Expository Mother’s Day Sermon on Judges 4 and 5
by Maylan Schurch
Bellevue Seventh-day Adventist Church 5/8/2021
©2021 by Maylan Schurch

To watch the entire May 8 service, click this link:

Please open your Bibles to Judges chapter 5.

Since tomorrow is Mother’s Day, I decided to put a temporary bookmark in the regular sermon series I’m preaching, and instead talk about one of the Bible’s mothers this morning.

I’ll admit that the mother I finally chose wasn’t the first one I thought of, because I don’t often think of her in this role. But sure enough, she is indeed a mother. She said so herself in last couple of words of our Scripture reading this morning. Let’s listen to a couple of verses you’ve already heard.

Judges 5:6 – 7 (NKJV): “In the days of Shamgar, son of Anath, In the days of Jael, The highways were deserted, And the travelers walked along the byways. Village life ceased, it ceased in Israel, Until I, Deborah, arose, Arose a mother in Israel.

So why were things so discouraging at that time? We get the answer by backing off to the start of chapter 4, where this action-adventure saga begins.

Judges 4:1: When Ehud was dead, the children of Israel again did evil in the sight of the LORD.

Ehud also turns out to be an action hero. Back in chapter 3, Israel was under the thumb of the evil and very obese King Eglon of Moab. Israelites weren’t permitted to have swords, so Ehud had to make his own, and he hid it under his cloak and assassinated the king, and this paved the way for Israel’s freedom.

But watch what happens now. It turns out that these enemies that constantly oppressed Israel were allowed to do this by God, when the people needed to be reminded of who their real Creator and Protector was.

Verses 1 – 3: When Ehud was dead, the children of Israel again did evil in the sight of the LORD. So the LORD sold them into the hand of Jabin king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor. The commander of his army was Sisera, who dwelt in Harosheth Hagoyim. And the children of Israel cried out to the LORD; for Jabin had nine hundred chariots of iron, and for twenty years he had harshly oppressed the children of Israel.

Keep those 900 iron chariots in the back of your mind, because we will see them again. Anyway, when King Jabin’s oppression got bad enough to make things really desperate, the Israelites remembered the God they had been ignoring.
If this were an action-adventure movie, the scene would now fade to a palm tree, and the camera would zoom in to reveal a woman sitting underneath.

Verses 4 – 5: Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, was judging Israel at that time. And she would sit under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the mountains of Ephraim. And the children of Israel came up to her for judgment.

Here it says that Deborah is a prophetess and judge, not a military fighter. But as we move through this chapter, I believe we can find several things Deborah stood for, you might say “fought for.” And later, she did literally go to war alongside General Barak. So you could say that she really was a “fighter mom!”

Did any of you have a “fighter mom”? We’ve heard of the “Tiger mom.” Wikipedia says that “Tiger parenting is a form of strict or demanding parenting. Tiger parents push and pressure their children to attain high levels of academic achievement or success in high-status extracurricular activities such as music, using authoritarian parenting methods.” And this is all done for what the parents consider the child’s good.

Maybe some of you were raised by a “Tiger mom,” but I wasn’t. But my mother was a “fighter mom.” I don’t ever remember either her or Dad spanking us, but I do remember one time when one of us siblings (it might have been me) slugged another and weaker sibling on the shoulder.

Mom came right over and delivered a solid punch to the very spot on the slugger’s arm where he had punched the younger kid on his. She wanted the bully to instantly know how it felt. And it worked! I only remember her having to do that once.

I think my mom was a “fighter mom” sort of in the mold of Deborah. Mom was not a prophetess, and she never had to go to literal war. But there were certain things my mom stood for – and I believe they are some of the same things Deborah stood for. And you might be able to say the same about your mom.

What did Deborah stand for? And do we need to stand for the same things? Let’s find out.

Verses 4 – 5: Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, was judging Israel at that time. And she would sit under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the mountains of Ephraim. And the children of Israel came up to her for judgment.

If you’re taking down sermon points, here comes Sermon Point One. What’s the first thing Deborah stood for?

Deborah stood for God’s justice.

If you happen to be using the Andrews Study Bible at this moment, and if you glance down at the footnotes, you’ll see that even though there were several judges listed in the book of Judges (which is how the book got its name), Deborah is the only judge who is described as deciding people’s cases. The others did this, I’m sure, but Deborah is the only one we actually see doing it.

The people seem to have had a great deal of confidence in her – and since she had direct wisdom from God, this made her decisions supernaturally sensible and workable.

