Word for the Week
Short reflections on Bible passages, with a frontline focus...
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. 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.’
What do you do when a task seems just too big for you? When you know what needs to be done, but you don’t think you have the resources, wisdom, or courage to do it yourself? It is tempting to try to hide our inadequacies, simply to pass on the task to others, or just to end up feeling completely overwhelmed.
Barak felt like that. He was an important military leader – someone expected to be decisive, so others would follow without doubt. Israel was being oppressed by a local Canaanite king, and God called Barak to lead an army to free the people. But even though God himself had spoken through Deborah, and told him what to do, Barak found the task overwhelming.
Fortunately, however, he was aware of his limits. He knew that doing the job right was more important than doing it fast, or covering himself with glory. And so he asked for help from someone wiser: he sought counsel from Deborah, who was known as a prophet and a woman of great integrity and justice. Barak listened to her, but did not stop there: he asked her to lead alongside him.
This was utterly unexpected. After all, he was the military chief, the war hero, expected to do things himself. In a man’s world, asking a woman to go into battle with him was unthinkable! But not for Barak. He goes against what is expected in his culture, and disregards whatever others may say, for the sake of doing things alongside someone whose spiritual maturity and judgement are greater than his (seen in her designation as a prophet, with people coming to her for judgement, whereas Barak is simply mentioned by name and affiliation).
Both Barak and Deborah show great wisdom and leadership. They are self-aware, and each is comfortable playing their own role, without trying to usurp the other’s. Deborah does not attempt to lead the army, and Barak submits to Deborah’s greater spiritual wisdom. They work in partnership, and together they are better able to walk with God in addressing the needs of Israel at the time.
Who are your Deborahs? Who can advise you, share their wisdom, and come alongside you when the going gets tough? Do you actively seek out the wisdom of those more mature in faith? And who might you come alongside, to help coach and mentor so they can grow in whatever calling God has placed upon them?
Chaplain to the Archbishop of Canterbury