Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Hand of a Woman - A Commentary on Judges 4


 By: Kelsey Hoppman  
 Written April-May of  2011                                                                                                                                            -

The Hand of a Woman

Judges 4 is a well-referenced chapter. Many people love the story of Deborah remembering how she and Barak were led by God to defeat Sisera. I think there are some important points that we can take away from this chapter.

“And the children of Israel again did evil in the sight of the LORD, when Ehud was dead.

2 And the LORD sold them into the hand of Jabin king of Canaan, that reigned in Hazor; the captain of whose host was Sisera, which dwelt in Harosheth of the Gentiles.

3 And the children of Israel cried unto the LORD: for he had nine hundred chariots of iron; and twenty years he mightily oppressed the children of Israel.

4 And Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, she judged Israel at that time. And she dwelt under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in mount Ephraim: and the children of Israel came up to her for judgment.” (Judges 4:1-5)

This was not a joyous time for Israel. They disobeyed God and were experiencing His displeasure for their actions. The children of Israel were in bondage by the hand of Jabin, and they felt that oppression. This was not necessarily new for them though. If you read through your Bible in the Old Testament, you will see that, more then once, Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord and suffered the consequences. (I often think it reflects so well how we must look to God sometimes.) But there is something unique here. The person judging at that time was a woman, Deborah. What makes this unique? This is the only passage of scripture in the 1189 chapters in the Bible, that specifically mentions a women being a judge. Deborah also was called by God as a prophetess. So for what reason is she mentioned here? Let’s take a look at that for a moment. As I already mentioned and you can see in this passage of scripture, Israel was not following God. Can you think of another passage of scripture that mentions women being in leadership in a time of rebellion?

Isaiah 3:12:

“As for my people, children are their oppressors, and women rule over them. O my people, they which lead thee causes thee to err, and destroy the way of thy paths.”

Clearly, the fact that a woman was ruling, (In Isaiah 3) was a sign that the people had strayed from God. The different roles God ordained the men and women to play were all mixed up. Shame was on the region that had a woman in leadership! Let us go on.

“And she sent and called Barak the son of Abinoam out of Kedeshnaphtali, and said unto him, Hath not the LORD God of Israel commanded, saying, Go and draw toward mount Tabor, and take with thee ten thousand men of the children of Naphtali and of the children of Zebulun?

7 And I will draw unto thee to the river Kishon Sisera, the captain of Jabin's army, with his chariots and his multitude; and I will deliver him into thine hand.

8 And Barak said unto her, If thou wilt go with me, then I will go: but if thou wilt not go with me, then I will not go. (Judges 4:6-8)

 Two things seem pretty clear to me here:

1. Deborah was in a position of power as a judge and prophetess, but she was where God wanted her to be.

2. Barak was a coward.

I sometimes wonder if Barak’s attitude was that of most of the other men in his community at that time. God commanded Barak to fight, and looking at this passage, it seems Barak was scared. He wanted God’s prophetess to come with him. Deborah was following God, and at Barak’s pathetic request, went with him. Though, looking for a moment from Barak‘s perspective, he was just told by Deborah to go against a large army, their oppressors, not to mention one that came with “900 chariots of iron”. Of course, that is no excuse, and as Jonah learned, when God tells you to do something, you better get on to doing it! Barak did half. He said “I will go: but if thou wilt not go with me, then I will not go.” So Deborah did, and if you have read this before, you know what's coming.

So, the battle began. It’s not completely clear in chapter 4, but if you use both chapters 4 and 5 as a reference, it looks as if a strong, torrential rain plagued Sisera’s army.

“The earth trembled, and the heavens dropped, the clouds also dropped water. The mountains melted from before the LORD, even that Sinai from before the LORD God of Israel…The river of Kishon swept them away, that ancient river...”

 One of the strong points of Sisera’s army were the chariots. He could charge with the 900, and simply trample anyone or anything who dared to crawl in its path. But there was one problem with this grand scheme. Two, actually.

One, God wasn’t on Sisera’s side, he was on Barak’s. Two, this rain would really cause some problems for the chariots. How could they expect the scared horses to pull the chariots, while navigating through severe mud, and blinding rain?

Long story short, they were slaughtered. Every bit of Sisera’s army wiped out- (“And all the host of Sisera fell upon the edge of the sword; and there was not a man left.”)-except for one person-Sisera himself, who fled from the battle. (Sisera lighted down off his chariot, and fled away on his feet.”)

“Some may trust in horses, and some may trust in chariots, but we will trust in the name of our God!”

Yeah, I suppose Sisera was a bit of a coward himself although he didn’t have God on his side, so really, what can you expect?

Now back to Deborah. Where did we last leave her? "And Barak called Zebulun and Naphtali to Kedesh; and he went up with ten thousand men at his feet: and Deborah went up with him." So Deborah, complying with Barak’s request, went up with him, but not without consequence. “And she said, I will surely go with thee: notwithstanding the journey that thou takest shall not be for thine honor; for the LORD shall sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.”

Wow, tough break for Barak. He still has to fight, but now he won’t receive any glory for the awaited victory. So we then have Deborah and Barak, side by side, as they fight the army of Sisera, right? Wrong.

