Deborah and Barak – Judges 4-5
As I come to book of Judges this time, we encounter an unique story: the Judges Deborah and Barak.
Two things make this story unique:
First, there are two chapters devoted to describing the events. Chapter 4 provides us with the historical narrative. The chapter contains a lot of Hebrew waw consecutives that tell us that historical narrative is being discussed. Then chapter 5 retells the events put into poetic form. It is essentially a song of praise for God’s victory. Though chapter 5 is a poetic song, it does describe historical events that supplement what was described in chapter 4, as I will note.
Second, this account provides us with an unique person, Deborah. She is considered the sole female judge mentioned in the book of Judges, as well as the template for women preachers in churches today.
Chapter 4 opens with the same sad commentary that marked the previous three periods of the Judges: “The sons of Israel again did evil in the sight of the LORD.” Their turning away from God happened after Ehud died and the land had rest for 80 years, perhaps as many as two generations. Once he died, Israel quickly returned to the pursuit of ungodly idol worship.
God is said to have sold them. One will note the slave language of the LORD giving them over to their oppressors once again. The oppressors this time were a group of Canaanites who dwelt north of the sea of Galilee. Their king is called Jabin, and because Jabin has been used before in Joshua 11:1-15, more than likely Jabin is a dynastic title.
Under Jabin’s command was a general named Sisera. He commanded 900 chariots of iron. He and his army terrorized the Israelites, so much so, that Judges 5:6-8 says they could not travel the normal byways, but had to find ways to go around where Sisera’s army patrolled. Their oppression of Israel lasted nearly 20 years until the people once more cried out to God for help.
Judges 4:4 introduces us to Deborah. She has become an anti-patriarchal hero for feminists. She is a prophetess, judging and ruling in Israel and she represents a perfect case for allowing women pastors in the church.
However, if one reads her account carefully, there are some important notes to consider.
First off, Deborah is not introduced as one YHWH raised up. In other words, she is not meant to be a “savior” that is typical of the judges God raises up in Israel. In fact, she calls herself a “mother” in 5:7. Furthermore, there is no reference to her being empowered by the Holy Spirit. While special spiritual empowerment wasn’t a necessity to be a judge, it was a specifically unique experience that was male only. And lastly, she does not offer any military leadership. That is left for Barak. He takes her with him because she was wrongly perceived to be some oracle who had God’s ear. If anything, she was considered a good luck charm, and nothing more.
Her “judging” is more the traditional definition, one who hears cases and provides counsel. She is also considered a prophetess, someone who speaks on behalf of God. But the question is why is she fulfilling those roles? Is it because God specifically called her to that position or did it have more to do with the fact the men were cowards and had ignored their duties to lead the people? She was probably the one true Godly individual who loved the LORD, and it was her God used to rally Israel against their enemy.
Deborah is made aware of God’s readying to move against Jabin and she speaks on behalf of God. First she summons Barak to meet with her. She then states that he was to gather 10,000 men from Naphtali and Zebulon. God would then draw out Sisera, along with his chariots, to the brook Kidron. There they were to defeat them.
Barak is reluctant to believe what God revealed to Deborah and refuses to go unless she went with him. She agreed, but told him he would not be honored for the defeat of Jabin.
Sisera gets word that the Israelites were coming out to do battle with him. God uses a guy named Heber to tell him that Barak had gone to mount Tabor. Sisera pulls together his 900 chariots in order to pursue them. When the two armies meet, Israel really had to do nothing, because, according to the extra details provided in Judges 5:9-22, there is a flash flood at Kidron and Sisera’s army becomes mired in the water and mud. Their iron chariots become useless. One interesting historical footnote. In 1799, the Turkish army was defeated in nearly the exact same area when they were caught in a flash flood.
Sisera flees on foot and seek refuge with his informant, Heber. He is apparently not there, but Jael his wife welcomes him in and hides him. She lulls him to complacency, and when Sisera is asleep, she kills him by driving a tent peg through his head with a hammer.
Judges 5:31 ends the Judge cycle by proclaiming, “Thus let all Your enemies perish, O LORD; But let those who love Him be like the rising of the sun in its might.” And the land was undisturbed for forty years.