Judges, chapters four and five

Israel had seen the death of Joshua and God had appointed judges to rule the nation. The people had enjoyed eighty years of prosperity under two judges: Ehud and Shamgar. However, they had not shown any gratitude to the source of all good gifts: God, their Father. (Psalm 136:5) Instead, they had moved away from Him and begun to worship idols, representing other gods. (Judges 5:8)

As a result, King Jabin from Canaan who ruled from Hazor - an area North of the Sea of Galilee - had conquered and oppressed the people of Israel for twenty years. The people of Israel found themselves in bondage, not even able to go out of their homes for fear of attack. (Judges 5:7) The Canaanite army, under General Sisera, comprised one hundred thousand men and nine hundred iron chariots. (Judges 4:13) He certainly "ruled with a rod of iron" and the people of Israel, who had thought that they no longer needed God, found out what it was truly like to be distant from Him. When He withdrew His protection, they became powerless over their enemies and peace disappeared.

Good leadership

Deborah had been appointed by God to be the leading judge in Israel at this time and He had also anointed her as a prophet. (Judges 4:4) She became the mediator between God and His people. She spoke to the people with great love, insight and knowledge, both of God personally and His ways and wisdom. God knew her character and decided that she was just who He needed to save His people, who were beginning to call on Him again in their growing desperation.

What qualities did Deborah have?

  • She was a worshipper. (Judges 5:3)
  • She was very bold - not at all fearful. (Judges 4:6)
  • She had a very close relationship with the living God. (Judges 4:6-7)
  • She had amazing faith. (Judges 4:9)
  • She was genuinely concerned for the people. (Judges 4:9)
  • She spoke to all sorts of people. (Judges 5:13-14)
  • She was not afraid of showing righteous anger when required. (Judges 5:16-17)
  • She could be trusted. (Judges 4:5)
  • She would see a job through to the end. (Judges 4:24)
  • She had full confidence in God’s purpose for the nation. (Judges 4:14)
  • She spoke as one having authority. (Judges 4:14)
  • She encouraged people to obey God. (Judges 4:7; Judges 4:14)
  • She did not seek glory for herself. (Judges 4:9)

Poor leadership

Deborah was a bold, confident leader. This was not because of her great abilities or natural wisdom; it came from her relationship with God and what she knew in her heart of His character and His desire for His chosen people. At the same time, Deborah was no warrior and she needed a good warrior to lead the Israelite army. Barak was certainly a warrior, but he lacked the qualities of a good leader. Barak was well aware of the need to stand up against King Jabin and his oppression of the Israelites, but he wasn't prepared to take the necessary initiative in leading their army.

  • He was fearful. (Judges 4:8)
  • He looked to those around him for security and support. (Judges 4:8)
  • He trusted more in human strength than in God. (Judges 4:6-8)
  • He was self-centred. (Judges 4:8)
  • He had to be pushed, even when faced with a desperate need. (Judges 4:14)
  • He focused exclusively on the problem. (Judges 4:6)

Working together for good

Deborah had a wonderful way with Barak, who could have caused her and Israel so much trouble. She did not treat him as a subordinate, but worked with him for the good of the people and in obedience to God's direction. She never doubted that the God who had saved His people so many times before, was going to do the same again. She urged Barak to see the war from God’s perspective, not simply in terms of the number of soldiers fighting on each side. She encouraged him to take up the challenge and helped to lift his faith by standing with him. (Judges 4:6-7) Barak knew that God would be fighting for them if Deborah was with them, because he saw her as superior in faith and courage. Both Deborah and Barak worked together, neither trying to upstage the other or show themselves in a better light, but each encouraging the other and doing the job God that had called them to do.

