The wisdom of Deborah lies in her willingness to create space. Deborah shows us that, in stillness, by practicing attending to God with fierce trust, we can sift through the chaos of this world and align ourselves with the movement of God
July 25, 2021
The Story of Deborah
Pastor Heather McColl
The Israelites again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, after Ehud died. So the Lord sold them into the hand of King Jabin of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor; the commander of his army was Sisera, who lived in Harosheth-ha-goiim. Then the Israelites cried out to the Lord for help; for he had nine hundred chariots of iron, and had oppressed the Israelites cruelly twenty years.
At that time Deborah, a prophetess, wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel. She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the Israelites came up to her for judgment. She sent and summoned Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali, and said to him, “The Lord, the God of Israel, commands you, ‘Go, take position at Mount Tabor, bringing ten thousand from the tribe of Naphtali and the tribe of Zebulun. I will draw out Sisera, the general of Jabin’s army, to meet you by the Wadi Kishon with his chariots and his troops; and I will give him into your hand.’” Barak said to her, “If you will go with me, I will go; but if you will not go with me, I will not go.” And she said, “I will surely go with you; nevertheless, the road on which you are going will not lead to your glory, for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.” Then Deborah got up and went with Barak to Kedesh. Barak summoned Zebulun and Naphtali to Kedesh; and ten thousand warriors went up behind him; and Deborah went up with him.
Now Heber the Kenite had separated from the other Kenites, that is, the descendants of Hobab the father-in-law of Moses, and had encamped as far away as Elon-bezaanannim, which is near Kedesh.
When Sisera was told that Barak son of Abinoam had gone up to Mount Tabor, Sisera called out all his chariots, nine hundred chariots of iron, and all the troops who were with him, from Harosheth-ha-goiim to the Wadi Kishon. Then Deborah said to Barak, “Up! For this is the day on which the Lord has given Sisera into your hand. The Lord is indeed going out before you.” So Barak went down from Mount Tabor with ten thousand warriors following him. And the Lord threw Sisera and all his chariots and all his army into a panic before Barak; Sisera got down from his chariot and fled away on foot, while Barak pursued the chariots and the army to Harosheth-ha-goiim. All the army of Sisera fell by the sword; no one was left.
Now Sisera had fled away on foot to the tent of Jael wife of Heber the Kenite; for there was peace between King Jabin of Hazor and the clan of Heber the Kenite. Jael came out to meet Sisera, and said to him, “Turn aside, my lord, turn aside to me; have no fear.” So he turned aside to her into the tent, and she covered him with a rug. Then he said to her, “Please give me a little water to drink; for I am thirsty.” So she opened a skin of milk and gave him a drink and covered him. He said to her, “Stand at the entrance of the tent, and if anybody comes and asks you, ‘Is anyone here?’ say, ‘No.’” But Jael wife of Heber took a tent peg, and took a hammer in her hand, and went softly to him and drove the peg into his temple, until it went down into the ground—he was lying fast asleep from weariness—and he died. Then, as Barak came in pursuit of Sisera, Jael went out to meet him, and said to him, “Come, and I will show you the man whom you are seeking.” So he went into her tent; and there was Sisera lying dead, with the tent peg in his temple.
So on that day God subdued King Jabin of Canaan before the Israelites. Then the hand of the Israelites bore harder and harder on King Jabin of Canaan, until they destroyed King Jabin of Canaan.
The Song of Deborah
Then Deborah and Barak son of Abinoam sang on that day, saying: “When locks are long in Israel, when the people offer themselves willingly— bless the Lord!“Hear, O kings; give ear, O princes; to the Lord I will sing, I will make melody to the Lord, the God of Israel. “Lord, when you went out from Seir, when you marched from the region of Edom, the earth trembled, and the heavens poured, the clouds indeed poured water. The mountains quaked before the Lord, the One of Sinai, before the Lord, the God of Israel. “In the days of Shamgar son of Anath, in the days of Jael, caravans ceased and travelers kept to the byways. The peasantry prospered in Israel, they grew fat on plunder, because you arose, Deborah, arose as a mother in Israel. When new gods were chosen, then war was in the gates. Was shield or spear to be seen among forty thousand in Israel? My heart goes out to the commanders of Israel who offered themselves willingly among the people. Bless the Lord. “Tell of it, you who ride on white donkeys, you who sit on rich carpets and you who walk by the way. To the sound of musicians at the watering places, there they repeat the triumphs of the Lord, the triumphs of his peasantry in Israel.
“Then down to the gates marched the people of the Lord. “Awake, awake, Deborah! Awake, awake, utter a song! Arise, Barak, lead away your captives, O son of Abinoam. Then down marched the remnant of the noble; the people of the Lord marched down for him against the mighty. From Ephraim they set out into the valley, following you, Benjamin, with your kin; from Machir marched down the commanders, and from Zebulun those who bear the marshal’s staff; the chiefs of Issachar came with Deborah, and Issachar faithful to Barak; into the valley they rushed out at his heels. Among the clans of Reuben there were great searchings of heart. Why did you tarry among the sheepfolds, to hear the piping for the flocks? Among the clans of Reuben there were great searchings of heart. Gilead stayed beyond the Jordan; and Dan, why did he abide with the ships? Asher sat still at the coast of the sea, settling down by his landings.
