2017-11-19 – Rev. Dr. Ryan Sato
2017-11-19 – First Baptist Church – First Baptist Church Edmonton
“The Queen Bees of Israel”
If you were with us this past week at the “Violence in the OT” Tuesday night theological banter, you would have heard us wrestle with our post-scripture liturgical tradition…scripture is read and we dutifully (routinely?) respond “Thanks be to God.”
This? This? Is the word of the Lord?
And y’all are gonna thank God for that?
Well thankfully, we solved all the problems of reconciling the OT and violence the other night…
But seriously… we did share some insights that help us live with the tension of our texts…
-This is an ancient text, told in an ancient time, ie: today’s story happened in 1100 BCE, written down in 580 BCE while Israel was captive in a time of exile and oppression
-As Jeremy taught a couple of weeks ago, these violent, complicated stories in our sacred book give us the assurance that God actually knows how humans act…these stories are not sanitized and we should actually be fascinated by the fact that Israel is so darn honest in telling their stories of faith & folly
-Eugene Peterson puts it this way: “Some are surprised that the Bible does not introduce us to a ‘nicer’ world…suffering, injustice and ugliness are not purged from the world in which God works and loves and saves. Nothing is glossed over. God works patiently and deeply, but often in hidden ways, in the mess of our humanity and history….This takes considerable getting used to – there is mystery everywhere….The Bible is not a dream world in which everything works out according to our expectations – there is pain and poverty and abuse at which we cry out in indignation, ‘You can’t let this happen!’
For most of us it takes years and years and years to exchange our dream world for this real world of grace and mercy, sacrifice and love, freedom and joy – the God-saved world.”
And so we say, perhaps reluctantly, “This is the word of the Lord”… but as Peterson notes, this is not just a stagnant “word”… it’s also a entry point into the “world of the Lord”
… a world of suffering, injustice and ugliness…and yet, a world in which God works, loves and saves.
So let us enter into the world of today’s text…the world of the judges of Israel, a time when Israel had proven themselves failures as keepers of the promised Land.
Yikes. It only took 25 years for them to behold it…and then blow it!
We read in Judges that it took 1 generation for the Israelites to forget…this new generation did not “know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel” (Judges 2:10).
And so the downward spiral of Israels’ Judges begins: folly, consequence, cry, deliverance.
“Then the Israelites did what was evil in the sight of the LORD…they abandoned the LORD, they followed other gods.”
They blew it.
But before we get too hard on the Israelites, let’s enter these stories humbly…because we know too well, that we too, are not sinless…or blow-hardy-less…
As we catch up to the current “judge of the era” Deborah, we see again that the precipitating factor for a new judge is always the same…
“The Israelites again did what was evil in the sight of the LORD” (Judges 4:1).
“So the LORD sold them into the hand of King Jabin of Canaan…and for 20 years they were oppressed under General Sisera who lorded over them with an army of 900 chariots.”
Then the CRY!
“The Israelites cried out to the LORD for help.”
And alas… DELIVERENCE.
“At that time Deborah, who was judge for Israel, summoned Barak to command the armies of Israel.”
“THE LORD…the God of Israel commands you, ‘Go, take position with your troops at Mount Tabor, I will draw out Sisera with his chariots and troops; and I will give him into your hand.’”
And Deborah’s prophecy comes true!
“The LORD threw Sisera and all his chariots and all his army into a panic before Barak; Sisera got down from his chariot and fled away on foot, while Barak pursued the chariots and the army… ALL the army of Sisera fell by the sword; no one was left.”
Now, imagine the Israelites, telling these stories of hope and intervention in their time of oppression…they are again taken into slavery under another oppressive dictator…it’s 580 BCE, God’s people in bondage and exile in Babylon… huddled around campfires at the end of another back-breaking day of work…
Knowing that they can’t all be smart, winsome heroes like Deborah, the story goes on with another character…
“And remember what happened to Sisera? Commander on the run?”
“That crafty, country-roving, camp-pitchin’ woman named Jael…got him… in a curds & whey, warm milk-induced slumber!”
