In this chapter God uses two women for the deliverance of His people. They are Deborah and Jael. He thereby shows that His power is accomplished in weakness (2Cor 12:9a). Women represent weakness (1Pet 3:7). This fact also indicates that at that moment there is no suitable man in Israel who can be used by God. If God has to use women for such services, it is to the shame of the man.
At the same time, this history is a great encouragement for all women who fear God and want to be used by Him. They are taught here how God wants to use them as a blessing for His people.
1 After the Death of Ehud
1 Then the sons of Israel again did evil in the sight of the LORD, after Ehud died.
Again the truth is proved of what is said in Judges 2 (Jdg 2:19). The man who led the deliverance of the people has died. The good influence he had on the people has thus disappeared. If good leaders are lacking, the people become rudderless and surrender to all kinds of evil. The eighty years of rest (Jdg 3:30) did not make the situation better, but worse. For the fourth time we read the expression that the Israelites “did evil in the sight of the LORD”.
2 Jabin and Sisera
2 And the LORD sold them into the hand of Jabin king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor; and the commander of his army was Sisera, who lived in Harosheth-hagoyim.
The enemy now used by God is in the north of Israel. For 20 years, from 1257-1237 BC, the people were oppressed by this enemy. About 130 years earlier Joshua had to deal with the same enemy (Jos 11:10-11). Apparently this enemy was then completely destroyed. Here he appears to be alive again. An old enemy revives.
Therein lies an important lesson. Satan knows exactly how to revive old errors and evil, and he also knows how to use them to bring the people of God back into slavery. This is also true in our lives. We are dealing with a defeated enemy, but he is still alive and trying to subdue the people of God. He will only be definitively eliminated in the future. That’s how it will be with the devil.
In the names mentioned in this verse, we can find out more about this enemy. The meaning of the names is always about his character, his way of working. The enemy can take many forms. Each time he adapts to the situation. Fortunately, God always has an adequate answer to all these methods. Jabin means ‘insight’, ‘intellect’, ‘wisdom’. It is a wisdom that is contrary to God’s, a wisdom that is not from above, but that is “earthly, natural, demonic” (Jam 3:15). It is the wisdom of the world which is made foolishness by God (1Cor 1:20).
It seems that the name Jabin is a kind of title that indicates a position, like ‘pharaoh’ in Egypt and ‘Herod’ in Israel and ‘Abimelech’ with the Philistines. It is not the same man as in Joshua 11, but another person with the same name. Hazor means ‘enclosed’, ‘enclosed area’. Sisera means ‘battle-order’.
In connection with the names, we can see this enemy as the wisdom of the world, the human intellect, which rules in its own closed area and which rejects and excludes what is of God. As soon as the reason of the human intellect is given free rein in the things of God, God is put out of the door. Usefulness reasoning assert itself while there is no longer asking what God says about a particular matter in the Bible. An example of this we have in the meeting together of believers, to which different people give different interpretations. Many things have been arranged there by people who are not to be found in Scripture.
Whoever does ask for God’s standards will find ‘Sisera’ opposite him. They are people who act in ‘order of battle’ to silence the ‘obstructers’. This is a recognizable situation in large parts of Christianity. We can read in 2 Corinthians 10 how Paul, that is to say the Holy Spirit, deals with enemies like “Jabin” and “Sisera”, an example that can be followed by us (2Cor 10:5).
3 Crying to the LORD
3 The sons of Israel cried to the LORD; for he had nine hundred iron chariots, and he oppressed the sons of Israel severely for twenty years.
After twenty years of oppression, the people recognize the need they find themselves in. The enemy has ruled with an iron hand (chariots). In Judges 1 we already talked about those iron chariots (Jdg 1:19). We have seen that, if there had been faith, these chariots would not have been a problem. Now it must take twenty years before they cry to the LORD to be freed from the enemy, from the ‘enclosure’. Fortunately, this moment comes. God already has His instrument ready.
4 Deborah, the Prophetess
4 Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time.
