Stuart Chase - 7 Apr 2019
Going Off-Script (Judges 4:1–5:31)
More From "Judges Exposition"
In mid-2017, tensions began to arise in Donegal, Ireland about home renovations in the county. Holiday homeowners were complaining to the local town council about permanent residents who were making renovations that negatively affected holidayers. The town council received multiple complaints, and eventually a local newspaper covered the story.
There have been numerous complaints received in recent months from the owners of holiday homes around the county about local residents planning changes to their permanent homes.
We’ve spoken to a few of these irate short-stayers about their grievances.
Tom McEldroon, who asked to remain anonymous, has a house in Portsalon and is angry about a construction planned near his holiday home area.
Suffice it to say that Mr. McEldroon was even angrier about the neglect of his request for anonymity, lashing out on Twitter against the newspaper for its blunder. When he first spoke to the journalist, he had a particular script in his mind—which included his anonymity—but by the time the paper published the story, things had gone horribly off-script. He learned an important lesson: Things don’t always go according to plan.
As we have studied the book of Judges, we’ve learned that things don’t always go as expected. If Othniel, Israel’s first judge, was the ideal judge, things started to go strangely off-script immediately afterwards. Othniel was an Israelite of Israelites, a trained and experienced warrior, a man of upstanding character, the obvious choice to lead God’s people. He was the template, which the original reader might expect to be followed quite closely.
But the second judge (Ehud) was a handicapped assassin, while the third was not even an Israelite. Could things go any more off-script? Enter Israel’s fourth judge: Deborah.
The story of Deborah raises all sorts of questions and consternations, and many of them have very little to do with the text of Judges itself. As we journey through this text, we will have to try very hard to stick as closely to the text as possible. As we do so, we will discover that, in Deborah’s story, things didn’t exactly go according to script.
We must remember that, like every story in Judges, this is a story about salvation. Deborah and Barak were God’s salvific tag-team and we can learn much from this story about the salvation that God brings to his people. For our purposes, we will divide our text—4:1–5:31—into four broad sections.
The text opens by once again pointing us to Israel’s need for salvation:
And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the LORD after Ehud died. And the LORD sold them into the hand of Jabin king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor. The commander of his army was Sisera, who lived in Harosheth-hagoyim. Then the people of Israel cried out to the LORD for help, for he had 900 chariots of iron and he oppressed the people of Israel cruelly for twenty years.
In a sense, we see in this text something old, something new, something borrowed, and, yes, something blue.
We are only four chapters into the book, but the recurring refrain has already become old: “And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the LORD after Ehud died” (4:1).
Ehud’s story is told in the latter part of chapter 3 (3:12–30). Shamgar, who came “after Ehud” (4:31) was famous enough that an entire period of Israel’s history was associated with him (5:6), but the writer focuses on Ehud. In all likelihood, Shamgar came “after” Ehud, not in the sense that he judged after Ehud died, but that his military exploits took place after Ehud had killed Eglon, but still during the rest period that Ehud secured for Israel. He was therefore contemporary with Ehud, and his military victory fought back an attempted Philistine attack during the eighty years of rest that Ehud achieved (3:30). Given that Ehud, at least as far as the biblical record goes, is the more significant of the two, Deborah’s account is assigned to a period after Ehud, not after Shamgar.
After Ehud died, “the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the LORD.” As we saw previously, human sin is predictable and uninventive. As we will see, God’s methods of deliverance are varied and exciting, but it really is old news that Israel once again fell into the sin of idolatry after their judge died.
Pause here for a moment to observe something: It is when the external restraint (in this case, Ehud) was removed that the people once again caved to sin. This highlights the truth that, for the most part, while they were in covenant with God, the people of Israel had no real relationship with him. Paul wrote of the wilderness generation that, while they all had access to the same covenant privileges, “with most of them God was not pleased” (1 Corinthians 10:1–5). The same can be said of the Judges generations. They towed the line only when there was an external restraint to do so. As soon as the external restraint was removed, they fell into their old ways again.
This is the danger of moralism. If all we expect from those under our care is to tow some form of ethical line, let’s not be surprised when they rebel as soon as whatever external constraints hold them in place are removed. If we do not aim at the heart of our children, let’s not be surprised when they apostatise after they have left the house. If we do not aim at the heart of those we are discipling in the church, let’s not be surprised if they apostatise when the accountability of consistent discipleship meetings, or church friendships that are keeping them in the church, unfold. Moralism is kept in check by external restraint; true conversion changes the heart so that obedience flows from a heart of love for the Lord.
