Is there a man in the house? Our family has the unfortunate habit that things always going wrong when I’m not there. The sorts of things, traditionally, a MAN looks after. Caron’s always bearing the brunt of it. And I get this hysterical phone call when I’m away somewhere and have no possible way of doing anything about it.
Caron was driving home from Terrigal at night. And part of the plastic underbody of the car fell off, and was dragging along the ground as she drove down the F3. Must have sounded like the engine was falling out.
And Caron had to deal with it herself.
Another time she was caught on the F3 when a bushfire closed the road. And she was stuck for a few hours. And a car zooming up the breakdown lane swiped her side mirror. And Caron had to deal with it herself.
Or the time there were mice crawling through the compost bin, and Caron decided that was the end of our environmentally-friendly recycling effort. Of course I was away. And Caron had to deal with it herself.
Just last week the battery died on the Corolla – you guessed it – when Caron was out on her own. And she had to deal with it herself.
Caron should have known the writing was on the wall after about three years of marriage when we moved out of our unit into our first house, with Caron heavily pregnant. And I was away on a school camp.
And Caron had to deal with it herself.
And the women in Judges 4 are in a similar position. Things are going wrong in Israel. And they want to know whether there’s a MAN in the house.
Are there any Real men? Who’ll take a stand against wrong. And put it right. Real men. Who’ll stand up and be counted when the going gets tough. Real men. Who’ll trust God. And press on.
Chapter four takes up the story after Ehud dies. After 80 years of peace. And we see the same old cycle again. Verse 1, “The Israelites once again did evil in the eyes of the Lord.” So the Lord sells them into the hands of Jabin, a King of Canaan, who reigns in Hazor in the North. With Sisera in command of his army.
Sisera the tough guy
Now Sisera sounds scary. A tough guy. Because he’s got 900 chariots. Not just any chariots. Iron chariots. Which in those days, is a bit like having a weapons of mass destruction. He’s Israel’s worst nightmare. And we’re told in verse 3, he’s had the upper hand over Israel for 20 years.
But here’s the cycle again; it’s got a familiar ring to it. Finally, Israel’s had enough. And so they cry to the Lord for help.
But here’s something different. Usually when Israel cries out to God he raises us a judge to lead them into battle. But notice in verse 4, there’s something unusual. Because at this point, Israel is being lead by a woman.
Here name’s Deborah, and she’s a prophetess. She sits under the Palm trees in the hills and the Israelites come to Judge Debbie with their petty disputes. Just like Judge Judy.
And verse 6, Deborah has had a word from the Lord. And she sends for Barak of Kedesh. And she says to Barak (v6).
“The Lord , the God of Israel, commands you: ‘Go, take with you ten thousand men of Naphtali and Zebulun and lead the way to Mount Tabor. I will lure Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his troops to the Kishon River and give him into your hands.’ ”
She says, get the men together, and the Lord will organise the rest. And Sisera and his iron chariots will be all yours.
Now the question is, is there a man in the house? Deborah’s optimistic. She says, go get ten thousand MEN.
But the real question is, is there even ONE? Because look what Barak says. Now when Caron saw the mice in the compost bin, SHE WOULDN’T GO OUT THERE ON HER OWN. She just stood at the back door looking through the window. Apparently, because I wasn’t there to see it. And poor old BRENT had to come over. And clean up the mess.
And Barak’s the same when it comes to the battle. Verse 8, “If you go with me, I will go; but if you don’t go with me, I won’t go.” I’m staying here.
Barak’s refusing to be a man; and so he’s going to be disgraced. Deborah says, “I’ll come. But because you’re not going to be a man, the honour won’t be yours. For the Lord will hand Sisera over to A WOMAN.”
Sisera will come crashing down. And God’s going to DO IT. But Barak won’t get to chalk up the notch on his spear. Because the glory’s going to go to a woman instead.
And that’s the story that’s about to unfold. Barak rounds up the men of Zebulun and Naphtali. And verse 10 says that “ten thousand men followed him – and Deborah also went with him.” To hold his hand.