 "And Deborah said unto Barak, Up; for this is the day in which the LORD hath delivered Sisera into thine hand: is not the LORD gone out before thee? So Barak went down from mount Tabor, and ten thousand men after him." (Judges 4:14 emphasis added)

Did you catch what just happened here? If not, pay attention because this is important. Deborah sent Barak to lead the charge and fight against their enemy, Sisera. From what I grab out of this verse, Deborah did not do any fighting. She stepped back and after giving Barak a reminder of Who goes before him, she sent him to fight in the battle the Lord would give over to him. Do you see it differently? We hear of Deborah who went on to fight with Barak but in actuality, Deborah went with him to meet Sisera‘s army, but did not lead the charge, or fight. What did Deborah do? She gave Barak the bolster of courage that he needed, (Which ultimately came from the Lord) and strengthened him for the fight: “Up; for this is the day in which the Lord hath delivered Sisera into thine hand:”

Let’s get back to Sisera where we left him, fleeing the battle.

“Howbeit Sisera fled away on his feet 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.”

In those days, women often stayed in a separate tent from their husband. (Since the men would often take multiple wives for themselves, it would provide each of their wives’ with their own “private quarters”, so to speak) It is likely that Sisera decided Jael was a safer bet to help him, then her husband, Heber. He knew that he should be safe, since there was peace between his king, Jabin, and Heber, but he was still taking a chance.

 “And Jael went out to meet Sisera, and said unto him, Turn in, my lord, turn in to me; fear not. And when he had turned in unto her into the tent, she covered him with a mantle.

19 And he said unto her, Give me, I pray thee, a little water to drink; for I am thirsty. And she opened a bottle of milk, and gave him drink, and covered him.

20 Again he said unto her, Stand in the door of the tent, and it shall be, when any man doth come and inquire of thee, and say, Is there any man here? that thou shalt say, No.”

 Something interesting that was pointed out to me here was the fact that Sisera was asking Jael to put her life on the line for his sake, making this “great leader” of Israel’s enemies look more cowardly than before!

Jael did a bit of acting here. Sisera asked for water, and Jael went above and beyond that, giving him milk instead, a show of respect. She also hid him, and, comforted that he was in safe hands, Sisera fell asleep. How could have Sisera known, while Jael treated him like royalty, that she had plans to kill him?

 “Then Jael Heber's wife took a nail of the tent, and took an hammer in her hand, and went softly unto him, and smote the nail into his temples, and fastened it into the ground: for he was fast asleep and weary. So he died.”

Okay…Good bye Sisera. Do you see what just happened here? Deborah’s prophesy to Barak, “the LORD shall sell Sisera into the hand of a woman” came true. However, that “woman” was not Deborah, as we may assume, but Jael.

An interesting side note here, Deborah was the one by the battle field, but Jael, at home in her tent, was the one who God used to kill Israel’s enemy.

(It was very common for women in Bible-times, to know how to build tents, and that would include using a tent peg and a hammer.)

Jael was no soft stomached lady. She knew what needed to be done, and did it.

 “And, behold, as Barak pursued Sisera, Jael came out to meet him, and said unto him, Come, and I will shew thee the man whom thou seekest. And when he came into her tent, behold, Sisera lay dead, and the nail was in his temples.

So God subdued on that day Jabin the king of Canaan before the children of Israel.

And the hand of the children of Israel prospered, and prevailed against Jabin the king of Canaan, until they had destroyed Jabin king of Canaan.”

Now, there was something very specific I was trying to point out in this chapter, as I’m sure you noticed. As I mentioned at the beginning of this paper, Judges 4 is a much-referenced chapter. I think people often use Deborah as justification for women to be in the work-world or in politics. I believe though, that this chapter proves quite the opposite. Here we have Deborah, a judge in Israel, in a completely non-normative situation, but within the will of God. We also have Jael, in her tent, going about her day like any Israelite women in her time, and on account of Baraks’ fearful attitude, she was forced to take action against her enemy. Something that should have been done by Barak. It is clear that, in this passage of scripture, God was disgracing Israel for the fact that the men were too cowardice to lead.

So for what reason do I have a problem with a conservative, even, Christian, woman in a leadership role?* It’s not necessarily the lady in leadership that I have trouble with, it’s all the hundreds of men out there who aren’t rising up to the challenge. Leadership takes courage, and courage, true courage, takes a willing heart, ready to serve God. The world is raising up a generation of complacent, fun-seeking hypocrites. If someone were to record the state of America, I think it would say, just as the Bible said about Israel so many times, “And the people did evil in the sight of God.” A huge “Thank-you” goes to all the guys out there, young and old, training to lead, and training to fight for God’s word and all that is good and true. I pray for all the men who are being raised up in this generation, and who have a challenge to lead. May they hear the voice of the Lord as Gideon did. “The Lord is with thee, mighty man of valor!”

I also pray for all the women out there; that they would be ready to hear God’s voice, ready to be an Esther against the Haman’s of this life, if God calls them to it, and be ready to stand behind the guys and encourage them in manhood, rather then seeking to take their place. May we be reminded of this challenge, as we think of Jael and Deborah, with their willingness to follow God and the courage they had, to stand alone.

