The Rape of SiseraSermon passage: (Judges 5:1-31) Spoken on: February 23, 2009
More sermons from this speaker 更多该讲员的讲道: Elder Lui Yook Cing For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: Judges
Sermon on Judges 5
Introduction: Prose and Poetry
Why would the bible writers bother to include Judges 5? Isn’t it a re-telling of what happened in chapter 4? Surely we are not going to hear a repeat of last Sunday’s sermon?
Chapter 5 is a different writing style. It is poetry. It became something that is repeatedly recited and sung as future generations retell and celebrate this incident. Often, with significant events, such as the birth of a child or the passing of a loved one, people resort to poetry to capture the spirit of what happened. Say, after the Sichuan earthquake, when we read the newspaper, apart from reporters’ accounts, we also find poetry reflecting the tragedy.
In poetry, writers dwell deeper beneath the surface of reporting. They generally present events from a beyond-the-facts “transcending” perspective. In poetry we see the human search to find interpretations and significance for what takes place. It reveals the human struggle to find meaning in life.
The overarching message in Judges 5 is about uncovering Reality. The writer prods us to exercise our alternative or “inner” eye to explore the mysteries of God behind what happened, and so perceive Reality. My nephew Paul is good with card tricks. He often deludes me with his magic. Once we can see what’s going on from the magician’s view, we are no longer fooled by illusions. We awake to Reality.
This kind of exploration for meaning behind what transpired is something we do well to appreciate and train. As we go about our daily activities, read about events happening around us, don’t just let these experiences readily slip by without some attempts to “look” deeper. We may just discover gems of divine truths embedded.
The Call (5:1-3)
The poem begins with a call, a grave warning to God’s enemies. V3 “Hear this, you kings! Listen, you rulers!” Hey you! Enemies of God, pay attention! God has a terrifying message for you. What follows is a series of striking contrasts. The poet wants his audience to see the Reality that stands behind these contrasts. Some of these contrasts are so dramatic, satirical to the point of being comical. We can imagine the ancients Israelites smiling whenever they recite the song.
(1) Our poverty versus God’s might (5:4-8)
The first contrast is Israel’s poverty verses God’s mighty. On one side, we have the picture of Israel overwhelmed by the oppression of their enemies. Vv6-8 “travelers and caravans avoided the roads; the pleasure of peaceful village life ceased. Not a shield or spear was seen among forty thousand in Israel.” When faced with life crisis, how do we normally respond? “Liao already, there’s nothing we can do. We don’t have enough resources, absolutely nothing, not even gear for self-protection!” But a pair of trained “inner eyes” can offer us the perspective of Reality. Like the poet, we see instead God’s magnificent and hovering presence. Help from God is always at hand. Behind Israel’s apparent poverty – and ours – stands the power of God. Vv4-5 says when God makes his appearance, mountains quake, the earth trembles and skies unleash a pounding rainstorm.”
(2) Enemy’s weapons versus God’s heavenly army (5:19-22)
Verses 19-22 describe the battle. Check out the weaponry on both sides. On one side is general Sisera. He has 900 iron chariots ok, don’t play-play. Like some of today’s nations that boast and pow-wow others with their apparent military, political and financial might. The poet however sees all these as “peanuts” compared to God’s artillery. God can command "unconventional" - such as nature! V19 “Even the stars in heaven fought for God”. What actually happened was God caused a heavy downpour that flooded the Kishon river. Sisera’s iron chariots became useless. They got swept away into the river and stuck in mud. The reality is: this is not just a battle between humans. Those who oppose God’s righteous ways are setting themselves up to fight God himself. With one sweep of God’s hand, kingdoms built upon unsatiable greed, ruthless plunder and arrogance crumble.
Not one line of the poem describes the Israelites’ direct involvement in warfare. No phrases like “they fought, they slaughtered etc.” The poet omits these and simply renders all credit to God. From his perspective, the source of Israel’s salvation came from outside itself – from God. This is a humbling truth we do well to acknowledge. We need “eyes” to see God’s gracious hand behind all our accomplishments.
