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(MT versing)
Deborah and Barak Deliver From Canaanites Deborah Deborah
Deborah and Barak Israel Oppressed by Canaanites
4:1-3 4:1-3 4:1-3 4:1-3 4:1-3
4:4-10 4:4-10 4:4-10 4:4-7 4:4-10
4:9-10 Heber the Kenite
4:11 4:11-16 4:11 4:11 4:11
Defeat of Sisera
4:12-16 4:12-16 4:12-13 4:12-16
4:14-16 Death of Sisera
4:17-22 4:17-22 4:17-22 4:17-20 4:17-22
4:21-22 Israel Delivered
4:23-24 4:23-24 4:23-24 4:23-24 4:23-24

READING CYCLE THREE (see "Bible Interpretation Seminar")


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

  1. First paragraph
  2. Second paragraph
  3. Etc.


  1. Judges 3 primarily deals with problems in southern Canaan.

  2. Judges 4 primarily deals with problems in northern Canaan.

  3. Judges 4 is a prose account of Deborah's judging ministry, while Judges 5 is a poetic account of the same incident. We learn from Egyptian documents that this was a quite common literary technique during this period and is one more evidence of the historicity of the book of Judges.


1Then the sons of Israel again did evil in the sight of the Lord, after Ehud died. 2And the Lord sold them into the hand of Jabin king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor; and the commander of his army was Sisera, who lived in Harosheth-hagoyim. 3The sons of Israel cried to theLord; for he had nine hundred iron chariots, and he oppressed the sons of Israel severely for twenty years.

4:1 "the sons of Israel again did evil in the sight of the Lord" This is a recurrent phrase throughout the period of the Judges. The evil spoken of here is that they worshiped the fertility gods of Canaan.


4:2 "the Lord sold them into the hand of" Again, this is the opposite of the term "redeemed" (see note at Jdgs. 2:14 and 3:8).

▣ "Jabin king of Canaan" There is another Jabin (BDB 108) mentioned in Joshua 11 who was killed by Joshua and was also the king of Hazor. Many have tried to say that these two accounts are a jumbled account of that one event. However, the term "Jabin" may be a family name or a title for the kings of Hazor, as "pharaoh" is for Egypt, "Hadad" is for Syria, and later "Caesar" is for Rome.

The title "king of Canaan" is unique and unusual.

  1. NET Bible changes it to "King Jabin of Canaan"; TEV has "Jabin, a Canaanite King"
  2. he may have led a confederacy of Canaanite city-states (note Jos. 11:10)
  3. it may have been an honorific title for the leader of the largest, most powerful Canaanite city of its day

Surprisingly, he is not mentioned in the poetic account of Judges 5.

▣ "who reigned in Hazor" Hazor is a site about eight and a half miles north of the Sea of Galilee. It is a huge archaeological site. Megiddo, another city in the north, is about 40 acres, but Hazor is 240 acres. This was the chief Canaanite stronghold of the north. It was destroyed by Joshua in Joshua 11. There were not enough Israelis to occupy all the cities and possibly it was reoccupied by Canaanites.

▣ "and the commander of his army was Sisera" Sisera (BDB 696) is not a Hebrew or Canaanite name and we do not know his origin (may be Philistine, AB, p. 94), but he was the military commander for the Canaanite city-state of Hazor.

▣ "who lived in Harosheth-hagoyim" The location is uncertain but the name means "forest of the nations" or "international forest" (BDB 361 II).

4:3 "for he had 900 iron chariots" Iron is something that the Hebrews did not possess early at this period of their history. At the time, only the Philistines had iron weapons (cf. 1 Sam. 13:19-21). This does not mean the entire chariots were iron but just

  1. their ornaments (i.e., breast plates for horses and chariots; the chariots allowed the indigenous Canaanites to control the valleys but not the foothills
  2. their wheels

Nine hundred chariots is far too many for one Canaanite city, so this must mean that a coalition of Canaanite city-states joined together to repel the invading Israelites.

4Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time. 5She used to sit under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the sons of Israel came up to her for judgment. 6Now she sent and summoned Barak the son of Abinoam from Kedesh-naphtali, and said to him, "Behold, the Lord the God of Israel, has commanded, 'Go and march to Mount Tabor, and take with you ten thousand men from the sons of Naphtali and from the sons of Zebulun. 7I will draw out to you Sisera, the commander of Jabin's army, with his chariots and his many troops to the river Kishon, and I will give him into your hand.'" 8Then 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." 9She said, "I will surely go with you; nevertheless, the honor shall not be yours on the journey that you are about to take, for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hands of a woman." Then Deborah arose and went with Barak to Kedesh. 10Barak called Zebulun and Naphtali together to Kedesh, and ten thousand men went up with him; Deborah also went up with him.