The Judges period was a living example of a truth that Jesus would much later teach:
When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none. Then it says, “I will return to my house from which I came.” And when it comes, it finds the house empty, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So also will it be with this evil generation.
Jesus was saying that if the Holy Spirit does not replace the exorcised demon, the person from whom it was cast out is suited for an even worse demonic attack. Similarly, because there was no real heart change for the people of Israel, whenever the external restraint was removed, the sin just got worse and worse. There is a clear degradation in the spiritual condition of Israel as the book proceeds, but this does not surprise us, because it was only the presence of the presiding judge that motivated any form of obedience. But this is old news.
Their crying to the Lord for help (v. 3) is also old and familiar and gives no indication of repentance. They “cried out to the LORD for help” simply because they were miserable, not because they were repentant.
In these introductory verses, there is, however, something new: “And the LORD sold them into the hand of Jabin king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor. The commander of his army was Sisera, who lived in Harosheth-hagoyim” (v. 2). It is not new that the Lord sold them to an oppressor, but the Canaanites are new to us—at least as far as Judges is concerned.
Othniel delivered Israel from the Mesopotamians; Ehud from the Moabites; and Shamgar from the Philistines. This is the first time that the Canaanites are mentioned in Judges. Of course, the Canaanites would treat them no better than their former oppressors: “He oppressed the people of Israel cruelly for twenty years” (v. 3). Still, this is—at least as far as Judges is concerned—a new oppressor.
Jabin’s army was equipped with “900 chariots of iron” (v. 3). This was a period in history when the world was moving from the Bronze Age into the Iron Age. The ability to smelt iron and incorporate it into military weaponry had been brought to Canaan by the Philistines. They were the most advanced culture in their ability to do so. The knowledge that the Canaanites required to create these chariots was borrowed from the Philistines. Some have even conjectured that Jabin may have been of Philistine ancestry, or at least have some blood connection to the Philistines because of this knowledge that is ascribed to him.
Regardless, this borrowed knowledge gave the Canaanites a formidable military advantage under the right circumstances. When we read of the details of the battle a little later, we learn that the Canaanites took their chariots to the River Kishon. This river dried to a trickle, and the ground hardened, during the non-rainy season, which provided the perfect terrain to deploy chariots. During the rainy season, it quickly swelled to a raging torrent, which made the use of chariots impossible. This bit of knowledge sets us up for the story that follows.
What is “blue” in this story? The Israelites! They were “cruelly oppressed for twenty years” so that they “cried out to the LORD for help” (v. 3). As observed, this was not a cry of repentance, but a cry of sheer misery. Israel had a serious case of the blues during Jabin’s oppression. And so they cried to the Lord for deliverance.
While there was no indication of repentance from the people of Israel, the Lord was nevertheless moved, once again, to pity, and again he provided a way of salvation. Unlike the predictability of the people’s sin, the deliverances that the Lord provides are often varied. This time it was quite exceptional and involved a number of players.
A Wise Prophetess
First, we are introduced to a wise prophetess by the name of Deborah.
Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time. She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the people of Israel came up to her for judgment. She sent and summoned Barak the son of Abinoam from Kedesh-naphtali and said to him, “Has not the LORD, the God of Israel, commanded you, ‘Go, gather your men at Mount Tabor, taking 10,000 from the people of Naphtali and the people of Zebulun. And I will draw out Sisera, the general of Jabin’s army, to meet you by the river Kishon with his chariots and his troops, and I will give him into your hand’?” Barak said to her, “If you will go with me, I will go, but if you will not go with me, I will not go.” And she said, “I will surely go with you. Nevertheless, 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 arose and went with Barak to Kedesh. And Barak called out Zebulun and Naphtali to Kedesh. And 10,000 men went up at his heels, and Deborah went up with him.
Deborah’s appearance at this point in the story has raised no small amount of consternation for conservative, complementarian evangelicals. Women are not supposed to lead! Right? Let’s talk a little about Deborah.
As we are introduced to Deborah, we are immediately struck by a number of unconventional elements, which stand out, not only in our minds, but in the text itself.
Deborah is introduced to us as “a prophetess” who “was judging Israel at the time.” Her husband’s name is mentioned, but as little more than a historical footnote.
