The Book of Judges, Chapter 4


We left chapter 3 with the account of Shamgar, who must have been either a contemporary of Ehud or Deborah, or both.  We see him mentioned later on.

Chapter 4 begins with the usual telling of “the children of Israel again did evil in the sight of the LORD” (v 1).  We are also told this was after “Ehud was dead.”  So, God “sold them into the hand of Jabin king of Canaan, that reigned in Hazor” (v 2).  We once again see the active participation of God putting them into the hands of another power.

Joshua also fought against a King Jabin in Joshua 11.  This has led some to claim that the Book of Judges is “confused”.  However, we see this occur many times in Scripture, and the most obvious answer is that it was a title rather than a name, similar to Pharaoh of Egypt.  The Institute for Creation Research website under “Jabin king of Canaan” says:

The new “Jabin” of Hazor had apparently rebuilt this capital city of northern Canaan after Joshua’s earlier victory there (Joshua 11:1, 10) and had gained control of much of northern Canaan. The name “Jabin” has actually been found in an inscription from Mari, near the Euphrates River.

This account is perhaps a century after Joshua’s encounter.

The geographical dispersion of the participants is also worth noting.  On the blog The Disciplined Order of Christ, we read in “From First Apostasy to Deliverance from Jabin: 3:7-5:31”:

In chapter four we find the story of Deborah, followed in chapter five with a song of triumph from her victorious days. Let me first set forth some of the geography.  Hazor where Jabin reigned was located north of the Sea of Galilee, which is quite far north.  Deborah on the other hand was judging Israel “between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim” (vv. 4-5.  Thus she was serving far to the south. Barak, whom Deborah chose to lead the army of Israel (v. 6), was from Kedesh in Naphtali, which was a little northwest of lake Hula, not far from Hazor in the north.  So once again there appears to be more unity among the tribes during the days of the judges than is sometimes thought.

The KJV says Sisera, Jabin’s general, lived in “Harosheth of the Gentiles”, which is Galilee, or specifically upper Galilee.

In v 4, we see again a reference to “iron chariots”.  Again iron and metal objects would have been under control by the oppressing nation.  It also indicates some sort of mental obsession with superior weaponry.  Yet, God is still God, and He delivered them from Pharaoh’s chariots when they left Egypt.

David certainly understood that it is not superior weapons that deliver, and he was a man of war.

 7Some trust in chariots, and some in horses: but we will remember the name of the LORD our God.

8They are brought down and fallen: but we are risen, and stand upright.

Ps 20:7-8

We also see in v 4 that this period of oppression lasted twenty years.  While there were different ranges of time, the tendency seems to be for longer and longer periods of servitude.

We are now introduced to the judge that God rose up at this time.

 4And Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, she judged Israel at that time.

Jdg 4:4

This is interesting in several respects.  The most obvious, of course, is that Deborah was a woman.  Actually, that probably shouldn’t be all that interesting, but the fact is that many view the Bible and the men who wrote it as “sexist”.  When most people think of the disciples of Jesus, they don’t think about the “Female disciples of Jesus”.

That doesn’t mean that women can fill all roles, especially in the Church, nor should it.  It also doesn’t negate the fact that in many ancient cultures, women were regarded as second class citizens in even some of the more progressive societies.  Certainly throughout the history of the Middle East and as recorded in the Bible, we often come across that.  At the time of Jesus, women weren’t even considered suitable witnesses in a court of law, which is why Jesus showing Himself first to a group of women would have been shocking to many.

So, there is no command that women couldn’t lead an army, but it would have been assumed at that time that men would do the fighting.  So, she calls for Barak to lead the army.

Yet, Deborah was not just a judge but a prophetess.  This is important as well.  We tend to think of prophets as being outside of both the civil and religious governments, shouting pronouncements of doom upon king and priest alike.  Here, however, we see someone who fulfills both the role of prophet and judge.

This calls into question the entire notion that prophet is a position or rank.  If Deborah filled both roles of judge and prophet, then obviously prophet is not a rank.  Therefore, it is unlikely to be one in the Church as well, which means Ephesians 4 is not a ranking of positions but a list of roles.

 11And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;

12For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:

13Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:

Ep 4:11-13

It is important that we do not strain so hard to look for what isn’t there that we miss the entire reason for the passage.  What do these roles accomplish?  The perfecting of the saints, the work of the ministry (servanthood) and the building up of the Church (the body of Christ).  All of this should lead to unity of the faith and the knowledge of Jesus.  This should eventually lead to being perfected even to measure up to Christ Himself!  Talk about a tall order!  Yet, are we focusing upon that when we read this passage?

