JUDGES CHAPTER 4
1 Deborah and Barak deliver them from Jabin and Sisera. 18 Jael killeth Sisera.
Verses 1,2 When Ehud was dead, the children of Israel again did evil in the sight of the Lord. 2 So the Lord sold them into the hand of Jabin king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor. The commander of his army was Sisera, who dwelt in Harosheth Hagoyim
Jabin. Following the 80 years of peace that ensued after Ehud broke the Moabite oppression, the Israelites grew careless in their spiritual life and again forsook their God.
To awaken His people, the Lord allowed the Canaanite ruler commanding the strong chain of fortresses in northern Palestine to oppress the northern Hebrew tribes for a period of 20 years.
The story of how this yoke of oppression was broken by Deborah and Barak is told twice, once in prose form in chapter 4 and again in poetic form in chapter 5.
The book of Joshua mentions a Jabin as king of Hazor (Joshua 11:1-9). The city was captured by the Israelites at that time, but it had probably since been retaken by the Canaanites before the Israelites could consolidate their position in this region.
Another Jabin, possibly the grandson of the king Joshua had destroyed, now held a loose suzerainty over the entire Canaanite forces of northern Palestine.
Sisera. From this point onward in the narrative we hear no more of Jabin, except for a brief mention in verse 23. He had turned supervision of his forces over to a field commander by the name of Sisera.
This general may have been a king in his own right, ruling over the city in which he dwelt. Harosheth was 16 miles northwest of Megiddo, where the plain of Jezreel narrows down before joining the coastal plain of Acre.
The plain represented a natural terrain for Sisera’s formidable task force of 900 chariots of iron (4:3). Against such a threatening foe the Israelites, in their state of sinful rebellion, could not stand, and they were soon overcome and forced to pay tribute.
Harosheth. Tell ‘Amr, on the Kishon.
Verses 3,4 And the children of Israel cried out to the Lord; for Jabin had nine hundred chariots of iron, and for twenty years he had harshly oppressed the children of Israel. 4 Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, was judging Israel at that time.
Deborah. Literally, “bee.” Of the judges whose exploits are recorded in this book she is the only one mentioned as possessing the prophetic gift.
Lapidoth. Signifying “torches” or “flashes.” Some have thought the phrase “wife of Lapidoth” should be translated “woman of fiery spirit,” which indeed may not have been too inapplicable an appellative in the light of the sequel.
She judged. Perhaps not as a princess by any civil authority conferred upon her, but as a prophetess, correcting abuses and redressing grievances.
Verse 5 And she would sit under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the mountains of Ephraim. And the children of Israel came up to her for judgment.
Would sit. That is, on the judge’s seat. Her favorite place for hearing cases was under a tree between Ramah and Bethel (see on 1 Sam. 1:1).
This seems to have been in the vicinity of the famous “tree of mourning,” under which Rachel’s nurse, Deborah, was buried (Gen. 35:8). This type of courtroom allowed people the freest access to her, and thither they “came up to her for judgment.”
Verse 6 Then she sent and called for Barak the son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali, and said to him, “Has not the Lord God of Israel commanded, ‘Go and deploy troops at Mount Tabor; take with you ten thousand men of the sons of Naphtali and of the sons of Zebulun;
Kedesh-naphtali. Perhaps the modern Tell Qades, 4 mi. (6.4 kilometers) northwest of the now drained Lake Huleh in upper Galilee. Kedes-naphtali had been a Canaanite fortress. Ruins cover the picturesque site of Qades today.
Draw toward. That is, “converge upon,” in small groups.
Mount Tabor. A prominent hill (1,92 feet; 588 meters) many miles to the south of Tell Qades, in the territory of Issachar, about 5 1/2 miles (8.8 kilometers) east of Nazareth. It commanded the main road through the narrow valley leading from the plain of Esdraelon down to the plain where the Jordan leaves the Sea of Galilee.
Its central location made it the natural rallying place of the northern tribes, and its height made it easy to defend against the chariots of Sisera.
The summit, an oblong platform nearly 3,000 ft. (915 m.) from east to west and 1,300 ft. (396 m.) at the widest point, was an excellent marshaling area. Centuries later Antiochus Epiphanes, and later still, Josephus, used this plateau for the same purpose.
Naphtali and … Zebulun. Chapter 4 mentions only these two tribes as taking part in the battle. In ch. 5, six tribes are mentioned as participants. Naphtali and Zebulun probably furnished the bulk of the troops, and the other four tribes may have sent only small contingents.
Verse 7 and against you I will deploy Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his multitude at the River Kishon; and I will deliver him into your hand’?”
