Today we have a good old-fashioned murder mystery. Some of you are probably familiar with the game Clue. For those who aren’t, here’s how it goes. At a manor out in the country, there has been a murder. You know who has been killed but it is your job to find out who was killed, by what weapon, and in what room in the manor. You have to use your deductive reasoning skills to figure it out. In order to win the game you must state who killed whom, how, and where. Today’s adventure has four characters; Deborah, Barak, Sisera, and Jael (spelled Jael). Two of our suspects are male and two are female. Our adventure is found in the book of Judges, chapter 4 and 5.
Before we get to that, let’s set-up the background to the story. Our adventure is set in the time of the judges, hence the reason it’s found in the book of Judges. The time of the judges, follows after Joshua. Two weeks ago we looked at Moses and how he led the Hebrews out of the land of Egypt, crossed the Red Sea, stopped at Mt. Sinai for God’s laws. Moses was the leader of a difficult people. I’m sure Moses felt like he should have resigned many times. Because of the Hebrews disobedience, they were forced to wander in the wilderness of the Sinai peninsula for forty years. At the end of the forty years, they were ready to cross into the promised land of Canaan. Because of Moses disobedience, God told him he would not enter the Promised Land. That job was for Joshua. Joshua led the Hebrews into Canaan and subdued the people in the land. The people promised to follow Joshua like they followed Moses. I would have been afraid, because of the difficult people called the Hebrews. But instead of acting like they did with Moses, they did as Joshua and the Lord said and they experienced great success in conquering Canaan. Joshua passes away at the ripe old age of 110 years. Then the trouble begins. Judges 2:10 records, “After that generation died (the Joshua generation) another generation grew up who did not acknowledge the Lord or remember they mighty things he had done for Israel. The Israelites did evil in the Lord’s sight…They abandoned the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of Egypt.” They turned to idols and worship them instead of worshiping God. In Judges 17:6 it’s recorded this way, “In those days Israel had no king: all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eye.” We often like to think that our generation is the most evil generation known to humankind. I really don’t think so – men and women have doing evil in the eyes of God for thousands of years. All we have to do is look at Noah, Moses, and the generation that followed Joshua. There were seven judges during this time. When Israel had a judge they followed God and without a judge, they didn’t. Here’s how it goes; Israel forgets the Lord; Israel gets conquered and oppressed by neighboring nations; Israel cries out to God; God appoints a judge to straighten things out; they live in peace from forty to fifty years and then go back to forgetting the Lord and the cycle starts all over again. This happened fourteen times in the time of the judges. The four most famous judges are Gideon, Samson, Samuel, and Deborah. Today we want to look at the only female judge or for that matter, the only female leader in Israel’s long history and that is Deborah.
Deborah comes to power after Shamgar. Shamgar followed Ehud, who was a good judge. After Ehud’s death the Israelites again did evil in the sight of the Lord. Because of this God turned them over to Jabin, a Canaanite king. We are introduced to the second player in our drama. Jabin had a general named Sisera. Sisera was responsible for oppressing the disobedient Israelites. We are told he had 900 iron chariots. After the Israelites got tired of all that, they cried out to the Lord. The Lord responds by appointing Deborah.
We need to understand that this is highly unusual. Why? For one, Israel, like many ancient cultures was paternally governed. The food chain went like this servants, children, single women, married women, young men, first born men, married men. In this culture women where a little bit better than servants but not by much. We’ve already looked during this series where God calls us to go against the grain of culture. In this culture first born boys were the most important. However, think of the number of men who were not first born, who rose to power. To help you out, they are Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David, and Solomon. None of these great Hebrew leaders were firstborn, which is amazing considering the mindset of the culture. As I already mentioned women were not considered to be much more than property or servants and yet the Bible points out many important women; Miriam (Moses’ sister), Rahab, Deborah, Ruth, Bathsheba, Tamar and Mary (mother of Jesus). God uses whom He chooses, (man, woman, boy or girl) not whom we choose. Tamar, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary are all listed in the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew’s gospel. Something that is highly unusual in this worldview.
So we have a woman judge whose name is Deborah. Not only is she a judge but we also learn that she is a prophet. This makes her rarer still. There are only two woman prophets in the Old Testament; Deborah and Miriam.
With all of what we just looked at in mind, we come to our story. God has appointed Deborah, to take care of Sisera. She calls for Barak. Deborah tells him to 10,000 warriors and take them to Mount Tabor. The Lord will call out Sisera and his army and his chariots to the plains of the Kishon River and the Lord will give you victory over Sisera.
