Today we are talking about war and women. That was a little joke, but it is already about a war and about two special women in this war.
But let's start with the back story.
This is how it started
Judges 4, 1-3; NL
What is the first question that comes to mind? Of course, who are all these people? Let's start with Ehud.
In the chapter before, in Judges 3, you can read a lot about him. He was left-handed and he was a very brave man and he was a judge in Israel for many years.
At that time there was no king in Israel, but everyone lived a little bit for himself and ideally the Israelites kept the laws from the five books of Moses. These also regulated a great deal about how people lived together. If there were problems, they turned to a judge and there was often one who had the last word and who was listened to.
If leadership was needed, for example when foreign armies attacked, then the judge went out and asked the Israelite men to become soldiers. Usually there were always enough who joined in.
This system does not seem very convincing to me. One rather expects a stable government, a standing army, border controls, police that keep order, etc. Everything that a modern state needs.
God actually intended it so that the people would voluntarily behave properly and accept God as king. This becomes clear in 1 Samuel 8:4-9; NL, where the prophet Samuel is old and his sons are unfortunately corrupt and dishonest:
Samuel then explains to them that a king is a dictator and is not accountable to the people. He just does what he wants. They give away their freedom by submitting to the king. But the people still wanted it.
Are we like that today? We want a stable government where someone bangs on the table and tells us where to go! Controversial discussions, struggling for the best solution? No, we'd rather follow someone who tells us what to do. After all, there is no alternative ;-)
But let's return to the text from Judge 4. Ehud was a hero, a role model and he led Israel. And it was only when Ehud was no longer there that the Israelites did evil again. This, by the way, runs through the whole book of Judges. As long as the exemplary judge was alive, it worked out with the people, but when the judge was gone, then they went astray.
Why was that? Was it the positive example? Or was it more a form of control? The judge always kept an eye on things and ruled fairly in disputes.
Why do we do evil? Would we do less evil if someone always controlled us? It works well with children, with adults too? Who wants to live like that?
On the other hand, community can of course have a positive effect. People exchange ideas, they are honest with each other, and surely such a good community helps them to stay on the right path. And maybe that was also the case with this judge. He behaved correctly and that had a contagious effect on those around him.
But the question remains: Why and when do we do evil? What is the trigger in us, what particularly seduces us? That is not so easy to answer.
And then God delivers them to another king named Jabin. In relation to God, man often gets what he wants. If he wants to live with God, then he will also find God's nearness. If he rejects God, then he is handed over to another ruler.
The king himself was probably not such a problem, but he had a cruel army commander, Sisera, whom he let do as he pleased. Apparently there was a military-technical superiority that this ruler Sisera exploited, and the king didn't seem to care.
Israel was no longer interested in God and so they got a ruler who was not interested in their welfare.
Deborah, judge and prophetessLet us go further in the text:
From a purely statistical point of view, a female judge was already something unusual in Israel. As far as I know, she is the only one in the entire period of the judges, otherwise there were only men. And she was not only a judge, she was also a prophetess.
I have heard statements about this in the past, such as: The men were not up to it and therefore a woman had to take over the ministry and so on.
The Bible text describes her and her ministry completely soberly. She was also married, but her husband does not appear anywhere else in the Bible. But that is not important, because it is about her and her task and calling.
I believe that God called her for this ministry because she was the most suitable person at that time. And the Israelites trust her and come to her with their legal disputes.
And she also practices prophecy:
God speaks to her and she calls a general to her and relays God's command to him. It is not so clear what Barak's role was in Israel at that time. After all, there was no minister of war. The translation I have primarily used for this sermon also seems to be somewhat inaccurate at this point, because in other translations Deborah's prophecy is translated as a rhetorical question, e.g. in the Elberfelder:
Apparently Barak already knew about God's commission, but he still had reservations, was uncertain or perhaps even afraid. However, Barak is mentioned in the New Testament, in Hebrews 11:32, as an example of faith.
He responds to this command:
What is one to make of this? Why is he so anxious for Deborah to come along? Is he afraid to go alone? A wimp who can't make it without the help of a woman?
In addition, there is the somewhat strange prophecy of Deborah, where she predicts that this campaign will not bring him any glory. The differences in the Bible translations are interesting here, because in some the word "then" is inserted, e.g. again in the Elberfelder:
So, because he does not want to go alone, someone else is celebrated for the victory.
Let's think a little bit why Barak gets involved in this. And I would like to approach the person Barak in a positive way, because, as already mentioned, he is mentioned in the Letter to the Hebrews as an example of faith.
Deborah was the prophetess of God and Barak certainly wanted to tackle this difficult task with God. He wanted to have God with him, he always wanted to have the possibility to listen to God. He was also able to lead, because he called the tribes together and 10,000 warriors followed him. He was already capable of this task.
