The song that Barak and Deborah sing after victory is a special and impressive song. It is also a long song compared to the brief description of the battle. It is the only song in this book, there is no other singing. The content of the song suits the situation of those days. It expresses the experience emotions and preserves the memory of God’s actions.
But it is not just about looking at the past, what God has done and how the different people and tribes have behaved. It is also a song in which faith sees the future final victory. It draws this certainty from what God has just done for His people. In the life of the believer, every victory he achieves is an advance on his final victory. In faith he can count on the promise: “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet” (Rom 16:20a). The final victory is sure. Every victory of faith refers to that moment and encourages the believer in his confidence in God.
In the first song we encounter in the Bible, the song of Moses (Exo 15:1), we see something similar. In it we read how Moses’ faith looks over the whole wilderness journey, which then still lay before them, to the promised land (Exo 15:13,17). He sings about it and the whole people agree. The latter is not so in Deborah’s song. We hear only two voices. It is beautiful to see how this song begins and ends with the LORD (verses 1-5; verse 31).
A subdivision of this song can help to better understand its content:
1. The LORD is praised for His intervention (verses 1-5).
2. What it looked like in Israel during the occupation (verses 6-8)
3. Call to testify of the victory of the LORD (verses 9-11).
4. The role of the single tribes (verses 12-18).
5. A description of the battle (verses 19-23).
6. Jael is praised for her deed (verses 24-27).
7. The mother of Sisera waits in vain (verses 28-30).
8. Perish and rise (verse 31).
1 - 5 1. The LORD Is Praised
1 Then Deborah and Barak the son of Abinoam sang on that day, saying,
2 “That the leaders led in Israel,
That the people volunteered,
Bless the LORD!
3 “Hear, O kings; give ear, O rulers!
I—to the LORD, I will sing,
I will sing praise to the LORD, the God of Israel.
4 “LORD, when You went out from Seir,
When You marched from the field of Edom,
The earth quaked, the heavens also dripped,
Even the clouds dripped water.
5 “The mountains quaked at the presence of the LORD,
This Sinai, at the presence of the LORD, the God of Israel.
(Verse 1) As said, this song is sung by only two people, a woman of faith and a man of faith, while the whole people still share in victory. Yet it is a song to the heart of God. In times of decay, it is not about bringing together a mass of people to sing songs of praise. Today we may well ask ourselves whether the organization of so-called ‘praise meetings’, where everyone is invited, stems from the working of God’s Spirit. Singing can also become a goal in itself. There is nothing against singing together if there is reason to do so. However, if such meetings are held to bring about unity among Christians, then singing is used for a cause not supported by the Bible.
How does a song of praise come to originate? It is born in a heart that has gained an experience with God. God has revealed Himself in such a life in a special way. The result is a song of praise. The person who knows that his sins are forgiven, can sing about this. This is possible together with all those who also have the certainty of the forgiveness of their sins. There is a common reason to sing together. How could you sing together with unbelievers to the glory of God? After all, they have not had experiences with God, have they?
The reason for the song of Deborah and Barak is what God has done with Jabin. The previous chapter reads: “So God subdued on that day Jabin” (Jdg 4:23). In verse 1 of our chapter it says: “Then Deborah and Barak … sang on that day.” On the same day that God subdued Jabin, there is singing. There is no waiting for an official occasion. God’s actions in favor of His people apparently arouse a spontaneous reaction in the form of a song with Deborah and Barak. Thus, every form of liberation is also for us a direct reason to sing a song of praise. We are even told that through the Lord Jesus we “offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name” (Acts 13:15). Do we do that?
(Verse 2) The translation of the first part of this verse does not seem to be simple. In an explanation of this verse someone who knows Hebrew writes: ‘The opening sentence is one of the darkest sentences of the song. It can also be translated: “When the hair-locks grew long in Israel.” This would be a reference to a practice of not having one’s hair cut to fulfill a vow (Num 6:5,18). This would mean a commitment to the LORD to participate in a holy war. Deuteronomy 32:42 may mean a reference to long-haired soldiers, although to translate ‘leaders’ is also possible (Deu 32:42). Thus far this quotation from the explanation.
