CHAPTER FIFTEEN: THE BATTLE BEGINS!
As the Canaanite chariots and soldiers began their movements up the rough, dry side of the Kishon River, several Israelite spies were watching from the hills to the north. When they saw that the chariots and the army were marching southwest down the river’s path rather than down the normal route along the southern ridge line, they sent two men on horseback riding like the wind toward Mt. Tabor where the Israelite army was amassing. The other four men continued to monitor the movements of the army along the river, ready to send word as soon as the army made any other move from the traditional routes along the valley floor.
The two Israelites rode hard and fast for several miles then slowed for about ten minutes to a trot to let their horses rest. Then they started again until they encountered the first line of the Israelite defensive units located a half mile from Mt. Tabor. The men moved through the lines by using the proper passwords. It took about twenty minutes for two men to arrive at Barak’s campsite where Deborah’s banner was hanging.
The men stood at attention as they gave their report to Barak. “The Canaanites have put their entire army on the northern side of the bed of the Kishon and are moving with great speed to engage us. That was about four hours ago.”
Barak turned to Deborah who looked back at him and said, “Now is not the time to move. They will come to you here at the mountain. At the appropriate time, you will see the glory of the Lord by watching the men of the Canaanite army flee for their lives.”
While Deborah and Barak were still receiving the report, a young commander of a small scout troop approached Barak with a prisoner guarded by two Israelite troops.
“Sir, we found this man riding hard on a trail on the northern ridge.” The commander then handed a parchment to Barak and continued, “And he had this in his pouch. I thought it might be important. So, I brought it to you immediately.”
Barak took the parchment and opened it. As he read the note, his face became red with rage. “Truly this will be the undoing of the Canaanites.”
The officer asked, “Is it important?”
“Far more important than you can imagine, my friend. Kill the messenger, then gather more provisions and return to your patrol.”
Before the Canaanite could plead for his life, the officer snapped his sword from his hip and with one stroke stabbed the man through the chest. The officer and the other men picked up the body and had it buried.
Barak walked away from his tent to a spot where Samuel was viewing the preparations from the top of the mountain. He looked at Barak and asked, “New developments?”
“Yes. I’m afraid it's worse than I had imagined.”
“What is it?”
“Jabin has ordered Deborah and me to be decapitated and our heads delivered to him on silver platters.”
Samuel made a slight grin then said, “I’m sure glad I’m not Jabin.”
“This seals it with me. We shall destroy this army before us; then we will march on Hazor and burn it to the ground along with its king and his family. No one will survive.”
Barak walked back to his tent and told one of the guards to call his leaders together to tell them of his final strategy. He rolled out a map of the area from the hills to the north to Mt. Moreh on the south and spent some time studying it. Samuel entered the tent and walked over to where Barak was working and said, “So what do you have in mind that will defeat the great army of the Canaanites?”
Barak smiled but did not look up. He kept looking at the map with great concentration and using his finger to indicate a point about two hundred yards from the base of Mt. Tabor and said, “This will be the critical point. If we are able to stop them here, then we will have the day. If Sisera’s troops pass this point, then we may lose everything.”
Samuel said nothing but stood and watched Barak who stared at the map for several minutes. Then Barak continued, “Samuel, when we brief the leaders, please stress this point right here on the map.”
“I will,” Samuel answered as they heard the sound of several men approaching the tent. Then the four commanders entered followed by Ramor who had escorted them.
Barak spent no time in pleasantries but pointed to the north side of the mountain and the hills beyond. He ordered that the men of Issachar should dig in to defend that area by putting up ambushes and creating traps for the chariots in the flat land.
He then turned to the commander of the men of Manasseh who had joined them in the battle and ordered that they should take their places around Mt. Moreh. There they should stand ready to attack as soon as they receive the signal from the sentinel who will be standing at the top of Mt. Tabor. “The smoke will be red,” Barak said. “That will be your permission to attack.
Barak ordered the commanders of two three-thousand men units from the tribe of Naphtali to put in defenses from the center area around to the southern side and from the bottom to the top of the mountain.
“Although they will appear to be in the defense,” Barak explained, “they are to have their weapons and their provisions packed and ready to attack on my signal.”
