One of the lessons that we learn from the book of Judges is that the Israelites as a whole were spiritually corrupt during that period even though the Lord brought them assistance again and again. When a judge died, the people inevitably descended back into wickedness, becoming even more corrupt than before (Judg. 2:19). After the death of Ehud, the judge God used to rescue His people from the Moabites, Israel fell back into sin, and our Creator handed them over to Jabin, a king of Canaan who cruelly oppressed the Israelites for two decades (Judg. 3:12–4:3).
But the Lord did not utterly abandon His people. Today’s passage tells us how God brought victory to Israel through Deborah and Barak. Deborah was an Ephraimite prophetess “judging Israel at that time” (4:4). She is the only female judge, but it is clear from the narrative that she did not serve in the same capacity as the other judges. She did not exercise any military leadership in the conflict, and her judging seems to have focused mainly on giving revelation to God’s people, who came to her “for judgment” (v. 5). One commentator notes that this indicates the pitiful state of the priesthood at the time. Ordinarily, the people were to go to the priests for judgment (Deut. 17:8–13), but in the era of the judges, so many priests were spiritually unqualified that their counsel was not sought (see 1 Sam. 2:12–36).
Barak, who was from the tribe of Naphtali and led the Israelites against Jabin’s forces, was better than most of the judges who came after him. Yet, he was no paragon of faith. God spoke through Deborah, telling Barak to lead men from Naphtali and Zebulun against Sisera, Jabin’s general, and the Canaanite forces. Moreover, Barak was promised victory (Judg. 4:6–7). However, Barak resisted, saying that he would go only if Deborah went with him (v. 8). The promise of God was insufficient for him, evidencing a lack of faith on his part. Deborah consented to go with him, but she told Barak that in the victory to come, he would not receive the glory (v. 9). God can use people even when their faith is less than perfect, but we lose out on blessings when we doubt His promises.
So, God delivered Sisera and the Canaanites into the hands of Barak and the Israelite army (vv. 10–16). This salvation included a supernatural intervention, for in the song of victory that Deborah sang, we read that God sent a storm to flood the Kishon River, giving the advantage to the Israelites (5:4–5, 21).