Intro: The power of a Song
For those who were not here last week, Judges 5 is a commentary on Judges 4, providing us some clarity on what happens and why. So, let me give you the 60 second summary of what happened so that this makes sense. After the death the Ehud, the left handed Judge, Israel sins again. God sells them into the hands of Canaanite king named Jabin. His general, named Sisera, leads an army of 900 chariots and thousands of men, to rape, pillage, and oppress Israel cruelly for 20 years. Israel cries and God responds. Deborah, the first and only woman Judge, rises up to deliver Israel. She calls up a man named Barak, tells him to gather an army to fight Sisera, to which a fearful Barak responds with—I will only if come with me. Deborah agrees telling him that glory will go to a woman instead of him in the victory. They battle and, as promised, God destroys Sisera’s army who escapes on foot north. He tries to hide with the wife of an ally who eventually ends up murdering him as he sleeps and crushes his head with a tent peg.
Now, Deborah the prophetess and Barak a Levitical priest sing a duet. The Hebrew actually indicates that Deborah is the one who writes and sings the song so Barak probably plays an instrument to accompany her as some Levites were musicians. With Deborah on vocals and Barak on guitar, their two-person band tours Israel and sings this song. We all know the power of songs. And as this song is sung from the mouth of the prophet, it is even more powerful and meaningful. This is one of God’s songs. Music and song are contagious and important aspects of culture. Some of the songs of our culture quite meaningful, others are quite foolish, but usually the best ones are so memorable that we end up believing them, repeating them, or even subconsciously allowing them to affect our convictions. That is because songs are sermons—they communicate and influence worldviews.
While many consider songs as mere entertainment, historically songs were used as a tool to seal, protect, and guard culture. Martin Luther once said that he did not care so much who wrote theologies as long as he could write hymns. Songs have an agenda—they intend to reform how you feel, how you think, or even how you act. That is the nature and power of art. In other words, this song is not intended to simply inform you about what happened—it is written to proclaim truth about God that demands a response.
Satan understands the power of music too – which is why he is able to manipulate the minds of generations with what comes through performing arts and music. In fact, Scriptures tell us he was beautiful and possibly responsible for worship in Heaven:
Thou hast been in Eden the garden of God; every precious stone was thy covering, the sardius, topaz, and the diamond, the beryl, the onyx, and the jasper, the sapphire, the emerald, and the carbuncle, and gold: the workmanship of thy tabrets and of thy pipes was prepared in thee in the day that thou wast created.
(2-11) STANZA 1: Big God and Scary people
This song is broken into three different stanzas beginning in verse 2, 12, and 24ish… I’ll title the first stanza “Big God and scary people”. The song begins by recalling what it was like when God originally led his people out of Egypt to the bottom of Mt. Sinai (Exodus 20.16ff).
At the mountain, God met his people, and he did so through a powerful storm with lighting, rain, and earthquakes. This is important because the God of the Canaanites is Baal, the storm God.
Yahweh is praised as a God who marches, a God who shakes the earth, a God who dwells with his people with rain, clouds, and lighting.
Yet, his people have gone after the new “storm” gods of the Canaanites. Let us never forget that their own sin, their FAITHLESSENESS is what has brought about their oppression. And it is an oppression that has resulted in a world that is dark and dangerous. Highways are no longer safe and any sense of fruitful life has all but ceased. There are no warriors to fight or weapons to fight with. As we talked about two weeks ago, the oppression is led by a cruel man named Sisera. Jewish history speaks of Sisera as if he is a legendary villain—Darth Vader meets Hannibal Lector crossed with Conan the Barbarian. He was said to have conquered every country which he fought against. Some wrote that, when he bathed in the Kishon river, he would catch enough fish in his beard to feed his entire army. Most importantly, Sisera was said to have such a powerful VOICE that when he yelled the most solid wall would crumble and the wildest animal would fall dead. So, suddenly Barak is cowering in fear when asked to go fight this guy – it starts to make a little more sense.
The Rise of Deborah
But everything changed with the rise of a woman, Deborah, the MOM for Israel. Why here? No men. No husbands. No fathers stand to challenge. We see that because of the failure of men, Deborah has to play the role of FATHER & MOTHER for a nation.