4:4 "Now Deborah, a prophetess" Deborah means "bee" (BDB 184). There are many women in places of leadership in the OT. Miriam in Exod. 15:20; Huldah in 2 Kgs. 24:14, were called prophetesses. Noadiah in Neh. 6:14 was a false prophetess. Anna in Luke 2:36; Phoebe in Rom. 16:1; Philip's daughters in Acts 21:9; and the widow's list of 1 Tim. 3:11 also had positions of leadership in the NT. It is true that the norm (i.e., patriarchal culture) is God using a man to lead His people, but the fact that we have these notable exceptions shows that any dogmatic statement about women's leadership is inappropriate! One must balance Paul's strong statements in this matter to the culture of his day. The issue is far from easy to solve but must be thought through clearly, biblically, not emotionally, culturally, or denominationally!




▣ "the wife of Lappidoth" His name means "torches" (BDB 542). Many have believed that because Barak, Deborah's general's name means "lightening" (BDB 140), that maybe she was married to her general, but this seems to be reading too much into the similarities of these two names. Some commentators have asserted that this man's name is a FEMININE form but in truth it is not FEMININE but an ABSTRACT CONSTRUCT.

4:5 "the palm tree" Trees often had special cultic association, as the oaks of Moreh (cf. Gen. 12:6) in the life of Abraham. See also Jdgs. 6:11, 19; 9:6, 37; 1 Sam. 10:3; 18:9, 10; 1 Kgs. 13:14; 1 Chr. 10:12.

▣ "the sons of Israel came up to her for judgment" This shows that she was more than just a local judge for she seems to have judged in the south and delivered the north.

4:6 "Barak the son of Abinoam from Kadesh-naphtali" Barak (BDB 140) means "lightening." This location must be differentiated from Kadesh-barnea in the south. Barak was from the area affected by the control of the Canaannite city of Hazor.

In a sense Deborah is not a typical "judge." She actually, and uniquely in Judges, functions as a person who settles legal and religious disputes (cf. Jdgs. 4:5). It is Barak who is the typical military leader/judge, common in Judges. He is listed with other judges in Hebrew 11:32, but Deborah is not mentioned. Deborah is a prophetess, not a judge in the military sense.

▣ "Mount Tabor" Mount Tabor is an isolated hill northeast of the plains of Megiddo or the Valley of Esdraelon (cf. NIDOTTE, vol. 4, p. 1246). Because it was a hill, the chariots of Sisera were not effective against it.

▣ "ten thousand" The OT uses (1) hyperbolic numbers or (2) idioms to express groups (cf. Jdgs. 4:10,14). Modern westerners misunderstand this imagery (see D. Brent Sandy, Plowshares and Pruning Hooks: Rethinking the Language of Biblical Prophecy and Apocalyptic.



▣ "the sons of Naphtali and from the sons of Zebulun" These are two of the tribes in the tribal allocation affected by the Canaanite city of Hazor. In Judges 5 we learn that many more of the tribes were involved, probably the two primary groups came from these two northern tribes.

NASB, NKJV, TEV  "river"
NJB  "torrent"

This term (BDB 636) refers to a ravine where water rushes through during the months of snow melt and rain storms (Jdgs. 5:21; Ps. 83:10), but is dry the rest of the year. These dry wadis were often used as roads.

4:9 "She said, I will surely go with you" This is an intensified grammar feature (an INFINITIVE ABSOLUTE and an IMPERFECT VERB from the same root, BDB 229, KB 246).

Barak wanted Deborah close by in case he needed to consult YHWH.

▣ "the honor shall not be yours" This has two possible references.

  1. Deborah accompanying Barak
  2. Jael, the wife of Heber, the Kenite, killing the army commander Sisera, Jdgs. 4:17-22

11Now Heber the Kenite had separated himself from the Kenites, from the sons of Hobab the father-in-law of Moses, and had pitched his tent as far away as the oak in Zaanannim, which is near Kedesh.

4:11 "Now Heber the Kenite" This short verse is inserted to explain the presence of Jael in Jdgs. 4:17 and her significant role in the death of Sisera. The Kenites are a Midianite tribe (cf. Jdgs. 1:13,16; Num. 10:29). Moses' father-in-law was a member of this people group, as was Caleb.

