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Judges 4-5: A Story and and a Song Print E-mail
Sunday, 22 March 2015

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The truth is best expressed in various formats.  The variety of genres used in the Bible witnesses to this fact.  Sometimes the text is written in narrative to tell us the story.  Sometimes it is written in proverbs to pack a punch.  Sometimes it is written in poetry to grab our attention.  All of these and more are used in the Bible to teach us about God and His great story of our redemption.  By using these different genres the Bible gives us a complete picture of truth.  There are times when we need to hear the story and there are times when we need to hear the song.  We continue to use these various means to teach truth even today.  Beginning next week we will celebrate the final week of Jesus.  We will read the different stories of His triumphal entry, prayer in the Garden, death on Golgatha, and victory at the tomb.  We will be amazed again by the familiar words that tell of our salvation.  But we will not just hear the stories, we will sing them as well.  We will lift our voices and proclaim: “There in the ground His body lay, light of the world by darkness slain, then bursting forth in glorious day, up from the grave He rose again!” 1 Through story and through song we will celebrate the great work of our Savior.


Judges 4-5 celebrate God’s deliverance of His people from the Canaanites through both story and song.  Judges 4 gives us the details of what happened historically and Judges 5 gives us the praise and exaltation that resulted.  It is similar to what we see in Exodus 14-15 where the crossing of the Red Sea is followed by Moses’ song of praise.  God’s people have long responded to His salvation with songs of praise.  The story is incomplete without the song.  Of course, not every story of deliverance is followed by a song (although many of the psalms are indeed songs of praise for specific acts of Yahweh).  Still, the Lord saw fit to give us both in this particular instance.  So then, let’s consider them both this morning.

The Story (ch. 4)

The repeated cycle in the book of Judges begins again in verses 1-3.  Look at those with me.  The people do evil, God gives them over to their enemies (in this case Jabin and Sisera), and the people cry out for help.  We should note again that Israel doing evil meant worshipping Baal and forsaking Yahweh.  The Lord gave them over to the commander Sisera who oppressed the people of Israel cruelly for twenty years.  So what will the Lord do?  Will he hear their cry?  The rest of the chapter tells us.

The cycle continues with the Lord raising up a deliverer.  Yet, how He does it in this instance is unique.  Look at verses 4-5.  It seems the Lord had given Israel a prophetess at this time named Deborah.  The text seems to indicate, although some dispute this, that she was serving as the judge in Israel.  The people come to her for help since she is a prophet.  So what does she do?  Look at verses 6-7.  She sends for Barak and tells him that the Lord will use him to deliver the people, which is why some see Barak as the judge in this passage.  Yet, Barak’s response surprises us.  Look at verses 8-10.  Barak will not go without Deborah.  This could be a reflection of his cowardess or of his understanding that Deborah was the representative of Yahweh.  Perhaps it is a bit of both.  Either way, Deborah agrees to go with him but tells him that he will get no glory over Sisera’s defeat since the commander will actually be given into the hand of a woman.  All of this is intriguing and unexpected to the reader.  Barak, the military leader will not go fight without a woman and Sisera the commander will be given into the hand of a woman.  These details point us to the truth that God has a plan to deliver His people and He will use whatever means that He sees fit.

Before we are told about the battle, the author gives us another unexpected detail.  Look at verse 11.  Why in the world is this verse here?  When you are reading the story for the first time it seems completely out of place.  Yet, as the story moves on, the mentioning of Heber and his move north will prove significant.  Again, the Lord is bringing about His plan to save His people.

We are told of the victory of Israel in verses 12-16.  Look at those with me.  Sisera brings his army out to face Barak and his men and the Lord routed Sisera and all his chariots and all his army before Barak by the edge of the sword.  Sisera may have his 900 chariots but Israel has the strong arm of the Lord.  And chariots are no match for Him.  In just a few verses the whole battle is over and Israel is victorious.  God always wins.

