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Memorial Day – Deborah and Barak

The United States’ Army website published the following statement regarding Memorial Day.

“On Monday, 27 May, Americans across the country will honor the brave servicemen and women who valiantly lost their lives fighting to safeguard our great nation. And while Memorial Day Weekend is often considered the ‘unofficial start of summer,’ typically spent with family get-togethers, parades, and cookouts, the true meaning of Memorial Day is a much more solemn occasion. It’s a time to pay tribute to our fallen heroes and recognize the sacrifice, selflessness, and valor that these more than one million men and women have made while serving in wars and missions since the American Revolution.”1

While Memorial Day is not a requirement for Christians, memorials of victories were commonplace in the Old Testament and New Testament. When Moses and the Israelites left Egypt, they were told to remember what God had done every year (Ex. 12:14). When Joshua and the Israelites later crossed the Jordan River, they put up a pillar of stones to remember what God had done (Josh. 4:1-3). The Book of Judges is filled with accounts of heroes who delivered the Israelites from their enemies. The Books of Kings and Chronicles also contain exciting battle stories which were written to remind us of God’s power and what some were able to accomplish with God’s enablement. In the New Testament, we remember Jesus’ death at every Lord’s Supper. Because of these practices, it seems fitting that we should remember especially godly heroes from Bible times but also those who fought and died to secure our current freedoms.

  1. What does it say? (Judges 4:1-24)

    The Lord judged the Israelites for their wickedness (1-3).

    The Israelites did evil after the death of one of their leaders. Because of this, the Lord allowed a Canaanite king to overpower them. This caused the Israelites to cry out to the Lord because of Jabin’s large army and twenty years of oppression.

    Deborah got Barak to muster an army (4-10).

    Deborah was a prophetess who served as a judge for Israel. She would sit under a palm tree in Ephraim to judge those who brought their cases before her. She sent for a man named Barak who was from Naphtali. She said, “Hasn’t the Lord commanded you to deploy troops at Mount Tabor? Take ten thousand men from Naphtali and Zebulun. God will deploy Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, against you and will deliver him into your hand. Barak told Deborah that he would go if she went with him. But if not, he would not go. Deborah promised to go but told him that he would not get any glory for the battle as the Lord would defeat Sisera by the hand of a woman. Deborah went with Barak to Kedesh. He gathered ten thousand men from Naphtali and Zebulun and Deborah went with him.

    The Lord got everyone to the right places (11-16).

    Heber the Kenite, who was related to Moses by marriage, left the Kenites and lived in a tent near a certain terebinth tree in Kedesh. Sisera heard about Barak mustering an army, so he gathered all his chariots and his army and Harosheth Hagoyim to the River Kishon. Deborah told Barak to go up because the Lord had delivered Sisera into his hand. She asked if there was any doubt that the Lord had gone out before him. So, Barak went down from Mount Tabor with his ten thousand troops. As promised, the Lord routed Sisera, his chariots, and his army as Barak fought them with his sword. Sisera got out of his chariot and ran away. But Barak pursued the enemy chariots and soldiers all the way back to Harosheth Hagoyim and every enemy soldier was killed.

    Sisera was defeated by a woman (17-22).

    Sisera escaped on foot to where Heber’s tent was located. Heber’s wife, Jael, calmed him down and hid him under a blanket in her tent. He was thirsty, so she gave him a drink of milk. Sisera then told her to stand at the entrance of the tent and tell people nobody was there. When Sisera had fallen asleep, Jael took a tent peg and hammer and killed him by nailing his head to the ground. When Barak arrived, she showed him the man he was seeking. Sure enough, Sisera was dead.

    The Lord defeated Jabin (23-24).

    That day, God subdued the Canaanite king Jabin who had been there with the Israelites. It took some time, but the Israelites became stronger against Jabin and eventually destroyed him.

  2. What does it mean?

    God judges sin (Judges 4:1-3).

    The Book of Judges records what happened after Joshua and his contemporaries had died. Sadly, the people chose to rebel against the Lord and to serve other gods (Judges 5:8). So, God judged them and sold them into slavery to Jabin, king of Canaan. His oppressive rule over them lasted for twenty years and led the people to cry out to the Lord for help.

    What this shows us is God’s attitude toward sin. He does not play the part of a kindly old grandfather who overlooks sin. No, in this chapter (and many others), we see that God not only knows about the sins of people but also punishes them. God hates sin and will only be merciful for a certain amount of time. Eventually, His holiness cannot take it anymore and He send judgment to accomplish one of two things. His judgment either (1) punishes the wicked and makes them miserable, and/or (2) brings the wicked to repentance. It seems that He accomplished both purposes here.

