v1 On that day Deborah and Barak, Abinoam’s son, sang this song.
v2 ‘Praise the *Lord because the leaders of *Israel led. The people were glad to follow!
v3 Listen, kings and rulers! I will sing to the *Lord. I will make music to the God of *Israel’s people.
v4 *Lord, you went out from Seir and you marched from the country called Edom.
Then the earth shook and rain fell from the sky. Rain poured down from the clouds.
v5 The mountains shook in front of the *Lord of Sinai. (Sinai is the mountain where God gave the 10 *commandments.)
They shook in front of the *Lord, the God of *Israel’s people.
v6 When Anath’s son Shamgar and Jael were living in *Israel, people stopped using camels in trade.
People went by minor roads.
v7 They stopped living in villages until I, Deborah, came. I became like a mother in *Israel.
v8 When they followed new gods, war came to the city’s gates.
Their enemies did not allow *Israel’s 40 000 soldiers to have even one shield or *spear. (A shield is something to protect the body.)
v9 My feelings are with *Israel’s leaders. And they are with the people that followed willingly.
Praise the *Lord!
v10 Some people ride on white *mules. And they sit on the blankets of their saddles.
Some people walk along the road.
v11 Those people should listen to the singers at the wells.
They sing about God’s fair acts. And they sing about the fair acts of the soldiers.
Then God’s people marched down to the city’s gates.
The story in chapter 4 showed us which people were in the battle. It showed us where it happened and it showed us when it happened. Now this song in chapter 5 shows us how God was working in the battle. In this poetry, the writer tells us a lot about the battle itself. This is a very old poem. Few poems in the Bible are older than this. Some words that the writer uses are difficult to understand. And they are difficult to translate. We read that the important people led the other people. And the other people were willing to follow them completely. The singers are singing a song to praise God. And they call the rulers in the area to hear it. They link the storm with the thunder (a loud noise in the sky) and lightning. They also mention the movement of the earth at Sinai. Even during the lives of Shamgar and Jael, the roads were too dangerous. People stopped using camels to carry things. They went on minor roads instead. They left villages to live safely in towns. These towns had walls. This continued until Deborah became ‘like a mother in *Israel’. The people had chosen new gods. The result was war and weakness. Their enemies would not allow them to have anything to fight with. So they did not dare to show their *weapons. Deborah’s feelings were with the leaders. And they were with the people who were willing to follow. These included the rich people that rode on white *mules. And they also included the poor people, who walked. The singers at the wells encouraged them. They reminded them about what God and his people had done in the past. The people gathered at the city’s gates to give thanks.
v12 Wake up, Deborah!
Wake up and sing.
Get up, Barak!
Son of Abinoam, lead away your prisoners.
v13 The nobles (important people in the nation) that remained, marched down.
The *Lord’s people marched down for him against the powerful nations.
v14 Some came from Ephraim’s *tribe down into the valley.
Benjamin’s *tribe was with the people that followed you.
Captains came down from Makir
and leaders came from Zebulun’s *tribe.
v15 Issachar’s *tribe went with Deborah and they supported Barak.
They rushed down into the valley.
Reuben’s *tribe could not decide whether to come.
v16 You should not have stayed by the sheep.
You listened to the people who looked after the sheep. You listened when they were calling them.
v17 The *tribes in Gilead stayed across the Jordan river.
Dan’s *tribe stayed by the ships.
Asher’s *tribe remained by the sea.
They hid in their harbours.
v18 The people from Zebulun’s *tribe and Naphtali’s *tribe risked their lives in the battle.
The song contains a call to Deborah and Barak. But this does not mean that Deborah did not write the song. She probably did write it. Ancient texts from the Near East often include the name of their authors. Both Deborah and Barak decided to act. They were not content with the situation any more. They read aloud a list of some *tribes’ names. First were the *tribes who came. Makir in verse 14 means Manasseh’s *tribe. Not all the *tribes came. They did not all obey. Some did not come. The singers refer to these in a bad way. They do not mention Judah’s *tribe and Simeon’s *tribe. These *tribes lived a long way away and they probably fought the *Philistines.
v19 The kings of *Canaan fought at Taanach.
