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Wednesday, November 18, 2020
Today’s Scripture Reading | Judges 4:1–7
The Israelites again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, after Ehud died. So the Lord sold them into the hand of King Jabin of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor; the commander of his army was Sisera, who lived in Harosheth-ha-goiim. Then the Israelites cried out to the Lord for help; for he had nine hundred chariots of iron, and had oppressed the Israelites cruelly twenty years.
At that time Deborah, a prophetess, wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel. She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the Israelites came up to her for judgment. She sent and summoned Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali, and said to him, “The Lord, the God of Israel, commands you, ‘Go, take position at Mount Tabor, bringing ten thousand from the tribe of Naphtali and the tribe of Zebulun. I will draw out Sisera, the general of Jabin’s army, to meet you by the Wadi Kishon with his chariots and his troops; and I will give him into your hand.’” (NRSV)
The book of Judges is a collection of stories about people living between 1200 and 1050 BCE. Then, like now, people asked, “Where is God? Why is this happening to us? Is God not just, not compassionate, that God allows so much human suffering?”
Judges is a book of theology told in story form. Its purpose is to give a sense of God’s identity, presence, and role in the lives of the people, not simply to record events. When the people acted in evil ways, this story tells us, God allowed them to fall into the hands of their own enemies. These enemies, in turn, acted in evil ways toward them. The story shows that evil reaps evil and brings about the eventual downfall of the society.
The judges were the rulers and military leaders in this period before there were kings in Israel and Judah. Reading through the whole book of Judges, we would see a cyclical pattern: when a judge dies, the people resort to evil until a new judge arises to lead the people. In these verses, the judge Ehud has died, and Deborah begins to take her place as a prophet and a military leader.
The militarism, violence, oppression, and war that happens among human beings is a painful truth. It happens. The Bible acknowledges that and describes it, but it never explains it away or suggests that it is anything less than a tragedy. Into the midst of this terrible experience of evil, God speaks to Deborah and guides her. God gives words to her so that she can lead others. She doesn’t have to solve the problems of the future, only the problems of her day.
May we, like Deborah, carry the burden that we have been given. May we listen for God’s will and lead the people with courage and conviction.
Holy God, open my ears to your call. Strengthen my heart that I may serve you and, like Deborah, lead your people. Amen.
Written by Nanette Sawyer, Associate Pastor for Discipleship and Small Group Ministry
Reflection and prayer © Fourth Presbyterian Church
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