One of the biggest travesties of skipping the Book of Judges in Sunday School is that one of the greatest role models in the Bible for our little girls is the fourth judge, Deborah. Really, there are quite a number of good women described in the Scriptures, but precious few of them get much recognition in most Sunday School curriculum. Some denominations have a problem with Deborah as an authority figure, telling men what to do. However, it must be noted that Deborah’s authority was political–she was a judge, not a priestess. Some of history’s greatest political leaders have been women–but that’s a lesson for another day!
Please note that it is helpful to teach lessons from the Judges with the aid of a poster or diagram on the white board depicting the repetitive cycle of events in this period from Israel’s history: sin, particularly idol worship; punishment by enemy capture; repentance and cry to God for help; Judge called and enemy defeated; period of peace and obedience; judge dies and Israel falls into sin again.
My name is Deborah. I am a judge of Israel. Last week, you learned about the first two judges of Israel. Do you remember their names? Othniel and Ehud! Do you remember the cycle of events that kept happening in Israel after Joshua died? The people would fall into sin and worship false gods; then God would punish the people by allowing a foreign king to conquer them and oppress them. The people would be sorry for their sin and ask God to forgive them and rescue them. So God would send a judge to lead them out of bondage.
I am the fourth judge of Israel. During the time of the second judge, Ehud, there was an attack on our people by the Philistines. At that time, God raised a third judge named Shamgar to defeat the Philistine army. The Philistines had iron chariots and iron swords and shields, and our army had only long, pointed sticks called ox goads to defend themselves. But Shamgar killed 600 of these armed Philistines with his ox goad all by himself. That’s really all history tells us of this brave man!
But after Ehud and Shamgar died, the people of Israel again forgot the one, true God and began to worship false gods. They did evil in the sight of the Lord. And so, God allowed Jabin, the king of the Canaanites to defeat Israel with the help of his cruel, wicked general, Sisera. King Jabin and General Sisera tormented the people of Israel for 20 years, until finally Israel returned to the one, true God and cried out for His help. And God called me to help them.
When God called me, I was a prophetess. That means that God talks to me and I can tell people what He says. People would come from all over Israel to sit under the palm tree in my front yard and ask me to help them with their problems, because they knew that the Spirit of God was with me. Whenever two men had a disagreement that they couldn’t solve between them, they’d say, “Let’s go to the Palm of Deborah,” and then they would come and ask me to speak to God for them.
One day, God gave me a message to send to a man named Barak. God was answering the prayers of His people and was planning to deliver Israel from the rule of the Canaanites through Barak. I told God’s plan to this man whom God had chosen. “Gather 10,000 men upon Mt. Tabor and God will lead Sisera’s army right to you and give them into your hands. You will defeat him easily,” I told Barak.
But Barak did wasn’t so sure. “I’ll go,” he said reluctantly. “But only if you go with me. If you don’t go with me, I won’t go either!”
I sighed. I’m not a young woman anymore. Even if I were a man, I would be too old to fight in a battle! What help did Barak think I could possibly be? “All right,” I said, “I’ll go with you. But because you put more trust in me than in our God, the honor of this battle will not be yours. A woman will get the credit for defeating General Sisera.” Barak was fine with this, because he thought the woman getting the credit would be me, just for telling him how to win the battle. But he was quite wrong, as you will see.
Barak gathered his men on Mt. Tabor as God, though me, had instructed. And all went well, because God was with us. The Canaanites had iron chariots and we did not even have horses. The Canaanites had iron swords and shields, and most of our men had only primitive weapons like sticks and bows and arrows. There were far more Canaanites than there were Israelites. But still, when Barak blew his trumpet and our army ran down Mt. Tabor towards the Canaanites’ camp, the enemy panicked and fled, leaving their horses and fancy chariots behind! They were in such fear, they trampled and killed each other, and then they were trapped at the banks of a river, which God had caused to be flooded and rushing wildly. Most of the enemy who were still alive at that point, jumped into the river and drowned. The battle was won, and we had needed no weapon but God!
General Sisera, the enemy general, had seen that all was lost. Instead of staying with his own men, he ran away like a coward and tried to find a place to hide. He came to the home of man named Heber. Heber and his wife Jael did not live in a house like you have today: they lived in a tent. Sisera knew that Heber had served the Canaanite king Jabin in the past and hoped to find help at Heber’s tent. But Heber was not home, and Jael, unlike her husband, was loyal to Israel. When Sisera ran into her tent, demanding shelter and something to drink, she gave him a bottle of milk and let him lie down to rest on a mat on the floor. And then, when her enemy was asleep, she grabbed a tent stake and a hammer and nailed Sisera’s head to the dirt floor! He died instantly. Sisera, the mighty Canaanite general who had tormented the Israelites for 20 years, was dead at the hand of a woman. In the meantime, Barak realized that Sisera had escaped and was searching everywhere for him. When he came near Jael’s tent, she ran out and told Barak what she had done. Now Barak understood what God had meant when He said that the honor of the battle would go to a woman!
With General Sisera and most of the Canaanite army gone, King Jabin no longer had any power in the land of Israel. He was quickly overthrown, and Israel belonged to Israel again. After serving such cruel masters for 20 years, all of Israel rejoiced at our freedom! As long as I lived, the people continue to serve only the one, true God and to obey Him. And God blessed us as long as we served Him, giving us an abundance of every good. Do you think they will continue to serve God after I die?