The book of Judges ends with a verse that could easily have been used to begin the book.
(Judges 21:25 (ESV) In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.
The era of Jewish history that stretched from Joshua’s leading Israel into the promised land to the establishment of Saul as the first king of Israel was marked by repeated cycles of sin. The stages in the cycles involved the sin of idolatry, God’s response to this sin, the pleading for help, the sending of a judge by God to restore order and to deliver the people from oppression, celebration for having been saved by God, and then a period of temporary peace during which they slowly forgot all that God had done for them. Eventually their peace degenerated into the worshiping of false gods and social chaos where everyone did what was right in his or her own eyes. This pattern was repeated again and again throughout the era of the judges.
It only took one generation after the death of Joshua for the people of Israel to forget their covenant and to begin turning away from God and to begin doing evil in the sight of Jehovah. They committed spiritual adultery by pursuing relationships with various other gods. They disobeyed, rebelled, and turned their backs on Jehovah who had delivered them from Egyptian slavery and who gave them the land of Canaan for their inheritance. God kept his side of the covenant, keeping all His promises. However, the Jews simply could not keep their commitments to God.
Judges 2:18 Whenever the Lord raised up judges for them, the Lord was with the judge, and he saved them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge. For the Lord was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who afflicted and oppressed them. 19 But whenever the judge died, they turned back and were more corrupt than their fathers, going after other gods, serving them and bowing down to them. They did not drop any of their practices or their stubborn ways. 20 So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he said, “Because this people has transgressed my covenant that I commanded their fathers and have not obeyed my voice, 21 I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations that Joshua left when he died, 22 in order to test Israel by them, whether they will take care to walk in the way of the Lord as their fathers did, or not.” 23 So the Lord left those nations, not driving them out quickly, and he did not give them into the hand of Joshua.
The cycles of sin, idolatry, begging for help, and receiving deliverance began at this point. The fourth cycle of suffering in response to idolatry took place while Deborah was judging Israel. The events surrounding the deliverance from 20 years of oppression are described in Judges Chapter 4. In chapter 5 of Judges we have the record of a song of celebration, which recounts the events that were contained in chapter 4. The text for today tells how they viewed the victory over Jabin the king of Canaan and Sisera who was the commander of King Jabin’s army.
I will insert a few observations regarding the song of Deborah and Barak as we read through the text of chapter 5. The song starts out by honoring God and those who volunteered to fight on behalf of Israel.
Judges 5:1 (ESV)
Then sang Deborah and Barak the son of Abinoam on that day: 2 “That the leaders took the lead in Israel, that the people offered themselves willingly, bless the Lord! 3 “Hear, O kings; give ear, O princes; to the Lord I will sing; I will make melody to the Lord, the God of Israel.
The mention of water in the next section most likely refers to the sending of rain to bog down the 900 chariots of iron in the mud. Chariots were powerful tools of war, but only on dry flat ground. They were ineffective weapons in the hill country of Israel or during a period of heavy rain.
Judges 5:4 (ESV) “Lord, when you went out from Seir, when you marched from the region of Edom, the earth trembled and the heavens dropped, yes, the clouds dropped water. 5 The mountains quaked before the Lord, even Sinai before the Lord, the God of Israel.
The song seems to then reflect upon the time of oppression that preceded the appearance of Deborah. It sounds like it was a dangerous time when the highways and cities were abandoned. Perhaps this was due to the social lawlessness where everyone did what was right in his or her own eyes.
Judges 5:6 (ESV)“In the days of Shamgar, son of Anath, in the days of Jael, the highways were abandoned, and travelers kept to the byways. 7 The villagers ceased in Israel; they ceased to be until I arose; I, Deborah, arose as a mother in Israel.
I would like each of us to pause and reflect on verse 7. 7 The villagers ceased in Israel; they ceased to be until I arose; I, Deborah, arose as a mother in Israel.
