Judges Sermon # 6 Judges 4 June 18, 2017
An Unlikely Father’s Day Sermon: “Two Women, Bad Weather, and What Would Jesus Do?”
Pastor Louis Prontnicki Maple Glen Bible Fellowship Church
“Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, now that Ehud was dead. 2 So the Lord sold them into the hands of Jabin, a king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor. Sisera, the commander of his army, was based in Harosheth Haggoyim. 3 Because he had nine hundred chariots fitted with iron and had cruelly oppressed the Israelites for twenty years, they cried to the Lord for help.
4 Now Deborah, a prophet, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading Israel at that time. 5 She held court under the Palm of Deborah between Ramahand Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites went up to her to have their disputes decided. 6 She sent for Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali and said to him, “The Lord, the God of Israel, commands you: ‘Go, take with you ten thousand men of Naphtali and Zebulun and lead them up to Mount Tabor. 7 I will lead Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his troops to the Kishon River and give him into your hands.’”
8 Barak said to her, “If you go with me, I will go; but if you don’t go with me, I won’t go.”
9 “Certainly I will go with you,” said Deborah. “But because of the course you are taking, the honor will not be yours, for the Lord will deliver Sisera into the hands of a woman.” So Deborah went with Barak to Kedesh. 10 There Barak summoned Zebulun and Naphtali, and ten thousand men went up under his command. Deborah also went up with him.
11 Now Heber the Kenite had left the other Kenites, the descendants of Hobab, Moses’ brother-in-law, and pitched his tent by the great tree in Zaanannim near Kedesh.
12 When they told Sisera that Barak son of Abinoam had gone up to Mount Tabor, 13 Sisera summoned from Harosheth Haggoyim to the Kishon River all his men and his nine hundred chariots fitted with iron.
14 Then Deborah said to Barak, “Go! This is the day the Lord has given Sisera into your hands. Has not the Lord gone ahead of you?” So Barak went down Mount Tabor, with ten thousand men following him. 15 At Barak’s advance, the Lord routed Sisera and all his chariots and army by the sword, and Sisera got down from his chariot and fled on foot.
16 Barak pursued the chariots and army as far as Harosheth Haggoyim, and all Sisera’s troops fell by the sword; not a man was left. 17 Sisera, meanwhile, fled on foot to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, because there was an alliance between Jabin king of Hazor and the family of Heber the Kenite.
18 Jael went out to meet Sisera and said to him, “Come, my lord, come right in. Don’t be afraid.” So he entered her tent, and she covered him with a blanket. 19 “I’m thirsty,” he said. “Please give me some water.” She opened a skin of milk, gave him a drink, and covered him up. 20 “Stand in the doorway of the tent,” he told her. “If someone comes by and asks you, ‘Is anyone in there?’ say ‘No.’”
21 But Jael, Heber’s wife, picked up a tent peg and a hammer and went quietly to him while he lay fast asleep, exhausted. She drove the peg through his temple into the ground, and he died.
22 Just then Barak came by in pursuit of Sisera, and Jael went out to meet him. “Come,” she said, “I will show you the man you’re looking for.” So he went in with her, and there lay Sisera with the tent peg through his temple—dead.
23 On that day God subdued Jabin king of Canaan before the Israelites.24 And the hand of the Israelites pressed harder and harder against Jabin king of Canaan until they destroyed him.”
It’s Father’s Day, and therefore you might think I would find some Bible verses about fathers and preach on one of those, right? But instead we’re plowing ahead in the OT book of Judges, where the storylines are full of unexpected twists and turns, Today we’re going to see how the Lord used two very different women to deliver Israel; how He used some very unusual weather, at just the right time, to defeat Israel’s oppressors; and then we’re going to be challenged to consider what Jesus would have done in a conflicting situation. So while this may be an unlikely Father’s Day sermon, I’m hoping we’ll see how the Lord worked out deliverance for His people, in some unusual ways – all for His glory! Ready? Let’s dig in.
First, the Lord worked through two women to deliver Israel:
He used both the Jewish prophetess/judge, Deborah, and the Kenite tentmaker wife, Jael.
The chapter begins and ends with women taking the lead: Deborah in the beginning and Jael at the end. Do you realize how unusual that the Lord used not just one, but two women, to deliver his people Israel? After all, this is the Middle East, with thousands of years of men being in charge, and here we have a woman as the judge and another woman as the executioner of an opposing army general? This is radical! Our God is not fenced in by either human expectation or imagination! Our Lord is not limited by our limitations. Remember that when you are in a tough spot!
Last Sunday we saw how the Lord used Ehud, a man with a disability (couldn’t use his right hand) to deliver Israel; today, we read of the Lord working through two women to defeat an oppressor. So again and again in Judges, and throughout the Bible, we see God bringing salvation and deliverance in unexpected ways and through surprising people. Why does he do that? So that all the glory will go to Him, and we can’t say that we have God all figured out! Indeed, His ways are higher and better than our ways!