The commanders looked puzzled. The plan didn’t seem rational. Samuel stated what he thought the others were thinking, “Barak, we trust you, and I, for one, know you and feel comfortable doing what you ask. The troops may not understand. Please explain this: are we defending or attacking?”
“You will be defending,” Barak said, smiling, “Yet ready to attack at a moment’s notice.”
The commanders stood there dumbfounded.
“Barak, my friend, I think I speak for the others when I ask, ‘What are you talking about?’”
The men stood looking at Barak, holding their breath. They could not believe Samuel would be so bold.
Then Barak spoke with precision, “My brothers, I know my orders seem confusing, but trust me. Tell the troops to pretend to be defending. But then tell them that they are to be at the ready to attack.”
Then Samuel smiled and said, “Ah! You are setting a trap.”
“That’s correct; or at least I hope it is. Deborah has assured me that if we wait for Sisera to come to us, God will bring the victory over the Canaanites. She assured me that we will know the right moment to attack. She said the situation will be clear.”
One of the deputies with the men of Manasseh laughed and said, “Forgive me, sir, but a woman? How can she know the right time to attack?”
“I understand your skepticism,” Barak replied. “But I must ask you to trust me. I will know and I will give the order. You and your men must be ready to fight with great violence and vengeance.”
The commanders looked at each other and then at Barak and seemed stunned when Deborah walked into the tent. The men’s silence was deafening.
“I’m sorry I’m late, gentlemen. I trust Barak has explained to you what the plan is. I also assume that each of you is confused.”
The tension seemed to leave the tent and the men laughed together nodding their heads in agreement.
“God has spoken to me and has told me that He will cause a great confusion to fall on the Canaanite soldiers and horses. When that happens, that will be the opening for us to attack and conquer. So, are you with me?”
Ramor then asked, “What kind of confusion?”
Deborah smiled and continued, “The Lord did not say what would happen. But, we will know it and then we will attack. I believe the smoke on the fires will turn yellow to indicate when to charge.”
The men knew they were being asked to place their trust in the hands of an inexperienced woman who had never studied war or battle strategy. They also knew that Deborah was aware of what she was asking. So, she lifted her eyes to heaven and spoke a brief prayer for bravery and courage.
“Oh, God of heaven and earth, we stand too weak to fight, and too inexperienced to do battle with such a foe as we face. But, you are the true and living God. In you we trust. Give us super natural strength and wisdom to overcome this evil. We place our lives in your hands.”
At that Barak dismissed the generals and their aids with the charge to prepare with haste. “There must be no delay because the Canaanite army will be within sight by sundown and prepared to attack at first light the next day.”
The men all left the tent unsure of the future, but they did have the confidence that Barak would let them know when to act. Barak turned his head down and looked at the parchment maps for several minutes. Then he looked up at Deborah and in a voice that sounded frustrated said to her, “I hope you are right.”
She smiled, placed her hand on his face and said, “I know what God has told me. My faith is in His ability to speak to me. Trust God, not me.”
Then she walked out of the tent.
Later that night on the top of Mt. Tabor, Deborah and Barak stood together where they could see the campfires burning among the Canaanite troops about four miles away. The Israelite troops were asleep and resting well.
Looking around him, Barak noticed that he was alone with Deborah looking out over the darkness in the valley. Barak coughed causing Deborah to look up at him. He stood head and shoulders above her. Barak was handsome for a man of about forty years of age sporting a full dark beard, a deep tan, and rippling muscles from years of farming in the hills.
Deborah was not more than five foot four inches in height compared to Barak who was over six feet tall. She had an interesting beauty about her. Although she was just past thirty years of age, she seemed older because of her wisdom and stature in the community.
Looking back down at the maps, Deborah asked, “Was it wise to order the troops to use minimal security during the night?”
“I’m confident that Sisera wants an all-out attack in the morning and won’t risk a confrontation during the night”
“Why is that?”
“He wants to watch us suffer and die. He will wait for the sun to rise so he can watch the massacre he expects to happen in the daylight.”
“I hope you are right.”
Barak stood looking down at the maps and charts before him as he felt Deborah standing very near him. A bit nervous, He spoke just above a whisper. “Deborah, I must ask you something.”
“Of course, Barak, what is it?”
“I know I showed my doubts when I insisted that you accompany me in this battle. But, I did not mean to imply--”
“I know, Barak,” she interrupted, “Were you not concerned more for the men who would follow you, rather than an appearance of weakness?”
