Sisera

SISERA (sĭs'êr-a, Heb. sîserā’)

A man employed by Jabin, king of Hazor, as the captain in his army. In Judg.4.1-Judg.4.24-Judg.5.1-Judg.5.31 we have the account of the battle that was carried on between Sisera and Israel’s Barak. Sisera oppressed Israel for twenty years, waging war against them with nine hundred iron chariots (Judg.4.2-Judg.4.3). Finally, Deborah the prophetess, who judged Israel at that time, urged Barak under the direction of God to unite his forces and go against Sisera. She assured Barak that God would deliver Sisera into his hands. He agreed, if Deborah would go with him, and she gave her consent. These two armies met in battle on the plain at the foot of Mount Tabor (Judg.4.14). The forces of Sisera were killed or scattered, and Sisera fled on foot, taking refuge in the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite. Here he was killed by Jael while he slept in her tent. The remarkable victory was celebrated by the Song of Deborah. See also Barak; Deborah.The name Sisera is found again in the names of the temple servants (kjv Nethinim) who returned from captivity under Zerubbabel’s leadership (Ezra.2.53; Neh.7.55).


SISERA sĭs’ ə rə (סִֽיסְרָא; LXX Σεισάρα). Sisera (Judg 4 and 5) was the captain of the army under Jabin, the Canaanite king of Hazor. Although the Israelites under Joshua had defeated the northern coalition and destroyed the city of Hazor (Josh 11:11), this city had been rebuilt and become the capital of the Canaanites. Jabin may have been the hereditary royal title among the Canaanite kings, even as Pharaoh was the title for Egyp. rulers. It is likely the Israelites were not so much concerned with the city of Hazor which was the royal Canaanite residence. The real menace was the Canaanite power represented by the army under Sisera’s command apparently stationed near the Mount Carmel slopes in the city of Harosheth-ha-goiim. The military superiority of the Canaanites is clearly indicated in the fact that they had 900 chariots of iron while the Israelites apparently had none. Josephus (Antiquities V. 5. 1) credits the Canaanite army with 3,000 chariots, 10,000 horsemen, and 300,000 footmen.

During a twenty-year period of oppression the Canaanites paralyzed Israelite commerce and subjected the Israelites to intolerable disruption of normal life. Armed resistance seemed almost impossible until Deborah arose as a prophetess to whom the people turned in hope. Apparently Sisera encountered no serious threats from the Israelites until Barak led a division of 10,000 against him.

Harosheth-ha-goiim, the headquarters of Sisera and his army, was prob. located in the narrow valley, less than a m. wide, where the Kishon flows out of the Esdraelon Plain into the Plain of Acre and the Mediterranean Sea. Tell ’Amr, S of the Kishon, or Tell el-Harbaj, N of this river, may represent this ancient Canaanite stronghold, c. twelve m. NW of Megiddo (cf. Garstang). This strategic site commanded the entrance to the Plain of Esdraelon at the E end of the Mount Carmel ridge.

Nine hundred chariots of iron gave Sisera the mastery over the Israelites who were limited to infantry. These chariots prob. were two-wheeled, open behind, carrying a driver, a warrior, and a shield bearer. Thutmose III of Egypt had 924 chariots when he advanced Egyp. armies across Pal. during the fifteenth cent. (cf. Pritchard, p. 237). When Sisera learned that an Israelite army had gathered on nodetitle he advanced his chariot division into the Plain. A sudden and prob. unexpected rainstorm changed the Kishon Valley into a muddy terrain, giving the Israelites the advantage, since they were prepared to fight without the aid of chariots. Probably all the charioteers abandoned their chariots in the conflict—at least, that is what Sisera did—so that the Canaanites were completely demoralized.

Sisera’s army was routed when the Israelites overcame them in the Kishon River valley. When Barak was advised by the prophetess Deborah to lead in battle against Sisera with the assurance that the Lord God of Israel would direct this Canaanite captain with his chariots and army down to the brook Kishon, it may have been the dry season, so that when a sudden rain made it impossible for the Canaanites to use their chariots, the Israelites had the real advantage. The Biblical account indicates that Sisera abandoned his chariot and fled on foot.

