The Feeble Man Named Barak

Title: The Feeble Man Named Barak

Bible Book: Hebrews 11 : 32

Author: David E. Owen

Subject: Excuses



According to the November / December 1994 issue of “New Man” magazine…

Americans are living in a post-heroic age, where young adults are much less likely than their parents to have national role models.

A survey by Scripps Howard News Service and Ohio University shows that 60 percent of adults have no heroes. Of those who do have heroes, most said their heroes are either dead or are historical figures.

Defining “hero” as anyone with admirable courage (other than family or biblical figures), the study revealed that the last 30 or 40 years has been a time of extreme cynicism toward heroes, in which a media-wise culture has witnessed the debunking and demythologizing of one so-called hero after another.

It’s not a healthy trend, according to former U.S. Education Secretary William Bennett, author of the best-seller The Book of Virtues: “It is particularly important for young people to have heroes. This is a way to teach them by moral example, so that we can point to someone as an ideal.” (The magazine said:) Maybe they should include biblical figures in their next survey.

Last week we started looking at a list of biblical figures that are found in Hebrews 11:32. There the Bible says, “And what shall I more say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gedeon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets.”

The title of our series is “Unlikely Heroes,” and as we begin to study the lives of these six individuals in Hebrews 11:32, we learn that “Unlikely Heroes” is exactly what these six are.

Last week, we focused on the first name in the listing as we studied “The Fearful Man Named Gideon.” In spite of his timidity and his hesitations, God used Gideon to bring a great victory to Israel over the Midianites. Today, we’re looking at the second name in the listing, and we’re talking about “The Feeble Man Named Barak.”

In order to understand Barak and his unlikelihood as a hero, we must go to Judges chapter 4. And there we find that Barak, whose name means “lightning flash,” was the son of Abinoam of Kedesh-naphtali according to Judges 4:6. He was summoned by the prophetess Deborah to lead his people to war against the Canaanites whose army was under the leadership of a captain named Sisera.

All that we know about Barak from the Word of God is found in Judges chapter 4 and chapter 5, and then we do not find his name again until Hebrews 11:32. But in this brief record, one of the truly surprising things about the account of Barak and his war against the Canaanites is the crucial involvement of a woman (in fact the Bible says that she was a “prophetess”) named Deborah.

I read a quote this past week by a British novelist named Ken Follett. He said, “In my books, women often solve the problem. Even if the woman is not the hero, she’s a strong character. She does change the plot. She’ll often rescue the male character from some situation.” And in many respects, that is the case with Deborah in the account of Barak.

As unlikely a hero as Barak was, Deborah’s involvement is even more surprising. I’m not indicating that women cannot be courageous and heroic in certain circumstances. In fact, I read this past week about a very brave woman…

She and her husband interrupted their vacation to go to a dentist. When the woman came in, she said to the dentist, “I want a tooth pulled, and I don’t want Novocain because I’m in a big hurry. Just extract the tooth as quickly as possible, and we’ll be on our way.” The dentist was very impressed. He said, “You’re certainly a courageous woman. Which tooth is it?” And the woman turned to her husband and said, “Show him your tooth, dear.”

I’m not indicating that women can’t be courageous and heroic, but Deborah’s involvement as a prophetess and as a leader in the account of Barak is not the normal in Biblical history. As we look at the life of Barak (and Deborah) …

I. Let’s Consider Barak And His Story (Judges 4:1-9)

A. Notice The Waywardness That We Find In Barak’s Story

1. We Discover The Recurrence Of The Old Rebellion

(Judges 4:1) And the children of Israel again did evil in the sight of the LORD, when Ehud was dead.

again – Hebrew OT:3254. ‎yacaph; a primitive root word meaning to add or augment (often adverbial, to continue to do a thing).
(The account of Deborah and Barak represents the 3rd episode of apostasy in the time of the Judges. Cf. Judges 2:11-19.)

It is said to be after Ehud’s death rather than Shamgar, who was mentioned most recently in Judges 3:31, because according to Judges 5:6, Shamgar was a contemporary of Barak.

