Tough cookies - Judges 4

This is a sermon by Viv Whitton from the evening service on 19th April 2009.

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'Human Resources' -

  • The perfect candidate and the actual job  Proverbs 31:10-20

 

Promise unfulfilled:

  • Failure  2 :1-5
  • Next generation 2: 10 - 11
  • Multicultural society  3 : 5 - 6
  • Hitler & Himmler   4:1

Deborah - Conquered but not Compromised

  • Call issued 4:6
  • Call obeyed 4:7
  • Call confirmed 4:10, 5:2

God is God

Jael - Collaboration Confounded

  • Blessed amongst women?  5:24
  • Kenites 4:11, 17
  • Payback time and partnership
  • Seize the moment! 4:21

recommended reading:

'God is God' 

case Histories from the book of Judges

by John Hercus 1971 ISBN 0340147237

Human Resources

Do you remember going for your first job? It's not so long ago that you wrote a letter or filled a form in, were invited for interview, polished your shoes, presented yourself at appointed hour and that was it. Or may be that some here will remember being taken by their dad and indentured as an apprentice! 

Well nowadays things are very different, every employer expects a least a comprehensive CV which extolls your achievements and minimises your shortcomings, and then there's a host of paperwork to complete about equality, disability, diversity, and the like - it all makes one feel at a big disadvantage if you're only a simple married white Caucasian male! This is  all part of the HR industry or human resources to give it it's full title.

The first real step in the process is to get selected for interview and the key to getting short-listed today is to make sure your profile meets the employers 'person specification'!

Surprise surprise the bible was there long before any of this became routine and we read in Proverbs 31 the person specification for the ideal wife, indeed a woman of perfection - the dream of any young man.

But of course the bible also recognises the reality of the situation after the interview - when the successful candidate actually takes up her job in the real world with a real husband and helps us work through the less than ideal situations in which she may find herself!

Want this evening to look at challenge presented to us by 2 OT wives who broke cultural norm, had less than perfect husbands, and see what God has to teach us:

Promise Unfulfilled

 

Let me remind you briefly where we are in old Testament history:

God had brought His people out of slavery in Egypt under Moses' leadership, then Joshua took over and was commanded by God to occupy the promised land - he was under certain circumstances to offer peace terms to the current inhabitants, but essentially they were to be conquered because of their wickedness,  idol worship, and all manner of detestable practices.

Unfortunately they failed to take all the land that they could and should have and we read (2:1-5,) that the remaining people would be a continual snare to the people of Israel, although God had given very clear teachings on separation to Moses and again to Joshua.

Worse we read in 2: 10 -11 that they followed those teachings only whilst Joshua and those who were with him, and had known God's deliverance first hand were still alive.

There is a very clear message for us here at St Johns - we pray faithfully and regularly for our leaders - I don't think I've heard anyone pray for their successors.

And so we read in 3:5-6 that the Israelites developed a multicultural multi faith society, linking with the Canaanites by intermarriage, which then opened the back door to the very idol worship God had commanded them to be rid of. They were then persecuted by surrounding tribes - it was a mess. From time to time a leader arose and reasserted the  Israelite ownership of the land - and there was peace for a while.

But things went from bad to worse, The dictator Jabin, King of Canaan took control, the people were oppressed cruelly by his chief of staff - general Sisera - it reminds one of Hitler and Himmler, until eventually the people in their desperation cried to the Lord for deliverance.

That's where we meet Deborah, a Godly woman, living in the middle of this syncrestic society.

But what could one woman do? We know little about her, and even less about her husband who is conspicuous by his absence. She obviously had the wisdom and the respect of the Israelites who brought their problems to her for judgement at her home in the South near Ramah,

(do look at the map on your sheet - it helps see the big picture)

She was certainly in touch with the living God - the bible names her as a prophetess -

we don't know precisely how that gift worked in practice - I guess it was someone who understood the times, someone who understood the implications of what was going on around her,  but crucially someone who was prepared to speak up about them - even if it made folk uncomfortable.

Then one day God confirmed to her that there was a deliverer in the wings!  How she knew I don't know - but she knew. It might have been direct revelation, but I suspect a combination of networking and prayer - Prayer because she needed God's confirmation that this was indeed the right man, networking because she was savvy and I guess had built a picture of who was around in each tribe, who had potential, and more important who might have the  faith and courage to use that potential.

So she sent for this potential deliverer and the first big miracle in this story is that he came at all!

The man in question was Barak - from the tribe of Naphtali some 100 miles to North through difficult country.   He must have known the Canaanite Kings cruelty because  Kedesh his home was near Hazor - Jabins capital.

The second miracle was that this Barak accepted the challenge to take on Sisera as from Lord (which is precisely why he is mentioned in the Faith hall of fame - Hebrews 11)!

