Deborah was the only female Judge in the history of Israel. She asked her top general, Barak, to mount an operation to push out the Canaanites. He hesitated, but went and did the job. Are you like Deborah or like Barak? Discover the difference between the two leaders and a vital key of success for the Church to fulfill its mission.
[Darris McNeely] Well, good evening everyone. Welcome to Bible study here at the home office of the United Church of God. Those of you that are here with us this evening, as well as those of you that are with us online, we welcome all of you. Glad to have you here. Hope everything is going well wherever you are. We finally have the sun that has come back out for us here in Cincinnati after a few days of rain, so it’s a nice spring evening.
Let’s go ahead and bow our heads. We’ll begin with the Bible study tonight with prayer, so go ahead and remain in your seats here and bow your heads. I’ll ask God’s blessing.
Our great God in heaven, Father, we bow before You and come to Your presence through Your Son, Jesus Christ, asking Your guidance and blessing upon us here as we’ve gathered for this mid-week Bible study. We’re grateful for our health for another day of life. We know, Father, that each day is a gift from You and that we have our whole being in You as a result of Your sustaining the creation and our own lives. We thank You for that, for the time that we have here to reflect upon Your Word. Guide us, inspire what is said and guide the hearing and I pray, Father, that all who hear this would be encouraged and would be edified by a brief study of Your holy Word. We thank you. We ask your blessing. We do so in Christ’s name. Amen.
All right. We are in the midst of our series on the book of Judges tonight. We are continuing along with that. And so we are going to tonight be talking about the story of Deborah, which is told in the book of Judges, chapters 4 and 5, so you can go ahead and turn there. Then we will begin the study. But instead of beginning by reading of the study, I want to come forward a bit to a little bit of a modern history. I’d like to take us back to the year 1982. And an incident that took place with Great Britain and its leader, Margaret Thatcher, who was Prime Minister of Great Britain at that time.
In 1982, the nation of Argentina, you can see on the map here, decided that they were going to retake or take over some group of islands that just off the southeastern tip of South America called the Falkland Islands. These were islands long held by Great Britain, but much, much closer as you can see on the map here to Argentina who also had claims to it. But because of the size, the power and the magnitude of Great Britain first under its empire, and then up until the current years, they held possession with citizens and a governance over that island.
However, the new government took over in Argentina and they said, ”You know what? Great Britain isn’t quite as strong as they used to be. They don’t have quite the resolve and the will they used to have. We’re just going to put some troops over there. We’re going to take that island.” And they did and the first reaction was, ”Well, you know, it’s way off and what’s going to happen.” But at this particular time, Great Britain had a unique leader, Margaret Thatcher, “the shopkeeper’s daughter,” as they called her and had become, worked her way up through the ranks and became the first woman Prime Minister of Great Britain. She was quite a tough lady. In fact, she had the nickname through her years as the “Iron Lady,” and I don’t recommend the movie of that name because they actually didn’t do a very good job of portraying her, I believe. But Mrs. Thatcher decided that, no, this will not stand.
And she launched an armada of British ships, southward from Great Britain all the way down through the South Atlantic. And after a battle in a touch and go battle, they regained the islands. And it, for a moment, kind of gave a boost and prestige, morale and resolve to Great Britain after quite a long period of melees, to use that term. Now, it did not cause them to regain all the glory years of their empire and it was, and is a very, very small, almost insignificant group of islands there in the South Atlantic, so regaining it didn’t do much more other than boost morale. But from that time, in one sense, Great Britain kind of staged a comeback and eventually have become a leading financial capital of the world until recent times. Brexit may change that. Time will tell, but it kind of vaulted Great Britain and Mrs. Thatcher into prominence for a period of time. And she showed the resolve when a lot of her cabinet and other men did not have that type of resolve to launch a force to take it.
Now, Mrs. Thatcher was the first, certainly British… or is the first woman prime minister. But she was the first woman since then, another earlier woman who happened to be queen of England to control command and launch such a fighting force as this. The other woman who did that was Queen Elizabeth I of England and the late 1500, the first Queen Elizabeth. And she at that time had inherited the throne. She was the daughter of Henry VIII, quite a story there as to how she eventually became queen. But she reigned over a very long, prosperous growing period of what was then called England. But probably the premier event of her reign was when she marshaled her navies to ward off and to repel the attack by the Spanish Armada when they, under Philip II of Spain, had attempted to take over the British Isles as part of the Habsburg empire at that time and they foiled it.
The English Navy, along with what they called a wind that swept the armada, the Spanish armada out into the North Sea, repel the Spanish invasion and established a British primacy over the seas that eventually helped it to go on to gather as colonies and become what we call in history of the British empire. But because Elizabeth I had such a resolve as to what the destiny of her people was and to become, and she rallied her sea captains and her men and her government to do this, she saved England. And she, again, kind of catapulted it into a much, much larger nation as history expanded upon that.
