|Judges - 07 Deborah and Barak|
Third Recovery --Deborah and Barak
Thyatira and Man’s Weakness
Fourth Enemy: Midian and Amalek
This phase of the history of God’s earthly people is very interesting in many ways. One interesting aspect is the instrumentality of women to bring about deliverance. Chapter 4 begins with Deborah, a woman judge and prophetess who motivated Barak to respond to God’s call. It ends with Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, ending the life of Israel’s terrible enemy, Sisera. Deborah was a prophetess while Jael was a pilgrim. Both possessed the character that believers need to overcome enemies, such as receptiveness to the Word of God and living in separation from this world.
It is generally true in God’s Word, that women typify at least three things: Weakness among the saints, the Maternal Nature that longs for children in the faith, and Devotedness of Heart that is expressed in faithfulness to the Lord and His Word. Regarding the weakness among saints, it seems that when women are seen in a prominent place, it indicates weakness of leadership by men, who should have been taking the lead to rule and deliver the people of God.
This period was, without doubt, a time of great weakness but God would work, despite that weakness, to deliver His people because they had cried to Him in their desire and dependence. Barak, in this chapter, appears as a weak, vacillating man who refuses to go to the battle against Israel’s enemy without Deborah going with him. On the other hand, that desire for her company was good, in that he recognized his own weakness and the need to depend on her, the one who had the voice of God and could speak with Divine authority. Often God will use others to accomplish His purposes even though those who should take that responsibility refuse or fail to do so. God is not limited in His use of instruments.
However, as Deborah told Barak in chapter 4:9, the result of his reticence to respond would be that the honor of victory would be given to another. (However, Barak and not Deborah is mentioned among the heroes of Hebrews 11). Certainly this is a word to brethren who have responsibility among the saints! If we do not respond to that responsibility, the result will be the ultimate loss of honor and reward from God, now and in the day of review. There are brethren whose voice is never heard in the assembly, who never participate in a public way, and yet they would very adamantly be against women taking part publicly, and rightly so. However, when we abdicate our responsibility, we are only encouraging actions that are contrary to the teaching of God’s Word, and the results that may follow would be our responsibility.
We see her maternal character regarding God’s people in her song, where she speaks of herself as “a mother in Israel,” (5:7) and she looks at Israel as one assessing their qualities and commitments, either expressed or lacking. We always need those, whether brethren or sisters, who have a great concern for the welfare of God’s people and long to see spiritual development in each one.
Deborah also displays the character of a devoted believer when we see how she approved the evidences of devotion that some of Israel displayed in response to the call for battle. She has much to say about the heart and how they responded: “the people willingly offered themselves,” (5:2); “My heart is toward the governors of Israel, that offered themselves willingly among the people,” (5:9). She notices the “great thoughts of heart” and the “great searchings of heart” (5:15-16) that Reuben displayed. One would surmise that she was a spiritual woman who expressed a great depth of devotion to the Lord in her life and service for Him.
Links with Thyatira
We link this phase of Israel’s history with that of the church as depicted in the letter to the assembly in Thyatira (Revelation 2). In that case, in a way similar to Deborah, a woman is in prominence, though she is a very different kind of woman in her character, practices, influence and results. Jezebel was a woman who sought to control her husband, King Ahab, and she was the instigator of many of his evil deeds. In the letter to Thyatira, we see her as the one behind the terrible practices that had entered to defile the saints and corrupt the assembly.
She is also called a “prophetess,” though never raised by God (Revelation 2:20), and she was using that position to teach practices that were contrary to God’s Word. Clearly she was out of her place in an assembly, for God never gave a place of prominence to a woman in an assembly. This is not due to “Paul’s bias against women,” as it is sometimes said, but it is God’s order clearly taught in His Word, even though the majority of Christendom refuses to acknowledge it. Could Jezebel’s prominence be due to the failure of brethren in that assembly to fulfill their own responsibility, and thus they had caused weakness that allowed this condition to take place? This is not stated, but it seems in that case, as in this story in Judges, that her prominence and influence no doubt resulted from the failure of men to lead the saints as they should have.
