Friday, May 28, 2010

Old Testament Lesson #22 "The Lord Looketh on the Heart"

1 Samuel 9-11; 13; 15-17

In each of our lives, there comes a situation in which God our Father expects us to conquer a problem that is clearly far beyond our ability.  But if we make the attempt, we find that He will step in at the crucial moment and bring us off conquerors through His grace.  The classic example of this principle is the story of David and Goliath.


It's helpful when reading the story of David and Goliath, to know that it is a composite of two different accounts, and is therefore not told in a perfectly chronological order (Harper-Collins Study Bible, p. 443).  For example, 1 Sam. 17:1-11 comes from one account, and verse 12 to the end of the chapter comes from the other.


The location of the battle in chapter 17 was between a small town (Shochoh) in the hills 14 miles west of Bethlehem, and a fortress (Azekah) a few miles northwest of that town (Harper-Collins Study Bible, p. 443).  The Philistines were challenging the Israelites, but not in the way the Israelites were used to.  The Philistines used champion fighting frequently and employed that tactic here.  Rather than a classic battle wherein all the soldiers on both sides fought each other, the greatest soldier, or champion, from one side would fight the champion from the other side to the death, and the outcome of that single fight would determine the outcome of the war.  It was therefore quite a gamble, but if one side had a particularly amazing soldier, it was a pretty good bet for them.  Such was the case with "the champion of Gath," Goliath.  Champion fighting not being the tradition of the Israelites, they did not have a ready contender, and were looking, unsuccessfully, for a volunteer when David arrived on the scene.


The Bible tells us that Goliath's height was six cubits and a span.  This translates to be nine feet nine inches tall (Institute Manual, p. 278).  The Septuagint (or original Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible) and the Dead Sea Scrolls both report that Goliath was four cubits and a span, which would make him a more reasonable size of six feet nine inches tall.  Either way, he was a pretty big guy.

Goliath's coat of armour weighed the equivalent of 5,000 shekels of brass, estimated to be 150 pounds (Institute Manual, p. 278).  He had a helmet of brass, brass shinguards, and a brass neckguard (footnotes to 1 Sam. 17:6).  By all of this information, we then can see that Goliath's only vital exposed spot would have been his face.

Goliath's weaponry was state-of-the-art.  The spearhead alone of his javelin weighed either 12 or 26 pounds, depending on which Bible scholar you read.  "The staff of his spear was like a weaver's beam" (1 Sam. 17:7), which "probably means that the spear had a thong attached to a ring, similar to the rod and ring of a weaver's heddle rod, by which the spear could be slung in battle.  The spearhead is iron, a metal harder than bronze that was available because of new metalworking techniques being introduced in the region at the time; according to biblical tradition, the Philistines carefully controlled the new technology" (Harper-Collins, p. 444).  In addition to his armour and his weapon, he had a shield-bearer in front of him. 

Goliath was a truly formidable foe.


David, as we all know, was an accidental soldier.  He was actually a shepherd and a musician, a younger brother of three of the soldiers, and was at the battle only as an errand boy, although it is mentioned in the scriptures that he was a shield-bearer for Saul.  (This is another good time to remember that the story might be slightly chronologically confused.)

"All the men of Israel, when they saw [Goliath], fled from him and were sore afraid" (1 Sam. 17:24).  David, disgusted with the lack of faith in Saul's army, volunteered to be the Israelite champion, saying, "Who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God? (1 Sam. 17:26).  He tried wearing King Saul's armour, but was unaccustomed to it (1 Sam. 17:38-39).  So he worked with what he had.  He used the skills he had gained as a shepherd and the weapons he used against wild animals who attacked his sheep (1 Sam. 17:34-36).  He used the faith he had gained when the Lord spared him from the bear and the lion in those incidents to assure himself that the Lord would save him again (1 Sam. 17:37).  Like Hannah, in the previous lesson, David had an eye of faith.

His weapon was a shepherd's sling which consisted of a small piece of leather to house a stone, with long strings on either side, which the person would grasp, one string between his fingers, and the other between his index finger and thumb, whirl around his head, and then release his thumb, thus flinging the stone.  "A greater distance from the axis of rotation creates more velocity, enabling the slinger to hurl a projectile with violently destructive force. However before this can become a weapon the slinger must achieve a proper marriage of power and accuracy. This requires an abundance of practice and patience, unlike most point & shoot weapons of today." (Quote from  This link also has instructions for making your own shepherd's sling--cool!)