Long hair represents devotion and submission. Of the woman it is said that the long hair is “a glory to her. For her hair is given to her for a covering” (1Cor 11:15). In that section it is about her relationship with the man and how God sees it. The woman can show in her appearance that she has an inner disposition of devotion and submission to the man. The woman can show in having long her hair that she agrees with what God asks of her in her relationship with the man. She gives up her own will and takes a position of submission. This general thought about long hair also applies to texts in the Old Testament where long hair is spoken of.
If we look at the other translation, which talks about leaders, it seems to highlight a completely different aspect. Yet that is not the case. When leaders return to the way they are expected to and take on their responsibilities again, they can only function as true leaders if they commit themselves to God and are aware of their submission to Him. The result of this is that the people offer themselves voluntarily. No order is issued, but an example is set. Good example stimulates to follow the good example. If the relationships in the people of God will work like this again, that is a reason to praise the LORD.
Is it not beneficial to have leaders in a community of faith led in a biblical way by leaders appointed not by men, but by God? It is about such persons that Paul says: “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers” (Acts 20:28). Is it not the result of their actions that others voluntarily offer to do something for the Lord? Are we aware of this and what is our reaction?
(Verse 3) The faithfulness of the leaders and the willingness of the people awake in Deborah a song to the honor of the LORD. At the same time, this song is a testimony to other dignitaries. Kings and other rulers are called upon to listen to what she is going to sing. They can learn a lot from that. Rulers who want to take into account the will of God, are encouraged by Deborah in her song. However, those who do not take God’s will into account will be given clear warnings in this same song.
If we consider that we, that is to say the believers of the church, are also called kings (1Pet 2:9; Rev 5:10a), then her song also has something to say to us. Let us open our ears and take in the content of this song.
(Verses 4-5) In these verses all attention goes to the LORD Himself and what He has done in the past. He is described here as a visible appearance. So God is also described in Psalm 68, where He is also sung as the deliverer of His people (Psa 68:7-8). Deborah compares God’s actions in favor of His people in the previous chapter with His actions at the beginning of Israel’s history.
She sees Him going out with a majesty that paralyses the opponents. Great and impressive is the majesty of this Hero. Also Habakkuk gives a vivid description of God’s actions for His people in the past (Hab 3:3-15). Much of God’s action in the present is explained when we look at His action in earlier times.
Seïr is a name for the mountains where the descendants of Esau, the Edomites, live. They treated the Israelites hostile when the Israelites asked to go through their land (Num 20:14-21; Deu 2:1-8). The Israelites were not allowed to wage war with Edom and had to go around their land.
In the song of Deborah we hear how God Himself goes ahead His people in majesty. Mountains in the Bible are often a picture of great earthly powers, but they falter against the greatness of God. They do not hold out for Him. Sinai, the mountain where God has given the law to His people, undergoes the same impression (Heb 12:18-21). The fact that God has chosen Israel to be His people does not alter the fact that He remains an impressive appearance for them too.
Although as believers who belong to the church we do not stand in a covenant relationship with God and may call Him our Father, it is also written to us: “For our God is a consuming fire” (Heb 12:29). This need not frighten us, but it will increase our respect and awe for Him. At the same time it is an encouragement to know that this God is our God. He is going out before us in the fight against the enemy. Which enemy will be able to hold out?
6 - 8 2. Israel During the Occupation
6 “In the days of Shamgar the son of Anath,
In the days of Jael, the highways were deserted,
And travelers went by roundabout ways.
7 “The peasantry ceased, they ceased in Israel,
Until I, Deborah, arose,
Until I arose, a mother in Israel.
8 “New gods were chosen;
Then war [was] in the gates.
Not a shield or a spear was seen
Among forty thousand in Israel.
(Verse 6) We have already read a single verse about Shamgar (Jdg 3:31). Now we read something from him about the time in which he lived. Here we notice that the time in which Shamgar lived, resembles that of Jael. These were times when the enemy attacked the people of Israel. Nobody dared to go on the highways anymore. The streets were empty. Whoever had to go somewhere, looked for roundabout ways, for winding roads.
