Chapter 4


Deborah Becomes Israel’s Judge

        • After Ehud died, the Israelites did what was evil in Yahweh’s sight again. So, Yahweh sold them into the hand of King Jabin of Hazor, a Canaanite king. The commander of his army was Sisera, who lived in Harosheth- hagoyim. Sisera had 900 iron chariots and he cruelly oppressed the Israelites for 20 years. Then, the Israelites cried out to Yahweh for help.

        • NLT lllustrated Study Bible notes, “The account of Deborah and Barak, given both in prose (ch 4) and poetry (ch 5), is the only large-scale military operation recorded against a major Canaanite foe after the initial conquest. Another king named Jabin, who also ruled in the city of Hazor, was defeated in an earlier battle against Joshua along with a vast northern coalition, and Hazor was burned (see Joshua 11:1-15). Although Josh 11 and Judges 4-5 have often been compared, there are too many differing details to consider them to be parallel records of the same battle. Instead, Jabin is probably a dynastic name; the name occurs in the Mari texts for an even earlier king of Hazor, around 1800 BC.”

        • On Sisera and the geographical location, the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible adds, “[Sisera] Unknown as a Canaanite name. The name seems not to be Semitic, suggesting he may have been a Hittite or Hurrian mercenary like Shamgar in 3:31…While prevailing opinion understands the first element in this name [Harosheth Haggoyim] to mean ‘forested area,’ the fact that Sisera’s forces included 900 chariots, which could be deployed only in coastal and alluvial plains (1:19), renders this interpretation problematic. A more logical solution relates the expression to an Akkadian cognate that means ‘cultivated land.’ Accordingly, Harosheth Haggoyim probably means ‘cultivated field of the Gentiles,’ an explanation that not only suits the fertile alluvial plain between Tanaach and Megiddo, but also accords with the present linkage with chariots, the reference to Canaanite chariot bases in the river plains in 1:19 and the location of the battle in 5:19.”

        • The prophetess Deborah, Lappidoth’s wife, was judging Israel at that time. She would sit under the palm of Deborah, located between Ramah and Bethel in Ephraim’s hill country, and the Israelites would come to her for judgment.

          • ESV Archaeology Study Bible writes, “Deborah is called a prophetess, one of five such women in the OT (cf Miriam [Exodus 15:20]; Huldah [2 Kings 22:14]; Isaiah’s wife [Isa 8:3]; and Noadiah [a false prophetess; Nehemiah 6:14]). Deborah functioned as a civil leader (Judges 4:6-10; 5:7) and judge who decided cases (4:4-5)…Prophets and leaders would meet under a known tree in or near a village. Later, the Israelites would offend God by worshiping other gods at these ‘sacred trees.’”

          • Guzik mentions more NT examples of prophetesses, “…Anna (Luke 2:36), and Philip’s four daughters (Acts 21:8-9).”

        • Deborah sent for Abinoam’s son, Barak, who lived in Kedesh in the land of Naphtali. She said to him, “Hasn’t Yahweh, the God of Israel, commanded you: ‘Gather together 10,000 troops from the tribes of Naphtali and Zebulun at Mount Tabor. I will draw out Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, along with his troops and chariots to meet you by the Kishon River, and I will deliver them into your hand?’”

          • NLT Illustrated Study Bible writes, “The Kishron River formed the Jezreel Valley, which runs northwest into the Mediterranean just north of Mount Carmel.”

        • Barak responded, “I will go, but only if you go with me.” Deborah replied, “I will go with you, but you won’t receive any honor on the road you take because Yahweh will sell Sisera into the hands of a woman.”

          • Guzik writes, “It didn’t seem unwise of Barak to ask Deborah to come with him. Yet the fact that he demanded it showed that he trusted more in Deborah’s relationship with God than with his own relationship with God.”

          • This is a great place to point out that God knows the outcomes of choices that people opt not to make. The inference from Deborah’s inital prophecy is that Barak could have chosen a different option than the one we know he ended up choosing. Namely, he could have chosen to obey God and go himself. This flies in the face of hyper-Calvinism. According to Deborah, God has told Barak to gather the troops and that He will assure his victory over Sisera and his troops. However, this is not what ends up occurring. Not because God was not willing to deliver, but because Barak chose not to do exactly as He said. Barak could in no way thwart God’s plan. However, his decision did cost him honor that he could have had. HCSB writes, “Barak did not immediately respond to God’s call. Had he acted in faith he would have received the honor of defeating Sisera; because of hesitancy, which manifested his doubt, God gave the honor to a woman.”

        • So, Deborah went with Barak to Kadesh where he called together the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali. 10,000 men followed him and Deborah followed as well.

        • Now Heber the Kenite had separated himself from the Kenites, the descendants of Moses’ brother-in-law Hobab, and pitched his tent by the oak of Zaanannim near Kedesh.

            • Some translations say that Hobab was Moses’ father-in-law here. However, back in Numbers 10:29 Hobab is listed as Moses’ brother-in-law. For a full discussion of this refer to the notes for Numbers chapter 10. As the HCSB commentary notes, “The Hebrew choten can mean ‘brother-in-law’ (preferred here) or ‘father-in-law’ (Exodus 3:1).”

