“Women Who Rise, a Paradigm for Everyone”

Categories: Monday Morning Meditation

In yesterday's lesson, we explored the story of Deborah in Judges 4-5 and made application to women who rise. Here is a summation and some further thoughts.

We often describe the book of Judges as a cycle of Rebellion, Oppression, Crying Out/Repentance/ and Deliverance. This is good as far as it goes. But this is just the surface level of the movement in Judges. As we read the book of it becomes clear that not only is this cycle repeated but there is also a downward trajectory to the whole book. Rather conceiving of it as a two-dimensional circle we should picture it as a three-dimensional cone. A downward spiral. Sort like a toilet bowl. Come to think of it, it is exactly like a toilet bowl. It is a fatal funnel of futility, a dumpster fire of depravity spiraling downward. It starts out bad. But things get much worse. This is a tragic screenplay on what it looks like when people forget their God, fail to teach future generations, and do what is right in their own eyes. But in all of this is a glimmer of light.

Deborah rises up as one of the few bright spots in the book. In a book where the people are often the picture of abject corruption, and many of their judges are deeply flawed individuals who are no better, Deborah serves as something of a steady rock for the people in her own day, and for readers in later generations. Though surely not perfect, she is described as “a mother in Israel” who rises to set right what is wrong among her people ( . 5:7). Deborah is able to affect great change not only because she was someone who rose up, but because she called others to rise up with her. She not only had control over her own self but also a great influence over others. She engaged Barak, the man whom God had appointed to deliver the people, by calling him out and calling him up and getting him started down the path to victory. She empowered him by going with him and giving him the confidence he needed to carry out the task. She encouraged him when the time came to go to battle by urging him to rise up and reminding him that God was with him and would give him victory. Great mothers and great leaders make those under their charge better.

But we encounter another significant woman in this story. She is a different flavor of the same sort. She is likewise a woman who rises to meet the occasion. She too steps up and does what needs to be done. But her role is far messier. Her name is Jael.

Before we ever encounter her, the text has already hinted at her emergence. In Judges 4:9 Deborah says that a woman will get the glory for victory over Sisera, the commander over the opposing forces. Now at first, we are to expect that Deborah is referring to herself and indeed victory does not come without her rising up to raise up Barak. But her last engagement in the plot is her encouraging Barak to go fight before the battle even begins, and then she disappears from the scene (Judg. 4:14). She has risen up primarily through her words, Jael would rise primarily through her actions.

The LORD routed Sisera, his armies and his chariots, by sending a great storm, flooding the Kishon river and turning the plains and the valleys into a marsh (Judg. 4:15-16; 5:4-5, 20-21). This likely caused the chariots to get stuck and break down throwing the armies of Sisera into chaos and confusion as their greatest strength was handicapped. The armies of Barak were then able to descend from the hills upon the Canaanite forces, routing them to the point of retreat.

As Sisera scurried from the battle, he stumbled upon the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber, his ally (Judg. 4:17). This should have been a place of sanctuary. According to the cultural milieu of the Ancient Near East and its attendant social conventions, Jael would have been expected to house and provide for Sisera. Anything less than a hospitable disposition and reception would have brought extreme reproach on her and her husband. All the signs of an amicable and hospitable reception are there. The call to turn aside and find sanctuary in the tent, the proffering of milk to not only quench his thirst but also to calm his mind, the covering with a rug/blanket as he lies down. All of this signifies a motherly reception. Meanwhile, Sisera’s own mother is anxiously waiting for him to come home. “Why is he delayed?” She wonders. “Surely, he’s is ok… Yes,” she comforts herself, “he must be dilly-dallying pillaging their towns and plundering their women. Silly boy. I’ll see you soon.”  Little does she know, Sisera lays dead, himself plundered, a tent spike driven through his head. Jael’s hand had done it in act of preposterous betrayal. A treacherous violation of social conventions, Jael’s hands are covered with her ally’s blood. Jael’s “mothering” role is much messier. We are not told what Jael’s motivations were. Was she, unlike her husband, sympathetic to the Israelite people? Did she disapprove of the soldiers and the chariots always about parading the streets? Was she just a cold-blooded killer with a disdain for men with foreign names? The text doesn’t say (we should note that even if her motivations are less than noble God certainly could have used her actions to accomplish His purposes). What the text does say, however, is that Jael “is most blessed of women” as Deborah praised and glorified her for her actions in rising up to do what needed to be done.

All of this points to another a great woman who rose to meet the occasion and became the source of deliverance, not only for her own people or the people in her own day but for all people. We are of course talking about Mary, the one who is likewise described as “blessed among woman” for the role she played in mothering the Messiah (Lk. 1:42). Instead of shying away from the great responsibility, or hesitating due to fear or uncertainty, as we are often wont to do, Mary accepts her role as the servant of the Lord, praises His goodness and submits herself to His purposes (Lk. 1:46-55). She rises in spite of the rumors and the gossip that accompany the scandal of a woman with child and no husband. She rises in spite of the uncertainty of what would come. She rises in spite of what she doesn’t understand about the process and how it would all work out.

May this impress upon us an overwhelming desire in us to rise and allow God to use us. May we go where He sends, may we rise when He calls, may we through our words and our actions, our disposition and our obedience be useful to God, fulfill His purposes, influence the world around us and affect change in our clans, our churches, and our communities! How can you rise up today?

(for another mothering connection, check out the allusion of Mary's song (Lk. 1:46-56) found in 1 Sam. 2:1-10 that Leigh pointed out in our Luke study.)

For more resources on the book of Judges, check out this series of studies by Philip Martin and Jared Saltz: