Scriptures

Judges 4

Introduction

“Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD, now that Ehud was dead.” Judges 4:1

After Ehud passed from the scene, Israel continued to do what was right in their own eyes which is the cycle that Israel will follow for the next few years.

In other words, when there’s a judge on the scene, the Israelites repent, God delivers them from their enemies and they turn back to God. Everything is fine for a few years and then they get involved in idolatry again and the cycle starts all over again.

When there are no absolutes by which to govern society, people make up their own rules. Israel had God’s Law, but they chose to ignore it, they choose to worship other gods and as a result they ended up in a cycle of war with the other nations around them, Judges 5:8.

This was no accident, by abandoning the Source of their strength, Israel became vulnerable to attack. Remember God didn’t desert them, they left God.

He won’t force us to love Him and stay with Him, it’s our choice to remain faithful or not. The Israelites chose to leave God and as a result, everyone did whatever they thought was right in their own eyes.

Notice the ISV translation of this verse.

‘After Ehud had died, while the Lord was watching, the Israelis made the evil they had been practicing even worse.’ Judges 4:1

And isn’t that still true today, many Christians chose to leave the Lord and when we meet them again months later, in most cases we will soon discover they’re even more immersed in sin than they were before they became Christians.

And so Israel once again are in a mess because they left the Lord and His ways and once again the Lord has to punish His children.

“So the LORD sold them into the hands of Jabin king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor. Sisera, the commander of his army, was based in Harosheth Haggoyim. Because he had nine hundred chariots fitted with iron and had cruelly oppressed the Israelites for twenty years.” Judges 4:2-3

Jabin formed an alliance of Canaanites to wage a prolonged, bloody conflict against Israel. And his objective was to destroy Israel’s army and drive them out of the Promised Land. And so to do this, he ordered his general, Sisera to assemble a massive army.

But this was no ordinary army, this was the mother of all armies, an army which was far superior to Israel’s army. Sisera’s armed forces were equipped with over 900 iron chariots, which would have been an awesome fighting machine.

Israel were hopelessly out-positioned, intimidated, and miserably lacking in numbers and resources. What a terrifying sight this must have been for Israel and we can only imagine the noise of those chariots when they were on the move.

We’ve all heard the saying, ‘desperate times cause for desperate measures’, well, this is one of those times for Israel. And just like the prodigal son, Luke 15:17, it took a desperate time for Israel to come to their senses.

The text says, ‘they cried to the LORD for help.’ That word ‘cried’ literally means they cried out with shouts of shrieks, they screamed out to God for help. But it took an army with over 900 chariots to bring them to their senses.

There have been times in my Christian life when I get a little bit too self-sufficient. There are times where I think I don’t need to pray or study God’s word as much because life is good and everything is going great.

But then suddenly, out of nowhere comes an army, oh it’s not a physical army with 900 chariots. But a spiritual, evil army and they come, maybe only sending one representative to steal my joy in Christ and to take away my effectiveness as a witness for Christ.

And what is this army called? They’re called, guilt and shame, they’re called temptation and sin, they’re called stress and worry, work and hobbies.

And because I’ve spent more time in the world and less time in Christ, I’m an easy target. And its then, after wondering what on earth is happening in my life, that I cry out to God for help again because I realised that I’m neglecting my God.

And so the Israelites scream out to God for help and their deliverance came in an unexpected way.

Deborah

“Now Deborah, a prophet, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading Israel at that time. She held court under the Palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites went up to her to have their disputes decided. 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 them up to Mount Tabor.” Judges 4:4-6

Here we are introduced to Deborah. Judges 4-5 tell a story in two very distinct and different ways. Judges 4 gives a conventional historical account, while Judges 5 re-tells the story in poetic form.

The prophetess Deborah was chosen to lead Israel and she humbly describes herself as ‘a mother in Israel’, Judges 5:7. Her name means ‘honeybee’ which may sound very cute, but she was used by God to deliver a fatal sting to the armies of Sisera as we shall see later.

She is the wife of Lappidoth which means firebrands lamps or flames. She was an Ephraimite woman and like Miriam, Exodus 15:20, and Huldah, 2 Kings 22:14, she rose to a position of leadership and respect among the people of Israel.

Her judging was done in the hill country of Ephraim over all Israel. Notice that her influence was felt in all Israel because the statement is made that ‘Israelites’ came up to her for judgement and because of the fact of her calling Barak who was a resident of the tribe of Naphtali, the northernmost of Israel’s tribe.

They recognised that the Spirit of God was upon her and that as a prophetess she was able to help them know the will of God for their lives.

Her ‘court’ was a palm tree which stood between Ramath and Bethel, little more than 10 miles north of Jerusalem. She has her tent set up under a palm tree which had become well known for people to go to her for advice, she was able to judge in civil arguments.

Women in Bible times normally occupied a subordinate role, but on occasions they rose to prominence and Deborah is one of those women, which begs the question, what are all the men doing during this time? God chose Deborah obviously because she feared God more then she feared Jabin and his army.

