16th Sunday after Pentecost September 9, 2018
8, 290, 396, 49
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
When Ehud was dead, the children of Israel again did evil in the sight of the Lord. So the Lord sold them into the hand of Jabin king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor. The commander of his army was Sisera, who dwelt in Harosheth Hagoyim. And the children of Israel cried out to the Lord; for Jabin had nine hundred chariots of iron, and for twenty years he had harshly oppressed the children of Israel. Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, was judging Israel at that time. And she would sit under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the mountains of Ephraim. And the children of Israel came up to her for judgment. Then she sent and called for Barak the son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali, and said to him, “Has not the Lord God of Israel commanded, ‘Go and deploy troops at Mount Tabor; take with you ten thousand men of the sons of Naphtali and of the sons of Zebulun; and against you I will deploy Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his multitude at the River Kishon; and I will deliver him into your hand’?” And Barak said to her, “If you will go with me, then I will go; but if you will not go with me, I will not go!” So she said, “I will surely go with you; nevertheless there will be no glory for you in the journey you are taking, for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.” Then Deborah arose and went with Barak to Kedesh. And Barak called Zebulun and Naphtali to Kedesh; he went up with ten thousand men under his command, and Deborah went up with him.
In Christ Jesus, Dear Fellow Redeemed:
Does this ever happen in your house? Or maybe it happened to you as a child? Mom tells the kids, “Grandma’s coming at five o’clock to stay for the weekend. I need you to clean the bathroom before she gets here.” As the clock advances and five o’clock draws closer, the bathroom has still not been cleaned. Finally, at 4:30, mom says, “Have you kids cleaned the bathroom yet? Grandma’s almost here!” The kids answer, “No, but we’re gonna do it!” To which mom replies, “Don’t bother, I did it myself!” resulting in a clean bathroom for grandma and discipline for the kids. The job needed to get done, but the people who were supposed to do it, didn’t. Someone had to do it, so mom did it herself.
This happens out in the world as well, at work or at school. And it also happens in the church. It has throughout church history. Someone was called by the Lord to do it, that person didn’t, and so the Lord found someone else to do the job. Because:
and He uses people who will get the job one.
The role of women in the church has been an issue that has divided the visible Christian church, especially in recent years, sometimes bitterly. Those who advocate the ordination of women pastors will invariably bring up our Judge for this morning, Deborah. They say, “See! Deborah was a woman who led the men and women of Israel!” But, the fact that the Lord called Deborah to lead Israel at the time of the Judges, doesn’t change the principle that He Himself lays out in His Word. God says, “Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says” (2 Corinthians 14:34). In keeping with this Word, the Apostle advises young Pastor Timothy regarding his ministry in his congregation, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence…” (1 Timothy 2:12).
Now, this is not an arbitrary rule, made to keep women under the man’s thumb. It has a purpose and a point. It is written, “For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression…” (1 Timothy 2:13f). In addition to demonstrating the order of Creation, that man was created first and therefore has a leadership role, this principle further demonstrates what happened when the man did not step up and fulfill his God-given headship role. Adam stood by and did nothing, knowing full-well what was happening at the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. “Adam was not deceived…” He knew what he was doing when Eve gave him the forbidden fruit, and we see what happened: “…through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned…” (Romans 5:12).
The issue of women pastors in the church is not one of whether or not women are capable of doing the work. Nor is the issue whether or not men have taken advantage of their role and have, in the past, used it to oppress women. (They have!) The real issue is, what has God said on the matter and are we willing to follow His Word? God always remains a God of order. The Holy Spirit does not overthrow the order of creation nor the judgment after the Fall. The Spirit remains consistent by forbidding women to rule in the public assembly of the congregation by preaching.
So, briefly stated the principle is this: God rules His people individually and collectively through His Word. In the public assembly of the congregation that Word is to be proclaimed and taught only by called men—not by women.
But this does not deny to woman the right, duty, privilege, and responsibility of teaching according to divine order. An instructive example is that of a remarkable woman who played such a key role in the missionary work of St. Paul. She was Priscilla, the wife of a tentmaker named Aquila. Paul met this couple in Athens, lived and worked with them, and took them along to Ephesus. We can but imagine the hours of private instruction and of holy insight that this couple received from St. Paul. What they learned, they taught when the opportunity presented itself. Apollos had come from Alexandria to Ephesus. He was “an eloquent man, and mighty in the scriptures,” but his knowledge was incomplete. Aquila and Priscilla spotted this lack immediately. They didn’t embarrass Apollos publicly but took him to their home “and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly” (Acts 18).
So it is that a woman prophesies most naturally and most effectively in the privacy of a home, in a small group, or in a one to one situation. Fathers are admonished to bring up their children “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4), but fathers generally delegate the religious instruction of their children to their wives because they are endowed by God with special gifts for training the young. Many women are better theologians than their husbands, and many a man has profited from the instruction and guidance of a woman of the Lord. There are many women, sitting on church pews on Sunday mornings, who are more learned in the Scriptures than some of the most renowned preachers of the day. They function quietly, but efficiently and effectually, as agents of the Spirit in the sphere where the Lord has placed them.
