The time of the Judges was a dark time in Israel’s history. The Israelites had quickly abandoned the responsibility to teach their children about God in their day-to-day life. God became marginalized as the people enjoyed the blessings of the land that God had won for them. By the time Joshua died a new generation had grown up–but this generation did not know God or all of the things he had done for Israel (Judges 2:10. The people did not see the land as a gift from God but rather they viewed it as an entitlement. The faithful worship of God became a relic of the past. As Israel meandered through the years during the time of the Judges, their focus became so self-centered that the last verse of the book of Judges gives this indictment against them:In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.
Israel had become preoccupied with her own well being. This helps to explain why the Israelites so quickly turned away from God again each time one of the judges would arrive on the scene to bail them out. You remember the pattern: Israel would drift away from God. They would fall under judgment as Deuteronomy predicted. They would cry out to God for help. God would deliver them. Soon they would turn away from God again. God had become useful only for the moment–to get them out of trouble.
How quickly the prayer of Moses had been forgotten:
Take to heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you this day, so that you may command your children to obey carefully all the words of this law. They are not just idle words for you–they are your life. By them you will live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to possess. —Deut. 32:46-47
Israel’s self-focus was evidence that she had lost sight of life itself. One cannot be consumed with self and with God’s Word at the same time. One of the casualties of this inward focus was the lack of godly men. A man who is serving himself is no man at all. He may be a tyrant, he may be a survivor, he may be a hard worker, but he is not the man that God has called him to be. One indication of this is that their children did not know about God and what he had done for his people. This became a curse worse than the plagues to Israel. Men became focused on what they decided was right for them. Fathers did not pass on the truth of God to their children. Instead, they became men who lacked principle and true courage. They became pragmatic. Even Samson, who was given great physical power by God, became a slave to his own desires and was humiliated until the last day of his life, when at last he remembered his mission. Early in his life, Samson looked like the authentic man’s man. But by serving himself and indulging himself in his selfish desires, he became a pathetic shell of what he could have been. Israel lost her men in the book of Judges.
Thankfully, God reserved some for himself who would not do what was right in their own eyes. In chapter 4 of Judges, we meet Deborah. She was both a prophetess and judge. The people would come to her to settle their disputes. Godly men appear to have been non-existent at the time. As Deborah led Israel , God told her to call Barak. She gave Barak God’s instructions on how to defeat Israel’s enemy, along with the promise that God would give the enemy into his hands (Judges 4:6-7). Barak responded, but not as a man who trusted God. He responded weakly, saying he would only go if Deborah went with him. Deborah agreed to go, but told Barak that because of his fear he would gain no honor. Another woman, Jael, would slay the leader of those persecuting Israel. So Barak went off to battle and a victory was won. But Israel remained mired in her cyclical pattern of apostasy. Men with the courage to follow God were still lacking.
The narrative of Deborah and Barak presents us with a vital lesson to be embraced. Deborah serves as an example for godly women. She was faithful to her calling. She did not fear men nor seek their approval instead of God’s. She did not back down from the challenge of Israel’s enemy. And when Barak was afraid to follow God’s command, she was unwavering in her faith. She did not try to make Barak feel better about his lack of courage. She did not exalt herself. She honored God. Moved by her courage, Barak went forward, and the enemy army, with its superior number of iron chariots, was defeated.
Deborah is a role model for women today. We will look more at this in the next post.