Two women, Elizabeth I, and Margaret Thatcher, in modern times, that kind of helped us to set a stage of the story of the prophetess or the judge named Deborah in the Old Testament that we’re going to study about here tonight, who herself was a woman ruling over or judging over. Maybe a little bit of a stretch to say that she was kind of ruling over Israel. Israel hadn’t really come into his own as a nation at the time of the period of the Judges and when she was doing her job. If we go back and just review a little bit before we kind of turned into chapter 4 of Judges and look closely at this story, let’s just review quickly the period.
It is called by this, this book, the Judges. And it was a time that followed after the conquest of the land promised to Abraham and his descendants under Joshua. And a period of individuals arose over a period of time to kind of rally the tribes, the 12 tribes that comprise the children of Israel at various times to either fend off the other nations that had remained within the land whom they had not expelled. We’ve talked about Samson at an earlier time who battled with the Philistines.
The battle during the time of Deborah is with a group of people called the Canaanites in the northern part of the land who had not been expelled from the land given to Israel. It was also a time of a loose tribal confederacy. The individual tribes in Manasseh, of Ephraim, of Judah, of Dan. Each had their own integrity and identity, but there was no one leader and those, that period after the death of Joshua. And in fact, as we know, the theme of the entire period is what is given to us at the very end of the book of Judges where it says that “in those days there was no king,” there was no king. “Every man did that, which was right in their own eyes.” And that pretty well sums up what that whole period was like. It was a seesaw period between oppression by Philistines or Canaanites, and then liberation by God at the hand of an individual who would rise up as a judge, a Gideon, Shamgar. We talked about I think last time. A Samson.
And in this case here tonight, as we look at a unique woman who arose in her time about roughly a 150 years after the time of Joshua to be this judge within the land. I hesitate to use the word nation because they had not really come together to become a unified nation. They were 12 tribes and they were in the land, but they were not quite yet operating as a nation.
Now, what we should remember is this, what is during the time of the judges, the scene that we see is not what God intended. God intended something much grander for these former slaves, the descendants of Abraham, whom under Moses, he had granted freedom out of Egypt and placed within this land. In fact, if we turn back to Deuteronomy 7, we can see an encapsulated in just a few verses here, what God intended that these tribes to eventually become.
Deuteronomy 7, and let’s begin reading in verse 1, where it says, ”When the Lord your God brings you into the land which you go to possess,’’ this is written, of course, at the end of the period of wandering, kind of a recapitulation by Moses of the law, their story, and what they were to do. He says, ”When you come into that land that you go to possess, and have cast out many nations before you, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites,” and the Canaanites are those that we will be dealing with tonight. ”The Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and the Jebusites.” All those “ites.” You know, there’s a lot of “ites” that comprise all of this, ”seven nations greater and mightier than you, and when the Lord your God delivers them over to you, and you shall conquer them and utterly destroy them. You shall make no covenant with them nor show mercy to them.”
Now, what God wanted them to do and what they did were two different things. So they did not expel all those nations. And that is what creates the problems that we read about in the book of Judges. And because they didn’t, we come down to a moment that we will read about here tonight with Deborah. Now, down in verse 6 here, Deuteronomy 7, is really the key to what God intended to do with this people that will be called Israel and in the sovereign land and nation that He is going to establish for them. He says, ”For you are a holy people to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth.” That’s what God intended that nation to become.
Now, that is not politically correct today. This verse actually establishes what we would call exceptionalism. And exceptionalism and geopolitics and among nations states today, and kind of the reigning thought is not a widely held or popular idea. The idea that the for the, let’s say for the United States to say that America is an exceptional nation. You don’t say that anymore. You downplay that. You go out and you go on an apology tour, which is what President Obama frankly did at the beginning of his term. He created, he went on an apology tour for America.
To look at one people chosen exceptional, not necessarily better or not necessarily genetically, racially or ethnically better, but what God defines is a chosen people as a holy nation to Him, something completely different from anything that is connoted by racial or other types of theories or ideologies. But God did intend for Israel to be “a special treasure above all the peoples of the earth.” In fact, if you look at a map that shows Israel in the land, I’ve talked about this in other Bible studies, I believe, and I just want to make this quick point and look at where God placed these people in the day, in between all of these other great powers that either had been or would become in the area of the Middle East. You see Egypt to the south, which after the Exodus of the Israelites out of Egypt, they really began to go into a tailspin. Now, they didn’t collapse overnight, but they were on the downward side of history.
