Recap of where we are in the Bible: the Israelites are now in the Promised Land. They have settled there and are no longer wandering, they are home. Does Israel have a king? No. What is the leader of the Israelites called at this point? [Let them answer.]
A prophet. I know it can be confusing because it modern speech “prophet” usually means someone who like sees the future, but remember that’s not what it means in the Bible. A Prophet is just someone who talks to God. And during this time period in Israel’s history, because the prophet talks to God, the prophet is usually the leader of the people. The Israelites have no king, God is there king, and the prophet is the person who tells them what God wants them to do.
Moses was the first prophet of Israel, then Joshua. But then Joshua dies and someone becomes prophet after him and then another person becomes prophet after him, etc. This goes on for a long time! And the book of Judges is the story of Israel during this time when many different prophets led them. So for the next three weeks we’re going to look at a few specific prophets. Some of my favorite Bible stories come from this section of the Bible, and today is one of them.
Today we are going to talk about Deborah. So please open your Bibles. Can someone read Judges 4:1-3?
4 The Israelites again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, after Ehud died. 2 So the Lord sold them into the hand of King Jabin of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor; the commander of his army was Sisera, who lived in Harosheth-ha-goiim. 3 Then the Israelites cried out to the Lord for help; for he had nine hundred chariots of iron, and had oppressed the Israelites cruelly twenty years.
These verses set up what’s going on. Ehud was the last prophet of Israel. Basically he dies and the Israelites start to stray from God. So to teach them a lesson, God allows this king called Jabin to conquer them. Jabin has a huge army and oppressed the Israelites for 20 years, so the Israelites are pretty miserable.
Alright can someone read Judges 4:4-5?
4 At that time Deborah, a prophetess, wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel. 5 She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the Israelites came up to her for judgment.
So the new prophet is a woman named Deborah. The Israelites may be oppressed but they still have a leader, and it’s Deborah. The text says she sits under a tree and people come to her for her judgements. Why hasn’t she gone out and conquered these invaders, like Joshua or Moses might have? Well remember, it’s God who has allowed Jabin to oppress the Israelites. Deborah is a prophet of the Lord and she’s not going to go against God’s will. But when God tells her it’s time to be free, she’s also not going to go against that either! Which is what we’re about to see. Can someone read Judges 4:6-9?
6 She sent and summoned Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali, and said to him, “The Lord, the God of Israel, commands you, ‘Go, take position at Mount Tabor, bringing ten thousand from the tribe of Naphtali and the tribe of Zebulun. 7 I will draw out Sisera, the general of Jabin’s army, to meet you by the Wadi 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 got up and went with Barak to Kedesh.
Deborah summons to her a guy named Barak. I bet that name sounds familiar to you, doesn’t it? Yep it’s Barak just like Barak Obama. So anyway, Deborah calls this guy Barak to her and basically says, “God says it’s time for us to be free! you’re going to take out the army of Jabin and be free! And you, Barak, are going to be the general who does this.”
But Barak is basically like “I don’t to go alone, please come with me.” Is he scared to go alone? Maybe. Or maybe he knows all the stories about prophets in the past leading Israel to freedom, and he knows he’s no prophet. He’s just a general. But Moses with his hands could cause an army to rise or fall. And God has Deborah’s back just like God had Moses’s back. Or maybe he’s thinking having a prophet there will cause the people to remember those stories and for them to fight harder. Regardless, it does show that Barak doesn’t have complete faith in the instructions that Deborah has gotten from God, that he doesn’t have complete faith in God’s plan. Barak wants to add onto it.
And Deborah responds that she will obviously go if that’s what he wants, but because he asked and didn’t fully trust in God’s plan, he won’t be the one remembered for defeating the bad guys. That this bad general, Sisera, will be delivered to the hand of a woman.
Remember, back then, women were not considered the equal to men. Deborah gets a pass because God chose her, and not even men with stupid ideas about oppressing women are going to go against what God has said. But to most dudes of the time, saying that a woman would get the glory instead of you was like horribly insulting. Because they basically didn’t consider women as real, full people. So what should be Barak’s glory going to a woman is a little bit of a punishment.
