Our host pastors read a special prayer to the wide variety of mothers in our community. To view that message, click here.
For Mother’s Day today, we begin a new series about the Women of God, highlighting some of our spiritual mothers in the Bible. To kick off the series, we are honored to welcome a passionate and gifted guest speaker, Bianca Olthoff, who has a background in prison ministry and fighting against human trafficking.
The Bible highlights some amazing women who have played an important role in God’s story. But they are often not the type of people whom you would expect God to choose. No one says that you have to be pretty, perfect, or have it all together to be used by God.
For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him. 2 Chronicles 16:9a
God is calling all of His children to be leaders, whether you lead one or one million. We are to lead people to know, seek, and trust the Lord!
God is looking for people who will believe Him and respond to His calling. Will you respond? Will you rise to the call of leadership on your life? Research out of UC Berkeley reveals that 87% of people want a leader in their lives, yet only 20% consider themselves leaders at some point in their lives and only 8% of those believe they are leaders. But God is calling all of His children to be leaders, whether you lead one or one million. We are to lead people to know, seek, and trust the Lord!
The woman highlighted in our passage today is both a prophet and in a position of power. Her character is evident as we read Judges 4: she is strong, is sensitive to God’s voice, and has responded to the call on her life to reclaim what was entitled to the children of Israel.
Now Deborah, a prophet, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading Israel at that time. She held court under the Palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites went up to her to have their disputes decided. Judges 4:4-5
At a time when women had no intellectual rights, were not educated, could not acquire land, were relegated to specific duties in society, often had no voice, and were often mistreated, Deborah is both a prophetess and a judge - that’s saying a lot! Only two other people in all of the Old Testament, Moses and Samuel, bear both these titles, so she is in very elite company.
This story challenges our assumptions about who and what we can be. Deborah has had to overcome many barriers to be in her position, and likewise, when we step up into leadership, we most certainly will need to overcome barriers. Remember that what you are born into does not determine what is in you. Your history doesn’t determine your destiny. We need to stop seeing what we are not and start seeing who God is.
Judges 4:1-3 gives us some background to today’s passage. The good judge Ehud has died, and the people have gone wild in his absence. The Lord has allowed the Canaanite army to rise against Israel and oppress them people for 20 years under the leadership of an army commander named Sisera, who has 900 chariots fitted with iron. To add to this drama, 1 Samuel 13:19-20 tells us that the Philistine army had long ago cruelly oppressed the Israelites, removed their silver, and killed their blacksmiths, so we know that they are in no way prepared for war. (See also Judges 5:8.)
But God’s Word reminds us that He answers the cries of His people, and He calls leaders who will protect His people:
“‘Call to Me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know.’” Jeremiah 33:3
Whenever the Lord raised up a judge for them, he was with the judge and saved them out of the hands of their enemies as long as the judge lived; for the Lord relented because of their groaning under those who oppressed and afflicted them. Judges 2:18
In Judges 4, we read that Deborah has heard the voice of God and imparts the word to a man named Barak that he should prepare for battle, and that the Israelites will most certainly prevail over their enemies:
She sent for Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali and said to him, “The Lord, the God of Israel, commands you: ‘Go, take with you ten thousand men of Naphtali and Zebulun and lead them up to Mount Tabor. I will lead Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his troops to the Kishon River and give him into your hands.’”
Barak said to her, “If you go with me, I will go; but if you don’t go with me, I won’t go.”
“Certainly I will go with you,” said Deborah. “But because of the course you are taking, the honor will not be yours, for the Lord will deliver Sisera into the hands of a woman.” So Deborah went with Barak to Kedesh. Judges 4:6-9
1. Leaders speak grace and truth.
The uncertainty of Barak is contrasted here with the confidence of Deborah, so it is easy to think poorly of Barak. But don’t we all struggle with indecision and fear at times? When was the last time you felt uncertainty over something God called you to do? Did you waver, falter, or give excuses as to why you couldn’t do what God was asking?
Deborah supports Barak by going with Him, but she also speaks truth to him: that he will not receive the honor of the victory because he has not trusted God himself. May all we women treat men this way, speaking the truth in love and building up rather than tearing down!
