Scripture Reference: Judges 4-5
Suggested Emphasis: Women played a large part in biblical events and they are a vital part of the church today.
Memory Work: If you are teaching old testament stories in chronological order this could be a good time to begin memorizing the names of the 39 Books of the Old Testament.
Deborah, a Judge, used to hold court while sitting beneath a palm tree. She was wise and helped the people solve their problems. She told Barak, commander of an army of Israel, that the Lord wanted him to fight an enemy named Sisera. Barak refused to fight unless Deborah accompanied him. She went along and they defeated Sisera’s army. During the battle, Sisera escaped and hid in the tent of a woman named Jael. During the night Jael killed Sisera in his sleep.
Othniel was the first judge of Israel. Then Ehud, the second judge of Israel, led the people in driving out their enemies. When Ehud died, the people began to turn away from God again.
The Lord allowed Israel’s enemy, Jabin, to defeat them and rule over them. His home was at Hazor, north of the Sea of Galilee. The captain of his army, Sisera, lived at Harosheth, on the Kishon river about thirty-five miles away to the southwest.
It seems that Jabin’s way of oppressing the people was to take most of their crops and their sheep and cattle. Jabin’s iron chariots pulled by swift horses would simply run over anyone who tried to stop them. The people were suffering and they turned to the Lord. They prayed to God for help.
True to the cycle of the times, the Lord sent a Judge to save the people – the prophetess, Deborah. Deborah is the only judge described as a prophet and actually filling the role of a judge. A prophetess is a woman whom God chooses to convey His special messages to others. Other women who were prophets: Miriam (Exodus 15:20), Huldah (1 Kings 22:14), Noadiah (Nehemiah 6:14), and Anna (Luke 2:36). Since God told Deborah what to say, the people wisely went to her to have their quarrels settled. Deborah “held court under a palm tree”.
God told Deborah to have Barak gather and lead an army to Mount Tabor. That was near the home of Jabin’s captain, Sisera. God promised that Sisera would come to fight, but Barak would win. We can only guess the reasons for Barak’s hesitation. He might have been frightened. He might have wanted Deborah along to convey God’s instructions and would represent God on the battlefield. He may have wanted Deborah to be a moral boost for his army. Whatever his reasons, he agreed to go only if Deborah would accompany him. Deborah agreed to go along but she pointed out that a man would lead in the battle, but a woman would get the credit for killing Sisera.
Zebulun and Naphtali were tribes of Israel living in the region near Jabin and Sisera. Probably they suffered most from the oppression, and the army was raised from among them. At that time, the Canaanites had a definite technological edge over the Israelites. With their iron chariots, the Canaanites could control the plains. When Sisera heard about the Israelite army, he assembled his chariots and moved up the narrow plain beside the Kishon River to meet the opposition.
Again the prophetess promised victory, and Barak led his troops down from Mount Tabor. Chapter 5 explains how the Lord defeated Sisera. He brought a big rain (Judges 5:4-5). Their heavy iron chariots bogged down in the mud. This effectively evened out the advantage that Sisera’s army had. Sisera himself left his chariot and ran away on foot. The enemy troops fled back down the valley toward Harosheth, but Barak’s men destroyed them before they could get inside the city walls.
Sisera ran in panic trying to find refuge. There had been some friendly relations with the family of Jael so he made his way to her tent. This woman invited Sisera into her tent and told him to go to sleep. She gave him a warm cover. When he asked for water she gave him milk instead. All of this would have helped him sleep soundly. During the night, Jael used a hammer to drive a tent peg through his skull.
After the rest of Sisera’s army was defeated, Jael’s heroism was celebrated in song. Just as Deborah said, a woman did receive the credit!
Way to Introduce the Story:
Collect pictures from books, magazines and newspapers which depict famous women. Bring these to class along with coins or notes featuring pictures of the queen. Some notes depict famous women. Discuss these with the children. Ask them to name women in the church who work for the Lord. “There are well-known women today but there were also women long ago who were well-known. We can read about one of these women in the book of Judges. Her name was Deborah.”
The people of God had a land of their very own. It was called the land of Canaan. God’s people were called Israelites. Sometimes enemies would try to hurt God’s people but God promised to take care of them. The Lord promised to take care of His people as long as they obeyed Him. If they did not obey Him then the Lord would allow Israel’s enemies to hurt them and win their land.
Sometimes it seemed like the Israelites never learned a lesson. The same thing happened again and again. First, the Israelites would begin to leave God and disobey Him. Then, the Lord would let enemies win battles against them and treat them badly. When the people were suffering, they were sorry they had disobeyed God. They would pray to God to help them. Finally, the Lord would send someone to help the people and save them from their enemies. This person was called a JUDGE.
