Judges 4:1-16 – Deborah

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Jdg 4:1-3

  1. When Israel made a covenant with God on Mount Sinai, they agreed that obedience would lead to God’s blessing, and disobedience would lead to God’s curse (Deuteronomy 28). The blessing would lead to a good harvest, protection from enemies, sanctification and many children. But the curse would lead to punishment, sickness, war, confusion and starvation.
    1. In a way, perhaps it would be nice to have a covenant of blessing and curse? When you get a little lax in your faith, you get punished, realize your sin, repent and come back to the Lord.
      1. The problem with this way of receiving salvation is that, in order to avoid the curse, one must keep all of God’s commandments, which is impossible in principle. In the new covenant that Jesus instituted, Jesus took the curse of the old covenant upon himself when he died on the cross, and all who believe in Jesus are redeemed from the curse and can share in the blessing instead (Gal 3).
  2. The stories of the book of Judges follow a pattern in which Israel promises to be obedient to God, is blessed, falls away and begins to worship idols, is cursed by God, cries out to God for help, is rescued by God, promises to be obedient to God, is blessed, falls away, etc., etc.
    1. When Israel is in trouble because of its apostasy, God usually calls a new “judge”, a leader, who receives God’s power to save Israel.
  3. Because of Israel’s disobedience, God allowed them to suffer war and oppression. The Canaanite king Jabin keeps Israel in an iron grip by blocking the important trade routes (Judges 5:6), and plundering and raping Israelite women (Judges 5:30).
    1. One might think that Israel should have repented as soon as possible, but it took 20 years of oppression before they finally repented and cried out to God for help.

Jdg 4:4-5

  1. Although Israel as a whole had turned away from God, there was a godly woman in the hill country of Ephraim who continued to live righteously. Deborah, whose name means “bee,” described herself as “a mother in Israel” (Judges 5:7) and sat under a palm tree in Ephraim, receiving people who needed advice and guidance. God spoke through her, both by wisdom and by direct address. One of the prophetic words she received was that the time had come for God to deliver Israel through the military leader Barak.
  2. It is not common for God to call a woman to be a prophetess and judge in Israel. But what is clear is that it was Deborah who was the judge in Israel at this time, not Barak.
    1. The Bible has many examples of women who had the prophetic gift: Miriam (Exodus 15:20), Huldah (2 Kings 22:14), Hannah (Luke 2:36), and Philip’s four daughters (Acts 21:8-9).
    2. However, there are not as many biblical examples of women leaders. Therefore, the story of Deborah becomes especially important in understanding God’s will for female leadership.
      1. Other examples of female leadership include Miriam (Mic 6:4), Esther (Esther), Mary (Luke 10:39), Jesus’ female disciples (Luke 8:1-3), Priscilla (Acts 18:26), Phoebe (Rom 16:1), Junia (Rom 16:7).
  3. A so-called “judge” in the Judges’ Book was not necessarily a judge who sits in a court and judges. Rather, the Hebrew word “shaphat” means a “leader” or “hero”. A judge is a God-appointed leader who leads Israel to victory and delivers God’s judgment on Israel’s enemies.
    1. Whether you become a leader in the kingdom of God does not depend on whether you are male or female, but on whether you receive God’s call or not. In this case, Deborah had undeniably received God’s call to be one of Israel’s leaders, which she carried out in a most exemplary manner.

Jdg 4:6-7

  1. It seems that there is a part of this story that is not in the Bible. One gets the impression that God had told Barak to go to battle with Sisera on a previous occasion, but for some reason Barak did not do so. Deborah now repeats God’s word to Barak and tells him to go to battle.
    1. When one receives a great and life-changing call from God, it does not hurt if that call is confirmed by a prophet. Even if the first experience was clear, one can be uncertain, and then it is very strengthening to have one’s experience confirmed.

