Introduction: This chapter recounts the song of Deborah and Barak immediately following their victory in battle over the Canaanites. The song follows certain patterns of Hebrew poetry that are lost in English. Nevertheless, from this duet, God reveals seven lessons about true worship.
First, from Deborah and Barak’s song of praise, He reveals that He wants you to praise Him during both your victories and in the midst of your trials. He is your deliverer and the source of your protection. Second, through their song about their prior oppression, He reveals that He also wants you to sing praise for what He delivered you from. Third, from Deborah and Barak’s encouragement to the Jews to share their victory with others, He encourages you to share His victories in your life so that others might come to know their true deliverer. Fourth, through a portion of the song where Deborah and Barak commiserate over the failure of some of the tribes to help in the battle, He reveals that He wants you to lay your burdens and concerns on Him. He also wants you to pull your weight for His Kingdom. Fifth, through God’s destruction of the enemy’s iron chariots through heavy rains and flooding, He reveals that He wants you to praise Him as sovereign over all. He wants you to trust Him that He is in control, even when all seems lost. Sixth, through the song of praise for Jael in killing the enemy general, He wants you to praise Jesus so that He can use ordinary people like you. Finally, through the 40 years of peace that He granted to Israel, He reveals that He wants you to praise Jesus for the peace that He makes available to all who believe in Him as Lord and Savior.
Deborah and Barak’s praise and gratitude for God’s deliverance. Immediately after defeating their enemies, the prophetess / deliverer Deborah and the general Barak sang God’s praise and gave Him the credit for their victory: “1 Then Deborah and Barak the son of Abinoam sang on that day, saying, 2 ‘That the leaders led in Israel, that the people volunteered, bless the Lord!’ 3 ‘Hear, O kings; give ear, O rulers! I—to the Lord, I will sing, I will sing praise to the Lord, the God of Israel.’ 4 ‘Lord, when You went out from Seir, when You marched from the field of Edom, the earth quaked, the heavens also dripped, even the clouds dripped water.’ 5 ‘The mountains quaked at the presence of the Lord, this Sinai, at the presence of the Lord, the God of Israel.’” (Jdgs. 5:1-5). Deborah and Barak’s praise in part quoted from one of Moses’ praises for Yahweh (Dt. 33:2). After God saved the Jews from Pharaoh’s army, the prophetess Miriam and Moses also led the Jews in a song of praise for their deliverance: “1 Then Moses and the sons of Israel sang this song to the Lord, and said, ‘I will sing to the Lord, for He is highly exalted; the horse and its rider He has hurled into the sea. 2 The Lord is my strength and song, and He has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise Him; My father’s God, and I will extol Him.’” (Ex. 15:1-2). Job also sang a song of praise: “Remember that you should exalt His work, of which men have sung.” (Job 36:24). The Psalmist likewise sang many songs of praise: “You are my hiding place; You preserve me from trouble; You surround me with songs of deliverance. Selah.” (Ps. 32:7). In the end times, seven angels will also sing a praise to Jesus for His deliverance: “And they sang the song of Moses, the bond-servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, ‘Great and marvelous are Your works, O Lord God, the Almighty; righteous and true are Your ways, King of the nations!’” (Rev. 15:1-3). You are saved by your faith alone. If you were saved by your works, Jesus died needlessly (Gal. 2:21). Are you singing Jesus’ praise for your unearned deliverance?