“Yes. I’m glad you saw that in me.”
“So what concerns you?”
“I was thinking that God’s retribution: was it necessary to deny me any of the glory of the battle?”
“Ah. I do not believe Jehovah was punishing you.”
“No. He was responding to your lack of faith.”
“I guess I blew it, didn’t I?”
“I’d say you did not impress either Jehovah or me with that request; at least not in the way you asked.”
“I want to apologize to you for that. I’m sorry that I put you in a situation in which you could not make a choice. I should have requested your presence with the army then let you make the decision whether to go.”
“I appreciate that. And to show my appreciation, I would like to ask if it would be okay if I accompanied you in the battle tomorrow.”
“I, uh, I'm not sure--”
“It would be an honor to fight next to you. I hope the men would realize that if I can be confident enough to stand with you in the midst of the battle, then they can also be just as confident.”
Barak lowered his head in shame then reached out and took Deborah by her shoulders.
“Thank you for that expression of confidence. Now I know tomorrow we will be victorious.”
Deborah smiled then leaned over to him and kissed him on the cheek. Barak stepped back and looked at her with shock on his face.
“Why did you do that?”
“Because I appreciate you and your courage.”
“Thank you,” he said looking toward his tent, “Perhaps we should get some rest. We have a big day ahead of us and we’ll need all the energy we can muster.”
Deborah reached over and rubbed the back of Barak’s hand then walked over to her tent. As she pulled the flap down, Barak noticed her looking at him with a slight smile on her face through the slit and then disappeared as the flap fell into place.
Barak stood still for several moments and thought about walking to her tent, but just as he was about to start in that direction, Ramor approached.
“Well, Barak, nervous yet?”
“Not just nervous. I think I’m scared to death.”
“I understand. The Canaanite campfires stretch for many leagues across the entire valley. I think his whole army must be camped out there.”
“What do you do to relax?”
“What do I do?”
“Yes, my friend.”
“I often lay wide awake and worry. What do you do?”
The two men stood together for several moments before either one said a word until Barak spoke.
“Ramor, will you do me a favor tomorrow?”
“I want you to be by my side during the battle. I trust your skill and your commitment.”
“I’d be honored to stand with you.”
“Good. You’ll also be standing next to Deborah.”
“Deborah? Why will she be there?”
“Because she has asked if she might stand with me during the battle. I want you to help me protect her.”
“You can count on me,” Ramor answered without hesitation.
Then the two men stood side by side and watched over the troops for the rest of the night.
Before the sun rose, Barak, Deborah, Ramor and the entire Israelite army were awake and ready for the battle to begin. Every man was in his place with weapons at the ready. The supply train and all extra people that had come along in support of the army were moved north to the village of Heleph where the Naphtali inhabitants assured Barak that his people would be well guarded and safe from retribution, should the battle turn bad. Barak smiled at their assurance then instructed them that there was no worry since at the end of the day not one Canaanite soldier would be left alive.
As he stood on the top of Mt. Tabor, Barak could feel the light breaking the dawn just over his left shoulder as he peered down the valley to the southeast. He knew that the chariots would have already started rolling and that soon they would appear from out of the darkness and fog of the southwestern sky that was still star-lit above the flat surface of ground.
The air was colder than normal. There was not even the hint of moisture in the air. And Barak could feel a deep churning in his stomach. It looked to him like the day was going to be a perfect day for chariots, cavalry, and infantry on foot. He knew it would be possible that they would overrun any defenders no matter how well they were dug in.
“This is going to take a miracle,” he said aloud to no one in particular.
“And Jehovah will provide that miracle,” Barak heard Deborah say from behind him.
He turned to see the prophetess dressed in a leather breast plate, shin guards and helmet. In one hand she held a sharpened sword ready for battle, and in the other a shield that was thirty-six inches in diameter.
“I’m counting on that,” he responded to her with an expression that betrayed his attempt to hide his admiration.
“Just stay close and as soon as Jehovah reveals His will, I’ll give you the word when to attack. When our men follow that order, they will find the Canaanites disorganized and ready for the kill.”
“Of course, I shall do as you ask. But right now, I mean, the Canaanites are marching.”
