The Children of Israel had conquered most of the land of Canaan as, one by one, the unfriendly kings had been defeated. Now, most of the land belonged to Israel. After Joshua called all the tribes together to divide the land among them, he said to them, “You have seen how G-D has been with you through all these years. He has helped you overcome your enemies, and now he has given you the land, promised to Abraham long ago. Therefore, be courageous and keep all the laws Moses taught you. Each of you will go his own way from now on, you will mingle with other nations who worship false gods.
Remember, worship only the One G-D, and peace and prosperity will come to you. “So they all went their separate ways, to the east, to the west, to the north, to the south. Some settled in the hill country; some crossed the River Jordan and cultivated the fertile valleys; some settled in the cities. Israel was no longer a band of homeless people, Israel was a nation.
Each tribe of Israel had found a home, but life was neither peaceful nor quiet. The Children of Israel were tired of war, but the original inhabitants of the land were not going to give it up without a fight. A peaceful life seemed impossible unless they forgot the laws of Moses and lived like the people of Canaan. They soon forgot Joshua’s words.
Now the people of Canaan still worshiped idols. They were cruel and dirty; they had no law. If Israel were to live like these people, all the work of Moses would be ruined, for Moses had taught them the law.
But the Children of Israel found it easier to be like the people of Canaan. They said, “If we live like the people around us, they will leave us alone. Let us worship their gods, and live in peace.”
So the foolish among them began to bow down to idols called Baal and Astarte. When the other nations saw the Israelites living like themselves, they lost all respect for them, and conditions got worse instead of better. The Canaanites said, “Let’s drive Israel back to the wilderness. Now that their leaders are dead, they’ve lost their courage. They’ve even lost their God, for look, they bow down to Baal and Astarte.”
All the nations began to make war on Israel. At first, small bands of robbers would steal the cattle and burn the crops. Then hundreds of men on horseback would raid the cities and villages of Israel. The tribes managed to drive them away and hold onto their land for a number of years, but as time passed, they became weaker and weaker. The king of Canaan took advantage of this weakness, and attacked them with a vast army of trained men: Nine hundred of his men rode in iron chariots. Their captain was called Sisera.
When the people of Israel saw the king’s men preparing to drive them from their homes, they forgot their idols and prayed to G-D for help. But Israel had no leaders. There was no one to give them strength and courage as Moses and Joshua had done. Through all this misery, there was a poor woman who lived in the hill country of Ephraim called Deborah, to whom the people went for advice. She had a voice that was softy and low, and people found comfort in her words when they came to talk to her as she sat under the palm tree outside of her house.
Now, Deborah believed firmly in one G-D, and had tried to keep the people from worshiping Baal. When the news of the war with the king reached the hill country, the people rushed to Deborah, crying, “What shall we do? What shall we do?”
Deborah answered, “Leave me alone and I will think of a plan. In the meantime, send for a young man called Barak, of the tribe of Naphtali, and bring him to me.”
Barak was young and strong, and his tribe was the only one that still lived in peace because under his leadership, the Canaanites had been driven away. When he stood before Deborah, she said, “I have heard of your courage, Barak. Tell me, have you enough courage to lead an army of ten thousand men against Sisera, who commands the army of Canaan?”
Barak laughed. “Ten thousand! If I had ten thousand men, I would wipe out Sisera, and all the Canaanites who attack us, as well.”
“Then listen to my plan,” she said. “Israel is sleeping, and our warriors will only awaken when you call them to war. Send messengers among the people, tell all the fighting men to gather here. In a few days you will have more than ten thousand men.”
“When I have raised the army, what are your plans?” asked Barak.
“You will lead your men to the top of Mount Tabor,” Deborah answered.
“Why to the top of the mountain? Wouldn’t it be better to hide in the valley below?”
“No,” she replied. “Sisera has iron chariots which are only useful on level ground. He will be forced to stay in the valley, and you can swoop down upon him from the mountaintop.”
“You are wise, Deborah, but I will not go unless you go with me,” Barak said.
She was surprised at his answer. “You mean you don’t have the courage to go?” she cried in anger. “Aren’t you ashamed to have a woman lead the men to war? Do you want it said that women have more courage than men?”
“In order to rouse these people, we must make them ashamed of themselves. You say we have brave men, warriors,” said Barak, “but they’ve forgotten everything; their courage, their country, even their G-D. Come with me, Deborah, and show these men that even a woman has courage to face the enemy. With you at my side, what man would dare to stay behind?”
She understood and said, “I will go, Barak, for I see you are only thinking of Israel and not of your honor. But, tell me truthfully, wouldn’t you feel ashamed if the people were to say, a woman conquered Sisera?”
Barak smiled, “Let them say what they please. My only thought is to conquer Sisera.”
So messengers went from tribe to tribe, asking for fighting men to join Barak and Deborah. No man refused for fear the people would say his courage was less than that of a woman, and in a short time an army of more than ten thousand had come, each one proud and eager to serve his country.
Barak followed Deborah’s advice and led his men to the top of Mount Tabor. When Sisera heard of their plan, he had his men surround the mountain. He said, “As fast as these Hebrews come down, we will kill them.”
But Sisera spoke too soon. Barak’s men were hidden all around the mountain and when Sisera attempted to attack, Barak and his men swooped down upon them wit such force that Sisera was defeated.
It was in this way that the army of the king of Canaan was destroyed. There was great rejoicing in Israel, and Deborah and Barak sang a song about the battle. Once more the Children of Israel were united, and true to one G-D, and there was peace in the land for forty years.