And notice where Deborah is doing her judging. She is not judging in the town of Ramah, or in the town of Bethel. She hasn’t let herself be tied down to one specific city. No doubt both towns would have loved to claim her – think of the tourist trade – but rather than show favoritism, she has chosen a neutral location out in the country, between the two towns. That palm tree of hers was located about 10 miles straight north of Jerusalem.

You can imagine a couple of people who are having legal troubles walking toward a judgment session with Deborah. On the horizon they see a palm tree. “Great!” they say. “There it is –Deb’s palm tree! She’ll get this figured out.”

And I can imagine them gathering around Deborah. Maybe she has somebody serve them a meal, because when you eat together, that means you’re friends. And then she thoughtfully listens to the debates, and finally pronounces the wisdom of God. And while her listeners might not at first be totally satisfied with the decision, when they think it over, they understand that it’s the right one. And they come to an agreement and go back home.

Because Deborah stands for—you might say she champions–God’s justice. You see, under the plan that Moses’ father-in-law Jethro had suggested centuries before, the easy disputes had already been settled by tribal leaders. Deborah always got the toughest and most puzzling cases. Yet in each one, no matter how complex, she stood for God’s justice.

Okay, how can we take this home with us today? Deborah sat there under her palm tree standing for God’s justice, seeing through the fibs and the lies and the bullying, cutting right to the chase, dispensing Solomonic wisdom. She was a prophetess, and you and I are most likely not. How can we stand for God’s justice during the coming week?

Well, you and I need to be willing to stand for the right. We need to be willing to do what is right, model what is right. If we have kids, we need to teach our children the difference between right and wrong, between lying and telling the truth. We need to do what is legal and ethical and moral at all times.

We need to find out what is true, and champion what is true, rather than letting ourselves be swept away by those who easily and frequently lie. We need to remember that at the very end of the list of those who will not enter into the gates of the holy city, Revelation 21:8 says that among that group is all unrepentant liars.

A good summary of what we should do to stand for God’s truth is found in Micah 6:8: “He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justly, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God?”

Now let’s look for something else Deborah stood for in this story.

Verses 6 – 7: Then she sent and called for Barak the son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali, and said to him, “Has not the LORD God of Israel commanded, ‘Go and deploy troops at Mount Tabor; take with you ten thousand men of the sons of Naphtali and of the sons of Zebulun; and against you I will deploy Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his multitude at the River Kishon; and I will deliver him into your hand’?”

What else did Deborah stand for? Here’s Sermon Point Two:

Deborah stood for God’s justice, and Deborah stood for God’s agenda.

As soon as God let Deborah know His agenda item, she immediately sent for General Barak and gave him the Lord’s marching orders.

A couple of interesting things about this message which Deborah is quoting to Barak. Notice how she delivers the message. She doesn’t simply say, “The Lord God of Israel has commanded, ‘Go and deploy troops . . . .” Instead, she puts it in the form of a “challenge question.” She says, “Has not the LORD God of Israel commanded, ‘Go and deploy troops at Mount Tabor . . . ?”

If she had simply stated this as a piece of information, I don’t think Barak would’ve felt as impelled to take action, as he did when she put it like, “You realize, don’t you, that God has commanded you to deploy troops?”

The other interesting thing about what we’ve just read is that God does not sugar-coat or minimize the danger. For years and years, those dreaded 900 iron chariots have been rumbling through the land, either one at a time, or in small batches, or in large batches. Over at the end of chapter 5, as Deborah comes toward the conclusion of her victory song, she mentions the clatter of those chariots. It must’ve been a horrifying metallic clanking and squealing, striking terror into the heart.

Yet God doesn’t omit those chariots from what He tells Barak. He mentions those chariots, and of course Barak knows how many there are. But He also says, in verse 7, “I will deliver [General Sisera] into your hand.”

Deborah stands for God’s agenda – and now she has passed this agenda item on to Barak. How can you and I stand for God’s agenda this coming week?

Well, the Bible is full of advice about this. A good place to start would be the 10 commandments in Exodus 20. By the way, that’s not a paper agenda—it’s a stone agenda! It’s set in stone!

Then you can go to the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5, 6, and 7, because there is where Jesus gives deep heart-insights into those commandments.

In John chapter 2, Jesus’ own mother gives Him a little talking-to about doing something to help with the dwindling supply of wedding-reception wine. Then, in John 2, verse 5, she says to the servants who are coordinating the reception, “Whatever He says to you, do it.”

That really might be the best rule of thumb we can follow in order to stand for God’s agenda the way Deborah did. Find out what Jesus says, and do what He says–put His words into practice in our lives.

Now let’s watch carefully as we discover a third important thing Deborah stood for.