David used his own specific talents and resources, but most of all, he relied on God.  "Then said David to the Philistine, Thou comest to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a shield: but I come to thee in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast defied. This day will the Lord deliver thee into mine hand; and I will smite thee, and take thine head from thee; and I will give the carcases of the host of the Philistines this day unto the fowls of the air, and to the wild beasts of the earth; that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel. And all this assembly shall know that the Lord saveth not with sword and spear: for the battle is the Lord's, and he will give you into our hands" (1 Sam., 17:45-47).

Following this courageous and faith-filled statement, David ran toward Goliath, slung his stone, and downed the gigantic Philistine with his first shot, accurately striking his one vulnerable spot: the forehead between his eyes.  David, who didn't have a sword of his own, cut off Goliath's head with his own sword.


There is a beautiful symbolism in the defeating of Goliath with a rock.  Jehovah was the rock in whom David trusted.  As Hannah sang, "There is none holy as the Lord: for there is none beside thee: neither is there any rock like our God" (1 Sam. 2:2).  Christ said of himself, "Wherefore I am in your midst, and I am the good shepherd, and the stone of Israel.  He that buildeth upon this rock shall never fall" (D&C 50:44).


In our society, in our families, and in our personal lives, what are the battles we face against overwhelming odds?  Do we have specific Goliaths, problems that seem impossible to conquer?  As we do our best to trust in the Lord, and as we call upon the resources that are available to us, and use the unique skills we have acquired in our lives, the odds will be irrelevant.  "Victory will be yours...You have His power within you to sustain you.  You have the right to ministering angels about you to protect you.  Do not let Goliath frighten you.  Stand your ground and hold your place, and you will be triumphant" (President Gordon B. Hinckley, Ensign, May 1983)

President Ezra Taft Benson kept this verse in his wallet:  "No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall revile against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn.  This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and their righteousness is of me, saith the Lord" (Isaiah 54: 17; 3 Ne. 22:17; see also D&C 71:19).


The Old Testament Video Presentations has a good 4-minute segment on David and Goliath.

For another blog on David and Goliath, with great illustrations and interesting research into the weaponry and armour of Goliath, check out The Bible Illustration Blog.

Just for fun, here is a video of the delightful Christian a capella group, Take 6, performing "David and Goliath".  See the lyrics here.  (Notice they bring out the fact that David, the musician, trusted in the "Rock of Ages.")

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Old Testament Lesson #21 God Will Honor Those Who Honor Him

1 Samuel 2-3; 8

(Teachers may want to have a vision screening chart posted at the front of the classroom.) 

How important is your vision?  Imagine for just a minute what it would be like to become blind.  If you wear contacts or glasses, remember what it was like to put them on for the first time.  What if we didn't have glasses?

"The light of the body is the eye: therefore when thine eye is single, thy whole body also is full of light; but when thine eye is evil, thy body also is full of darkness" (Luke 11:34).

Now think about your spiritual vision, "the light of the body."  Do you remember what it was like before you had the amount of faith you do now?  What if we didn't have scriptures, prayer, a prophet, commandments?  How little would we be able to see?

"And there were many whose faith was so exceedingly strong, even before Christ came, who could not be kept from within the veil, but truly saw with their eyes the things which they had beheld with an eye of faith, and they were glad" (Ether 12:19).

Even with glasses, there are limits to our vision.  There are things to see beyond the abilities of the human eye.  Scientists working with infrared light must trust their instruments to see things that are beyond their own vision.  So do doctors using MRIs and CT scans.  Faith is vision beyond our own spiritual eyes, trusting in the Lord to see for us.

"Ye cannot behold with your natural eyes...the design of God...and the glory which shall follow after much tribulation" (D&C 58:3).


(In the Old Testament Video Presentations, there is a nice 3-minute segment about Hannah.)

Hannah was so emotionally stricken by her lack of children that she could not eat.  She was sick with worry, and terribly sad.  But after visiting the temple and being promised of the prophet that she would have a child, she "went her way, and did eat, and her countenance was no more sad" (1 Sam. 1:18).  This little sentence tells us a lot: that before she even left the temple, Hannah was certain her prayer would be answered.  She had a true eye of faith.

