Sunday, October 14, 2018


The time of the judges is a time of struggle in the Promised Land. It is a time of great swings in the levels of morality of the Israelites. The people would go through periods when they fell into great sin, which led eventually to blatant idolatry. Because of this, they also repeatedly suffered through times of disciplinary actions sent to them by God. This God did by means of oppressors from outside of their country.

Then, when the people saw the error of their ways, God would raise up a judge to rescue them. We are not told a great deal about some of the judges; for some of them we have only a sentence or two. But for others, we learn a little more of their stories.

As I mentioned in the previous post, the era of the judges is a violent period. We see violence both on the side of the oppressors and on the side of the judges and the Israelites. Perhaps our natural tendency is to reject all of it as being an aspect of life that is primitive and beyond which we have grown. We think more highly of ourselves. “We are more civilized than that today!”

But in saying this, we miss the allegorical point of the entire book of Judges.

Throughout the book we see the Israelites fall into sin. These sins grew beyond a simple fact of the people committing sins. The sins eventually grew to the point of where the sin owned the people, not the other way around. This is the allegorical point of idolatry. It is sin that controls us, not we controlling the sin.

“Idolatry like that doesn’t happen in the civilized society of today,” you may be saying.

The Apostle Paul would not agree. In all of his letters to the churches of his day, by different words and in many ways, he was trying to get them to be serious about their lives with Christ. He was demonstrating to them the dangers of playing with sin. Here is what he says in one of his letters: 

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. It is on account of these that the wrath of God is coming (Colossians 3:5-6 emphasis added). 

As we consider these stories in the book of Judges, do not simply look upon them as violent times which are beneath your dignity. There is no such thing as a dignified sin, and if we think that the wrath against sin shown to us in the book of Judges is extreme, wait until you see wrath of the Lord as it will eventually be shown in the last days against all that is unholy and depraved. (See, for example, Zephaniah 1; Isaiah 13; Revelation 16, 19) 

The First Judges
The first Judge for Israel was a man named Othniel. This first judge delivered his people from the king of Aram, who had oppressed Israel for eight years. Othniel went out to battle against this king and the Lord gave the king into his hand. Afterwards, there was peace for forty years. 

But then Othniel died, and the people once again fell into wickedness. God again allowed a neighboring king to oppress them. This king was named Eglon. He was the king of the Moabites. Eglon forced the Israelites to pay tribute to him for eighteen years until they finally again cried to the Lord for deliverance.

God raised up a new judge by the name of Ehud. Ehud made a special double edge sword about eighteen inches long which he was able to conceal under his cloak. On the pretense that he was coming to Eglon to bring him a tribute, the guards allowed him into the king’s chamber.

Now, Ehud was a left-handed man and carried his sword on the opposite side of his body than most men. Because it was concealed in his robe and because it was on the opposite side as expected, the guards apparently did not detect it. Certainly they lacked some training.

Ehud came to the king and announced that he has a secret message for him. The king, eager to hear this bit of secrecy, instructed all of the guards to leave the room.

When the two men were alone, Ehud approached the king, and with his left hand he reached across his body to where his sword hung on his thigh, and thrust the blade into the king’s belly. The sword went in so deep that even the handle entered the puncture. King Eglon was an extremely fat man, and the fat folded around the fatal wound. It all does not sound like something any of us would want to witness.

Ehud was able to make his escape, because the guards, thinking that the king wanted his privacy, failed to enter the chamber for some time. Ehud returned to his home and there rallied the Israelites from the hill country to follow him and strike down the Moabites, which they did. 

Again, the Israelites had rest from their enemies—this time for eighty years. This was quite a long period of peace for the people, but the cycle eventually again repeated itself. Because of the sins of the Israelites, God allowed another nation, this time the Philistines, to oppress them.

The oppression during this time was so severe that people were afraid to travel on the roads, and instead took to using winding paths, hidden from the view of the Philistines. The Israelites began to abandon the villages, afraid to live in unwalled and undefended places. They instead moved to what was for them the more secure cities. The villages fell into disrepair (Judges 5:6-7).

Another judge arose to rescue the people. This man was named Shamgar, who delivered Israel by striking down six hundred Philistines with an oxgoad.

Three men, three judges, three deliverers. The next deliverer would not be a man. 

Enter: Deborah
On the next occasion, the Israelites were being oppressed by the Canaanite king named Jabin, who had military force that included nine hundred chariots armored with iron. The commander of these forces was Sisera, a man who would soon be memorialized in a way that he would not approve.

We pick up the account in the book of Judges, chapter four: 

Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time. She used to sit under a palm tree that was called, “The Palm of Deborah,” and which grew in the hill country of Ephraim between Ramah and Bethel. There, the people of Israel came up to her for judgment.

She sent and summoned Barak the son of Abinoam from Kedesh-naphtali and said to him, “Has not the Lord, the God of Israel, commanded you?”