When we think of the state of church history that this period represents, we can see that many things were out of place in the Roman Catholic system that rose to power, including giving a woman (Mary) prominence that God never intended her to take. Other evils came in as well, including an amalgamation with the world that tolerated the moral evils that abounded in that religious system. Going on to the end of this section in Judges, we see that it closes with the song of Deborah exalting the exploits of two women. In this case it was well-deserved, but it was not what ought to have been. Without going into further details of that sad letter to the assembly in Thyatira, we will confine ourselves to what we can learn from the history of Deborah and Barak.
Deborah’s Place and Work
Many things are interesting to note with regard to Deborah. We see that while she was a prophetess, God’s Word does not indicate that she was one who God had raised, as were those in the past. In Judges 5:7, she says that “I arose a mother in Israel.” Perhaps this indicates that her taking this place was not God’s original mind, but it was the result of her recognizing a need that existed and her willingness to fill the gap.
Her being a prophetess indicates that she was in touch with God and He was communicating His Word to the people through her. It is also evident that she had the confidence of the people, since “the children of Israel came up to her for judgment,” (4:5). This is always essential in anyone who would minister righteousness among God’s people. David said, “He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God,” (2 Samuel 23:3). As a judge (4:5), she would apply the truth that she knew from God’s Word to the cases that were presented. More than that, her name (“her speaking” or “eloquent”) seems linked with her giving an oracle from God. It was during a time of weakness and oppression by this cruel enemy (Jabin) when God would raise deliverance through one who knew God and who was able to communicate God’s Word to His people.
Many methods may be sought and utilized by brethren when they see difficulties and bad tendencies among the saints, but what is really needed is the Word of God in its power, brought to God’s people by one who is in touch with God and dwelling in a place of fellowship with Him. Human expedients and methods may seem to bring about change and improvements, but nothing will work a lasting result like the power of God’s Word applied in its simplicity.
Deborah, though functioning in the place of the man, was still one who clearly recognized and acknowledged the principle of headship (Genesis 3:16, 1 Corinthians 11:3); she is seen in relation to her husband, Lapidoth, whose name means “lamps, firebrands.” F. W. Grant indicates that his name suggests the power of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, when there appeared cloven tongues as of fire resting on their heads at the coming of the Holy Spirit. Together, they suggest God’s Word functioning in spiritual power to work effectively among the saints, resulting in deliverance and restoration. In addition, she was dwelling under the palm tree, a place suggesting spiritual prosperity and peacefulness. It was to Elim that Israel came after the waters of Marah, which were bitter. At Elim, with its 70 palm trees and 12 wells of water, Israel found rest and refreshment along the journey. So here, in the midst of the strife and oppression, is Deborah, living in peaceful contentment and communion with God. The palm is also linked with righteousness (Psalm 92:12). Palm trees were found in the sanctuary of Solomon’s temple and in the temple that Ezekiel saw as well (Ezekiel 41:18). Thus, this picture indicates a believer who is enjoying the nearness of God’s presence and living in the power of that union of fellowship with God.
We see, also, that her location was between Ramah (“the high place”) and Bethel (“house of God”). Ramah suggests our position in the heavenlies (Ephesians 1:3), linked with Christ and seated in a secure place before God while Bethel speaks of our relationship with the saints in testimony in this world under the Lord’s authority in His house. These two relationships should characterize every child of God as they indicate where we are before God and where we are in this world. If we are moving in genuine assurance of our position secured by and in Christ, then we should also be living in the good of a beneficial relationship and fellowship with the saints in this world. This is a place where one lives who possesses the potential to be used of God to deliver His saints! No wonder the children of Israel came up to her for judgment. No doubt they recognized that she could give them God’s mind to resolve difficulties. May the Lord continue to raise up those among the saints today who could fulfill a similar function, bringing peace and deliverance to God’s people in the midst of adversity and trouble!
Deborah and Barak’s Call
Two things mark Deborah in addition to her work to judge the people. Those two things are her encouragement of Barak and her song in chapter 5. We will look at her song later, but at this point we will look at her work to stir Barak and give him God’s commandment to obey. Barak’s name means “lightning” and this suggests the swiftness and power of God’s hand to deliver His people from their distress and to vanquish their enemy.
