God’s Hall of Faith
Hebrews 11 is a concise summary of major events in the history of Israel. It’s often called “God’s Hall of Faith,” and reads like a Who’s Who of biblical heroes– Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and Moses, to name a few.
Most of the names will be familiar to anyone who has read the Bible, but there are a few that may be less familiar. Towards the end of the chapter we find verse 32: “And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jepthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets.” Later on verse 39 states, “These were all commended for their faith.”
God recognizes each of these people for their faith. But for a long time I struggled with one name on the list: Barak. I couldn’t understand at first why his name was included. It was hard for me to see him as a hero of the faith, because I thought he was a coward.
Perhaps you will, too, when we look at his story. But within the words on the surface there may be another story, a little lesson for us all.
A Problem And A Judge
We first meet Barak in Judges chapter 4. Israel has been caught in a cycle of sin, and God allows the Canaanites to oppress them. At this time Jabin is king of Canaan, and the commander of his army is a seasoned soldier, Sisera. We are told that the Canaanite army included nine hundred iron chariots, making it a formidable force. Israel’s army is no match for this, and the Canaanites harass Israel without mercy for twenty years. The situation is dire, and Israel cries to the Lord for help.
They had brought this trouble upon themselves with their sins, but God in His love and mercy heard their cries. At this point in their history Israel did not have a king, for God intended them to be a theocracy, a nation ruled by God. In lieu of an earthly king, Israel was governed by a series of judges. All of them were men, with one exception. We pick up the account in Judges 4:4-7:
“Now Deborah, a prophet, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading Israel at that time. She held court under the Palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites went up to her to have their disputes decided.”
Israel was a patriarchal society, so it is unusual to see a woman, Deborah, in this position as judge. Yet her walk with God, her character and wisdom must have been exemplary, for there is no mention of any opposition against her. Her authority was obviously respected, and the people sought her out for advice and counsel.
“She sent for Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali and said to him, “The Lord, the God of Israel, commands you: “Go, take with you ten thousand men of Naphtali and Zebulun and lead them up to Mount Tabor. I will lead Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his troops to the Kishon River and give him into your hands’ ” (Judges 4:6-7).
God selects this man Barak to be commander of Israel’s army. Barak is told how many troops to gather and where to station them. He is to gather them on Mount Tabor, an impressive mountain with steep slopes and a height of 1,886 feet. The Kishon River flows at its base. Being on the mountain with Sisera’s troops below in the valley would give Barak an advantage, for his troops would be traveling downhill while Sisera ( with those nine hundred iron chariots) would have to climb uphill in the battle.
Speaking through Deborah the prophetess, God gives Barak his battle strategy and even reveals the outcome: Barak will be victorious, and Sisera will be defeated.
An Unexpected Response
Surely having God reveal a victory would give a commander confidence. But Barak’s response is shocking: “Barak said to her, “If you go with me, I will go; but if you don’t go with me, I won’t go” (Judges 4:8).
Read his response again. “I’ll only go if you do”– what kind of answer is that? Deborah said this was a command from God, and Barak places a condition to his obedience? What kind of man is this Barak? Women did not go into battle in Bible days. Deborah was a judge and prophetess, not an Amazon warrior! Why on earth would Barak make such an outrageous demand?
On the surface, it would seem to be the words of a whimp. Was he planning to hide behind Deborah’s skirts? Reading these verses, I’m sure many people have regarded Barak as a sniveling wuss. What a coward!
At first I admit that’s what I thought, and that’s why Barak’s inclusion in God’s “Hall of Faith” in Hebrews 11 puzzled me. It just didn’t make sense.
But…what if Barak’s been getting a bum rap? Is there more to the story?
Indeed there is. Barak’s demand was a shock, but Deborah’s response is also a surprise. “Certainly I will go with you,” said Deborah. “But because of the course you are taking, the honor will not be yours, for the Lord will deliver Sisera into the hands of a woman.” So Deborah went with Barak to Kedesh. There Barak summoned Zebulun and Naphtali, and ten thousand men went up under his command. Deborah also went up with him” (Judges 4:9-10).
The first thing to notice is the calm tone of Deborah’s answer. There is no stinging rebuke, no declaration of anger. She readily agrees to go with him, but she does tell him that he will not have the honor of killing the enemy commander. That act will be done by a woman. Since women normally weren’t on the battlefield, this would be both an unusual occurrence and a humbling experience for Barak.
Deborah accompanies Barak to Kedesh for the gathering of the troops. The commander then leads his men up Mount Tabor, and “Deborah also went up with him.”
Let’s pause here and take a closer look at what is going on with Deborah and Barak.
What’s Really Going On Here?
Deborah voices no objection to accompanying Barak. She is with him when he issues the call for troops. There seems to be no difficulty in finding ten thousand men to commit to his command. Let’s face it, that’s a lot of volunteers to muster! Perhaps her presence was an indication to them that this coming battle met with God’s approval. Barak obviously had the support of Deborah as prophetess and judge. So gathering a sufficient army was no problem with Deborah by Barak’s side.
