Two Women God Used to Win a War
How many Old Testament prophets can you name? Some that come to mind include Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Moses, Daniel, Jonah, Zechariah, Joshua, and Abraham.
Now, how many Old Testament prophetesses can you name? The named prophetesses in the Old Testament were Huldah, Miriam, Deborah, and Noadiah. Some scholars include Esther, Sarah, Abigail, and Hannah. There were additional prophetesses in the New Testament.
Prophesy was a gender-neutral gift given by God.
The Hebrew term for “prophet” in the Old Testament is nābî’ (fem. nĕbî’â), which means “one called (by God),” or possibly “one who calls.” Greek prophētēs (fem. prophētis), from which our word “prophet” comes in the New Testament, means “one who speaks for God…”1 Biblical prophets/prophetesses were given authority and insight to speak the truths of God on behalf of God. Words spoken by the prophets/prophetesses were never ultimately their own; they were the words of Yahweh, God of Israel.
THE BATTLE AT MOUNT TABOR
In the book of Judges, Chapters 4 and 5 is a story of a biblical hero—a military leader, warrior, judge, prophetess, and poet—Deborah. Deborah (“bee”) was the fourth of twelve judges mentioned in the book of Judges. She and Samuel were the only judges that were also said to have prophesied.2 When Deborah held court, it was under a palm tree in the village/city of Ephraim. The Israelites came to her to have their disputes decided. She was a leader of Israel for forty years, twenty of which the people of Israel had been living under the oppression of the king of Canaan, Jabin.
One day, Deborah, Commander-in-Chief, sent for Barak (“thunderbolt”) from Kedesh in Naphtali and said to him, “The Lord, the God of Israel, commands you: ‘Go, take with you ten thousand men of Naphtali and Zebulun and lead them up to Mount Tabor. I will lure Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his troops to the Kishon River and give him into your hands’” (Jud. 4:6-7).
Barak agreed to go, but only if Deborah went with him. God called Barak to defeat an army, but he didn’t trust God without Deborah by his side—he trusted in Deborah more than God. Knowing this, she agreed to go but prophesied, “But because of the course you are taking, the honor will not be yours, for the Lord will deliver Sisera into the hands of a woman.”
Still, God used Barak to lead the charge, but Sisera, the commander of the Canaanite army, would be delivered into the hands of a woman. “So Deborah went with Barak to Kedesh. There he summoned Zebulun and Naphtali, and ten thousand men went up under his command. Deborah also went up with him” (Jud. 4:9b-10).
They went to Mount Tabor and encamped on the slopes of this 1,300-foot mountain—northeast of the battle site. There they were safe from the Canaanite’s chariot attack.
Sisera planned his attack using 900 iron chariots and 21,800 soldiers3 in the Valley of Jezreel along the Kishon River, where his chariot forces would have space to range the battlefield.
A metalworker Kenite man named Heber (“ally”), and his wife, Jael (“mountain goat”), had their tents pitched near Kedesh. The Kenites were at peace with the Canaanites, so Heber was an ally to the Canaanite, King Jabin. With insider information from Heber, Jabin instructed Sisera when to mobilize their 900 chariots and men to go to the Kishon River.
“Then Deborah said to Barak, ‘Go! This is the day the Lord has given Sisera into your hands. Has not the Lord gone ahead of you?’ So Barak went down Mount Tabor, with ten thousand men following him. At Barak’s advance, the Lord routed Sisera and all his chariots and army by the sword, and Sisera got down from his chariot and fled on foot.” (Jud. 4:14-15).
“HAS NOT THE LORD GONE AHEAD OF YOU”
From the heavens the stars fought, from their courses they fought against Sisera. The river Kishon swept them away, the age-old river, the river Kishon. March on, my soul; be strong! (Jud. 5:20-21).
From the heavens, God poured down rain. Barak, The Lord’s appointed “thunderbolt,” led the charge against Sisera and his troops. The heavy iron chariots sank into the mud near the Kishon River in the valley of Jezreel. Not a Canaanite survived except for their leader Sisera, who fled on foot to the tent of Jael.
Jael went outside to greet Sisera, telling him not to be afraid; he was in a safe place. Only fathers and husbands could enter the tent of a woman, so no one would suspect him hiding there—it was an ideal refuge. Sisera was thirsty and tired. Jael (“mountain goat”) opened a skin of milk (probably of goat’s milk) to give him a drink. He commanded her to keep watch at the tent entrance so she could warn him of danger. Then, exhausted, he fell into a deep sleep.
While Sisera laid fast asleep, Jael picked up a tent peg and hammer and crept quietly toward him. She drove the peg through his temple into the ground, where he died. Sisera was indeed delivered into the hands of a woman. Jael sympathized with the Israelites because of the twenty-year harsh oppression inflicted on them by King Jabin.4 Heber, her husband, on the other hand, breached his faith to Israel through his alliance with the Canaanites. Barak came by the tent to pursue Sisera, but God had already delivered him into Jael’s hands.
With Sisera dead, Israel, “the land flowing with milk and honey,” had been saved by God who used two women (a mountain goat and a bee – milk and honey) and a thunderbolt to deliver his people, the Israelites, from the harsh oppression of the Canaanites. God gave the Israelites victory during the battle at Mount Tabor! “On that day God subdued Jabin, king of Canaan before the Israelites. And the hand of the Israelites pressed harder and harder against Jabin king of Canaan until they destroyed him” (Jud. 4:23-24)
1 Lundbom, Jack R. “Prophets in the Hebrew Bible.” Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Religion, 9 May 2016, oxfordre.com/religion/view/10.1093/acrefore/9780199340378.001.0001/acrefore-9780199340378-e-109.
2 Nelson, Susan J. “Who Was Deborah in the Bible?” Christianity.com, Salem Web Network, 10 July 2019, http://www.christianity.com/wiki/people/who-was-deborah-in-the-bible.html.
3 “Battle of Mount Tabor (1799).” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 25 May 2021, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Mount_Tabor_(1799).
4 “Jael.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 21 June 2021, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jael.
Last week, I wrote an article about how one man’s faith fulfilled a forty-year promise of God that the Israelites would enter The Promised Land, a land flowing with milk and honey. That promise came true through the faith of a man named Caleb, who didn’t cower when he saw enormous obstacles (huge people, actually!) You can read that story here.
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