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Deborah & Barak

Treaties, Compromise & Deliverance  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  35:56
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While our attention is often on the details, God ultimately works in the bigger picture.

Today’s story is told in 2 versions. Chapter 4 is the story/prose and chapter 5 tells the same facts in a song/poem. The text of the story can be broken into 4 major parts: An introduction, 2 Subplots, and a Conclusion. To maintain the flow of the narrative, I will move us chronologically through the story, then draw out some application at the end.

Evil must be Destroyed (Judges 4:1-3)

Judges 4:1–3 ESV:2016
1 And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord after Ehud died. 2 And the Lord sold them into the hand of Jabin king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor. The commander of his army was Sisera, who lived in Harosheth-hagoyim. 3 Then the people of Israel cried out to the Lord for help, for he had 900 chariots of iron and he oppressed the people of Israel cruelly for twenty years.

Religion fakes compliance, While Transformation makes change

1. Throughout Judges we see that God’s temporary deliverers bring a reprieve to the oppression of the enemy, but as long as the hearts of the people remain unchanged, they will return to familiar patterns.
If your childhood was anything like mine, there were times of laughter and times of tears. Sometimes I was the one who received “special alone time” with my dad after a spat with my sisters. And sometimes they got the privilege of a personal conversation with dad. These special conversations usually involved at least one of us 4 children sobbing, “I’m sorry”.
Let me explore if you had similar conversations. When we sobbed “I’m sorry” we were often asked “Are you sorry that you did it? Or are you sorry that… you got caught?”.
2. We find in Judges cycles of sobbing because the sins of the Israelites caught up with them.
It is like the Highway patrolman who idles in the median and all the brake lights begin to flash. Then as soon as the trooper is passed, the flow of traffic resumes, just to find another trooper stationed just over the crest of a hill.

Often we learn to manage our sin, rather than allow God to change our hearts (Jer 31:33)

Jeremiah 31:33 ESV:2016
33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
Ezekiel 36:26 ESV:2016
26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.
This is what happened on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit took up residence within believers.
Transition: Because of their evil hearts which demonstrated themselves in rebellious behavior, God allowed them to experience the pain of discipline under a king named Jabin.

Political Unrest and Military Conflict (Judges 4:4-16)

Judges 4:4–16 ESV:2016
4 Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time. 5 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 judgment. 6 She sent and summoned Barak the son of Abinoam from Kedesh-naphtali and said to him, “Has not the Lord, the God of Israel, commanded you, ‘Go, gather your men at Mount Tabor, taking 10,000 from the people of Naphtali and the people of Zebulun. 7 And I will draw out Sisera, the general of Jabin’s army, to meet you by the river Kishon with his chariots and his troops, and I will give him into your hand’?” 8 Barak said to her, “If you will go with me, I will go, but if you will not go with me, I will not go.” 9 And she said, “I will surely go with you. Nevertheless, the road on which you are going will not lead to your glory, for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.” Then Deborah arose and went with Barak to Kedesh. 10 And Barak called out Zebulun and Naphtali to Kedesh. And 10,000 men went up at his heels, and Deborah went up with him. 11 Now Heber the Kenite had separated from the Kenites, the descendants of Hobab the father-in-law of Moses, and had pitched his tent as far away as the oak in Zaanannim, which is near Kedesh. 12 When Sisera was told that Barak the son of Abinoam had gone up to Mount Tabor, 13 Sisera called out all his chariots, 900 chariots of iron, and all the men who were with him, from Harosheth-hagoyim to the river Kishon. 14 And Deborah said to Barak, “Up! For this is the day in which the Lord has given Sisera into your hand. Does not the Lord go out before you?” So Barak went down from Mount Tabor with 10,000 men following him. 15 And the Lord routed Sisera and all his chariots and all his army before Barak by the edge of the sword. And Sisera got down from his chariot and fled away on foot. 16 And Barak pursued the chariots and the army to Harosheth-hagoyim, and all the army of Sisera fell by the edge of the sword; not a man was left.

