Villagers in Israel would not fight;
they held back until I, Deborah, arose,
until I arose, a mother in Israel. (Judges 5:7)
Deborah was ahead of her time.
Her story's told in the book of Judges, chapters 4 and 5. The book tells of the escapades of several early leaders in Israel, prior to the development of the monarchy. The “Judges,” as we call them in English, seem to have been mostly tribal chieftains, Robin Hood – like outlaws, or particularly skilled warriors who fought or led local wars against the nations that threatened Israel as they carved out a place for themselves in the land God had given them. Samson and Gideon, a couple of the best-known characters in the Bible, come from Judges. And then some of them are overlooked.
She was ahead of her time: a woman of influence in a time when it was men who had the influence. She was a prophet, the text tells us, and she led Israel as judge in a difficult twenty years when God had raised up a Canaanite king, Jabin, and his fleet of chariots to subjugate Israel. Most of the influence she had seems to have been because of her reputation for fairness in settling disputes. Eventually, though, her influence filtered out into larger arenas.
She got a message, apparently – a word from the Lord to a young man named Barak. She called him to her tree, the tree she sat under during the days, rendering her judgments, and she told him what God had said. He was to gather ten thousand soldiers from the tribes of Naphtali and Zebulun and go to war against Jabin. He was to lead his army up Mount Tabor, God would bring Jabin's army to the Kishon River valley, and Barak would lead a charge down from the mountains. “I will give [them] into your hands,” the Lord promised.
Barak's response to Deborah was, “OK, but not unless you go with me.”
Pretty radical for the time – a woman at the front. Deborah agrees, though God tells her that because Barak wants her to come along, it will be a woman who takes out the Canaanite general (which seems to be just fine with Barak!). The battle goes pretty much as anticipated: Deborah gives the word for the charge that finishes the Canaanites, and a woman named Jael kills their general while he sleeps in her tent, hiding out from Barak and his soldiers.
I love the song, credited to Deborah and Barak, that celebrates one of the most unusual military victories in a national history known for unusual military victories. The song celebrates how, at a time when the soldiers in Israel were afraid to lift a finger against the Canaanites, Deborah arose “a mother in Israel.” It celebrates how Deborah, as Israel's national conscience and de facto general, reminded her people of who it was that they were supposed to trust, and who they were supposed to be. Because of Deborah's courage, the song says, Barak took heart. And because Barak took heart, soldiers from tribes all over Israel came out to join his coalition. Jabin's army was routed, and his hold on Israel began to fail.
All because Deborah believed God's promises, and rallied others to believe them too.
“Mother in Israel” sums it up pretty well.
Because that's what mothers do – best, and instinctively – they believe in God's promises, and rally their children to believe in them too. Sometimes they do it with the help of their children's father, sometimes without him, sometimes in spite of him. Some of them do it in their roles as full-time homemaker, while some of them juggle careers as well. Some of these mothers in Israel focus their attentions on their biological children, and maybe their friends. Some of them adopt children who'd be motherless without them. And some are “mothers in Israel” to the boys and girls, men and women, who populate their churches and neighborhoods and classrooms. (Interesting, isn't it, that we call Deborah a mother and know nothing about her biological children – or even if she had any.)
Mothers in Israel come in all shapes, sizes, ages, temperaments, and circumstances. Their economic status can vary, as can their education, race, and skill set. Some may be acknowledged leaders, while others are just known and respected because of their wisdom and good judgment. What they have in common, though, is that they listen to God and they inspire the people who depend on them to be who he says they are and to do what he says they can.
So Happy Mothers' Day to the mothers in Israel who challenge us not to compromise what we know to be right for anything, however valuable it might be.
Happy Mothers' Day to the mothers in Israel who remind us how valuable we are to God when we forget. And who remind us that we aren't quite as great as we think when we think too much of our own abilities.
Happy Mothers' Day to the mothers in Israel who remind us of what matters when we lose our way: loving God and our neighbor. Acting justly, loving mercy and walking humbly with God. Peace, love, and joy in the Holy Spirit.
Happy Mothers' Day to the mothers in Israel who teach us firsthand and in living color about God's love, grace, and mercy.
Happy Mothers' Day to the mothers in Israel who tell us the stories in which we find ourselves.
Happy Mothers' Day to the mothers in Israel who somehow push us to be better without ever making us think that they could love us any more than they already do.
Happy Mothers' Day to the mothers in Israel who never let us settle for being good enough, who refuse to let us take refuge in easy lies and empty comfort, and who won't let us believe that any challenge is bigger than our God.
Happy Mothers' Day to the mothers in Israel who give us their heart, their strength, their youth, and would never think of taking anything in return.
We owe all of you a great debt, and can only repay it with our appreciation and our love. And we know, of course, that you've never asked for anything else.
Thank you to our Mothers in Israel, for solving our squabbles and calming our fears. And even more, for paying attention to God and telling us when we need to hear it most who he says we are and what he says we can do.
We love you, we appreciate you, and we honor you.* And we're not going anywhere if you don't go with us.
* Especially you, Laura, Mom, and Edie.
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Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, Today’s New International Version TNIV (r), Copyright (c) 2005 by International Bible Society. All rights reserved.