WEEKLY SUNDAY SCHOOL LESSON
An international Sunday school lesson commentary
Over 131,000 readers worldwide
DEBORAH AND BARAK
(Real men don’t hesitate when GOD calls)
After the death of the Israelite judge, Ehud, the people, once again, returned to their evil ways and practices. And so the LORD handed them over to King Jabin of Hazor, one of the more powerful Canaanite nations in that day. His army was headed by a general named Sisera, who lived in Harosheth-haggoyim, a town in Galilee, on the north bank of the Kishon River near Megiddo. Sisera was a ruthless general who commanded a force of about 900 chariots, and he had taken pleasure in oppressing the Israelite people for about 20 years.
Here in Judges 4, verses 8-9, and also in Judges 5, verses 8-9, it is strongly suggested that there had been a total breakdown, and indeed, an absolute void in male leadership and responsibility in Israel during this era of the Judges. Even in the homes in Israel, men were scarce, and some men had even abandoned their homes altogether (Judges 4:11). Deborah was the wife of Lappidoth, but the Scriptures here make no mention of where he is.
The Old Testament account of the life of Deborah serves to illustrate the important truth, that, what qualifies an individual for leadership in the eyes of GOD, is not always sexual gender, but rather, it is one’s personal, experiential relationship with HIM that makes one the most worthy to lead HIS people. It is whoever is willing to make themselves available for service to GOD, that HE uses. In fact, it doesn’t even have to be a “human being” at all. GOD can and will use anything, and everything in HIS creation to get HIS Will done. HE has everything in existence at HIS disposal.
Even in a male-oriented society, women with exceptional personal and spiritual qualities have often risen to leadership roles, and in Deborah’s case, her impact is only partly explained by her call as a prophetess. Here GOD also uses her life and leadership to repair “the male leadership breakdown in Israel”, as she was given the ability to instill male self-worth and confidence back into Barak and the men of that generation during her 40-year stint as judge over GOD’s chosen people.
In Judges 4:8-9 we get a vivid picture of the esteem in which Deborah was held by her community. There we see Barak literally refusing to go to battle and face Israel’s enemies unless Deborah personally went with him. This type of reaction by Barak demonstrates the dominant role that Deborah had achieved in Israel’s previously male dominated society.
Deborah’s acceptance as leader in ancient Israel came at a time when such roles were not extended to women at all. However, her example in this space and time in Israel’s history shows that GOD uses those individuals who are pleasing to HIM, regardless of race, gender, economic status, or even national origin. This account of events in Israel at that time serves to remind us men that, if we don’t step into, and accept our GOD-appointed creation role in society, then GOD, can and will, replace us with our female counterparts, on any occasion.
The events of chapter 4 takes place in the hill country of Ephraim, between Ramah and Bethel. Taking up at verse 4, Deborah, summons Barak from his home in Kedesh of Naphtali and informs him that GOD had commanded that he assemble 10,000 men from the tribes Naphtali and Zebulun to go to war. And even though GOD promises him victory over King Jabin and Sisera, he refuses to go to war unless Deborah goes with him. Deborah agrees to go with him, but tells him that, because of his wimpy response to not go to war without her, GOD would ultimately give the honor for the victory to a woman.
The Israelites, however, went on to defeat King Jabin’s army of 900 chariots, killing all of his soldiers in the process. GOD, confounded Israel’s enemies that day with earthquakes and rain storms, causing their chariots to get stuck in the mud, and some, maybe, to fall through the cracks in the earth.
Sisera, however, was able to escape, and he ran to the tent of Jael, who was the wife of Heber the Kenite, who was a friend of King Jabin, to seek refuse there. Jael was alone at the time, because Heber had moved away from his family, and pitched a tent by the oaks of Zaanannim, near Kedesh (v.11). She invited Sisera in and pretended she wanted to be his ally, but, little did Sisera know, that Jael had something else in mind. She, in fact, was setting him up to take his life.
Jael accommodated the exhausted Sisera with water, warm milk, and a blanket, and he quickly fell asleep, being set at ease by her refreshments and polite and gracious hospitality. However, soon after he fell asleep, it gave Jael opportunity she needed to fulfill her plan. She quietly crept upon him with a hammer and a tent peg, and she drove the tent peg through his temple, and into the ground, killing the general instantly.
And so Deborah’s prophesy rang true as she had spoken it earlier to Barak, when she said, “the LORD’s victory over Sisera will be at the hands of a woman”, because he refused to go to war without her being at his side holding his hand (Vs.8-9). And so, on that day, the LORD released the Israelites from 20 years of oppression at the hands of King Jabin and Sisera, through the craftiness of the woman, Jael.
Barak learned that, when GOD is your ally, you don’t need to, on your own, choose anyone else to help you fight, and win your battles. When you listen to GOD, and HE gives you instructions, HE already has put into place, everyone, and everything, that you need to succeed. You don’t need to add your two cents, or try to change or tweak HIS instructions in any way. In fact, you don’t even need to completely understand them at the time that HE presents those instructions to you, but rather, you just need to respond positively on faith.
The reason GOD allows us to go through seemingly hopeless situations is that HE is trying to train us to rely on HIS power to deliver us, and not on our own impotent “human ingenuity”. From that day forward, Israel grew stronger and stronger, and Barak went on to become a man who had great faith in GOD (Hebrews 11:32), not Deborah.
Ironically, this story in the lives of Barak and Deborah begins and ends with men hiding behind the skirt tails of women. It begins with Barak hiding behind Deborah, and it ends with Sisera hiding behind Jael. Judges chapter 4 is clearly an account in biblical history where women are forced to take the lead because men had taken themselves out of the “creation roles” that GOD had placed them in.
Here Israel found itself under oppression because no man was willing to step up and follow GOD completely, nor, were they even willing to stand up for their own country and families (Judges 5:7-9). It is often said, that, “some things we bring upon ourselves” because of our “fear”, “neglect”, or “ignorance”. Israel’s men had grown so far away GOD spiritually, that, HIS natural order and intentions for them had actually taken a “satanic flip-flop” (the opposite of GOD) in society, pretty much the way it is now, here in this 21st century America. Too many men no longer want to fulfill their role as family, civic, and Church leaders, and so women have to, in order to survive.
A Sunday school lesson by,
Larry D. Alexander