12Then they told Sisera that Barak the son of Abinoam had gone up to Mount Tabor. 13Sisera called together all his chariots, nine hundred iron chariots, and all the people who were with him, from Harosheth-hagoyim to the river Kishon. 14Deborah said to Barak, "Arise! For this is the day in which the Lord has given Sisera into your hands; behold, the Lord has gone out before you." So Barak went down from Mount Tabor with ten thousand men following him. 15The Lord routed 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 foot. 16But Barak pursued the chariots and the army as far as Harosheth-hagoyim, and all the army of Sisera fell by the edge of the sword; not even one was left.

4:14 "the Lord has gone out before you" This is "holy war" terminology (cf. Deut. 1:30; 3:22; 2 Sam. 5:24). Victory came only because of YHWH's presence not the power, skill, or numbers of the Israeli army. Note Jdgs. 4:15, "the Lord routed Sisera" and Jdgs. 4:23, "So God subdued on that day Jabin the king of Canaan."

YHWH uses human instrumentality.

  1. Moses ‒ Exod. 3:8-10
  2. here
    1. Deborah
    2. Barak (cf. Heb. 11:32)
    3. Jael

4:15 "The Lord routed Sisera. . .alighted from his chariot" We learn from Jdgs. 5:4, 5, and 21 that apparently the Lord had caused a huge thunderstorm to soften the ground so that the iron chariots bogged down in the Valley of Esdeaelon. They had to abandon their chariots, which were their only means of superiority.

This VERB (BDB 243, KB 251, Qal IMPERFECT with waw) means "to confuse" or "vex," and is used of YHWH confusing the Egyptian honor guard at the Red Sea with the Shekinah cloud of glory separating the Israelites (cf. Exod. 14:24; also note Jos. 10:10).

4:16 "not even one was left" This is also "holy war" terminology (cf. Exod. 14:28; Ps. 83:9). This is what YHWH had commanded of Israel.

17Now Sisera fled away 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 house of Heber the Kenite. 18Jael went out to meet Sisera, and said to him, "Turn aside, my master, turn aside to me! Do not be afraid." And he turned aside to her into the tent, and she covered him with a rug. 19He said to her, "Please give me a little water to drink, for I am thirsty." So she opened a bottle of milk and gave him a drink; then she covered him. 20He said to her, "Stand in the doorway of the tent, and it shall be if anyone comes and inquires of you, and says, 'Is there anyone here?' that you shall say, 'No.'" 21But Jael, Heber's wife, took a tent peg and seized a hammer in her hand, and went secretly to him and drove the peg into his temple, and it went through into the ground; for he was sound asleep and exhausted. So he died. 22And 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 are seeking." And he entered with her, and behold Sisera was lying dead with the tent peg in his temple.

4:17 "Jael" Her name (BDB418) means "mountain-goat" (cf. Job 39:1; Ps. 104:18).

▣ "for there was peace between Jabin the king of Hazor and the house of Heber the Kenite" Some scholars have suggested that "the Kenites" (related to Cain) were metal workers (cf. Gen. 4:22) and that Heber helped build the iron chariots and other weaponry for Hazor. This is just interesting speculation.

4:18 "And he turned aside to her into the tent" Apparently from Bedouin examples, the women had separate tents and Jael must have had a tent to herself (note Gen. 31:33). She tricked him into thinking he was safe under her cloak, but then she drove a tent peg through his temple (cf. Jdgs. 4:21). Remember, the women were the ones who set up the tents and she would have had these tools and the ability to use them.

▣ "with a rug" This word (BDB 970) occurs only here. It is similar to "mantle" (BDB 971), which refers to an outer garment (cf. Gen. 35:2; Ruth 3:3). See NIDOTTE, vol. 3, p. 1255.

4:21 "temple" Most English translations have "temple," but the word (BDB 956) occurs only in

  1. Jdgs. 4:21; 5:26
  2. Song of Songs 4:3; 6:7

Since it seems difficult to drive a stake through one's skull, it may refer to the upper neck behind the ear.

▣ "he was sound asleep" This PARTICIPLE (BDB 922, KB 1191, Niphal ACTIVE PARTICIPLE) may denote something even stronger than "deep sleep," possibly "stunned." It is even possible that Jael put something in the milk that drugged him (cf. Jdgs. 5:25; NIDOTTE, vol. 3, p. 1057).

23So God subdued on that day Jabin the king of Canaan before the sons of Israel. 24The hand of the sons of Israel pressed heavier and heavier upon Jabin the king of Canaan, until they had destroyed Jabin the king of Canaan.

4:24 These summary verses show that the Promised Land was taken in stages, not in one swift movement.


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

  1. Why is Jabin called "king of Canaan"?
  2. What does the number 900 iron chariots imply?
  3. Does God use women leaders?
  4. How is Judges 4 related to Judges 5?
  5. Was Heber an ally of Jabin?
  6. Is Jael praised or condemned for her actions?

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