Judges 4&5: Deborah, Jael, and Barak

The next set of of unlikely conquers includes two women and a death by hammer and nail.


Judges 4 and 5 discus three people who rescued Israel from oppression, but only 2 are considered judges. Deborah and Barak actually call the Israelites to war and lead them to battle, while it is Jael that actually kills a chief of the opressor in battle. Following God's pattern of choosing unlikely heroes, both Deborah and Jael are women. Even in America, women didn't gain the right to vote until only a century ago; yet, Deborah lead an army and defeated one of Israel's oppressors over 3,000 years ago.

When I was a kid, I remember any time a girl beat a guy in a race or game, people would taunt the boy saying "you got beat by a girl. God put Israel's oppressors in the position that nations would be saying they got defeated by a woman!

The Oppressor

This time, the oppressor is Jabin, king of Hazor. If you've been following along in book order, that name probably sounds familiar. Joshua defeats a Jabin of Hazor in Joshua 11. The Jabin of Judges either inherited his name from the first Jabin, or the name was actually a title (similar to pharaoh). Because the Israelites did not remain faithful and often did not completely drive out the inhabitants of cities, Hazor was reclaimed by a Canaanite nation after Joshua's victory, which left them vulnerable to their current oppression.[1]

Deborah and Barak

Photocredit: Palas
Deborah and Barak come across as partners or co-leaders of the army to me, likely because women were not allowed to lead during this time period. However, it appears that Deborah is the stronger of the two when Barak says he will only go to battle if she joins. Can you imagine a man, who is supposed to be the chief of an army, telling a woman he can't go to battle unless she does during that time period? Deborah is no ordinary woman, though. Like Moses' sister Miriam, Deborah is given the title of prophetess and raised to a position of authority by God.

The Battle

Jabin's chief general, Sisera, had an army of 900 iron chariots, which made it impossible for the Israelites to defeat him without the aid of God. Barak must have been scared to go into battle due to lack of faith, either in God granting them victory or in the ability of God. This faithlessness is the reason it was Deborah who was called to be the leader. Deborah has no problem going in to battle and points out that the Sisera will fall to a woman (this may also be a prophecy as Sisera is literally killed by the hand of a woman).

Together, the pair lead an army of 10,000 men against Sisera. Needless to say that with God on their side, they destroy Sisera's army. During the battle, Sisera falls from his chariot. Sisera does not abide by the mantra of "going down with the ship" and deserts his army like a coward, choosing to flee for his own life. Barak, however, spies the man fleeing and purses him after he has defeated the army.


Before jumping into what happened to Sisera after he fled, we should discuss the implications of a female leader. In Believer's Bible Commentary, the author is quick to point out that this example of female leadership is not to be used as an example. They argue that the only reason Deborah had been allowed to lead was because there was no man available.

No one knows for certain the reason Deborah was chosen. What we do know is that God found her worthy of leading the Israelites back to Him. Note that bringing someone to God is much more difficult and spiritually taxing than generally leading someone or continuing in their current path. Deborah's role was by no means a small role; she had to convince them to return to following God, which also required her to convince them a woman could be in charge.

Throughout the Bible, we will see that it is only in times of great need that women claim power. Paul says that women were to sit in silence, not lead. This instruction has nothing nothing to do with a woman's capabilities, however; Deborah is a clear assessment of that. When the church is falling into disarray (which it is) and sinfulness creeps into those who claim to be of the body of Christ, God may raise up a woman to bring His people back to him by taking charge. Since we live in a period of spiritual turmoil, just like Deborah, it is very possible that God will raise up women to lead, and Deborah is an example of this.


When Sisera is moving through the countryside before the battle, he runs into a man named Heber. Heber was a Kennite who had disassociated himself from his people. When Sisera passes by, it is Heber that gives away the location of the Israelite army. Not surprisingly, this plays right into God's plan. Heber's willingness to help Sisera may have been out of spite for the Israelites, or perhaps he was in on the plan to lure Sisera's army to a particular place; we aren't specifically told. Either way, his action constitutes a sort of treaty with Sisera and marks him as "friend" rather than foe. So when Sisera flees that battlefield, it is to Heber's home that he seeks shelter.

This time, however, it is Heber's wife Jael who greets him. Jael plays the part of hostess and makes Sisera quite comfortable in her abode. When he falls asleep, lulled by her hospitality, she takes a hammer and nail to his head. (The book of judges is startlingly violent). By the time Barak finds Sisera, he's already dead.

No motive is given for why Jael kills Sisera. She isn't presented as an Israelite, though considering the amount of intermarrying that was occurring, she may have been one. Also it appears to be against her husband's wishes, as he is helpful to Sisera. Whatever her reasoning, God clearly moved her to commit the action because he wanted Sisera to fall at the hands of a woman. Barak had been doubtful about their victory and refused to go to war without Deborah, so it stands to reason that God would not deliver Sisera to Barak's hand for Barak to become a victor or hero. Instead, He raised up another woman to complete the mission.


Upon their victory, Deborah and Barak lead the Israelites in song, another parallel to Miriam and Moses during the exodus. The song describes the events by focusing on God's power over nature and their victory; these elements proved the sovereignty of God. While in sin and oppression, the Israelites had been living in fear, unable to to live outside of walled cities. Deborah's victory over Sisera and subsequent leadership changed this reality. The song also reminds people that it is foreigners who have been saving them—Shamgar and Jael—which testifies to Israel's lack of commitment to God, and also foreshadows the eventual inclusion of the Gentiles in God's kingdom.

Deborah recounts the fact that not all the tribes of Israel were eager and willing to follow a woman's command. Rebuen, Gad, Dan, and Asher had not gone to war with them. Nevertheless, God had stuck with those who had chosen to follow Him. As promised, He delivered the army of Sisera into the hands of Deborah at the river of Kishon.

This victory is the beginning of 40 years of peace in Israel.

Blessings, Curses, and Morrning

As was common, God curses and blesses those who acted out against or for Him, respectively. A curse falls upon the inhabitants of Meroz for not aiding Israel in the battle. It is not clear why Meroz is singled out, but the men of this city must have provoked God's wrath somehow. In contrast, Jael is blessed above all women for her service to God.

Meanwhile, we learn that Sisera's mother waits in vain for her son to return. She believes he is out dividing the spoils of war and is convinced he will return.


  1. Holman Bible Publishers. Holman KJV Study Bible. pg. 417-220. 2014

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