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BIG IDEA: The Honeybee (Deborah) and the Mountain Goat (Jael)



We know that God is a jealous God and will not share His glory with another. When it comes to our eternal salvation, His supreme work of deliverance and redemption, God certainly does not want man to be able to boast in having any type of meritorious role. So we humbly bow the knee before God and thankfully acknowledge that “by grace we have been saved through faith” – not of our own doing but entirely the work of God.

Here in the Book of Judges we see snapshots of lesser types of deliverances that God sovereignly engineers for His oppressed people. Each of these have some contribution as a partial type or foreshadowing of the salvation to come that will be accomplished by God’s ultimate Warrior and Judge – His beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. There are unique features in each account where we must try to understand the reason for such emphasis – in our account today we see the surprising leadership role of women highlighted as we see how God used Deborah and then even a non-Israelite woman, Jael.

Inrig: [Uniqueness of Deborah] – an exceptional leader. She is the only woman in biblical history who has a major, God-given leadership role. That immediately marks her out as a uniquely gifted individual, a leader of distinction from whom we can learn a great deal. . . In the entire Old Testament only three women are said to have the gift of a prophetess. There was Miriam, the sister of Moses (Exod. 15:20); Huldah, a woman who spoke for God in the time of Josiah (2 Kings 22:14-20); and Deborah.

Many people get off track at this point and think that this historical account should lead us down the path of lobbying for an expanded role for women in places of spiritual leadership. But the NT is clear that elders in the church are required to be men; that women are not to usurp the role of men in the authoritative teaching and leading functions of the public gatherings of the local church. There remains a distinction in roles between how God wants men and women to function in different spheres – in the sphere of the home where the husband is to be the head, and in the sphere of the church. So why this emphasis on female leadership in our passage this morning?


Interesting juxtaposition in chapters 4 and 5 of a historical narrative account of events over against a poetic celebration of the same events.

Block: While feminist approaches offer many fresh insights into the biblical text, too often modern agendas are imposed upon these ancient documents, overriding and obscuring the original intention of the narrator/song writer. In their enthusiasm to celebrate the subversion of patriarchy, such interpretations subvert the authority of God and obscure the message he seeks to communicate through this text. The biblical author was obviously interested in women’s affairs and achievement, but in the final analysis Deborah and Jael are not heroic figures because of their revisionist challenges to prevailing social structures; they are heroines because of what they accomplish as agents of the divine agenda, which in this instance has less to do with overthrowing oppressive patriarchy than the role they play in Yahweh’s overthrowing oppressive Canaanites. The entire account is deliberately crafted to highlight the salvation provided by God. He is the chief Operator, pulling the strings, raising generals, deploying armies, dictating strategy, and effecting victory. In the end both narrative and song celebrate the saving work of Yahweh.


“Then the sons of Israel again did evil in the sight of the LORD, after Ehud died.”

Slippage merges into sin and the beginning of another negative cycle in the deteriorating picture of how God’s children become absorbed into the culture and even religion of the world

Romans 12:1-2 speaks of having our minds transformed so that we live holy and separate lives in loyal allegiance to the Lord who is our righteousness; but too often the pattern is that of compromise and corruption as we become friends of the world and enemies of God

God is holy and sin is a denial of His intrinsic character; He wants us to fear Him and be holy because He is holy; sin separates us from fellowship with our Creator

Inrig: the sensual, corrupt, depraved worship of the Canaanites

Davis: [this cycle] tells us something about sin. It is difficult to be creative in sin; there’s a certain monotony about it; most all of it has been done before; it is simply that we do the same thing again (v. 1). Sin is a boring routine, not a fresh excitement. The fast lane becomes an old rut. Evil never lends itself to originality. Hence there are two problems: the slavery and staleness of sin.

Robert Watson: During the peace that followed Ehud’s triumph over Moab the Hebrews, busy with worldly affairs, failed to estimate a danger which year by year became more definite and pressing –the rise of the ancient strongholds of Canaan and their chiefs to new activity and power. Little by little the cities Joshua destroyed were rebuilt, re-fortified and made centres of warlike preparation. The old inhabitants of the land recovered spirit, while Israel lapsed into foolish confidence.


“And the LORD sold them into the hand of Jabin king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor; and the commander of his army was Sisera, who lived in Harosheth-hagoyim.”

John 8:34 “Everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin.”

Jabin = a dynastic name applied to the kings of this region of Canaan (like Pharoah in Egypt) rather than a personal name

Inrig: This time it was a king who headed up an alliance of northern kings, from the area around the Sea of Galilee. Under Joshua, 150 years earlier, when the people trusted God, they had burned the city of Hazor and killed its king, Jabin (Josh. 11:13). But now another king named Jabin, aided by a brilliant general named Sisera, swept down to dominate the northern tribes of Israel.

