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DEBORAH THE WISE
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Based on Judges 4
Everyone has heard of Paul Revere, but very few would recognize the name of Sybil Ludington. Her father was a colonel in the Revolutionary Army in Connecticut. One night a messenger came banging on the door of their home. Sybil let him in and went to get her father. She listened as her father received the report that 200 British troops had over run Danburg, Conn.
The British had taken advantage of the fact that the American troops had gone home to their farms to plant their fields. The British easily stormed past the guards, and they began to loot and burn the town. Colonel Ludington realized the messenger has to go out to the militia immediately, but the messenger was too exhausted. Sybil volunteered, but her father refused to let a 16 year old girl go riding into such a dark and dangerous night. But Sybil insisted, for she knew the country and there was no one else to go, and time was running out.
Sybil got her horse prepared and off she rode. Through the night she rode to every farm house and shouted the message, "The British are burning Danburg. Meet at Colonel Ludington's mill." She fought back many tears in the lonely night and her voice gave out. Her horse was also exhausted, but she achieved the goal, and the British were driven back to their ships. Sybil became known as the female Paul Revere. In 1975 a stamp was issued in her memory, and a statue of her stands in Memorial Hall in Washington, D. C.
All through history women have played a major role in war, and in the defense of their people. Women warriors who actually led troops in battle are more frequent in history than most of us would ever think likely. Probably the most famous of all is Joan of Arc who lived from 1412 to 1431. This 19 year old girl led France to victory in a war they had been losing to England for 75 years. Joan had no schooling, and never learned to read, but she heard the call of God to save France. She persuaded the French Commander to give her the chance. They had nothing to lose, for it looked hopeless, but this young girl rallied the French Army and won victory after victory. She united a divided nation and reestablished France as a major world power.
We want to focus our attention on Judges 4 where we see the Joan of Arc of the Old Testament. Deborah also rallied the forces of the nation of Israel, and she won for her people freedom from what seemed hopeless odds. For 20 years Israel had suffered oppression from Jabin the king of Canaan. He had 900 chariots of iron, and Israel had a grand total of zero. You talk about an uneven balance of power. This was like trying to fight tanks with bows and arrows. In our world today one of the key issues is balance of power, and who has the most and fastest strike capability weapons. Israel was certainly not the leader in that day.
When Israel did evil and developed life styles out of God's will, the pagan nations around her won all the wars, and they were slaves. When they repented and called upon God for deliverance God would raise up a leader who would set them free even though their weapons were inferior. Weapons were never the key factor in the wars of the Bible. The key was always the relationship of people to God. Unless God has changed His ways of dealing with nations, the future for Israel and America is more a matter of worship than of weapons. When people turn to God, and call upon Him for His guidance and help, then he raises up leaders to accomplish His will in history. That is what the book of Judges is all about. One of these judges that God raised up was this female judge by the name of Deborah.
Why God raised up a woman to do what is generally considered a man's task, I do not know. But its in the Book, and we have to face up to the fact that God is an equal opportunity employer when it comes to using the sexes to do His will in history. Every so often God uses a woman to do what he usually does by means of a man. This forces us to keep our minds open to God's leading, and not be limited by custom or tradition. If God gives a woman the gifts to lead men for their good and God's glory, then let her lead. The legalistic Christian says, "We never did it this way before." The biblical Christian says, "God is always doing things like He never did before. If He empowers a woman with superior gifts, then we need to submit to God and follow her leadership."
This is precisely what we see the people of Israel doing with Deborah. God was on and exaltation of womanhood campaign in this period. He not only raised up Deborah to lead His people as a prophet, a patriot, and poet, but He made sure that no man got the glory for killing the cruel oppressor Sisera. By His providence this job was done by the hand of the woman named Jael. God wanted women to be the heroines of this period of history. It ought to keep the greatest of men humble to see that they have done nothing that God could not have done as well through a woman if that was His choice.
Sexual pride has no support from the Bible. The Bible has no interest in the issue of which is superior, the male or female. The Bible is very clear on this issue, for it says that the godly male or female is superior to the ungodly male or female. Sexuality is not the issue, but spirituality is, and that is why Paul stresses that in Christ there is no male or female. The only status that really matters to God is not, are you a Jew or Gentile, are you male or female, are you in bonds or free, but what matters is, are you in Christ, or out of Christ?
