Deborah and Barak
4 And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the LORD after Ehud died. And the LORD sold them into the hand of Jabin king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor. The commander of his army was Sisera, who lived in Harosheth-hagoyim. Then the people of Israel cried out to the LORD for help, for he had 900 chariots of iron and he oppressed the people of Israel cruelly for twenty years.
Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time. She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the people of Israel came up to her for judgment. She sent and summoned Barak the son of Abinoam from Kedesh-naphtali and said to him, “Has not the LORD, the God of Israel, commanded you, ‘Go, gather your men at Mount Tabor, taking 10,000 from the people of Naphtali and the people of Zebulun. And I will draw out Sisera, the general of Jabin’s army, to meet you by the river Kishon with his chariots and his troops, and I will give him into your hand’?” 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.” 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 arose and went with Barak to Kedesh. And Barak called out Zebulun and Naphtali to Kedesh. And 10,000 men went up at his heels, and Deborah went up with him.
Now Heber the Kenite had separated from the Kenites, the descendants of Hobab the father-in-law of Moses, and had pitched his tent as far away as the oak in Zaanannim, which is near Kedesh.
When Sisera was told that Barak the son of Abinoam had gone up to Mount Tabor, Sisera called out all his chariots, 900 chariots of iron, and all the men who were with him, from Harosheth-hagoyim to the river Kishon. And Deborah said to Barak, “Up! For this is the day in which the LORD has given Sisera into your hand. Does not the LORD go out before you?” So Barak went down from Mount Tabor with 10,000 men following him. And the LORD routed Sisera and all his chariots and all his army before Barak by the edge of the sword. And Sisera got down from his chariot and fled away on foot. And Barak pursued the chariots and the army to Harosheth-hagoyim, and all the army of Sisera fell by the edge of the sword; not a man was left.
But Sisera fled away on foot to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, for there was peace between Jabin the king of Hazor and the house of Heber the Kenite. And Jael came out to meet Sisera and said to him, “Turn aside, my lord; turn aside to me; do not be afraid.” So he turned aside to her into the tent, and she covered him with a rug. And he said to her, “Please give me a little water to drink, for I am thirsty.” So she opened a skin of milk and gave him a drink and covered him. And he said to her, “Stand at the opening of the tent, and if any man comes and asks you, ‘Is anyone here?’ say, ‘No.’” But Jael the wife of Heber took a tent peg, and took a hammer in her hand. Then she went softly to him and drove the peg into his temple until it went down into the ground while he was lying fast asleep from weariness. So he died. And behold, as Barak was pursuing Sisera, Jael went out to meet him and said to him, “Come, and I will show you the man whom you are seeking.” So he went in to her tent, and there lay Sisera dead, with the tent peg in his temple.
So on that day God subdued Jabin the king of Canaan before the people of Israel. And the hand of the people of Israel pressed harder and harder against Jabin the king of Canaan, until they destroyed Jabin king of Canaan.
Judges 4 Commentary
by Hank Workman
The cycle continues. The people were blessed and delivered, their hearts grew cold to God. They did evil in His sight; they endured oppression. God would eventually deliver them again.
For 20 years the people were in trouble. Finally, they decided to resort to God for help in their unbearable circumstances. Even right here, the reality is our own choices can bring about a huge mess. We live with the consequences many times of our own disobedience. Through their going their own way, they were neck-deep in trouble. Something that would have been avoided had they stayed close and followed their God. And so God let them stay right in this place until they were ready. It would take their crying out to Him for deliverance that would set things in motion.
Consider: this really is an act of grace. First God allows us to make choices. Many times these are not in our best interest and completely selfish minded. He doesn’t intervene even though He knows the pain they will bring, the results that could follow for years. As unbearable as it sounds, for some of us we have to come to the very end of ourselves for that grace to be sensed.
