Three judges had come and gone but Israel refused to change their ways. Their assimilation into the Canaanite cultures around them made it easy for future generations to keep slipping up. After the Ehud-led uprising that delivered the Israelites from the hands of the Moabite king Eglon, we read that the people returned to their old ways as the land remained in partial captivity for twenty years.
Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD, now that Ehud was dead. So the LORD sold them into the hands of Jabin king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor.Judges 4:1-2 (NIV)
Hazor lay in the northern part of the territory of Israel and was a crucial trade route in the region of Galilee. Jabin, the king of Canaanites, took control of this city and ruled over the tribes of Israel in Galilee. His army was miles ahead in terms of advancements as they had state-of-the-art chariots fitted with iron while the army of Israel went to battles on foot. On top of having an edge in terms of arsenal prowess, Jabin also had a powerful commander as his right-hand man, Sisera, who ruled with an iron fist.
Deborah was a prophetess at that time, who held court in the central part of the country in a region that lay between the cities of Ramah and Bethel. She had a vision from God that Barak was chosen as the next deliverer for Israel. Now Barak was the son of Abinoam who resided in the Kedesh, which was on the northern border of the country. Proximity-wise, he was much closer to Hazor than Deborah or even the warrior tribe of Judah. Deborah called Barak and told him what the Lord had commanded,
‘Go, take with you ten thousand men of Naphtali and Zebulun and lead them up to Mount Tabor. I will lead Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his troops to the Kishon River and give him into your hands.Judges 4:6-7 (NIV)
God is leading Sisera and his troops to the plains near the Kishon River where they would clearly have an advantage over the Israelites because of their iron-fitted chariots. Barak and his men would have doubts about this strategy and would have quaked at the idea of facing Jabin’s army under such circumstances. Even when the situation around us is far more vulnerable than we can imagine, God is still able to bring us out of our valleys of death into the plains of His kingdom. He is in total control of everything around us and we do not need to worry about any tactic overcoming when we are with Him. He sent the rains and made the plains a mudhole taking away any advantage that the Canaanite army thought they possessed. The biggest strength of the enemy will be turned into their weakness while our weakness will become our strengths if we trust in God.
Barak said to Deborah, “If you go with me, I will go; but if you don’t go with me, I won’t go.”Judges 4:8 (NIV)
Barak did not want to put his trust in God but depended on the support of the prophetess Deborah. He perhaps felt like a fish out of water and needed the support of the most powerful woman in Israel to manage the troops. But this scene of a warrior chosen by God needing support from mortal beings to know God’s will is far too common to not have a deeper reason. Saul was chosen by God to lead Israel through bloodshed and mayhem on the battlefields but he relied on Samuel and later, his priests to know God’s will. These men though chosen by God during their youth, later lose their connection with Him as they continue to find success in their missions. Slowly they cannot even hear God’s voice and feel helpless and think that they can use human beings as proxies for the Almighty. Barak missed out on having a personal relationship with God as His faith remained dependent on Deborah and even lost out on the credit for defeating Sisera and his men as that honour went to Jael.
On the outskirts of Kedesh, Heber the Kenite had pitched his tent as he was on good terms with the king of Hazor, Jabin. Jael was the wife of Heber, literally a nobody and not even part of any of the tribes of Israel, who brought down the army of Sisera and helped Israel overcome the mighty Canaanites.
Barak pursued the chariots and army as far as Harosheth Haggoyim, and all Sisera’s troops fell by the sword; not a man was left. Sisera, meanwhile, fled on foot to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, because there was an alliance between Jabin king of Hazor and the family of Heber the Kenite.Judges 4:16-17 (NIV)
Hiding in the tent of Jael, on the surface seemed like a brilliant idea as no one would even think to look for the commander of the king of Hazor inside her tent. Sisera needed time to recuperate and find a way back to Hazor. Jael was a perfect hostess to him, offering him warmth and comfort as she gave him milk and hid him in her tent. Sisera was at ease thinking the treaty between Heber and Jabin had given him a safe outpost to rest and plan his next moves. But unbeknownst to him, Jael did not share the same sentiments as her husband towards the Israelites.
But Jael, Heber’s wife, picked up a tent peg and a hammer and went quietly to him while he lay fast asleep, exhausted. She drove the peg through his temple into the ground, and he died.Judges 4:21-22 (NIV)
Just then Barak came by in pursuit of Sisera, and Jael went out to meet him. “Come,” she said, “I will show you the man you’re looking for.” So he went in with her, and there lay Sisera with the tent peg through his temple—dead.
On that day God led the Israelites to their greatest conquest to date, defeating Jabin king of Canaan before the Israelites. The act that was most significant in their victory was the death of Sisera at the hands of Jael, a lowly woman as Barak was late by only a few minutes. Deborah and Barak wrote a song of praise about how God had redeemed the Israelites in an unimaginable way.
“So may all your enemies perish, LORD!Judges 5:31 (NIV)
But may all who love you be like the sun
when it rises in its strength.”
Then the land had peace forty years.
The Israelites had a habit of taking God for granted. They were happy at the moment when God gave them victory over their oppressors but never stopped to think why were they in that position in the first place. God kept bailing them but they never understood or even wanted to understand His intentions. God loves sinners as well and plants seeds on rocky grounds also. Not that the rocky ground may burn and overcome the seeds but that the seeds may turn the rocky grounds into fertile soil.
He placed the Israelites amongst the pagan people of Cannan with a purpose in mind. Similarly, He has planted us in the exact place where He needs us to be. If we fall for the ways of the pagan world around us then we are no different than the Israelites who underwent a bloody and brutal war to free themselves. Our war is not with any human as we are called to love everyone but our war is a spiritual one. In our small victories, let us not lose sight of God’s greater plan from the deliverance and move forward in corrective steps towards Him.
- Why is God leading Sisera and his troops to the plains where they would have a clear advantage because of the iron-fitted chariots?
- Why does Barak want Deborah to accompany him?
- What did the Israelites think was the reason for God to deliver them time and again?