Study Notes and Personal Bible Study Activities
for the Book of Judges
The Book of Judges describes approximately 400 years of chaos experienced by God’s covenant people, Israel. It is filled with lurid accounts of the disappointing disobedience of God’s people and the subsequent difficulties they experienced from God’s chastening hand. At the same time, it shows the faithful mercy of God, who, time after time forgave His people, heard their cries for deliverance, and provided the deliverer (“judge”) they needed at His chosen time.
This study will concentrate on the song, actually a duet, that is found in Judges 5. The story of God’s deliverance it celebrates is found in the previous chapter. The most famous humans in the story are two women - Deborah and Jael and a man named Barak. The Deliverer Who used them is, of course, God Himself. The singers of the duet are Deborah and Barak. Let’s look at the song and celebrate what He did in a difficult time through some surprising people.
“In the days of Shamgar, son of Anath,
in the days of Jael, the highways were abandoned,
and travelers kept to the byways.
7 The villagers ceased in Israel;
they ceased to be until I arose;
I, Deborah, arose as a mother in Israel.
8 When new gods were chosen,
then war was in the gates.
Was shield or spear to be seen
among forty thousand in Israel?”
A sorry state! These verses describe life in Israel at the time the LORD delivered Israel from oppression through Deborah, Jael, and Barak. Commerce and social interaction had virtually ceased. People slunk around on the back-country roads lest they be assaulted and taxed (robbed) by their oppressors on the main roads. They abandoned their vulnerable ancestral villages to live in more secure walled cities.
The cause of this fearful way of life was clear - they had “chosen new gods”. They had forsaken faith in the true God, the God of Israel. Their lives were characterized by disobedience. Faithless and disobedient, they forfeited the secure and blessed life God desired to give them in “the promised land”, the land “flowing with milk and honey”. Instead, they experienced “war in the gates”. Having forsaken the LORD, their defender, they were disarmed and defenseless before their enemies - “...was spear or shield to be seen among forty thousand in Israel?”
How many times this pattern has been tragically followed since! Personally or as a family, as a nation or a congregation - forsaking godly ways for disobedient paths. The result can never be anything less than devastated lives and loss of blessing. Thankfully - it’s not God’s desire or way to give us what we deserve. Instead, through loving chastisement He seeks to lead us to repentance so that we may experience His gracious deliverance and, often, the restoration and enjoyment of His blessings.
PRAYER: O LORD! how often I have made a mess of my life and thereby dishonored You and hurt others! I am so sorry! For Jesus’ sake, mercifully give me Your pardon and deliverance as well as the power to pursue new paths to Your glory and the good of others. AMEN
Then sang Deborah and Barak the son of Abinoam on that day:
2 “That the leaders took the lead in Israel,
that the people offered themselves willingly,
bless the Lord!...My heart goes out to the commanders of Israel
who offered themselves willingly among the people.
Bless the Lord!”
“Bless the LORD!” For twenty years God’s people, who refused to serve Him, were subjected to being the slaves of a Canaanite King, whose military commander was a man named Sisera. It was a time of “cruel oppression”. The LORD was mindful of the deserved but still pitiful circumstances of His covenant people. Although they were unfaithful to His covenant, He was still faithful in His undeserved love to them. The time had come for Him to deliver them.
A godly woman, Deborah, became the one to whom people looked to guide them in paths pleasing to the LORD. God used her to call men to fulfill their role as leaders through whom the LORD would deliver His people.
Called to serve by the LORD through Deborah, a man named Barak - after assurance from Deborah that she would accompany him - meekly but still faithfully consented to conscript and lead an army into battle. The LORD blessed his recruitment call - 10,000 men stepped forward primarily from the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali to be led into battle against the Canaanites led by the mighty Sisera.
Deborah and Barak begin their song by looking back at the blessing of the LORD that He raised up such a force to change the unacceptable status quo of Israel. It was a remarkable work of God to stir up the dispirited people of Israel to action. Leaders led in faith (albeit weak) and people courageously followed their leadership in an action plan that the LORD inspired and blessed.
PRAYER: LORD, thank You for continually supplying leaders from among Your people. Although of themselves they are sinful, weak and frail; Your grace equips them to lead others in a path of blessing which You intend. Thank You for encouraging Your people to faithfully follow faithful leaders in paths that are pleasing to You and blessed by You. AMEN
““Hear, O kings; give ear, O princes;
to the Lord I will sing;
I will make melody to the Lord, the God of Israel.”
