Divine dependence, Divine deliverance – Worship @ Home Sunday, 15 November 2020

The Salvation Army, Prestonpans Corps
Major Elizabeth Turner

Song Be strong in the grace of the Lord

Be strong in the grace of the Lord,
Be noble and upright and true,
Be valiant for God and the right,
Live daily your duty to do.
Be strong! Be strong!
And God will your courage renew.

Be strong in the grace of the Lord,
For wholehearted service prepare;
Be thoughtful for all who are weak,
And hasten their burdens to share.
Be strong! Be strong!
Be eager to do and to dare.

Be strong in the grace of the Lord,
Be armed with the power of his might;
Be daring when dangers abound,
Courageous and brave in the fight.
Be strong! Be strong!
And victory will be your delight.

Walter Henry Windybank (1872-1952)

Prayer

O Holy God of Israel,
you faithfully keep the promises
you made to our ancestors
and lead your people into the future,
providing hospitality on the way.

Help us who inherit the pilgrim life
to journey faithfully at your command,
that we may be a band of disciples
called to be sojourners in your service.

Amen.

Reproduced from Revised Common Lectionary Prayers
© 2002 Consultation on Common Texts admin. Augsburg Fortress.

Bible Reading      Judges 4:1-24

Deborah Becomes Israel’s Judge

After Ehud’s death, the Israelites again did evil in the Lord’s sight. So the Lord turned them over to King Jabin of Hazor, a Canaanite king. The commander of his army was Sisera, who lived in Harosheth-haggoyim. Sisera, who had 900 iron chariots, ruthlessly oppressed the Israelites for twenty years. Then the people of Israel cried out to the Lord for help.

Deborah, the wife of Lappidoth, was a prophet who was judging Israel at that time. She would sit under the Palm of Deborah, between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites would go to her for judgment. One day she sent for Barak son of Abinoam, who lived in Kedesh in the land of Naphtali. She said to him, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, commands you: Call out 10,000 warriors from the tribes of Naphtali and Zebulun at Mount Tabor. And I will call out Sisera, commander of Jabin’s army, along with his chariots and warriors, to the Kishon River. There I will give you victory over him.”

Barak told her, “I will go, but only if you go with me.”

“Very well,” she replied, “I will go with you. But you will receive no honor in this venture, for the Lord’s victory over Sisera will be at the hands of a woman.” So Deborah went with Barak to Kedesh. 10 At Kedesh, Barak called together the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali, and 10,000 warriors went up with him. Deborah also went with him.

11 Now Heber the Kenite, a descendant of Moses’ brother-in-law Hobab, had moved away from the other members of his tribe and pitched his tent by the oak of Zaanannim near Kedesh.

12 When Sisera was told that Barak son of Abinoam had gone up to Mount Tabor, 13 he called for all 900 of his iron chariots and all of his warriors, and they marched from Harosheth-haggoyim to the Kishon River.

14 Then Deborah said to Barak, “Get ready! This is the day the Lord will give you victory over Sisera, for the Lord is marching ahead of you.” So Barak led his 10,000 warriors down the slopes of Mount Tabor into battle. 15 When Barak attacked, the Lord threw Sisera and all his chariots and warriors into a panic. Sisera leaped down from his chariot and escaped on foot. 16 Then Barak chased the chariots and the enemy army all the way to Harosheth-haggoyim, killing all of Sisera’s warriors. Not a single one was left alive.

17 Meanwhile, Sisera ran to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, because Heber’s family was on friendly terms with King Jabin of Hazor. 18 Jael went out to meet Sisera and said to him, “Come into my tent, sir. Come in. Don’t be afraid.” So he went into her tent, and she covered him with a blanket.

19 “Please give me some water,” he said. “I’m thirsty.” So she gave him some milk from a leather bag and covered him again.

20 “Stand at the door of the tent,” he told her. “If anybody comes and asks you if there is anyone here, say no.”

21 But when Sisera fell asleep from exhaustion, Jael quietly crept up to him with a hammer and tent peg in her hand. Then she drove the tent peg through his temple and into the ground, and so he died.

22 When Barak came looking for Sisera, Jael went out to meet him. She said, “Come, and I will show you the man you are looking for.” So he followed her into the tent and found Sisera lying there dead, with the tent peg through his temple.

23 So on that day Israel saw God defeat Jabin, the Canaanite king. 24 And from that time on Israel became stronger and stronger against King Jabin until they finally destroyed him.

New Living Translation (NLT)

Chorus I want to be a soldier of the cross

(Sorry, no music available for this)

I want to be a soldier of the cross,
Brave-hearted and true;
I want to be a soldier of the cross,
I do, I do, I do, I do.
I want to be a soldier of the cross,
Telling out the story,
Walking with Jesus
All the way to Glory.

