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TEXT: Judges 4-5
SUBJECT: Judges #6: Deborah and Barak
This morning, by God's grace, we come to sermon number six in our study of Judges. For boys (at least) no book in the Bible is more exciting than this one. I was enthralled by the stories nearly fifty years ago-and I still am. Only more.
My growing excitement is the result of learning that, while the stories are great in themselves, they are even greater when you find they are part of a Bigger Story, a story so big that it includes-not only Gideon and Samson-but you and me too!
The Leading Man in this Story is Jesus Christ to whom all the Judges point. No Judge fully reveals Him, but each one gives a glimpse into His character and calling. If one Judge throws some light on our Lord, two provide even more. This is what we have in today's story: two judges. Their names are Deborah and Barak. Before we get to them, however, we have to set the stage.
The story begins in the usual way: Israel is enjoying the favor of God's approval. For eighty years Ehud judged them, and for the whole time, the land had rest. This doesn't mean things were perfect, but they were good. Men and women were worshiping God in the beauty of holiness, feasting, falling in love, getting married, having children, doing well on the farm or in business, and living to a ripe old age. They were living the life Solomon recommends-
Go, eat your bread with joy,
And drink your wine with a merry heart
Let your garments always be white,
And let your head lack no oil.
Two generations lived in obedience to the laws of the Lord, and found,
In keeping of them
there is great reward.
Their happiness, however, did not last-not because the world turned, but because they did-
The children of Israel again did evil in the sight of the Lord.
This is stated over and over in the Book, and frankly, it's getting hard for me to find something new to say about it. Evil does not mean 'mistakes', but sins that are done willfully and with no respect for God or fear of His judgments. Doing evil in the sight of the Lord means doing it in broad daylight, sinning proudly or without shame.
Perhaps the most telling words in the verse are: the children of Israel. 'Israel' was another name for Jacob, but it was not his parents who gave it to him. God named him 'Israel' because that's what he was-a prince or a strong man who so wanted the blessings of heaven that he wrestled with God all night to get them-and limped away with what he wanted.
His children were not worthy of their father. Instead of fighting for God's favor, they threw it away, preferring the phony promises of the phony gods of Canaan-
They chose new gods.
Because of their sins, the Lord handed them over to their enemies. God is a loving Father to Israel, but His son won't behave himself. His Father's lectures are not listened to and His warnings are laughed at. When the son won't submit to his father's gentle discipline, he's sent to reform school-a boot camp for young men who cannot be handled at home.
The headmaster is Jabin, king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor. But the real power is with his enforcer, Sisera, who dwelt in Harosheth Hagoyim.
The Canaanites are rough on Israel: they harshly oppress the people. Note that word, 'harshly', in v.3. The Mesopotamians, the Moabites, Ammonites, Amalakites, and Philistines oppressed them, but it was Jabin and Sisera who oppressed them harshly.
This may stand for how much they carried off from Israel, or for how they did it, or for both. The Canaanites were a greedy and cruel people, just the sort God uses to show Israel that His rule is not as bad as they thought it was. If His yoke seems hard and His burden heavy, there are yokes way harder than His and burdens a whole lot heavier!
The Canaanites were a switch in the hand of the Lord. He used them to discipline His people. If this whipping was hard, it was also effective. After twenty years of it, Israel finally gave in and-
Cried out to the Lord.
As soon as they acknowledged their need, the Lord moved to meet it. He raised up two Judges to save His People, but before we get to them, let's remember what a Judge is and what He does. The word, Judge, means 'Savior' and his work was two-fold: first, he fights the battles of the Lord, and then he reaches and enforces the Law. In other words, he saves Israel both from their enemies and from themselves.
Most of the major judges did both. Othniel and Ehud, for example, defeated foreign armies and kept the people obedient to God. But, in today's story, the work is divvied up: Deborah teaches the people and Barak fights for them. Of the two, Deborah is, by far, the more important.
Like many women today, Deborah juggles three jobs, the first of which is wife and mother. Her husband's name is Lapidoth, and that's all we know about him: his name. She's a mother in Israel, but we have no idea of how many children she had, how old they were, or if she homeschooled them!