An appropriate song The song, likely composed by Deborah and then sung by her together with Barak, sets a standard for music, and, more than that, for worship. It’s object and its subject are the same - “I will make melody to the LORD, the God of Israel”.
The object of the song is to praise God. The subject of the song is declaring what He has done.
When we gather for the purpose of worship, whether the group is small or large and the place is public or private, the purpose of our gathering is to bring glory to God by sharing the grace of what He has done for us and our salvation. God is the focus, the Object of our worship activity. His saving works on behalf of His people is the subject on which we focus and which we celebrate. When this is done, the LORD is honored and His people are blessed.
Worship is not about us. It’s about Him! It’s not what style do I prefer; or what instrument(s) is my choice; or how do I feel. God is the Object and the Subject - we simply want to praise and proclaim Him.
PRAYER: LORD, as You did through Deborah and Barak, fill my lips and my life with sincere heartfelt praise and glory to You for Who You are and for what You have done. AMEN
Lord, when you went out from Seir,
when you marched from the region of Edom,
the earth trembled
and the heavens dropped,
yes, the clouds dropped water.
5 The mountains quaked before the Lord,
even Sinai before the Lord, the God of Israel...From heaven the stars fought,
from their courses they fought against Sisera.
21 The torrent Kishon swept them away,
the ancient torrent, the torrent Kishon...
The Invincible Warrior! How does one fight successfully against the LORD of Heaven and Earth?! You can fight; but you cannot be successful.
The LORD had used a king of Canaan and that king’s mighty military commander as a rod to discipline His unfaithful people, calling them to repentance. It had been a twenty-year spanking. Now, it was time to discard the rod in the fire.
From the heavens the LORD of Heaven and Earth fought for His people Israel against their enemies. The mighty enemy army with its iron chariots took their stance on the plain near the river Kishon against an almost weaponless Israel. They would cruelly crush this rebellion and destroy the Israelite rebels for certain - so they thought. But, they did not reckon with an act of nature brought by the LORD! “The heavens dropped; yes, the clouds dropped water...the torrent Kishon swept them away, the ancient torrent, the torrent of Kishon...” It was a somewhat smaller miraculous deliverance like the drowning of Pharaoh and his chariots in the Red Sea. A mighty enemy of God (any enemy of God’s people is an enemy of God), destroyed by the LORD. After the disabling destructive torrent, they were pursued and eradicated down to the last man by Israel. A mighty triumph by the LORD, the Invincible Warrior and Deliverer of His people!
This is the LORD Who annihilated our enemies through a borrowed then empty tomb!
PRAYER: LORD, You are absolutely awesome! You are the Deliverer, the Savior of Your people. We worship and praise YOU alone! AMEN
Judges 5:13-18 (The Message translation)
“Then the remnant went down to greet the brave ones.
The people of God joined the mighty ones.
The captains from Ephraim came to the valley,
behind you, Benjamin, with your troops.
Captains marched down from Makir,
from Zebulun high-ranking leaders came down.
Issachar’s princes rallied to Deborah,
Issachar stood fast with Barak,
backing him up on the field of battle.
But in Reuben’s divisions there was much second-guessing.
Why all those campfire discussions?
Diverted and distracted,
Reuben’s divisions couldn’t make up their minds.
Gilead played it safe across the Jordan,
and Dan, why did he go off sailing?
Asher kept his distance on the seacoast,
safe and secure in his harbors.
But Zebulun risked life and limb, defied death,
as did Naphtali on the battle heights.”
Join the battle! The LORD summoned His people to battle. The time had come for Him to provide them with deliverance. He would fight for them and they would be victorious. As we hear again in these verses, the Spirit of the LORD inspired ten thousand Israelites to courageously answer the call to battle.
Still, many did not step forward. Among the tribe of Reuben there “was much second guessing...campfire discussions...(they were) diverted and distracted...couldn’t make up their minds...” they didn’t participate in the battle. Mighty Gilead was absent too, they “played it safe across the Jordan”, dispirited and faithless, unsure of victory and fearing defeat they stayed home. Along the seacoast the tribe of Dan chose to “go off sailing” and the tribe of Asher “kept its distance”. As it turned out, they too would benefit from the victory but not experience the exercise of their faith and the thrill of taking part as successful warriors in the army led by the LORD and given victory by Him.