2. Leaders trust in something bigger than themselves.
It’s one thing to say, God will deliver you, or He’s making a way, but it’s quite another to step in line with a struggling brother or sister and he the hands and feet of Jesus, helping to bear the burden and create a solution.
So Deborah went with Barak to Kedesh. There Barak summoned Zebulun and Naphtali, and ten thousand men went up under his command. Deborah also went up with him.
Now Heber the Kenite had left the other Kenites, the descendants of Hobab, Moses’ brother-in-law, and pitched his tent by the great tree in Zaanannim near Kedesh.
When they told Sisera that Barak son of Abinoam had gone up to Mount Tabor, Sisera summoned from Harosheth Haggoyim to the Kishon River all his men and his nine hundred chariots fitted with iron.
Then Deborah said to Barak, “Go! This is the day the Lord has given Sisera into your hands. Has not the Lord gone ahead of you?” So Barak went down Mount Tabor, with ten thousand men following him. At Barak’s advance, the Lord routed Sisera and all his chariots and army by the sword, and Sisera got down from his chariot and fled on foot.
Barak pursued the chariots and army as far as Harosheth Haggoyim, and all Sisera’s troops fell by the sword; not a man was left. Judges 9b-16
Deborah believes God and helps Barak to walk in God’s promise. True to His character, just as God has promised, He delivers. When He gives his people a promise, there is nothing to thwart it. When He says that victory is ours, it is ours!
God frees us, delivers us, and fights for us. He has given us authority over the darkness of the earth and our enemy, the father of lies (John 8:44).
Satan knows your name but calls you by your sin.
God knows your sin, but calls you by your name.
To whom are you listening? To what are you clinging? Choose the truth of God’s word and freedom will be yours.
3. Leaders look different.
Barak pursued the chariots and army as far as Harosheth Haggoyim, and all Sisera’s troops fell by the sword; not a man was left. Sisera, meanwhile, fled on foot to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, because there was an alliance between Jabin king of Hazor and the family of Heber the Kenite.
Jael went out to meet Sisera and said to him, “Come, my lord, come right in. Don’t be afraid.” So he entered her tent, and she covered him with a blanket.
“I’m thirsty,” he said. “Please give me some water.” She opened a skin of milk, gave him a drink, and covered him up.
“Stand in the doorway of the tent,” he told her. “If someone comes by and asks you, ‘Is anyone in there?’ say ‘No.’”
But Jael, Heber’s wife, picked up a tent peg and a hammer and went quietly to him while he lay fast asleep, exhausted. She drove the peg through his temple into the ground, and he died. Judges 4:16-21
We might assume that when Deborah prophesies in Judges 4:9 that the Lord [would] deliver Sisera into the hands of a woman, that she meant herself, the prophetic woman in a respected position of power, but the woman who actually ended the battle was someone unexpected...a stay-at-home mom! As Bianca’s father says, whether you work in the White House or the warehouse, God has a plan for you.
So which character was the hero of this passage? All of them! Deborah heard and believed the voice of God, Barak acted upon God’s promise, and Jael “sealed the deal.”
This is just like Bianca’s testimony. If it were up to statisticians, she would be placed in a sociological category most prone to failure based on her demographics, but she loves God and takes Him seriously at His Word. So instead, Bianca is a living testament of the Living God who claims freedom over us and hands us victory if only we will reach out and walk in it!
4. Leaders must be willing.
In Judges 5:2-31, we read a song of victory and praise to the Lord written by Deborah and Barak. Read through these incredible verses in your Bible and trust in God’s power and promises!
God is looking for those who are going to trust Him and pursue His plans for them, walking in the victory He has already provided! Are you willing? Can you trust who God is?
Let Bianca’s beautiful reminders encourage you and remind you of the powerful character of the God we serve:
- There is no problem He cannot solve
- No promise He cannot fulfill
- No prayer He cannot answer
- No disease He cannot cure
- No heart He cannot mend
- No relationship He cannot restore
- No person He cannot save
- No chaos to which He cannot bring peace
- No pain He cannot redeem
- No sin He cannot forgive
- No bondage He cannot break
- No need He cannot meet
- No enemy He cannot beat, and
- No mountain that He cannot move!
Victory is yours, so stop behaving as though you are defeated! Our God is enough! Are you willing to take a step into victory?
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. Ephesians 3:20-21