“Bee” all you can “Bee!”
Today I would like to talk about someone who broke the glass ceiling long before glass ceilings were invented – Deborah, the Judge and Prophet.
Our Old Testament reading for today comes from the book of Judges 4, and the gospel is Jesus’ teaching about talents, which may be found in Matthew 25. If you are already wondering what the relationship between those readings is – if there is any – please sit tight. It’ll soon be apparent, I promise.
First let us place Deborah’s story in its proper background.
The Book of Judges roughly covers the time from the death of Joshua and the settlement of Israel in their promised land up to right before Samuel appears as the last faithful Judge and the establishment of the kingdom under Saul.
In the book of Judges, we read about Israel leaving behind the adrenaline of the conquest and settling in their new homeland – But without the visionary and strong leadership of Moses and Joshua to mind the store. It is no wonder that the author describes the period in harsh terms, “The people of Israel gathered by tribes and families, and (…) fought among themselves (…). In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes,” (Judges Ch. 12 to 21).
And yet, even after being given a cold shoulder, God did not forget his people, and, from time to time He raised tribal leaders – “Judges” — who through their wisdom, faithfulness and sheer strength freed the Israelites of the occasional enemies and from their own messes.
Some of those “Judges” are well known (Gideon and Samson) and did the right thing – at least at times. Others “were greedy for money. They accepted bribes and perverted justice,” (1 Samuel 8:3). Judges were individuals recognized for their wisdom and impartiality to set the problems of daily life – disputes about property, contracts, inheritance, and family court all in one. But there is more.
They were accepted leaders of the whole community and they were understood to speak for God as prophets. They were very distinct from the early Jewish priesthood, and each “Judge” would pattern his or her ministry according to their particular circumstances, their personality, and their calling.
Among those tribal elders, respected for their wisdom and leadership, we find Deborah… Surprise!
In her “Song” (Judges 5), Deborah describes a total breakdown of order in Israel. Travelers had to go by winding trails to avoid the perils of robbers, and society slowly turned into a free for all, “Until I arose, Deborah, until I arose, a mother in Israel,” (Judges 5:7). Somehow Deborah imposed order on Israel. How this happened, neither the poem nor the story records.
Indeed, it is a surprise to find Deborah having such prominent leadership position in the tightly knitted patriarchal society of her days. And yet, there she was… Doing what she was called to be… and she did it for forty years!
The late professor and author Tikva Frymer-Kensky tells us that, “The song stresses that Deborah was a ‘mother in Israel.’ The femaleness is neither hidden nor incidental: it is an integral part of the story. The motherhood of this ‘Mother in Israel’ goes beyond biology. The fullest sense of Deborah as mother is revealed in her name (…) a noun meaning ‘bee.’ Like the queen bee, she raises up the swarm for battle.”
But long before she led the people of Israel into battle, she had battles of her own that she had to win. And, let me suggest, it is because she won those battles that she eventually was recognized for whom she truly was – Not only a “Mother in Israel” but a wise leader and a prophet of the Most High God.
First, she had to win the battle in her own soul. She was given a calling, a talent. What was she going to do with it? Bury it under the pressure of the naysayers and self-doubt?
She may have had the same doubts of Moses, Isaiah, and Mary to battle in her soul. She may have thought that her calling defied tradition, both cultural and religious. Was it a God-given talent or the false coin of self-promotion or even delusion? “What are they going to say?” “What if I fail?” “What if…” “What if…”
The Scripture doesn’t say how she battled and for how long but I would like to believe that at some point, perhaps noticing that people would come to her to seek guidance or for help to resolve old family quarrels, that Deborah began to believe her calling was in fact true. And the rest, as it has been said, it is history.
My question to you is, what are you going to do with your God-endowed talents? Each and every one of us, as a child of God has God-given talents. Some appear to be “natural” or, may be, they “run” in the family’s DNA. Others you may have come to discover because someone has noticed your giftedness… or because your dared to believe God.
But do you know what? God caused you to live, to make it to this world. You were never a God’s afterthought, or just biology at work. As a child of God, you have been endowed with talents, so you may grow to the fullest of your potential in Christ.
Be it one, two or five, your talents are not to be buried under the weight of self-doubt or the stone-hard disbelief of naysayers. Your God-given talents are to be multiplied and so, to enrich the lives of many, and to fill your life with hope, purpose, and joy. It is never too late for discovering and multiplying what God has so willing entrusted to you.
Like Deborah, “Bee” all you can “Bee.”
Gracious God, we thank you for the abundance of your love and favor and for entrusting us with talents to enrich the lives of those around us. Help us to trust the power of your Spirit in guiding us to do your will: To love you with all that we are, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Amen