Look at how these ancient enemies re-invent themselves and pop back up to trouble Israel. It takes vigilance to fight God’s enemies. Complacency and slippage might seem like the easy path to take to a comfortable life – but it just means more hardship and difficulty for the future.

Brensinger: So great was Sisera’s reputation that Jewish legend describes him as follows:

When he was thirty years old, he had conquered the whole world. At the sound of his voice the strongest of walls fell in a heap;, and the wild animals in the woods were chained to the spot by fear. The proportions of his body were vast beyond description. If he took a bath in the river, and dived beneath the surface, enough fish were caught in the beard to lead a multitude, and it required no less than nine hundred horses to draw the chariot in which he rode. (Ginzberg)

Harosheth-hagoyim – cultivated field of the Gentiles

Alan Carr: When Israel rebelled against God, He responded by giving them over to their enemies for punishment. The Bible says He “sold” them. This words means to “turn over; to give up”. In other words, God abandoned them to the life they chose for themselves. They paid a terrible price for their rebellion. The condition of the nation is described in Judges 5:6-7. They were literally driven from their highways and their homes.


“And the sons of Israel cried to the LORD; for he had nine hundred iron chariots, and he oppressed the sons of Israel severely for twenty years.”

Inrig: The chariots made it impossible for Israel to defend the valleys and plains. Their military position was nothing less than appalling. Israel was outmanned, outgunned, and out-positioned.

Ps. 20:7 “Some boast in chariots and some in horses, but we will boat in the name of the Lord, our God.”

Chapter 5 references the severe military deficiency of the Israelites – they did not even have shields or spears (5:8)

We take our liberty in this country for granted; we do not have much empathy for those in other parts of the world who are living in terror and oppressed by cruel enemies that drive them from their homes and force them into some type of refugee existence; such fear and terror


A. (:4-5) Prominence of Deborah – Exalted Role for a Woman – God Raises Up an Amazing Lady Leader

“Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time. And she used to sit under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the sons of Israel came up to her for judgment.”

Name Deborah means “HoneyBee” — dispensing sweet nuggets of wisdom, but packing a sting when necessary – Mohammad Ali – “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee”

Surprising, given the biblical roles of men and women as well as the custom of the times

Is. 3:12 – to some degree the failure of male leadership is being highlighted here – “As for My people, children are their oppressors, and women rule over them”

Role as a prophetess – received revelation directly from God and communicated it to the people; raised up by God; was not usurping the role of others but had been divinely commissioned to serve in this capacity – a civil and judicial governing role – not a priestly role; NT – in the foundation of the church when God was speaking through prophets we saw that He used various women as prophetesses as well

Very respected by all the people

James Jordan: Thus, the palm tree is a fitting symbol for Deborah herself. She constituted a gat to heaven for her people, rendering judgments for them, and raising up a godly generation. As a picture of the True Judge, she provided leaves for healing, the fruit of the Word for eating, and shade for protection.

Herbert Wolf: The reference to a palm tree may allude to the stateliness and gracefulness of women (S of Songs 7:7-8). The palm is associated with prosperity in Psalm 92:12 and leadership in Isaiah 9:14.

Block: With her seat centrally located in the hill country of Ephraim, Deborah was accessible to the entire nation of Israel, and so they came up to her for “judgment.”

B. (:6-9a) Partnership with Barak – Unwilling to Engage the Enemy Without Deborah – God Alone Gives the Victory – so He Secures the Ultimate Glory and Distributes the Derived Honor

“Now she sent and summoned Barak the son of Abinoam from Kedesh-naphtali, and said to him, ‘Behold, the LORD, the God of Israel, has commanded, Go and march to Mount Tabor, and take with you ten thousand men from the sons of Naphtali and from the sons of Zebulun. And I will draw out to you Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his many troops to the river Kishon; and I will give him into your hand.’ Then Barak said to her, ‘If you will go with me, then I will go; but if you will not go with me, I will not go.’ And she said, ‘I will surely go with you; nevertheless, the honor shall not be yours on the journey that you are about to take, for the LORD will sell Sisera into the hands of a woman.’”

Name Barak means “lightning” —

Remember that Barak is listed in Heb. 11:32 as a hero of faith: right along with Gideon and Samson

“Hands of Iron, Feet of Clay” – book by Inrig

Judges 5:23 – speaks to the cowardice of Israel’s tribes who were unwilling to come to aid and fight in this time of crisis; four and a half tribes singled out for their hesitation …

James Jordan: Barak with his ten thousand men ascending to the top of Tabor put everything at stake. From Mount Tabor there was no escape. Once on the mountain, Barak and his men had no choice. They had to meet the enemy. They had to fight and gain the victory, or die.

