Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, now that Ehud was dead. So the Lord sold them into the hands of Jabin king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor. Judges 4:1-2a
Ehud had delivered Israel from Eglon king of Moab and the Israelites lived in peace for eighty years. The Israelites, who should have been thankful to the LORD for their safety and the abundance of the Promised Land, instead returned to their wicked ways and idolatries after the death of Ehud.
In an act of divine discipline, the LORD allowed the Canaanites to subjugate the Israelites. Jabin king of Canaan ruled in Hazor which was a stronghold in the mountains of northern Canaan. “Jabin” was a royal title like “Pharaoh” the ruler of the Egyptians or “Abimelech” the ruler of the Philistines.
Sisera, the commander of his army, was based in Harosheth Haggoyim. Because he had nine hundred chariots fitted with iron and had cruelly oppressed the Israelites for twenty years, they cried to the Lord for help. Judges 4:2b-3
Sisera, the commander of the Canaanite army, was based in Harosheth Haggoyim. Haggoyim means the nations other than Israel. Harosheth means clay or potsherds. “Clay nations” is a metaphor for nations with no solid spiritual foundation. Clay is like adobe and adobe houses over time erode and eventually wash away. Potsherds are fragments of pots. Pots of clay can become broken over time and can eventually erode back into the earth from where they came.
On the other hand, Israel is the only historical group of people which has endured through thousands of years of captivity and persecution, not as nations of clay, but as the Chosen Ones who are to occupy the Promised Land.
The nine hundred chariots of the Canaanites were covered with iron and armed with iron scythes or had iron scythes projecting from the axle on each side, by which opposing infantry might be easily cut down or thrown into confusion. The army of Sisera had cruelly oppressed the Israelites for twenty years. In desperation, the rebellious Israelites finally cried out to the LORD for help.
Now Deborah, a prophet, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading 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 went up to her to have their disputes decided. Judges 4:4-5
Deborah was a prophetess and the fourth judge of Israel. דבור (Devorah) means “bee” in Hebrew and comes from the root רבד (Davar), meaning to speak or pronounce. Davar means more than just to speak or say, it means the vocal conveyance of a whole message. Deborah is a fitting name for a prophetess whose words could sting like a bee in order to bring a message of rebuke to the tribes of Israel who had returned to their apostasy and were being cruelly oppressed by the Canaanites.
Deborah held court between Bethel to the north and Ramah to the south under the Palm of Deborah in the hill country of the tribe of Ephraim. As a prophetess, she was inspired by the Holy Spirit with wisdom and understanding to settle disputes and decide on legal matters.
She sent for Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali and said to him, “The Lord, the God of Israel, commands you: ‘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.’” Judges 4:6-7
As an oracle of the LORD, Deborah spoke with divine authority when she summoned Barak.
Barak means “lightning.” He was the son of Abinoam. The name Abinoam consists of two elements. The first element is the word אב (ab), meaning father. The second part of the name Abinoam comes from the root-verb נעם (naem), meaning to be pleasant or beautiful. Barak was from a city in Naphtali called Kedesh which is a name associated with Kadesh. The name Kadesh comes from the verb קדש (qadash) to be consecrated, hallowed or sanctified.
Naphtali and Zebulun were two tribes located in north central Israel. Barak was to lead 10,000 men from these tribes up to Mount Tabor. The broad flat top of this strong, beautiful, and easily fortified mountain (which is nearly a mile in circumference) would serve the double purpose of a watch-post and a stronghold. It was in the district of Issachar, about six miles from Nazareth. Mount. Tabor sits at the eastern end of the Jezreel Valley.
Barak said to her, “If you go with me, I will go; but if you don’t go with me, I won’t go.” Judges 4:8
Although Yehovah Elohim (the LORD God) had commanded Barak to lead the fighting men from Naphtali and Zebulun into battle against Sisera and the Canaanite army, Barak refused to go unless Deborah went with him. It may have been wise of Barak to ask Deborah to come with him. Yet, the fact that he demanded it showed that he trusted more in Deborah’s relationship with God than with his own relationship with God.