Divine dependence, Divine deliverance.

We all love a story where the unlikely becomes a hero, the insignificant person triumphs, or the weak proves to be strong. We are heartened when, as of necessity rather than neglect, a child has had to master a situation that an adult would usually contend with, or an elderly person despite frailty of body and health shows great fortitude in a crisis.

Such stories speak to a part of us that wrestles with personal insecurity, fear and anxiety about our capabilities. They remind us that we don’t have to have all of the answers, the certifications, the experience or gravitas to succeed. Like the little mouse in Aesop’s fable, coming to the rescue of the mighty lion caught in a trap by doing just what he could do best – nibble through the net that ensnared the lion – so may we, with just enough daring, do that which seems impossible; as these stories impress us with the truth of this.

The Bible reading we are reflecting on today is one of those stories. Deborah is the wife of Lappidoth, about whom we know nothing. But Deborah (we are informed) is a prophetess and a judge (Judges 4:4). In a society that neither values women, nor validates their testimony, this is remarkable.

Whilst women today are able to hold high office in all spheres of industry and their testimony, counsel, initiatives, and strategies are considered, weighed and implemented with much more respect than any previous generation of women, still discrimination against women rears its ugly head (more so in some societies). Deborah’s position in her culture is impressive, as the nation is in a period of estrangement from the One who is at the heart of her success.

At this time the Israelite nation, God’s people chosen to be a shining example to all nations, have forsaken the ways of God. Israel’s reluctance to drive the Canaanites out of the land on entry to the place that God had promised to them, had led to this constant ‘seesawing’ of power problem.

A peaceful co-existence with the pagans in the land was never going to be an option for the Israelites as they moved into the beautiful land flowing with milk and honey. As we see, they became beguiled with the pagan habits and practices that were far from good or godly. No longer are the Israelites an example to others, but an affront to God by their sinning and waywardness and a nonentity among the nations.     

But clearly not all the Israelites were like that; some were still careful to know and follow the ways of God as Deborah did, leading those who sought her counsel in the ways of God too. Despite the nation as a whole turning its back on God, Deborah listened to God, allowing him to shape her life and thinking. In speaking out for God, Deborah developed a respected, prophetic voice. And as a woman of integrity, Deborah became a judge of renown, so people would appeal to her to settle their disputes (Judges 4:5). The descriptive location of where that counsel was given is interesting: ‘beneath the palm tree of Deborah, situated in the hill country of Ephraim between Ramah and Bethel.’ (Judges 4:5) It sounds rather idyllic, and the fact that the palm tree is known as ‘Deborah’s’ suggests she spent a lot of time there. I wonder if really that was first and foremost her special meeting place with God, but that as she became known as a woman of God the people came and sought her out there. The people, it seems, were finally realising that their relationships and communities were in a mess, that their nation was not what it should be. They had lost their way; their enemy had the upper hand. Could Deborah help guide them through?

Prior to this particular period of time, Ehud had been a judge who had dramatically liberated the Israelites and faithfully steered them in the ways of God, effectively for a lifetime – 80 years – and then he was followed by another liberator. Like his predecessor Shamgar, continued to hold peace for Israel (see Judges 3 for their stories). But how long he lived to keep the Israelites in that place of peace we do not know. Perhaps not for long as Judges 4 begins with the statement, ‘After Ehud died, the people returned to doing what the Eternal said was evil.’ Shamgar is effectively being ‘leap-frogged’ over here; unless they were contemporaries. And though Shamgar’s prowess as warrior is not without significance, Ehud’s influence is the greater.

Oppression from King Jabin’s army under the leadership of Sisera, who had a fighting force mounted on 900 iron chariots, caused the Israelites to cry out to God for deliverance. Deborah, discerning the voice of God in this situation, summoned Barak the leader of Israel’s army to hear and heed God’s instruction. Whilst Barak attends to Deborah’s request, his response is surprising: ‘I will do this if you will go with me; but if you won’t, then I won’t go either.’ (Judges 4:8) His reaction seems to be a ‘how certain of this message are you?’ sort of response, which is somewhat disappointing for a leader of the Israelites. As people of God, they ought to have been accustomed to the ways of God, even if they hadn’t particularly been adhering to them in recent years. Yet Deborah was certain and fearless enough of God’s Divine call to lay her own life on the line and declare that she would head out to battle with Barak.

