Judges 4-5, Deborah and Barak
As we expected at the end of Judges 3, it wasn’t long before the sons of Israel fell back into apostasy. In Judges 1:29-34 we saw that the various tribes of Israel failed to drive the Canaanites out of their allotted land, and the succeeding generations of Israel adopted the Canaanite idolatry. In Judges 2:11 we read that Israel served the Canaanite fertility god Baal. Therefore during the entire book of Judges recording the history of Israel, the people repeatedly fell into idolatry and then God disciplined them by allowing marauders to subjugate them and steal their stuff. The people of Israel would then cry out to God for help, and God would raise up a judge/deliverer to defeat the bad guys and restore Israel’s peace. In Judges 4-5, the scene of oppression shifted to northern Israel, which was oppressed by a consortium of Canaanites led by the bad guy Jabin and his henchman Sisera. The oppression in Judges 3 came from the Moabites from outside Israel, but now in ch.4 the oppressor is the Canaanites who had stayed in the land. After the judge Ehud died, the Israelites went back into a tailspin of evil, so God allowed the Canaanites to oppress them for 20 years. This tells me the sons of Israel were getting more stubborn about this apostasy with each generation. I mean I would have surrendered after a few years, but Israel took 20 years to be humbled and beg God for help. The God of Israel is forgiving, therefore He listened to Israel and raised up Deborah to deliver them.
The story of Deborah and her military commander Barak delivering Israel is written in two parts. Judges 4 is a historical narrative, but Judges 5 is a long poem about it. If you are like me and don’t love poetry, the temptation is to just read ch.4, but Judges 5 reveals at least two important additional facts not given in ch.4. First the iron chariots of the bad guy Sisera were neutralized by a heavy rain and flooding—those things don’t work in the mud. Secondly, the evil King Jabin and his henchman Sisera were involved in human trafficking. The main spoils expected by the Canaanites were at least 2 Israeli women per warrior to rape and pillage. These two facts may help us understand why God raised up the prophetess Deborah to defeat them, and then used the woman Jael to kill the bad guy in the end.
Judges 4:1-3, Cyclical Reoccurrence
In Judges 3:30-31, we read that after the judge Ehud drove out the Moabites they had rest and peace for 80 years. We can assume that Shamgar (in v.31) drove out the Philistines on the other side of Israel about the same time as Ehud took out the Moabites. Therefore, the 80 years of peace did not make Israel appreciative of God’s blessings because in Judges 4:1 we read they did evil in God’s view again. Moses had warned their great grandparents about this before they entered the land in Deuteronomy 8. Moses warned them to thank God when things went well instead of becoming complacent and prideful. Basic human nature always gets prideful with their success. Rest and success for 80 years made them feel secure, so in their vanity they forgot God and indulged in their lusts. As always, the PROSPERITY OF FOOLS IS THEIR DESTRUCTION. We know that the bad Canaanites prevailed against Israel as a judgment from God because the text says that, “the Lord sold them into the hand of Jabin king of Canaan”. God got Israel’s attention in the only way a stubborn people would listen, but it took 20 years until they “cried out to the Lord”.
Deborah and Barak, Judges 4: 4-10
At this point the author introduces us to the prophetess Deborah who was also judging Israel at the time. A prophet is primarily a spokesperson for God as a conduit for communication. We learn five basic points about Deborah: 1. She is God’s prophet, 2. She was judging over Israel, 3. She lived in the hill country of Ephraim, 4. Israel respected her and went to her for judgments, 5. She was the only judge who was not a warrior. In verse five we see that people from all over Israel came to her to settle disputes and make judgments. In fact she is the only “judge” in this book titled Judges that we are told actually has wisdom and makes judicial decisions. Certainly, the two most well known judges—Gideon and Samson had little faith or wisdom and made no judgments. As God’s spokesperson, Deborah commanded the military man Barak to raise an army to go and fight Sisera the evil commander of the Canaanite king. As always, God has promised victory, but the believer must be obedient by faith. Unfortunately for Barak, he is reluctant and weak in faith. Barak said he would not go without the condition that Deborah went with him. This reminds me of the father in Mark 9:24 who said to Jesus, “I do believe, help my unbelief”. Jesus was telling him to have faith that his son would be healed, and the father’s response indicated that he wanted to believe but had doubts.
Barak’s conditional response to God’s command governs the rest of the story. His lack of faith caused Deborah to issue a prophecy, “you will not get the honor of victory, for the Lord will give Sisera into the hands of a woman”. The consequence of his unbelief will be that God will give him no credit, and he will not be the people’s hero. The evil Canaanites who are rapists and pillagers and involved in human trafficking, will have their leader killed by a woman. God’s ways are truly mysterious but awesome. Barak and Deborah then called the men of the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali to form an army to fight the Canaanites, and 10,000 men stepped up. Why only 10,000 men when clearly they would be outnumbered? Judges 4:7 provides the answer that the smaller army would be the perfect bait to lure Sisera’s army to the Kishon River. In Judges 5:4 we read that “the clouds poured down water”, so God lured the Canaanite army to the river to bring down a storm that would bog down the chariots and make them sitting ducks. Then in v.11 we are told that Heber the Kenite pitched his tent near Kedesh. We can’t help but wonder why this info is given here, but later on in v.17-21 we see the relevance that his wife Jael will be God’s feminine instrument of justice against Sisera.
