In the previous chapter we began to look at the Judges that ruled for a while in discrete parts of Israel. So far we have looked at Othniel, Ehud and Shamgar.
Another gruesome chapter I’m afraid
Read Judges 4:1
1 Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, now that Ehud was dead.
It was only when the people abandoned their God, that God stepped back from protecting his people; it seemed the only way to bring them to their senses.
If ever we feel that God has distanced himself from us perhaps we should ask who took the first step?
Read Judges 4:2-3
2 So the Lord sold them into the hands of Jabin king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor. (North of the Sea of Galilee in the centre of land allocated to the Tribe of Naphtali.) Sisera, the commander of his army, was based in Harosheth Haggoyim. (On the eastern slopes of Mt. Carmel.) 3 Because he had nine hundred chariots fitted with iron and had cruelly oppressed the Israelites for twenty years, they cried to the Lord for help.
(Chariots fitted with iron, and heavy, were really only of use on flat, smooth, hard surfaces. But they presented a fearful sight, and you wouldn’t want to test how well they actually worked in battle.)
Read Judges 4:4-5
4 Now Deborah, a prophet, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading Israel at that time. 5 She held court under the Palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites went up to her to have their disputes decided.
What a bright spot in all the gloom! Who appointed her to ‘lead Israel’? How sad that the only person still close to the Lord was a woman. But they all recognised her as a prophet and that she would give Godly answers to their problems.
Read Judges 4:6-8
6 She sent for Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali and said to him, ‘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. 7 I will lead Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his troops to the River Kishon and give him into your hands.”‘
8 Barak said to her, ‘If you go with me, I will go; but if you don’t go with me, I won’t go.’
Deborah had been given a direct and detailed revelation. The Lord knew exactly what he was going to do when the armies of Sisera attempted to cross the River Kishon to get to Mount Tabor, and he was also very specific with his choice of Barak. It is unlikely that Deborah would previously have known about him, although Barak may well have heard of Deborah.
Deborah responded without hesitation and passed on the Lord’s command.
But Barak was not so confident. But he had faith enough to obey if he could be sure of the Lord’s presence. To him, that would be through Deborah who obviously had the Lord with her.
9 ‘Certainly I will go with you,’ said Deborah. ‘But because of the course you are taking, the honour will not be yours, for the Lord will deliver Sisera into the hands of a woman.’ So Deborah went with Barak to Kedesh.
Deborah obviously trusted the Lord completely and was happy to oblige – but Barak’s would not be remembered for the victory, that privilege would go to a woman.
10 There Barak summoned Zebulun and Naphtali, and ten thousand men went up under his command. Deborah also went up with him.
11 Now Heber the Kenite had left the other Kenites, the descendants of Hobab, Moses’ brother-in-law, and pitched his tent by the great tree in Zaanannim near Kedesh.
The Kenites, as relations of Moses, were allowed to stay with the Israelites and settled in the south of the country (Judges 1:16) But they were nomadic people, and Heber had travelled to the north. He was originally descended from the Midianites (Exodus 2:16) and we are told (v17) that he had made an alliance with Jabin, king of Hazor. Obviously he felt he had a duty to keep Sisera informed of what was happening. He too (perhaps unwittingly) was serving the Lord!
12 When they told Sisera that Barak son of Abinoam had gone up to Mount Tabor, 13 Sisera summoned from Harosheth Haggoyim to the River Kishon all his men and his nine hundred chariots fitted with iron.
14 Then Deborah said to Barak, ‘Go! This is the day the Lord has given Sisera into your hands. Has not the Lord gone ahead of you?’ So Barak went down Mount Tabor, with ten thousand men following him. 15 At Barak’s advance, the Lord routed Sisera and all his chariots and army by the sword, and Sisera got down from his chariot and fled on foot.
There is a suggestion from Deborah’s song in the next chapter (verses 4, 20-21) that the Lord sent a thunderstorm to swell the waters in the river Kishon and render the flooded plains either side impassable (Interestingly the name ‘Barak’ means ‘Thunderbolt’). In verse 15 the word routed is the same used for the confusion of the Egyptians as they tried to follow the Israelites into the Red Sea (Exodus 14:24)
Notice Sisera had to abandon his chariot and flee on foot (v15).
16 Barak pursued the chariots and army as far as Harosheth Haggoyim, and all Sisera’s troops fell by the sword; not a man was left. 17 Sisera, meanwhile, fled on foot to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, because there was an alliance between Jabin king of Hazor and the family of Heber the Kenite.
18 Jael went out to meet Sisera and said to him, ‘Come, my lord, come right in. Don’t be afraid.’ So he entered her tent, and she covered him with a blanket.
He thought he was safe – how convenient that Heber had chosen to set up camp here. And no man, other than her own husband, would ever presume to enter a married woman’s tent, so if he kept quiet no-one would ever suspect his presence.