It was there all along, but our eyes are not opened until we realize our oppression and even what we’ve lost. It’s a painful learning lesson. But when we genuinely return, authentically cry out, His grace finds us. The pain or the consequences of our choices and life may not be eradicated but the peace of Jesus is something that helps us move forward.
This is why we must stay close to Jesus. This is why our own daily interaction with Him is so important. We are less likely, though the battle is huge on some days, to do our own thing and go our own way. This was something the book of Judges reveals of how the Israelite’s never got it. God desires so greatly our relationship with Him. He wants us to seek Him first and pursue Him over choices that are laid out. He desires so greatly to seek His strength and guidance in and out of every single situation.
And so God raised up a most unlikely Judge, Deborah. We’ll get into more of her person tomorrow but what we even read here today is she was a woman of respect. This was insanely rare in the ancient times. And it would be Deborah of all people, who would lead the charge of battle to deliver the people. Yet, it wasn’t just that, Deborah was a woman who had great influence and challenged them to depend on God, live for Him even after the war was won.
Here are 2 examples of thought to consider. There are the Israelite’s who chose to do what they wanted, struggled through generations even as the cycle continued. So much of their consequences could have been avoided had they stayed close to God. When we look at our own life and where we are now, are we following those same cycles? Then there’s Deborah. Not only was she one who followed God even when the culture of the time was doing the opposite but she was encouraging people to do the same.
Deborah was a voice of encouragement to the people to return and live for God. Despite what surrounds us today, the messiness of lives and culture, are we through our own trust and relationship with God encouraging others to follow?
Judges 4 Commentary
by Brad Boyles
It’s such a strange story with so many characters. First, I think it’s important to break down the roles and relationships.
Barak and Deborah are working on the front-lines to defeat Sisera and his army based on the promise God has given to Deborah. Sisera is the army commander for Jabin, the king of Canaan who had oppressed Israel for 20 years.
Mixed into this main story is the subplot of Heber the Kenite and his wife Jael. It is very important to note that the Kenites were nomadic people who lived within Israel’s territory. Over the sweep of the Old Testament, some supported Israel and some did not. This is critical to understanding the decision that Jael will make later. Heber’s clan had made residence in northern Israel, and had vowed themselves as an ally to Jabin and the Canaanites. This mutual transaction most likely involved an oath and sacrifice. Under this oath, the Kenites were bound to treating all the king’s people with hospitality.
After Barak lacks the faith to go to battle alone, he asks Deborah to come with him. She tells Barak that because of his decision, he will not be recognized as the hero, and the credit will go to a woman. I assumed she meant herself, but that might not be the case as we read on. Barak attacks Sisera and defeats his army, however, Sisera escapes. Barak continues to pursue west, but Sisera flees east to the land of the Kenites, most likely because he knows they are bound by oath as allies. This is where it gets interesting.
Jael fulfills her obligation and welcomes Sisera into her home. She comforts him with milk, and agrees to protect and hide him. However, after he falls asleep, she takes a tent peg and drives it into his skull! Whaaaaaat??? What in the world can we take from this chapter?
When we lack the faith to follow through on a promise of God, He will orchestrate it another way.
The whole debacle starts with Barak’s lack of faith. Had he agreed to go alone, I believe he would have killed Sisera on the battlefield. Was it “good” that eventually Jael decided to trick Sisera and kill him? No. Not morally. However, similarly to Rahab, it was her faith that aligned her with Israel. Remember, her clan was not necessarily pro-Israel, but God used her actions to both unite her with Israel and fulfill His promise of deliverance.
So, this is what is intriguing to me. I wonder if the prophecy that Deborah spoke was not about her being the hero, but was instead about Jael?
Without Sisera (and his large army), king Jabin would crumble under Israel’s newfound strength. I wrestle with Jael’s action, but I compare it to how God uses unbelievers to accomplish and support the plans and promises He has for His people. The entire event is a reflection of God’s sovereignty and power, and should lead us to a place where we marvel at the detail of His plans.