Judges 4:12-16 and 5:20-22, Chariots don’t work in the Mud
I can imagine that when Deborah and Barak came with only 10,000 men, the Canaanite commander Sisera had a good laugh and couldn’t wait to get at them. Sisera formed up his larger army along with 900 chariots to slaughter Israel and take all their women as human plunder. Little did they know that God would bring a big storm against them that would cause their chariots to be a liability. Judges 5 gives us a poetic figurative account of the victory of Israel through divine intervention. A storm overwhelmed the chariots. Nowhere is Barak given credit for the victory, but all the glory goes to God. In Judges 4:16, Barak makes a great effort to pursue and kill Sisera, but it is all for naught because God will fulfill Deborah’s prophecy that a woman will kill Sisera.
In this passage we have a new scene at the camp of Heber the Kenite who was a friend of evil Sisera. By God’s providence, Sisera comes upon his friend’s camp and seeks shelter and protection. Heber’s wife Jael secretly hates the guy, but acts like she welcomes him and will hide him. In most of these stories in Judges deception is a way of life even for the good guys. Sisera is disarmed by her fake hospitality and he acts submissively obeying her command. Sisera had thought that the battle was between two men, he and Barak, but Jael will be the instrument of God’s righteous wrath against Sisera. Having supposedly set her guest at ease by hiding him under a rug, Jael picked up a tent peg and a hammer and drove the peg through Sisera’s head. This woman had defeated both of the commanders—Sisera by killing him and Barak by taking his honor and fame. The irony was that God’s choice fell not only on a woman, but on a non-Jew. The ways of God are truly mysterious but also a source of humility to the men. Two men were commanded by two women, and the women end up the heroes.
God’s righteous Wrath
In Judges 5:28-30, we see that the evil Sisera likes to abuse, kidnap, and rape women, but God used two women to end his reign of terror. Historically, human trafficking has always been carried out by warrior nations in a large scale. Who knows how many millions of women and young girls have been taken, raped, and sold for profit? Even in modern times it is estimated that about 3 million people are kidnapped and sold every year. Wikipedia defines human trafficking as the trade of humans for sexual slavery or forced labor. About 80% that are taken are women. Throughout Scripture we can see God’s righteous judgment against this atrocity. Psalm 10:9 condemns these evil men that “catch the afflicted and trap them in a net”. In Amos 1:6-9 the prophet predicted doom upon the Philistines, Phoenicians, and Edomites for buying and selling large groups of captured people as slaves. The prophet Isaiah predicted that these nations as well as the Assyrians and Babylonians would be wiped out because of their atrocities. In Isaiah 14:3-6, the prophet spoke for God by saying that in the future God would crush the King of Babylon because he enslaved Israel. In Isaiah 14:15-19, Isaiah said the evil warrior king would go to hell, and his body would not even be buried but become like a trampled corpse—in other words road-kill. In Ezekiel 28 we read his prophecy of the downfall and punishment by God upon the Kings of Tyre and Sidon for their human trafficking.
The commander of the Canaanites, Sisera of Judges 4-5, met a similar humiliating fate of being deceived and killed by a woman in her tent while he was hiding under a rug. Sisera was probably one of those tough guy bullies who loved to brag about all his fights and talk about how tough he was, and no doubt boasted of all his sexual exploits and concubines. Therefore it gives me particular delight that his demise was so humiliating. All warriors have the desire to DIE WITH THEIR BOOTS ON, but Sisera DIED WITH HIS BOOTS OFF, hiding under a woman’s rug in a tent.
Maybe you are thinking that our New Testament tells us to love our enemies and never seek revenge. The fact is that when Jesus said love your enemies in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt.5:44) He was talking to us personally as individuals. On the other hand, Jesus constantly preached on the coming righteous judgment of God on all evil. Just as Paul wrote in Romans 12:19, “Never take your own revenge, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay, says the Lord”. We as Christians love our enemies, but when Christ comes back we will rejoice that He will render harsh judgment on the unredeemed. Therefore only God is capable and able to bring perfect justice, and when He does, whether it is on evil Sisera in Judges 4 or the world as a whole in the end, we rejoice. I love the irony that God used two women to bring a humiliating end to the violent man who enslaved women. Even more comforting, is to know that God will not let atrocities like human trafficking go on forever. Those who engage in it will end up like the King of Babylon—road-kill.