A Hesitant General (vv.4-9)

1. Deborah calls on the General and tells him, “the Lord is commanding you to go (v.6) and he will give victory (v.7).
2. Barak is trusting the speech rather than the source. God uses Deborah to tell of His victory, but Barak lack faith that God will do what Deborah has spoken.
· This is a foretaste of what Gideon will ask of God regarding a fleece and the dew.
· When Moses’ rod turned into a serpent or his hand was healed from leprosy, it wasn’t in the ability of the spokesperson, it was the demonstration of the power of God.
· The Israelites had become superstitious about Aaron’s rod that budded or the Bronze serpent that Moses put on the pole. It wasn’t the snake that healed, it was the demonstration of the power of God.
· When David slays Goliath, there is nothing mystical about his sling or the stones; it was the demonstration of the power of God.
3. We do the same thing when pilgrims to the Holy Land choose to be baptized in the Jordan River, because that is where Jesus was baptized.
· We confuse the anointing with oil for the sick in James 5 with the power of a God who heals.
· Many establish shrines where the statue weeps, or a shroud is discovered or a face appears on a tortilla.
4. Nevertheless, Deborah agrees to go with him. Because ultimately this story is not about King Jabin, Judge Deborah or either of the Generals.

The Futility of Chariots (vv.10-16)

1. There are several locations mentioned where we don’t know exactly where they were. For example, there were several Kadeshes, so we don’t know exactly the locations in vv.6,9,10,11. Using Mount Tabor (vv.6 & 12) as a reference, here are some approximate reference points for us:
King Jabin lives in Hazor (around Alta Vista). General Sisera kept his chariots around Cottonwood Falls. Deborah called her General Barak (around Emporia) to do battle around Saffordsville. Because of the Saffordsville flood (5:4) the iron chariots become useless in the mud so General Barak chased the chariots back to Cottonwood and killed all of Sisera’s soldiers on the way, but Sisera sets out on foot toward Neosho Rapids.
2. This is reminiscent of Pharoah’s chariots from Exodus 14:28.
3. It continues to amaze me how governments build a false trust in their military might.
Psalm 20:7 ESV:2016
7 Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
Isaiah 31:1 ESV:2016
1 Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help and rely on horses, who trust in chariots because they are many and in horsemen because they are very strong, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel or consult the Lord!
4. The number 10,000 should not be interpreted too literally. According to the Literary form of war epics it most likely represents “full armies” to counter superior military technology.
5. The complete army (v.10) was to act in complete faith (v.14) and God would give complete victory (v.16).
Transition: Back in v.11, I pretty much skipped over the mention of Heber who lived near Tse’annim. The mention of Heber seemed out of place, but mentioning Heber before the battle near Tabor foreshadows the mention of Heber after the battle near Mt. Tabor. Heber is only mentioned to setup the introduction of his wife, Jael.

Jael: A hero never mentioned outside these 2 chapters (Judges 4:17-22)

Judges 4:17–22 ESV:2016
17 But Sisera fled away on foot to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, for there was peace between Jabin the king of Hazor and the house of Heber the Kenite. 18 And Jael came out to meet Sisera and said to him, “Turn aside, my lord; turn aside to me; do not be afraid.” So he turned aside to her into the tent, and she covered him with a rug. 19 And he said to her, “Please give me a little water to drink, for I am thirsty.” So she opened a skin of milk and gave him a drink and covered him. 20 And he said to her, “Stand at the opening of the tent, and if any man comes and asks you, ‘Is anyone here?’ say, ‘No.’ ” 21 But Jael the wife of Heber took a tent peg, and took a hammer in her hand. Then she went softly to him and drove the peg into his temple until it went down into the ground while he was lying fast asleep from weariness. So he died. 22 And behold, as Barak was pursuing Sisera, Jael went out to meet him and said to him, “Come, and I will show you the man whom you are seeking.” So he went in to her tent, and there lay Sisera dead, with the tent peg in his temple.

Jael’s Deception (vv.17-21)

