Game of Thrones - Deborah and Jael: Women Rule
Judges 4:4-9, 15-22
At that time Deborah, a prophetess, wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel. She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the Israelites came up to her for judgment. She sent and summoned Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali, and said to him, “The Lord, the God of Israel, commands you, ‘Go, take position at Mount Tabor, bringing ten thousand from the tribe of Naphtali and the tribe of Zebulun. I will draw out Sisera, the general of Jabin’s army, to meet you by the Wadi Kishon with his chariots and his troops; and I will give him into your hand.’” Barak said to her, “If you 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 the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.” Then Deborah got up and went with Barak to Kedesh. And the Lord threw Sisera and all his chariots and all his army into a panic before Barak; Sisera got down from his chariot and fled away on foot, while Barak pursued the chariots and the army to Harosheth-ha-goiim. All the army of Sisera fell by the sword; no one was left.
Now Sisera had fled away on foot to the tent of Jael wife of Heber the Kenite; for there was peace between King Jabin of Hazor and the clan of Heber the Kenite. Jael came out to meet Sisera, and said to him, “Turn aside, my lord, turn aside to me; have no fear.” So he turned aside to her into the tent, and she covered him with a rug. Then he said to her, “Please give me a little water to drink; for I am thirsty.” So she opened a skin of milk and gave him a drink and covered him. He said to her, “Stand at the entrance of the tent, and if anybody comes and asks you, ‘Is anyone here?’ say, ‘No.’” But Jael wife of Heber took a tent peg, and took a hammer in her hand, and went softly to him and drove the peg into his temple, until it went down into the ground – he was lying fast asleep from weariness – and he died. Then, as Barak came in pursuit of Sisera, Jael went out to meet him, and said to him, “Come, and I will show you the man whom you are seeking.” So he went into her tent; and there was Sisera lying dead, with the tent peg in his temple.
But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body.While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.’Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.
Deborah and Jael: Women Rule
There are a lot of reasons to question – and even disdain – the many horrible, nasty, terrifying things that happen to women in the “Game of Thrones” series. And the same can be said about much of what we find in our Bibles, sadly enough. (Remember how Lot offered his daughters up to the angry mob in the Sodom and Gomorrah story a couple weeks ago? And he was the good guy in that story!)
As I’ve said, I haven’t made my way through the whole “Game of Thrones” series, yet, but I have seen already that, not only do the women of the Realm hold their own, they really do overcome… and persist… and win… in more ways than not, in spite of all the ugliness and violence and misogyny they face in that medieval world. And, without sharing any spoilers – because I haven’t seen them to share them, remember – I’ve been told by others who’ve seen the show from start to finish that women really do rule, in the end.
And I think the same is true – or at least the hope for the same is true – throughout the Biblical narrative, if we read it with the right kind of eyes. And it’s why I want to share something about the role of women – their place, their purpose, their importance, and their power – in Scripture, in the Church, and in the Kingdom, as we’re called to understand it.
(I had the thought – about a week and a half ago – that this would have been a great Sunday to hand over the preaching to a woman for the occasion; that this would have been a great Sunday to have Pastor Libby back, or to invite Pastor Teri to join us again. BUT, that good idea didn’t surface in enough time to make that possible. So, you’re stuck with this middle-aged white guy’s best effort at saying what should be said more often. And there’s some value in that, just the same, I suppose.)
So, I picked Deborah and Jael because their story is the most “Game of Thrones-y”, as far as I could tell, in terms of guts, gore, strength and power. And it’s not a story that gets a lot of air time, it seems to me, probably because there’s not much too it, in the book of Judges. It all takes place in just a couple of chapters; there’s the story itself and then a song about the story.
But it matters that Deborah was a Judge in the days of Israel before there were kings. She was a prophet and powerful leader for God’s chosen ones. Judges like Deborah were military leaders, raised up by God, to lead the people back to faithfulness when their faithlessness caused them to stray. And judges like Deborah delivered them from their enemies, through their leadership and courage and wisdom and faith, like we heard this morning.