Syria to the north had not yet become the power that it would become, nor had Babylon arisen. But God placed Israel right in the midst of all these other lands that had all these other peoples out of which there tribes and nations and peoples that were vying for power and the seeds of these empires of Assyria and Babylon were already there. But they didn’t come into existence until years later after Israel essentially failed to become what it was. Israel was to be a buffer state between these powers for the time that it existed. And frankly, up through the time of David and Solomon as a united people, a united kingdom, the land that did stretch from down near Egypt all the way up into the upper reaches of toward Mesopotamia, they did keep at bay these other Gentile powers, these other nations from becoming what they eventually did.
Now, those other Syrian Babylon came on, but then they were used as instruments of God’s punishment upon Israel, as you should know the rest of that story. Before our time, God was placing Israel where it was to become something special as we’ve just read here in Deuteronomy. And understanding this is important as we get into the book of Deborah because really what we’re talking about, I think in this story of Deborah tonight is Israel among Israel as it was to become among the nations. And the key event that took place in the story of Deborah that ensured that they would become what God wanted them to become if only for a brief shining moment. If only for a brief period for God to accomplish His purpose through these people before their sins, He essentially rendered them useless for that particular period of time. And then He shattered the power of those two people, the two nations that Israel and Judah and they went into captivity at that time.
And so, with that as a little bit of a background, let’s look at the time of Deborah and look at another map here that shows us the setting for Deborah and that particular time. Deborah as the time of the judge shows Israel, or the name of the tribes, very unorganized. If you look at this map here, you will see that you’ve got to kind of a large overview of the land. And if you’ll see that yellow line that runs from the top corner all the way down through the body of water that is the Sea of Galilee and kind of bends toward the Mediterranean and then runs along the coast down toward Egypt, what you’re looking at and that yellow line is the equivalent of the interstate highway system of the ancient world. That was the highway that ran from up in Mesopotamia through Syria, down into the land, occupied by the tribes and where it makes that bend at the Sea of Galilee and goes west through what is called the Valley of Jezreel. And then at the area at a site they called the Megiddo, you’re familiar with that name, it begins to bend down toward the south and runs along the sea. And at that point, it’s called the Via Maris or “the way of the sea.” And it runs down into Egypt.
And all the truckers carrying freight out of Egypt up to Babylon ran that route. It was a major commercial artery during this period of time and where it runs from Megiddo up toward, you see Mount Tabor, which is going to be kind of the center point of our story with Deborah that runs through the Jezreel Valley, which is a valley that is very interesting when it comes to the story not only here in Deborah, but also other points of stories in the Bible. Megiddo, you may know, it gives its name to the term Armageddon, which is the staging site for what is called “the battle of that great day of the Lord Almighty” in Revelation 16. Armies gathered there and then they moved down to Jerusalem. But that battle will not be the first battle in that area. In fact, the first recorded battle that we have goes back to the time of Pharaoh in Egypt named Thutmose III, who came up and that and fought a battle at Megiddo with his chariots out of Egypt.
If you’re familiar with the story of… oh, I drew a blank right here, the king of Israel, Josiah. Josiah is killed at that area as well when he goes out and involves himself in a battle between the king of Syria and another king of Egypt. That area is really that area from Megiddo east through the valley of Jezreel is really the battleground of history. Napoleon fought a battle there. A hundred years ago, the British General Allenby fought a battle in the area of Megiddo. And then again in Revelation 16, we see that it will be a battle of the staging ground for a battle called the “battle of the great day of the Lord Almighty,” and it is also that where this battle during the time of Deborah takes place.
And we’ll talk about that as to the reason for it being here, the importance of it here because what you’re looking at, where this battle is going to be fought, is not at the time of Deborah, it’s not under the control of any of the tribes of Israel. That’s where the Canaanites are controlling and running around kind of choking that critical passageway and controlling it and keeping all the tribes apart and also controlling commerce and it becomes a very critical point that has to be either actually solved. Basically, the tribes of Israel would have to control that point if they are to ever accomplish what God says they were to become a chosen people in their day and at that time.
So with that little bit as a background, let’s turn back now to Judges 4, and let’s begin to look at the story of Deborah and understand it with that setting in mind. And let’s just go ahead and begin in chapter 4 and verse 1, where it says, ”When Ehud was dead, the children of Israel again did evil in the sight of the Lord.’’ Which is eventually that was the story of judges. They would have a time of revival, but then they would, they would slip back into decadence. “So the Lord sold them into the hand of Jabin king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor. And the commander of his army [of Jabin’s army] was Sisera, who dwelt in Harosheth Hagoyim.
