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The Blue Letter Bible

David Guzik :: Study Guide for Judges 4

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Deborah and Barak

A. Deborah, the fourth Judge.

1. (Jdg 4:1-3) The cycle begins again: apostasy, servitude and supplication.

When Ehud was dead, the children of Israel again did evil in the sight of the Lord. So the Lord sold them into the hand of Jabin king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor. The commander of his army was Sisera, who dwelt in Harosheth Hagoyim. And the children of Israel cried out to the Lord; for Jabin had nine hundred chariots of iron, and for twenty years he harshly oppressed the children of Israel.

a. When Ehud was dead, the children of Israel again did evil in the sight 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.

i. “The sedentary life is most subject to diseases: standing waters soon putrify. It is hard and happy not to grow worse with liberty.” (Trapp)

b. So the Lord sold them into the hand of Jabin king of Canaan: God loved Israel too much to let them go their own way. There may be times when we wish God would leave us alone; yet we are ultimately thankful for His continued dealing with us, even when it isn’t comfortable.

i. Even when God deals with one in this way, it still may take a good while until they turn their heart to in repentance Him. It took Israel twenty years of bondage before they cried out to the Lord.

c. Jabin king of Canaan: God used an entirely different oppressor this time. God can, and will, use anything to get our attention and keep us in line with His will.

2. (Jdg 4:4-5) Deborah: a prophetess and a judge for Israel.

And Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, she judged Israel at that time. And she dwelt under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in mount Ephraim: and the children of Israel came up to her for judgment.

a. And Deborah, a prophetess: Some consider it unexpected for God to raise up a woman as prophetess. But the New Testament makes it clear that God grants the gift of prophecy unto women also, and they are to practice it appropriately (1 Corinthians 11:5).

i. “Lapidoth, her husband, appears to have had no hand in the government. But the original may as well be translated a woman of Lapidoth, as the wife of Lapidoth.” (Clarke)

ii. 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).

iii. From 1 Corinthians 11:5, we find that the essential element to a woman’s ministry as a prophetess in the early church was her clear submission to the male leadership in the church (evidenced by her wearing of a veil). In the New Testament church, a woman was to use her gifts in the context of order established by the leaders of the church – just like anyone’s gift.

iv. This is always possible because the gift of prophecy never “overwhelms” the one who receives it; the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets (1 Corinthians 14:32).

b. She judged Israel at that time: Still more people consider it unexpected for God to raise up a woman to be a judge – a shaphat, a heroic leader for Israel. Deborah was a woman greatly used by God and she was also a woman who respected the people God put in authority over her – notably, Barak.

i. The issue, from a New Testament perspective, is not whether women can be used greatly by God. Of course they can. The issues are of headship, final accountability, and authority – and God has granted these responsibilities to men in both the home and the church. Women can be used greatly by God, but it is to be under the headship of male authority in the church.

ii. The reasons have nothing to do with any notion of male superiority; they have to do with God’s ordained order (1 Corinthians 11:3), in light of God’s order of creation (1 Corinthians 11:8-9), in light of the presence of watching angels (1 Corinthians 11:10), and in light of the nature of the fall (1 Timothy 2:14).

iii. The reasons also have nothing to do with any notion or even the suggestion of female inferiority. Jesus was under the headship and authority of His Father (John 5:19) without being inferior in any way (John 1:1 and Jhn 10:30).

c. And the children of Israel came up to her for judgment: Often it is assumed that Deborah’s was allowed leadership because unspecified men failed to take the position. While later we will see that Barak doesn’t seem to be all he should be, we have no indication that he failed to do something God told him to do in taking leadership.

i. Wolf notes, “Her prominence implies a lack of qualified and willing men.” Yet this can be regarded as no more than an implication, not specifically stated in the text.

3. (Jdg 4:6-7) Deborah calls Barak with a message from God.

Then she sent and called for Barak the son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali, and said to him, “Has not the Lord God of Israel commanded, ‘Go and deploy troops at Mount Tabor; take with you ten thousand men of the sons of Naphtali and of the sons of Zebulun; and against you I will deploy Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his multitude at the River Kishon; and I will deliver him into your hand’?”

a. And she sent and called for Barak: Deborah never believed that God called her alone to deliver Israel. She realized that God would do much of the work through Barak.

b. Has not the Lord God of Israel commanded: The use of this phrase suggests that Deborah simply confirmed something that the Lord had already spoken to Barak. God often brings confirmation when He speaks to us, especially if what we believe He wants us to do will affect other people.

4. (Jdg 4:8-10) Barak will only lead if Deborah accompanies.