Is it not true, that often we feel that God doesn’t hear the cries of His people and is slow to move to deliver them from their adversity? Yet when it is God’s time, His work can and will be done in His own way. God is not tardy to fulfill His Word and make good His promises (2 Peter 3:9), and His “hand is not shortened that it cannot save; neither His ear heavy that it cannot hear,” (Isaiah 59:1). Barak was the son of Abinoam (“father of pleasantness, or grace”) so he was a proper instrument to be used for their deliverance. He lived in Kadesh-naphtali, “sanctuary of the wrestler,” and we remember the experience of Jacob in Genesis 32 where as a result of his nocturnal encounter with God, his name was changed to Israel. Jacob’s wrestling with God had to come to an end, his own strength broken, before he could receive spiritual power and his name be changed. Barak suggests a man who seems to possess the potential of power to be used for God under Divine control and direction, one who will be engaged in wrestling with an enemy and overcoming through God’s power. He is one who has spiritual energy that can be directed and used for the blessing of the Lord’s people and the honor of Christ. In this sense, it is good that he recognized his own weakness and need for one who had a direct relationship with God and could communicate the Word of God to him. Deborah is a picture to us of an overcomer who is able to communicate something of that Divine strength to others to encourage them.
Deborah called Barak and gave him a command from God that was clear, personal, and explicit. He received instructions regarding who would be involved in this battle for deliverance. They were the ones who were nearest at hand and who the enemy’s invasion had most severely affected. Those who are far off and do not realize the impact of the enemy’s work do not usually fight. Rather, those who have suffered under its effect are most exercised to resist oppression.
God has His men to use in every crisis, and while there were those of Ephraim in the time of Gideon who were not called (8:1) and others refused to participate (8:6, 8), God’s command at this point specified who would be included. Gideon also had to see the majority of his 10,000 men go home, and they may have felt deprived in that they were not able to go to the war, but that was God’s way and He selected His men. We may not always be included in the number of those who are called upon to do exploits for God, but we can and should rejoice in what is being accomplished for God and for His people. As the hymn writer has penned it, “Leave to His sovereign sway, to choose and to command.” (BHB #440). What is important is to respond and go when God calls, to be ready and available for whatever task is according to His will, and thus to be in a useful condition for God.
It is remarkable that, under the conditions of God’s specific call and Deborah’s communication of what God would do with the promise of certain victory, Barak refused to go unless she went with him. Her language seems to indicate that God had already called him to do this, (4:6) but he had refused to respond up to this point. So God used a woman to stir him again, to instill in his soul a needed confidence so as to cause him to move.
Perhaps there are many brethren who know that God has called them to a work, either in the local assembly or in a wider sphere, but they are not willing to move from their position that is so comfortable and tranquil. What an account will need to be given to God in the day when all is judged in His presence! Perhaps a sister will need to speak to one like this to stir him to obey God’s call and begin to work for Him. Whatever is needed, God can accomplish it, as this case shows.
An Overwhelming Foe
As God’s people, we are engaged in a spiritual warfare with an enemy who seems to have an overwhelming display of power. Sisera had a vast array of men in his army with 900 chariots of iron, and against him came Barak and Deborah, with only 10,000 men to oppose him. There wasn’t much in favor of their paltry force and on the face of it, the “odds” seemed overwhelmingly against them! Later, God would do something even far greater by the hand of Gideon in the next section, delivering the people with a small group of only 300 men! Doesn’t this emphasize that victory doesn’t come as a result of natural power or ability, but through the power of God? Remember what Elisha told his servant? “Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them.” (2 Kings 6:16). We recall the words of John’s epistle, “Greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world.” (1 John 4:4). We could consider many other passages for our encouragement, but we have a precious truth, as one passage descriptively puts it, that in our spiritual warfare, “we wrestle not against flesh and blood...wherefore, take unto you the whole armor of God.” (Ephesians 6:12-13). God arranges the entire matter so that it would be evident that the victory was gained, not by carnal or physical might nor ability, but rather by the power of God working on their behalf. “Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the LORD of hosts.” (Zechariah 4:6).
