Judges Sermon # 7 Judges 5 June 25, 2017
“Singing the Lord’s Victory!”
Pastor Louis Prontnicki Maple Glen Bible Fellowship Church
How many of you are pumped up when you hear a certain song? For all the years that I’ve jogged and biked, it’s the Rocky theme song that helps me to pick up my pace and finish strong. Or at the Phil-Mont basketball games the home team is motivated as they come on to the floor to the opening of “The Final Countdown.” Perhaps you have your own song of triumph and victory?
This morning I want us to appreciate a very special song of victory, a song that got the Israelites pumped up. It is found in Judges chapter five, and while the song celebrates the Lord’s spectacular triumph over His enemies, it also is full of surprises, challenges, and encouragements! Now many classic songs have a certain structure to them. They might have an intro, a verse, a chorus (refrain), then the verses and choruses are repeated; you might have a bridge, and finally an “outro” or coda. Think about the lyrics to America Pie, by Don Mclean:
Intro: “A long, long time ago, I can still remember how that music used to make me smile…”
The chorus: “Bye, bye, Miss America Pie, drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry…”
The verses, such as: “Did you write the book of love, and do you have faith in God above…”
And the “outro” “And the three men I admire most, the Father, Son and the Holy Ghost, they caught the last train for the coast, the day the music died…”
Well, in the same way, this victory song in Judges chapter five can be best appreciated if we understand the structure of the song. It has five parts to it: the intro (vv. 1-2), three stanzas (vv. 3-30), and an ending (v. 31).
The song’s introduction (vv. 1-2). This intro tells us three things:
Who sang the song (it’s a duet by Deborah and Barak),
What the occasion for the song was (a time when God’s people rose up to fight), and
What the main point of the song was, to “Praise/Bless the Lord!”
Commentator Michael Wilcock writes that though the song tells of roles of Deborah, Barak, and Jael, as well as the efforts of the princes and people of Israel, it is clear that the Lord is the one who orchestrated all these people to work together for this victory. The Lord raised up Deborah, who became His voice to Barak and to Israel, so that Barak and Israel march out against the foe, where the Lord routs them with a cloudburst, and then the Lord has Jael finish off the enemy general. In other words, this song declares that the Lord God is the ultimate Judge; He is the true Savior of His people! That’s the introduction that tells us that God is calling you and me to join with Deborah and Barak and all the saints, to joyfully sing the Lord’s victory! Amen? In Christ, this too is our victory song, celebrating the cross and the resurrection, in triumph over our deadly foes: Satan, sin, and our flesh.
Then the song has three stanzas, and each one focuses on one important contrast:
The first stanza contrasts the downtrodden Israelites with the leaders whom the Lord raised up (vv. 3-12). For 20 years the people of Israel had suffered under the Canaanites, and they were a defeated and downtrodden people. Look at vv. 6-8: No one dared to walk down the main roads; villages seemed like ghost towns; and no sign of any organized fighting against the occupying army was seen! The people had given up and quit, because they had suffered under this foreign oppressor for 20 years now! And some of you feel that way, right? You haven’t sung any victory songs for a long time, because you’re struggling under the burden of your addictions, your sinful habits, your physical weaknesses, your seemingly hopeless situation with your spouse, your children, or your parents, and so forth. You feel overwhelmed and hopeless. You feel like singing dirges, not victory songs. That’s how the Israelites felt.
But one day the Israelites finally cried out to the Lord for help (see Judges 4:3), and the Lord began to raise up leaders in Israel. He raised up people such as Deborah, the prophetess/judge, and Barak, the general, and even Jael, the slayer of the wicked Sisera. The Lord would empower them to lead Israel and stir up princes and people to fight against the oppressive Canaanites, so that the Lord would lead them to victory, and they could sing this song of triumph!
So this stanza tells of the contrast between those who felt beat down for 20 years with those whom the Lord raised up! Note something very important here: it is only when God’s people see how hopeless they are (vv. 6-8) that they can appreciate how mighty the Lord is, as He shake the earth, moves the mountains, and causes a thunderstorm to defeat the enemy army (vv. 4-5). The lesson for us today is that we need to see ourselves as desperate people, so that we feel our great need of looking to God alone, of crying out to Him, in order to find our deliverance, our true peace, and our joy, in Christ alone! Have you done that? Are you singing the Lord’s triumph?
