Judges 5: The Song of Deborah
Once again we come to a poetic passage, and I’m never quite sure how to blog about poetry. (Especially since I don’t typically “get” poetry; I’m not a poetic kind of guy.) I guess I’ll just do what I always do, and list out what they’re talking about in their poems. If you’re anyone but me, and you’re reading this, you’re very strongly encouraged to read the actual text, before trying to read this blog post. By blogging about this poem, I’ll suck all of the poetry out of it, and kill all of its emotional impact. (Remember that this blog is primarily for my own benefit, rather than the readers’ benefit.) So if you want to see my thoughts on it, read on, but you’ll do yourself a great favour by reading it yourself, first. (That’s true of any passage I blog about, but especially true when it comes to poetry.)
In this passage, Deborah and Barak sing a song, commemorating the events that have taken place in the last passge. Even though the passage indicates that it’s Deborah and Barak who are singing, there are various places in the poem that are in the first person, and it isn’t always specified which of the two is saying “I.” But I’ll just assume, unless otherwise specified, that they both mean it.
- This song/poem begins—as do so many in the Bible—by praising the LORD. But praising Him for something specific: When the princes in Israel “take the lead,” and the people of Israel “willingly offer themselves” (verse 2). Even though they are indicating that the princes in Israel—or, leaders, since there aren’t yet any “princes?”—should take the lead, it’s ultimately the LORD who should get the praise.
- They are going to sing and make music to the LORD, and they want the kings and rulers to hear about it. In this case, I assume they’re referring to the kings and rulers of other nations, rather than the Israelite rulers. (Or maybe they want both to hear it.)
- When the LORD “went out” from Seir, and “marched” from the land of Edom (verse 4), there were earthquakes and rains. I take this as being figurative; I don’t recall actual earthquakes being mentioned, when the Israelites conquered Edom in the LORD’s strength.
- However, in the recent times, the roads in Israel have been abandoned, and village life has ceased. (In other words, the people have been in hiding, because of the oppression they’ve been under.) Until, that is, Deborah arose, as a “mother in Israel” (verse 7).
- When the Israelites chose “new gods” (verse 8), war came to their city gates, and not a shield nor a spear could be found among forty thousand of them. (I take this to mean that they were too scared to fight. Or, at least, that most of them were too scared to fight.)
- But Deborah/Barak’s hearts are with “Israel’s princes, with the willing volunteers among the people” (verse 9), and for that they praise the LORD.
- Based on this, when they talk about the “princes of Israel,” are they just referring to the Israelites who are willing to follow the LORD? Not literal princes, but something more akin to saying “a prince among men?”
- Those who “ride on white donkeys, sitting on … saddle blankets” (verse 10), and those who walk on the roads, are encouraged to consider the singers who sing about the righteous acts of the LORD, and of His warriors.
When they’re talking to the people riding on their donkeys, and using the roads, I think they’re talking about the fact that the Israelites are now free to do those things again, since they’re no longer under the oppression of the Canaanites. In other words, “as you’re walking or riding along the road, don’t forget about the LORD (and His warriors), who made it possible.”
- Then the people went to the city gates, and told Deborah to wake up and break out in song. And told Barak to arise, and take his captives. And the men “who were left” (verse 13—I don’t know what is meant by “who were left,” unless it means all of the people in other areas of Israel, who weren’t part of the fighting) also “came down” (verses 13–15), gathering together and searching their hearts. Why did they stay in their own areas of the country, while the people of Zebulun and Naphtali—the ones who did the fighting—had to fight on their own?
- This is a common device in poetry in the Bible; the singers are making a point by talking about an event that didn’t actually happen. The people of Israel didn’t actually gather together, and search their hearts. But, in a sense, they did, because they collectively had to search their hearts about it.
- The Canaanite kings came to fight, but “they carried off no silver, no plunder” (verse 19). Even in the heavens, the stars fought against Sisera, and then the Kishon River swept him away. (Again, of course, I take this as figurative language. But the point is: Sisera never had a chance, since the LORD was against him.)
- The angel of the LORD then came—his horse’s hoofs thundering—and cursed Meroz, since its people did not come to help the LORD. (I don’t know who the people of Meroz are.)
- But blessed—most blessed of all women—is Jael. Sisera asked for water, and she brought him curdled milk, “in a bowl fit for nobles” (verse 25). Then she crushed his head with the tent peg and the hammer; he sank at her feet, dead.
- The last picture we have is of Sisera’s mother, peering through her window, wondering why her son is taking so long to return. The “wisest of her ladies” (verse 29) answer her that he and his men are probably dividing up the spoils.
- So may all of the LORD’s enemies perish. But those who love Him? May they be “like the sun when it rises in its strength” (verse 31). After the defeat of Sisera, and the other events we’ve talked about here, the land had peace for forty years.
After all I’ve said above, I don’t really have anything else to add about this passage. It took me a long time to write this all down; I guess it just takes longer to go through poetry than through other passages. We’ll see what it’s like when I get to the book of Psalms…