We often think of the Bible as an instruction manual for our walk of faith, and that it is, but the Bible also contains a fair amount of songs. The Book of Psalms has often been called Israel’s Song Book, but the psalms are not the only songs within Scripture. Judges 5 contains what is considered to be one of the oldest poem-songs in the Bible, the Song of Deborah Israel’s fourth judge. Composed after a victory over Sisera, King Jabin’s military leader (Jud. 4), the song recalls some of the battle details, the roles of Deborah (vv. 6-12) and Barak- Israel’s military leader (vv. 12-15), and celebrates Jael’s gruesome elimination of Sisera (vv. 24-27) concluding with the desire that all of Israel’s enemies should perish and those who love the Lord would “be like the sun” (v. 31).
One author wrote, “Music and singing were a cherished part of Israel’s culture”. The Song of Deborah shares this status with several other songs in the Old Testament: Ex. 15:1-18 (The Song of Moses after passing through the Red Sea), Deut. 32:1-43 (Moses’ final words to Israel), Is. 38:10-20 (A song of thanksgiving by King Hezekiah), and Jon. 2:2-9 (Jonah’s prayer from the belly of the fish) to name a few. Deborah’s song highlights carefully chosen scenes using lyrical and rhythmic imagery and on its own would be sorely lacking in the detail we demand in our documents today. But for the people who heard it as they gathered around their campfires and watering places, those details were unnecessary since they were living it.
Deborah’s song can be divided into 8 sections. The first one states the occasion for singing: there has been an enthusiastic response to the call to arms as leaders and people willingly offer to follow the Lord into battle (vv. 2-5). The second section reflects on what life was like before Deborah served as a judge over Israel (vv. 6-9). The third section depicts the call to arms (vv. 10-13) and the fourth section covers the roll call afterwards (vv. 14-18). The battle is finally described in the fifth section (vv. 19-23) ending abruptly with a curse upon the village of Meroz (in the Galilee region) whose inhabitants apparently failed to come to the battle (v.23). The sixth section moves from a curse to a blessing as Jael’s quick thinking and bravery become weapons in God’s hands to bring down Sisera. While chapter 4 brings out more details of this exchange, the bowl of milk and the hammer become central details in Deborah’s song (vv. 24-27) highlighting the unexpected ways in which God works to deliver His people. The seventh section shifts from the “blessed Jael” to the cursed mother of Sisera who is waiting by the window and wondering where her son is. Lest we feel too badly for her the scene ends with “Mother” and her maidens imagining the spoil coming from the battle and the subsequent rape of Israeli women by the conquering soldiers (vv. 28-30). Nice Mom! In comparison, the final section is a prayer which contrasts Israel’s enemies and those who “love the Lord” (v.31). Cheryl Brown noted in her commentary on Judges that this prayer summarizes one of the book’s main points- those who are faithful to keep God’s covenant receive His blessings, but for those who disregard it, the opposite is certain.
What’s in your song? I was curious to see what passages in the Bible talked about songs and what was sung in them. A quick run through the concordance yielded some results! Ps. 28:7; 33:1-3; 40:1-3; 69:30; 96:1-6; 98:1-6; Is. 42:10-11; Eph. 5:18-20; Col. 3:16; Rev. 5: 9-10; 15:1-4 all listed three similar themes: thankfulness to God for what He has done in the individual’s life (or in Israel), praise to God for His character and attributes, and a direct focus on what God has done throughout history, what He is doing and what He is going to do. Do you “sing” about these things in the way you live? Are they a part of the music of your day to day? Deborah’s song has been called one of the finest literary works in any language, but more importantly, Deborah’s spirited and confident lyrics are composed to feature the Lord’s role in the battle, not hers. Does your life song draw attention to the Lord or is it all about you?
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
Week of 3/26/2017