Now notice as we slip past verse 11 we meet Heber, the Kenite. Who’s pitched his tent by the big tree near Kedesh. Somewhere up near where Barak’s from. Totally unrelated to the story at the moment – but you’ll need him for later. So keep the tent by the great tree at the back of your mind. Here’s where the whole story’s going to come to its climax.
And the scene switches to Sisera. Who’s heard reports that Barak’s out to get him. That he’s gone up Mount Tabor.
So verse 13, over-confident bully-boy Sisera gets together his nine hundred iron chariots and all the men with him, and they’re ready for battle. Waiting in the valley of the Kishon River. While the guys from Israel are perched on their mountain waiting for the word from Deborah.
And Deborah says to Barak, v14 “Go! This is the day the Lord has given Sisera into your hands. Hasn’t the Lord gone ahead of you?” And so Barak and his ten thousand men go hurling down the mountain, and verse 15 says “at Barak’s advance, the Lord routed Sisera and all his chariots and army by the sword, and Sisera abandoned his chariot and fled on foot.”
And Barak chases the chariots all the way home. And Sisera’s troops fall by the sword; ALL of them. Tough guys WITH their chariots. But not much good WITHOUT them.
But notice what v16 says. Not A MAN… is left. No MEN left, just Sisera as v17 goes on to say. He’s the commander, but he’s no MAN, as the story unfolds.
Back to the tent…
Which brings us back to the tent. By the tree. The tree we came past on the way to the battle. The tent of Heber the Kenite. And his wife Jael.
Because in spite of the fact he’s been acting so tough, Sisera is actually the original sissy. Without his 900 iron chariots, Sisera is a mummy’s boy. Which is highlighted in what happens next. He’s not the tough guy the Israelites think he is at all.
So here he is, verse 17, running scared. He’s at the flap of the tent of Jael, and she comes out to meet him; invites him in. “Come on in. Don’t be afraid.” Because she can see the fear in his eyes and hear it in his voice. You’d think it would be the other way around, wouldn’t you. A tough soldier arrives unexpectedly at the tent of a woman on her own. Who SHOULD be scared? The WOMAN!
But it’s Sisera who has to be comforted. So he comes in the tent, and Jael puts a rug over him. TWICE.
He’s thirsty. Verse 19, asks for a glass of water. And she gives him milk and cookies instead. She opens a skin of milk; gives him a drink, and covers him up. Safe. Or so he thinks.
Except you’ll be remembering what Deborah said at this point, won’t you? The God of Israel has said, the tyrant who terrorised his people is going to meet his end AT THE HAND OF A WOMAN. Because the men of Israel are such wimps.
And it’s delightfully ironic the way things play out. I love irony. Irony is when there’s A CONTRADICTION between what someone SAYS or DOES/ and what the REALITY is.
I mean, don’t you reckon it’s ironic that the head office of Otis elevators over at Mascot is only TWO STORIES HIGH? That’s ironic. Supposed to be experts in elevators, but they hardly even NEED one.
And there’s irony here. Tough guy Sisera says give me some water, and Jael makes him warm milk – like he’s a baby. Covers him up for an afternoon nap. Some tough guy!
And then Sisera says, “Stand in the doorway of the tent,” verse 20; and our English translation has missed the irony. He doesn’t say if anyone asks “Is anyone here?”. He ACTUALLY says, “If any MAN comes by and asks you, ‘Is any MAN here?’ say ‘No.’ ” If anyone comes and asks is there a man in the house… the answer’s no.
Delicious irony! Because tough guy Sisera is no tough guy at all! He’s no MAN – all the MEN were killed by Barak.
The only one left has just had his milk and cookies and tucked in for a nap.
Not to mention the fact that he’s going to be DEAD. Because as soon as he’s asleep, Jael picks up a tent peg… and picks up a hammer… and tip toes to the place where he’s lying fast asleep. And – this is the bit where you hide your eyes if it’s a movie – she lifts back the hammer and she whacks it. And drives the tent peg through his temple into the ground, and he dies.
Funny. On our Youth Group camp at Kiama there’s not too many of the girls hammering in tent pegs. But Jael can do it fine.
And so when Barak comes by, Jael calmly goes out to meet him.
“Come on in… I’ll show you the man you’re looking for.” So he goes in with here, and there he is. Sisera, pinned to the ground, dead.
