Now, God’s normal pattern, as you look at it throughout scripture, is that men are called and raised up to be the primary leaders, protectors, and providers for God’s people. And we won’t take time to go into all the many passages and the many places of scripture that illustrate that. Don’t misquote me those who are tweeting, because you could get me in trouble. But God’s norm is that the primary leadership, protection, and provision for his people comes from men.
However, in the period of the judges, there was a vacuum of male leadership. The men were scared. They were passive. They were inactive. I see in Deborah a model of a woman who fulfilled her feminine nature and calling and was used by God to help promote and further male leadership in the nation. You say, “How do you know that? Are you making this up?”
In fact, Deborah has become something of an icon for those who hold to a more Egalitarian theology of male and female roles. I would like to rescue Deborah and take her back and show you how she illustrates a very Complementarian view of manhood and womanhood. First of all, there is no evidence that she set herself up for this, or that she aspired to lead the nation. Her heart was to serve.
If you turn to chapter 5, verse 7, you’ll see Deborah’s perception of herself and her perception of her role.
The villagers ceased in Israel; they ceased to be [describing the period of chaos] until I arose; I, Deborah, arose as a [what?] mother in Israel.
Now, there are lots of other things she could have said. “I arose as a prophetess.” “I arose as a judge.” “I arose as a warrior.” “I arose as a strategist.” “I arose as someone to take charge because none of the men in the nation had the courage or guts to do anything about what was going on.” None of that.
How did she see herself? A mother. It’s a reference to the protective, nurturing instinct. That’s what gave her courage to go into the battle—a mother’s heart. Ladies, you don’t have to have biological children to have a mother’s heart. God has put within me as a single woman with no biological children of my own, a mother’s heart for the people of God. God can put that in you as well. That’s what motivated her. She was not driven by desire for power, for control, for position, for recognition. She was motivated as a mother in Israel.
Pastor John Piper has written some wonderful material on biblical manhood and womanhood.
I think in our resource center we probably have the booklet What’s the Difference? It’s one of the most helpful references I’ve read about the differences of men and women. He talks about what it means to be a true woman.
He says, “At the heart of mature femininity is a freeing disposition, or inclination . . .” It is a freeing disposition. This has not put us in prison. It is freeing. “An inclination to affirm, to receive, and nurture strength and leadership from worthy men in ways that are appropriate to a woman’s differing relationships.”
That’s mature femininity—”that disposition and inclination to affirm, receive, and nurture strength and leadership from worthy men in ways that are appropriate to our differing relationships.” You do it differently with a husband than you do with a boss or colleague at work or a brother. Different relationships, different ways that are appropriate, but He says this is a freeing inclination for us as women.
Deborah, I think, illustrates that so beautifully. She acted in such a way as to affirm and lift up male leadership. She didn’t command Barak, tell him what to do. She simply delivered a message from the Lord. Chapter 4:6, “Has not the LORD, the God of Israel, commanded you?” She nurtured leadership in Barak, without making a point that that’s what she was trying to do. “Yes, we women are going to help you men be more manly.” She provided an opportunity for Barak to fulfill his God-created calling as a leader, a protector, and a defender.
We see her in a responsive helper role. She’s willing to accompany Barak into the battle, but at his initiative and his appeal. This is not a woman who is taking the reins. Chapter 4:9 says, “I will surely go with you” at his initiative. She was delighted to see men rising up and take leadership—even as our hearts are encouraged to see God raising up godly men to pray, to preach, and to lead our churches and homes. We want to be grateful to that, to be delighted and encouraged by it.
Look at chapter 5, verse 2 in Deborah’s hymn, “that the leaders took the lead in Israel, that the people offered themselves willingly, bless the LORD.” She was grateful for this. Look at 5:9. “My heart goes out to the commanders of Israel who offered themselves willingly among the people.” She affirms male leadership.
So we see in Deborah a woman of faith and a woman of courage. The legacy of her life is that through her encouragement and influence, the men of her day became men, came forward, stepped up to the plate to accept responsibility, to fight against evil and to defend their wives and children. It is, ladies, not the power of control, but the power of influence that we have as women.
