I have discovered in this life that there are many people who sell themselves short. Because we live in a works-based society, we tend to be overly critical of ourselves and overly critical of others based on performance. We convince ourselves that because we don’t have a certain level of talent or skill, we are unable to serve in a certain arena. If we do serve in that arena, we are always worried about or always apologizing for our lack of skill. This is the way that we are raised in a sinful world, and I think that is going to be true across ethnic, geological, linguistic, and generational spectrums.
I remember playing a concert one time with some people that I looked up to musically. They were way more talented than I was, but I got to play the same show that they were playing. One guy had an amazing voice and he always stood like a flamingo when he played. He had a really smooth blues style. The other musicians had more of an edgy alternative-rock feel, and the lead guitarist could outpace anyone else I knew. I said to myself before it was my group’s turn in the rotation, “I can’t follow that!” We are raised in a world that judges us based on performance and in which we judge ourselves based on our perceived performance.
What does God think about this tendency? Does He care more about our performance or our faithfulness? Why does God use the people He uses and what does that mean for us?
Meanwhile, Sisera had fled on foot to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, because there was peace between Jabin king of Hazor and the family of Heber the Kenite. Jael went out to greet Sisera and said to him, “Come in, my lord. Come in with me. Don’t be afraid.” So he went into her tent, and she covered him with a rug. He said to her, “Please give me a little water to drink for I am thirsty.” She opened a container of milk, gave him a drink, and covered him again. Then he said to her, “Stand at the entrance to the tent. If a man comes and asks you, ‘Is there a man here?’ say, ‘No.’” While he was sleeping from exhaustion, Heber’s wife Jael took a tent peg, grabbed a hammer, and went silently to Sisera. She hammered the peg into his temple and drove it into the ground, and he died.
When Barak arrived in pursuit of Sisera, Jael went out to greet him and said to him, “Come and I will show you the man you are looking for.” So he went in with her, and there was Sisera lying dead with a tent peg through his temple!
That day God subdued Jabin king of Canaan before the Israelites. The power of the Israelites continued to increase against Jabin king of Canaan until they destroyed him.
Deborah was serving as the judge in Israel at this time. God did not deliver Sisera into her hands. Barak was Israel’s general. God did not deliver Sisera into his hands. Jael was a housewife, someone who wouldn’t be considered in the culture at the time by people. She was in a humble circumstance and she was humble in spirit. God would claim the victory through Jael, not through Deborah or Barak. Over the past three weeks, we have considered God’s purpose for brokenness in the world as He works all things together for His glory and for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. In this conclusion, we receive much encouragement from God by grace. We learn, as we do in every other part of the Scriptures, what sort of person God uses to do His work of establishing His creation on this current earth and forevermore.
Jael was not a warrior. She was not a man. She was not a national leader. She was not a judge. She was not involved in national matters. She was not asserting herself. She was not worth much according to the worldly standards of the time. Jael was a housewife who humbly tended to the matters of her home. Yet, God brought Sisera to her proverbial door (she lived in a tent). She recognized the opportunity before her. She claimed victory over Sisera, the oppressive Canaanite war-monger. In this story, we learn much about the type of people God uses. To put it simply, He uses broken and humbled people to do mighty things for His kingdom because He desires to receive all glory; and His glory works out for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.
Jael’s story is not the only story in Scripture that reveals this for us. We can walk through the crucible of redemptive history, which is only the beginning of human history, there is more to come that we are unable to even imagine. I think I will refer to humanity’s future existence as what will become resurrection history. Instead of only thinking in terms of B.C. (or B.C.E. if you are a heathen) and A.D. (or C.E.), which is part of redemption history, we might think in terms of B.R. (before the resurrection state) and R.E. (resurrection era). Or, maybe that is nonsense and in the resurrection I will laugh at my even thinking that. I can’t even imagine what the fullness of our existence will be. I see through a glass darkly. As we think about redemptive history (B.R.), we see the type of person God uses over and over again.