All right, so here’s kind of the first character that we’re going to be introduced to the story of Deborah. And that is the commander of the army of the Jabin. That commander’s name is Sisera. We’ll see him in the story. He commands a flotilla… not a flotilla, but let’s say a tank division of 900 chariots, iron chariots, these chariots that are running up and down through that Jezreel Valley. And essentially patrolling it and creating problems, no doubt, harassing some of the tribes and the villages of those tribes both north and south of that line. But he’s quite a character that we see here. He holds a bit of influence and power along with his chariots, which is the kind of the equivalent of an ancient, ancient equivalent of a modern tank.
All right, verse 3 says, ”The Children of Israel then cried out to the Lord; for Jabin had nine hundred chariots of iron, and for twenty years he harshly oppressed the children of Israel.” So 20 years of harassment is summed up there and just a few words. And we could… Well, again, you could write a chapter or two just on what that might have been with attacks, guerrilla warfare, hit and run techniques that they probably did, taking what they wanted, plundering at will, but mostly acting as this force that divided the land and keeping the tribes from coming together.
Now, verse 4 then tells us about “Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, was judging Israel at that time. And she would sit under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the mountains of Ephraim.” This would have been further to the south of the point we’re talking about here. “And the children of Israel came up to her for judgment.” What this meant was that she sat at a spot under a palm tree, which designates where everybody would’ve gone. They would’ve known about this and any dispute, any issue that could not have been solved at the village level by the village elders, then would be either appealed or taken to her because it was as we might say, a beyond their pay grade. And so, they would take it up to Deborah.
Now, how did a woman named Deborah become a judge at this period of time? The Scripture doesn’t tell us. We could imagine, were no other men with the will, with the knowledge of the Word, the Scriptures to make the judgments and also lacking in the firmness of conviction about God, about the Scriptures? And could we even say lacking conviction about the real purpose and mission and goal of the tribes? Who were they? Who are we? What are we supposed to do? You know, for any group of people to have that conviction, it’d be motivated with a firm belief of who they are, means everything.
The Church of God must know who it is. It must have a firm conviction and what it is to do. It must know it’s identity and have no apologies for who it is, what it is, what it should do and it should pursue it’s biblical God-given destiny with resolve and conviction and no hand-wringings thinking, ”Well, I don’t know if we have the money to do that. I don’t know if we have the ability or the other resources to do it.” The Church of God should always be able to act.
Israel lacked men who could act even to the degree of being a moral force. And so, a woman named Deborah filled that vacuum that that’s, I think, the best way to understand what happened. She knew her scriptures and she not only knew them, she believed them. And she understood what we just read in Deuteronomy, that they were to become a holy chosen nation, to rise above all the other nations for a divine purpose. And she judged and carry herself every single day when she sat down under that palm tree with that conviction. When she came into the office every day, she knew what she was supposed to do and what the people were to be doing. That’s who Deborah was.
Now, it says here she was the wife of Lapidoth. Who was Lapidoth? What was Lapidoth? We don’t know. There are some of the Jewish commentators say this is really not her husband, but it’s really a description of who she was. Some say that she may have been married to Barak… or Barak. Personally, I don’t necessarily buy that particular view, but I do think it’s interesting to at least entertain the possibility that the word Lapidoth is really a description of what Deborah was because of the name Lapidoth, means a woman of lamps or torches. I translate that into reality, what that is probably saying that when Deborah spoke, it was like lightning bolts coming out. It was with force, it was with conviction. And you knew that she was a woman who believed what she did.
I brought up Margaret Thatcher. There was no question what she believed and she acted. One of her favorite statements was that you must act. You must do something. Do it out of conviction, do it out of a force of will, and a belief in, in, right over wrong and not be weak. Just a little aside after we were talking about this at lunch, but since the Bush family is in the news with the death of Mrs. Bush, Barbara Bush, and her funeral a few days ago. In 1990 when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, George H.W. Bush was president of the United States. And what are you going to do? Well, there was this, you know, we got to go over there and kick Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait. This is 1990, the first Gulf War.
President Bush kind of hesitated. Should we do that? America had not done anything like that since Vietnam, had not engaged at that level internationally in warfare since Vietnam period. America was still kind of nursing its wounds from the Vietnam era. And so, President Bush, for a few weeks, it was a little bit, you know, hesitant. Prime Minister Thatcher flies from England over to Vale, Colorado, where they were having a conference. And as the story goes, she eventually, she said to President Bush, ”George, don’t go wobbly on us. George, don’t go wobbly on us.” And she kinda firmed up his backbone and the first Gulf War was the result would kick Saddam Hussein out. But there’s the story is true. I suspect that it is. He got a lot of his resolve at that time from Prime Minister Thatcher.
