The Power of Being a Footnote

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We know the story of the Prophet Deborah, the only woman judge mentioned in the Book of Judges. She administered justice in the scrubby foothills of Ephraim, listening to the complaints of the forever-squabbling twelve tribes. We know she defeated a powerful, bloodthirsty Canaanite army. She is certainly worthy of our admiration and praise.

However, we easily forget someone in her story, a modest man named Barak, the engineer of one of Israel's greatest victories.

These are dark days for Israel. A massive, land-hungry Canaanite army presses from the West. Led by King Jabin and his general Sisera, they boast the ancient world's version of tanks and—900 heavily armored chariots.

As the invaders near Israel's borders, Deborah musters an army of her own, a few thousand soldiers from the tribes of Zabulun and Naphtali. Her general? The unassuming Barak.

The Lord tells Deborah to gather Barak's army at Mt. Tabor, so they can fight the Canaanites along the banks of the River Kishon in the Jezreel Valley.

Sisera is understandably thrilled. The Israelites have spent 20 years hiding in the hills, away from the chariots. When they descend from Mt. Tabor to fight in the Jezreel Valley, they'll be slaughtered. He takes the bait.

Barak knows his small army has no chance on level ground. Still, he trusts Deborah: "If you will go with me, I will go," he tells her, "but if you will not go with me, I will not go." Deborah agrees to accompany him and speaks a curious prophecy:

"I will surely go with you; nevertheless there will be no glory for you in the journey you are taking, for the LORD will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman."

(Judges 4:9)

Then Barak gets to work, leading the troops to Mt. Tabor.

In the plain nearby, the sprawling Canaanite army stirs eagerly.

At last, Deborah shouts to her soldiers, "Up! For this is the day in which the LORD has delivered Sisera into your hand. Has not the LORD gone out before you?" (Judges 4:14).

With a roar, the men of Zebulun and Naphtali hurl themselves down the mountain. They meet the Canaanite lines with a deafening crash. The Canaanites crumble before the ferocity of the long-oppressed Israelites. It becomes a massacre.

In the chaos, Sisera escapes into a nearby village of the neutral Kenites. He seeks shelter in the tent of a woman named Jael. While he sleeps, Jael pounds a sharp tent peg into his temple, killing him instantly.

Without his general, King Jabin hides in his palace, until it too falls before the Israelite army.

As for Deborah's prophecy, Chapter 5 is devoted to ”The Song of Deborah,” one of the oldest texts in the Old Testament. The song does not celebrate Barak, but the woman Jael. (Remember: Deborah's prophecy did not specify which woman would receive the glory for the victory!)

And that's all we hear of either Deborah or Barak. The Israelites enjoy a rare period of peace, and Barak himself is little more than a footnote.

He's an important footnote, though. Here's a man in a patriarchal society who worked hard even knowing he wouldn't receive personal glory or fame. Instead he willingly did the tough, dangerous job for the greater good. Barak let others sing the songs and enjoy their day in the sun.

Every team, every group, every church, needs a Barak.

Can you imagine how much kingdom work would get accomplished if no one cared who got the credit or applause?