God has predicted that the roads would become “deserted” if the people were to become unfaithful (Lev 26:22). When the Messiah reigns, it will be different, then the highways are populated again:
“A highway will be there, a roadway,
And it will be called the Highway of Holiness.
The unclean will not travel on it,
But it [will] be for him who walks [that] way,
And fools will not wander [on it].
No lion will be there,
Nor will any vicious beast go up on it;
These will not be found there.
But the redeemed will walk [there],
And the ransomed of the LORD will return
And come with joyful shouting to Zion,
With everlasting joy upon their heads.
They will find gladness and joy,
And sorrow and sighing will flee away” (Isa 35:8-10).
There, the people have returned to God and receive the promised, postponed blessing.
Our time resembles the days of Shamgar and Jael. The Word of God is taken no more into account. Unfortunately, the enemy succeeds in taking many Christians off the right highway and keeping them away of it.
Shamgar and Jael acted in faith and gave the enemy a serious blow. They have not resigned themselves to the general view that it did not help anything to resist. In all times, including ours, it has always become clear who is joining the general opinion and who is openly standing on God’s side. The roundabout ways are a picture of acting according to one’s own insights, while one does not ask for the will of God. Often this happens out of fear of the struggle that certainly comes when one goes against the opinion of the masses.
(Verse 7) The people of God went their own ways. They decided for themselves how they would organize their lives and did not ask for God’s will. There were no leaders, no people who made the people familiar with that will. Lack of knowledge of the Word of God, not asking God how He thinks about things, inevitably leads to the demise of the people of God (Hos 4:1,6). Then Deborah arises. Deborah is not arrogant when she calls herself “a mother in Israel”. Further on a mother comes to speak, the mother of Sisera, but she is different from Deborah.
That Deborah calls herself “a mother” and not “a leader” says something about how to lead. A mother is someone who devotes herself with love and care to her children. She does everything she can to give her children what they need to grow into adulthood and independence. There is a great need for such leaders in the church of God. Paul is a leader who behaves in the church in Thessalonika, a very young church, as a mother, and also as a father (1Thes 2:7,11). The real leader is not someone who is served, but he who himself serves. A beautiful example of this is the Lord Jesus (Lk 22:24-27).
The first part of this verse suggests an election. The result of such an election is another battle, not against an outside enemy, but against each other. The cause is that the will of God is not asked for. The new leaders are no better than the previous ones. They only work for their own profit. There is no peace and rest.
Is it different in the world today? And what do we see among the people of God? Many leaders think only of their own position, honor and income and have no real concern for the flock of God. Therefore, no weapons are given to the people with which they can defend themselves against the enemy (“shield”) or chase him away (“spear”). This resembles the time of Saul, when there is no blacksmith in Israel, so no swords can be made (1Sam 13:19).
The weapons we, believers of the church, use are not carnal, but spiritual. It is a sad fact that battle among the leaders of God’s people makes the whole people powerless. The people who are responsible for equipping God’s people withhold them the necessary guidance to lead a victorious life. The Word of God, which is like a shield and a spear, is no longer referred to, or its own, contemporary and meaningless explanation is given. In Christianity, “shield or spear” are hardly found anymore. Do we know how to handle God’s Word properly? If that is our wish, we will be taught by the Spirit of God.
9 - 11 3. The Call to Testify
9 “My heart [goes out] to the commanders of Israel,
The volunteers among the people;
Bless the LORD!
10 “You who ride on white donkeys,
You who sit on [rich] carpets,
And you who travel on the road—sing!
11 “At the sound of those who divide [flocks] among the watering places,
There they shall recount the righteous deeds of the LORD,
The righteous deeds for His peasantry in Israel.
Then the people of the LORD went down to the gates.
Verse 9 continues with the encouraging theme of Verse 2. Oppression and struggle have given way to victory. Deborah makes herself one with the people who have made themselves available to deliver God’s people again. Her heart goes out to them. Do we also join believers who live a life of dedication to the Lord? Do we feel connected with them, are we happy with such believers? Deborah praises the LORD again for this because He has worked this. Let us continue to make His Name great for everything in which we notice His actions.
