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The Blue Letter Bible

David Guzik :: Study Guide for Judges 5

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The Song of Deborah

A. Blessing God for the deliverance He brings through His leaders.

1. (Jdg 5:1-2) Theme of the song: The joy and blessing in being a willing instrument of God.

Then Deborah and Barak the son of Abinoam sang on that day, saying:
“When leaders lead in Israel,
When the people willingly offer themselves,
Bless the Lord!”

a. Then Deborah and Barak the son of Abinoam sang that day: This song is commonly attributed only to Deborah; Barak’s role in the composition and perhaps performance of the song is often overlooked.

i. This song is well within the tradition of other Jewish songs of deliverance and celebration, such as Miriam’s song (Exodus 15:20-21) and the songs celebrating David’s victory over Goliath (1 Samuel 18:7). “Deborah was a poetess as well as a prophetess.” (Trapp)

ii. “Deborah sang concerning the overthrow of Israel’s enemies, and the deliverance vouchsafed to the tribes: we have a far richer theme for music; we have been delivered from worse enemies, and saved by a greater salvation. Let our gratitude be deeper; let our song be more jubilant.” (Spurgeon)

iii. “When he had been most slandered — when the Pope had launched out a new bull, and when the kings of the earth had threatened him fiercely — Luther would gather together his friends, and say, ‘Come let us sing a psalm and spite the devil.’ He would ever sing the most psalms when the world roared the most.” (Spurgeon)

b. When leaders lead: Leadership is important in any endeavor and especially in the work of God. God expects leaders among His people to actually lead, showing there is a genuine need for leaders and their leadership.

c. When the people willingly offer themselves: Leaders are nothing without followers, and it is the job of the people to willingly offer themselves to their leaders.

i. We can think of the relation between leader and people as that of the conductor and the orchestra. The conductor must lead, and the orchestra must be ready and willing to follow the conductor’s leadership. When the conductor does his job and the orchestra does their job, then beautiful music is made.

2. (Jdg 5:3-5) Remembering God’s preservation of Israel in the past.

“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.
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 mountains gushed before the Lord,
This Sinai, before the Lord God of Israel.”

a. Lord, when You went out from Seir: God won the victory for Israel over Sisera by sending a great rain (the heavens poured). In this song Deborah recalled a time when God did the same thing on behalf of Israel in the days of the Exodus (Deuteronomy 33:2).

b. When You marched from the field of Edom: It is good for us to remember that God’s goodness to us didn’t just start today. He has been good to us for a long, long, time.

i. “Seir and Edom are the same place; and these two expressions note the same thing, even God’s marching in the head of his people from Seir or Edom towards the land of Canaan.” (Poole)

3. (Jdg 5:6-8) Describing life under Canaanite oppression.

“In the days of Shamgar, son of Anath,
In the days of Jael,
The highways were deserted,
And the travelers walked along the byways.
Village life ceased, it ceased in Israel,
Until I, Deborah, arose,
Arose a mother in Israel.
They chose new gods;
Then there was war in the gates;
Not a shield or spear was seen among forty thousand in Israel.”

a. Village life ceased, it ceased in Israel: Not only was life hard under Israel’s oppressors, but they also confiscated all weapons so the Israelites could not fight (Not a shield or spear was seen among forty thousand in Israel).

i. “The land was full of anarchy and confusion, being everywhere infested with banditti. No public road was safe; and in going from place to place, the people were obliged to use unfrequented paths.” (Clarke)

ii. By spiritual analogy, we can say that Satan doesn’t only want to oppress the Christian; he also wants to disarm the believer. He wants the believer to lay down the full armor of God that belongs to you in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 6:12-18).

b. Until I, Deborah, arose: This wasn’t necessarily pride on Deborah’s part. She understood that God works through willing individuals, and she was the willing one in this crisis.

4. (Jdg 5:9) Refrain: Bless the Lord for leaders who lead and followers who follow.

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

a. My heart is with the rulers of Israel: Deborah didn’t only care for her job of leadership. She also had a heart for other leaders and their work. Her vision was bigger than just getting “her job” done. She wanted to see the Kingdom of God advanced.

b. Who offered themselves willingly with the people: In Judges 5:2 Deborah spoke of the people offering themselves willingly. Here she notes that the sacrifices should also be borne by the leaders. They also must offer themselves willingly.

B. The victory remembered.

1. (Jdg 5:10-12) A call to recount the great victory.

