AN EXPOSITION OF JUDGES 4
The Story of Deborah
1 AND the children of Israel again did evil in the sight of the LORD, when Ehud was dead.
The story of national Israel, as it developed as a nation following the Exodus from Egypt, is the story of faith and failure. It is a cyclical story, which is why we read that “the children of Israel again did evil in the sight of the LORD.” The operative word is, “again.” It would be nice if individuals who transgressed did not do the same thing again, and again, but they do.
The text says the people of Israel did evil when Ehud was dead. Ehud refers to the second judge of Israel who was from the tribe of Benjamin. He was a strong leader, who was able to keep Israel from becoming too lawless in their relationship to the Lord. Ehud was an interesting individual, because the Bible is careful to point out that he was a left handed assassin. At least, that is what Eglon, the king of Moab would have called him. Eglon had invaded the land, captured Jericho, and forced Israel to pay tribute for eighteen years (c. 1314 BC – 1295 BC)
Ehud preferred to consider himself a freedom fighter. History belongs to the victors. What is certain is that Ehud made himself a double edged dagger, which he carried on his right thigh. Pretending to bring a tribute to Eglon, Ehud asked for a private meeting. “I have a message from God for you,” said Ehud, and the king of Moab rose to receive it with reverence. Immediately Ehud, who was left-handed, drew a dagger from his right thigh, and plunged it so deeply into Eglon’s abdomen that the fat closed upon the hilt, and Ehud could not withdraw it. Leaving the room, he locked the door, and fled past the idols into Seirah, located in the mountains of the tribe of Ephraim.
Now, Ehud was dead, and the Israelites felt free to do evil in the sight of the Lord, indicating the boldness of evil.
2 And the LORD sold them into the hand of Jabin king of Canaan, that reigned in Hazor; the captain of whose host was Sisera, which dwelt in Harosheth of the Gentiles.
The evil which Israel wanted to do in the sight of the Lord did not last long, because the Lord allowed a city-state king of Canaan, named Jabin, to enslave the people. Jabin ruled over Hazor, which was located in N Palestine, stood on a mount, or “tell” (Josh. 11:13). The surrounding country was flat and well-suited for chariots. Hazor had been rebuilt, and regained some of its former strength which meant that Jabin, being a warrior king, could engage in military adventures. Some leaders are known to be timid, and long for peace, such as Neville Chamberlain, and Barack Obama, while others are known to rattle the sword.
In the providence of the Lord, Jabin had a warrior captain of his Canaanite army named Sisera, who was more than willing to engage in warfare with the enemy. Like General George Washington, General George Patton, or General “Mad Dog” Mattis, Sisera was a warrior par excellence. With a strong military leader by his side, Jabin was ready to fight the Israelites, for his military force was well armed. Jabin and Sisera had the most lethal military machine of the era, because they had chariots.
3 And the children of Israel cried unto the LORD: for he had nine hundred chariots of iron; and twenty years he mightily oppressed the children of Israel.
The chariot was a light vehicle, usually on two wheels, drawn by one or more horses, often carrying two standing persons, a driver and a warrior using a bow-and arrow or a javelin. The chariot was the supreme military weapon in the Middle East from about 1700 BC to 500 BC. The chariot was also used in hunting excursions, and in sporting contests such as the Olympic Games, and in the Roman Circus Maximus.
4 And Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, she judged Israel at that time.
There are two women named Deborah in the Bible. One is Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse and the other was a Judge of Israel. She is called a prophetess. A prophet is simply God’s spokesman to the people. A Biblical prophet can be male or female, Jewish or Gentile. In Judaism, the Bible records 48 male prophets, 9 female prophets and one Gentile prophet.
Deborah was one of the seven female prophets in the Bible. Because she was recognized as a prophetess, she was esteemed among the people to become one of the fifteen judges who ruled over the land of Israel during ancient times, before the Israelites had kings. Her story is told in Judges 4 – 5.
5 And she dwelt under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in mount Ephraim: and the children of Israel came up to her for judgment.
6 And she sent and called Barak the son of Abinoam out of Kedeshnaphtali, and said unto him, Hath not the LORD God of Israel commanded, saying, Go and draw toward mount Tabor, and take with thee ten thousand men of the children of Naphtali and of the children of Zebulun?
7 And I will draw unto thee to the river Kishon Sisera, the captain of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his multitude; and I will deliver him into thine hand.
8 And Barak said unto her, If thou wilt go with me, then I will go: but if thou wilt not go with me, then I will not go.
9 And she said, I will surely go with thee: notwithstanding the journey that thou takest shall not be for thine honour; for the LORD shall sell Sisera into the hand of a woman. And Deborah arose, and went with Barak to Kedesh.
10 And Barak called Zebulun and Naphtali to Kedesh; and he went up with ten thousand men at his feet: and Deborah went up with him.
11 Now Heber the Kenite, which was of the children of Hobab the father in law of Moses, had severed himself from the Kenites, and pitched his tent unto the plain of Zaanaim, which is by Kedesh.
12 And they shewed Sisera that Barak the son of Abinoam was gone up to mount Tabor.
13 And Sisera gathered together all his chariots, even nine hundred chariots of iron, and all the people that were with him, from Harosheth of the Gentiles unto the river of Kishon.
14 And Deborah said unto Barak, Up; for this is the day in which the LORD hath delivered Sisera into thine hand: is not the LORD gone out before thee? So Barak went down from mount Tabor, and ten thousand men after him.