(Verse 10) Travelers can travel on the road again without fear of danger. The daily activities can be picked up. These are the nice results of the liberation from the power of the enemy. But Deborah does not only invite those who have fought. No, everyone can reap the fruits of the battle. Everyone is called to testify of what God has done for the benefit of His people and to think about it.
(Verse 11) She calls to share the righteous deeds communicated to us in Judges 4. She calls these deeds “the righteous deeds of the LORD, the righteous deeds of His leaders” (“for His peasantry” can also be translated as “of His leaders”). Very nicely here the actions of the LORD are seen through the actions of the leaders. They are called His leaders. With such people He would like to make Himself one. Their deeds are His deeds.
These righteous acts are a subject of discussion at the watering places. There the women come to draw water to give something to drink to all those who are thirsty. Here again water is a picture of the Word of God (Eph 5:26). Watering places offer opportunities to gather to draw from the Word. These are not places where people fight, but where everyone can quench their spiritual thirst.
We can often make these occasions ourselves. A coffee visit or a birthday can sometimes be such an occasion. It is not about in-depth discussions, but about being impressed by the righteous deeds the Lord Himself or through His servants has done. Sharing together in what the Lord has done makes you happy and encourages (Acts 15:3-4,12).
The result is that the people can go to the gates because there is being properly judged again, contrary to what is mentioned in verse 8. Speaking together about the Word of God is one of the most important conditions for good governance (the gate) in the local church.
It says that “the people of the LORD” went down to the gates. This seems to indicate that the relationship between the LORD and His people has been restored. They have always been His people, but have not behaved like that. Now they are worthy of that name again. The people show that they are again connected with the LORD, because they are willing to listen to the people He has given in “the gates” to make His will known. A true relationship with the Lord is evident in our love for Him, and that love is always expressed in the desire to consult His Word and to do what He says in it.
12 - 18 4. The Role of the Individual Tribes
12 “Awake, awake, Deborah;
Awake, awake, sing a song!
Arise, Barak, and take away your captives, O son of Abinoam.
13 “Then survivors came down to the nobles;
The people of the LORD came down to me as warriors.
14 “From Ephraim those whose root is in Amalek [came down],
Following you, Benjamin, with your peoples;
From Machir commanders came down,
And from Zebulun those who wield the staff of office.
15 “And the princes of Issachar [were] with Deborah;
As [was] Issachar, so [was] Barak;
Into the valley they rushed at his heels;
Among the divisions of Reuben
[There were] great resolves of heart.
16 “Why did you sit among the sheepfolds,
To hear the piping for the flocks?
Among the divisions of Reuben
[There were] great searchings of heart.
17 “Gilead remained across the Jordan;
And why did Dan stay in ships?
Asher sat at the seashore,
And remained by its landings.
18 “Zebulun [was] a people who despised their lives [even] to death,
And Naphtali also, on the high places of the field.
(Verse 12) It is possible that in the life of Deborah there was also a period of lukewarmness, that the condition of God’s people did not concern her that much. She has come to the awareness that things have to be different in her life. She has called herself to sing a song. It may be that a war song is meant here, to indicate that she is again combative. Only after she has spoken to herself and acknowledged that she had to wake up first, she addresses Barak.
Sometimes we have to wake ourselves up and speak to ourselves to realize that we are not doing well. It is possible that we have been snoozed by all the pleasant things of life. Then there is no spiritual activity anymore, we are busy with our social and material interests. We’re in the meetings, but we’re not really involved. We read in the Bible, but it doesn’t really touch us. Then we should not continue to snooze, but it is time to wake up and open our eyes to the things that are really important.
If someone is in such a phase, let him speak to himself and do it differently, motivated by God’s love for Him and His people. Then he will again be engaged and can awaken others to become active and fight, like Deborah does with Barak. She urges him to arise and take away his captives. What is sung here to Barak is also attributed to the LORD (Psa 68:18) and to Christ (Eph 4:8). Barak is here a picture of Christ.