It is nice to see that Deborah always recognized and acknowledged that victory would only come from the Lord. In v. 14, it was the Lord that went out before Israel to defeat Sisera and it was “this day” that He would accomplish that victory. What else could Barak do, or what should he do, except move forward to face a foe that had already been defeated? We have already noticed this principle: we are not victorious over spiritual foes in the Christian life by our own natural ability or power. On the contrary, usually one who has great natural ability is the least likely to depend on God, and thus he is the weakest. May we learn to lean on God for every resource which we need in order to overcome and emerge victorious in our spiritual warfare!
Not much needs to be said about the battle; God’s Word doesn’t record much detail. The language of Judges 5:20-21 indicates that heaven fought against Sisera. Not only that, but it seems that God sent a storm that resulted in a flood that swept them away, for “the river of Kishon swept them away, that ancient river, the river Kishon.” Josephus records in his “Antiquities of the Jews,” that
“there came down from heaven a great storm, with a vast quantity of rain and hail, and the wind blew the rain in the face of the Canaanites, and so darkened their eyes, that their arrows and slings were of no advantage to them, nor would the coldness of the air permit the soldiers to make use of their swords; while this storm did not so much incommode the Israelites, because it came in their backs. They also took such courage, upon the apprehension that God was assisting them, that they fell upon the very midst of their enemies, and slew a great number of them; so that some of them fell by the Israelites, some fell by their own horses, which were put into disorder, and not a few were killed by their own chariots.”
Something of this kind of event is intimated by Deborah in her song, (Judges 5:4), where we read “LORD, when thou wentest out of Seir… the clouds also dropped water.” Also in Judges 5:20 this is suggested, and was accompanied or followed by a slaughter. It seems that the God-sent storm caused a flood of water from the River Kishon that mired and overwhelmed the chariots of Sisera so that they were helpless against Barak’s army. This caused great disorientation among the troops and resulted in their overthrow. We read in 5:22 “Then were the horsehoofs broken by the means of the pransings (tramplings, or plungings) the pransings of their mighty ones.” This indicates that the horses broke their harnesses and galloped away from the battle. Do we not see how this indicates to us that God Himself is against the powers of darkness and forces of evil? Of course, we know this intuitively, but we need to remember that, while evil seems to reign and opposition to Christ prevails, God still moves in active warfare against all elements contrary to His purposes and will ultimately bring about their defeat.
Jael’s Decisive Act
The defeat of Sisera was a foregone conclusion, and though he tried to escape on foot, God was not done with him yet. The final blow would be lodged by the hammer and tent peg of another woman, Jael, in her own tent. We learn from verse 11, that her husband’s family was related to the Israelites through Moses, who, as we know, was the great deliverer of God’s people. Heber means “fellowship” or “comrade” but it was a fellowship of those who were separated, as the verse indicates. Jael lived as a nomad, or a pilgrim, with her husband, without being identified with any earthly place apart from the location of their tents.
We learn in 1:16 that the Kenites had come out of the city of palm trees (location of Jericho) and lived among the Israelites. They seemed to be favorably attached to the nation, though never part of it entirely and were finally represented in Jeremiah’s day by the sons of the Rechabites. In that instance in Jeremiah 35, their separation was expressed by abstinence from strong drink or wine due to their obedience to the command of a long-departed father. Their adherence to the mandate of a deceased ancestor was a rebuke to Israel as it displayed a marked contrast to their disobedience to God and His Word. They maintained that characteristic of separation in obedience to a man while Israel failed in separation from the nations through their disobedience to God.
Separation is a valuable principle and a very important characteristic of life for God’s people. Many shun the thought of genuine separation unto the Lord. They know that this would require a degree of devotion to Him that would involve avoiding the elements of the world that the flesh desires but which are abhorrent to the Lord. Speak about separation to some, and they think only of what they could not do if they were to obey the Lord in that way. They want their worldly pursuits, entertainment, activities and intermingling in the empty occupations of the unsaved. On the contrary, separation is a most valuable position to take, always resulting in increased power with God, more genuine fellowship with God, and greater usefulness to God.
Sisera, using the normal wisdom of the world, thought he could flee away in safety from the battle as a common foot soldier, using his wits to elude capture and death. He fled to the tent of Jael. Their tent was located not far from where Barak had lived, in the “plain (oak) of Zaanaim, which is by Kedesh.” It is interesting that Heber had separated himself from the Kenites and pitched his tent in the area where Sisera would eventually be seeking to flee, no doubt with God behind the scenes.
