In the book of Judges, the story of Deborah (Judges 4 & 5) breaks one stereotype after another: Deborah is a woman in ancient times who leads, ill-equipped Israel somehow vanquishes iron-clad Canaan, and the mighty Canaanite commander Sisera proves himself to be the worst kind of coward.
Yet there’s one other stereotype that is crushed in Judges 4. In the aftermath of the battle, where Israel routs the iron-clad Canaanite army, Sisera escapes. The commander of the Canaanites gets away and flees to the tent of a woman named Jael. Jael’s husband had signed a peace treaty with Sisera’s people (Judges 4:17). So Sisera figures he’s running to a safe sanctuary. What follows is one of the most vivid scenes in the Bible:
18 Jael went out to meet Sisera and said to him, “Come in, sir, come in here. Don’t be afraid.” So he went with her into the tent, and she hid him under a blanket.
19 Sisera said to her, “Please give me a little water to drink. I’m thirsty.” So she opened a jug of milk, gave him a drink, and hid him again. 20 Then he said to her, “Stand at the entrance to the tent. That way, if someone comes and asks you, ‘Is there a man here?’ you can say, ‘No.’”
21 But Jael, Heber’s wife, picked up a tent stake and a hammer. While Sisera was sound asleep from exhaustion, she tiptoed to him. She drove the stake through his head and down into the ground, and he died. 22 Just then, Barak arrived after chasing Sisera. Jael went out to meet him and said, “Come and I’ll show you the man you’re after.” So he went in with her, and there was Sisera, lying dead, with the stake through his head. (Judges 4:18-22)
This story is violent and disturbing. But why is such a bloody story here? A better question to ask might be, what is the effect of including this story here? There are many, and I can think of one that is especially powerful: to break down the stereotype regarding women and non-Israelites. Jael is a woman, like Deborah, who the readers expect will be gentle and submissive. Sisera certainly doesn’t think he has anything to fear from her when he falls asleep in her tent. And Jael is a non-Israelite, an outsider, the last person in the world you’d expect to help Israel. Yet she breaks both of these stereotypes and acts as Israel’s deliverer. She’s the foreigner who brings victory. She’s the woman who conquers and destroys. She’s the stereotype God breaks down. And God breaks down your stereotypes to build up your boldness.
And before you go thinking about “poor Sisera,” Judges 5 lets us know from his own mother’s mouth that he was a known rapist. Looking out the window waiting for her son to come home, Sisera’s mother surmises that he’s just dividing the spoils of war after victory, including “a girl or two for each warrior” (Judges 5:30). That was his spoils of war—the reality of kidnap and rape after battle in the ancient world. So Sisera got some justice in the end. God shatters Sisera’s stereotype as indestructible. God breaks apart Jael’s stereotype as a meek outsider. And it all happens so we will know that bold, life-altering faith comes when we bring an end to the stereotypes of others, of ourselves, and most of all, of our God. God breaks down your stereotypes to build up your boldness.
The most powerful example of this I’ve witnessed was from a man at Good Shepherd Church who was raised in segregationist environment. He’d been brought up to believe that racial segregation was the proper order of things. He was a white guy raised to view black people—and himself—through the lens of powerful racial stereotypes. Then Jesus happened to him. God met this man and started crushing his stereotypes. He eventually went through extended illness and then death, and through that I got to see a lot of his journey out of segregation. At his funeral, I was privileged to be one of the speakers. So was his favorite pastor at Good Shepherd, who is Ron Dozier, our pastor of Missions & Community Impact who happens to be African-American. The Life Group in which this man participated was about fifty percent non-Anglo, and they were visiting his family and offering their condolences. We saw in those moments what a dramatic change had come about in this man’s life. We saw clear evidence that God had broken down his stereotypes. He had formed deep relationships with people he previously would have ignored, and those connections made a dramatic impact on his life. All of us who saw that changed life before our very eyes were inspired. Our faith soared. God breaks down your stereotypes to build up your boldness.
These reflections above are an excerpt from Crash Test Dummies: Surprising Lessons From The Book Of Judges, which you can order here.