Despite sweeping claims in the Book of Joshua that the Canaanites were destroyed, the Book of Judges describes continued warfare. Read Judges 4 by all means, but don’t miss Judges 5 lower down this page.
After listing the tribes that did or (shamefully) did not fight, the Bible describes the battle in bloodthirsty detail, a victory song for people who have with God’s help triumphed at last. Verses 2-18 are a call to battle; 19-30 is a poetic version of Deborah and Jael’s story.
Deborah Leads Israel – Judges 4
1 The people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, after Ehud died.
2 And the LORD sold them into the hand of Jabin king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor; the commander of his army was Sis’era, who dwelt in Haro’sheth-ha-goiim. 3 Then the people of Israel cried to the LORD for help; for he had nine hundred chariots of iron, and oppressed the people of Israel cruelly for twenty years.
Deborah’s forces faced 900 chariots of iron…
Nine hundred chariots of iron…
4 Now Deb’orah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapp’idoth, was judging Israel at that time.
5 She used to sit under the palm of Deb’orah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of E’phraim; and the people of Israel came up to her for judgment.
6 She sent and summoned Barak the son of Abin’o-am from Kedesh in Naph’tali, and said to him, “The LORD, the God of Israel, commands you, ‘Go, gather your men at Mount Tabor, taking ten thousand from the tribe of Naph’tali and the tribe of Zeb’ulun.
7 And I will draw out Sis’era, the general of Jabin’s army, to meet you by the river Kishon with his chariots and his troops; and I will give him into your hand.'”
8 Barak said to her, “If you will go with me, I will go; but if you will not go with me, I will not go.”
9 And she said, “I will surely go with you; nevertheless, the road on which you are going will not lead to your glory, for the LORD will sell Sis’era into the hand of a woman.” Then Deb’orah arose, and went with Barak to Kedesh.
10 And Barak summoned Zeb’ulun and Naph’tali to Kedesh; and ten thousand men went up at his heels; and Deb’orah went up with him.
Nomadic tent; this would be similar to the one used by Jael
11 Now Heber the Ken’ite had separated from the Ken’ites, the descendants of Hobab the father-in-law of Moses, and had pitched his tent as far away as the oak in Za-anan’nim, which is near Kedesh.
The armies assemble
12 When Sis’era was told that Barak the son of Abin’o-am had gone up to Mount Tabor,
13 Sis’era called out all his chariots, nine hundred chariots of iron, and all the men who were with him, from Haro’sheth-ha-goiim to the river Kishon. 14 And Deb’orah said to Barak, “Up! For this is the day in which the LORD has given Sis’era into your hand. Does not the LORD go out before you?” So Barak went down from Mount Tabor with ten thousand men following him. 15 And the LORD routed Sis’era and all his chariots and all his army before Barak at the edge of the sword; and Sis’era alighted from his chariot and fled away on foot. 16 And Barak pursued the chariots and the army to Haro’sheth-ha-goiim, and all the army of Sis’era fell by the edge of the sword; not a man was left. 17 But Sis’era fled away on foot to the tent of Ja’el, the wife of Heber the Ken’ite; for there was peace between Jabin the king of Hazor and the house of Heber the Ken’ite.
Jael murders Sisera
Jael, Deborah and Barak, by Salomon de Bray
18 And Ja’el came out to meet Sis’era, and said to him, “Turn aside, my lord, turn aside to me; have no fear.” So he turned aside to her into the tent, and she covered him with a rug.
19 And he said to her, “Pray, give me a little water to drink; for I am thirsty.” So she opened a skin of milk and gave him a drink and covered him. 20 And he said to her, “Stand at the door of the tent, and if any man comes and asks you, ‘Is any one here?’ say, No.” 21 But Ja’el the wife of Heber took a tent peg, and took a hammer in her hand, and went softly to him and drove the peg into his temple, till it went down into the ground, as he was lying fast asleep from weariness. So he died. 22 And behold, as Barak pursued Sis’era, Ja’el went out to meet him, and said to him, “Come, and I will show you the man whom you are seeking.” So he went in to her tent; and there lay Sis’era dead, with the tent peg in his temple. 23 So on that day God subdued Jabin the king of Canaan before the people of Israel. 24 And the hand of the people of Israel bore harder and harder on Jabin the king of Canaan, until they destroyed Jabin king of Canaan.