A person’s beliefs about the roles that women should fulfill in the family, church, and society will greatly influence how you react to the preceding verse and Deborah’s activity as a judge and a mother of Israel. If a person holds to the biblical role of a woman as being the help mate of her husband and the gifted partner designated by God to manage their home and attend to the needs of children, then you will have a certain reaction to Deborah’s role as judge, prophet, and participant in war. If you hold other views about womanhood, which are based on the liberated woman who is free to pursue any activity that a man might pursue, then Deborah’s story may evoke quite a different reaction.
The text in chapter 4 and 5 does not say why God selected a woman to judge Israel. Some people have used Deborah’s life to show that a woman could fulfill the public role that had been traditionally held by a man. They might use this text to demonstrate how a woman can and perhaps should be given the opportunity to lead the church and be a pastor.
When I look at the totality of chapters 4 and 5, and specifically read what Deborah said to Barak in chapter 4 verse 6, I do not believe that this text is releasing women into new roles, rather I believe it is heaping shame upon men, and specifically Barak, for failing to listen to God and to fulfill his role as a man in Israel. In chapter 4 we read the following.
Judges 4:6 (ESV) She sent and summoned Barak the son of Abinoam from Kedesh-naphtali and said to him, “Has not the Lord, the God of Israel, commanded you, ‘Go, gather your men at Mount Tabor, taking 10,000 from the people of Naphtali and the people of Zebulun. 7 And I will draw out Sisera, the general of Jabin’s army, to meet you by the river Kishon with his chariots and his troops, and I will give him into your hand’?” 8 Barak said to her, “If you will go with me, I will go, but if you will not go with me, I will not go.” 9 And she said, “I will surely go with you. 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.” Then Deborah arose and went with Barak to Kedesh.
It would appear that God had communicated His plan to Barak at a previous point in time, but he didn’t listen to God. Thus, Deborah had to call him forth and to insist that he be obedient. Instead of feeling the shame of being confronted for his disobedience, Barak did not stand tall, gird up his loins, and lead the army into battle. Rather, like a very young child, he asks his mother to go with him.
I can remember being four or five years old and being afraid to go down into the basement of my childhood home to fetch canned goods for my mother. Sometimes I would do it, and sometimes I would refuse unless my mother went with me. It is a very strange reaction for a man to say that he will not lead troops into battle unless a woman goes with him. I have to wonder whether the courage of the men of Israel had diminished to such a degree that they were afraid to take risks for God unless a mother figure was there to comfort them. Barak’s hesitance and lack of valor did not go unnoticed by God, for he speaks through Deborah and says, “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.” Barak will be given victory in battle, but victory over the general of the opposing forces will be handed over to a woman.
The song of Deborah and Barak goes on to recount some of the history that led to their oppression and lack of military strength. They now realize that their oppression began when they chose to worship other gods. I wonder if they perceived the relationship between their spiritual adultery and their lack of courage about leading Israel into war. I wonder if they understood that God will not share the stage with any other god. I wonder if they came to realize that God has a zero tolerance policy when it comes to idolatry.
Judges 5:8 (ESV) When new gods were chosen, then war was in the gates. Was shield or spear to be seen among forty thousand in Israel?
If this is still Deborah speaking in the next sentences of the song, then she is thanking those who were willing to listen to God and to follow his instructions.
Judges 5:9 (ESV) My heart goes out to the commanders of Israel who offered themselves willingly among the people. Bless the Lord.
She then explains how courage was built up among the men of Israel. She tells how she instructed certain people to teach the men about all that God has done for Israel. Their confidence needed to be built up again. They needed to realize that the God of Israel is all powerful and He will defeat their enemies and end their captivity.
Judges 5:10 (ESV) “Tell of it, you who ride on white donkeys, you who sit on rich carpets and you who walk by the way. 11 To the sound of musicians at the watering places, there they repeat the righteous triumphs of the Lord, the righteous triumphs of his villagers in Israel. “Then down to the gates marched the people of the Lord.
