“Has the Lord not taken the lead?”
Judges 4:14 (NET)
I look back with a great deal of regret over wasted years and opportunities in my life. But Paul says that the only way to move forward is to put the past behind and focus on what is ahead: “Instead I am single-minded: Forgetting the things that are behind and reaching out for the things that are ahead, with this goal in mind, I strive toward the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13b-14 NET). Forgetting the past means that I accept God’s forgiveness and grace; however, it does not that I overlook the lessons learned from those years. I hope to make the most of every opportunity God gives me now because of my regret over those missed in the past. This week’s story involves some missed opportunities. As you think through those in your own life, don’t wallow in them with guilt or regret but use them as bridges to the future where you take advantage of the circumstances into which God puts you.
We have reached the story of my favorite judge, Deborah. What a great woman of God! She was ready for God to use her, even in unorthodox ways that she likely never imagined. When God instructed her to go, she did as he said, making the most of her opportunities. As you read her story, remember that she was as a real woman with real emotions, problems, and fears. Don’t make her a flat, two-dimensional person, but see her as you see yourself. God is not respecter of persons; if he used Deborah, he can use you!
Read Judges 4:1-3.
1. What elements of the cycle (review from Judges 2:11-19) do you see in these verses?
2. Describe the Israelites’ situation with Sisera and Jabin (Judges 4:2-3).
Read Judges 4:4-11.
3. List everything that this passage says about Deborah. (This is observation so don’t read things in that aren’t said; just observe exactly what the Bible says. In studying the scriptures, you need to be sure to carefully observe what is actually said before jumping to interpretation, the meaning of the passage.)
Deborah was a prophetess. Before God completed the Scriptures, he spoke to his people through his messengers the prophets. The prophet or prophetess spoke for God to others; they were his mouthpieces.
More Light: Read about prophets in a Bible encyclopedia or dictionary
4. In light of the fact that Deborah was a prophetess, what was wrong with Barak’s response in Judges 4:8? What opportunity did God take away from him because of it (Jud. 4:9)?
(Note the information in Judges 4:11; it will be important later in the story.)
5. Compare Deborah’s faith with Barak’s.
6. Responding to God: Ask God to show you where your faith is weak. In what situations do you most struggle to trust that God is at work? Write down your thoughts after you sit in silence waiting for God’s answer. Keep this question in mind as you go through your day because God may show you something in the midst of the day that reveals that your faith is weak.
God knows our weaknesses and often grants us support when our faith is feeble. In Week 2 we read of Moses, who also lacked faith when God called him.
Review Moses’ story in Ex. 4:10-16 and then reread Judges 4:6-10.
7. What encouragement do you receive for your own life as you parallel these accounts of Moses and Barak?
Read Judges 4:12-23.
Once again God was faithful to His word; he drew out Sisera, just as he promised.
8. Describe the strength of Sisera’s army. How does this help you understand Barak’s lack of faith? How do you think you would have felt in his place?
More Light: Look up the geographical places involved in this story.
9. How did Deborah encourage Barak to do the Lord’s work (v.14)? (Be sure and learn your memory verse!)
10. Sharing question: Who in your life needs encouragement? What do you learn from Deborah about encouraging him or her?
11. Responding to God: Where has God gone out before you in a situation? Where do you need to trust that he is at work? Write a prayer or poem of trust.
The battles described in God’s word help us to understand how God works. God receives the glory and the sovereign responsibility for the victory; yet, the people clearly have the responsibility to obey and to fight.
Re-read Judges 4:14-23.
This is one of those unusual stories in the Bible, but it is not one that we learn in Sunday School. I’m sure you understand why it is not a favorite for small children.
12. Who was the woman who received the honor of delivering the people from the oppression of Sisera? How did she do it?
Sometimes it is the unlikely hero that God exalts. Jael did not expect Sisera in her tent that day, but she was ready and available to act when the opportunity presented itself.
More Light: Read about Jael in your commentaries on online resources.
13. Responding to God: Write a prayer committing your availability to God. Watch for opportunities he gives you this week.
Read Judges 5:1-31, a song of victory that gives us more details about the story.
Judges 5:6-8 describes the situation in Israel during this time of oppression.
14. Why might cause travelers to desert the highways and the peasantry or village life to cease?
15. How did God bring victory over Sisera and his army of chariots (Jud. 5:19-21)?
16. Sharing question: In what situation do you find yourself today that you need to remember that God brings victory? That you are to faithfully act and leave the results to God?
17. Responding to God: Draw a picture to represent God bringing victory, either in Deborah’s story or in your present situation. Remember that stick figures are great! It’s not about our artistic ability but about God!
Reread Judges 5:1-31.
18. As a song, this poetic passage describes the imaginary response of Sisera’s mother to his absence. What did Deborah picture happening (Jud. 5:28-30)?
19. Previously, we studied God’s call to stand against injustice. What do you learn from Deborah, Barak, and Jael about courageously acting in such situations?