Jdg 4:8-9

  1. It was not necessarily wrong for Barak to ask Deborah to come along. Perhaps Barak still felt insecure in himself, and needed Deborah’s strong faith by his side. Perhaps Barak felt that the men would fight more bravely if Deborah came along and boosted morale.
    1. But it was not good of Barak to refuse to go unless Deborah went with him. In this way, Barak reveals that he does not really believe that God will be with him, unless Deborah also goes with him.
    2. Barak is thus an example of a servant of the Lord who is weak in his faith, and dependent on the faith of others. The good thing about this weakness is that God was able to use Barak anyway, and in Hebrews 11:32-33 he is mentioned as one of the heroes of faith.
  2. The negative thing about Barak’s weak faith is that he does not trust God’s word to him. He believes that God has spoken to Deborah, but he seems to think that God only stands by his word if Deborah is present, which is not true. If God has said that he will be with Barak, then God will follow through.
    1. Because of Barak’s weak faith, a woman would get the credit for the victory over Sisera instead of Barak. At first, one might think that it would be Deborah who would receive this honor, but eventually it would turn out to be another woman.
    2. By giving a “woman” the credit for this military victory over Sisera, God shows that it is not gender that determines whether one is willing to courageously obey God. Rather, it is the faith in the heart, whether male or female, that is decisive.
  3. Although Barak was weak in his faith and dependent on Deborah’s strength, he obeyed God’s call in the end. An important lesson from this is that weakness and doubt are not an obstacle to God. Rather, human weakness reveals God’s greatness even more.

Jdg 4:10-11

  1. That Barak was insecure was not so surprising, humanly speaking. Sisera and the Canaanites had 900 chariots, which made them vastly superior to the Israelites, especially considering that at this time there were hardly any weapons in Israel (Judges 5:8, 1 Sam 13:19-22).

Jdg 4:12-16

  1. Before the battle begins, Barak has gathered his men atop Mount Tabor and Sisera has his men and tanks down in the field. Up on the mountain, Barak has an advantage because it will be extremely awkward for tanks to get up there and fight. But down on the field, Sisera has the advantage because he can then make full use of his tanks.
    1. So when Barak goes down from the mountain to meet Sisera in an open field, he is going down on enemy ground where he has all the odds against him.
      1. In the same way, it may be easier for us Christians to shut ourselves away in the church where we feel safe and secure, than to go out into the world and witness to our faith. Out in the world the odds are against us and we have the advantage of home ground, but on the other hand the victory will be greater than if we just shut ourselves away in church.
    1. In Judges 5:4-5, it seems that God sent a heavy rain in connection with the battle. If this was the case, it is quite possible that the advantage the chariots provided suddenly became a serious disadvantage when the rain turned the ground into mud and caused the chariots to get stuck in the mud. That would explain why Sisera “got down from his chariot and fled on foot”.

Jdg 4:17-21

  1. Women and men each had a tent (Gen 24:67, Gen 31:33) and Sisera hides in a woman’s tent because he thinks no one will look for him there.
  2. Pitching tents was a woman’s job at the time, so Jael was well versed in pounding tent pegs into the ground, which she now uses to brutally kill Sisera.
  3. By killing his guest, Jael violates the all-important principle of hospitality. But she could do this in good conscience because her people the Kenites were distant relatives of Israel (Gen 25:1-4) and her husband Heber should never have invited Sisera in the first place, because he was an enemy of God’s people. 
  4. On this day, Israel, the land flowing with milk and honey, was saved by the woman Deborah, whose name means “bee”, and by Jael, whose name means “mountain goat”. Because of their disobedience, Israel could not enjoy the milk and honey that God had promised them, but thanks to two faithful and strong women, Israel regained the honey of the bee and the milk of the goat.

Jdg 4:22-24

  1. Although the Israelites won a great victory that day, the war was not yet over. The fighting continued, but eventually Israel had finished off its enemy Jabin completely.
    1. In the same way, today we can occasionally experience great breakthroughs in our spiritual life, even if we are not completely freed from all problems just because of this. But sometimes it is the right time and the right opportunity to give one’s life completely to God again, or to take new steps in life together with God.
  2. In summary, we learn a lot about the role of women in Judges chapters 4 and 5. The men of Canaan raped defenseless Israelite women for 20 years, until Israel repents and God speaks to Israel’s leader Deborah. When the man Barak is afraid to go into battle without the woman Deborah, God allows the woman Jael to defeat the enemy Sisera. So in these two chapters we learn that God can use both men and women as prophets and leaders. What matters is not what gender you are, but whether you are willing to believe God’s word and obey the call you have received, whether you are male or female.
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