This is by the waters near Megiddo.
They did not take any silver away.
v20 The stars in the sky fought against Sisera.
v21 The ancient Kishon river swept them away.
March on, my spirit! Be strong!
v22 The horses’ feet made a great noise.
The powerful horses went away at a very fast speed.
v23 The *angel of the Lord *cursed Meroz.
“Angrily say bad things about its people,
because they did not come to help the *Lord against his enemies”, he said.
Nature’s powers, which fought for *Israel’s people, defeated the army from *Canaan. There was a very strong storm. And there was a sudden flood of water from the sky. This was what led to the success. It was not because of *Israel’s 10 000 soldiers. The kings of *Canaan did not get any possessions that people would normally take from the battle. Instead, they used their horses to escape. These were the horses that they would otherwise have used in the battle. In Bible times, people often fought battles on the plain called Megiddo. The book called Revelation refers to this as Armageddon. This is the place where people will fight the last great battle. In the poem, we read ‘March on, my spirit! Be strong!’ This is the cry of success. The song refers in a bad way to Meroz. This was a town that belonged to the *Israelites. It was in the area where Naphtali’s *tribe lived. It was probably in the area where the battle happened. But its people did not help the *Israelites. So the song refers to it in a bad way.
v24 Bless Jael, the wife of Heber the *Kenite.
Bless her more than all women that live in tents.
v25 He asked for water and she gave him milk.
She offered him *yoghurt in a fine bowl.
v26 Then she took a *tent peg and a hammer.
v27 She struck Sisera. She *crushed his head
and she split his *skull.
At her feet, he sank down. He fell and he lay there.
Where he sank, there he fell down dead.
Now the writer of the song blesses Jael. She destroyed someone that was evil. That is why the writer blesses her. The writer enjoys every detail of her action. Perhaps Sisera tried to find safety in Jael’s own tent. She probably killed him in order to free her character from any blame. When she offered him *yoghurt rather than milk, she seemed generous. This made him feel safe. In fact, he was not safe. Jael did not entertain this visitor in a way that anyone would expect. It was like what Judas did. He gave Jesus to his enemies after the last supper. The *tent peg was probably metal, as the *Kenites were smiths. (Smiths are people that make things from metal.) People used *tent pegs to hold up the *ropes of a tent. Women usually erected the tents.
v28 Sisera’s mother looked through the window.
She cried out,
“Why does his *chariot delay?
Why can we not hear the sound of the wheels?”
v29 She had princesses with her. One princess, who was the most wise one, answered like this:
And she said this to herself,
v30 “They are finding things to take. And they are finding things to share.
Every man will get a girl or two girls.
Sisera will get clothes with bright colours.
He will get clothes with bright colours
and he will get cloth for my neck. The cloth will have patterns on it.”
v31 *Lord, I pray that all your enemies will die like this.
I want those that love you to shine.
I want them to shine like the sun
when it is very strong.’
Then there was peace in the country for 40 years.
In the final section, the writer imagines Sisera’s mother. She is waiting for his return. She suggests reasons for his delay. Perhaps, he is organising how they share the property. Perhaps, he is sharing out the unhappy slave girls that the soldiers stole after the fight. Sisera will certainly return with clothes that his mother can wear. They will have beautiful colours and patterns. So Sisera’s mother is the mother in *Canaan and Deborah is the mother in *Israel. Notice the contrast between these. The last verse shows that the confidence of *Canaan’s people has no real reason. ‘*Lord, I pray that all your enemies will die like this.’ But those who love God will succeed.
What Jael did does not seem good. Deborah’s song shows happiness about her enemies’ death. To be happy for such a reason is not good either. But Jesus commanded us to love our enemies. If we know this, perhaps we should not make too strict a judgement. In his book ‘The Goodness of God’, John Wenham says this:
‘They do not bless Jael for murder and lies. These remain evil things even when you cannot do anything in a different way. They bless her for her courage. And they bless her for the fact that she obeyed the true God.’