Formations lesson for Aug. 19: Deborah
August 3 2001 by F. Calvin Parker , Judges 4:4-23

Formations lesson for Aug. 19: Deborah | Friday, Aug. 3, 2001

Friday, Aug. 3, 2001

Formations lesson for Aug. 19: Deborah

By F. Calvin Parker Judges 4:4-23 During my first visit to Hong Kong more than 40 years ago, I preached in the English-language service at Kowloon Baptist Church. I used a sermon on Deborah that I had first prepared for a seminary class in Hebrew exegesis. The sermon was devoid of jokes, funny stories or levity of any kind. But throughout the delivery, I was painfully aware that the folks in the congregation were not taking my presentation seriously. Their faces were marked by smirks, cryptic smiles, stifled laughs. I wanted to interrupt my sermon and cry out, "What's so funny?" Never before had my listeners' mood clashed so sharply with my own. Only when the service had ended did I learn why. Sitting directly behind me in the choir was a young woman named Deborah. Every time I spoke that name, which was umpteen times, she flinched or grinned or contorted her face to the amusement of the congregation. Unknowingly, I was competing for attention with the biblical Deborah's namesake. She was the undisputed winner. I have never again preached that sermon on Deborah, but perhaps I can write about her and not be confounded by the response.

Prophetess and Judge (Judges 4:4-10) Like the Old Testament characters Miriam and Huldah, Deborah is called a prophetess. She is a woman in tune with God's Spirit, one blessed with wisdom and insight. She is the only female judge in the book of Judges and the only judge described as actually hearing and deciding judicial cases. Her superior gifts enabled her to exercise leadership in a male-dominated society.

The names in this dramatic story are memorable. Deborah means "bee." She was married to Lappidoth, "torch," and she chose as her general, Barak, "lightning." The bee was an epic figure who outshone both the torch and the lightning.

Military Savior (Judges 4:11-16) Unlike Joan of Arc, to whom she is often compared, Deborah led no troops into battle. But under divine guidance, she selected a commander, gave him specific instructions, and went with him into battle to assure him of God's presence. She ordered Barak to descend from Mount Tabor with his 10,000 troops and attack Sisera with his 900 chariots of iron and larger army. That is comparable to an infantry unit attacking a tank battalion, but Deborah and Barak utterly destroyed the superior forces.

The story of this battle is repeated in chapter 5, in one of the most brilliant poems ever written. The poetic version reveals that a sudden downpour swelled the Wadi Kishon and flooded the plain, bogging Sisera's chariots and rendering them useless. This situation was repeated in the 1799 Battle of Mount Tabor, when 6,000 French infantry defeated a Turkish force of 30,000 that boasted a strong cavalry. Many fleeing Turks were swept away by the torrents and drowned.

Another Strong Woman (Judges 4:17-23) Deborah warned Barak that "the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman." That woman was Jael, a non-Israelite. She offered Sisera a safe refuge in her home, encouraged him to sleep soundly, then drove a tent peg through his temple - not a good model of hospitality.

Women judges of Deborah's rank are still rare in our society. More than 100 men have served on the U.S. Supreme Court, but only two women - Sandra Day O'Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. In North Carolina, Susie Sharp made history in 1974 when she became chief justice of the state supreme court. She was the first woman popularly elected to this office in any state. Earlier, this trailblazer was the only woman in her class at the University of North Carolina Law School.

Deborah was an exception even as a prophetess. But she demonstrated that a woman can be an effective spiritual leader, one to whom men will come for inspiration and advice. The first woman to be ordained a Southern Baptist minister was Addie Davis, a graduate of Meredith College and Southeastern Seminary. She was ordained in 1964 by Watts Street Church in Durham. More than a thousand women have followed her example, but they are a small minority in a denomination suspicious of their calling from God.

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8/3/2001 12:00:00 AM by F. Calvin Parker , Judges 4:4-23 | with 0 comments
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