Judges 4

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1 The children of Israel again did that which was evil in the sight of Yahweh, when Ehud was dead.

2 Yahweh sold them into the hand of Jabin king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor; the captain of whose army was Sisera, who lived in Harosheth of the Gentiles.

3 The children of Israel cried to Yahweh: for he had nine hundred chariots of iron; and twenty years he mightily oppressed the children of Israel.

4 Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, she judged Israel at that time.

5 She lived under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim: and the children of Israel came up to her for judgment.

6 She sent and called Barak the son of Abinoam out of Kedesh Naphtali, and said to him, "Hasn't Yahweh, the God of Israel, commanded, 'Go and draw to Mount Tabor, and take with you ten thousand men of the children of Naphtali and of the children of Zebulun?

7 I will draw to you, to the river Kishon, Sisera, the captain of Jabin's army, with his chariots and his multitude; and I will deliver him into your hand.'"

8 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 She said, "I will surely go with you: nevertheless, the journey that you take shall not be for your honor; for Yahweh will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman." Deborah arose, and went with Barak to Kedesh.

10 Barak called Zebulun and Naphtali together to Kedesh; and there went up ten thousand men at his feet: and Deborah went up with him.

11 Now Heber the Kenite had separated himself from the Kenites, even from the children of Hobab the brother-in-law of Moses, and had pitched his tent as far as the oak in Zaanannim, which is by Kedesh.

12 They told Sisera that Barak the son of Abinoam was gone up to Mount Tabor.

13 Sisera gathered together all his chariots, even nine hundred chariots of iron, and all the people who were with him, from Harosheth of the Gentiles, to the river Kishon.

14 Deborah said to Barak, "Go; for this is the day in which Yahweh has delivered Sisera into your hand. Hasn't Yahweh gone out before you?" So Barak went down from Mount Tabor, and ten thousand men after him.

15 Yahweh confused Sisera, and all his chariots, and all his army, with the edge of the sword before Barak; and Sisera alighted from his chariot, and fled away on his feet.

16 But Barak pursued after the chariots, and after the army, to Harosheth of the Gentiles: and all the army of Sisera fell by the edge of the sword; there was not a man left.

17 However 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.

18 Jael went out to meet Sisera, and said to him, "Turn in, my lord, Turn in to me; don't be afraid." He came in to her into the tent, and she covered him with a rug.

19 He said to her, "Please give me a little water to drink; for I am thirsty." She opened a bottle of milk, and gave him drink, and covered him.

20 He said to her, "Stand in the door of the tent, and it shall be, when any man comes and inquires of you, and says, 'Is there any man here?' that you shall say, 'No.'"

21 Then Jael Heber's wife took a tent peg, and took a hammer in her hand, and went softly to him, and struck the pin into his temples, and it pierced through into the ground; for he was in a deep sleep; so he swooned and died.

22 Behold, as Barak pursued Sisera, Jael came out to meet him, and said to him, "Come, and I will show you the man whom you seek." He came to her; and behold, Sisera lay dead, and the tent peg was in his temples.

23 So God subdued on that day Jabin the king of Canaan before the children of Israel.

24 The hand of the children of Israel prevailed more and more against Jabin the king of Canaan, until they had destroyed Jabin king of Canaan.

  

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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