Deborah sang a song of praise and gratitude for God’s deliverance1
Also praise Jesus for your successes and for your trials. From these songs of praise, Jesus provides a template for worshiping Him. He wants you to praise Him in song as your rock, your strength, and the source of your protection. Praise Him in both good times and bad times: “The LORD lives, and blessed be my rock; and exalted be God, the rock of my salvation,” (2 Sam. 22:47). “My God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold and my refuge; my savior, You save me from violence.” (2 Sam. 22:3). “The Rock! His work is perfect, for all His ways are just; a God of faithfulness and without injustice, righteous and upright is He.” (Dt. 32:4). “The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge; my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” (Ps. 18:2, 31, 46; 19:14). Worship helps to clear your mind to receive God’s Word when your world is in turmoil. Thus, you should never skip the worship that precedes the message at Church. Through Jesus’ model prayer for you (the Lord’s prayer), He also invites believers to begin by praising God’s holy name (Matt. 6:9). “No time should be lost in returning thanks to the Lord for his mercies; for our praises are most acceptable, pleasant, and profitable, when they flow from a full heart.” (Matthew Henry on Judges Chapter 5).2 Do you praise Jesus for all your successes? Are you also praising Him during your trials?
The oppression of Jews under the Canaanites’ rule. As part of Deborah and Barak’s song, they gave thanks by remembering the oppression that God freed them from while they lived under Canaanite rule: “6 ‘In the days of Shamgar the son of Anath, in the days of Jael, the highways were deserted, and travelers went by roundabout ways.’ 7 ‘The peasantry ceased, they ceased in Israel, until I, Deborah, arose, until I arose, a mother in Israel.’ 8 ‘New gods were chosen; then war was in the gates. Not a shield or a spear was seen among forty thousand in Israel.’” (Jdgs. 5:6-8). The Jews were without any defenses during this time of oppression. The Canaanites had confiscated their weapons. “In the same way, Satan doesn't only want to oppress the Christian, he also wants to disarm the believer. He wants the believer to lay down the full armor of God that belongs to you in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 6:12-18).” (David Guzik on Judges chapter 5).3 Satan seeks to enslave you by causing you to put down the sword of the Spirit (Ep. 6:17). God wants you to praise Him for your deliverance so that you don’t become yoked to the same sins. You can show your gratitude by being a “living sacrifice” for Him (Ro. 12:1-2).
Gustave Dore (1832-1883) “Deborah Praises Jael” (engraving -1865)4
Praise God that He will never leave you nor forsake you. God promised never to leave nor forsake the Jews (Dt. 31:6). His Spirit was with them, even in their time of oppression. Through Ezekiel, God promised to put His Spirit in His people (Ez. 36:27-28; 37:27). Jesus also promised that the “helper” – the Holy Spirit – would “teach you all things” and remind you of His teachings (Jo. 14:26). The Holy Spirit now dwells in every believer (2 Cor. 6:16-17). He will never leave nor forsake you (Heb. 13:5). But the blessing of His guidance and protection requires both prayer and reading the Word (Jam. 1:5; Ps. 119:105). Are you praying and reading the Word on a regular basis?
Deborah and Barak’s command for the Jews to praise God to others. Another important part of Deborah and Barak’s song of praise was their encouragement to the Jews to sing God’s praises to others so that all might give credit where credit was due: “9 ‘My heart goes out to the commanders of Israel, the volunteers among the people; bless the Lord! 10 ‘You who ride on white donkeys, You who sit on rich carpets, and you who travel on the road—sing!’ 11 ‘At the sound of those who divide flocks among the watering places, there they shall recount the righteous deeds of the Lord, the righteous deeds for His peasantry in Israel. Then the people of the Lord went down to the gates.’ 12 ‘Awake, awake, Deborah; awake, awake, sing a song! arise, Barak, and take away your captives, O son of Abinoam.’” (Jdgs. 5:9-12). In every context, He wants you to praise Him to others: “So I will sing praise to Your name forever, that I may pay my vows day by day.” (Ps. 61:8). “I shall remember the deeds of the Lord; surely I will remember Your wonders of old.” (Ps. 77:11; 145:4). Are you sharing your deliverance with others?
Let your testimony be a light to those still in bondage. God intended for the Jews to be a light to the nations (Is. 49:6). Today, Jesus is the light of the world (Jo. 8:12). His light burns inside you as a beacon for those around you (Matt. 5:14). You are commanded to share the hope that lies within you (1 Pet. 3:15; Matt. 28:19-20). Are you a beacon of love and compassion? Do you share your faith with others?
