Summary: Deborah shows us what can be accomplished when we rely on God to fight our battles.
“Some Trust in Chariots”
Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts
Judges chapters 4 and 5 tell a story in two very distinct and different ways. Ch 4 gives a conventional historical account, while chapter 5 re-tells the story in poetic verse.
We are studying the “dark ages” of Hebrew history. After Ehud passed from the scene, Israel continued to do what was right in their own eyes. They reverted to an arbitrary morality, which led them back into idolatry. When there are no absolutes by which to govern society, people make up their own rules. Israel had God’s Law, but they chose to ignore it. In ch 5 Deborah observes, “When Israel chose new gods, war came to the city gates” (vs 8). This was no accident. By abandoning the Source of their strength, Israel became vulnerable to attack. God didn’t desert them—they left Him. Such is the case with many people today. Jabin formed an alliance of Canaanites to wage a prolonged, bloody conflict against Israel. His objective was to destroy Israel’s army and drive them out of the Promised Land.
To attack Israel, Jabin ordered his general Sisera to assemble a massive, “mother of all armies”, far superior to Israel’s military. Sisera’s armed forces were equipped with over 900 iron chariots, a fearsome fighting platform—He had his own Armored Cavalry Regiment! Israel was hopelessly out-positioned, intimidated, and woefully lacking in numbers and resources.
This desperate situation brought Israel to its senses. The people cried out to God, and their deliverance came in an unexpected way. The prophetess Deborah was chosen to lead Israel. Prophets delivered messages about the future and the will of God for the present. We might regard Deborah as a forerunner of Golda Meir. Only one other person in the Bible was both a prophet and political leader, the final judge of Israel, Samuel. Deborah humbly describes herself in chapter 5 as “a mother in Israel” (vs 7). Her name means “honeybee”—not an awe-inspiring name, but she was used by God to deliver a fatal sting to the armies of Sisera. Women in Bible times normally occupied a subordinate role, but on occasions they rose to prominence. Deborah takes the initiative by sending for Barak and installing him as her commanding general.
Barak is charged to lead an army of 10,000 soldiers garrisoned at Mount Tabor. Barak’s name means “lightning”, an appropriate name for a warrior. Deborah assures Barak in 3:7, “I will lure Sisera…and will give him into your hands.” But Barak is reluctant to act; he hesitates, in spite of the clear, divine directive. To assure God’s presence and blessing he insists that Deborah accompany the army into battle. This condition sharply diminishes his heroic standing.
In troubling times our faith can falter. We forget that when God calls us, He provides. Barak felt inadequate yet recognized that the Spirit of the Lord was with Deborah. He needed her faith in God’s unseen power. Sometimes we hesitate and waste time looking for tangible evidence that God’s going to help us before we face our difficulties. The Lord’s battles are always won through faith. God controls the outcome.
Deborah agrees to Barak’s condition, but issues a prophetic condition of her own, in verse 9. The honor will go to a woman, instead of Barak. Deborah is credited with Israel’s victory, and it is another woman, Jael, who slays the enemy general Sisera (4:17-21 & 5:24-27). Barak pays a price for his reluctance to do God’s will. He will be the victor, but will lose face.
In Barak’s defense, he gets some credit for recognizing his inadequacy and need for divine intervention. He’s listed in the book of Hebrews as a man of faith (11:32). When I was assigned as a Battalion Chaplain to the 2nd Infantry Divison in Korea, it was customary to have prayer at change-of-command ceremonies. One belligerent company commander in a profane manner informed me in front of others that he did not want any prayer at his ceremony. Imaging refusing a prayer for God’s assistance in meeting the challenges of command! Have we ever dismissed the resources of faith? Barak’s faith was weak, yet he at least realized his need of God’s favor.
Deborah was recognized as a leader in touch with God…although I can’t help but think that in the eyes of some, she was regarded as a “good-luck charm”. Often when I would get on a military plane or helicopter, some soldier would say: “We’re safe—the Chaplain’s with us!” My usual (tongue-in cheek) response was, “How do you know this isn’t the day the Lord wants to take me home?” Deborah’s presence made a positive impact on the morale of the outnumbered and under-equipped Israeli army. Deborah probably did not carry a sword (like Joan of Ark), but she was the guiding force of the battle. The people trusted her, because she spoke with courage and authority. Her willingness to accompany Barak into battle shows bravery in the presence of great danger. Thus properly motivated, Barak rose to the occasion.