We see this happening today as well. Take the veterans of World War II for example. There has been a great effort to record their stories so they can be told long after those vets are gone. Why? Because if we are willing to learn from them, perhaps we can avoid the same painful lessons that they had to encounter first hand! But it is oh so easy to forget, especially if you are a few generations removed from the event! This point is vividly recorded again and again in the book of Judges.
The other thing that is so striking about Judges, is God’s choice of Judges. The least likely, the weakest, the most unexpected individuals are raised up to be the leaders! Which brings me to Deborah! She is, by far, one of my most favorite leaders in the book of Judges! She gets two chapters for crying out loud, yet she is so commonly overlooked! She is the woman behind the scenes making sure that God gets what God wants!
We meet Deborah in chapter 4. We are told first that she is a Prophetess. Then, we are told that she is the wife of Lappidoth and that she sits “under the palm of Deborah” where the Israelites come to her for judgment. This was a woman, who had nothing to prove, because she had already stood the test of time! Her counsel was considered wise enough, that she was trusted to be able to make decisions that were fair. She was a highly respected woman in a culture that was dominated by the male status quo. That, in and of itself, is a stunning accomplishment! But there’s more.
She summons Barak to give him a message. Staring at verse 6, in chapter 4 (Wesley Study Bible, NRSV):
“She sent and summoned Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali, and said to him, ‘The Lord, the God of Israel, commands you, ‘Go take position at Mount Tabor, bringing ten thousand from the tribe of Naphtali and the tribe of Zebulun. I will draw out Sisera, the general of Jabin’s army, to meet you by the Wadi Kishon with his chariots and his troops; and I will give him into your hand.’ Barak said to her, ‘If you will go with me, I will go; but if you will not go with me, I will not go.’ And she said, ‘I will surely go with you; nevertheless, the road on which you are going will not lead to your glory, for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.’ Then Deborah got up and went with Barak to Kedesh.”Barak gets a divine message from God, delivered by the most trusted and respected Prophetess of Israel and his response is “I’ll go if you go”???? Wow! Talk about lack of faith! So what is Deborah’s response? She tells him that she will go but he needs to realize that he’s not going to get credit for this deliverance, it will be a woman who gets credit! Barak may not have enough confidence in the message from God, but Deborah did have confidence!
We read further on that the battle goes exactly as Deborah said, and Sisera flees on foot and ends up at the tent of Heber, the Kenite, where he meets Heber’s wife, Jael. Here is a connection that often is overlooked. Heber is descended from Hobab, the father in law of Moses. Although they might have moved a distance away, they were still connected to Israel. Long story short, Jael has Sisera come in to the tent, she feeds him, gives him something to drink and a blanket to cover him so he can rest. He falls asleep and she drives a tent peg through his temple and kills him. Barbaric? Yes. But it wasn’t Barak that brought down enemy number one of Israel. As Deborah said “the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.” That woman, just happened to be Jael, whose family had ties to Israel!
Chapter 5 is “The Song of Deborah” where the story of the battle is recounted. The song is very clear-deliverance came because of the Lord! The Lord is the mighty warrior, who turned the tide and made victory possible! Deborah knew this and understood this right from the very beginning. She trusted in the Lord’s message and did what she had to do to ensure that it was carried out. And that is what is so extraordinary and special about Deborah. She trusted God enough to step beyond the established roles of society to become the leader that Israel needed, when they needed it!
This is just my opinion, but, I think Deborah probably didn’t see herself as anything but ordinary. She didn’t go looking for fame or glory, she simply did what she had to do. We hear a similar refrain from our heroes today. Our soldiers who are recognized for courageous acts respond that they were “just doing my job.” Or, an individual who rushes in to save someone from a burning building, or pull someone from a wreck, how do they respond? “I don’t see myself as a hero, I just did what had to be done.”
For me, that is the great lesson of Deborah. Ordinary people can accomplish extraordinary things if they are willing to trust in the guiding hand of God! These are individuals who are not looking for fame and glory. They are individuals who just want to do the right thing! It doesn’t matter who gets credit, what matters, is that, something good was accomplished from the effort.
John Wesley preached in the open fields in order to reach individuals that the church would not allow in the doors. Florence Nightingale is responsible for the beginnings of the nursing profession as we now know it. Clara Barton brought the ideas of the Red Cross to the United States. Martin Luther King inspired us with his “I have a dream” speech, but it was Rosa Parks who simply wanted to be able to sit where she wanted to! Mother Teresa, Princess Diana, the list can go on, but each of these individuals did not set out to gain fame and glory, they just wanted to do the right thing!
So you, darling, precious, ordinary, person, can accomplish great things! You do it every day without realizing the fact! You do this by simply choosing to listen to that still, small, voice and doing the things that need to be done. Those small “right acts” that you do, unnoticed, everyday, can add up to extraordinary things in the long run. We may not know God’s plan or even understand His plan, but as long as we trust Him, great things can happen! If you ever need to be reminded of that fact, just go back to Judges and read about Deborah. Deborah, an ordinary woman, who by the grace of God, was able to accomplish an extraordinary thing! I sum up her philosophy by paraphrasing the end of verse 21, found in chapter 5. March on sweet souls, be strong! Trust the Lord and march on with might! Sing your songs like Deborah, the extraordinary, ordinary, leader of Israel! March on!