She takes the initiative by sending for Barak and installing him as her commanding general. Barak is then charged to lead an army of 10,000 soldiers garrisoned at Mount Tabor. Barak’s name means ‘lightning’, which is an appropriate name for a warrior.

“I will lead Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his troops to the Kishon River and give him into your hands. Barak said to her, “If you go with me, I will go; but if you don’t go with me, I won’t go. Certainly I will go with you”. Judges 4:7-9

Deborah assures Barak that she will lead the troops and she will give the enemy into his hands. What faith! What an incredible woman this is, she believed what God had been telling the Israelites even before they entered the Promised Land. She believed it was already a done deal, she feared man so little because she feared God so much, Proverbs 31:30.

Deborah trusts God and is up to the task, but Barak the lightening warrior man, but notice his reaction to all this. Wait a minute Barak, God through Deborah has just told you you’re going to win this battle, so why are you hesitating? Are you still scared? Why are you hesitating Barak? What is it going to take for you to go?

And Barak says, ‘I want God’s assurance that He is going to be with me’. In other words, he wants Deborah to go with Him because she represents God and so Deborah says to him that she will go.

To assure God’s presence and blessing, he insists that Deborah accompanies the army into battle but because of his lack of faith, his chance of becoming a hero for Israel was taken away from him.

We shouldn’t be too hard on Barak here because we all face troubling times in our lives. And it’s usually during those troubling times when our faith can easily falter and we forget that when God calls us to do something, He also provides the means for us to be able to do whatever He asks us to do.

Barak felt inadequate, yet he recognized that the Spirit of the Lord was with Deborah. In other words, he needed her faith in God’s unseen power. I know we can only stand on our own faith but there’s strength to be found in the faith of others, Proverbs 27:17.

Barak hesitated and sometimes we hesitate and waste time looking for tangible evidence that God’s going to help us before we face our difficulties. We want God to show up before we take that first step in faith. But the Bible clearly tells us that we should step out in faith first and then watch God do what He promised.

There was a time when God told Joshua that He was going to stop the River Jordan in its tracks and then Joshua told the Israelites what God said He was going to do. Now they had to put their faith into action, they didn’t say, ‘OK God, now we’re close to the river, we want you stop it flowing now’.

But faith doesn’t work that way, the text tells us that the water stopped flowing when they their feet touched the water’s edge, Joshua 3:15-16. In other words, God says, ‘you take that first step out in faith and leave the rest up to Me’.

The Lord’s battles are always won through faith and we need to understand that God controls the outcome. Barak forgot and needed reminding from someone who had greater faith than he had.

And also in Barak’s defence, he gets some credit for recognizing his inadequacy and need for divine intervention because he’s mentioned in the hall of faith, Hebrews 11:32.

And so Deborah agrees to Barak’s condition, but issues a prophetic condition of her own.

“Certainly I will go with you,” said Deborah. “But because of the course you are taking, the honour will not be yours, for the LORD will deliver Sisera into the hands of a woman.” Judges 4:9

The text says that the honour will go to a woman, instead of Barak. Although Deborah is credited with Israel’s victory, it’s another woman, who actually kills general Sisera, Judges 4:17-21. That other woman is called Jael, Judges 5:24-27.

And so Barak now pays the price for his reluctance to do God’s will, he will be the victor, but he will certainly lose face. Barak’s faith was weak, yet he at least realised his need of God’s favour. Deborah was recognized as a leader in touch with God, but maybe to some, she was just some sort of good luck charm.

Deborah’s presence made a positive impact on the morale of the outnumbered and under-equipped Israelite army.  She probably didn’t carry a sword, but she was the guiding force of the battle. The people trusted her, because she spoke with courage and authority.

Her willingness to accompany Barak into battle shows bravery in the presence of great danger. And so with that kind of motivation behind him, Barak rose to the occasion.

We need godly women who can push, inspire and motivate the rest of us just like Deborah did. We need godly women to remind us of all the wonderful things that God has done and will continue to in the future for His people.

Let’s be realistic here, Israel had a very slim chance of defending themselves against the Canaanite weaponry and if we ever get to the point when we think we can start trusting in our wealth, our possessions, or even on our strength, then we can be sure that our outcome will be the same as the Canaanites, we will fall.

The Canaanites trusted in their chariots but God’s people didn’t, their trust was in God, Psalm 20:7.

“There Barak summoned Zebulun and Naphtali, and ten thousand men went up under his command. Deborah also went up with him. 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. When they told Sisera that Barak son of Abinoam had gone up to Mount Tabor, Sisera summoned from Harosheth Haggoyim to the Kishon River all his men and his nine hundred chariots fitted with iron. 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, with ten thousand men following him. At Barak’s advance, the LORD routed Sisera and all his chariots and army by the sword, and Sisera got down from his chariot and fled on foot. Barak pursued the chariots and army as far as Harosheth Haggoyim, and all Sisera’s troops fell by the sword; not a man was left.” Judges 4:10-16

Sisera was the captain of the Canaanite army under Jabin, king of Hazor and he had 900 chariots of iron under his command. This superior equipment for warfare struck terror into the hearts of the warriors of Israel, since most of them were without any particular military training and largely without military equipment.

