SynopsisThis is an interesting passage, about Deborah—who is not a judge, but is a prophetess. However, judge or not, the passage is mostly about her.
Actually, in addition to being a prophetess, the NIV says that she was “leading” Israel at the time (verse 4)—however, if I’m reading the footnotes correctly, the Hebrew word can be translated either “leading” or “judging.” Most of the time, in the book of Judges, it is translated as “judging,” but here they chose to translate it “leading.” Maybe Deborah really was a “judge,” in addition to being a prophetess? Verse 5 tells us that Israelites come to her, to have their disputes decided, which sounds like what we would call a judge.
After Ehud’s death, once again the Israelites do evil in the eyes of the LORD. (Try to contain your surprise.) So, as usual, God lets the Israelites fall into the hands of Jabin, one of the kings in Canaan, who cruelly oppresses the Israelites for twenty years. The leader of Jabin’s army is a man named Sisera. (I mention that since his name will come up later.)
Deborah sends for a man named Barak, and tells him that the LORD is commanding him to take ten thousand Israelites with him, and battle Sisera, and that He will deliver the army into Barak’s hands. (Similar to my thoughts above, if Deborah is not Israel’s “judge,” then this would make Barak the judge. If she is, then Barak is just being called to lead the army. I’m just over-simplifying things.) Unfortunately, Barak doesn’t take to the command as heroically as he might:
Barak said to her, “If you go with me, I will go; but if you don’t go with me, I won’t go.”
“Very well,” Deborah said, “I 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.” So Deborah went with Barak to Kedesh, where he summoned Zebulun and Naphtali. Ten thousand men followed him, and Deborah also went with him.
So Barak and the Israelite army go into battle with Sisera, and defeat his entire army, leaving not a single man behind. Sisera, however, flees on foot, and ends up at the tent of a woman named Jael (wife of Haber), who is a Kenite. There are friendly relations between the Kenites and Jabin’s kingdom, so Sisera feels safe with Jael.
Jael goes out and tells Sisera not to be afraid, and that he can join her in her tent. She then hides him under some kind of covering. He also asks her for some water, since he’s thirsty, and she brings him some milk. He then instructs her to stand by the doorway of the tent, so that if anyone comes by looking for him, she can tell the person that there’s nobody in the tent.
However, when he falls asleep, she goes and gets a tent peg and a hammer, and drives the peg into Sisera’s temple—actually, right through his temple, to the ground below—to kill him.
Eventually Barak comes by, because he’s pursuing Sisera, and Jael goes out to get him, and brings him in to see Sisera. After this, the Israelites get stronger and stronger in opposition against Jabin, until they eventually destroy him.
ThoughtsI’m not really sure if it matters whether Deborah is Israel’s “judge,” or if Barak is. My inclination is that it’s probably just semantics; it’s obvious that she’s running the show, regardless of her actual title.
When Sisera asks Jael for some water, because he’s thirsty, she brings him some milk, instead. I’m not sure if there is something deep behind this; I’m wondering if she brought him the milk hoping that it would make him sleepy, so that it would be easier to kill him.