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Underachievers, Arise! – 2

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Underachievers, Arise! – 2


Peter Hubbard


March 6, 2022


Judges, Judges 5


Well, if you have a Bible, let’s turn to Judges 5. Two of the most common causes of underachievement are reputation and resentment. And by reputation, I mean worrying about what people think of us — Who gets the credit? Who didn’t acknowledge us? — those kinds of things. And resentment often flows from that, but being weighed down by past hurts and your failures or the failures of others. In Judges 4 and 5, we see a shining example in Deborah of the opposite. She arises in a time when Israel is not fulfilling their potential. They’ve been set free from Egypt, given the land of promise, and now they’re back in bondage. It’s not what God had for them. God uses Deborah to motivate Barak and the other leaders to rally the people to rise up and break free from the oppressive rule of Jabin, who had been crushing Israel for twenty years. And we looked at the story last week in Judges 4.

And today we pick up from Judges 4 and Judges 5, and we look at the song. The song or poem in Judges 5 is the same … is describing the same events as Judges 4. It’s just singing about them rather than telling them. But the thing we’ll notice about Deborah in both chapters is she doesn’t let the people who ignore her — which there are many tribes who will ignore her call — or slow her down. And she doesn’t worry about who gets the credit — you’ll see this in both chapters — as long as God gets the glory. I think it was Ronald Reagan who had a plaque on his desk that read,

“There is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he does not mind who gets the credit.”

I think Reagan is quoting Truman, who stole this from Deborah. That is, she models that. Judges 5 is, again, the song that erupts from the victory of Judges 4.

And before we look at it, I want to warn you. This song or poem is difficult for a couple of reasons. One, it’s very old. It’s over 3000 years old, and the Hebrew …. for a Hebrew scholar to translate Judges 5, it is like you or me, as an English speaker, reading Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.

“Whan that aprill with his shoures soote / The droghte of march hath perced to the roote, / And bathed every veyne in swich licour / Of which vertu engendred is the flour; / What zephirus eek …”

Thank you, English teacher in high school. It’s tragically burned in my memory. I can’t remember what I ate for breakfast, but it’s there … useless! But that’s English. That’s the language you speak. But why does it not make sense? Part of it is, I massacred it, but part of it is it’s Middle English. It’s an older version of the language we speak. So, there are words that are not the same spellings, accent. Much has changed.

Judges 5 is like that. It’s older even than the rest of the Book of Judges. Judges was probably written hundreds of years after the event to describe the events that occurred. But the poem arose at the time of the events; therefore, it’s very old.

Second, it’s difficult for us to appreciate also because its poetic style is foreign to most of us. Most of the poetry, our poetry, not all, but most of it, rhymes in sound. Hebrew poetry rhymes in thought. It’s often called parallelism, or climactic parallelism when it builds. Let me show you an example. Look at verse 4 of Judges 5:

“Lord, when you went out from Seir, / when you marched from the region of Edom …”

Now we don’t know those locations; so, we don’t realize that that’s the same region. What he’s saying is, “when you went out from Mount Seir,” which is essentially the same as the Edom area. But notice he builds: “You went out, you marched.” Then look what he says next. You’ll see this same parallelism.

“The earth trembled / and the heavens dropped, / yes, the clouds dropped water. / The mountains quaked …”

Lots of parallelism, lots of build up, and the varying meter and rhythm throughout throb with movement. Great example.

And this is kind of a horrific example, but it illustrates how rhythm can communicate the very message that the word communicates. Judges 5:27. Jael is ending Sisera’s life, the enemy general.

“Between her feet / he sank, he fell, he lay still; / between her feet / he sank, he fell; / where he sank, / there he fell — dead.”

Even the rhythm has this idea of someone floundering and then still — dead. So, the poetry — different from what most of us are used to.