The second stanza contrasts the excuse-makers and the risk-takers (vv. 13-23). This stanza contrasts those who were risk-takers, willing to go into battle, (through their faith in the Lord,) with those who did not answer the call to battle, because they were overly cautious and self-centered. (Notice the “much searching of hearts” among the people of Reuben, vv. 15-16) It’s the contrast between the excuse-makers and the risk-takers, when the Lord’s call is heard.
Look at those who were daring and risk-taking in v. 18: “The people of Zebulun risked their very lives.” Now compare those brave men with and those men in other tribes who deliberated about what they were going to do, and then decided not to join the battle. This stanza tells us that for all those who heeded the call and went to battle (vv. 13-15b, 18), there were many who hung back and did not respond, such as Reuben, Gilead, Dan and Asher (vv. 15c-17).
Which one are you: a risk-taker for the Lord, or an excuse-maker, looking to avoid His call on your life?
There’s a similar contrast in v. 23, where the Lord’s curse comes upon the people of Meroz, who did not come to help the others in battle. This curse is contrasted in v. 24 with the Lord’s blessing (2x) upon Jael, who did get involved in the Lord’s battle!
Think about what the rejection of the call to arms by the people of Meroz meant. It meant that by seeking to save their lives (and not risk death in a battle), they actually lost their lives, their very souls, coming under God’s eternal curse. On the other hand, Jael, and the men who did risk their lives for the Lord in battle, who were willing to lose their lives, actually saved their lives, as God fought for them and protected them?
Isn’t this what Jesus taught in Mark 8:34-38, where our Lord calls us to die to ourselves, to take up the cross, and to lose our lives… in order to save them? But whoever wants to hold onto his or her life will ultimately lose it; the one refusing Jesus’ call to the cross will lose everything in the end.
This is what missionary and martyr Jim Elliot meant when he said that “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” That is what spurred Elliot and the four other martyred missionaries to risk and give their lives for Christ and the spread of the gospel in 1956.
Let me ask each one of you: Have you obeyed the call of the Lord Jesus Christ upon your life? Have you responded to His grace and His Lordship by dying to yourself and following Him? Are you a risk-taker or an excuse-maker for the Lord and the gospel? What did you do in the last month that involved taking a risk for Jesus? Are you obeying His call to pray, evangelize, and sacrifice, or are you content to sit in the pew and do little or nothing. Which one are you? Will you receive a crown from the Lord, on the day of judgement, or will Jesus tell you, “Depart from me; I never knew you?”
The third stanza contrasts two women: the dedicated Jael and the deluded mother of Sisera (vv. 24-30). This stanza praises Jael and mocks Sisera’s mother, with a “sanctified sarcasm.” Jael is deemed the most blessed of women (two times in v. 24), for boldly killing the wicked general Sisera, with a hammer and a tent peg. Meanwhile Sisera’s mother is portrayed as someone who worries about when her son is going to get back from the battle. She and her ladies are concerned that Sisera seems to be delayed in his return from the battlefield.
There’s also an implied contrast between Jael’s life in a Bedouin tent and Sisera’s mother’s elaborate palace. Living in a tent that you would move from time to time meant that you lived simply, while for Sisera’s mother, she was used to enjoying all the gold and silver and fine clothing from all the times her son had won a battle and plundered the people! It was as if Sisera would return home from an elaborate shopping spree!
Look at vv. 28-30. You get the impression that the idea of Sisera raping women [The Hebrew of v. 30 is “a womb or two for each man”] and plundering villages is just a perfectly acceptable thing for him to do! Sisera’s acts of violence against Israel are mentioned without any twinge of conscience or remorse…. just as people talk about abortion today. In fact, the mother’s high standard of living depended on Sisera continually raping and plundering! What a misplaced confidence his mother and her ladies have! They attribute his delay to so much plundering, raping, and gathering the spoils of war (some for themselves!)… while all the time he lies dead with a tent peg through his skull! Instead of his mother and the other ladies wearing “colorful garments embroidered, highly embroidered garments,” they would soon be wearing sackcloth and ashes!
