Do It Like Deborah – an Ordination Sermon on Judges 4:1-10

For Vicki

February 18, 2017

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the LORD after
Ehud died. And the LORD sold them into the hand of Jabin king of Canaan,
who reigned in Hazor. The commander of his army was Sisera, who lived in
Harosheth-hagoyim. Then the people of Israel cried out to the LORD for help,
for he had 900 chariots of iron and he oppressed the people of Israel cruelly
for twenty years.

Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that
time. She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel
in the hill country of Ephraim, and the people of Israel came up to her for
judgment. She sent and summoned Barak the son of Abinoam from Kedesh-
naphtali and said to him, “Has not the LORD, the God of Israel, commanded
you, ‘Go, gather your men at Mount Tabor, taking 10,000 from the people of
Naphtali and the people of Zebulun. And I will draw out Sisera, the general of
Jabin’s army, to meet you by the river 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 arose and went with Barak to Kedesh. And Barak called out Zebulun
and Naphtali to Kedesh. And 10,000 men went up at his heels, and Deborah
went up with him. – Judges 4:1-10 

When I first met Vicki, she was serving as a youth pastor in a Methodist church.
Now I’m the one serving in a Methodist church, and I’m the one trying to get
teenagers hooked on reading the Bible. This is no easy task, especially when it
comes to the Old Testament. But I have learned that Judges is a great book for
Confirmation classes. There’s plenty of blood and gore! Who needs zombie
movies when you’ve got Judges?

As we come to Deborah’s story in chapter four, we have just read the wonderful
depiction of Ehud overcoming Eglon, which not only includes deception and
blood, but the smell of human excrement – a win-win for seventh grade boys, let
me tell you. That’s the set up for the story of Deborah, a woman of God whose
leadership as a judge and prophet brought glory to God, and safety to Israel.

Deborah was a leader in Israel during a very chaotic period of its history. She is
the fourth judge listed in the Book of Judges, and the only woman to serve as a
judge. Judges were more than legal arbitrators in ancient Israel. They often
served as military generals, and they were seen as rulers over the loosely
connected twelve tribes. But their primary role was to remind the people of God
that they were, indeed, the people of God.

Other Judges, such as Gideon, Samson, and Jephtha, had character flaws that
prevented them from being the leaders God called them to be. They might have
been strong military leaders, but when it came to fulfilling the Word of the Lord,
they struggled. Deborah gives us the first glimpse of what a dedicated leader can
accomplish, when she sets her mind on fulfilling the purposes of God, above her
own personal gain or glory.

As a judge, Deborah made fair decisions, resolving legal disputes among God’s
people. She held court under the Palm of Deborah – her leadership was
significant enough to have a tree named for her!

Deborah was also one of five prophetesses described in the OT (one of whom
was a false prophet). Deborah pointed to God, encouraging others to fulfill God’s
purpose for Israel.

As the primary military leader for Israel, Deborah kept her eye on the broader
picture – she saw the threat of Jabin against Israel long before others recognized
it, and she acted decisively, summoning Barak, a strong general, to meet the
threat.

But Barak balks, and asks her to go with him into battle. She agrees, but she
warns him that glory for the victory will go to a woman. Deborah goes along, but
she does not fight or direct the battle. Her presence is enough to give courage to
Barak and his soldiers, and they drive the enemy back.

Sisera, the enemy general, runs away and hides in the tent of Jael. She drives a
tent peg through his head as he sleeps. You can read about that in chapter five.
The bottom line is that Deborah’s prophetic statement about a woman bringing
victory to Israel is fulfilled. The story concludes with Deborah’s song of rejoicing,
giving glory to God for the victory.

So, what can we learn from Deborah’s story? As you prepare to enter the
ordained ministry, Vicki, how can you be a God-centered, spirit-led leader, just as
Deborah was? Here’s how you can ‘do it like Deborah.’

First, know your purpose.

Deborah knew what her purpose was. She was not the one to lead into battle,
she was not the one to drive a tent peg through Sisera’s head. She was the one
who brought justice to God’s people, who called out leaders to do what God had equipped them to do. She was the one who encouraged them and made it
possible for them to do the work God had given them.

Like Deborah, you have seen a specific need, and you have been called to point
others toward meeting that need, for the glory of God. As you connect people
and their gifts to the ministry at hand, you don’t always have to be the one in
charge, taking all the credit. You already know that your task is to raise up other
leaders, and offer them a vision of what God has in mind.

Sometimes that means creating a new thing. Deborah was willing to think outside
the box, and God was able to work through her in surprising ways, even through
another woman, Jael. As you look for ways to reach people through ministry that
steps outside the walls of a church building, into the heart of the community, be
prepared for surprises, but always keep your called purpose in mind.

Do it like Deborah. Recognize God’s purpose and find a way to live into it
faithfully. Keep God’s specific call on your life always in front of you. God has
given you a particular mission, a unique ministry to fulfill. You are the only one
who can do what God is calling you to do. Know your purpose. Do it like Deborah.

Second, bathe that purpose in prayer.

Deborah stayed connected to God. That’s how she was able to hear God’s voice.
As a prophetess, it was her job to stay tuned, to listen for the Word of the Lord,
so she could proclaim it to the people of Israel. Prayer is more than laying our
hearts before the Lord and telling him all our troubles. It’s more than asking God
for what we need, or telling God what we think he ought to give us.

Prayer often requires a lot more listening than telling, actually. When we ask God
to communicate his will to us, and then shut up and listen, God speaks. Bathe
your purpose in prayer, Vicki. Constantly seek God’s will through that deep,
personal conversation that honors silence as much as speech, that opens your
heart to hear what God wants to say to you.

Third, preach the Word.

Your purpose, as an ordained minister, is grounded in preaching the Word of
God. Everything Deborah said was rooted in proclaiming the Word of the Lord to
those who would hear it. In your ministry, it will be easy to get distracted by a
desire to be relevant to your context. You will want to preach in ways that will
connect with the people who hear you.

But don’t get caught in the topical trap of preaching a situation or preaching a
current event. Preach the Word. It is timely in all contexts. The Word of God is
living and active, and will always be able to speak to us in profound and
transforming ways. Sola Scriptura. Preach the Word. Do it like Deborah.
So, know your purpose, bathe that purpose in prayer, and preach the Word of
God – and do all these things …

in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Deborah sets a great example of someone who was so tuned to the Spirit of God
that the Spirit was able to work through her to accomplish God’s work in others.
Let the Holy Spirit guide you, sustain you, and comfort you when the going gets
rough. Depend on the Holy Spirit to work through you. Let the power of the Holy
Spirit fill you.
As the apostle Paul wrote to the church at Philippi, “I am sure of this, that he who
began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ
(Philippians 1:6). So, do it like Deborah, Vicki. And may the love of God, the
peace of Jesus Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit go with you in all your
days of ministry. Amen.

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