Deborah is a prophetess. Her name means ‘activity’ or ‘bee’. Another meaning stems from the connection that exists between the names Debir and Deborah. Both names have the meaning ‘the word’ in them. For the application of the name Deborah, I use this meaning. The fact that she is a prophetess fits in with this. A prophet or prophetess is someone who communicates God’s thoughts, someone who speaks “utterances of God” (1Pet 4:11).
The Bible has a number of prophetesses: Miriam (Exo 15:20), Hulda (2Kgs 22:14), Anna (Lk 2:36) and the daughters of Philip (Acts 21:9). These examples are just as many exhortations for women to let God use them.
There are only two limitations that God imposes on the service of women:
“A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet” (1Tim 2:11-12).
2. “The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says” (1Cor 14:34).
The first text states that she may not teach and may not exercise authority over a man. She does not possess the gift of a teacher and is not allowed to exercise authority. The other text speaks about her attitude in the church. There she must be quiet, which means that she cannot raise her voice in order to lead the church to do anything or to say anything to the church.
We will see that the attitude and the service of Deborah, as they appear in this chapter, are a nice illustration of the teaching about the service and the attitude of the woman in the New Testament.
She is married to Lappidoth. His name means ‘burning torches’. That reminds to Acts 2, where the Holy Spirit is poured out. There we read about “tongues as of fire” (Acts 2:3).
Thus we see in the couple Deborah and Lappidoth the beautiful combination of the Word of God that is applied in the power of the Holy Spirit.
5 Deborah, the Judge
5 She used to sit under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the sons of Israel came up to her for judgment.
Deborah’s living and working environment are described in detail. She lives under a palm tree bearing her name. Thus she is, as it were, identified with the tree. The palm tree is a tree that was very widespread in ancient Israel and was appreciated for its size, providing shade, and for its fruits, the dates (cf. Joel 1:12). The palm tree can grow very old and bears fruit right up to the end. It has a slender, straight trunk and lush crown (cf. Song 7:7). This symbolizes growth, fertility, and victory. The righteous is compared with such a palm tree when it is said of him that he bears fruit in the house of the LORD and that until old age (Psa 92:12-14).
The thought of the LORD’s house is also expressed in the place where Deborah lives. She lives between Rama and Bethel. Rama means ‘exaltation’ or ‘height’ and Bethel means ‘house of God’. The combination of the palm tree and the names of the places tell us that Deborah is a righteous person, who bears fruit and lives at the height of God’s thoughts. She is also associated with the house of God on earth. This enables her to judge the situation in which Israel is. These conditions also apply to us to be used by God for the good of His people.
Deborah is a woman of faith who doesn’t leave the place given to her by God as a woman. She does not travel through the land, but the Israelites come up to her. This shows that she exercises her task and gift in the area God has given her.
With other prophetesses we see the same thing. Josiah sends messengers to the prophetess Hulda to hear through her God’s will (2Chr 34:21-28). The prophetess Anna is someone who “never left the temple” (Lk 2:37). In Acts 21 we read about the four daughters of Philip who were prophetesses (Acts 21:9). Yet God sends the prophet Agabus from Judaea to come there to bring a message to Paul and He does not use the daughters of Philip because that message must be communicated in a public meeting (Acts 21:10-12).
When we think about the gifts and the task of the woman, it is important to ask ourselves what God says about them in His Word. In today’s world, women are increasingly encouraged to assert themselves and take the same place as men. She is not his inferior, is she? She doesn’t have to let herself be shoved away, does she?
The background to these questions is the contemptuous treatment that the man has often given the woman. This treatment must be condemned. Yet all the abuse that has led to such an attitude does not take away anything from what God says about the position in which He has placed both the man and the woman. This abuse is not eliminated by women’s emancipation efforts or the efforts of all kinds of feminist movements. This abuse only disappears when both the man and the woman start to abide by what the Bible tells each of them about their behavior. This not only gives good relationships, but it also becomes a source of blessing. Deborah keeps to it and every woman who does so is blessed. In so doing, she brings blessing to all the people of God.