Jewish legend says she was one strong woman: that Deborah was the only one who could withstand Sisera’s powerful voice; the only one whom it did not cause to stir from her place. You don’t mess with Mom. And, like a mother hen, or a mother bear, when her cubs are threatened, mama bear is not intimidated by anything. The image of a mother generates all kinds of meaningful connotations. But the one that is probably most important is that of life-giver—moms give birth. Israel is not simply being inspired to act differently, they are being called to take on an entirely new life. This new life is going to come through responding her voice, which are Gods’ words. Life comes from God’s Words. God.
Barak and the Army
OFTEN we see that strength OR weakness of many a man’s FAITH often comes through the voice of a woman—it’s either helped or hurt. We see that with our first parents. A woman possesses a power to lead a man toward God or away from Him.
Genesis 2:18 “Then the LORD God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him."
Proverbs 31:10-11: “An excellent wife, who can find? For her worth is far above jewels. The heart of her husband trusts in her, And he will have no lack of gain. She does him good and not evil All the days of her life.”
Titus 2:3-4: “Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored.”
As I read this last verse to you – who is the woman working for? Man or God? God of course. God is her CEO and her labor is in her service to her husband, her children and like Deborah – her nation. But Deborah also understood her role as a wife and mother. This isn’t a “little woman” role – this is a position of great honor.
John 13:12-14 “When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet.
Mark 10:44-45 “And whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve.”
Serving is not a belittling role – oh no – it is a mission assignment from God. The servant suddenly becomes the most powerful role in the Universe.
How do we know this because Scripture tells us:
Matthew 23:11: “The greatest among you shall be your servant.”
Mark 9:35: “And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”
We are so busy jockeying for position that we fail to see that humility is a key virtue God seeks. We are worried that our work is too simple, like we will never be seen in God’s busy Universe and so our wiping a dirty face, holding a hand, giving a hug, cleaning a bedroom – that these are not important and thus I am not important. We say “how does doing dishes save lives?” Well let me tell you and this applies to men and women both:
1 Peter 3:1: “In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, as they observe your work (or conduct) and respectful behavior.”
Men – women have a love language and it is usually heard through your service offered in love. So, 1 Peter 3 works both ways. Washing dishes without being asked and without a motive has eternal reward. Trust me. But you can’t just do it once and say “I tried that and nothing…she just won’t change.” That is crazy talk. Women can totally sniff out motives that are insincere. If you are trying to get something so you thin being nice for a day is going to get you what you want, you are mistaken. You may actually get the opposite reaction cause they are upset you don’t just do the work out of love. They want authenticity and so does God.
Okay – back to Deborah and Barak.
The voice of Deborah not only strengthens a cowardly Barak, it serves to inspire much of Israel to fight. Neither Barak or the army is a collection of warriors. Barak is from a Levitical city, meaning, he’s a Levitical priest. And from this song we learn that he is a priest with a guitar. The change occurred with the call of God. Through Deborah, God calls Barak into service. And this musician-priest is a bit apprehensive about going up against Sisera the great. But as much as we want to say he was faithless—the book of Hebrews commends him for his faith. What does that mean? It means that, though he may have not demonstrated the level of faith we think he should have, he exercised enough faith for God to commend him. This musician-priest, in response to the Word of God, becomes a general of the army with a strong woman by his side encouraging him with the Word of God.
Not only does Deborah’s voice inspire Barak, she inspires the common people to join the daunting but exciting mission of God. His army is not a battle-hardened group of warriors—it is peasant army. But God was with them every step of the way:
Zephaniah 3:17: “The LORD your God is in your midst, A victorious warrior He will exult over you with joy, He will be quiet in His love, He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy.”
(12-22) STANZA 2: Warriors and Wimps
But not everyone responds. The second stanza begins to identify who responds to the call to mission—will call it “the warriors and the wimps.” Imagine as this song was sung over the years. The same song about God’s victory would forever bring to mind in some a sense of pride and in others a sense of shame. The army is an assortment of nobleman, leaders, commoners, even artists. It brings to mind the image of William Wallace, calling men to a big mission. And the song is very specific, detailing the contributions, or lack thereof, of each tribe.
