You have to have three items handy before you tell the story of Deborah; a glass of milk, a tent peg (a sharpened stick will do), and the biggest sledge hammer you can find. Unfortunately, the Lectionary ends the story of Deborah at Judges 4:7. You need to tell the whole story, all of Judges 4. I think it’s fun just to read it — ham it up, if can — let people draw their own interpretations. Many will say, “Surely, that’s not in the Bible!” Then you can give one, or more, of the following reasons why the story of Deborah and Jael is important to remember.
- This story takes place over three thousand years ago. Deborah is a judge. She is so respected for her wisdom and capacity to discern the truth, that people from all over come to submit their cases for her arbitration. One can ask the question why women still get paid 75 cents on the dollar and bump up against the glass ceiling today.
- There is a second woman that is honored in this story along with Deborah. Her name is Jael, the wife of Heber. Her name means mountain goat in Hebrew. We don’t know where her husband is when the commander of the enemy shows up at her tent in full armor and a fat sword at his side. He asks her for a glass of water and she gives him some warm milk. He asks for a place to hide and she gives him a warm blanket to sleep under. Then she takes a sledgehammer and drives a tent peg through his temple.
The explanation for this behavior is, she does what needs to be done. Throughout the fourth chapter, men keep forgetting what’s important. The women focus on discerning God’s will, showing up for battle, and following through all of their might.
3) Both of the men named in this chapter, prove to be cowards. Barak doubts that God will go with him. He has 10,000 troops, but he wants Deborah to leave her post and be his lucky charm in battle. Many of us, men and women, have this tendency to leave our religion to the professionals. We don’t pray in public, we bring the pastor over to pray. We don’t trust what God is speaking in our own hearts, we wait for someone else to take charge.
4) Sisera is more of a traditional coward. He runs from the battle. He hides in Jael’s tent. He asks her to lie for him. He wants to save his life, but ends up losing it. This ties in well with Jesus’ words about gaining the whole world and losing our soul. When we act in cowardly ways in our lives, we often think we are saving ourselves. What we lose, may not be life threatening, but more valuable. Things like self-respect, friendships, and life-time achievement of what we were meant to do, are sacrificed when we behave dishonorably.