Deborah is a source of hot debate between complementarians and egalitarians. Egalitarians hold her up as some form of a heroine who defied the patriarchy of her day and grabbed a leadership role that she thoroughly deserved. Complementarians sometimes accuse her of unbiblically lording it over the men in Israel when the role of a judge should never have belonged to a woman. But as far as the text itself goes, we are left in some darkness.
The language used here does highlight, at the very least, that this was an unusual arrangement. The Hebrew text literally reads something like: “Deborah, a woman, a prophet, was judging Israel at the time.” Almost as if the writer is saying, “Deborah—yes, that’s a woman’s name (but it’s okay: she was a prophet)—was judging Israel at the time.” At the very least, this highlights the fact that, to the original reader, encountering a woman performing this task was a little strange.
But if it was strange, the text gives no hint whatsoever that it was wrong. Some have appealed to Isaiah 3, where God’s judgement on his rebellious people is exercised by God removing from Israel “the mighty man and the soldier, the judge and the prophet, the diviner and the elder, the captain of fifty and the man of rank, the counsellor and the skilful magician and the expert in charms” and leaving in their place “boys,” “infants” and “women” to rule them (Isaiah 3:1–4, 12).
There may be a legitimate tie from Isaiah to Judges, but it is not explicitly stated by the author. The whole tone of the Judges narrative suggests that Deborah judged in a wise and godly fashion, and there is no clear hint that she was given this role by God as a sign of judgement because of responsibility-abdicating men.
Furthermore, she was a “prophetess,” which is a gift that can only be given by God. God chooses his mouthpieces; it is not a position that can be grasped by someone for themselves. Clearly, this was a woman through whom God chose to speak. She is not the first prophetess in the Bible, and she will not be the last. The fact that she was a prophetess almost seems to be sufficient justification for the fact that she was Israel’s judge. It’s unusual, yes, but not wrong. We must look at the text for what it says, and not immediately jump to New Testament teachings about authority in the church.
Another unusual element to the story is that “she used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel, and the people of Israel came up to her for judgement” (v. 5). This is unusual only because, throughout the Bible, the place of judgement is the gate of the city. Perhaps she was discriminated against by the elders of the city and so had to find another place to exercise judgement. Regardless, “the people of Israel” recognised her wisdom and came to her for judgement.
Receiving a word from the Lord, “she sent and summoned Barak the son of Abinoam from Kedesh-naphtali” and commanded him to gather a military force to attack the Canaanites (vv. 6–7). We will say more about Barak in a moment; for now, our focus is on Deborah. Not only did she receive the Lord’s command, but she expressed a willingness to go to battle with him.
This is another element of this story gives us some pause: the notion of Deborah actually entering the battlefield with Barak. Again, that is highly unusual. The Bible (and most of human history) places a high emphasis on men protecting women and sacrificing their own safety in order to do so. According to 5:30, Canaanite battle tactics involved victorious Canaanite soldiers raping the women of conquered enemies. This doesn’t seem to be the kind of situation into which it was wise to invite Deborah.
While Deborah’s willingness to enter battle was no doubt influenced by the sure word of victory that the Lord had given her (so that she knew there would be no victorious Canaanites raping conquered Jewesses), the thought of taking women into combat still strikes the informed reader of Scripture as highly unusual. Even if the thought of women entering combat roles in contemporary military setups is perfectly acceptable, it is foreign to the biblical worldview.
The real point that the author of Judges is trying to make is that God is not limited to our preconceptions when it comes to providing deliverance. Othniel may stand as the model of what a judge should be but God is not limited to using ideal judges in his work. Ehud, Shamgar, and Deborah quickly take us off-script in that regard.
The writer is crafting a story to highlight the truth that God’s deliverances do not always follow our script. We often have a very defined idea of how God should work, but he frequently surprises us with small providences. That is why you often hear testimonies like a father driving his family on holiday growing irritated when a daughter asks him to pull over at the closest stop so she can use the toilet, but then discovering when he pulls over that a car tyre was about ready to blow on the highway. We are left with no option but to acknowledge that God’s ways is wiser than our ways.
When ministry doors slam shut in our face, let us remember that God knows what he is doing—and he doesn’t always work things out the way we would expect. When our plans for the ideal family or job go awry, let us remember that God knows what he is doing.