Kishon. Sisera’s march from his headquarters at Harosheth to engage the Israelites at Mt. Tabor would lead him along the partly dry river bed of the Kishon.
It was here that the Lord promised to bring about his defeat. It was necessary for the overthrow to take place on the plain, not on Mt. Tabor, in order to effect the destruction of the chariots.
Verse 8 And Barak said to her, “If you will go with me, then I will go; but if you will not go with me, I will not go!”
Go with me. Barak probably realized that by himself he could not sustain the morale of the Hebrews.
Deborah’s presence would serve to make clear that the undertaking was of God.
He probably wanted it to be clearly understood by all that it was she, the prophetess, who was initiating the campaign, and not he himself.
It is to the credit of Barak that he followed prophetic guidance in the dangerous undertaking.
It is also worthy of note that Deborah did not draw back from the course she had prescribed for others.
As for Barak, he preferred the humbler role of one who was executing the command that had come from the Lord. He voluntarily retired behind the authority of a woman whom God had animated and inspired.
The need today is for men who will obey the divine voice as Barak did. God does not confine Himself to the male six in His choice of prophets. Both the Old Testament and the New Testament mention prophetesses (Ex. 15:20, 21; Num. 12:2; 2 Kings 22:12–20; Luke 2:36; Acts 21:9).
Verse 9 So she said, “I will surely go with you; nevertheless there will be no glory for you in the journey you are taking, for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.” Then Deborah arose and went with Barak to Kedesh.
Hand of a woman. Deborah consented to go along on the military expedition, but before leaving her home in Mt. Ephraim to accompany Barak into northern Palestine, she prophesied that the victory that would ensue would not redound to Barak’s glory but to that of a woman.
She was not referring to herself, but to Jael (18–21), who was to slay Sisera.
Verse 10 And Barak called Zebulun and Naphtali to Kedesh; he went up with ten thousand men under his command, and Deborah went up with him.
Went up. The phrase here means “to advance for battle.”
Verse 11 Now Heber the Kenite, of the children of Hobab the father-in-law of Moses, had separated himself from the Kenites and pitched his tent near the terebinth tree at Zaanaim, which is beside Kedesh.
Now Heber the Kenite had left the other Kenites, the descendants of Hobab, Moses’ brother-in-law, and pitched his tent by the great tree in Zaanannim near Kedesh.
Heber the Kenite. This verse explains the circumstances by which some of the Kenites happened to be living in this northern area when, according to the author’s earlier statement (1:16), they had settled in southern Palestine.
The reason was that these Kenites had separated from the rest of the tribe and sought a home in the lot of Zebulun and Naphtali. One of them named Heber had settled as far north as the region of Kedesh.
Hobab. See on Num. 10:29.
Plain. This Hebrew word means “oak” not “plain.” The place was near Kedesh, the home of Barak.
Verses 12,13 And they reported to Sisera that Barak the son of Abinoam had gone up to Mount Tabor. 13 So Sisera gathered together all his chariots, nine hundred chariots of iron, and all the people who were with him, from Harosheth Hagoyim to the River Kishon.
The “they” should be understood impersonally as, “it was reported to Sisera.” Some think the informants were the Kenites, who were on good terms with Jabin, the Canaanite overlord.
His chariots. The 900 chariots were the aggregate from all the Canaanite cities in the alliance.
Kishon. The Kishon River itself, though very short, is the largest river in this part of Palestine, fed by numerous small tributaries which traverse the plain of Esdraelon and drain the surrounding hills.
From the vicinity of Tabor a northern tributary joins the main stream near Megiddo. It was likely this tributary to which Sisera led his armed chariots, and near which they encamped on the plain along the river.
Verses 14,15 Then Deborah said to Barak, “Up! For this is the day in which the Lord has delivered Sisera into your hand. Has not the Lord gone out before you?” So Barak went down from Mount Tabor with ten thousand men following him. 15 And the Lord routed Sisera and all his chariots and all his army with the edge of the sword before Barak; and Sisera alighted from his chariot and fled away on foot.
Delivered Sisera. The means God used are not precisely given. The parallel account in chapter 5 states that the river Kishon, along whose banks the Canaanite army had encamped, swept the army away (5:20, 21).
God may have sent a sudden rainstorm soon after the army of Sisera had arrived. Under such rain the clay soil of the plain would be turned into a quagmire of sticky mud in which the chariots of the Canaanites would be unable to maneuver.
An excavator, working on the excavation of the ancient city of Megiddo near this site, tells how on rainy days it was virtually impossible to go anywhere even on horseback, because of the mud.