Third, the themes do not emerge systematically. And this drives me crazy because I want to know, OK, we’re talking about this, and we’re talking about this, and we’re talking about this. No, in this poem, the image I have in my head is that of a wave. You’re at a game in a stadium. A theme rises, and new themes come all the way around. And then it’s time for us again. And then it goes all the way around back to us. That’s this poem. If you try to systematize it, themes, subject matters come up, disappear, but they’re coming back up. And so it can be confusing to divide up structurally. But even that is communicating a message. The point of this is an explosion of celebration and praise. Their lives have just been set free from twenty years of bondage. The point is not to systematically unfold the blessings. The point is to erupt in grateful praise. So, even the structure of the poem communicates that.

But for our sake, let’s see if we can summarize to get our heads around what this chapter is communicating. I’ll try to say it in a sentence, and then we’ll walk through it. Deborah is inviting everyone to praise God for his deliverance through unlikely means against overwhelming odds. Deborah is inviting everyone to praise God for his deliverance through unlikely means against overwhelming odds. So, let’s just walk through the poem, and we’ll pull out parts that touch on those three big ideas.

First of all, Deborah is inviting everyone to praise God right out from the start. Verse 1,

“Then sang Deborah and Barak the son of Abinoam on that day.”

Now, you may say, that sounds like Deborah and Barak are singing a duet, not Deborah. But even the verbs … In the Hebrew the verb “sang” is feminine. And as you read the whole poem, it’s very clear Deborah is the catalyst. Barak is jumping in, and everybody else is being invited in. Verse 2,

“That the leaders took the lead in Israel, / that the people offered themselves willingly, / bless the Lord!”

Verse 12, Deborah is singing to herself:

“Awake, awake, Deborah! / Awake, awake, break out in a song! / Arise Barak, lead away your captives, / O son of Abinoam.”

And then she calls kings to give ear. Verse 3,

“Hear, O kings; give ear, O princes; / to the Lord I will sing; / I will make melody to the Lord, the God of Israel.”

And she invites people who might pass by, people who just want a drive-by church. No, come in! Praise God with us! Verse 10,

“Tell of it, you who ride on white donkeys …”

Did you see anybody go by?

” … on a white donkey /, you who sit on rich carpets / and you who walk by the way. / To the sound of musicians at the watering places, / there they repeat the righteous triumphs of the Lord, / the righteous triumphs of his villagers in Israel. / Then, down to the gates marched the people of the Lord.”

So, Deborah … Isn’t this beautiful? Her one passion is to make sure the glory and praise go all the way back to the Source, to God. That’s what this song is all about. Deborah is inviting everyone to praise God.

Second, for his deliverance through unlikely means. What are the unlikely means? Well, verse 2, the leaders who led are unlikely. Deborah herself. Prior to her arising, the leaders were frozen like nonleaders. Verse 2,

“That the leaders took the lead in Israel, / that the people offered themselves willingly, / bless the Lord!”

Deborah’s saying, “In light of where we were and the circumstances we were in, it is a miracle that people stepped up and led. Let’s make sure we bless God for that.” Verse 7,

“The villagers ceased in Israel; / they ceased to be until I arose; / I, Deborah, arose as a mother in Israel.”

This would be a good time to talk a bit about Deborah because today it’s a bit painful to watch everyone use Deborah as a poster child for their particular gender position. For example, if you’re patriarchal — men are supposed to always lead — patriarchal fans look to Deborah and use her as a poster child for the patriarchy. For example, “Let me tell you how bad things were in Judges. God even used a woman! Wow! That’s how bad it was, that he used a woman.” Poor Deborah!

Second, on the other extreme … Egalitarians, who are basically saying there’s no difference with men and women. All the same, same roles. Anything a man can do, a woman can do ______. [Audience says “better.”] Yeah. You know, you wanted to say it. And they use Deborah as the example that … because the men in Judges are pretty bad, and Deborah is remarkable, remarkable, not just in Judges. But she is one of the few characters in the Bible who has nothing bad said about her, which is very rare in the book of Judges. Most of the judges do spectacular things, but they also have spectacular sins and faults. Not Deborah. But we just need to be careful when reading historical accounts that we not lift them out of their historical context and use them for our particular agenda, whatever agenda that is. I don’t know that Deborah would feel super comfortable about that because Deborah, with all her astounding, remarkable leadership … It’s important to remember what she doesn’t do as well. She doesn’t dress up in priests’ garments and take the role of a priest. That’s typically a male, that is always a male role. She doesn’t even dress up as Xena the Warrior Princess and wield a sword. She calls herself “a mother in Israel.”

