DEBORAH looked around at the soldiers who were gathered atop Mount Tabor. It was touching to see them there. In the morning light, she contemplated their bravery and the faith of their leader, Barak. Though they were 10,000 strong, their faith and courage would face a great test this day. They were going against a vicious foe, and they were outnumbered and poorly armed. But they had come here anyway—largely because of the encouragement of this one woman.
Picture Deborah, her garments rustling in the breeze as she and Barak looked out over a sweeping vista. Mount Tabor resembled a great cone with its top blunted. Its flat summit commanded a view of the Plain of Esdraelon, some 1,300 feet (400 m) below, which fanned out to the southwest. The Kishon River wound through the flat grassland, leading out to the Great Sea by Mount Carmel. The riverbed may have been dry that morning, but something else glistened on that broad plain. Sisera’s army was drawing nearer, flashing ominously with the glint of iron. It came from the pride of Sisera’s forces—some 900 chariots, which may have been equipped with iron scythes protruding from the axles. Sisera intended to cut down the ill-equipped Israelites as if he were harvesting barley!
Deborah knew that Barak and his men were waiting for some word, some signal, from her. Was she the only woman there? What was it like for her to bear so much responsibility in such a setting? Did she wonder what she was doing there? Evidently not! Jehovah, her God, had told her to start this war; he had also revealed that he would use a woman to bring it to an end. (Judges 4:9) What can Deborah and these courageous fighters teach us about faith?
“GO AND MARCH TO MOUNT TABOR”
When the Bible first introduces Deborah, it refers to her as “a prophetess.” That designation makes Deborah unusual in the Bible record but hardly unique.* Deborah had another responsibility. She was also evidently settling disputes by giving Jehovah’s answer to problems that came up.—Judges 4:4, 5.
Deborah lived in the mountainous region of Ephraim, between the towns of Bethel and Ramah. There she would sit beneath a palm tree and serve the people as Jehovah directed. Her assignment was surely challenging, but Deborah did not allow it to daunt her. There was a dire need for her services. In fact, she later took part in composing an inspired song, and it included this comment about her unfaithful people: “They chose new gods; then there was war in the gates.” (Judges 5:8) Because the Israelites left Jehovah to serve other gods, Jehovah abandoned them to their enemies. Canaanite King Jabin dominated them, using a mighty general named Sisera.
Sisera! The very name caused terror and panic in Israel. The Canaanite religion and culture were brutal, featuring child sacrifice and temple prostitution. What was it like to have a Canaanite general and his army dominating the land? Deborah’s song reveals that travel was nearly impossible in the land and village life had all but ended. (Judges 5:6, 7) We may imagine people cowering in the woods and hills, afraid to farm or to live in unwalled villages and terrified to travel on the open roads lest they be attacked, their children taken, and their women raped.*
Terror reigned for 20 years, until Jehovah saw evidence that his stubborn people were ready to change or, as the inspired record of the song of Deborah and Barak says, “Until I, Deborah, rose up, until I arose as a mother in Israel.” We do not know if Deborah, the wife of a man named Lappidoth, was a mother in a literal sense, but this expression was intended figuratively. In effect, Jehovah assigned Deborah to provide the nation with motherly protection. He commissioned her to summon a strong man of faith, Judge Barak, and direct him to rise up against Sisera.—Judges 4:3, 6, 7; 5:7.
“Go and march to Mount Tabor,” Jehovah ordered through Deborah. Barak was to muster 10,000 men from two of Israel’s tribes. Deborah conveyed God’s promise that they would defeat the mighty Sisera and his 900 chariots! The promise surely astounded Barak. Israel had no army and virtually no weaponry. Still, Barak agreed to go into battle—but only if Deborah came to Mount Tabor too.—Judges 4:6-8; 5:6-8.
Barak has been called faithless because of this request, but unfairly so. After all, he did not ask God for more weapons. Rather, as a man of faith, Barak saw the value in having Jehovah’s representative there to strengthen him and his men. (Hebrews 11:32, 33) Jehovah responded favorably. He allowed Deborah to go, as Barak requested. However, Jehovah also inspired her to prophesy that the battle’s final glory would not go to a man. (Judges 4:9) God had decided that a woman would execute wicked Sisera!
In today’s world, a great deal of injustice, violence, and abuse is heaped upon women. Rarely are they accorded the dignity that God wants them to receive. However, God grants women and men equal value and standing before him. (Romans 2:11; Galatians 3:28) Deborah’s example reminds us that he also blesses women with privileges and signs of his particular trust and favor. It is vital that we never adopt the bigotry so common in this world.
“THE EARTH SHOOK, AND THE HEAVENS POURED”
Barak went to muster his army. He gathered 10,000 men who were brave enough to go up against Sisera’s daunting forces. As Barak led his men up to Mount Tabor, he was glad to have a way to boost their courage. We read: “Deborah also went up with him.” (Judges 4:10) Imagine how it lifted the spirits of those soldiers to see that brave woman join them in their march toward Mount Tabor, willing to risk her life at their side because of her faith in Jehovah God!
