Judges 4

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1 And the children of Israel again did evil in the eyes of the Lord when Ehud was dead.

2 And the Lord gave them up into the hands of Jabin, king of Canaan, who was ruling in Hazor; the captain of his army was Sisera, who was living in Harosheth of the Gentiles.

3 Then the children of Israel made prayer to the Lord; for he had nine hundred iron war-carriages, and for twenty years he was very cruel to the children of Israel.

4 Now Deborah, a woman prophet, the wife of Lapidoth, was judge of Israel at that time.

5 (And she had her seat under the palm-tree of Deborah between Ramah and Beth-el in the hill-country of Ephraim; and the children of Israel came up to her to be judged.)

6 And she sent for Barak, the son of Abinoam, from Kedesh-naphtali, and said to him, Has not the Lord, the God of Israel, given orders saying, Go and get your force into line in Mount Tabor, and take with you ten thousand men of the children of naphtali and of the children of Zebulun?

7 And I will make Sisera, the captain of Jabin's army, with his war-carriages and his forces, come against you at the river Kishon, where I will give him into your hands.

8 And Barak said to her, If you will go with me then I will go; but if you will not go with me I will not go.

9 And she said, I will certainly go with you: though you will get no honour in your undertaking, for the Lord will give Sisera into the hands of a woman. So Deborah got up and went with Barak to Kedesh.

10 Then Barak sent for Zebulun and Naphtali to come to Kedesh; and ten thousand men went up after him, and Deborah went up with him.

11 Now Heber the Kenite, separating himself from the rest of the Kenites, from the children of Hobab, the brother-in-law of Moses, had put up his tent as far away as the oak-tree in Zaanannim, by Kedesh.

12 And word was given to Sisera that Barak, the son of Abinoam, had gone up to Mount Tabor.

13 So Sisera got together all his war-carriages, nine hundred war-carriages of iron, and all the people who were with him, from Harosheth of the Gentiles as far as the river Kishon.

14 Then Deborah said to Barak, Up! for today the Lord has given Sisera into your hands: has not the Lord gone out before you? So Barak went down from Mount Tabor and ten thousand men after him.

15 And the Lord sent fear on Sisera and all his war-carriages and all his army before Barak; and Sisera got down from his war-carriage and went in flight on foot.

16 But Barak went after the war-carriages and the army as far as Harosheth of the Gentiles; and all Sisera's army was put to the sword; not a man got away.

17 But Sisera went in flight on foot to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite; for there was peace between Jabin, king of Hazor, and the family of Heber the Kenite.

18 And Jael went out to Sisera, and said to him, Come in, my lord, come in to me without fear. So he went into her tent, and she put a cover over him.

19 Then he said to her, Give me now a little water, for I have need of a drink. And opening a skin of milk, she gave him drink, and put the cover over him again.

20 And he said to her, Take your place at the door of the tent, and if anyone comes and says to you, Is there any man here, say, No.

21 Then Jael, Heber's wife, took a tent-pin and a hammer and went up to him quietly, driving the pin into his head, and it went through his head into the earth, for he was in a deep sleep from weariness; and so he came to his end.

22 Then Jael went out, and meeting Barak going after Sisera, said to him, Come, and I will let you see the man you are searching for. So he came into her tent and saw, and there was Sisera stretched out dead with the tent-pin in his head.

23 So that day God overcame Jabin, king of Canaan, before the children of Israel.

24 And the power of the children of Israel went on increasing against Jabin, king of Canaan, till he was cut off.

  

Exploring the Meaning of Judges 4      

Napsal(a) Rev. Julian Duckworth

Judges 4: Deborah

Yet again, the children of Israel had disobeyed the Lord. At this point in time, they had been under the yoke of Jabin, a Canaanite king, for twenty years. He had nine hundred chariots of iron, and was apparently very powerful.

The Lord raised up Deborah, a prophetess, to free the Israelites from oppression under Jabin. The text says that she would pass judgements for the children of Israel while she sat under the palm tree of Deborah.

Deborah summoned Barak, an army officer, and told him to go with ten thousand men from the tribes of Naphtali and Zebulun to fight King Jabin’s armies. Barak said he would only go if Deborah went as well, so she agreed to join him. Deborah then prophesied that Sisera, the enemy commander, would be defeated by a woman.

The two armies clashed at by the River Kishon, and all of Sisera’s men were killed. Sisera then fled to the tent of Heber, an Israelite who was on peaceful terms with King Jabin. Jael, Heber’s wife, invited Sisera to come in with the comforting words, “fear not”. She covered him with a blanket, gave him milk to drink, and let him sleep there.

Then Jael quietly took a tent peg and drove it into Sisera’s temple using a hammer, so that the peg stuck in the earth. When Barak came to the tent, pursuing Sisera, Jael went out to tell him, “come, and I will show you the man you seek.” And she showed him Sisera, dead, with a peg through his temple.

So Jabin’s army was defeated that day, and Israel grew stronger until their oppression under Jabin came to an end.

*****

Deborah is an especially significant character in the Bible, because she was the only female judge of Israel. It was very unusual for a woman in those times to rise to power, yet she truly earned the respect of her people. Deborah, as a woman, stands for the nurturing power of the Word to strengthen us during regeneration. Her name means ‘a bee’, but this comes from a word meaning ‘to speak’ – here, to speak the Word. Bees make honey; honey is nutritious; God’s word is our nourishment (see Swedenborg’s work, Arcana Caelestia 3424[2]).

The fact that Deborah judged from under a palm tree may seem like a passing detail, but even this contributes to the spiritual meaning of the story. Palm trees stand for the divine truths of the Word, which means that Deborah was judging the people from her understanding of the Lord’s truths.

King Jabin’s nine hundred iron chariots represent the apparent power of false beliefs, thoughts and persuasions over us. The number ‘nine’ stands for something which is complete, and ‘iron’ here stands for either natural truths or falsities. A ‘chariot’, being pulled by a horse, always stands for a set of teachings or doctrine. These three symbols add to the picture of a very powerful enemy: false ideas and views that can weaken and overwhelm us (Arcana Caelestia 4720[2]).

The spiritual meaning of the complex arrangement between Barak and Deborah is that we can only deal with our spiritual conflicts if we take the Word’s power (Deborah) with us. Barak, a man, represents the power of truth, but Deborah says a woman will gain victory over Sisera. The feminine stands for the power of love: our charity, our affection for good, and our wish to be useful. These qualities are always essential in our spiritual life (see Swedenborg’s work, Apocalypse Explained 1120[2]).

The story about Jael and Sisera is really about actively resisting the temptations of evil in our lives. Jael, a woman, stands for the power of good to overcome what is false in our mind. Driving the tent peg through Sisera’s head stands for the complete destruction of what is false. Driving it right through and into the ground stands for the power of good in our life and in our regeneration, because the ground represents our actions (Arcana Caelestia 268).

When Barak and Jael meet, it stands for the unity between good (Jael, a woman) and truth (Barak, a man). This unity of good and truth appears again at the start of the next chapter, in which Deborah and Barak sing of Israel’s victory.

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