Instead of getting lost in the weeds, perhaps we should start taking some of HWA’s advice: “The main things are the plain things, and the plain things are the main things!”

 5And 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.

Jdg 4:5

EW Bullinger seemed to think this was the burial site of Deborah, nurse of Rebekah (Ge 35:8).  However, the word for “oak” and “palm” is different, so that seems rather speculative to me.

 6And 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?

7And 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.

Jdg 4:6-7

“Barak” means lightning.  Some believe he may have been a Levite, since he comes from Kedesh, one of the cities of refuge.  However, you may recall that the Levites were not numbered among the Children of Israel for war by Moses (Nu 1:47-49; 2:33).  Also, the Levites took care of the Tabernacle even during war (Nu 31:47).  That would seem to virtually rule out his being a Levite.

Notice that she “called Barak”.  This could mean a proclamation or it could mean a summons!  However, the manner in which she puts it to Barak seems to indicate an overt politeness.  “Hath not the LORD God of Israel commanded…?”  On the one hand, she has a message for him, but on the other hand, she doesn’t want to offend him.

Is he offended?  Perhaps.

 8And 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.

Jdg 4:8

Some have attributed this reaction to fear, as though he was “hiding behind a woman’s apron strings”.  However, it may have been that he didn’t trust Deborah.  Or, he may have considered an insult to be summoned by a woman.  Yet another plausible reason is that he thought with Deborah there, it would be more likely that God would grant him victory.

 9And 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.

Jdg 4:9

Some have interpreted this as: “See?  He hid behind a woman’s apron strings, so now he will not receive the honor of killing his enemy.”  However, we see no indication that Barak was upset by this revelation.

It is likely that Barak assumed Deborah would be the woman.  Since she was already prophet and judge, and thus highly esteemed, it probably wouldn’t have been an insult to him if she were to have killed the enemy.  Of course, it didn’t work out that way.

Sometimes, what we read and hear about what will happen creates an image in our mind that is very different than what eventually occurs.  Prophecy is often that way.  The Pharisees assumed certain things that did not line up with the real Messiah when He stood before them.  They did not recognize Him because they assumed they were right in every little detail about what was supposed to occur.

Can that happen to us?  1975, anyone?

And so, Deborah accompanies Barak, who takes 10,000 men with him to Kedesh.

 11Now Heber the Kenite, which was of the children of Hobab the father in law of Moses, had severed himself from the Kenites, and pitched his tent unto the plain of Zaanaim, which is by Kedesh.

12And they shewed Sisera that Barak the son of Abinoam was gone up to mount Tabor.

Jdg 4:11-12

The above is a bit jumbled in the KJV.  The NIV translates it:

 11 Now Heber the Kenite had left the other Kenites, the descendants of Hobab, Moses’ brother-in-law, and pitched his tent by the great tree in Zaanannim near Kedesh.

12 When they told Sisera that Barak son of Abinoam had gone up to Mount Tabor…

Why would relatives of Moses now be informants for the enemy?  We cannot be sure, but there does appear to be tension even early on:

 29And Moses said unto Hobab, the son of Raguel the Midianite, Moses’ father in law, We are journeying unto the place of which the LORD said, I will give it you: come thou with us, and we will do thee good: for the LORD hath spoken good concerning Israel.

30And he said unto him, I will not go; but I will depart to mine own land, and to my kindred.

31And he said, Leave us not, I pray thee; forasmuch as thou knowest how we are to encamp in the wilderness, and thou mayest be to us instead of eyes.

32And it shall be, if thou go with us, yea, it shall be, that what goodness the LORD shall do unto us, the same will we do unto thee.

Nu 10:29-32

Moses engages in a little “arm twisting” it seems to get Hobab to join in with Israel and be scouts for them.  Did this later turn into resentment?

 16And the children of the Kenite, Moses’ father in law, went up out of the city of palm trees with the children of Judah into the wilderness of Judah, which lieth in the south of Arad; and they went and dwelt among the people.

Jdg 1:16

Here, we see a separation during the time of Joshua.  While it initially doesn’t jump out that they “dwelt among the people”, seeing as so did much of Israel, it could indicate that they lived among the inhabitants of the land rather than among the Israelites.  Early on that the rift may have widened after the death of Moses.  After about a century, a lot of other things could have happened to make it into a chasm.

