel finally had enough and realized they couldn't deliver themselves, they cried out to God and He raised up a judge to deliver them - Deborah.

In verses 5 and 6, we learn a bit about Deborah. "Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time. She used to sit under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the sons of Israel came up to her for judgment."

The chapter goes on to say that God gave Deborah a message to deliver to a man named Barak. The message was to gather the men of the tribes of Naphtali and Zebulun and go up against Sisera. God promised Barak that He would deliver the army into Israel's hands.

This was kind of on par with a force from a small city going up against the U.S. Army. It seemed rather impossible, but God promised victory.

Barak tells Deborah, I will only go if you come with me. It was rather unheard of for a woman to ride out into battle, but Deb doesn't blink an eyelash. She just agress to go, but she tells Barak that now, the glory of defeating Sisera will go to a woman.

So, Barak, Deborah and 10,000 men go up to Mount Tabor. Sisera gets wind of the rebel uprising and rides out to squash it with all his big, bad chariots. The Lord gives the signal to Deborah who tells Barak, and Israel charges down to confront them.

Verse 15 says, "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."

Sisera runs to the tent of a woman named Jael who welcomes him in. She pulls out all the hospitality stops - covering him with a warm blanket, giving him warm milk to drink and assuring him that he could rest in her tent without worry of discovery.

Of course, once he was good and asleep, Jael took a tent peg (wooden I might add) and drove it through his temple with a hammer, killing him. Sisera never woke up from his little nap.

So, a woman did defeat Sisera - in a rather gruesome way.

So, what do we learn from this story? (well, besides you might not want to take up a stranger's offer of hospitality without checking where their tent pegs and hammers are hidden anyway!)

I think as women in the 21st century, we don't fully get the impact of Deborah's role and how truly unusual and unique it was.

Women in that day and age were under the authority of the men in their lives - whether fathers, brothers, husbands and or even grown sons. Their destiny was NOT in their own hands. In fact, they really didn't get to make any of the crucial decisions that determined the course of their own lives.

As a judge, Deborah's job included administrative tasks, making judgments and leading in military matters - these definitely did not normally come under the realm of a woman.

We don't know Deborah's age, if she had children, or if she did, how old they were. We don't know how God brought her into this position to begin with.

But we do know it wasn't something, culturally, that she, as a woman, was supposed to do.

I wonder if at first the people were mocking or disrespectful. I wonder if other women criticized her to each other for being too bold or not staying to her prescribed role. I wonder if the men razzed her husband for not being man enough to control his woman or wondered out loud who wore the pants (or robes) in that family.

I wonder what it was like to be called by God to do something that other people didn't think she should be doing.

From the verse that tells us that she sat under a palm and people came to her to judge things, we know the people did accept her, but I do wonder how long it took for that acceptance to happen.

From Deborah I think the thing that I learned was that I need to listen to who God says I am and what He wants me to be - not other people. Even well-meaning believers.

What do the people around you tell you that you shouldn't be doing? It's really easy to listen to all the voices around us rather than to hear the small, quiet voice of God that may be calling us to the unusual or unexpected - calling us to do the thing everyone around us says we shouldn't for whatever reason.

I read this sentence in a commentary as I was studying (can't remember which one at the moment)and it stuck with me: "Deborah didn't allow cultural norms to hinder her leadership, and thereby she enabled others to bring victory to God's people."

The Bible tells us we need to please and obey God rather than men. What expectations from those around you are you allowing to keep you from God's calling on your life? Don't let other shoulds become your shalls.

~ Blessings, Bronte

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