Now, today, many people, even many women, think that sounds weak. Deborah would not agree with you. What she models is … in a time of crisis, she fulfills God’s call on her life when many others wouldn’t. And she fills up that call to its full potential. And that would describe our passion for all of us, men and women, to simply be all that God calls us to be in this time, which is an imperfect time, as it was then, but to fill that potential up, empowered by the Spirit, not whining about what we wish we could be or want to be, or have been held back from being, but to be all that God wants us to be. Sounds a little trite, sounds like the military. No. It sounds like an ad. But, I need to stop there, but that seems to summarize the heart of Deborah.

Notice verse 9. She expresses gratefulness to the commanders.

“My heart goes out to the commanders of Israel / who offered themselves willingly among the people. / Bless the Lord.”

Another unlikely means — not just the leaders, but the people who offered themselves.

“That the people (verse 2) offered themselves willingly, / bless the Lord!”

And then she lists the tribes who responded. Verse 14,

“From Ephraim their root they marched down into the valley, / following you, Benjamin, with your kinsmen; / from Machir [which is probably Manasseh] marched down the commanders, / and from Zebulun those who bear the lieutenant’s staff; / the princes of Issachar came with Deborah, / and Issachar faithful to Barak; / into the valley they rushed at his heels.” So, these are the tribes that stepped up.

And then the most unlikely of means, verse 24, Jael:

“Most blessed of women be Jael.”

Now, she is unlikely to do what she did. What did she do? She killed the opposing general. So, it’s unlikely in that day for a woman to kill the opposing general. But secondly, she was a Kenite, not an Israelite. So, this is highlighting how unlikely this victory is, and God uses a group of characters to accomplish his victory that we would not have anticipated.

“Most blessed of women be Jael, / the wife of Heber the Kenite, / of tent-dwelling women.”

Why does she throw that in there? Well, that helps to explain her skillful use of the hammer and the tent peg because she uses it every day — taking up tents, tearing down tents.

“Of tent-dwelling women most blessed. / He asked for water [he being Sisera] she gave him milk; / she brought him curds in a noble’s bowl. / She sent her hand to the tent peg / and her right hand to the workman’s mallet; / she struck Sisera; / she crushed his head; / she shattered and pierced his temple.”

Unlikely source. And then the final one is the atmospheric forces are unlikely. Verse 4,

“Lord, when you went out from Seir, / when you march from the region of Edom, / the earth trembled / and the heavens dropped, / yes, the clouds dropped water. / The mountains quaked before the Lord, / even Sinai before the Lord, the God of Israel. / From heaven the stars fought, / from their courses they fought against Sisera. / The torrent Kishon swept them away, / the ancient torrent, the torrent Kishon. / March on, my soul, with might!”

So there’s lots of hyperbole here, as in most poems. But Deborah is praising God for using a storm to undermine the technical advantage of the enemy. What was their technical advantage? Iron chariots. Can’t beat ’em! And so God sent a storm that flooded the river Kishon, swept through the valley. Their chariots got stuck in the mud and we’re easily defeated. So, Deborah is inviting everyone to praise God for his deliverance through unlikely means against overwhelming odds.

What are the overwhelming odds? She gives at least five examples. Number 1, the social paralysis. Verses 6 and 7 — Remember, the village life ceased, travel and communication shut down. Look at verse 6:

“In the days of Shamgar, son of Anath, / in the days of Jael, the highways were abandoned, / the travelers kept to the byways. / The villagers ceased in Israel; / they ceased to be until I arose.”