Hannah offered her only son as a Nazarite for life.  She apparently went beyond the basic Nazarite requirements found in Numbers 6 (never cutting hair, touching a dead body, or consuming alcohol), to actually "lend him to the Lord" for a lifetime of service at the temple (1 Sam. 1:11,27-28).  This might have meant that she was giving up her security in old age, as well as the progeny of her family if he did not marry--almost all the material reasons why a woman would have wanted a son--for the joy of being a mother.  Offering to give the thing she wanted the most proved her worthiness to the Lord.

Although Hannah gave her child Samuel to the Lord, she still acted as a mother for him, and expressed her love for him with the annual visit and coat (1 Sam. 2:19).


The following psalm is a classic form of Hebrew poetry called "synonymous parallelism," which means it says the same thing multiple times, each time in a slightly different way:

"(1)The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul:
"(2)The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. 
"(3)The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart:
"(4)The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes...
"More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb" (Psalm 19:7-8,10). 

So by keeping the commandments,

(1)our souls become converted, which is the same as saying
(2)we become wise, which is the same as saying
(3)our hearts are rejoiced, which is the same as saying
(4)our spiritual eyes are enlightened. 

This is the simple process by which we develop an eye of faith. 

But didn't Hannah have a whole different set of commandments than we do?  In detail, yes, but in spirit, exactly the same:  the shema.  (See "Prayers" in a a previous post.)

The shema is found in all four of our books of scripture:
  • Old Testament:  Deut 6:5
  • New Testament: Matt. 22:36-40
  • Book of Mormon:  Moro. 10:32 
  • Latter-day Revelation:  D&C 59:5
1 Cor. 13:13 tells us love is greater than faith.  Why?  Because faith is fueled by love (Gal. 5:6).  Without love, there is no faith.  As we know and love the Lord more, and have more experiences with His love, our faith and trust in Him grows.

So how can we learn to love the Lord more?  (Scripture study, service to others, Sabbath observance, etc.)  It all comes down to keeping the commandments.  When we understand this, we can see that John 14:15 is actually a redundant statement:  "If ye love me, keep my commandments."  The two parts of that sentence are the same thing, stated in different ways.

"If ye love me, keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever" (John 14:15-16).  Keeping the commandments brings the Spirit to us.  The Holy Ghost is our infrared camera, our MRI, our guide beyond what we can see.


There is a little parable about a child who has a string of dime-store pearls.  They are her dearest treasure.  Her father asks her to give him the pearls.  He gives her no reason except to prove her love for him.  She hesitates for a long time while he continues to ask.  Finally, she gives him the pearls, and is surprised to receive from him in exchange..a real pearl necklace.

Anytime we give something to the Lord in faith, we come out ahead.  So it was with Hannah.  "And Eli blessed Elkanah and his wife, and said, The Lord give thee seed of this woman for the loan which is lent to the Lord. And they went unto their own home. And the Lord visited Hannah, so that she conceived, and bare three sons and two daughters" (1 Sam. 2:20-21).  Hannah did not ask for anything beyond the one son, but because of her faith and commitment, the Lord gave her much more than she asked for.

D&C 59:5, the Latter-day statement equivalent to the shema, reads, "Wherefore, I give unto them a commandment, saying thus: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy might, mind, and strength; and in the name of Jesus Christ thou shalt serve him" (D&C 59:5).  The "wherefore" in this sentence signifies that the reason for this commandment is given before it:  "Behold, blessed, saith the Lord, are they who have come up unto this land with an eye single to my glory, according to my commandments. For those that live shall inherit the earth, and those that die shall rest from all their labors, and their works shall follow them; and they shall receive a crown in the mansions of my Father, which I have prepared for them. Yea, blessed are they whose feet stand upon the land of Zion, who have obeyed my gospel; for they shall receive for their reward the good things of the earth, and it shall bring forth in its strength. And they shall also be crowned with blessings from above, yea, and with commandments not a few, and with revelations in their time—they that are faithful and diligent before me" (D&C 59:1-4).