2. We Discover The Resurgence Of An Old Rival

(Judges 4:2) And the LORD sold them into the hand of Jabin king of Canaan, that reigned in Hazor; the captain of whose host was Sisera, which dwelt in Harosheth of the Gentiles.

In Joshua 11:1-13 an ancestor of this Jabin was defeated by the Israelites about 115 years before this oppression.

Cf. (Joshua 11:10-11) And Joshua at that time turned back, and took Hazor, and smote the king thereof with the sword: for Hazor beforetime was the head of all those kingdoms. {11} And they smote all the souls that were therein with the edge of the sword, utterly destroying them: there was not any left to breathe: and he burnt Hazor with fire.

Matthew Henry said…

It seems, in process of time, the city was rebuilt, the power regained, the loss retrieved, and, by degrees, the king of Hazor becomes able to tyrannize over Israel, who by sin had lost all their advantage against the Canaanites.

Samuel Cohon said in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia…

From the celebrated ode (song) of Deborah we gather that Israel suffered at the hand of the enemy; the caravan roads were in danger, traffic almost ceased; the cultivated country was plundered (Judges 5:6-7). The fighting men in Israel were disarmed; a shield was not to be seen nor a spear among forty thousand men (Judges 5:8).

B. Notice The Woman That We Find In Barak’s Story

1. Deborah’s Position As A Judge Is Mentioned

(Judges 4:4) And Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, she judged Israel at that time.

Deborah – Hebrew 1683 (same as 1682. debowrah; from H1696 – in the sense of orderly motion; the bee – from its systematic instincts:--bee.)

Matthew Henry said, “(The name Deborah) signifies a bee; and she answered her name by her industry, sagacity (wisdom), and great usefulness to the public.”

judged – Hebrew 8199. shaphat, shaw-fat'; a primary root word meaning to judge, pronounce sentence (for or against); by implication to vindicate or punish; to govern; to litigate (lit. or fig.); execute (judgment), (be a) judge, reason, rule.

Adam Clarke said, “This is, I believe, the first instance of gynaecocrasy, or female government, on record.”

Based on what Deborah said in Judges 5:7, hers was like a matriarchal role to Israel.

(Judges 5:7) The inhabitants of the villages ceased, they ceased in Israel, until that I Deborah arose, that I arose a mother in Israel.

Warren W. Wiersbe said

God had raised up a courageous woman named Deborah (“bee”) to be the judge in the land. This was an act of grace, but it was also an act of humiliation for the Jews; for they lived in a male-dominated society that wanted only mature male leadership. … For God to give His people a woman judge was to treat them like little children, which is exactly what they were when it came to spiritual things. … The selection of Deborah may also indicate that, at that time, there were no men willing and able to do the job. Even Barak was afraid to confront the enemy without Deborah’s help, and he was a man of faith (Hebrews 11:32).

Listen to this quote…

“Whatever women do they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Luckily, this is not difficult.”

(Charlotte Whitton, 1896-1975)

2. Deborah’s Place As A Judge Is Mentioned

(Judges 4:5) And she dwelt under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in mount Ephraim: and the children of Israel came up to her for judgment.

Ramah – means a height or a high place as a seat of idolatry.

Bethel – means “the house of God.”

Between sin and salvation, between rebellion and revival, there was a tree under which sat a woman pointing Israel in the right direction. Women may wonder, “Can God really use me?” If He can use Deborah, He can use you!

C. Notice The Weaknesses That We Find In Barak’s Story

I don’t want to read more into Barak’s character than is really there, but...

1. It Seems That Barak Could Not Hear The Bidding For Himself – The Commission Came From A Woman

(Judges 4:8-9) And Barak said unto her, If thou wilt go with me, then I will go: but if thou wilt not go with me, then I will not go. {9} And she said, I will surely go with thee: notwithstanding the journey that thou takest shall not be for thine honour; for the LORD shall sell Sisera into the hand of a woman. And Deborah arose, and went with Barak to Kedesh.

The Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary said that this phrase “Hath not the Lord God of Israel commanded” was “a Hebrew form of making an emphatic communication.”

2. It Seems That Barak Could Not Have The Boasting For Himself – The Credit Would Go To A Woman

(Judges 4:8-9) And Barak said unto her, If thou wilt go with me, then I will go: but if thou wilt not go with me, then I will not go. {9} And she said, I will surely go with thee: notwithstanding the journey that thou takest shall not be for thine honour; for the LORD shall sell Sisera into the hand of a woman. And Deborah arose, and went with Barak to Kedesh.

Is verse 8 a show of his weakness or simply his respect for Deborah’s position? Barak said that he wouldn’t go into battle without the accompaniment of this woman. No doubt, when she said in verse 9 that the Lord would “sell Sisera into the hand of a woman,” it was thought that the woman would be Deborah herself.

II. Let’s Consider Barak And His Struggle (Judges 4:10-24)

A. Notice The Unfolding Events In Barak’s Struggle

1. The Text Mentions The Two Armies Involved

a. The Army Of The Hebrews

(Judges 4:10) And Barak called Zebulun and Naphtali to Kedesh; and he went up with ten thousand men at his feet: and Deborah went up with him.

b. The Army Of Hazor

(Judges 4:2-3) And the LORD sold them into the hand of Jabin king of Canaan, that reigned in Hazor; the captain of whose host was Sisera, which dwelt in Harosheth of the Gentiles. {3} And the children of Israel cried unto the LORD: for he had nine hundred chariots of iron; and twenty years he mightily oppressed the children of Israel.

Samuel Ridout said…

The king of Hazor, the king of this northern federation, has a significant name. It is Jabin, which means “understanding” (or perhaps discerner, intelligent, one who is perceptive). What a significant kind of name for a man to have who has typically thrown up, as you might say, revelation. He does not want the light of the sun, for he has the illumination of his own understanding ; he is Jabin, the king of Hazor, the king of the “enclosure,” that which excludes divine revelation and is sufficient unto itself. That is very striking.

The name “Sisera” may mean “battle array,” or it may mean “servant of Ra.”

The iron of their chariots is suggestive of strength, sharpened intelligence, harshness, corruption, affliction, chastisement, or severity (according to the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia).

2. The Text Mentions The Two Areas Involved

a. The Mountain Location Of Barak’s Men

(Judges 4:11-12) Now Heber the Kenite, which was of the children of Hobab the father in law of Moses, had severed himself from the Kenites, and pitched his tent unto the plain of Zaanaim, which is by Kedesh. {12} And they showed Sisera that Barak the son of Abinoam was gone up to mount Tabor.

b. The Marshy Location Of The Bad Men

(Judges 4:13) And Sisera gathered together all his chariots, even nine hundred chariots of iron, and all the people that were with him, from Harosheth of the Gentiles unto the river of Kishon.

The Barnes’ Notes Commentary says…

The brook or stream Kishon (Nahr Mukutta), so called from its winding course, caused by the dead level of the plain of Esdraelon through which it flows, rises, in respect to one of its sources or feeders, in Mount Tabor, and flows nearly due west through the plain, under Mount Carmel, and into the Bay of Acre. In the early or eastern part of its course, before it is recruited by the springs on Carmel, it is nothing but a torrent; often dry, but liable to swell very suddenly and dangerously, and to overflow its banks in early spring, after rain or the melting of snow. The ground on the banks of the Kishon near Megiddo (Mujedd’a, see Joshua 12:21 note) becomes an impassable morass under the same circumstances, and would be particularly dangerous to a large number of chariots.

Listen to this stanza from Deborah and Barak’s song…

(Judges 5:19) The kings came and fought, then fought the kings of Canaan in Taanach by the waters of Megiddo; they took no gain of money.

(Judges 5:21-22) The river of Kishon swept them away, that ancient river, the river Kishon. O my soul, thou hast trodden down strength. {22} Then were the horsehoofs broken by the means of the prancings, the prancings of their mighty ones.

