Judges 4 (New International Version)
1 After Ehud died, the Israelites once again did evil in the eyes of the LORD.
Seeing the continual drift to disobedience makes one less and less confident of man but more and more impressed with the mercy and grace of God. Though Israel kept forsaking Him, He kept working with them.
2 So the LORD sold them into the hands of Jabin, a king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor. The commander of his army was Sisera, who lived in Harosheth Haggoyim. 3 Because he had nine hundred iron chariots and had cruelly oppressed the Israelites for twenty years, (note: 20 years!!) they cried to the LORD for help.
4 Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading Israel at that time.
The Bible tells us of several other prophetesses: Miriam (Exodus 15:20), Huldah (2 Kings 22:14), Anna (Luke 2:36), and Philip’s four daughters (Acts 21:8-9).
5 She held court under the Palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites came to her to have their disputes decided.
Psalm 92:12 (ESV)
The righteous flourish like the palm tree.
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 the way to Mount Tabor. 7 I will lure Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his troops to the Kishon River 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.”
Not that Barak is afraid!
No, he is relating to Deborah the way a king of Israel should relate to the prophet of God. The king stands under the Law of Moses, like anyone else, and he must share leadership with God’s prophet. As it says in Deuteronomy 18:15 — “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him.”
Or as Moses modeled for us how to obey the Lord in Exodus 33:15 — “If Your presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here.”
9 “Very well,” Deborah said, “I will go with you. But because of the way you are going about this, the honor will not be yours, for the LORD will hand Sisera over to a woman.” So Deborah went with Barak to Kedesh, 10 where he summoned Zebulun and Naphtali. Ten thousand men followed him, and Deborah also went with him.
DWELLING readers know that I am a Ken Medema fan! HERE is one of his edgier songs, written for a youth event several years ago. Love the layers of this piece!
Is this a good song for honoring Deborah? I think so, and I hope it helps us to consider, in our own time and place, how we ought to pick up some of her courage and “Color Outside the Lines.”
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.
12 When they told Sisera that Barak son of Abinoam had gone up to Mount Tabor, 13 Sisera gathered together his nine hundred iron chariots and all the men with him, from Harosheth Haggoyim to the Kishon River.
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, followed by ten thousand men. 15 At Barak’s advance, the LORD routed Sisera and all his chariots and army by the sword, and Sisera abandoned his chariot and fled on foot.
In the next chapter we learn what happened: The Lord sent a rainstorm and allowed the Kishon River to overflow; all the iron chariots got stuck in the mud and had to be abandoned.
16 But Barak pursued the chariots and army as far as Harosheth Haggoyim. All the troops of Sisera fell by the sword; not a man was left.
17 Sisera, however, fled on foot to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, because there were friendly relations between Jabin king of Hazor and the clan 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 put a covering over him.
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 by and asks you, ‘Is anyone here?’ 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 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.
from Peculiar Treasures: A Biblical Who’s Who
by Frederick Buechner
A Canaanite war-lord named Sisera had recently been trounced by an Israelite strong-man named Barak and was heading for the border to save his skin. On the way, he was invited to hide out with a Kenite woman named Jael, who belonged to a tribe which had not been involved in the skirmish at all. This was his second bad break that day.
Jael was all smiles as she issued her invitation and gave him the red carpet treatment. She fixed him a drink and suggested he stretch out for a while on the couch. While he was asleep, she crept in and disposed of him by the ingenious if cumbersome technique of hammering a tent-peg in one temple and out the other.
The female judge Deborah wrote a song in her honor in which she referred to her as “most blessed among women” for the job she had done, and Jael has been remembered as a great hero and patriot ever since.
In view of the fact that her victim (a) was her guest and (b) asleep and (c) had never harmed a hair of either her head or her people’s, it would seem that to call her deed heroic is to stretch the term to the breaking point. As for calling it patriotic, if she had done it for love of country—maybe. But (a) her country had no quarrel with Sisera and (b) if she killed him for anything but kicks, it was out of love for nothing more exalted that the idea of maybe getting a pay-off from the Israelites the next time they hit town. It is not the only instance, of course, of how people in wartime get medals for doing what in peacetime would get them the chair.
23 On that day God subdued Jabin, the Canaanite king, before the Israelites. 24 And the hand of the Israelites grew stronger and stronger against Jabin, the Canaanite king, until they destroyed him.
from Innocents Abroad, by Mark Twain:
Somewhere in this part of the country—I do not know exactly where—Israel fought another bloody battle a hundred years later. Deborah, the prophetess, told Barak to take ten thousand men and sally forth against another King Jabin who had been doing something. Barak came down from Mount Tabor, twenty or twenty-five miles from here, and gave battle to Jabin’s forces, who were in command of Sisera. Barak won the fight, and while he was making the victory complete by the usual method of exterminating the remnant of the defeated host, Sisera fled away on foot, and when he was nearly exhausted by fatigue and thirst, one Jael, a woman he seems to have been acquainted with, invited him to come into her tent and rest himself. The weary soldier acceded readily enough, and Jael put him to bed. He said he was very thirsty, and asked his generous preserver to get him a cup of water. She brought him some milk, and he drank of it gratefully and lay down again, to forget in pleasant dreams his lost battle and his humbled pride. Presently when he was asleep she came softly in with a hammer and drove a hideous tent-pen down through his brain!
“For he was fast asleep and weary. So he died.” Such is the touching language of the Bible.