NOTES on Hebrews
11:32-34 B (click here for
"Israel once again did evil in the eyes of the Lord. So the Lord sold them into the hands of Jabin, a king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor." (Judges 4:1,2)
Most of Israel's enemies were from outside the land they occupied. The Midianites, Moabites, Naharaimites, and Ammonites all tried to plunder Israel. They invaded and attacked for personal profit. The Canaanites, however, wanted more than plunder. They wanted their land back.
The Canaanites saw Israel as a serious threat to them. Israel was pushing them out of their own territory, and they wanted it back. Their uprisings and oppression were serious. They wanted Israel gone or else subject to them.
During the time of the Canaanite uprising recorded in Judges 4 and 5, "Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading [judging] Israel at that time. She held court under the Palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites came to her to have their disputes decided." (Judges 4:4,5)
Deborah was not the first prophetess in Israel, nor was she the last. Miriam, Moses' sister, was also a prophetess. (Ex. 15:20) Huldah was a prophetess who lived during the reign of good king Josiah, the one who re-introduced the law to the kingdom of Judah. Huldah prophesied God's destruction of the kingdom of Judah because of its idolatry, but she also promised that the destruction would not occur during Josiah's lifetime. (2 Kings 22:15-20)
Nehemiah mentions a prophetess named Noadiah who tried to intimidate him during his rebuilding of the wall around Jerusalem. She was one of several Israelites and Persians who were working against Nehemiah and trying to destroy him during the project. (Nehemiah 6)
Anna is another prophetess named in the Bible. She is the one who approached Joseph and Mary when they came to have Jesus circumcised at the temple. She knew who Jesus was, and she "spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem." (Luke 2:36-38)
Acts 21:8-9 also records that "Philip the evangelist, one of the Sevenhad four unmarried daughters who prophesied."
Barak, Thunderbolt for God
The fact, however, that Deborah led Israel during the time of the Canaanite uprising suggests that the Israelite men had become weak or intimidated.
Jabin the Canaanite king had struck terror into the hearts of Israel by "cruelly oppress[ing] the Israelites for twenty years," and by the fact that he boasted owning 900 iron chariots. (Judges 4:3) Nothing Israel knew could win against Jabin's chariots, and in their chronic lapse into idolatry, they forgot God's power and faithfulness to them from the beginning of their history. Israel was, apparently, demoralized.
One day Deborah sent for Barak from the town of Kedesh in the tribe of Naphtali. Kedesh was a town deeply affected by the Canaanite oppression.
She told him, "The Lord, the God of Israel, commands you: 'Go, take with you ten thousand men of Naphtali and Zebulun and lead the way to Mount Tablr. I will lure Sisera, the commander of Jabin's army, with his chariots and his troops to the Kishon River and give him into your hands." (Judges 4:6,7)
Barak, whose name means "thunderbolt", responded in a most un-thunderlike way; "If you go with me, I will go; but if you don't go with me, I won't go." (Judges 4:8)
Barak, as well as the rest of Israel's warriors, was afraid to go to battle against Sisera. Their timidity was the result of not trusting God. Barak had become enmeshed in the Canaanite religion as had most of the rest of the nation, and his disregard for God left him defenseless against outside power. Sisera and those 900 iron chariots no doubt terrified him, and without the conviction that God would fight his battle as he had fought for Israel from the beginning, Barak had no courage. He refused to go to battle unless Deborah went with him.
Barak's fear was not excusable. Deborah agreed to go to battle with him, but she rebuked Barak.
"Very wellI will go with you. But because of the way you are going about this, the honor will not be yours, for the Lord will hand Sisera over to a woman." (Judges 4:9)
For a warrior to refuse to fight unless a woman accompanied him, even if she was the mouthpiece of God, was an act of cowardice. For an Israelite to behave with such fear was shameful because Israel should have trusted in the proven power and love of God. God had always dealt with their enemies, and they needed to believe in him now.
Barak would lead the attack against Sisera, but he would reap the shameful result of his cowardice: he would not bring down his opponent, the Canaanite general. A woman would do that.
In turning their backs on God, Israel had not only lost their material blessings and their freedom. They had lost their moral courage, and the Israelite warriors were impotent.