“Certainly I will go with you,” said Deborah. “But because of the course you are taking, the honor will not be yours, for the Lord will deliver Sisera into the hands of a woman.” So Deborah went with Barak to Kedesh. There Barak summoned Zebulun and Naphtali, and ten thousand men went up under his command. Deborah also went up with him. Judges 4:9-10
Deborah agreed to accompany Barak, but because of Barak’s lack of faith in God, she told him credit for the victory would not go to him, but to a woman.
Barak summoned the men of Zebulun and Naphtali, either by the sound of a trumpet, as Ehud did, or by sending messengers to them. Barak then led ten thousand men up to Mt. Tabor and Deborah accompanied them.
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.
When they told Sisera that Barak son of Abinoam had gone up to Mount Tabor, Sisera summoned from Harosheth Haggoyim to the Kishon River all his men and his nine hundred chariots fitted with iron. Judges 4:11-13
Heber the Kenite was a descendant of Reuel the Midianite, the father-in-law of Moses. He had separated himself and his wife Jael from the other Kenites and pitched their tent in the plain of Zaanaim, which is near Kedesh in the tribal territory of Naphtali.
The migration of Heber the Kenite, with a portion of his tribe, from the south of Judah to the north of Naphtali had clearly taken place recently. It may have been caused by Philistine oppression. The news of the great muster of the Israelites at Kedesh had been carried to Sisera by some members of this tribe.
The army composed of men from the Israelite tribes of Naphtali and Zebulun had gathered on Mount Tabor. The Canaanites were assembled at Harosheth Haggoyim (likely on the opposite side of the Jezreel Valley).
Then Deborah said to Barak, “Go! This is the day the Lord has given Sisera into your hands. Has not the Lord gone ahead of you?” So Barak went down Mount Tabor, with ten thousand men following him. At Barak’s advance, the Lord routed Sisera and all his chariots and army by the sword, and Sisera got down from his chariot and fled on foot. Judges 4:14-15
Barak led the Israelite charge of 10,000 men against Sisera’s army. It seems that the LORD’s intervention on behalf of the Israelites was in the form of a rainstorm causing the Kishon River to flood which made chariot travel for the Canaanites extremely difficult.
Barak pursued the chariots and army as far as Harosheth Haggoyim, and all Sisera’s troops fell by the sword; not a man was left. Judges 4:16
As the chariots became bogged down in the mud they would overturn and the charioteers would be easy prey for the Israelite foot soldiers.
Sisera, meanwhile, fled on foot to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, because there was an alliance between Jabin king of Hazor and the family of Heber the Kenite. Judges 4:17
With his troops slain by the sword, Sisera needed refuge and a hiding place. He fled to the tent of Heber’s wife Jael because Sisera’s king had made an alliance with the family of Heber. The environment of the desert and arid land in most of the Middle East is harsh. For a traveler, access to water and food was a matter of life and death. Most settlements were built near available water or wells. Yet, it was also important for the settled community to have protection. As a result, strict codes of conduct developed to govern such encounters. These conventions of hospitality also applied equally to the nomads who lived in tents as they followed the grazing herds. They were obligated to provide for travelers that stopped at their tents, and under these customs could expect some protection from hostile actions from the “stranger.” The host was obliged to provide the traveler with food, water, and shelter. Especially because of the peace agreement between the Canaanites and Heber, Sisera was able to appeal to the wife of Heber to take him in.
Jael went out to meet Sisera and said to him, “Come, my lord, come right in. Don’t be afraid.” So he entered her tent, and she covered him with a blanket.
“I’m thirsty,” he said. “Please give me some water.” She opened a skin of milk, gave him a drink, and covered him up. Judges 4:18-19
Sisera was physically and emotionally exhausted and thirsty. Although he had asked for water, before covering Sisera with a blanket, Jael had given Sisera some warm milk to ensure that he would sleep well.
