These chapters record Israels deliverance following their third servitude.
The Oppression (4.1-3; 5.6-8)
"Mightily" (4.3), also translated "sharply" (8.1) emphasises the intensity of Israels affliction, for whilst the Cananites had "900 chariots of iron" (4.3), there was no "shield [defensive weapon] or spear [offensive weapon] seen among 40,000 in Israel" (5.8). Their enemies used the massive Jezreel valley, which gave a large chariot force full advantage. Christians should remember they are engaged in a war (Eph 6.10-20) with fierce enemies that take no prisoners, seize every conceivable advantage, and whose only objective is to devour them (1 Pet 5.8). Canaanite supremacy resulted in such widespread fear that Israelites no longer travelled on main roads because of enemy patrols, neither inhabited poorly fortified villages (5.6,7). "War at the gates" (5.8) suggests a complete disruption of normal social functioning. A citys gate was its administrative centre where business transactions (Gen 23.10-18; Ruth 4.1-12), practical decisions (Gen 34.20-24), and difficult judgments (Deut 16.18; 21.18-21; 22.13-21) were carried out. Enemies pressing up to the city gates curtailed such activities. Believers living in sin endure a similar experience: holy courage is replaced by fear and the normal pattern of Christian living is disturbed.
This oppression began with Ehuds death (4.1), for judges not only protected Israel from invaders (2.18), but also restrained idolatry. Once their godly influence was removed the nation returned to its idols (2.19). Even today one spiritual saint can powerfully influence an assembly for good; sadly much departure can follow the home call.
Once Israel "cried unto Jehovah" (4.3), Deborah showed maternal care for them (5.7), Barak led them (4.10), and Jael slew their enemy (4.18-21) bringing the oppression to an end. In our extremities we too should call upon God (Ps 55.22; 1 Pet 5.7) and as Deborah showed concern for Gods people so ought we (Phil 2.4). Israels submission to Baraks leadership provides a good example to follow our leaders (Heb 13.7), and Jaels putting Gods cause before family ties (4.17 makes clear her husband had different allegiances) gives an excellent practical example of the Lords teaching regarding priorities (Lk 14.26).
The cause for Israels oppression was threefold. Firstly, it stemmed from failure in the past to exterminate the Canaanites (Deut 7.1-5; 16-26; 20.16-18) for this particular oppression was by Jabin a Canaanite. Their iniquity was rebuked (Judg 2.1-3) and Israel learnt the hard lesson that past sins often haunt us. Because the repercussions of sin can arise years later, saints must carefully adhere to the teachings of Gods Word!
Secondly, Israel "again did evil in the sight of the Lord" (4.1) by choosing "new gods" (5.8). Recurrent idolatry following peaceful periods was the common pattern in Judges (2.19). Since idolatry can be so subtle, e.g. covetousness (Col 3.5), and the human heart so prone to it, John exhorted Christians: "keep yourselves from idols" (1 Jn 5.21).
Thirdly, "the Lord sold them" (4.2). In doing this, together with raising up deliverers (2.16), repenting at Israels groaning (2.18), and retaining the original inhabitants to prove their devotion (2.21-23) God demonstrated loving care for the nation. New Testament saints can expect a similar exhibition of divine care, "for whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth" (Heb 12.6).
The Call (4.4-10; 5.2,9,14-18)
Deborah means "honey-bee" and, consistent with her name, she energetically "judged Israel at that time" (4.4). How important for saints to be busy for the Lord, redeeming the time (Eph 5.16) and "always abounding in the work of the Lord" (1 Cor 15.58). As a prophetess, and knowing Gods mind, she wisely judged the people (4.5; Deut 17.8-11) and authoritatively commanded Barak "Hath not the Lord God of Israel commanded" (4.6). New Testament prophecy was a foundation gift for the Church (Eph 2.20), now replaced by teaching of already revealed truth. Although she judged Israel she was unwilling to lead them into battle, acknowledging military leadership to be a mans role (4.6), so exhibiting spiritual insight and humility. In church meetings public participation is the mans prerogative (1 Cor 14.34; 1 Tim 2.8-15). Deborah showed exceptional faith, for so convinced was she of victory the battle was described as only a "journey" (4.9). Just as "Deborah went up with him" (4.10) to encourage Barak, saints can be helped with others company; surely this is one reason why the Lord sent the disciples "forth by two and two" (Mk 6.7).
