SUNDAY MORNING WORSHIP SERVICE, 21 February 2021
Sermon Text: Judges 4:1-24
Sermon Series: “Judges” (#7)
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I. The faith and life of Israel
II. Israel’s oppressor
III. God’s deliverance of Israel from sin
So far, we’ve covered three judges in the first three chapters and they are Othniel, Ehud and Shamgar. An interesting point we’ve found so far with these judges is that none of them was a super-hero. Rather, they were as ordinary as anyone gathered here this morning. In a sense, men of St Columba’s could’ve been better candidates than them for such a task they were called for because men of St Columba’s are willing, unlike shy Othniel, sincere, unlike deceptive Ehud, and faithful to God, unlike Shamgar who was somehow associated with idol worship.
Then, why did God raise such ordinary people rather than specially gifted ones as Israel’s judges and assigned the task of delivering God’s people? The answer is twofold – firstly, to teach His people – both OT Israel and us of the New – that God alone is our Saviour and, secondly, to make us all humble before God, thus, boast not in ourselves but in the Lord. The message with such ‘ordinary’ judges is that we must trust God, not man; we must depend on God alone, not any man or idol. It also teaches us that, when God calls any of His beloved for His work, no matter how insufficient or deficient he/she might be, God works powerfully through His servant and fulfil His will.
While the stories of the previous three judges highlighted whom God called for displaying His glory, the story of Deborah, Barak and Jael in ch. 4 turns our attention to God, highlighting especially on His saving hand. Unlike the previous stories of judges, this account focuses more on the essence of God’s salvation of His people. In fact, this story is one of the OT’s vivid pictures that portray God’s salvation of His people through Jesus the Saviour.
I. ISRAEL’S FAITH AND LIFE
The first point I’d like you to consider is the faith and life of Israel in Jdg. 4. As v. 1 introduces, the people of Israel AGAIN did evil in the sight of God. What sort of evil did they commit? Were they in some awful sins like, for example, sacrificing their children to Molech, an Ammonite god, by burning? Or did they kill God’s priests or demolish the tabernacle or expel God’s worshippers? No, we don’t read any of such appalling sins in this chapter. Then, what specific evil did they do to provoke God’s anger?
They did evil in at least three senses. Firstly, the priests and the Levites were indifferent to their tasks, that is, teaching people God’s word and leading them to God’s way. As they discarded their tasks, the people of Israel were left not only ignorant of but also defiant toward God’s word. How do I know that was the case? By reading the fact that people did not go to their priests and Levites, but to Deborah for inquiries and judgment. What I mean is that if the people of Israel had learnt God’s word through their priests and Levites, there would’ve been no need of them for coming to Deborah, a prophetess. Instead, they would’ve received all necessary guidance through their spiritual teachers and elders. Because they had no one to teach them what to consider in various matters of faith and life, they came to Deborah.
Coming to Deborah was by itself not a sin, but a good thing to do – she was a prophetess who delivered God’s message to Israel. The problem was the lack of teachers and leaders for Israel – not in existential sense, but in spiritual sense. There were numerous priests and Levites in Israel at the time of judges, but none opened God’s word and fed Israel with the very word of God. So, everyone did whatever seemed good and pleasing to his own eyes. This was the first evil they did before God.
Having said, it is appalling to admit that we of the 21st century face exactly the same problem. There are numerous teachers and preachers, yet, not many fear the Lord, nor teach the very word of God. And people go to whomever they please, seeking to satisfy their ears; people do whatever seem pleasing to their eyes and belly. This is evil before the Lord as was in the time of Judges!
Secondly, men of Israel were indifferent to their tasks, that is, to faithfully carry out God-assigned headship of family, community and nation. They were husbands, fathers and soldiers and officers. They were guides and guardians of their people. But the men of Israel in Judges’ time thought little of their God-assigned roles and left them undone, uncared for. Good examples were Lappidoth, Deborah’s husband, and Barak, Israel’s general, and Heber, Jael’s husband. There’s no description of Lappidoth in Jdg. 4 other than being Deborah’s husband; when general Barak heard God’s message for him to lead Israel’s army in battle, he begged Deborah to accompany him to the battlefield; and Jael’s husband, Heber, was even worse than the others as he had been a friend to the enemy of Israel and when a time for salvation came, he was gone and his wife was alone to give her hands to help Israel.
As men of Israel were indifferent to and failed in carrying out their tasks and roles, women had no other choice than filling the vacuum left over by their men. It was a time of lazy men and that was evil before God. Once again, how dreadful it is to look around and find exactly the same evil in this generation!
Thirdly, people of Israel were indifferent to their fellow members of God’s nation. Jael’s husband, Heber, is a good example of this evil. Heber was a Kenite – that means, he was a descendant of Hobab, Moses’ father-in-law, and he belonged to Israel, most likely to the tribe of Judah. But he lived far from his own people, and closer to Israel’s enemy as their friend. It’s a clear evidence of Israel’s evil before God, that is, their indifference to each other against their duty of caring for one another. Like Ps. 133 portrays, saying, “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!”, they should’ve sought union among brothers. But each one lived to his own choice and no evidence of unity among brothers is found in Jdg. 4. The evil of Israel was, in a word, their disregard of God.
Considering Israel’s evil, I believe it shudders you because the same evil is found with our generation, and this evil triggered God’s burning anger in Jdg. 4 and they were sold into the enemy’s hands.
