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Studies on the Women of the Bible
by Davis W. Huckabee

Chapter 5
DEBORAH


“And the children of Israel again did evil in the sight of the Lord, when Ehud was dead. And the Lord sold them into the hand of Jabin king of Canaan, that reigned in Hazor; the captain of whose host was Sisera, which dwelt in Harosheth of the Gentiles. And the children of Israel cried unto the Lord: for he had nine hundred chariots of iron; and twenty years he mightily oppressed the children of Israel. And Deborah, a prophet­ess, the wife of Lapidoth, she judged Israel at that time. And she dwelt under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in mount Ephraim: and the children of Israel came up to her for judgment,” (Judges 4:1-5).

There are several things about this woman that are mysteries that are not explained in Scripture, so that where the Scripture is silent, we must recognize the law of Deuteronomy 29:29. “Secret things belong unto the Lord our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law.” The Hebrew text says only that she was “of Lapidoth,” so that it is unclear whether this was her husband or only a place from which she came.

There is a natural inclination to assume that the reference to her dwelling under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel takes its name from her. However, we must remember that there was another Deborah, the nurse of Rebecca, who, when she died, was buried under an oak tree in this same region of Bethel, (Gen. 35:8). It would be much more likely that it was to this historical locality that reference is made. The difference between the two kinds of trees, which represent two different Hebrew words in the Inspired text is easily accounted for by the long time lapse between the two events—over four hundred years. During this time the first tree could have died and a second, third or even a fourth could have been planted to replace it.

Deborah was exceptional in that she was a prophetess that judged Israel for a time, but she was just that—an exception to the rule—and should never be made into a excuse for women to presume to try to dominate men, as many modern women do. In New Testament times it was a law that an inspired Apostle enforced that no woman was to be allowed to teach over men, or in any other way to usurp authority over men, (1 Tim. 2:11-12). And the Lord Jesus did not countermand that rule, but rather condemned the church at Thyatira for allowing a Jezebel type woman, who called herself a prophetess, to first teach, and then to seduce His servants from their purity, (Rev. 2:20). The things that are written about Deborah are entirely too vague to overthrow God’s usual rule that men are to take the lead in such matters.

As there were men prophets, so there were also women prophetesses, as Miriam, (Ex. 15:20), Hilda, (2 Kings 22:14), and divers others. But the word prophets or prophetesses is very ambiguous in both Testaments; sometimes being used of persons extraordinarily inspired by God, and endowed with a power of working miracles, and foretelling things to come. And sometimes of persons endowed with special, though not miraculous, gifts or graces, for the better understanding of and discoursing about the word and mind of God, for praising of God, or the like... And because we read nothing of Deborah’s miraculous actions, peradventure she was only a woman of eminent holiness and prudence, and knowledge of the Holy Scriptures, by which she was singularly qualified for the judging of the people according to the laws of God. —Matthew Poole, Commentary On The Holy Bible, Vol. 1, p. 463.

The nation of Israel was in a terrible state, for her historic enemy Jabin, whose ancestor had been defeated by Joshua years before, (Josh. 11:1-8), now had a later king by the same name whose Captain of his armies had nine hundred chariots of iron and an army of many foot soldiers. This would have been a seemingly impossible foe to meet and overcome but God takes no accounting of such numbers. Deborah is moved by God to call for Barak the son of Abinoam to gather an army of ten thousand to Mount Tabor to take on this great host, (Judges 4:6-7), with the promise that all will be delivered into their hands.

Barak is naturally a little leery about taking on this work, and only agrees if the prophetess will accompany him to the battle site. It would be easy to impute cowardice to Barak in this, yet such was not the case for in the New Testament Honor Roll of the Faith he is listed among those people of faith, (Heb. 11:32). However, Deborah assures Barak that the victory will not be to his glory, but to the praise of a woman, which makes one wonder if Barak thought that this was in reference to something that she would accomplish, yet it was an entirely different woman that would destroy Sisera.

The two armies are gathered near Megiddo. Does that sound familiar? It should for in a valley near Mount Megiddo, called Ar Megeddon—Armegeddon—there have been more battles fought than anywhere else on earth according to historians, the most recent one being under British General Allenby when he took the Holy Land from the Turks in 1917. Here is where the world’s greatest standing army under the Antichrist will be destroyed when the Savior returns, (Rev. 19:11-21). So great will be the slaughter of unbelievers from every nation under heaven that the blood will literally run four feet deep for two hundred miles, (Rev. 14:14-20). O the horrible consequences of unbelief.

Not a lot of details are given us regarding this battle of Barak and his armies and the armies of Sisera, (Judges 4:12-16). But the Jewish historian Josephus records that the defeat was due in large part to a great storm that caused the chariots to all bog down so that they were useless, and the River Kishon flooded, drowning many. And, this is all substantiated in the song that Deborah and Barak sing afterward, (Judges 5).