(Verse 13) The expression “the survivors” indicates that the period of oppression took its toll. Many have fallen in battle. What remains is not a great number of people. “The survivors” are also “the people of the LORD”. All the people of the LORD are men who have escaped the enemy. The whole people that are still there, a remnant, are in their existence a testimony of God’s grace. For all have sinned and departed from Him, didn’t they? The fact that there are still people left is only thanks to His grace.
The same will apply to Israel in the future. For their sins they will come in a great tribulation. The Lord Jesus says: “Unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved” (Mt 24:22). But even then a remnant will be saved and that will be “all Israel”, which “will be saved” (Rom 11:26).
(Verse 14) Ephraim and Benjamin, the two tribes living in the south, are mentioned first. Machir belongs to the half tribe of Manasseh which lives in the land (Jos 13:30-31). Zebulun is also mentioned in verse 18 and praised for his courage. Together with Naphtali, Zebulun responded to Barak’s call in Judges 4 (Jdg 4:10), perhaps because of their connection with Deborah.
Ephraim has set a good example. They come from the area of the Amalekites who are a picture of the flesh. In Ephraim we see people here who do not give in to the lusts of the flesh, but want to work for the interests of God and His people. The good example stimulates to follow good: Benjamin followed Ephraim to fight with him.
From Manasseh, the leaders have joined the fighters. They felt it was their responsibility. “Those who wield the staff of office” from Zebulun are especially mentioned. These are the officers who note the names of volunteers. They are recruiters. These people do their best to involve others in the battle. They don’t think they can do it alone. We can learn from this that we need each other in battle.
(Verse 15a) Issachar is also a tribe that has dedicated itself to the battle. Both the name of Deborah and Barak are linked to this tribe in this verse. The princes of Issachar shared the conviction of Deborah. They were “with Deborah”. As to Barak, this tribe had a stimulating effect: “As Issachar, so Barak.” We are allowed to sustain people who have a good view of what God’s Word says and we will be an incentive for others.
(Verses 15b-16) After praising some tribes who have worked for the interests of God’s people, Deborah talks about some other tribes who have failed. What she says about it is instructive for us. Reuben did think about giving his time and powers to the battle. Yet it did not become practice.
What was the hindrance? Reuben has a lot of cattle. The herds of Reuben have also prevented him from taking possession of his part of the land (Num 32:1). He was satisfied with the wilderness of the Jordan. Now he has been appealed to join his brothers and fight the enemy with them. He has thought and considered – that is said of him twice! – and he hasn’t done it. He has come to the conclusion that his own affairs are more important than those of God.
We also can have our considerations when participating in the fight for God’s people against the enemy. Again and again such opportunities arise. You will be asked to participate in tract distribution, street evangelism, or other spiritual activities. It takes time and effort. Every time something like this comes to us, it is a decisive moment in which it will become clear how we set our priorities. Are we looking for our own interest or that of Jesus Christ (Phil 2:21)? There are Christians who really want to serve the Lord. They are full of good intentions and even sometimes have good ideas, but at the decisive moment they quit. The things of life, their own interests, are the deciding factors. That is Reuben.
(Verse 17) Gilead loved his rest. Imagine getting tired! Nice in your easy chair, your favorite program before your eyes that you wouldn’t want to miss for any saved sinner or restored brother.
The tribe of Dan was too busy doing business. They had a large company with international contacts. The business and profit were more important than the struggle for the brothers and the inheritance of the LORD.
Asher did not do anything at all. He hung around in idleness, lay on the beach baking in the sun and was not worried about anything. If he had been there long enough, you could find him behind a drink on the terrace to have fun watching the people passing by.
(Verse 18) What a contrast Zebulun and Naphtali form with the aforementioned tribes! They are the true victors who overcome by not loving their lives, but by denying it even until death (cf. Rev 12:11; Lk 14:26). They love God more than themselves, and they prove it by putting their lives at risk.
We too can do this when we see how God loved us. This love is clearly visible in what the Lord Jesus did on the cross. If we see that, can anything else be expected of us? “We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1Jn 3:16).