I suspect when Deborah rendered a judgment, anybody who walked away from that palm tree recognize that she believed what she said, and they better act on it or there might be consequences. So the name Lapidoth and the degree of her divine inspiration is pretty intense, I think. She would’ve had to have been a firmly convicted woman in that day and age to rise to the level that she did. Now, let’s move on down to through the story here. Let’s go on to verse 6. She said, then ”She sent and she called for Barak the son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali, and said to him,” all right, so boom, she calls him in. Barak is her kind of her chief of staff is the top general in the army. And she says, ”Has not the Lord God of Israel commanded,’’ now that’s conviction. God has said. It’s not Deborah saying it. She’s saying, ”God has said, ‘Go deploy troops at Mount Tabor; take with you ten thousand men of the sons of Naphtali and of the sons of Zebulun; and against you I will deploy Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, and his chariots and his multitude at the River Kishon; and I will deliver them into your hand.’”
This is the marching orders given to her commanding general, ”Go, God has said to do it.” How did she know that? Again, we’re not told. Was it through prayer, a period of fasting, introspection? Looking at the scene that we just described of Sisera controlling this major highway section through the Jezreel Valley and Deborah finally coming to realize that “if we don’t deal with him, we’re going to be forever fragmented and we will never achieve our destiny.” And then God just moving by His Spirit upon her, it doesn’t say that he gave her a vision or whatever just says God has commanded. She came to that conviction and she believed that the order she issued was from God. And she gave it to her general and said, go and do this and God will be with us. You bring out 10,000 men.
Now, 10,000 men is a lot of soldiers. That’s the equivalent of two Roman legions or modern armies today, an entire army division, 10,000 soldiers, so it’s no small fighting force. And so this is what it sent out. And so, we look at verse 8 and here’s what Barak says to her, ”Well, if…” little word, if. ”If you’ll go with me, then I will go; but if you’re not going with me, I will not go!’’ He knew the stature of Deborah and the power of having her presence there among the troops. That meant a great deal. Maybe it also, he knew that she would kind of keep him from going wobbly, I don’t know, but it’d be interesting to speculate about that. So she said, ”All right, I’ll go.” “I will surely go with you; nevertheless there will be no glory for you in the journey that you are taking, for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.” And so, Deborah arose and went with Barak to Kedesh. So she goes with him.
Now, the woman that is going to get the glory is I think by all accounts, Deborah. There’s another woman it’s going to come into the story named Jael will. We’ll talk about her, but I don’t think that’s the woman that is being spoken of here by what Deborah says. She will get the glory. Now, this is the scene, this is what it is and I don’t think we should be too hard on Barak for what he does here. Because keep in mind when you, when you fast forward to Hebrews 11 and the names that are mentioned there, have a faith, Barak is mentioned. Might as well go ahead and say, let’s just calling Barak. I like that better than Barak. Barak is mentioned in Hebrews 11. Deborah is not, not that she shouldn’t be, but she just isn’t. But Barak is.
Now, he did his job, he did it well, and we don’t want to diminish that at all here. I don’t want to kind of, you know, contrast him too much with Deborah, but she goes with him at that time. Verse 10 says that ”Barak called Zebulon and Naphtali to Kedesh; and he went up with ten thousand men under his command, and Deborah went up with him.” These are the two primary tribes that are going to go with him out of Zebulon and Naphtali. We’ll see in chapter 5 later that not all the tribes responded to the call to duty. They didn’t all muster. Zebulon and Naphtali, they were right there on the northern part of the Jezreel Valley as to their tribal allotments. And they responded and they mustered at Mount Tabor there.
Now, verse 11 tells us about “Heber the Kenite, of the children of Hobab the father-in-law of Moses, had separated himself from the Kensites and pitched his tent near the terebinth tree at Zaanaim, which was beside Kedesh.” All right, so he’s kind of plopped in there because the Jael who’s the woman that’s going to come into the latter part of the story is of this grouping of people. There are non-Israelite people. There’s kind of some kind of they were descended from Midian. They were Midianites and they have this obscure relationship there. They were related to Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, they kind of descended through him as well, acted as guides of Israel through the wilderness years, the tribes. And if you look them up, they’re said to be metal workers, but they’re this itinerant, separate type of grouping of people, not Israelite, but they kind of follow along with the Israelites and they’re right there in the midst of the tribes here. And they’re kind of pitched in here at this particular time.
And it says that ”They reported,” in verse 12, ” to Sisera that Barak, the son of Abinoam had gone up to Mount Tabor. And so Sisera gathered his [troops] his chariots, nine hundred of them and the people who were with him there to the river Kishon.” So they seem to at least have given certain intelligence to Sisera, but we’re going to find out that one of them Jael switches after the battle and winds up killing this Sisera. They tend to play both sides against the middle is what seems to the particular grouping of Canaanites and the role they play in the story here as they go along.