This may have been one reason he insisted on her coming. Perhaps he felt having her there, a visual representation of God’s authority, would hasten the formation of an army.
Was Barak afraid? Let’s be honest– isn’t every soldier afraid before a battle? That’s a perfectly normal and rational response. In times of danger, some fear is to be expected.
But fear isn’t the same as cowardice. A coward is one who runs away from the fight.
We don’t see Barak doing that. He did what God commanded; he gathered the troops and led them up Mount Tabor to prepare for a confrontation with the Canaanites.
Deborah goes with him up Mount Tabor. In fact, she is the one who tells him when the time is right to attack:
“When they told Sisera that Barak son of Abinoam had gone up Mount Tabor, Sisera summoned from Harosheth Hagoyim to the Kishon River all his men and his nine hundred chariots fitted with iron. Then Deborah said to Barak, “Go! This is the day the Lord has given Sisera into your hands. Has not the Lord gone ahead of you?” So Barak went down Mount Tabor, with ten thousand men following him” (Judges 4:12-14).
So we see Barak leading the charge down Mount Tabor with ten thousand men– and no mention of Deborah. Did she go into battle with him? Scholars agree that is highly unlikely. If she had, scripture surely would have mentioned it. The following verses describe the battle and Sisera’s demise (we’ll get to that in a minute). But Deborah is not mentioned again until Judges chapter 5, which occurs after the battle, where she and Barak are singing about the victory.
So a close examination of scripture shows that Barak was not asking Deborah to accompany him into battle. And Barak did not flee the fight– again, he does what God commands. This gives us the proof we need: Barak was not a coward. Not at all!
Vindication And Victory
Looking at the account of the battle, we see that Barak won a mighty victory: “At Barak’s advance, the Lord routed Sisera and all his chariots and army by the sword, and Sisera got down from his chariot and fled on foot. Barak pursued the chariots and army as far as Harosheth Hagoyim, and all Sisera’s troops fell by the sword; not a man was left” (Judges 4:15-16).
An additional detail is given in the Song of Deborah in Judges 5: “From the heavens the stars fought, from their courses they fought against Sisera. The river Kishon swept them away, the age-old river, the river Kishon. March on, my soul; be strong!” (verses 20-21). In the spring, the Kishon river frequently overflows its banks. This would create a muddy terrain, which would definitely present a hazard for heavy iron-bound chariots! It may be that Sisera abandoned his chariot and fled on foot because it was stuck in the mud. It appears that the seasonal flooding of the Kishon River worked in Barak’s favor.
These conditions hastened the enemy’s retreat, with Barak and his troops in pursuit. Though they were probably outnumbered, God granted the Israelites a mighty and complete victory over the massive Canaanite army.
And what of Sisera? Deborah’s prophecy about his death came to pass, in a rather gruesome way: “Sisera, meanwhile fled on foot to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, because there was an alliance between Jabin king of Hazor and the family of Heber the Kenite.
“Jael went out to meet Sisera and said to him, “Come, my lord, come right in. Don’t be afraid.” So he entered her tent, and she covered him with a blanket.
“I’m thirsty,” he said. “Please give me some water.” She opened a skin of milk, gave him a drink, and covered him up” (Judges 4:17-19).
Notice that Sisera asked for water. But instead, Jael gives him milk– which, not being refrigerated, was warm. The combination of warm milk and the blankets covering him would likely make the battle-weary commander somewhat sleepy. Sisera tells Jael to stand watch at the door, never realizing that those would be his last words.
Judges 4 concludes, “But Jael, Heber’s wife, picked up a tent peg and a hammer and went quietly to him while he lay fast asleep, exhausted. She drove the peg through his temple into the ground, and he died.
“Just then Barak came by in pursuit of Sisera, and Jael went out to meet him. “Come,” she said, “I will show you the man you’re looking for.” So he went in with her, and there lay Sisera with the tent peg through his temple– dead” (Judges 4:21-22).
That is how Barak came to be mentioned in God’s “Hall of Faith” in Hebrews 11. He deserves his place there as a commander who obeyed God and won a great victory and deliverance for Israel. He may have been afraid, but he was no coward. He did not run, he fought the enemy– and won, with God’s help.
A Little Lesson: Do It Afraid
And that’s a lesson for all of us. When the enemy attacks, don’t let fear keep you frozen. As Joyce Meyer says, “Do it afraid!” The battle is not yours, but the Lord’s. Be like Barak, and “do it afraid,” knowing that it is God who gives the victory!
Perhaps, like Barak, God is calling you to a challenging endeavor. Maybe you’re scared to step into an opportunity that God is opening up. Possibly He has given you a dream that you’re afraid to pursue.
Don’t let obstacles keep you from what God has for you. Step out in faith, and be like Barak– do it afraid! Then watch and see the wonders that God will do in and through you!
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“Transformation: Wimp to Warrior” http://www.livingthetransformedlife.com/transformation-wimp-to-warrior
“Can God Handle Your Doubts?” http://www.livingthetransformedlife.com/can-god-handle-your-doubts