Summary: How a woman named Deborah led Israel when men refused or were incapable of leading.
“Prophetess and Judge”
Text: Judges 4:1-5
This morning I want to return to our series of lessons on mountaintop experiences – this particular one on Mount Tabor. The story is about the only woman judge of Israel who was also a prophetess – Deborah. She is only mentioned here in the fourth and fifth chapters of Judges but she was definitely a leader at an extremely low point in Israel’s history. You probably remember how Israel would start worshiping idols and God would let another nation oppress them. Then when their cries became loud enough, the Lord would raise up a judge to deliver His people. This cycle of unfaithfulness and deliverance lasted for over 300 years until Israel finally demanded a king to rule over them. If her general was any reflection of the men of Israel at this time, it is no wonder God let a woman such as Deborah judge Israel. She judged Israel from the hill country of Ephraim between Ramah and Bethel as she sat under a palm tree. The text calls this the palm tree of Deborah which is somewhat interesting since there is only one other lady in the Bible named Deborah. She was Rebekah’s nurse and was buried under a tree near Bethel when she died. As Deborah judged Israel, Jabin, the king of Canaan had harshly oppressed Israel for 20 years. Jabin ruled in Hazor – one of the largest Canaanite cities. Joshua had captured and burned Hazor in northern Galilee during the conquest but now the fortified city had been rebuilt. With 900 chariots, Jabin and his army could easily control the Jezreel Valley. I hope you’ll open your Bibles to the book of Judges as we study the mountaintop experience of Deborah, judge of Israel. Please search the scriptures this week to make sure I have preached the truth of God’s word.
Let’s return to the text in Judges 4:6-7 as we pick up our lesson: 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; 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’?” Evidently the Lord had issued some orders which had gone unheeded so Deborah called her general and reiterated those orders to Barak. The LORD God of Israel had specified the number of troops to deploy, where to deploy and given His people a promise of victory. Barak’s response in verse 8 reveals why Deborah is judging Israel at this time: 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!” We can surmise a couple of things from Barak’s response. It’s hard to imagine that he is the head of Israel’s army because we would label him a coward. He evidently had no faith in God’s promise of deliverance. But he refused to go into battle without Deborah. We might conclude that male leadership in Israel at this time was non-existent. Praise the Lord for a godly woman like Deborah at this point in Israel’s history! Let’s take a moment to survey the battlefield. Barak is commanded to take 10,000 men up Mount Tabor. This mountain southwest of the Sea of Galilee rises almost 1850 feet above sea level with a commanding view of the surrounding terrain. It will be inaccessible to Jabin’s chariots and thus affords protection to Israel’s army. The Lord has already told Israel that Barak will meet Jabin’s general Sisera and his chariots along the Kishon River. However little we think of Barak, Deborah is truly Israel’s leader and lays out the future for Barak in 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. Barak is leading the army of Israel and has been assured of victory yet Deborah tells him that there will be no glory for him in this battle. The enemy’s general – Sisera – will fall by the hand of a woman. At this point, do you imagine Barak is thinking that Deborah will defeat Sisera? I don’t know how well you can see this map but the red line indicates the movement of Jabin’s forces and then the purple depicts their attack toward Mount Tabor. The gold line first represents the movement of the 10,000 troops from Zebulun and Naphtali to Kedesh near the southwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee. Barak with his army and Deborah then deployed to Mount Tabor in preparation for the battle with Sisera. The green line marks the retreat of Sisera’s army as Israel destroys them. While the narrative of chapter four does not reveal all that happened, the song in chapter five indicates that rain and a flooding Kishon River caused Sisera’s chariots to get stuck and made them easy targets for Israel’s army. In the midst of all this information, we learn of some Kenites living near Mount Tabor who gave an intelligence report to Sisera that Barak had gone up to Mount Tabor. This was Sisera’s signal to deploy his chariots from Harosheth Hagoyim along the River Kishon. Maybe this little map gives you a better picture as we continue in the text. With 10,000 troops massed on Mount Tabor, Barak has to be told to get into the battle – by a woman. This man is definitely unable to lead. Listen to Deborah’s directions: 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?” Deborah’s orders were just what Barak needed as he then went down from Mount Tabor with 10,000 men following him. And we assume that Deborah was also leading the men into battle. We mentioned earlier how the chariots got stuck but now we’ll read the account in verses15-16: 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. 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. The once powerful army of Jabin has been decimated by the Lord. But this is not the end of the story since Sisera himself escaped on foot to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite since there was peace between Jabin and Heber’s house. Now we get to see where Barak’s glory went as we read verses 18-22: 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.