Motyer: In this connection we cannot help hearing in the conversation an echo from the first great deliverance of the people of God in the time of Moses. In Exodus 33:12-17 we find the same kind of command, the same kind of reaction, and the same kind of response. . .

So what are we witnessing when Barak refuses to set out without this woman? Not cowardice – far from it – but faith: faith, that is, which is the glorious combination of a humble confession of his own inadequacy and a sure confidence in the grace of God, known in this case through his mouthpiece Deborah.

Block: at a deeper level the objection reflects a recognition of Deborah’s status. The request to be accompanied by the prophet is a plea for the presence of God.

The glory will be the Lord’s!

Davis: As he displays his glory in delivering his people, God takes pains to keep anyone from obscuring that glory. No warrior in Israel must place the Warrior of Israel in the shadows. Perhaps for personal application we could take over Deborah’s words to Barak: “The road on which you are going will not lead to your glory” (v. 9 RSV). That is a necessary reminder for us – it is Yahweh who brings victory and we should not care which human instrument seems to shine the most therein. This word may touch some of us pastors, who, quite naturally, and perhaps idolatrously, want to have “successful” churches.

Wiersbe: If Barak would lead the Israelite army toward Mount Tabor, God would draw Sisera and his troops toward the Kishon River, where God would give Barak the victory. When God wants to glorify Himself through His people, He always has a perfect plan for us to follow. God chose the leader of His army, the place for the battle, and the plan for His army to follow. God also guaranteed the victory. It was like the “good old days” of Joshua again!

C. (:9b-16) Providential Rout of Sisera’s Troops by Barak and Deborah – Despite the Superior Weaponry of 900 Iron Chariots – God Brings About Miraculous Victory Through Obedient Faith – that Initially May Look Like Suicide

“Then Deborah arose and went with Barak to Kedesh. And Barak called Zebulun and Naphtali together to Kedesh, and ten thousand men went up with him; Deborah also went up with him. Now Heber the Kenite had separated himself from the Kenites, from the sons of Hobab the father-in-law of Moses, and had pitched his tent as far away as the oak in Zaanannim, which is near Kedesh. Then they told Sisera that Barak the son of Abinoam had gone up to Mount Tabor. And Sisera called together all his chariots, nine hundred iron chariots, and all the people who were with him, from Harosheth-hagoyim to the river Kishon. And Deborah said to Barak, ‘Arise! For this is the day in which the LORD has given Sisera into your hands; behold, the LORD has gone out before you.’ So Barak went down from Mount Tabor with ten thousand men following him. And the LORD routed Sisera and all his chariots and all his army, with the edge of the sword before Barak; and Sisera alighted from his chariot and fled away on foot. But Barak pursued the chariots and the army as far as Harosheth-hagoyim, and all the army of Sisera fell by the edge of the sword; not even one was left.”

Inrig: [Key to Victory} – Judges 5:21 “The torrent of Kishon swept them away, the ancient torrent, the torrent Kishon.” At this time of year, Kishon was a dried-up creek bed. How could it be called a torrent? The answer is that, suddenly, at exactly the right time, in the middle of the dry season, God caused a violent storm to sweep through the area. The downpour turned the ground into a muddy quagmire, and the chariots bogged down. Sisera’s major weapon had become a handicap, and, as a result, Sisera’s armies panicked and broke ranks, and the Israelites pursued and defeated them. . .

Barak did not have to twist arms or plead or trick men into a commitment. There was no draft or a series of TV ads saying how wonderful life in the army was. There was a challenge from the heart of God and a free, spontaneous, unhesitating response to that challenge. Judges 5:2, 9

Davis: The battlefield in general was the Plain of Esdraelon, a triangular plain southwest of the Sea of Galilee, drained by the unpretentious Wadi Kishon, and guarded at its northeast apex by Mount Tabor (located ten miles southwest of the Sea of Galilee).

Wiersbe: The word translated “routed” (4:15) means “confused, thrown into panic” . . . When you remember that the Canaanite god Baal was the god of storms, you can see how the sudden change of weather could have affected the superstitious Canaanites. Had their own god Baal turned against them? Was the God of Israel stronger than Baal? If so, then the battle was already lost, and the wisest thing the soldiers could do was flee.

Ron Daniel: The Kenites were a people that lived in the land of Canaan, yet were accepting of the Israelites. This may be because Moses’ father-in-law was a Kenite.. . I think that the Kenites were kind of like Switzerland – trying to be friends with everyone. On one hand, 1Sam. 15:6 Saul said to the Kenites, “Go, depart, go down from among the Amalekites, lest I destroy you with them; for you showed kindness to all the sons of Israel when they came up from Egypt.” So the Kenites departed from among the Amalekites. But on the other hand, Judg. 4:17 …There was peace between Jabin the king of Hazor and the house of Heber the Kenite. Remember that these are the people that have enslaved the Israelites. So Heber, whose name means “comrade,” had separated himself from the Kenites, and went to live in Tsah-an-an-NEEM, by KEH-desh, where Deborah and Ba-RAWK are headed for battle.

