“And the children of Israel again did evil in the sight of the LORD, when Ehud was dead.
And the LORD sold them into the hand of Jabin king of Canaan, that reigned in Hazor; the captain of whose host was Sisera, which dwelt in Harosheth of the Gentiles. And the children of Israel cried unto the LORD: for he had nine hundred chariots of iron; and twenty years he mightily oppressed the children of Israel.” (Judges 4:1-3)
After Ehud’s death, the younger people no longer remembered what it had been like being subjects of Moab, and Israel again began to let down their standards. God had allowed the Philistines to terrorize them, but Shamgar’s anti terrorism activities had eliminated the threat, and they continued to turn away from God.
Nearly a hundred fifty years before, Jabin king of Hazor had formed an alliance against Israel and had been defeated in Joshua 11, but the Canaanites had never been completely driven out. One of his descendants was able to build a strong enough alliance to rebel and begin taking over surrounding areas, much like present day gangs do. Before long he had established a level of control, thanks to the strong arm tactics of one of his lieutenants, a general named Sisera. For twenty year he terrorized the northern tribes with a force equipped with 900 iron chariots.
It finally became intolerable and Israel turned to God for help again, much like people with religious backgrounds come to the church today when it gets too bad to handle.
“And Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, she judged Israel at that time. And she dwelt under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in mount Ephraim: and the children of Israel came up to her for judgment.” (Judges 4:4-5)
Deborah, a godly woman, had earned a reputation telling people what God said and teaching people what was right in central Israel. They began coming to her to learn how God wanted things done in cases of conflict.
“And she sent and called Barak the son of Abinoam out of Kedeshnaphtali, and said unto him, Hath not the LORD God of Israel commanded, saying, Go and draw toward mount Tabor, and take with thee ten thousand men of the children of Naphtali and of the children of Zebulun? And I will draw unto thee to the river Kishon Sisera, the captain of Jabin's army, with his chariots and his multitude; and I will deliver him into thine hand.” (Judges 4:6-7)
At God’s direction, she contacted Barak, a leader from Napthali, the area around Hazor which had been most affected by his depredations. Apparently, God had already commanded Barak to attack Jabin’s army but he was hesitant to do so with a less heavily armed force. God promised to draw Sisera’s forces to river Kishon on the border between Zebulon and Manasseh and give Barak’s ten thousand men the victory.
“And Barak said unto her, If thou wilt go with me, then I will go: but if thou wilt not go with me, then I will not go.
And she said, I will surely go with thee: notwithstanding the journey that thou takest shall not be for thine honour; for the LORD shall sell Sisera into the hand of a woman. And Deborah arose, and went with Barak to Kedesh.” (Judges 4:8-9)
Not trusting the Lord himself, Barak refused to go fight unless Deborah would go with him. She agreed, but warned him that all the credit would be given to a woman because he was afraid to trust God himself.
“And Barak called Zebulun and Naphtali to Kedesh; and he went up with ten thousand men at his feet: and Deborah went up with him. Now Heber the Kenite, which was of the children of Hobab the father in law of Moses, had severed himself from the Kenites, and pitched his tent unto the plain of Zaanaim, which is by Kedesh. And they showed Sisera that Barak the son of Abinoam was gone up to mount Tabor.
And Sisera gathered together all his chariots, even nine hundred chariots of iron, and all the people that were with him, from Harosheth of the Gentiles unto the river of Kishon.” (Judges 4:10-13)
Descendants of Moses’ father-in-law, the Kenites had settled near the south western edge of the Dead Sea. Heber had become disgruntled and moved north to near Kedesh, where Barak assembled his army. He reported their assembling and moving to mount Tabor on the river Kishon to Sisera, who quickly assembled the strongest force he could gather to stop him.
“And Deborah said unto Barak, Up; for this is the day in which the LORD hath delivered Sisera into thine hand: is not the LORD gone out before thee? So Barak went down from mount Tabor, and ten thousand men after him. And the LORD discomfited Sisera, and all his chariots, and all his host, with the edge of the sword before Barak; so that Sisera lighted down off his chariot, and fled away on his feet. But Barak pursued after the chariots, and after the host, unto Harosheth of the Gentiles: and all the host of Sisera fell upon the edge of the sword; and there was not a man left.” (Judges 4:14-16)
Deborah directed Barak to attack, telling him that God had assured the victory. God used the rugged terrain to make the iron chariots ineffective and the tide of battle quickly swung in Barak’s favor. Unable to get away in his chariot, Sisera fled on foot to Kedesh while the army tried to return to their home in Harosheth of the Gentiles. Israel wasn’t taking any prisoners, and no one escaped.
“Howbeit Sisera fled away on his feet to the tent of Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite: for there was peace between Jabin the king of Hazor and the house of Heber the Kenite.
And Jael went out to meet Sisera, and said unto him, Turn in, my lord, turn in to me; fear not. And when he had turned in unto her into the tent, she covered him with a mantle. And he said unto her, Give me, I pray thee, a little water to drink; for I am thirsty. And she opened a bottle of milk, and gave him drink, and covered him. Again he said unto her, Stand in the door of the tent, and it shall be, when any man doth come and inquire of thee, and say, Is there any man here? that thou shalt say, No.
Then Jael Heber's wife took a nail of the tent, and took an hammer in her hand, and went softly unto him, and smote the nail into his temples, and fastened it into the ground: for he was fast asleep and weary. So he died.” (Judges 4:17-21)
Knowing there was a treaty between Heber and Jabin, Sisera fled afoot nearly sixty miles to Heber’s camp for protection. Heber’s wife Jael hospitably invited him in, and supplied him refreshment and a place to rest. When he made it clear he was fleeing from Israel, she decided not to aid in his flight and when he fell asleep, she took a tent peg and drove it through his head, pinning him to the ground.
“And, behold, as Barak pursued Sisera, Jael came out to meet him, and said unto him, Come, and I will show thee the man whom thou seekest. And when he came into her tent, behold, Sisera lay dead, and the nail was in his temples.” (Judges 4:22)
Jael met the force pursuing Sisera and offered to show them where to find him. There was no question she had nailed him.
“So God subdued on that day Jabin the king of Canaan before the children of Israel. And the hand of the children of Israel prospered, and prevailed against Jabin the king of Canaan, until they had destroyed Jabin king of Canaan.” (Judges 4:23-24)
Sisera’s defeat broke Jabin’s hold and Israel was able to defeat and finally destroy him, permanently ending Canaanite power.