So we come down to verse 13 and 12 they reported the Sisera. And in verse 13, “Sisera then gathered together all of his chariots, nine hundred… and all the people with them… to the River Kishon.” And in verse 14, “Deborah said to Barak, ‘Up! For this is the day in which the Lord has delivered Sisera to your hand. Has not the Lord gone out before you?’ So Barack went down from Mount Tabor with ten thousand men following him. And the Lord routed Sisera and all of his chariots and all of his army with the edge of the sword before Barak; and Sisera alighted from his chariot and fled away on foot.”
All right, if we go to the next map here, will show exactly if you can see a little bit of where this is, you’ll see the body of water to the right, which is the Sea of Galilee. If you look southwest from that, you come down into where the little red marker, the star and the yellow line is that is the Valley of Jezreel. And this is the Red Star right there is where Mount Tabor is. And that’s where the Israelites gathered and they come rushing down that hill, kind of like a bunch of Highlanders upon the chariots of Sisera. And the battle is joined right there in the Jezreel Valley.
It seems to be a very short a battle. If you will just kind of hold your point here, look over to chapter 5 of Judges, and let’s look at verse 13 because there’s something supplied in this song of Deborah that helps us to understand how the battle unfolded. God did give them the victory and God did help them because verse 13 of chapter 5 and this is in the middle of what is called the song of Deborah after the battle. But in verse 13 it says, ”Then the survivors came down, the people against the nobles; the Lord came down for me against the mighty.” And down in verse 19, ”The the kings came and fought, then the kings of Canaan fought in Tanaach, by the waters of Megiddo;’’ these are locations within that valley, “they took no spoils of silver. They fought from the heavens; the stars from their courses fought against Sisera. The torrent of Kishon swept them away.”
Kishon was a river and is a river that runs right through that Jezreel valley. Most of the year it’s dry. But when the rains come, it fills up quite quickly and the waters run off into the Mediterranean, down toward the west. But it is a known fact geographically that within 30 minutes of a large rain, that whole area can swell up with water. So what we were being told in this poem or the song is that likely a huge rain came filled up that area, and the chariots of Sisera were bogged down as a result of that and they were swept away. Verse 22, “Then the horses’ hooves pounded, the galloping… galloping of the steads. ‘Curse Meroz’ said the angel of the Lord, ‘Curse its inhabitants bitterly, because they did not come to the help of the Lord, to the help and the Lord against the mighty.’”
So the song gives us then a bit more of an indication of what was taking place and what was likely a very quick victory that was given to Barak and Deborah over Sisera and his 900 chariots at the, at the hand of God. Now, if we go back to chapter 4 then, and we pick up what happened in verse 16, Barak doesn’t hang around… or I’m sorry, Sisera doesn’t because Sisera, at the end of verse 15, Sisera alights from his chariot and fled away on foot. Now, he went… what happened. You’ll look again looking at the map. His chariots and his men retreated for the southwest, but Sisera heads toward the east on foot probably has individuals with him. We might surmise some of his staff, but it says that he fled away on foot. Verse 16 tells us, “Barak pursued the chariots and the army as far as Harosheth Hagoyim,” Barak stayed after the chariots “and the army of Sisera fell by the edge of the sword; and not a man was left.” So it was a complete victory.
“However,” verse 17 tells us, “Sisera had fled away on foot to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite;” there’s that Kenite connection again, “for there was peace between Jabin the king of Hazor and the house of Heber the Kenite.” They had aligned themselves, probably out of convenience at this time with Jabin and the king of Hazor and Sisera, his general. And for some reason, Sisera comes to this woman Jael and looks to her for refuge. And verse 18, it says, ”Jael went out to meet Sisera, and said to him, ‘Turn aside, my lord, turn aside to me; and do not fear.’ And when he had turned aside with her into the tent, she covered him with a blanket.” He’s tired. It’s been a long battle. He’s had to flee on, on foot. He comes to her. Some of the speculations is that it would have been unusual for a man to turn into the tent of a woman, but she entices him in with the idea that there’s safety here and he can rest here.
And again, you know, the idea of a man going into a woman’s tent is a little bit untoward, but all that is kind of cast aside. He said, says to her in verse 19, “‘Please give me a little water to drink, for I’m thirsty.’ And so she opened a jug of milk, gave him a drink, and covered him.” So she goes a little bit better. It’s not just water, she gives him a little bit better quality drink and some of the wording here could also indicate that maybe it was just a cold skin full of buttermilk, curdled buttermilk, you know. I’m not a big buttermilk fan, but maybe some of you are, but it was a delicacy and it gives them a bit more or a bit ability to revive than just water.