Now in that day, there were no cell phones, no internet. So, if you couldn’t travel, if you couldn’t send messengers, how do you communicate? How do you rally the troops? How do you marshal weapons? This is true even today. Whoever controls the means of communication has a great advantage. This hit me yesterday. I was reading a BBC article describing a Russian family where the mom is in Russia, the daughter is in Ukraine. And the daughter is communicating to her mom what the Russian army is doing to citizens. And the mom isn’t believing her daughter because the mom can only view Russian television and Russian media, which is saying that Ukrainians are killing their own people. So, she doesn’t believe her daughter, who is in Ukraine watching what’s happening around her. If you can control the communication, you can control people. And that’s what this means — this social paralysis. Jabin controlled the people of Israel by controlling their pathways and highways, and they couldn’t travel, they couldn’t communicate, they couldn’t gather together, they couldn’t marshal any kind of a resistance. So, that is an overwhelming odd to rise up against.

Secondly, religious syncretism, syncretism — that is mixing gods, which was the way of the day in that Canaanite area. Verse 8,

“When new gods were chosen, / then war was in the gates.”

And the point is that Israel was unfaithful to God at the very time they desperately needed him.

Third, the military negligence, second part of verse 8,

“Was shield or spear to be seen / among forty thousand in Israel?”

They had no weapons. There were unarmed. Or if they had weapons, they had to conceal them. How can they respond to the enemy that who is crushing them?

And then number 4, the tribal indifference. And this is a big hurdle. Tribes in Israel were satisfied being slaves. Better to be a slave than die being free, to be free. Verse 16,

“Why did you sit still among the sheepfolds, / to hear the whistling for the flocks?”

Deborah is saying to some of the tribes, “You’re sitting around your fires, listening to your musicians play on their shepherd’s pipes, assuming that someone else is going to go to war for you.”

“Among the clans of Reuben / there were great searchings of heart.”

This is the definition of underachievement, and Deborah’s saying, with a bit of sarcasm, “You guys thought about doing something, and then you thought about it again and again, and then you never did anything.” “Great searchings of heart.” Verse 17,

“Gilead stayed beyond the Jordan; / and Dan, why did he stay with the ships? / Asher [these are all names of tribes] Asher sat still at the coast of the sea, / staying by his landings.”

You stayed in your comfort zone rather than hearing the call of God and rising up.

And the strongest words are reserved for a city called Meroz. Verse 23. We don’t know what city that is. That may be because it came under a curse.

“Curse Meroz, says the angel of the Lord [so this isn’t from Deborah; this is from the Angel of the Lord.] “Curse its inhabitants thoroughly / because they did not come to the help of the Lord, / to the help of the Lord against the mighty.”

Now, this is the only time this city is mentioned in the Bible. So, we know very little about it. We know it’s probably right in the, was in the area where the battle occurred, and that city, rather than siding with their own people, sided with the Canaanites. So, they were like Judas was to Jesus or Benedict Arnold was to the Continental Army. At the very time they had an opportunity to rise up and be faithful to their people and to their God, they thought it would be safer to blend in with their oppressor.

And then the final example of the overwhelming odds is in verses 28 through 30 — the enemy’s confidence. Deborah, as a mother of Israel, focuses in on the mother of Sisera, the commander of the opposing army.

“Out of the window she peered, / the mother of Sisera wailed through the lattice: / ‘Why is his chariot so long in coming? / Why tarry the hoof beats of his chariots?’ / Her wisest princesses answer, / indeed, she answers herself, / ‘Have they not found and divided the spoil?– / A womb or two for every man; / spoil of dyed materials for Sisera,’ [notice the stair step here] / “‘spoil of dyed materials embroidered, / two pieces of dyed work embroidered for the neck as spoil?’”