She is also a prophetess. In one or two other places, the word means 'a wife of a prophet'-but not here. She herself is a prophet, and this means the Lord speaks to her directly and she tells the world what He told her. The lady, therefore, is more than an insightful person or a good Bible student: she is God's Spokesperson! Whoever hears Deborah hears the Lord; whoever rejects her rejects the Lord.
Deborah is a judge (in our sense of the word). People came to her for legal decisions. Her understanding of God's Law was so sharp that disputes were brought to her and she ruled on them.
In preaching and applying God's Word to the People, Deborah became the spiritual leader of Israel. If this is mildly surprising to us, it must have dumbfounded the first readers of the story. We are (somewhat) used to women in places of power, but it was unheard of in the ancient world. With all the men in Israel to choose from why did the Lord select a woman to lead His People?
The short answer is: Because He wanted to! God is sovereign, and this means He will do what He wants to do, when, how, and with whom. If He wants a woman to save His People, she will save His People-not because she is strong, she is invincible, but because the Lord is!
Deborah's leadership was a stinging rebuke to what passed for manhood in Israel. There are three good guys in our story and two of them are not 'guys'! The one man is Barak and he is far weaker than both Deborah who starts the fight against Canaan, and Jael who ends it. Only the ladies were acquitting themselves like men.
Deborah's leadership was also a trap for the Canaanites. Sisera and his men did not take her seriously. When she sounded the trumpet of war, they came out to meet her, but they were not prepared and they paid for it. Dearly.
If Deborah calls for the war, Barak must lead the charge. In the name of the Lord, she commands him to muster an army on Mount Tabor and meet the Canaanites at the dried-up Kishon River.
Barak is willing to do it, but only if Deborah goes with him. You might take this as an act of piety. Since Deborah is the Lord's prophetess, wanting her to join the war effort is like asking the Lord to go with them-and that's good. But Deborah knows better. Barak is not a devout man, he's a coward! He won't go without her because he's scared!
While there is nothing wrong with fear, there is something wrong with yielding to it. This is what Barak has done: rather than listening to the Word of God, he is listening to his fears. He is not qualified to lead the armies of Israel, but he's going to anyway-because the battle is the Lord's and the victory will belong to Him and to no one else.
To make sure Barak wins no medal, the Canaanite commander will fall to someone else-
There will be no glory in the journey you are taking for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.
You'd think this would rouse Barak's manhood, but it does not-
Then Deborah arose and went with Barak.
When Sisera heard of the gathering armies, he mustered his own troops and led them to war with nine hundred iron chariots. These were the most feared weapons of the day, and with good reason; on flat, dry land chariots cannot be opposed by men on foot. They simply run them down and the rout is on!
But what if the flat, dry land is cracked and wet? The chariots become useless and the armies who trust them are destroyed.
This is what happened that day. The battle was fought on a flat dry riverbed. Before the armies met, however, the Lord sent an earthquake to uneven the ground and a flash flood to turn the hard-track into a swamp. The chariots were stuck, the soldiers panicked, and the Canaanites were slaughtered-
Not a man was left.
Except for the commanding officer, Sisera. The fact that he alone got away tells you something about the man. He did not lead his troops into battle, but sent orders from the rear. When he saw his men routed, he jumped out of his chariot and ran for dear life.
Luckily for him, his friend Heber the Kenite lived nearby. When he got to his tent, the man was not home, but his lovely and charming wife was. Her name was Jael. Sisera needed to hide, and there was no better place to do it than in the lady's bedroom. If anyone asked for him, she promised to say, 'He went thataway!' Feeling for the poor man, Jael put his head on a soft pillow, covered him up with a warm quilt and gave him a big glass of warm milk. In half-a-minute the man was sound asleep.
When Jael heard his snoring, she reached for a hammer and a tent peg. She put the peg to his temple and hit it for all she was worth. The nail went though his head and into the ground.
Some time later, Barak came by and asked her if she had seen a scared man wearing a uniform and she said she had. Barak was invited into her tent and he saw the bloody head nailed to the ground.