And verse 23 says, on that day God subdued Jabin, the Canaanite king, before the Israelites. And the hand of the Israelites grew stronger and stronger against Jabin, the Canaanite king, until they destroyed him.
Now that’s the story. That’s the cycle completed. In the usual way you get through the book of Judges. Israel sins. God hands them over to the tribes around them. Israel repents. God saves.
Time for a Song
But now it’s time for a song. In chapter 5, you get the story all over again. As a song. The Song of Deborah.
It’s a bit like watching a Disney movie. Or a musical. You get the action. Then everyone sings, like in the Lion King, or the Sound of Music. Not sure if there’s a dance that goes with it.
But on that day, Deborah and Barak, they sing a victory song. A song that RE-TELLS the story. But more than that. It makes some key VALUE JUDGEMENTS about what’s been going on. Especially about the men of Israel. Men. Or mice. Judgements about who deserves the CHEERS. And who deserves the JEERS.
Have a listen. Hum along if you like. Verse 2.
When the princes in Israel take the lead, when the people willingly offer themselves- praise the Lord !
When the men of Israel act like men, praise the Lord.
When the men of Israel act like men, watch out! Because they haven’t been acting like men for a while!
Israel’s been corrupt. Because the men of Israel have been sitting on their hands. Because nobody could be bothered taking a stand for justice. Look at verse 6.
In the days of Shamgar son of Anath, in the days of Jael, the roads were abandoned; travelers took to winding paths. Village life in Israel ceased, ceased… until I, Deborah, arose, arose a mother in Israel.
It wasn’t safe to travel the roads. Because you’d be hijacked. And NOT A MAN AMONG THEM did anything about it. Village life was over. Israel lived in fear. And not a man among them did anything about it. Until Deborah came along. Verse 8:
When they chose new Gods, war came to the city gates, and not a shield or spear was seen among forty thousand in Israel.
Unfaithfulness in Israel. And nobody lifted a hand. Not a man among them.
Until now. And finally – even though Barak didn’t really want to… until NOW, they’ve finally got their act together. And so she says, good on you guys. You’ve finally done something. She says, “My heart is with Israel’s princes, with the willing volunteers among the people. Praise the Lord! And at last, the people of Israel have got something to sing about. Some righteous warriors to be proud of.
Except, you’ll notice, not everybody came to the party.
And so as she celebrates the victory, Deborah’s naming names. Of the tribes who didn’t make it onto the heroes’ list.
The tribe of Ephraim came. Issachar came. Verse 15. With Deborah. And with Barak.
But in the districts of Reuben, a different story. There’s wringing of hands. There’s searching of hearts. There’s lots of, “O, sorry Deborah, we can’t make it cause we’ve got to look after the sheep.” Verse 16:
Why did you stay among the campfires to hear the whistling for the flocks? In the districts of Reuben there was much searching of heart.
And Gilead. And Dan. And Asher. Sorry. Too busy. Looking after the ships. To take a stand for the Lord God of Israel.
Is there a man in the house? The wimps of Israel didn’t even join in. While God fought and won the battle – in a most unlikely way. The woman Jael. Verse 24. Who when the mighty Sisera comes, gives him curdled milk. Fit for a baby. And strikes him dead.
And just to confirm the idea that Sisera, the mighty opponent of Israel, the commander of 900 iron chariots… just to confirm that he was really a mummy’s boy, the final stanza… the sad little picture of the warrior’s MUM. Peering through the lattice window. Like Principal Skinner on the Simpsons who still lives with his mum. Saying why is he so late home from work? Oh, it’s because he’s choosing some nice coloured dress material to bring home.
No it’s not. It’s because he’s dead. With a stake through his head. And “so may all your enemies perish, O Lord,” says Deborah. “But may they who love you be like the sun when it rises in its strength.”
And so the land, says verse 31, has peace… for forty years.
So what are we Christians today meant to make of Judges 4 and 5?
ONE thing we can learn is that no matter how strong the enemy… it’s God who fights and wins the battle for his people. Often in most unusual ways. And we see that victory MOST in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Where God defeats sin and death. Where he wins salvation and freedom and life for us.
