The Word Made Fresh
1That same day Deborah and Barak son of Abinoam sang this song:
2“When the people of Israel loosen their hair
And offer all of themselves, praise the LORD!
3You’d better listen, you kings and you princes;
As we sing this song to the LORD, Israel’s God.
4When you went from Seir and from there to Edom,
The earth was all shaken, the sky all rained down,
5The mountains, they shook before Israel’s God,
The God of Sinai, and the LORD of the people.
6In the time of Shamgar, the son of Anath,
In the time of Jael, all the caravans ceased.
7There were no mighty warriors in Israel then,
But Deborah came as a mother to them.
8They chose other gods and war was their fate,
And no weapon among forty thousand was found.
9My heart reaches out to Israel’s soldiers
Who risked their own lives for us all, praise the LORD!
10Tell us about it, you white donkey riders,
You rich saddle sitters and you on your feet.
11Musicians will play at the watering places
And tell of the wonderful deeds of the LORD,
They’ll sing of the victory of Israel’s people.
The ones who went down to the gates of the city.
12“Wake up now, O Deborah, and sing us a song!
Take captives, Barak, son of Abinoam!”
13Then those who were left of our leaders, they came down
And joined us in battle against our great foe.
14Ephraim followed their kin, Benjamin,
And Zebulun’s leaders from Machir arrived.
15The leaders of Issachar came down with Deborah
And joined all the others with Barak their guide.
They stayed right behind him and rushed ever onward,
While Reuben held back wondering what he should do.
16Why did you linger like sheep in a sheepfold?
The families of Reuben don’t know what to do.
17Gilead stayed put, and Dan with his boats,
While Asher remained with his ships by the sea.
18But Zebulun dared to defy death and injury
Naphtali, too, from their high pastures came.
19The kings came to battle and fought at Taanach,
At Megiddo they took no silver, no spoils.
20The stars in the heavens, they joined in the fighting,
And struck Sisera from their courses above.
21The river Kishon swept away all our enemies.
Keep marching on, O my soul, and be mighty!
22Then loud was the sound of the horses a-running;
Galloping, galloping quickly away.
23The angel of God cursed Meroz and its people,
Because they refused to help God beat our foes.
24Jael was the wife of one Heber the Kenite;
Most honored of tent-dwelling women is she.
25He asked her for water, she brought him warm milk,
And bade him to drink from a bowl made for kings.
26Then she took a tent peg and wielded a mallet,
And drove it through his sleeping head where he lay.
27He died by her hand, he died where he lay,
By her hand his life ended, and Israel was saved.
28Sisera’s mother kept watch by her window,
And wondered as time passed what kept him away.
‘Why does his chariot linger in coming?
Why don’t I hear sounds of his horses today?’
29Her ladies in waiting all offer excuses,
And she, she herself, imagines the cause.
30‘They’re busy dividing the trophies they’ve gathered –
A girl, maybe two, for each of his men.
Some fancy, dyed fabrics for Sisera, the victor,
And maybe some embroidered pieces for me.’
31So may all your enemies perish, O LORD,
But may your own people be safe ‘neath the sun.”
The land rested, then, for forty years.
1-11: Deborah and Barak sing the victory song. It is, first of all, a song of praise to the LORD, the God of Israel, then to the judges who led the people in God’s name – Shamgar, Jael, and Deborah are the ones mentioned so far. The mention of Shamgar (remember him at the end of chapter 3?) may indicate that his exploits against the Philistines in the west are going on at about the same time as Deborah’s in the north and east against Jabin.
12-18: The song moves into the action with God calling Deborah, then Barak. Here we learn that some of the other tribes, though summoned, refused to come and take part in overthrowing Jabin.
19-23: The battle is engaged. Even the stars fight for Israel, perhaps hinting that Barak’s assault began before daybreak. The horses of Sisera beat a hasty retreat. The inhabitants of Meroz (an unknown town) are cursed for not helping.
24-27: Jael makes her appearance, putting an end to Sisera. This part of the story is told with unusual relish: “He sank, he fell, he lay still at her feet; at her feet he sank, he fell; where he sank, there he fell dead!” (NRSV)
28-30: The song now imagines Sisera’s mother waiting for him to come home (painting Sisera as a little boy?), imagining his successes. But notice how Sisera is subtly put down: “a girl or two for every man,” they say, but “spoil of dyed stuffs for Sisera.”
31: And the land had rest for 40 years. Because of Deborah. Or Barak. Or Jael?
Israel is a long way from subduing the territory they have been given. Sometimes that is the way things go in our own lives, too. Progress in our work and in our faith is often tedious, and setbacks will come. Patience and perseverance and, above all, faith, are the attributes needed for the journey of life.