Recently I read the history of the Mercy Ships ministry and was surprised by how often they experienced what seem to be unnecessary delays. The founder, Don Stephens, first dreamt about a ship that would be a floating hospital when he was nineteen. He envisioned a ship travelling to the poorest communities in Africa and performing lifesaving surgeries for free to those who couldn’t afford them. Fourteen years later, he bought a ship but it took four years for it to be fitted out as a hospital. Initially, the ship was used to provide relief in times of natural disasters. After the ship had been in medical service for eight years, it eventually arrived in Africa. Twenty-six years from dream to fruition.
One of the hardest delays was a couple of years after the ship had been transformed into a hospital, they entered American waters and the authorities classified them as a passenger ship, whereas previously they have been classified as a cargo ship. They fitted neither classification. It took nearly two years to install a sprinkler system, that would meet government standards for a passenger ship. When you have the resources and know there are people with medical conditions you could relieve, it must have been hard to wait two years to have a sprinkler system installed which may not have been strictly necessary.
One of the longest times, I ever had to wait was when my husband, Ross, applied for pastoral ministry. He first applied in 1981 and again the following year but wasn’t accepted, which was devastating at the time because we had a strong sense of call to ministry. He applied again more than ten years later and has now been in pastoral ministry for over twenty-five years. In retrospect, I’m glad he wasn’t accepted the first time since pastoral ministry proved to be much more difficult than I expected.
God called Deborah to be a leader of her people when they were being oppressed by their enemies but she had to wait twenty years to be free of their bullying.
Deborah was a judge and settled the disputes of her people. It was during this time that she practised her gift as a prophet. She learnt to hear God’s voice and pass on his guidance.
During the time Deborah was judging, the Israelites were being oppressed by the Canaanites. Their troops were much better equipped than the Israelites because they had iron chariots. Chariots work best on flat ground, so the Israelites had been forced into the hills which is why we find Deborah holding court under a tree in the hill country.
The Israelites were oppressed because they had allowed themselves to be influenced by the pagan culture around them. They turned away from God to ways even more corrupt than their ancestors.
For twenty years the Israelites were bullied by their enemies, but when they humbled themselves and called out to God, he responded. God could have ignored his people as they ignored him, but out of the depths of his love and the richness of his grace, God intervened.
One day everything changes
One day God calls Deborah to action. No doubt Deborah had been praying and asking God for freedom from their enemies. In the meantime, she is faithful to the task God had given her. She is pressing on, learning and growing from God. When God spoke, Deborah is ready. She has a nest egg of faith to draw upon.
Her faith enables her to prepare and wait for God’s timing. She summons Barak who expresses some doubts but agrees to support her. The Israelites are significantly undermanned and lacking in resources. However, God takes the very thing the enemy sees as their strength—their chariots and their storm god—and uses it against them. There is a huge storm that impedes the Canaanites’ chariots and gives the advantage to the Israelites. Victory isn’t complete until the Canaanite commander dies at the hands of Jael, another woman of faith and patience.
Following the Israelites’ victory, Deborah and Barak praise God in song. These are the concluding words, “Lord, may all your enemies die like Sisera! But may those who love you rise like the sun in all its power!” (Judges 5:31).
Deborah pictures God’s people as being like the sun whose heat grows stronger as the day progresses. Perhaps this imagery appeals to Deborah because it reflects her own experience of growing stronger in faith as she waited for God’s timing. Deborah’s leadership brought peace for forty years, yet the song isn’t about her, rather it’s the story of how God defeated their enemies.
Deborah knows how to celebrate God’s goodness. She gives honor to God and expresses her joy and thankfulness to him. Her example is a challenge to us, to continue to press on growing in the Lord, to wait for the right opportunity to take action and not be concerned about our lack of resources. Deborah encourages us to trust God’s enabling.
Is our faith growing stronger as the days progress?
More articles about women in the Bible can be found here.