Paul is such a person who responds to God’s love with a life in which he gives up himself to serve others. In Acts 20 he bears witness to this: “But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24). He says of another servant that “he came close to death for the work of Christ” (Phil 2:30). Where can such men and women be found today? Do we want to be one of them?
19 - 23 5. Description of the battle
19 “The kings came [and] fought;
Then fought the kings of Canaan
At Taanach near the waters of Megiddo;
They took no plunder in silver.
20 “The stars fought from heaven,
From their courses they fought against Sisera.
21 “The torrent of Kishon swept them away,
The ancient torrent, the torrent Kishon.
O my soul, march on with strength.
22 “Then the horses’ hoofs beat
From the dashing, the dashing of his valiant steeds.
23 ‘Curse Meroz,’ said the angel of the LORD,
‘Utterly curse its inhabitants;
Because they did not come to the help of the LORD,
To the help of the LORD against the warriors.’
(Verse 19) In this vivid report we see how the kings of Canaan in great self-assurance went up to deal with the rebellious people of Israel. They had thought they would achieve a great victory, with a lot of booty. But with irony in her voice Deborah says: “They took no plunder in silver.”
The battle took place at Taanach near the waters of Megiddo, which is in the border areas of Issachar and Manasseh. Many interpreters point to the connection between Megiddo in the Old Testament and “Har-Magedon” in Revelation 16 (Rev 16:16). Har-Magedon probably means ‘mountain of Megiddo’.
The relationship between the names is not the only thing that stands out. What is even more important is the similarity between the events of Judges 4 and what is written in the book of Revelation. With Megiddo the enemy armies are defeated and the people of the LORD are freed. At Har-Magedon something similar will take place (Rev 19:11-21). The armies of the then restored Roman Empire, that is the united Western Europe that in the future will come to the aid of apostate Israel in its fight against the king of the north, will be destroyed by the coming of Christ. The God-fearing part of Israel is then saved and is called “all Israel” (Rom 11:26).
(Verses 20-22) The suggestion is expressed that this is an allusion to a cloudburst, which turned the battlefield into a mud pool and the jammed battle cars could not do anything anymore. This enabled the Israelites to gain the victory. This would explain why Sisera did not flee in his car, but on foot (Jdg 4:15). The wheels got stuck in the mud and the horses sank into it. This also explains why the torrent Kison could turn into a wild flowing mass of water.
However, it is also possible that God did something that He did earlier at the plagues He brought over Egypt. With the seventh plague we read: “And the LORD sent thunder and hail, and fire ran down to the earth. And the LORD rained hail on the land of Egypt. So there was hail, and fire flashing continually in the midst of the hail, very severe, such as had not been in all the land of Egypt since it became a nation” (Exo 9:23-24). We can imagine that with such natural violence it can look like the stars are falling from the sky and that hail makes the ground swampy and the torrent wild.
This spectacle is an encouragement for everyone who takes part in the battle. They say to themselves, as it also can be translated: “O my soul, trample on the strong ones.” When we see God interfering in the battle, it gives strength and courage. The expression “trample” or “march” is also translated as “tread upon their high places” (Deu 33:29) as proof of the submission of the enemy. In Judges 20 it is translated as “trod them down” (Jdg 20:43). The “trampling” means breaking the enemy’s power and gaining victory.
This language is also characteristic of someone who stands in the victory of Christ. Such a person is not satisfied with half the result, but continues, until the full victory is achieved in the certainty of also achieving it. No matter how the horses’ hoofs of enemy armies beat from the dashing, the enemy will be defeated in pursuit by the brave warriors of God’s people.
(Verse 23) It is not known where Meroz is or has been located. It is probably a city in the middle of the area where the battle took place. This can be inferred from the heavy curse that is pronounced about Meroz. Other tribes have also been accused of not taking part in the fight, but not so serious. It may be that this distinction originates from the location of the areas. Anyone who is closer to a conflict area and sees what is happening with their own eyes has a greater responsibility than anyone who is further away and is less directly involved in the events.