Heber was one of the Kenites, the descendants of Habab, Moses’ father-in-law. They had come to Canaan with Israel and had settled first in Judah, whence some  evidently migrated north.

Heber had left the main body of his people and had travelled quite a distance to take up his residence at Zaanannim, a town near Kadesh. Kadesh was a city of refuge, but there is no indication that Heber had fled for refuge to this point.

His home was near the home of Barak, and he was sympathetic with the cause of the Israelites as they fought against Jabin. The text says he is Heber the Kenite, the Kenites had settled in the wilderness of Judah South of Arad in the time of Joshua, Judges 1:16.

But Heber with a portion of his tribe had migrated later to Naphtali’s territory, possibly at the time of Philistines oppression when Shamgar was raised up, Judges 3:31.

He brought his army south to Mount Tabor and joins battle with Sisera on the banks of the Kishon river, by the waters Northwest of Megiddo. This was a level plain and would be good for Sisera to bring all his chariots into play.

Notice that God intervened, overwhelming the charioteers, how exactly did He intervene? Basically God intervened by making the heavens shake and the clouds poured down a torrent of water, and the river Kishon swept away those Canaanite soldiers, Judges 5:20-21.

Not one verse of Deborah’s song talks about the efforts of the Israelite army. God is given full credit for defeating a technologically-superior force. And so after divine intervention on the battlefield, the Israelite army then promptly exploited the situation.

Sisera’s soldiers, unable to manoeuvre, were killed by the swordsmen of Israel. Sisera escaped, only to be brutally killed by a nomadic woman named Jael, whom we looked at earlier. Basically, Sisera looked for refuge from the wrong person.

God is the place of refuge, God is the Christian’s refuge, and He is our deliverer, our rock, our shield and our salvation, Psalm 18:1-2.

“Sisera, meanwhile, fled on foot to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, because there was an alliance between Jabin king of Hazor and the family of Heber the Kenite.” Judges 4:17

Jael was a member of a tribe with strong ties to Israel and the offering of hospitality in a nomad’s tent was traditionally a guarantee of protection. Not only that, but her pursuers also wouldn’t look in a woman’s tent for a man, because that would be a breach of Middle Eastern custom.

So Sisera was lulled into a false sense of security by Jael’s disarming and treacherous ‘generosity’. Sisera’s death was strikingly savage and gruesome, as we’re about to read.

“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 covered him with a blanket. “I’m thirsty,” he said. “Please give me some water.” She opened a skin of milk, gave him a drink, and covered him up. “Stand in the doorway of the tent,” he told her. “If someone comes by and asks you, ‘Is anyone in there?’ say ‘No.’” 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.” Judges 4:18-21

Having already fed him the milk and curds she decides he needs a dessert, and for desert while he is sleeping she has a permanent cure for his exhaustion she drives a tent peg through his skull.

That’s pretty gruesome as we read that Jael drove a tent peg through the sleeping general’s head. Sisera dies, and the victory is complete, his army is in tatters, fleeing for their lives and Jael has Sisera well pinned down.

Remember that Bedouin women were responsible for pitching the tents, so she would have had lots of practice using a mallet but look at what happened after she kills Sisera.

Since the Canaanites were in possession of chariots of iron, Jael would undoubtedly have had possession of a nail of iron. Some feel that a wooden tent peg was used. In any case, it was of large size because not only was she able to drive it through Sisera’s head, but into the ground beneath his head.

“Just then 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. On that day God subdued Jabin king of Canaan before the Israelites. And the hand of the Israelites pressed harder and harder against Jabin king of Canaan until they destroyed him.” Judges 4:22-24

Just before she killed Sisera, in verse 20, Sisera tells Jael to stand guard at the entrance of her tent and told to lie should someone ask who’s inside. That someone who comes to the tent is Barak, and he’s in pursuit of Sisera, exhausted by the battle.

Barak wanted the honour of capturing Sisera but he learns to his dismay that Sisera is already dead, thanks to Jael and her nail. In other words, what Deborah prophesied to Barak back in Judges 4:9 came true.

Let’s look at Sisera’s mother for a moment because as the saying goes, the fruit never falls far from the tree. In her song, Deborah describes Sisera’s mother as tactlessly gloating about her son’s army raping and pillaging the helpless Jews, Judges 5:28-30.

But now Sisera will no longer be able to molest a single woman, because in humiliating fashion a woman ended his treachery. In other words he reaped what he sowed, Galatians 6:7-8.

Jabin and Sisera likely laughed at the notion of a woman leading Israel but Deborah shows us what can be accomplished when we rely on God to fight our battles, 1 Samuel 17:47.

Go To Judges 5

DAILY BIBLE VERSE

"Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.'"

Matthew 22:37

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