Thursday, October 6
In Judges 6-8 we see the Israelites in a place where they had turned from God and had been handed over to the Midianites. Gideon, being the judge and spiritual leader, is working to bring Israel back into God’s favor. Throughout these chapters we see a theme of doubt and fear. Not too different from the feelings and struggles we all face today. But the amazing thing we see from Gideon is the way he lays it all down to God. And God shows up! Over and over again proving his awesome power and doing it in the face of even more amazing odds. Whether it was defeating the Midianites with a fraction of the Israelite army or the miracles performed with Gideon’s fleece. In the face of our doubts and fears we serve an awesome, loving God who comes through for us time and time again when we lay it all at His feet.
If you’ve seen a Mama Bear protect her cubs when they are under attack, you know how many of us moms feel at times. I’m not typically a woman who would ever intentionally hurt someone’s feelings or raise my voice… however, God has molded me into an assertive, vocal Mama Bear when it comes to my kids. Talk with any mom of special needs kids and you are sure to hear some “war” stories. Our story picks up today with a new judge who referred to herself as a “Mother in Israel” (Judges 5:7). This was Deborah – AKA Mama Bear (in my mind, anyway!). She could have referred to herself as many different titles: judge, wife, prophetess, leader… but she chooses “mother.” Oh how I love this woman! As we read through this story we find a woman who is wise, kind, encouraging, passionate, faithful, brave, and ready to protect the children of Israel (her “cubs”). Like many Mama Bears, she sees the big picture for her people. She hears God speak to her and she takes action. As “kids” can often break their parents’ hearts… we see bad choices have been made over that past 20 years. God is heartbroken as their Father. Deborah is heartbroken, as a member of God’s people – and as a spiritual mother. The repetitive pattern of sinful living has hit rock bottom again, and the Israelites are ready for God to provide them with a deliverer.
We find Deborah leading God’s people, handling disputes, and holding court under the Palm of Deborah (4:4-5). The Canaanite King (Jabin) and the cruel general, Sisera had made life troublesome and miserable for the Israelites. They had a strong army of men as well as 900 iron chariots. Deborah sent for Barak, a top officer for Israel’s army. She said to him, “The LORD, the God of Israel, commands you: ‘Go, take with you ten thousand men … I will lure Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army… and give him into your hands’” (4:6-7). Deborah lays out God’s battle plan which made little military sense… great opportunity to prove nothing is impossible with God. The Canaanite chariots didn’t help much in the mountains, but were extremely effective on the plains. God was ordering Barak and his troops to go to Mount Tabor, where I’m sure every shiny piece of weaponry, chariot, and enemy could be easily observed. Barak was then to lead them down the mountain and onto the plains – where chariots typically can do the most damage. This makes little sense to us mere mortals. Quick pause: Barak throws down an ultimatum and says he’s not going unless Deborah goes (4:8). Mama Bear agrees to go, but assures him, because of this – the honor will not go to him. The LORD will hand Sisera over to a woman, she will get the praise (4:9). Deborah didn’t nag or abandon Barak, as he was hesitant to jump into battle. She accompanied him and gave him strength.
I imagine Sisera felt giddy with excitement, thinking he couldn’t have planned this battle any better than this! He could see an easy win with his 900 chariots on flat land against some rag tag bunch of men on foot. (Think: Tanks versus Rifles or Mama Bear versus a Duck… crazy odds, RIGHT??). As the battle was about to begin, Deborah said to Barak, “Go! This is the day the LORD has given Sisera into your hands.” (4:14). Barak led the way and charged down the mountainside with his men. In the battle that followed, the LORD threw the Canaanites into a panic, both the soldiers and the charioteers, and the river of Kishon swept them away (5:21). “The stars in their courses fought against Sisera” (5:20). I’m not sure what all that entails… but I do know that God was large and in charge that day! In all the craziness of battle, Sisera jumped from his chariot and ran on foot to escape. Barak and his men chased the Canaanites until every man was destroyed. Only one terrible man remained.
Evil Sisera ran to the tent of a woman named Jael. He hoped to find safety and rest. She invited him in, pretending to be friendly and protective. In Judges 4:18 we see her say, “Come right in, don’t be afraid” (says the spider to the fly…I feel we have another Mama Bear, of sorts, on our hands here)! Thinking she was a friend of the Canaanites, Sisera entered Jael’s tent. He laid down to rest and she covered him with a blanket. He asked for a drink of water and she gave him warm milk, and covered him again. He was exhausted, but wanted to make sure he would be safe. He told Jael to stand by the doorway of the tent and watch. He said if someone asks – tell them no one is here (Judges 4:20). Once Sisera fell asleep, Jael picked up a tent spike and hammer and quietly approached him. She drove the spike through his temple and into the ground. That day Sisera died by the hand of a woman. The glory did go to a woman that day, not to Barak. Jael was called “most blessed of women” (Judges 5:24).
