Following God’s calling to victory through doubts, vulnerability, courage and teamwork
The story in the Book of Judges chapters 4 & 5 tells of a great victory in a time of weakness for Israel. The main heroes are Deborah, the only female judge mentioned in the Bible, and Barak, a general of the Israelite army. Throughout the Book of Judges, Israel went through cycles of idolatry and evil followed by repentance and seeking God’s mercy. Yet God’s endurance, encouragement, hope and salvation run as the main threads supporting the beautiful tapestry of God and his people working together in history.
Deborah’s story as a female judge (1*), a prophetess, a general and a poet stands out as one of success and victory. At a time when Israel was being oppressed by the Canaanite armies, led by Sisera, God used her to lead his people to freedom, back to God and into a 40 year period of peace. She discerned God’s will and ordered Barak to go and fight against the Canaanites, assuring him of God’s promised victory. Barak said he would go, but only if she went with him, to which she agreed but warned him that because of his hesitancy, God would not give ultimate glory for victory to Barak but to a woman.
Barak’s army destroyed the Canaanite army, with only General Sisera managing to escape. But the ultimate victory came when Sisera had a tent peg famously driven into his head by Jael! In the song of praise that follows, chapter 5, Jael is described as the “most blessed of women” (5:24).
What can we learn about Deborah? As a judge, she worked in an open public space (under Deborah’s palm tree), suggesting transparency and honesty. As a prophetess she was bold and straightforward, communicating both God’s encouragement and his warnings. As a leader of the nation, she was a visionary, an enthusiastic and practical person who didn't seek glory for herself.
Barak is the second main character in this story - a warrior, a general, a courageous man who led an army of 10,000 ill-equipped soldiers ("not a shield or spear was seen among forty thousand in Israel”, 5:8) against a larger army with 900 iron chariots. He is a humble leader who asks for moral support even though he is warned that he will not get the praise for defeating Sisera.
At the end we see Deborah and Barak compose a song recounting the victory. Deborah does not call herself a general or a victorious leader but rather “a mother in Israel”, an image usually associated with care, protection and nourishment, not war, battles and victory! The song lists others’ victorious roles but throughout it praises God’s greatness as the one who went before them, leading them to victory. They call him “the Lord God of Israel”, the name of God in Genesis 2 which speaks of the God who knows his people and invites them to become co-workers, co-fighters, and co-leaders and to see his intervention and help in hopeless situations.
The Lord God uses his people (male and female) with their inherited (including gender), acquired (judge, leader, general, warrior) and God-given (prophetess) gifts, qualities and abilities. He calls his people to faithfulness in the middle of difficult circumstances and does not let them down regardless of what their capabilities and resources are.
To me this is a story of God’s intervention in turbulent times of moral and spiritual decay, raising up people of faith and character who follow his calling with courage and vulnerability, with boldness and action, with care and mutual respect.
Success is not just about achieving something brilliant. From a biblical perspective, it is about striving together with God and our peers in his pursuit of justice and peace formed around renewed awareness of just how good the living God really is, no matter how grim our circumstances may appear.
What are your overwhelming circumstances at work and in life? From where do you receive God’s word of wisdom into your circumstances? What are your strengths and vulnerabilities? Whom can you ask for support in your circumstances?
(1*) These rulers were called “mishpat,” which is translated as “judges,” a role that originated back when Moses appointed helpers to assist him in resolving arguments among the people. (Exodus 18)
Written by Rodica Roșior, October 2021