Barak—Judge and Deliverer of Israel
WHO was Judge Barak? When did he live, and by what means did he deliver his people Israel? Judge Barak was Israel’s fourth judge and human deliverer after Joshua. He was a fearless fighter who led Israel to victory over tremendous odds, delivering Israel from the oppressive hand of King Jabin of Canaan, but his record is presented with true candor.
It is fitting that we consider what the Bible has to say about Judge Barak, for he is held out to us as a man of faith. Yes, he was one “who through faith defeated kingdoms in conflict, . . . became valiant in war, routed the armies of foreigners.” However, a check of books dealing with Bible characters and personalities reveals that the writers of Christendom have generally ignored him, focusing their attention on the woman prophetess of his time, Deborah. This trend is even seen in the matter of naming children: one frequently hears of a daughter’s being named Deborah but rarely of a son called Barak.—Heb. 11:32-34.
Even as Moses had warned in his farewell speech, after his death—more particularly after the death of Joshua and the older men of his time—his people fell away to the worship of false gods, and that time and time again. (Deut. 31:29; Judg. 2:17-19) It was at such a time when Israel had again apostatized from the pure worship of Jehovah, when “they proceeded to choose new gods,” that Jehovah permitted his people to suffer oppression under Jabin, the king of Canaan, and that for twenty years. This situation was so bad that the highways were deserted, the “pathways had no traffic,” and the Israelite “travelers of roadways would travel by roundabout pathways.”—Judg. 5:6, 8; 4:1, 2.*
Militarily, the situation seemed hopeless. On the side of their oppressor, King Jabin, there was a large army under General Sisera with a “panzer division,” as it were, of 900 chariots with iron scythes that could literally mow down foot soldiers. On the side of the Israelites, why, there was not even one lance or spear and one shield among 40,000. The contrast could hardly have been greater.—Judg. 5:8.
Even as is often the case, adversity caused the Israelites to come to their spiritual senses, and so we read of their repenting and crying to Jehovah for help. Being ever merciful, Jehovah heard and answered their pleas for help. The two human instruments he primarily used to bring this about were the prophetess Deborah, who was judging Israel at the time, and Barak, the son of Abinoam.—Judg. 4:3-6.
THE PROPHETESS CALLS BARAK
When Jehovah’s time came to answer the prayers of the repentant Israelites, he inspired Deborah to send word to Barak, both of whom were situated in the northern part of the land of Israel: “Has not Jehovah the God of Israel given the command? ‘Go and you must spread yourself out on Mount Tabor, and you must take with you ten thousand men out of the sons of Naphtali and out of the sons of Zebulun. And I shall certainly draw to you at the torrent valley of Kishon Sisera the chief of Jabin’s army and his war chariots and his crowd, and I shall indeed give him into your hand.’”—Judg. 4:6, 7.
Note how tactfully the prophetess Deborah presented matters to Barak. She did not put it as a command coming from her, a woman, but in the form of a question, as if merely reminding him of what God had commanded. Though judge and prophetess, Deborah kept her place, setting a fine example for all Christian women.
It may be that Barak had some doubts about being able to recruit 10,000 men for this undertaking; Deborah’s being well known would help. Be that as it may, it does seem that he felt that he just had to have the presence of God’s prophetess or mouthpiece, and so he replied to the prophetess Deborah: “If you will go with me, I also shall certainly go; but if you will not go with me, I shall not go.” To this Deborah, evidently a little disappointed, replied: “Without fail I shall go with you. Just the same, the beautifying thing will not become yours on the way that you are going, for it will be into the hand of a woman that Jehovah will sell Sisera.”—Judg. 4:8, 9.
Appreciating the magnitude of the task ahead of him, Barak wanted God’s representative, even though that one happened to be a woman, to go with him. He may also have reasoned that Deborah’s presence would strengthen the morale of his men. However, it was an undue leaning on the arm of flesh. A slight flaw it was, but let us remember that, had he been a weakling, would the prophet Samuel have made a reference to Israel’s deliverance from “Sisera the chief of the army of Hazor” by Barak? Would he have been held up to us as an example of faith by the writer of the book of Hebrews? Hardly!—1 Sam. 12:9-11, 1955 ed. ftn.; Heb. 11:32-34.
With the prophetess Deborah at his side Barak began to call for volunteers, and, it seems, not just from Zebulun and Naphtali, but from most of the other tribes as well. This is what Deborah’s victory song seems to indicate, for those of Ephraim, Benjamin, Manasseh (Machir) and Issachar are also mentioned with approval for having shared in the fighting, while other tribes, such as Reuben, Dan and Asher, are censured for not having “come to the assistance of Jehovah.” It took courage to follow Barak and Deborah, and fittingly Deborah later sang of such: “My heart is for the commanders of Israel, who were volunteers among the people. Bless Jehovah.”—Judg. 5:9-18, 23.
When it was “reported to Sisera that Barak the son of Abinoam had gone up to Mount Tabor,” then, even as Jehovah had stated, “Sisera called together all his war chariots, the nine hundred war chariots with iron scythes, and all the people that were with him, out of Harosheth of the nations to the torrent valley of Kishon,” the general territory being known as the plain of Esdraelon and being near also to Megiddo.—Judg. 4:12, 13.
In the rainy season the Kishon becomes a veritable torrent, overflowing its banks, but it is often dry in the summertime. It was along this dry riverbed that Captain Sisera and his army marched against Barak and his men on Mount Tabor. How confident Sisera must have felt with his superior forces and equipment, no doubt much like Hitler’s panzer divisions felt as they overran Poland and the Low Countries!
