Judges 4

The Word Made Fresh

1After Ehud died the Israelites fell back into their old sinful ways, 2and the LORD gave them to king Jabin of Canaan who ruled from Hazor. His army general, Sisera, lived in Harosheth-Ha-Goiim. 3He had nine hundred iron chariots, and for twenty years had cruelly oppressed the Israelites.

4In those days a prophetess named Deborah, wife of Lappidoth, was a judge in Israel. 5She would sit under her palm tree between Ramah and Bethel in Ephraim’s hill country and hear the people’s complaints. 6She sent for Barak, son of Abinoam, from Kadesh in Naphtali. She told him, “The LORD God of Israel orders you to gather ten thousand men from the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali and position them on Mt. Tabor. 7The LORD will lure Sisera, who commands Jabin’s army, to bring his chariots and soldiers to the wadi at Kishon, and give you victory over them.”

8“I’ll go if you go with me,” said Barak. “But I’m not going if you don’t.”

9Deborah said, “Oh, I’ll go with you, but you’ll get no glory out of the victory because the LORD will use a woman to defeat Sisera.”

She went with Barak to Kadesh. 10Barak called for help from Naphtali and Zebulun and ten thousand men joined him and Deborah.

11Meanwhile, a man named Heber, one of the Kenites who were descended from Moses’ father-in-law Hobab, had moved away from them and camped near Kadesh at Elon-Bezaanannim.

12Sisera was told that Barak son of Abinoam had gone to Mt. Tabor, 13so he gathered all of his nine hundred iron chariots and his army and brought them from Harosheth-Ha-Goiim to the Kishon wadi. 14Deborah said to Barak, “Get up! This is the day the LORD will give Sisera to you, and you can be sure that the LORD will go out ahead of you.”

So, Barak descended Mt. Tabor with ten thousand men behind him. 15The LORD threw Sisera’s army with their chariots into a panic and they ran from Barak. Sisera jumped out of his chariot and escaped on foot 16while Barak and his men chased his chariots and his army all the way to Harosheth-ha-goiim, and struck down Sisera’s army until there were none left.

17Now, Jael was the wife of Heber the Kenite, and Sisera ran until he came to her tent because he knew king Jabin and Heber were allies. 18Jael came out to meet him and invited him inside. “Come in. Don’t be afraid, my lord,” she said. He entered her tent and she hid him beneath a blanket.

19He asked her for a drink of water. “I’m thirsty,” he said. She poured him a drink of warm milk from a goatskin. 20He said, “Watch from the door. If anyone comes and asks if anybody is here, tell them ‘No’.”

21But when Sisera fell asleep Jael, wife of Heber, took a tent peg and a mallet, crept quietly over to where he lay, and drove the tent peg through his temple into the ground and he died.

22Barak arrived then, chasing Sisera. Jael went out to meet him and said, “Come. I’ll show you the man you’re after.” He went into her tent, and there was Sisera pegged to the ground.

23So, on that day God used the Israelites to deal king Jabin of Canaan a blow, 24and the Israelites pressed their advantage until they did away with him altogether.

Commentary

1-3: The stage is set for the next judge to appear. Ehud dies, the Israelites stray from the covenant, and another oppressor arises: Jabin, a Canaanite king in Hazor, who rules over them for 20 years before the people cry out to the Lord for help.

4-10: Deborah and Barak are introduced, along with Sisera, the general of Jabin’s army.  Again, comedic elements are in play as Barak’s manhood is called into question (he insists that Deborah go with him to “hold his hand”), and we are told that Sisera will fall into the “hands of a woman.” We think at this point the woman is Deborah, but the story isn’t over yet. Deborah, by the way, is an Ephraimite, while Barak is from the tribe of Naphtali. Naphtali and Zebulun are apparently the two tribes most affected by Jabin’s rule.

Note that from now on Jabin is entirely in the background, as is God. They are the two primary antagonists. Their conflict will be played out by their underlings – Sisera on one side, and Deborah and Barak on the other (along with a late entrant who has not yet been introduced).

11: The story is interrupted at this point to add a detail that allows for the real heroine to enter later. We meet Heber the Kenite who has moved away from his people and settled in Kadesh (Naphtali territory).

12-16: Sisera’s army turns out to be no match for Barak’s, and they are utterly defeated. Military strategists point out that Barak led his men down from Mt. Tabor (which some think is the Mount of the Transfiguration in the gospels) to engage Sisera’s chariots, which meant that the terrain Barak chose was great for foot soldiers but not good for heavy chariots. In this, Barak proves to be a wily commander indeed – but Deborah credits God, not Barak, of course.

17-22: Sisera flees on foot to the tent of Heber the Kenite, whose wife, Jael is home alone. (Jael means something like “Yah(weh) is God,” although she is not an Israelite.) Now the comedy is in full form. Sisera is put down like a baby – given warm milk and tucked into bed. As soon as he is asleep she creeps over to him and drives a tent peg through his temple into the ground.

23-24: Barak/Deborah/Jael’s victory over Sisera is the beginning of the end for king Jabin.

Takeaway

God uses another non-Israelite to further Israel’s story. This happens occasionally through the Old Testament. It is a reminder that God’s choosing of Israel does not mean God has rejected everyone else, and that eventually opens the door for everyone to be “God’s chosen” through faith in Jesus Christ, regardless of their genealogy.