I Deborah arose
Judges 4:1-7, 9; Judges 5:1-2, 6-7, 14, 18, 31; Genesis 49:14-15; Genesis 49:13, 21
I was affected, beloved brethren, by the way this beloved sister, Deborah, arises at this critical time in the history of God's people. Two sisters actually come to light in this section — besides Deborah, there is Jael the wife of Heber, who smote Sisera with a tent pin and killed him. But I thought we might look particularly at Deborah.
It says, "Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapodeth, judged Israel at that time", and we have the setting to this in the beginning of chapter 4. As you may know, in the days of the Judges, "every man did what was right in his own eyes", Judges 21:25. It wasn't like Joshua's time when there was sustained leadership among God's people, sustained leadership in Joshua in view of entering into the land and in view of subduing the inhabitants of the land. In the days of Judges, there was much failure, much departure from the truth, and departure from God, but there were those whom God used at various times in this book to save the people, to bring in rest for His people. At the end of this section, in Judges 5, it says, "And the land had rest forty years."
As you look at the setting in the beginning of chapter 4, it says, "Jehovah sold them into the hand of Jabin the king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor." You know, Hazor was burned by Joshua, and it is quite remarkable the way the city of Hazor is spoken of in Joshua 11. It says there in verse 10, "And Joshua turned back at that time, and took Hazor, and smote the king thereof with the sword; for Hazor was in times past the head of all those kingdoms. And they smote all the souls that were therein with the edge of the sword, destroying them utterly: there was not any left to breathe; and he burned Hazor with fire." Hazor was dealt with by Joshua; it was dealt with completely in Joshua's time. But now the matter of Hazor has come up again: Jabin king of Canaan reigned in Hazor. It came up again in spite of having been dealt with so severely and fully by Joshua. It says, "And the children of Israel again did evil in the sight of Jehovah."
Well, beloved brethren, we need to soberly consider the history of the testimony in which we have had part. "The children of Israel again did evil in the sight of Jehovah. Now Ehud was dead. And Jehovah sold them into the hand of Jabin king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor." How solemn that God sold his people into the hand of Jabin, king of Canaan — sold them into the hand of one who reigned in a place that Joshua had fully dealt with. That is, the principle came up again amongst God's people and oppressed them. It says, "the captain of his army was Sisera who dwelt in Harosheth-Goim." These two men, Jabin and Sisera, subdued the people. It says, "the children of Israel cried to Jehovah; for he had nine hundred chariots of iron, and he mightily oppressed the children of Israel twenty years." Think of the solemnity of that! "He mightily oppressed the children of Israel twenty years." But in this state of things, God intends that the people are to turn to Him. It says, "the children of Israel cried to Jehovah." That's what God had in mind out of all these exercises. Not that we are to lose heart and turn away further from God, but that we are to cry to Him. And then we read later, in chapter 5, verse 7, "I Deborah arose, ... a mother in Israel." This remarkable sister comes to light! "And Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, judged Israel at that time. And she dwelt under the palm-tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in mount Ephraim; and the children of Israel came up to her for judgment."
Thus, in spite of the mighty oppression that the children of Israel labored under for this period of time, there were still assembly features evident in Deborah; it says, "the children of Israel came up to her for judgment." I believe that refers to assembly features that worked out in this time of oppression amongst God's people. Well, it applies to assembly features, but it may apply to a sister too. It says, "Jerusalem above which is our mother." That helps us to see that Deborah represents motherly features of the assembly amongst God's people. Then it says, "she dwelt under the palm-tree of Deborah in Ramah and Bethel in mount Ephraim." I think this palm-tree suggests that Deborah was an overcomer, who had her own links with God. She had her own moral roots. It speaks of others whom God raised up to deal with the enemy, but of Deborah it says, "until that I Deborah arose."
Oh, beloved brethren, how precious it is that Deborah arises in these circumstances of oppression! No sister would take that to herself specifically, but it suggests assembly features emerging in the midst of all this oppression, and overthrowing the enemy completely. Because that's what was done here. And an interesting thing about this chapter is the three tribes that come to light — Naphtali, Zebulun, and Issachar — which God uses in this crisis. These are not tribes like Judah and Levi, which were more prominent amongst the Israelites, amongst God's people. These were insignificant tribes, that are given very little reference in Genesis 49. In fact, we might not think too favorably of what Jacob says about Issachar.
But I think we can look at Jacob's reference to Issachar in light of this section. It says in verse 15 of Judges 5, "And the princes in Issachar were with Deborah; and Issachar, like Barak; they were sent into the valley at his feet." Deborah, in this section, speaks discerningly as to all these tribes, and of what they did in this time of crisis, what their attitude was in this time of crisis. She says of Reuben, "In the divisions of Reuben were great resolves of heart! Why abodest thou among the sheepfolds, To hear the bleating of the flocks? In the divisions of Reuben there were great deliberations of heart"! That is, there was much discussion of what was proceeding, but no acting upon the discussion — no acting for God based on what they were speaking of. And then she says, "Gilead abode beyond Jordan; And Dan, why did he remain in ships? Asher sat on the sea-shore, and abode in his creeks." All these tribes basically sat watching during this crisis in which "I Deborah arose"!