This highlights the delusional level of confidence the oppressors had toward Israel. The mother of Sisera is depicted here looking out the window, wondering why her son has not returned with all his spoils. And the answer she comes up with and her princesses come up with is “Perhaps the reason they’re delayed is because they have so much plunder. The piles are tipping over. There’s so much embroidered cloth.” And then she gives just a horrific example that illustrates how horrible war was with the Canaanites, an idiom for women taken for immoral pleasure, “a womb or two for every man.” This is Sisera’s mother describing this, saying, “Oh, that’s why they’re delayed. That’s why they’re taking so long. I could never even consider the fact that maybe they lost.”

So, how do we think about this kind of violence? There’s tons of violence, tent pegs, and even this description of Sisera’s mother. And I think we have to take a step back and remember that most of us in this room or even watching it livestream have never had our homeland invaded. Some of you may have. Our homes burned, our children kidnapped, made into slaves. The song we’re reading and looking at today is a song sung by people who have felt the whip and crushing weight of oppression decade after decade and are suddenly free, liberated. And like in Exodus 15, when the people of Israel crossed through the Red Sea and realized their oppressors were drowned, they broke into song. Exodus 15 has a similar celebration of victory.

So, this “kind of glorification” of violence makes many of us feel uncomfortable, and in some ways it should. And in some ways it shouldn’t. I wish I had time to just do a full series on “should and shouldn’t,” walk through the Bible. Because we can’t do that, let me just look at one aspect of that. As Christians, we are called to love peace and make peace, but our love of peace is rooted, not in the nonjudgmentalism of God, but in the wrath and violence of God. What do I mean by that?

Today, you’ll often hear people talk about … well, Christians should love peace because God’s good with anything. The Old Testament God was a God of justice. New Testament God is God, he’s good with anything. Really? Is viewing God as nonjudgmental a sure foundation for peace? And I would argue it’s actually the opposite. Let me give you three examples from the Bible.

God’s wrath, revealed against sin and all injustice, is necessary. God would cease to be God if he was passive about sin. Do we understand that? If he was neutral about my sin or your sin or national sins or one country massacring the people of another country … If he’s just, “I’m good with that,” he ceases to be God. Romans 1:18, “For the wrath…” (This is New Testament.)

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.”

And the point of Romans 1 is to build us up toward Romans 3. The grace in Romans 3 makes no sense if you don’t understand the wrath of Romans 1. Why do you need grace if you’re not under wrath?

Second, his wrath against criminals, expressed through governing authorities, is vital. Now, we struggle with this because we see so many abuses of it, but in God’s design, Romans 13:4, governing officials,

“for he [the governing official] is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is … [listen to this language] for he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.”

So, when someone steals someone else’s car or beats someone up or rapes someone, God is not neutral about that. Do we understand that? And he one day will judge that. But in order that society does not become a free-for-all, dominated by the strongest and most evil, God has given us government to punish wrongdoing and protect the innocent. And the way Romans 13 describes that is that is a manifestation of the wrath of God, that God is expressing his concern about sin and harm done to your neighbor through that vehicle of justice.

Third, his final judgment, delivered through Jesus Christ, is certain. His final judgment, delivered through Jesus Christ, is certain. No wrong will go unresolved. Revelation 19:15,

“From his mouth [talking about Jesus, gentle, lowly Jesus] comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has the name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.”

So, the reason Christians (Romans 12) don’t seek personal vengeance now is not because we think God is passive about evil, but the opposite. God is passionate about justice. Therefore, we can give over our desire for vengeance to the justice of God, rather than becoming personal vigilantes.

Now how does this relate to a widespread evil that we’re seeing, break-out violence in so many areas of the world? First of all, be clear that peace is not based in the nonjudgmentalism of God. That is delusion. Miroslav Volf, professor at Yale, explained after watching the atrocities of Serbian violence toward his native Croatia in the 1990s. He said it this way:

“My thesis that the practice of nonviolence requires a belief in divine vengeance will be unpopular with many Christians, especially theologians in the West. To the person who is inclined to dismiss it, I suggest imagining that you are delivering a lecture in a war zone.”

