“Awaken! Awaken, Deborah! Awake! Awake with words of a song! Rise up, Baraq! And lead the captives away, son of Abinoam.”
The question that must be asked, as we engage this verse is, “who are the captives that are being spoken of?” Our initial answer might be to say that the captives are the armies of Sisera that have been defeated. That answer, though, is not suitable for two reasons. First, in the order of the song, we have not yet arrived at the point where the battle took place (thus no captives). The second reason, even if one gives some poetic license in terms of chronology here, we are told in the historical narrative that the soldiers of Sisera were slain to the last man (see Judges 4:16). Thus, again, this cannot be a reference to Canaanite soldiers who had been captured.
That means the only logical answer is that this line is a reference to the people of Israel who had been in bondage to Jabin, the king of Canaan — God’s judgment upon them for their idolatry. Thus, the word picture that is presented here is that of Deborah and Baraq, leading the captives out of their bondage. Such a reading is not only consistent with the historical account, but it is also Christological in nature, for one of the roles of the Messiah is that he will lead the captives out of their bondage and into liberty (Isaiah 61:1; Luke 4:18-19). We too narrowly assume that the language of captivity and chains only applies to those in a physical prison cell, yet how often our chains are forged from sin and our prison cells are nothing more than a situation in which we are trapped with no foreseeable escape.
Recognizing this passage as Christological in nature ought not be too great a surprise; the whole Bible is indeed about Jesus in its ultimate sense (Luke 24:44), but the Judges as an institution is also meant to look forward to Jesus who will be the great Judge over all mankind. Judges offer redemption in a physical sense; Jesus offers redemption in an eternal sense. Deborah and Baraq were used by God to liberate the people from their oppressors; Jesus does that in the ultimate sense, leading us out of our captivity to whatever binds us.
But notice something about this picture. Baraq and Deborah will lead the captives out into Battle. Now, ultimately, it is God who brings the victory, but the people are still expected to participate in that victory. How similar this activity is to what it is the church is commanded to when it comes to tearing down the strongholds of Satan and conforming every thought to the glory of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:4-6). How we must never lose sight of the fact that the Christian life is one active and not passive in the work of God.