I see in this woman a humble heart, humility. It is like the chief grace, and pride being its antithesis—the chief root of all sins. But I see a humble heart here; a woman not looking to get the credit or be the hero of the story. In fact, if you were at the prayer time last night, you heard nine-year-old Abby quote the last several verses for us of Hebrews 11. She’s sat through this entire conference and taken notes on every speaker. She filled up all her note taking pages and had one page left for this morning. She’s probably running out of space. She quoted for us the great hall of faith from Hebrews chapter 11.
In that passage there are 14 Old Testament men and two Old Testament women who are named. Remember who the women are? Sarah and Rahab. No Deborah in that list. She is not named. But listen to this, Hebrews 11:32,
What more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, and Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets—who through faith conquered kingdoms and enforced justice.
How in the world did Barak get on that list and Deborah didn’t? Deborah is not named but Barak is listed as a man of great faith. It certainly didn’t start out that way. Deborah lived in an era where men were passive and fearful and refused to step up to the plate. Deborah had the faith for starters, but in the end it’s Barak’s faith that was recognized in Hebrews 11.
You know what? I believe that would have pleased Deborah. I believe that would have made her happy because she was fulfilling her God-created role as a helper. When Barak was recognized in the end as a man of great faith, don’t you think she said “Yes, thank you Lord for giving these men courage and faith and raising them up.”
And remember, in the record books of heaven, Deborah’s name is there, and your name can be there along with the men that God uses our lives to influence to do great exploits for Him. Well, in chapter 4, verse 12 we come to the description of the battle.
When Sisera was told that Barak the son of Abinoam had gone up to Mount Tabor, Sisera called out all his chariots, 900 chariots of iron [lest we forget how serious the enemy was], and all the men who were with him, from Harosheth-hagoyim to the river Kishon. And Deborah said to Barak, “Up! For this is the day that the LORD has given Sisera into your hand. Does not the LORD go out before you?” So Barak went down from Mount Tabor with 10,000 men following him (verses 12-14).
Now, Barak is in a life-threatening, dangerous situation, and what does Deborah do? She comes along at his request and encourages this man with the promises of God. We know the end of the story, but for all Barak knows, those 900 chariots will run over his 10,000 foot soldiers. But he is armed with the promises of God. Where did he hear those promises? From the lips of a woman of faith. She encourages him with God’s promises and inspires him to move forward in faith.
Ladies, a woman’s words can inspire courage and faith in the men around us, in husbands and sons and pastors and others. So let’s just put an end to talking about passive men and men who won’t step up to the plate. Let’s be women of courage ourselves and faith and humility and speak words that build up rather than tearing down.
Let me tell you this. You saw it in the video last night of Kim sharing so transparently out of her own life how she, little by little, chipped away at her husband’s manhood until this man who had been courageous had become just whittled away.
How many of us as women with our words have chipped away at the courage and the faith and the manhood of the men around us? Can we put an end to that and begin to speak words of courage and faith? You say, “My husband isn’t a warrior.” You believe God can make him a warrior and could infuse faith in his heart? “You don’t know; he’s a mess.” You think God can redeem messes? God has redeemed us; He’s redeeming us.
By the way, there is a lot we need to be redeemed from. Some of these men are so patient with us women being controlling and conniving and manipulative—and like Ford—always having a better idea. God have mercy on these men having to live with some of us who at times are shrews. Here is the woman who is a model of the encourager and how her words inspired courage rather than tearing down this man. Look at verse 15.
The LORD routed Sisera and all his chariots and all his army before Barak by the edge of the sword. And Sisera got down from his chariot and fled away on foot. And Barak pursued the chariots and they army to Harosheth-hagoyim, and the army of Sisera fell by the edge of the sword; not a man was left (verses 15-16).
Who is the hero, the champion in this story? It’s not Deborah. It’s not Barak. Who is it? Who routed Sisera and all his chariots? God did. Who subdued Jaban the king of Canaan before the people of Israel? The Lord did. God will be victorious, and his enemies will be defeated.
The enemy, when the tide of evil comes in like a flood, God will raise up a standard against him. The name, the cross of Christ, the gospel of Christ, the truth of God—it is more powerful than all the world’s chariots and ideologies and philosophy and powers and armies and false religions. God is the victor. God is the champion. The battle is the Lord’s.