Of course it’s also possible that Barak is a good general who doesn’t care about glory. He only cares about the victory and getting his people free. So in that case, he may not care if it’s Deborah or some random woman who gets the glory as long as it’s for God’s glory and God’s people are freed. We don’t really know. All we really know about Barak is that he clearly trusted Deborah and was willing to follow her lead.
Let’s read Judges 4:10-13.
10 Barak summoned Zebulun and Naphtali to Kedesh; and ten thousand warriors went up behind him; and Deborah went up with him.
11 Now Heber the Kenite had separated from the other Kenites,[a] that is, the descendants of Hobab the father-in-law of Moses, and had encamped as far away as Elon-bezaanannim, which is near Kedesh.
12 When Sisera was told that Barak son of Abinoam had gone up to Mount Tabor, 13 Sisera called out all his chariots, nine hundred chariots of iron, and all the troops who were with him, from Harosheth-ha-goiim to the Wadi Kishon.
So Barak does as he’s told and it doesn’t go unnoticed. This Kenite called Heber sees it. The Kenites were allies of the Israelites, claiming they were descended from Moses’s in-laws. But for some reason this guy Heber sides with the other team in this fight. So when he sees Barak gather all these men, he basically goes and tattles on him to the enemy general, Sisera. So the enemy general is like “heck no, I’m not letting an insurrection happen on my watch!” And he gathers his massive army to fight them.
Can someone read Judges 4:14-17?
14 Then Deborah said to Barak, “Up! For this is the day on which the Lord has given Sisera into your hand. The Lord is indeed going out before you.” So Barak went down from Mount Tabor with ten thousand warriors following him. 15 And the Lord threw Sisera and all his chariots and all his army into a panic[a] before Barak; Sisera got down from his chariot and fled away on foot, 16 while Barak pursued the chariots and the army to Harosheth-ha-goiim. All the army of Sisera fell by the sword; no one was left.
17 Now Sisera had fled away on foot to the tent of Jael wife of Heber the Kenite; for there was peace between King Jabin of Hazor and the clan of Heber the Kenite.
Deborah tells Barak that today is the day he’s gotta fight Sisera, so Barak goes out with his ten thousand men. Sisera’s men panic and basically Barak’s army tears them through like a hot knife through butter. I think we can safely say the Israelites are successfully defeating their enemies. But Sisera is trying to get away. He gets out of his chariot and flees on foot, all the way to Heber’s camp, and Heber’s actual tent. Heber’s probably not even in this fight, this is just a not so far away campsite most likely. Heber is allied with Sisera, but there’s a difference between allies who will spy for you and allies who will die for you. Heber’s not the die for you kind. But Heber is certainly the kind of ally that would try to shelter Sisera. So Sisera runs to his tent and ends up at the tent of Heber’s wife, Jael.
Someone read Judges 4:18-20
18 Jael came out to meet Sisera, and said to him, “Turn aside, my lord, turn aside to me; have no fear.” So he turned aside to her into the tent, and she covered him with a rug. 19 Then 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 He said to her, “Stand at the entrance of the tent, and if anybody comes and asks you, ‘Is anyone here?’ say, ‘No.’”
So Jael comes out and meets and is like “you can come in here we will keep you safe and hide you.” He believes her because he has no reason not to. Heber—her husband—is allied with him. So he comes him and she hide shim by covering him with a rug. And then he’s like “I’m thirsty.” So she gives him milk. And because he’s still very demanding, he’s like “Can you stand at the entrance of the tent and if anybody asks you anything just cover for me.”
He falls asleep.
Now can someone read Judges 4:21
21 But Jael wife of Heber took a tent peg, and took a hammer in her hand, and went softly to him and drove the peg into his temple, until it went down into the ground—he was lying fast asleep from weariness—and he died.