D. (:17-22) Prophetic Judgment Fulfilled – Sisera Killed in Humiliating Fashion by a Woman – Jael – God Secures the Glory for Himself by Using Unconventional Means

“Now Sisera fled away on foot to the tent of Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite, for there was peace between Jabin the king of Hazor and the house of Heber the Kenite. And Jael went out to meet Sisera, and said to him, ‘Turn aside, my master, turn aside to me! Do not be afraid.’ And he turned aside to her into the tent, and she covered him with a rug. And he said to her, ‘Please give me a little water to drink, for I am thirsty.’ So she opened a bottle of milk and gave him a drink; then she covered him. And he said to her, ‘Stand in the doorway of the tent, and it shall be if anyone comes and inquires of you, and says, Is there anyone here? that you shall say, No.’ But Jael, Heber’s wife, took a tent peg and seized a hammer in her hand, and went secretly to him and drove the peg into his temple, and it went through into the ground; for he was sound asleep and exhausted. So he died. And behold, as Barak pursued Sisera, Jael came out to meet him and said to him, ‘Come, and I will show you the man whom you are seeking.’ And he entered with her, and behold Sisera was lying dead with the tent peg in his temple.”

Jael means mountain goat

Maybe gave him a little warm milk to help him fall asleep more easily

Jordan: To go into the tent of another man’s wife was the same thing as adultery. Practically speaking, there was no other reason why a man would go into a woman’s tent. . . Christ has crushed Satan’s head definitively, in His victory n the cross. Christ’s people are called to join with Him in this victory, and the promise is that we too shall crush Satan’s head, in union with Christ (Rom. 16:20). . . Jael, then, is a prophetic picture of Christ, the ultimate Seed of the Woman. . . Clear approval by God of Jael’s actions (5:26-27)

Brensinger: Jael proceeds to drive (taqa’) a tent peg through the skull of the unsuspecting and sleeping commander in a manner strangely reminiscent of Ehud’s thrusting (taqa’) his sword through Eglon’s enormous belly.

Alan Carr: In that culture, it was the woman’s responsibility to put up and take down the tents. So, Jael was used to swinging that hammer. This woman was not stupid! When she saw Sisera come to her tent on foot, she knew that he had been defeated in battle. She also knew that if she was caught hiding him in her tent, she might be put to death with him when Barak found them. She saw that Israel had come out on top in the battle and she wanted to be found on the right side when the dust settled. Jael was a wise woman!

E. (:23-24) Postscript Relating Complete Victory – King Jabin Destroyed by God – God Finishes Off the Wicked Enemies

“So God subdued on that day Jabin the king of Canaan before the sons of Israel. And the hand of the sons of Israel pressed heavier and heavier upon Jabin the king of Canaan, until they had destroyed Jabin the king of Canaan.”

Jabin was the one operating behind the scenes – but the all powerful king pulling the strings while his commander Sisera did the work in the field

Cf. Satan operating in the invisible realm to coordinate all of the attacks against God’s children

God’s people released from bondage and eventually will experience their hand pressing heavier and heavier upon Satan and his forces until the final vanquishing of the enemy is realized

Block: This is a story about God, who is the real hero, and his people Israel, and their enemies the Canaanites, represented by Jabin their King. The conclusion reminds the reader that the conflict in Book of Judges is not between patriarchy and egalitarianism, between men and women, or even between Israelite leaders and the rulers of the nations. The conflict is between the divine King and the kingdom of Light on the one hand and the forces of the kingdom of darkness on the other.

The narrator’s commentary in vv. 23-24 reflects his perception of the synergy between the divine hand and human effort in historical events.


The message here is that God can deliver His people. He can save by many or by few. He can use chariots and sophisticated weapons or He can use an oxgoad and a slingshot. He can raise up mighty warriors or work in surprising ways through women in positions of leadership. He can use a single woman like Jael to finish off the enemy and drive a stake through his head. God is sovereign and He controls all of nature. Despite overwhelming odds, He can call upon a severe storm and a raging flood to send confusion and panic through superior enemy troops. He wants us to obey Him by faith and allow Him to give us the victory by His right hand. He wants us to praise and glorify Him alone for His amazing salvation. Whatever is troubling you, whether you are wrestling with the ultimate question of the salvation of your soul – Can God really save me from my bondage to sin; or whether you are struggling with some particular sin problem, God wants you to call upon Him for mercy and truly repent and place your faith in His delivering power. There are no iron chariots that are strong enough to force you to continue to live in fear and hopelessness and oppression. It’s all about the Lord and He is able to rout any enemy we face.