Michael Wilcock, who wrote a commentary on the Book of Judges, sees Barak’s response not as one of ‘flat disobedience’ (p.63),  but rather as of a similar one to that uttered by Moses, when in an exchange with God in Exodus (33:12-17), Moses says,  ‘If Your presence doesn’t travel with me, then don’t lead us away from here’ (v.15). Wilcock argues that since Deborah’s dependence on God is renowned, she represents the Divine presence without whom they will not succeed. Further he notes that it is Barak’s name that is listed in the letter to the Hebrews’ ‘faith hall of fame’ (ch11:32) and not Deborah’s!

Although he does have a point, I believe that the women have suffered a great disservice here, as Deborah’s assertion that whilst she will do as he asks, ‘this battle will not lead to your personal glory. The Eternal has decreed that the mighty Sisera will be defeated by a woman.’ I would have written ‘By faith Deborah exercised Divine dependence when she led Barak and his men into battle at the Lord’s command; and by faith Jael struck the fatal blow to Sisera strengthened by the hand of God, to deliver his people!’ Certainly, Deborah’s comment leaves us in no doubt that the better response would have been to accept God’s command as it was told to him, and step out in faithful obedience. In so doing, he might have had the full honour of personally defeating Sisera with God’s help.

This particular Bible story is an inspirational one, if a little gory! Deborah’s confidence in God and her courage in going out to the battlefield is a challenge to each one of us. Once in the situation, her confidence in God continued unwavering. “Get up! For this is the day that the Eternal has given you victory over Sisera” (Judges 4:14), Deborah told Barak, pinpointing the decisive moment for action. What a woman! And Deborah’s faith in God’s word to her was rewarded by her witnessing the incredible scene in the moment that Barak and his army faced the enemy. ‘As Barak and his forces watched, the Eternal threw Sisera and all his chariots and his entire army into a panic before them;’ (Judges 4:15).

What if we, like Deborah, intentionally spent some extended time with God each day: reading a portion of the Bible, thinking deeply about it, asking God what specific thing he wants us to learn from it, or do as a result of it? What if, as well as praying about our concerns, those of our loved ones and those of our world, we also took some time to listen to God, asking him what he particularly wants to say to us? Might we, like Deborah, walk with greater confidence, poise and faith with God in even the most terrifying situations. 900 iron chariots would have been quite a formidable sight! But then, that jaw dropping moment when those 900 chariots writhed in a melee of confusion! Wow, what a God! I wonder how we might see God move in our lives, in our neighbourhoods, in our country and in our world if each one of us took a little more time to sit and listen to God speaking. I certainly know it’s something I need to do.

What about you?

Song He walks with God

Tune: Ellers

He walks with God who speaks to God in prayer,
And daily brings to him his daily care;
Possessing inward peace, he truly knows
A heart’s refreshment and a soul’s repose.

He walks with God who, as he onward moves,
Follows the footsteps of the Lord he loves,
And keeping him forever in his view,
His Saviour sees and his example too.

He walks with God who turns his face to Heaven,
And keeps the blest commands by Jesus given;
His life upright, his end untroubled peace,
Whom God will crown when all his labours cease.

Dorothy Ann Thrupp (1779-1847), alt

Prayer

You, O God, are our dwelling-place
from generation to generation,
our shield from anguish and distress.
You arm us as children of light
with the hope of salvation,
and you protect us by your love.
Give us grace to build up
and encourage one another,
as we seek wisdom and abundant life
in the strength of your Word
and the assurance of your Spirit. Amen.

Reproduced from Revised Common Lectionary Prayers
© 2002 Consultation on Common Texts admin. Augsburg Fortress.

Song I’ll go in the strength of the Lord

I’ll go in the strength of the Lord,
In paths he has marked for my feet;
I’ll follow the light of his word,
Nor shrink from the dangers I meet,
His presence my steps shall attend,
His fulness my wants shall supply;
On him, till my journey shall end,
My unwavering faith shall rely.

I’ll go, I’ll go in the strength,
I’ll go in the strength of the Lord
I’ll go, I’ll go in the strength,
I’ll go in the strength of the Lord.

I’ll go in the strength of the Lord
To work he appoints me to do;
In joy which his smile doth afford
My soul shall her vigour renew.
His wisdom shall guard me from harm.
His power my sufficiency prove;
I’ll trust his omnipotent arm,
And prove his unchangeable love.

I’ll go in the strength of the Lord
To conflicts which faith will require,
His grace as my shield and reward,
My courage and zeal shall inspire.
Since he gives the word of command.
To meet and encounter the foe,
With his sword of truth in my hand.
To suffer and triumph I’ll go.

Edward Turney (1816-72)

About prophetable

My wife Elizabeth and I were commissioned as Officers (ministers) in The Salvation Army in 1997, and have served in appointments in England and Scotland. Since July 2016 I have been working in The Salvation Army's Scotland Office as combined parliamentary and ecumenical representative.
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