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Mary Elizabeth Baxter :: Deborah’s Song—Judges 5.

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"I arose, a mother in Israel."-Judges 5:7

The unusual call of Deborah the prophetess ended with the conquest of Jabin. She still remained a judge and a prophetess, but her military campaign was at an end; she was no longer a Joan of Arc in Israel, but she gave herself to her ordinary work, and composed a song of victory, which was doubtless set to music, and sung by the priestly tribe.

But there is one thing that strikes one in the song of Deborah. There was so much of herself in it. The position had been too much for her; she could not forget the part she had played in it. "Then sang Deborah, and Barak the son of Abinoam, saying: Praise ye the Lord for the avenging of Israel, when the people willingly offered themselves." (Jdg 5:1.) These first words witness how strong was the impression made on the people by this remarkable woman. Doubtless, the ten thousand men gathered by her and Barak were volunteers, and their military service was neither a forced matter nor an affair of money, but there was all the enthusiasm of the voluntary principle in it. "They willingly offered themselves."

"Hear, O ye kings," sings Deborah, "I, even I, will sing unto the Lord: I will sing praise to the Lord God of Israel." (Jdg 5:3.) Barak was singing as well as Deborah; but Deborah was most present to her own mind: yet this woman lived in communion with the Unseen. She saw the Lord go out of Seir, marching out of the field of Edom, the earth trembling, the heavens dropping, the clouds dropping water, the mountains melting, even Sinai itself, before the Lord God of Israel. And then she discoursed on the desolation of the land through the destruction of Jabin. "The highways were unoccupied"-the Canaanites made them dangerous-"and the travellers walked through by ways." (Jdg 5:6.) The country villages became so unsafe that they were hardly to be found in Israel "until that I," said Deborah, "arose,


a mother in Israel." Here we see the danger of her position. O how much more blessed would it be if she had said, "Until the Lord arose." Deborah was no small person in her own eyes.

She speaks of the idolatry of the people. "They chose new gods; then was war in the gates;" and yet their armour was so poor that she asks, "Was there a shield or spear seen among forty thousand in Israel?" (Jdg 5:8.) And again she sounds the strain of the willingness of the people: "My heart is toward the governors of Israel, that offered themselves willingly among the people." "My heart"-Deborah continues somebody, great in her own eyes! She is not simply an instrument of the Lord, although she intersperses her song with His praises.

"Awake, awake, Deborah;" she sings, "awake, awake, utter a song: arise, Barak, and lead thy captivity captive, thou son of Abinoam." Deborah first, and Barak second! This was reversing the order of God; but this old prophetess did not perceive it; she had not learnt by the example of the meek and lowly One to take the last place, and to be among the people of God as one that serveth. It was to His little flock that Jesus taught: "He that will be chief among you, let him be as the younger." It is true she said: "The Lord made me have dominion over the mighty;" (Jdg 5:13.) but it would have been more womanly to have taken the place by constraint, and not to have boasted of it. Yet Deborah had a keen sense of what was due to God, and of the real call of the tribes of Israel to take up their position with Him against Israel's foes.

"Out of Ephraim was there a root of them against Amalek." She speaks of Benjamin and Machir, while Zebulun was only useful in handling the pen of the writer, no doubt by way of encouraging others to take the field against Canaan. But "the princes of Issachar were with Deborah; even Issachar, and also Barak; he was sent on foot into the valley"-as the infantry who could not manage the mountain passes.

But there was one tribe whose internal divisions unfitted them to come to the help of the Lord. It was Reuben. "For the divisions of Reuben there were great thoughts of heart;" and she was obliged to ask: "Why abodest thou among the sheepfolds, to hear the bleatings of the flocks?" (Jdg 5:16.) There is a time for everything, a time in which the flocks should not be neglected; but when the commonwealth of Israel calls for a stand against the enemy, all personal matters, all family matters and business matters must be put aside, and everyone must take his share of danger and hardship for the common good. O that men understood this in the Church! O that that unity of the members of the body which Paul writes of (1Cr 12) were a recognised and powerful reality at this time!

"Gilead abode beyond Jordan: and why did Dan remain in ships? Asher continued on the sea shore, and abode in his breaches;" while the neighbouring tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali jeopardised their lives in the high places of the field. "They loved not their lives unto the death." (Rev 12:11.) But God did not allow defeat to come upon His people because of the defection of some tribes. God had the universe at his command; and "the stars in their courses fought against Sisera."

In the midst of her song, Deborah becomes the mouthpiece of the angel of the Lord. It is an inspired curse that she utters:

"Curse ye, Meroz, said the angel of the Lord; curse ye bitterly the inhabitants thereof; because they came not to the help of the Lord, to the help of the Lord against the mighty." There is no neutrality in the kingdom of God: "He that is not with Me is against Me; and he that gathereth not with Me scattereth abroad." (Mat 12:30.)

After extolling highly the deed of Jael, and turning into irony the expectation of Sisera's mother that he should come back victorious and laden with the spoil, Deborah closes her song:

"So let all Thine enemies perish, O Lord; but let them that love Him be as the sun when he goeth forth in his might." (Jdg 5:31.)

Deborah was an imperfect, but a useful woman. Let every redeemed and truly converted woman who reads these pages learn that, bought by the blood of Christ and saved by His life, our responsibilities are infinitely greater than hers, and God's grace in Christ for us is equal to them all.

This is all we hear of the history of Deborah. Of her private life we know nothing-what kind of wife, what kind of mother, what kind of mistress she made; and yet how many there are who would like to know how such a woman dealt with the details of home life. No prophetic gift, no calling of the Spirit of God into active and public service can excuse a woman for unfaithfulness in family and domestic matters. The being a worker together with God can never excuse her from being a helpmeet to her husband; but the two things can go blessedly together where the public call is really from God. In His economy, one call does not necessarily supersede another, and "he that is faithful in that which is least," can be "faithful also in much." (Luk 16:10.)

Deborah—Judges 4. ← Prior Section
Manoah’s Wife—Judges 13. Next Section →

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.


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