And obviously the fulfilment of the task was more important to him than his fame, and in that I like him very much. I think he was desperate to fulfil God's mission, he didn't trust himself to do it without God's assistance. And that's why the prophetess Deborah also had to be there.
And before the war starts, a short side episode is mentioned, which is important later on:
The older I get, the more I have problems with such descriptions of war. I have seen the consequences of war in the former Yugoslavia shortly after ceasefires. And I've also been to Verdun once, to the big military cemetery, and as I've seen my boys walking across the grave field, my aversion to war has grown even more.
You wonder why God allows this war to happen at all, why doesn't he just gently blow Sisera and his soldiers out of the country. I can't answer that completely, but the Old Testament also portrays the nature of man very realistically and these events that really happened should also be an image for us today. And unfortunately there is always war and oppression at all times. We understand this image.
Whether it was necessary to kill all the warriors, I dare to doubt, but we don't know how fanatical and dangerous Sisera's warriors were. Maybe they were so amped up that they fought to the death. We don't know, and I've just fallen into the habit of softening unpleasant descriptions that I don't like by speculating.
So, now that I've expressed my discomfort with war, let's get back to the text.
Deborah encourages Barak once again and assures him that God has already gone ahead. That assurance alone was worth Barak not going without the prophetess Deborah, wasn't it? She predicts victory for him.
And Barak was not a coward. He trusts in God and goes into battle against an opponent who is far superior in military terms.
How courageous are we? At the end of the Gospel of Matthew, for example, we can read the promise of Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:18-20; NGÜ):
We don't have to go to war against an enemy army, of course, thank God.
But we also have a difficult mission, whereby Jesus has promised us that he is with us every day, until the end of the world. That's something to dare to do, isn't it?
And there is another important point that struck me in the account of the war: The Lord caused great confusion among Sisera, his chariots and his whole army.
God confuses the enemy. I think he still does that today.
In Matthew 10:16; Jesus predicts that he will send us like sheep in the midst of wolves. The environment can be very hostile to our faith. And we live in it and tell about Jesus Christ. But God confounds the hostile powers, the visible and also the invisible, so that we can stand with him in that environment and bear witness to him.
The victory of the woman
Now we come to the finale. The commander Sisera flees on foot. This is typical again. The general burns up his men and flees.
I think that's been the case throughout the ages. Officers usually come through. I read a bit about Stalingrad in the Second World War and over 100,000 soldiers were taken prisoner there after the surrender and they were so beat up and certainly not treated well that out of those 100,000 only 5,000 came back. Of the 13 generals, 12 came back.
But let's read on:
It is not easy to join in the rejoicing for this deed of Jael. It also seems a bit unfair, because this Heber and his wife Jaël lived in peace with King Jabin.
Here, too, I have a similar unease with the description of the war, but let us nevertheless try to draw something from it for ourselves today.
I think the main message in these verses is decision. Heber and his wife Jael were actually kind of at peace with everyone. They got along with Jabin, they got along with the Israelites somehow. This is a picture for people who don't want to choose anything. A little Islam, a little Christianity, a little Buddha, I make my own patchwork religion.
But this woman Jaël obviously wanted to decide. She certainly witnessed how the Israelites were treated, but perhaps also has knowledge of Moses and the God of Israel through stories. And she takes a risk, she wants to belong, she places herself among God's people. And that is a risk.
If Jabin had won the war, Jaël and her family would have been in real trouble. She would probably have been executed.
And so the decision for Jesus Christ is also a risk. It is easy to get angry with people who disagree with you. We have already heard that the environment can sometimes be quite hostile for Christians.
But it has chosen the victors, because God gave Israel the victory, and in the same way you belong to the victors if you decide for Jesus Christ.
The glory?In the following chapter, Deborah and Barak sing together about the events.
First God is sung about, then Deborah, then Barak too, and at the end Jaël is praised for what she has done.
Perhaps Barak did not get much glory at the time, but in the long run he has become a model of faith through his desire to go about his task with God, and that is some glory in itself.
I come to the conclusion:
- The old judge was dead and Israel began to do evil again. When and why do we do evil?
- Israel is handed over to a cruel ruler. If we do not want God to rule over us, then someone else rules.
- Deborah was a prophetess and judge and it does not seem to matter to the story that she was a woman.
- Barak wants to carry out the mission of God with God's assistance and therefore wants the prophetess with him. He was able to lead and is mentioned in the New Testament as an example of faith.
- God gives victory and even predicts it beforehand. And he confounds the enemies.
- The woman Jaël decides for God's people. She commits herself. This is a model for the decision for Jesus Christ.