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Bible: What Does Judges 4-5 Teach Us About Deborah, Barak, and Jael?

Updated on September 15, 2016



Israel's Cycle

The cycle of rebellion-bondage-supplication-deliverance continues after Ehud dies (v. 1).

This next occasion presents Israel as suffering for twenty years under the chariot wheels of the Canaanite Jabin, king of Hazor (4:17) and his army commander Sisera (vv. 2-3).

However, the LORD raises up a prophetess, Deborah, to judge His people; she “holds forth” under a palm tree in the mountains of Ephraim (vv. 4-5).

[Normally, God chooses a man to lead Israel. Perhaps He selects Deborah at this juncture because the men behave like Barak (v. 8)].

Deborah apparently receives revelation and delivers it to Barak, Israel's general, who delays in carrying it out (vv. 6-7).

Believing that Deborah’s message entails a suicide mission, he refuses to go unless she went with him.

He must have reasoned, "If she is willing to put her life on the line with me, then I shall go also" (v. 8).

[Of course, his reluctance to obey suggests a pure lack of faith, both in Deborah as a prophet and in God as the Author of the plan].

Deborah's rejoinder shows Barak not only her courage and trust in the LORD to be able to defeat Sisera, but also her boldness to put the general in his place (vv. 9-10).

Sisera, acting on intelligence he gathers from a spy in Heber [a descendant of Jethro (see 1:16)], calls his army and nine hundred chariots to ride against Barak (vv. 11-13).

[The Canaanite commander does exactly what Yahweh said he would do (cf. 4:7)].

As she watches her pagan opponent approach her position, Deborah still finds it necessary to motivate Barak to do his job; she believes God while he hesitates (v. 14).

Yahweh, of course, routs the entire Canaanite army, but allows Sisera to escape on foot to Jael's tent (vv. 15-17).

[Interestingly, Jael is the wife of the man who spied for Sisera!].

Jael provides special hospitality for the weary fugitive, giving him a jug of milk and a bed (vv. 18-19).

Feeling safe (and why shouldn’t he?), Sisera even expects her to lie for him to prevent his capture (v. 20)!

But while the commander sleeps, Jael drives a tent peg through his temple, and then shows the gloryless Barak her gruesome handiwork, thus fulfilling Deborah’s prophecy (vv. 21-22; cf. v. 9).

After this victory, Israel gradually destroys Jabin, king of Hazor (vv. 23-24).

[When men do not fulfill their God-given leadership roles, God will use women to accomplish His purposes].

Tomb of Barak


A Mother of Israel

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Judges 5

Deborah forms a duet with Barak (of all people!) to commemorate their victory (v. 1).

[In the NKJV, the text appears in poetic form; Deborah employs framing in the first stanza of her song (vv. 2-9).

Verse two expresses her joy over the willing service of leaders and people alike in Israel, and then ends with "Bless the LORD!" (v. 2)

Verse nine comprises the other bookend, stating nearly the same sentiments.]

Deborah's song relates that Yahweh has taken Israel from gloom to active service.

Addressing certain rulers (undoubtedly those still dwelling in Canaan), she announces her intention to praise Israel's God (v. 3).

She begins to worship the LORD, extolling both Yahweh's majesty and His influence over nature as He "marched" from Edom (vv. 4-5).

[Perhaps this description refers to His coming to aid Israel against enemies].

This "mother in Israel" then recounts the social decay existing when she first arose as judge (vv. 6-8), presenting evidence of this breakdown:

(1) "Deserted highways" may mean that commercial prospects were poor (v. 6).

(2) "Village life ceased" suggests the same, plus a general apathy and loss of hope (v. 7).

(3) "They chose new gods" plainly states their unfaithful spiritual condition (v. 8).

(4) "Not a shield or spear . . . "amid "war in the gates" may point to a lack of military readiness (v. 8b).

Next, Deborah commands another eminent group to proclaim Yahweh's righteousness on Israel's behalf (vv. 10-11).

She even encourages herself to sing and for Barak to parade those enemies he had captured (v. 12).

As she reviews Israel's performance, Deborah sees the tribes as somewhat divided in their hearts.

Some people supported ("came down") her cause against Sisera (vv. 13-15, 18), but others stayed away (vv. 16-17).

When the kings of Canaan fight against Israel, they lose, for Yahweh employs both natural and supernatural forces in His warfare (vv. 19-21).

[The ''stars" here may refer to angelic hosts; the text certainly does not support the notion that some astrological "star power" exerted influence on the outcome of the battle].

God's Angel, obviously displeased with Meroz for its lack of support, curses that town (v. 23).



Jael's Victim

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Finally, Deborah relates the following events:

(1) the exploits of Jael (vv. 24-27; cf. 4:17-21),

(2) the false hopes of Sisera's mother (vv. 28-30), and

(3) a concluding prayer (v. 31).

The wife of Sisera's spy nonetheless turns on her husband's master as he sleeps and drills him into the ground with a tent peg.

[What a horrible way to die! Jael appeared in no way squeamish about smashing through someone’s temple!

Just one more note is in order.

The text reads: "Where he sank, there he fell dead."

This description is somewhat confusing, because Sisera did not fall down dead. He fell down exhausted; he was not dead until Jael hammered him].

Meanwhile, Sisera's mother anxiously ponders his delay at home.

She remains confident (with support from her attendants) that he had been victorious and was just dividing the spoil (vv. 28-30).

[She, of course, was heading for a life-changing letdown].

After Deborah concludes this vignette, she expresses the desire of all Israelites: death to the enemy, but strength to those who love Yahweh (v. 31).

Israel's victory brings forty more years of rest from war.

© 2013 glynch1


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    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 4 years ago from The Caribbean

      This is one of my favorite Old Testament stories, not because Jael killed Sisera, but because Jael did not allow him to abuse her kindness and hospitality. Not every woman knows how and when to put her foot down on threats to godliness. My hub on Jael is called "When A Charming Woman Becomes Dangerous" ( Thank you for sharing your insights.