Noah was bullied by the whole world. Abraham was a wanderer. Jacob was a con-artist and jealous. Moses was a fallen prince become lowly shepherd. David was the youngest of his brothers. Jesus (God incarnate) came as a servant born in an animal feeding trough. Paul was a man fallen from his prestigious jewish status. All of the disciples were men of lowly positions in society. God purposefully uses people in a positive way who are broken and humble in spirit. Let’s not be mistaken, all things work out for God’s glory. Everyone serves this purpose. Many, though, are used in a negative way much like Pharaoh. God exalts people who are humble, though, so that He will receive all glory. He humbles those that He wishes to exalt for that purpose. Did you know that Jesus taught specifically about this? He did not leave it for our minds to question or for us to wonder about. He tells us explicitly that the broken are the ones who are blessed. He does this in a section of His teaching that we refer to as the Beattitudes:
“The poor in spirit are blessed,
for the kingdom of heaven is theirs.
Those who mourn are blessed,
for they will be comforted.
The gentle are blessed,
for they will inherit the earth.
Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are blessed,
for they will be filled.
The merciful are blessed,
for they will be shown mercy.
The pure in heart are blessed,
for they will see God.
The peacemakers are blessed,
for they will be called sons of God.
Those who are persecuted for righteousness are blessed,
for the kingdom of heaven is theirs.
You are blessed when they insult and persecute you and falsely say every kind of evil against you because of Me. Be glad and rejoice, because your reward is great in heaven. For that is how they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:3-12).
Who receives the blessing of God? According to Jesus, it is those who come from a place of weakness. Our problem is that we often try to come from a place of strength. In religion, we, even if by our perceived meekness, try to earn some sort of blessing or do the right things to gain eternal life or oneness with the universe or a place in paradise or to be reincarnated into a higher caste. In this world we try and do more stuff to make the world a better, more loving, or more morally right place. It’s like we identify ourselves by the things that we do, by our own preferences, by our beliefs, by our desires, and by our worldly success. We often come from a place of strength. None of those things will earn us the blessing of God. God blesses those who come from a place of weakness, of brokenness. In every case, if God is going to give His blessing to someone who is positioned in a metaphorical place of strength, He always humbles them and brings them into a place of weakness first. That is, after all, the reason God permits brokenness in this world.
We might even consider the nation of Israel. Deuteronomy 7:7-9 reveals that God did not choose Israel because they were greater than other nations and that He did not choose Israel because the nation was righteous. It was not. God chose Israel not because He was going to make Israel great, but because He wanted to be recognized as great. So, He chose a people from their weakness. God desires that we abide in His glory, not some glory that we try and achieve for ourselves. When we abide in God’s glory, it works out for our good. This, again, is the reason for brokenness.
So, you feel small. You feel like this world tears you up. You feel like there is not enough you can do. You feel like you don’t have any control in your life. You feel overwhelmed by the degree of lostness in the world. You feel stressed because life is far too busy. You feel beat up or bullied or persecuted. Scripture tells us that you are blessed by God. So, we come to God from our weakness, not from our strength.
Preachers and pastors, we don’t come before those we serve from our strength (thinking that we have something to give). We come from our weakness that God might shine through despite our many insufficiencies. Music leaders, we don’t come before those we serve from our strength, thinking that it is our talent or skill or technical prowess that means something. We come from our weakness that God might be evident to those participating in song. No matter what we do, we live in Christ from our weakness. Blessed are the poor in spirit! God uses a broken and humble people.
God uses the humble.
When we arrive at the end of the story, here, there is no mistaking who won the victory. Israel did not deliver Israel. God delivered Israel. God was subduing the Canaanites. He is the one who took His people in this generation from the oppression of sin into the oppression of the Canaanites and raised them up when they realized their own weakness in their depravity and in their sin. God was the one doing this work for His glory and for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose! God receives all glory! We get to abide in His glory forever!
I want to dedicate some space to mention what this must mean for women in the church in our current context. Deborah was a prophetess and the judge of Israel. God delivered Sisera into the hands of a housewife, Jael. God is always doing things in such a way that they can’t be mistaken as the accomplishments of people. Furthermore, God uses people out of their weakness, not out of their strength. As sinful people, we try and create these categories and fit people neatly into these categories. We even try to fit God into our human defined categories. We are often frustrated when reality doesn’t match these categories that we’ve tried to define. As a result, we aren’t willing to give people in some of our categories the opportunities that God would provide them with. This is sinful and self-glorifying because it is a tendency that comes from our strength. God chooses who He will use for what and for His glory.