“The Lord has said, ‘Go, gather your men at Mount Tabor, taking 10,000 from the people of Naphtali and the people of Zebulun.’” (Judges 4:4-6) 

In Deborah we see a unique example of a judge of her time. In saying this, I do not mean that she was a woman instead of a man, although that also was unique among all the judges. But the other thing about her that was unique was that she did not gain her position by securing a victory over the oppressor of her time, or by any use of force.

Deborah did not come to be respected by others because of these reasons. She gained her position of leadership simply because she was a woman of great wisdom and insight, and one to whom people would come to ask for judgments on disputes that arose among them. As far as we are told from the account, she alone was the person to whom the people could look for guidance from God. She was the judge for her time. She is the only judge mentioned that was actually an adjudicator, making judgments on matters that affected the people.

But there was an oppressor in those days—Jabin, king of the Canaanites. Finally, after twenty years of enduring the cruel oppression from the Canaanites the Israelites realized their sin and cried out to the Lord for help.

Hearing their cries, the Lord sends to Deborah the prophetess instructions for their deliverance. Deborah in turn sends for a man named Barak to lead in the coming battle against the Canaanites. We do not know whether Barak was any kind of an army commander when Deborah gave him the call, but if he was not, he was soon to become one.

Deborah delivers to Barak a message from God. “Go, take with you ten thousand men of Naphtali and Zebulun and lead them up to Mount Tabor. I will lead Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his troops to the Kishon River and give him into your hands. ” 

Barak: a Timid Namby-Pamby?
But Barak hesitated when he received this word. He said to Deborah, “If you will go with me, I will go, but if you will not go with me, I will not go.”

Perhaps our first thought about this is that Barak was insecure about the situation and that he needed the reassurance of Deborah. Perhaps his faith was weak, or so we may think.

However, we should not be too hasty in our assessment of the soon-to-be commander. Certainly we do not know the reasons for his wish for Deborah to come with him, but whatever we may think, a weakness of faith is not one of the reasons. Barak is listed as one of the men of Hebrews chapter eleven that are held up as having exemplary faith.

Perhaps (only perhaps), Barak wished for Deborah to receive her share of the credit for the victory that would come to the Israelites. At least I prefer to think of it in this way. Whatever the case, I think that we must say that Barak was not a timid man. When they did go to war, the 10,000 men went up “at his heels.” Barak led the way into the battle.

Deborah, for her part, also was not timid in her faith. She agreed to go with Barak, answering his request, “I will surely go with you. Nevertheless, the road on which you are going will not lead to your glory, for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.”

By her words, it seemed as though she intended to be the woman who was to execute the commander of the opposing army. 

War Metals
In reading the accounts of the battles of the Old Testament, it is very common to read of the honors that went to the soldier who struck the fatal blow to the king or the commander of the opposing army. Even in warfare today, great interest and effort is put into capturing or killing the president and the top generals of the opposing army. We remember the military of the United States during the Iraq War assigning the “Most Wanted Iraqi Military Personnel” to values of a deck of playing cards; Saddam Hussein given the Ace of Spades.

When Barak and the 10,000 other men went to battle, Deborah did not stay under her palm tree. As she went to battle with Barak and the rest, it seemed as though she would be the one to fulfill her own prophecy. Was Deborah intending to receive the honors of striking down the commander of the opposing army?

Again, by the words that she spoke to Barak, it would seem so. But Deborah was not looking for recognition from her countrymen and countrywomen. She herself knew that she was not speaking about herself. She would not be the one to strike down Sisera, the commander of the Canaanites. 

The Battle
Barak led his army to camp on the slopes of the mountain called Tabor. I think this was a strategic move, because Sisera could not use his nine hundred chariots in those conditions. Those iron war machines were meant for fighting mainly on flat, open ground.

Nevertheless, if Sisera and the Canaanites were to be defeated, the Israelites would have to eventually face them head on as the Canaanites rode in their engines of battle armored with iron. Sisera brought his chariots to the river at the foot of the mountain and readied them for conflict. It was soon to come.

Deborah called to Barak, “Up! For this is the day in which the Lord has given Sisera into your hand. Does not the Lord go out before you?”

Barak stormed down the side of the mountain with the 10,000 men following him, and using only their swords as weapons, the Israelites routed Sisera and all his chariots. But it was not the swords alone that defeated the Canaanites. We also read that “The Lord routed Sisera and all his chariots and all his army before Barak.” 

The Song of Deborah and Barack
 Following the chapter of the book of Judges where we read the narrative of the battle, there is an account of the battle in poetic form. It is called, “Song of Deborah and Barak.” It is poetic language of course, so we cannot take everything as literal. Nevertheless, it seems that God used the forces of nature to defeat the Canaanites. Here is a portion of the poem: 

From heaven the stars fought, from their courses they fought against Sisera.
The torrent Kishon swept them away, the ancient torrent, the torrent Kishon.
March on, my soul, march on with might!Then loud beat the horses’ hoofs with the dashing, the dashing of his valiant steeds. 

