Barak Character Bible Study Background and Lessons
Meaning of name: Lightning
Ancestry and family life: His father was Abinoam. He was descended from the tribe of Naphtali. This wasn’t one of the well known, powerful, or famous tribes. This was the Northernmost tribe in Israel and much of bordered on the Sea of Galilee.
When and where he lived: Barak lived during the time of Deborah, who judged Israel after Ehud died. This was very early on in the time of the judges. The people of Israel had turned away from God again. They followed God while Ehud lived, but when his influence was gone, they quickly fell away from the Lord. This is a recurring theme throughout the book of Judge where we this “circle” happening over and over. First the people faithfully follow God and worship Him only. Later they rebel against Him and are ensnared by false idols. So God sends other nations to discipline them. In the midst of their judgment, the people realize their mistake and turn back to the Lord again. When they do, He sends a judge to deliver them. During the lifetime of this judge the people generally follow after God, but after he dies the cycle starts anew.
Throughout the book we see God consistently disciplined them for their rebellion. In this case He gave them over to a king called Jabin. He is titled as the “king of Canaan.” This leads me to believe that he had united many of the various tribes and cities of Canaan under his banner. His army commander was Sisera. Their army possessed nine hundred iron chariots. It was fairly rare for armies at that time to have iron chariots at all, much less nine hundred. Therefore their army was significantly stronger than others in the region and Israel had nothing to compare. But remember that it was not because of their army that they dominated the Israelites. It was because God gave them over to Jabin to discipline them for their sin.
When things got tough, the Israelites often called to God for help. This time was no exception. After being oppressed for twenty years (and likely wasting many of those years calling out to idols), the people were finally sufficiently humbled to call out to God for help.
God was faithful. He was ready and willing to forgive them and deliver them if they would acknowledge Him and repent. During this time, there was no king in Israel. God selected judges, who for the most part had a lot of faith, to unite some of the Israelites and deliver His people through a military victory.
Training and occupation: Since the Israelites were subjected to the army of Sisera, they didn’t have any real weapons (see Judges 5:8). This shows that Barak was almost certainly not a career soldier. Israel generally didn’t have a standing army at that time anyway. His occupation could have been farmer, trader, fisherman, shepherd, etc.
Place in history: Barak is mentioned in the “honorable mentions” section of the hall of the faithful in Hebrews 11:32. He faithfully led an army against great odds and helped to deliver his people from under the hand of oppression.
Questions for Discussion:
What kind of person was Barak?
What were his strengths and weaknesses?
Which aspect of his character do you feel you most need to improve in?
What lessons can you learn about God from His life?
1. One clear weakness we can see is in Judges 4:6-8. Deborah was a prophetess. She was acting on God’s behalf and told him that God commanded him to lead the army against Sisera. What should Barak have done? Barak should have obeyed without question, but he was hesitant. He said he would only go if she also went. Why did he give this condition? To some extent, it shows that he lacked faith. Perhaps he superstitiously believed that Deborah as a prophetess would be something like a good luck charm. He might have thought that her presence would guarantee victory.
If so, he was looking at her instead of God for hope and victory. (See Proverbs 21:31.) No person, no army, no weapons, no plan could assure victory. Only God could guarantee it. He should have realized that whether or not Deborah was with them, God was with them. (See cross-references: Exodus 14:14, 2 Chronicles 20:17, Proverbs 15:3, Isaiah 43:2.)
What was the result of Barak’s lack of faith? It appears from Deborah’s answer in Judges 4:9 that God decided to give the honor to someone else (a woman) because he hesitated to obey. Notice that God still brought about the victory. God still delivered them.
Application: Our disobedience or slow obedience primarily hurts ourselves. God does not need us to accomplish His plans. His plans will not be thwarted by our mistakes or unwillingness to participate. But when we wholeheartedly embrace His plan for our life, we will benefit more as we receive the full store of blessings He has planned for us.
2. Lack of leadership – Judges 4-5 are most famous not for Barak, but for Deborah. Feminists point out that Deborah was the leader of Israel, a judge and a prophetess. They use this as an argument for women pastors/teachers in the church. Is this a valid argument? Does the case of Deborah show that women should take the role of pastor in the church?