But what about Sisera.  We are told that he fled away on foot.  So what happens to him?  Look at verses 17-22.  Can you see the story?  Sisera knows his army is defeated.  He leaves his chariot (probably stuck in the mud) and heads for the hills.  He is desperate looking for help wherever he can find it.  And he runs across the tent of Heber (remember that detail).  Heber’s wife, Jael, invites Sisera into the tent and seems to be the answer to all his troubles.  Little does he know that she has connections with the enemy.  She promises protection, gives him some milk and a warm place to sleep, and then drives a tent peg through his skull.  A new take on hospitality.  Then she goes out to Barak and lets him know what she has done.  When he enters her tent and sees Sisera nailed to the ground, I am sure he could hear Deborah telling him: ‘Nevertheless, the road on which you are going will not lead to your glory, for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.’  There was no denying that the prophecy was from the Lord.  The story is concluded in verses 23-24.  Look at those with me.  Once again the cycle is complete, God delivers the people from the hands of their enemy. 

The Song (ch. 5)

The story is completed in chapter 4, but the Lord completes the lesson in chapter 5.  Through vivid language and poetic emotion, the victory over Sisera and the deliverance of Israel is celebrated in the song of Deborah and Barak.  What does this song teach us?

First, it teaches us that the Lord gives Israel the victory.  We are told this truth in the telling of the story and now it is celebrated.  Look at verses 1-5.  One of my commentators notes: “The entire account is deliberately crafted to highlight the salvation provided by God.  He is the chief Operator, pulling the strings, raising generals, deploying armies, dictating strategy, and effecting victory.  In the end both narrative and song celebrate the saving work of Yahweh.”  The book is about God providing salvation for an undeserving people and we see that in this story and celebrated in the song.  Is Deborah the deliverer?  Is Barak?  Either way, the ultimate deliverer is the Lord.  He is the One who gives Israel the victory they need but do not deserve.

Second, some obeyed the call to fight while others did not.  This is a main theme in verses 6-23.  Deborah celebrates those who came to help in the battle against Sisera but she also rebukes those who did not.  Those who risked their lives are called noble (v. 13), while some of those who did not are actually cursed (v. 23).  Thus, even though it is the Lord that the song celebrates as giving victory to Israel, the writer recognizes the importance of taking responsibility to fight for the Lord.  The faithful tribes believed that the Lord would give them victory and so they went out and fought for Him.  Their obedience is celebrated along with the Lord’s victory.

Third, the friends of the Lord are blessed while the enemies are cursed.  We see this with the different tribes and we also see it with Jael and Sisera’s mother.  The song celebrates Jael and calls her blessed (v. 24-27).  Such a blessing is hard for us to see since what she did involved deception and a gruesome killing, not to mention pretty poor hospitality.  But what is being celebrated is that she defeated a cruel enemy of Israel.  I don’t think the Bible is necessarily calling for us to imitate her methods, but we are called to fight for the Lord like her.  She is blessed for this.  But the mother of Sisera is cursed and ridiculed.  Look at verses 28-30.  Unlike Jael, who plays a part in the battle, Sisera’s mom is waiting back at home for him to return with the spoils of war.  She wonders why he takes so long and figures he is just enjoying some of those spoils, especially the women captured.  But we know that her hopes will be dashed by the reality: Sisera has been killed by a woman and his army defeated.  The song is mocking the enemy of Israel.  This theme takes us to the conclusion in verse 31.  Look at that with me.  The song is rejoicing in the fact that God will win over all His enemies and bring blessings to His people, His friends, His beloved.

The book of Judges reveals that the Lord is the Divine Warrior who fights for His people and gives them victory over their enemies.  In our day, such imagery can seem foreign to us, but it should not.  Again, think about the cross.  Our enemies were strong and mighty and cruel.  We were enslaved to sin, Satan, and death.  No wimpy God could provide what we needed.  When Jesus humbled Himself and took on flesh, He was not being wimpy, He was going to war.  And the battle He fought on the cross left Him dead in a tomb.  But the Divine Warrior could not be held by the grave!  He arose victorious and pronounced victory for all who turn from their sins and trust in Him.  He now invites and commands us to join in the fight as well, knowing that ultimate victory belongs to Him.  So take up your arms.  Strap on the sword of the Spirit.  The God of Deborah and the God of Barak is calling us to war.  And He has promised us victory through faith in His Son.  Will you join the fight?

1 taken from the song “In Christ Alone.”
2 Daniel I. Block, Judges, Ruth NAC (Nashville, B&H Publishing, 1999), p. 186.

~ William Marshall ~


Last Updated ( Tuesday, 31 March 2015 )

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