1. Ephraim – contributes loyal warriors once disloyal
2. Benjamin – “small” contribution
3. Manessah (Machir) – contributes commanders
4. Zebulun/Naphtali – contributes administrative staff
5. Issachar – take the front lines with Deborah
Then Deborah SINGS about those who did not come, those who did not participate in the mission, those who did not follow God or sacrifice on the battlefield for one reason or another. It was not for lack of opportunity OR understanding of what the mission was, it was for lack of faith.
In summary, you have three kinds of people who refuse to follow God on mission: 1) the indecisive 2) the preoccupied 3) the risk-averse.
The Ruebenites talked and talked and talked about whether they should go on mission, but that is all they did. Even if they thought about coming to Mt. Tabor, they decided it just wasn’t good timing—it never is.
Then are the tribes of Gilead including Gad, Dan, and Asher. The bottom line for them was, they were simply too busy with the day to day things of life to be bother with God’s mission.
Finally, there was Meroz who is condemned as worst. Meroz refused to come to the aid of the army. No one knows where exactly Meroz was, but it is assumed they were closer than anyone else during the battle—they watched and played it safe. In trying to preserve their life and “not risk or get involved”, God took life from them.
What we see is that God is the one who fights, but God’s invites and expects his people to actively participate in his mission.
Jesus + nothing = everything, but it does not equal DO NOTHING.
We are not saved FROM or by our works, but we are saved FOR good works that God does through us and for us.
So, we are not called to sit and ponder about whether or not we should be on mission—that is unfaithful. We do not sit and fill our lives with so much busyness that we cannot follow God when he clearly says go—that is unfaithful. We do not sit and wait while people need help, while the innocent, or our brothers and sisters suffer—that is unfaithful. Those who are God’s people, respond to God’s call, and orient their lives completely differently. And even if we don’t play THE role, everyone plays a role—contributing whatever they you have to fight together.
What is Deborah the MOTHER teaching her children? God’s kid’s not only need to get along and love one another like family, they are sent and empowered by God to fight God’s enemies, to bring healing, to set captives free, to proclaim the glories of God in a dark world. But all too often we will ONLY act if we will personally benefit from it.
Barak proceeds knowing that he will not personally benefit—a woman will get the glory he may have. But knowing that, Barak proceeds to do exactly what God said to do and, in the process, helps to set the stage for Israel’s deliverance. Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned in Barak’s faithfulness. Perhaps this is why he is commended in Hebrews. In essence, we see Barak accepting that he is a role player–something he is not used to. Ultimately, he will not be recognized, he will not be commended, and he will not be glorified for the work that he does. Instead, his faithfulness results in someone else being recognized, someone else being commended, and someone else being blessed and someone else being glorified. This is the VERY ATTITUDE of CHRIST.
I love verse 20 – the stars came and fought. What does that mean?
When Theodore Roosevelt was the president of the United States, he had a confidant with whom he shared the pressures, problems and perplexities of the day. After such discussions, they would often take a walk at night. Each night as they walked, they cast their eyes on the stars above in a race to find the galaxy Andromeda. The one who found it first would utter the words, “That speck of light is the galaxy Andromeda. It is bigger than our Milky Way. It contains more than 100 billion suns, each bigger than our own sun. It is only one galaxy of more than a hundred million such galaxies.” After that statement was uttered, they would look at each other and say in unison, “Now, since we have gained a better and broader perspective of life, let us retire to bed for the evening.”
Many people think it takes great faith to win big battles, but the opposite is true. It is not great faith in God, but faith in a great God that makes the difference. If the object of your faith is yourself, your family, or vocation, then the size of your faith will be no bigger than the object of your faith. If we would simply put our faith in God, God will move the stars so we can win the battle for our good and for God’s glory.
So how big is God? Can you fathom it? Then your faith in a Big God is what makes the difference.
The smallest amount of faith is still bigger than the biggest amount of difficulty. Jesus once taught His disciples about having faith the size of a mustard seed (Matthew 17 and 21) so they could remove mountains. A mustard seed is like a fleck of pepper! He was saying a small amount of faith is still bigger than the biggest amount of difficulty.
I do not know what you are facing today, but I do know if we will put our faith in a big God, that God will move the stars so we will win the battle.
