Judges 4:4 is a critical verse in my spiritual journey: “Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at the time.”
Deborah wore a lot of hats. First, she was a wife. Second, she was a prophetess. Her judge role carried a number of responsibilities as she served as a legal, spiritual, and even military leader of her generation. Several years ago, I wrestled with the issue of women and leadership—the Biblical criteria for leaders and God’s design for women in society. In my humble opinion, the Biblical text seems a bit contradictory at times. One moment Paul is forbidding it while in the next letter giving instructions on how women are to act and dress when in leadership. And some of the best and most brilliant theologians have come to different conclusions. I don’t think the Bible contradicts itself, but on this side of eternity, it’s difficult for me to understand it fully and clearly. For me, the life of Deborah tipped the scales of my thinking.
The book of Judges is full of the strangest tales in the whole Bible, and Judges 4 is no exception. Two women. A prophetess named Deborah. And a housewife named Jael. Those are the heroes of this story. The Israelites were in a skirmish with the Canaanites when the commander of the Israeli army, Barak, sought instruction from Deborah. He refused to go into battle without her, so Deborah informed him that the crown of glory for this particular battle would go to a woman. While Barak most likely assumed she was speaking of herself, the story would reveal an unlikely hero.
The Israelite army routed their enemies. As he was running for his life, the Canaanite general Sisera made a pit stop in his retreat at the house of Jael for a little refreshment. Like a good Jewish woman, she flung wide the doors of her house and her arms of hospitality and invited him in for a drink and rest. She even popped open a brand new skin of milk for him. After making a comfortable spot for him to take a little nap before resuming his flight, she went to the shop, grabbed a tent peg and a hammer, and proceeded to drive that tent peg into his temple and through his skull and into the ground. Yuck.
As odd and as gruesome as this story is (and believe me, it’s certainly not the worst of the tales of the Judges—check out Ehud!), there are some important lessons.
First, God will use you if you are willing and available. Most of us are so busy running around addressing the urgent things of life that we don’t even see the opportunities when they present themselves.
Two, God loves using the normal and the mundane. Sisera was not ultimately defeated by the well trained warriors of Israel but by a girl with a tent peg. He loves writing stories this way. He turned Moses’ staff into a miracle and a little boy’s lunch into a feast for 5,000. In His hands, things are not always what they seem. In His hands, we are not always what we seem.
Two girls and a tent peg. That’s how God brought victory and showed his faithfulness on that particular day. “And the land had rest for forty years” (Judges 5:31)