Verses 1-10: After Ehud’s death, the children of Israel return to sin. The cycle continues. In this chapter, we have a singular story of faith and conquest. There are six main players. On one side we have Deborah, Barak, Heber and Jael. On the other side there is Jabin king of Canaan and Sisera.
Deborah is the current judge and a prophetess and she sits under the palm tree of Deborah, named after her. She is a prominent female leader in Israel at a time when other meaningful leadership was lacking. She sends for Barak and, speaking for the Lord, she tells him to prepare an army to go against Jabin’s army. Jabin had 900 iron chariots and had been oppressing Israel for 20 years.
Barak hesitates, showing a lack of faith. His apprehension can be best understood when one considers both the state of sinful Israel at the time and the strength of Jabin’s army. However, he does commit to the task once he has assurance from Deborah that she will join him in battle. Deborah also prophesies here that Sisera, the leader of Jabin’s army, will find his demise at the hand of a woman.
Verses 11-24: Enter Heber and Jael. Heber was distantly related to the Israelites, while also maintaining peace with Jabin. Once Heber’s people see Barak’s army, they inform Sisera and the battle begins.
Barak and his army push back and defeat the army handily, forcing Sisera to flee. He fled to Jael’s tent. Jael was Heber’s wife, so Sisera thinks he is safe to trust her.
Jael makes Sisera feel comfortable in her tent, covers him to hide him, and gives him milk to drink. He feels safe enough to fall asleep. But this is when Jael (and, more likely than not, the house of Heber), reveal loyalty. Jael drives a tent peg through Sisera’s temple with a hammer. This is how Deborah’s prophecy from verse 9 comes true. Israel grew ever stronger until they eventually destroyed Jabin.
This chapter is attractive because it is dramatic, but there is also strong themes of teamwork and united faith. Neither Deborah nor Barak were suited to defeat Sisera and Jabin alone, but together they succeeded mightily. Many parallels exist in God’s kingdom today. One by one, the members of the body of Christ may not add up to anything amazing, but together, we have strength. Together, Christians in God’s kingdom unite to glorify Him daily, each according to his or her part.
Some days we might feel like Deborah: confident and powerful. And some days we might feel like Barak: unsure and hesitant. Yet what we can take from Judges 4 is that it is the actions we take that matter most, regardless of how we feel about it. If we start from that place of faith, God can and will provide.
“that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ— from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.” Ephesians 4:14-16