A Demonstration of Sovereign Salvation

Here is a summary of my sermon notes from yesterday mornings message, “A Demonstration of Sovereign Salvation”, taken from Judges 4:1-24.

This past week was my birthday. I honesty did not expect that I would get a birthday cake. However, much to my surpise, not only did I recieve a birthday cake, but I recieved two birthday cakes in a span of two days. Both were provided by Bruce and Margaret Forst. The suprise taught me something: Bruce and Margaret are caring people. That is often how suprises work, they teach us something. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be a suprise.

In this passage we are confronted with several suprises that teach us something about God. The suprises that we are confronted with in Judges 4 drive home a single point, namely, God is Sovereign in Salvation. To be even more specific, this passage presents Three Suprises that Demonstrate the Sovereign Salvation of God.

Suprise #1: God’s Promise Comes Through an Unlikely Sign

Verses 1-3 set the scene for this episode. Israel committs apostasy once again (4:1). So, the Lord “sold them into the hand of Jabin king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor” (4:2). God betrays His people to Jabin because they betrayed Him. However, the focus here is not on Jabin, but on the commander of his army, Sisera. Sisera had over 900 iron war chariots, and inflicted Israel mercilessly. As a result, Israel cried out to the Lord for a deliverer (4:3).

Specifically, Israel sought deliverance by appealing to Deborah the prophetess (4:5). It is important to note in this passage that Deborah is not presented as the deliverer of Israel, but simply as a prophet. Therefore, it is incorrect to associate a deliverance through her hand. She is simply fulfilling her role as a prophetess (As a side note, it is inappropriate to suggest that Deborah is setting an example for female authority over men in the church. Not only does this suggestion contradict 1 Timothy 2:15, but the book of Judges was never intended to present examples of leadership which we should follow. In fact, it’s intention is exactly the opposite).

So they came to Deborah seeking spiritual guidance (4:4-5). In light of their request, Deborah calls Barak to provide deliverance, and she even gives him specific battle plans (4:6-7). But Barak is not convinced, and he expresses a lack of faith in the promise of God. To combat his doubt, he asks for Deborah to accompany him in the battle (4:8). Barak asks for Deborah’s presence, not for her military assistance. In 4:9 Deborah responds: “I will surely go with you; nevertheless, the honor shall not be yours…for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hands of a woman.”

Now this would humiliating for Barak. In a male patriarchal society, for a woman to recieve military glory instead of the captain of the army is embarassing. In 4:9 God promises victory through an unlikely source, namely, a woman. How is this significant? What does this mean? It means this-God is so sovereign and so in control of what takes place, that He can even use a woman to bring about a military victory. That way, when victory happens, it is obvious that God has done it. God gets the glory when He uses unlikely people to accomplish His purposes. God exalts His sovereignty by using unconventional means to accomplish His will. So he provides an unlikely sign: deliverance through the hands of a woman.

Suprise #2: God’s Initiative Comes Through an Unlikely Means

So Deborah goes with Barak to Kadesh (4:9). There he gathers ten thousand troops from the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali (4:10). In verse 11 the author adds some background information. Heber, a Kenite, had separated himself from the rest of the Kennites (the family of Moses’ father in law), and settled near Kadesh. So Heber lived near the location of the upcoming battle. This will come in handy in a few moments.

Next, Sisera hears that Barak has gone up to Mt. Tabor (4:12). So he gets all his iron war chariots and takes them down to the Kishon river (not far from Mt. Tabor). What happends next is not recorded in chapter 4, but it is mentioned in 5:22-22. What those verses indicate is that at the very moment Sisera prepared to attack Israel, the heavens opened up and a huge storm engulfed the Jezreel valley, flooding the huge plain below Mt. Tabor. The result was that nine hundred chariots wre bogged down in the mud, and the horses couldn’t go anywhere. It is at this moment that Deborah tells Barak to take Sisera (4:14).

Yahweh came against Sisera in the form of a catastrophic storm, and crippled his advanced military weaponry. As a result, Sisera was completely routed by Barak’s army (4:15-16). Deliverance came not through the power of Barak, not through Deborah, but thourgh an unlikely means: a torrential thunderstorm. It is obvious that Yahweh is the one who is providing deliverance. Sisera has military superiority. But he is no match for the God of Israel.

In fact, the Canaanites beleived that Baal was the storm God. Recent Ugaritic discoveries portray Baal with a club in one hand, and a spear in another, symbolizing thunder and lighting. God makes his point: Ball is not in charge of the storms; I Am. I am Sovereign. I am Yahweh. In fact, I am so Sovereign that I can use a storm to bring about salvation for my people.

Suprise #3: God’s Deliverance Comes Through an Unlikely Method

Sisera, alarmed by the confusion, runs from the battle scene as fast as his two feet will carry him (4:17). So he runs to Jael, the wife of Heber, whom we met in 4:11. This seems like a good plan, because there was peace (Hebrew: “shalom”) between Jabin and Heber. In reality, he is running to his death. Bad idea Sisera.