Pause for a second. When he first wrote the paper that he delivered, that became the basis of the book I’m quoting from, he was in a war zone when he delivered that paper. So, this is not just mere theory coming out of a classroom. It’s coming out of a war zone. And I, as well as I know many of you, daily am getting texts and emails from friends in countries near Ukraine or in Ukraine, describing unthinkable atrocities occurring to citizens, our brothers and sisters in Christ. This is real. This is not theory.

He goes on now. So, imagine,

“You’re delivering a lecture in a war zone. Among your listeners are people whose cities and villages have first been plundered, then burned and leveled to the ground, whose daughters and sisters have been raped, whose fathers and brothers have had their throats slit. Topic of the lecture: A Christian attitude toward violence. The thesis: We should not retaliate since God is perfect, noncoercive love.”

Huh? That’s that nonjudgmentalism of God.

“Soon you would discover that it takes the quiet of a suburban home for the birth of the thesis that human nonviolence corresponds to God’s refusal to judge. In a scorched land, soaked in the blood of the innocent, it will invariably die. And as one watches it die, one will do well to reflect about the many other pleasant captivities of the liberal mind.”

It is easy for us in the safety and chronological snobbery of our 21st century suburbia to dismiss songs about military deliverance when we have never had to sing one in our lifetime, on our land. So, we need to be careful.

Having said that, what do we walk away with? There are, as we ended last week, many layers of application here. Last week we focused in on the bottom layer, the foundation. Our deepest need is to have a Judge, a Savior who truly can save. We’re going to come back to that in a few minutes when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper.

But I want to build on that, and if we could go away today also thinking about Deborah. I think she is a beautiful example of someone who was free to flourish in God’s calling in a way that we rarely get to see. She was unencumbered by naysayers, the words of naysayers. There were many tribes, remember, that refused to join in. That did not slow her down. She was also not worried about who gets the credit. Remember, in chapter 4, she said Jael will get the glory. She lifts up Barak, sends him out to be the commander and get all the credit there. She, in chapter 5, she is fanatical about God getting the glory.

This, I believe, may describe one of the keys to breaking the bondage of underachievement. Some of us are fettered by this. We’re so worried about what other people think of us and what they’ve done and what they haven’t done and how they’ve hurt us and how we’ve failed in the past.

So, I want us to end this message by just giving you two examples from history, one that puts the accent on not worrying about reputation and who gets the credit, and the other letting go of resentment. So, the first one I have shared way back, years and years ago, but I continually go back to this. I think it’s liberating.

Robert Murray McCheyne began as pastor of St. Peter’s Church in Dundee, Scotland, in 1836. After ministering sacrificially for several years, loving his people well, praying for revival, his health broke. He needed rest. And so he and some others went to a warmer climate, Palestine, on a mission, a gospel mission, but also to restore his health. While he was gone, William C. Burns, as you can tell, later became a missionary in China, had only weeks before been ordained. He was 24 years old, his preaching style was totally different, very different kind of person, but very gifted. And soon the sparks of revival that had started under McCheyne, broke into flames under Burns, ironically. (Two of you got that.) Revival exploded, so much so that Christians had to take turns coming to church to make room for the hundreds and hundreds of unsaved people that wanted to hear the gospel. And it was daily. They had to call in other ministers to help counsel the people who wanted answers to their questions and to give their lives to Jesus because day after day, night after night, so many people repented and believed.

McCheyne returns. Can you imagine the temptation he would experience to wonder, “What in the world, God? I labor sacrificially, I pray for revival, I get sick, leave town, and this young punk comes along and gets to harvest everything I had planted.” There would be huge opportunities for resentment. But the opposite happened. McCheyne came back and rejoiced in the way that God was using Burns. The two of them labored together and saw even more fruit. And at the time, McCheyne wrote to his fellow pastor, and I believe what he writes here could be a great summary of Judges 5.

“I do not care what instrument God uses here in St. Peter’s as long as souls are saved and God gets all the glory. William C. Burns is the Lord’s chosen instrument.”

