The following is a reflection on Judges 4:1-7, the Hebrew Bible lesson appointed for November 13th, 2011, Proper 28, Year A according to the New Revised Common Lectionary. On this site there is also
• a reflection on the Gospel Lesson for the same day.
Unfortunately, there aren’t many heroines in the Bible. Don’t get me wrong–there are some great ones, for sure. However, the cast of characters in the Bible is largely a male dominated cast.
Because of this, when we have a named-woman in a position of prominence there is a tendency to make her a big deal–and usually the big deal is that she’s a woman to begin with.
Deborah is one of these characters. In the canon of the Hebrew Bible, she’s a big name. She’s a judge of Israel. She makes decisions for a nation, and in Judges chapter four, she serves as an intermediary for God, and gives military instructions to Barak. In the fifth chapter, she breaks out in song, singing one of the most important songs of victory in the Bible.
And, I think all of that needs to be recognized, learned, and celebrated. She should be a name that we know, and a character that we pass on to younger generations when we tell the great tale of the Bible.
I’m currently reading, “Did God Have a Wife?,” by William G. Dever—a fascinating text for many reasons, even if I don’t agree with all of his conclusions. And, being in the midst of that book prompts me to recognize that the fact that as Deborah was a judge of Israel, and no one seems to even blink at that, means that women probably had a far greater role in the everyday life of Israelites, and the ancient near east as a whole, than the typical androcentric ancient texts usually reveal.
And yet, while all of that is lovely and good…Deborah–and the mere fact that she was a woman–is not the point of Judges 4-5. She fulfills the “Judge” role, and she does it ably, but the point of this section of Judges isn’t “look what a woman can do,” but rather “look at what God does.”
The Israelites had, once again, “done what is evil in the sight of the Lord.” The Lord punished the Israelites with brutal oppression at the hand of the Canaanites–for twenty years.
Stop and take in the enormity of the timeline here. Twenty years.
That’s half of the time of the forty year wilderness journey.
We’re just a few years into a major economic recession/ slump. Imagine this going on for twenty years. And, while unemployment is high and people’s homes are “underwater”…people are beating you and your family with clubs.
For twenty years.
During this twenty year period the Israelites cried out–as they had done when they were under Pharaoh’s hand–and God heard their cry.
In response to that, God, somehow, began to set things in motion. And, in that initial motion, God came to Deborah, and told her what to do.
The Israelites had gotten themselves into a jam with their evil-actions, and God was getting them out of the jam because they cried out, and God heard their cry.
The fact that Deborah was a woman is something to note, but it isn’t the point. The point is that God had once again heard the cry of his people, and was once again liberating his people from oppression–and just like he used Moses to do that in the past–to serve as the middle man…here God was using Deborah.
God does wondrous things for us–even when the jams we’re in are jams of our own doing. AND, God does wondrous things by calling upon people. People like Moses and Deborah.
People like you and me.
Sometimes God calls upon the elderly, like Abraham and Sarah. Sometimes God calls upon the morally compromised like David and Paul. Sometimes God calls on young women, like Mary. And sometimes he calls upon ancient female judges sitting under a palm tree.
And God sets things in motion. Great things. Wondrous things.
With us, and for us.