One wonders why Heber would be separated from the Kenites and yet be at peace with the king of Hazor; we might marvel that there would be any relationship at all between them, but such was the condition during those days of weakness. Yet what Heber had done may not have been the mind-set of Jael with regard to these enemies of Israel. It is also possible that the treaty of peace with Jabin did not go so far as to embrace Sisera and his particular Canaanites. More than that, it seems that she recognized a higher claim, and that was the need for a relationship with the people of God, and not with their enemies. Thus, in her case, another link needed to be severed, so she took up that exercise to express her absolute fidelity to the Lord and His people. She acted in a manner that removed every element of compromise with God’s enemies. In this way, she imitated God’s dealing with those priests who offered “strange fire” in Leviticus 10:1. She also acted in a similar way as Rahab (Joshua 2), when she sheltered Israel’s spies in Jericho and aligned herself with God’s people against her city and nation. A crisis of this nature calls for and displays the depth of conviction in one’s heart regarding the things of God.
Her act typically shows one’s personal opposition to doctrinal error as well as the destruction of Amalek, or moral error, both of which will destroy the saints. She had the Lord’s mind in stopping His enemies by destroying Sisera, a leader against God’s people. She is an example to us and a warning against the danger of not taking a stand against every element that stands against the things of God. We see a spiritual fulfillment of this in the admonition of John the elder to the elect lady in 3 John. She was to refuse all fellowship with those who would come with a wisdom that was contrary to the doctrine she had learned, so she turned them away and did not allow such as them into her house. This is using the tent peg of a separated life that rejects all that is associated with evil, whether it is doctrinal or moral.
Wisdom of the World
Sisera represents the wisdom of this world that rises up in opposition to the wisdom of God. This was part of the problem that had crept into the assembly in Corinth and which Paul contends against in 1 Corinthians 1:17-2:16. It is a problem that can and does exist in our day, when the world’s reasoning begins to dominate and control the direction and activities of God’s people. It is a mode of reasoning that leaves God out of the parameters that are used to reach any decision. This reasoning begins and ends with man and his desires. Sisera reasoned that he would find safety in her tent, claiming the normal exercise of eastern hospitality and security. Who would think of searching for him in a woman’s tent? And if she stood at the tent door and told anyone pursuing him that no one was there, would he not be safe? Surely, if man alone was involved, that might have been the case. But God was against Him (5:20) and his supposed place of safety became the place of his death.
There is a sense that there is a Sisera in every one of us. This enemy can creep into our life so easily and adapt himself to the things that we like, with the result that it seems cruel or very difficult to deal with it. However, like Jael, it is our responsibility to do so, carrying out that act of self-judgment that is essential for our preservation and deliverance. It is so easy to compromise with an enemy that seems so adaptable and so willing to find itself at home right where we are. Yet, having come so close, it calls for judgment on self so that we might be preserved from condemnation with the world (1 Corinthians 11:32).
Jael’s Tent Peg
Jael did not know how to use a sword and didn’t attempt to do so. Barak used a sword, but she knew how to use the hammer and tent peg. Any nomad, moving constantly and living in tents, would be aware of the importance of the tent peg to secure a safe place in which to live. We see in her a picture of a believer who uses the things he or she knows how to handle, not aspiring to use materials to which they are unaccustomed. Shamgar didn’t use a sword either; he used an ox goad, a tool that he was familiar with and could handle properly. We all have a certain area of expertise in the truths of God’s Word that we are capable of using to overcome the foe. It may not be the flashing sword of conquest, but even a tent peg can be used to get a victory. One might not be able to preach, nor be allowed to do so. However, there is power in the simple testimony of a separated life upheld by one placing confidence in God daily, putting into practice the truths of God’s Word and proving them to be effective. David would not go to fight Goliath in Saul’s armor, and that was not due to a difference in size. It was because he had not proved it, and did not know how to fight with that equipment on. He used what he had proven for himself through God’s power when he had delivered the sheep from the lion and the bear.
