When do we become who we are meant to be?
If you’re watching a movie with a hero saga, it’s almost always right after the hero’s parents die that they become who they are meant to be. If you’re reading a book, the hero usually becomes “a hero” in your mind when he or she decides to go against the dominant worldview of others, for some larger purpose. Movies and books alike, it is right after our hero’s major life transition that his or her valor is tested. Meanwhile, the rest of us—who haven’t been flung into heroic situations—are just waiting for our moment. We live vicariously through our heroes, hoping that someday, we will be Captain America.
But it doesn’t take government experiments to make heroes.
For us normal folk, the story of Deborah the prophetess provides a great rubric. She shows us how to recognize “our moment” and act in accordance. Deborah wasn’t extraordinary on her own; it was her embrace of God’s work that made her so.
We cannot be who we are meant to be without first admitting that we need help.
“The people of Israel cried out to Yahweh for help, for [Siser, the commander of the army of Jabin king of Canaan] had 900 chariots of iron and he oppressed the people of Israel cruelly for twenty years. Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time” (Judges 4:3–4 ESV, adapted).
There appears to be nothing extraordinary about Deborah. She has simply arisen to embrace her calling as a judge over God’s people. But Deborah boldly embracing this calling makes her extraordinary; she is a woman in a Patriarchal age, leading God’s people. And it will be her leadership that changes the course of history. But Deborah will not act on her own accord.
“Deborah sent and summoned Barak … and said to him, ‘Has not Yahweh, the God of Israel, commanded you, “Go, gather your men at Mount Tabor, taking 10,000 … And I will draw out Sisera, the general of Jabin’s army, to meet you by the river Kishon with his chariots and his troops, and I will give him into your hand”?’ Barak said to her, ‘If you [Deborah] will go with me, I will go, but if you will not go with me, I will not go.’ And she said, ‘I will surely go with you. Nevertheless, the road on which you are going will not lead to your glory, for Yahweh will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman’” (Judges 4:6–9 ESV, adapted).
As Deborah leaves for war, we learn what makes her truly heroic is listening to Yahweh. She knows what God has said and has full confidence in his message. She makes it clear to Barak—and to us—that she is not special; instead, the God she serves is special.
Deborah knows that God intends to rescue his people, so the question is not whether or not she will join him in it; the question is, who will join her?
10,000 men join Barak in his efforts—showing their belief in the words of Deborah (Judges 4:10). But we already know the ending to this story: This battle is not one to be won through the normal act of the sword. Instead, the evil general will be delivered into the hands of a woman, who will win the war.
God will stir up confidence around us, by bringing people alongside us in his work, but that does not mean that they will be the way he wins the battle against evil. Instead, God will act in unexpected ways.
Sisera, the general of Canaan, rises against God’s people with mighty force; he brings his chariots. God’s people are outgunned (Judges 4:13). But Deborah shows her faith. To Barak, Deborah says:
“Up! For this is the day in which Yahweh has given Sisera into your hand. Does not the Lord go out before you?” (Judges 4:14 ESV, adapted).
It may look like the end to everyone around her, but to Deborah this is not the end. Reading ahead in the story, we know the outcome—God’s people are victorious in this battle (Judges 4:16). But Deborah only knows this on the basis of faith. Deborah has certainty because she is certain in what God can do.
Following his loss, Sisera the general flees:
“But Sisera fled away on foot to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, for there was peace between Jabin the king of Hazor and the house of Heber the Kenite” (Judges 4:17).
At first, Jael acts accommodating, but she is just playing Sisera (Judges 4:18–19). As soon as the man is asleep—and as Deborah predicted—Jael kills Sisera, with a tent spike (Judges 4:20). Up until this moment, the story leads us to believe that Deborah will be the woman who will kill Sisera. But instead, it’s Jael, an unknown character until this moment. God continues to surprise us.
God works in ironic ways; his ways are unexpected and profound. We can count on him to surprise us. We can count on him to require us to act in faith.
Thanks to the leadership of Deborah, the obedience of Barak, and the bravery of Jael, God’s people survived—they were freed from the oppressive, enslaving forces of Canaan (Judges 4:22–24). God comes alongside the oppressed.
It’s difficult to know when your moment will come, or how it will come exactly. What is certain is that we’re in God’s story now. God expects us to act in faith now and continually—no matter what comes our way. God asks us to see beyond what those around us can see; we must believe in his work in the world, among the hurting and those in pain.
Like Deborah, God has asked us to free those in difficulty and in pain—to be their advocates in faith and action.
None of us just one day become who we are meant to be. It’s a process. Let’s starting act heroic now, by acting in faith. What if this is “our moment”?
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