Deborah was used of God, not because she was a woman, but because she was a woman of faith who committed all of her abilities to be used by God. Like the other judges of Israel, she came to power by the sheer force of her marvelous gifts. She had no royal blood, but was just an amazing and brilliant woman. Men came to her for guidance because she was so wise. We want to look at the three areas where her wisdom was revealed. First she was wise as-
I. A PROPHETESS.
A prophetess is not the wife of a prophet-she is a prophet -a female prophet. Her husband Lappidoth was likely a godly man, but nothing is known about him. He is an obscure husband married to a famous and gifted woman. She is superior to him because God chose to give her gifts that He did not give to Him. The result was the people of Israel did not come to him, but to her for leadership. We have no reason to doubt they had a wonderful marriage in spite of this role reversal. It is exceptional, but the point is, the exceptional is real, and the Bible deals with it. In the New Testament we have another illustration in husband and wife team of Pricilla and Aquilla. She was superior to him, and
became the leader of that team.
What the Bible demands is just common sense. If the wife is gifted in some area or all areas, then wisdom demands that she be the leader where she is strong. Paul recognized this with Pricilla. He puts her name first whenever he refers to them. Does this destroy what Paul says about wives being submissive to their husbands? Not at all. It just destroys the legalistic application of the principle, which is the only thing any woman could object to about that principle. Submission is simple an acknowledgement of another's gifts, wisdom, and authority. Paul demands that it be mutual between mates, for sometimes the wife has superior gifts. Both the Old Testament and New Testament illustrate this, and Deborah is the prime example.
The times were chaotic and pressures were tremendous, and yet we see the people of Israel turning to a woman for wisdom. Women are not supposed to be as emotionally stable in a crisis, but this was long before any of those studies were published, and so Deborah just went on giving her wise judgments. Deborah means, "A bee," and just like the bumble bee who never read the reports that it is not built right to fly, goes on flying, so she went on doing what women are not supposed to do well. She kept cool, and gave forth the Word of God for personal and national guidance.
She is the one who sent for Barak, and gave him the Word of God that he was to be the general of Israel's army to fight Sisera the general of Jabin's army. She is the one who gave him the prophecy that he would win the battle. God gave a woman the gift of prophecy, and this exalted that sex to the level of being the very mouthpiece of God along side of men like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel. I have not heard many women preachers myself, but regardless of how I, or anyone else, might feel about them, in the light of Deborah I would not have the audacity to ever say it is not biblical for women to proclaim the Word of God. This is a hot issue for many, but it certainly wasn't in the day of Deborah.
The thing that impresses me about this whole account of Deborah is its naturalness. It is just recorded as fact. Deborah was wise, and she was a prophetess that everybody accepted as God's choice for leadership. There is no big hassle made about changing history to herstory, or boycott to girlcott, and all of the nonsense we have in our day about trying to change sexes language. The Christian is to simply accept the providence of God as did Israel. If God gives a woman gifts, then let them be used, and praise God for them. The male or female that is God's choice will be a blessing to both sexes.
If God raises up a gifted woman, men need not fear to follow her, for her leadership will only exalt the male role. Deborah is the one who got Barak exalted to a place in Heb. 11 where she never made it herself. The male role and status are not threatened by her leadership. By this we can discern between women who are truly sent of God, and those who desire to use their gifts to defeat and dominate men for their own glory. Deborah's concern was for the glory of God and the good of His people. A great and godly woman will always be one who lifts men to a nobler level. Deborah did just that, and made her mark in the public arena of political leadership with God and the people's full approval.
As a prophetess Deborah was able to discern the mind of God, and to declare it to men, and, thereby, see God's will accomplished. Thank God for men who know when to listen to women. Had Pilate listened to his wife he may have treated Jesus differently. Had Nabal listened to his wise wife Abigail and let her handle his public relations, he would not have gone down in history as a blundering fool. The point is, the Bible supports the truth that most of us have to learn the hard way, and that is that your wife may be right, and you need to listen to her. She may, in fact, be your best advisor, just as Deborah was the best for Israel.
The opposite is also true, for Ahab never should have listened to Jezebel, and Herod never should have listened to his wife. Solomon undermined most of his wisdom by listening to his foreign wives. The female is equal in folly as well as in faith, and so we are not trying to superficially exalt the female as a paragon of virtue. We are simply recognizing that the female has all the same potential for good or evil as the male. Therefore, she is to be treated, and related to, in ways that acknowledge that equality.
