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It was a race around day for me and I had barely walked in the door when folks started arriving. Thank goodness everyone is always so relaxed and willing to help themselves to coffee, tea, soda or water. It’s a great group. Thanks to everyone for your support when I’m so frazzled!

DeborahOnce we got started, we re-read the first chapter that tells the Deborah story, Judges 4. I then shared a bit about the time period that I have learned. Generally, it’s a great swath of years assigned to this part of Judges, between 1400 – 1100 B.C. Some historians are more specific, but we all commented how time is treated more broadly back then. The book of Judges is attributed to Samuel, but really, no one knows for sure. Judges covers the period from the death of Joshua to the rise of the Monarchy (Saul and David).

It was during this time that Joshua won the land according to prophecy and all they had to do was “occupy” and “cleanse” this land. But they forgot. And so it begins, this pattern in the lives of God’s people who willingly receive His gifts only to allow them to fall into disrepair. How many of us repeat this pattern even today?

Other teachers have called this the cycle or wheel of human behavior: from blessing to disobedience to oppression to cries of distress or repentance to deliverance and back to blessing, where the circle completes itself. The Israelites relived this cycle over and over again. Do we? We talked about our own cycles.

More on Deborah, the woman: we know she was a prophetess and a judge. We reviewed her story by following a skeletal outline (using verbs to anchor her story).

  1. She summons Barak to deliver Israel. We talked about the role that Deborah has in the land. How did anyone become a judge? I believe it’s a “word of mouth” kind of thing. She was obviously anointed by God to serve and as she would speak to those who sought her out, she would speak with wisdom. Wisdom itself “drew” the people to Deborah. It’s also amazing that a woman could be raised up to this role, totally out of keeping with the time period. We know, from verse 4:3, that the land was oppressed for 20 years… and undoubtedly, it was during that time that many came to Deborah, seeking her judgments, one by one. She was known and through this long time of oppression, she became powerful enough to summon Barak.
  2. She agrees to accompany Barak to battle. For me, this feels like there was contemplation prior to her decision. In verse 9, she says, “Very well…” as though there is some reluctance on her part. And why wouldn’t there be? She was giving up everything she had. She was putting herself in harm’s way. She would not be sending under the “palm of Deborah” (verse 5), but traveling with an army of 10,000 rag tag farmers and townspeople who responded to Barak’s call. Another question that has no answer: Where was Deborah’s husband? He’s mentioned in verse 1, but never again. Is it possible that Deborah is a widow by the time this story begins? Who knows?
  3. She inspires him to action. Like Joan of Arc, she became a talisman for all. Like commanders before him who would not venture into battle without the Ark of the Convenant, so Barak would not enter into battle without Deborah. In verse 14, it is Deborah who cries out, “Go! This is the day…” She was not a commander or a strategist, she was a voice that spoke the mind of God. We do not know if she merely watched (like Moses who held up his hands while Joshua battled the Amalekites [Exodus 17]) or did she go into the foray? Scripture is silent and really, until the victory is declared, we do not know where Deborah was.
  4. She sings an anthem of victory. We will be studying this anthem at the next meeting, but let is suffice to say, that this anthem holds additional keys about Deborah and Israel. It is considered to be one of the most beautiful anthems in scripture… an interestingly enough, it is a duet, no less, with Barak. How peculiar! It’s over-arching message is one of praise for the faithfulness of God.
  5. She rebukes the indifference of the tribes (verses 5:16-17, 23). Again, we will pursue this further, but clearly there is some significance to the fact that this oppression was turned back by a united front.

Flavius JosephusJune 21, 2007 Some additional information I found about the battle between Deborah & Barak’s forces (the 10,000) is based on the writings of Josephus. Josephus wrote five books in the first century and one of the works was principally a record of the major battles in Jewish history. This battle of Deborah and Barak against Sisera is also covered. The reason I mention it is because of the overwhelming odds they faced. According to Josephus, Jabin’s Canaanite army under Sisera’s command came not only with the 900 iron chariots noted in verse 4:3, but also 10,000 traditional chariots; 300,000 foot soldiers, and 10,000 cavalry. The battle itself was directly impacted by the weather since a huge storm with wind and hail pounded the enemy and flooded the Kishon River to drown thousands of men and disable thousands of chariots, both iron and traditional alike.

