Notes for Judges 4:1-10
by Jonathan Spurlock
(Holts Summit, MO)
Judges 4:1, KJV: And the children of Israel again did evil in the sight of the LORD, when Ehud was dead.
This is another of the “cycles” of freedom-bondage-cry for deliverance-God gives freedom and then the people lapse into doing evil. The writer had mentioned these cycles in Chapter 2, and this encounter was the third in such a series.
If Ehud was the Judge for all 80 years the land had rest (3:30), he must have been an old man when he died. Estimating his age at 20 when he attacked Eglon, adding the 80 years of rest would mean he was near 100 when he died.
2 And the LORD sold them into the hand of Jabin king of Canaan, that reigned in Hazor; the captain of whose host (was) Sisera, which dwelt in Harosheth of the Gentiles.
Hazor was in the northern part of Israel, not too far from the northern border with Syria. According to Joshua 11, Israel had captured Hazor and destroyed the city, even burning it with fire. Apparently the Canaanites had reconquered the city and were strong enough to oppress Israel.
Part of northern Israel would later be called “Galilee of the Gentiles,” or, “the nations (compare Isaiah 9:1 with Matthew 4:15). Jabin, the king, made Hazor the capital, at least the headquarters; Sisera, the commanding general, lived in Harosheth (location is uncertain).
3 And the children of Israel cried unto the LORD: for he had nine hundred chariots of iron; and twenty years he mightily oppressed the children of Israel.
“Chariots of iron” are only mentioned a few times in the Old Testament. We do not know if the writer is referring to Jabin or Sisera as the one who had the chariots. One possible answer is that Jabin, the king, had either bought the chariots or had them built in his kingdom and Sisera, the commanding general, was the one who actually led the chariots into battle.
The chariots had a psychological effect on Israel, as well—the Israelites seemed to be scared of them!
4 And Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, she judged Israel at that time.
Deborah was one of the few women who were “prophetesses”; others included Miriam, Moses’ sister (Ex.15:20); the wife of Isaiah the prophet (Isa. 8:3; his wife’s name was not recorded); Huldah, many years later in the days of Josiah (2 Kings 22:14, 2 Chr. 34:22); and Anna, from the tribe of Asher who spoke of the Baby Jesus when Joseph and Mary brought Him to the Temple (Luke 2:36-38). Sadly there were a few false prophetesses, such as Noadiah, who tried to frighten Nehemiah (Neh. 6:14) and “Jezebel” who lived in Thyatira (Rev. 2:20).
Deborah was also the only female Judge in Israel.
5 And she dwelt under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in mount Ephraim: and the children of Israel came up to her for judgment.
It seems strange that Deborah lived in the land of Ephraim, many miles south of Harosheth and Hazor where the enemy headquarters seemed to be located. Deborah, the judge, also shared her name with Rachel’s nurse (Gen. 35:8); Rachel’s son, Joseph, was the father of Ephraim and Manasseh. The palm tree is mentioned here but the nurse, Deborah, was buried under an oak tree near Bethel. This may be nothing more than a coincidence.
6 And she sent and called Barak the son of Abinoam out of Kedeshnaphtali, and said unto him, Hath not the LORD God of Israel commanded, (saying), Go and draw toward mount Tabor, and take with thee ten thousand men of the children of Naphtali and of the children of Zebulun?
Barak lived in the land of Kedesh-Naphtali, one of the cities of refuge, located in “mount Naphtali in Galilee (Joshua 20:7, paraphrased)” and a city given to the Gershonites from the tribe of Levi (Joshua 21:32). Its exact location is not certain.
Note that Deborah sent (someone) to Barak with a message. Deborah lived in mount Ephraim (see verse 5); Naphtali’s land was in the northernmost region of Israel. The messenger may well have had to bypass the armies of Jabin and Sisera to get there. Deborah’s message was to head towards mount Tabor, about halfway between Ephraim and Naphtali, and to bring 10.000 men from Naphtali and Zebulun. Barak seems to have gone to Deborah’s territory.
At the last recorded census, Naphtali had 45,400 men aged 20 and older who were combat ready, so to speak, and Zebulun had 60,500 such men (Numbers 26: 50,26 respectively). This was before the conquests, however, and the population seems to have gone down severely, if 10,000 from both tribes were all that seemed able to fight. On the other hand, this may have been a test of Barak’s faith.
Would he be willing to go to battle with the amount of soldiers God specified?
7 And I will draw unto thee to the river Kishon Sisera, the captain of Jabin's army, with his chariots and his multitude; and I will deliver him into thine hand.
The river Kishon began near Mount Gilboa and flowed basically north-west into the Mediterranean Sea near Mount Carmel. Note God’s promise to Barak that God would deliver Sisera, the chariots, and all the rest (“the multitude”) into Barak’s “hand” or authority.
This is another occasion where the works of man (chariots, in this case), would be no match against the power of God! Chariots of iron, gigantic size (Goliath, later on), military strategy, or any other weapon formed against God’s people would never work unless God allowed it.
8 And Barak said unto her, If thou wilt go with me, then I will go: but if thou wilt not go with me, (then) I will not go.
Why Barak was so reluctant to take the lead or initiative is not specified. Even so, Barak was listed among the heroes of faith in Hebrews 11:32. God’s promises remain true even when our faith is weak.
9 And she said, I will surely go with thee: notwithstanding the journey that thou takest shall not be for thine honour; for the LORD shall sell Sisera into the hand of a woman. And Deborah arose, and went with Barak to Kedesh.
Deborah’s reply to Barak may seem strange to us. One possible interpretation is that Barak would never receive the honor for winning the battle and defeating a superior enemy force. Deborah also stated that the LORD would “sell Sisera into the hand of a woman”, meaning Sisera would not die in battle and that Barak could never take credit for ridding Israel of an enemy.
When Deborah finished this last message, she went with Barak to Kedesh, probably the same as Kedesh-Naphtali in verse 6.
10 And Barak called Zebulun and Naphtali to Kedesh; and he went up with ten thousand men at his feet: and Deborah went up with him.
He may have done this himself or he may have sent messengers throughout these tribes. Note that Deborah had instructed Barak to “take with (him)” 10,000 soldiers and that exact amount had arrived. Kedesh-Naphtali seems to be the headquarters or starting point for this battle. God was going to provide deliverance to Israel and He was going to use Barak and Deborah to make it happen.
Scripture quotations taken from the King James Version of the Bible (KJV).