“Then sang Deborah and Barak the son of Abinoam on that day, saying . . .”
“Awake, awake, Deborah:
Awake, awake, utter a song:
Arise Barak, and lead thy captivity captive, thou son of Abinoam.”
With these words Deborah and Barak memorialized the first awakening of opposition to the Canaanites who for twenty years had oppressed them in their own land. Those were hard years and the people suffered greatly; but spiritual life flowed at a low ebb, and there was not a man found in Israel with courage to stand in the name of God against this enemy. Dumb with unbelief, the people suffered in silence, until at last a small voice began to be heard. It was the voice of a woman. Deborah, sitting under an oak between Ramah and Bethel, was judging the people. She spoke to the people concerning the Word of God and His law as it reproved them for the sins of their lives. And it was not long before she spoke out also on the great issue of Canaanitish oppression that weighed upon the land. She told the people without wavering that the hand of the Lord had caused this because of their sin. She urged them unto repentance, until they turned to their God in prayer, crying for forgiveness. It was then that the voice of God came as it were to say, “Awake Deborah . . . Awake Barak . . . Lead thy captivity captive!”
But it was not as though this awakening came easily. The spiritual torpor of the people had been very great and they were not very readily aroused from it. Even those who maintained spiritual sensitivity did so in silence and had not the courage to speak out for their God. Only a woman dared to speak and to remind the people of their heritage. Oh, the people listened. Their suffering had been too great to ignore the words of Deborah. They even turned in repentance to cry to the Lord for deliverance. But still there was no one who dared to stand up in opposition to Jabin the king of Canaan.
It was finally Deborah who acted. She called to her Barak the son of Abinoam out of Kadesh-naphtali. Deborah called him because he was known to be a man of outstanding faith, and to him she said, “Hath not the LORD God of Israel commanded, saying, Go and draw toward mount Tabor, and take with thee ten thousand men of the children of Naphtali and of the children of Zebulon? And I will draw unto thee to the river Kishon Sisera, the captain of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his multitude; and I will deliver him into thine hand.”
But Barak was a man of his age. It was a day in which discretion was rated above courage or faith, and it did not look very possible for Israel to throw off the yoke of Jabin. He hesitated and halted and finally said to Deborah, “If thou wilt go with me, then I will go: but if thou wilt not go with me, then I will not go.” It is very likely that he thought this would be a sure way to get out of going to battle himself. In that day when there was hardly a man ready to go out to battle, it must have seemed all but impossible that a woman would be ready to go.
But Deborah was a prophetess of God and a woman of faith. Quickly she answered, “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.” It would stand to the disgrace of the men of Israel forever that because of their lack of courage this battle would begin and end through the agency of women.
But nevertheless Barak was committed. Soon the call went out for those who would come to battle from Naphtali, from Zebulun, and from all of Israel. There took place what was described by Deborah in the next stanza of her song.
“Then came dour a remnant of the nobles and the people:
Jehovah came down for me against the mighty.*
Out of Ephraim was there a root of them against Amalek;
After thee, Benjamin, among thy people;
Out of Machir came down governors,
And out of Zebubcn they that handle the pen of the writer.
And the princes of Issachar were with Deborah;
Even Issachar, and also Barak;
He was sent on foot into the valley.”
So the people of Israel were gathered once again for battle. From many different tribes they came to stand behind Deborah.
But still it was only a remnant which came. The nation was weak, and for everyone who came there were others who remained behind. This too Deborah pointed out in her song.
“For the divisions of Reuben there were great thoughts of heart.
Why abodest thou among the sheepfolds,
To hear the bleatings of the flocks?
For the divisions of Reuben there were great searchings of heart.
Gilead abode beyond Jordan:
And why did Dan remain in ships?
Asher continued on the sea shore, and abode in his breaches.”
In all of Israel but two tribes stood out as exceptions. Of these too Deborah sang.
“Zebulun and Naphtali were a people that jeoparded their lives
Unto the death in the high places of the field.”
Thus at last a force of fighting men were gathered behind Deborah and Barak. They were actually not many, about ten thousand men, while Jabin had in his army almost a thousand chariots of iron besides his host of regular soldiers. It must have appeared almost absurd as the two forces took positions over against each other upon the great battlefield of Megiddo. Jabin’s army under Sisera was large, trained, and well armed, while Israel under Barak was but a crude group of common men. All of the old fears began to creep up on the men of Israel again as they stood silently waiting. Once more it was Deborah who had to supply the spark of courage as she cried out to Barak, “Up; for this is the day in which the LORD hath delivered Sisera into thine hand: is not the LORD gone out before thee?”
With that Israel advanced and the battle was joined. It was a great and amazing battle, not because of the valor of men, but because God came and added His forces. Listen to Deborah’s description.
“The kings came and fought,
Then fought the kings of Cancan
In Taanuch by the waters of Megiddo;
They took no gain of money.
They fought from heaven;
The stars in. their courses fought against Sisera.
The river of Kishon swept them away,
That ancient river, the river Kishon.
O my soul, thou hast trodden down strength.
Then were the horse hoofs broken by the means of prancing,
The prancing of their mighty ones.
Curse ye Meroz, said the angel of the LORD,
Curse ye bitterly the inhabitants thereof;
Because they came not to the help of the LORD,
To the help of the LORD against the mighty.”
Here was a battle worthy of note. The men of Israel fought, but it was not they who turned the tide. The very elements of nature descended upon Sisera and his host. Thunder, lightning and rain beat upon them mercilessly. It appears that the very stars of heaven, meteorites, bombarded them. Against such forces even their chariots of iron were of no avail. In but a short time the Canaanites were scattered and put to flight. But still the powers that strengthened Israel were not done with them. The streams of the valley, now swollen by the storm, took hold of them as they tried to cross. By Kishon thousands were drowned. Meanwhile the forces of Israel remained untouched. Victoriously they pursued their enemies.
But still one important phase of the battle remained. Sisera, the captain of the Canaanitish army, soon felt the battle turn against him. Leaving his chariot he turned to flee upon foot. As long as he was not taken, the victory of Israel could not be considered completed. It was not long before he had left the battle site behind and was approaching the safety of his home land. But God guided his feet that he came past the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite. The Kenites were a wandering people, and Jabin had never oppressed them, so that to Sisera this seemed a safe place to rest. What he did not realize was that the Kenites were also descendants of Abraham through Keturah, and that Jael was bound to the Israelites with the strongest of all bonds; she believed in Israel’s God. This led up to the well-known event concerning which Deborah sang in the closing verses of her song.
“Blessed above women shall Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite be,
Blessed shall she be above women in the tent.
He asked water, and she gave him milk;
She brought forth butter in a lordly dish.
She put her hand to the nail,
And her right hand to the workman’s hammer;
And with the hammer she smote Sisera, she smote of his head,
When she had pierced and stricken through his temple.
At her feet he bowed, he fell, he lay down:
At her feet he bowed, he fell:
Where he bowed, there he fell down dead.
The mother of Sisera looked out at a window,
And cried through the lattice,
Why is his chariot so long in, coming?
Why tarry the wheels of his chariots?
Her wise ladies answered her,
Yea, she returned answer to herself,
Have they not sped? have they not divided the prey;
To every man a damsel or two;
To Sisera a prey of divers colors,
A prey of divers colors of needlework,
Of divers colors of needlework on both sides,
Meet for the necks of them. that take the spoil?
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.”
As God had said, it was into the hands of a woman that the final victory was given.
“And the land had rest forty years.”
* The translation of this verse we take from the R.V.