Filled with new courage, the people of Israel are now ready to go up against their enemy. They call out to Deborah and Barak and tell them of their readiness. The “captives” that Barak is to lead refers to the army of Israel who are captive to a foreign government and who have been captives of foreign idols.
Judges 5:12 (ESV) Awake, awake, Deborah! Awake, awake, break out in a song! Arise, Barak, lead away your captives, O son of Abinoam.
And so they went to face their foe without hesitation.
Judges 5:13 (ESV) Then down marched the remnant of the noble; the people of the Lord marched down for me against the mighty. 14 From Ephraim their root they marched down into the valley, following you, Benjamin, with your kinsmen; from Machir marched down the commanders, and from Zebulun those who bear the lieutenant’s staff; 15 the princes of Issachar came with Deborah, and Issachar faithful to Barak; into the valley they rushed at his heels.
Deborah seems to pause in the singing of her song of victory to heap shame on the tribes that did not participate in the battle. She names the tribes and asks rhetorical questions about their reasons for staying home during a time of war. She tells them and all who hear her song that they had no excuse for staying home.
Judges 5:15 (ESV) …among the clans of Reuben there were great searchings of heart. 16 Why did you sit still among the sheepfolds, to hear the whistling for the flocks? Among the clans of Reuben there were great searchings of heart. 17 Gilead stayed beyond the Jordan; and Dan, why did he stay with the ships? Asher sat still at the coast of the sea, staying by his landings.
In sharp contrast Deborah exalts the tribes that risked their lives in battle to free Israel from their oppressors.
Judges 5:18 (ESV) Zebulun is a people who risked their lives to the death; Naphtali, too, on the heights of the field.
We now hear how the people fought with valor. We hear how God was with them and ultimately the victory was the Lord’s. The rain that hindered the chariots of iron at the beginning of the song must have continued and caused the river Kishon to flood. The chariots were rendered useless as God washed them away in a great torrent of water.
Judges 5:19 (ESV) The kings came, they fought; then fought the kings of Canaan, at Taanach, by the waters of Megiddo; they got no spoils of silver. 20 From heaven the stars fought, from their courses they fought against Sisera. 21 The torrent Kishon swept them away, the ancient torrent, the torrent Kishon. March on, my soul, with might! 22 “Then loud beat the horses’ hoofs with the galloping, galloping of his steeds.
We return at this point to those who would not join in the battle. A curse is given.
Judges 5:23 (ESV) Curse Meroz, says the angel of the Lord, curse its inhabitants thoroughly, because they did not come to the help of the Lord, to the help of the Lord against the mighty.
Now the song turns to the exalting of another woman in the battle. It is Jael who kills Sisera the general who led the 900 chariots. After he left behind his chariot he ran off on foot looking for a safe place to hide. He trusted in the strength of his chariot, but when it failed, he became fearful and accepted protection from a woman who he believed should be his friend. He crawled under her rug as if he would not be seen when his pursuers looked in the tent. Honestly, I had to laugh at this childlike plan of escape.
Judges 5:24 (ESV) “Most blessed of women be Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, of tent-dwelling women most blessed. 25 He asked water and she gave him milk; she brought him curds in a noble’s bowl. 26 She sent her hand to the tent peg and her right hand to the workmen’s mallet; she struck Sisera; she crushed his head; she shattered and pierced his temple. 27 Between her feet he sank, he fell, he lay still; between her feet he sank, he fell; where he sank, there he fell-dead.
Sisera died a humiliating death. It was humiliating for a soldier of many years to be killed by a woman. It was even more humiliating for such a man to be killed in his sleep by a hammer and a big nail.
The song turns our attention to the fact that Sisera had a mother and she was trying hard not to accept what circumstances were telling her. She knew in her heart that something bad must have happened to her son, but she was hoping it was not true. She was hoping that his delayed return was caused by the time taken to divide up the spoil and to celebrate their victory by sexual conquest of the women of Israel.