Barak was privileged to live in Kedesh-naphtali, one of six Levitical cities (Num 35.6) set apart as "cities of refuge" where teaching from the law would have been prominent (Deut 33.10), furnishing him with a good grasp of Scripture. The local assembly should prioritise Bible teaching that the saints may be "throughly furnished unto all good works" (2 Tim 3.17). Although initially hesitant, wishing spiritual companionship in the endeavour (4.8), he clearly believed Gods promise of deliverance (4.7; Heb 11.32). "He went up with ten thousand men at his feet" (4.10), showing well-developed leadership skills elders in a local church must lead by example (1 Pet 5.3). Baraks care to obey the specific commandments (cf 4.6 and 4.10,12) provides us a good role model of obedience. Barak, having a splendid view of the enemy forces below from Mount Tabor, courageously ventured "on foot into the valley" (5.15) to face the vast military force.
Several tribes became involved in the conflict: Ephraim (5.14), Benjamin (5.14), Machir (the half tribe of Manasseh west of Jordan, 5.14), Zebulun, Naphtali and Issachar (5.14,15,18). As these different tribes worked together against a common enemy so unity amongst believers is of paramount importance (Ps 133; Eph 4.3; Phil 1.27). Good leadership was also necessary for success in the venture "From Zebulun marchers with the staff of the conductor" (5.14) indicated those who mustered the troops (2 Kings 25.19; 2 Chr 26.11) and thus provided leadership. Each church requires a godly oversight (1 Pet 5.1-4) recognised by the saints (1 Thess.5.12,13) in order for it to function effectively.
Just as each tribe responded differently to the battle call, Christians are likely to react differently to the call of responsibility. Reuben, though concerned for Israels plight (5.15,16: "great thoughts of heart", "great searchings of heart") remained "among the sheepfolds" (5.16), and so exercise of heart was not followed by action. Gilead (the half tribe of Manasseh east of Jordan) stayed at home (5.17). Dan and Asher put commercial enterprise before divine service (5.17). Be warned: "Ye cannot serve God and mammon" (Mt 6.24). Meroz was cursed for refusing to help (5.23). Believers who will not serve will not be cursed, but will lose eternal reward. Refreshingly, those of Zebulun and Naphtali committed themselves without reserve to Gods work (5.18).
The Fight (4.11-16; 5.15,18-23)
The conflict took place in the large Jezreel plain, the site of the future battle of Armageddon (Rev 16.16). Barak and his men "jeoparded their lives unto the death" (5.18) by descending poorly equipped on foot into the valley (5.8,15) to face the powerful chariots (4.13). Epaphroditus provides a New Testament example of a saint willing to put his own life on the line for the work of Christ (Phil 2.30).
"The stars in their courses fought against Sisera" (5.20) symbolises heavenly intervention, for God drew the enemy to the river (4.7), went before Israel (4.14), and caused the river Kishon to flash flood (5.21), thus rendering useless the 900 chariots (5.22).
Siseras sons (Ezra 2.53; Neh 7.55), as Korahs (Ps 42-49), were spared, teaching of Gods mercy and the truth of individual accountability "The soul that sinneth, it shall die" (Ezek 18.20).
The Execution (4.17-22; 5.24-27)
Jaels brave act was honourable, of God (4.9), and because of it she was highly blessed (5.24). Sadly, Jael and Heber her husband differed in their sympathies: he sided with the enemy (4.17), she with Israel. How crucial for Christian spouses to have similar spiritual interests and values (1 Cor 7.39). Jael was blessed "above women in the tent" (5.24), emphasising that a womans sphere is primarily in the home. An ungodly womans "feet abide not in her house" (Pr 7.11). Since Bedouin womens responsibilities included hammering tent pegs into the ground, it is not surprising that Jael killed Sisera with a tent peg. Often natural aptitudes can be beneficially used for God.
The Results (4.23-24; 5.1-5, 10-13, 28-31)
The results of victory were fourfold:
Just as this occasion was deeply implanted in Israels memory, still remembered many years later (Ps 83.9,10), we should never forget Gods past dealings with us, but continually live in the good of them.
Keil and Delitzsch translation