Verses 8 – 10: And Barak said to her, “If you will go with me, then I will go; but if you will not go with me, I will not go!” So she said, “I will surely go with you; nevertheless there will be no glory for you in the journey you are taking, for the LORD will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.” Then Deborah arose and went with Barak to Kedesh. And Barak called Zebulun and Naphtali to Kedesh; he went up with ten thousand men under his command, and Deborah went up with him.

There she goes – the “fighter mom” – directly into the most dangerous part of the battle. Enemy soldiers will naturally try to target General Barak, first thing, and if Deborah happens to be nearby, she could catch an arrow or spear-thrust just like anybody else. But this woman is a fighter mom.

Based on what we just read, what else did Deborah stand for?

Deborah stood for God’s justice. Deborah stood for God’s agenda. And Deborah stood for God’s truth about women’s worth.
The bottom line in this story is that if it hadn’t been for Deborah – and it hadn’t been for another woman, Jael the wife of Heber — King Jabin and his 900 chariots would have just kept on clattering across the land. Two women – a prophetess and an ordinary housewife who was an expert on hammering tent pegs – changed the course of Israel’s history.

Does anybody here know what the term “complementarianism” means? Raise your hand if you know what “complementarianism” is.

If you raised your hand, there’s a good chance you heard some recent news about popular Christian Bible teacher Beth Moore. Up until a few weeks ago she was a member of the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Baptist denomination in the United States.

But Beth Moore became more and more uncomfortable with the Baptists’ teaching about complementarianism. Complementarianism, a juicy theological word with eight syllables, means basically that men and women must fill separate roles in marriage, family life, and religious leadership. Most often this means that men get to be the leaders, and women must be the support staff.

As you know, this is a very, very touchy topic. The bottom line for Beth Moore is that finally she had enough. She quit the Southern Baptist denomination, and is now attending another Baptist group which comes a little closer to the opposite approach, which is called egalitarianism, which means equality in authority and responsibilities between the genders.
It’s clear that neither Deborah nor the tent-peg-pounding Jael believed in complementarianism. If they had, Deborah wouldn’t have taken it upon herself to dispense authoritative judicial advice to the males who came to her with their legal cases. And Mrs. Heber would just have stood obediently by while General Sisera took his nap in her tent.

Once again, the Andrews Study Bible footnotes speak wisdom to us. Over in 1 Timothy 2, Paul does say some pretty straightforward things about what—in the culture he was speaking to—women should and should not do in worship services. But here’s how the Andrews Bible judiciously deals with this.

“. . . We should consider all [that] the Bible offers on the topic before reaching conclusions about the roles women should play in public worship today. Women filled key roles in the early Christian church as prophetesses (Philip’s daughters, Acts 21:9) and leaders/patronesses of house churches (Mary in Acts 12:12; Phoebe in Rom. 16:1–2; Priscilla, with Aquila, in 1 Cor. 16:19). Many of Paul’s coworkers were women (Rom. 16:1–16; Phil. 4:2–3) and he could declare that, in Christ, “there is neither male nor female” (Gal. 3:28) . . . .” (Andrews Study Bible, footnote to 1 Tim. 2:8 – 15.)

Before I get to how we can put this to work in our own lives, let’s just go ahead and read the rest of this fascinating story in Judges 4.

So far, we’ve come to the place where Deborah has agreed to go along with Barak (who evidently didn’t have a single complementarian bone in his body). And they both march out to the front lines. Here’s where we pick up the story. And once again, the movie camera fades to a new scene.

Verses 11 – 24: Now Heber the Kenite, of the children of Hobab the father-in-law of Moses, had separated himself from the Kenites and pitched his tent near the terebinth tree at Zaanaim, which is beside Kedesh. And they reported to Sisera that Barak the son of Abinoam had gone up to Mount Tabor. So Sisera gathered together all his chariots, nine hundred chariots of iron, and all the people who were with him, from Harosheth Hagoyim to the River Kishon. Then Deborah said to Barak, “Up! For this is the day in which the LORD has delivered Sisera into your hand. Has not the LORD gone out before you?” So Barak went down from Mount Tabor with ten thousand men following him. And the LORD routed Sisera and all his chariots and all his army with the edge of the sword before Barak; and Sisera alighted from his chariot and fled away on foot. But Barak pursued the chariots and the army as far as Harosheth Hagoyim, and all the army of Sisera fell by the edge of the sword; not a man was left. However, Sisera had fled away on foot to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite; for there was peace between Jabin king of Hazor and the house of Heber the Kenite. And Jael went out to meet Sisera, and said to him, “Turn aside, my lord, turn aside to me; do not fear.” And when he had turned aside with her into the tent, she covered him with a blanket. Then he said to her, “Please give me a little water to drink, for I am thirsty.” So she opened a jug of milk, gave him a drink, and covered him. And he said to her, “Stand at the door of the tent, and if any man comes and inquires of you, and says, ‘Is there any man here?’ you shall say, ‘No.’ ” Then Jael, Heber’s wife, took a tent peg and took a hammer in her hand, and went softly to him and drove the peg into his temple, and it went down into the ground; for he was fast asleep and weary. So he died. And then, as Barak pursued Sisera, Jael came out to meet him, and said to him, “Come, I will show you the man whom you seek.” And when he went into her tent, there lay Sisera, dead with the peg in his temple. So on that day God subdued Jabin king of Canaan in the presence of the children of Israel. And the hand of the children of Israel grew stronger and stronger against Jabin king of Canaan, until they had destroyed Jabin king of Canaan.

