Verses 4–9

The year of the redeemed at length came, when Israel was to be delivered out of the hands of Jabin, and restored again to their liberty, which we may suppose the northern tribes, that lay nearest to the oppressors and felt most the effects of his fury, did in a particular manner cry to God for. For the oppression of the poor, and the sighing of the needy, now will God arise. Now here we have,

I. The preparation of the people for their deliverance, by the prophetic conduct and government of Deborah, Jdg. 4:4, 5. Her name signifies a bee; and she answered her name by her industry, sagacity, and great usefulness to the public, her sweetness to her friends and sharpness to her enemies. She is said to be the wife of Lapidoth; but, the termination not being commonly found in the name of a man, some make this the name of a place: she was a woman of Lapidoth. Others take it appellatively, Lapidoth signifies lamps. The Rabbin say she had employed herself in making wicks for the lamps of the tabernacle; and, having stooped to that mean office for God, she was afterwards thus preferred. Or she was a woman of illuminations, or of splendours, one that was extraordinarily knowing and wise, and so came to be very eminent and illustrious. Concerning her we are here told, 1. That she was intimately acquainted with God; she was a prophetess, one that was instructed in divine knowledge by the immediate inspiration of the Spirit of God, and had gifts of wisdom, to which she attained not in an ordinary way: she heard the words of God, and probably saw the visions of the Almighty. 2. That she was entirely devoted to the service of Israel. She judged Israel at the time that Jabin oppressed them; and perhaps, being a woman, she was the more easily permitted by the oppressor to do it. She judged, not as a princess, by an civil authority conferred upon her, but as a prophetess, and as God’s mouth to them, correcting abuses and redressing grievances, especially those which related to the worship of God. The children of Israel came up to her from all parts for judgment, not so much for the deciding of controversies between man and man as for advice in the reformation of what was amiss in things pertaining to God. Those among them who before had secretly lamented the impieties and idolatries of their neighbours, but knew not where to apply for the restraining of them, now made their complaints to Deborah, who, by the sword of the Spirit, showing them the judgment of God, reduced and reclaimed many, and excited and animated the magistrates in their respective districts to put the laws in execution. It is said she dwelt, or, as some read it, she sat under a palm-tree, called ever after from her the palm-tree of Deborah. Either she had her house under that tree, a mean habitation which would couch under a tree, or she had her judgment-seat in the open air, under the shadow of that tree, which was an emblem of the justice she sat there to administer, which will thrive and grow against opposition, as palms under pressures. Josephus says that the children of Israel came to Deborah, to desire her to pray to God for them, that they might be delivered out of the hand of Jabin; and Samuel is said at one particular time to judge Israel in Mizpeh, that is, to bring them back again to God, when they made the same address to him upon a like occasion, 1 Sam. 7:6, 8.

II. The project laid for their deliverance. When the children of Israel came to her for judgment, with her they found salvation. So those that seek to God for grace shall have grace and peace, grace and comfort, grace and glory. She was not herself fit to command an army in person, being a woman; but she nominated one that was fit, Barak of Naphtali, who, it is probable, had already signalized himself in some rencounters with the forces of the oppressor, living near him (for Hazor and Harosheth lay within the lot of that tribe), and thereby had gained a reputation and interest among his people. Some struggles, we may suppose, that brave man had made towards the shaking off of the yoke, but could not effect it till he had his commission and instructions from Deborah. He could do nothing without her head, nor she without his hands; but both together made a complete deliverer, and effected a complete deliverance. The greatest and best are not self-sufficient, but need one another.

1. By God’s direction, she orders Barak to raise an army, and engage Jabin’s forces, that were under Sisera’s command, Jdg. 4:6, 7. Barak, it may be, had been meditating some great attempt against the common enemy; a spark of generous fire was glowing in his breast, and he would fain do something to the purpose for his people and for the cities of his God. But two things discouraged him:

(1.) He wanted a commission to levy forces; this therefore Deborah here gives him under the broad seal of heaven, which, as a prophetess, she had a warrant to affix to it: “Hath not the Lord God of Israel commanded it? Yet, certainly he has; take my word for it.” Some think she intends this as an appeal to Barak’s own heart. “Has not God, by a secret whisper to thyself, given thee some intimation of his purpose to make use of thee as an instrument in his hands to save Israel? Hast not thou felt some impulse of this kind upon thy own spirit?” If so, the spirit of prophesy in Deborah confirms the spirit of a soldier in Barak: Go and draw towards Mount Tabor. [1.] She directs him what number of men to raise-10,000; and let him not fear that these will be too few, when God hath said he will by them save Israel. [2.] Whence he should raise them—only out of his own tribe, and that of Zebulun next adjoining. These two counties should furnish him with an army sufficient; he need not stay to go further. And, [3.] She orders him where to make his rendezvous—at Mount Tabor, in his own neighbourhood.