How sobering that is! We should consider that as to our own time, whether we are like these tribes who simply abode beyond the Jordan, remained in the ships, had great resolves of heart, abode among the sheepfolds, sat on the sea-shore, abode in the creeks. Think of all these tribes and how they just sat and watched! But then you have Zebulun in verse 18. "Zebulun is a people that jeoparded their lives unto death, Naphtali also, on the high places of the field." These insignificant tribes come to light in a day when they were needed. They were needed by Deborah.
It says in chapter 4, verse 10, "Barak called together Zebulun and Naphtali to Kedesh; and there went up at his feet ten thousand men; and Deborah went up with him." These ten thousand men were available! It says in verse 15, "And Jehovah discomfited Sisera, and all the chariots, and all the army, with the edge of the sword before Barak; and Sisera got down from his chariot, and fled on foot." We can read the chapter later, and consider the most remarkable details of what proceeds here. As we were saying, not only Deborah comes into this chapter, but also Jael, the wife of Heber, of whom Deborah says, "Blessed above women shall Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite be, Blessed above women in the tent!" There is this unjealous feeling with Deborah. Deborah could have felt that she should have a prominent place because of her leadership in this exercise, but no: "Blessed above women shall Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite be." Each esteeming the other as more excellent than themselves! She was moving on that principle. Let us each proceed on that principle: "each esteeming the other as more excellent than themselves", Philippians 2:3. And let us thank God for these tribes: Zebulun, Naphtali, and Issachar. It says, "the princes in Issachar were with Deborah." We feel it deeply at the present time that the princes in Israel are holding back in exercises currently. But it says, "the princes in Issachar were with Deborah." Thank God there are some from this insignificant tribe. And we just might read what Jacob says about Issachar in Genesis 49. "Issachar is a bony ass." There's nothing to praise in that, nothing praiseworthy in this bony ass. It's just a bearer of burdens, this bony ass, crouching down between two hurdles. But "he saw the rest that it was good, and the land that it was pleasant."
Well, in the end of our chapter in Judges, the land had rest forty years. Both of these features are brought into this verse as to Issachar: the land and the rest. I think that should impress us. Perhaps Jacob was looking on to the time when the princes of Issachar would be with Deborah in this crisis in view of the land having rest forty years. It says, "And he bowed his shoulder to bear, And was a tributary servant." We have owned that "We are unprofitable bondmen; we have done what it was our duty to do" (Luke 17:10), and really I believe that is Issachar. "He bowed his shoulder to bear, And was a tributary servant."
How precious is this reference to Naphtali in verse 21: "Naphtali is a hind let loose; He giveth goodly words." We have had these three Psalms, (124, 125, and 126), Songs of Degrees of David, as to a bird escaped out of the snare, and here it says of Naphtali, that he "is a hind let loose, He giveth goodly words." There are just these two little phrases said about Naphtali, nothing more, nothing extensive as there is with Joseph or Judah, but just that he "is a hind let loose, He giveth goodly words." Let us consider these remarkable features that are seen in these three tribes.
"Zebulun is a people that jeoparded their lives unto death." I think as we go through exercise, we perhaps come to know something of this. Each of us knows in our own souls the experience we have been through, although we certainly would not want to take credit for it. "And Naphtali also on the high places of the field." The high places of the field suggest the area where military conflict takes place, where the battle is decided. It says, "kings came, they fought." So Deborah represents a mother in Israel. She cares for the people of God, she has deep concern for God's people, but there is a militant character to her as well, that is concerned about the release of God's people from the terrible oppression, from the mighty oppression they had labored under for twenty years.
So that was simply one's impression, except to go on to the end of the chapter. She says, "So let all thine enemies perish, Jehovah!" And then this wonderful touch, "But let them that love him be as the rising of the sun in its might." That's like the Lord Jesus coming into the exercise, with benign blessing upon the saints. Think of the might of the Lord Jesus! All the credit and the glory belongs to Him in any exercise we go through; thus, at the end of this chapter, it really brings in Christ in this way: "the rising of the sun in its might." It says in the prophet Malachi, "unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings." That's what we look for now. Much has come in in the testimony in the way of scattering, persons being offended, and persons being turned aside, but it says, "the Sun of righteousness shall arise with healing in his wings."
Let us ponder that as we go forward "as the rising of the sun in its might." Let us go forward in "the fulness of the blessing of Christ", Romans 15:29. Go forward not in any stingy or claiming way, but go forward in this way: "let them that love him be as the rising of the sun in its might", that blessing might ensue from this deep exercise that has taken place. Then it says, "And the land had rest forty years." That's what Issachar looked for. "He saw the rest that it was good, And the land that it was pleasant." That's what Issachar has in view, bony ass that's of no account, and yet he bore burdens in view of the rest and the land.
May the Lord bless the word, for His name's sake.
S. E. Hesterman
I Deborah Arose