This was madness, Sisera with his 900 iron chariots was a well trained powerful fighting force, a crack panzer division against a group of ill equipped shepherds - slaughter was inevitable, who would volunteer for such a scheme?

Well 10,000 men did volunteer from Baraks tribe Naphtali and from Zebulun. Here we have the evidence of his leadership qualities and confirmation of his calling, as Deborah's victory song puts it in 5:2 the people offered themselves willingly.

And that is the third miracle.

Friends when God is at work at His time, people respond and we should not be surprised! - Even when he challenges us to take what seem crazy steps of faith.

However Barak was no fool, he understood what he was taking on, so he challenged Deborah to go along with him, knowing that he would need Gods ongoing direction.

- and she went too, after issuing the challenge she couldn't really say no! I can see her praying year in year out for a deliverer, for a military leader. I can see her getting angry in prayer about the abuse of God's people, the abuse of God's name - the shame of it all.. I see her as a sort of Miss Marple personality who wouldn't look out of place at an English tea party - But she rose to Baraks challenge!

- What her husband said about this venture is not recorded so one can just imagine the bedtime conversation: 'You're going where?? Up North to join the resistance ?? You must be joking!!! - She was not joking.

  She went and she sought God for the battle tactics Barak desperately needed -  and he followed them to the letter:

He mustered his forces on mount Tabor, exposed and in full view of Sisera - more madness - I can imagine Sisera looking to the hilltop from the rich Megiddo plain where he had full control - 'let them stay up there and starve ho ho ho!'

God is God

But he hadn't reckoned on God. This story isn't there to provide gripping Sunday School tales of heroes and villains - it's to teach us about God.

Because God had so ordered everything with impeccable timing - the armies faced each other, Sisera from his positions in the valley and Barak up there in full view.

Then it rained, In 5:21 a storm burst, the river Kishon overflowed, and the chariots were useless - bogged down in a sea of mud, the mighty Canaanite war machine was well and truly stuck - and Barak gained a crushing victory.

The primary lesson from all this is that we as Gods people have the great privilege  of cooperating with His eternal purposes. How amazing that the God who made a billion stars will sort a rainstorm out at precisely the right moment in history to deliver His people through His servants leadership.

Let me pause and ask 2 questions:

If you are not yet a believer how do you respond to that same God? There is no middle ground He deserves your allegiance, He has done everything necessary to clear the way for you.  We are here to help. I urge you to sort the issue today!

Believers our question today is to humbly consider whether we are in the centre of God's purposes for our lives.  Our responsibility, like Deborah is to be listening and ready to serve, or maybe like Barak, God is prompting you to serve Him in some special way - perhaps here, perhaps overseas. If so like Barak we need to respond and the first step is to share it with your leaders. And a general comment :- God has brought good people to us - don't be surprised when in turn He takes our best for active service elsewhere.

 

 

Collaboration Confounded

 

This story however has another woman who is much more difficult to cope with: Jael - as a landlady she would hardly get 5* rating for her B&B accommodation!

At first reading we might have dismissed her as an opportunist, as a criminal taking advantage of a man at a time of great vulnerability - which I guess is true

but look again  - Ch 5:24 paints a very different picture - in this wonderful old victory song,  Deborah applauds Jael as 'blessed among women'!

Now I know from examples like Gerry Adams that yesterdays terrorist somehow becomes today's respectable politician, but this isn't secular politics it's the bible - it's God's word and character that is at stake, so this apparent contradiction needs investigating further:

The key comes in verse 11 where her husband is identified as  Heber the Kenite. Now the Kenites had played a pivotal role in God's purposes for Israel, they were the Arabs of Midian who had sheltered Moses  when he had to flee the wrath of Pharaoh (and where he found a wife). Moses had good relationship with his father in law and respected his advice.

But here we find one of their descendants, Heber, separating from the tribe, travelling North and making peace with the arch enemies of Israel - Jabin and Sisera. So in practice he was a collaborator, the sort of person in war despised by both sides, given privilege for what they do by the conqueror and hated by the oppressed. Wo betide a collaborator if the tide of war turns. The conquerors leave and the resentment of the population at large is often meted out summarily - and violently. This happened at the end of last war in France with the Vichy and in the Channel Islands.

Now I do have some sympathy for those ordinary folk caught up in circumstances like these - whatever the circumstances you have to eat, and somehow the politics all seem remote from the struggles of daily living.

And I can also understand the temptations to compromise for It is very difficult to live in any mixed society without taking on some of the characteristics of one's neighbours.

As someone said 'when in Rome do as Rome does!' - it makes for a quiet life.