So, Sisera gathered 900 chariots of iron and went out to engage their adversary.  Deborah tells Barak to go up to meet him because God has delivered Sisera into his hand.

“Is not the LORD gone out before thee?”  she asks.  This seems like encouragement, but it also sounds like something she is pointing out that should be obvious.  We don’t get the details quite yet, but it is obvious from chapter 5 that God indeed did go out before Barak and softened up Sisera quite a lot.

 15And the LORD discomfited Sisera, and all his chariots, and all his host, with the edge of the sword before Barak; so that Sisera lighted down off his chariot, and fled away on his feet.

Judges 4:15

“Discomfit” is a military term.  “Routed” is what the NIV calls it.  We see here God’s active participation in the battle on behalf of Israel.

Needless to say, there are some important lessons we can learn from this and even to some degree apply in our lives.  Do we ask for God to “go out before” us?  To knock down all obstacles in our path?  To “route” the enemy, whatever that may be?  To “discomfit” our true enemy?

So, we see Sisera actively fleeing the battle.  However, Barak is occupied with the chariots (v 16) and pursues the army who is fleeing back to Galilee.  However, all of them are killed in battle.  So much for “trust in chariots” and being afraid of “iron chariots”.

Sisera finds his way to the Kenites.  Since the Kenites told Jabin about the plans of Barak, Sisera obviously knew where they were.  However, in the heat of battle, things can easily get turned around.  So, this suggests they may have been real allies (“for there was peace between Jabin the king of Hazor and the house of Heber the Kenite” v 17) and that Sisera knew how to get there even when fleeing for his life.  It also suggests real trust that they would let him hide out there.

However, it appears that Jael, Heber’s wife, did not share that trust for whatever reason.  She tells him to come into her tent for protection.  Now, considering all that has been said before, here is a general, a man of war, who really is hiding behind a woman’s apron strings.  He even asks for her to lookout for the approach of the enemy (v 20) and deceive any that come looking for him, thus protecting him.

So, Jael covers him up to make him warm (v 18).  He asks for water, and she gives him milk (v 19).  Now, there was no refrigeration back then, so at best it would have been warm milk.  It may have even been curdled like cottage cheese or buttermilk.

Warm blanket + warm perhaps fermenting milk = sleep like a baby!

Once he was out like a light, Jael made sure he was taken out permanently.  As he lay on the ground, she took a tent spike and hammered it into his temple until it went into the ground.

Notice, he died on the floor.  Every step of the way, he is descending.  He dies at the feet of his killer, he is so low.  The feet were the lowest part of the body and often the dirtiest.  That is symbolic.  That it be the feet of a woman would have been even more degrading in that culture, and it probably even had sexual overtones like many of the insults we have today are derived from such things (cf Dt 28:57).

Finally, Barak shows up (v 22).  Jael not only shows him where Sisera is but is obviously unashamed for killing him.  We are not told how Heber felt about it.

 23So God subdued on that day Jabin the king of Canaan before the children of Israel.

Jdg 4:23

Once again, we are reminded Who gets the credit.

Did Barak fight?  Did Deborah encourage?  Of course they did.  They did something!  However, as we will see next time in Judges 5, they gave God all the credit.

No matter how much you do, no matter how hard things are, no matter how much effort you give, it all comes from God.  The food that gives you the energy, the air that you breathe, the right people being there to encourage you, are all gifts from God.  Life itself is a gift from God.

The standard Church of God theology is not about salvation by works.  Even the work portion is from God.  No, instead it is salvation for good works (Ep 2:10; 2Ti 3:17; Tit 2:14; Heb 10:24;  cf Mt 5:16).

Chapter 4 ends with the annotation that the Children of Israel were able to destroy King Jabin.  Like Pharaoh of Egypt and the enemies Joshua fought, God removed the enemies of Israel.

Our enemy is no match for God, either.  We need to pray daily that the hand our our enemy is stayed from us and our loved ones, and that God will clear the way of obstacles that make us trip and fall.

The story of Barak and Deborah continues in Chapter 5.


John D Carmack

About John D Carmack

I am an avid computer geek and Christian. My parents were baptized in WCG around 1973, and a lot of it made sense even then. I went out "into the world" for a while, but God brought me back when the time was right. A true prodigal son, it has deepened my conviction that this world really does need the intervention of Jesus Christ to keep it from destroying itself.