Judges 5:28 (ESV) “Out of the window she peered, the mother of Sisera wailed through the lattice: ‘Why is his chariot so long in coming? Why tarry the hoofbeats of his chariots?’ 29 Her wisest princesses answer, indeed, she answers herself, 30 ‘Have they not found and divided the spoil?- A womb or two for every man; spoil of dyed materials for Sisera, spoil of dyed materials embroidered, two pieces of dyed work embroidered for the neck as spoil?’
The song ends with a kind of Chorus that seeks to bless God.
Judges 5:31 (ESV) “So may all your enemies perish, O Lord! But your friends be like the sun as he rises in his might.
We return to the author of Judges who concludes his description of the events in Deborah’s life by describing what happened after the battle. The last words of chapter 5 are encouraging.
Judges 5:31 (ESV) …And the land had rest for forty years.
However, we read the following at the beginning of chapter 6.
Judges 6:1 (ESV) The people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord gave them into the hand of Midian seven years.
Thus, the cycle is once again being repeated by Israel.
What can we learn from the Song of Deborah and Barak?
I first want to look at what was not mentioned in chapter 4 and 5. Even though Israel was oppressed and called upon God to deliver them, they did not repent. They said they were sorry for sinning, but they inevitably turned away from God and began to do what was evil in the sight of God. They may have confessed their sin by turning back to the true God of Israel, but there is no evidence that they repented. They were sorry because of their suffering, but were apparently not willing to permanently change their ways and to instruct their children in the ways of their God.
As Christians, we understand that confession and repentance are closely related, but they are not the same thing. Repentance is related to the overcoming of sin, and is understood to be the key to progressive sanctification. Ongoing repentance is biblical, and is absolutely necessary for progressively becoming more Christ-like. Repentance is one of the most powerful tools that our Lord Christ Jesus has given us to become more holy as He is holy. We are to repent for our sins and to believe the gospel of Christ Jesus when our hearts are regenerated by God at the time of salvation, and we are to continually repent and believe ever more deeply throughout the rest of our life.
Confession is actually part of the repentance process. When we confess a sin, we are stating a specific fact about a specific sinful activity. We are admitting to God that we are guilty of transgressing His laws and statutes. Simply put, we come into agreement with God about our sin. In the life of a Christian, this is the proper response to being convicted of sin by the Holy Spirit. However, confession should not be taken to be the final and complete response to sin. As Christians we are called to go beyond the Old Testament practices of the Jews. They confessed the same sins over and over again, but nothing changed in their lives. They did not become more holy and they did not grow closer to God. As Christians we are called to become more holy with the passing of each day. We are called to confess our sins as soon as we become aware of them, and to confess them to one another.
James 5:16 (ESV) Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.
Confession of sin can be a private matter between the Christian and God, however, the previous scripture calls us to public repentance as well. Public confession is a sign of a regenerated heart and is a characteristic of a healthy church.
Confession is not the same as repentance. There can be no repentance without confessing to God that we are guilty of violating his commandments, but confession, by itself, does not purify a person or fill the person with God-given strength to forsake and overcome a specific sin. Many Roman Catholics may confess the same sin every week throughout their lives, but they never repent. That is to say, they do not move beyond confession to repentance, which involves a turning away from sin and obtaining victory over a specific sin through the power of God. I am not saying that a Christian will reach a point where he or she is sinless while living in the Earthly realm. Total and complete sinlessness will only be achieved when we are in heaven. However, we can and should grow more and more pure and holy during our lives. The process of repentance is the process through which our sanctification is worked out.
In Psalm 51, King David repents for adultery, deception, and murder. He does not use the word repent or confess in his public song. His song helps him become humble before God. He sings of his sinfulness and his overwhelming desire to be reconciled to God, which is the whole point of repentance. He wishes to be cleansed so that unencumbered fellowship with God will be restored.
Psalm 51:1 (ESV) Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. 2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! 3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. 4 Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.
In these verses, David admits his sin and his guilt before God. He pleads to God to be cleansed of his wrong doing. His sin is heavy on his heart and he cannot forget it. It must be dealt with.
Psalm 51:10 (ESV) Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. 11 Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. 12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.