There is at least one passage in Scripture that needs to be addressed in light of this fact that has to deal with women and that causes much confusion in the context of this broken world. That passage is 1 Timothy 2:8-15:
Therefore, I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or argument. Also, the women are to dress themselves in modest clothing, with decency and good sense, not with elaborate hairstyles, gold, pearls, or expensive apparel, but with good works, as is proper for women who affirm that they worship God. A woman should learn in silence with full submission. I do not allow a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; instead, she is to be silent. For Adam was created first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and transgressed. But she will be saved through childbearing, if she continues in faith, love, and holiness, with good judgment.
We tend to isolate this passage from the rest of Scripture and that leads to misinterpretation. So, we define certain categories based on this passage of Scripture out of context. We have just read a story in which God is primarily using a woman as a prophetess (one who proclaims the word of the Lord) and a judge, and in which He uses a housewife to claim victory over the Canaanite general warmonger. God has done so for His glory. Is Paul, here when he writes to Timothy, contradicting the Old Testament text? No! Context is so important, so we look at the context of 1 Timothy. When we read verse 9 in chapter 2, Paul writes that this instruction for women is like the the instruction given to men. In verse 8, we see the word, “Therefore,” so we know that there is a previous reason stated as to why Paul is giving this instruction for humility to Ephesian men in one way and to Ephesian women in another. So, we must also read verses 1-7 in chapter 2:
First of all, then, I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all those who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good, and it pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
For there is one God
and one mediator between God and humanity,
Christ Jesus, Himself human,
who gave Himself — a ransom for all,
a testimony at the proper time.
For this I was appointed a herald, an apostle (I am telling the truth; I am not lying), and a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.
Considering this, we can derive that God is to receive all glory in the church. That sounds familiar, almost like we’ve encountered the exact idea in the book of Judges! Because God is the one who receives all glory and because Jesus Christ is the only mediator and ransom for all people, both men and women are to practice humility rather than try to assert themselves. Why would Paul instruct women in Ephesus not to teach or to exercise authority over a man? There is more context! We look to verses 3-7 in chapter 1:
As I urged you when I went to Macedonia, remain in Ephesus so that you may instruct certain people not to teach different doctrine or to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies. These promote empty speculations rather than God’s plan, which operates by faith. Now the goal of our instruction is love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith. Some have deviated from these and turned aside to fruitless discussion. They want to be teachers of the law, although they don’t understand what they are saying or what they are insisting on.
In Ephesus, there was much false teaching. People were concerned with myths and with endless genealogies. People wanted to be teachers of the Law without even understanding the Law. There was fruitless discussion. What reason would Paul have to instruct a certain demographic of people not to teach or to hold a position of authority, but to instead practice humility and holistic submission? It wasn’t because women are the subjects of men. It was because we are all subject to God. There were some in Ephesus pretending to be gods achieving their own glory. This is affirmed for us in the historical record of Ancient Rome. Artimis was the patron deity of Ephesus. She was a Greek ‘goddess’ who supposedly elevated the status of women. In Ephesus, there was also a prevalent anti-male cult and a political push for strict matriarchy. This was the sort of extreme feminism that we may be starting to see in our own context. Part of the legend of Ephesus’ founding was that the Amazons, a mythical tribe of warrior women, founded the city. I know, this insinuates some horrendous things about Wonder Woman, but we don’t need to get into that. There were also male religious groups in Ephesus and the Roman government regulated those religious groups.
The false teaching that would have come into the church would have been teaching specifically about the exaltation of people rather than the glory of God. Sadly, we see it in many groups that claim to be Christian in our day. Paul’s response, or rather his instruction for the good of the people in Ephesus, was that men should be humble in a way that made sense and that women should be humble also in a way that made sense, in a way that recognized the preeminence of Christ and encouraged all people to abide in God’s glory rather than seek their own.
The message for men and women in 1 Timothy is this: Don’t think too highly of yourselves. God is the one who created you. The woman was deceived in the Garden. By thinking too highly of herself, by teaching what was not good to her husband and not being willingly submitted to God, she also deceived her husband. Christ is your deliverer. We come from a place of weakness. God’s strength is made evident in that weakness. It turns out the Old and New Testaments have the same goal- God’s glory. They don’t have anything against women. They do, however, speak against all of humanity’s self-pride, which destroys the person. Perhaps this is a message we ought to pay very close attention to in our day.
God stands against human pride.
God uses the humble.
God stands against human pride.
To God alone be the glory as He works all things together, including the brokenness of the world, for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.