We have come to the first of the “major judges”. They are so called because of the time spent on telling the role they played during this period. Today we will cover both chapters 4 and 5. They essentially tell the same story, one in narrative form, the other poetic song. It is like giving the same facts to Wilbur Smith and Bryan Adams. The same story, same historical facts, presented in a totally different format.
This does not mean that the one version is more trustworthy than the other. By no means. If it was not for the song in chapter 5, much of the details would have been lost to us. Chapter 4 tells the story in its chronological order, while chapter 5 lifts up a song of praise to God for the victory and deliverance he gave.
For completion sake, I will now give a quick retelling of the story, taken from both chapters.
A short retelling
Israel again sinned and worshipped the gods of the Canaanites. God this time handed them over to king Jabin. He had a general named Sisera who enforced his rule over Israel. God raised up a prophetess and judge named Deborah. She called Barak and informed him that God wants him to lead the Israelite army into battle against Sisera. Barak’s initial reaction was conditional, sparked by his fear that Sisera had 900 iron chariots. God told him to go to the Kishon River for the battle will take place there. When Sisera heard this, he took his 900 chariots and went to battle against Barak. This is where things become interesting. God sent a storm and the rain stopped the chariots in its tracks, causing them to be ineffective and Barak and the army of Israel annihilated them. Sisera escaped though and fled till he came to the tent of Jael the Kenite woman. She invited him in and nourished him to sleep. Once asleep, she took a tent pen and hammered it through his temple. Barak arrived to find Sisera dead in the tent of Jael.
A necessary correction
A common way of interpreting this text is to focus on the “role of women in the church”. The argument goes pretty much that because Deborah was a judge, women need to be employed as pastors or elders.
This is a gross misreading of this text, and before we proceed, we need to correct this. It is fuelled by a modern reading through feminist filters. Looking honestly at the original context and intent, it was actually a huge accusation against the sinfulness of Israel. Their depravity and corruption were so deep that there were no men who stood up as leaders of the people. Remember that Israel had a patriarchal model of leadership. This would be devastating to the nation to acknowledge that there were no male leadership. I am not so sure that any woman would enjoy an appointment to a position on the premise that there is no male figure to fill the position, so she would be the necessary – and very last – option for the position. It is clear that a reading of chapter 4 is rather an indignant against the men caught up in their depravity than a praise for women taking lead.
This, however, does not mean that women take a backseat in the book of Judges. On the contrary, women have a definite role to play in God’s redemptive plan! In the book of Judges, they are no pushover. In fact, through the 3 books describing the period of the Judges, women play a very prominent role, and especially with regards to the promised King. We have seen the roles of Naomi and Ruth, and then there is Hannah, the mother of Samuel in 1st Samuel.
Triumph through the unexpected
So, we meet Deborah in this unexpected role, doing the unexpected. She fulfilled multiple roles, namely a prophetess and a Judge to a sin-battered people. As such she represented God for the nation. Unlike the other Judges, she was not called by God, but rather acknowledged by the people. This was not due to her having some fanciful characteristics and skills, but because she represented the Living God who spoke living words to bring new life to a dead nation who was caught up in their sin.
God did not become silent when the nation left Him to worship the gods of the heathens. He never does. Sin does not silence Him! On the contrary, in the most unexpected way did He raise His voice against sin and in a call to repent – now here through Deborah, and later, many years later, through His own Son! Hebrews 1:1-2:
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son …
Furthermore, His answer to their depraved lives were not superficial, but meant going into the battlefield against a much stronger opponent – and He would win the battle. In the same way did His Son take up the battle against our depravity to defeat Satan and death for us to live. He would suffer a deadly blow, but that was the blow with which God crushed the head of Satan (Genesis 3:15).
We should never for one moment think that God will be silenced by our sinfulness. No matter the depth to which you have sunk, His voice
As if raising Deborah up was not enough, God went on to defeat the enemy through another woman, by the name of Jael. What makes this even more shocking, is the fact that her husband’s alliance was with king Jabin (4:11). A non-Jew crushing the skull of Sisera! But this picks up the theme that ran through the history of mankind (not Israel only), that the seed of the woman will eventually crush Satan’s head. God was, through Jael, reiterating and confirming His promise to humanity. The enemy’s head will be crushed, his power over man will be broken.
I have mentioned this in a previous sermon, but it is necessary to say it again: each judge had his weapon with which the enemy was defeated, but God’s ultimate weapon with which He ripped Satan apart was the life and death of His Son. Through Him He spoke the Living Word that alone can reach into the depths of hell and rip humanity from the clutches of sin and death; and through Him he trampled on the head of Satan who used both as instruments of slavery and fear.
The ultimate King
Throughout this whole story, God was showing the nation of Israel who their true King is. This is the major theme of the book of Judges, and the reason for the actions of each judge. Although Israel failed to see this time and again, God did not stop preaching it to them! He did this is a powerful way in this story.
Baal, in Canaan, was worshiped as the lord of thunder and storm. He was sometimes depicted as holding a lightning bolt, controlling these two elements. He also had two female goddesses at his disposal for his sexual pleasures, namely Anat and Ashera. Apparently, he had the power to make rain.
The way God deals with the Canaanites in these 2 chapters, is a powerful declaration from Him to both Israel and the Canaanites that there is no other Lord and King besides Him. God uses ‘n man named Barak, which means “Lightning” and two women, Deborah and Jael, to defeat the followers of Baal. He does this through a storm that stops the enemy chariots and leaves them without effect against the army of God lead by His appointed lightning (Barak). God does not treat the 2 women sexually impure, but rather uses them in bringing about victory and honour for His name.
The message is clear: God is the ultimate King, and He is building His eternal kingdom. Although Judges ends with the very sad words that the everyone did as he pleased, because they had no king, God did not fail to as their King. He would carry the whole of history towards realising His ultimate goal, namely that His Son would be born as the King of Judah and will reign forever as the “King of kings and Lord of lords”. Therefore, He can still demand repentance, for the Kingdom of God is at hand!
God put Himself on display in these events described in chapters 4 & 5. We come to know Him as the Living God speaking living words, crushing the enemy as the ultimate Lord and Deliverer. Deborah and Barak’s response were praise (5:2-3). We cannot but break out in songs of praise if we realise that God is the ultimate Lord and saviour and salvation is in His hands! He did the same when His Son hung on that cross. Again, he put Himself on display, taking that fight to a totally different level. This time he defeated Satan, sin and death and rose from that grave as Lord and King to whom alone salvation belongs!