Sunday, January 27, 2013

retreat address 2: Deborah and Jael, Women on Top

Once upon a time, there were judges in Israel. This was before there were kings but after God created the world, you understand, so they were not as domesticated as Solomon or David but were mighty to behold. Sampson was a judge—all raw power and hair he was. And Ehud was a great warrior who stabbed one enemy so that his sword arm was swallowed up by the man’s belly. And Jephthah—ah, Jephthah. He was a soldier’s soldier that one—if only he hadn’t made a fool’s bargain and sacrificed his daughter. But of all these and many more, the greatest was Deborah.

Deborah was married to a man named Lappidoh which means spirited or fierce. Or else Lappidoh was a nickname meaning spirited or fierce. No one really knew. And Deborah, the Wife of Ferocity, sat under a tree at the outskirts of town. She sat there and saw the blue of the sky. She sat there and saw clouds like paste scraped across it. She sat there under the tree and saw the people coming to her with their tribulations and she saw the truth of their hearts. She sat there under the tree—which came to be known as Deborah’s Tree, if you must know—she sat there and saw the breath of God in each person, saw their passions and their flaws. Deborah sat there under her tree and loved the people. She sat, watching, listening, advising. And she heard the voice of God.

And one day she called the general of the army to her. She watched him come, she saw his passions and his flaws. “General Barak” said Deborah the wife of Ferocity, “God has a word to speak to you. God says to get your army in gear and go to Mount Tabor and fight the horde of Sisera. God says you will fight and you will win.”
And General Barak said to Deborah, “Will you come with me?” for he was brave, but not as brave as Deborah the Wife of Ferocity. “If you go with me,” he said, “I will go. But if you do not, I will not go.”
And General Barak hung his head and traced circles in the dirt with his foot like a little boy.
And Deborah looked at Barak and knew his heart and she sighed. Deborah said “I will indeed go with you, General Barak, but you’d better get ready for disappointment. You’ll win, but it won’t be because of you. Triumph will be because of a woman. You got that?”
So they went to the battlefield with their 10,000 soldiers and behold there was Sisera and all his glorious army with 900 iron chariots—think the climactic battle of Lord of the Rings at Pelennor Fields only with fewer trolls and orcs. And the Israelites looked at the army of Sisera and were afraid.
But Deborah the wife of Ferocity said to General Barak, “Get up! God is giving Sisera and all his army into your hand. God is your front line and your rear guard. Go, fight, win!” So they marched forward and saw Sisera’s army and Sisera’s army saw them.
They watched each other, saw how many soldiers were on each side, saw that the God of Israel was indeed with Israel. And Sisera’s army panicked—horses rearing and trampling, soldiers fleeing, and no officers able to form order. The Great and Terrible General Sisera was seen leaping from his own chariot and running away on foot like a scaredy-cat.
Deborah the Wife of Ferocity may or may not have rolled her eyes.
And suddenly General Barak had the courage of his convictions and called to his small army to pursue the great host of Sisera’s army and cut them down. Every last warrior of the enemies of Israel died by the sword of Barak’s army.
Deborah the Wife of Ferocity may or may not have had a gleam in her eyes.
Now you may well think that the glory of this story belongs to Deborah, the warrior woman. But there’s more to the story.
Sisera himself, great and terrible general of the bad guy army, had escaped the wholesale slaughter of his troops. He’d run away with his tail between his legs. And he’d run towards a tent-city that he knew was on his side, hoping to hide himself in their midst.
“Pssst” he heard and he looked and saw a woman gesturing him into her tent. In relief, Sisera snuck into the darkness.
Jael was the woman’s name and she had been sitting at the entrance to her tent, watching and waiting. She sat there and saw the blue of the sky. She sat there and saw clouds like paste scraped across it. She sat there in front of the tent and saw the people coming and she saw the truth of their hearts. Did she hear the voice of God telling her Sisera was coming? Why did she wait for this man and for what? No one knew. Jael was married to a man named Heber. His name might also have meant Ferocity for all we know, because here is what she did. Sisera the Great and Terrible was also Sisera the Fearful and Exhausted so he asked for some water. Jael instead gave him fresh milk to slake his thirst, like your mother might have given you before you went to bed, a soothing gesture. Sisera may or may not have noticed and he drank the milk down. His exhaustion hit him and he thought, “I’ll sort this Barak and Deborah thing out tomorrow when I’m rested” and he lay down to sleep. Just before falling asleep in the tent of this obviously trustworthy and tasteful woman, Sisera told her to lie if anyone asked if he was there. As his eyes drifted closed, Jael, the wife of Heber, picked up a tent-peg. And she picked up a hammer. And she laid the tentpeg against Sisera’s temple and gave it such a mighty blow with the hammer that it lodged in the ground beneath Sisera’s head.
And Jael, the wife of Ferocity went outside her tent to wait for whomever would come. And she may or may not have pondered all the deeds of Sisera which led her to this moment.
Barak, the Newly Great and Terrible came into the camp and Jael rose to meet him. She said, “come into my tent”—a terrifying statement if you know what’s inside—but Barak didn’t and he went and saw his enemy nailed to the ground. And Barak may or may not have marveled at the deeds of women.
He also may or may not have thrown up.
Deborah and Jael, the wives of Ferocity, the wives of Necessity and of Wisdom lived, if not happily ever after, then content, aware of the parts they played in the great story God was telling with Israel.
Deborah and Jael live on in Afghanistan where women teach their children history and faith and how to protect their families. They live on in India where women fight off rapists. They live on in Kenya where women plant trees in defiance of the government’s edict that women aren’t allowed to and the trees won’t make any difference anyway. Deborah and Jael live on in us when we call upon our own Ferocity to see the breath of God in each person, to see their passions and their flaws. When we sit, watching, listening, waiting, we, too, can hear the voice of God.

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Questions for conversation:
·      What stood out for you in Deborah’s and Jael’s story?
Share a story about a time you stood up for someone—what happened? How anxious or fierce did you feel? Where was God in that moment? How did you know you needed to confront the situation? What did you learn?

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