Summary: God gave victory through three weaklings!
Deborah sat patiently under the palm tree that was her office. Dozens and dozens of people lined up every day. Every person had his or her own complaint. Each one wanted somebody else straightened out. Wearily she listened to their cases. She must often have felt like Moses, so weary she could not bear the load, yet someone had to do it. Someone had to teach these people the ways of the Lord.
One hundred years earlier, Ehud had arisen, struck down the oppressing King of Moab and set their people free — free to worship the Lord, free to raise their own families, free to pursue their own priorities. For a time most people followed the Lord. They stopped worshipping at the pagan altars. They forsook the high places where people kind of made their religion up as they pleased.
But as the years passed, people began to drift. At first only a few had gone over to the pagan temples. But by now, it was disgusting how many Israelites had forsaken their heritage and their God. Their idol worship was little more than a good luck charm and their worship of God a sentimental old memory.
Deborah yearned to see their nation steadfast in the worship of the Lord. When would they learn? When would they realize that there is only One True God? All the rest are fakes.
But no! Israel kept up the same cycle of backsliding, suffering, repenting, reviving, then backsliding again! As soon as Ehud was dead, maybe even before, the people had begun turning away from God. Their weakened culture invited enemy attacks. Their intermarriage with pagan wives compromised whatever determination a man might have had concerning the One True God.
Sure enough the enemies began taking advantage of the weakened Israeli culture and religion. The city of Hazor, which was the capital of Jabin’s kingdom, Joshua had burned to the ground 170 years earlier. An old conquered enemy rose again from the ashes to taunt and terrify the people of God. The oppression became the more bitter when Israel remembered that Joshua had once conquered these very enemies and now through negligence these same enemies had arisen with a special vengeance!
The writer of Judges teaches us that the military defeat came as a result of spiritual failure.
The harsh oppression took two forms: forced slave labor timbering for the foreign king and forced military service because Judges 5:6 records, “in the days of Jael, the highways were unoccupied, and the travellers walked through byways.” With the special part women play and with the expression of Judges 5:30, “every man a damsel or two,” one must understand there was especially oppression of the women!
For 20 years, the people cried out in anguish under foreign oppression. The bottom fell out of the Israeli economy. The attendance at the Lord’s house slumped ever lower. A military comeback seemed impossible. But God intervened! He worked through three weaklings!
I. DEBORAH – A FEMALE
Deborah patiently taught and encouraged the people the God could deliver them. She was the leading voice of the Lord in those days. They must repent, but the Lord would not forget His people!
She had her office under a palm tree, in the district more remote from the oppressors. Hearing the cases of Israeli complaints against each other must have wearied Deborah beyond endurance. They could not see the real enemy. They were fighting each other!
Was she the first feminist? No! She simply rose to the challenge of the current crisis. Many women throughout history have risen to meet the need — especially in the absence of a willing man. In fact, that is part of the message of this incident. God chose to use what men considered a weak instrument in order to bring an incredible victory.
She must have spoken with considerable authority. She sent a message to Barak, a known military leader, that he should muster 10,000 troops and plan to attack the enemy forces. She described where the battle would take place and promised the Lord would give him the victory.
But Barak declined. Ten thousand was not a large army. Sisera had 900 chariots of iron, plus a huge infantry! Barak would only agree to go if Deborah accompanied him in person. He was weak in faith but he was also shrewd. He knew if Deborah did not really believe what she had said, she would never go with him into battle. Besides, he knew how her presence would inspire the soldiers.
In that day of focus on physical strength, women were looked on as weaker, but the fact that men were stronger did not dissuade Deborah from leading the army into war. She saw it as an emergency measure. This was not her preference, but she rose to meet the need. “There are prophets who sit with Deborah under the palm tree, and advise noble deeds while they excuse themselves from facing the danger of achieving them." (Pulpit Commentary, Judges, p. 42)