But there’s ANOTHER lesson. More to do with the HUMAN characters in the story. GOD FIGHTS AND WINS FOR HIS PEOPLE. BUT AT THE SAME TIME, THE MEN OF ISRAEL ARE CALLED TO STAND UP AND BE COUNTED. And the problem is, they’d rather go fishing. And leave it to the women.
Funny, during the debate over ordaining women in the last twenty years or so, this is a passage that’s often cited. Deborah – as the classic example. It’s okay for women to be ordained. Look at Deborah. Leader of Israel.
Now without wanting to buy into the debate, will you notice the whole tone of the section, it’s not criticising Deborah. But it’s certainly CRITICISING MEN OF GOD who refuse to be what men of God should be.
And I’ve heard from women who are elders in churches around the place – often in little country churches. And they say they’d be HAPPY to step down if there were godly men willing to STEP UP. Step up and lead God’s people the way he WANTS them to.
And so, guys, I want to turn the heat up on you today. And ask you, how is it with you? Because God’s word says it’s men who should step up to the mark and be leaders in their families/ and in their church. Leaders in the COSTLY ways. In the INCONVENIENT ways. In the SACRIFICIAL and DANGEROUS ways. And not the women.
Looking at the mission field… how many men? How many women? And I’ve heard it said, the reason there are so many women on the mission field is that the men won’t go.
Same argument with women and training for full-time ministry. The men won’t do it. Why not?
I reckon there’s nothing more LIMP than wimpy Christian men. Who won’t take the initiative in anything.
Won’t take the initiative as Christian leaders in their homes.
Won’t take the initiative in RELATIONSHIPS. I hear it over and over again. Early in a relationship, because they’re too scared to commit. Or in marriage, if things get tough… refuse to take initiatives to resolve things.
Or take the initiative in FRIENDSHIPS with non-Christians. Content to let things just roll comfortably along. Never bringing Jesus into conversations, never risking difficult and challenging conversations. Because they’re not MEN ENOUGH.
And I can put myself in that category TOO.
(PAUSE) Even in small stuff, like getting the family along to church on a Sunday morning. And I know, that can probably be a battle. Is it the men who are taking the lead? Or the women?
What message do you send about how important church is/ when YOU’RE READING THE PAPER while your wife runs around getting the family ready.
On the Simpsons, it’s always Marge who wants to go to church. And Homer wants to stay home. How is it at your place? I reckon it’s so often THE WOMEN who lead the way in faithfulness. And the men tag along objecting. Holding back.
Do YOU DADS set the agenda when it comes to family devotions? To praying with your wife? To praying with your kids when you put them to bed? To encouraging them in Christian things? Offering to pay for them to go on camps? Buying them Bibles, or Bible reading notes? Are you PRO-ACTIVE in that, or RE-active?
Do the stars have to line up correctly before you’ll pull the Bible out at the dinner table? Does it take a full-scale emergency before you suggest praying with your wife?
Are you the ENGINE that PULLS/ or the TRAILER that DRAGS your family as they follow Jesus?
We’re in a mess, I reckon, if Christianity becomes a female hobby. You see it at weddings and funerals. There’s always a bunch of the tough guys. Who right up to the last minute, won’t go into the church. They’ll stand round the tree outside in their dark glasses. Because church is woman stuff.
And it’s only that way because a generation of Christian men let it go that way.
I guess I’m letting you women off the hook. Sit back and relax. Because I want to put the heat on you guys. To be what men of God should be. To look at the example of the Lord Jesus. The real man.
Be men willing to take a stand. Willing to be vulnerable. Willing to SERVE. Confident in God’s victory; when everyone else ran away. To be men and not mice.
You know, the women in this passage are great. Deborah. Jael. Nudging the men of Israel to be what they should be. Courageous, strong, faithful. I love Christian women like that. And I love being part of a church that’s got lots of women like that. And yet the thing Godly women want most… is Godly men.
The opening page of Tom Clancy’s book Red Rabbit has a quote. It says this. The only two lines on the page.
Heroes… are often the most ordinary of men.
And they are. Ordinary guys. Who take serving Jesus seriously. In every part of life. Will that be YOU?