6 - 7 The Command of the LORD to Barak
6 Now she sent and summoned Barak the son of Abinoam from Kedesh-naphtali, and said to him, “Behold, the LORD, the God of Israel, has commanded, ‘Go and march to Mount Tabor, and take with you ten thousand men from the sons of Naphtali and from the sons of Zebulun. 7 I will draw out to you Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his many [troops] to the river Kishon, and I will give him into your hand.’”
In accordance with what we have just seen, Deborah lets Barak come to her; she is not going to him. When she must speak unto him a word from the LORD, the God of Israel, she does so in the place where she dwells. She lets herself be led by the Spirit of God and acts with His insight. This action of God through Deborah is not His usual action and is to the shame of the man.
Barak means ‘shining’. “God is light” (1Jn 1:5). Whoever shines the light of God will defeat the enemy. Barak must be summoned and encouraged to do so. He apparently forgot the meaning of his name, perhaps because of the long domination by the enemy.
The name of his father, Abinoam, means ‘father of sweetness’. Barak seems to have grown up in a family where a lot of love and kindness are found. That is how God wants to raise His children. In such an atmosphere, people are formed that He can use.
The region he comes from is Kedesh in Naphtali. Kedes means ‘sanctuary’ and Naphtali means ‘wrestler’ or ‘warrior’. This indicates that Barak knows the sanctuary and knows what it is to fight. He resembles Epaphras, of whom we read that he always fights for the Colossians in the prayers (Col 4:12). When we pray, we enter God’s sanctuary. Prayer is not an easy job, it is an exhausting activity. Barak developed in such an environment.
It seems that everything is present to become a deliverer, but that he lacks spiritual courage. How wonderful it is to see how Deborah brings him to activity – a previously mentioned meaning of her name. She made him part of her conviction that God will hand over the enemy to him. She has received this message from Him.
Barak has to go to the mountain Tabor, that means ‘mountain of the purpose’. Is that not great encouragement? We have to go to the mountain, so up, where we can see how God thinks and does, what He has intended. If we keep looking at the situation around us, we might just complain. But if we engage in the purpose of God, what is in His heart, we will be encouraged. God’s plans and counsels cannot be affected by any enemy. Let us focus on this in particular, then we will see what strength that gives us to fight.
Being aware of God’s intention and thoughts is the best basis for the struggle to overcome. How good it is to encourage each other with this. Deborah says, as it were, to Barak what Paul says to Archippus: “Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfill it” (Col 4:17). In this way sisters can encourage brothers. There is a great lack of such sisters.
8 - 10 Deborah Also Goes with Barak
8 Then 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.” 9 She said, “I will surely go with you; nevertheless, the honor shall not be yours on the journey that you are about to take, for the LORD will sell Sisera into the hands of a woman.” Then Deborah arose and went with Barak to Kedesh. 10 Barak called Zebulun and Naphtali together to Kedesh, and ten thousand men went up with him; Deborah also went up with him.
Despite the beautiful meaning of the names connected with Barak, he doesn’t dare to go to the enemy alone. He wants to go, but needs someone he knows who trusts in God. He finds such a person in Deborah. In this he looks a little like Lot who also appears to trust the faith of another, namely that of his uncle Abraham. Deborah agrees, but she says that because of this the honor of the enterprise will not be for him, but for a woman. God rewards trust in Him; if this is lacking, He cannot give His rewards.
This may be an incentive for us to carry out the task that He gives us to do, without relying on the support of others. This does not mean that we do not appreciate support, but it should not be the condition for us to do what we are told to do. Yet Barak is a man of faith. It is not for nothing that he is mentioned as a hero of faith in Hebrews 11 (Heb 11:32). He believes in Deborah’s prophecy and with a small army he goes to fight with a powerful enemy.
11 The Kenites
11 Now Heber the Kenite had separated himself from the Kenites, from the sons of Hobab the father-in-law of Moses, and had pitched his tent as far away as the oak in Zaanannim, which is near Kedesh.
Suddenly the Kenite Heber is mentioned, apparently without reason. In Judges 1 we already looked at the Kenites (Jdg 1:16). There we read that they are among the people of God, without being part of them. In their attitude they form a contrast with people like Caleb and Achsah. Here we have to deal with a man who belongs to the Kenites, but has separated himself from this people. He has gone his own way, but without connecting himself with the people of God. In this respect, he does not deny his origins.