“Speak, you who ride on white donkeys,
Who sit in judges’ attire,
And who walk along the road.
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.
Awake, awake, Deborah!
Awake, awake, sing a song!
Arise, Barak, and lead your captives away,
O son of Abinoam!”

a. Speak, you who ride on white donkeys: The song asked the civic leaders along with Deborah and Barak to tell the villagers in Israel the great things God did.

i. We should never hide our light under a bushel (Matthew 5:15-16), but tell others of the great things God has done and is doing. Many need to wake up and sing a song of praise to the Lord.

b. For His villagers in Israel: The common people needed to hear of God’s great works, and it was the job of leaders to tell them.

2. (Jdg 5:13-18) The tribes that helped and the tribes that didn’t help.

“Then the survivors came down, the people against the nobles;
The Lord came down for me against the mighty.
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.
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.
Why did you sit among the sheepfolds,
To hear the pipings for the flocks?
The divisions of Reuben have great searchings of heart.
Gilead stayed beyond the Jordan,
And why did Dan remain on ships?
Asher continued at the seashore,
And stayed by his inlets.
Zebulun is a people who jeopardized their lives to the point of death,
Naphtali also, on the heights of the battlefield.

a. The Lord came down for me against the mighty: As she remembered God’s help, Deborah knew that His help came from the tribes of Israel, stirred to join in the battle. Deborah praised the tribes that helped, notably Ephraim, West Manasseh, Benjamin, Zebulun, Issachar, and Naphtali.

b. Why did you sit among the sheepfolds? Not every tribe was helpful. Reuben, East Manasseh, Dan, and Asher did not join in the battle.

i. “All these are worthily shamed and shented, though they were not without some sorry pleas and pretences. The labouring Church must be some way helped, if be but by our prayers.” (Trapp)

3. (Jdg 5:19-23) The battle described and a curse on a unhelpful city.

“The kings came and fought,
Then the kings of Canaan fought
In Taanach, by the waters of Megiddo;
They took no spoils of silver.
They fought from the heavens;
The stars from their courses fought against Sisera.
The torrent of Kishon swept them away,
That ancient torrent, the torrent of Kishon.
O my soul, march on in strength!
Then the horses’ hooves pounded,
The galloping, galloping of his steeds.
‘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.’”

a. They fought from the heavens: The battle was fought from the heavens in the sense that God sent rain that made the Canaanite chariots of no use (the torrent of Kishon swept them away).

b. “Curse Meroz,” said the angel of the Lord: Apparently the city of Meroz was of no help. God still accomplished His work, but the city of Meroz was cursed because they had no part in it.

4. (Jdg 5:24-27) Praise for Jael for her killing of Sisera.

“Most blessed among women is Jael,
The wife of Heber the Kenite;
Blessed is she among women in tents.
He asked for water, she gave milk;
She brought out cream in a lordly bowl.
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.
At her feet he sank, he fell, he lay still;
At her feet he sank, he fell;
Where he sank, there he fell dead.”

a. Most blessed among women is Jael: What Jael did would be condemned by many in the days of the Judges. The responsibility to protect and bless a guest was an almost absolute command, and Jael killed a guest. Yet she was blessed here because her obedience to the cause of God was greater than her obedience to tradition and custom.

b. At her feet he sank: Deborah wanted to increase Sisera’s shame by pointing out that it was a woman who ended his life.

i. “Finally the song rejoiced over the death of the tyrant in language that thrills with Eastern imagery and color.” (Morgan)

ii. “Here is a lively representation of the thing done. At the first blow or wound he was awakened, and made some attempt to rise; but being astonished and very weak, she also following her first blow with others, he found himself impotent, and fell down dead.” (Poole)

5. (Jdg 5:28-30) Reflection on the soon disappointment of Sisera’s survivors.

“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?’
Her wisest ladies answered her,
Yes, she answered herself,
‘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?’”

a. The mother of Sisera looked through the window: Every death has consequences and Deborah thought of and celebrated the consequences of Sisera’s death.

b. To every man a girl or two: Cundall on the ancient Hebrew word translated girl: “Elsewhere in the Old Testament it means ‘womb’, and in the Moabite Stone it has the meaning ‘girl-slaves.’ The nearest English equivalent is ‘wench,’ and it is clear that these unfortunate captives would be used to gratify the lusts of their captors.”

i. “The Hebrew word signifieth, vulvam vel uterum; so they call the Israelitish damsels by way of contempt.” (Trapp)

6. (Jdg 5:31) Final praise to God and the long-term effect of the victory.

“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.

a. Thus let all Your enemies perish: To love God is to hate His enemies. A man or woman is defined as much by who their enemies are as by who their friends are.

b. Let those who love Him be like the sun: How much better it is to be one of those who love Him than to be one of God’s enemies!

©2013 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission
[A previous revision of this page can be found here]

Study Guide for Joshua 1 ← Prior Book
Study Guide for Ruth 1 Next Book →
Study Guide for Judges 4 ← Prior Chapter
Study Guide for Judges 6 Next Chapter →
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