Most importantly, let us recognise that the gospel—God’s ultimate means of salvation—came about in a way that no one (apart from divine revelation) could have predicted. Messiah ought to have come riding on a white horse to deliver military victory, but a baby, born to a poor family, raised in backwater Nazareth, living the life of an itinerant preacher, and dying on a Roman cross? That’s not how we mighty have written the script, but it’s precisely how God worked.
A Traitorous Ally
A second character, who gets the briefest of nods (well, briefest next to Deborah’s husband, Lappidoth), is “Heber the Kenite,” who “had separated from the Kenites … and had pitched his tent as far away as the oak of Zaanannim, which is near Kedesh” (v. 11). The key here is that the Kenites were “the descendants of Hobab the father-in-law of Moses” and were therefore allies of Israel. But Heber had formed an alliance with Jabin (v. 17). Heber, then, was acting as a traitor by abandoning allegiance to Israel and siding instead with the enemy.
An additional significance of this little addition is that Heber, Jabin’s ally, had separated himself from his people and moved “near Kedesh,” close to where Deborah had told Barak to gather his troops. This will become significant a little later, when Jabin’s humiliated general will look for refuge at Heber’s house, close to the site of the battle.
A Faith-filled General
The third character to whom we are introduced is Barak (vv. 12–16), Israel’s Captain Lightning. (His name means “lightning.”)
When Sisera was told that Barak the son of Abinoam had gone up to Mount Tabor, Sisera called out all his chariots, 900 chariots of iron, and all the men who were with him, from Harosheth-hagoyim to the river Kishon. And Deborah said to Barak, “Up! For this is the day in which the LORD has given Sisera into your hand. Does not the LORD go out before you?” So Barak went down from Mount Tabor with 10,000 men following him. And the LORD routed Sisera and all his chariots and all his army before Barak by the edge of the sword. And Sisera got down from his chariot and fled away on foot. And Barak pursued the chariots and the army to Harosheth-hagoyim, and all the army of Sisera fell by the edge of the sword; not a man was left.
Barak was an Israelite from Kedesh-naphtali (i.e. the city of Kedesh in the territory belonging to Naphtali). You may recall from your Old Testament reading (Numbers 35:1–8) that each tribe in Israel was to allot certain cities within their inheritance to give to the Levites, who had no inheritance of their own. In Naphtali, Kedesh was a Levitical city (Joshua 21:32). Barak was therefore a Levite—the first Levite to be named in Judges. There is a tradition in the Pentateuch of Levitical involvement in Israel’s wars, and Barak fills that role here.
Barak is widely criticised for his insistence that Deborah must go with him to battle (vv. 8–10). He is portrayed by many interpreters as a spineless jellyfish who was too afraid to go to war unless a woman stood at his side. I find that portrayal suspicious, particularly in light of the fact that Hebrews 11:32 portrays him as a man of faith. I agree with Michael Wilcock, who argues that, like Moses in an earlier generation, Barak was only willing to follow divine leading if he had the assurance of divine presence. When God instructed Israel to march to the Promised Land, Moses replied,
If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favour in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?
Deborah has already been identified as a prophetess and has displayed her prophetic gift in practice. Barak, I think, was simply saying that he would not go without God’s presence. Whatever wisdom, or lack thereof, there was to taking a woman into battle with him, his conviction was that the Lord must go with him for this campaign to succeed.
Surely we will confess that there is great wisdom in this. It is futile to go about the Lord’s business without the Lord’s blessing. If you think that your success in ministry relies on your strategies, your gifts, or your sparkling personality, you are fooling yourself. As you embark in your work for the Lord, be sure to bathe your efforts in prayer, pleading with God to go before you.
Deborah’s comment that the glory in battle would not belong to Barak, but to a woman (v. 9) should not be seen as a rebuke, but as a mere statement of fact—or perhaps as a test of his allegiance. Would he obey only if he would receive the glory? But this was not his concern. Whether the glory belonged to him or to a woman made no difference: As long as he was assured that the Lord was in it, he was willing to march forward.
How often do we involve ourselves in ministry and obsess over whether someone recognises us? Perhaps you give your time to assist someone with something, and they don’t sing your praises from the rooftops. Perhaps you put all the behind-the-scenes work into a particular ministry endeavour only to have all the praise directed to the public figurehead, who just showed up and addressed the audience. If you have ever felt aggrieved that you did not get the glory you felt you deserved, you have much to learn from Barak.