Now these two women, Deborah and Jael, were as different as Judge Judy and Rosie the Riveter. Deborah was a judge and a prophetess in Israel. People came to her to have their disputes settled, and her power was a spoken authority. On the other hand, Jael was a Kenite, a pagan, not a Jewess; and her authority came from her muscles. [Note: As among Bedouins today, often it is the work of the women to pitch the tent, so Jael would have been handy with the hammer and the tent pegs.] Two very different women, but the Lord used both of them to bring deliverance to Israel. One with her words, the other with her actions, and both were pleasing to the Lord. Ladies: take note. There’s no one body type, there’s no one career path; there’s no one personality type that pleases the Lord more than another. But a woman who fears the Lord, she is to be praised!
Both women, though different in stature, occupy the central part of this story. Both are used by God for His purposes; and God gives both of them the necessary abilities and opportunities to do His will. Ladies: be assured that the Lord wants to work through you, as you are in Christ!
When you think about it, it really isn’t so surprising that the Lord works His salvation plans through these two women. After all, we remember that God had promised in Gen. 3:15 that He would crush the head of the serpent through the seed of the woman, and God’s own Son was born of a woman, Mary, in Luke 1-2. Indeed, the Lord works his plan of salvation through all sorts of people, and we stand in amazement!
Now while Deborah and Jael are key to this story, neither one of them are mentioned outside Judges 4-5. But do you know who gets voted into the Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11? Barak! That’s right, the man who wouldn’t go to recruit soldiers for this daunting mission, unless Deborah came with him (4:8). Why does Barak get included in the Hebrews 11 Hall of Faith (11:32)? We sometimes see Barak as a coward, as he wasn’t willing to face the enemy army without Deborah. But could it be that he just wanted to make sure that the Word of the Lord – via Deborah- was with him? In 4:8, Barak said to her, “If you go with me, I will go; but if you don’t go with me, I won’t go.” Please note how similar this is to what Moses said to the Lord in Ex. 33:15, regarding the Lord going with him. “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here.” So Barak’s words, like Moses’, may be indicating faith, not cowardice, a faith which is a combination of a humble confession of one’s own inadequacy and a sure confidence in the grace of God. In Barak’s case, he wanted to be sure of God’s Word, through God’s mouthpiece, Deborah. So Barak goes forth, in faith.
Therefore the writer of Hebrews includes Barak in his HOF because Barak heard the Word of the Lord (through the prophetess Deborah) and believed it. It was the faith he had in God’s Word through Deborah that allowed him to be included in the Hebrews Hall of Faith. In the same way, when we hear the gospel, when we have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, we are justified by grace through faith.
Let us, like Barak, hear the words of the Lord, and move forward in faith, as He is with us!
Second, the Lord used bad and unusual weather to defeat a formidable foe.
Look at Judges 4:15. It says that “the Lord routed Sisera and all his chariots and all his army before Barak by the edge of the sword, and he abandoned his chariot and fled on foot.”
How could Barak, with only foot soldiers, defeat Sisera’s army, when he had 900 chariots of iron? Imagine a WWII battle, where thousands of American infantry men are going up against nearly 1,000 German Tiger tanks, but the tanks have to be abandoned and the US army winds a decisive victory? How could that happen? Because the Lord sent bad and unusual weather, at just the exact time it was needed, so that Sisera’s chariots of iron got bogged down in the mud, and were useless in battle.
How do we know this is what happened? Look at Judges chapter five, where we have a poetic rendering of the narrative given to us in chapter four. We read in Judges 5:4 “Lord, when you went out… the heavens dropped, yes, the clouds dropped water.” Look at 5:21 “The River Kishon swept them away, the age-old river, the river Kishon.” Now the Kishon is a wadi, a dry river bed, that 99.9% of the time is dry as a bone. But not this time!
Keep in mind that it rains in Palestine only between November and February, and that a cloudburst like the one in Judges four may happen only once a year, if that. (I know this from having lived there.) Therefore, when the Lord sends this downpour, it is not only a rare occurrence, but it happened just as the battle below is taking place.
Barak and his infantry were waiting for Sisera’s chariots on Mt. Tabor, which overlooks the plain and the dry river bed called Kishon. The Hebrew word for “routed” in Judges 4:15 is sometimes translated as a “hailstorm” or a “thunderstorm.” (See Joshua 10:10-11; 1 Sam. 7:10). And so it is here in Judges four. The Lord sent a thunderstorm, a cloudburst, which caused the Wadi Kishon to overflow, and thus bog down the 900 enemy chariots. Hence Sisera’s mighty chariots were of no use, and Barak’s infantry charged down upon them from Mt. Tabor. Sisera may have had his 900 chariots of iron, but Barak had the chariots of heaven with him: Ps. 104:3 “He makes the clouds His chariot, and rides on the wings of the wind.”
