“Then the survivor of the prominent people went down; Yahweh went down to me, with the champions. From Ephraim, their root in Amalek, following you, Benjamin, and your people. From Machir came down those who rule and from Zebulon, scribes who write with a stick. And the princes from Issachar are with Deborah and Issachar is thus with Baraq. Into the valley they rushed at his heels. In the divisions of Reuben are men with much heart. To what end do you lie down under the saddle baskets — to hear the whistling sounds of the herd? In the divisions of Reuben there was a great searching of the heart.”
As we move through Deborah’s song, we arrive at a roll call of the various tribes being called out to serve in Baraq’s army. The survivors (from under Canaanite oppression) of the prominent people — leaders and governors, begin the grouping, followed by the champions, the heroes of the people. Benjamin, Zebulon, and Issachar rise up and follow the leadership of Baraq.
Reuben, though, is rather sluggish. Verse 15 describes Reuben as those of great stature of heart, but then verse 16, reflects back. For, though there are men of great heart, it seems that they are acting sluggish. The phrase, “lie down under the saddlebaskets” is a reference to how pack mules, when baskets are placed alongside of their saddles, tend to lie down under the weight of the baskets — stubbornly staying put and not moving forward. Such seems to be the case of Reuben. They had great strength, but they stubbornly drug their feet.
How often the church is like Reuben. We know the right thing to do. We have been taught the right thing to do from the pulpit. But when God gives us the opportunity to practice the right thing, we drag our feet. And, as a result, we do not engage the culture, we do not share the gospel, and we do not live a life as a culture changer. We remain like a mule, sitting under the weight of his baskets, listening to the whistling of the herd — passive and not active. And thus, the pagans take more and more cultural real-estate in the world around us.
As we have discussed, one of the themes of Deborah’s time as a judge is that of the people who should have been rising up to overthrow the wicked, cowering in fear. Thus God raised up Deborah, a woman, to judge the people and to chastise the people into doing what is right. While we are culturally in a very similar place in America today, the answer is not to raise up more Deborahs (that would be some people’s solution, but while God can raise up an exception to the rule, it is not our place to do so), the answer for us is to rise up and do what is right — that which the people should have done in Deborah’s day.