So “Jael goes out to meet Sisera” (4:17). There is a little irony in this phrase. Two verbs occur, both of which are used in military scenes when an army goes out to meet it’s enemy. The author is suggesting by this literary device that Jael knows exactly what she is doing, and her intentions are less than exemplary. In fact, notice how she talks to him: “Turn aside my master, turn aside to me! Don’t be afraid.” She is saying, “Oh, turn aside here kind sir! Turn aside to me! You can trust me. Your safe here.” Yeah right. She lulls the Sisera in.

So he goes into her tent, and covers him with a rug (4:18). In Ancient Near Eastern culture, men do not go into the tents of women who are not their wives. This is highly questionable behavior. Ancient readers would not be comfortable with the developing scene. Sisera, unfazed by this situation in light of fear and exhaustion, asks for a drink of water. But instead, Jael gives him milk (4:19). Arab guests would give milk to show hospitality. By giving Sisera milk instead of water, Jael is promising she is going to be hospitable. The deception continues.

Sisera, concerned that he might be found out, asks Jael to stand by the door, and if anybody asks if someone is here, the she should say “no one is here” (4:20). Again, note the irony. When he says tell them “no one is here” he is pronouncing judgment on himself. Sisera really is a nobody. He eventually falls asleep. Now 4:21 is graphic. Jael takes a tent peg, and a small hammerand drives the peg into his temple. She absolutely splits his head, and the peg goes all the way down into the ground. Sisera is dead.

After a while, Barak finally shows up, only to discover, to his suprise, that Sisera is dead inside Jael’s tent with a peg through his head (4:22). And with that, Deborah’s promise is fulfilled (4:9).

This does not look like a pretty scene. Jael is presented as a crafty, deceitful, unsubmissive, almost adulterous, and certainly a murderous woman. What’s the point? The point is this-God is so sovereign that he can use the most unlikely method to bring about salvation, even the treachery of a woman. Wait a minite. How does this make sense? God using a deviant violent woman to accomplish deliverance? What is going on?

Remember what book we are reading. The book of Judges does not present exemplary individuals whose examples we should follow. These are not heros of the faith. The point of the book of Judges is that despite the sin that is totally corrupting this society, God is still able to accomplish His redemptive purposes. God is so sovereign that He is able to use the wickedness of man to accomplish redemption.

Sound familiar? It should. Acts 2:22-23 says, “Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know-this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of wicked men and put to death.” In the greatest act of redemptive history God used the wickedness of man to accomplish His purpose! The greatest act of redemptive history reveals that God is so sovereign that He is able to use man’s wickedness to achieve redemption! This is the amazing glory of the cross! God brings about glory through the free actions of wicked men. Even wickedness results in redemption. How amazing is that? God certainly is Sovereign.

What makes someone great is their ability to do difficult things. What makes God great, is His ability to do something very difficult as well, namely, accomplish redemption in the most unlikely ways. It’s certainly suprising. And as a result, God gets the glory.


4 Responses to “A Demonstration of Sovereign Salvation”

  1. Aunt Melanie Says:

    Happy belated birthday Brian! I feel so out of touch with you, and will make up for your birthday somehow! Sounded like you celebrated just fine down under! I will enjoy reading your blog regularly now that I’m back in school and have my “own” computer! I’m glad your kidneys checked out fine! I’ve been thinking about Carrie all day, as this is her very first day as teacher! I can’t wait to talk with her tonight! Again, happy birthday! Love, Melanie

  2. edward bunnell Says:

    Thank you Brian for opening up this ‘questionable’ praise; it has distlurbed me from long past. It did not come to me that Judges is not a book primalily about God, but how HE uses imperfect people to accomplish HIS purposes.

    We enjoyed our time on the phone with you.

  3. Keith Hammack Says:

    Hello old friend, this is your hall buddy. I wish I could understand this deep theology that you are writing about but I will have to just assume you know what you are talking about since you went to CIU. Of course, I also went there and look how I turned out so maybe that point is lost. Anyway. I found out from Tripp that you are in Australia. That guy never sent me an invitation to his wedding, and I am deeply vexed. In my world travels I have gained many close friends from down under and I would like to make plans for you to get together whilst you are visiting their great land. I am also a father now. Check out my own blog: laurenandkeith.blogspot.com Its all pictures and no theology. Write me back or get in touch somehow. I am impressed you went overseas, nice one! keith

  4. Joshua Miles Says:

    Hey Brian,
    I have only just heard about and discovered your journal on the net. It is encouraging to hear that you are settling in well at Wallaroo. I know that God will certainly use you as you continue to serve His word in truth. I heard from mum the other day that you have been preaching up a storm over there. It kind of makes me wish I was over there listening to you. I pray you are keeping “flat out like I Lizard drinking” as we say in Australia, or flat out for the Lord.
    Look after yourself, I am off to College for more lectures….. Josh

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