In order to develop this "eye of faith" that brings such great rewards, we must learn to be guided by the commandment: to love the Lord our God in everything we do.  The more we love Him, the more we trust Him, the more we find we can live by faith, the more wise and joyful we will be.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Old Testament Lesson #20 "All the City...Doth Know Thou Art a Virtuous Woman"

Ruth; 1 Samuel 1

The scriptures are full of treasure hunts and mysteries.  If we hunt through the genealogy of Christ as recorded by Matthew, we find an odd collection of women mentioned:  Tamar (Thamar), Rahab (Rachab), Ruth, and Bathsheba ("her that had been the wife of Urias") (Matthew 1:1-17).  Matthew's purpose in writing his gospel was to convert the Jews to Christ, and so he specifically chose to mention those ancestors who had significance to the Jews.  It's unusual that women would be mentioned at all--Luke's genealogy of Christ contains only the men (Luke 3:23-38)--but we find amazing treasures and mysteries in those particular women mentioned by Matthew.  Not one of them had a perfect, traditional family situation.  Each was faced with trying circumstances specifically relating to motherhood.  Bathsheba had an extramarital affair with a king who then arranged the death of her husband so that he could marry her; Tamar was the twice widowed abandoned unwed mother of twins; Rahab was a converted Canaanite harlot, who endured the destruction of her entire city, integrated into a different culture, and raised a son whom we will see was a type of Christ; and that son's wife, Ruth, was a converted Moabite, a widowed pauper, who proposed her own marriage to a man much older than herself, and was undoubtedly not the first wife.  It is Ruth's story that we tell today.


In the Old Testament, and up until the time of Christ, many of the Jews became obsessed with "the letter of the law," completely missing "the spirit of the law."  What is really the difference between the two?  One word:  Love.  The spirit of the law is found in the shema:  "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might" (Deut. 6:4-5).  (See "Prayers" in a previous post.)  The Book of Ruth is a beautiful story, tucked amid many bizarre and brutal accounts of justice twisted into vengeance, a perfect example of a family who lived the whole law, letter and spirit.


The levirate law is found in Deut. 25:5-10, the first part of which is: "If brethren dwell together, and one of them die, and have no child, the wife of the dead shall not marry without unto a stranger: her husband's brother shall go in unto her, and take her to him to wife, and perform the duty of an husband's brother unto her."  If the brother refuses, the woman has the right to confront him in front of the city elders, who then defend her case, and if he still refuses, he is shamed, but the woman is left destitute.  Tamar was one who was dealt a terrible injustice when this law was not administered to her.  (See Gen. 38, and "Opposites" in a previous entry.)

In the first chapter of Ruth, we find a family of three women who all have been widowed: Naomi and her two daughters-in-law.  Naomi was an Israelite living in the land of the Moabites, about 30-40 miles from her homeland (Old Testament Institute Manual, p. 262).  The Moabite god was Chemosh or Molech, and his worship was the cruelest idolatry known, involving horrific child sacrifice (Institute Manual, p. 247).  Clearly, Naomi's daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth, were converts to the gospel, or she would have been appalled at her sons' marriages.

At the deaths of her sons and the end of the famine that had brought her to Moab, Naomi decided to return to her kinsmen where she hoped to be cared for by family as tradition dictated.  She sent her daughters-in-law back to their families for their own welfare, since she had no other son for them to marry (vs. 11-13).  Orpah went back to her family, but Ruth "clave" unto Naomi, with the beautiful words, "Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me" (vs. 16-17).  By staying with her mother-in-law, Ruth knew that she may be condemning herself to death by poverty, but she wanted to watch over her mother-in-law.   In addition, she was true to the gospel and likely wanted to live among the believers.  And so together they traveled back to Bethlehem.

Ruth ignored the letter of the law, and kept the spirit of the law, loving the Lord her God, and her mother-in-law as herself.


The law of welfare practiced by the Israelites is stated in Lev. 19:9-10:  "And when ye reap the harvest of your land, thou shalt not wholly reap the corners of thy field, neither shalt thou gather the gleanings of thy harvest.  And thou shalt not glean thy vineyard, neither shalt thou gather every grape of thy vineyard; thou shalt leave them for the poor and stranger:  I am the Lord your God."