The battle was won that day, and not only the battle, for the death of Sisera and the destruction of his army broke the Canaanite power, and it wasn't long until its king fell too.
Deborah and Barak celebrated the victory by singing a song. Though it is a long hymn and content-heavy, its main idea is Bless the Lord!
Hear, O kings! Give ear, O princes!
I, even I, will sing to the Lord;
I will sing praise to the Lord God of
Why sing to Him? Because it was He who defeated the Canaanites that day, and they would not be the last enemy to fall, for
All of Your enemies will perish, O
But let those who love Him be like the
When it comes in full strength.
Deborah and Barak were Judges in Israel. But even though they're fascinating characters, we must remember they're in the Bible to point us to Christ.
If Deborah is a prophet and sage for her time and place, so is our Lord, but for all time and every place. Paul says in Christ are
Hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
Here Deborah is both compared to our Lord and contrasted with Him. She spoke the Word of God and the Word she spoke was true. But it was not complete; other things needed saying. Our Lord said them, He said them all! John calls Him The Word of God, but that's not all He is, for the Book of Hebrews says He is the Final Word-
God, who at sundry times and in diverse manners spoke to the fathers by the prophets has now spoken to us by His Son.
Deborah was also a successful prophet. Unlike so many others, she got people to listen to her and do what she said. In part. Several Tribes fought the Canaanites, but the others did not. The rich men dodged the draft, as they so often do (cf. 5:10-11); the Reubenites thought about coming, but decided to stay with their flocks instead (cf. 5:16); Gilead was content on the other side of the River (cf. 5:17); Dan remained in its ships (cf. 5:17), and as for the city of Meroz, she cursed them, for--
They did not come to the help of the Lord,
To the help of the Lord against the mighty.
This was Deborah's problem, and Moses', Elijah's, Isaiah's, Jeremiah's and every preacher's! We can speak the Word of God and plead with men to hear it, but we cannot make them hear it! But our Lord can and does! He opens our hearts to hear His Word and to act on it. And this is not true of only some Christians, but of all, for what is the promise of the New Covenant, but-
They shall all be taught of God!
As a prophet, Deborah points to Christ who is not just a prophet-a John the Baptist, an Elijah, a Jeremiah, or one of the prophets. He is the Christ, the Son of the Living God!
Barak also points to Christ as the one who fought for His people and won the battle. Who and what are against us? Many names can be given, but if you read the Gospel, you'll see the Lord took them all on-and beat them all, the devil, sickness, alienation, the wrath of God, and finally death itself. Which one got the best of Him? None did. He is-
The Captain of our salvation.
If Barak's strength points to Christ, his weakness says we need someone better than Barak. And God has provided One better than He was. While Barak gave into his fears, our Lord faced down His own. In the Garden He prayed in desperate fear, and then He said-
Nevertheless not My will, but Yours be done!
If Deborah and Barak look to Christ individually, they also do it together. For after their victory, they sang the praises of God. And this is precisely what our Lord did after His victory, Hebrews 2:12-
I will declare Your name to My brethren,
In the midst of the congregation I will
Sing praise to You.
This is a quote from Psalm 22 where the King of Israel brings the people to himself and sings the name of God to them! Who is the King?
The Lord of Hosts,
He is the King of Glory!
There is a duty in here for us: If the Lord's people celebrated God for saving them from the Canaanites, how much more ought we to praise Him for saving us from enemies far worse than Jabin and Sisera?
Let us sing lustily in the Church, whether we have good voices or not! Let us remember that the Church is both on earth physically, and mystically in heaven. We are singing with the angels, with the saints, and with the Lord Himself-
Holy, Holy, Holy,
Lord God Almighty,
All the earth is full of Thy
When we cannot sing out loud, let us make melody in our hearts to the Lord. Let us be cheerful and thankful and adoring. If others have no reason to sing, we do--
Behold, God is my salvation,
I will trust and not be afraid;
For YAH, the Lord, is my strength
And my song;
He also has become my salvation!
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