Zebulun is a people that scorned death; Naphtali too, on the heights of the field. “The kings came, they fought; then fought the kings of Canaan, at Taanach, by the waters of Megiddo; they got no spoils of silver. The stars fought from heaven, from their courses they fought against Sisera. The torrent Kishon swept them away, the onrushing torrent, the torrent Kishon. March on, my soul, with might! “Then loud beat the horses’ hoofs with the galloping, galloping of his steeds. “Curse Meroz, says the angel of the Lord, curse bitterly its inhabitants, because they did not come to the help of the Lord, to the help of the Lord against the mighty. “Most blessed of women be Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, of tent-dwelling women most blessed. He asked water and she gave him milk, she brought him curds in a lordly bowl. She put her hand to the tent peg and her right hand to the workmen’s mallet; she struck Sisera a blow, she crushed his head, she shattered and pierced his temple. He sank, he fell, he lay still at her feet; at her feet he sank, he fell; where he sank, there he fell dead. “Out of the window she peered, the mother of Sisera gazed through the lattice: ‘Why is his chariot so long in coming? Why tarry the hoofbeats of his chariots?’ Her wisest ladies make answer, indeed, she answers the question herself: ‘Are they not finding and dividing the spoil?— A girl or two for every man; spoil of dyed stuffs for Sisera, spoil of dyed stuffs embroidered, two pieces of dyed work embroidered for my neck as spoil?’ “So perish all your enemies, O Lord! But may your friends be like the sun as it rises in its might.” And the land had rest forty years.
I’m sure we are all wondering why this story was included in our Faces of Faith series. It is disjointed. It jumps all over the place. It goes into a lot of descriptions about war. And who could miss that it also describes one of the most gruesome incidents in the Bible, an incident which does not even involve the main character, Deborah.
Again, we find ourselves asking where do we even start? Well, we start at the beginning of our text with Deborah and her leadership. She is one of six judges mentioned in the Book of Judges. She is also the first and only female judge in a time which is considered a return to chaos for the people of Israel.
We focus on Deborah in this story because in the midst of the chaos, chaos which has separated the people from God, chaos which is enacted throughout the rest of our story, Deborah becomes a space for channeling God’s wisdom for the people. In the midst of chaos, Deborah becomes the calm in the midst of the storm for her people. By modeling how to listen for the voice of God, Deborah shows us that grounding ourselves in the presence of God especially in the midst of stressful situations, that grounding ourselves in the presence of God allows us to see the situation more clearly, to process it more faithfully, to quiet the voices in our head, in our lives, voices which ratchet up the confusion and chaos, Deborah shows us that grounding ourselves in the presence of God helps us hear the voice of God, speaking to us, reminding us of God’s grace, reminding us to be still and know that God is God.
“The wisdom of Deborah lies in her willingness to create space. Deborah shows us that, in stillness, by practicing attending to God with fierce trust, we can sift through the chaos of this world and align ourselves with the movement of God.…In the midst of the oppression of her people, Deborah creates space for channeling God’s wisdom. In the chaos of war she finds stillness under a palm tree and tunes herself to God’s voice.”
Or let me say it this way: I’ll be the first to admit that when I say as people of faith, we are called to practice what we preach, I am often talking to myself first and foremost. So I think it is only fair to share that I struggle to live out this lesson which Deborah brings for us today.
In stressful situations, my emotions take over. I create hypothetical what ifs in my head, hypothetical what ifs that are far worse than anything which could actually happen in real life.In stressful situations, I can feel my body becoming, I can feel myself shutting down. In stressful situations, it becomes difficult for me to listen to logic. It becomes hard for me to step back so that I take a clear view of the situation. And often times, okay most of the time, okay…all the time, my adding to the chaos of the stressful situation does nothing but hurt me in the process.
I know that this way of dealing is not helpful. This way is not healthy. I also know that this is not what God intended for me, for us when God called us into relationship with one another.
There is another way, a way of peace, a way of grace, a way of calm. Just like when God came to Elijah as that still small voice, God comes to us in stressful situations, offering us comfort and clarity, if only we have the courage and the strength to open our hearts, to open our minds, to open our ears and listen
I’m realizing for a time such as this, for times when tensions in our communities are running high because of real stress in everyone’s lives, for times such as this when burdens weigh heavy on people’s shoulders, on their spirits, for a time such as this, our faith invites us, as the people of God, to be the calm in the storm for ourselves and for so many others. Our faith invites us, calls us to “create spaces for ourselves where we can get in tune with God. Our faith invites us, calls us to trust our intuition, to share our insights with others, and to use our voices. Our faith invites us to be still and know that God is God. Our faith teaches us through the example of Jesus Christ how to practice fierce trust in our God and to align ourselves with the movement of God if we have courage and the strength to do so.
Please do not hear that I have a magic formula or three quick and easy steps that once we master them, we will be able to do these things with no issues. What I do have is practice. What I do have is experience. What I do have is knowing that growing in our faith is a process. It is a journey, one which is filled with opportunities to practice being the calm in the storm for ourselves and for ourselves.
Because as Deborah’s story reminds us, our God goes out before us. Our God is always there, inviting us to turn to God for council and comfort, to turn to God so that we do not carry the heavy burdens of the world on our shoulders. Deb orah’s story reminds us that as people of faith, we are called to find the stillness, to tune ourselves to God’s voice so that we can align ourselves with the movement of God. Deborah’s story reminds us that chaos will not have the last world, that God will leas us through the stressful situations of life. Deborah’s story reminds us that God is at work in this world, bringing healing and wholeness for all of God’s people. Deborah’s story reminds us that as the people of God, we are invited to offer space for this world, to be the calm in the midst of the storm, to offer respite, to offer sanctuary to the weary souls we encounter along our journey. Deborah’s story reminds us that as people of faith, we are called to listen to that small still voice, calling us to be still and know that God is God. May it be so.