Who’s got your back? That’s your Deborah. Urban dictionary defines the words “got your back” these two ways. The first way, is an expression assuring someone that you are watching out for them. It comes from making sure you are safe by watching what’s behind you, when you’re busy looking ahead. Example: I don’t know about this. Don’t trip, son. I GOT YOUR BACK. The second way is when your friend, colleague, cheerleader, or someone of a close affinity is by your side (either figuratively or literally) making sure that you make it through the troublesome, difficult, or tedious times or predicaments you are currently in. Urban dictionary used Craig and Arianna of Saturday Night Live fame, in their example. Craig says, “Oh, Arianna, are you ok?” Arianna answers back, “I just can’t get this cheer down. I don’t think I’ll be able to do the perfect cheer.” Craig responds, “You can do it! I know you can! I got your back.”
Urban dictionary is quick to note that it can be converted to a threat, “Watch your back,” from the possibility someone might injure or kill you from behind when you aren’t looking. They protect you from getting stabbed in the back.
Have you ever called someone your guardian angel? They seem to protect you from outside forces – like a friend’s betrayal. Or missing that student loan payment. Or if you don’t know when you will get your next meal, and you’ve eaten your last left-over and everything else in the cabinet, a Deborah’s already got you covered. Or if it’s something internally you’re struggling with, for example, who you are after x, y, z situation (break up, loss of job, change of major, maybe you’re struggling with even staying in school, a death in the family, grief at life). Maybe you’re questioning your faith, how much of a difference you’re making, or you’re experiencing a dry season in your relationship with God. Maybe you need to get back on track spiritually and you need someone to ask you the hard questions and not let you off the hook until you answer them. That’s your Deborah.
Author of the book we’re studying this semester, 11 indispensable relationships you can’t be without, Len Sweet says, “Everyone who has made a dent or a difference for God in history has had ‘protectors’ – people who have said to them, “I’ve got your back!”
I would take it a step further. Everyone – all people – need protectors. You need someone to have your back if you are going to realize your dreams and push forward when those that seek to tear you down are increasing in number. Likewise you need someone to protect you when the doubts pile up inside your head.
So who was Deborah and what did she do that was so special?
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
4 At that time Deborah, a prophetess, wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel. 5 She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the Israelites came up to her for judgment.6 She sent and summoned Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali, and said to him, “The Lord, the God of Israel, commands you, ‘Go, take position at Mount Tabor, bringing ten thousand from the tribe of Naphtali and the tribe of Zebulun. 7 I will draw out Sisera, the general of Jabin’s army, to meet you by the Wadi Kishon with his chariots and his troops; and I will give him into your hand.’” 8 Barak said to her, “If you will go with me, I will go; but if you will not go with me, I will not go.” 9 And she said, “I will surely go with you; nevertheless, the road on which you are going will not lead to your glory, for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.” Then Deborah got up and went with Barak to Kedesh. 10 Barak summoned Zebulun and Naphtali to Kedesh; and ten thousand warriors went up behind him; and Deborah went up with him.
So what do we know about Deborah? She was a prophetess our text says. She was the fourth Judge of pre-monarchic Israel and she was the only female judge. The Bible tells us nothing of her family except who her husband was. In the history of Israel, only three people combined the offices of prophet, judge and military leader: Moses, Samuel, and Deborah. Deborah was one of the early judges of Israel. The judges were charismatic leaders who by their wisdom oversaw the simple and rather disorganized government of Israel during the first couple of centuries of its existence. One of the greatest contributions of the early judges was their ability to stir up a sense of national unity and great loyalty to the rule of Yahweh among a fiercely independent and generally ignorant people, who had not long before been Egyptian slaves.
What exactly is happening in the scripture passage that I just read? Deborah summons the general Barak to give him an oracle from God ie. a message from God. She tells him to bring 10,ooo men from two tribes of Israel, and she will draw out Sisera, the general of Jabin’s army. Barak answers her that he’ll only go if she goes with him – if she’ll cover his back.
Barak’s request of the presence of Deborah has given interpreters and commentators headaches for years. Some see Barak here as cowardly, afraid, and distrusting of God. Other interpreters see Barak’s request as a gracious and insistent invitation to Deborah as God’s prophet to join him so that she might bless the military expedition and share in the glory of the Lord’s victory over the Canaanites. It’s ambiguous. Either way Deborah delivered. Not a single man of Sisera’s army survived, except Sisera himself (and another strong, gutsy woman took care of Sisera, Jael drove a tent peg into his head, killing him). The narrative of what happened is told in Judges chapter 4 and the “Song of Deborah” is told in Judges chapter 5, one of the earliest examples of Hebrew poetry.