1. I tried to find significance to her name, thinking it was a contraction of Yahweh and Elohim, but all the commentaries say it simply means mountain goat. So it would be dangerous to impose some typology on her name.
2. I think the mention back in v.11 helps to demonstrate how God moves the pieces of the chessboard into place before their purpose is actually revealed.
· Kind of like how God motivated Herod to order a census as just the right time to get Joseph and Mary into Bethlehem so that prophetic scripture would be fulfilled.
3. When Sisera’s troops returned West, he took out on foot East (v.17). He assumed he could take refuge due to the truce between Heber and Jabin.
4. Some commentators make a big deal of the way that Jael treats Sisera in light of the truce in v.17 reveals a lack of integrity or violation of hospitality protocals on Jael’s part, they claim she overstepped to take it upon herself to act this way.
5. She gets him warm and comfy.
6. He asks for water and she gives him milk.
a. Did warm milk make him sleepy?
b. Did the taste of milk disguise something she put in his drink?
7. When he was sound asleep with a false sense of security, she introduced a thought that had never entered his mind – a tent peg.
a. “Since the erection of tents was women’s work, Jael was able to despatch Sisera efficiently by driving a tent peg into his temple.”[i]
b. Seeing a tent peg and mallet in the tent would have been no more alarming to Sisera as us noticing a knitting needle next to grandma’s rocker.
c. She doesn’t fumble around, she starts and finishes the job!

Jael’s glory (v.22)

1. Back in v.9 Deborah told Barak that a woman would get the glory from this battle. Back then we assumed it would be Deborah because Barak insisted she go to battle with him.Text
2. If you read ahead to Judges 9:54 we find that being killed by a woman in this day was especially humiliating.
3. There in the tent are 1) a dead General, 2) an opposing General who has been chasing his enemy in pursuit of glory, and 3) a housewife who gets all the credit for doing in her tent what the General couldn’t accomplish on the battlefield.
Transition: With King Jabin’s armies dead between Mt Tabor and Harosheth-hagoyim, and his general dead on the floor of Jael’s tent, the king’s rule is quickly coming to an end.

Subdued, Pressed & Destroyed (Judges 4:23-24, 5:31)

Judges 4:23–24 ESV:2016
23 So on that day God subdued Jabin the king of Canaan before the people of Israel. 24 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.
Judges 5:31 ESV:2016
31 “So may all your enemies perish, O Lord! But your friends be like the sun as he rises in his might.” And the land had rest for forty years.


1. Jabin oppressed Israel cruelly for 20 years (v.3)
2. We don’t know how long the progression from 4:23 to 4:24 lasted.
3. After he was deposed, the people experienced a peace that was twice as long as their oppression (5:31), but only half as long as the previous respite (3:30).
4. Because, as I stated earlier, “as long as the hearts of the people remain unchanged, they will return to familiar patterns”.
Transition: As I promised earlier, I want to give you 4 applications for today now that we know the story from 3,000 years ago.


1. God uses unlikely heroes.
· Last week we saw a younger brother, a left-handed soldier and a common farmer used to bring about God’s plan. Today we see an unknown housewife used to take the glory of the battlefield away from a General.
2. God uses unexpected tools
· Shamgar used an oxgoad, Jael used a tent stake, David will use a sling and a stone.
· Because of the “Sage on the Stage” phenomenon of the modern church, we forget that God usually prefers the “guide from the side” to impact people’s lives.
· While a certain celebrity who died last Sunday in a helicopter crash will undoubtedly get significant attention in the pre-game activities, most people testify that it was a coach, a teacher, an uncle or a kind neighbor who most impacted their life.
· God is not looking for super ability, He uses those with unexpected availability.
· It may be your casserole, or your note, or your offer to help a friend, or your silence next to their bed that makes the difference between faith or despair.
3. God connects apparently unrelated events.
· V.11 said that Heber separated from the rest of the Kenites. So that he would be in the right place when Sisera fled from the Battle.
· The fact that Sisera depended upon heavy Chariots and the God who controls the rain sent this battle to happen near the river Kishon, is not coincidence!
· The location of a tent peg and hammer were no accident
· God uniquely has placed each of us in our respective neighborhoods for a purpose.
4. God is the ultimate victor. (v.15a)
· The structure of this story (rulers, generals, armies) places v.15 as the climax of this story
· God is not limited by the technology or strength of his foes.
“The reader learns hereby that this story is not primarily about Deborah and Barak, or Barak and Sisera, or Sisera and Jael, or Jael and Barak. The author would be disappointed if our analyses ended with these intriguing characters or the dynamics of power and control that play between them. This is a story about God, who is the real hero”.[ii]
More than anything else, this story is a call for us to avoid idolatry, to march in the victory that is ours through faith, and to prioritize God over all temptations or obstacles.
[i] A. E. Cundall, “Jael,” ed. D. R. W. Wood et al., New Bible Dictionary (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 540.
[ii] Daniel Isaac Block, Judges, Ruth, vol. 6, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 210.
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