Deborah and Barak Defeat Sisera

Judges 4-5

The story of the victory of Deborah and Barak over Jabin and Sisera is well known, and the location of the battle is clear. Less clear, however, are the locations of other places mentioned in the story, but the context of the story and Joshua’s descriptions of Israel’s tribal boundaries (Joshua 19) enable some possible identifications to be made. The story takes place in the time of the Judges, and a judge named Deborah was holding court in the territory of Benjamin. Meanwhile a man named Jabin was ruling over the Canaanites in the north, and his capital was located at Hazor, which must have been reinhabited after the Israelites had completely destroyed it during the conquest of Canaan (Joshua 11). Jabin’s commander Sisera was located in Harosheth-haggoyim (possibly meaning “farmland of the Gentiles”), a location that is not certain, but the context of the story suggests it refers to the plain near Megiddo and the Kishon River. Deborah called upon a man named Barak to lead an army of Israelites up Mount Tabor to draw Sisera to attack with his forces. Barak was from Kedesh-naphtali, a town that is noted as being close to Zaanannim. At some point a Kenite named Heber and his wife Jael had also set up their camp at Zaanannim, which must have been located a little west of Jabneel (Joshua 19:33). The location of Jabneel is well established, leading some scholars locate Zaanannim a little further west near modern ash-Shagara. Regarding Kedesh-naphtali, this author has recently discovered that Khirbet Kashtah would make a good candidate (shown on this map), since it satisfies the requirements of Joshua 19:33 and Judges 4 very well. Ash-Shagara and Khirbet Kashtah are both appropriately located within territory that belonged to Naphtali, and they sit along two key routes just north of Mount Tabor, where Israel’s troops were gathered. So it is fitting that Sisera would have passed by these locations as he fled the battle on foot, perhaps on his way to King Jabin in Hazor. Finally, it is not difficult to see how the name Kedesh could have evolved into Kashtah over time. Returning to the story, we read that Sisera and his vast army of chariots advanced to Mount Tabor, and the Israelites charged quickly down the mountain to counter-attack. The Israelites routed the Canaanites and pursued them all the way back to Harosheth-haggoyim. Deborah’s song commemorating the victory suggests that a sudden downpour also swelled the Kishon River, causing the chariots to become stuck in the mud (Judges 5:4-21). The story concludes by recounting how Sisera himself met his demise at the hands of Jael while he was fleeing on foot. After this, Jabin’s strength was broken, and the Israelites continued to press against him until he was destroyed.

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