I received the following question:

I don’t get Deborah’s song in Judges 5.  Is it just a recap?

Deborah’s song in Judges 5 (well, actually it is Deborah and Barak’s song,) was written to celebrate the victory of Israel over their enemies the Canaanites. Remember that the Canaanites were those God had sent Israel to destroy. As such, any victory over them was to be greatly celebrated. If Israel had been faithful to their task in the first place, there would have been no more of these Canaanites. As it was, Israel was weakened by their lack of faithfulness to God, and so the Canaanites had gotten the upper hand over them.

Let’s examine the song.

1. Then Deborah and Barak the son of Abinoam sang on that day, saying:

As I pointed out above, this song was of Deborah and Barak, not just Deborah.

2. “When leaders lead in Israel,
When the people willingly offer themselves,
Bless the LORD!

The whole problem here largely stemmed from the fact that the leaders did not lead. They had gone astray from the LORD, and so became powerless. The people were not willing to offer themselves to be used by the LORD. But now this had changed, and this was great reason to bless the LORD.

3. “Hear, O kings! Give ear, O princes!
I, even I, will sing to the LORD;
I will sing praise to the LORD God of Israel.

Kings and rulers are called upon to listen to the song of praise that these two offer to the LORD God of Israel.

4. “ LORD, when You went out from Seir,
When You marched from the field of Edom,
The earth trembled and the heavens poured,
The clouds also poured water;

The LORD often helped His armies by sending adverse weather conditions to discomfit their enemies. This describes an earthquake and great rain accompanying the LORD going forth against His enemies. Probably these things accompanied the Israelites as they attacked the Canaanites, and were a big part of the reason for their victory.

5. The mountains gushed before the LORD,
This Sinai, before the LORD God of Israel.

This describes a flood, which appears to have also been a part of Israel’s victory. Imagine the consternation of an army if they are caught in a flood even as they seek to engage in battle!

6. “In the days of Shamgar, son of Anath,
In the days of Jael,
The highways were deserted,
And the travelers walked along the byways.

This starts to describe the sad and oppressive atmosphere that existed in Israel at this time due to the Canaanite persecution. The highways were deserted, and all the Israelites sought to travel along secret byways. This was for fear, for they were afraid of meeting any members of the occupying army, who were traveling on the main roads. They knew what they would do to them if they caught them.

Basically, what the Canaanites were doing was supporting their habit of polygamy with the Israelites. Since the birth rate of men to women is about one to one, polygamy does not work very well, for if one man has two wives, another has none. That is, unless you can supplement your women with those from another country. The Mormons of Salt Lake would do this in the past, attacking remote settlements, killing the men, and carrying off the women. That is what these Canaanites were doing to Israel. They were carrying their young women off to marry their own men as second wives. (Or third, or fourth, or…)

7. Village life ceased, it ceased in Israel,
Until I, Deborah, arose,
Arose a mother in Israel.

Village life had ceased in the land. All the people had fled to the hills to hide out from their oppressors. No one would dare to live in the towns because their enemies would steal their daughters from them. This was the sad condition the nation was in when Deborah arose as a mother in Israel. Imagine the grief of the mothers in that land when someone came to them and told them their daughters were taken, never to be seen by them again! We can see why the wrath of a mother would be meaningful in this situation. Not that that of a father would be less, but protecting their daughters was their duty, and one that they were utterly failing at. In the light of the failure of their men, a mother like Deborah had to arise to put an end to this intolerable situation.

8. They chose new gods;
Then there was war in the gates;
Not a shield or spear was seen among forty thousand in Israel.

The song leaves us with no doubt as to the cause of Israel’s woes. They had chosen new gods, and so the LORD had removed His protection from them. This is why there was war in their land and in their cities. Yet Israel was captive, and now they had no recourse against their enemies, for all their weapons had been taken away. The Canaanites had seen to it that no shield or spear was seen among forty thousand in Israel. They had taken all these things away. We see the Philistines doing the same thing in I Samuel 13:20-22. If you wish to keep a people in subjection, one of the first things you have to do is to take away their weapons.

9. My heart is with the rulers of Israel
Who offered themselves willingly with the people.
Bless the LORD!

Again, praise is offered for those who willingly offered to fight on behalf of their people. These courageous ones had to trust in the LORD, for they had no other weapons upon which to rely. Therefore, their faith is commendable, and worthy of blessing the LORD for.

10. “Speak, you who ride on white donkeys,
Who sit in judges’ attire,
And who walk along the road.

Whom this is speaking of is not entirely clear. This may be a description of the invaders as they boldly rode down the deserted streets and proclaimed themselves judges over the people of Israel.

11. Far from the noise of the archers, among the watering places,
There they shall recount the righteous acts of the LORD,
The righteous acts for His villagers in Israel;
Then the people of the LORD shall go down to the gates.

The watering places were the gathering places for the women, for getting water was considered a woman’s job at that time. Therefore we have here a description of women gathered together without fear, far from the places where the men go to battle, describing with joy the righteous acts of the LORD, Who has saved them from such a horrible fate. The rulers of Israel now return to their rightful places in the gates of the city, and the true judges of the people are restored.

12. “ Awake, awake, Deborah!
Awake, awake, sing a song!
Arise, Barak, and lead your captives away,
O son of Abinoam!

Deborah and Barak are called upon by name to sing about their victory.

13. “Then the survivors came down, the people against the nobles;
The LORD came down for me against the mighty.

This is rather difficult, but speaks of the LORD’s aid in bringing them the victory. Bullinger in the Companion Bible suggests, “Some codices and Sept. divide the two lines thus:–
Then came down a remnant of the nobles,
And the People of Jehovah [came down] with me against the mighty ones.”
If this is correct, it is praising Jehovah for the fact that the nobles and the people of the Jehovah at last found courage to come down and fight against the enemy.