Barak stood there staring at the line of troops that were spread out across the valley floor in front of him getting closer and closer. It would take at least another hour until they reached the attack point. Watching the Canaanite army approaching, he knew that his men could also see the awesome power of the largest and strongest army in the known world as it inched closer and closer.
Standing near to him was a squad of about fifteen messengers and another two hundred troops ready to bring orders to the various units under Barak’s command. He turned to two of them and said, “Run like the wind to the units below with my words: ‘Be calm and confident. Hold fast and you will see the deliverance of the Lord.’ Now, take that message with swiftness and help spread the word throughout the lines of soldiers.”
The two men left in two different directions. Barak turned back to the view from the mountain where he could see a hundred chariots rolling side by side toward the mountain. Behind that rank there appeared to be at least five more ranks of a hundred chariots each.
“It looks like Sisera has committed all of his chariots to this battle in the first wave,” Barak observed.
“And look! He has committed his whole army, not just the chariots. He intends to intimidate us so much that we will run from the battle.” Samuel added with a touch of excitement in his voice.
As Barak peered to each side of the line of chariots, he saw rank upon rank of infantry marching toward the mountain from out of the morning fog. Indeed, he estimated that there had to be more than twenty thousand troops in the front ranks marching on either side of the chariots.
As the light of the sun rose above the mountain behind him, the fog lifted inch by inch above the massive army stretched across the valley floor. Barak could now see beyond the lines of chariots where there had to be at least another twenty thousand men marching toward the battle. Barak knew Sisera had committed his entire army to this one fight.
Barak turned to Simeon and said, “Sisera has made a serious tactical error. He has decided that this battle will be an all or nothing event and has made no provision for reserves in the rear. He’s not as brilliant as I thought he was, my friend.”
The Canaanites approached to within a half-mile of the mountain. Barak asked Deborah to stand on top of a huge boulder at the precipice of the mountain so that the men of the army could look behind them and see her encouraging them to stand and fight. Barak then moved as close to the edge of the top as possible and began yelling to the men, “Hold your ground! Fear not! Jehovah God will give you the victory!”
The rumble of nine hundred chariots and the stamping of fifty thousand men marching seemed to drown out his words. But, he believed the men could hear him or at least knew he was encouraging them. What Barak could not see from where he was standing was that the six thousand men, his men, below him were ready and anxious to fight.
Barak sensed that the bulk of the men on that mountain were as fearful as a mouse trapped in a cage with a python. Although they acted and tried to look brave, they could see what was before them; and it looked impossible. It would be up to him and Deborah to encourage them to keep their faith strong and their courage intact.
He turned to two of the messengers and told one to tell the sentinel to light the signal fires ordering the two thousand troops waiting by Mt. Moreh to begin their movement around the south end of the mountain and then across the valley to attack the Canaanites from the right rear flank. Then he told the other messenger to tell the other sentinel to light the signal fires ordering the two thousand troops stationed along the north ridge to begin their move down to meet the army’s left flank.
Barak said to Samuel, “If Deborah is right, the two units on the flanks should arrive at a point when the Canaanite army is about to break. Their appearance would secure the victory and ensure that the Canaanite army will be destroyed.”
When the front ranks of the Canaanite army arrived to within a quarter mile from the mountain, the sky behind the Canaanites began to fill with large, dark, whirling clouds. A huge storm from the Mediterranean Sea was forming and moving in a straight line toward Sisera’s army.
Barak smiled big and said to Simeon, “The Canaanites do not know what is happening behind them. And I doubt they will know until the rain starts to soak the ground beneath them. Then it will be too late for them to make any adjustments. They'll be trapped by the rain, the raging winds and worst of all the mud.”
“So, God's miracle is rain?”
“What better way to defeat an army led by chariots and cavalry than a deluge of rain that will cause a flood? Know this, my friend, the day the battle belongs to the Israelites.”
From the rock where she was standing, Deborah turned to Barak and said, “Now is the time. Have the men attack the center, right at the chariots for they will become stuck in the mud about the time our men arrive. The rest of the army will panic when they see the chariots being defeated by foot soldiers.”
Barak smiled without looking at Deborah and said, “Yes. I can see that working.”
He called four messengers over and had them take messages to the two units from Naphtali.
“You are to rush onto the chariots before they even reach the foot of the mountain. Leave no man living and you will be victorious.”