Torrent waters contributed to the defeat of the Turks on this very spot in April, 1799, when numbers of their fleeing troops were swept away and drowned. In World War I, English troops found that even a quarter hour of rain on the clay soil rendered cavalry maneuvers impossible.
Verse 16 But Barak pursued the chariots and the army as far as Harosheth Hagoyim, and all the army of Sisera fell by the edge of the sword; not a man was left.
Barak pursued. The line of retreat led down the valley, for in the hills on either side of the valley were the Hebrew settlements.
The valley became progressively more confined as it approached the narrow pass that led to Harosheth. Before the Canaanites could struggle back to their headquarters at Harosheth, their army was wiped out. Not one lived to reach the safety of its walls.
Harosheth. This place seems to have been at the opposite end of the plain of Esdraelon, where the Kishon passes through the mountains into the maritime plain (see on v. 2). The song of Deborah speaks of phases of the battle taking place near Taanach and Megiddo (5:19).
Verse 17 However, Sisera had fled away on foot to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite; for there was peace between Jabin king of Hazor and the house of Heber the Kenite
The Kenite. The camp of this tribe was perhaps 30 or 40 miles (38–64 kilometers) north of the scene of battle. It may have been a day or two after the battle when the once-proud army commander, hungry and exhausted, reached the tents of these people he considered friendly.
Verse 18 And Jael went out to meet Sisera, and said to him, “Turn aside, my lord, turn aside to me; do not fear.” And when he had turned aside with her into the tent, she covered him with a blanket.
Jael. Heber was probably away from home, leaving his wife Jael in charge of the tent encampment. Servants may already have brought word that Jabin’s army commander was approaching on foot.
Perhaps word of the Hebrew victory had preceded Sisera’s coming. Inasmuch as there were peaceful relations between the Kenites and the Canaanites, Sisera would naturally expect to find sustenance and rest among the Kenites.
Do not Fear. The words suggest probable suspicion, which Jael sought to allay.
Blanket. Sisera lay down and Jael covered him with some sort of blanket or rug.
Verse19 Then he said to her, “Please give me a little water to drink, for I am thirsty.” So she opened a jug of milk, gave him a drink, and covered him.
Give me. It is an ancient Oriental practice common to all Bedouins that whoever has eaten or drunk anything in the tent is received into the peace of the house.
A mortal enemy could rest securely in the tent of his adversary if he had drunk with him. Sisera’s request showed him to be cautious and wary.
Though exhausted, he dared not sleep until he had some guarantee of Jael’s intentions. When Jael opened the goatskin and gave him milk to drink, the army commander felt he could safely yield to sleep.
Verses 20,21 And he said to her, “Stand at the door of the tent, and if any man comes and inquires of you, and says, ‘Is there any man here?’ you shall say, ‘No.’ ”Then Jael, Heber’s wife, took a tent peg and took a hammer in her hand, and went softly to him and drove the peg into his temple, and it went down into the ground; for he was fast asleep and weary. So he died.
The peg. This was the wooden tent stake by which the cords were fastened to the ground.
It must have been with mixed emotions that Jael picked up the sharp stake and the heavy mallet that she was accustomed to use in pitching the tents.
As far as we know, she had no personal wrong to avenge, and it is possible that her deed was prompted by the recognition that Sisera was the oppressor of the people of God, with those fortunes her own and those of her family had become identified.
Verse 22 And then, as Barak pursued Sisera, Jael came out to meet him, and said to him, “Come, I will show you the man whom you seek.” And when he went into her tent, there lay Sisera, dead with the peg in his temple.
Sisera lay dead. We do not know how long it was after the death of Sisera that Barak and some of his band arrived in hot pursuit.
Perhaps herdsmen living in the hills had observed the fleeing general and had informed Barak and his men of the direction of his flight.
As Barak’s eager group followed the trail to the encampment of Heber, great must have been their astonishment when Jael conducted them into her tent and showed them their slain enemy. Thus the narrative that begins with a woman’s courage ends on the same note.
Verses 23,24 So on that day God subdued Jabin king of Canaan in the presence of the children of Israel. 24 And the hand of the children of Israel grew stronger and stronger against Jabin king of Canaan, until they had destroyed Jabin king of Canaan.
God subdued. The author does not attribute the Israelite victory to Barak or to Deborah or to Jael, but to God, whose power had enabled the Hebrews to put their foes to rout.
Prospered, and prevailed. This battle of the Kishon was the beginning of the complete deliverance of Israel from the yoke of the Canaanites. In subsequent engagements the Hebrews exerted more and more pressure upon Jabin’s kingdom until the power of this Canaanite king was completely broken.
Eventual the power of another Jabin will be completely broken and we will live in peace – forever and forever.