From the mention of the “torrent of the river Kishon,” it seems as if there was a great flood, and the ground of the valley became so saturated with water and mud that it rendered the chariots immobile. When Sisera saw that his defeat was inevitable, he jumped off his chariot to flee on foot. Perhaps his chariot was stuck in the mud. 

Enter: Joel
Not far from that area was an Israelite man living with his family, one Heber the Kennite. For reasons unknown to us, Heber had separated himself from the rest of his tribe of the Kennites, and was living with his family in this remote area. Because he had made some kind of agreement with the Canaanite king, he was able to live there in peace.

Heber’s wife was named Jael.

As Sisera fled before the pursuing Barak, he came upon the tent of Heber the Kennite. Heber himself seems not to be home. His wife Jael however, was at home.

Jael saw Sisera coming and went out to meet him. “Turn aside, my lord; turn aside to me; do not be afraid.”

Perhaps Sisera knew of this home. If Heber had made a special arrangement with the king of the Canaanites to live in that area, he must have also been known by the commander of the king’s forces. If so, Sisera would have believed the home to be a refuge. The words of Heber’s wife confirmed it to him.

“Turn aside, my lord; turn aside to me; do not be afraid.”

Sisera was reassured by her words. He did turn aside and entered the tent in which they lived. Jael covered him with a rug to hide him. When Sisera asked for water, she instead gave him milk to drink. She wanted him to feel safe, but it was not his safety that she had in mind. Jael had an appointment that she intended to fulfill.

Sisera did feel safe in his hiding place. “Stand in the opening of the tent,” he told Jael. “If any man comes and asks if there is anyone inside, tell them ‘No.’”

So secure did Sisera feel, that he fell into a deep slumber.

When he was fast asleep, Jael knew what she had been given to do. She took up in one of her hands, one of the pegs that they used for securing their tent to the ground. In her other hand she took up a heavy mallet. She knew how to use them. She had done it many times in pitching their tent as they moved from place to place.

As Sisera lay in a deep sleep from weariness, in the same manner as Jael did when setting the tent, she placed the peg on the temple of his head, and with swift blows with her hammer, drove the peg right through his head and into the ground beneath.

As I said in the previous post, it was a violent time. 

The Song
Deborah and Barak’s poem sang of Jael’s deed:


Most blessed of women be Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite,
Of tent-dwelling women most blessed.
He asked for water and she gave him milk;
She brought him curds in a noble’s bowl.
She sent her hand to the tent peg and her right hand to the workmen’s mallet;
She struck Sisera; she crushed his head; she shattered and pierced his temple.
Between her feet he sank, he fell, he lay still;
Between her feet he sank, he fell;
Where he sank, there he fell—dead. 

The Allegory
Surely this is a story of the two heroines of the Israelites, Deborah and Jael. If nothing else, the story gives us an example of God putting into the hands of these two women the task of defeating the evil of their day. This alone should make it a worthwhile study, although most parents probably would not like to use the deed of Jael driving a tent peg through the skull of a sleeping man as an example to their small daughters.

But this story is larger than the mere fact of God giving these tasks to women instead of to men. Like all of the stories in the book of Judges, it is a story of defeating evil. It is a story about defeating the idolatry in our own lives that has grown to the point where it owns us.

We may think that actions such as pinning the head of a man to the ground by driving a tent peg through his temple, or plunging a two-edged sword into a belly of a fat man somehow beneath our sense dignity. We cannot condone such violence.

But therein is the problem with evils that we harbor in our own lives. We fail to take firm actions to defeat these evils.

Notice in this poem of Deborah and Barak how it lingers on the actual death sequence: 

She struck Sisera; she crushed his head;
She shattered and pierced his temple.
Between her feet he sank,
He fell,
He lay still;
Between her feet he sank, he fell;
Where he sank, 
There he fell—dead. 
Notice that as far as what actually occurred, this is not even an accurate account. Sisera did not “sink” between the feet of Jael. He did not “fall.” He was already lying on the ground when she killed him. The words we that read here are put in poetic form not to give us a literal historical account of what happened, but in order to emphasize and accentuate the fact of putting idolatry to death.

If there is a sin that is oppressing us, we do not make an “alliance with it,” as did Heber, the husband of Jael with the Moabites. We all must realize that we do not “harbor” sins in our lives. There is no such thing as a “secret sin.” We do not control our sin. We do not simply commit sin when we want to. It is the sin that will eventually control us, if it does not already.

Jael realized this even though her husband did not. There is no better allegorical illustration about what we must do to our own private idolatry than the action taken by the woman Jael. She drove a tent peg through the head and pinned it to the ground.

There it lay—dead.

If firm and decisive action is not taken against sin, it will continue to oppress us. Jael took firm action; so must we.

It is also what the Apostle Paul said in various places: 

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. (Colossians 3:5 ESV) 

Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light. (Ephesians 5:6-8 ESV) 

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Colossians 3:1-4 ESV)


The time has arrived for us all to get serious about defeating the sin in our lives.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.