Judges 4 and 5 is an historical account of the victory of Deborah and Barak over Jabin and Sisera. Deborah was a prophetess in Israel, and unusually, a female judge. Barak was a Jewish military commander. Jabin was king of the Canaanites, and Sisera was the captain of the Canaanite hosts.
After twenty years of abuse by Canaanites in the Promised Land, Deborah and Barak arose to inspire Israel against her intimidating foes. Judges 4 is the prose account of their victory. Judges 5 is the poetic account, where the heavy accent falls upon praise to the Lord for remembering His people in His mercy. Take a few minutes to read these two chapters now.
Judges 5 describes Israel’s God as marching onto the battlefield and leading His people into war. At His very presence the creation itself trembles. The Canaanite army was doomed from the beginning.
This invisible Deity used visible means to accomplish His victory through judgment. Deborah is the main heroine and human leader. That shamed the Jewish men since she was filling the gap of their leadership failures. Her service also magnified God’s power because by her He proved He can deliver His people even by using “the weaker vessel” (1 Pet 3.7). No doubt many take offense at my saying so, but the biblical worldview of gender differences and roles (e.g., 1 Tim 2.12-13) helps us appreciate how this passage accentuates God’s glory. Barak went forth only because Deborah prompted and supported him. “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. 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” (Josh 4.8-9).
Another woman highly praised in this thanksgiving song is Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, identified in terms of her relationship to her husband, her better-known lord (1 Pet 3.6; cf. Eph 5.22-24). Judges 4 relates how that she was in the right place at the right time when the dreaded evil Sisera had fled the battlefield and sought refuge in her tent. Jael was God’s instrument of severe judgment upon him when she lulled him to sleep with milk and a soft place to lie. Wily Jael rendered the general completely unconscious and totally defenseless. Then with praiseworthy zeal she drove a sharp tent stake right through his temples into the ground. She gave him what he deserved and freed the Jews of him once and for all. Now Sisera suffers eternal humiliation. He did not die valiantly by the sword of a brave, muscular Jewish soldier. No. Household tools in the hands of a housewife have made him a mockery forevermore.
The exquisite poem of Judges 5 exults in all this to the praise of Israel’s warrior God, the true Captain of the Lord’s triumphant hosts. One lesson? Don’t mess with God and His people!
The poem’s closing touch describes Sisera’s anxious mother awaiting his return. “Why hasn’t he come home yet?” she muses. “Surely he is delayed because they are dividing the spoil taken from slain Jews. They are gathering virgins and expensive tapestries and souvenirs of their triumph. Soon he will be home,” this idol-worshiping mother assured herself. Little did she realize that the toddler she had reared into a prime servant of Satan had gone to meet his Maker. While she worried, his head was firmly attached, like the corner of a tent, to ground now soaked with his blood.
We should realize this grisly tale is all about Yahweh revealing His glory by the way He finally treats His friends and His foes. The hymn closes, “So let all thine enemies perish, O LORD: but let them that love him be as the sun when he goeth forth in his might.”
The Lord is calling us to self-examination. You either love Him or hate Him. Neutrality is impossible. As long as your heart is hostile, the record of this redemptive-historical event is the announcement of your doom. If you are fearing God and repenting of your sins, turning to Him for mercy now instead of waiting for what you deserve, then you have a clean record and a new heart. By the power and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, you have changed sides and become one of those who love Him and keep His commandments.
One dark day many centuries later, the only righteous man among us strode forth onto a battlefield of sorts and confronted the Devil directly. Christ came to receive the wounded heel prophesied long before, that He might crush Satan’s head (Gen 3.15). Jesus suffered excruciating agonies and incomprehensible anguish to redeem His chosen people. Not a housewife’s wooden mallet, but a Roman centurion’s cruel hammer was heard again and again on that day, noisily pounding sharp spikes through His hands and feet, and nailing Him to a cross as one condemned and accursed of God (Gal 3.13). Like Jael, that centurion was also God’s instrument of victory through judgment. “It pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief” (Isa 53.10). Jesus was crucified and slain by wicked hands as a fulfillment of God’s determinate counsel and foreknowledge (Acts 2.23). God’s spikes and hammers have delivered His chosen people once and for all.
You have not understood the gospel until you realize that Jesus was pierced in the place of the guilty. “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit” (1 Pet 3.18). This Savior who was crucified is now risen as the believer’s assurance of triumph over all enemies—sin, death, hell, and the devil. “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” (Rom 8.32).
So, which will it be for you, Sisera or the Savior? The tent stake through your skull, or union by faith with the crucified Christ? In Jesus’ name I forewarn you that God still has spikes and hammers aplenty for the vast multitudes who persist as His enemies.D. Scott Meadows, Pastor Calvary Baptist Church (Reformed) Exeter, New Hampshire USA http://cbcexeter.sermonaudio.com .