Ehud, the judge, died, and so the Israelites once again slipped back into evil ways. In punishment, God handed them over to a king of Canaan, Jabin. Sisera was the general of Jabin’s formidable army. The Israelites were cruelly oppressed for twenty years because the Canaanites employed sophisticated military technology. They had nine hundred iron chariots (v.3).
Deborah, a prophetess, was leading Israel at this time. Deborah was the first significant female leader in the Bible. Prior to her, Moses’ sister Miriam had assisted Moses and his brother, Aaron, lead the nation. However, Deborah is not only leading the whole of Israel, she had also been given one of the major gifts of the Holy Spirit, prophecy, to enable her to do this well.
Deborah told an army commander, Barak, to take ten thousand men to fight their enemy Jabin’s army at the Kishon river. Barak only agreed to go if Deborah accompanied him. Deborah agreed but prophesied that because of Barak’s demand for her to be physically present, Barak wouldn’t receive the honour for the upcoming victory: ‘the Lord will hand Sisera (commander of the enemy army) to a woman” (v.9). Deborah had the courage of her convictions. She wasn’t the type of commander to stay miles away from the battle-lines in safety. God had told her there would be a victory and so like Elizabeth I putting on armour and addressing her army at Tilbury in 1588 (‘I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too’), Deborah was happy to go to the front line of battle and encourage the troops.
Sisera charged to fight Barak with all his nine hundred chariots but Deborah prophesised that victory was coming to the Israelites: ‘Go! This is the day the Lord has given Sisera into your hands. Has not the Lord gone ahead of you?’ (v.14).
The credit for the victory is given to the Lord: ‘The Lord routed Sisera and all his chariots and army by the sword’ (v.15). Possibly the Lord used warrior angels to overcome Sisera’s chariots or gave the Israelites supernatural prowess in battle. Maybe the wheels of the chariots became clogged in mud – the same disaster the Egyptians suffered in the middle of the Red Sea. In Deborah’s song of victory she mentions that the stars fought from heaven and the river Kishon swept the enemy away (5:20-21). Somehow, the Israelites won despite the enemy’s formidable force of iron chariots. To achieve this, Barak had stepped out in faith, once he had been reassured by Deborah, and God won the victory fulfilling the prophecy God had given to Deborah.
Sisera abandoned his chariot and fled on foot (v.15). He fled and took refuge in the tent of Heber the Kenite, because he thought he was an ally of his king, Jabin.
Heber may have been an ally but his wife, Jael, who was home alone had other ideas. Sisera asked for water but Jael cunningly gave him milk to make him even more sleepy. While he lay fast asleep, exhausted by the battle, she hammered a tent peg through his forehead and into the ground. This took considerable courage. This man was commander of an army, He was a trained killer probably still with blood on his sword. Imagine, if he hadn’t been fully asleep or had woken up as Jael stealthily crept towards him with mallet and tent peg in hand.
When Barak passed her tent as he searched for Sisera, Jael proudly showed him her handiwork (v.22). This victory started the Israelites on the road to destroying Jabin, the Canaanite king. Through a combination of help from the Lord, prophecy, faith, courage and the leadership of two strong women, Israel was once again temporarily free for forty years.
Deborah prayed for the future salvation of the Israelites: ‘So may all your enemies perish, O Lord! But may they who love you be like the sun when it rises in its strength’ (v.31). Let us rise like the sun to show all people who visit our churches, the loving light of God burning within us.
Jesus arrived in Galilee and was welcomed (v.45) even though Jesus had previously pointed out that a prophet has no honour in his own country. The Galileans had witnessed all that he had recently done in Jerusalem and were glad to see him.
Jesus healed a royal official’s son at a distance. The father believed that Jesus could do this, he ‘took him at his word’ and returned home. He showed faith by not insisting that Jesus accompany him. The fever left the boy at the exact time that Jesus had said, ‘Your son will live’. This healing miracle converted the whole household: ‘So he and all his household believed’ (v.53).
Jesus then healed an invalid at the Bethesda pool in Jerusalem. According to medieval legend, this healing pool provided the wood on which Jesus would be crucified. The legend is that Adam’s son, Seth, journeyed back to the entrance of Eden to find help when Adam was dying. Of course, the angels would not let him in but Saint Michael gave him a branch from the tree of mercy. Seth brought it back to Adam but it was too late. Adam had died. Adam was buried at Golgotha, under where Jesus’ would die on the cross and soak Adam’s dry bones with his blood and water. Seth planted the branch over Adam’s grave and it grew into a miraculous tree. King Solomon tried to use the timber for making the temple but it was too supple and so he made it into a bridge. The Queen of Sheba refused to cross this bridge because she foresaw that the wood would cause the end of the Jews. King Solomon cut down the tree and buried the wood deep underground from which a miraculous healing spring came which fed this pool of Bethesda, where healing miracles took place. Eventually, a large log of wood floated up to the top of the pool and this wood was eventually used for Jesus’ cross.
The Jews believed that an angel visited this pool each day and stirred it, making it bubble. Maybe this agitation is what brought the wood for Jesus’ cross up to the surface. When the pool was stirred, the first invalid that got into the water was reputed to receive a healing miracle. This is unfortunate, as the most crippled person would be the slowest. The priests should have taken charge of this pool and arranged for the one with the greatest disability to go first. There would have been an unholy rush to try to get in the pool at the critical time and there had been no-one to help this particular invalid. When we don’t have any human friends to assist us, we can always call on Jesus for help, mercy and healing.
Jesus healed him with an order: ‘Get up! Pick up your mat and walk’ (5:8). The man actually had to do something to take hold of the healing miracle that Jesus was providing. The rules about keeping the Sabbath were so strict that onlookers objected to him carrying his mat. This is why it doesn’t make sense for some Christians to insist that Christians should still ‘keep the Sabbath’ rather than worship God on the Sunday, the Lord’s day. It is virtually impossible for someone in the modern world to ‘keep the Sabbath’. Just switching on an electronic item breaks the Sabbath as Jews are not permitted to light fires and flicking a switch creates a spark. I am sure that no Christian who says they ‘keep the Sabbath’ would think twice about lifting up a mat, let alone driving or cooking on a Saturday.
Jesus gave a similar warning to this healed man that he gave to the woman caught in adultery (John 8:11) ‘Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you’ (v.14). Some people seem to think that once they are born again / saved they can continue to live in grave sin. No! We have to turn from sin and live according to God’s laws. This may well prove to be impossible through our own efforts but the Holy Spirit will do it for us, if we turn to him. He will convict us of the sin in our lives and strengthen us so that we can easily resist it. To access his support, we just have to pray in the Spirit on a regular daily basis for as long as we can.
We can take refuge in the shadow of God’s wings until disaster has passed (v.1). The Israelites during the first Passover took refuge in their houses, protected by the blood of the lamb on the door-frames and lintels of their doors as disaster passed overhead.
If we cry out to God for mercy, he will save us, sending his love and faithfulness. He will rebuke those who pursue and persecute us (v.3). Jesus was crucified on wood from the legendary tree of mercy. God has mercy on us now in his new covenant as our punishment has been laid on Jesus.
King David was in the midst of hostile enemies – attacking him with their most dangerous weapons, tongues like sharp swords (v.4).
David praised God and prayed for God’s glory to be over all the earth (v.5).
Evil plans will rebound on the people who plan them. When people make a trap or dig a pit for us, they will fall into it themselves (v.6).
Praise the Lord for his faithfulness. He will rescue his children when they call on his name.
Image: Pool of Bethesda: https://www.flickr.com/photos/paullew/47839190441
Image: Distant Shores Media/Sweet Publishing, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons