1. Application

Participation in the Work of the LORD

Judges 5:1–31 (ESV)

1 Then sang Deborah and Barak the son of Abinoam on that day:

The song’s main theme is that it is the Lord who provided the victory. He was the one pulling the strings, raising generals, sending out armies, determining strategy, sending the storm, neutralizing Sisera’s nine-hundred iron chariots, and giving the victory.1 But even though Israel’s deliverance is the Lord's sovereign work, the song equally emphasizes that his people are to actively participate in his work. Participation in the kingdom of God is even praiseworthy, as we see with some of the tribes.

But some of the tribes did not show up. The coastal tribes did not want to give up convenience and prosperity. And the eastern tribes were too comfortable with being at a distance. Non-involvement here was unacceptable, shameful.

And yet, that was not the worst of it all. The worst word is reserved not for the tribes that failed to answer the initial call to go with Barak. No, the worst word does not even come from Deborah; it comes from the angel of the Lord, and was reserved for those who failed to come after victory was decided, for the mopping-up operation. Judges 5:23: “Curse Meroz, curse its inhabitants thoroughly, because they did not come to the help of the Lord.” The Lord cursed those who did not get involved after the victory. It was one thing not to answer the initial call to war; perhaps there was fear. But after victory, no excuse not to participate. Meroz, likely located quite close to the battle, blatantly did not identify with the Lord. The Lord judged that abominable. And so we never again hear about Meroz.

We today are in a different phase of redemptive history. Israel had been called by God to destroy Canaan and possess the Promised Land. Israel was called to physical, holy warfare. All their victories were symbols pointing to the true victory of Christ. That victory has now come, in the crucifixion of Christ. He went to war on our behalf, without us, all alone. And he won. All that is left is the mopping-up operation, as the kingdom of God advances! And so if any one of his people today does not participate in the kingdom of God, if any of us is not willing to be on the battlefield with the Lord going on ahead of us, then his word for us is the exact same word he had for Meroz! The Lord curses, he wipes out of his eternal kingdom, those who do not get involved after the greatest victory he has ever pulled off! You see? Today, after the cross and resurrection, the church has bigger blessings than Israel. But the stakes are also higher—and so there are bigger consequences if we neglect such a great salvation.

So how does the kingdom come today? How do we become part of the work of the Lord (Judges 5:23)? We have the calling to battle not against flesh and blood, but against the spiritual forces – the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh. And the weaponry of this kingdom, in order to subdue the spiritual forces? It is none other than what we pray for when we pray, Your kingdom come. In the words of the Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 48: “So rule us by your Word and Spirit that more and more we submit to you.” Our weaponry is the Lord’s weaponry! The kingdom comes today by the gospel going out – where? To our hearts. To our homes. To our schools. To our workplaces. This is what it is to become part of the work of the Lord. Preserve and increase your church, we pray. Destroy the works of the devil, every power that raises itself against you, and every conspiracy against your holy Word. Do all this until the fullness of your kingdom comes, wherein you shall be all in all.

There is no relief for us, no place for us on the sidelines, until our spiritual enemies are destroyed. Christ is King, and the true victory is won; but the battle is not over. We are called to participate.

Yet we find that hard – to bring the gospel to bear upon our hearts, our homes, our workplaces. Sin in its various forms is powerful. But if God is on our side, we are to be more than willing participants. Christianity is not a spectator sport. The covenant people at Meroz put their safety ahead of God’s honour. That is not what we’re called to do. We put his honour ahead of our safety and comforts…and put our full trust in the Lord. What that means is, we heed the call to fight against our flesh, against indwelling sin, and do so faithfully, even if God does not (yet) give us particular victory over that sin. Just as God is holy, passionate, and zealous for righteousness, he calls his people to be the same.2 He has given us the resources needed to function in battle, until all his and our enemies perish.

It is warfare. It is messy. And our passage is key for helping us see that. It sounds gory. Deborah delights in describing the total destruction of the Lord’s enemies. But the reason for this is: in all its forms, sin is wicked. Deborah is convinced of it; we need to be too. Our participation in holy war against sin occurs to the degree that we are convinced of the evil of sin, also in our own lives. The trouble is, we, like Israel, have those little stumbling blocks we call idols, that seek to distract us by appearing beautiful and promising to bless us. But they sideline us, blinding us to our sin. Idols of safety, comfortability, popularity, athletics, success, and many others. We ultimately deserve the divine curse of God, just like Meroz did.

But thanks be to God, the divine curse of death was directed at Christ! He was the only one who truly showed up for battle. He did not hesitate, like Barak. And he did not need to be summoned, like the various tribes. He came, willingly, with no prompting. And he came fully suited up for a war of cosmic proportions. He, as the incarnate warrior Saviour, faced off against the rulers, the authorities, the cosmic powers, the spiritual forces of evil. And he disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in [the cross] (Colossians 2:15). He won, by becoming the curse for us, the curse that we deserved for our sin. By believing, we no longer stand under the curse as the Lord’s enemies and doomed to perish, but have become the friends of the Lord (Judges 5:31).

How we now react after Christ has claimed the victory—that becomes the critical part. And the reaction is to do what Christ himself told us: Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness (Matthew 6:33). That is what Christ did in order to win the decisive victory for his people. And so the kingdom of God and his righteousness are yours already because of Christ! He calls you to look at him, to see what he has won for you. That gospel alone is what will strengthen you to persevere in the midst of your daily struggle with sin. It is a gospel that enables us today already to lay down our lives for the King in obedience to him. It is a gospel that gives us something to sing about. For this is our story, this is our song: praising our victorious Saviour all the day long. Those truly thankful over our victory…will sing!