When Sisera learned that Israel had dared to muster an army against him, he acted quickly. A number of Canaanite kings joined forces with King Jabin, who may have been the most powerful among them. Then Sisera’s great squadrons of chariots made the earth shake as they rumbled in formation across the plain. The Canaanites were sure that they would make quick work of the pathetic army of Israel.—Judges 4:12, 13; 5:19.
What would Barak and Deborah do as the enemy approached? If they remained on the slopes of Mount Tabor, they might have an advantage over the advancing Canaanite forces, for those chariots needed flat open country to fight effectively. But Barak was going to fight as Jehovah directed, so he waited for word from Deborah. At last, the moment came. She said: “Rise up, for this is the day that Jehovah will give Sisera into your hand. Is Jehovah not going out before you?” Next, we read: “Barak descended from Mount Tabor with 10,000 men following him.”—Judges 4:14.*
The forces of Israel charged down the mountain and out onto the open, flat ground, heading right toward those fearsome machines of war. Did Jehovah go out before them, as Deborah had promised? The answer came very soon. “The earth shook, and the heavens poured,” we read. Sisera’s proud forces were thrown into confusion. And down came the rain! It came in such torrents, it seems, that the ground was quickly swamped. Soon, the heavy iron-bearing chariots were more of a liability than an asset. They sank into the mud and became hopelessly bogged down.—Judges 4:14, 15; 5:4.
Barak and his men were not troubled by the storm. They knew where it was coming from. They ran right at the Canaanite forces. Acting as God’s executioners, the Israelites left none of Sisera’s army alive. The Kishon River surged and flooded, washing the corpses downstream toward the Great Sea.—Judges 4:16; 5:21.
Today, Jehovah no longer sends his servants into physical battles. Yet, he does ask his people to engage in spiritual warfare. (Matthew 26:52; 2 Corinthians 10:4) If we try to obey God in today’s world, we are taking our stand in that war. We need courage, for those who side with God today may face fierce opposition. But Jehovah has not changed. He still comes to the defense of those who, like Deborah, Barak, and the brave soldiers of ancient Israel, put their faith and trust in Him.
“MOST BLESSED OF WOMEN”
One of the Canaanite enemies escaped—the worst of them all! Sisera, the great oppressor of God’s people, fled the battlefield on foot. Leaving his men to die in the mire, he slipped past the Israelite soldiers and made his way to firmer ground, heading toward the nearest allies he could think of. Scurrying across miles of open terrain, ever terrified that Israelite soldiers might find him, he headed to the tents of Heber, a Kenite who had broken away from the rest of his nomadic people to the south and established some kind of accord with King Jabin.—Judges 4:11, 17.
Exhausted, Sisera arrived at Heber’s encampment. He found that Heber was not at home. But the man’s wife, Jael, was there. Sisera evidently assumed that Jael would honor her husband’s accord with King Jabin. Perhaps it was inconceivable to him that a woman could act or even think differently from her husband. Sisera obviously did not know Jael! Clearly, she saw the wickedness of the Canaanite oppression in the land; likely she also saw that she had a choice before her. Either she could aid this wicked man or she could throw in her lot with Jehovah and strike a blow against this enemy of His people. But what could she do? How could a woman vanquish such a powerful, battle-hardened warrior?
Jael had to think fast. She offered Sisera a place to rest. He ordered her to conceal his presence from any man who might come looking for him. She covered him when he lay down, and when he asked her for water, she gave him creamy milk. Soon Sisera sank into a deep sleep. Jael then took a pair of household implements that tent-dwelling women used often and skillfully—a tent pin and a mallet. Crouching near Sisera’s head, she now faced the terrifying task of acting as an executioner for Jehovah. Even an instant of uncertainty or hesitation could have meant disaster. Did she think of God’s people and of how this man had brutalized them for decades? Or did she think of the privilege of taking her stand for Jehovah? The record does not say. We know only that the deed was soon done. Sisera was dead!—Judges 4:18-21; 5:24-27.
Later, Barak came in search of his quarry. When Jael showed him the corpse with the tent pin through the temples, he knew that Deborah’s prophecy had come true. A woman had killed the mighty warrior Sisera! Modern-day critics and skeptics have called Jael all manner of vile names, but Barak and Deborah knew better. In their song, they were inspired to praise Jael as “most blessed of women” for her courageous deed. (Judges 4:22; 5:24) Note the generosity of Deborah’s spirit. She did not begrudge Jael such praise; rather, she cared only that Jehovah’s word had come true.
With Sisera gone, King Jabin’s power was broken. The Canaanite oppression was over at last. Peace prevailed for 40 years. (Judges 4:24; 5:31) How blessed were Deborah, Barak, and Jael for putting faith in Jehovah God! If we imitate the faith of Deborah, boldly taking our stand for Jehovah and encouraging others to do the same, Jehovah will bless us with victories—and lasting peace.
The song of Deborah indicates that Sisera often returned from his military actions with plunder that included girls, sometimes more than one for each soldier. (Judges 5:30) The word used for “girl” in that verse literally means “womb.” Such language reminds us that those women were valued mainly for their reproductive organs. Rape was likely commonplace.