by Rev. Robert Zilhaver
In the United Methodist Church and in the world today, we face a myriad of issues and problems. God is calling us to make a difference in so many ways in people’s lives and in the world. Our strength to overcome these challenges will require tested faith in God’s Spirit and grace. In the great chapter of faith, Hebrews 11, Barak is listed among the ‘elders’ to whom faith is attested. Why is Barak a hero of faith? What is it that makes him a model for faithful?
The existence of Israel was threatened by the Canaanites. Barak was commanded by God to muster the tribes of Israel and lead them to battle against Sisera, commander-in-chief of the confederate Canaanite forces. He consented to act on the condition that Deborah would go with him. What did Barak see in Deborah to know that he needed to work in partnership with her to achieve the ends to which God was calling him?
Deborah was a very gifted woman as attested in Judges 5:7, “The peasantry prospered in Israel, they grew fat on plunder, because you arose, Deborah, arose as a mother in Israel.” She was a judge in the ordinary, non-military sense of the word, and it was probably because of her judicial and charismatic wisdom, as well as her prophetic giftedness that brought many to her for help. According to Judges 4:4-5, she had her headquarters under the “palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel” and was consulted by persons from various tribes who wished to have their disputes settled. These issues were too difficult for local judges to decide or issues between the tribes of Israel.
Barak saw this giftedness and knew that these gifts were God given and fruitful in Deborah. He saw success depended on partnering with such a gifted person so that Israel might be protected and God’s commands fulfilled. He was not deterred when Deborah warned him that if they went forward in this partnership he would not get the credit for victory (Judges 4:9). Together they went forward to accomplish God’s purposes.
The Israelites met the forces of Sisera at the waters of Megiddo. We are told that, “The stars fought from heaven, from their courses they fought against Sisera” (Judges 5:20). During the battle, a cloudburst floods the watercourse of Kishon. This miraculous flood swept away the Canaanite chariotry, threw the army into confusion and made it an easy prey for Barak’s men. And as predicted, the main credit for the victory is given to Deborah. Barak takes a role in the background. The people of Israel are saved and have peace for forty years (Judges 5:31).
Our God is a God that shows not partiality (Acts 10:34). Are we there yet? Are we there yet as a people of faith to look and see God’s giftedness in all people? Are we there yet to show a willingness and take risks to partner with people different from us? There is a sense that God’s purposes and success will continue to elude us until we can live out this truth, “that God pours out the Spirit upon all flesh, and that your sons and your daughters shall prophesy” (Acts 2:17). That in this partnership of the Spirit there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female for all are one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28).
One of my roles in the church is working with youth and young people. In that context, the question often arises how we can be sure that we are being inclusive? Are we really looking for God’s giftedness in all people? When confronted with this question, I always encourage them to first look at people who are different from them. Look for God’s gifts first in people who are different from you. Blending your gifts with the gifts of others, especially others different from you, will make a greater impact in the world for the Kingdom of God.
If you are young, look first at someone who is old. If you are old, look first at someone who is young. If you are white, look first at someone who is African-American or Korean. If you are Korean, look first at someone who is African-American or white. If you are a man, look first at someone who is a woman. If you are a woman, look first at someone who is a man. When you find that giftedness, seek God’s help in making a partnership. And by faith, those partnerships can be so deep and effective in creating life giving outcomes and situations where God’s miraculous purposes will be accomplished.
And in the end, it won’t matter who gets the acclaim or credit. For when God’s purposes are accomplished, heroines and heroes of faith are born out of a partnership of the Spirit. And whispering in the ears of the faithful are the precious words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
Rev. Robert Zilhaver currently serves as the senior pastor for Lakeside United Methodist Church in the Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference. He served as an officer in the United States Army from 1983-1993 in a variety of positions including being trained as an Equal Opportunity Officer. Bob left the Army in 1993 to pursue his seminary education and ministry as an elder. He is married to Amy and has four children (Laura, Sara, Polly, and Robert), two cats (Foster and Ninja), and one dog (Tuffie).