Editor’s Reflections -- By: William David Spencer

Journal: Priscilla Papers
Volume: PP 25:1 (Winter 2011)
Article: Editor’s Reflections
Author: William David Spencer

Editor’s Reflections

William David Spencer

Barak may be the most misunderstood hero in the entire Bible. For years, this thoughtful warrior who insured a victory by forgoing personal glory to partner up with God’s anointed spokeswoman Deborah has been dismissed out of hand by simplistic, popular readings of his complex egalitarian story.

The account is a familiar one. Judges 4:4 tells us that Deborah, a prophet, was leading Israel at the time. The distinguished former general secretary of the Association of Evangelicals in Africa, executive director of the Centre for Biblical Transformation, and general editor of the Africa Bible Commentary (ABC), Tokunboh Adeyemo, extols Deborah in the ABC’s section on Judges: “Despite living in a male-dominated culture, she served as head of state, commander-in-chief and chief justice (4:4-5, 5:7). Her achievement should put an end to debates about whether women can provide leadership.” Further, he adds, “In contemporary Africa, gender is still a major issue, particularly as regards political leadership. Yet, Africa already has its first woman president with the election of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf in Liberia. The story of Deborah shows that a woman can be as effective as any male leader, provided she has divine backing, and combine[s] charisma with character, courage with competence, and conviction with commitment.”1 She was by all counts a remarkable leader.

Small wonder, then, that, when the great Deborah receives a command from the Lord for the Israelite warrior Barak to defeat the oppressing Jabin, king of Canaan, by taking out his general Sisera, Barak replies, “If you go, I’ll go” (v. 8). Deborah replies literally,

“I will certainly go beside you,” but she warns him that the wreath of glorious victory was not going to adorn his head, but would go to a woman. Barak does not object and leads his force of conscripts from only two tribes, Naphtali and Zebulun, against the technologically superior army of Sisera, spearheaded by nine hundred iron chariots (v. 12). At her order, Barak (“whose name means ‘thunderbolt’”2), having amassed his forces on the vantage point of Mount Tabor, suddenly charges down the mountain right at the enemy. The Lord routs the opposition, as promised, and General Sisera is so terrified he jumps off his chariot and flees on foot (v. 15). This is the worst possible response an adversary can make. Ancient battles are often compared to rather lethal rugby games. Hand-to-hand combat tended to cost far fewer lives than contemporary bullet- and explosion-driven warfare. But, the one action an ancient warrior s...

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