A shofar, the ancient instrument used to summon the tribes of Israel
1 Then sang Deb’orah and Barak the son of Abin’o-am on that day:
2 “That the leaders took the lead in Israel, that the people offered themselves willingly, bless the LORD!
3 “Hear, O kings; give ear, O princes; to the LORD I will sing, I will make melody to the LORD, the God of Israel.
4 “LORD, when thou didst go forth from Se’ir, when thou didst march from the region of Edom, the earth trembled, and the heavens dropped, yea, the clouds dropped water.
5 The mountains quaked before the LORD, yon Sinai before the LORD, the God of Israel. 6 “In the days of Shamgar, son of Anath, in the days of Ja’el, caravans ceased and travelers kept to the byways.
7 The peasantry ceased in Israel, they ceased until you arose, Deb’orah, arose as a mother in Israel.
8 When new gods were chosen, then war was in the gates. Was shield or spear to be seen among forty thousand in Israel?
9 My heart goes out to the commanders of Israel who offered themselves willingly among the people. Bless the LORD.
‘Tell me, you who ride on tawny asses…’ Judges 5, v. 10
10 “Tell of it, you who ride on tawny asses, you who sit on rich carpets and you who walk by the way.
11 To the sound of musicians at the watering places, there they repeat the triumphs of the LORD, the triumphs of his peasantry in Israel. “Then down to the gates marched the people of the LORD.
12 “Awake, awake, Deb’orah! Awake, awake, utter a song! Arise, Barak, lead away your captives, O son of Abin’o-am.
13 Then down marched the remnant of the noble; the people of the LORD marched down for him against the mighty.
14 From E’phraim they set out thither into the valley, following you, Benjamin, with your kinsmen; from Machir marched down the commanders, and from Zeb’ulun those who bear the marshal’s staff;
15 the princes of Is’sachar came with Deb’orah, and Is’sachar faithful to Barak; into the valley they rushed forth at his heels. Among the clans of Reuben there were great searchings of heart.
16 Why did you tarry among the sheepfolds, to hear the piping for the flocks? Among the clans of Reuben there were great searchings of heart.
17 Gilead stayed beyond the Jordan; and Dan, why did he abide with the ships? Asher sat still at the coast of the sea, settling down by his landings.
18 Zeb’ulun is a people that jeoparded their lives to the death; Naph’tali too, on the heights of the field.
19 “The kings came, they fought; then fought the kings of Canaan, at Ta’anach, by the waters of Megid’do; they got no spoils of silver.
Mud can completely immobilize an army – this is a photograph of soldiers in World War I
20 From heaven fought the stars, from their courses they fought against Sis’era.
21 The torrent Kishon swept them away, the onrushing torrent, the torrent Kishon. March on, my soul, with might!
22 “Then loud beat the horses’ hoofs with the galloping, galloping of his steeds.
23 “Curse Meroz, says the angel of the LORD, curse bitterly its inhabitants, because they came not to the help of the LORD, to the help of the LORD against the mighty.
24 “Most blessed of women be Ja’el, the wife of Heber the Ken’ite, of tent-dwelling women most blessed.
25 He asked water and she gave him milk, she brought him curds in a lordly bowl.
26 She put her hand to the tent peg and her right hand to the workmen’s mallet; she struck Sis’era a blow, she crushed his head, she shattered and pierced his temple.
27 He sank, he fell, he lay still at her feet; at her feet he sank, he fell; where he sank, there he fell dead.
Greek trophy mask
28 “Out of the window she peered, the mother of Sis’era gazed through the lattice: ‘Why is his chariot so long in coming? Why tarry the hoofbeats of his chariots?’
29 Her wisest ladies make answer, nay, she gives answer to herself,
30 ‘Are they not finding and dividing the spoil? –A maiden or two for every man; spoil of dyed stuffs for Sis’era, spoil of dyed stuffs embroidered, two pieces of dyed work embroidered for my neck as spoil?’
31 “So perish all thine enemies, O LORD! But thy friends be like the sun as he rises in his might.” And the land had rest for forty years.
Against all odds the Israelites won – by God’s intervention, or a stroke of luck, or both. The Canaanite chariots hurtling across the plain on their iron wheels were stopped dead in their tracks by a sudden downpour. Bogged in the mud, sinking under their own weight, they were easy prey. Chariots in Battle