He says to her: “Please give me a little water to drink…I’m thirsty! And stand at the entrance of your tent…if anyone comes and asks you ‘anyone here?’…say ‘No!’
BUT JAEL…Jael…wife of Heber…you know, Heber…that sorry sap who was forever changing tires on Sisera’s broken-down chariots…and getting paid pennies to do it…
Jael… took a tent peg, and a mallet, and tiptoes softly to Sisera and drove the peg into his temple, until it went into the ground! There he was, lying fast asleep…
she crushed his head, she shattered and pierced his temple (Judges 5:26).
So on that day, God subdued King Jabin…Sisera the commanding chief…and a fleet of 900 chariots and all his men.
–And can you imagine the ensuing prayer that rises up from this holy huddle of campfire story-tellers?
“God subdue our enemies…some may trust in horses, some may trust in chariots,
but we will trust in the name of our God.”
Now…reality is that we are not an oppressed people, helpless pawns in a tyrannical reign under a government that is pressing in on us and demanding that we toil and sweat for unfair wages that leave us/families starving and begging for mercy.
But we are a people of folly. We too, like Israel, follow after other gods and forget the many blessings and benefits that the LORD has given to us, provided for us.
And we see the consequences of our folly. Perhaps in the landscape of our lives…or in the streets and neighbourhoods of the city, in the way we treat others, or ignore the plight of the poor, or contribute to systems that oppress and exploit.
And we come to this place, week after week and we do “liturgical re-performance.” [Brueggemann term] >> we re-hear / re-imagine / re-enact / are re-created
We gather together, as the people of God have gathered for thousands of years.
And we tell the honest stories of ourselves…the things we’ve done and left undone.
We confess the ways we blow it, or blew it, and how we have created ways and patterns for our lives and our world that contribute to its downward spiral into places of selfishness and greed.
But we hear and tell these stories of hope!
And these stories fill our imaginations so that we can “out-imagine” the images of the dominant world that are set before our eyes day after day through media, consumerism, and alternative loyalties.
We re-tell the tales of those who did it…and made it otherwise…Deborah, the Queen Bee of Israel, who led her people with wisdom and prophetic power.
And perhaps we look at our lives and recognize that we’ve been placed in places where we can influence, lead, inspire, speak truth in love and effect change.
Or we re-tell the grisly and risky story of Jael! Who in that moment in time, used her blue-collar, tent-pegging-nomadic skills, and struck down the forces of evil in her world with winsome charm and sniper-like accuracy.
*Now we need to be really careful in saying “be like Jael” [WWJD?]…but her intervention and courage is part of the complicated yet captivating story of Israel!?
All this being said…it’s not about re-creating these magical, heroic stories…yes, they are noble and inspiring but the reality is that they were the 1 in a million “too good to be true” story lines.
Ultimately, we are to follow the protagonist of the story…and it isn’t Deborah or Jael…
as we’ve been saying all Fall in the OT stories, the protagonist is God.
God is our deliverer.
May we have our lives shaped by God’s heart, and God’s providence.
Israel’s livelihood and well-being is not in the hands of humans…it’s guaranteed by God.
Some may trust in horses, some may trust in chariots, but we will trust in the name of YHWH.
And so we rely and press into YHWH’s promises…
The defining promise of Judges is found in Judges 2:1…and maybe the Israelites put this early in the story because they knew how grisly and miserable it would be for the remaining 19 chapters (remember how this all ends? See 21:16 “all the people did what was right in their own eyes”).
And so, let us go forth with a defining promise that reminds us of the enduring love and promises of the protagonist of the story…our faithful God… our vow-keeping LORD… our determined Deliverer…
Who through an angel of the Lord, in chapter 2, verse 1, promises this:
“I will never break my covenant with you.”
Let that good news promise saturate our weary souls, our cluttered minds, our hemmed-in imaginations…
Join the generations of God-followers…who through the muck and mire, through hell and high waters, through faith and the folly…
Have closed their eyes around campfires and sanctuaries alike…
And have clung to the promise of God…
“I will never break my covenant with you.”
“I brought you up…and I brought you in…
I will never break my covenant with you.”