Barak followed God’s instructions and mustered his forces at Kedesh. Jabin’s general, Sisera (who is actually more in focus than Jabin himself in these chapters) responded by deploying his iron-clad chariots to the River Kishon. As noted above, during the non-rainy season, the dry riverbed provided the perfect terrain for chariots. Not so much during the rainy season.
As the chariots menacingly made their way toward the Israelite forces, Deborah gave the instruction: “Up! For this is the day in which the LORD has given Sisera into your hand. Does not the LORD go out before you?” (v. 14). We wonder how Barak received this word. It could hardly have looked promising, but the faith-filled general obeyed and “went down from Mount Tabor with 10,000 men following him” (v. 14). The Lord was faithful to his promise, and “routed Sisera and all his chariots and all his army before Barak by the edge of the sword” (v. 15).
Perhaps you have difficulty imagining the scene: a ragtag group of Israeli warriors putting to flight the best-armed military force in the area. How did this all unfold? Chapter 5 answers some of the questions for us: “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” (5:4). Sisera evidently deployed his chariots along that route because it was not rainy season, and therefore afforded him significant military advantage. But, out of nowhere, the Lord sent rain and the chariots became useless.
The word translated “routed” (v. 15) speaks of confusion. The sudden downpour left the Canaanite military stuck in the mud and thrown into utter delirium. Suddenly their advantage was overturned, and Captain Lightning and Israel’s forces descended with the storm to great effect. “All the army of Sisera fell by the edge of the sword; not a man was left” (v. 16).
An Unlikely Heroine
The fourth player in this drama is an unlikely heroine by the name of Jael (vv. 17–22).
But Sisera fled away on foot to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, for there was peace between Jabin the king of Hazor and the house of Heber the Kenite. And Jael came out to meet Sisera and said to him, “Turn aside, my lord; turn aside to me; do not be afraid.” So he turned aside to her into the tent, and she covered him with a rug. And 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. And he said to her, “Stand at the opening of the tent, and if any man comes and asks you, ‘Is anyone here?’ say, ‘No.’” But Jael the wife of Heber took a tent peg, and took a hammer in her hand. Then she went softly to him and drove the peg into his temple until it went down into the ground while he was lying fast asleep from weariness. So he died. And behold, as Barak was pursuing 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 in to her tent, and there lay Sisera dead, with the tent peg in his temple.
The reader already knows that the decisive blow would be struck by a woman (v. 9), but the first-time reader is probably under the impression that that woman would be Deborah. Jael comes out of nowhere to steal Barak’s thunder.
Humiliated by Israel’s army “Sisera fled away on foot to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, for there was peace between Jabin the king of Hazor and the house of Heber the Kenite” (v. 17). Jael received him and invited him inside, assuring him that there was no reason to be afraid. She pretended to hide him. She displayed an unprecedented degree of hospitality, giving him milk when he only asked for water. Confident that she had his back, he asked her to hide him from his enemies.
Scholars have observed that Sisera violated several norms of hospitality in this text. First, it was not acceptable practice for a man to seek hospitality with a woman. Customary practice would have seen Sisera flee to Heber’s tent, not Jael’s. Second, once a guest had accepted an offer of hospitality, it was an insult to ask for anything, so his request for water went against the grain. Third, a guest who had accepted hospitality assumed that his host had his best interests at heart and did not make demands of him or her. Sisera’s direct request that Jael guard the door was therefore out of place. In the culture of the day, says Victor Matthews, Sisera’s violation of hospitality norms freed Jael from showing any hospitality toward him.
As he fell into a deep sleep, Jael picked up a hammer and a tent peg. Sneaking quietly up to him, she viciously drove the tent peg through his temple “until it went into the ground” (v. 21). Sisera never saw it coming. He had no chance to fight back. “She struck Sisera; she crushed his head; she shattered and pierced his temple” (5:26). The suddenness with which he perished is underscored in poetic fashion: “Between her feet he sank, he fell, he lay still; between her feet he sank, he fell; where he sank, there he fell—dead” (5:27).
The decisive blow had, indeed, been dealt by a woman. Jael left the corpse where it lay and went to find Barak, inviting him to her tent to show him the victim.