God may also have used the melting snow waters from the mountains and perhaps even a sudden rainstorm to make the Valley of Jezreel a swamp…

(Judges 5:4-5) LORD, when thou wentest out of Seir, when thou marchedst out of the field of Edom, the earth trembled, and the heavens dropped, the clouds also dropped water. {5} The mountains melted from before the LORD, even that Sinai from before the LORD God of Israel.

B. Notice The Unfortunate Enemy In Barak’s Struggle

1. Sisera’s Army Was Discomfited

(Judges 4:15) And the LORD discomfited Sisera, and all his chariots, and all his host, with the edge of the sword before Barak; so that Sisera lighted down off his chariot, and fled away on his feet.

discomfited – Hebrew 2000. hamam; a primary root word meaning properly to put in commotion; by implication it means to disturb, drive, destroy. It is also translated as “break, consume, crush, destroy, trouble, vex.”

It has the idea that the Lord “confused” Sisera and his army through all the commotion (perhaps of the torrential waters).

God’s word for Barak through Deborah had been…

(Judges 4:7) And I will draw unto thee to the river Kishon Sisera, the captain of Jabin's army, with his chariots and his multitude; and I will deliver him into thine hand.

2. Sisera’s Army Was Defeated

(Judges 4:16) But Barak pursued after the chariots, and after the host, unto Harosheth of the Gentiles: and all the host of Sisera fell upon the edge of the sword; and there was not a man left.

C. Notice The Unexpected End In Barak’s Struggle

1. We Find Jael And Her Deed

The name “Jael” means a wild goat, and that certainly makes us mindful of her unpredictable and wild nature.

The Keil and Delitzsch Commentary says…

There can be no doubt that Jael acted under the influence of religious enthusiasm for the cause of Israel and its God, and that she was prompted by religious motives to regard the connection of her tribe with Israel, the people of the Lord, as higher and more sacred, not only than the bond of peace, in which her tribe was living with Jabin the Canaanitish king, but even than the duties of hospitality, which are so universally sacred to an oriental mind.

What is the lesson in all of this? Perhaps it is as Matthew Henry observed…

And now was Sisera least safe when he was most secure. How uncertain and precarious is human life! and what assurance can we have of it, when it may so easily be betrayed by those with whom it is trusted, and those may prove its destroyers who we hoped would be its protectors! It is best making God our friend, for he will not deceive us.

2. We Find Jabin And His Destruction

(Judges 4:23-24) So God subdued on that day Jabin the king of Canaan before the children of Israel. {24} And the hand of the children of Israel prospered, and prevailed against Jabin the king of Canaan, until they had destroyed Jabin king of Canaan.

Judges 5:26 may indicate that Jael cut Sisera’s head off after she put the nail in…

(Judges 5:26) She put her hand to the nail, and her right hand to the workmen's hammer; and with the hammer she smote Sisera, she smote off his head, when she had pierced and stricken through his temples.

The word “destroyed” in 4:24 literally means “to cut off.” So the Israelites did to Jabin in a figurative way what Jael had done to Sisera in a literal way.

III. Let’s Consider Barak And His Song (Judges 5:1-31)

A. This Section Magnifies Two Worshippers

1. Notice The Blending Of Their Voices

(Judges 5:1) Then sang Deborah and Barak the son of Abinoam on that day, saying,

sang – Hebrew 7891. shiyr; a primary root word [identical with H7788 through the idea of strolling minstrelsy]; to sing.

As they started walking back towards the palm of Deborah at mount Ephraim, they started singing this narrative song of praise.

2. Notice The Blessing Of Their Victory

(Judges 5:2) Praise ye the LORD for the avenging of Israel, when the people willingly offered themselves.

avenging – Hebrew 6544. para'; a primary root word meaning to loosen; by implication it means to expose, dismiss.

It presents the idea that God loosened the stranglehold that Jabin had on Israel.