Barak and his forces, however, were not to wait until Sisera and his men attacked them. As these approached, Jehovah, by Deborah, gave the command to Barak: “Get up, for this is the day that Jehovah will certainly give Sisera into your hand. Is it not Jehovah that has gone out before you?” So “Barak went descending from Mount Tabor with ten thousand men behind him.” This was indeed a test of faith, for an army with little more than homemade weapons to proceed against a fully armored enemy.—Judg. 4:14.
But before Barak and his men could establish contact with the enemy, Jehovah himself had already weighted the battle in their favor. How so? By means of a sudden thunderstorm and cloudburst that changed the dry riverbed of Kishon to a raging torrent that overflowed its banks, wholly immobilizing Sisera’s nine hundred chariots with their iron scythes. As Deborah recounts it in her victory song: “From heaven did the stars fight, from their orbits they fought against Sisera. The torrent of Kishon washed them away, the torrent of ancient days, the torrent of Kishon. You went treading down strength, O my soul. It was then that the hoofs of horses pawed because of dashings upon dashings of his stallions.”—Judg. 5:20-22.
What a turn of events! What dismay must have struck the hearts of Sisera and his men! Not that there was no fighting to do. Not at all. It was still a case of Barak and his men facing a fully armored foe with only homemade weapons, and this took courage: “Zebulun was a people that scorned their souls to the point of death; Naphtali also, on the heights of the field.” What was the outcome of the battle? “Jehovah began to throw Sisera and all his war chariots and all the camp into confusion by the edge of the sword before Barak. . . . And Barak chased after the war chariots and the camp as far as Harosheth of the nations, so that all the camp of Sisera fell by the edge of the sword.” None remained, except General Sisera who got down off the chariot and “fled 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 household of Heber the Kenite.” The rout was complete!—Judg. 5:18; 4:15-17.
What a reversal for proud General Sisera! Instead of returning in triumph at the head of his nine hundred chariots, here he was on foot, soaked and smeared with mud. Exhausted and looking for a place to hide, he was only too glad to have Jael welcome him, as well as to accept her hospitality of curdled milk. Feeling secure because of Heber’s peace with his king, Jabin, Sisera asked Jael to deny his presence and then went sound asleep.—Judg. 4:18-20.
But Jael had other ideas. True, her husband had found it expedient to enter into a covenant of peace with King Jabin, but her sympathies were with the Israelites. Why, had not Moses taken a wife from them? Were not these Israelites being oppressed by King Jabin? Now was the time to show where she stood, and so she made use of what might well be termed war strategy. She led her foe into a sense of security so that she could execute him, which she did by driving a tent pin through his temples. When Barak came along looking for General Sisera, she showed him the man he was looking for, but dead. True to Deborah’s words, Jehovah did sell proud Sisera into the hand of a woman.—Judg. 4:9, 21, 20.
This may have aroused in Barak a certain admiration for Jael, for thereby did she not show just where her sympathies lay in the struggle between the Canaanites and the Israelites? What about her resourcefulness in finding the means with which to kill General Sisera? Barak’s own men were largely dependent upon homemade weapons, and Jael showed how effective these could be! Yes, for, after all, with Barak the main thing was victory for Jehovah’s forces over the pagan Canaanites. He proved this by pressing the war to its limit, as we read: “The hand of the sons of Israel went on getting harder and harder against Jabin the king of Canaan, until they had cut off Jabin the king of Canaan. And the land had no further disturbance for forty years.”—Judg. 4:23, 24; 5:31.
“FOR OUR INSTRUCTION”
At Romans 15:4 we are told that “all the things that were written aforetime were written for our instruction.” This would, therefore, include the account of Israel’s victory under Captain Barak. Fittingly, he is called to our attention as an example of faith, for he, together with those with him, was willing to risk his life in Jehovah’s cause, and Jehovah gave him the victory against tremendous odds. Christians are likened to soldiers and might also be said to be facing tremendous odds, Satan and his demons, and all their visible agents and those under their control. But with strong faith Christians can overcome the world and successfully resist the Devil.—John 16:33; Eph. 6:12; 2 Tim. 2:3; Jas. 4:7; 1 John 5:4.
There is more to this inspired account; it is also of prophetic import. How can we be certain of this? Because the discomfiture and defeat of Sisera and his forces took place on the plains of Megiddo, the first of the battles to make that place famous and which battles have served as symbols of the battle of the great day of God the Almighty, Armageddon. (Rev. 16:14, 16) This is further borne out by the prophetic prayer of the psalmist: “Do to them as to . . . Sisera, as to Jabin at the torrent valley of Kishon. They were annihilated at Endor; they became manure for the ground.”—Ps. 83:9, 10, 18; Jer. 25:33.
Since the one successfully fighting the battle at Armageddon for Jehovah and his name will be Jesus Christ, together with his heavenly hosts, it follows that Barak pictures Jesus Christ. (Rev. 2:27; 19:11-21) King Jabin of Canaan, chief oppressor of Israel, would well picture Satan the Devil, the chief oppressor of God’s people, while his agents on earth that do his bidding would well be pictured by General Sisera. What about Jael? Whom does she picture?
Not being of the nation of Israel, she would picture someone else than the spiritual Israelites. Logically she would picture the “great crowd” that the apostle John saw after he had seen the 144,000 of spiritual Israel, and which crowd came out of all nations, peoples and languages. These share in praising Jehovah God and show their loyalty to the greater Barak, Jesus Christ, and to spiritual Israel by treating Satan’s agents as dead.—Rev. 7:9-17.*
Truly, what was written aforetime does serve to strengthen our faith, encouraging us and throwing light on our pathway!—Ps. 119:105.
See You May Survive Armageddon into God’s New World, pages 284-287.