The tribes who refused to fight the Canaanites. Through Deborah and Barak’s song, God reveals that some of the tribes did not contribute in the fight against the Canaanites. Yet, rather than confronting these tribes out of anger, Deborah and Barak gave their burdens to God through their song: “13 ‘Then survivors came down to the nobles; the people of the Lord came down to me as warriors.’ 14 ‘From Ephraim those whose root is in Amalek came down, following you, Benjamin, with your peoples; from Machir commanders came down, and from Zebulun those who wield the staff of office.’ 15 ‘And the princes of Issachar were with Deborah; as was Issachar, so was Barak; into the valley they rushed at his heels; among the divisions of Reuben there were great resolves of heart. 16 ‘Why did you sit among the sheepfolds, to hear the piping for the flocks? Among the divisions of Reuben there were great searchings of heart.’ 17 ‘Gilead remained across the Jordan; and why did Dan stay in ships? Asher sat at the seashore, and remained by its landings.’ 18 ‘Zebulun was a people who despised their lives even to death, and Naphtali also, on the high places of the field.’” (Jdgs. 5:13-18). From this part of the song, God reveals that the tribes did not all contribute equally to the fight. The tribes who led the fight included Ephraim, Issachar, Benjamin, and Makir, the tribe of Manasseh’s eldest son (Gen. 50:23). Yet, a total of three and a half tribes refused to help in the fight against the Canaanites. These included: (1) Reuben; (2) “Gilead” – a reference to the tribe of Gad by its territory in Jordan (Josh. 13:24-28); (3) Asher; and (4) Dan. With the exception of Dan and Asher, these tribes chose not to live inside the Promised Land. Their hearts were in the world. They were not willing to fight for the things of God. The tribes of Asher and Dan later settled in modern day Lebanon. Their hearts were also not with God’s people in Israel. Like the 12 tribes, the Church is composed of some believers who work hard for God and others who hardly work at all. What this song provides is a template for how believers should deal with their frustrations. They should lay their burdens at the feet of Jesus. To avoid turning to gossip or anger, praise Jesus when your flesh tries to take over: “In everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thess. 5:18). Let Him speak to the believers who are not pulling their weight. Are you laying your burdens at His feet?
Be a contributor in the fight for Jesus’ Kingdom. This story is also a warning to believers. You can either be remembered as a contributor to the Kingdom of God or as a double minded believer who fails to pull his weight. A fair-weather Christian is double minded and unstable in his or her ways: “being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” (Jam. 1:8). God “hates” those who are double minded: “I hate those who are double-minded, but I love Your law.” (Ps. 119:113). He warns that the double minded person should not expect to have his or her prayers answered (Jam. 1:7). Are you helping your brothers and sisters in Jesus by giving to those in need, praying for those trapped in bondage, encouraging others, and spreading the Word of salvation?