God's Flashing Sword
Early in Israel's history, after God had led the nation through the Red Sea and killed the pursuing Egyptians, Moses and Miriam composed and sang "The Song of Moses" celebrating God's mighty acts in Israel, in the world, and in eternity. The first record of this song is in Exodus 15:1-18. It occurs again in Deuteronomy 32:1-43. Much of the song consists of God's words declaring his eternal majesty and power.
In Deut. 32:40-42, God says, "I lift my hand to heaven and declare: As surely as I live forever, when I sharpen my flashing sword and my hand grasps it in judgment, I will take vengeance on my adversaries and repay those who hate me. I will make my arrows drunk with blood, while my sword devours flesh: the blood of the slain and the captives, the heads of the enemy leaders."
Moses culminates this declaration with the words, "Rejoice, O nations, with his people, for he will avenge the blood of his servants; he will take vengeance on his enemies and make atonement for his land and people." (Deut. 32:43)
This passage from the Song of Moses was a promise for the future as well as a confirmation of the past. God was declaring his eternal purpose to declare righteousness and to bring judgment upon evil in the world. God was stating that he would defend his people throughout all time; those who hate his people hate him, and he would defend his own and destroy his enemies.
Barak, the thunderbolt, is part of the fulfillment of God's promise to avenge his people. Barak the Thunderbolt was God's "flashing sword" (Deut. 32:41) which God said he would sharpen in order to "take vengeance" on his adversaries. Barak needed sharpening, and when God grasped him in judgment on evil, he began both Barak's sharpening and the Canaanites' punishment.
The metaphor of God's sword occurs several times throughout the Bible, and in each case it reveals God's power over evil. In the story of Gideon, when the 300 men rushed the Midianite camp, they shouted, "A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!" (Judges 7:20) None of the Israelites carried a sword, but their obedience in blowing their trumpets, burning their torches, and shouting functioned as God's sword, and God caused the Midianites to turn on each other with their own swords. God's "flashing sword" defeated the Midianites, not the swords of the Israelites.
Isaiah prophesied, "In that day, the Lord will punish with his sword, his fierce, great and powerful sword, Leviathan the gliding serpent, Leviathan the coiling serpent; he will slay the monster of the sea." (Isaiah 27:1) Isaiah is prophesying God's final judgment on evil. The symbol of Leviathan the sea serpent as a symbol of evil nations occurs several times in the Bible as well as outside the Bible.
Isaiah further prophesied, "See, the Lord is coming with fire, and his chariots are like a whirlwind; he will bring down his anger with fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire. For with fire and with his sword the Lord will execute judgment upon all men, and many will be those slain by the Lord." (Is. 66:15-16) About 700 years before Christ, Isaiah was prophesying God's final judgment on the world. Fire and God's sword will bring judgment upon evil.
One of the most comprehensive prophecies about God's sword is in Isaiah 34:4-6. "All the stars of the heavens will be dissolved and the sky rolled up like a scroll; all the starry host will fall like withered leaves from the vine, like shriveled figs from the fig tree. My sword has drunk its fill in the heavens; see, it descends in judgment on Edom, the people I have totally destroyed. The sword of the Lord is bathed in blood, it is covered with fat-the blood of lambs and goats, fat from the kidneys of rams."
This prophecy foreshadows John's prophecy in Revelation that the heavens and earth would be destroyed and new ones take their places. This passage in Isaiah uses the picture of God's sword sweeping the heavens, the sky disappearing, the stars falling and dissolving. God's sword will drink its fill in the heavens and will descend to destroy his enemies on earth.
God's judgment is not directed against individuals. It is directed against evil, and anything tainted by evil, God will destroy. Even the physical world we can see including our solar system and galaxy, this text suggests, will fall under God's sword of judgment.
Ephesians 6:14-17 explains how new covenant followers of Christ can actually have the power of the "sword of the Spirit" in them always. God has granted his church the privilege of carrying his "flaming sword" into the world. Evil cannot overcome us when we are in Christ, equipped with his sword.
Revelation 19:11-16 describes Jesus as the warrior who comes to mete out final judgment. A double-edged sword comes from his mouth.
John tells us in Revelation 15:3 that the saved will all sing "the song of Moses the servant of God and the song of the Lamb. The song of Moses and the song of the Lamb are the same: it is universal praise for God's mighty deeds and sovereignty. The declaration of his justice and power that Moses and Miriam sang will finally be fully fulfilled when Jesus metes out final judgment.
