God is still looking for ‘ABLE’ leaders & ‘WILLING’ followers: Then Deborah and Barak the son of Abinoam sang on that day, saying: "When leaders lead in Israel, when the people willingly offer themselves, bless the Lord!" (Judges 5:1-2)
After the Israelites were dominated and harshly oppressed by the Canaanites for over twenty years, they cried out to God (Judges 4:3) who raised up a prophetess (Deborah) and a warrior (Barak) to lead the battle against the mighty Canaanite army led by their commander Sisera (2b). The army under Sisera had 900 chariots of iron (vv. 3, 13) along with an impressive military force. However, God fought on the side of the Israelites who had only 10,000 soldiers (vv. 14-15), and routed the entire Canaanite army until everyone was killed (v. 16) except Sisera, who escaped on foot and hid in the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite (vv. 17-20). While Sisera slept out of sheer exhaustion, Jael drove a tent peg into Sisera’s head and killed him as well (vv. 21-22). "So on that day God subdued Jabin king of Canaan in the presence of the children of Israel." (v. 23)
In the Bible, we come across songs that were written to celebrate national victories (for e.g. the song of Moses in Exo. 15:1-8). This song of victory over Sisera and the Canaanites (in Judges 5), known as the ‘Song of Deborah’, is one of the oldest examples in biblical literature and may have been written by the prophetess Deborah herself. After opening with praise to God (v. 2), Deborah recalled God’s triumphant march when the Israelites left the borders of Edom to move toward the Promised Land. All the opposing forces melted before the majesty of the Lord God of Israel. This song praises God because His most recent victory had just demonstrated to Israel that He was still active and powerful on their behalf!
However, the important item to note at the very start of the song (v. 2) is that this victory also happened when truly inspired leaders like Barak and Deborah faithfully took on the leadership role in the battle against the occupying forces, and the people offered themselves willingly as volunteers by enlisting themselves in the Israeli fighting force. This term ‘willingly’ relates to the Hebrew noun for “freewill offering” (Lev. 7:16; 22:23). The wonderful aspect of this offering is that the merciful Jehovah God always had His ear tuned to the needs of those who willingly yield themselves to Him!
We can always find people who want to be ‘in control’ as leaders, but it is very difficult to find able people of sound character, integrity, and having multifaceted leadership ability who will step into roles of leadership during times of crisis. It was an established fact that Israel faced a chronic crisis of leadership after the death of Joshua, when “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judg. 21:25). During this period, Deborah was willing and able to offer moral and spiritual direction, and Barak was willing to lead the people into a tough warfare!
The song that Deborah composed celebrates “able leaders followed by willing people” (5:2, 9). Apparently, the people were willing to follow when they found able leaders to lead them into freedom. Deborah and Balak were good models of leadership willing to lead as they cooperated in both fighting the battle and also in praising the Lord. Their stand for God and integrity before the people were profoundly inspiring—so much so that even common people such as the woman Jael were emboldened to grab whatever was at hand, like a tent peg and a hammer, to strike down their enemies (4:17–22; 5:24–27).
Nehemiah serves as another outstanding example of able and effective leadership, who willingly gave up all his comforts at the king’s palace and traveled with a group of willing followers to rebuild the broken walls of Jerusalem. God is still looking for able leaders and willing followers today. Will you decide to be in either one of these two groups today?