Remember that one of the most basic rules of Biblical interpretation is to interpret narrative passages in light of didactic (teaching) passages and not the other way around. (See 1 Timothy 2:12-15.)
The New Testament is clear that pastors/elders (see Titus 1 and 1 Timothy 3) should be men. In the church God has given different roles to different people for the same common goal (1 Corinthians 12). Deborah herself was not under New Testament teachings or principles about the church.
A. Why was Deborah a judge when God’s normal model is for male leadership? This is a tough question because in this historical account we are not given all of the information. Another question is, “why do so many house churches in rural areas of third world countries have female pastors?”
The answer to both could be that men are not stepping up to take the leadership as they should. In the void of proper, biblical leadership, ladies step in. During the time of Deborah, it was a messy time for Israel. Judges 5:15-17 shows us that even when Barak went to war, many of the tribes refused to help. There were a lot of cowards. There were a lot of wimps. There were a lot of men who were not acting like men. They refused to go to war. And they refused to be leaders.
In the modern day era, this often happens. Men are scared or lazy to be the leaders that God has called them to be. So women step in. Then because women are doing it, it gives the guys another excuse not to. And so the problem intensifies and bad habits are reinforced.
What is the solution? What should the women do?
Sometimes breaking bad habits requires an awkward adjustment period. Here are a few examples of bad habits that need to be broken:
B. Sometimes in a group of believers, for whatever reason, many do not want to pray aloud. Perhaps it is shyness. Perhaps it is a feeling of inadequacy. Perhaps it is an apathetic heart that doesn’t care about praying. Perhaps it is an “I hope they will pray so I don’t have to” attitude. The leader can see that no one is praying and jump in to avoid the awkward silence. If he does, the participants are conditioned to sit back in silence the next time. Or he can allow the awkward silence to continue as long as necessary until people begin to pray.
C. The same principle applies to asking a question to a group. Sometimes no one answers. Should the leader just answer his own question? That is the easiest way, but not necessarily the best way. An awkward silence may be necessary to encourage people to answer questions and participate.
D. A teacher can solve the math problem for a student or patiently wait as long as it takes until he figures it out for himself. What will the student learn in each case?
E. A parent can hold their child and carry them off the top of a playground or patiently wait until the child figures out how to climb down himself. What will the child learn in the two cases?
Men and Women’s Roles:
Galatians 3:28 – There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
While God does call for men to be leaders in the church, this does not mean that women are not important or less valuable in any way. According to Galatians 3:28 every person in the body of Christ is of equal value. Equal value, however, does not mean God made us clones. Men and women have equal value, but different, complementary roles.
And men should remember that being a leader is a big responsibility and not one to use selfishly. What does God require of a leader?
Let’s spend a few minutes discussing two questions.
1. What is Biblical leadership?
a) Servant – Mark 10:45, 1 Peter 5:1-7
b) Sacrificial – Mark 10:45, 1 Corinthians 9:12,18
c) Loving – Ephesians 5
d) Visionary – Proverbs 29:18
e) An example – 1 Timothy 4:12
f) Not dictatorial – Matthew 20:25
g) Listens – James 1:19
h) Rooted in God’s Word – Psalms 1:1-2
i) Stands firm for what is right – Exodus 23:2
2. What are some things you can do right now to prepare you to be a godly leader? How can you lead right now? Begin leading by:
a) Setting an example
b) Lead conversations to meaningful discussion instead of passively responding
c) Serve faithfully in church/fellowship
d) Serve your families when you return home by doing chores and helping around the house
e) Be a person of conviction
f) Study the Bible and pray faithfully
g) Learn how to treat others with kindness, gentleness, and respect
h) Learn to communicate clearly, truthfully, and with love
i) Put others’ needs above your own
1. Faith – Faith was listed as weakness above. How can it also be listed as a strength? Simply put, Barak sometimes demonstrated faith and sometimes did not. And still in Hebrews 11 Barak is listed as one of the faithful. Why? God does not focus in on our weaknesses. He forgives them and remembers us for our strengths!