20. How would you explain the connection between faith and courage? Do they connect at all?
More Light: Read your commentaries or online resources regarding the Song of Deborah in Judges 5:1-31. Write down any insights that you gain.
21. Sharing question: What opportunities has God given you to make your faith known to others who need a relationship with him? What courage and faith do you need?
22. Responding to God: Write a prayer asking God to give you the grace to courageously share his love with others.
Today we consider what Barak lost in this story. He engaged the enemy and fought the battle; yet he was denied the tribute given to Jael because of his reaction to God’s words. God presented him with the opportunity to fulfill his plan, but his refusal to trust God meant that he lost that honor. In contrast, we want to see clearly through the darkness and know that God brings the victory; it is not up to us.
23. Read the following verses and copy the phrases that show God’s sovereign control over world events:
a. Psalm 33:8-11
b. Isaiah 14:24
c. Isaiah 43:13
d. Isaiah 45:6-7
e. Isaiah 46:9-11
More Light: Look up the sovereignty of God in a Bible dictionary or other resource. Look up other verses not listed above.
24. How can some of the truths from these verses help you overcome fear when God calls you to action, as He did Barak?
25. Sharing question: Reveal to your group a time when you felt that God wanted you to act and you failed to do so. How do you feel today about that lost opportunity? Did God use someone else to do his work?
26. Responding to God: Write a prayer confessing your fears and your failures to act on God’s behalf when you had the opportunity. Know that God is a forgiving God. You are completely forgiven for your sins and failures; yet, you may bear the consequences of losing the opportunity.
We lived in Charlotte, N.C. before moving to Texas. We moved into an older neighborhood that had many older folks. Our neighbor directly across the street from us was a precious 84-year-old widower. He was a fascinating man that had wonderful stories to tell. He had traveled the world, and owned his own antique and art gallery for many years. He loved to garden and his home was on the home and garden tour every year. My children and I would go visit and walk in his garden with him, but mostly he loved for the children to come over and have cookies and hot tea with him in the afternoon. He was a Jewish man, although he did not practice his faith. We shared with him on occasion about what we believed where we went to church, and the fact that our children were in Christian school. Being the very intelligent man that he was, he had a scientific argument for everything. He respected our beliefs, but thought we were a bit conservative. I never came right out and shared the gospel with him. I’m not sure why—was it a fear of rejection, a fear of offending him? I cannot say.
We left Charlotte after a short 16 months. We were very sad to leave him, but I think he was more sad to see us go. He had no children, and was quite lonely. We kept in close touch through letters and phone calls.
Two years after we moved to Texas I received a phone call from a girl that would go help him with groceries and any errands he needed to do. She said his health was declining and she wanted us to know. She said he had our children’s pictures all around his room. He missed them a lot. I was so sad after she called. He was like a member of our family. I wanted to go see him. My husband and I talked it over and it worked out that I was able to go see him shortly after the phone call. Before I got on the plane, my daughter said, “Mommy, you have to tell him about Jesus.” I told her she was right. I had a wonderful visit with him for an afternoon, and then a morning visit before leaving. He did not talk much, and seemed to not be real clear in his thinking. I hugged him good-bye, knowing I would never see him again. I got on the airplane and flew home without ever making the gospel clear to him. I skipped and skirted around it, but never came out and shared the truth. I have shared my faith with total strangers and family members on many occasions, but for some reason I hesitated with him. Ten days after my visit, he died. I sobbed that day, because I would miss him, but mostly because I had felt led by the Lord to share with him—even my daughter had felt the Holy Spirit’s leading. I had been disobedient, and it will forever be a reminder to NEVER pass the opportunity, or ignore the Lord’s prompting. Could the Lord save him without me? Absolutely, but I was still disobedient, and I missed a blessing!
We took him to a butterfly exhibit once. I took a photograph of a beautiful butterfly on a flower. I found the photo not long after his death. I framed it and put it where I would see it as a reminder to never miss an opportunity again!
As I look back, I realize that I lost many opportunities with my children. At this point they are grown and I can never recover some of those situations again. However, I can determine that with the grace of God I will take advantage of every opening from this point forward. Now my opportunities are more scarce than they once were. After children reach a certain age, they begin to tune out their parents to a certain extent. Your chances to impact them will not last so you must make the most of your opportunities now.
If your children are older, as mine are, do not beat yourself up because you haven’t been the perfect mother. God is a God of grace; he can bring beauty from ashes. He can redeem your failures and your lost opportunities. Remember that he is the Victor, not you. He is the God of the second chance. Begin today by praying fervently for them and asking God to do a mighty work in them and to use them for his glory and for their good.
I am constantly amazed that my children have turned out as well as they have. It is clearly the grace of God that explains it for I have been far less than the perfect mother to them. I am grateful for a God that overcomes my limitations and mistakes.
Read Deuteronomy 6:4-8 and consider what you learn about using every opportunity to impact your children and their faith.