And Barak said to her, “If you will go with me, then I will go; but if you will not go with me, I will not go!” So she said, “I will surely go with you; nevertheless there will be no glory for you in the journey you are taking, for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.” Then Deborah arose and went with Barak to Kedesh. And Barak called Zebulun and Naphtali to Kedesh; he went up with ten thousand men under his command, and Deborah went up with him.

a. If you will go with me, then I will go: It didn’t seem unwise of Barak to ask Deborah to come with him. Yet the fact that he demanded it showed that he trusted more in Deborah’s relationship with God than with his own relationship with God.

i. “Barak preferred the inspiration of Deborah’s presence to the invisible but certain help of Almighty God…He is mentioned in Hebrews 11 as one of the heroes of faith; but his faith lay rather in Deborah’s influence with God than in his own. Thus he missed the crown of that great day of victory.” (Meyer)

ii. “He is famous for his faith (Hebrews 11:32-33), and yet here he showeth some unbelief. Let us be faithful in weakness, though but weak in faith.” (Trapp)

b. There will be no glory for you: Because of this, Barak would not be the one to personally defeat Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army – but a woman would be the one. We would expect this to be fulfilled by Deborah, but this prophecy will be fulfilled unexpectedly.

c. He went up with ten thousand men under his command: Nevertheless, Barak and all who went with him showed real courage and trust in God to go out against Sisera and his army. They had essentially no weapons to fight with against a technologically advanced army (having 900 chariots of iron). In addition, God led them to fight on a plain, which gave great advantage to the forces with chariots.

C. Israel’s defeat of Sisera.

1. (Jdg 4:11-13) The armies gather together against one another.

Now Heber the Kenite, of the children of Hobab the father-in-law of Moses, had separated himself from the Kenites and pitched his tent near the terebinth tree at Zaanaim, which is beside Kedesh. And they reported to Sisera that Barak the son of Abinoam had gone up to Mount Tabor. So Sisera gathered together all his chariots, nine hundred chariots of iron, and all the people who were with him, from Harosheth Hagoyim to the River Kishon.

a. Heber the Kenite: These were distant descendants of Israel, through Jethro, the priest of Midian and the father-in-law of Moses, back to Abraham and his second wife Keturah (Genesis 25:1-4).

b. So Sisera gathered together all his chariots, nine hundred chariots of iron: This was sophisticated and impressive military technology. The armies of Israel, under the direction of Barak and Deborah, were at a great disadvantage.

2. (Jdg 4:14-16) Sisera and his army are utterly defeated.

Then Deborah said to Barak, “Up! For this is the day in which the Lord has delivered Sisera into your hand. Has not the Lord gone out before you?” So Barak went down from Mount Tabor with ten thousand men following him. And the Lord routed Sisera and all his chariots and all his army with the edge of the sword before Barak; and Sisera alighted from his chariot and fled away on foot. But Barak pursued the chariots and the army as far as Harosheth Hagoyim, and all the army of Sisera fell by the edge of the sword; not a man was left.

a. So Barak went down from Mount Tabor with ten thousand men: This was a wonderful act of faith on the part of Barak, who moved to a battleground where his armies were at a great disadvantage against the enemy’s chariots.

i. “He doth not make use of the advantage of the hill, where he might have been out of the reach of his iron chariots, Joshua 17:16, but boldly marcheth down into the valley, to give Sisera the opportunity of using all his horses and chariots, that so the victory might be more glorious and wonderful.” (Poole)

b. And the Lord routed Sisera and all his chariots: Because of Barak’s great trust in God (as well as the trust his armies had in the Lord), God granted them a great victory against great odds.

i. Routed: “Terrified, as the vulgar Latin hath it, perhaps by thunder and hailstones, as Joshua 10:10; 1 Samuel 7:10, where the same Hebrew word is used; or else by some hurry-noise made in the air by the angels, as 2 Kings 6; but something was certainly done from heaven.” (Trapp)

c. The Lord routed Sisera and all his chariots: We know from Judges 5:4-5 and Jdg 5:21 that God helped Israel to victory by bringing a flash flood. The muddy conditions made the chariots of iron a hindrance, not a help in the battle.

d. Has not the Lord gone out before you? This is a phrase that speaks of a king or general leading his troops (1 Samuel 8:20). Therefore, Deborah played a big role in this victory. She was an encourager, building up the faith of Barak and his men. Her encouragement was that God, as a king, would go out before His people into battle.

3. (Jdg 4:17-22) The death of Sisera by the hand of a woman.

