After 20 years of cruel oppression, it was time. God had sold His people into the hands of their enemies because of His people’s unfaithfulness, and now they cried out to the LORD for deliverance (Judges 4:1-3). And God heard their cries. And God was ready to go to battle on behalf of His people and rescue them from their misery. But, as I read Judges 4 and 5 this morning, what hits me is that, while God could have turned the tables Himself, instead He determines to use a cast of thousands.
So often I read this passage and I focus on Deborah. Deborah, wife of Lappidoth. Deborah, judge of Israel. Deborah, prophetess of God. And I take note of her godly leadership. Or, I might focus on Barak the reluctant military leader. Willing only to go into battle if Deborah goes with him. And I relate to his fearful nature. And then there’s Jael, wife of a nomad whose tents just happened to be in the right place at the wrong time for Sisera, commander of the Canaanite army. Jael, the last person this mighty man of war suspected of being a threat to him. And so, he goes to bed and wakes up dead.
But as I hover over the account of the battle in chapter four and then reflect on the song of victory sung by Deborah and Barak in chapter five, I realize that the victory wasn’t the result of just one or two or three people. Instead, it was the collaborative effort of Almighty God with a cast of thousands.
Then sang Deborah and Barak the son of Abinoam on that day: “That the leaders took the lead in Israel, that the people offered themselves willingly, bless the LORD! (Judges 5:1-2 ESV)
Deborah has been raised up to be a “mother in Israel” (5:7). Barak has been prepared to lead an army into battle. Jael has picked up a thing or two on how to use tent pegs and a mallet. But when it’s time to sing of victory, it’s about leaders who are stepping up to lead and people who willingly offer themselves to the LORD.
Barak is told to take 10,000 men from Zebulun and Naphtali into battle. And so, after securing Deborah as his personal escort, he puts out the call. “And 10,000 men went up at his heels, and Deborah went up with him” (4:10). And they join with men from other tribes, as well. Men of Ephraim and Benjamin along with princes from Issachar (5:14-15a). Though others chose to stay at home rather than enter the battle (5:15b-17), there were many who “offered themselves willingly.” And that, according to Deborah the woman of God, was worth singing about. Bless the LORD!
And so, I think about a God who delivers. Willing to discipline . . . so that His people’s faces might be turned back to Him. Mighty to save . . . that the bondage of our enemies might be broken. But also a God who chooses, often, not to act unilaterally. But instead, calls into the battle a cast of thousands.
Women and men. Prophetesses and tent-dwelling wives. Reluctant commanders and volunteer armies. Though God doesn’t need them to win the war, He purposes to use them. To stir hearts, such that all, regardless of stature or position, offer themselves willingly. Perhaps, that is the greater victory won. Men and women free to choose whom they will follow and what they will worship, offering themselves in response to the call of God. Willing to lay their lives on the line in order to see their God route the enemy and win the victory. Bless the LORD!
A cast of thousands. A call to faithfulness.
All by the grace of God. All for the glory of God.