Known as the Song of Deborah, this victory song is one of the oldest passages in the Bible; it is beautiful and powerful, as well as filled with information. In addition to praising and chastising certain tribes for their role—or lack thereof—in battle, it also celebrates a victory God has given His people through the agency of two women: the judge Deborah and Jael, who, as Deborah prophesied (verse 9), brings final victory over the enemy general Sisera.
These cultures value masculine strength, aggression, and war-prowess; they don’t value female ingenuity and courage. So for the first hearers of this story, the last people they expect to bring military victory are women. But once again, God takes ordinary people with their gifts, strengths, and weaknesses—and brings military victory through the unexpectedly strong hands of women.
5 Then, that same day, Deborah and Barak, the son of Abinoam, sang a song in victory:
2 The leaders of Israel stood up,
and the people offered themselves willingly—
praise the Eternal One!
3 Listen, all you kings, and pay attention, you rulers:
I, I will sing to the Eternal,
I will sing praise to Him, the True God of Israel!
4 Eternal One, when You went out from Seir
and marched from the field of Edom,
The earth shook,
and the heavens poured;
yes, the clouds poured water.
5 The mountains flowed like water before the Eternal, the God of Sinai;
they melted into a flood before the Eternal One, the True God of Israel.
6 In the days of Shamgar, the son of Anath,
and in the days of Jael, the main roads were empty of caravans,
and the travelers kept to back roads.
7 But those from rural areas stayed away,
the destitute in Israel kept far off,[a]
Until I, Deborah, arose
to be a mother to Israel.
8 They had chosen new gods,
so war came to their gates.
Was there a spear or shield to be found then
among the 40,000 of Israel?
9 My heart is warmed by those in Israel called to command them,
who offered themselves willingly to the people.
Praise the Eternal One!
10 Sing this song, those of you who now ride white donkeys
and sit on rich carpets,
you who travel along the road.
11 All of you who now hear the sound of shepherds at the watering places,
proclaim the just victories of the Eternal,
the just triumphs of His destitute people in Israel,
As the people of the Eternal go down to the gates!
12 Wake up, wake up, Deborah!
Wake up, wake up, and sing!
Get up, Barak! Get up and carry off your captives,
O son of Abinoam!
13 Then down went a surviving people to those who were noble,
and the Eternal One marched to me with the mighty!
14 People with roots in Ephraim went down against the Amalekites after you, O Benjamin,
with your people.
From Machir marched those commanders,
and from Zebulun went those carrying the staff of a scribe.
15 The chiefs of Issachar came with Deborah;
Issachar was faithful to Barak,
And they rushed into the valley, close at his heels.
And the clans of Reuben wondered in their heart,
16 “Why did you remain idle and aloof in the sheepfolds?
To hear whistling for the flocks?”
And the clans of Reuben wondered in their heart,
17 “Why did those of Gilead remain beyond the Jordan?
Why did the people of Dan stay with their ships?
“Why did the people of Asher stay on the coast,
settling down where they landed?”
18 But Zebulun did not fear death,
and Naphtali, too, stared down death on the heights where the battle raged.
19 The kings came, they fought;
the kings of Canaan made war.
They fought at Taanach, by the waters of Megiddo,
but they won no spoils of silver.
20 The stars themselves fought against them;
from the heavens, the stars fought against Sisera.
21 The raging waters of Kishon swept them away,
the rushing waters, the raging waters of Kishon.
March forward, my soul, march on with strength!
22 The hooves of the horses beat loudly;
the galloping of the horses echoed.
23 “A curse on Meroz!” said the messenger of the Eternal One;
“May its people be bitterly cursed,
Because they did not come to help the Eternal,
to stand with the Eternal against the mighty foes!”
24 But Jael,
the wife of Heber, the Kenite—most blessed of women is she,
favored above all women who dwell in tents!
25 Sisera asked for water, and she gave him milk;
she gave him curds in a dish fit for lords.
26 And then she took a tent peg in her left hand
and a worker’s hammer in her right,
And she struck Sisera.
She broke and battered his head;
she pierced his temple.
27 At her feet he bowed, he fell,
he dropped silent.
At her feet he fell, he dropped,
and where he dropped, there he lay dead.
28 The mother of Sisera waited for him,
watching through the lattice of the window.
“Why is his chariot so long in returning?” she wondered.
“Where are the hoofbeats of his horses?”
29 Her wisest ladies in waiting have answers—
in fact, she herself thinks she knows the reason.
30 “Aren’t they still dividing the spoils of a successful battle?
A girl or two given to every man;
Spoils of beautiful dyed cloth for Sisera,
spoils of dyed cloth, beautifully embroidered.
Indeed two pieces of beautiful embroidered cloth for my neck.”
31 So may all Your enemies perish, O Eternal One!
But may those who love You be like the sun,
rising and going forth with power!
After this victory, the people knew peace from war for 40 years.
- 5:7 Meaning is unclear; this is a difficult text.