B. This Section Magnifies Two Ways

1. We See The Way Of Those Who Were Involved In The Battle (Judges 5:13-15a, 18-22)

According to 4:6, the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali were the main groups that Barak took with him. And it says…

(Judges 5:18) Zebulun and Naphtali were a people that jeoparded their lives unto the death in the high places of the field.

jeoparded – Hebrew 2778. charaph; a primary root word meaning to pull off, i.e. (by implication) to expose (as by stripping); to betroth (as if a surrender).

They put themselves in jeopardy. They made themselves vulnerable for the cause. They put themselves on the line.

2. We See The Way Of Those Who Were Idle In The Battle (Judges 5:15b-17, 23)

Notice Reuben in particular. Their territory was on the east side of Jordan, so there was sort of a disconnect there already.

(Judges 5:15-16) And the princes of Issachar were with Deborah; even Issachar, and also Barak: he was sent on foot into the valley. For the divisions of Reuben there were great thoughts of heart. {16} Why abodest thou among the sheepfolds, to hear the bleatings of the flocks? For the divisions of Reuben there were great searchings of heart.

thoughts – Hebrew 2711. cheqeq; from H2710; an enactment, a resolution:--decree, thought.

searchings – Hebrew 2714. cheqer; from H2713; examination, enumeration, deliberation:--finding out.

The people of the tribe of Reuben came up with some great decrees and they had some great deliberation and debate about the Canaanite situation. But they did not act and get involved.

C. This Section Magnifies Two Women

1. There Is A Woman With A Vengeful Hammer (Judges 5:24-27)

Baker’s Bible Atlas says…

Jael is celebrated as “most blessed of women” who used her simple way of life to bring an end to Sisera ( Judges 5:24-27). She stands in contrast to Sisera’s mother who is portrayed with all her culture waiting in vain for Sisera’s return with all of his spoils (Judges 5:28-30).

2. There Is A Woman With A Vain Hope (Judges 5:28-30

Charles Spurgeon said…

Deborah sang concerning the overthrow of Israel’s enemies, and the deliverance vouchsafed to the tribes: we have a far richer theme for music; we have been delivered from worse enemies, and saved by a greater salvation. Let our gratitude be deeper; let our song be more jubilant. Glory be unto God, we can say that our sins, which were like mighty hosts, have been swept away, not by that ancient river, the river Kishon, but by streams which flowed from Jesus’ side. Our great enemy has been overcome, and his head is broken. Not Sisera, but Satan has been overthrown: the “seed of the woman has bruised his head” forever.

Conclusion: The story is told of a one-legged schoolteacher from Scotland who came to J. Hudson Taylor, the founder of the China Inland Mission society, to offer himself for service in China. J. Hudson Taylor asked him, “With only one leg, why do you think of going as a missionary?” “I do not see those with two legs going.” That’s how George Scott responded and that’s why George Scott was accepted as a missionary to China.

Is your weakness a stumbling block to you? What are you using as an excuse not to serve God? Deborah could have claimed her womanhood as an obstacle. Barak could have claimed weakness as a worthy reason not to serve.

Paul could have used his thorn in the flesh as an excuse, but he said…

(2 Corinthians 12:7-9) And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. {8} For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. {9} And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

Other possible illustrations to close with:

There is a legend that says…

When Napoleon was engaged in the great and momentous battle of Waterloo, among those taken prisoner was a Scottish bagpipe player from the 42nd Royal Highland regiment. Napoleon, impressed by the man’s strange mountain garb and determined air, struck up a conversation with the captured but unvanquished foe. Seeing that he had his instrument with him, Napoleon asked him to play a tune. The highlander obliged. “Now play a march,” said Napoleon. Once again, the Scotchman did as he was told. Finally the Emperor said, “Play a retreat.” “Nay, nay,” said the highlander, “that I cannot do. I never learned to play one.”

David Ring is an evangelist who suffers from cerebral palsy. Since 1973, Ring has challenged thousands of people with his signature message – “I have cerebral palsy ... What’s your problem?” In other words, what’s your excuse?

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