***Specifically referring to politics. A “leadership role” in the work-world would be in reference to women who are in leadership positions over men, and who are out of God’s will by working away from the home.***

 I know this is a controversial topic to cover. Please don’t be afraid to let me know your thoughts as well.

 A Few of my Sources:


Lilac Bud Gal said...

Thank you for this post. It was definitely an interesting read. I have read the story about Deborah a couple of times, but some of the things you mentioned had never popped out to me before, so it was very refreshing to read this post. :)

You know, it's kind of funny about that last part. My brothers are younger than I am, so I have always been 'the leader', in a sense. I was the big sister who had to take care of them and what not (of course, if you could see one of them, I am more of a 'little' sister now!). I had an extremely hard time moving out of their path and letting them lead as they got older. I wanted to be in control and state the rules. Instead, I had to step aside and let my younger brother assume that position. However, I can't say how glad I am that I did! It is so much fun to see him developing into a hard working young MAN, not whimp...
So, I want to encourage other young ladies out there with younger brothers... it might be hard to step aside and let them be who they are, but it is worth it in the end, and SO much better for them, preparing them to leaders in their own homes some day. :)

Thanks again, Kelsey!! I really enjoyed reading this and hope you do more of it in the future. :)

In Christ's Service,

Maellen said...

You are amazing! Thank you for the insight, discernment and wisdom you have put into this paper. You've given us a lot to think and pray about! God absolutely uses women, but you are right, He also absolutely has a specific role for us. We are not to usurp the power given to men.

Debbie B said...

Great chapter to look at, especially with the up coming election! Thanks for taking the time to look at these verses! We are to approach scripture with humility and much prayer that our understanding is led by the Holy Spirit and not our flesh.

At this time of the judges, 350 years, Israel was a Theocracy. There was no king in Israel until Saul. Joshua had passed and Israel was commanded to drive out the inhabitants of Canaan. Israel disobeyed and were then oppressed by their enemies. God had compassion on them and raised up judges who delivered them, somewhat of a Christ type picture. 2:16-19. The Lord was with the judge, He pitied Israel. There were good judges and not so good judges. Deborah was actually a good judge by all accounts! The focus though is God's mercy, that even while Israel continued her cycle of sin, crying out, repentance, deliverance etc... God delivered her! He is always faithful!
To say that Deborah was raised up to shame the men, is not clear in scripture. Perhaps implied by giving the glory to a woman but, this probably more for Barak's own personal rebuke. (Remember in Hebrews, though, it is Barak that is listed for his faith, Deborah isn't mentioned!) God raised her up, ultimately to show His power, His mercy and His election. He raised up Esther in a time of captivity in a different context, yet again to show His mercy to Israel. While Esther is a wonderful example of being willing to lay down her life to go before the king, her actions, when power was given to her to do as she saw fit, was very bloody and vengeful.
Jael received the glory for killing Sisera as prophesied according to God's choosing.
Deborah was chosen by God to deliver Israel, to be a judge and prophetess. Barak was chosen to fight the battle, Jael was chosen to drive the tent peg in for the final blow. All were moving according to God's purpose, with different roles to play.
During the time of the kings, (good kings and bad kings), Israel also continued the cycle of sin, captivity, repentance, deliverance. Yet God continued to remain faithful. He always keeps a remnant of those who will not "bow the knee to Baal".
During the time of the judges we have one of the most beautiful stories in the Bible, Ruth. Ruth is someone to look at for modeling Godly character and wait, she was a Moabitess!
When God calls we are to respond whatever that call is. If a woman is called to be a Deborah, she must obey God, rather than pursuing her own ideas of "her place" or cowing to the naysayers. If she is called to be a Jael, she must obey. An Esther, Ruth, etc...
As the potential of a woman candidate and maybe even conservative woman candidate looms before us, we must look at what scripture tells us as to what we are to look for in a candidate. Christ had very little to say about the governing officials aside to submit to them and pay taxes! We have the privilege to vote in this country so we, as believers, have a responsibility to vote for someone who will do a good job! We enjoy the freedoms of worship and should vote for someone who will not encroach on our freedoms, so that we may live peaceful lives.

In closing, Deborah did not seek to usurp a man for the leading of Israel God raised her up. She was an encouragement to Barak to do the work God had for him as any good leader should do. To lead is to serve. Esther was, not by her choosing either, put in the palace (to a non-believer, no less) for the purpose of God. Neither position is better than the other, both were God's appointing. Conservative Christians are intimidated by a strong woman and Evangelical feminists are intimidated by a meek, unassuming woman. We must be careful to look to God alone and not read too much into scripture to support either bias. - (continued...) -Debbie B

Debbie B said...

(...continued from previous)

One other thought, I need to look more at the context of the Isaiah passage. I believe Israel was in captivity at this time and am not sure the conclusion that Deborah leading Israel was to her shame. In that culture it was shameful for a woman to lead, much like the muslim culture. The Judge was the deliverer and God's mercy. Barak was shamed on a personal level.

Thanks for posting this and the opportunity respond.

- Debbie B