That prince of expositors G. Campbell Morgan writes, "The one great message of the story seems to be that it warns us to take heed that we do not imagine ourselves to be wiser than God. When He calls and equips a woman to high service, let us beware less we dishonor Him by refusing to recognize her, or cooperate with her." In other words, the Christian attitude is to let women rise to the level of their gifts and abilities. Listening to, and following, a wise and godly woman can be the key to God's best in life. God can do what He wills without a woman or a man, for that matter, but that is what makes it so wonderful, for He chooses to change history by using men and women who will cooperate with Him. Next let us consider Deborah as-
II. A PATRIOT.
A patriot is one who loves his or her country, and zealously supports its interests. The people of Israel were sick and tired of the 20 years of slavery to Jabin, and they crying out to God for help. The way God spells relief is DEBORAH. She was God's answer to their prayers. A godly woman can be the best weapon a nation can have. We know that Eve was God's answer to Adam's prayer, and that females have been the answer to the prayers of men all through history. Deborah is an example of the fact that God may also answer national prayers by raising up a woman.
Deborah was the real source of inspiration and leadership, and this is acknowledged by Barak the general in verse 8 where he says to Deborah, "If you will go with me I will go: But if you will not go with me, I will not go." Barak was a man of faith, but he was not going after 700 iron chariots without the presence of Deborah. She was obviously a charismatic personality that gave confidence and assurance to all who were with her. He needed someone special, for he was taking on a well drilled army with the best and newest fighting machines. He was fighting with men out of training, and with nothing but homemade weapons. He needed her to motivate his men.
Deborah was no Cleopatra, eager to reign over men and dominate them. She was eager to inspire them to do the will of God, and gain freedom from their enemies that they might more effectively live for God and His purposes. She aroused her nation from its lethargy and despair. She awakened in them a determination to be free from their bondage. Without her the victory would never have been attempted. Deborah is proof that a woman may be the best national advisor. For a woman to be on the supreme court of our land, or to be in the president's cabinet is no problem for those who see how God has worked in the history of His people. History and the Bible make it clear that patriotic women are a vital part of any nation that is blessed by God.
Deborah went from settling personal disputes among God's people to settling international disputes. All through history God has used women, not just in the home and the church, but in the public arena of politics. It is not for all, or even most women, but the point is, when God calls women to get involved in major political ways, they have a tremendous impact. Never underestimate the power of women to change the course of history. Deborah's leadership reversed the history of Israel, and instead of living as slaves, they had 40 years of peace and freedom because of her.
In our own land we enjoy enormous blessings because of patriotic women. I think of just one group that God has used so uniquely in our land. The Quaker women have always been treated as equals. They receive the same good education, and the same freedom to use their gifts. The results are that this small group of women have had a profound influence on all Americans. They were a major force in fighting slavery, and in building institutions for care and education. They provided the first battlefield nurses. Lucretia Mott became one of the greatest women leaders of the 19th century. She and other Quaker women, like the Grimke sisters were the first Americans women to speak out in public and win for women the right to express themselves in public. Then came Susan B. Anthony whose labors led women to gain the right to vote. Quaker women were the first to do many things in our land to benefit the whole nation. Their theology allowed them to enter into the freedoms of our nation, and they expanded those freedoms for all. The third area of Deborah's wisdom is that she was-
III. A POETESS.
Judges chapter 5 is considered one of the first pieces of literature ever written, and Deborah was its author. One of its famous lines is, "The stars in their courses fought against Sisera." It is a poetic way of saying that the universe is behind what is good, and that nature itself will fight the forces of evil. Women did write parts of the Bible. It was mostly songs like those of Miriam and Deborah in the Old Testament, and Mary and Elizabeth in the New. A number of scholars are convinced also that Pricilla is the author of the book of Hebrews. That may never be determined, but what is determined is that God has, and does, inspire women as well as men.
Deborah was something of a female Solomon. She was wise in discerning what was right, and people respected her judgments. She also had his creative gift of writing songs. This is patriotic song of Israel, which records and rejoices in the Lord's guidance to bring victory to them. It is of interest that women have always enjoyed equality with men in the area of writing poetry and songs. History is filled with women who have excelled in this area of creativity. Some of our most patriotic songs were written by women. America the Beautiful was written by Katherine Lee Bates, and the Battle Hymn of the Republic was written by Julia Ward Howe.
Many of the songs we sing to praise God, and to express our faith, are songs that God has given to us through the minds and pens of women. This is a vast field of study on its own. As Deborah's gifts were used to bless God's people in her day, so the gifts of women have blessed the whole family of God all through history, and will continue to do so until history ends. The point of all this is not that women should go away singing, "Anything you can do I can do better," but that they rejoice with men in the God who loves and uses both sexes to bless His people, and through them the people of the world.
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