Jael waited until Sisera was sound asleep, then she went softly and applied the force of the hammer to drive the tent peg through his temples right into the ground. If Sisera represents man’s wisdom operating against God’s wisdom, then we see that it is characterized by wrong thoughts that must be defeated, or put to death. She used the tent peg, representing the believer’s pilgrim character. But she also needed the hammer, and this reminds us of the power of the Word of God to give force to this character to overcome.
Do we not need to defeat wrong thoughts, those aspirations of men that exalt themselves against the knowledge of God? Think of 2 Corinthians 10:4-5: “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds; Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.” Paul was using the tent peg of truth in relation to the believer’s pilgrim character to vanquish the opposing wisdom of the world. This was true as he dealt with the problems in Corinth as well as in his disputing with the unsaved. Again, he combats that kind of wisdom in 1 Corinthians 1:19, 2:4-8, which was causing so much difficulty among the saints in Corinth. We need to be able to oppose and defeat the false reasonings of the world in which we live, a kind of thinking that seems so attractive and right to men but which is diametrically opposed to the mind of God. It is only from the standpoint of one who, like Jael and Rahab, takes a stand on God’s side in his rejection of a world system, who will defeat the wrong thinking that can invade and affect the people of God.
Sisera and Jabin were subdued under God’s hand working through the sword of Barak and the tent peg of Jael. What a blessing that deliverance was! Verse 24 tells us that “the hand of the children of Israel prospered, and prevailed against Jabin the king of Canaan, until they had destroyed Jabin king of Canaan.” With the defeat of Sisera and the army, Barak went on to deal with the source of the problem, which was the king of Canaan in Hazor. The victory was complete, but remember, it began and ended with a woman, those who in weakness and in their own place, were being used of God to bring about deliverance to His people. You and I, in all our weakness, can also be used by God if we are yielded and willing to do His will.
Deborah’s Song Judges 5
It seems notable that the songs of women in the Bible celebrate Divine victories over Satanic power. Notice the song of Miriam in Exodus 15:20-21 and the song of the women in 1 Samuel 18:6-7 that celebrated David’s victory over Goliath. This is the only song in Judges, so it has a high level of importance attached to it. Deborah joined with Barak to sing of God’s victory over the forces of Canaan, and this song is a picture to some degree of the assessment of our service at the judgment seat of Christ. Here men are assessed according to what they did or did not do to help accomplish God’s purpose in this case. It is solemn to think of the day when our actual deeds will be manifested in the Lord’s presence and we will be judged, not according to what we thought we would do or planned to do; rather it will be on the basis of what we have actually done. See 1 Corinthians 3:13-15. Our minds go to the parables that relate to this principle in the gospels, such as Luke 19:12-27, where we see the results of service during the nobleman’s absence. It may be that many saints, thinking that one day they will become involved in the Lord’s work, never actually engage themselves in any meaningful activity in the things that really matter for eternity. One has said that at the judgment seat of Christ, no one will receive any reward simply for having been a successful businessman in this world, or having gained a high reputation in any sector of society, nor for simply being a person well-liked by others. It is the work that is done for Christ according to the standard of God’s Word that will merit a “well-done” in that day.
Deborah’s song is divinely recorded as part of inspiration; however, that does not mean that every part of it was spoken by inspiration of God. It is a production of a victorious, yet failing person, and it records the exultation of the victor over the defeated foe. In the first part of the song, it seems that possibly Deborah is exalting her own position and exploits when she seems to indicate that no one else had accomplished what she had. In verse 6, she seems to be saying that Shamgar had not accomplished a victory for Israel, neither had Jael. It was not until she arose. Note that she does not say that God raised her. So there is some measure of personal pride in what she has accomplished. Whether this is actually what she intended or not, it is not commendable for anyone who has been used of God, to have an attitude that gives the impression that they are the “only one” or that it was through their own exercise or ability that this came to pass. Self-exaltation is always a dangerous thing, but we more readily judge it in others than in ourselves!
Praise to Some
Then we mark that she noted and commended those who participated in the Lord’s battle. In verse 2, we learn that “the people willingly offered themselves.” While there are difficulties in the translation of this expression (JND translates it as “that leaders led in Israel”) it is evident that those who served are being recognized. Again, in verse 9, we read about “the governors of Israel, that offered themselves willingly among the people.” We notice that here, as in the days of the building of the tabernacle, what she recognized is the free will of the saints to participate and sacrifice what they are and have. This is the kind of service that God will accept and acknowledge. It is the kind of response that should arise from our hearts. If there is not a willingness to do His will and devote all to Him, it suggests a serious problem of the heart.