Ruth and Naomi were "welfare cases" and therefore Ruth went to glean in the fields.  Providently, she happened to glean in the fields of a near kinsman to her father-in-law named Boaz.  Boaz asked his servant who she was, and the servant answered that she was the Moabite who had come back with Naomi.  Boaz treated Ruth with great kindness, calling her "daughter," telling her to glean only in his fields, commanding his reapers to leave extra for her.  In one day, she gleaned an ephah of barley, or 2/3rds of a bushel (Bible Dictionary).  Stunned at Boaz's generosity, she asked his reason.  Boaz replied that her reputation had preceded her, since she had been so unusually kind as to leave her ethnic homeland and care for her mother-in-law.

Boaz kept both the letter and the spirit of the law, motivated by the love he saw Ruth exercising toward Naomi.


The law of the Moabite in the congregation stated that "An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord; even to their tenth generation shall they not enter into the congregation of the Lord for ever: because they met you not with bread and with water in the way when ye came forth out of Egypt; and because they hired against thee Balaam the son of Beor of Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse thee...Thou shalt not seek their peace nor their prosperity all thy days for ever" (Deut. 23:3-6).  (See a previous post for the story of Balaam.)

So by her birth, Ruth was not just a second-class citizen in Israel, but was not allowed at all.  The reasons were that not only did the Moabites refuse aid to Israel, they also led the Israelites into idolatry.  Ruth, however, did the opposite of both of these:  She aided Naomi at the peril of her own life, and she converted completely from idolatry.  Boaz and the community all recognized this: "The Lord recompense thy work, and a full reward be given thee of the Lord God of Israel, under whose wings thou art come to trust" (Ruth 2:12). 

Naomi counseled Ruth to propose a Levirate marriage to Boaz, and Ruth boldly followed through.  This turnabout was probably necessary, since the elderly Boaz was not the closest kinsman, and did not expect young Ruth to desire to be his wife.  Boaz said, "And now, my daughter, fear not; I will do to thee all that thou requirest: for all the city of my people doth know that thou art a virtuous woman" (Ruth 3:10).  The name Boaz meant "in him is strength, swiftness, quickness" (footnote to Ruth 2:1).  Boaz lived up to his name, as Naomi testified, "Sit still, my daughter, until thou know how the matter will fall: for the man will not be in rest, until he have finished the thing this day" (Ruth 3:18).


The levirate law was also called the law of the near kinsman (or go'el).  The word levirate is taken from the Latin word levir, meaning "husband's brother."  As stated above, the brother of a dead man was expected to marry his widow for the purposes of 1) saving her life, 2) returning her to her former status, and 3) providing seed to perpetuate her family.  If there was no brother, the next nearest kinsman was to take the role.  In the case of Boaz and Ruth, there was a closer kinsman, but Boaz emphasized that Ruth was a Moabitess (vs. 5) when approaching this man with her case, and the man rejected her, freeing Boaz to be her go'el.  This word go'el literally translates to "redeemer," and was borrowed by the later prophets to describe Jesus Christ's role (Institute Manual, p. 230, 263). 

Boaz acted as a true redeemer to Ruth and Naomi, and kept the whole law, letter and spirit, restoring to them all they had lost.

The community issued love and good wishes upon the marriage, hearkening back to their revered ancestors, Rachel, Leah, and Tamar (vs. 11-12).  They said that Ruth was better to Naomi than seven sons (vs. 15).  The number seven in Hebrew means perfection, so it really doesn't get any better than that.

The neighbors appropriately called Ruth Naomi's daughter-in-law, as did the narrator, but Naomi never did.  Six times in the story she refered to Ruth as "my daughter," evidence of her great love for Ruth.  Boaz did the same (except when downplaying her qualities in the presence of the other near kinsman).


The story of Boaz and Ruth is the story of Christ and us. Christ is our near kinsman, who 1) saves us from death, 2) raises us from our fallen state, and 3) gives us eternal increase.  He is the family member who redeems us, the destitute. 

Christ exercises both justice and mercy, the letter and spirit of the law.

We as Latter-day Saints have many commandments to obey.  We could write an enormous, long list.  But when Jesus was asked which of all the laws was most important, He quoted the shema: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.  This is the first and great commandment.  And the second is like unto it; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets" (Matt. 22:37-40).  Paul explained further, "He that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.  For [all the commandments are] briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.  Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law" (Rom. 13:8-10).  Christ (Jehovah) taught it; Paul explained it; Naomi, Ruth and Boaz lived it.  As long as we act in love, we need not fear missing the spirit of any law.