(3) Bravo Participation versus Passive Reluctance (5:12-18)
However, there is no excuse for our lack of response. Verses 12-18 contrast the willing bravery of some Israelite tribes and the passive reluctance of others. V12 Wake up, Deborah! Arise, O Barak! …then the people of the Lord came to me with the mighty.
10 tribes were mentioned. 6 participated. “Ephrasim came.. Makir came down.. Genjamin was with the people; Issachar’s princes were with Deborah and Barak.. Zebulun and Napthali risked their very lives.” Imminent crisis requires immediate decisive action. We need to perceive and discern the gravity of certain choices. For example, Jesus’ call to join him in God’s Kingdom work. This is a great call with serious consequences. Not the “where shall we eat later” type of decisions. It demands our urgent and concerted response.
In contrast 4 tribes were hesitant. “But Reuben experienced great searching of heart.. why did you stay? Gilean stayed; Dan lingered, Asher remained.” Such demoralizing words. Brother, where are you when we need your support most?
Although God can use resources outside of Israel itself for victory, the poem here also makes clear it matters that God’s own people participate – courageously and in unity toward God’s purposes. Though God is able to accomplish what He wills without us. Yet we see here He chooses to involve human participation in his saving work. In particular, God’s people should not take lightly the obligation to help one another in times of crisis and threat.
So, already weak and poor, Israel went to war with only half strength. And won! No wonder v1-3 proclaims, “When the princes of Israel take the lead, when the people willingly offer themselves, bless the Lord!”
Bless in Hebrew is barak – to favorably empower. To “bless the Lord” is to declare and acknowledge the Lord as the origin or source of our fortunate empowerment. Not luck, not our cleverness or piety, not us sowing our own karma. But due to God who commands all things behind the scene. Next time you experience God’s grace, please say barak Yahweh. (Not Barack Obama!)
(4) Vehement Curse versus Lavish Blessing (5:23-24)
These two verses contrast a curse and blessing. The bitter curse is aimed at Meroz, an Israelite clan, for its unwillingness to rise up to God’s demand. Shame on you, Meroz! In contrast, lavish praise is conferred to an outsider – a Jael a non-Israelite. She becomes the “most blessed of all women.”
Jael is the most surprising figure in the whole saga. Why should she help Israel get rid of their enemy? Perhaps God is conveying a strong message to those who were cowardly and lethargic: since you won’t join me in my awesome work, I will rise up someone outside of you to accomplish it. God picked a weak woman to prove his point. How can a weaponless woman overpower a seasoned warrior? The event was depicted in a satirical way. If not for its gruesome reality, it’s almost humorous. Have you heard of poetic justice? Judgment catches up with the wicked.
(5) The “Rape” of Sisera (5:24-30)
Sisera came to Jael, this “tent-dwelling woman.” It takes little to imagine what normally happens to defenseless women in tents, particularly when tyrant enemies raid and plunder the nomads. We are also left to wonder the strange absence of Jael’s husband. Did he run away because his ally had lost the battle? Whatever reasons, this woman was left on her own to face the inevitable.
Lest you have any sympathy for people like Sisera, the horrors that Sisera had inflicted on others are revealed in his mother’s thoughts. V30 “Are they not finding and dividing the spoils: a girl of two for each men.. colorful garments as plunder for Sisera.. and me?”
Sisera’s mother, despite being a woman herself, had little misgiving about her son violating powerless women. Twenty years on the winning side had made her heart hardened. She sleeps securely in her palace, oblivious to the plight of numerous women who sleep in tents with fear. I’ve a friend who lives in an unsafe region. She sleeps with a dagger under her pillow to protect herself from home invaders.
Listen to the degrading way Sisera’s mother describe women captives. In Hebrew: “a womb, a pair of wombs רַ֤חַם רַחֲמָתַ֙יִם֙ for the head of each warrior.” These were vulgar ancient soldiers slang depicting women captives as no more than bedmates for men.
