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
This was not the last time that battle plans were ruined by mud. Bible Top Ten Warriors has heart-rending images of war in later centuries.
Deborah’s turbulent world
‘Deborah’ means ‘bee’
At the time of Deborah, only the armies of the great powers were able to maintain chariot squadrons. There is no mention in her story of chariots being used by the Israelites. Their tribal territory at this point was mostly hill country, useless for chariots. When they fought they were lightly armed with slings, bows and swords. In some cases, as the story of Deborah shows, this could be a distinct advantage. The Israelite guerilla fighters was able to slaughter their enemy and win the day.
Large-wheeled chariot, Assyrian, with armed warriors
The much-feared chariots of the Canaanites looked impressive on wall reliefs (see below) but they were heavy and their traction system was primitive. If they turned quickly at speed they rolled over. They were designed to charge and terrify the enemy, then engage him with javelins and spears.
In the great battle between Deborah and Barak, and the Canaanite general Sisera, the 900 iron-wheeled chariots of the enemy were worse than useless in the quagmire at the bottom of Mount Tabor.
The Settlement of Canaan
The story of Deborah and Jael is described in the Book of Judges. This Book covers the years between the death of Joshua who succeeded Moses as leader of the Israelites, and the beginning of the kingships of Saul, David and Solomon.
It was a time of social turmoil. All over the Mediterranean and the Middle East, people and nations were on the move and the Hebrew tribes, coming up from Egypt, were among these migratory groups.
The land they entered was already occupied by Canaanites, who held the area now covered by Israel and Lebanon. The Canaanites governed the land, particularly the fertile plains, through a sophisticated system of city-states. The Israelite tribes attempted to gain a foothold in the sparsely populated, less fertile hill territories of Canaan.
You might like to check this out: Is there any hard evidence that Joshua actually did the things described in the Book of Joshua? Did the walls really come tumbling down? If archaeological evidence is anything to go by, yes. There are collapsed stone and mud brick support walls all over the city. But it is impossible to tell whether this destruction was caused by invasion or earthquake. The truth is, it was probably both. Walls of Jericho – is the Bible true?
Archaeological research shows that their occupation of Canaan happened not by sudden conquest, as the Bible describes, but by gradual infiltration. The Canaanites naturally resisted this intrusion, as the stories of Deborah and Jael show only too well. The Canaanites were more technologically advanced than the Israelites, who for a long time had only a precarious hold on the territory.
But over a period of time the Israelites gained control of the extreme north and south of the country. Jerusalem and the fertile plain of Esdraelon still remained under the control of the Canaanites, and the Philistines controlled the coastal area.
New technology changes the Israelite’s life
A wooden plough, and an iron one: the iron plough was easier to use and more efficient
As they put down roots, the Israelites gave up their nomadic life. Instead of being wanderers, they became farmers and herders of animals. At this time (the beginning of the Early Iron Age), the following advances in technology were made:
iron was introduced for household and farm tools, which was a major technological breakthrough; iron was harder, less likely to break than bronze, and blades would keep sharp for a longer time
stone-lined tanks or cisterns were built to conserve water during dry periods; this made agriculture and life in general more predictable
terracing made it possible to farm hillsides that had previously been unsuitable for farming; it also solved problems of land erosion and soil loss.
Canaanite daggers. Bronze weapons were being superseded by iron weapons, but were not available to the Hebrews, because the Philistines very sensibly forbad Hebrews the use of iron foundries. Israel’s main weakness was the disunity of the tribes and the lack of weapons.
Women and war
War poster from the 1940's,when women were urged to join the Army
Stories about ancient wars hardly mention women – the Deborah saga is an exception. But then, as now, women were involved when their country/tribe was at war.
As far as we know, women did not take an active part in fighting, except in the desperate hand-to-hand fighting that happened in the last stages of defeat, when enemy soldiers entered and sacked a city.