John issued this injunction to us:  "Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.  He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.  In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.  Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.  Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another" (1 John 4:7-11).

Note:  I chose to focus only on Ruth and cover Hannah and 1 Samuel in the next blog entry.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Old Testament Lesson #19 "The Reign of the Judges"

Judges 2; 4; 6-7; 13-16

According to Camille Fronk Olson, "The title of judge assumed neither a line of succession, nor permanent assignment, nor absolute power.  It is uncertain whether judges were called to serve by the Lord or by the voice of the people.  Whatever the case, they appear to have been selected because of their particular wisdom, valor, leadership capacity, or trust in the divine" (Women of the Old Testament, p. 112).

Twelve judges are itemized in the Book of Judges:  Othneil, Ehud, Shamgar, Deborah, Gideon, Tola, Jair, Jephtha, Ibzan, Elon, Abdon,and Samson.  "Six of the judges probably acted as strong tribal leaders rather than heroic deliverers and are mentioned only briefly; however, stories of the other six judges are full of heroic deeds and colorful episodes...

"In these charismatic judge stories, a pattern repeats itself over and over as it does in the Book of Mormon. The Israelites do that which is wrong in the sight of the Lord; they forget their covenant with the Lord and choose to follow the beguiling gods of other peoples. They are tested and tried by one or another of the other peoples in Canaan until the Israelites remember their covenants (Judg. 2:20–23; Judg. 3:1–4).  After some years of tribulation and regret, the Israelites remember the Lord and repent of their wickedness; they cry out for help. A leader arises who, with the Lord’s help, saves the people from their oppressors. The people then enjoy peace for a time...

"Samson followed the sin-chastisement-repentance-deliverance pattern in his own life as he waged his war against the Philistines (Judg. 14–16)"  (Kristen E. Lichman, "Deborah and the Book of Judges," Ensign, January 1990).


"Although they didn’t hold the priesthood and did not have equal authority with the prophets, prophetesses—inspired women with strong testimonies called upon by the Lord to perform various tasks—do not seem to have been unusual in ancient Israel. The writer of the book of Judges shows no astonishment concerning Deborah’s role as prophetess, judge, and deliverer" (Lichman).

The amazing story of the battle involving Deborah is briefly told in a page and a half of scripture (Judg. 4), repeated in another page and a half (Judg. 5) in poetic form.  The children of Israel were confronted by the Canaanites.  Barak, an Israelite captain, was called upon by Deborah to lead the battle, and to muster "ten thousand men" (Judg. 4:6). The word alafim, translated as "thousand" in military passages in the Old Testament, probably means a unit of professional soldiers, possibly 300 men (Harper-Collins Study Bible, p. 381; "A Problem With Numbers", LDS Institute Old Testament Student Manual, Enrichment Section E; Olson, Women of the Old Testament, p. 116).  This might possibly mean that Barak's army consisted of 3,000 troops.  However, it is not necessary to know the number of soldiers to know that the Israelites were vastly outnumbered, once we read that the Canaanites had an army of "chariots of iron," (very possibly the actual number given, 900) accompanying their "host" or army of foot soldiers (Judg. 4:13,15).

"The Canaanites...used chariots as their primary weapon.  Three fully armed [soldiers] rode in each chariot box: one guided the chariot, one attacked with a sword or lance, and one guarded the occupants from enemy blows with a large shield.  In all probability, the entire chariot would not have been made of iron, but the chariot box would have been plated with iron with, perhaps, iron scythes projecting from the axle on either side to protect the lower body of the soldiers who drove it" (Olson, p. 119).

Chariots, of course, had wheels and were therefore only functional on fairly flat land.  They could not attack Barak and his troops while they were camped on Mount Tabor.  But the Lord had said to Barak through Deborah, "I will draw unto thee to the river Kishon[,] Sisera, the captain of [the Canaanite] army, with his chariots and his multitude; and I will deliver him into thine hand" (Judg. 4:7).