In any other day of victory, Sisera would not hesitate to victimize a Jael or Deborah in their tents. But this time tables were turned. Sisera will not humiliate a single woman. Instead, a single woman will humiliate him and turn him into war trophy.
The sexual overtones of the murder scene would be obvious to the ancient readers. In their world, “tent” was often depicted as womb. The ancient writers used words like “the man went in to her” way to imply sexual intimacy between a man and woman. Jael’s invitation to Sisera (v18) to “come in to my tent” is filled with seduction, embedded with vicious deceit. And Sisera "went in" unsuspectingly.
Jael’s swift actions were then elaborated in v26: she struck, crushed, shattered and pierced (or penetrated) his temple with a tent peg. V27: he sank, fell and lay dead – between her legs. Used to killing and raping women, general Sisera is himself being depicted as being “raped” and murdered by a woman, singlehandedly and ruthlessly. How delighted the Israelites would be when they came to this part of the song.
Ironically, the arrogant Canaanite women were under the delusion that their general was delayed because he was taking his time plundering victims and helpless women. It never occurred to them their great general would be overpowered by these “one or two wombs” – Deborah and Jael.
The poem does not exalt Jael as our hero and role model. Please don’t go back with the wrong message that it’s ok to retaliate with deceit and violence. The issue is never whether Jael’s actions were “morally right”. It isn’t! The message of Jael’s story is that judgment will ultimately catch up with the unrepentant guilty. Like the ancient Israelites, we celebrate God’s poetic justice.
For those of you who wonders how the Israeli men would treat their women captives, just let me point you to the passage in Deuteronomy 21:10-14. Read for yourself. God repeatedly warns his people not imitate the detestable ways of the neighboring nations (Deut 18:9-13). Sadly, whether or not Israel faithfully kept God’s laws is a different matter. They too will not escape God’s judgment.
(6) God’s friends or foes? (5:31)
The final prayer contrasts the outcomes of God’s friends and enemies. “So perish all your enemies, O Lord! But may your friends be like the sun as it rises in its might” (v31). All the action and turbulence of battle give way to peace. “And the land had rest forty years.” We are left to wonder, will Israel learn her lesson? Will she remain faithful to God after this strange and awesome experience?
Let us spend some time for God’s message to sink in. Put ourselves in today’s paradigm of God’s Kingdom. Jesus says, “.. the kingdom of God is at hand: Repent and believe in the gospel.”
1. The Kingdom is at hand
Are your eyes opened to see the reality of God’s Kingdom in our world? Amid our mundane routines and daily activities, God’s kingdom is ever present and working mysteriously, evidently. How do you live with and live out that truth?
2. Jesus’ Call
Just as Deborah summoned the ancient Israelites. Today Jesus calls us to participate in His Kingdom work. We must choose your battles wisely. There is a difference between dying for something and dying for nothing. Confronted by Jesus’ call, we have to take a stand. There’s an ongoing all-out war for human allegiance. Either people worship God, or they are not. Jesus’ call is an urgent one that demands you and I to respond with Jael-type boldness and swiftness.
3. Repent – turn away from evil
First, because God is actively exercising his kingship in our midst, repent! Quickly, turn away from any wicked sinful practice! Before God’s judgment overtakes us, like Sisera. For the unrepentant guilty there is no acquittal.
4. Trust - turn to Me
Second, turn to Jesus. Trust him solely to save us and those we love. With our gaze fixed upon the Lord, we’ll be able to discern God’s power and resources within and outside of us. We will not be deluded and overwhelmed by illusions of our apparent powerlessness, or the enemy’s might.
5. Follow Me
Jesus says, “whoever would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Soldiers arm themselves. In this strange cosmic battle, we take up our own crosses. The cross symbolizes our death. We are called to live as if we have died. No longer running after our own wimps and wishes. But allowing Jesus to exercise his kingship over our daily decisions. In doing so, we join Jesus in exercising, manifesting and expanding God’s kingship in our world.
יְ֜בָרְכֵ֗נוּ אֱלֹהִ֥ים אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ
Bless us, O God, our God!