Centuries ago, the people of Israel were let loose into the promised land. Like a pack of school kids when the bell rang, the doors flung open, and the crowd rushed outside screaming, yelling, and cheering.
Alice Cooper sang it so well, “School’s out for summer! School’s out forever.”
Imagine the teachers, principals, and coaches yelling to the crowd saying, “Behave this summer, we will see you next year.”
A similar event happened with the nation of Israel. Deuteronomy ends with Moses telling the people stories of Yahweh’s love and faithfulness, and sadly, their stubborn resistance to that love. In an extremely intimate moment (Deut 31:16-18) Yahweh confessed to Moses, “You are going to rest with your fathers and after that, this nation will turn their backs on me…” It was a prophecy that was too true. I can imagine Joshua standing by thinking, “Not on my watch.”
Joshua led the nation forward with this “not on my watch” attitude. He also struggled with the people as well as himself, with his summer speech, “You choose whom you will serve, but me and my family will serve Yahweh,” (Josh 24:1-27). Two great leaders had impacted their community. These were men who loved God and were honored in the presence of all by their Lord. The bell rang and the kids went crazy. With Moses, Joshua, and the leaders of his day shouting, “Have a good summer and don’t forget God,” it seemed that this time would be different. However, Yahweh knew the hearts of those created in the image of their God. The book of Judges repeats the pattern so often described:
We can see what the problem is can’t we? People are just rebellious…isn’t that the main issue?
Last summer I was in Colombia, South America. One of the churches where I spoke indicated that the problem of humanity was a rejection of authority. When I taught the class, I shared that this may be the case in Colombia, but in American our problem is that we have a “leadership crisis.” They disagreed with me, but I continued to mention that good leadership is needed and our only hope for the future. The church must actively lead in our world. I still stand by those statements.
Today we may feel frustrated at the events we witness. In addition to the Stay at Home Orders from our leaders and the anxiety we face with surviving Covid-19, we now wrestle with the anger from oppression and racism that continues to infect our world today. Peaceful protests coexist with riots, anger and hostility are spewed from both sides, and it seems that some of our leaders pour fuel on a raging fire. Leaders feel overwhelmed, law enforcement struggles to educate and hold officers accountable, and tired, angry, hurting people hurt others. Is this simply a problem of sin, rebellion, and people refusing to respect authority?
I would suggest that it is deeper than this.
In Judges 4-5 a wonderful story is interjected into the history of the school children on a Canaanite playground, monitored by a loving God. Throughout this book Yahweh raises up leaders, known as judges who “save” their people from oppression and maintain peace on the schoolyard. Yet in the midst of these stories two women Deborah (a judge) and Jael (a housewife) deliver the nation from a bully. Deborah, also a poet, shared a song about life on the playground.
5:2 “When leaders let loose in Israel and people willingly offer themselves, Yahweh is blessed by them…”
5:9 “My heart is with Israel’s leaders and with the people who willingly offer themselves, Yahweh is blessed by them…”
Notice the difference in these translations from our English Bibles.
In 5:2 the Hebrew word for leaders is similar to Pharaoh, rather than “princes.” Israel had no king, no royalty, and no princes at this time. No institution of authority but God. The word occurred twice, once as an intensive verb. It means to lead and to let loose (one’s hair figuratively, probably for battle or work). Deborah sang that Israel had leaders who “let loose” against the enemy. In 5:9 the word for “leaders” refers to “those who write decrees,” or “those who make rules.” The Hebrew word meant to cut or to write rules. Deborah indicated that the nation was saved when the leaders, the influential people, and the lawmakers led their people.
Another common phrase mentions the people who “willingly offer themselves” in service. This Hebrew word was used when the people freely gave to build the temple. For Deborah when leaders lead…people join, people serve, and people give themselves in support. As I mentioned in Colombia, we live in a time of “leadership crisis.” People will not support bad leaders.
Deborah’s song of victory honored the people who rose up to do what was right, and those who supported them.
Finally, while our versions may use “Praise Yahweh” (Jud 5:2, 9), the Hebrew word is an intensive form of “to bless” and is “imperative,” or a command. These texts tell us that when leaders are let loose, people follow, and they bless God. To put it another way, God is blessed when leaders lead and people support them.
The challenge today involves leaders, as it always has. The questions are not:
The questions are:
The text teaches us that when good leaders lead, people follow and ultimately, God is blessed.
Christian leaders…what are you willing to do to lead this nation, our communities, and our churches forward?
This is how we bless God.