March on, my soul, be strong: Elements of revival in the Song of Deborah

Click here for the video

Some excerpts from the talk

Element one: Godly leaders take initiative

“One of the things that characterised all the periods of apostasy and oppression during Judges was a leadership vacuum.  Those, like the Levites who had been called to lead, had all abdicated their responsibility, the tribes had been led into idolatry- it was Deborah under her palm tree- not the Levites at the ark of the covenant –  who was giving spiritual counsel.  However things change when the leaders- possibly not the official ordained leadership, but godly people with leadership gifts, take responsibility for the situation and seek the face of God. V.2 literally reads, “when the leaders, lead. Praise the Lord;” Through history, however it may start, revivals are sustained when new godly leaders emerge and fulfil their responsibilities.”

Verse 23 Opposition from within

“I remember as a student doing some research on the role of the church around the time of the English Civil War, and at that time there was a tradition that a clergyman would address the Houses of Parliament and preach a sermon. And these sermons would often be printed and circulated-   Can you imagine that today- happening in your parliament?

Even better, if it were to happen, and you were given that opportunity, what texts do you think you would choose for that occasion?  Well, in 1641, on the eve of the Civil War a firebrand preacher Stephen Marshall addressed the houses of Parliament, choosing as his text  Judges 5:23 “Curse Meroz”.   The clear implication of his sermon was that he stood in the place of the Angel of the Lord in v23, and  it was time for the towns and villages of England to mobilise, like Zebulun and Naphtali, to fight for the parliamentarians (the democrats of the day) against the King and the Royalists.  If they didn’t join forces they would be cursed like Meroz

Believe it or not, it became one of the most famous sermons of a generation and historians sometimes refer to it a significant contributer to the recruiting of many young men into the war to fight against the King.  It is reported that when some of these men would be arrested later they would point to reading this sermon on Meroz Cursed as the critical event that caused them to enlist, believing they were doing so in direct command from God.

This strange historical footnote struck a chord with me, because I come from a part of the world where God has often been said to be on one side or the other. There is a paramilitary group whose motto is  For God and Ulster.  And there are also reports of interviews with people arrested for terrorist offences who claim they were recruited by the words and sermons of firebrand preachers assuring them that God would be with them in their particular political cause.

We can’t do it.  In fact there is a dreadful irony.  The correct Christian application of Judges 5 is to reflect on our participation in what God is doing spiritually in his world through his church.  And the correct application of the curse of Meroz is to beware of any opposition or compromise to the work of the risen Christ, from within his own people, so those who start to equate their political or nationalistic campaign with the work of God and  think they are doing the work of the Angel of the Lord, are actually themselves under the curse of Meroz for compromising the Gospel which is for all men and women, all nations, regardless of politics or geography. Christian nationalism is a betrayal of the Gospel from within.

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