Deborah remained responsible for the strategic decisions (Judges 4:14) but Barak was in charge of the tactical manoeuvres and chose ten thousand soldiers to set an ambush at Mount Tabor. Deborah did what all good leaders should aim for: serving those in their care and bringing them to a place of growth in their relationship with God so that they come to depend on Him for themselves. While they both had an important part to play, God did the major part in the deliverance of His people, luring Sisera out to a place where the Israelites had the military advantage. In the ensuing battle, Barak and his soldiers swept down from the high ground and overwhelmed the Canaanite army, driving many of them into the river Kishon where they were carried away and drowned. (Judges 5:23) General Sisera abandoned his chariot and ran away but was ignominiously killed by a woman, Jael, just as Deborah had prophesied. (Judges 4:9; Judges 5:24-26) Barak’s obedience and success caused him to be named in the "Hall of Faith" that appears in the book of Hebrews. “Barak... who through faith conquered kingdoms... whose weakness was turned to strength and who became powerful in battle.” (Hebrews 11:32-38)

Leadership today

The body of Christ today is, sadly, full of people who crave, above all else, to hold some "position" in church, to have a "ministry" or "feel called" to some special role. There is a widespread assumption that those in such positions are closer to God, more pleasing to Him and more blessed. It's good to have a passion to grow ever closer to God, but many believe this is achieved by what we do for Him. No, doing something for God is not going to make any of us become a "better Christian". This is so far from the truth. So many have taken on some "ministry" (service) in churches and gradually grown in confidence and skill to the point where they start to believe that they are "somebody" and the blessing of God is really shining down on them. Before too long, they then find that they can do what has to be done, be it music, preaching, teaching or using spiritual gifts, without having spent much time in prayer, privately, with God.

It is so easy to get to the stage of becoming "presumptious". If we start to presume that we know what the Holy Spirit wants to say or do, we can slip into just doing our own thing to keep up the show. Before we know it, we deceive ourselves and succumb to the flattery of nice remarks and "positive stroking". (Galatians 6:3) When the results of meetings and feedback from people are endlessly encouraging, we start to believe that the formula we've hit on (or chosen to adopt) is what is getting results. When that is happening, who is going to change the formula? We fail to see that it is God who gives life. He asks us to sow the seed (His word) but it is His Spirit who ensures that some seed falls on good soil and germinates. It is His Spirit who ensures that the seed has sufficient water and light to grow and eventually produce fruit. (Mark 4:8)

The fruit of the Spirit

True fruit in a person’s life appears as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22) These are the result of the Holy Spirit having freedom in their lives and it is impossible to counterfeit such fruit, especially in the home. Jesus told us that we would know people by their fruit. (Matthew 7:16) In these times of great deception, a person’s performance can be decptive. (2 Timothy 3:13; 2 Thessalonians 2:3) We need to look for the fruit of the Holy Spirit in their lives, especially if we are considering following their teaching, or putting ourselves under their authority as our leader. Remember: pride is the greatest deceiver and something we often don’t even realise we are in. We can find it so easy to believe the great delusion that stems from everyone looking at us. How easily we attribute good results to our own brilliance or hard work. The only antidote is humility. “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6) God is never quick to anger and often just "steps back" to allow us to learn the hard lessons of trying to do things on our own. He gives us plenty of time to see for ourselves how our relationship with Him is being affected by our sinful pride, so that we come to the point of being ready to repent and put it right.

Many people in leadership today, especially well-known people, have a tremendous burden on them to perform on every occasion. Human beings were never created to take so much acclaim. For people to always be on show is more than humans can cope with, not only physically but also spiritually. God, in His wisdom, gave the five-fold ministry for the building up of His body, the church. (Ephesians 4:11-13) No one person has to shoulder excess responsibility. (Matthew 11:28-30) All of us need to be so careful that we do not idolise people in positions of leadership at any level; neither the people, nor their positions.

Deborah overcame these problems of pride and deception by continually spending time in God’s presence. No wisdom or advice that she gave was the product of her own ideas, but it all came from her own walk with God. Despite her important position, she saw herself as "one under authority", knowing that there is only one, ultimate authority: Almighty God Himself. The closer she walked with God by His amazing grace, the less she wanted to touch the glory herself. Consequently, God was able to use her to save His people, Israel. They then had forty years of peace.

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