What Came Before:
AGAIN many of the people of Israel were drawn away from the worship of the Lord, and began to live like the people around them, praying to idols and doing wickedly.
And again the Lord left them to suffer for their sins. A Canaanite king in the north, whose name was Jabin, sent his army down to conquer them under the command of his general, named Sisera. In Sisera's army were many chariots of iron, drawn by horses; while soldiers in the chariots shot arrows and threw spears at the Israelites. The men of Israel were not used to horses, and greatly feared these war chariots.
All the northern tribes in the land of Israel fell under the power of King Jabin and his general, Sisera; and their rule was very harsh and severe. This was the fourth of these "oppressions," and it bore most heavily upon the people in the north. But it led those who suffered from it to turn from their idols, and to call upon the Lord God of Israel...
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Deborah by Charles Landelle, 1901
"I will go with you," said Deborah; "but because you did not trust God, and did not go when God called you, the honor of this war will not be yours, for God will deliver Sisera into the hands of a woman."
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At that time a woman was ruling as judge over a large part of the land; the only woman among the fifteen judges who, one after another, ruled the Israelites. Her name was Deborah. She sat under a palm-tree north of Jerusalem, between the cities of Ramah and Bethel, and gave advice to all the people who sought her. So wise and good was Deborah that men came from all parts of the land with their difficulties and the questions that arose between them. She ruled over the land, not by the force of any army, or by any appointment, but because all men saw that God's Spirit was upon her.
Deborah heard of the troubles of the tribes in the north under the hard rule of the Canaanites. She knew that a brave man was living in the land of Naphtali, a man named Barak, and to him she sent this message: "Barak, call out the tribes of Israel who live near you; raise an army, and lead the men who gather about you to Mount Tabor. The Lord has told me that he will give Sisera and the host of the Canaanites into your hands."
But Barak felt afraid to undertake alone this great work of setting his people free. He sent back to Deborah this answer: "If you will go with me, I will go; but if you will not go with me, I will not go." "I will go with you," said Deborah; "but because you did not trust God, and did not go when God called you, the honor of this war will not be yours, for God will deliver Sisera into the hands of a woman."
Deborah left her seat under the palm tree and went up to Kedesh, where Barak lived. Together Deborah and Barak sent out a call for the men of the north, and ten thousand men met together with such arms as they could find. This little army, with a woman for its chief, encamped on Mount Tabor, which is one of three mountains standing in a row on the east of a great plain called "the plain of Esdraelon," "the plain of Jezreel," and "the plain of Megiddo,''? for it bears all these three names. On this plain, both in Bible times and also in the times since the Bible, many great battles have been fought. Over this plain winds the brook Kishon, which at some seasons, after heavy rain, becomes a foaming, rushing river.
From their camp on the top of Mount Tabor the little army of Israel could look down on the great host of the Canaanites with their many tents, their horses and chariots,and their general, Sisera. But Deborah was not afraid. She said to Barak, "March down the mountain with all your men, and fight the Canaanites. The Lord will go before you, and he will give Sisera and his host into your hand."
Then Barak blew a trumpet and called out his men. They ran down the side of Mount Tabor and rushed upon their enemies. The Canaanites were taken so suddenly that they had no time to draw out their chariots. They were frightened and ran away, trampling each other under foot, chariots and horses and men in a wild flight.
And the Lord helped the Israelites; for at that time the brook Kishon was swollen into a river, and the Canaanites crowded after each other into it. While many were killed in the battle, many were also drowned in the river.
Sisera, the general of the Canaanites, saw that the battle had gone against him and that all was lost. He leaped from his chariot and fled away on foot. On the edge of the plain he found a tent standing alone, and he ran to it for shelter and hiding.
It was the tent of a man named Heber, and Heber's wife, Jael, was in front of it. She knew Sisera, and said to him, "Come in, my lord; come into the tent; do not be afraid." Sisera entered the tent, and Jael covered him with a rug, so that no enemy might find him. Sisera said to her, "I am very thirsty; can you give me a little water to drink?"
Instead of water she brought out a bottle of milk and gave him some: and then Sisera lay down to sleep, for he was very tired from the battle and from running. While he was in a deep sleep, Jael crept into the tent quietly with a tent-pin and a hammer in her hand. She placed the point of the pin upon the side of his head, near his ear, and with the hammer gave blow after blow, driving it into his brain and through his head until it went into the ground underneath. After a moment's struggle Sisera was dead, and she left his body upon the ground.
In a little time Jael saw Barak, the chief of the Israelite army, coming toward the tent. She went out to meet him, and said, " Come with me, and I will show you the man whom you are seeking." She lifted the curtain of the tent, and led Barak within; and there he saw lying dead upon the ground the mighty Sisera, who only the day before had led the army of the Canaanites.
That was a terrible deed which Jael did. We should call it treachery and murder; but such was the bitter hate between Israelite and Canaanite at that time that all the people gave great honor to Jael on account of it, for by that act she had set the people free from the king who had been oppressing Israel. After this the land had rest for many years.
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