A possible meaning of the name Meroz is ‘built of cedars’. This indicates something of the things they lived for. They lived in cedar palaces and lived in peace, without worrying about the condition of their brothers. They loved themselves and not the LORD. Paul says of people who do not love the Lord: “If anyone does not love the Lord, he is to be accursed” (1Cor 16:22).
What Deborah says of Meroz reminds us of what the LORD says through the mouth of Haggai. He reproaches His people that they are all busy for their own house, while they are not concerned about God’s house (Hag 1:2-4,9). They lived for here and now.
Deborah is the mouth of the Angel of the LORD when she curses Meroz. This indifference to their brothers is seen as a renunciation of the help of the LORD in His fight against the enemy. Here we see how the LORD identifies Himself with His suffering people.
24 - 27 6. Jael Is Praised
24 “Most blessed of women is Jael,
The wife of Heber the Kenite;
Most blessed is she of women in the tent.
25 “He asked for water [and] she gave him milk;
In a magnificent bowl she brought him curds.
26 “She reached out her hand for the tent peg,
And her right hand for the workmen’s hammer.
Then she struck Sisera, she smashed his head;
And she shattered and pierced his temple.
27 “Between her feet he bowed, he fell, he lay;
Between her feet he bowed, he fell;
Where he bowed, there he fell dead.
(Verse 24) What Jael did, forms a great contrast with the attitude of Meroz in the previous verse. By juxtaposing things, the actions of the person concerned become all the clearer. We have already seen in Judges 4 what Jael’s share in the battle was (Jdg 4:17-22). Here she is praised for what she has done. She towers above all the women of Israel. Her connection with Heber did not make her neutral and did not prevent her from performing her act of faith.
She is a simple housewife, like so many others, but she has distinguished herself by the courage she has shown. Once again: this is a great encouragement for every housewife. They can achieve great and decisive victories for the Lord in their own territory.
(Verse 25) Deborah describes how Jael acted. She acted with caution and used the means at her disposal. She put the enemy at ease. Although Sisera arrived exhausted, it was not the right moment to kill him. She recognized that. It is important to wait for the right moment to defeat the enemy. If she had acted too early, much more energy would have been needed. We can ask ourselves whether the intended result would actually have been achieved. This exercise is necessary for all of us.
Jael doesn’t panic when the mighty enemy enters her tent. She meets his request and even gives him more than he asked. She even adapts the drinking utensils to her distinguished guest and gets him to drink out of “a magnificent bowl”. Jael’s entire behavior must have made Sisera feel he was on a safe ground. Exhausted he falls asleep. This is the moment she has waited for and without hesitation she deals with this enemy.
(Verses 26-27) Deborah impressively sings of the actions Jael did to kill the feared enemy. She describes it vividly, as if you are present. Something has already been said in the previous chapter about the significance of the resources she has used. Some details are added at this point. They are important because the Spirit mentions them. He wants to draw our attention to it.
Here it says that she used her “right hand” and that she took “the workmen’s hammer”. The right hand represents power. The hammer is a picture of the Word of God (Jer 23:29), but the addition “workmen’s” shows that the Word must be put into practice. It also shows that you have to be simple to use it and that you do not have to belong to the ‘highly-skilled’.
What Jael does with the hammer is sung here in different words. She struck, smashed, shattered and pierced, different words for the same act. This indicates the mighty working of the Word.
The result is presented to us in the same visual way. The power of this enemy is completely broken and he is eliminated forever. He bowed, fell, and lay overwhelmed at the feet of a woman. Nothing remains of his former greatness and power. It is a picture of what will eventually happen to all opponents of God. We can take the faith of Jael as an example.
28 - 30 7. The Mother of Sisera Waits in Vain
28 “Out of the window she looked and lamented,
The mother of Sisera through the lattice,
‘Why does his chariot delay in coming?
Why do the hoofbeats of his chariots tarry?’
29 “Her wise princesses would answer her,
Indeed she repeats her words to herself,
30 ‘Are they not finding, are they not dividing the spoil?
A maiden, two maidens for every warrior;
To Sisera a spoil of dyed work,
A spoil of dyed work embroidered,
Dyed work of double embroidery on the neck of the spoiler?’