Barak spent time with people who challenged his faith to grow. Can I challenge you to help your faith grow this week? Let’s make up our mind that we are going to be in God’s House with God’s people. Religion is hanging around the cross; Christianity is getting on the cross. It is time for God’s people to pick up the cross and become followers of Jesus Christ. The Word of God is the source of all faith. When we are together our faith can grow.
The course of Barak’s faith brought him into battle with Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army. Now Sisera had 900 iron chariots. That’s like having 900 tanks today. On the outside he looked invincible with his mighty army. I can almost hear Sisera’s thoughts questioning this unknown Barak, and what he thinks he can accomplish in battle. Someone should have passed a note to Sisera, with Psalm 20:7, “Some trust in chariots, and some trust in horses, but we will remember the name of the Lord our God.”
God is both our greatest hope and our greatest threat. If He doesn’t save us, we’re finished. It is time to get on God’s side and say, “God, help us to win the battleyou’re your glory.” Once God puts faith in our heart, we’ve got to get up and do something about it. God told Barak that he was about to get into the battle of his life. I’m not so concerned about the enemies around us as I am with the God above us. We can have the greatest of all weapons arsenals, but if God is against us the battle is already over.
Many Christians never show up for the battle. They spend their lives fighting with one another, or in the wrong battle. One cannot destroy an idea with a nuclear weapon, or shoot down an idea with a cruise missile. We are in the battle of ideas: Hinduism, Buddhism, and New Age-ism are ideas. The only way to conquer these ideas is to replace them with a better idea. The best idea is found wrapped up in the Lord Jesus Christ. So many of God’s people are fighting on their own battlefront, fighting among themselves, or fighting a physical battle when it is a spiritual battle. We are in a spiritual battle, and spiritual battles can only be won with spiritual weapons.
Barak’s went into battle against Sisera with only ten thousand troops. When they engaged in battle, the Bible says that the heavens dropped and the rains fell. (Judges 5:4-5) It wasn’t a thundershower—it was a downpour. By accident? Oh, no. When Barak stepped onto the battlefield by faith, God began to move in a supernatural way and the rains began to fall. Josephus, the historian of 2,000 years ago, wrote about this exact battle. He said it rained on the backside of the Israelites and it rained in the faces of the Canaanites. The Canaanites could not see the Israelites coming. And the Israelites jumped on the Canaanites like a spider after its next meal and eliminated every one of them.
All 900 iron chariots got stuck in the mud. The horses began to flounder and fall. The nation of Israel won a supernatural battle that day.
The Bible says that the stars fought against Sisera and his army. This could have been an angelic army (2 Kings 6) or elements in nature itself. Either way, the battle was over before it ever began. Barak had won and Sisera had already lost. When Barak put his foot of faith onto the battlefield, God ordered the stars to fight against Sisera and his men. I would rather be a worm on God’s side, than to be a captain of a great army trying to fight against God. Here is the whole point of this story. May we never forget it. The person who fights against God has the entire universe fighting against him. Did you get that? The person, the family, the organization or religious group that fights against God has the whole universe fighting against them. Sin never wins; faith never fails. It is futile to fight against God.
God was with Joshua at Jericho as he fought against three armies at the same time. When Joshua said, “Sun, stand still,” God shut down the whole universe. He stopped every stellar body, every galaxy, and every planet in its rotational track because one man on planet earth needed more time to win a battle for the glory of God. Sin never wins; faith never fails. It is futile to fight against God.
(24-31) STANZA 3- Super Woman and Psycho Mom
The final stanza of the song is called “super-woman and pyscho-mom”. The good mother Deborah joyfully sings about the aftermath following the battle. Sisera flees north to the tent of Jael who, for one reason or another, exposes herself to great risk and harm, and kills him. And the anxious thoughts of Sisera’s PSYCHO MOM (wicked mom) sober us to what Jael probably experienced. Psycho mom wonders aloud about why her rapist son has not returned with new clothes for her wardrobe.
Deborah’s statements have led some scholars to understand verse 27 as a graphic description of Jael who may have been raped previously by Sisera or that she was even raped by him after she gave him a place in her tent to hide –giving us a bit more insight between verses 20 and 21 of chapter 4. There seems to be great emphasis on “at her feet or between her feet”. This phrase “between her feet” has been used before in Scripture to often refer to a woman’s genital region (Ezekiel 16:25, Deut. 28:57) in a tasteful way to explain the situation without being too graphic (given that it is a song) lest we talk about evil and dwell on evil as Scriptures tell us not to do:
Ephesians 5:12: “for it is disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret.”
