Instead of a king or a chief, God gave Israel judges. These were people who made wise decisions and guided the Israelites. When the judges made good choices, the people made good choices. When the judges made bad choices, the people made bad choices.
Joshua had been Israel’s first judge. But after he and everyone from his generation had died, their children and grandchildren began to forget about the stories they had heard of God’s protection.
The Israelites stopped asking God for protection, and began to pray to the statues that their neighbors worshiped instead.
Soon their land was no longer peaceful. Even traveling from one town to another became dangerous because the Israelites’ neighbors knew they had stopped looking to God for their safety. For twenty years the Canaanites mistreated the Israelites, until they finally humbled themselves and asked God for help.
God listened, and gave them a new judge, Deborah. Deborah took command of Israel and protected the people like a mother protects her children.
Each day, Deborah would sit under a palm tree that had been named after her. All the Israelites would come to her to ask for help to settle their disagreements.
Deborah was also a prophet. One day, God sent her a message, telling her what to do to free Israel from the Canaanites’ control.
She sent for a man named Barak to come and see her under her palm tree.
“God gave me a message for you,” Deborah told him. “You are to lead a group of Israelites to fight back against the Canaanites so that they will leave us alone.”
Barak was a strong warrior, but when he heard this instruction, he was filled with fear. “I’ll only go if you are with me to help,” Barak answered.
Deborah sighed at his nervousness. “Alright,” she agreed. “I’ll go with you, but you won’t be the one to defeat the Canaanite general. You won’t get the credit because you didn’t trust God’s message.”
So Deborah went with Barak, to encourage him. As they got close, Deborah shouted, out “Let’s go, Barak! It’s time to win a victory for God’s people. You don’t need to worry, because the Lord has already gone ahead to fight for you.”
The Israelites showed how strong they were with God helping them.
The leader of the Canaanite army, Sisera, ran away when he saw he was losing. A very brave woman named Jael caught him for Barak. She wasn’t even a soldier who was supposed to be in the battle, she just happened to run into Sisera by accident. The Israelites were now free from the Canaanites.
To celebrate their victory, Deborah and Barak sang a song together, praising God.
Once again, the Israelites were following God and enjoying peace.