(Verse 28) From Jael’s simple tent, our eyes are now turned to the luxurious house of Sisera. There lives a woman, a mother, but a completely different type than Jael and Deborah. Her despair is expressed in a striking way. Her son didn’t come home and she wasn’t used to that. Usually he soon came back from a fight and had the proofs of his victory with him. That he stayed away for so long could mean that he was defeated.
The mother of Sisera seemed to be free, unbound, but she was not. She sat behind ”the lattice” through which she looked at the world. This speaks of the ‘spiritual’ lattice of her thinking. She had no real freedom. So it is with all the enemies of God. They don’t think they have anything to do with anyone, while they are concerned about security measures on all sides.
The lattice, which must serve as protection, is proof of her imprisonment. She also doesn’t dare to go and meet him. She stays in her fort, because that’s it, no matter how luxuriously furnished it is. Fear reigns where people rely on their own thinking or on people or on things instead of God.
(Verses 29-30) Sisera’s mother’s questions are answered by smart ladies. Their answers are those that correspond to her own views. They are answers that should soothe the conscience: ‘You don’t have to be afraid, it will all be all right. It’s because of the big spoils they carry along. That slows down the return trip.’
It was customary for the soldiers to take beautiful girls home as trophies. The word for “girl” actually means “lap” or “womb”, which indicates that these girls had to serve to satisfy the lusts of the soldiers. The spoils of war also included beautiful and expensive clothing. The colored clothes were for Sisera, the colorful embroidery for his mother and the noblewomen. Besides satisfying the lusts, these clothes served to show everyone how great their victory was. It caressed the pride, the prestige grew. They are the characteristics of the enemy: being focused on themselves and seeking their own honor.
Let us be aware that what typifies the enemy is also present in our evil heart. We must prevent these characteristics from getting entrance with us. How? By looking at what happened to it on the cross of Calvary and what will happen to it when the Lord Jesus comes. On the cross the enemy is defeated. Yet he still wants to assert himself. He is given the opportunity to do so if we do not keep ourselves dead for sin and still let the flesh work.
When the Lord Jesus comes for the church, we will leave behind everything we have acquired through sin and flesh. None of it goes to heaven. Are we not stupid and foolish if we want to satisfy the desires of the flesh? Listen to what Deborah says in the last verse of her song.
31 8. Perish and Rise
31 “Thus let all Your enemies perish, O LORD;
But let those who love Him be like the rising of the sun in its might.”
And the land was undisturbed for forty years.
In this verse Deborah puts the enemies and the lovers of the LORD side by side. Note the end of each group. The enemies die, like Sisera and his army. Their rule is broken and gone forever; they are humiliated and destroyed.
Deborah calls the other group “those who love Him”. These are the faithful mentioned in previous verses (verses 13,14,15,18). Their love for God and for His cause is expressed in the love they had for the cause of His people. It is easy to say that you love God. But you may only say so, if it is your sincere desire to show this in your actions, your whole behavior and attitude. Different tribes have clearly shown this in this chapter.
Whoever so loves Him, is compared to “the rising of the sun in its might”. The sun shines its light and makes it day. This is a wonderful reference to the Lord Jesus. He is called “the Sun of righteousness” (Mal 4:2). He uses His light to expel the darkness from our lives, from all those areas where uncertainty or sin make our lives dark. The time to which Malachi refers is the time when the Lord Jesus will reign over the earth as the Son of Man. For one thousand years He will make sure that sin on earth does not have a chance to cause the misery that still exists today.
But He already wants to do that now in the lives of those who love Him. They may be “like” the sun. They may look like Him and increase therein, just as the sun increases in might. This will be a blessing to others, just as there is blessing for everyone when the Lord Jesus rules over the earth. However, there is still resistance and enmity. It will not be there anymore when He reigns.
A topic for further study is the following. The expression “who love Him (or God or Me)” still occurs a few times. Always something else is connected to it, like here the rising sun (Psa 145:20; Pro 8:17; Rom 8:28; 1Cor 2:9; Jam 1:12; 2:5). In response to these scriptures, the reader can think about this special expression for himself.