Goddesses No Match for Women of God
“But the LORD is the true God, he is the living God, and an everlasting king: at his wrath the earth shall tremble, and the nations shall not be able to abide his indignation”(Jeremiah 10:10).
by Rick Evans
The LORD is the only true, living God. No matter which gods are worshiped by mankind, none will ever defeat Jehovah. He will pass judgment on these gods. Understanding this explains what happened with Deborah, Barak, and Jael in their battle against the Canaanites in Judges chapters 4 and 5.
Judges 4 shows that Israel had forgotten that there are consequences if they defy God and worship idols. They had forgotten that the LORD would fight for them (Deuteronomy 20:1) as He did against Pharaoh’s chariots (Exodus 14:5-28) and the five kings’ chariots (Joshua 11:6). God lifted up Deborah as a female judge. She was commissioned to cause Barak to accomplish what the LORD requested of him. Barak asked that Deborah accompany him to battle. She explained that the glory of victory will come from the hand of a woman. Barak took ten thousand men from the tribes of Naphtali and Zebulun to battle.
The battle is described next. Sisera, leading an army equipped with nine hundred chariots, came against Deborah, Barak and ten thousand men who are on Mount Tabor. Barak only descended when Deborah told him to since God was already fighting against Sisera.
The Song of Deborah and Barak (Judges 5:3) is for the gentile kings and princes, because Israel had no kings at this time. The Hebrew word “princes” (razan), a verb meaning to rule, causes this phrase to be better translated, “Hear, O ye kings, give ear, ye that rule.” This is a song of witness for the gentiles and is central to understanding what the real battle is about: Jehovah against the gods of Canaan.
Deborah sang of a rain-storm used by Jehovah against Sisera and his army. She sang that the mountains melted. The deluge gave the appearance of the mountains melting (Psalms 68:7-9,17). Sisera’s chariots are like Pharaoh’s chariots in Exodus 14:24, 25; they got bogged down in the mud. Thus, Barak waited on Mount Tabor.
In Judges 5:4, 5, 21, 22, the chaos in the valley of the Kishon River is described. Sisera and his army marched towards Mount Tabor by the Kishon River. As God began His attack, a violent storm broke out, and the falling rain cascaded down the mountains. A possible scenario is that a flash flood ripped through the valley and the Kishon River swept them away (Judges 5:21). Horses panicked and tore at their chariots to escape the cascading water. Men ran for their lives.
The Canaanite chariot had one horse and up to three men. For Sisera’s army, this meant nine hundred chariots with nine hundred horses and possibly up to 2,700 men. Add to this a “multitude” for the army caught in the chaos. These men and horses were dressed for battle, and they fought for their lives against the flooding river. Meanwhile, Deborah, Barak, and their army were on Mount Tabor watching. As the storm abated and the river subsided, Deborah told Barak to go fight. The survivors of Sisera’s army fled towards their home in Harosheth of the Gentiles (Judges 4:16) but were annihilated (Judges 5:8). No one escaped to bring back news of the defeat. Sisera fled to the tent of Jael (Judges 4:17) but was killed by her.
This defeat does not end the issue. Another battle is referenced in Judges 5:12-19. This battle was against the kings of Canaan, not just King Jabin. It was in Taanach by the waters of Megiddo, not at Mount Tabor. It involved more tribes than those at Mount Tabor where Deborah, Barak, and the ten thousand men of Naphtali and Zebulun fought.1
The kings of Canaan saw the power of the Israelite God in the battle with Sisera. They ignored the witness of the destruction of the army of King Jabin. Perhaps this was due to signs from the Canaanite gods, which King Jabin and Sisera saw as favorable to their success (Deuteronomy 4:19, Jeremiah 10:2, Psalms 83:9,10). The kings of Canaan saw the same signs (Judges 5:20). According to the Ugaritic texts,2 the Canaanites believed in following signs in the heavens. They disbelieved that the God of the Israelites was superior to their gods. So Jehovah appointed Deborah, a female, to be a judge; and Jael, a female, is given the glory of the defeat of Sisera. Three Canaanite goddesses are involved (Judges 5:19, 20, 31).
Two critical scriptures found in Exodus 12:12 and Numbers 33:4 show that God passed judgment on the gods of Israel’s enemies. Whenever the LORD fought for the children of Israel, there is a twofold outcome: destruction of the enemy and judgment passed on the enemies’ gods.
In Judges 5:20, the Hebrew word “from” (min) may mean “because of.” The Hebrew for “heaven” (shamayim) is a plural noun, “heavens.” The Hebrew word “against” (ghem) means “with” or “together with.”3 Therefore, verse 20 should read, “They [kings of Canaan] fought because of the heavens, the stars in their courses waged war together with Sisera.” In Judges 5:21-27 the kings’ defeat comes through two women, Deborah and Jael.
“The river of Kishon swept them away, that ancient river, the river Kishon. O my soul [Deborah], thou hast trodden down [Genesis 3:15] strength. (22) Then were the horse-hoofs broken by the means of the pransings, the pransings of their mighty ones. (23) Curse [Genesis 3:14] ye Meroz [refuge] [Judges 4:11,12,17, Psalms 83:9], said the angel of the LORD, curse ye bitterly [curse] the inhabitants thereof; because they came not to the help of the LORD, to the help of the LORD against [with] the MIGHTY. (24) Blessed above women shall Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite be, blessed shall she be above women in the tent. (25) He asked water, and she gave him milk; she brought forth butter in a lordly dish. (26) She put her hand to the nail, and her right hand to the workmen’s hammer; and with the hammer she smote Sisera, she smote off his head, when she had pierced and stricken through his temples. (27) At her feet he bowed [Psalms 20:7, 8], he fell [Psalms 20:7,8], he lay down: at her feet he bowed, he fell: where he bowed, there he fell down dead.”