14. From Ephraim were those whose roots were in Amalek.
After you, Benjamin, with your peoples,
From Machir rulers came down,
And from Zebulun those who bear the recruiter’s staff.

Now they describe those faithful ones who answered the call of the LORD to risk it all in battle with their enemies. First comes Ephraim. They fought against Amalek with the others. Benjamin also was there. Machir was part of Manasseh, so they were in attendance. Remember, though, that this tribe was divided in half by the Jordan River, so only one half may have come. Zebulun also leant their strength to the fight.

15. And the princes of Issachar were with Deborah;
As Issachar, so was Barak
Sent into the valley under his command;
Among the divisions of Reuben
There were great resolves of heart.

Issachar was wholeheartedly behind Deborah and Barak, for not just her people but also her princes (that is, her rulers) joined in the battle. Now, however, we will start to consider those who were not so faithful, and did not come to the battle. First among them is Reuben.

16. Why did you sit among the sheepfolds,
To hear the pipings for the flocks?
The divisions of Reuben have great searchings of heart.

Reuben is mocked. They sat at home among the sheepfolds listening to the shepherd’s pipes while their brothers were off risking their lives for their freedom. They are twice mocked that they were searching their heart. Probably when the call came to them that they should come and join their brothers for battle, they said they would search their hearts to decide if they should come. Kind of like if we said we would “think about it.” But then they never came. So Deborah and Barak make fun of them, as if they are sitting around thinking, “Hm. What should we do? Should we go to battle? I don’t know. What does my heart say? Hmmm.” And so they sit at home while the battle passes them by.

17. Gilead stayed beyond the Jordan,
And why did Dan remain on ships?
Asher continued at the seashore,
And stayed by his inlets.

Gilead was the land east of the Jordan where Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh had their lands. They were probably cut off from much of the persecution and oppression going on by the intervening river, and so felt they did not need to risk their lives in battle to save their brothers. Thus, they are condemned here. On the western shore of Israel, there was also less faithfulness. Dan just stayed on their ships. Perhaps they felt they could just sail away from trouble and settle in a new land if need be. Asher also stayed by the seashore and refused to come to help.

18. Zebulun is a people who jeopardized their lives to the point of death,
Naphtali also, on the heights of the battlefield.

Zebulun and Naphtali were much different, jeopardizing their lives on the battlefield.

19. “The kings came and fought,
Then the kings of Canaan fought
In Taanach, by the waters of Megiddo;
They took no spoils of silver.

Now the battle is joined with the kings of Canaan. The Canaanites come to the battle, but this time there will be no spoils for them.

20. They fought from the heavens;
The stars from their courses fought against Sisera.

The very stars of heaven are represented as fighting against Sisera. Again, this refers to the LORD’s intervention through nature to defeat their enemies.

21. The torrent of Kishon swept them away,
That ancient torrent, the torrent of Kishon.
O my soul, march on in strength!

Again, we have a flood described, washing away the Canaanites.

22. Then the horses’ hooves pounded,
The galloping, galloping of his steeds.

The pounding hooves of the horses of the fleeing Canaanites are described.

23 ‘Curse Meroz,’ said the angel of the LORD,
‘Curse its inhabitants bitterly,
Because they did not come to the help of the LORD,
To the help of the LORD against the mighty.’

Meroz was also a place that failed to come up to aid in the battle, and so the LORD curses it. Its exact location is unknown.

24. “Most blessed among women is Jael,
The wife of Heber the Kenite;
Blessed is she among women in tents.

Jael is blessed for her part in executing Sisera.

25. He asked for water, she gave milk;
She brought out cream in a lordly bowl.

Before she killed him, she mocked him. He asked for water, and she brought him cream, or curds. She would not grant him his request, all the while seeming to be solicitous.

26. She stretched her hand to the tent peg,
Her right hand to the workmen’s hammer;
She pounded Sisera, she pierced his head,
She split and struck through his temple.

How she killed Sisera is described. The women erected the tents at this time, and the Kenites were nomads who lived in tents, so she would have been very skilled at driving tent pegs.

27. At her feet he sank, he fell, he lay still;
At her feet he sank, he fell;
Where he sank, there he fell dead.

Where he sank at her feet in exhaustion, there he died.

28. “The mother of Sisera looked through the window,
And cried out through the lattice,
‘Why is his chariot so long in coming?
Why tarries the clatter of his chariots?’

This conflict against the women of Israel is finally described by referring to a woman on the other side, the mother of Sisera. She waits for him, worrying that he is so late in returning.

29. Her wisest ladies answered her,
Yes, she answered herself,

Her wise ladies seek to assure her that all is well, and she thinks within herself using the same comfort.

30. ‘Are they not finding and dividing the spoil:
To every man a girl or two;
For Sisera, plunder of dyed garments,
Plunder of garments embroidered and dyed,
Two pieces of dyed embroidery for the neck of the looter?’

They suppose that Sisera has had even more success than usual, and that the dividing of the loot is what is keeping him. They are dividing up the girls they have captured, and the fine garments they have taken as plunder. This must be why he is late. Girls for the men and fine garments for the women! The greed and heartlessness of this woman remove from us any pity we might otherwise have felt at a mother pining over her missing son.

31. “Thus let all Your enemies perish, O LORD!
But let those who love Him be like the sun
When it comes out in full strength.”
So the land had rest for forty years.

So the song ends, wishing such an end upon all the LORD’s enemies as has come upon this one, and that those who love Him be established like the sun.