Images of the Savior (10 - Deborah and Barak)
Of the accounts of the judges we have examined so far, the sum is this: that while the judges themselves become progressively less worthy of emulation, and show themselves inadequate to be the King that God's people so desperately need; and while the people themselves are therefore plunged into greater depravity and bondage; the circumstances and histories of the judges nevertheless become ever clearer in their import and typology, as they look ahead to the gospel era of Christ the Savior. In both these respects, we may see a clear proof in our present account of Deborah and Barak. For in this history, Barak the judge displays a timid and cowardly spirit, which proves more certainly than any judge before him that the judges would not be sufficient to save the people forever; but at the same time, the surprising nature of the gospel, that the weak and lowly would triumph over the strong and arrogant, receives a very unexpected testimony. But let us now consider these things a little more fully.
Let us notice, in the first place, how the captivity of Israel is more hopeless than ever before. Previously, Israel had been oppressed by enemies for eight years (in the case of Othniel) or else eighteen (in the case of Ehud) â€“ but now, it is twenty (Judges 4:3). Furthermore, the strength of the captors has increased, for this new conqueror, Jabin, had an army of nine-hundred chariots, an immense military force in those days (Judges 4:3). Then, the precise situation probably has some typological significance; for previously, there had been only one king ruling over the people (first Cushan-Rishathaim and then Eglon); but now, there is a more visible oppressor, Sisera, the captain of the army; but behind him was Jabin, the true king. The reader will kindly forgive me if he consider it too much of a stretch to suppose that this foreshadows our spiritual captivity: outwardly, we are slaves to this world's mighty nations and rulers, the â€œfalse prophetsâ€ made in the image of the Beast (Rev. 13:12-15); but really, we are enslaved to the god of this world, who has such a stranglehold upon our souls that we are forced to do his bidding even while we suppose we are free. Thus, this typological circumstance points to the truth that Israel's bondage is even deeper and more hopeless than the previous instances had revealed it to be.
But in any case, it is certain that this next point proves as much anyway; for this is the third time that Israel has fallen into the same sin of rebellion, and so she is proving that there is no cure for her in outward deliverance â€“ she needs a change of heart, that no mere judge is able to give. And finally, to demonstrate her hopeless situation, there is found no strong leader of men to hold forth hope to the people, but they all go to a woman to be judged â€“ and in that time and place, women held a much lower and less influential place in society than they oftentimes do today.
The children of Israel were thus more hopelessly enslaved and entangled than ever before; but when God called up a judge for them through the prophetic word of Deborah, it was a judge so unworthy of the calling that their plight must have seemed even more desperate yet. Not only must Barak wait for the call and instigation of a woman, but he must also rely on her wisdom and stratagems, yes, and her leadership in calling out the ten thousand troops, and her wiles in drawing out Jabin's men to a certain place. Thus, in every way, she shows herself his superior, even when he is called upon to lead.
But for all that, still Barak will not step up to his responsibility, but showing the full measure of his pusillanimity, he roundly declares, â€œI will not go up at all unless you come with meâ€ (Judges 4:8). Hardly a leader of men and a man to inspire confidence! If Ehud had shown a little deception unbecoming a judge of God's people, then Barak was showing a weakness far greater. How hopeless, then, was the plight of the people. So Deborah told him, â€œWell, then, God will still deliver his people in spite of your flaws, but you will receive no glory for it!â€ (Judges 4:9).
Thus the stage is set: the hopeless condition of Israel is clearer than ever before and the inadequate character of her deliverer is made plain to all before the conquest is even begun. But what of the lessons we may learn of the gospel? Will they be clearer too, in God's deliverance, as we have already intimated? Let us consider some gospel-lessons we may learn, and see if we have not spoken too enthusiastically.
First, we learn that, in the economy of God's grace, the strong are not defeated by the strong, but rather by the God who destroys the mighty through the humble and weak. If Barak had been a strong and fearsome warrior, what wonder would it have been if he had destroyed other strong warriors? That is the wisdom of the world. But God's wisdom, which is foolishness to the world, says that the strong will be destroyed by seeming weakness, and humility, and not resisting evil. Thus Jesus, the true Savior of the people, did not destroy their enemies by summoning twelve legions of angels, as he could have done (Mat. 26:52-54); no, but he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross (Phil. 2:5-11) â€“ and by so humbling himself, he wrought a mortal stroke against the devil, and freed those who were held tightly in his bondage.
