Judges 4

Judges 4,
Thursday, May 3, 2018

Rinse and repeat.  The formula is clear – though as Dan pointed out on Sunday evening, it seems to fit less neatly as the book continues.  Personally, I see the hand of an editor, either in Josiah’s court, or certainly by the time of the Second Temple.  The Deuteronomic voice is trying to make sense of why the united kingdom failed.

This time, the ruler is Jabin of Canaan, another southern lowlander with chariots.  The judge is Deborah – that’s right, a woman, a judge, prophetess.  Gender has a biological basis and manifestations in physiology and chemistry. Gender is also a social construct, with lots of political and economic consequences.  Who is this woman? 

You can’t keep reading Judges without acknowledging your own assumptions about gender, now and then.  Perhaps you might even rebut some of your presumptions!  I was gentle in noting Achsah’s marriage alliance with Othniel.  Deborah’s relationship to Lappidoth, aka ‘Torches’, carries different markers of her status and power – let your imagination run, and be sure you are not the first to speculate.

The site this time is Bethel and Ramah, in Ephraim, north from the previous stories.  Did you remember Ramah as the place Rachel died in childbirth of Benjamin in Genesis?  The warrior Barak is called from Naphtali, down from the highlands. Deborah assures him God plans the place and the players in the climax of this conflict with Jabin. Barak demands she put some ‘skin in the game’ and come along!

However you read this exchange between Deborah and Barak, she concludes that he will not get the glory, and that a woman will kill his opponent Sisera, not he himself.  Is that a taunt, a gender claim?  In any event, Deborah comes along to the battle site, Mt Tabor, Kedesh.

The heroine here is not Deborah the judge, but Jael, wife of Heber the Kenite.  Her husband’s people are related to Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, also named as a Midianite.  Visualize a nomadic band, with camels, flocks, tents.  Imagine the chief’s wife as the boss of the camp, not simply a camp-follower.  She has authority to offer hospitality and security to a visitor, or one seeking refuge. 

Back at the battle-site, Deborah declares the fight is on, and Barak sweeps down from Mt Tabor and routs the valley’s chariots.  As usual there is a brief claim of massacre, and a hunt for a fleeing leader. By the time Barak catches up, Jael has taken care of business.

What do you make of the story of Jael killing Sisera with a tent peg?  Aritha Van Herk’s ‘The Tent Peg’ offers the story relocated to Alberta and the oilsands of Fort McMurray, in an elegant novelette.  Tell your version, and then check your gender assumptions.  Did she seduce him, or did he abuse and threaten her, was it brute force, or was he drunk with ‘milk’ or just exhausted from the battle?

Heartened by the victory of Deborah, Barak, and Jael, the Israelites push back at the Canaanite oppression, until it ends.


The Israelites again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, 
after Ehud died.
 2So the Lord sold them
into the hand of King Jabin of Canaan,
 who reigned in Hazor;
 the commander of his army was Sisera, 
who lived in Harosheth-ha-goiim.
 3Then the Israelites cried out to the Lord for help;
 for he had nine hundred chariots of iron,
 and had oppressed the Israelites cruelly for twenty years.
4 At that time Deborah,
 a prophetess,
wife of Lappidoth,
 was judging Israel.
 5She used to sit under the palm of Deborah
 between Ramah and Bethel
 in the hill country of Ephraim; 
and the Israelites came up to her
 for judgement.
 6She sent and summoned Barak
son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali,
and said to him, 
‘The Lord, the God of Israel, 
commands you, 
“Go, take position at Mount Tabor,
 bringing ten thousand
from the tribe of Naphtali
and the tribe of Zebulun.
 7I will draw out Sisera, 
the general of Jabin’s army, 
to meet you by the Wadi Kishon
 with his chariots and his troops;
 and I will give him into your hand.” ’
 8Barak said to her,
 ‘If you will go with me,
 I will go; 
but if you will not go with me,
 I will not go.’
 9And she said,
 ‘I will surely go with you; 
the road on which you are going
will not lead to your glory, 
for the Lord will sell Sisera
 into the hand of a woman.’ 
Then Deborah got up
 and went with Barak to Kedesh.
 10Barak summoned Zebulun and Naphtali to Kedesh;
 and ten thousand warriors went up behind him;
 and Deborah went up with him.
11 Now Heber the Kenite had separated
from the other Kenites, 
that is,
 the descendants of Hobab
the father-in-law of Moses, 
and had encamped as far away as Elon-bezaanannim,
 which is near Kedesh.
12 When Sisera was told
 that Barak son of Abinoam had gone up to Mount Tabor,
 13Sisera called out all his chariots, 
nine hundred chariots of iron,
 and all the troops who were with him,
 from Harosheth-ha-goiim to the Wadi Kishon.
 14Then Deborah said to Barak,
For this is the day
on which the Lord has given Sisera
 into your hand. 
The Lord is indeed going out before you.’
 So Barak went down from Mount Tabor
with ten thousand warriors following him.
 15And the Lord threw Sisera
and all his chariots and all his army
 into a panic before Barak; 
Sisera got down from his chariot
 and fled away on foot,
 16while Barak pursued the chariots and the army
 to Harosheth-ha-goiim. 
All the army of Sisera
fell by the sword; 
no one was left.
17 Now Sisera had fled away on foot
to the tent of Jael wife of Heber the Kenite; 
for there was peace
between King Jabin of Hazor
and the clan of Heber the Kenite.
 18Jael came out to meet Sisera,
 and said to him, 
‘Turn aside, my lord,
 turn aside to me;
 have no fear.’ 
So he turned aside to her
 into the tent,
 and she covered him
 with a rug. 
19Then he said to her,
 ‘Please give me a little water to drink;
 for I am thirsty.’
 So she opened a skin of milk
and gave him a drink
 and covered him.
 20He said to her,
 ‘Stand at the entrance of the tent, 
and if anybody comes
and asks you
, “Is anyone here?” 
 “No.” ’
 21But Jael wife of Heber
took a tent-peg, 
and took a hammer in her hand,
 and went softly to him
and drove the peg into his temple, 
until it went down into the ground—
he was lying fast asleep from weariness—
and he died.
as Barak came in pursuit of Sisera,
 Jael went out to meet him,
 and said to him,
 ‘Come, and I will show you
the man whom you are seeking.’ 
So he went into her tent;
 and there was Sisera lying dead, 
with the tent-peg in his temple.
23 So on that day God subdued King Jabin of Canaan
 before the Israelites.
 24Then the hand of the Israelites
bore harder and harder on King Jabin of Canaan,
 until they destroyed King Jabin of Canaan.