One famous Judge was a woman. Her name was Deborah. Deborah was so wise that everyone wanted to listen to what she said. She used to sit under a palm tree and let people come and ask her advice. The Lord knew that Deborah was a good woman. Deborah spoke the words that the Lord wanted her to. Sometimes she would help people by telling them what the Lord wanted them to do.
It was good that Deborah talked to the people because they were very unhappy. Many people had stopped following God. Israel’s enemies were very mean. One enemy, Jabin, had a big army that used to hurt the Israelites. The people were sorry that they were not obeying the Lord. They wanted Him to help them. Deborah asked the leader of Israel’s army to come to her. His name was Barak. She told him that the Lord wanted him to go into battle and fight Jabin’s army. Deborah told Barak that the Lord would help him and that he would win the battle.
Barak did not want to go alone. He knew that the enemy had a very strong general in charge of their army. The general’s name was Sisera. Barak told Deborah that he would not go to battle unless she went with him. Usually, women did not go to battle but Deborah said she would help Barak. Deborah told Barak that because he needed a woman to help him then a woman would defeat Sisera.
Barak gathered an army of 10,000 men. Sisera had a huge army and 900 iron chariots. When Deborah told Barak to begin the fight, the army rushed down into a valley to fight against Sisera’s army and all of the strong chariots. Then an amazing thing happened. Clouds gathered and rain started to fall. So much rain fell that the valley flooded. All of the iron chariots got stuck in the mud! Sisera’s army began to run away.
Sisera started running too. He ran and ran until he came to the tent of a woman named Jael. She invited the general of the enemy into her tent. Jael was tricking Sisera. When morning came, Barak came searching for Sisera so that he could capture him. Sisera was dead. It was just like Deborah had said: a woman defeated Sisera!
Ways to Tell the Story:
This story can be told using a variety of methods. Always remain true to the facts found in the Bible but help children connect to its meaning by using drama, visual aids, voice inflection, student interaction and/or emotion.
Click here for visual aids and story-telling methods.
Click here to download these illustrations and slideshow. Be selective. Each teacher is unique, so only use the illustrations that best relate to how YOU tell the story in THIS lesson. Too many illustrations can be confusing, so eliminate any that cover other stories or details you do not wish to emphasise in this lesson.
- What was the name of the woman Judge? Deborah
- Who was the general of God’s army? Barak
- Why did Deborah go with Barak into the battle? He wouldn’t go and fight without her.
- How did the Israelites win against an army with 900 iron chariots? The valley flooded and the chariots got stuck in the mud.
- Where did Sisera, the general of the enemy’s army hide? In the tent of a woman named Jael.
- Who killed Sisera? A woman named Jael
- I’m in the Lord’s Army Song
- Books of the Old Testament Song
- Books of the Old Testament
- Refer to the Song Page on this website for more options.
Learning Activities and Crafts:
- Use this simple Judges Review Wheel to explain the cycle of the Judges. Printable instructions for Judges Review Wheel.
- Invite an active Christian woman (or women) to class today. Ask her to describe the work she does for the Lord. Older children might interview these women.
- Brainstorm and list things women can do for the Lord and write them on the chalkboard/whiteboard.
- Send thank you notes to women who have helped the church in some way.
- Make sure there is some visual aid in your room that lists the books of the Old Testament. This could be a poster. Or write the name of each book on large cards and blue-tac all of the cards to the wall in the correct order. This visual should last all term.
- Use the learning activity Draw Out an Idea to talk about the characters in this story.
- Cut palm leaves from green paper and write review questions on them. As the children answer correctly they can attach the leaves to a tree trunk.
- Make any palm tree craft (see links below for instructions).
- Draw a simple picture or outline and then fill it in with thoughts and ideas you have learned in the Bible story (photo at right).
- Make a shoebox diorama. If you are teaching over a number of weeks then you could make a diorama each week to form a collection that reviews the stories. You can have one box for each character and let the class work together or you could even have each child work on his or her own box(s). Ideas for a Deborah Box might be palm tree or leaves, battle figures, a judge’s gavel, weapons, a tent, a container of milk.
Check the Teaching Ideas page on this website for ideas that are adaptable to any lesson.
Other Online Resources:
- Colouring page Deborah & puzzle worksheets (Calvary Curriculum)
- Craft: Palm tree made from paper bag (Kids Corner Home)
- Craft: Coconut palm tree printable paper craft (DLTK)
- Craft: Painted footprint palm tree instructions and photos (Crafty-Crafted)
- Worksheet: Word search for books of the Old Testament (Christian Answers)
- Other: Chart of all judges & many activities for Deborah story (Sunday School Sources)
- Other: Short play script that tells the story (Kids Corner)
- Other: Interesting background study information with artwork (Women in the Bible)