You see a beautiful thing in this passage, and you see it in life how God used human means in the battle. He used Barak. Those Israelite soldiers fought hard, but God also sent supernatural divine intervention to win the battle. Look at chapter 5, verse 20. You probably have never stopped to think about these verses before.
From heaven the stars fought, from their courses they fought against Sisera. The torrent Kishon swept them away.
You say, “What in the world does that mean?” It appears, as you study this passage, that God sent in the midst of this battle a violent thunderstorm. Lightning, a torrential downpour, rain, hail, and sleet. And the Kishon River that is normally just a tiny little stream flooded. And what happened to those Canaanite chariot wheels that they thought were their strength? They got stuck in the mud in the flood waters, and the enemy was thrown into panic and confusion, and the men on those chariots tried to run away on foot to escape the wrath of Jehovah God and His army.
What’s so cool about this story is that Baal was the Canaanite god, the god of the storms, so they thought. In this moment Jehovah God demonstrated His supreme power over storms, Baal, and over all false gods. Ladies, there is no limit to God’s resources and His power. You put yourself, weak as you are, at His disposal and He will move heaven and earth if necessary to defend you and to glorify Himself. Don’t underestimate the power and the greatness and the grace of God.
Now as the story unfolds, we see that there were some Israelites who willingly joined in the battle. But there were others who stayed at home and refused to get involved. The participants, the willing volunteers were commended and blessed for their willingness to get involved.
Look at chapter 5:11. “Then down to the gates marched the people of the Lord.”
Verse 14-15, “From Ephraim their root they marched down into the valley, following you, Benjamin, with your kinsmen; from Machir, from Zebulun those who bear the lieutenant’s staff; the princes of Issachar came with Deborah, and Issachar faithful to Barak; into the valley they rushed at [Barak’s] heels.”
Verse 18, “Zebulun is a people who risked their lives to the death; Naphtali, too, on the heights of the field.”
These were the ones in these tribes who were willing to get involved in the battle. But there were others who refused to get involved even though they lived nearby, and these were rebuked.
Continuing in chapter 5:15, “Among the clans of Reuben there were great searchings of heart.” They sat and thought about it.
Verse 16, “Why did you sit still among the sheepfolds, to hear the whistling for the flocks? Among the clans of Reuben there were great searchings of heart.” They thought about it but they didn’t do anything. They opted to sit it out and let their brothers go into the danger of the battle and fight the battle.
Look at verse 17. “Gilead [in the tribe of Gad] stayed beyond the Jordan; and Dan, why did he stay with the ships? Asher sat still at the coast of the sea, staying by his landings.”
Look at 5:23. “Curse Meroz”—most commentators think it was a city in Naphtali near the battle. “Curse Meroz, says the angel of the LORD. Curse its inhabitants thoroughly, because they did not come to the help of the LORD against the mighty.”
In his commentary, Phillips Brooks says it stands for the shirker. Willing to see other people fight the battles of life while he comes in and takes the spoils. Commentator Matthew Henry said, “Many are kept from doing their duty by the fear of trouble, the love of ease, and an inordinate affection to their worldly business.”
This has been a challenge to me as God has called me into the battle over these years and at times I’ve been so afraid, so wanting to stay back behind way out of the fray. I’ve been reminded it is the fear of trouble, the love of ease, and an inordinate affection for my worldly business that will keep me out of the battle. Ladies, God did not need those tribes to bring about the victory. He did it without their help. He had stars and lightning and storms and all of this at His disposal, but these people missed an opportunity to align themselves with God. They made excuses for not getting involved, and they were disgraced because they chose to sit out the battle.
God does not need us. He doesn’t need you. He doesn’t need me. His kingdom purposes will be fulfilled in this world with or without you and me. But He’s given each of us an incredible opportunity in our generation to join with Him in what He’s doing in this world. In the battle between good and evil, there is an opportunity to stand with Him and with His people, to risk our safety, and if need be, our lives, and to get involved.
Are you going to be one who joins in the battle, or are you going to sit it out and play it safe?