I hope to be half the Mama Bear Deborah proves to be through these two chapters. She sings praises to the LORD and recognizes all He has done. She sang the praises of those who served – “My heart is with Israel’s princes, with the willing volunteers among the people” (Judges 5:9). She acknowledges the efforts of others and gives encouragement. Deborah shows us that God uses men and women to accomplish His purposes. He honors those who trust in Him. Deborah had so much faith in God – she knew before the battle began that it was the LORD’s. Her battle hymn in chapter 5 is an eye witness song celebration… sounding a great deal like that of a proud Mama! She ends with a prayer “may they who love you be like the sun when it rises in its strength” (5:31) – what an outstanding verse to pray over your cubs, and all those you care for! Then the land had peace forty years. Well done Deborah, well done.
Joshua spends significant time during his life encouraging the Israelites to remember. Remember… the commands of Moses, the allotted inheritance, all the LORD has done for you… However – we soon see, what appears to be, short term memory loss as we jump into the book of Judges. I think many of us, as Christians, want to make great choices… then we see something attractive, fun, accessible, & maybe a little shiny. We think we want it and we can handle it. As you look at our friends from Finding Nemo staring at the shiny object, they feel happy and mesmerized by something they aren’t familiar with –but it’s close and it’s shiny and hard to turn away from. The period of Judges spotlights some dark times and poor choices made by God’s chosen people. The Israelites seem to trap themselves in a repetitive cycle throughout this book. They persist in forgetting the LORD and follow a pattern of: sin, bondage, deliverance by a Judge, blessing, death of the Judge, and sin again. It seems their shiny lure comes in the form of heathen people and their idols.
“The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD” (Judges 3:7). “The anger of the LORD burned against Israel so that he sold them … into the hands of …the king of Aram” (Judges 3:8). Their shiny idols and lifestyle changes have now turned on them. (Notice Dory’s shiny attraction turned on her too). They were greatly oppressed for 8 years by these pagans. God raised up Othniel (Caleb’s nephew) to deliver his people. He went to war and overpowered the enemy, and the land had peace for 40 years.
It would be great if the Israelites brushed up on their history lessons and took a stroll down memory lane, but no! They revert to their ever-so-popular repetitive cycle of sin. The shiny idols and old pattern of infidelity reasserts itself. They once again fall into the hands of their enemy. This enemy is King Eglon of Moab and they are overpowered for 18 years. We see a cry for help, and God is faithful to give them a deliverer. Ehud is clever and uses his gifts of left-handedness and wit to his advantage. He made an 18 inch double-edged sword and strapped it to his right thigh. He secured this under his clothing when he joined other Israelites to present tribute to the king of Moab and his thugs. Ehud and his men left the tribute and headed back to their people – but Ehud stopped and returned alone to the king. As Ehud approached big ol’ King Eglon, I am sure the king and his guards were keeping their eyes on Ehud’s right hand – the expected offensive strong arm. Ehud used a technique on the king that he couldn’t resist. A little bait and hook! Maybe this was King Eglon’s moment to want something special and shiny just for himself. Ehud said, “I have a secret message for you, O King” (Judges 3:19). Eglon was intrigued and selfish enough to want this all to himself! He sent everyone out of the room. He was ready for his special message. Ehud approached him and told him he had “… a secret message from God for you” (3:20). The King didn’t see it coming… Ehud used his dominant left hand to grab the sword from his right thigh and plunged it into the king’s belly. Following this sneaky execution, Ehud led the Israelites in battle against the Moabites and won. They had peace for 80 years.
Each time the Israelites relapsed to their infuriating cycle of sin, God was faithful to their cries to Him for help. Judges 2:18 tells us, “Whenever the LORD raised up a judge for them, he was with the judge and saved them out of the hands of their enemies as long as the judge lived; for the LORD had compassion on them as they groaned under those who oppressed and afflicted them.”
We don’t know a lot about Shamgar, the third judge of Israel. We do know he killed 600 Philistines with only an ox goad and he too saved Israel. The Philistines were wise enough to realize if one man can defeat that many men with one farmer’s tool (long pole with a sharp metal point for herding oxen), maybe they should walk away. If one man could do that – what could a dozen men, armed with ox goads, do?! God’s power was written all over this story. Why the Israelites couldn’t just hang out in the “deliverance by a Judge/ blessing” portion of their repetitive cycle… who knows?? Maybe too many shiny choices? Let’s not allow distractions or shiny things to blind us. We can attract others for the kingdom by reflecting God’s radiant light. “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
Let’s remember everything the LORD has done. Let’s also turn away from sinful (shiny) desires… and, in the words of Dory, “just keep swimming!”