Meditations on the Book of Judges: Deborah and Barak

Judges 4  •  9 min. read  •  grade level: 8
UG 4{Up to this time, God had, in judgment, delivered the unfaithful Israelites into the hands of outside enemies. A further proof of unfaithfulness on their part, is followed by more serious consequences. Jabin, king of Canaan, reigning in Hazor, with nine hundred chariots of iron, a terrible adversary, conquered Israel and oppressed them. In Josh. 11 we find an ancestor of this very Jabin, with chariots of war and the same capital. In those days Israel understood, under the mighty energy of the Spirit of God, that there could be nothing in common between them and Jabin. They smote him with the edge of the sword, after having burnt his chariots with fire, and they destroyed his capital. Whatever connection could there be between the people of God and the political and military world, whose dominion was to be erased from the map of Canaan? Alas, all is now changed, and Israel, unfaithful, falls under the government of the world. Hazor, their ancient enemy, arises from its ashes, is resuscitated; it is rebuilt within the limits of Canaan, and the people's inheritance becomes the kingdom of Jabin! This has its parallel in the history of the church, whose position at the beginning was one of entire separation from the world, consequently there was no thought of the latter being suffered to take any part in the affairs of the assembly. But the carnal state of the assembly at Corinth led one in its midst, who had a matter against another, to go to law before the unjust and not before the saints. (1 Cor. 6) "Do you not know," said the apostle, "that the saints shall judge the world? " And rebuking them he adds: " I speak to your shame." But what road has the church traveled since then? In reality it is the world that governs the church. " I know," says the Lord to Pergamos, "where thou dwellest, even where Satan's seat is." (Rev. 2:1313I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, even where Satan's seat is: and thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth. (Revelation 2:13)) Even in the great revival at the Reformation, saints had recourse to the governments of the world, and leant upon them. In the present day there are Christians who, when persecuted, instead of rejoicing to suffer for Christ's sake, claim protection from the powers that be. The judgment on the Hazor of Joshua is no longer anything but a remembrance. Israel served the gods of the Canaanites, having taken their daughters to be their wives and given their daughters to their sons. (Judg. 3:5, 65And the children of Israel dwelt among the Canaanites, Hittites, and Amorites, and Perizzites, and Hivites, and Jebusites: 6And they took their daughters to be their wives, and gave their daughters to their sons, and served their gods. (Judges 3:5‑6).) This union bore fruit, and Jabin oppresses the people who, whether they would or not, were forced to endure his rule.
Moreover, this was not the only symptom of Israel's low condition in these inauspicious days. For if outwardly they were ruled over by their enemy, what was the state of government within?, Committed to the hands of a woman! At the outset, as the Word of God teaches us, the oversight of the church locally was committed to elders, appointed for this purpose by the apostles or their delegates, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The order of the assembly, in that which pertained to it locally, fell to their charge. Dropping for a moment man's imitation of this divine institution, would there be any exaggeration in saying that the tendency to entrust government, wholly or partially, into the hands of women is becoming increasingly marked amongst the sects of Christendom in the present day? It is even boasted of, and Christians go so far as to state and seek to prove that such a condition of things is of God, and shows the flourishing state of the church. They quote Deborah in favor of their opinion, but let us see what she was like.
Deborah was a remarkable woman, a woman of faith, one deeply impressed with the humiliating condition of the people of God. She sees that it would be to the shame of the leaders in Israel, that God should entrust a post of public activity to a woman in their midst. She says to Barak: " I will surely go with thee; notwithstanding the journey that thou takest shall not be for thine honor, for Jehovah shall sell Sisera into the hand of a woman." (v. 9.) But, in all her exercise of authority for God, to the confusion of this people rendered effeminate by sin, Deborah maintains, in circumstances which might have proved a great snare to her, the place assigned by God in His Word to woman. She would not, otherwise, have been a woman of faith. This chapter gives us the history of two women of faith, Deborah and Jael. Each maintains the character in keeping with the position assigned by God to woman. Where does Deborah exercise her authority? Is she seen, as other judges, going in circuit over the land of Israel, or placing herself at the head of the armies? Nothing of the kind; and it is not without reason, it seems to me, that the Word says: " She dwelt. under the palm tree of Deborah....and the children of Israel came up to her for judgment." (v. 5.) Prophetess and judge though she was in Israel, she did not step out of the sphere God had assigned to her. Instead of going to Barak, she sent and called him to her where she dwelt.