    God uses those who are willing (Judges 4:4, 8, 21).

    In this chapter, we see three people who were willing to do God’s will.

    Deborah served as a judge over Israel in Ephraim. When people needed a judge to figure out their situation, they came to her. This must show something about her character and the times in which she lived. God’s normal choice for leadership was a man. But seeing how bad the people were at the time (and how fearful), God chose to use a woman. You can see that Deborah was someone who feared the Lord and was in constant communication with Him (a prophetess). This godly woman was used by God because she was willing.

    Barak served as the recruiter and general of the army. But he was not very strong in his faith. When Deborah told him that God had chosen him to lead the army against Sisera, he was only willing to go if she went with him. This shows something about his character and the times in which he lived. He was a fearful man who didn’t have a strong faith in God’s ability to use him. Although he was willing, he wasn’t a model of faith.

    Jael served as an assassin during this war. While she pretended to befriend the enemy general, she was actually somewhat of a spy waiting for the opportunity to kill the leader of the enemy army. Her willingness to do this seems a bit grisly but war often includes some difficult tasks. Because she was willing, the Lord used her to defeat the leader of the enemy army. And she is the one we remember at the end of the day instead of the fearful General Barak.

    God wins every time (Judges 4:23-24).

    God had promised Barak that He would “deliver him into your hand” (v. 7). What actually happened? When you have some time, read the next chapter (Judges 5) to see a poetical account of what happened during the battle. However, back in 4:23-24, the first thing we see is that the Lord subdued Jabin in the sight of the Israelites. They saw God defeat Jabin’s general and his seemingly invincible army. However, it took a little longer for Israel to get out of his clutches. But they slowly became stronger until they were able to destroy him. The second thing we see is that the people turned to the Lord and recognized His hand in the victory over Jabin. They had cried out in prayer to the Lord and He had answered them by giving them this victory. But God did all of this in order to bring them back to Him. God won in both situations. He not only won the battle but also won back the hearts of His children.

  3. How does it apply?

    Is there sin in your life that God will judge?

    The first three verses of this chapter show us what happens when sin is allowed to go unchecked. While our nation is filled with wickedness against God, there is only so much we can do about it. We can make people aware of God’s view of their sin and warn them about coming judgment. But we also need to look into our own lives. Is there sin in our lives that needs to be addressed? Have you allowed sin to fester in your own life? If so, you should repent of that before God’s judgment falls on you.

    Are you someone whom the Lord can use?

    In this chapter, we saw a number of people who were used in various ways. While Barak eventually did God’s will, he was unwilling unless someone else went with him. Don’t be like that. Instead, think about being someone who encourages the weak-in-faith to become stronger in his faith. Be like Deborah or Jael, who heroically did what was needed to accomplish God’s will. And think about this. God is not only looking for people who are willing to step up during hazardous times. He is looking for those who are willing to do the little things each day. Are you willing to be someone whom the Lord can use this week?

    Are you trusting in God’s ability to win the victory?

    At the beginning and end of this chapter, we see God working on behalf of the people. They cried out for help and He sent help. He sent that help in the form of three people who accomplished God’s plan. But what made them able to do these heroic deeds? They learned to trust in the Lord. I would imagine that even fearful Barak learned to trust the Lord for future difficulties. “It is noteworthy that Barak is listed among the heroes of faith (Heb. 11:32).”2 Are you trusting in the Lord to help you through the various trials, temptations, and opportunities that He allows in your life? The account of Deborah and Barak ought to show that you can trust in the Lord in every situation.

Conclusion

As we look back at the heroes in this chapter, we see Deborah (a godly woman whom God used during terrible times), Barak (a fearful man who needed help but got the job done), and Jael (a clever woman who accomplished what others could not). These three, along with the army from Naphtali and Zebulun, are heroes who were used by God to save the Israelite nation from both spiritual and physical bondage. We should remember them today. Tomorrow, as we remember heroes from our own country, let us be thankful for how God used them to protect us and keep us free. But let us also pray that our country will turn back to the Lord before more of His judgment falls.


Bibliography

Bush, George, Notes on Judges, Minneapolis: Klock & Klock, 1976, orig. 1852.

Cundall, Arthur E. and Leon Morris, Judges & Ruth, Downers Grover: Inter-Varsity Press, 1968.

Lindsay, F. Duane, “Judges” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary Old Testament, USA: SP Publications, 1989.

McGee, J. Vernon, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, Vol II, Joshua through Psalms, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982.

Footnotes

  1. https://www.army.mil/article/276622/honoring_our_fallen_heroes_oem_pays_tribute_to_our_courageous_soldiers_on_memorial_day ↩︎
  2. Lindsay 388. ↩︎