When we see Barak through the understanding of God's sovereignty, we begin to understand why God used that timid thunderbolt as a partial fulfillment of the divine flaming sword. God sets up lives, kingdoms, powers-the universe itself. God alone sustains life, and God alone brings ultimate judgment on evil. God doesn't need our strength to do his work. He didn't need Barak to be a strong warrior in order to defeat the Canaanites.
God involved Barak in his sovereign plan to undo Sisera because God wanted Barak and all Israel to return to trusting Him. The stories of God's redemption had grown impersonal and distant to the Israelites. The immediate gratification of the local hedonistic worship seduced them away from him, and when Israel finally hurt too much to continue being oppressed, God kept his word and redeemed them. But God's redemption never saves us only from our physical hardships. His redemption brings us face to face with him so he can establish relationships with us.
God's redemption of Barak and the rest of Israel brought them face-to-face with his sovereign power. He woke Israel up from its apathy and weakness and gave them, again, an identity as His people, the people of the almighty sovereign God. They could not be passive in the presence of God's miracle of might. They had to take a stand and be identified with Him.
Judges 4:11 introduces a somewhat enigmatic bit of information. "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."
The name "Kenite" suggests that these people were metalworkers, and the name "Heber" means ally. It seems that the descendants of Hobab, identified in Numbers 10:29 as Moses' father-in-law as opposed to brother-in-law as it says in Judges 4:11, were allied with Israel from the days of Moses. The Kenites, as they became known, were apparently friends of Israel for generations.
Heber, apparently, had abandoned his people's loyalty to Israel and had joined the Canaanite king Jabin. Those 900 iron chariots no doubt looked like great job security to Heber the metalworker, and he became a traitor. It is likely that Heber was responsible for informing Sisera of Barak's muster of the troops and of his position atop Mount Tabor.
Sisera rallied his men and his 900 chariots and went out to meet Barak. He positioned himself in the Kishon River valley.
Deborah the prophetess gave Barak the command to "Go! This is the day the Lord has given Sisera into your hands. Has not the Lord gone ahead of you?" (Judges 4:14)
As Barak and his men descended Mount Tabor, God sent panic into Sisera's army, and they "abandoned their chariots and fled on foot." (Judges 4:15) The source of the panic was, apparently, a huge storm, and the Kishon River flooded and "swept them away". (Judges 5:21)
The army was destroyed, but Sisera fled for his life. He ran to the tent of Heber the Kenite's wife Jael "because there were friendly relations between Jabin king of Hazor and the clan of Heber the Kenite." (Judges 4:17)
Jael herself is something of a mystery. There is some possibility that she might have been an Israelite. At any rate, she did not seem to share her husband's willingness to betray Israel to the Canaanites. Whether she was simply staying loyal to her people's ancient alliance of friendship or whether she was actually an Israelite, we don't know. But she performed her own betrayal that counteracted her husband's double-cross.
When Sisera appeared, fleeing in mortal panic, she invited him into her tent. Near Eastern custom did not allow any man to enter a woman's tent except her father or her husband, but Jael offered her tent to Sisera as a place to hide.
"Come, my lord," she said convincingly, "come right in. Don't be afraid." (Judges 4:18)
She covered him, and when he asked for water, she got out a goatskin and gave him milk to drink.
Sisera instructed her to stand in the door of the tent and to deny seeing him if anyone asked, and he promptly fell asleep.
Jael, however, being a woman and thus having the tools of tent-pitching at her disposal (pitching the tents was the job of the women), took advantage of her opportunity. As Sisera lay asleep, Jael drove a tent peg "through his temple into the ground, and he died.
"Barak came by in pursuit of Sisera, and Jael went out to meet him. 'Come, she said, 'I will show you the man you're looking for.' " Barak followed her into the tent, and there he found the body of Sisera. (Judges 4:21-22)
Barak the thunderbolt had indeed led Israel into God's battle which defeated the Canaanites and their 900 iron chariots. But a woman, Jael, actually killed the enemy general, and God himself caused the Canaanites to turn on themselves and to be lost in the floodwaters of the Kishon River. The sudden flood that trapped and destroyed Sisera's army undoubtedly helped to convince the Canaanites that God was sovereign even over Baal. Once again he demonstrated that he was God over the waters.
This defeat of Jabin's army permanently settled the strife between Israel and the Canaanites.
