God Used Them
This article is based upon a talk which
told of women who were used by God
Two very different women played significant roles. One was, you might say, 'important' ‑ a Judge, Deborah, who ruled over Israel at a time when the people had once again been (as Judges ch.4 says) 'doing evil in the sight of the Lord' ‑ worshipping idols, forgetting God. As a result, they fell into the hands of a local Canaanite tribe, ruled by King Jabin. We read that Jabin's Army Commander, Sisera, had 'nine hundred iron chariots, and he had cruelly oppressed the Israelites for twenty years.'
The situation was grave ‑ it was a time when everyone 'did their own thing' and lawlessness was rife, but Judges ch.4 gives a strong impression of the authority which Deborah the Judge was wielding for God at that time. We can visualise her, sitting in the shade of what the Bible calls 'her' palm tree, between Ramah and Bethel, hearing and sorting out all kinds of local disputes.
Nehemiah ch.9 describes the Judges as 'deliverers, who rescued God's people from the hand of their enemies', and there can be no doubt that Deborah was the most powerful person in the land, at that time :
[Judges 4] Deborah sent for Barak and said to him, "The Lord, the God of Israel, commands you: 'Go, take with you ten thousand men of Naphtali and Zebulun and lead the way to Mount Tabor. I will lure Sisera, the commander of Jabin's army, with his chariots and his troops to the Kishon River and give him into your hands.' " Barak said to her, "If you go with me, I will go; but if you don't go with me, I won't go." "Very well," Deborah said, "I will go with you. But because of the way you are going about this, the honour will not be yours, for the Lord will hand Sisera over to a woman." So Deborah went with Barak to Kedesh, where he summoned Zebulun and Naphtali. Ten thousand men followed him, and Deborah also went with him.
Eventually, with God's help, the Israelite army led by Barak and Deborah duly defeated the Syrian army, and General Sisera had to flee for his life, on foot. And that's where an 'ordinary person' comes in Sisera, however, fled on foot to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, because there were friendly relations between Jabin king of Hazor and the clan of Heber the Kenite. Jael went out to meet Sisera and said to him, "Come, my lord, come right in. Don't be afraid." So he entered her tent, and she put a covering over him. "I'm thirsty," he said. "Please give me some water." She opened a skin of milk, gave him a drink, and covered him up. "Stand in the doorway of the tent," he told her. "If someone comes by and asks you, 'Is anyone here?' say 'No.' "
But Jael, Heber's wife, picked up a tent peg and a hammer and went quietly to him while he lay fast asleep, exhausted. She drove the peg through his temple into the ground, and he died. Barak came by in pursuit of Sisera, and Jael went out to meet him. "Come," she said, "I will show you the man you're looking for." So he went in with her, and there lay Sisera with the tent peg through his temple—dead. On that day God subdued Jabin, the Canaanite king, before the Israelites. And the hand of the Israelites grew stronger and stronger against Jabin, the Canaanite king, until they destroyed him.
Deborah and Barak celebrated their victory in song, with a magnificent piece of Hebrew poetry which survives for us in Judges ch.5 :
Most blessed of women be Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, most blessed of tent-dwelling women. He asked for water, and she gave him milk; in a bowl fit for nobles she brought him curdled milk.
Her hand reached for the tent peg, her right hand for the workman's hammer. She struck Sisera, she crushed his head, she shattered and pierced his temple. At her feet he sank, he fell; there he lay. At her feet he sank, he fell; where he sank, there he fell—dead.
Through the window peered Sisera's mother; behind the lattice she cried out, 'Why is his chariot so long in coming? Why is the clatter of his chariots delayed?' "
So may all your enemies perish, O Lord!
God used Deborah the Judge ‑ and he used Jael, the ordinary housewife, too ! ‑ so, surely, he can make some use of you and me, as well.
The 'Royal Personage', Esther, was not herself of royal blood, but although a Jewess, she was chosen by King Xerxes of Persia to become his Queen ‑ a fantastic promotion, from captive exile to reigning monarch ! ‑ God's hand was clearly at work there !
All down through history, the Jews have always used their periods of exile to better themselves, but, sadly, this has often led to outbreaks of anti-semitism, and that's exactly what happened at the time when Esther was in the Persian Royal Palace. An ambitious and ruthless man called Haman ‑ an Amalekite (and the Amalekites were sworn enemies of the Jews) ‑ worked his way into Xerxes' favour and then hatched an evil plot to have all the Jews who lived within the Persian Empire slaughtered, on a single day, on the entirely spurious grounds that they were disloyal to Xerxes and a danger to the native population.
What really lay behind Haman's plot was envy, malice and anti-semitism; but God had other ideas ‑ Queen Esther's guardian, Mordecai the Jew, sent a message to her (in the Harem) that, in order to save her people, she must report Haman's wicked plot to the king, even at the risk of her own life. She knew that if she approached the king in the inner court without being summoned, she would be put to death—unless the king spared her. Mordecai sent word to her:
"Do not think that because you are in the king's house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father's family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?" Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: "Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish."
In the event, as the result of all this prayer, King Xerxes did indeed offer Esther his royal sceptre to touch, and eventually, of course, in a superb twist of fate (worthy of an Agatha Christie novel !) Haman was 'hoist with his own petard' [the expression (from Hamlet) means 'to be blown up by your own mine'] ‑ and he was hanged on the high gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai !
God used Queen Esther to make a self-sacrificial gesture for him, and we need to recognise that at some time he might ask you or me to make some self-sacrificial gesture for him, too. Would we be up to it, I wonder, as Esther was?
The 'foreign immigrant' I mentioned in Part 1 is Ruth the Moabitess. The Bible traces the people of Moab back to a descendant of Lot, born as the result of Lot's incestuous coupling with his elder daughter, who had made him drunk with wine; so relations between Moab and Israel were never of the best. The Moabites lived in the hill-country, east of the River Jordan.
We all remember the story of Naomi and her husband Elimelech, how their sons married Moabite women, and when the menfolk had died Naomi decided to return to Bethlehem, but at that stage her daughter ‑in-law Orpah decided to go home.
"Look," said Naomi, "your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her." But Ruth [the other daughter-in-law] replied, "Don't urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me." When Naomi realised that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her. So the two women went on until they came to Bethlehem.
It was Farmer Boaz who eventually married Ruth. God used Ruth, the foreigner, and she became an ancestor of Jesus Christ ! So he can use you and me, whoever we are and wherever we come from.
Our final example ‑ the 'effective evangelist' I mentioned ‑ is probably the one most familiar to us, for it's The Woman at the Well, from John's Gospel, ch. 4. We all know the story : Jesus meets a woman at Jacob's Well, near Sychar in Samaria. He asks her a seemingly innocent question: 'Could you give me a drink of water?', but ends up having a deep conversation with her which reveals the many mistakes she's made in the past. Then he tells her about that wonderful 'Living Water' which could come to her only from knowing the Messiah, Jesus Christ. The woman was so thrilled by what she'd heard that she simply couldn't keep this Good News to herself ‑ it just 'bubbled over'! :
[John 4] Leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, "Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?" They came out of the town and made their way towards him.
Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman's testimony, "He told me everything I ever did." So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And because of his words many more became believers. They said to the woman, "We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Saviour of the world."
God used that Samaritan woman to tell others about Jesus; they believed her, and they were converted (= turned around). We don't even know her name, in fact, but it might be no exaggeration to say that she's the most effective evangelist we can read about in the New Testament between John the Baptist and Paul the Apostle ! That woman was far from perfect, and yet God used her to speak out for him. Well, you and I are far from perfect, too ! ‑ but he can use us in that way also, if we'll only make ourselves available to him.
So ‑ we've looked at lots of women in the Bible whom God used ‑ young women, old women, rich women, poor women, local women, foreign women ‑ and, obviously, we could have looked at lots of men whom God used, too.
'God can use you and me like that, too' ‑ but is it really as simple as that? ‑ what was it about all these women, exactly, that meant that God was able to use them?
One quality is availability (how do I use my time? - am I too busy for God? ‑ am I always talking too much to hear what he's saying to me?)
Another necessary quality? ‑ recognising our spiritual gifts (the things we can do confidently for God, and the things we have to work at).
Spending time in the Word of God ‑ that's how we grow in grace.
More Prayer ‑ a popular chorus: 'Spirit of the Living God' ‑ the usual version: 'Break me, melt me, mould me, fill me'; an alternative version: 'Melt me, mould me, fill me, use me'.
This article is called 'God used them.' OK ‑ we can be used by God, but are we actually useful to God? ‑ that's not quite the same thing. You remember how Paul and Barnabas fell out over the usefulness of John Mark, who Paul felt had deserted them while they were on one of their missionary journeys. Barnabas could see the potential in Mark, and he took Mark with him on his next trip ‑ at that stage, Paul was obdurately unforgiving. How good it is then, later on, to find Mark back at Paul's side in Rome, when he really needs support, and then ‑ even later ‑ to find Paul writing to Timothy [2 Tim 4:11] : Only Luke is with me. Get Mark, and bring him with you, because he is useful to me in my ministry.
The KJV says 'profitable'; some other translations say 'helpful'. They're all good and appropriate adjectives, in fact. The Greek word is 'euchrēstos' ‑ it's a word that's very rarely used in the NT, and it's used only by Paul. Another place in which it occurs is in Paul's letter to his friend Philemon, asking him to receive the runaway slave Onesimus as a Christian brother. As J.B. Phillips puts it, Paul says, 'Once, he was pretty useless to you, but now he's become 'euchrēstos' ‑ useful ‑ to me.'
Thayer's Lexicon translates the word, 'easy to make use of' or 'useful'. As his life drew towards its close, Paul wanted to have John Mark near him, because he was 'easy to make use of' ‑ he was useful to him in his ministry.
God can use me, yes ‑ but do I make it really easy for him to make use of me? ‑ do I get in the way too much? - do I follow my own agenda too much to be really available to him? Am I, in fact, really useful to him?
It's a question which each of us must answer for himself, for herself. But answer it we must ‑ for one day, as Paul writes to the Romans [14:10], 'we shall all stand before God's judgment seat', and then we shall know just how useful ‑ or how useless ‑ we have been to him.
And that, dear Brothers and Sisters ‑ dear 'useful' Brothers and Sisters ‑ is a pretty sobering thought.