15 And the LORD discomfited Sisera, and all his chariots, and all his host, with the edge of the sword before Barak; so that Sisera lighted down off his chariot, and fled away on his feet.
16 But Barak pursued after the chariots, and after the host, unto Harosheth of the Gentiles: and all the host of Sisera fell upon the edge of the sword; and there was not a man left.
“Deborah’s reign as a judge began during a difficult time in Israel’s history. Jabin, the king of Hazor, had been subjecting the land for 20 years when Deborah became a judge. Deborah roused her people to bring an end to the oppression. As explained in Judges 4, Jabin’s army commander, Sisera, had nine hundred chariots fitted with iron to aid in the suppression of the Israelites within the land of Canaan. The people cried out for help from God. Deborah sent for a man named Barak, and told him to gather an army of men from the northern part of the land of Israel, and march against Jabin’s army:
“The Lord, the God of Israel, commands you: ‘Go, take with you ten thousand men of Naphtali and Zebulun, and lead them up to Mount Tabor. I will lead Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his troops to the Kishon River, and give him into your hands.'”
Barak told Deborah that he would follow her command if she accompanied him, and she did. In Judg. 4:15, Barak led an attack with his army at Mount Tabor where that the Lord routed Jabin’s army. Barak’s men killed all of Jabin’s soldiers. Sisera, Jabin’s army commander, escaped on foot but was killed by Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, after he had tried to hide in her tent. Deborah’s leadership in delivering Israel from oppression is commemorated in Judges 5, in what is called the Song of Deborah. The land of Israel enjoyed peace for 40 years after the rout of Jabin’s army.” (aboutbibleprophecy.com)
A Battle at Armageddon
Before the battle, Barak assembled the troops of Israel at his where he lived in Kedesh. From Kedesh the children of Israel marched to Mt. Tabor (Deut. 33:19). The Canaanite coalition, commanded by Sisera, took a position nearby at the Torrent of Kishon in the northern Jezreel valley. It was Deborah who chose the precise moment to attack (Judg. 4:14). Barak charged down Mt. Tabor leading 10,000 Israelites. The sudden attack by Israel put the Canaanite forces in chaos. Their attempts to regroup were hampered by a sudden downpour of rain which overflowed the river and turned the battleground into a muddy quagmire. The war chariots of the Canaanite army became bogged down and were abandoned. The result was a magnificent victory for Israel. The children of Israel pursued the retreating Canaanites who fled mostly on foot. Many of the Canaanites were slaughtered.
The Death of Sisera
17 Howbeit Sisera fled away on his feet 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.
18 And Jael went out to meet Sisera, and said unto him, Turn in, my lord,
19 And he said unto her, Give me, I pray thee, a little water to drink; for I am thirsty. And she opened a bottle of milk, and gave him drink, and covered him.
20 Again he said unto her, Stand in the door of the tent, and it shall be, when any man doth come and inquire of thee, and say, Is there any man here? That thou shalt say, No.
21 Then Jael Heber’s wife took a nail of the tent, and took an hammer in her hand, and went softly unto him, and smote the nail into his temples, and fastened it into the ground: for he was fast asleep and weary. So he died.
22 And, behold, as Barak pursued Sisera, Jael came out to meet him, and said unto him, Come, and I will shew thee the man whom thou seekest. And when he came into her tent, behold, Sisera lay dead, and the nail was in his temples.
23 So God subdued on that day Jabin the king of Canaan before the children of Israel.
24 And the hand of the children of Israel prospered, and prevailed against Jabin the king of Canaan, until they had destroyed Jabin king of Canaan.
Lessons to Learn
The heart must be guarded against cyclical sins or endure cyclical judgments.
It is the LORD who sold Israel into the hand of Jabin king of Canaan. Man purposes but God disposes our actions.
It is right to call upon the LORD in the face of a superior military force. Our security is in the LORD.
While an enemy might appear strong, the enemies of God’s people are only as strong as He allows them to be for His own good purposes. Time and again an inferior force finds a way to defeat a superior force.
Women of faith are important role models. Deborah was a woman of faith with a spiritual gift. She was a true prophetess whom people respected and listened to.
As a prophetess the LORD revealed His will to Deborah in military matters. As a result she was able to draw up a battle plan with specific details. Plan your work, work your plan.
It is the LORD who was to draw the enemies of Israel to a place of battle of God’s own choosing.
Sometimes brave men need more courage. Women have proven to be the source of courage. Some historians have argued that the American Civil war would have ended two years earlier if the Southern women had not encouraged their men to fight on. Barak did not want to fight unless Deborah went with him into battle with a condition. Barak must not fight for personal honor but for the LORD.
Deborah was a woman of faith, a woman of inspiration, and a woman of courage. Because of this she was a woman of confidence. “Up; for this is the day in which the LORD hath delivered Sisera into thine hand.”
According to promise the battle against Sisera was won. God keeps His word when men and women are humble and obedient to Him.
The narrative ends with the story of another strong woman named Jael. In the providence of the LORD, Sisera fled to her tent. It was a terrible mistake on his part for Jael took a spike and drove it into his temple while he slept. First, she offered hospitality to Jael. Then, she brought death and destruction upon him.
“If we can overlook the treachery and violence which belonged to the morals of the age and country, and bear in mind Jael’s ardent sympathies with the oppressed people of God, her faith in the right of Israel to possess the land in which they were now slaves, her zeal for the glory of Yahweh as against the gods of Canaan, and the heroic courage and firmness with which she executed her deadly purpose, we shall be ready to yield to her the praise which is her due.” (Barnes’ Notes)