God’s destruction of the enemy’s chariots through heavy rains. At another part of the song, Deborah and Barak gave praise to God for His sovereignty over all. They praised Him for unleashing a torrent of rain and flood waters to immobilize the enemy’s iron chariots: “19 ‘The kings came and fought; then fought the kings of Canaan at Taanach near the waters of Megiddo; they took no plunder in silver.’ 20 ‘The stars fought from heaven, from their courses they fought against Sisera.’ 21 ‘The torrent of Kishon swept them away, the ancient torrent, the torrent Kishon.’ O my soul, march on with strength. 22 ‘Then the horses’ hoofs beat from the dashing, the dashing of his valiant steeds. 23 ‘Curse Meroz,’ said the angel of the Lord, ‘utterly curse its inhabitants; because they did not come to the help of the Lord, to the help of the Lord against the warriors.’” (Jdgs. 5:19-23). God’s plan was to use the enemy’s pride against it. He had the Jews go to the Valley of Jezreel, where they would appear to be vulnerable to a chariot attack. Yet, this was also a place that could be prone to flooding along the Kishon River. When Sisera positioned his chariots in the valley to charge the Jews, God unleashed heavy rains that flooded the area and trapped the Canaanites in their chariots. He trapped the enemy’s chariots with a deluge of water, just as He did with Pharaoh: “The clouds poured out water; the skies gave forth a sound; Your arrows flashed here and there.” (Ps. 77:17). “The earth quaked; the heavens also dropped rain at the presence of God; Sinai itself quaked at the presence of God, the God of Israel.” (Ps. 68:8). The Jews previously witnessed God’s hand force Pharaoh to free them from slavery (Ex. 7:6-11:10). They then witnessed the parting of the “Sea of Reeds” (Ex. 14:26-31). They also witnessed God leading them by a pillar of fire (Ex. 13:21-22; 14:19). They also witnessed His victories in the conquest of the Promised Land. The message is that He is in control. When you have faith in Him, no evil can harm you.
Deborah praised God for delivering His people5
Let Jesus fight your battles for you. God promises to be a shield to all who take refuge in Him: “As for God, His way is blameless; the word of the LORD is tested; He is a shield to all who take refuge in Him.” (2 Sam. 22:31). “Every word of God is tested; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him.” (Prov. 30:5). As part of the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus invites you to pray daily for God’s protection (Matt. 6:13). When you are under spiritual attack, are you crying out for Jesus to be your sword and shield?
God’s blessing of protection comes from faith that leads to obedience. If your faith leads to obedience, God will be an enemy to your enemies: “But if you truly obey his voice and do all that I say, then I will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries.” (Ex. 23:22). Protection from your enemies is also one of the blessings that God promises to those who are obedient: “7 But you will chase your enemies and they will fall before you by the sword; 8 five of you will chase a hundred, and a hundred of you will chase ten thousand, and your enemies will fall before you by the sword.” (Lev. 26:7-8; Nu 10:9, 35; Isa. 54:17). “The Lord shall cause your enemies who rise up against you to be defeated before you; they will come out against you one way and will flee before you seven ways.” (Dt. 28:7). With God’s help, Jonathon killed 20 enemy soldiers (1 Sam. 14:14). Also with His help, David killed Goliath (1 Sam. 17:50-58). He also used Gideon’s army of only 300 soldiers to kill 120,000 enemy Midianites (Jdgs. 7:16-22; 8:10). If you need His protection, are you showing your faith through obedience?
The prophecy of Jesus’ victory over the antiChrist. Like Deborah, Miriam also sang about a “horse and his rider” whom God killed (Ex. 15:20-21). God later prophesied about a deposed “horse and rider” through the prophet Jeremiah: “With you I shatter the horse and his rider, and with you I shatter the chariot and its rider,” (Jer. 51:21). In the book of Revelation, John revealed that this future horse and rider is the antiChrist: “I looked, and behold, a white horse, and he who sat on it had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer.” (Rev. 6:2). In the end times, God’s wrath against the antiChrist will be revealed, and God will judge him.