        • When it was reported to Sisera that Barak (Abinoam’s son) had gone up to Mount Tabor, he summoned together all 900 of his iron chariots and all the men who were with him from Harosheth- hagoyim to the Kishon River.

        • NLT Illustrated Study Bible writes, “Upon hearing of Barak’s muster of troops, Sisera fell into the trap set by the Lord. He headed for the Jezreel Valley with his chariots, marching along the Kishon River where wheeled vehicles could operate freely.”

        • Then Deborah told Barak, “Get up! Today is the day that Yahweh is giving Sisera into your hand! Hasn’t Yahweh gone out in front of you?” So Barak led his 10,000 men down Mount Tabor.

        • And Yahweh threw Sisera, all his chariots, and all his army into confusion before Barak’s sword. Sisera got out of his chariot and ran away on foot. Barak chased the chariots and the army all the way to Harosheth- hagoyim, killing Sisera’s entire army- not a single man was left.

        • ESV Archaeology Study Bible adds this note on the location of the battle, “Most commentators have erroneously assumed that the battle described in Judges 4 took place at Hazor since it was under the auspices of Jabin king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor (4:2). The biblical account places this battle not at Hazor but in the Jezreel Valley, between Mount Tabor (4:12-15) and the Kishon River, at Tanaach near the water of Megiddo (5:19). The Jezreel Valley was a strategic location for military operations and its fertile land attracted Egyptian control and focus. It was also occupied by seasonal nomads. The Kenites inhabited this region during the battle of Sisera and Barak but were later displaced by the Midianites and Amalekites (ch 6).”

        • NLT Illustrated Study Bible points out that we really aren’t given much detail about the battle here, that comes in the next chapter, “Nothing is said here about why the chariots were so ineffective; this awaits the poetic version of the account (5:21).”

        • HCSB addresses a point often raised by skeptics, “If every man in Sisera’s army died in battle, how was Sisera still alive afterward (vv. 17-21)? All of his men (that is, the foot soldiers as distinguished from generals) could have been slain. Or not a ‘single man was left’ who remained on the battlefield because some fled the battle and escaped- a not uncommon occurrence in modern, as well as ancient warfare. (Compare Saul’s statement to Samuel, 1 Sm 15:20, in which he claimed to have utterly destroyed the Amalekites; yet David later had to fight the same Amalekites- 1 Sm 27; 30; 2 Sm 1.) Finally, the author of Judges did not mean to assert that every soldier in the Canaanite army died. He states that Jabin ruled from Hazor, but Sisera was from another town (Jdg 4:12, 13) and organized his army from there. Some of the Canaanite forces would have remained at Hazor as Jabin’s personal guard.”

        • Sisera escaped on foot and went to Jael’s (Jael was the wife of Heber the Kenite) tent because Heber’s family was on peaceful terms with King Jabin of Hazor.

          • ESV Archaeology Study Bible explains, “…the foot soldiers of Barak were able to chase and slaughter them [Sisera’s forces] in their retreat westward to Harosheth- hagoyim, toward Megiddo and Tanaach. Sisera fled in the opposite direction, east toward the camp of the Kenites, who were allied with Jabin of Hazor, Sisera’s king. He probably felt safe in his retreat, as the Israelites would have been busy pursuing the fleeing army to the west.”

        • Jael went out to meet Sisera and said, “Come in, my lord. Come in with me. Don’t be afraid.” So, he went into her tent and she covered him with a blanket. He said, “I’m thirsty, please give me some water to drink.” So, she opened a skin of milk, gave him a drink, and covered him again. Then, Sisera told her, “Stand at the opening to the tent and if anyone comes and asks you if anyone is here, tell them no.”

        • ESV Archaeology Study Bible writes, “Seminomadic herders of sheep and goats stored goat milk in skins; such milk was a staple in the ancient Near East.”

        • But when Sisera fell asleep from exhaustion, Jael crept quietly over to him with a tent peg and a hammer in her hands. She hammered the tent peg through his temple driving it all the way into the ground, and he died. When Barak arrived in pursuit of Sisera, Jael went out to meet him and said, “Come and I will show you the man you’re looking for.” So, he followed her into her tent and saw Sisera lying dead with a tent peg through his temple.

          • NLT Illustrated Study Bible notes, “Jael completed what seems to have been her intention all along. There is a more graphic description of the event in 5:26-27.”

        • NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible gives us some insight into the cultural/societal norms of the day which, in turn, give us a much greater appreciation of the magnitude of bravery exhibited by Jael, “In her actions Jael violates a series of fundamental societal norms: (1) In offering hospitality to Sisera she usurps her husbands right as a male to offer hospitality to a male. (2) In killing Sisera she violates the covenant between Heber and Sisera’s superior. (3) In killing Sisera, who had sought hospitality and protection in her house, she violates the fundamental rights of guests…”

        • That day God subdued Jabin, the Canaanite king, before the Israelites. The hand of the Israelites pressed harder and harder against King Jabin until they destroyed him.

          • NLT Illustrated Study Bible adds, “Sisera’s army was gone, but Jabin and his kingdom were subdued more gradually.” As Guzik puts it, “The battle against Sisera was important, but it did not end the struggle. It was an important event that Israel had to continue to develop and walk in.”

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