Deborah and Barak vs. Jabin and Sisera

High Tech Cannot Defeat God

“From heaven fought the stars” (Judges 5:20 ASV).

by Michael Costelli

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The account of Deborah and Barak vs Jabin and Sisera is found in Judges chapter four. It opens with the death of Ehud, a former Judge in Israel. The “sons of Israel again did the thing that was wicked in the sight of Yahweh” (Judges 4:1 Rotherham). This wicked condition was repetitive, dating from their deliverance from Egypt at the time of the Exodus until the time of this account.  Deborah was a woman who was “a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, she judged Israel at that time” (Judges 4:4).

She was a noble person possessing wisdom and judgment and was sought out by Israelites for these characteristics. Deborah describes herself as having arisen as a mother in Israel (Judges 5:7). There is no evidence that Deborah was a maternal mother of notable children; so the expression “mother in Israel” may refer to her position of authority and judgment, perhaps like we refer to George Washington as the Father of his country or President Eisenhower was the man in Washington.

From the time Israel left the wilderness and entered Canaan, the Promised Land, the need for leadership was great, and it was found in the person of Joshua. He, along with Caleb (Numbers 14:6), had spied out the land of Canaan before Israel’s entry. Because of Joshua’s faithfulness to God and his strategic wisdom in protecting Israel, he led Israel in the conquest of Canaan as the Lord directed, and he died at the age of 110. That may have been about 1406 BC.

The book of Judges opens with the death of Joshua, and then describes a series of Judges taking place over many years. Judges provided wisdom and direction in Israel’s spiritual and temporal affairs. Prior to Joshua, God’s instructions to Israel came more through direct revelation, via Moses as their mediator, and via the High Priest using the Urim and Thummim. According to the historian Josephus, the high priest at the time of our reading was Phineas.1

Deborah’s Prophecy and Declaration

“At that time, the Israelites had for twenty years been oppressed in the north by Jabin the Canaanite, King of Hazor, because they had done what was evil in the sight of the Lord (Judges 4:1). The Israelites had been unable to break the Canaanite hold on the fertile Jezreel Valley, also known as the Plain of Esdraelon. It stretches from west to east across the country, from behind the Carmel range down to the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan river fords.”2  Jabin’s military vehicles, 900 chariots of iron, struck fear in the hearts of the Israelites, and they were unable to subdue Jabin; hence, for “twenty years he mightily oppressed the children of Israel” (Judges 4:3).

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(1) JFB, Bible Commentary, Critical and Explanatory,
Jamieson Fausset Brown.
(2) Who’s Who in the Bible, Comay and Brownrigg;
1980 Edition, Page 102.

Deborah was approached by the people of Israel for help in overcoming Jabin. Commanded by God, Deborah promptly entreated Barak, son of Abinoam, to mount an offensive against the enemy, who is represented by General Sisera of Jabin’s army. We read the account in Judges 4:4-7: “And Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, she judged Israel at that time. And she dwelt under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in mount Ephraim: and the children of Israel came up to her for judgment. And she sent and called Barak the son of Abinoam out of Kedeshnaphtali, and said unto him, Hath not the LORD God of Israel commanded, saying, Go and draw toward mount Tabor, and take with thee ten thousand men of the children of Naphtali and of the children of Zebulun? And I will draw unto thee to the river Kishon, Sisera, the captain of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his multitude; and I will deliver him into thine hand.”

Deborah’s form of expression, “Hath not the LORD God of Israel commanded,” implies an emphatic communication rather than a question of inquiry as to Barak’s understanding of the matter. Deborah not only directs Barak to a military quest but also explains the method God will provide for him to employ in the effort. From the number of troops even to the outcome of the battle, she gives Barak a vision of conquest that should have spurred him to immediate action.

However, his response was somewhat lackluster because he qualifies his willingness to act with a request that Deborah attend him in the action. “And Barak said unto her, ‘If thou wilt go with me, then I will go: but if thou wilt not go with me, then I will not go.’ And she said, ‘I will surely go with thee: notwithstanding the journey that thou takest shall not be for thine honour; for the LORD shall sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.’ And Deborah arose, and went with Barak to Kedesh” (Judges 4:8-9).  As a result of Barak’s response, Deborah upbraided him, saying that credit for the Lord’s military victory would go to a woman, not to Barak.

Deborah assures Barak that Sisera will be delivered into his hands at the river Kishon, but no details are furnished to the reader until the fifth chapter, where Deborah utters her song-prayer. We find the detail in Judges 5:19-22: “The kings came and fought, then fought the kings of Canaan in Taanach by the waters of Megiddo; they took no gain of money. They fought from heaven; the stars in their courses fought against Sisera. The river of Kishon swept them away, that ancient river, the river Kishon. O my soul, thou hast trodden down strength. Then were the horsehoofs broken by the means of the pransings, the pransings of their mighty ones.”