Let us marvel as we ponder how the Lord controls the precise timing of the weather to accomplish His purposes! I hope we never look at another cloud or experience another rainstorm in the same way again; rather, let us worship Him for His sovereign power over the weather… and over all climate change! And in like manner, did not the wind and the waves obey Jesus’ voice? Is not the Lord is control of any and all climate change? Ps. 147:15-18 The Lord directs all the weather, even when every rainstorm hits every spot on the earth.
The weather! We complain about it, and we can do nothing about it, but God uses it, in surprising ways, at just the right time!
Third, we wrestle with the question: What would Jesus have done, in Jael’s place?
Look at vv.17-20. Sisera, having abandoned his chariot and seeing his army defeated, runs for his life to the tent of Jael and her husband Heber. Why there? Because Jael and Heber were not Israelites; they were Kenites who were on good terms with Sisera’s king. (v. 17). Therefore General Sisera expected that he could find safety and protection in Jael’s tent. And Jael gives Sisera every reason to believe that she will shelter him from any marauding Israelites, in v. 18-19. “Come right in” “Don’t be afraid” “Have a drink and I’ll cover you up, so no one will know you are here!” Now keep in mind that in the Middle East, if you offer hospitality to someone like this, you have bonded yourself to them, and you would be forbidden to betray them.
But what does Jael do? While Sisera is sleeping, she picks up her hammer and a tent peg, and drives the peg into Sisera’s skull, killing him and pinning him to the ground! Outrageous! She breaks all the rules of Bedouin hospitality! She turned on someone who was her husbands’ ally! And worst of all, for Sisera’s honor, he dies at the hand of a woman! Shameful! Totally unexpected! A complete reversal of all normal customs! And to use such deceit, to lure Sisera into a false sense of security, and then to kill him!
Jael’s hammer blow was as treacherous as Ehud’s sword-thrust was, if not more so. And that he died at the hands of a woman was a disgrace for this great general! Should we feel sorry for Sisera? Was it unfair that he died this way?
Keep in mind that Sisera and his men were known for raping Israelite women and plundering everything. (See 5:30; more on this next Sunday.) So this was a wicked and cruel general, like an Idi Amin or a Stalin, and her act of violence upon this enemy general secured the safety and protection of Israel.
Now, you could raise the question: what would Jesus have done, if Sisera had come to Jesus’ tent for protection? It might be helpful to ask three related questions:
- What would Jesus do, (if Sisera was in his tent?)
Well, first, what would you have done, in Jael’s place? Would you have brutally killed this cruel general, thinking he deserved it? Perhaps most of us would say that Jesus would not have put a tent peg through Sisera’s skull; instead, he would have talked to Sisera about his sins and his need of forgiveness, and led him to repentance & faith. Jesus would have shown him mercy. That’s possible what Jesus would have done, as He did with Saul of Tarsus.
- What did Jesus do, on the cross, (as Savior?)
Now we leave the hypothetical for historic reality. On the cross, Jesus Christ willingly endured having the Roman soldiers drive iron nails into his hands and his feet. It was through nails being hammered into his body, in his brutal crucifixion, that we would experience repentance, forgiveness, and a new life in Christ! His violent death secured our salvation.
- What will Jesus do, when He returns to earth (as Judge?)
When Jesus Christ comes back to earth as the supreme King and Judge, he will fulfill Gen. 3:15 and Romans 16:20; namely, He will crush Satan’s skull in victory! And in that respect, what Jael did to Sisera was a foreshadowing of what Jesus will do to Satan and to all those who have remained defiantly rebellious against Him! He will put a violent end to His enemies, and thus He will secure our eternal peace… just as Jael did to Sisera.
Therefore we should see Jael’s hammer and tent peg through the eyes of Christ and His cross. In both there is judgement – once upon Sisera (which he deserved) and once upon Jesus (totally undeserved); in both there is salvation: from Canaanite oppression then, and from Satan and sins’ tyranny today. And at the cross there is both greater mercy and forgiveness for our enemies, as well as eventual judgment upon the wicked and the enemies of God!
So…the Lord saves through unusual ways:
- Through Deborah and Jael; a female judge and prophetess, and a female executioner.
- By sending a rare cloudburst at just the right time, to nullify the advantage of the chariots.
- By going against all the accepted rules of hospitality… why? In order to accomplish Israel’s salvation… in a way that would be entirely for His glory, and not ours!
When you think of it, isn’t this the way the Lord saves us? He sends His Son to earth, to be born of a virgin, to be crucified, so that we, as pardoned rebels, can sit at His banqueting table!
The Lord turns the tables on His enemies, so that forgiven sinners can sit at His banqueting table!
Indeed, as He works through surprising and unexpected ways and people, we can affirm the truth that His thought and His ways are high above our thoughts and our ways! (Isa. 55:8-9).