“Stand in the doorway of the tent,” he told her. “If someone comes by and asks you, ‘Is anyone in there?’ say ‘No.’” Judges 4:20
Sisera wanted to ensure his safety in case some Israelites came looking for him amongst the tents of Heber’s family. Believing that he would not be discovered, Sisera could let his guard down and fall asleep.
But Jael, Heber’s wife, picked up a tent peg and a hammer and went quietly to him while he lay fast asleep, exhausted. She drove the peg through his temple into the ground, and he died. Judges 4:21
Although the conventions of hospitality and the alliance between Jabin king of Canaan and Heber the Kenite militated against an act of hostility to a guest, Sisera was an enemy of Israel and the Heber was a descendant of Moses’ father-in-law.
Nomadic tents were larger than most modern tents, having two separate sections, front and back. The front section was used for work. It was the public area of the tent, open to visitors. The men of the family lived here, gathered here with family members or friends, and conducted business if necessary. The men ate their meals in this area. The front part of the tent would be left open in warm weather. The second or rear part of the tent was private. A dividing curtain separated it from the front area. It was here that the women, children and babies lived and slept. Tents were made from goats’ hair or dark sheep’s wool, woven in rectangular strips on large looms. Women wove the fabric for the tents, stitched them together, and kept them in good repair. In effect, they were the craftspeople who produced the housing.
They also set up the tents each time the clan/tribe moved to a new site. They selected a suitable site, then using wooden mallets and tent pegs they hoisted up and secured the unwieldy tents. When it was time to move on, they took down the tents, folded them and stowed to for the journey.
Jael used the privacy of her tent and her skills setting up tents to hammer a tent peg through the skull of her sleeping enemy.
Just then 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.” So he went in with her, and there lay Sisera with the tent peg through his temple—dead. Judges 4:22
The glory of having slain the general of the enemy passed to a woman. Barak did not achieve this honor because he was not willing to go into battle without Deborah at his side.
We will see that the wooden stake piercing through the head of the enemy of God’s Chosen People due to a woman is a prophetic picture according to the following scriptures:
So the Lord God said to the serpent: “Because you have done this, you are cursed more than all cattle, and more than every beast of the field; on your belly you shall go, and you shall eat dust
all the days of your life. And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.” Genesis 3:14-15
The serpent had deceived Eve into eating the forbidden fruit. A woman’s sex cell is an egg or ovum. It is the male sex cell which is usually referred to as the seed. The seed of the woman is a prophecy of the virgin birth of Messiah. His heal will be struck at the crucifixion when his feet will be pierced through by a spike.
They came to a place called Golgotha (which means “the place of the skull”). Matthew 27:33
The place of the skull is where the execution stake was hammered into the ground. Jesus was attached by nails. He was laid on the ground, with his shoulders on the crossbeam. His arms were held out and nailed to the two ends of the crossbeam, which was then raised and fixed on top of the vertical beam. His feet were then nailed down against this vertical stake.
When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. John 19:30
At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.
When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!” Matthew 27:51-54
Golgotha resembled a skull. The most common symbolic use of the skull is as a representation of death and mortality. When Adam and Eve sinned it brought sin and death into the world. When Jesus had finished His work of redemption and had paid our sin debt in full, He died. The vertical beam of Jesus’ cross was a wooden stake hammered into the ground. The earthquake split the place of the skull, the symbol of death. This scene is a symbolic picture of the fulfillment of the prophecy that the seed of the serpent would bruise the Messiah’s heel but the seed of the woman would bruise the head of the serpent.
On that day God subdued Jabin king of Canaan before the Israelites. And the hand of the Israelites pressed harder and harder against Jabin king of Canaan until they destroyed him. Judges 4:23-24
On that day God orchestrated that Jabin king of Canaan would be killed by the Israelites. Israel was finally free after 20 year of being subjected to his cruelty.
According to Josephus, “Barak also fought with Jabin at Hazor; and when he met with him, he slew him: and when the general was fallen, Barak overthrew the city to the foundation, and was the commander of the Israelites for forty years.”
Israel was finally free after 20 year of being subjected to his cruelty.