Deborah stood for God’s justice. Deborah stood for God’s agenda. And Deborah stood for God’s truth about women’s worth.
So, what do we do with this third point? How can we stand for what evidently was God’s truth right here in this story? I think we can stand for this truth in two absolutely Biblical ways.

First, if you’re a man—and if you’re an Adventist man you know this already–remember that the Lord is able to do exactly what He wishes, whenever He wishes, with whichever gender He wishes.

Second, if you’re a woman, don’t ever feel you need to shrink back from following the call of God, wherever that call leads you. The teenage Ellen White tried to shrink back, but the Lord didn’t let her—which is why you and I are worshipping on God’s holy Sabbath day with a worldwide and growing church.

Let’s look briefly at just one more thing Deborah stood for. I’m going to read just the first few verses of a celebratory song she and General Barak sing after the battle is over:

Judges 5:1 – 9: Then Deborah and Barak the son of Abinoam sang on that day, saying: “When leaders lead in Israel, When the people willingly offer themselves, Bless the LORD! “Hear, O kings! Give ear, O princes! I, even I, will sing to the LORD; I will sing praise to the LORD God of Israel. “LORD, when You went out from Seir, When You marched from the field of Edom, The earth trembled and the heavens poured, The clouds also poured water; The mountains gushed before the LORD, This Sinai, before the LORD God of Israel. “In the days of Shamgar, son of Anath, In the days of Jael, The highways were deserted, And the travelers walked along the byways. Village life ceased, it ceased in Israel, Until I, Deborah, arose, Arose a mother in Israel. They chose new gods; Then there was war in the gates; Not a shield or spear was seen among forty thousand in Israel. My heart is with the rulers of Israel Who offered themselves willingly with the people. Bless the LORD!

Here’s the final sermon point.

Deborah stood for God’s justice. Deborah stood for God’s agenda. Deborah stood for God’s truth about women’s worth. And Deborah stood for God’s reputation.

Deborah was singing God’s praises. She was leading a victory rally – one which shined the spotlight on who it was that really won the battle.

How can you and I do this in the days and weeks and years ahead? There are many ways, of course. But I would like to share with you one way my own dear, God-fearing, “fighter mom” stood for God’s reputation.

A couple of times over the years Shelley and I have brought before you this precious spiral notebook. It’s filled with my mom’s schoolteacher handwriting. The reason this book exists is that once upon a time Shelley asked my mom (as a birthday present for Shelley) if Mom would write down some memories she and my dad had about how the Lord had led them. Mom immediately put blue ballpoint pen to paper and filled this book to within a couple of pages of the end with some of her memories.

Mom often mentions the Lord, and how He led her and dad through the years. I would like to read you a couple of pages from this book.

Mom titled this little section “Giving God Praise.” She writes:

“I have learned one thing since I have been doing my writing since dad’s death. If you want your writing efforts to be a blessing and help and inspiration to others, you had better sit right down and write what you feel the Lord has put on your heart at the time that He presents it to you.

“Since I have really truly accepted Dad’s death as the Lord’s will, I have had such peace in my heart. True, I have had my struggles since Dad left, but I have learned that when the going is rough, look up and about, and praise the Lord for the blessings that I do have even though Dad is gone.

“It is pure selfishness to sit around and groan or moan because of what has happened – ‘all things work together for good’ is the promise that the Lord has given to us in His word. As we look up and praise the Lord for our many blessings that we do have, the Lord will get to work and make things better for us in the trials we are going through. The greatest obstacle that hinders us is none other than self.

“I miss our daddy so much, but the Lord always comes through with the help and comfort I need. The more we give God His rightful praise, much the more He will shower us with blessings that we did not dream could be possible.”

I think you can see what a blessing it was for me to have a mom like this. My brother and sisters and I always knew the security of her love for us, and her trust in—and love for—her Lord.