Two Wrongs Make Right?
Heber the Kenite betrayed his people's historic alliance with Israel and helped to expose their tactics to the enemy. Heber's wife did not agree with Heber's betrayal, and when Sisera appeared at her tent, she deceived him so she could kill him. Her deception counteracted her husband's deception. In fact, her deception put her in a position to fulfill Deborah's prophecy that God would deliver Sisera into the hands of a woman.
God is sovereign. He did not need Jael to kill Sisera. He did not need Barak to lead the army, either. But God's ultimate goal is to reveal himself to the world, to demonstrate his power and sovereignty and majesty and grace. He chose to reveal his power over the military might of Jabin, Sisera, and 900 iron chariots. Instead of arbitrarily killing the Canaanites, God led Israel into a confrontation with them. He used the flawed, weak, deceptive, and fearful people that he had on his side to work out his redemption of Israel. God received the credit for the Canaanites' defeat; even though Barak led the troops and Jael killed Sisera, it was God who won the battle.
History will remember that Barak was fearful and weak, so a woman took the final glory in the battle against Canaan. But more than that, Hebrews says Barak lived by faith. Between Barak's weakness and Jael's deception, God didn't have very good representatives to stand for him during the conflict. But God's goal was to restore community between himself and Israel, and he used the people he had, flawed as they were, to reveal himself. He redeemed their weakness and sin and transformed them into a victory for his people and a renewed covenant relationship with them.
Heber and Jael were both wrong. They behaved treacherously toward people who trusted them. But God turned their treachery into a victory for himself. Barak was fearful and weak, but God transformed his timidity into faith, and he used him to lead Israel to victory.
God knows your weaknesses and your vulnerable spots. Those do not stop him, however, from calling you and giving you his work to do. God does not NEED you to accomplish his purposes, but he loves you and wants to include you in his work. Since God never solves only one problem at a time, whenever he calls you to work for him, he does not intend only to accomplish the job he places before you. He also intends to strengthen and heal you in ways that will become obvious as you respond to his call.
Sometimes our weaknesses and damaged spots are so deep that they don't become obvious unless circumstances specifically threaten them. God sometimes calls us to circumstances that will expose those weaknesses. In his sovereign love, God wants to redeem and heal us.
Jesus asks you not to fear letting him expose your secret weaknsesses before him. He wants to bring you to a place of truth and honesty about yourself. The freedom you will find when you admit your private defense mechanisms or manipulative methods or secrets that you've hidden will be far greater than the control you think you have while you deny the truth.
Truth, as Jesus said, sets us free. We can't truly experience freedom and wholeness until we admit our defects and allow God to heal them. As long as we rationalize them, they own us. Only when we release them in honesty to ourselves and to Jesus do they lose their hold on us.
Don't refuse God's call to do his work out of a sense of weakness or inadequacy or fear of being overwhelmed. Like Barak, you are one of God's people. If you fear the work he calls you to do, you are operating from moral weakness. Instead of trusting the God who chose you and saved you, you are functioning from the shame or fear that results from hiding the truth inside yourself.
Let God's call to you bring your hidden shame to the surface. Let his love guide you into letting the truth be known. Ask God to help you know what you need to know, learn what you need to learn; change in the ways he wants you to change. Ask God to bring into your life the people and the circumstances you need in order to experience God's love and God's call to integrity. Ask God to fill you with his Spirit, to bring you into reality and the light of truth.
God is faithful. He will bring truth and healing to your heart as you allow him to reveal himself in the place of your deepest shame. He will not reject you, but he will transform your moral flaws into monuments of faith. When you finally allow Jesus to lead you to the truth about yourself, you will never be the same again. His love and transformation will change your reality, and you will experience freedom and joy in a proportion you could not know otherwise.
Praise God for his relentless pursuit of us. Praise him for orchestrating circumstances in our lives to bring us into confrontation with the truth. Praise Jesus for redeeming our secret sins and wounds. Praise him for carrying our sorrows and our guilt. Praise the Holy Spirit for transforming us internally, for filling our wounds and broken places with love. Praise him for putting the reality of freedom and truth deeply into our hearts and making us people of faith instead of victims of shame and weakness.
Praise Father, Son and Holy Spirit!
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Studio, Redlands, CA USA. All rights reserved. Revised August 11, 2001.