We come to the next judge that God raises up for Israel. This time it is a woman! Her name is Deborah and she holds court under a palm tree.
I have a couple of questions from our last time together that are kind of answered here. I had wondered how long after Ehud Shamgar came, how long he was judging Israel and who he freed them from. If you remember the bible helps I shared stated that Shamgar was probably not an Israelite so I’m wondering if he was even a judge. He could have been a Canaanite living in the land that worshiped Israel’s God and fought for them.
I say this because Deborah is listed after Ehud death, not Shamgar’s. So there apparently wasn’t a judging time for him. He would have had to come after the 80 years of rest that God gave the land. He probably was from an area closer to the Philistines and lived during the 20 years Israel was under Jabin, the king of Canaan. He may have even been part of the liberating forces that freed Israel when Deborah was raised up as a judge.
The nations with iron chariots had been a problem for Israel from the beginning. Israel didn’t have comparable weapons not did they have anything to defeat them. From the Davidic Chronicles books I’m reading, Israel’s best defense against these weapons were arrows from above or engage them in an area where they can’t maneuver. The chariots needed flat, firm ground to work well. In the right situation these chariots were VERY effective and could easily run down any attacking army. The nation that Deborah is going to lead Israel in defeating relies heavily on their iron chariots.
Deborah surprises me as a judge. The most amazing thing to me is that her judgment was sought out by the people. “She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the people of Israel came up to her for judgement” (verse 5). God was breaking some STRONG gender roles by giving His words through her. I’m going to say that the fact that she was married gave her more standing in the community but knowing that she JUDGED between men in bible days astounds me.
I wonder what it took for men to start listening to her. Were the first people to seek her help women? Was there a man who pointed the people to her? Did she show her wisdom is some special way that drew the people to her? Or did God send the people to her from the beginning?
She didn’t have to go out to the city gates to do her work for the Lord. She stayed home under her palm tree. I have a feeling that the “palm of Deborah” was named after her as it was her usual spot for waiting on the Lord and rendering His judgements.
Deborah had become so well known for her connection with God that she was able to summon Barak AND HE CAME. Barak was apparently a leader in whatever Israel had for an army at this time. But then again he could have simply been a leader of the people. Either way, he heeded Deborah’s call and came to stand before her.
When Barak stood before Deborah she didn’t speak new words from the Lord to him. She confirmed words he had already been given. “Has not the Lord, the god of Israel commanded you” (verse 7b). God had apparently already told Barak exactly what to do. Deborah quotes the words Barak had already received. She doesn’t put her quote into the form of a condemnation but a question. A bit like, “Tell me if I’m wrong here but…”
Barak’s answer is unique too. He doesn’t say, “Yah, so what’s it to you?” He doesn’t deny he has already heard. He doesn’t tell her to mind her own business. And he doesn’t actually confirm he has already heard these words. What he does say is “If you will go with me, I will go, but if you will not go with me, I will not go” (verse 8b).
He KNOWS she speaks for the Lord! He has no confidence in his own ability to do what God has asked of him. He doesn’t even have confidence that God would be with him if he followed what he had heard in his own heart. But he DOES have confidence that if Deborah goes, God goes with her! He placed his faith in HER relationship with God, not his own. He KNOWS Who her source is and trusts that God won’t let HER down. He didn’t have faith that God would act on his behalf without her.
This reminds me of the battle where Moses had to keep his arms up for Israel to be victorious. When his arms fell, the people began to lose. When his arms were raised, the people were winning. Aaron and Hur had to hold them up for him so Israel could complete the battle in victory. The people trusted that God would honor what Moses did. They didn’t have confidence that He would honor their actions on their own.
Because of Barak’s fear, he wouldn’t be given a complete victory on his own. God would give the major blow to the hand of a woman. A woman whose husband was sympathetic to the oppressors no less; but we will get to her in a few minutes.
Deborah and Barak set off on the conquest God has called them to. Israel has been praying for their deliverance and God is about to do it through just two tribes. Barak is told how many men he needs and where to get them from. Surprise! He sends out a call and guess what; he gets just what he was told to take! Ten thousand men from Naphtali and Zebulun are quick to respond and they have NO problem with Deborah going with them to the battlefield.
