Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Apr 6 2019 - Judges 4:1-5:3 – Deborah, Barak and Jael

The Israelites had turned from the worship of the God of Abraham and had adopted gods of the Canaanites among whom they lived. Far from this securing their acceptance, they found that without the Lord they were suppressed by the Canaanites who probably feared the presence of these foreigners in their land as Pharaoh had feared their ancestors in Egypt. Like the Egyptians, the Canaanites had a well organised army with chariots and horses. The army of king Jabin included nine hundred chariots fitted with iron and was under the command of Sisera.

After twenty years of oppression, the Israelites cried out to the Lord for his help and he raised up a judge to lead them. The judge was a prophet called Deborah – Israel was to be led by a woman, chosen and equipped by God. At God's command, Deborah called upon Barak, a leader from the tribe of Naphtali, to gather together an army of ten thousand men from the northern tribes of Naphtali and Zebulun and to go out to fight against Sisera. Barak is given a promise from the Lord that Sisera, his army and his chariots will be delivered into the hands of Israel.

But Barak won't go unless Deborah goes with him; it's as if the word and promise of God are not enough for him; Deborah wants him to put himself in harm's way so, he would seem to argue, Deborah must go with him and share his fate. Deborah is ready to go with him but declares that because of his request, the honour of defeating Sisera will not be his; the Lord will deliver Sisera into the hands of a woman.

And that's what happens. Sisera went out to meet the army of Barak and was defeated. As his men were being put to the sword, Sisera jumped from his chariot and fled on foot from the battlefield. He took refuge in the tent of Heber the Kenite since Heber was a friend of Jabin, the Canaanite king of Hazor whom Sisera served. Heber was evidently not at home, but Sisera was welcomed into the tent by his wife Jael who gave the exhausted man milk to drink and a blanket under which to rest. Soon he was asleep, at which point Jael took a tent peg and a stone for a mallet and drove the peg through Sisera's temple and into the ground below. Sisera was dead, killed at the hands of a woman.

In Israelite society, women were not expected to take a lead, but God raised up Deborah to lead Israel and uses a foreign woman to destroy the commander of the Canaanite army. Ironically, it is only Barak who gets a mention among the heroes of faith in Hebrews 11:32, even though his faith appears rather wobbly in this account of him in Judges. But the clear lesson here is that God does things in his own way – in unexpected ways – to demonstrate his own power.

Do we have clear and fixed views about the way in which God has to work to establish his kingdom? Do we have fixed ideas about leadership among the people of God? God may confound our small opinions by working in ways we do not expect and by raising up leaders whom we would not have chosen. God is not limited by our small expectations, nor will he confine himself to channels of our choosing. He acts as he pleases and always to bring glory to his own name. So are we ready to recognise those through whom God chooses to work and display his own grace and power in our own day – whoever they may be?

Sovereign God, shatter my rigid expectations. May your Spirit open my eyes to discern those in whom and through whom you choose to work for the establishment of your kingdom. Help me gladly to play my own subordinate part in your work, remembering always that "yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever."

Peter Misselbrook