(2.) When he had an army raised, he knew not how he should have an opportunity of engaging the enemy, who perhaps declined fighting, having heard that Israel, if they had but courage enough to make head against any enemy, seldom failed of success. “Well,” says Deborah, in the name of “God, I will draw unto thee Sisera and his army.” She assured him that the matter should be determined by one pitched battle, and should not be long in the doing. [1.] In mentioning the power of the enemy, Sisera, a celebrated general, bold and experienced, his chariots, his iron chariots, and his multitude of soldiers, she obliged Barak to fortify himself with the utmost degree of resolution; for the enemy he was to engage was a very formidable one. It is good to know the worst, that we may provide accordingly. But, [2.] In fixing the very place to which Sisera would draw his army, she gave him a sign, which might help to confirm his faith when he came to engage. it was a contingent things, and depended upon Sisera’s own will; but, when afterwards Barak should see the event falling out just as Deborah had foretold, he might thence infer that certainly in the rest she said she spoke under a divine direction, which would be a great encouragement to him, especially because with this, [3.] She gave him an express promise of success I will (that is, God will, in whose name I speak) deliver them into thy hand; so that when he saw them drawn up against him, according to Deborah’s word, he might be confident that, according to her word, he should soon see them fallen before him. Observe, God drew them to him only that he might deliver them into his hand. When Sisera drew his forces together, he designed the destruction of Israel; but God gathered them as sheaves into the floor, for their own destruction, Mic. 4:11, 12. Assemble yourselves, and you shall be broken to pieces, Isa. 8:9. See Rev. 19:17, 18.

2. At Barak’s request, she promises to go along with him to the field of battle. (1.) Barak insisted much upon the necessity of her presence, which would be to him better than a council of war (Jdg. 4:8): “If thou wilt go with me to direct and advise me, and in every difficult case to let me know God’s mind, then I will go with all my heart, and not fear the chariots of iron; otherwise not.” Some make this to be the language of a weak faith; he could not take her word unless he had her with him in pawn, as it were, for performance. It seems rather to arise from a conviction of the necessity of God’s presence and continual direction, a pledge and earnest of which he would reckon Deborah’s presence to be, and therefore begged thus earnestly for it. “If thou go not up with me, in token of God’s going with me, carry me not up hence.” Nothing would be a greater satisfaction to him than to have the prophetess with him to animate the soldiers and to be consulted as an oracle upon all occasions. (2.) Deborah promised to go with him, Jdg. 4:9. No toil nor peril shall discourage her from doing the utmost that becomes her to do for the service of her country. She would not send him where she would not go herself. Those that in God’s name call others to their duty should be very ready to assist them in it. Deborah was the weaker vessel, yet had the stronger faith. But though she agrees to go with Barak, if he insists upon it, she gives him a hint proper enough to move a soldier not to insist upon it: The journey thou undertakest (so confident was she of the success that she called his engaging in war but the undertaking of a journey) shall not be for thy honour; not so much for thy honour as if thou hadst gone by thyself; for the Lord shall sell Sisera (now his turn comes to be sold as Israel was, Jdg. 4:2; by way of reprisal) “into the hands of a woman;” that is, [1.] The world would ascribe the victory to the hand of Deborah: this he might himself foresee. [2.] God (to correct his weakness) would complete the victory by the hand of Jael, which would be some eclipse to his glory. But Barak values the satisfaction of his mind, and the good success of his enterprise, more than his honour; and therefore will by no means drop his request. He dares not fight unless he have Deborah with him, to direct him and pray for him. She therefore stood to her word with a masculine courage; this noble heroine arose and went with Barak.