But Heber was different - there seems some measure of choice in deliberately leaving his clan and making peace in order to benefit himself - perhaps from good pasture. Maybe he thought he could survive in that culture without giving way to the practices of the Canaanites? Without compromising too much, maybe he just thought no one would ever notice. Maybe he was just greedy

* The first lesson is that there is always a payback time. Whether we take the road to compromise or worse to collaboration, it will lead in the end to disaster. Praise God for groups like CI who have a prophetic edge and keep us aware of how society is changing around us. 

* Secondly I do think that we have to be careful even in the Christian community with whom we partner - particularly when as Christians we have a basic desire for unity and tend to take people at face value. This is particularly important at a time when we are initiating a community social action project which may well  attract strange bedfellows!

Friends there are wolves out there in sheep's clothing - and some are very plausible indeed and skilled at playing to the audience! The Church of England is notorious for this: some will remember John Robinson and the 'Honest to God ' controversy of the 1960's, and the furore caused by the past Bishop of Durham. Both very clever men, and their thoughts seasoned with more than a grain of truth, but both effectively denying gospel essentials.

Sadly it seems that anyone can produce an acceptable 'evangelical' sermon when required and it isn't just bishops:

Let me give you a particularly striking local and recent example:

The  new Hull University chaplain's background is cited on both EA and Oscar websites for good work amongst the migrant workers of Eastern England. Yet in Hull he is promoting liaison with everyone from Buddhists to pagans - everyone that is apart from the Christian Union. It simply does not add up.

Lets get back  to the Kishon valley, now a sea of mud, the battle lost, Sisera abandons his chariot and makes way to a place safety (or so he thought) - Perhaps his intention was to regroup, perhaps to call for reinforcements? All he needed was sleep and a little time.... and  the obvious place to go was to that friendly Arab - Heber, where no doubt he'd been welcomed before when Heber toadied to him - surely he would be safe, no one would think of searching there!

Now Jael is like many women in Christian circles - women who seem to have more about them than their husbands . Clearly there was something wrong with this marriage - women in this culture did not stand at the tent doorway inviting folk in!  And she's not alone in scripture -

I'm reminded of Abigail whose husband Nabal the bible describes as a churl (what a lovely AV word) and who preserved him and the household from David's wrath by some quick thinking diplomacy.

Anyway Jael must have known the history of her tribes relationship with the Israelites, she will have recognised their current isolation and vulnerability - that if Barak succeeded their position would be untenable, but equally if more of Siseras troops followed she could be in major trouble - but she had to do something.

 So she made her move and seized the moment. Now in those days it was women's work putting up tents (they were actually the  home-builders) so she was used to wielding a 7lb hammer and use it she certainly did to devastating effect..

Before you start muttering about justice and fairness consider Sisera's track record: he was a vicious oppressor - he would have showed no mercy and had committed atrocity after atrocity. Remember there was no International Court Justice, no UN, no 'International Community', no Geneva Convention to protect rights individuals - what should she do?  I guess refugees in Darfur today could easily be in the same position right now when the Janjouit militia raid - who would we be to pontificate if they took the law into their own hands when the rest of the world has offered so little to folk in so much distress?

Scripture tells us that Jael was 'most blessed among women'.

But what message does she have for us today?

The promised land then seems to reflect so many aspects of today's world:

a mixture of affluence and abject poverty, of true worship marginalised, compromise, multi faith and so called tolerance,

Yes we need the inspiration of people like Deborah faithfully holding on, waiting on the Lord in the midst of it all.

Yes we need people like Barak who are willing to respond to Gods call -

But we also need opportunists like Jael who recognise peril we're in and are prepared to seize opportunities and drive nail home whatever it costs?

 - and they will be uncomfortable, embarrassing people to be with, they may well offend some of our partners, they will sometimes make a stand on dodgy evidence and get it wrong,

But they will inspire us and challenge us - helping us to make our stand for Him!

Friends war is messy -  we are in a battle - praise God for the example of people like Deborah, Barak and Jael

 

Tough cookies!

 

Judges 4 &5

'Human Resources' -

  • The perfect candidate and the actual job  Proverbs 31:10-20

 

Promise unfulfilled:

  • Failure  2 :1-5
  • Next generation 2: 10 - 11
  • Multicultural society  3 : 5 - 6
  • Hitler & Himmler   4:1

Deborah - Conquered but not Compromised

  • Call issued 4:6
  • Call obeyed 4:7
  • Call confirmed 4:10, 5:2

God is God

Jael - Collaboration Confounded

  • Blessed amongst women?  5:24
  • Kenites 4:11, 17
  • Payback time and partnership
  • Seize the moment! 4:21

recommended reading:

'God is God' 

case Histories from the book of Judges

by John Hercus 1971 ISBN 0340147237

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