So in this stanza you have a contrast between a tent-dwelling, God-fearing woman who is blessed by God – Jael, and a palace-living, self-centered woman – Sisera’s mother, who deludes herself and rationalizes her son’s war crimes. Only Jael would be able to sing the Lord’s song of triumph; Sisera’s mother would soon be singing the funeral dirges of Ba’al.
Consider this: in our materialistic culture, it is probably easier to identify with Sisera’s mother, than with Jael. We may need to repent of how our high standard of living is partially based on the exploitation of other peoples, and upon the greed and self-centeredness of our lifestyles.
The song’s ending applies the song’s lesson to each of us (v. 31)
“So may all your enemies perish, Lord! But may they who love you be like the sun when it rises in its strength.” Here the lesson of the song is generalized to each of us who hear it, and that lesson is that all of the Lord’s enemies will perish, like Sisera did, but all who cry out to Him and love the Lord will rise up. We will rise up like Deborah, Barak, and Jael rose up’ like the sun that rises up each morning, and we will accordingly receive the Lord’s strength and blessing!
And so the song ends with a call for Christ’s Kingdom to triumph, over Satan, over death, and over all evil! It is also a call for all of God’s people to love Him and serve Him! Truly, all those who oppose the Lord will perish, but those who love Him will be blessed.
The ultimate meaning of this song points us forward to Christ’s final victory. We await the glorious return of our Great Judge, when He will do to all His enemies, what He had done to Sisera. (See Psalm 83:1-18).
Singing the Lord’s Victories: Then, Now, and Forever More!
Now keep in mind that Judges chapter four, which we looked at last Sunday, was the narrative version of what the Lord did through Deborah, Barak, and Jael, to bring victory to his people over their oppressors.
Now today, in Judges chapter five, we are given a spirited interpretation of the events of chapter four, in the form of a rocking song of victory! This is like the theme song from Rocky playing as Rocky Balboa runs up the Art Museum steps! This is your high school basketball team coming down from 20 points behind in the fourth quarter, to win the game at the buzzer, as “We Will Rock You” is playing in the background! This is our congregation singing “O God beyond All Praising, We Worship You Today” at the end of a Christ-exalting worship service!
That’s the impact this song would have had upon God’s people when it was heard and sung. They were singing the Lord’s victory, with joy and confidence, knowing that their dreaded enemy had been defeated, and that the Lord had brought peace into the land!
Brothers and sisters, our God has graciously given us the blessing of music and voices and instruments, so that we can sing His triumphs, through our king, the Lord Jesus Christ!
This is what happened after the Lord powerfully led His people out of 400 years of bondage and oppression in Egypt, by sending 10 plagues against the oppressors, and then not only opening the Red Sea for them to escape, but bringing down those waters upon the mighty Egyptian army, with its 600 chariots. How did Israel respond? They sang to the Lord a song of triumph and victory! Exodus 15:1-2 “I will sing unto the Lord for He has triumphed gloriously the horse and rider thrown into the sea. The Lord, my God, my strength my song, has now become my victory! The Lord is God and I will praise Him, my father’s God and I will exalt Him…”
This is what happened in Judges 4-5, when the Lord again sent a deluge of water upon the 900 iron chariots of Sisera, and routed the Canaanite oppressors, giving Israel peace for 40 years. They responded by singing this song of the Lord’s victory!
This is what happened when the angel of the Lord appeared to Mary, and told her that the Messiah would be born through her; that the Savior of the world was soon coming, to bring forgiveness to sinners and to rescue us from Satan, our deadly and wicked oppressor. How did Mary respond? She sang a song of the Lord’s victory, the Magnificat! Luke 1:46-55 “The mighty one has done great things for me…He has performed mighty deeds with his arms…He has lifted up the humble and filled the hungry with good things.”
And this is what will happen when the Lord Jesus Christ returns to earth, in power and in glory, to judge the earth and to take all His children home to heaven with Him. How will we respond? By singing the words of Rev. 15:3-4 “Great and wonderful are Thy wondrous deeds, O Lord God, the Almighty. Just and true are all Thy ways, O Lord, King of the ages art Thou. Who shall not fear and glorify Thy Name O Lord? For Thou alone art holy, Thou alone. All the nations shall come and worship Thee, for Thy glory shall be revealed. Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Amen.”
What song are you singing today? What song will you sing in eternity? Ps. 98:1 “Sing to the Lord a new song… His right hand and His holy arm has gotten Him the victory!”