Sisera In The Bible

Sisera (סִיסֵרָא, Modern Sisra Tiberian Siṣērā; “devastation”) was a Canaanite military commander under Barak in the Israelite Tribe of Barak’s fight against Jabin, king of Hazor. He was also the commander of her palace guard and is considered a hero by his own people and in the tribe of Zebulun for his stand against the Israelites (Judges 4:19-22). Despite this, he is considered a coward by many biblical commentators.

Sisera, born a Sidonian (possibly under Syrian influence), was the commander of the army of King Jabin and lived with his mother and father at Harosheth Haggoyim in the land of Canaan. When Barak refused to share the glory and honor for defeating Sisera with any man other than himself, K. 18:27-29, Deborah sent for Barak, with her archangel staff headed by Gabriel and Michael, who had the army of God under their command. K. 5:19-21

Sisera is a biblical figure who appears in the Book of Judges. He was described as the commander of Jabin’s army, which was based in Hazor. He was eventually killed by Deborah, a prophetess and leader of the Israelite army. In Buddhist literature, Sisera has been referred to as general Sena, although this might be an error. The evidence pointing to this identification is also disputed.

Sisera or Sisera was the captain of the Canaanite army defeated by the Israelites during the time of Judges (Book of Judges, 4:2). He is also mentioned in a single verse in Psalms (Psalm 83:9).

Sisera In The Bible

Sisera was the commander of the Canaanite army who cruelly oppressed the Israelites for twenty years trying to recover the territory once ruled by the kings of Hazor (Judges 4:3). Ultimately, he was killed by Jael, the wife of a Kenite he considered to be an ally, when she drove a tent peg through his skull while he slept. The record of his defeat is found in Judges chapters 4 and 5.

Deborah, a prophetess judging Israel at the time, encouraged Barak to obey God’s call to lead an army to Mount Tabor where God would deliver Sisera into Israelite hands (Judges 4:6–7). Barak agreed only on the condition that Deborah accompany them. Deborah assented, but prophesied, “Nevertheless, the road on which you are going will not lead to your glory, for the LORD will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman” (Judges 4:9). It is important to note that while Jabin was the Canaanite king “who reigned in Hazor,” it was Sisera, the commander of the army who posed the most threat to Israel.

Sisera In The Bible

There are two men named Sisera in the Bible. One is mentioned briefly in Ezra 2:53 and Nehemiah 7:55; this Sisera was a temple servant who returned to Jerusalem when the Israelite exiles were allowed to leave Persia and go back to their own land.

The other Sisera—the infamous Sisera—lived in the time of the judges and was the commander of a Canaanite army. The Canaanites, led by King Jabin, had been God’s tool of judgment upon the Israelites for their idolatry (Judges 4:2).

Sisera had 900 iron chariots at his disposal, compared to the Israelites, who had no chariots. For twenty years Sisera “cruelly oppressed the Israelites” (Judges 4:3). As was their habit when they were in trouble, the Israelites called to God for deliverance. Deborah the prophetess, who was also judging at the time, received word from the Lord in answer to the Israelites’ call. She summoned a man named Barak and told him, “The Lord, the God of Israel, commands you: ‘Go, take with you ten thousand men of Naphtali and Zebulun and lead them up to Mount Tabor. I will lead Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his troops to the Kishon River and give him into your hands’” (verses 6b–7).

Barak was hesitant and requested that Deborah accompany him. Because of this hesitation, Deborah prophesied that Sisera would fall at the hands of a woman and Barak would get none of the glory (Judges 4:9). But Deborah agreed to go with Barak to Mount Tabor, where Barak and his 10,000 men met Sisera in battle. God sent a flash flood that disabled Sisera’s chariots, and the Israelites routed their enemies (Judges 5:4, 20–21). In the face of defeat, Sisera fled on foot (Judges 4:15). As Barak and the Israelites tracked down and destroyed Sisera’s army, Sisera himself sought a hiding place. He came to the dwelling of Heber the Kenite, who was allied with King Jabin of Canaan (Judges 4:17). As Sisera approached, Heber’s wife, Jael, called him into her tent with the promise of safety (verse 18). Sisera accepted her offer. Since it was against social norms for a man to enter a woman’s tent, Jael seemed to be offering a perfect hiding place.

Sisera told Jael that he was thirsty, and she gave him some milk and covered him with a blanket (Judges 4:19). Feeling relatively safe, Sisera asked Jael to watch at the door of the tent and then fell asleep. As Sisera was sleeping, Jael took a tent peg and hammer, sneaked up on the sleeping commander, and drove the tent peg through his skull and into the ground (Judges 4:21). When Barak came looking for Sisera, Jael led him into the tent to show him Sisera’s body with his head pinned to the ground. Deborah’s prophecy that Sisera would be brought down by a woman had been fulfilled.

The death of Sisera and his army greatly weakened King Jabin’s grip on the Israelites, and God’s people were eventually able to overcome him and be free of the Canaanite oppression (Judges 4:23–24). On the day of Sisera’s death, Barak and Deborah sang a song of praise, which can be found in Judges 5, detailing God’s deliverance of the Israelites from the hands of the evil commander. Near the end of the song is a unique passage full of irony. Deborah takes the perspective of Sisera’s mother waiting for her fallen son:

“Through the window peered Sisera’s mother;
behind the lattice she cried out,
‘Why is his chariot so long in coming?
Why is the clatter of his chariots delayed?’
The wisest of her ladies answer her;
indeed, she keeps saying to herself,
‘Are they not finding and dividing the spoils:
a woman or two for each man,
colorful garments as plunder for Sisera,
colorful garments embroidered,
highly embroidered garments for my neck—
all this as plunder?’” (Judges 5:28–30).

The Canaanites, under Sisera’s military leadership, fully expected to defeat the Israelites, who were outgunned, outnumbered, and seemingly powerless. Sisera’s mother’s mention of rich spoils and the abuse of captured women indicate the greed and ruthless nature of the Canaanite army. What Sisera (and his mother) did not count on was the God of Israel, who intervened on behalf of His people.

So great was the triumph of Israel over Sisera and his army that King David would later remember it in one of his psalms: “Do to [your enemies] as you did to Midian, / as you did to Sisera and Jabin at the river Kishon” (Psalm 83:9).

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