Bottom line, Barak would NOT go without Deborah.
It is certainly not true that “behind every good man is an even better woman.” That’s sexist garbage. It is true that behind anyone who has had any “success” whether personal or professional, you need someone who has your back. Or a whole community of people. That’s why in any Oscar speech people thank the one’s that got them there. Who’s in your corner. TV shows abound with this. Scandal, the workers of Olivia Pope and Associates, willing to take a fall if any of the team get hit. Once Upon a Time’s unlikely alliance busy finding Henry and begrudgingly covering each other’s backs along the way. Grey’s Anatomy – this season as the interns realized they didn’t know each other and if they were to “fall/collapse/die” they would be left alone to face it because they had not reached out and realized they didn’t know each other. If you watched it in the olden days with the original 5 – Alex, Meredith, Izzie, George, and Christina – they invented delving into drama and gossip with who was hooking up with who and they pushed people like my brother Josh away with their shenanigans but made me love them all the more because they cared about each other. It may not have been from the moment they met, but they became each other’s family, each other’s “person” as seen in this clip.
Your family can offer good protection. Your adopted family can offer good protection. Your friends that become like family offer good protection. Who’s got your back, is not someone who in an argument or dispute automatically sides with you. It’s much more than that. Deborah was a judge. She was fair. Your Deborah can help you see things about yourself that no one else sees. They can point out your blind spots. The areas where you’re not exercising your best judgment. They can handle your vulnerability. Your laughter. Your tears. And they can give you a good kick in the pants. And you’ll accept it, because you know they have your best interest at heart. But be discerning, don’t let just anybody give you a kick in the pants. Because people will line up for that job. People offer criticism freely. But guarding your heart and being a back coverer, it will be a shorter line.
I posted this on the “Encouragement Board” a facebook group that seeks to offer encouragement, birthdays, and prayer requests of Gator Wesley. William Arthur Ward writes, “A true friend knows your weaknesses but shows your strengths; feels your fears but fortifies your faith; sees your anxieties but frees your spirit; recognizes your disabilities but emphasizes your possibilities.” Read those words again.
Sweet writes, “The world is full of people who like nothing better than to kill—your reputation, your spirit, your mission.” Have you ever heard of being attacked on all sides? Have you ever felt like your world is falling down all around you? If you are a right-handed quarterback – one of your most trusted allies is the left tackle on the offensive line. This is your blind side, and the best defensive linemen are put here to intimidate you and make you mess up – your success depends on your left tackle.
Deborah didn’t fight next to Barack – but she covered his back with the fire of her words, her spirit, and her courage – she was always close enough to catch Barak’s eye. Some people have a holy spirit, and the presence of that Holy Spirit in your life is enough to be a Deborah. Sometimes Deborahs fight alongside you on the front lines or they’re actively covering you in prayer from a distance. My mom is a prayer warrior. She’s on the front lines in battle over our lives every day. Mom’s not a pansy or a shrinking violet. She covers it well with her southern charm, manners, and proper etiquette – she writes thank you notes. Which is a big deal to me who never writes thank you notes. I would say she epitomizes a Deborah. She would be a really good judge. Always fair. But with a deep and abiding strength about her. Centuries ago it was the function of knights to be back-coverers for the weak and wounded. Especially in the age of chivalry, knights were the protectors of the marginalized and unarmed – the priests, the peasants, the poor, and the child in a violent world. My mom is a modern day knight of sorts. In her work as an elementary school guidance counselor she comes into contact with all sorts of things and she’s a Deborah to each of her students. And she’s a Deborah in each of her children’s lives.
Your Deborahs should point you back to God. My mom is certainly quick to ask, “Have you prayed about this?” Because she knows God is our ULTIMATE back coverer. God’s got your back 24:7:365. David wrote this Psalm after escaping from Saul. Psalm 18:1-3 “I love you, O Lord, my strength.2 The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my rock in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. 3 I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, so I shall be saved from my enemies.”
Thank you God for ALWAYS having our backs.
***The Gator Wesley worship band picked these songs to do after the sermon during communion and as our closing song, “Not for a Moment” by Meredith Andrews and “Taste of Eternity” by Bellarive, and I thought they were both pretty powerful.
Not For A Moment – Meredith Andrews
Taste of Eternity – Bellarive