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Judges 4:4

"Deborah, a woman who was a prophet and the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time." (HCSB)

In America, there are three branches of government: the executive, the legislative and the judicial. This system of government allows for a division of responsibility and a separation of powers between the three branches. The legislative branch makes the laws, the executive branch ensures that the laws are obeyed, while the judicial branch interprets the laws and certifies that they are constitutional. This basic understanding of government that we learned in 5th grade civics class colors the meaning of words like "judge." So this morning, when I announce that we will be studying the life of one of the judges from the Old Testament, we immediately think of a wise person who settles disputes and interprets the law. Or if we've been watching too much television lately, we might think of Judge Judy slamming down her gavel and putting a rude, obnoxious neighbor in his place. Or if you are old enough to remember another TV judge, you may be thinking of Flip Wilson and his irreverent approach to the judiciary.

These images aren't really that helpful in understanding the work of the Judges from the Old Testament. Yes, they settled disputes and interpreted the law, but they did so much more than give rulings-they ruled. The judges ruled Israel from the time of the conquest of Canaan until Saul was anointed King.

If you like reading Westerns like I do, then you will love the period of the Judges, because it was the "wild, wild west" of the biblical narrative. There were battles with the Moabites, the Philistines, the Amalekites and the Ammonites. One of the judges, Samson, exercised great feats of strength. He was a colorful character who used the jawbone of a donkey as a weapon to defeat the Philistines and killed a lion with his bare hands, later to return to it and eat honey out of its carcass. Of coursed, Samson had a fatal flaw that eventually led to his downfall-his weakness toward the ladies. Another of the judges, Gideon was the youngest son from the weakest family in Manasseh, yet God used him to defeat the Midianites and the Amalekites. Under God's direction, he whittled down the army from 22,000 to 300 troops before they attacked and defeated the Midianites with trumpets, fire and swords.

And then there was Deborah.

I know I am stating the obvious, but I want you to notice that Deborah was a woman. Many people have the mistaken notion that God is a sexist. Perhaps those with that view are confusing the cultural setting of the Bible with its message. While the setting of much of the scripture is a repressive cultural, the message of the scripture is liberating and shows the value of all human life. We are all created in the image of God-men and women alike. And there is another point of equality, we've all sinned and fallen short of God's glory. Beyond those observations, Paul gives the definitive word in Galatians 3:28 when he wrote, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus." ( KJV)

Deborah was one of the judges of Israel. Judges 4:5 says, "It was her custom to sit under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites went up to her for judgment." (HCSB)

But Deborah was more than just a judge. She is the only one of the judges described as a prophetess. (ZPEB, v 1, p. 79) One commentary I read said, "Whatever else the narrative will say about Deborah, the reader must remember that she is first and foremost, if not exclusively, a prophet." (New American Commentary)

God didn't choose Deborah for the job to be inclusive, he chose the best person for the job and she excelled in it. She was a judge, but she was also a prophet. Like Moses did before her, she spoke to the people for God.

We know she was a judge and that she was a prophet because the text tells us so, but it doesn't show us a lot of detail about her work beyond an encounter she had with Barak, the General of Israel's army.

The times demanded a strong leader. The people of God were under captivity in Canaan under Jabin the King of Canaan and Sisera his commander. Barak and his army were doing nothing about the situation so Deborah summoned him to her court and said to him,"Hasn't the Lord, the God of Israel, commanded [you]: 'Go, deploy [the troops] on Mount Tabor, and take with you 10,000 men from the Naphtalites and Zebulunites?" (Judges 4:6 HCSB)

Deborah had a no nonsense approach with Barak-she called him out for his laziness, fear and lack of trust in God and demanded that he account for his inaction. She reminded him that God had already promised that He would lure Sisera and his army into a location where Israel's army would prevail against them. Barak agreed to go, but only if Deborah would go with him.

Why would Barak hedge like this? He was the general; it was his duty to lead the army into battle, not Deborah's. As a prophet, she spoke God's word to His people and as a judge, she helped the people understand right from wrong, but she wasn't a military leader. Why would Barak ask her to go?

Without getting too deep into speculation, I think it was because Barak lacked confidence. He needed the support of the acknowledged leader of Israel-Deborah. Now we could detour at this point and rant about Barak being a weak man, but instead, I want to focus on the fact that Deborah was a strong leader. She was the kind of leader that inspired confidence in others and empowered them to fulfill their destinies. But Barak needed more than an inspiring speech, he needed her presence. Napoleon Bonaparte said "A leader is a dealer in hope." To some extent, Barak was borrowing hope from Deborah.

Leaders must always be willing to back up their words. It is one thing to say, "God will deliver you" and another to say, "I have so much confidence in God's promise to deliver you that I will stand next to you as He does it." Deborah had that kind of faith and confidence in God. She gladly agreed to go into battle with Barak, but she warned him that his conquest would be void of honor and that God would use a woman to defeat Sisera.

10,000 men followed Barak into battle while Sisera brought 900 iron chariots to the theater of operation. Barak followed Deborah, and Deborah followed God. When the time was right, Deborah told Barak to attack. When the armies of the Lord descended upon Canaan's army, the Lord confused the enemy and they fell victim to the sword. Everyone was destroyed except for Sisera who left his chariot and fled on foot to find sanctuary in the home of a friend. The friend's wife welcomed him into their tent, offered him something to drink. He was exhausted and asked her to stand watch for him while he got some sleep. As he drifted into sleep, little did he know that he would never awake. Using a tent stake, she killed him in his sleep. Meanwhile, Barak, filled with the confidence from the battle, lead a hunt for Sisera. When Barak arrived at Heber's tent, the wife gave Barak the dead body of the man he was looking for. As Deborah had prophesied, God used a woman to defeat Sisera. Judges 4:23-24 says, "That day God subdued Jabin king of Canaan before the Israelites. (24) The power of the Israelites continued to increase against Jabin king of Canaan until they destroyed him." (HCSB)

Israel enjoyed peace under Deborah's rule after this conquest. She was a judge, a prophet and a deliverer. She was used mightily by God for several reasons. One she was FAITHFUL-day after day she sat beneath the Palm Tree and passed out justice to those who sought it. She was faithful, and she HAD FAITH. She believed that God was good for His word and she believe that He would deliver His people. She was faithful, she had faith and she INSPIRED CONFIDENCE in others. She was a true leader, one who wasn't afraid to get into the middle of the fray.

How about you? Are you faithful? Do you have faith in your God? Are you willing to use your influence to bring out the best in others? If so, perhaps God will use you to accomplish His will, just like He used Deborah.

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