Judges chapter four begins with Israel doing evil and, as a result, suffering the oppression of the Canaanites who were ruled by their king, Jabin, and the commander of his army, Sisera. Israel cried out to the Lord because of their hardship. Now Deborah was a prophetess who commissions a man named Barak to take ten thousand Israelite men and draw out the forces of Sisera, which included 900 iron chariots, and defeat them in battle. Barak hesitates and eventually says that if Deborah will not go with him to do this, then he will not go. Deborah acquiesces but says that since he did not fully trust her word, the glory of this battle will go to another.
Seeing the forces of Israel gather at Mount Tabor, Sisera brings out all his men and many chariots and rush the Israelite forces, but his army breaks down as the Lord delivers Sisera into the hand of Barak and his warriors. The armies are routed, but Sisera flees and finds refuge in the tent of a woman named Jael who was supposedly an ally of king Jabin. He is given a drink and a place to hide under a rug from the pursuing Israelites and eventually falls asleep from exhaustion. It is at this time that Jael drives a tent spike through Siseras temple and kills him. Following this, Israel rebels against Jabin and free themselves with God’s help. The following chapter is the Song of Deborah and Barak, extolling their God who delivered them from mighty foes.
Judges certainly is not short on action and adventure, nor is it short on the phrase “The people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord …” In this epic battle between the Canaanites and the Israelites, two different peoples assemble themselves oriented in very different directions. The Canaanites trust in their numbers and strength of arms. 900 chariots of iron would be an overwhelming sight to any enemy of theirs and would melt the hearts of their foes. The sheer size of their army was sufficient, in their minds, to keep the people of Israel subdued without any major show of force. It is this very dependence on material that proved to be their undoing rather than their victory.
This battle has familiar undertones that point us back to Israel’s deliverance from Egypt. Picture the wheels of pharaoh’s chariots churning in the sticky mud of the red sea as they try to recapture their enslaved people. Sisera’s chariots of iron were formidable too but must have weight a huge amount and been unwieldy in all but the best circumstances. Sisera, in his pride, brought all 900 of them out against an already outnumbered foe which means they were far more likely to tangle with one another. The Lord used their over-reliance on their material goods as a means of their destruction, to say nothing of what else He did in their very hearts. Likewise, putting our trust in ourselves and our material things is to act willfully ignorant towards God.
Contrast this with the attitude of Israel. From them we see that those who trust in and depend on God see opportunity and hope against overwhelming odds. Those who lean into the everlasting arms will see their strength renewed. Those who live not on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God will find that they never hunger or thirst! The Lord Jesus wants your heart and your trust above all else. It may seem counter-intuitive to trust in what you cannot see, but that is the pattern we have set forth by the very God who became one of us and was laid in a manger!
It seems like each day brings with it new challenges, new heartbreaks, and new tasks that seem to drain us more and more. We may not be face to face with a thousand enemy chariots, but that does not mean we are free from suffering. Time and time again in scripture, the Lord shows His saving power and the way in which He loves His children. Take the words of Jesus Christ in Mattew 7:9-11 “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”
We have a good and loving Father who promises to be with us always. No matter what we are facing, remember that nothing is more important than the trust you put in Him.
Take a look at your to-do schedule or that which weighs on your heart. What would it look like for you to trust God utterly with what’s going on in your life?
Lord Jesus, we confess that we have tried to make ourselves the lord of our lives and relied on material things instead of you. We have tried to do much in our own strength instead of yours. Forgive us these sins and grant that we may have hearts that are strong enough to lean on you and to trust you no matter what we see before us.
Song: The Gates, by Young Oceans
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In 2023, each week's blog is a follow-up reflection written by the preceding Sunday’s preacher to dig deeper into the sermon topic and explore engaging discussion questions.