Isn’t that beautiful? And it’s easy to rejoice in that when dead people are saying it. It’s really hard when it happens to you at work. Someone else is put ahead of you, or someone else gets credit for something you had worked for or gets the benefits. But there is something truly liberating, again, of washing away, taking a cool shower on a really hot, sticky day, just washing away all that envy and that jealousy and all that garbage that holds us back and creates in us a resentment where we’re just playing these scenes in our heads.

Example number 2: Years before Abraham Lincoln became President, he was an unknown lawyer from Illinois with a less than impressive appearance. As Doris Goodwin describes, his hair was unruly,

“shirt stained, coatsleeves and trousers too short to fit his long arms and legs.”

Lincoln had prepared a brief he was to present before a reputable lawyer named Edwin Stanton in a case in Cincinnati. Stanton was a nationally known lawyer with a reputation for discipline and diligence. And when Stanton saw Lincoln, he turned to his partner, swore, called Abraham Lincoln “a long-armed ape” who “can do you no good,” and refused to even receive the briefing that Lincoln had been working on.

Now, just stay in that moment. What would you, if you were Lincoln, tend to want to say, want to do? How would you feel? Reputable lawyer. You’re unknown but wanting to rise. Again, huge opportunity to just give up. That is not what Lincoln did. This was extremely humiliating for him. But, rather than hold the hurt, Lincoln spun that into an experience that motivated him. As Goodwin explains,

“He remained in the courtroom the entire week, intently studying Stanton’s legal performance. He had never ‘seen anything so finished and elaborated, and so thoroughly prepared.’”

So, he is studying the man who just humiliated him and he’s learning from him. Fast forward. Lincoln becomes President. He needs to build a cabinet. The country is in crisis. While he never forgot the pain of that episode, he was guided by what an old friend called “the principle of forgiveness.” And as Stanton’s partner recalled,

“When convinced that the interests of the nation would be best served by bringing Stanton into his cabinet, he suppressed his personal resentment, as not many men would have done, and he made the appointment.”

He appointed Stanton as his Secretary of War, the guy who called him “a long-armed ape” and wouldn’t even read his briefing and said he’ll “do you no good.”

Now, where does that come from? That’s not native to our hearts. Native to our hearts is discouragement, resentment, and go and gossip about how horrible this person is. And then we wonder why we flounder — because we’re carrying all this extra baggage. In the end, as Goodwin summarizes, Stanton not only revered Lincoln, he loved him. They actually became friends. And Lincoln became the better man, not by harboring resentment, but by learning from the very one who had humiliated him.

Let’s pray. Father, some of us are stuck today, stuck in unfulfilled potential, like Israel at the beginning of chapter 4, stuck in servitude. And one reason may be that we are enslaved by resentment. People we hoped would step up did not, or people sought harm, rather than help, toward us.

Some of us are so worried about what people think of us, and that leads to fear of failure and fear of taking risks. We become resentful because we were not adequately recognized in the past when we tried to serve you, when we tried to volunteer, when we tried to help people. We ended up being ignored. And because our view of you, Lord, is so small, our view of what people think of us becomes so big, and we end up rehearsing these hurts as a miser counts his money. And so much mental energy that you have given for us to engage in things that actually help and move us forward and help our neighbors ends up being played and replayed, regarding hurtful events and conversations from the past. Again, we are asking that you would “unstuck” us. We can’t do it! If we try to peel this off ourselves, we end up getting stuck to it. The longer we try to figure out how to become free, the longer we stay stuck.

So, like Deborah, may we learn to listen to your voice and seek your glory. As our eyes are lifted up to you, you untangle our feet from the net, you wash away the gunk through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. You bore that. You took it. And you, by the Spirit through the Word, wash it away. We pray that that would happen right now across this auditorium. As we say, “Lord, please wash me from this fear of failure, this feeling of resentment, this bondage to what people think of me.” Set us free, we pray. In Jesus’ name. Amen.