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Who Was Barak In The Bible?

The fourth and fifth chapters of Judges tell the extraordinary story of the Hebrew warrior Barak. God used Barak, the prophetess Deborah, and a Kenite woman named Jael to deliver the Israelites from the Canaanites. These unlikely heroes scored a great victory that brought peace to the Israelites for forty years.  

Barak is a relatively obscure person in the Old Testament, yet he made it on the list of heroes of faith in Hebrews 11. Who was he? What did he do to save Israel? What can we learn about his life? Let’s dig into the Book of Judges to find out!

What do we know about Barak?

Barak appears in Judges 4 and 5, 1 Samuel 12, and Hebrews 11. Barak’s name meant “flash of lightning,” which suggests sudden power from heaven. Barak was the son of Abinoam from the city of Kedesh in Naphtali. We don’t know anything about his father, Abinoam.

The land of Naphtali was just south of Syria and on the western and northern shores of the Sea of Galilee. Since Barak lived in Naphtali, he was probably a member of the Naphtali tribe. But he may also have been a Levite. Kedesh was a city of refuge and also one of the cities where the priestly Levite tribe lived. However, the Levites typically didn’t go out to war, so Barak was more likely from the tribe of Naphtali.

What is the story of Deborah and Barak?

The story takes place during the Period of Judges. By this point, the Israelites had left Egypt, wandered in the desert for forty years, and then crossed the Jordan River into the Promised Land with Joshua. After Joshua died, the Israelites kept straying away into idolatry, worshiping the false gods of the people of Canaan. God punished them for their idolatry by allowing the other nations to conquer or harass them.

When the Israelites got tired of being oppressed by the other nations, they would cry out to God for help. God sent them judges who were often prophets (and one prophetess). These judges had multiple functions. One job was to settle problems between the people. Another job was to lead the military against the non-Israelite people who were oppressing them.

However, in Barak’s day, the judge was a woman, Deborah. She is the only woman judge mentioned in Scripture. She was a judge in a dark time for the Israelites. Judges 5 says the highways were deserted, and travelers took the byways. The main roads must have had bandits or been controlled by the Canaanites, so the Israelites were sneaking around, trying to keep out of sight. Judges 5 also says that among 40,000 in Israel, no one had a shield or spear.

The Israelites cried out to God for deliverance from the Canaanite king Jabin and his fierce commander Sisera. Deborah called for Barak and gave him God’s message:

“God is commanding you to march to Mount Tabor with 10,000 men from the tribes of Naphtali and Zebulun. He says, ‘I will draw out Sisera with his chariots and troops to the River Kishon. I will deliver him into your hand.’”

Barak knew God’s anointing was on Deborah, and he was afraid to go to war without her. “If you will go with me, I will go; but if you will not go with me, I will not go.”

Israelite women did not go out to war. At no time did God ever call women to battle. They didn’t have the physical strength of the men. The younger women would have had children who needed their care at home. Deborah was called a “mother of Israel” in Judges 5. She was probably middle-aged or older but was not trained in warfare.  

Deborah agreed to go with Barak but told him, “You won’t get the honor. The Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.”

What did Barak do in the Bible?

Deborah and Barak traveled to his hometown of Kadesh, where he assembled an army of 10,000 soldiers from the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali. The Israeli tribes of Ephraim, Benjamin, and Issachar also provided soldiers. But the tribe of Reuben couldn’t decide what to do. The tribes of Gilead, Dan, and Assher all stayed behind.

The kings of Canaan lined up to fight Barak and his troops. Sisera had 900 iron chariots and a massive force of foot soldiers. Deborah was there with Barak and his men. She gave him God’s word: “Get up! This is the day that the Lord had delivered Sisera into your hand. The Lord has gone before you!”

Barak led his men in a charge down Mount Tabor. The Lord went in front of him and confused and scattered the Canaanite soldiers. A downpour flooded the River Kishon and swept Sisera’s men away. An earthquake shook the land. Sisera’s chariot must have gotten stuck in the mud. Sisera abandoned it and ran off on foot. Barak chased after the Canaanite army, and the Israelites killed every single man in Sisera’s army.

Sisera got separated from his army when he ran away. He came to the tent of Heber the Kenite. Who were the Kenites? They weren’t Israelites. They were a different tribe. Moses’s father-in-law was Jethro, the Kenite, the priest of Midian. The Kenites sometimes allied with the Israelites against common enemies. The Kenites were nomadic herders, traveling with sheep, goats, and cattle. Heber had separated from his tribespeople and pitched his tent near Kedesh.

Heber had lived in peace with King Jabin, so Sisera thought he had reached a place of safety when he approached Heber’s tent. Heber was apparently out with his flocks (or maybe even fighting with the Israelites). Only his wife, Jael, was home. She greeted him warmly, “Come inside, my lord. Don’t be afraid.

Commander Sisera was exhausted and thirsty, so he came inside, and she covered him with a blanket. He asked for a little water, and she gave him milk. Sisera asked Jael to stand guard at the entrance to the tent, and then he fell into a deep sleep.

But Jael took a tent peg, grabbed a hammer, and silently snuck up on Sisera. She drove the peg through his temple and into the ground, and he died. Soon after, Barak arrived, looking for Sisera, and she showed him his dead body in her tent.

Israel’s great victory (with the help of the Kenite woman Jael) subdued King Jabin’s power and brought peace for forty years.

Strengths and weaknesses of Barak?

Barak recognized God’s authority when Deborah relayed God’s command. But his obedience to God rested on whether Deborah would go with him. He was willing to put a woman in danger because of his lack of faith. He was trusting her more than he was trusting God. God wanted to do incredible things through him directly, but Barak faltered in faith. For this reason, even though Barak did an awesome job of leading his men to victory, he didn’t get the full honor. In the song sung by Barak and Deborah (Judges 5), they sang, “Most blessed among women is Jael.”

What can we learn from Barak?

God often uses us despite our frailties and faults. He certainly used Barak to accomplish His ends against the idol-worshiping Canaanites. Although Barak’s faith faltered, he obeyed God’s command and fought with audacity and power. Ultimately, God did honor Barak for his obedience and courage. In 1 Samuel 12:11, he is listed with three other heroes, through whom God delivered the Israelites from the hands of their enemies all around them, so that they lived in safety.

In Hebrews 11:32-34, Barak was honored along with David, Samson, and other great heroes:

  • “And what more shall I say? Time will not allow me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the raging fire, and escaped the edge of the sword; who gained strength from weakness, became mighty in battle, and put foreign armies to flight.”


The Bible says in Judges 5:20 that “from the heavens, the stars fought against Sisera.” Barak led human men into the war, but heavenly beings also fought on his side.

Always remember that earthly battles are often heavenly battles. Some of our battles are fighting against personal sin. Sometimes, we’re breaking down the strongholds of evil by winning people to Christ or building the church in places of darkness. We’re never on our own when we’re fighting for the glory of God. Spiritual forces are also at work on our behalf!

  • “For though we live in the flesh, we do not wage war according to the flesh. The weapons of our warfare are not the weapons of the world. Instead, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We tear down arguments and every presumption set up against the knowledge of God; and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5)
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