When it’s time to engage in battle Deborah has to tell Barak to go. She calls the time for attack. I wonder if this is because he doesn’t trust himself to hear the Lord’s command for when to attack or if he is still a bit hesitant. Besides telling him to go she has to remind him Who is fighting this battle for them. “Does not the Lord go out before you?” (verse 14b).
THIS gets Barak moving and believing! He and his men fight with the hand of the Lord on their swords. Not even the iron chariots could stop Barak, his 10,000 men AND the Lord! Every one of men who came out against Israel died in this battle; except one. The commander of this army, Sisera, escaped on foot. He actually jumped out of his chariot and ran away. He wanted no part of what was going on around him. He deserted his men. He ran to the home of a man he KNEW was sympathetic to his cause. The one place he was sure he would be safe.
God places us where He wants us. Of this I am CONVINCED. Sisera had no fear of going to the tent of Jael. She was “the wife of Heber the Kenite, for there was peace between Jabin the king of Hazor and the house of Heber the Kenite” (verse 17b). But nobody said Jael agreed with her husband’s politics or even his choice of friends. Jael didn’t promise Sisera safety. She didn’t act aggressive towards him either. She gave him milk when he asked for water, covered him with a nice blanket and let him go to sleep. She extended extra hospitality to Sisera and let him believe she was as loyal to his king as her husband was.
I wonder if Jael ever voiced her discomfort with her husband’s alliance with Jabin. Did she question the fact that her husband had essentially chosen the Canaanite king over his own people? Did she remind him the misery of his own people during the last 20 years? Did she say anything as her husband worshiped the gods of this Canaanite king? Or did she quietly suffer in silence until she was presented with an opportunity to do something good for her God.
When I was reading this story to my husband he commented that Sisera must have really been sleeping deep. I commented that Jael must have been very strong too in order to drive a tent stake through Sisera’s temple without waking him. Her first blow would have had to pierce skin, bone and brain tissue in order not to rouse him. I postulated that God could have made this a sleep so deep that Sisear couldn’t wake up; a sleep like the army of Saul had when David entered the camp and took his water flask and spear. Either way, God’s hand certainly was protecting and empowering Jael as she ended the reign of terror Sisera enforced for Jabin.
Sisera’s death turned the tide for Jabin. The loss of all 900 of his chariots didn’t help him either. “So on that day God subdued Jabin the king of Canaan before the people of Israel. And the hand of the people of Israel pressed harder and harder against Jabin the king of Canaan, until they destroyed Jabin King of Canaan” (verses 23-24). Israel was free of the chariots and charged with faith in God once again!
It is AMAZING what God can do through even one person when they believe He is directing their path. Deborah, Barak, Jael, (and the 10,000 men of Naphtali and Zebulun) all stepped up and let the Lord work through them. Some needed a little more encouragement than the others but once they KNEW they were following God’s plan their hand stayed the course.
I would love to be so tuned into the Lord that ALL those around me recognized it, like Deborah was. Even her culture’s norms couldn’t keep God’s presence in her life from shining like a neon beacon. People were drawn to her because of her relationship with the Lord. I don’t think I would want the responsibility she carried though. She wasn’t just a light point the way to a solution. She had to deliver the solutions too without offending. She had to couch her responses in ways that were acceptable. She couldn’t be ‘hardnosed’ and direct. She used well phrased questions instead of directives. THIS TOO I believe was orchestrated by God. I don’t think I would be as gentle as she was.
Father God, is that “gentleness” something You want me to work on in my life? I know I’ve come a LONG way from the “stubborn”, “opinionated” woman I used to be but I feel convicted all of a sudden. Is that Your Spirit guiding me or Satan trying to get me to be quiet? I need to know Father for I want to walk in Your ways only. I LOVE journaling with You and I PRAY I’m speaking only words You would have me speak. I don’t want to be Barak who was too afraid to step out in what he already knew You had told him. Maybe he wasn’t sure if it was from Your or Satan. I can understand that. But he didn’t trust that he was someone You would actually invest in. I want to KNOW our relationship is SOUND on its own. I welcome confirmation of what You speak into my life but I don’t want to be afraid to step out when You tell me to in the absence of confirmation from someone else.
Help me listen! Help me be willing to walk where You call me to. And keep me sensitive to YOUR voice. Thank You that, even in bible times, You are not afraid to use women to do Your work.