Deborah, Prophetess and Judge


Judges, chapter 4 [Judg. 4]

Ehud, the left-handed Benjamite who was raised up by the Lord, became a defender and champion of the children of Israel. And after he killed Eglon, the king of their Moabite enemies who had enslaved them for eighteen years, the Israelites were able to conquer their tormentors and gain their freedom. But the children of Israel soon forgot their victory and other blessings from the Lord, and began to behave wickedly.

Without the Lord’s protection it wasn’t long until Jabin, king of Canaan, was able to subdue the Israelites.

Weary of their suffering, “the children of Israel cried unto the Lord: for [Sisera, Jabin’s army commander] had nine hundred chariots of iron; and twenty years he mightily oppressed” them.

At this time there was a righteous and courageous prophetess, named Deborah, who was made a judge over all Israel because of her faith, her wisdom, her fairness, and her obedience to the Lord. She was deeply concerned over the ill-treatment of her people who were suffering at the hands of their Canaanite enemies. One day she sent for Barak, who was afraid to fight against Sisera. When he arrived, she asked, “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 Zebulun?”

Then she told Barak of her bold plan: “I will draw unto thee [by] the river Kishon … the captain [Sisera] of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his multitude; and I will deliver him into thine hand.”

Barak was confident that the plan would work only with Deborah’s help. “If thou wilt go with me,” he said, “then I will go: but if thou wilt not go with me, then I will not go.”

Then he repented of his reluctance to obey the Lord’s instructions, and gathered ten thousand men from the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali to fight against the Canaanites as Deborah had reminded him.

Barak’s men assembled on Mount Tabor until Deborah and her troops had lured the enemy army out into the open on the Plain of Esdraelon. When the time was right, “Deborah said unto 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? So Barak went down from mount Tabor, and ten thousand men after him.”

The Bible says that “the Lord discomfited Sisera and all his chariots, and all his host,” meaning that the nine hundred deadly iron chariots were useless because of a great thunderstorm caused by the Lord. The wheels of the chariots became stuck in the sticky mud, resulting from the heavy rain, and there was much confusion. In the fierce battle that followed, the Israelites were victorious. The Lord was with them, and they fought until there was not a man left of the Canaanite army.

In the meantime, however, Sisera had fled on foot for his life and had found shelter in a Kenite tent. But during the night as he slept, a woman friendly to the Israelites took his life.

Through the faith, courage, and wisdom of the prophetess Deborah and her ability to inspire her people to be more righteous, “the children of Israel prospered, and prevailed against Jabin the king of Canaan, until they had destroyed [him].”

[illustrations] Photos courtesy Providence Lithograph Company