Barak was very frightened to fight this battle and refused to go unless Deborah was there to lead with him (verse 8).  Deborah must have been extremely courageous (or in other words, filled with faith), for Barak, although apparently lacking faith in himself and in the Lord, had faith in her presence. Barak's name means "lightning" (see Bible Dictionary), perhaps a foreshadowing of the way in which the Lord would fight his battle.  Was Barak's lack of faith the reason that, although in the previous verse the Lord said he would deliver Sisera into Barak's hand (verse 7), in the following verse Deborah said that the battle would not be for Barak's honor, but that the Lord would give the victory to a woman (verse 9), a gutsy, daring, clever woman like Deborah?

So the Israelites descended from the mountain and entered the valley where they were wholly exposed to the fearsome state-of-the-art weapons of destruction, the chariots.


In the first telling (Judg. 4), we don't get much information about how the battle was actually won. The narrator simply tells us that "the Lord discomfited Sisera and all his chariots and all his host." But in the second telling (Judg. 5), we read, "the earth trembled, and the heavens dropped, the clouds also dropped water. The mountains melted [or quaked] from before the Lord" (verses 4-5). "Zebulun and Naphtali [the tribes that offered the most soldiers for the battle] were a people that jeoparded their lives unto the death in the high places of the field. The kings came and fought, then fought the kings of Canaan in Taanach by the waters of Megiddo; they took no gain of money. They fought from heaven; the stars in their courses fought against Sisera. The river of Kishon swept them away, that ancient river, the river Kishon. O my soul, thou hast trodden down strength. Then were the horsehoofs broken by the means of the pransings, the pransings of their mighty ones" (verses 18-22).

You can view pictures of Megiddo and the Jezreel Valley at

"Megiddo was a strategically located fortified city that had not yet been conquered by the Israelites.  Taanach was a swampy, poorly drained area of the Jezreel Valley that easily flooded when the nearby Kishon River overran its bounds in a rainstorm" (Olson, p. 120).

The Kishon River

So the battle was fought "from heaven" by way of a thunderstorm and flash flood.  The mighty instruments of death, the chariots, were stuck in the mud, their unshod horses breaking their hooves, and leaving the soldiers stationery and vulnerable.  The ancient historian Josephus adds that a fierce wind accompanied the storm, which blew into the faces of the Canaanites, but at the backs of the Israelites, furthering Barak's advantage" (Antiquities, 5.5.4, quoted in Olson).

Sisera himself fled the battle, and sought asylum at the camp of Heber the Kenite, where Heber's wife, Jael, agreed to hide the captain of the Canaanite host, and then easily killed him with a tent peg (they were about 3 feet long) as he slept.

The messages of the story are clear: 
1) When God has commanded us, it does not matter that the odds are stacked against us: our battle will be fought from heaven.
2) If we fear our challenges and lack faith that the Lord will magnify our abilities to meet them, we may lose opportunities for honor and success.
3) Sometimes the most unlikely people can do the most earth-shattering things. Neither Deborah nor Jael had any military training or responsibility, yet they secured the heroic victory.


For an interesting parallel in Latter-day Saint history, refer to the incident at Fishing River, in History of the Church Vol. 2, pp. 103-105.  As Zion's Camp arrived at Fishing River, just outside of Jackson County, Missouri, on June 19, 1834, a fierce storm arose.  Joseph Smith prophecied, "God is in this storm."  As they set up camp for the night, an angry mob of 200-300, fully equipped to attack them was gathering on the other side of Fishing River.  As the fury of the storm hit, "the earth trembled and quaked, the rain fell in torrents, and united, it seemed as if the mandate of vengeance had gone forth from the God of battles, to protect His servants from the destruction of their enemies, for the hail fell on them and not on us, and we suffered no harm, except the blowing down of some of our tents, and getting wet; while our enemies had holes made in their hats, and otherwise received damage, even the breaking of their rifle stocks, and the fleeing of their horses through fear and pain.

"Many of [our] little band sheltered in an old meetinghouse through this night, and in the morning the water in Big Fishing river was about forty feet deep, where, the previous evening, it was no more than to our ankles, and our enemies swore that the water rose thirty feet in thirty minutes in the Little Fishing river."  After enduring a fearsome night of injury and loss of property and witnessing one of their number being killed by lightning, the attacking party disbanded, declaring that "if that was the way God fought for the Mormons, they might as well go about their business."  

(A slide show of photographs of the Fishing River area with a brief narrative can be viewed at


(The best information and analysis of the story of Samson that I can find is in the LDS Institute Old Testament Manual.)