Jael straight up kills this dude. He falls asleep in her tent, where she offered him shelter, and gave him stuff to drink and pretended like she was going to hide him. And when he falls asleep does she protect him. No. Instead she drives a tent peg through his head.
Jael’s not playing around.
But why does she kill him? Her husband is his ally.
Well, let’s not forget that husbands and wives aren’t always on the same page about things. People would have taken it fore granted back then that a wife must do what a husband says. So if a husband allies with someone, the wife is obviously allied with him to, because a wife was generally so subjugated by her husband she couldn’t go against him without major repercussions. Men could beat their wives without getting in trouble back then, so a woman was taking her own life into her hands by defying her husband. But Jael obviously was still loyal to the Israelites, as most Kenites were. Or maybe she saw what Jabin was doing to the Israelites and disagreed. Or maybe she loved and trusted God and knew this was what God wanted her to do. We don’t know why she did it. We just know she made a decision—independent of her husband’s will—and did what she thought was right.
Can someone read Judges 4:22-24?
22 Then, as Barak came in pursuit of 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 into her tent; and there was Sisera lying dead, with the tent peg in his temple.
23 So on that day God subdued King Jabin of Canaan before the Israelites. 24 Then the hand of the Israelites bore harder and harder on King Jabin of Canaan, until they destroyed King Jabin of Canaan.
Barak pursues Sisera and Jael comes out to meet him like “I’ve got him for you.” She takes him to the tent and shoes him Sisera dead.
And so between Barak’s army and Jael’s swift action, the Israelites win that day. Jabin is overthrown and the Israelites are freed.
This victory is rarely talked about as Barak’s victory, even though he was the general who led the troops. Deborah’s words have come true. This victory is tied tightly to two women: Deborah and Jael. It was Deborah’s leadership and Jael’s quick thinking that led to the victory.
This story is important for a number of reasons. But mainly because this is a story that focuses on women, and women in rolls that aren’t normally attributed in society.
For thousands of years women have been kept out of leadership roles, told that it’s simply something women are not capable of, something we’re not built for. For thousands of years women have been told they are not capable of being soldiers, of making tough decisions that need to be made. Women have been told to behave and be a certain way, and if a woman existed outside of those bounds she was not treated well. In this story we have two women who do what God requires of them, and it goes directly in the face of what society requires of them as women. Because those are not the same thing. What God requires of us and what society requires of us do not always align.
God required Deborah to lead. It didn’t matter that the Israelites had a patriarchal culture. God is not. And he called Deborah to lead just as he had called Ehud, Joshua, and Moses before her.
God required Jael to be a soldier, even though women were not allowed to be soldiers back then and women certainly were not allowed to go against their husbands. But Jael did both, because it was what God required of her.
We answer to God first, always.
There are many denominations still today of Christianity that tell women they are not equal to men. That women are only supposed to do and behave certain ways. But we see clearly in this story that that is not God’s rule. Deborah and Jael are far from the only women in the Bible to make decisions for God and to lead and to do things that society may not view as appropriate for women. We already talked about Rahab, who hid Hebrew spies from her people. We will talk about Ruth, Naomi, Esther, Anna, Dorcas, Junia. There are so many women who are for more than the boxes that society has tried to place them in.
Can someone flip to the New Testament, Galatians 3:28. Remember Galatians was a letter written by Paul to the Church at Galatia.
28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.
What Paul is saying here is that it doesn’t matter if you’re a girl or a boy, a Jew or not, poor or rich, oppressed or privileged, before God in Jesus we’re all the same. God can and does use us all for his glory and purpose. We are all here to serve God. We are all held to the same standard and we all serve the same God.
And this is why I think the story of Deborah and Jael is so important. It’s one of the few Biblical examples we get of women, doing exactly as God wants them to do, living the life God wants them to, and that includes traditionally non-feminine activities.
Male or female, you are not beholden to societies views of gender roles. You are beholden to God. The most important role in your life is being a follower of Christ.