Second, we may see a little of the nature of God's Church in this wonderful woman, Deborah. For she was a lowly creature, being first of all a woman in a patriarchal society, and second of all, an Israelite when the Canaanites held them in cruel bondage. How much weaker could she have been? And yet, she was exceedingly wise; she was anointed by God to instruct peoples and nations; she was designated a judge; and she was humble, and when she gave the message of deliverance to the people, she did not make herself out to be a great savior, but called another deliverer altogether â€“ and in so doing, she herself received much honor, even when Barak received shame.
So is it too with the Church; for she, as the Bride of Christ (Eph. 5:22-33), is often considered under the type of a woman; she is weak and accounted one of an inferior and politically weak people â€“ Muslims, for instance, wield tremendous political power in the nations where they are numerous, but the true Church, whenever she is acting faithfully, does not now assume worldly power, but rather is often oppressed by the cruel empires of the world. However, even though she seems weak, she really has tremendous power, and will someday even judge angels (1 Cor. 6:3), just as Deborah was appointed a judge. The Church is also humble, as Deborah, and points to another Deliverer, but this the true Savior, Jesus Christ; and yet she will someday receive great honor, and those who were lowliest in her ranks will be considered the greatest on that day (Mat. 20:25-28).
We have seen the weakness-made-triumphant of the Church exemplified in the history of Deborah; but let us also comment a little further on how this takes place in the case of Jael: for when Sisera, the enemy, was hard-pressed and desperate, she took him into her own tent, and made him comfortable, and gave him milk when he asked for water, and caused him to sink into a deep sleep â€“ but then she drove a tent peg through his head and killed him. In this way, Deborah's prophecy came true, that Barak would receive no glory for delivering the people, but the glory would all go to a weak woman. Now this all has a typological moral for us to consider; and that is, that the Church, and all the followers of Jesus in her ranks, do not destroy their enemies by force or strength â€“ rather, by not resisting them, but helping them, housing and clothing and feeding them, and not retaliating for all their oppression, they bring them to a sudden destruction. By giving them food and water, they heap coals of fire and perdition upon their heads (Rom. 12:219-20; Prov. 25:21-22). The point is not that the Church is subtle and deceptive, and kills through trickery â€“ for that is the historical truth of the matter, but in no wise an example for us to follow. Rather, the point is that, when we do not return evil for evil, only really and not just ostensibly, as Jael, then we will ensure that we will be saved and our enemies destroyed. Because in this we will be acting in the pattern of Jesus, who, when he was reviled did not revile in return, but submitted to the reproaches of the enemy, bearing our sins in his sinless body on the tree, and thus won for us an eternal salvation (1 Pet. 2:21-24).
In the last place, let us consider the song of Deborah, in Judges chapter five. This is one of a series of important songs sung by Israel's notable women, at key points in redemptive history. In all of them, a woman is singing in conjunction with a man who is a type of the Christ, or in the last case, the Christ himself! The first of these songs is that of Miriam, sung with Moses, the great type of the Savior, on the occasion of the most outstanding redemption in Israel's history, the crossing of the Red Sea. This is the second, sung by Deborah and Barak, a judge and so a type of the Savior, in the second great period of Israel's history, that of the judges. The third is the song of Hannah, sung by Hannah at the dawn of the greatest typical era of Israel's history, that of King David, whom Samuel her son would anoint. But this song gains an even clearer typological significance in that, now, the type of Christ is not singing with her, but is rather her son, even Samuel, who is the last great type of the Messiah before David, the great king toward which the days of the judges were hastening. And finally, there is the song of Mary, who sings before the arrival of not just another type, but the substance, Jesus himself, our true God and Savior.
What a wonderful song this is, full of precious truths and poetic exultations! In it, the pre-incarnate Christ makes both an explicit appearance, as the Angel of the Lord who will destroy Israel's enemies (vs. 23) and also a typological prediction as of the sun arising in its might to destroy God's enemies but to save his people and make them like himself (vs. 31; cf. also Mal. 4:1-3). And after this, the land has rest for forty years, a significant number, suggesting as it does that Israel is still in her time of probation, as she had been in the wilderness, and that there had been no one yet to pass through that probation successfully â€“ nor would there be another until the true Israel of God passed through forty days in the desert, and put the Serpent to an open shame (Mat. 4:1-11)!
How great a Savior is our Jesus, brothers and sisters, and how wonderful he is to his Bride, the Church! Ought we not to do good to our enemies, and walk wisely and humbly before our God, knowing as we do the end of all those who are proud and mighty, and the blessed assurance of the weak, who look to Christ the Savior? Let us look to him, strong in the faith even if weak in the world, and rejoice in hope of the great deliverance he has wrought for us, and the salvation he will consummate at his parousia, when he will deliver us from this present evil age and save us to worship him in unity, purity, and peace, world without end, amen.