Lastly, I gave a homework assignment this week. Re-read Chapter 4 and answer these questions:
1. What does this chapter reveal about God?
2. What does this chapter reveal about human nature or humankind?
3. What does this chapter reveal about the enemy?

We’ll be sharing these answers at the next meeting as well as looking at Deborah’s anthem in Chapter 5 on July 5th (that’s interesting) at 7 pm. Please bring a friend!

Prayer requests: Continue to lift up Andraya (from Sandy); prayer for the new baby coming to Debbie – the new grandmother to be; for Marcie to be able to see God’s new direction despite her disappointment at the doctor’s office the week before; and prayer for the one daughter’s husband who is still in the throes of alcoholism.

Reminder, no meetings in August.

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6/7/07: Although I had expected a “longish” look at Esther, I discovered that for the purposes of our study on wisdom, there were only a few keys that needed to be identified and highlighted with the group. Hopefully, the group will feel the same way and be ready to move on this week.

I did do a little research which I shared with everyone…

  1. The Book of Esther takes place in the 5th century B.C.
  2. Esther, known as Hadassah in Hebrew, has several meanings, among them myrtle leaf myrtle leaves which can look like a star, which is an alternate meaning for Esther… somewhat similar to the Greek “astara” for Evening Star. (Interesting that Jesus is the Morning Star… I wonder if there’s something there.)
  3. Also, Esther can mean “hidden” and thus, it can be said that the Book of Esther could really be called the “Story of Hiddenness” because it is widely known that the God is never mentioned in this story… his message is “hidden” within it.
  4. Esther was probably only 14 years old (like Mary, the mother of Jesus). She was an innocent, a child, and therefore, any wisdom she displayed can more easily be attributed to a God presence within.
  5. Esther was obedient to Mordecai, who was her cousin (her father’s nephew) and later adopted her. He was a Benjamite (like Saul/Paul). While she was in Xerxes’ household, she held close counsel as Mordecai advised. She was also obedient to Hegail, the eunuch assigned to her.
  6. Esther was favored in Xerxes’ household.

We chatted as a group about her character, finding her to be: innocent, gentle, naive, submissive, and poised. She had to have a certain “something” if she could carry off being with the king, alone, and come out of that situation as his favorite and ultimately, his Queen, sine Vashti was disposed.

Once in the palace, we considered Esther’s environment to be a protected one. We also thought, because of her “favored” position, that she had her own “network” of slaves and eunuchs who protected her secrets and probably knew that Mordecai was family.

When the decree of Haman comes down, it is Mordecai who makes a public statement of his sorrow through the wearing of sackcloth and ashes just outside the king’s gate. (Ch 4:1) It was her “network” that informed her and subsequently carried messages back and forth with Mordecai.

It is in these dialogs that Esther comes to her “defining moment” – her time of choice, the path of wisdom or the path of self. I believe this time is, by its very nature, a paradoxical moment when logic would dictate to act otherwise, while wisdom calls us to the other way.

And so it is, that Mordecai declares, “And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this!” (vs 4:14b) In Esther’s moment, she must look at her situation and choose. Can we? Can we look at our lives and see (or hear) that moment? For some of us, it could still be coming … for others, it has already occurred. We talked about Kathleen’s moment as she prepares to embark on their move to Zambia…. for such a time as this! … This move is not one she could have ever predicted. And she has chosen Esther’s way… despite the “voices of reason” that would clammer against her. Can we? Will we?

We talked, each of us, a small bit about our current situations… could we accept that even this situation… work or family or whatever … that our “such a time as this!” moment could be around the corner?

This was for me, the most important part of the meeting and I don’t want to muddy it with too many other things. We did talk about Esther’s speech to Xerxes being somewhat similar to Abigail’s to David, and that doesn’t surprise me, because she had, by then, already chosen, and now she was just walking out the wisdom path. She was speaking via the Spirit, directly to what the “man” needed to hear.

From Women in Judaism : “God has sometimes used armies and sometimes flashy miracles in order to rescue His People. But He is not limited to those strategies. He can just as easily use one obscure person – male, such as Joseph, or female, such as Esther – and manipulate the circumstances around them to allow them to be the agent of His salvation.” Remember, God can use us no matter where we are… it’s the old Emmaus phrase all over again, “bloom where you are planted.” But the key for me is that it’s not just blooming, but recognizing that our “wisdom moment” is also buried in this time and place, waiting to be revealed… to come out of hiding.

