Song of Deborah

Song of Deborah

Song of Deborah.

Please read Judges 4 and 5.

AUTHOR. Written around 1300 BC, this song is considered one of the oldest pieces of poetry in the Hebrew Bible, and perhaps the most ancient of early Hebrew literature. The author is unknown, but was certainly an eye witness to the great Holy War described. Judges 5, the Song of Deborah, is the poetic version of Judges 4, which details the battle in prose. Some scholars wonder if Deborah actually wrote this song, since the song was addressed to Deborah and refers to her specifically. On the other hand, many historians claim that Deborah indeed composed the song and was comfortable in referring to herself in the 3rd person in order to give a full account of the war.

DEBORAH. She holds a unique place in Biblical heroism. Deborah was the fourth judge during this era in Israel’s history, and the only woman in a long line of judges. Her courtroom was under a palm tree named in her honor. She was famous for her national leadership, and was renowned in rabbinic tradition for her skills as an insightful mediator and impartial advisor in matters of justice. Deborah was an effective judge, but she was also a military leader, and a prophetess of Yahweh, and was even referred to as “the mother of Israel.” (5:7). She obviously had an intimate relationship with the Lord, and full confidence in and dependence upon the God Of Israel. Deborah was an outstanding example of historic leadership during the era when Israel so easily fell into apostasy. Even her military general Barak would not go into battle without her. Deborah’s name means “bee” or “wasp”. One Hebrew scholar said that Deborah was “a bee in peace and a wasp in war.” Deborah is an inspiration to all, male or female, who want to be an obedient mouthpiece and leader for God during time of national distress. She was one of the few judges who was not corrupted by success, and Israel was at peace with her enemies for 40 years after her victory. That figure has led historians to claim that Deborah was Israel’s leader for a total of 60 years.

CONTEXT OF SONG. The roller-coaster ride of the Israelites in the Promised Land is highlighted in the book of Judges. Israel’s spiritual weaknesses would cause them to fall into apostasy and immorality, then the Lord would call a judge to help lead them back to obedience to Yahweh. And then, after a few years of peace and obedience, Israel would fall again, and the patient Lord would raise up another righteous and valiant judge. And so on it goes. Deborah finds herself called to be another judge during twenty years of oppression under the Canaanite king Jabin of Hazor, which was situated north of Galilee. These pagans were known for their ruthless and well-equipped military, which included 900 iron chariots, weapons of mass destruction if there was ever such things in the ancient world. Their military was led by a bloodthirsty general named Sisera, and he was a formidable enemy of Israel. God told Deborah to engage in battle with Sisera in order to free the Israelites from their oppression. She confidently turned to her general Barak and told him what the Lord has said… Get 10,ooo Hebrew soldiers and go to war with Sisera and his army, and the Lord will bring certain victory. As it turns out, after Deborah’s personal involvement and her inspiration of Barak into action, the Lord did indeed bring victory. The Song of Deborah was written to celebrate this amazing triumph over the Canaanites.

FLOW OF THE SONG. This was a song of triumph to honor Yahweh and highlight the two heroines of the battle, Deborah and Jael. The composer of the song rightly gives credit to the Lord of Israel, Yahweh, for the important victory over the Canaanites. After rejoicing in the Lord and noting His awesome power, the song mentions Israel’s sin, their choosing other gods. God once again intervened, and Deborah helped gather the warriors among Israel, and rebuked those Israelites who were indifferent and didn’t join in the battle. Then the victory of Israel over king Jabin and his general Sisera is highlighted, especially the brutal but heroic exploits of Jael. The song then closes with a beautiful word of blessing for all those who choose to love and follow Yahweh, “May those who love you rise like the sun its all its power!” (5:31).

PRAISE. The song was unabashed about rejoicing in the Lord. The composer wanted to “praise the Lord,” “sing to the Lord,” and “make music to the Lord, the God of Israel.” The song gives full credit to Yahweh, His character, His power, His faithfulness. There was no strutting around in pride on the part of the victors Deborah and Barak. They both are named as the main singers of this song, thus they led in the humble exultation of God.

HISTORY OF THE LORD’S ACTIONS. In verses 4-5, Yahweh is given credit in history for delivering the Israelites from Egypt through His power and presence. Then the quaking of Mt. Sinai is mentioned, when He revealed Himself in His glory and power. He continued carrying the Israelites through the wilderness and on into the Promised Land. The songwriter wanted to emphasize how God continued to intervene on behalf of the Israelites.

REBUKES. Deborah pulled no punches. She was not afraid to get in the faces of those four Israelite tribes who refused to participate in the battle. She named names, she even taunted them a bit… “Why did you sit at home among the sheepfolds – to hear the shepherds whistle for their flocks?” She had no patience for these indifferent Hebrews who would not rise to the challenge and volunteer their efforts. It sounded like she was more or less disgusted with them. (verse 15-17).

MEGEDDO. This ancient hill, valley and plain was the site of Deborah’s battle (v. 19), and it’s a famous site for warfare. This is where Gideon had his victory (Judges 6), where Saul was defeated (I Samuel 31), and where king Josiah died (II Kings 23). This is also the site of the final great holy war mentioned in Revelation 16-17, the catastrophic battle of Armegeddon.

MUD. Verses 21-22 highlight the turning point of the great battle between Deborah’s forces and the Canaanites. God sent a torrential rain to the battlefield area, which caused the main river to rise. This led to Sisera’s defeat, because the overrun river caused all 900 of those famous chariots and horses to get stuck in the mud. Sisera’s army panicked, and was then routed by the more nimble Israelites.

JAEL. Deborah’s heroism was matched by that of Jael. Jael was married to Heber, who for some reason was sympathetic to Sisera. Jael, however, supported the Israelites, and she was willing to go to great lengths to help them succeed. Jael was rather devious in her deadly spycraft… Sisera had run away on foot once the mud led to his army’s defeat, and he ended up sneaking near Jael’s tent. Jael offered her tent as a sanctuary for Sisera, and he happily stepped into the tent for a nap after all that running to escape from the Israelites. While Sisera was sleeping, Jael did the unthinkable. Jael picked up a tent peg and hammer and assassinated Sisera. She drove the tent peg through his temple, in one side of his head and out the other. Naturally, Sisera died immediately, and the rout was completed. The songwriter seemed awe-struck with praise of Jael, calling her “the most blessed among women,” and “may she be blessed above all women who live in tents.” Jael is highly favored indeed in Biblical history, despite her gruesome rejection of hospitality protocol.

BLESSING. The songwriter closes with a blessing for the followers of Yahweh…. “Yahweh, may all your enemies die like Sisera! But may those who love you rise like the sun in all its power!” That was the case for the next 40 years, until Israel decided to fall once again into apostasy and disobedience. Then God brought forth Gideon to be the next judge.