It did require a great amount of faith to go up in battle face to face with nine hundred iron chariots. Barak had a small army of ten thousand men against all those chariots plus infantry support. If betting odds were put on it, Barak would have been a huge underdog. Even worse, many of the tribes were unwilling to help. Why did Barak do it? God commanded him to. He had some doubts, questions, and struggles on the way, but finally he did it. (See Matthew 21:28-32.)
Barak could have done better. He could have had stronger faith. He could have obeyed more quickly. But in his favor, he obeyed God when most people wouldn’t have, and that counts for something. This account shows the emotional roller coaster that most believers go through. There are very few believers that never have any doubts. No one has perfect faith all the time. But true believers will persevere in their faith. True believers will choose to obey God over man when it counts.
2. Boldness – It requires a lot of boldness to do what he did and take on an army that powerful. (Deuteronomy 20:1-4)
3. Persistent (Judges 4:16) – He wasn’t satisfied with a small victory. He wanted a crushing victory.
4. Gave the glory to God – Judges 5:2-5. Deborah and Barak attributed the victory to God’s power, not to themselves.
Lessons from his life:
1. God never forgets His people – The Israelites had sinned against Him by turning to idols. But God did not lose patience. He did not abandon them. Instead He remembered all of His promises to them.
Joshua 21:45 – Not one of all the Lord’s good promises to Israel failed; every one was fulfilled.
Joshua noted that all of God’s promises had been fulfilled. And God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He keeps His Word because He is all-good and because He is all-powerful.
2. God is ready to forgive and receive His people back again – Like the Israelites, we too sin over and over again. We have bad habits that we return to. We have temptations that we know we should avoid, but in our weakness fall into. It is not because of ignorance. We know we should not do them. Scripture is clear and we know the warnings. But we are weak.
Thankfully, we have a merciful Heavenly Father. He does not give us what we deserve. Instead of punishing us, He forgives us, over and over and over again. While we should not presume upon His grace, we should thank Him for His steadfast love endures forever.
3. God disciplines those who rebel against Him. This discipline is corrective and not punitive. – While God is forgiving, this does not mean that our sins come without consequences. Sin is costly. It can cost us our marriage, our job, our freedom, our reputation, our health and much more. Some of sins consequences are natural ones. If for example a worker is lazy and often late he should not be surprised if he is fired.
Other times, discipline is more intangible and is God’s way of dealing with us for our sins. Discipline from God could take the form of specific trials or problems He brings into our life to chasten us. When we face these trials or obstacles, we would do well to evaluate our lives and ask if they are self inflicted.
Note that not every trial is discipline from God. For some, He has other purposes. But we should not dismiss this possibility without first taking a deep look at our lives and considering if it could be discipline.
The goal of discipline is always restoration. God wants to “wake people up” and get their attention back on Him, where it should be.
4. God can give victory no matter how difficult it looks – Barak went up against incredible odds, but emerged victorious.
Proverbs 21:31 – The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but victory rests with the LORD.
Sisera had the chariots and weaponry, but Barak had God on his side. And one plus God is a majority.
Can you share any examples of difficulties that God has helped you through? Do you face any obstacles in your life now that you need God’s help to face?
5. Faith is up and down, but the truly faithful will persevere – Barak doubted at times. But in the end his faith led him to obey. At times, we will all struggle with doubt or confusion. Spiritual lows will come. Ups and downs are a normal part of our journey following God. Real believers will always get up when they fall down. A real believer will persevere. The general direction of his life will be sanctification.
Application: If you are in a spiritual low, confess and ask God to pick you up. Then go forward. Forget what is past and move on toward the plan God has for you.
6. Leaders need to lead! (Judges 5:2) – God needs servant leaders to step up and serve in their families, in the church, and in the community. Every person can be a leader in some way, perhaps to their family, to Sunday School, or to their younger brothers and sisters. Being a leader means saying, “Here I am. Send me.” A leader is not about telling others what to do. It is about being an example others can follow. It is up taking initiative to do what God wants done.
Application: What have you learned about the life of Barak that you can apply this week?
E-book – If you found this character study helpful, get our Character Studies E-book, with this and 8 different practical lessons on important Bible heroes of the faith.
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