For the week of January 19, 2008 / 12 Shevat 5768
Torah: Shemot / Exodus 13:17 - 17:16
Haftarah: Shoftim / Judges 4:4 - 5:31
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." (Shoftim / Judges 4:8; ESV)
The biblical book of Shoftim (English: Judges) records a time of difficulty and confusion for the people of Israel that lasted over 300 years up until the time the monarchy was established. The condition of the nation during this period is summed up by the book's closing words: "In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes" (21:25; ESV). This doesn't mean, however, that it was all bad all the time. Whenever the people would return to God and humbly confess their sins, God would rescue them through a specially chosen leader.
This week's Haftarah tells us the story of the prophetess, Devorah, and military leader, Barak. This passage was most likely chosen to accompany this week's Torah portion because both passages include songs of deliverance (see 5:1-31 & Shemot / Exodus 14:1-18).
The outworking of God's deliverance through Devorah and Barak includes a noteworthy interchange between these two. Devorah speaks the word of the Lord to Barak that as he led the people into battle God would give him victory. He replied with the words I quoted at the start: "If you will go with me, I will go, but if you will not go with me, I will not go" (4:8; ESV).
What kind of response is that? God tells him to do something and Barak says, "Yes if"? That he may have felt insecure is understandable. Devorah as a prophetess could possibly provide necessary guidance from God as needed. Requesting her company and assistance is reasonable. But saying he would only go if she came along, but if not, then he wouldn't do what God commanded him...?
God didn't give him options. He just told him what to do. That is what God does. Sometimes I hear people say that God asked them do to this or that, but I didn't know that God asked people to do things. The God of the Bible commands, he does not ask. This ultra-polite god that some people have may be more of a figment of their imagination than the God who commanded Barak to lead that day.
Some people think that the way God is depicted in the Hebrew Scriptures is in contrast to the way he is depicted in the New Covenant writings. They claim the older writings speak of God as angry and demanding, while the newer writings speak of him as loving and kind. I don't know where they get this from, for the whole Bible reveals God as a complex being. He is angry with our stubborn rebellion against him, but yearning in love to restore us to him. That is a message found through the entire Scriptures.
Similarly, his way of relating to his chosen ones is the same. He commands; he doesn't ask. The only fitting response to his directives is absolute obedience. He is God, after all!
Barak did go. And Devorah did go with him just as he wanted. The victory was won that day, but for Barak the victory was not all it could have been. It wasn't as if he didn't do what God commanded. It was that he put a condition upon it. This reveals a significant lack in Barak's understanding of God and of what God desired to do through him.
It is the same for us. It is possible to know God to some extent without trusting him as we should. We can know his reality in our lives, yet still live at a lower standard than what God intends for us. But it needn't be that way. Understanding that God is calling for unconditional obedience is the first step to obeying him unconditionally.
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