So, because Canaanites were known to take and rape Hebrew women, it is possible then that the one who had raped her is now being killed by her – justice being served because judgment has come, so it would seem. Revenge consumed Jacob’s sons, Simeon and Levi, when Shechem raped Dinah, daughter of Leah in Genesis 34 - revenge, which Jacob did not approve of. Deuteronomy 22:25-27 condemns those who rape saying the man shall be put to death for doing so. Thus, some would say, why then was Jacob angry at his sons for taking down Shechem for raping their sister – because vengeance is God’s and not for man because we will do it wrong. We will sin in our anger.
Romans 12:19: “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord.”
Leviticus 19:18: "'Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.”
Deuteronomy 32:35: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay. In due time their foot will slip; their day of disaster is near and their doom rushes upon them."
1 Samuel 26:10: “As surely as the LORD lives," he said, "the LORD himself will strike him, or his time will come and he will die, or he will go into battle and perish.”
Truth be told – I am not fully convinced that Judges 5:27 implies that rape had occurred with subsequent vengeance – but it would explain why Jael was quick to put a nail through his head and would you blame her? No – if my wife had been raped by a man in my tent while I was away, in the flesh I would probably put 2 or 3 more nails in him myself.
Jael doesn’t seem to be celebrated by God for taking this matter into her own hands, but God allowed Jael to put that nail into Sisera’s head, the abuser is killed and the once powerful voice of Sisera is silenced with a peg through his temple. Deborah celebrates this deed by calling Jael BLESSED OF ALL WOMEN. There is no indication that she acted in faith, but God still used her to save his people. And contrasted with the people of MEROZ—this is a convicting challenge for those who are called disciples of Christ. When the faithfulness of the pagans surpasses yours…there’s a problem.
Praise God he is bigger than our unfaithfulness.
That is not an excuse, rather, it should be an inspiration for us to fall forward knowing even our own sin cannot stop God’s mission.
In the end, this is the TALE OF TWO MOMS. A mom is not just someone who gives birth; we don’t know if Deborah had children, but she acts as a mom (and Dad) with a heart for God. In the Psalms, songs, how God cares for his people is often compared to how a mother bird gathers, cares, feeds, and protects her young. Deborah is a godly woman and mother; Mrs. Sisera is wicked and sinful. But they BOTH use their voices to powerfully shape their children—one toward giving God glory and one toward robbing God of his glory.
One uses her voice to push her children to find hope in the Word of God and to give their lives for His mission, the other pushes her children to find strength in their own words, and to preserve their life by abusing anyone who gets in your way. One is the path to life, the other the path to death.
Conclusion: Crushed or Called
Deborah writes: “So may all your enemies perish, O LORD! But your friends be like the sun as he rises in his might.”
The song of Deborah is a song about Jesus, sent by a loving Father to save us from our sin. Jesus did not come to bargain with our enemies. He came, lived, died and rose again to crush the enemy who seeks to destroy us. By sinning, everyone who has ever lived as chosen to align themselves with the Sisera, His Mom, and Satan in their war against God. And our sin has led to a cruel oppression. We have worshipped false gods we thought we could control, and now we are enslaved to them—some of us for many years.
The same Word of God that came from Deborah’s mouth came in the flesh to free us. Jesus, the Word, is the only one who stayed faithful to God. Jesus is the only one who never changed teams. Jesus is the only one who ever resisted temptation perfectly and remained sinless. Jesus is the only one who can and will defeat Satan, free us from our slavery to false gods, and bring us into rest. Jesus rescued us from the dark kingdom by dying in our place for our sins and therefore defeating the enemy.
Colossians 2:13-15 says that… “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.”
That is something to sing about…but not just in the shower. Even now, God is calling his children to mission. He is gathering another peasant army, those who are his friends, all of whom have something contribute, that TOGETHER we might continue to fight God’s enemies, to bring healing to the broken, and to set captives free by singing the song of God to those who have not heard.