This picture is far too violent for many, who accuse Jael of being traitorous and bloodthirsty. Her actions cannot be excused, they say, even though God used them to achieve his purposes. Against such reasoning stands the actual text of Scripture: “Most blessed of women be Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, of tent-dwelling women most blessed” (5:24). The only other woman upon whom Scripture heaps such blessing is Mary, the mother of Jesus (Luke 1:42). Like Ehud, the lefthanded assassin, Jael is portrayed as a deliverer of God’s people. The men in this story really don’t play decisive roles in deliverance; that is left to the women.
Of course, while it is a woman who, so to speak, drives the final nail into the coffin, the writer of Judges is not blind to reality: God—not Barak, not Deborah, and not Jael—gave the victory: “So on that day God subdued Jabin the king of Canaan before the people of Israel. And the hand of the people of Israel pressed harder and harder against Jabin the king of Canaan, until they destroyed Jabin king of Canaan” (4:23–24).
From a human standpoint, this is sounds strange: “On that day God subdued Jabin the king of Canaan before the people of Israel” (v. 23). If local media reported the story, it would say something about Barak defeating Sisera, but the writer of Judges focuses on the unseen authorities behind the scene: Jabin and Yahweh.
We must not miss the sovereignty of God in all of this. He told Deborah what he would accomplish and then proceeded to accomplish what he said he would accomplish. This is the way divine sovereignty works. As Laura Smit says, “God’s complete and sovereign control is central to the theology of the Bible, and this control is typically demonstrated by telling the outcome before it happens to establish that God knows what he is going to accomplish and then accomplishes it.”
Of course, this does not mean that God always acts in predictable ways. God gave Joseph a prophetic dream that he would one day stand in authority over his brothers and his parents. I don’t know how Joseph expected that to work out, but I’m fairly confident he didn’t expect what actually happened. He didn’t expect to be beaten by his jealous brothers and thrown into a dry cistern. He didn’t expect to be sold as a slave to a caravan of Ishmaelites and again to an Egyptian officer. He didn’t expect to be falsely accused of attempted rape and imprisoned without a fair trial. He didn’t expect to encounter two of Pharaoh’s chief servants in prison. He didn’t expect to be forgotten by one of those servants after he had been so kind to him. He didn’t expect to stand before Pharaoh himself and to be elevated to the position of prime minister in Egypt. He didn’t expect to meet his family again in Egypt in ultimate fulfilment of the prophecy.
But that is exactly how it all happened.
Back to our own story: When the people of Israel cried to the Lord for deliverance, I don’t think they expected God to raise a woman to lead the charge. They probably expected God to lead them to battle against the enemy, but I doubt they expected the deathblow to be dealt by a (different) woman.
But that is how God worked.
We know that the Jews of the first century did not expect the salvation of sinners to unfold in the way that it did. But God defied everyone’s expectations by writing a script that no one could have predicted.
Except God did predict it. God did prophesy that Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. He did predict that Messiah would be someone of no human significance—that he would be despised and rejected. He did predict that Messiah would suffer a bloody death in the stead of those he came to save. He did prophesy that Messiah would be raised from the dead and ascend to a place of authority at the Father’s right hand. Anyone who knew the Old Testament had every reason to expect these things. As Laura Smit said, God told the outcome before it happened to establish that he knew what he was going to accomplish and then accomplished it.
And for anyone who will believe the gospel message, God has told another outcome before it happens: As surely as unrepentant sin will lead to eternal destruction, those who repent of their sins and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ will be saved.
We will not spend much time on this final point, but it is significant that, when the victory was secured, God’s people broke out into celebratory song (5:1–31). We may return to this song in a future study, but for now I simply want to observe that God’s gracious gift of salvation produces gratitude in the lives of those whom he saves.
The song in this chapter repeats, albeit in poetic fashion, the story of chapter 4, and adds some details that we did not learn there.
After the song we have a little detail added: “The land had rest for forty years” (v. 31). This is the second last time in Judges we read of the land having rest. (The last is at the end of Gideon’s story.) It reminds us that the rest the Judges gave, while real, was fleeting. And the rest was very much politico-military rest.
Of course, the concept of rest is a heavy emphasis even in the New Testament, but there it is a different rest: an eternal rest for the soul. This is a rest that can only be found in Jesus Christ, who said, “Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28–30). It is a rest that is given to all who will repent of their sins and call upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation.
And those who do repent and call upon the Lord for salvation will not only find eternal rest for their souls but will find great cause to celebrate that salvation in joyful worship to the Lord.