So “He said to her, ‘You stand at the door of the tent, and if any man comes and inquires, and says, ”Is there any man here?” you’ll say, “No.”’” So just lie. “And Jael then, Heber’s wife took a tent peg” and this is one of those stories in the Bible that when you read it, you think, “Wow!” She takes tent peg. Now, this would have been not one of these little tiny little Coleman pop tent pegs, this would’ve been as stake a wooden stake probably about yay long. And maybe that big around. She takes that and a “hammer in her hand, went softly to him while he was asleep and drove the peg into his temple,” right here, “and it went down into the ground.” Bible gets a little bit specific at times “for he was fast asleep and weary. So he died.” That’s an understatement. You’re pinned to the ground with a big stake right through your head, I think you’re dead. Not mostly dead, but dead all over right here. Dead all over.
All right. “And then, as Barak pursued Sisera,” Barak had taken care of all the chariots, but he wants that general. So he’s turned and he’s gone looking for him. He comes,… or, Jael comes out to meet him and she says, “‘Come, I’ll show you the man whom you seek.’ And when he went into her tent, there lay Sisera, dead with a peg in his temple.” Just like Rover dead all over. And I’m sure, you know, Barak probably looked at Sisera and he looked at Jael and he probably just said, “Thank you, ma’am.” And didn’t give her any trouble over what had happened. And it probably thought, “Wow, there’s pretty good women hanging around Israel these days between Deborah and Jael.”
You have to recognize that is there a bit of opportunism here with Jael? They had been aligned with Jabin. When the battle turned against Jabin, and she saw what had taken place, she kills Sisera, so that puts them in good with Barak and with Deborah. Did she always have sympathy toward them and this Heber didn’t? We don’t know, doesn’t tell us enough, but she acted, too. Did she act out of opportunism or out of faith or out of a her conviction that right was with the tribes, we just have to speculate about that. You could write whole paragraphs around that particular either of those ideas. But she certainly saw which way the wind was blowing. And she cashed in her lot with the tribes at that point.
So on verse 23 says, ”On that day God subdued Jabin the king of Canaan in the presence of the children of Israel. And the hand of the children of Israel grew stronger and stronger against Jabin king of Canaan, until they had destroyed Jabin the king of Canaan.” This becomes a turning point in the whole story of Israel. Now they control this, the critical Valley of Jezreel, the power of the Canaanites is broken. Now, there are other hurdles that they will have to overcome, yet before they will become the united tribe, united nation, all 12 tribes working in harmony that will become. That hasn’t happened yet, but this is a critical step because had they not done this and gained control of this geographical pivot point within the land, they would not have been able to have the unity and the power that they eventually grew to.
That’s just a fact of understanding the geography of the land and the time and what all of that was. History and the destiny of nations does depend a great deal upon geography. In fact, the promises of God to Abraham’s descendants that have been realized in the modern English-speaking peoples also are dependent upon key geographical points being held, occupied, whether it’s the entire North America or the American part of the North American continent and the Canadian as well, or other critical choke points of a sea passages and land passages around the globe that are part of that story as well. Geography plays a big of a history of the power of nations and certainly of God’s prophetic promises to Abraham and to his descendants as that history has developed out in especially in the modern time. This is an example of it even in the actual settlement of a land during the time of the tribes as to what they were to become.
Now, very quickly, we just know we’re going to look at chapter five because the story goes is kind of recapitulated in what is called the “Song of Deborah” and read time will not allow us to go through all of it, but I want to call your attention to just a few points about this because what, what is this “Song of Deborah,” which takes up 31 verses?
Really, should be looked at as what became probably their national anthem during the time. You know, our own star spangled banner in the United States are our national anthem was written as we know… Remember our story by Francis Scott Key after this famous battle that where he was standing on a ship and through the night of British bombardment of Fort McHenry on the East Coast, did not completely destroy the fort. And by the dawn’s early light, Francis Scott Key saw the American flag still flying. And he writes this national anthem that we stand forward and put our hand on our heart and sing, and we all learn as Americans, but it’s telling a story of a critical moment in the formation of our nation.
Now, there are others I could quote or refer to the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” during the American Civil War, which we still sing. We’ve adapted it as a hymn in our hymnal. That, too, speaks to a huge national event in American history. But the “Star Spangled Banner” is our national anthem. Let’s just imagine that the “Song of Deborah,” as it was originally set down in words and music to accompany it, told around the campfires, sung as the tribes went about their business started in even when up to Shiloh through the years to keep the festivals where the tabernacle was set during that period. Did they sing that? I think they did and as they sang it, they were… they were reminded of this story of Deborah and Barak and what took place, and it became something that everybody could just recite and knew.