19 ‘I’m thirsty,’ he said. ‘Please give me some water.’ She opened a skin of milk, gave him a drink, and covered him up.
20 ‘Stand in the doorway of the tent,’ he told her. ‘If someone comes and asks you, “Is anyone in there?” say “No.”‘
21 But Jael, Heber’s wife, picked up a tent peg and a hammer and went quietly to him while he lay fast asleep, exhausted. She drove the peg through his temple into the ground, and he died.
22 Just then Barak came by in pursuit of Sisera, and Jael went out to meet him. ‘Come,’ she said, ‘I will show you the man you’re looking for.’ So he went in with her, and there lay Sisera with the tent peg through his temple – dead.
23 On that day God subdued Jabin king of Canaan before the Israelites. 24 And the hand of the Israelites pressed harder and harder against Jabin king of Canaan until they destroyed him.
So, as prophesied by Deborah, the Lord had delivered Sisera into the hands of a woman.
Now we will read Chapter 5 – the song of Deborah. As you read it, look out for the places where credit for the victory is obviously given to the Lord.
Perhaps share it or if you have a confident reader maybe they could read it all.
1 On that day Deborah and Barak son of Abinoam sang this song:
2 ‘When the princes in Israel take the lead,
when the people willingly offer themselves –
praise the Lord!
3 ‘Hear this, you kings! Listen, you rulers!
I, even I, will sing to the Lord;
I will praise the Lord, the God of Israel, in song.
4 ‘When you, Lord, went out from Seir,
when you marched from the land of Edom,
the earth shook, the heavens poured,
the clouds poured down water.
5 The mountains quaked before the Lord, the One of Sinai,
before the Lord, the God of Israel.
6 ‘In the days of Shamgar son of Anath,
in the days of Jael, the highways were abandoned;
travellers took to winding paths.
7 Villagers in Israel would not fight;
they held back until I, Deborah, arose,
until I arose, a mother in Israel.
8 God chose new leaders
when war came to the city gates,
but not a shield or spear was seen
among forty thousand in Israel.
9 My heart is with Israel’s princes,
with the willing volunteers among the people.
Praise the Lord!
10 ‘You who ride on white donkeys,
sitting on your saddle blankets,
and you who walk along the road,
consider 11 the voice of the singers at the watering places.
They recite the victories of the Lord,
the victories of his villagers in Israel.
‘Then the people of the Lord
went down to the city gates.12 “Wake up, wake up, Deborah!
Wake up, wake up, break out in song!
Take captive your captives, son of Abinoam.”
13 ‘The remnant of the nobles came down;
the people of the Lord came down to me against the mighty.
14 Some came from Ephraim, whose roots were in Amalek;
Benjamin was with the people who followed you.
From Makir captains came down,
from Zebulun those who bear a commander’s staff.
15 The princes of Issachar were with Deborah;
yes, Issachar was with Barak,
sent under his command into the valley.
In the districts of Reuben
there was much searching of heart.
16 Why did you stay among the sheepfolds
to hear the whistling for the flocks?
In the districts of Reuben
there was much searching of heart.
17 Gilead stayed beyond the Jordan.
And Dan, why did he linger by the ships?
Asher remained on the coast
and stayed in his coves.
18 The people of Zebulun risked their very lives;
so did Naphtali on the terraced fields.
19 ‘Kings came, they fought,
the kings of Canaan fought.
At Taanach, by the waters of Megiddo,
they took no plunder of silver.
20 From the heavens the stars fought,
from their courses they fought against Sisera.
21 The River Kishon swept them away,
the age-old river, the River Kishon.
March on, my soul; be strong!
22 Then thundered the horses’ hooves –
galloping, galloping go his mighty steeds.
23 “Curse Meroz,” said the angel of the Lord.
“Curse its people bitterly,
because they did not come to help the Lord,
to help the Lord against the mighty.”
(The location of Meroz is unknown – possibly the result of the curse.)
24 ‘Most blessed of women be Jael,
the wife of Heber the Kenite,
most blessed of tent-dwelling women.
25 He asked for water, and she gave him milk;
in a bowl fit for nobles she brought him curdled milk.
26 Her hand reached for the tent peg,
her right hand for the workman’s hammer.
She struck Sisera, she crushed his head,
she shattered and pierced his temple.
27 At her feet he sank,
he fell; there he lay.
At her feet he sank, he fell;
where he sank, there he fell – dead.
28 ‘Through the window peered Sisera’s mother;
behind the lattice she cried out,
“Why is his chariot so long in coming?
Why is the clatter of his chariots delayed?”
29 The wisest of her ladies answer her;
indeed, she keeps saying to herself,
30 “Are they not finding and dividing the spoils:
a woman or two for each man,
colourful garments as plunder for Sisera,
colourful garments embroidered,
highly embroidered garments for my neck –
all this as plunder?”
31 ‘So may all your enemies perish, O Lord!
But may all who love you be like the sun
when it rises in its strength.’
Then the land had peace for forty years.