II. ISRAEL’S OPPRESSOR
And who was this enemy? It was Jabin king of Canaan from Hazor, and Israel was under his cruel oppression for 20 years.
By the way, Jabin king of Canaan from Hazor was a strange enemy because another king with the same name had appeared earlier in Joshua’s time. When Joshua led Israel in the conquest of Canaan as recorded in Jos. 11, he met and destroyed Jabin king of Canaan from Hazor. Joshua killed him and flattened the city, Hazor. But here, in Jdg. 4, about 200 years after Joshua, we read a king by the same name from the same city. Once defeated enemy rose again and became Israel’s cruel oppressor.
This is a fulfilment of God’s stark warning against Israel’s disobedience given earlier in Jos. 23. As they left Canaanites alive, disobeying God’s command, God warned them, telling them that the inhabitants of Canaan would be a thorn in Israel’s side. Now, that ‘thorn’ became much more than simple inconvenience, rather it became a life-threatening spear on Israel’s side as it pierced Israel.
Jdg. 5:6-7 tell us how life-threatening this enemy was. In the time of Jabin king of Canaan, Israelites could not travel on the main trade route of their time because of Jabin’s army. So they had to use byways. They also had to abandon their towns and villages and hid themselves in the forest because of their oppressor. They lived in such a condition for two decades.
Moreover, Jabin came from within the territory of Israel – he was king of Canaan. This cruel enemy was from within, rather than from without. In a word, it was a shift of paradigm in Israel’s trouble. Previously, the oppressors of Israel were from outside of Israel. A king came from Mesopotamia and Othniel defeated him; then, a Moabite king allied with Israel’s neighbours like Ammonites and Amalekites ruled over Israel and Ehud assassinated him and delivered Israel. After them was the Philistines and Shamgar rescued his fellow Israelites from their hands. But, now, Jabin came from within, from those people Israel had not destroyed but allowed to live in their midst. What a tragic irony this was!
So, this is an important lesson for us – as much as for those of Deborah and Barak’s time – that we must not devise, we should not come up with our own idea and replace or alter God’s word with it. More often than not, we feel God’s way is outdated, culturally irrelevant or ineffective. But, we dare not dismiss God’s word and way for He alone knows the beginning and the end, and He alone leads His faithful safe on His way.
III. GOD’S DELIVERANCE OF ISRAEL FROM SIN
So far, we’ve heard about the evil Israel did before God and a dear price they paid for their evil. It was a dark and hopeless history of Israel under oppression for two decades, an extremely long period of time of trouble and shame.
Yet, the main focus of this story is God’s deliverance of Israel from this darkness and hopelessness. Out of the darkness of evil, there comes the good news of God’s deliverance! Deborah the prophetess summons Barak to gather God’s army and go to fight against the enemy. God’s message is that He’ll give the enemy into the hands of Barak, God’s captain. And He accomplishes what He has said and gives Israel a complete victory over their enemy. Jabin the enemy king is killed and God’s favour is restored to Israel and they rest in God’s peace twice longer, that is, four decades, than the time of oppression.
This is the core of the message of this story. In a word, this story is a vivid picture of God’s deliverance of His people from the darkness of sin, from the curse and oppression of sin.
Let me elaborate what I mean. You and I were evil before God. We disregarded God’s word, disregarded our God-given duties, blaming our Creator and hating each other. Because of our evil, we were thrown under the curse of our sin and suffered greatly – like the way Israel of Jdg. 4 had to flee from their enemy, leaving their homes and villages, into the forest and walk byways.
Yet, the gracious God did not leave us alone in agony forever, but heard our cry. Truth is that we did not know what we were crying for. While we were dead in sin, we had no idea, no comprehension of what being alive in Christ Jesus would be. So, our cry was aimless because we did not have any idea to whom we ought to cry; our cry was purposeless because we had no idea whatsoever of the kind of help we would need. We simply howled and wailed in agony. This is what Israel of Jdg. 4:3 did; they did not know what would be needed for their deliverance from the fangs of Jabin king of Canaan. Yet, the gracious God heard their cry as He heard ours!
Hearing us, He rescued us by paying the ransom for our sin. He paid the penalty for our sin. This ransom was the death of His Son, Jesus Christ. Though He was God, He came to us in the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. Although He was sinless in His birth and life, He died the death of sinner and was nailed on the cross.
Jesus’ death is the highlight of God’s salvation of sinners like us, as the death of Sisera, Jabin’s commander, was the highlight of God’s deliverance of Israel in Jdg. 4. Jesus’ death was the moment the Triune God had long waited for. Truth is that when the cruel Roman iron nails pierced Jesus’ hands and feet, Satan the enemy was nailed and defeated. Like the way Jael, Heber’s wife, drove the tent peg into Sisera’s temple and killed him right there in her tent, Jesus by being nailed on the cross, nailed Satan the devil there on Calvary and declared His victory over the enemy on behalf of sinners like you and me and all who will come to Him in repentance and faith. The sound of hammer hitting the nail on Calvary was the sound of gavel in God’s hand declaring our Captain’s victory over the enemy and completion of His deliverance of you and me, God’s beloved, from sin!
What a great story of gracious God’s deliverance of the undeserving Israel from their sins; what a great story of gracious God’s deliverance of the underserved like us from our sins! Jesus is our Deliverer; He is our Captain; in Him alone, we’re free indeed! ***