Christian, you and I are called by our risen and ruling Savior to be His soldiers, His army. Our task is to conquer the world by living our faith and sharing its glorious news of salvation so that the LORD is honored and His Spirit can bring hearts to faith and under His gracious rule. We need to get in the battle! We must not let ourselves just talk about the work of the church in “campfire discussions”; not let ourselves get “diverted and distracted” by a life centered around personal plans instead of carrying out God’s plan; not “play it safe” by withholding our talents and treasures because the work is difficult or seems in vain; not “keep our distance” from the enthusiastic energetic efforts of His Church.
Following the leadership of our victorious Savior and trusting in His promise, Presence, and power, let us find our lives by losing them in His service as we enjoy the thrill of victory and the exhilaration of service to Him with each other. The victory is His, the service is ours. Don’t stand on the sidelines, get in the battle. Ask Your Commander what to do, then, faithfully follow His commands - pray, work, live, give...all for Christ Who won the victory for us and all.
PRAYER: LORD, Your grace has called me to receive the victory won for me by Christ. You have also given me the call to share that grace for Your glory and the good of others. Make me an active faithful courageous soldier in Your army. Show me what You would have me do and inspire and enable me to do it! AMEN
“Most blessed of women be Jael,
the wife of Heber the Kenite,
of tent-dwelling women most blessed.
25 He asked for water and she gave him milk;
she brought him curds in a noble's bowl.
26 She sent her hand to the tent peg
and her right hand to the workmen's mallet;
she struck Sisera;
she crushed his head;
she shattered and pierced his temple.
27 Between her feet
he sank, he fell, he lay still;
between her feet
he sank, he fell;
where he sank,
there he fell—dead.”
SISERA Like the name Osama bin Laden to a citizen of the USA in recent years, so the name Sisera was to the Israelites. A mighty man of evil, Sisera led the torture and enslavement of Israel for twenty long terrifying years. Then, “...he fell - dead”!
A brave team of specially trained warriors stealthily pursuing him did not end the life of this enemy. Jael, a woman made brave by the Holy Spirit, would bring him to humiliating legendary destruction by wielding a household hammer and tent stake. Through Deborah the LORD had promised that “the LORD will hand Sisera over to a woman”, and He did!
As the LORD claims His kingdom of grace, bringing people around the world to faith and salvation, He uses ordinary people in an extraordinary way. He wants to use you and me too. Despite what we are by nature, His Spirit in us is mighty! He supplies the opportunities and the gifts for service. The success also is from Him alone. The day in and day out of Christian living accompanied by the humble heartfelt confession of our faith in Jesus is used by God to win hearts and extend His kingdom. He does it; and, He does it through people like you, like me. Praise God.
PRAYER: LORD, I am Your servant. Use all of me in Your service and bless my labors to glorify You and grace others. And, thank You for the privilege and honor of doing that! AMEN
“Tell of it, you who ride on white donkeys,
you who sit on rich carpets[a]
and you who walk by the way.
11 To the sound of musicians[b] at the watering places,
there they repeat the righteous triumphs of the Lord,
the righteous triumphs of his villagers in Israel.
“Then down to the gates marched the people of the Lord.
12 “Awake, awake, Deborah!
Awake, awake, break out in a song!
Arise, Barak, lead away your captives,
O son of Abinoam.”
A song for every day and for every place and circumstance It’s Sunday. We hop in our cars or stroll down the street. We meet our familiar friends and spend an hour in our usual songs, Psalms, sermons, prayers. Then, we depart for another same old same old week. It can be just a habit that doesn’t have a tangible impact on our heart or in our life.
The habit is good, make no mistake about that! More people need to develop it. Those of us who are in the habit need to earnestly seek that the LORD would continually change our hearts and impact our lives through the habit of hearing His Word and tasting His grace together.
This contemplation and conversation about Who He is and what He has done needs to be extended every day to all locations and all situations: “...you who walk by the way. To the sound of musicians at the watering places...” As the people of God, we need to cry out to the pastors and teachers He has given us as Israel cried out to the singers Deborah and Barak: “Awake, awake, Deborah! Awake, awake, break out in a song! Arise, Barak...repeat the righteous triumphs of the LORD.” Tell us again, pastor and teacher, tell us again what the LORD has done and what it means for us and for others. Keep telling us of His triumph and His kingdom! Let it be the subject of our conversation instead of just talking about the weather and politics and sports. Let it be the center and substance of our life.
PRAYER: LORD make my life meaningful and not merely an unthinking participation in trivial pursuits! Keep what You have done continually on my mind and in my conversation and life with others. In this way, be glorified not just in my churchy hours but in in my entire life. AMEN