Deborah and Barak’s praise for the bravery of Jael. Near the conclusion of their song, Deborah and Barak gave praise for God’s use of a lowly Kenite woman as the instrument of His justice against the evil Canaanite general Sisera: “24 ‘Most blessed of women is Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite; most blessed is she of women in the tent.’ 25 ‘He asked for water and she gave him milk; in a magnificent bowl she brought him curds.’ 26 ‘She reached out her hand for the tent peg, and her right hand for the workmen’s hammer. Then she struck Sisera, she smashed his head; and she shattered and pierced his temple.’ 27 ‘Between her feet he bowed, he fell, he lay; between her feet he bowed, he fell; where he bowed, there he fell dead.’ 28 ‘Out of the window she looked and lamented, the mother of Sisera through the lattice, ‘Why does his chariot delay in coming? Why do the hoofbeats of his chariots tarry?’ 29 ‘Her wise princesses would answer her, indeed she repeats her words to herself, 30 ‘Are they not finding, are they not dividing the spoil? A maiden, two maidens for every warrior; to Sisera a spoil of dyed work, a spoil of dyed work embroidered, dyed work of double embroidery on the neck of the spoiler?’ 31 ‘Thus let all Your enemies perish, O Lord; but let those who love Him be like the rising of the sun in its might.”’ (Jdgs. 5:24-31). Under ancient customs, only a husband could enter into a married women’s tent. Thus, Jael appeared to offer Sisera a hiding place where the pursuing Jews would never look (Jdgs. 4:17-24). She was also part of the Kenite tribe that was aligned against Israel. For her to accept God’s calling in her life, she risked everything. It was nearly certain that if she succeeded both her husband and her community would expel her. She committed an act of treason and also violated the social norms of that time. But she is also a role model to all. She showed the same kind of faith and courage that Rahab showed in protecting the Jewish spies from the people of Jericho (Josh. 2:1-5). Like Jael, will you be bold in your faith for Him?
Salomon de Bray (1597-1664) “Jael, Deborah and Barak” (oil painting 1635)6
God uses the meek and the humble as His servants. Through Jael, God reveals that He uses the meek and humble servants who respond in faith to receive His honors: “Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.” (Matt. 23:12; Lk. 14:11; 18:14). “A man’s pride will bring him low, but a humble spirit will obtain honor.” (Prov. 29:23). “It is better to be humble in spirit with the lowly than to divide the spoil with the proud.” (Prov. 16:19). “But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, ‘God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”’ (Jam. 4:6). “Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.” (Jam. 4:10; 1 Pet. 5:5). Do you walk with humility and faith to allow God to honor you?
God’s 40-years of peace for the land. Finally, Deborah and Barak gave praise for the peace that God granted to Israel following their victory: “And the land was undisturbed for forty years.” (Jdgs. 5:31(c)). The peace that God gave the Jews foreshadowed the peace that is available through Christ. Like the Promised Land, the world is cursed with turmoil because of original sin (Gen. 3:17; Rom. 8:20-22). Yet, through Jesus, you can overcome this tribulation with the peace that surpasses all understanding (Phil. 4:7). But this peace only exists when you are in fellowship with God. For it is “impossible” to please God when you lack faith (Heb. 11:6). Nothing is “able to separate us from the love of God.” (Rom. 8:38). Knowing this, “perfect love casts out fear. . . ” (1 Jo. 4:18). The next time you fear in the wilderness, pray for God to cast out your fear. Jesus will then give you joy of abundant life: “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (Jo. 10:10(b)). If you thirst for God’s righteousness, you will never have a spiritual thirst (Matt. 5:6). Are you praising Jesus for the peace He offers you?
God will test you in times of peace as well as conflict. In the Bible, the number 40 is associated with testing. The 40-year period of peace was a test for the Jews to determine if they would return to their evil ways. Unfortunately, they failed that test. God cannot tempt you (Jam. 1:13-14). Yet, He tests you to show you where your heart is evil: “I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind, . . .” (Dt. 8:2; Jer. 17:10; 20:12; Ps. 11:5). God’s testing is done out of love (Heb. 12:6). When you are tested, you frequently find that your heart is wicked. At that point, God wants you to repent (Jer. 17:9). David, someone who committed adultery and a murder, invited God to search his heart to expose his sins (Ps. 139:23). His openness to learning from his sins is what made him a man after God’s heart (Acts 13:22). When you fail one of God’s tests, your sin should not weigh you down. Instead, rejoice that God has given you the chance to learn and change from your prior mistakes: “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials,” (Jam. 1:2). When times are good, does your heart rebel against Him?
Place your trust in God and praise Him for your deliverance and peace7
Image credit: Gustave Doré: Deborah Praises Jael (artbible.info)↩︎