(1) Chaim Herzog and Mordechai Gichon, Battles of the Bible; New York: Barnes & Noble, 1997, pages 65-69. Gives details of the encounters, with maps. See also Herald 2018 July-August article on Deborah.
(2) Ugaritic texts are written around 1300-1200 BC. Ugarit is an ancient Canaanite city. These texts are cuneiform tablets that describe Canaanite culture. The text is close to Biblical Hebrew.
(3) Editor’s note on Judges 5:20. Alternative interpretations for “from” and for “against” are open to question here. For the latter word, compare Judges 11:8, 11 against 11:4, 5, 20, 25. But the impact on the theme of the article seems small.
Humiliating Three Canaanite Goddesses
The Ugaritic texts describe three significant goddesses of the Canaanite religion whose attributes correlate with Deborah and Jael. They are Anat, Astarte, and Shapash. Anat is a goddess of war. In Egypt she is called Neith, a goddess of war and weaving. Her symbols include a weaver’s shuttle. Anat is also depicted with a spindle, as the Canaanites were famed for their weaving. In Judges 4, Deborah joined with Barak as a female participant in battle, just as Sisera has a female goddess, Anat. The spoil that Sisera’s mother wants from her son’s expected victory is tied to weaving (Judges 5:30). The phrase “diverse colors” means dyed cloth, which relates to Anat and Neith.
Anat (in the Ugaritic texts) and Neith are known as the “mother of gods” to their people. Deborah is called a “mother in Israel” in Judges 5:7. Hieroglyphs often showed Neith wearing the crown of Lower Egypt, which had the proboscis of a bee, reinforcing her relationship with the king. This king’s crown refers to his title, “he who belongs to the bee.”4 Deborah’s name means the “bee,” and she had a direct relationship with her King, Jehovah.
Therefore, Sisera, representing his king, Jabin, in battle found strength from his goddess Anat; so Deborah, representing her king, Jehovah, in battle found strength from her God. Astarte, the Canaanite goddess of war, is found in the Ugaritic text as a horseman and was worshipped by the Egyptians.5 She was called “Mistress of the Horse and Chariot”6 correlating with Judges 4:13. She is found in curses, summoning her to smash the enemies’ skull,7 corresponding to Jael (Judges 5:26,27), who drove a nail into the skull of Sisera. Ironically, Sisera worshiped Astarte; but now he bows at the feet of Jael, who smashes his skull.
The third Canaanite goddess is Shapash, goddess of the sun. In Judges 5:31, the reference “love him” refers to Sisera, who is likened to the sun, Shapash. The phrase “goeth forth” has a military meaning to “march out.” This explains who God fought against. Sisera and his army marched out in the strength of their sun goddess. Their loved ones at home did not know that they have perished (Judges 5:28-30). Here we do not overlook that the context is regarding Sisera’s mother and those with her.
In the Epic of Baal in the Ugaritic texts, Shapash helps Anat rescue Baal from the god of death. Shapash’s judgment depicts her as judge of the gods and mankind, and as the torch of the gods.8 This corresponds to Deborah’s husband’s name Lapidoth, which means “torch”; and Deborah is a judge (Judges 4:4).
Shapash’s counterpart in Egypt is Sekhmet, a goddess of the sun, war, and healing, called the Eye of Ra. She is depicted with the solar disk on her head in hieroglyphs. Sekhmet was a protector of Pharaoh and accompanied him into battle. Similarly, Deborah watches over Barak on Mount Tabor, telling him that Jehovah has delivered Sisera into his hand and to go to battle (Judges 4:6-9).
Therefore, God, the only true, living God, used women in this event. Deborah and Jael delivered the Israelites in a battle against the Canaanites, whose idols were female. Jehovah demonstrated His superiority not only over the enemy’s armies, but over their goddesses also.
(4) Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible, editors Karel Van Der Toorn, Bob Becking, and Peter W. Van Der Horst, 2nd edition (Michigan and Cambridge: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company and Brill Academic Publishers, 1999), page 617.
(5) ibid., page 222.
(6) Judy Siegel-Itzkovich, “Longtime Archeological Riddle Solved,” The Jerusalem Post (July 2, 2010),
http://www.jpost.com/Christian-In-Israel/Features/Longtime-archaeological-riddle-solved “The riddle of the identity of a 3,200-year-old round bronze tablet with a carved face of a woman has apparently been solved, 13 years after it was discovered at the El-ahwat excavation site between Katzir-Harish and Nahal Iron (Wadi Ara) by scientist Oren Cohen of the University of Haifa.
“The small, broken-off piece of metal is probably part of a linchpin that held the wheel to a war chariot sent to battle by the Canaanite general Sisera against the Israelites, says Prof. Adam Zertal … The round, bronze tablet, about 2 centimeters in diameter and 5 millimeters thick, features a carved face of a woman wearing a cap and earrings shaped as chariot wheels.”
(7) Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, editor-in-chief David Noel Freedman, associate editor Allen C. Myers (Michigan and Cambridge, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company), page 115.
(8) “Shapash,” Wikipedia