Praise to God
Above all, she offers praise to God for His delivering power. Those who are prominent (verse 10) and those who have been delivered (verse 11) will recognize that God has been their deliverer and that He has accomplished this work righteously. Songs of the saints would always have this ultimate purpose, would they not? We praise our God, for it is He who has done all things well. Nothing could be accomplished apart from His work, the expression of His grace and His power. He is the One who is due all the praise and honor, and He will have it, both now and in the future. We sing at times,
Praise our God, Who willed it thus,
Praise the Lamb, Who died for us;
Praise the Father through the Son,
Who so vast a work has done.
“Believer’s Hymn Book,” #20
Those who Failed and Those who Came
Then, in the second part of the song, we learn about those who failed to respond to the call and those who did come. There was no actual indifference to God’s battle; we learn in verses 14-15a of those who fought. Ephraim acted, apparently, to forestall any attempt by Amalek to take advantage of the battle to rob God’s people. Do we not need those, who can recognize that other enemies of the saints will try to use a conflict to cause further ruin and loss among the saints? Amalek, representing the work of Satan through the flesh, would always attack those who are weaker, the “hindmost” of God’s people. Ephraim rendered a great service in this regard and she commends them for their vigilance.
We learn that Benjamin, Issachar, Manasseh (Machir) and Zebulun were with Barak, though not mentioned in the previous chapter. Do we not learn that there are some who are involved in service for God who may not be recognized until all is manifested at the Judgment Seat of Christ? Not all exploits are evident or rewarded in this life; we wait for the assessment of the righteous Judge (1 Timothy 5:24-25). What is also noticeable is that some of these tribes were not directly affected by the domination of Canaan, so that they came to the help of their brethren without obligation. It is actually a sin, when believers turn away from involvement in any effort to overcome an enemy or to deliver their brethren from that domination through indifference or apathy. It is too easy to sit back and say that it is “not my problem, so why should I become involved?” God’s Word tells us that He will reward those who are exercised to deliver those who have need in this way (Isaiah 58:10-12).
The close of verse 15 turns to consider those who failed to come to the help of their brethren. Reuben, the tribe that should have taken the lead, failed. It seems that they made a start to come, but as one translation reads, “at the brooks of Reuben were great resolutions of heart,” (Keil & Delitzsch) as if to say that they moved to a certain point, began to discuss the pros and cons of the matter, then made resolutions that they should do something. Then we read, “Why abodest thou among the sheepfolds, to hear the bleatings of the flocks? For the divisions of Reuben there were great searchings of heart.” It seems that the same thing that caused them to choose to settle on the east side of Jordan, their flocks and herds, (Numbers 32) now caused them to remain there rather than go to the battle with their brethren. They had done so initially, when they conquered the land, but now they consider their possessions and finally decide not to become involved. They were removed, after all, from the scene of the battle, so they could avoid conflict.
The second expression, “great searchings of heart” is not as strong as the first. It indicates that they had resolutions to do something, but then they sank into mere projects that failed to materialize. Does this speak to any of us, considering that often our concern for material well-being and the desire to “take it easy” overrides any sense of what we ought to do in our service for the Lord? The Lord, speaking about the Sower and the seed, said of the soil with thorns that “the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the Word, and it becometh unfruitful” (Mark 4:19). It seems that this gospel makes the parable apply to the effect of the Word of God on the believer, and if this is true, the possessions we have can hinder us in our service and faithfulness to God. We need to be careful that this is not the case. “No man can serve two masters,” the Lord said, referring to the slavery to material possessions that one can be dominated by (Matthew 6:24). Reuben exemplifies one who has resolves of heart, but due to the love of ease and prosperity, fails to act and thus comes under reprobation by God. Again, we notice that they were judged, not on their intents and resolves, but rather on the basis of what they actually did, or didn’t do, in this case.