And I love when Deborah says to Barak, the military commander under her authority, “…the road on which you are going will not lead to your glory, for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hands of a woman.” It makes me think Deborah might have been the first feminist – deliberately plotting and planning for the help of Jael, the other heroine of the story, to hide and then smite Sisera, the commander of the Canaanite army, with that tent spike to the temple.
But, there are plenty of other women of influence in Hebrew Scripture – Eve (whose bad rap is unnecessary and unfair, if you ask me); Ruth (an outsider who became an insider of devotion, loyalty and faith); Rahab (the prostitute who helped the Israelites conquer Jericho, which could have been a plot for any season of “Game of Thrones,” as well); and, of course, there’s Miriam and Sarah and Rebekah and Hannah and Hagar, and more.
And it doesn’t stop with the Old Testament. It picks right up again with Elizabeth and Mary, in the Gospels – bearing the hope of the world in Jesus and his cousin, John the Baptist. And there are others, too: Martha and Mary; Phoebe and Lydia; and all those who go unnamed, but far from unnoticed or insignificant where Jesus is concerned. The widow who gave so generously. The woman of great faith who begged for help for her daughter. And the other woman who Jesus healed when she boldly, bravely touched his robe, after her own long-suffering faithfulness.
So, in light of all that, when it comes to the place and power and purpose of women in the Kingdom, I’d like to assume I’m “preaching to the choir,” as they say, but one can never be so sure.
Just this week – because Monday happened to be the Feast Day for Mary Magdalene, who I haven’t even mentioned yet – I happened upon a Twitter thread spun from a post by a Jesuit priest named James Martin. (He’s kind of a rock star among Jesuit priests, these days.) His post said simply:
“In the time between her encounter with the Risen Christ and when she shared the news of the Resurrection with the other disciples, Mary Magdalene was the church on earth (Jn 20). Because only to her had been revealed the full Paschal Mystery.”
And he added:
“Any discussion of women's roles in the church must begin with these two facts: It was to a woman, not a man, to whom the Risen Christ first chose to appear. And it was a woman who, for a time, was the sole carrier, and proclaimer, of the Good News of the Resurrection.”
And you wouldn’t believe – or, if you’ve ever spent two minutes on Twitter these days, you would actually believe – the anger and mean-spirited and hateful and ignorant responses that followed, suggesting that women don’t belong in the pulpit, that women don’t belong leading mass, that women have their place in the Church but that it isn’t anywhere near as important or as powerful or as ordained, in the same way, as that of men.
And, before we get too self-righteously indignant about all of that – our progressive theology and polity as ELCA-flavored Christians, I mean – check this out:
Frankly, I’m a little suspicious of all of that “shock” and “surprise” from those guys. I’ve heard as much – or worse – myself over the years. Just like you don’t have to wear a white sheet or use the N-word to be a racist, you don’t have to be a rapist or to be blatantly abusive or disrespectful toward women in order to fall victim to the sin of misogyny.
And all of this matters – the way we regard and empower women, or not – because I heard just this week that 21 percent of middle and high school girls report being bullied online or by text, compared with less than 7 percent of boys. (mprnews.org)
It matters because, on average, a woman working full time earns about 81 cents for every dollar a man earns, working full time. (businessinsider.com) And those numbers are worse for women of color.
It matters because 4 out of 5 victims of human trafficking are girls. And something like 15 million girls under the age of 18 are married off, around the world, with no say in the matter. (makers.com)
So it matters if we, in the Church, aren’t right and righteous when it comes to the place and power of women and girls in our midst. Because if we are not, it means we’re either mirroring or instigating or perpetuating what’s so frightening and sad and sinful out there for our sisters and daughters and mothers and friends.
So let’s celebrate that it was Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told [the news of the resurrection] to the apostles. And let’s remember that their words seemed to [the men] an idle tale, and they did not believe them.
Let’s remember and celebrate what Genesis promises us, that, in God’s image we were created – both male and female.
Let’s remember and celebrate what we find in Acts, that, “…God says, I will pour out my spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy… Even on my servants, both men and women I will pour out my spirit...”
Let’s remember and celebrate that “The gifts [God] gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.”
Let’s make this our goal – and our challenge – and our joy, in the end. And may this not just be about our life together in the Church, but through the Church, and for the sake of the world, in as many ways as we can manage it.