Through Faith, Barak Routed a Mighty Army

IMAGINE yourself face-to-face with a battalion of hostile soldiers. They are armed with the latest in military hardware, and they stand ready to use it. Before them, you and your companions are practically defenseless.

During the period of Israel’s judges, Barak, Deborah, and 10,000 fellow Israelites lived through such an experience. The enemy forces were Canaanites led by the military commander Sisera. Their arsenal included chariots, the wheels of which were equipped with deadly iron scythes. The locale was Mount Tabor and the torrent valley of Kishon. What happened there identifies Barak as a man of exemplary faith. Consider the events leading up to this confrontation.

Israel Cries Out to Jehovah

The book of Judges tells of Israel’s repeated abandonment of pure worship and the disastrous consequences of such actions. In each case, sincere appeal for God’s mercy was followed by divine appointment of a savior, liberation, and then renewed revolt. True to that pattern, “the sons of Israel again began to do what was bad in Jehovah’s eyes now that Ehud [a judge who saved them from Moabite oppression] was dead.” In fact, “they proceeded to choose new gods.” The result? “Jehovah sold them into the hand of Jabin the king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor; and the chief of his army was Sisera . . . And the sons of Israel began to cry out to Jehovah, because [Sisera] had nine hundred war chariots with iron scythes, and he himself oppressed the sons of Israel with harshness twenty years.”​—Judges 4:1-3; 5:8.

Regarding life in Israel, the Scriptures say: “[In those days] pathways had no traffic, and the travelers of roadways would travel by roundabout pathways. The dwellers in open country ceased.” (Judges 5:6, 7) People were terrified of marauding charioteers. “Public life in Israel was governed by fear,” says one scholar, “the whole community seemed paralyzed and helpless.” So as they had often done before, the demoralized Israelites cried to Jehovah for aid.

Jehovah Appoints a Leader

The Canaanite oppression became a time of national crisis for Israel. God used the prophetess Deborah to convey his judgments and his instruction. Jehovah thus accorded her the privilege of acting as a figurative mother in Israel.​—Judges 4:4; 5:7.

Deborah sent for Barak and said to him: “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.’” (Judges 4:6, 7) By saying ‘has not Jehovah given the command?’ Deborah emphatically denied any personal authority over Barak. She simply acted as the channel by which a divine command was conveyed. How did Barak respond?

“If you will go with me,” said Barak, “I also shall certainly go; but if you will not go with me, I shall not go.” (Judges 4:8) Why was Barak reluctant to accept God-given responsibility? Was he acting in a cowardly way? Did he lack trust in God’s promises? No. Barak did not refuse the assignment, nor did he disobey Jehovah. Rather, his response indicated feelings of inadequacy about carrying out God’s command by himself. The presence of God’s representative would ensure divine guidance and fill him and his men with confidence. Rather than being a sign of weakness, therefore, the condition Barak set was an indication of strong faith.

Barak’s reaction can be compared to that of Moses, Gideon, and Jeremiah. These men also lacked confidence in their ability to fulfill God-given commissions. But because of that, they were not considered less faithful. (Exodus 3:11–4:17; 33:12-17; Judges 6:11-22, 36-40; Jeremiah 1:4-10) And what can be said of Deborah’s attitude? She did not attempt to take over. Rather, she remained a modest servant of Jehovah. “Without fail I shall go with you,” she told Barak. (Judges 4:9) She was willing to leave home​—a place of greater security—​to join Barak for the impending battle. Deborah too exemplifies faith and courage.

In Faith They Follow Barak

The rendezvous for Israel’s forces was a conspicuous mountain named Tabor. The site was well chosen. It represented a natural rallying point for the tribes of Naphtali and Zebulun, who dwelt nearby. So as God had ordered, ten thousand volunteers​—and Deborah—​followed Barak up this mountain.

Faith was required on the part of all those who joined Barak. Jehovah had promised Barak victory over the Canaanites, but what weapons did the Israelites have? Judges 5:8 says: “A shield could not be seen, nor a lance, among forty thousand in Israel.” So the Israelites were only lightly equipped. Even so, lances and shields would be a decidedly uneven match against war chariots with iron scythes. Upon hearing that Barak had ascended Mount Tabor, Sisera at once summoned all his chariots and troops to the torrent valley of Kishon. (Judges 4:12, 13) What Sisera failed to realize was that he would be fighting Almighty God.

Barak Routs Sisera’s Army

When the moment of confrontation came, Deborah said 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?” Barak and his men were to descend from Tabor’s heights into the valley plains, but there Sisera’s chariots would have a strategic advantage. How would you have felt if you were in Barak’s army? Would you have readily complied, remembering that the direction came from Jehovah? Barak and his ten thousand men obeyed. “And Jehovah began to throw Sisera and all his war chariots and all the camp into  confusion by the edge of the sword before Barak.”​—Judges 4:14, 15.