“Sisera no doubt assumed that at this display of martial force, the rebellious Israelite tribesmen would melt back into their hills. But he failed to take into account that the LORD and the weather were on the side of his foes. A violent rainstorm came down suddenly, flooding the Kishon and turning the floor of the valley into the mud, which was churned up still further by the prancing horses. With the chariots bogged down and helpless, the Israelite highlanders rushed down on them in a wild charge. Caught completely off balance, the Canaanite forces were routed and wiped out. Sisera fled and was killed in the tent by Jael, a Kenite woman.”3

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(3) Who’s Who in the Bible, Comay and Brownrigg;
1980 Edition, Page 103.

Megiddo

Megiddo is an ancient town in Northern Israel, strategically located on a route linking Egypt to Mesopotamia. In Judges 4:6 we learn that the site of the battle is “toward mount Tabor.”  Mount Tabor rises singularly up 1866 feet in the plain of Megiddo. Atop the present day, mount is the Catholic Basilica of the Transfiguration. It is a 20th-century reconstruction of an old Byzantine shrine. Megiddo is mentioned in 11 places in the Old Testament and was the site of many battles. Prior to the battle with Sisera, The Battle of Megiddo (15th century BC) was fought between Egyptian forces under the command of Pharaoh Thutmose III and a large rebellious coalition of Canaanite vassal states led by the king of Kadesh. It is the first battle recorded in what historians generally accept as relatively reliable detail. Megiddo is also the first recorded use of the composite bow and the first body count.”4

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(4) Wikipedia, “Battle of Megiddo” (15th Cent. BC)

As Bible Students and New Creatures in Christ, our principal interest in the site of Megiddo is its end-time prophetic significance.  We are taught that the experiences of Israel in the Old Testament are a foreshadowing of our experiences as we walk with the Lord. The Apostle Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 10:11 that, “Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples; and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.” Thus, we should look for similarities in the Old Testament account and this end of the Gospel age.

Pastor Russell commented upon these similarities in Reprint 5604: “The Israelites, guilty of idolatry, had, according to God’s covenant with them, been chastened by the permitting of their enemies to vanquish them. They had come to great straits. Their enemies had become strong and high-handed. General Sisera, of the Canaanites, having humbled the Israelites of North Palestine for years started with a large army, intent upon victories, to the southward.  The strength of his army is shown in that it contained nine hundred iron chariots.

“By the time he had gotten as far south[east]ward as the Valley of Megiddo, messengers reached him, informing him that Barak, a leader among the Israelites, had improved the opportunity of his absence and was also leading southward an army of ten thousand Israelites. Under Divine guidance, Barak made Mt. Tabor his army base — the same which, in Jesus’ day, became known to His followers as the Mount of Transfiguration, where the coming Kingdom of Messiah was represented in a vision. Thus, we have another remarkable feature of the picture of the future — the association of the vision of the Kingdom in proximity with the Armageddon field of disaster, picturing the overthrow of present institutions.”

A Discomfited Army

General Sisera, disdaining the poorly-armed Israelites, advanced with his army on both sides of the River Kishon toward Mt. Tabor. Then the word of the Lord came afresh to General Barak, directing him to advance against the army of the Canaanites. The slaughter was a great one, as related in our lesson. Sisera’s army was discomfited so that it scattered. A great storm and cloudburst swelled the river, making quagmires of the lower valleys, rendering useless the chariots of Sisera. His soldiers, fleeing for their lives, were cut down by the Israelites, while other thousands were swept by the freshets down the river to the sea. This interference of God on behalf of His people Israel, in figurative language, is styled as the fighting of the “stars of heaven” against Sisera’s army.  Similarly, in the great battle of Armageddon near at hand, human might will not prevail, but the disconcerted hosts will bring about the complete disruption of the present order of things, for every man’s hand shall be against his brother and against his neighbor (Ezekiel 38:21, Zechariah 8:10, 14:13). The cloudburst of Truth and the rising waters of knowledge are bringing to pass this great human catastrophe — which the Lord will overrule for the blessing of the world.

Additional Thoughts

As we consider the above prophetic significance of our story, let us think about Barak’s response and how we may draw a lesson from it. To his credit, he did go to fight, but only with the help of Deborah. Does this show a condition that the Great Company exhibits during its continual struggle with the flesh to serve the Lord? Because of Deborah’s rank and close communication with God, we can argue that Barak should not have shrunk from the responsibility in any manner. Nevertheless, he did, and we can always think of him when faced with choices in our consecrated walk, so we do not slack from responding to the Lord.

 

 

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