The Bible is full of songs, written on different occasions and for a variety of reasons. A song was a form of storytelling and a way of recording what had happened for future generations. Many people find it easier to remember a song, so using a song to retell important events meant they were not forgotten. The Song of Deborah is a poetic celebration of a great victory when God fought for Israel and destroyed their enemy in battle. There are though some surprising twists to the story…
Song of Deborah
Most Bible scholars state that Deborah probably wrote the song recorded in Judges chapter five. The song does bear her name but of course, that’s not definitive proof that she was the poet. What Scripture does say clearly is that Deborah and Barak together sang this song to the people of Israel in celebration of victory over their enemies.
Judges 5 Commentary
The words of the song of Deborah were written within hours of Israel’s great victory over king Jabin of Canaan and his army commander Sisera. As we read the words of this poetic passage of Scripture we can sense the mood of exultation, the joy in God’s deliverance of His people. The imagery in the song enhances the narrative of the events leading up to the battle, the battle itself, as well as the outcome of the battle.
Praise the LORD! Judges 5 v2-9
“Hear this, you kings! Listen, you rulers! I, even I, will sing to the LORD; I will praise the LORD, the God of Israel, in song.”Judges 5:3
The song starts with praise to the LORD, the God of Israel, and recalls God’s past deeds. The words straight away remind the people of how God had moved in mighty power to bring them through the wilderness to the promised land of Canaan. This was foundational to Israel’s identity as a nation and its relationship with God.
Deborah’s song then acknowledges that the people had suffered oppression from their enemy. The nation had been disarmed and no one was willing to fight. The roads were unsafe because of the fear of attack and had been abandoned. The people had chosen evasive action and took instead to traveling off-road along winding paths.
Israel was not willing to fight until Deborah arose, and took the lead, this was the time to confront the enemy. A mother will, so often, inspire and motivate her children and in the same way, Deborah was a ‘mother in Israel.’
God chose new leaders, and He will always look for those who are willing. Now that the time for war had arrived, the song states that there were no shields or spears in Israel. Deborah and Barak, however, had managed to raise an army of willing volunteers – Praise the LORD!
The no shields or spears statement is not explained any further. But this could be because Israel had made peace with Canaan and disarming their soldiers had been part of that agreement. Or another possibility is that king Jabin with his nine hundred chariots had a monopoly on the blacksmiths and metal workers required for the making of shields and spears. Compare this with 1 Samuel 13:19-22
The Call to Arms Judges v10-18
The call to battle was to the nobles, the wealthy, and the ordinary people. They were all encouraged to remember past songs of heroic deeds in the name of the LORD. Often these would be sung by a minstrel – a professional singer – at a well, a watering hole, or wherever people would gather.
Once the people had encouraged themselves by remembering what God had done in the past, then came the plea for action now! The time had come to respond.
“Wake up, wake up, Deborah! Wake up, wake up, break out in song! Arise, Barak! Take captive your captives, son of Abinoam.”Judges 5:12
Deborah, as a spiritual warrior of God, is called on to break out in song – a victory song. Whereas Barak, who would fight physically is encouraged to take captive, his captives – in other words, the battle was already won. When God instigates the action, He goes before us!
In this next section of the song of Deborah, the tribes who responded to the call are listed. Six of the tribes were involved in the battle, Ephraim, Benjamin, Manasseh, Issachar, and in particular Zebulun, and Naphtali. Due to their geographical position Zebulun, and Naphtali – Barak’s tribe – would have been more affected by Sisera’s attacks.
The tribes who were not so affected by Sisera’s attacks did not respond to the call to fight. Judah and Simeon are not mentioned – maybe they were already engaged in fighting the Philistines on their borders. But Reuben, Gad (Gilead), Dan, and Asher are rebuked for not responding to help their countrymen.
The Day of Battle v19-23
The song of Deborah then moves into a poetic description, that the powers of heaven fought on Israel’s behalf.
“Kings came, they fought, the kings of Canaan fought. At Tannach, by the waters of Meggido, they took no plunder of silver.”Judges 5:19
Sisera, king Jabin’s army commander, thought he had the military advantage with his chariots. He planned the battle site in the Valley of Jezreel with plenty of room to maneuver. But this was next to the Kishon River.
Megiddo and Taanach are alongside the main pass that runs northeast, through the hill country, from the plain of Sharon to the Valley of Jezreel. In Revelation, the place where the evil forces that oppose God will finally be overthrown is referred to, in Hebrew, as Armageddon. This is thought to be ‘Har Mageddon’ the mountain of Megiddo.
Sisera did not account for God fighting on Israel’s behalf. God brought storms, which caused the Kishon river to flood the valley and the force of the water swept the chariots away. King Jabin’s army was destroyed, but the commander, Sisera, escaped on foot.
The final section of the song of Deborah starts with a curse on one of the Israelite cities, Meroz, that had refused to join this campaign against the enemy of the Lord’s people. Then moves on to honor an unlikely hero…
Related Post: Who was Jael?
Most Blessed of Women Judges v23-31
Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, is described as being the ‘most blessed of tent-dwelling women.’ She is honored forever in this song for her courageous devotion to God. Jael is an unlikely warrior, but she showed herself to be a woman loyal to Israel and faithful to God.
When Sisera fled from Barak he made the fatal mistake of thinking that he could hide in Jael’s tent. Because Jael’s husband had made an alliance with king Jabin, Sisera assumed that he would be safe there. But Jael was fearless and using what she had to hand she struck a decisive blow against the enemies of God, and killed Sisera.
There is a final poetic picture of Sisera’s mother looking longingly out of her window for her son’s return. This is contrasted with Deborah, the mother of Israel, leading the people in this triumphant song.
“So may all your enemies perish, LORD! But may all who love you be like the sun when it rises in its strength.”Judges 5:31
Deborah’s song ends with a prayer that this victory would be a pattern for the future defeat of the LORD’s enemies, and a blessing on His people. The chapter closes this episode in Israel’s history with the statement that the land had peace for the next generation, a period of forty years.
What Does the Song of Deborah and Barak Mean?
This is a song of praise and worship giving God the glory for victory in battle. God’s people, had finally, turned back to Him to rescue and deliver them from their enemies. When they cried out to God, He responded with a plan for them to confront their enemy, and trust in Him. The battle belonged to the LORD, but Israel’s warriors were required to act!
When Joshua first led the people of Israel into Canaan, for the beginning of the conquest of the land, he learned an important lesson. As Joshua approached Jericho, he saw a man standing in front of him, with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua asked the man, “Are you for us or for our enemies?” And the man replied, “Neither.” This might have come as a surprise – especially when the man went on to say that he had now come as the commander of the army of the LORD! Joshua needed the right perspective as he began the campaign to take the promised land. It was not that God was on his, or Israel’s, side – but that they were commissioned to fight the LORD’s battles.
Those who volunteered and responded to the call to fight were honored for their obedience while those who turned away were rebuked. The song of Deborah and Barak was an immediate response to give God all the glory for being faithful to His word. It is a sign of our dependence on God when we recognize His goodness, and don’t waste any time before praising and thanking Him for His faithfulness!
Related Post: Bible Study on Deborah – Inspirational Woman of God
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