David calls out to the Lord for the restoration of his relationship with God. He asks to be forgiven and cleansed, so that he may enjoy his salvation, and can follow God’s will again. Without this repentance, he does not have joy in the Lord and is unable to know or follow his will. He is aware that God the Father has the authority to remove the Holy Spirit from him, and he prays that this will not happen.
Psalm 51:16 (ESV) For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. 17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
David realizes that he cannot achieve or earn forgiveness and restoration through external deeds. The only sacrifice that is acceptable is the sacrifice of his pride. It is his broken spirit and his broken and contrite heart that matters to God. He is experiencing Godly sorrow and is coming to God in humility.
King David repented. He went far beyond confessing his sin and admitting to God that he had sinned. He was cleansed by God’s mercy. On the other hand, confession by itself did not sanctify the Jews in Old Testament times, and it does not sanctify people today. It is repentance that sanctifies a person by bringing death to sinful practices. It is repentance that conforms the nature of a person to God.
For an unregenerate person, it is repentance that marks the beginning of his or her journey of being saved by God. Whether a person’s heart was regenerated yesterday or 50 years ago, repentance is just as important today as it was at any time in the past. A person’s first repentance has the same power to overcome sin and transform one’s life as the repentance of a believer who has been faithfully responding to God’s call to repent for 50 years. The practice of repentance is an important sign of a regenerated heart. King David publically confessed his sin, and he publically repented. His repentance has been inspiring Jews and Christians to repent ever sense he wrote and sang Psalm 51.
The absence of repentance goes hand in hand with an impaired ability to trust God and to obey his commandments. Real repentance results in true transformation and true trust. The change that is brought into a person’s life through repentance is achieved through the power of God and will produce clearly observable changes in the life of a person. The changes will be experienced by the person and will be easily observable by other Christians. The term “Repentance” as I have been using it means to turn away from sin and to turn toward God. It means to change one’s mind about sin. It means to begin loving God more than we love our sinful practices. Repentance is so critical to the life of a believer that Jesus commanded that the doctrine of repentance be preached.
Luke 24:44 (ESV) Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
I want to make mention of another key point that Deborah and Barak left out of their song. This point has to do with the consequences of not listening or responding to God. When Deborah summoned Barak, she did so, because apparently, God had already given Barak his instructions, but he was not willing to obey. Deborah had to call him forth and to remind him of God’s instructions. We can’t say whether Barak was trying to escape his God given task by asking Deborah to go with him. Maybe he was hoping that she would refuse to go and then he would get off the hook. If that was the case, then his strategy failed. He essentially got put into a corner and was pressed into action.
The events in Deborah’s song are directly relevant to us today, because we all resist God’s commands to step forward and obey. Today would be a good time to consider the places in your life where you have failed to respond to the commands that God has given you.
If you are uncertain about whether God has given you any commands, then ask the Holy Spirit to show you where you are failing. He will without a doubt reveal this information to you.
If you Pray and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal your failures, and nothing comes to mind, then pray for a greater power of repentance.
Acts 5:31 (ESV) God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. 32 And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”
Questions for Reflection
1. Is there something that God has been asking you to do, which you have been avoiding?
2. Are you willing to repent for your rebellion and for putting off your responsibility?
3. Are you guilty of putting the fear of human reproach and persecution above the commands of God?
4. Are you willing to repent for your rebellion and your fear of man?
There is no time like the present to repent for these sins.
In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.
Today we have a king. He is an eternal king that rules over all who live in the Kingdom of God. Christians also have the Holy Spirit to convict us of our sins of omission. These sins are seen by God as rebellion and disobedience. In the life of a longtime Christian, it may be these sins that may be the greatest obstacle to truly following Christ wherever He may lead. I pray that each of you will be encouraged by the Holy Spirit to obey God in every aspect of your life. I pray that Our Father in Heaven will bless your process of repentance and will give you greater courage to live in complete truth and to share the Gospel of Jesus with those who are lost and wandering aimlessly on the wide road to hell.