Over the last couple of weeks I have been listening to the tunes of Tracy Chapman’s first album, “Tracy Chapman.” It took me back to 1988, driving a beat up Subaru to university during the week, and to the beach on weekends. It was a great album, with smash hits like “Talkin’ Bout a Revolution” and “Fast Cars.” When you get to the fourth song of the album, the mood changes. No music. Only Tracy Chapman’s voice, singing accapella. The song is “Behind the Walls”. It’s a haunting song about domestic violence, and the screaming behind the wall (next door).
The first verse is indicative of the feel of the entire song,
Last night I heard the screaming
Loud voices behind the wall
Another sleepless night for me
It won’t do no good to call
The police always come late
If they come at all
The cries of the victim of this violence are not heard, and no one ever seems to care, or seeks to help. It’s hard to listen to this song and not wonder why no one responds to the cries.
Throughout the book of Judges, there is this unusual dynamic where the people of Israel keep repeating a cycle where when life is good they ignore God, then they pursue evil, things go bad, they cry out to God, He hears their cries and responds by raising up a leader or rescuer. The “judge” then frees them from their hardship or oppression. Once things are good, the people ignore God and the cycle begins again, leading up to a cry and a response.
God hears the cries of the people and he responds. What is fascinating to observe is how he chooses to respond. He raises up people to restore those who cry out to God, and to rescue them from that which is hurting or oppressing them.
At the end of Judges 4, we have this strange moment when an enemy of Israel, Sisera, has been routed by the Israelites, who have cried out to God after twenty years of oppression. Sisera, fleeing on foot from the Israelite army tries to take refuge in the tent of women by the name of Jael. She is from the Kenite clan. A nomadic tribe who were living within the borders of Israel. Jael lets Sisera into her tent, gives him a drink, allows him to rest and then drives a tent peg through his head.
This strange story is typical in many ways of the stories in Judges. A nomadic woman, who is good with a hammer and peg, is invited into the story to be the means through which the oppressor of the people is dealt with. God seems to delight in choosing an eclectic bunch to fulfil his purposes. Throughout the book of Judges he calls military leaders, a priest, a farmer; and now he invites a nomadic woman into his purposes. Those he calls are often nobodies. They are not chosen because they deserve it. They don’t usually come from significant families. There are no long genealogies showing their pedigree. Often they are incredibly flawed people who God called when the need arose.
Their methods aren’t even worth emulating. This is not a “how to” book where God is looking for people who are skilled assassins, warriors, or those who are good with tent pegs or an oxgoad. The people God raised up used the tools they had, to join with God in responding to the cries of the people.
I think these stories raise an important question for us. What tools has God given you? What cries is he alerting you to?
Your work, experience, temperament, resources, gifts, and strengths are among the tools he provides. How might you use them to join God in caring for another?
God doesn’t call us to emulate someone else’s methods or formula. He is not impressed by what we have done, or what we deserve. He is not just looking to invite those who grew up in the church or have theological training. He is looking for those who will keep their eyes on Him, and who are prepared to trust that God can use them, with whatever tools they have, to join Him in responding to the cries of others.