However, Sisera had fled away on foot to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite; for there was peace between Jabin king of Hazor and the house of Heber the Kenite. And Jael went out to meet Sisera, and said to him, “Turn aside, my lord, turn aside to me; do not fear.” And when he had turned aside with her into the tent, she covered him with a blanket. Then he said to her, “Please give me a little water to drink, for I am thirsty.” So she opened a jug of milk, gave him a drink, and covered him. And he said to her, “Stand at the door of the tent, and if any man comes and inquires of you, and says, ‘Is there any man here?’ you shall say, ‘No.’ “ Then Jael, Heber’s wife, took a tent peg and took a hammer in her hand, and went softly to him and drove the peg into his temple, and it went down into the ground; for he was fast asleep and weary. So he died. And then, as Barak pursued Sisera, Jael came out to meet him, and said to him, “Come, I will show you the man whom you seek.” And when he went into her tent, there lay Sisera, dead with the peg in his temple.

a. Sisera had fled away on foot to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite: Here the story takes an unexpected turn. God promised that a woman would defeat Sisera (Judges 4:9). We would logically assume that this would be Deborah, but God had something else in mind. He instead used the wife of a Kenite to accomplish Sisera’s end.

i. “Women had their tents apart from their husbands, Genesis 24:67; 31:33. And here he though to lurk more securely than in her husband’s tent.” (Poole)

b. Turn aside, my lord, turn aside to me; do not fear: Because there was peace between the people of Sisera and the people of Jael, he had reason to believe he could trust Jael’s invitation.

i. In addition, “Any pursuer would hardly think to look in a woman’s tent for any man, let alone a weary fugitive, for this would be a breach of etiquette.” (Cundall)

ii. “This was a promise of security, and therefore she cannot be excused from dissimulation and treachery in the manner, though the substance of her act was lawful and worthy.” (Poole)

c. Drove the peg into his temple: The gory detail of this matter supports the idea that this was an eye-witness account. Jael knew how to handle a tent-peg because it was customarily the job of women to set up the tents. She struck the peg so hard that it went down into the ground.

i. “Lo, there lay this proud worms’ meat sprawling, with his head fastened to the ground, as if it had been now listening to what was become of the soul.” (Trapp)

ii. Jael broke a fundamental principle of hospitality and many in the ancient world would think her a treacherous woman. She broke her promise to Sisera and killed a man that her own husband had made peace with.

iii. Yet God used even her treachery to accomplish His purpose. Surely, Sisera deserved to die; he fought against God’s people on behalf of a leader who had harshly oppressed the people of Israel (Judges 4:3). The lesson for us is important – God can make even the evil of man serve His purpose: Surely the wrath of man shall praise You (Psalm 76:10). Yet, that never diminishes the personal responsibility of the one doing the evil. Judas’ betrayal of Jesus served the eternal purpose of God, yet he still answered for that evil deed.

iv. “She was encouraged to do it, partly, by observing that the heavens and all the elements conspired against him, as against one devoted to destruction; partly by the fair opportunity which God’s providence put into her hands; and principally, by the secret instinct of God inciting her to it, and assuring her of success in it.” (Poole)

v. “But we do not find one word from Jael herself, stating how she was led to do an act repugnant to her feelings as a woman, contrary to good faith, and a breach of the rules of hospitality. Nor does the sacred penman say one word to explain the case; as in the case of Ehud, he states the fact, and leaves his readers to form their own opinion.” (Clarke)

vi. Charles Spurgeon preached a wonderful sermon on this passage titled Sin Slain on how the we can take Sisera as a type of sin, and his master (Jabin) as a type of Satan. He insisted that we should not be content to merely defeat sin, as Barak defeated Sisera in battle; we should not rest until sin is dead. And, just as Jael asked Barak to look at the dead body of Sisera, Spurgeon said we should look at sin slain by the work of Jesus, knowing He has already won the battle. “If you are content merely to conquer your sins and not to kill them, you may depend upon it, it is the mere work of morality — a surface work — and not the work of the Holy Spirit.” (Spurgeon)

4. (Jdg 4:23-24) After this decisive battle, full victory soon won for Israel.

So on that day God subdued Jabin king of Canaan in the presence of the children of Israel. And the hand of the children of Israel grew stronger and stronger against Jabin king of Canaan, until they had destroyed Jabin king of Canaan.

a. And the hand of the children of Israel grew stronger and stronger: The battle against Sisera was important, but it did not end the struggle. It was an important event that Israel had to continue to develop and walk in.

b. Until they had destroyed Jabin king of Canaan: The war was not over until Jabin was destroyed. Israel could not think the war was over when a great battle was won.

©2013 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission
[A previous revision of this page can be found here]

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