Prayers: For Kathleen (her last day with our group before traveling around the country to visit family one last time before leaving for Zambia in July); for Marcie and her career choices (looking to find favor); for Lily’s school and education situation; for Chris’ daughter Sara and husband. We heard a good report from Sandy for Andraya.

See you in a couple of days… June 14th, 7 – 9 pm. Bring a friend, we’ll be doing something new, as God leads.

May 24, 2007
Continuing today in Proverbs with verses 3:13… the emphasis was on verse 15, “She is more precious than…” as we did a little exercise… writing down, first, “What are the 6 most valuable things you own, (note: things!), then, “What would you save if your house was burning down (not including people)?” And lastly, write down 6 of your most valuable memories.

Interestingly, several of us found these lists to be difficult. Is it because we’re mature enough to know that our most precious items are NOT things? Apparently! But the standard answers in the midst of a house fire did result: family pictures, family heirlooms, pets, and any other items that we considered irreplaceable… but there aren’t many. The memories were interesting… usually around family again… births, deaths, adoptions… and a few scattered memories from childhood or special celebrations like anniversaries or marriages.

The most difficult question was the final follow-up… What would you want to happen in the next year? For many, it was not something they wanted to project into the future. For those who could share, we had a lively discussion about our hopes and dreams for a better 2008.

And how did all this relate to wisdom?

Because, according to verse 15… [wisdom] is more precious than rubies, NOTHING you desire can compare with her. So, nothing we have nor nothing we hope for should be more precious than wisdom. Our first desire should be for her… and if we can make that leap, the rewards will be greater than anything we could ever hope for or imagine. In today’s world, it’s tough to grasp this truth as a reality. But verse 18 adds, “…those who lay hold of her will be blessed;” or, in simple terms, “oh how lucky one is who ‘finds’ wisdom!” See Psalm 73:75.

Tree mosaic from bigbangmosaics.comWe took verse 18 a little further and had a discussion on the “tree of life” and how wisdom is equated with it. Trees are a common figure of speech in scripture, particularly because of their value in an arid lad but also as a symbol for comfort and a “marker for water” – and water is usually a symbol for the “source of all life.” (See http://www.cresourcei.org/biblestudy/bbproverbs3.html for more on this topic.) For me, the connection has a strong visceral connection… the idea of wisdom being the tree whose presence marks the source of all life in the water. And so, if we embrace wisdom… find her… know her… we can be the same: a place (or person) who marks Christ Jesus. See me… see wisdom… see Jesus.

Truly, may wisdom be in our lives like the pearl of great price in Matthew 13:44.

In this same group of scriptures (vs 13-18), we talked a bit about the importance of the right and left hand when used as a blessing in scripture (Israel blessing Joseph’s son etc.) … and isn’t it interesting in these verses that the right hand (vs 16) carries long life while the left hand carries riches & honor. And as the Lord spoke to Solomon (I Kings 3:13), since Solomon did not ask for either of these things, but wisdom alone, the Lord gives both. We too can have the blessings of long life, riches & honor, if we pursue wisdom with a whole heart. It’s a paradox really. In the same way that we sometimes think that “taking up the cross” is only sacrifice and really, from our perspective, sacrificing these very things: long life, riches & honor… and yet, these are the very things that will come to us once we take it up.

Our time got away from us, but we did a cursory look at the closing verses of chapter three, highlighting verses 19 & 20 which touch on the creative power of wisdom (which is investigated in much more detail in chapter 8, which we’ll be studying later) while verses 21 – 25 emphasize the importance of “keeping” wisdom once found.

Lastly, the final verses, 27 – 35 are clearly part of the “instruction” that are structured with many “do not’s” with a folllow-up “motivational” statement. Most of these actually address interpersonal relationships like being generous, positive and diligent. And if we do these things, God will reward us.

Prayer requests for CYMA Praise Team, Sara & John, Sandi’s niece Andrea and Irm’s daughter, Lily.

Our next meeting is June 7th and we’ll be starting a new topic – Wisdom and Esther. See you at 7pm.