With his army destroyed down to the last man, Sisera leaves his now useless chariot and takes to his feet, and here is where another remarkable woman comes on the scene. The background for this was laid in Judges 4:11 where we have reference made to Heber the Kenite who was related to Moses’ father-in-law but who, for some reason not revealed Scripture, had separated himself from his own people and settled here. As Barak and his men follow Sisera’s dying army, mopping up the last of them, Sisera himself shows up at the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite and seeks for shelter in her tent. Heber had been at peace with Sisera’s master, King Jabin, (Judges 4:17), and he feels that he will be safe here though he is alone and utterly exhausted.

Jael welcomes him, feeds him, then hides him under a rug, and he posts her at the door to turn away anyone seeking for scattered soldiers of Sisera’s army, while he gives way to his utter exhaustion. Jael now takes one of the iron stakes used to hold the tents in place and with a hammer with which these were driven into the ground, she drives the iron stake through his temples, and then apparently takes his sword and beheads him, (Judges 5:26-27). He died in the Jael house as one facetiously said.

Some “scholars* have found fault with the morality of Joel’s actions here, as if it were a violation of the laws of eastern hospitality. We know not all the different factors that entered into the loyalty of Heber and Jael to the Israelites, but it is clear that they felt a loyalty to them. It is sufficient that God in His providence is able to raise-up seemingly insignificant people that will be fully adequate under God’s leadership to overthrow the mightiest of soldiers and their armies when they set themselves against God’s people. Who can doubt that this woman was moved by God to do what she did, since there is no evidence that she held any personal animosity toward Sisera?

When she perceived he was fast asleep, and it being now put into her heart to kill him, having an impulse upon her spirit, which she was persuaded by the effect it had upon her, that it was of God, not filling her with malice and revenge, but a concern for the glory of God, the interest of religion, and the good of Israel, she took this method to effect the death of this enemy of God, and his people. —John Gill, Commentary on the Bible, Vol. 2, p. 17.

Judges 5 records the victory song that was sung by Deborah and Barak after this great victory over all of Jabin’s vast armies that also included armies from some of the other Gentile nations. Various rabbinical writers and other ancient writers have estimated the numbers slain by Barak and his ten thousand as being inconceiv­ably great, even in the hundreds of thousands. Such numbers have been doubted by some, yet when we take into account what was the real cause of the Israelites’ victory—the Divine help sent to them through nature’s storms, we can fully understand this.

Jehovah will avenge his people when the people offer themselves. We have no right to call on God to get us out of our troubles and just sit still and do nothing ourselves, The stars from their courses fought against Sisera. A few tribes, but all heaven was on the side of the righteous. As the sun and the moon conspired to help Joshua in the battle of Beth­horon, so here the stars in their courses fought against Sisera... That Kishon River at times was as dry as a powder house, but Deborah selected the battlefield where she did for the reason that the waterspout, if it came, would beat all the chariots in the world. —B. H. Carroll, An Interpretation of the English Bible, Vol. 3, pp. 223, 229.

One of the first things that are praised in this song of victory is the willingness of a few of the people to be used of the Lord, (Judges 5:1-3). Yet the praise is of the Lord, not of the people, so that He was obviously the One motivating this willingness, as Scripture shows is often the case, (Ps. 110:3; Phil 2:13), yea, even when those so motivated to do the will of God are His enemies, (Rev. 17:16-17). Where is man’s boasted “free will that not even God can control’?

A likeness is drawn to when the Lord gave the Law upon Sinai, (Judges 5:4-5), wherein the mountains are said to have melted and this effect implied to have been due to the great rain. This seems to clearly imply that this is why the chariots of iron were so ineffectual—they bogged down in the mud, and the flooding of the Kishon River swept away many of the enemy soldiers, so that these were easily defeated.

And though the main highways had long been deserted because of the danger to the people by the foreign troops that had mostly disarmed the Israelites, (Judges 5:7-11), now there was a return to normal conditions. It was because the Israelites had turned unto other gods that all these calamities had come upon the nation. For several centuries this was a recurring problem in Israel. God would deliver them from their enemies, and for some years they would have peace and prosperity, but then they would turn to idols and God would again deliver them to their enemies until they cried out to Him.

When the summons went out to gather an army under Barak, apparently most of the tribes of Israel did not respond to the call, Reuben, Gad and Asher in particular are said to have had great thoughts, but no actions while Zebulun and Naphtali hazarded their lives, (Judges 5:15-18). Reference is made in Judges 5:20-22 to some of the Divinely wrought calamities that contributed to Israel’s victory.

One city that refused to help has a curse pronounced on it, (Judges 5:23), showing that neutrality is usually impossible in regard to the Lord’s people, while a blessing is pronounced upon Jael for her destruction of Captain Sisera. The last part of the song, (Judges 5:28-31), takes a view of Sisera’s mother and her maidens as they await his return from the war with much spoil and many captives, but all in vain, for as an enemy of the Lord his expected end has come about. After this, there was forty years of peace and prosperity before Israel again fell into idolatry and was delivered to their enemies.

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