Barak was a man of God, and accounted by the Word a judge in Israel. "The time would fail me to tell of Gideon, and of Barak, and of Sampson, and of Jephthae." (Heb. 11:3232And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gedeon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets: (Hebrews 11:32).) But Barak was a man lacking in character, moral energy and confidence in God. We must not expect in a day of ruin to see all the divine resources displayed in the instruments employed of God.
The laborers are few, but not only so, what little distinctiveness there is on the part of those who have the gifts of the Spirit, how little is their absence felt by Christians. Lack of character in Barak, made him wish to be the woman's helper, whereas Gen. 2:1818And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him. (Genesis 2:18) makes her the helper of the man. He degraded the office in which God had set him, and what was worse, he sought to take Deborah out of her place of dependence as a woman: "If thou wilt go with me, then I will go; but if thou will not go with me, then I will not go." (v. 8.) " I will surely go with thee," she replied. This she could do consistently with her place according to scripture. We read in later time of holy women who accompanied the Lord, becoming His servants in order to minister to His needs. Deborah's act was right, but Barak's motive was wrong, and Deborah rebukes him severely. (v. 9.) What was Barak's motive at bottom? He was willing to depend on God, but not without a human and tangible prop as well. There are many such souls in Christendom. There is, on their part, so little sense of the presence of God, so slight a knowledge of His will, so little decision as to their walk, that, in order to goon in the path of God, they prefer leaning on another to direct dependence on Him only. The counsel of "spiritual directors" is followed, rather than that of the Lord, His Spirit and His Word. What if the leader they follow be mistaken? But God, the Lord, His Spirit, His Word, are infallible Faithful Deborah does not encourage Barak in this wrong course, and Barak suffers the consequences of his want of faith.
He goes up with his army, and Deborah with him. Heber, one of the Kenites, of whom we have already spoken in Chapter 1, had, in these troublous times, seen fit to sever himself from his tribe, and pitch his tent elsewhere (v. 11). Now "there was peace between Jabin, the king of Hazor, and the house of Heber, the Kenite." (v. 17.)
Heber's act does not seem to have been one of faith. He separated himself from the people in their low estate so as to relieve himself of the responsibility of Israel's sorrowful condition. Moreover, he was at peace with the avowed enemy of his people; and he had so managed as not to be disquieted by Jabin. But a weak woman dwelt under Heber's tent, who refused safety at such a price, and did not acknowledge an alliance with the enemy of her nation. Israel had undivided possession of her heart. Barak gains the victory, and Deborah, this woman of faith, and mother in Israel, plays no part in it. Sisera's army is defeated; and he himself, forced to flee away on foot, comes to the tent of Jael, where he counts on finding a hospitable shelter. Jael hides him; he asks for a drink of water, and she gives him what was better, milk. She does not treat him at first as an enemy, but with pity; yet in presence of the enemy of her people she becomes pitiless. The instrument she used for Israel's deliverance was even more worthless than Shamgar's, for the only weapons she had were the tools of a woman who keeps the tent; it is with them that she deals the fatal blow to the head of the enemy. Jael, like Deborah and every woman of faith, does not go at all beyond her sphere. She carries out her work of vengeance inside her dwelling, with the arms with which the tent supplied her, and gains the victory there; for women are also called to face the enemy, though it be in the place and with the special weapons assigned to them by God. The faith of these women shines out in this chapter-Jael does not, like Barak, seek a helper; she depends entirely on the Lord. The secret of her action lies between herself and God. She handles the weapons belonging to her contracted sphere, as skilfully as a man could have done; for had her hand trembled in the very least, all would have been compromised. Alone (her husband, her natural protector, being absent), but with the Lord, she-one in heart with all the arrayed armies of Israel-fights under her tent. And Deborah in her song can say of her: "Blessed above women shall Jael, the wife of Heber, the Kenite, be; blessed shall she be above women in the tent." (v. 24.)
With what feelings of humiliation Barak must have gazed on Jael's victory, seeing a woman thus honored of God, in a path in which he, though leader and judge, had not wished to walk.
All honor to these women! God made use of them to arouse the children of His people to a sense of their responsibility, for once awakened: "they destroyed Jabin, king of Canaan." (v. 24.)
( Continued from page 120.) (To be continued, D.V.)