But it tells the story of the battle and the victory that God gave to them of the conviction of the leaders. But it also tells something else that’s quite interesting because there are several tribes, as I said earlier, that he did not report for duty. Dan, Asher… or not, they are actually called out this “Song of Deborah.” It calls out Ruben for not going up, Dan and Asher for not going up. Judah didn’t go up, but they don’t even get called out. Judah is not even mentioned in this and they didn’t go. One of the larger tribes and of course, out of which would eventually come King David and where they were would become the site for Jerusalem and the United, the capital of the United Nation. But Judah did not go to this. Why? We don’t know. We could only speculate. They were too far to the south. They didn’t see the need to respond, but there verses 14 beginning verses 14 down through verse 18, that part of the song talks about the tribes that didn’t come out. So again, succeeding generations sung about that or talked about that. That had to have stung a bit in the relations that were there.
But if you go back to, of course, the story in verse 28 of the story of Sisera and his death is poignantly told because it says verse 28, ”The Mother of Sisera look through the window, and cried out through the lattice, ‘Why is his chariot so long in coming?’” Sisera’s mother would not see him coming home from the battle because he was dead at a tent peg stuck through his temple, so the song gets it, goes into that and kind of you know, even shows the morning of the other side and what that meant and it ends on the note in verse 31, ”Thus let all your enemies perish, O Lord! But let those who love Him be like the sun when it comes out in full strength.” It ends on a positive, uplifting note pointing to God and to God’s strength and to those who would love Him.
And so, it’s a national epic poem, a national anthem all rolled into one, but if we go back to verse 1 of Judges 5, I just want to read the first five verses here because it kind of recapitulates the strength of character of Deborah, and what she infused even into Barak and to the others in the nation at that time. Verse 2, “When leaders lead in Israel, when the people willingly offer themselves, bless the Lord!’’ This is what succeeding generations of Israelites would sing, even, I would think, into the years of the united monarchy under, first, Saul, and then David, “When leaders lead in Israel, when the people willingly offer themselves, bless the Lord!” And from this it goes into it, ”Hear, O kings! Give ear, O princes! I, even I, will sing unto the Lord; I will sing praise to the Lord God of Israel. Lord, when You went out of Seir, when You marched out of the field of Edom, the earth trembled…’’ Seir and Edom are down in the area of Moab and Edom down, in what is southern Jordan today, on the other side of the Jordan River.
And other scriptures point to a poetic form that region, which is one of the, you know, in the area of Mount Sinai or let’s say the traditional Mount Sinai, and it gives a little interesting indication there, but it’s the traditional spot that this in Habakkuk, the third chapter of Habakkuk, the prophet Habakkuk, in another poem, portrays God as rising up and coming from Edom, from Seir, as if that’s where God lives in the imagery of the poems from that region, where Mount Sinai was “God You marched from the field of Edom,” so they point to God as, the force and the strength that gave them the battle. But it is even from a specific geographic spot that it is portrayed in this poem is where he comes. But “The earth trembled” it said, “and the heavens poured, the clouds also poured water; the mountains gushed before the Lord, this Sinai, before the Lord God of Israel.”
And so, this is how this epic poem, this National Anthem begins. And then it goes into, again, the story of Deborah, fascinating story. Perhaps more to focus on from a larger national perspective of a nation of a judge named Deborah, who could discern what God wanted to do and needed to have done, and how the people needed to respond with a sense of destiny that they were a chosen people and that if they did not act now, the moment could pass and never be regained. She saw that because she was close to God, close enough to make judgments in the everyday lives of her own people based on the Word of God. And as a result of, if you will, laboring in the Word and the way that she did, she was close to God and could not only discern what the will of God was, but then persuade a general of her army, 10,000 troops to rise up and move and act at a time when the nation needed to in a very critical moment of their life to ultimately fulfill their destiny.
A nation has to know why they exist. A church has to know why it exists. And the people who are part of the Church should understand why it exists. We have a mission. We have mission to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God. That is our mission. And we come into this building and other places. Where that work is done is we have our part to play in that mission in the United Church of God and we do that every day as best we can and we have to continue to do it with faith and conviction that God is behind us, but we have to act. We never want to be wobbly. We want to stay on the line doing what we’re called to do.
A story like Deborah, I think encourage us and help us in that particular mission and in that job we have to accomplish. Let’s take it for what it is, nothing more, nothing less, but a very important story of encouragement for us. So that’s the story of Deborah. We’ll conclude the Bible study here at this time. We will not be having any Bible studies in May. We’re going to take a break and then we will come back, I believe, the first Wednesday in June will be the next Bible study. And at this point, we’re planning to continue on with our series in the book of Judges. So we’ll take a break during the month of May and see you again later on in June. So take care, everyone. Have a good evening and we will see you next time.