Similar to previous experiences in Israel’s history where they were faced by a superior foe, the Israelites were at this time also keenly conscious of the fact that God had intervened in their behalf. Praise to God was appropriately expressed throughout Deborah’s song.

Sisera’s course in fleeing from the battle with the Israelites took him to the vicinity of Jael’s home near Kedesh. Whether this was by accident or deliberate planning is not indicated in the Biblical account. Jael invited him into her tent; it is unlikely that Sisera would have ventured to violate the law of oriental propriety by entering Jael’s tent without an invitation. [Her husband may have been absent at the time of this incident.] Accepting Jael’s hospitality, Sisera felt quite secure and asked her to lie in his behalf to avoid detection by the enemy. After Jael provided him milk for nourishment and a rug for a covering, he fell asleep. Jael took advantage of this opportunity. With a mallet she drove a tent-peg through Sisera’s temple. When Barak came by, Jael invited him into her tent to witness the fact that Israel’s oppressor had been slain.

The accounts of Jael’s heroic deed have been held to be contradictory by some scholars. It seems most reasonable that Jael killed Sisera while he was asleep (4:18-21). The poetic record (5:24-27) may well represent an embellishment of Jael’s feat and was not intended to provide a concrete description of detailed developments. The following vv. (5:28-30) portray in vivid language the disappointment of Sisera’s mother in waiting for the return of her son.

The defeat of Sisera and his army undoubtedly broke the oppressive hold the Canaanites had on the Israelites. In the course of time the Israelites overcame the Canaanites even to the point of destroying King Jabin.

(See nodetitle.)

Bibliography

J. Garstang, The Foundation of Biblical History: Joshua, Judges (1931); J. M. Myers and P. R. Elliott, The Book of Judges, IB (1953); J. Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament (1955); J. Simons, The Geographical and Topographical Texts of the Old Testament (1959).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

(cicera’, of doubtful meaning; S(e)isara):

(1) Given in Judges 4 as the captain of the army of Jabin, king of Hazor. The accounts given of the battle of Sisera with Barak, as found in Judges 4 and 5, have important points of difference. The first is a prose, the second a poetic narrative. In the first only Naphtali and Zebulun are mentioned as being under the command of Barak; in the second 6 tribes are given as being under his command. In Judges 4 Sisera is known as the captain of Jabin’s forces, while in Judges 5 he seems to have been an independent leader. There is also a difference as to the scene of the battle and as to the manner in which Sisera met his death at the hand of Jael. Because of these points of difference, added to the fact that this is the only account, in these early times, where a king did not lead his own forces, it is thought by many that there is here the combination of two traditions dealing with different and distinct events.

Sisera resided in Harosheth of the Gentiles, a place identified with el-Charithiyeh, on the right bank of the Kishon and commanding the way from the Central Plain to the sea. Taking the versions in the two chapters of Judges as being the account of a single campaign, we find Deborah urging Barak to combine the forces of Israel to wage war with Sisera as the representative of Jabin, the king of Hazor. The scene of the battle was on the plain at the foot of the slopes of Mt. Tabor (Jud 4:12-14), or at the foot of the Carmel heights (Jud 5:19). The attack of Barak and Deborah was so furious, animated as it was by the hatred of Sisera and the Canaanites, that the hosts of Sisera were put to rout, and Sisera, deserting his troops, fled on foot to the Northeast. He took refuge in the tent of Heber, near Kedesh, and here met death at the hands of Jael, the wife of Heber (see Jael). Sisera’s name had long produced fear in Israel because of his oppression of the people, his vast army and his 900 chariots of iron. His overthrow was the cause of much rejoicing and was celebrated by the song in which Deborah led the people.

See nodetitle.

It is interesting to note that the great rabbi Aqiba, who fought so valiantly in the Jewish war for independence as standard bearer to Bar-cocheba, was descended from the ancient warlike Sisera of Harosheth.

(2) In Ezr 2:53 and Ne 7:55 the name Sisera, after a long interval, reappears in a family of the Nethinim. There is no evidence that the latter Sisera is connected by family descent with the former.