Saturday, March 21, 2009

Thinking about Deborah

I'm doing the devotions for our Women of the ELCA Spring Cluster, which is meeting at our church today. I think I'm going to talk about Deborah.

When Sisera was told that Barak son of Abinoam had gone up to Mount Tabor, Sisera called out all his chariots, nine hundred chariots of iron, and all the troops who were with him, from Harosheth-ha-goiim to the Wadi Kishon. Then Deborah said to Barak, 'Up! For this is the day on which the Lord has given Sisera into your hand. The Lord is indeed going out before you.' So Barak went down from Mount Tabor with ten thousand warriors following him. And the Lord threw Sisera and all his chariots and all his army into a panic* before Barak; Sisera got down from his chariot and fled away on foot, while Barak pursued the chariots and the army to Harosheth-ha-goiim. All the army of Sisera fell by the sword; no one was left.

Judges 4:12-16

This is my favorite part of the story of Deborah. Barak the general and Deborah are facing down 900 chariots of iron. This is back when Iron is a new thing. Barak's army doesn't have iron. This is why the Cananites had been able to oppress the Israelites for so long. You try to fight an army of 900 chariots of iron if you don't even have access to iron.

Barak had something better than iron. He had God's promise of victory. But that's not enough for Barak. He wants something else. He wants Deborah to lead his men into battle with him. He's a great military leader and he won't go into battle without bringing a woman with him.

Barak is afraid and God's promise is not enough to quell his fears. We are talking about 900 chariots of iron after all. Barak can't quite trust God's promise but he can see that Deborah clearly hears the word of God and knows he needs someone like that around. Sometimes that's the way it is. Sometimes things look so bleak you can't quite believe the good news yourself so cling to the proclamation of another believer.

And this is the moment where Barak needs Deborah. He is facing an army of nine hundred chariots of iron. And Deborah gives him this word of encouragement "Up! The Lord is indeed going before you" And so Barak goes forward.

Deborah is not a warrior. She is an encourager. She has the faith that Barak does not. Her faith is enough for him however. Sometimes we look around at the stresses and worries and injustice of this world and it's has overwhelming to us as when Barak first faced those 900 chariots of iron. But he was smart enough at least not to face them alone and he had the encouragement of Deborah to say to him "Up! This is the day God is going to save you – Go for it! God is with you. Trust me!"


  1. I believe the reason why they stress that the chariots were "of iron" was that this was where the bronze age was gradually giving place to the iron age. Barak didn't have iron, but his opponents did.

    Which has nothing to do with the theology of it, but I find it interesting, nonetheless!

  2. Yes, I'm sure it was those iron chariots that terrifed Barak.

  3. I have to wonder if by Deborah's time the Israelites had begun to look upon their judges as talismans. Can't go into battle without the good luck charm! They'd forgotten that the Lord was present with them as a people, not just with one leader. I think that's why Deborah rebukes Barak at 4:9. He should simply have obeyed the word of the Lord, not set conditions like the presence of the sitting judge with him at the battle.

    Nevertheless, it is a good and blessed thing that Barak accepted God's judgment (that therefore the coming honor of slaying the enemy general would not be his, but go to a woman) and went ahead and led the forces of Zebulun and Naphtali. Sometimes relying on the faith of another believer is what we have to do!