One of the first things we see in Judges chapters 4 and 5 is that Deborah is an altogether different type of Judge. She’s a woman that leads from a posture of wisdom rather than physical strength. Deborah is a beautiful example of a Godly courageous, faithful woman leading into her strengths in God’s Kingdom. One thing I love about the story of Deborah is her relationship with the Barak, the General of the People of God’s army. After Deborah is introduced in chapter 4, we are then introduced to Barak.
Judges 4:6–7 (ESV) 6 She sent and summoned Barak the son of Abinoam from Kedesh-naphtali and said to him, “Has not the LORD, the God of Israel, commanded you, ‘Go, gather your men at Mount Tabor, taking 10,000 from the people of Naphtali and the people of Zebulun. 7 And I will draw out Sisera, the general of Jabin’s army, to meet you by the river Kishon with his chariots and his troops, and I will give him into your hand’?”
Deborah summons the general of the people of Israel and says, “the Lord has spoken. Barak go to Mount Tabor, and you will face off against Sisera, and you will win.” What you would expect at this point is for the brave and mighty Barak, the general of the army, to take his commands and go to war with courage and strength. But listen to the dialogue that takes place between these two.
Judges 4:8-9 (ESV) 8 Barak said to her, “If you will go with me, I will go, but if you will not go with me, I will not go.” 9 And she said, “I will surely go with you. Nevertheless, the road on which you are going will not lead to your glory, for the LORD will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.” Then Deborah arose and went with Barak to Kedesh.
Commentators have differed on how they read Barak’s actions. Some see Barak as a coward for not taking his orders. They see him as a man full of doubt and uncertainty, a bit of a wimp. And as a result they have used that to highlight the lack of courage in Barak at this moment. I disagree with this interpretation primarily because in Hebrews 11 what we find is that Barak is celebrated in the New Testament because of his faith. Barak in my opinion, and in many scholar’s opinion, is demonstrating great and Godly wisdom at this point. He recognizes that God is greatly using this woman, and he wants her near him as he goes to battle. Rather than discounting Deborah and her strengths, he recognizes that he needs her. Barak is saying, “For me to lead in the way God desires me to lead, I need this incredibly gifted and faithful woman of God near me!” This is a very different kind of Hero than the lone ranger hero’s we’ve met so far in the book of Judges.
Not a Condemnation But a Statement
And Deborah, with wisdom says, “Barak I’ll come with you, but what this means is that after your done charging down a hilltop with your men at nearly 1,000 iron chariots, you’re not going to receive the honor for it. Barak, out of respect to you and your position, are you okay with this.” In other words, she’s not stepping on his toes. She recognizes the cultural norm of the day was for the victorious general to be celebrated, and she knows that if she comes along Barak won’t get that glory. And Barak exercising great wisdom says, “Yeah I’m okay with it. I need you. Who cares about honor, you’re a great woman who speaks God’s words. Why wouldn’t I want you with me?” Barak is a different kind of hero. He’s not interested in glory stealing. He’s interested seeing the fullness of God’s plan come to fruition. And for that he is dependent on the diversity of God’s people.
In the New Testament when we learn of God’s structure for the Church, for God’s people, what we see is that He has created dependent on one another. There is no such thing as a lone ranger Christian. If you’re a Christian and you’re not plugged into community, you are missing God’s plan. We are dependent on one another’s gifts and dependent on one another’s stories. One of the great tragedies of the church is that we forget our interdependence. No one person or people group have the corner on the Holy Spirit. This is why we make such a big deal at Park South Loop about the multiethnic church. It’s not a cliche or a project, it’s the way God has established the church. Our own fruitfulness in faith is dependent on the different cultural values and expressions of God’s people from culture to culture. If the only experience of the gospel I ever have is from one cultural experience, I am missing entire portions of the beauty of the gospel.
The Famine in the Prodigal Son
Let me give you a practical example of this. A man named Mark Allan Powell read the Prodigal Son with 12 American seminary students and asked them to recount the major events of the story. None of the 12 mentioned the famine that is mentioned in Luke 15:14 when recounting. Later they did this again with 100 Americans, and only six mentioned the famine. Later he did this with 50 participants in Russia, and 42 of them DID mention the famine! 70 years before, 670,000 of their people had died of starvation after three year war related famine. The authors go on to explain the completely different eyes through which these groups read this story. Americans focus on the prodigal, wasteful, guilty son who needs forgiveness. For the Russians, “The application of the story has less to do with willful rebellion and more to do with God’s faithfulness to deliver his people from hopeless situation.” What beautiful insight from God’s Word!
I wonder how much we are missing from the fullness of the gospel if we never deeply relate to people from different cultures than the one we are comfortable with.
I wonder how many treasures of God’s word lay unexposed if we don’t see scripture through other lenses than ones in our comfort zone.
I wonder how many times I have cast judgment on people who God has intended to teach me about Himself through.
I wonder blessings the Chinese church or the African American church or the Latino church lives in daily that the homogenous white American church never experience
Barak is a different kind of hero. And we need more men and women like Barak. Men and women who by the power of the Holy Spirit confess that we need each other in order to experience the fullness of God. This is where Christian community stands in stark contrast to every other type of community. Christian community is united on Christ and His salvation made possible through His death and resurrection. We are fixed on Him, but then interconnected and dependent on one another to move forward in this beautiful story of sanctification.