Why he is mentioned here is perhaps to show the contrast with Barak who does act out of faith and for the benefit of the people of God. Heber is even a friend of the enemy of the people (verse 17). Heber is also mentioned here because his wife Jael is the one who Deborah means in verse 9.
12 - 13 The Enemy Becomes Active
12 Then they told Sisera that Barak the son of Abinoam had gone up to Mount Tabor. 13 Sisera called together all his chariots, nine hundred iron chariots, and all the people who [were] with him, from Harosheth-hagoyim to the river Kishon.
It is a recurring phenomenon that the enemy becomes active as soon as the people of God start to act in faith. The enemy will not act as long as the people of God are passive and have no intention of doing anything about the situation.
In the life of a believer this does not work otherwise. When a believer is completely absorbed in the things of the world, the devil will not care about him. However, as soon as a believer realizes that he is wrong and wants to break his connection with the world, the devil becomes very active. He will try everything to keep the believer in his power.
14 - 16 The Enemy Defeated
14 Deborah said to Barak, “Arise! For this is the day in which the LORD has given Sisera into your hands; behold, the LORD has gone out before you.” So Barak went down from Mount Tabor with ten thousand men following him. 15 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. 16 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 even one was left.
Now that the battle is approaching, it is again Deborah who inspires Barak. Through her fellowship with God she knows His will. With this knowledge she encourages, incites to fight and points to the final victory. Whoever fights for God, in faith in Him, can count on ‘gain’. Just as in verse 7 she here directs Barak’s faith to the LORD. The guarantee for victory is not Barak’s army, the ten thousand men who follow him. She points out that the LORD Himself goes out before him; Barak needs only to follow.
We see how Deborah doesn’t openly mix herself into the battle. That fits her place as a woman. We also see how, through her firm confidence, her faith in the LORD, she lays the foundation for defeating the enemy. That is how great the influence of a God-fearing woman is. Let no one say that a woman is silenced if she abides by the limits that the Word of God places on her public action.
Then Barak proceeds to actually act. The LORD shows that He is on the side of Barak and sows confusion among the army of Sisera. God always does this. If we believe, this faith can count on God making our cause His. Again, as with Ehud, the enemy is defeated by “the edge of the sword”. God gives us no other weapon in the fight against the enemy than His Word, of which the sword is a picture (Eph 6:17).
17 - 22 Jael
17 Now Sisera fled away on foot to the tent of Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite, for [there was] peace between Jabin the king of Hazor and the house of Heber the Kenite. 18 Jael went out to meet Sisera, and said to him, “Turn aside, my master, turn aside to me! Do not be afraid.” And he turned aside to her into the tent, and she covered him with a rug. 19 He said to her, “Please give me a little water to drink, for I am thirsty.” So she opened a bottle of milk and gave him a drink; then she covered him. 20 He said to her, “Stand in the doorway of the tent, and it shall be if anyone comes and inquires of you, and says, ‘Is there anyone here?’ that you shall say, ‘No.’” 21 But Jael, Heber’s wife, took a tent peg and seized a hammer in her hand, and went secretly to him and drove the peg into his temple, and it went through into the ground; for he was sound asleep and exhausted. So he died. 22 And behold, as Barak pursued Sisera, Jael came out to meet him and said to him, “Come, and I will show you the man whom you are seeking.” And he entered with her, and behold Sisera was lying dead with the tent peg in his temple.
Women play a leading role in defeating this enemy. The second woman mentioned has the honor of killing the captain of the enemy army. Deborah has already, without mentioning her name, spoken about this woman in verse 9, to the shame of Barak who lacked faith. Now we read her name and we are witnesses of her performance.
Here too, there is much to be learned from the way in which God uses women. Unfortunately, there are only a few of these women to be found, just as few, incidentally, as the true men of faith who, in full devotion, surrender themselves to the Lord to be used by Him.
