“Does not the Lord go out before you?” she said to Barak.
As he contemplated those words, he gazed at the 900 iron chariots that Sisera had called out to use against the Israelite army.
Over and over again, the Israelites had fought their enemies. This continuing pattern was not only exhausting but also deadly. The judge had told Barak what the Lord commanded of him. It wasn’t that he wanted to disobey the judge; it was that Sisera and his army had a military far greater than the worn-out one that Barak commanded.
Then, he had an idea. One that was unheard of in that era, one that would be written in the Book for all to read. One that would put a woman at the head command against the Canaanite army.
Barak would be going into that battle, and he would not be alone. The woman, a judge, and a prophetess would be by his side. The Lord not only spoke to this woman. He spoke through her as well. Barak was willing to fight, but he also wanted to make sure God’s presence was with him; and the Lord would be, through her.
The Time of Judges
For over 350 years, Israel remained in the same pattern: they would do evil in the sight of the Lord, the Lord would oppress them by allowing other nations to conquer them, they would cry out for forgiveness, and the Lord would send a judge to deliver them.
Our God is a God of patience, compassion, and faithfulness.
At the time Barak was looking at the Canaanite army, Deborah was the judge. She wasn’t just any judge, either. She was a prophetess – the first female prophetess since Mose’s day, and only one of three mentioned in the entire Old Testament.
In a time when women were often treated as second class or servants, Deborah was an authoritative figure; as a judge, the job entailed being a governor with executive, legislative, and military authority. In a position traditionally held by men, Deborah stood out among all others. She was respected and honored by all people due to her ability to rule fairly over the Israelites.
A Time for Battle
Seated under the palm of Deborah, she would hear from the Lord and hold court, judging accordingly. From there she summoned Barak, with a straightforward question,
“Has not the Lord, the God of Israel, commanded you, ‘Go, gather your men at Mount Tabor, taking 10,000 from the people of Naphtali and the people of Zebulun. And I will draw out Sisera, the general of Jabin’s army, to meet you by the river Kishon with his chariots and his troops, and I will give him into your hand’?” Judges 4:6-7
Barak’s response was one that men didn’t say to women during that time and culture: “If you will go with me, I will go, but if you will not go with me, I will not go.” Judges 4:8
“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.” Judges 4:9
Barak, Deborah and 10,000 men about to face off with an army of 900 iron chariots, men and the opposing general, Sisera.
The look on Barak’s face must have been one of fear because Deborah reassured him that the Lord was with them every step of the way.
“Up! For this is the day in which the Lord has given Sisera into your hand. Does not the Lord go out before you?” Judges 4:14
The Lord was going before them, and that was all the reassurance that Barak needed.
A Tent Peg to the Head
True to His word, the Lord did go before Deborah, Barak, and the Israelite army, and they were able to defeat the Canaanites. As defeat was imminent, Sisera fled on foot to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite. The Kenites had made a peace treaty with King Jaben, Sisera’s king. Believing that this was a place to rest and find a moments peace, and at Jael’s request, he entered her tent, thinking that he would be safe from the opposing army.
He was wrong.
Jael was hospitable to Sisera, offering him food and drink and in which he gladly accepted. He must have felt relieved for a reprieve from the death and destruction that surrounded him. Knowing he was in a safe place, he decided to take a nap.
A nap that he wouldn’t wake up from.
What he didn’t realize was that the Kenite woman’s responsibility was not only to pitch the tents but also to take them down. Jael knew how to use a hammer and tent peg effectively and swiftly.
And that is precisely what she did.
Taking a tent peg, she drove it into Sisera’s head, killing him instantly. This fulfilled Deborah’s prophesy from the Lord, “for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.”
Still chasing down Sisera, Barak came upon Jael and her tent. She greeted him with the news that he wanted to hear most: Sisera was dead.
Thus began a nationwide celebration and a 40-year period of rest in the land.
The book of Judges lists all twelve judges and what occurred during their reign as a judge. After this period of turmoil and strife, peace and calmness, the Lord finally gave the people of Israel what they wanted – a king like all the other nations.
The Lord Goes Before Us
That same Lord that went before Deborah and Barak is the same Lord that goes before us every day. It doesn’t matter if it’s a minor skirmish or a full out war against us. He is always there, protecting, leading, and guiding us. He will never leave or forsake us. Rest in knowing this, dear friends!
***My monthly series, Women of the Bible, returns today. On the third Tuesday of the month, I will feature a woman in Scripture who found her strength in the Lord when faced with adversity or circumstances beyond her control.*