Deborah, Jael, and Barak: Two Unforgettable Women and a Misunderstood Man (Judges 4:1-5:31)
WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT? Israel had again done what is evil in the sight of the LORD. As a result, they are disciplined through oppression at the hands of the Canaanites. Following previous patterns, the people cry out for help from the LORD who then raises up a deliverer. In delivering the people, the LORD continues to work through unexpected people in unexpected ways.
Deborah, the prophetess and judge, holds a unique role (in both the book of Judges and the Old Testament) as one of the few women to serve as a leader in Israel. As such, the people of Israel come to her for revelation from God concerning their oppression. On the contrary, Jael, the cunning and duplicitous woman, is the human instrument that vanquishes the enemy. Barak, who the reader would expect to be the valiant leader, will be outdone by a woman and will not have the glory of delivering Israel.
SO WHAT? The reader may be tempted to view any one of the three main characters as the center of the story, however, it was the LORD who freed the people from Canaanite oppression. Deborah is the prophetess who declares that the LORD will deliver Israel. Barak is the chosen general who will lead the people into battle. Jael executes the evil general, Sisera. Yet, the LORD alone is the true deliverer of Israel and hero of the story.
1. The people rebel . . . again.
2. The LORD raises up the oppressor and the deliverer(s).
3. The LORD is the hero of the story.
4. Jael – An unexpected twist in the story of deliverance.
5. The LORD, alone, is worthy of honor and praise.
NOW, WHAT? The prose and poetry of chapters 4 and 5 remind the reader of two essential truths: 1) Only God can deliver humanity; 2) God alone deserves the praise for deliverance. We may expect God to work according to our desires and use people that we would expect to bring about our deliverance. However, God’s ways are both marvelous and mysterious. Marvelous in that He delivers people who don’t deserve it. Mysterious because we don’t always understand His methods. The victory is always the LORD’s, regardless of the human instruments, and therefore He alone is worthy of praise.
Judges 4:1-6 And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord after Ehud died. 2And the Lord sold them into the hand of Jabin king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor. The commander of his army was Sisera, who lived in Harosheth-hagoyim. 3Then the people of Israel cried out to the Lord for help, for he had 900 chariots of iron and he oppressed the people of Israel cruelly for twenty years. 4Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time. 5She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the people of Israel came up to her for judgment. 6She sent and summoned Barak the son of Abinoam from Kedesh-naphtali and said to him, “Has not the Lord, the God of Israel, commanded you, ‘Go, gather your men at Mount Tabor, taking 10,000 from the people of Naphtali and the people of Zebulun.
Study Questions (Judges 4:1-5:31)
1. What was Deborah’s role in Israel (4:4-5)?
2. How is Deborah’s role an indictment against the priesthood (4:4-5)?
3. Explain Barak’s response to Deborah’s revelation (4:8).
4. How does Jael steal Barak’s glory (4:17-22)?
5. Explain the differences between the narrative and poetical descriptions of the same event in Judges chapters 4 and 5.
6. How does the author use images from nature in chapter 5 to describe the events of chapter 4?