The messengers departed, running down the front of the mountain to the commanders.
Barak ordered two other messengers to tell the troops from Issachar and Zebulon to move around the mountain and to attack the right and left flanks of the Canaanite army. The messengers ran down the back side of the mountain like Olympic champions to the troops waiting in reserve.
Just then Barak looked to the far horizon to the south and could see the approaching units from the tribes of Ephraim and Benjamin who had volunteered to help with the fight. He then walked to the north and saw the men of Zebulon with their distinctive green headbands moving toward the north around the mountain. Then he saw those of Issachar moving in a run around the southern part of the mountain to engage the enemy’s troops. They were surrounding the Canaanites.
The thunder began rumbling and shaking the ground under Barak’s feet. The lightning cracked and flashed through the sky lighting up the dark rolling clouds. Then as if on cue the skies opened and rain drops started falling on the Canaanites’ shields. As the ground around them became soaked, these well-disciplined military men became spooked by the sudden change in the weather. And at that moment Barak knew the battle would not last long.
Above the thunder, Barak heard the distinct and clear sound of several shofars from below him. Five thousand Israelite soldiers charged at the chariots with a vengeance, yelling out praise to Jehovah in what appeared to be a suicide attack.
As if driven by instinct, the various commanders of the chariots signaled a charge. But instead of an immediate movement of hundreds of chariots toward the enemy, the horses and chariots bogged down in the fast forming mud beneath them. Many of the drivers jumped from their chariots and manipulated the horses in such a way as to free them from the suction to no avail. The chariots were now stuck fast in the deepening mess.
At the same time that the Israelites charged the chariots the commanders of the cavalry troops signaled a charge to the troops that were flowing down from the mountain. As with the chariots, the horses were unprepared for the mess they encountered in the rising water, the hard rain, and the increasing loss of vision due to the heavy rain and resulting fog. The horses panicked and threw many of their riders into the mud forcing the commanders to order a dismounted charge.
While the cavalrymen worked at forming into lines for the attack, the Israelite army appeared from out of the fog like wild animals ready to pounce on their prey. The Canaanite cavalrymen tried to fight the onslaught; but they were drilled in formation-type attacks, not in guerilla warfare. As cavalry and charioteers seemed to be losing their discipline, they panicked in a mass confusion that allowed the Israelites to run right through their lines killing anyone and everyone that stood in their way.
Blood turned the rain water into a dull red tint surrounding the Canaanite chariots. That water drained toward the infantry following the chariots. As these men caught sight of the red water flowing toward them, anxiety among the troops rose to a level unknown among these hardened soldiers. The rain was so hard and thick that the infantry could not see what was going on ahead of them causing a serious panic.
Unknown to the Canaanite soldiers, Israelites moved down the high ridges looming to their left. Although these attacking troops found themselves sliding down the hills because of the rain, they knew the plan and stayed with their orders and attacked the left flank of the Canaanites screaming, blowing shofars, and swinging their swords and shields above their heads. The wild commotions of the Israelite attackers appeared like monsters to the already confused Canaanite soldiers. They tried to run but found there was nowhere to go. Their panic increased as if like ripples from a stone dropped in the water.
The soldiers marching on either side and behind the chariots were shocked to find that intermingled with the rain drops falling from the sky were thousands of arrows flying toward them from the top of Mt. Tabor and from the hills to the north. Panic spread like a rampant stampede through an unprotected herd of cattle.
When the infantrymen marching near to the war wagons saw the charioteers running for their lives and the charging Israelites charging for them from the mountain, they also began to break ranks and run. Then as the troops on the right flank saw what was happening, they became frightened by the added danger of a large unit of soldiers approaching behind them. With troops on the side of the mountain and troops coming up from the south, the units broke and began running in two or three directions, but for the most part they joined the charioteers heading toward the southwest and home.
To cap off the panic in the pouring rain, the Israelite soldiers attacked the right flank following the attack from the rear of the Canaanite army. Forty thousand soldiers found themselves trapped between three mountains and what appeared to them to be fifty or sixty thousand enemy soldiers who were intent on slicing every Canaanite to shreds. The panic spread throughout Sisera’s entire military. All this was unknown to the general as he concentrated on leading his army to victory, he thought.