Deborah by Lauren Wright Pittman

Faces of our Faith Worship Series, Week 4

The Wisdom of Deborah:

Find Your Palm Tree

Judges 4

Preached by Rev. Lori Wunder on June 17, 2018


When I was growing up, my family went to church every single week, with very, VERY few exceptions.

Which meant that during the school year, I was at Sunday School every single week. Preschool through high school–that’s a LOT of Sunday School classes.

And yet, I don’t remember very much about Sunday School, at least not in specific memories or moments.

But one of those memories is this:

A bulletin board in one of my Sunday School classrooms, decorated with construction paper cut-outs assembled to show a woman sitting in profile under a palm tree, and with D-E-B-O-R-A-H in construction paper letters above her head.

I remembered this image, of course, because it was such a rare one. Except for Eve, Sarah, Mary the mother of Jesus, and Mary Magdalene, there just weren’t many women who made it into my Sunday School lessons.

Maybe that’s why I was excited to have Deborah be part of this Faces of our Faith series.

Besides, the artwork for her is so, SO beautiful. And I really, really like the reflection written about her.

But then I actually read Judges 4 (and if you continue on into chapter 5, it’s the song of Deborah, a poem celebrating the victory).

Ugh. So much violence. I began feeling regret about choosing Deborah.

However, as a preacher and pastor, one of my practices is to not turn away from what makes me uncomfortable in the Bible, but to wrestle with it until I get a blessing.

The truth is, there is a lot of violence in the Hebrew Scriptures, what we have for so long called the Old Testament. Because of that, we can tend to ignore the Hebrew Scriptures altogether or assume they are less than the New Testament.

It’s important to remember that the Hebrew Scriptures were the sacred text that Jesus knew and loved and taught from. Given that truth, we can’t just ignore what we don’t like.

But we do need help understanding how to read it.

One of my teachers in this regard is Rob Bell.

In his book, What Is the Bible? author Rob Bell offers this framework for what to do with these stories that came out of a time that was violent.

“You find these stories violent and repulsive and barbaric because they are. If you didn’t find them shocking and awful and confusing, something is wrong with you. And people who read these stories and say, Well, that’s just how God is, have a very, very warped and dangerous view of God.

“The violence isn’t that surprising; what’s surprising is that among all the violence are new ideas about serving and blessing and nonviolence….

“What you find in the Bible are stories accurately reflecting the dominant consciousness of the day, and yet right in among and sometimes even with those very same violent stories, you find radically new ideas about freedom, equality, justice, compassion, and love.

“New ideas sit side by side with old ideas. Vicious violence is right there next to new understandings of peace and justice.”[1]

I find this a very helpful way to think about these stories that make me uncomfortable, that there are new ideas next to old ideas. So, what are some of the new ideas that we see in this story of Deborah?

The obvious new idea is that of women as strong, independent and courageous.

Biblical scholar Dennis Olson suggests that another may be the reality that rather than a top-down, hierarchical leadership model, God works through a system of complex relationships and entities—in this case, Deborah and Barak and Jael.[2]

In the Sanctified Art Study Journal, Lauren Wright Pittman (who also did the artwork that is on the cover of our bulletin) offers this beautiful reflection on Deborah and what we might learn from her. She writes:

“In the midst of the oppression of her people, Deborah creates space for channeling God’s wisdom. In the chaos of war she find stillness under a palm tree and tunes herself to God’s voice.

“When I’m in far less stressful situations than direct oppression and imminent war, I struggle to remember to turn to God for counsel or comfort. In response to anxiety, instead of fostering an environment to receive God’s direction, I often turn inward and try to carry the burden of the world on my own. I also have a hard time trusting my intuition. When I feel a tugging on my heart, I often ignore it, devaluing my thoughts, insights and emotions, and because of this, I fear I miss God’s movement altogether.

“The wisdom of Deborah lies in her willingness to create space. Deborah shows us that, in stillness, practicing attending to God with fierce trust, we can sift through the chaos of this world and align ourselves with the movement of God.”[3]

I like this last sentence so much I’m going to read it again: Deborah shows us that, in stillness, practicing attending to God with fierce trust, we can sift through the chaos of this world and align ourselves with the movement of God.

Yes, please.

I would like nothing more than to align myself with the movement of God within the chaos of this world. Whether the chaos comes out of personal circumstances or concern for the world, the way of healing and hope is to align ourselves with the movement of God.

And how? How do we do that?

We practice. We must practice because other things are always trying to pull us away from God, from rest, from peace. We deliberately do things apart from the frenetic pace and noise of our daily lives.

Turn off the TV, the radio, the computer or tablet.

Figure out what your palm tree is—a time of prayer, reading a daily devotional, watching or listening to the birds, working outside, taking a walk, listing what you are grateful for, conversation with good friends about things that matter, coming to worship, singing or playing an instrument, taking photographs, reading, knitting or other handwork…

By all means, find more than one practice, more than one palm tree!

Anything we do that encourages stillness, listening, trusting, focusing on hope or joy—these practices help align us with God and God’s desire for justice, mercy, kindness, compassion, equality and shalom, both in our personal and our communal lives.

Part of God’s invitation to us is to find our palm trees and to spend more time under them and away from the chaos so that we can be the hands and feet of Christ in this world.

As we prayed in our Prayer of Reconciliation this morning, “When we submit to the miracle of faith, what we have and who we are is more than enough to create blessing and new possibility.”

Thanks be to God for palm trees and new possibilities! Amen.


[1] Rob Bell, What Is the Bible? (HarperOne, 2017). pp. 122-123

[2] Dennis T. Olson, “Judges” in New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol II (Abingdon Press, 1998), p. 783

[3] A Sanctified Art Faces of Our Faith Study Journal, Deborah by Lauren Wright Pittman, p. 16