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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: H. Hastings Weld :: The Women of the Scriptures

H. Hastings Weld :: The Song of Deborah

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The splendid exordium of Deborah's song combines a grateful solemn address to Deity, with an invitation to the great and mighty of the earth to join the devout homage. She then, in the next three verses, describes the desolation of Israel from the persecutions of the enemy: "The highways were unoccupied, and the travellers walked through the by‐ways." (Jdg 5:6.) No description could convey a more vivid picture of abject wretchedness. It was unsafe to pass along the usual roads; and those whose business compelled them to journey to a distance, went in secrecy and mortal fear through the obscure by‐ways, as the only method of escaping their cruel oppressors. This state of things continued so long that "the inhabitants of the villages ceased in Israel." (Jdg 5:7.) Persecution and sorrow had depopulated a great portion of the flourishing land, "until," as the prophetess triumphantly exclaims, "that I, Deborah, arose-that I arose a mother in Israel." There is something peculiarly feminine and tender in this sentence. The names of prophetess, judge, leader, might all or each have been appropriately used by Deborah: but she chooses the dear and holy name of mother, How much is conveyed in that appellation! a mother in her sympathies with the sufferings of her people, a mother in her anxieties, a mother in her energies, a mother in her rapture at their deliverance. In the 11th verse, we have incidentally a further description of the miseries that the Israelites had endured, during the twenty years that Jabin had mightily oppressed them. "They that are delivered from the noise of archers in the places of drawing water!" (Jdg 5:11.) Water, the indispensable luxury of the east, was not to be obtained but at the peril of life and limb. The enemy waylaid and attacked the children of Israel by the wells; and, in a beautiful spirit of truly feminine devotion, Deborah proposes that in those very places where they had suffered attack they should unite in worship. "There shall they rehearse the righteous acts of the Lord." (Jdg 5:11.)

At this period of the song, as if afraid that her thanksgiving too feebly expressed her gratitude, she bursts forth with sublime enthusiasm, "Awake, awake, Deborah: awake, awake, utter a song. Arise, Barak, and lead thy captivity captive, thou son of Abinoam." (Jdg 5:12.) The concluding clause of the appeal to Barak is peculiarly feminine. She seeks to arouse him to increased enthusiasm by the mention of his father, a domestic filial allusion of exceeding delicacy and tenderness. Then follows an enumeration of the tribes who had rendered patriotic service in the struggle, with graphic mention of the supine and lukewarm, dispersed throughout. The disapprobation expressed is equally of a feminine character. It derives peculiar point and force from the sex of the speaker. The tribe of Reuben was divided and supine during the contest, and, with a fine vein of irony, Deborah exclaims, "Why abodest thou among the sheepfolds, to hear the bleatings of the flocks?" (Jdg 5:16.) This remark was the most pungent in its sarcasm that the lip of woman could utter: an imputation of cowardice is probably the most intolerable charge that can be received by man from woman. Yet this severe covert censure is redeemed from any manifestation of unhallowed anger, by the sorrowful apostrophe, repeated twice, with slight variations, "For the divisions of Reuben there were great searchings of heart." (Jdg 5:15.)

The song embraces a most graphic description of the act of Jael in killing Sisera, and if other passages are feminine and characteristic in their piety, gratitude, tenderness, enthusiasm, and irony, this is no less so for its vehemence. It is necessary to keep in mind from what horrors the Israelites had been delivered, before we can understand Deborah's eulogium on the stern and unrelenting Jael. It is quite probable the deliverance would not have been complete unless Sisera had fallen. His was the guiding mind that enforced and continued the persecution, and the results anticipated were peculiarly calculated to rouse all the womanly indignation of Deborah. We have this significantly alluded to in the verses (Jdg 5:28-30) where the mother of Sisera and her wise ladies are represented as saying to each other, "Have they not sped? have they not divided the prey, to every man a damsel or two?" The fate, far worse than death, from which the Hebrew damsels had been rescued, was likely to stimulate to the utmost enthusiasm "Deborah the mother in Israel." The total overthrow of the nation, and humiliations of the most degrading kind, was the doom that had been averted. Little wonder is it then that under the Mosaic dispensation, with its retributive policy and morals, this mother in Israel should praise the treacherous and cruel act of Jael, looking less at the terrific deed than at its consequences.

The last verse of Deborah's song is a glorious climax to the whole: "So let all thine enemies perish, O Lord; but let them that love thee be as the sun when he goeth forth in his might." (Jdg 5:31.) What a sublime image! the sun in his strength of all created objects the most glorious. "Thou sun, of this great world both eye and soul!" Even such in the intellectual world is the man of devotion, reflecting the light of God's countenance, and diffusing that light around on all within its influence.

The whole account of this distinguished woman concludes with the words, "And the land had rest for forty years." (Jdg 5:31.) No fuller testimony is needed in reference to the wisdom of Deborah's government. Prosperity, peace, enjoyment, are all included in the word if "rest."

Strict as is the unvarying impartiality of Scripture in relating the errors of its most distinguished characters, nothing appears to detract from the excellence of Deborah. Her genius, wisdom, energy, and piety are conspicuous throughout the whole narration; and her administration if judged by the results that followed-a peace of forty years' continuance-is as worthy to rank with that of the most able of the leaders of God's ancient people, as her sublime song is to compare with their loftiest compositions. Altogether, the history of Deborah is perhaps the most memorable instance on record of the Almighty elevating a woman to public dignity and supreme authority.

Naomi, Orpah, and Ruth 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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