The people known as the Judges of Israel are a fascinating study.
They ruled the period between Joshua’s death and Saul’s advent as king. One of the most important was a woman. Deborah appears to have been, in the truest sense of the word, a judge. The rest were primarily military saviors of their people. When cries rose up to the sky for help against their enemies, God raised up these judges to bring deliverance. The days of the judges were rough and harsh. Twice in the book the statement is made “every man has done that which was right in his own eyes” (17: 6 and 21:25).
Often their conduct should not be imitated but avoided, for their standards contrast with those of the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.
I. DEBORAH’S LEADERSHIP (4: 4-9)
Deborah was a powerful and valiant woman. It has become Israel’s rallying point against long-standing oppression.
Deborah actually acted as a judge, hearing and deciding the issues brought to her by the people. The place of judgment became known as the “palm of Deborah” because she chose a place of shade for her task.
She is also called “a prophetess”, a person to whom God has revealed his mind and through whom the divine message has been transmitted to others.
Speaking to Barak, she claimed to be in contact with God and the channel through which he gave orders. Barak was to assemble his troops at Mount Tabor. Building such an army would attract Sisera’s attention and make him move to intercept him.
But to meet the Israelites at their important locations, he would have to cross the plain and the Kishon River. Although we called it a river or stream, it was only a dry stream bed in the summer. During the winter, however, it could become a raging torrent. Deborah promised that the Lord would hand over Sisera to Barak.
Barak accepted his responsibility as general but insisted that Deborah accompany him. She has accepted; however, she replied that it was because of the weakness of his faith that he would not gain the glory of victory.
The glory of triumph would go to a woman, and Deborah was not speaking for herself.
II. VICTORY BY THE LORD (4: 12-21)
Barak gathered his ten thousand men in Kadesh.
When Sisera heard what was going on, he mobilized his own forces for the attack. We wish to have more details on the battle.
A sudden thunderstorm turned the plain into a muddy bog. Sisera’s formidable iron chariots were utterly helpless. His men were easily defeated by the more mobile Israelite infantry.
The defeat was total. The whole army was massacred. As for Sisera, he had to flee on foot.
He found refuge in the tent of a supposed friend. Eber the Kenite had separated from the Kenite clan of Jobab and had migrated from the Judan Desert northward, not far from the site of the battle. Sisera considered Heber her friend.
Jaël, Heber’s wife, took the first step. She went out to meet Sisera and showed her kindness. She invited him to her tent and urged him not to be afraid. She provided him with a blanket. She gave him milk to quench his thirst. Soon he fell asleep and she stood guard.
While Sisera slept, this ruthless and violent age girl took a tent stake and hammer and nailed Sisera to the ground through her head. The victory had been won by a woman.