With Jehovah’s backing, Barak routed Sisera’s army. The account of the battle does not explain all that happened. However, the victory song of Barak and Deborah says that ‘heavens and clouds dripped with water.’ In all likelihood, a rainstorm caused Sisera’s chariots to get stuck in the mud, giving Barak the upper hand. The Canaanites’ main offensive weapon thus became a liability. As for the dead bodies of Sisera’s men, the song says: “The torrent of Kishon washed them away.”​—Judges 5:4, 21.

Is this scenario credible? The torrent valley of Kishon is a wadi, the bed of a stream that normally flows with little water. After storms or lengthy rains, such streams are likely to swell suddenly into swift and dangerous torrents. During World War I, just 15 minutes of rainfall on the heavy clay soil of the same area is said to have endangered the success of all cavalry maneuvers. Accounts of the battle of Mount Tabor between Napoleon and the Turks on April 16, 1799, report that “many of the latter were drowned when attempting to escape across a part of the plain inundated by the Kishon.”

Jewish historian Flavius Josephus claims that as the armies of Sisera and Barak were about to meet, “there came down from heaven a great storm, with a vast quantity of rain and hail, and the wind blew the rain in the face of the Canaanites, and so darkened their eyes, that their arrows and slings were of no advantage to them.”

“From heaven did the stars fight,” states Judges 5:20, “from their orbits they fought against Sisera.” How did the stars fight against Sisera? Some view this statement as a reference to divine assistance. Other suggestions point to angelic help, to meteorite showers, or to Sisera’s dependence on astrological predictions that proved false. Since the Bible gives no explanation of just how the stars fought in this battle, it appears sufficient to regard the statement as indicating some form of divine intervention in behalf of Israel’s army. Whatever the case, the Israelites took full advantage of the situation. “Barak chased after the war chariots . . . so that all the camp of Sisera fell by the edge of the sword. Not as much as one remained.” (Judges 4:16) What became of the army chief Sisera?

The Oppressor Falls “Into the Hand of a Woman”

“As for Sisera,” says the Bible, “he [abandoned the battle 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.” Jael invited weary Sisera into her tent, gave him milk to drink, and covered him, so that he fell asleep. Jael then “proceeded to take a pin of the tent and to put the hammer into her hand,” things that a tent dweller would use regularly. “Then she went to him stealthily and drove the pin into his temples and beat it into the earth, while he was fast asleep and weary. So he died.”​—Judges 4:17-21.

 Jael then came on out to meet Barak and said to him: “Come and I shall show you the man you are looking for.” The account adds: “So in he went to her, and, look! there was Sisera fallen dead, with the pin in his temples.” What a faith-strengthening experience that must have been for Barak! Earlier the prophetess Deborah had told him: “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.”​—Judges 4:9, 22.

Can Jael’s action be called treachery? Jehovah did not view it that way. “Among women in the tent she will be most blessed,” said the victory song of Barak and Deborah. That song puts Sisera’s death in proper perspective. His mother is depicted as anxiously awaiting his return from the battle. “Why has his war chariot delayed in coming?” she asks. “The wise ones of her noble ladies” endeavor to allay her fears by suggesting that he must surely be dividing the spoils of battle​—beautifully embroidered garments and girls for the men. The ladies ask: “Ought they not to distribute spoil, a womb​—two wombs [soldiers’ expression for captured concubines, footnote] to every able-bodied man, spoil of dyed stuffs for Sisera . . . An embroidered garment, dyed stuff, two embroidered garments for the necks of men of spoil?”​—Judges 5:24, 28-30.

Lessons for Us

The account of Barak teaches us important lessons. Problems and frustrations will surely afflict any who exclude Jehovah from their lives. Freedom from oppression of various kinds is possible for those who repentantly turn to God and exercise faith in him. And should we not also cultivate the spirit of obedience? Even when God’s requirements seem to go contrary to human reasoning, we can be confident that his instructions are always for our lasting good. (Isaiah 48:17, 18) Only by exercising faith in Jehovah and obeying divine instructions did Barak ‘rout the armies of foreigners.’​—Hebrews 11:32-34.

The poignant conclusion to the song of Deborah and Barak is: “Let all your enemies perish, O Jehovah, and let your lovers be as when the sun goes forth in its mightiness.” (Judges 5:31) How true this will prove to be when Jehovah brings an end to Satan’s wicked world!

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Jehovah used Deborah to summon Barak

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The Kishon River overflows its banks

[Credit Line]

Pictorial Archive (Near Eastern History) Est.

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Mount Tabor