The woman involved in the battle at this important moment is called Jael. She is the wife of Heber about whom we have already heard in verse 11. It seems that she has a completely different character than her husband. He lives in peace with the enemy of God’s people. Jael does not participate in that. Just as before Rachab (Jos 2:4,6,15-16) she makes herself one with the people of God. Like later Abigail (1Sam 25:3) she is connected to a man who has no interest in the things of God.
In her heart is faith. She invites Sisera to hide in her tent. She takes care of him so well that he feels at ease. After he has impressed on her not to betray him, he falls into a deep sleep. Then Jaël sees her chance. With hammer and tent peg she puts an end to the activities of this cruel oppressor of God’s people.
What can we learn from her? Her name means ‘climber’. She proposes someone who searches for “the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (Col 3:1-2). To be deployable in battle, we must engage with Christ as He is in heaven today. We need to make an effort. Climbing is not easy.
Her life on earth is in accordance with this. She lives in a tent. A tent is the symbol of being a stranger, of being on a journey and not having a home here on earth. The tent peg, the means by which she kills the enemy, shows that to defeat the enemy it is necessary for us to behave as true “aliens and strangers” (1Pet 2:11). We will never overcome if we unite ourselves with the world and forget to search for the things that are above.
The tent peg is used in combination with the hammer. The hammer is compared with the Word of God (Jer 23:29). The place where Sisera is hit is his temple, the side of his head. The tent pin is struck so hard that it remains stuck in the ground. We can say that temple is the place where the thoughts of man are formed.
At the beginning of this chapter we saw that this enemy speaks of the intellect, the wisdom of the world that influences the people of God. This enemy can only be radically dealt with by a consistent life as a foreigner. In other words, we must not engage in the politics that the world aspires to. All kinds of ‘sensible’ reasons can be given to do this anyway. Therefore, we must always read and study the Word through which we will discover the things above, that is Christ. We will also notice that the Word, like a hammer, destroys all these ‘sensible’ reasoning.
It also is remarkable that Jael does not gain a public victory, but triumphs in her house, with the means she has. This applies to every God-fearing woman. Deborah and Jael take the place God has given them, humbly, but with certainty and faithfulness. Jaël knows from her daily experience how to use the tent peg and the hammer. Thus the wisdom of the wise perishes (1Cor 1:19).
Barak does not know yet that Sisera is dead and is still pursuing. Then Jael “comes out to meet him”. Exactly the same thing she did when Sisera came to her (verse 18). Then it was to be able to kill the enemy of God’s people and thus help the liberation of God’s people. Now it is to make known the death of the enemy of God’s people and let others share in the joy of liberation. Deborah praises Jael in her hymn on the liberation for what she has done (Jdg 5:24-27).
Barak again gets an order from a woman. Earlier Deborah said to him “Go” (verse 6) and “Arise” (verse 14). Now Jael says “Come” (verse 22). She invites Barak to come in and watch the man he is looking for. Barak sees Sisera, the defeated enemy and thus the fulfillment of what Deborah has said (verse 9). The tent peg is still in his temple, proof that he is really dead and does not play as if he were dead. Thus we may look at sin as a completely defeated enemy.
23 - 24 The Enemy Subdued and Destroyed
23 So God subdued on that day Jabin the king of Canaan before the sons of Israel. 24 The hand of the sons of Israel pressed heavier and heavier upon Jabin the king of Canaan, until they had destroyed Jabin the king of Canaan.
Ultimately it is God Himself Who kills the enemy. All honor belongs to Him. But He wants to engage His own to defeat the enemy. It is not enough for the Israelites – and it is not enough for us – to say that God must do everything. That is true, but she, and we, must make ourselves available. The land is God’s land. He wants to take possession of it through His people.
This gives, besides a great responsibility, also a great blessing, because God wants His people to share in what concerns His heart, what His longing is for. God wants to pull us up to His own level so that we can see how He sees and judges everything.
Living at that level and committing ourselves to it means the greatest happiness for our hearts. The more earnestly we deal with the enemy, the more we will be able to enjoy the things God enjoys. In the history we have before us, Israel has done that. Let us also put an end to the enemy that is presented to us in this chapter and enjoy together with God the blessing of His heavenly land.