While people tend to focus on the fact that God called a woman, Deborah, to lead Israel, the real question is, “Why did God call a woman to lead Israel?”
The period of the Judges was a time of apostasy and anarchy, judgment and punishment at the hands of Israel’s enemies, and then repentance and deliverance when the Lord raised up a judge. During this time when the men of Israel again and again failed to carry out their God-given responsibilities, the Lord on one occasion raised up a woman—Deborah, a prophetess. Barak was the Lord’s man at that time, but Barak was weak and needed the spiritual and moral support of Deborah. Because of Barak’s weakness, the Lord delivered Sisera, captain of the enemy host, into the hands of a second woman, Jael (Judges 4). Thus it was that the Lord delivered His people through the hands of two women—heroes of faith in the midst of fainthearted men.
God has entrusted men with the responsibility of leading His people in the light and by the power of His Word. This is God’s regular order, but when men fail to respond to their God-given responsibilities, there results a leadership vacuum which the Lord, at times, fills with women, to the shame of the men. So it was that Deborah, the prophetess, judged Israel, and Jael smote Sisera, and so it has been time and again in the history of God’s people, that the Lord uses men and women:
If one won’t do the job, He will call another to do it.
After the death of Ehud the children of Israel again did evil in the sight of the LORD. To call them to repentance this time, the LORD “sold them into the hand of Jabin king of Canaan.” His oppression of Israel was characterized by harshness and cruelty (4:3), as the psalmist writes in a review of Israel’s history, “And He gave them into the hand of the Gentiles, and those who hated them ruled over them” (Ps. 106:41). They had rejected the rule of God who loved them; now He would allow them to have a taste of rule under those who hated them.
We’re told in our text that Deborah “was judging Israel at that time.” She held her court under a certain palm tree and people of Israel came to her for judgment. She is also called a prophetess (4:4), that is, the LORD spoke through her. She delivered a divine communication to Barak that he was to gather an army from Zebulun and Naphtali and prepare to be confronted by Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army. Most important in this word of God for Barak was the promise, “I will deliver him into your hand.”
But this clear statement of promise was not enough for Barak. He would only obey the divine command if Deborah went with him. She did go with him and support him, for which we remember Deborah as a woman of faith and courage. The LORD was faithful to His promises, as He always is, and gave Barak the victory. However, as Deborah had foretold, there was to be no glory for Barak in the victory because God would slay Sisera by the hand of a woman, Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite (4:9, 17-22).
Jael does not even have a clear, definitive word like Barak. Yet she has the courage to do what is right given her allegiance to Israel.
Why is Barak remembered as a less than heroic figure in Bible history? Because he doubted God’s promises. It is among the gravest of insults to the divine glory that anyone should doubt His Word. We think of Zacharias who questioned the Word of God spoken to him by the angel Gabriel and how he was sternly rebuked. And why are these rebukes recorded for us? Is it not that we should ask ourselves, “Do I doubt God’s promises spoken to me?”
There are many such promises. If we cataloged them all here, it would be a long list indeed. A few will suffice. He has promised to forgive our sins for Jesus’ sake (John 3:18), to raise us from the dead on the last day (John 6:40), to hear and answer our prayers for Jesus’ sake (John 16:23), to provide for us (Matthew 6:33), to stand beside us and help us as we carry out His work in the world (Matthew 28:20). Yet, we still worry and fret. We are often fearful rather than courageous and downcast rather than joyful.
Remember men in Bible history such as Barak and Zacharias. They were rebuked for doubting God’s promise, but what was it that especially rebuked their doubting? It was the fulfillment of the promise in its time. Let those fulfillments, those records of God’s faithfulness stir us up to holy courage and joyful confidence. And let us also remember that while Barak’s record is not one of glory neither is it one of shame, for though he was doubting and reluctant he still went, and the LORD was with him.
Because the fact remains, man or woman, we are each one sinful. Not a one of us lives up to the standard of God’s Law, not only for righteousness, but for carrying out our God-given tasks.
But thank God that One did not shirk His responsibilities. The Man, Christ Jesus, did not avoid His call, nor did He fall short in fulfilling it. The Judges were types of Christ, prophets and kings, Deliverers who saved God’s people when no one else could, or would.
But Jesus did more than just deliver us from some enemy who invaded with swords or oppressed with taxes and tributes. He delivered from the enemies of sin, death, and the devil, enemies whose oppression was eternally condemning. His deliverance, “…is not like that [condemnation] which came through the one who sinned. For the judgment which came from one offense resulted in condemnation, but the free gift which came from many offenses resulted in justification…Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:16, 18f). Your sins, your shortcomings, have been forgiven by God in Christ, so that it is written, “…where sin abounded, grace abounded much more, so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 5:20f).
Don’t be afraid to seek to carry out God’s will in your life. God has given each of us, men and women, roles to fill, jobs to do, specific to each one of us, not simply according to gender, but as individual believers. Don’t despair that you don’t seem to be able to do everything that you, as a Christian wish to. Keep doing it! Yes, we know we’re going to fall short, but grace abounds in your life, and as do the opportunities for you to serve. Because of Christ, God is with you, and His will shall be done through you and in you in Christ Jesus. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.