Verse 17 also tells us of others who, in like manner, put their own safety and commercial activities ahead of the Lord’s battles. Dan, in his ships of commercial interests and Asher, in his place of ease and safety enjoying his comfortable life, had no heart for any activity for God that would cause them to hazard life and possessions! This seems too often to be the case today among us and we should be concerned about this direction of our lives as well.
Again, reverting to speak of the worthies, verse 18 notes those who, in an extraordinary way, risked their lives for the accomplishment of victory. We know, of course, that these two tribes were the ones chosen by God to join with Barak to lead the battle. They did not shrink back or avoid the conflict, but led and conquered; being overcomers, they are recognized here in the annals of the mighty. How will it be at the judgment seat of Christ for us?
Verses 19-22 recount the defeat of the enemy kings. They had come with the expectation of taking a spoil, but they got nothing for their efforts. God defeated them and they were overthrown and broken in pieces by the His hand.
But then the song turns to others who also failed to come to help, and Meroz comes under a curse in verse 23. This evidently was a village that stood in the path of the retreating enemy, but they declined to become involved and refused to give any help. It is most solemn to think of some who were so near and so liable to be affected by the outcome, yet they would rather leave the fighting to others and spare themselves. This resulted in a curse of the angel of the Lord against them, much more serious than what man might pronounce. Their condition was not seen as reluctance simply to help God’s people, but it is identified as it truly was, failure to come “to the help of the Lord.” Refusal or failure to be involved in a delivering work is identified as refusal to be used of the Lord and that is more serious by far. Let us be careful that this is not the case for us!
If Meroz is cursed of God, it is in contrast to Jael, who is the blessed one above women (verse 24). To her the honor goes, more than is mentioned for Barak. She merited it, for she accomplished a personal victory that cost her far more than all the rest. Hers was an act of faith despite the element of danger. It was an expression of her confidence in the Lord and her identification with the people of God. The result of this defeat was the expressed sorrow of the mother of Sisera at the fact that he did not return. They had expected victory. Who could defeat such an army with iron chariots? GOD! As a result, the anticipated joy and celebrations were turned into sorrow and loss, the same result that will be true for every enemy that stands against the purposes of God in any day.
As we consider this assessing song, we again think of the relationship between these events and the letter to the church in Thyatira. We note, for example, that the Lord began His appeal to that church by identifying Himself as “the Son of God, who hath his eyes like a flame of fire, and his feet are like fine brass.” (Revelation 2:18). In other words, He was analyzing their service (verse 19) and discerning what had been done for which He could give His approval. Sadly, like Deborah’s song, there was much that had to be rejected with great failure that He noted. However, also like this song, the Lord recognized those among them who were seeking to be different, “the rest in Thyatira, as many as have not this doctrine . . .” (verse 24), so we see that He always makes a distinction in His analysis of His people. We know that in the system that this church represents, there were, (and are) those who overcame the normal, existing conditions and sought to maintain fervent fidelity to the Lord. Out of that Roman Catholic religion came some hymns that express a great depth of spirituality and devotion to the Lord. It would seem that the Lord delights to identify those who rise above the mass of religious confusion and clerical domination to heights of spiritual truth known through His Word. We might ask ourselves if His discerning eye would see in us that willing exercise of heart and action that distinguishes us from the mass of humanity? There is always the promise of victory to the overcomer, and as Barak, Deborah, and Jael overcame this enemy, may we seek to gain the victory over all that would hinder the spiritual prosperity of saints.
The song ends on a note of triumph anticipating the glorious day of His ultimate victory over the forces of this earth that will be gathered against His people again in the future. In like manner, the Lord ends His challenge to Thyatira by moving forward to the day of complete victory, when the coming Lord “shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers. . .” (Revelation 2:27). Our minds go to that great valley of Armageddon, far greater than the valley of the river of Kishon, where those united armies of Israel’s enemies will be completely overthrown by the Lord. What a victory that will be! Thank God, we are on the winning side now and He will have the praise and honor eternally.
May we learn something from the example of those who fought, and from those who failed. We are writing the book now that will be read farther on and up above. Our actions, or failures to act, in the spiritual conflict are all on record, and in the day of review, all will be manifested, the day shall declare the value of every man’s work, and then each one will receive what they are worthy of from the hand of our blessed Lord (1 Corinthians 3:13, 4:4-5).
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