Online Reading – Deborah and Barak

Deborah and Barak

The Question Box

” . . . the journey that thou takest shall not be for thine honor . . . “—Judges 4:9

James Parkinson

Question: In view of this statement of Deborah to Barak, why is Barak listed among the heroes of faith in Heb. 11:32, and not Deborah?

Answer: Deborah did not claim the honor. She manifested the greatest faith, but the honor of slaying the enemy captain was to go to another woman, Jael, and not to Deborah. Deborah’s faith was in the LORD alone, while Barak’s faith was partly in the LORD and partly in Deborah’s faith.

Reviewing the battle against the Canaanites, Jabin (probably a title rather than a name), the king in Hazor, apparently had a Caucasian captain over his army, Sisera. Harosheth of the Goyim (Gutium, Gentile descendants of Japheth, Caucasians) was a fort controlling the west entrance of the Plain of Esdraelon (the largest inland plain in Israel). The road from Harosheth to Megiddo and Taanach runs along the north slope of the Mount Carmel range—on the south edge of the plain and south of the Kishon River. Mount Tabor is the highest mount in the area (about 1800 feet) and is at the north entrance to the plain.

Deborah (probably an Ephraimite) was a prophetess and a judge (one who delivered the oppressed from the oppressor) at the time she called for Barak and told him of the LORD‘s command to take 10,000 soldiers to Mt. Tabor, that the LORD would draw Sisera’s host to the Kishon River and give Barak the victory. Barak was willing, but only if Deborah herself had faith enough to go with them. Deborah went, but said Sisera would not fall to Barak or his soldiers, but to a woman. The chief honor goes to him who conquers the chief; therefore Barak would win the battle but not the full honor accorded the victor. Nevertheless Barak did go—an act of faith against all worldly odds.

From Mt. Tabor Deborah could clearly see the storm clouds forming to the southwest, even fifty miles away beyond Mount Carmel. She knew when to tell Barak to go down into the Kishon River valley. The clouds were hidden from Sisera’s view by the mountains all along the road as far as Taanach. Then as Sisera’s 900 armored chariots and army were bearing downhill toward the river on the seemingly hapless Israelites the storm came up over the mountain range and caught up with them. Suddenly the might of the chariots was defeated the same way the chariots had been defeated at the Red Sea—with mud! The archers could not see to shoot straight. The foot soldiers were unsupported, but their armor was too heavy to run fast. The chariots were stuck in the mud. Harosheth was further away than the ten miles that a horse could run without resting. They had a problem.

Even Sisera’s chariot was stuck in the mud; so he got out of it and ran several miles to his “ally,” Heber the Kenite (a descendant of Moses’ brother-in-law). Appealing to Heber’s wife Jael to hide him, he was fed and went to sleep in her tent. Then she slew him and later showed Barak the body. Barak’s active faith was well rewarded with victory, though not with the victor’s glory.

[This surprise victory in BC 1378 against a Canaanite alliance must have caused some concern in Egypt which had Canaanite tribes for vassals and (untrustworthy) allies. But after Gideon’s victories over Midian, Amalek, and the Arabs, Akhen-aton may not have been in a hurry to send troops since the Israelites posed no threat to Egypt itself (and memories of the Exodus may have also lingered), and they formed a good buffer between Egypt and the greater threat from the east.]

If we are tempted to think of Barak as a coward, it would be well to think of ourselves being called to lead several poorly armed people against nine hundred trucks accelerating towards us down a 3% grade. Yet, when Deborah put herself in the same jeopardy with the soldiers, Barak did just that. Of the faith of Jael we are not told for sure, though the scriptures give us no reason to doubt it. But Deborah and Barak are both heroes of faith.

These Also Had Faith

Hebrews 11 lists many heroes of faith and their deeds from Abel to Rahab. In this category, beginning in verse 32, a pairing of names may be suggested.

subdued kingdoms
Gideon–Judges 7:1-25
Barak– Judged 4:4-23

wrought righteousness
Samson–Judges 14-16
Jephthah–Judges 11:11-33

obtained promises
David–1 Samuel 16:13; 2 Samuel 7:25-29
Samuel–1 Samuel 3:19-21; 7:3-15

stopped the mouths of lions
Daniel–Daniel 6:(1-)16-24

quenched the power of fire
Shadrach, Meshach, Abed-nego–Daniel 3:(1-)16-27

escaped the edge of the sword
Elisha –2 Kings 6:8-23

from weakness were made strong
Elijah–1 Kings 18:20-40; 19:1-8

waxed mighty in war
Abijah–2 Chronicles 13:3-21

turned to flight the armies of the alien
Asa–2 Chronicle 14:9-13

women received their dead by a resurrection
widow of Zarephath–1 Kings 17:17-24
woman of Shunem–2 Kings 4:32-37

others were tortured
Jeremiah–Jeremiah 20:2-9; 37:15-21; 38:3-6

The three pairs given specifically (with names mentioned) are each in reverse chronological order (as are the two next pairs suggested) which suggests that pairs are intended. In the first pair, Barak needed a reassurance but then acted with full assurance of faith to subdue kingdoms. It was likely only a few weeks later when Gideon did likewise, probably strengthened also by Barak’s successful step of faith.

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