When the Judges Ruled: Barak—The Hesitant Judge

The biblical record concerning Barak is sparing; not many details are provided. The Spirit of God has, however, revealed sufficient information about his life and times to allow us to learn valuable practical lessons as the people of God (Jdg 4:1-5:31).

Barak lived in difficult times. The previous judge in Israel, Ehud, had died, and “the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord” (4:1 ESV). In judgment, the Lord allowed His people to be oppressed for 20 years by a cruel enemy called Jabin, king of Canaan. At some point during that time, the Lord spoke to Barak, and provided him detailed instructions about launching an attack on Sisera, the general of Jabin’s army, assuring him of victory and promising to deliver Sisera into his hand.

Failing to Respond to God’s Call

That’s where we see the first weakness in this man’s character: he failed to respond to the voice of the Lord and to obey His instruction. Delayed obedience is disobedience. What a lesson for us all! Our response when directed by the Word of God should be like the psalmist who wrote, “I hasten and do not delay to keep your commandments” (119:60 ESV). When Deborah spoke to Barak, she said, “Has not the Lord, the God of Israel, commanded you?” (4:6). The Lord had already spoken, and Deborah’s words imply that Barak had heard the Lord but had failed to respond obediently. A man in Luke 9:59 heard the Lord say, “Follow me,” but he responded, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” Two verses later, another man says, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home” (ESV).  Both men failed to obey. Their excuses may have seemed legitimate to them in the moment, but when God calls there are only two options – obedience or disobedience. What an encouraging contrast we see in Andrew and Simon: “Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me …’ And immediately they left their nets and followed him” (Mar 1:17-18 ESV). Barak was called, but he failed to obey.

Perhaps you know that the Lord has called you, but you have either ignored His voice, or you have put forward what seem to you very plausible reasons why you cannot obey. May the lesson of Barak speak to your soul – we can never do any better than to respond obediently to the voice of God.

Disobedience Always Has Consequences

We don’t know the reasons for Barak’s disobedient delay, nor do we know how long it lasted, but we do see in the biblical narrative some of its sad consequences. Had Barak responded immediately, the period of Israel’s oppression and suffering under Jabin and Sisera may well have been cut short. How many of those 20 years of suffering resulted from the disobedience of one man failing to heed God’s voice? Furthermore, it could be that Barak’s failure to shoulder the responsibility of leading the children of Israel contributed to a woman rising up to take the place of a leader and judge among God’s people. Sadly, it is often the case in marriages or in public testimony that the failure of men to effectively discharge their God-given responsibilities creates a vacuum or a glaring need that results in women functioning in spheres outside of God’s original design. May we all learn the importance of not only obeying the Lord’s voice but functioning as directed by His Word. Much heartache and trouble can thus be avoided, not only for ourselves but also for those within our sphere of influence.

Gracious Persistence of our God

While our focus in this article is on Barak, it is impossible not to see in this narrative the patient, persistent grace of our Lord in His dealings with His people. Despite their disobedience and rebellion (4:1), when His people “cried out to the Lord for help” (4:3), He raised up a deliverer. Despite Barak’s disobedience to the Lord’s initial call, he was not permanently set aside nor abandoned by God; the Lord still graciously reached out again to call, equip and use him. Despite Deborah’s leadership position possibly being the result (at least partially) of her own well-meaning design and ambition, the Lord still worked through her to speak to His reluctant servant and to bring about deliverance and victory. May we all be thankful to God that He continues in His grace to use weak, faltering vessels to accomplish His purposes.

Maybe the enemy has tried to convince you that the Lord is done with you and will no longer use you. Take courage! The fact that you are still in the body and breathing God’s air is proof that He wants to continue His work in your soul and wants to use you to see His purposes fulfilled. Remember His words to Paul: “My strength is made perfect in weakness” (2Co 12:9). Your best days of service may still be ahead!

Willing to Play Second Fiddle

One admirable trait in Barak’s character was his willingness to take input from others and to let others have the glory. Deborah gave Barak detailed instructions on his mission, and he immediately obeyed, launching the military campaign (albeit with possibly too much confidence in Deborah rather than directly upon God). But give credit where it is due: the reluctant Barak was now moving in obedience and confidence, and the Lord was going to use him mightily. Furthermore, even when told that a woman (and not he) would receive the glory for Sisera’s destruction, Barak never wavered in pursuit of his mission. The old saying is still true: “It takes more grace than tongue can tell to play the second fiddle well!” Barak was a man who was ultimately willing to serve faithfully and work harmoniously with others, even with the knowledge that they would eventually be given the credit. May we all learn from his humble example.

The Results of Faithfulness in Service

As a result of Barak’s eventual faithfulness and obedience, we read that “the land had rest 40 years” (5:31). It is a wonderful privilege to be an instrument in the hand of God to bring blessing and deliverance to His people. Barak also received honorable mention in Hebrews 11 as one who “through faith conquered kingdoms” (vv32-33). God is so gracious! He patiently calls, graciously equips, abundantly enables, and when victory is secured, credits His weak human vessels with their faithful service! May the experience of this hesitant man, who served God in a dark day in Israel’s history, ring down through the centuries to us in our day, and inspire us to be obedient, willing servants to our Lord.