Barak isn’t too sure about all of this. Here’s the irony; Barak’s name means thunderbolt – which suggests that he is summoned to be the Lord’s flashing sword. I don’t know of many people who don’t have a healthy respect for lightning. Instead of taking up the challenge, Barak says to Deborah, “I’ll go, but only if you go with me.” This did not please the prophet, so she says, “I’ll go with you, but you will not get the glory, and to top it all off the glory for the Lord’s victory will be at the hands of a woman.” Ouch! The so called warriors of Israel were incapable of a united action until a woman summons them to God’s battle. Barak’s timidity was typical throughout the land and was due to a lack of trust in the Lord. Deborah rebukes Barak severely for this and he will not get the glory for winning the Lord’s battle. That will go to a woman.
So the stage is set. Deborah and Barak will go against Sisera. Barak’s men are poised on Mt. Tabor, safe from an attack from the iron chariots of Sisera. There is one more detail we need to set up this battle. A man named Heber, a Kenite, sets up his tent near Kedesh.
Sisera finds out that Barak and his men are ready for battle to he takes his army of 900 iron chariots down the plains of the Kishon River and toward Mt. Tabor. Deborah tells Barak, “Get ready, the Lord is about to give you victory, because the Lord is marching ahead of you.” Barak and his 10,000 warriors rush down the hillside toward Sisera and his army. It just so happened that the Lord sent a rainstorm at this time and Sisera’s iron chariots get bogged down in the mud. This throws Sisera and his army into a panic and they abandon their iron chariots. It puts them into the hands of the Israelites. They chase the warriors all the way back to home base, killing everyone of them, except Sisera the General. What happened to Sisera. Remember Heber the Kenite. Even though he was a descendent of Moses, he was on friendly terms with King Jabin. Sisera flees to the tent of Jael, Heber’s wife and since ancient Near Eastern custom prohibited any man other than a woman’s husband or father from entering her tent, Jael seemed to offer Sisera an ideal hiding place.
Sisera takes up Jael’s offer to come into the tent. She even covers him up with a blanket. After some time, Sisera asks for a drink of water. Instead of giving him water, Jael offers him a drink of milk from a leather bag. Being that this was the Middle East and there was no refrigeration or pasteurization, it was probably warm and was more like a liquid yogurt. When people are having trouble sleeping, they like to fix themselves a cup of warm milk. Something helps us fall asleep. After drinking the milk, Sisera requests that Jael, keep watch and keep him safe. Sisera is soon fast asleep from the milk and from exhaustion and now the story turns interesting. She takes a hammer and a tent peg, proceeds to place the tent peg on his temple and drives it through his head with the hammer, killing Sisera. I would imagine it was a quick death.
Not long afterward, Barak comes looking for Sisera. Jael comes out to meet him and says, “Come, look what I have for you.” She takes Barak to the tent and show Sisera lying dead with his head nailed to the ground. So the answer to our murder mystery is Jael killed Sisera with a spike in her tent. Judges 4:23 records, “So on that day Israel saw God defeat Jabin, the Canaanite king. And from that time on Israel became stronger and stronger against King Jabin until they finally destroyed him.” After this there was peace in the land for forty years.
I remember the shock on the faces of the ladies at our last church, as Pam and I taught this Bible story. They had never heard such a thing. Maybe this is your first time hearing this incredible story of how God saved his people through a woman.
What can we learn from all of this? If God calls us to do something, we better do it. We do see many times in the scripture where God grants grace and mercy to those who question his call as in Moses and Gideon, but in this case Barak is told to go to war, he questions God and does not end up with the glory. It doesn’t matter who you are. What is God calling you to? Like I said earlier, the scriptures challenge us to go against the culture. When it comes to the call of God on a person’s life, I like to go to Galatians 3:26-29, “For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you.” Is God is calling you into full-time Christian service? Are you following his call? Or are you running from his call? Barak was called to war and yet did not want to go on his own. His disobedience resulted in the glory going to someone else. Perhaps God has called you to a ministry that only you can do and God wants to see you get the glory for it. If you don’t someone else will get the glory.
Another thing we can learn is that we need to start right where we are. Jael won the victory simply by being there and making the most of an opportunity. I remember that’s how it was with my call. Instead of going to school immediately, I began exploring what God wanted me to do. If God had laid his full plan in front of me, I’m sure I would have went running like Jonah. But he didn’t he prepared me, then revealed more, prepared me and revealed more. Make the most of every opportunity to serve the Kingdom. You’ll never know when you’ll end up being the hero of the battle.
Let me ask again, “What is God calling you to do?” What is he calling you to join? There’s a place for all of us to work in his Kingdom and no one is excluded. It’s everyone on the playing field.