A Prayer as a Song of Victory (Judg 5.2-31) ‣ Praying Through the Bible

    “When locks are long in Israel,
    when the people offer themselves willingly—
    bless the LORD!

    “Hear, O kings; give ear, O princes;
    to the LORD I will sing,
    I will make melody to the LORD, the God of Israel.

    “LORD, when you went out from Seir,
    when you marched from the region of Edom,
    the earth trembled,
    and the heavens poured,
    the clouds indeed poured water.
    The mountains quaked before the LORD, the One of Sinai,
    before the LORD, the God of Israel.

    “In the days of Shamgar son of Anath,
    in the days of Jael, caravans ceased
    and travelers kept to the byways.

    The peasantry prospered in Israel,
    they grew fat on plunder,
    because you arose, Deborah,
    arose as a mother in Israel.

    When new gods were chosen,
    then war was in the gates.
    Was shield or spear to be seen
    among forty thousand in Israel?

    My heart goes out to the commanders of Israel
    who offered themselves willingly among the people.
    Bless the LORD.

    “Tell of it, you who ride on white donkeys,
    you who sit on rich carpets
    and you who walk by the way.

    To the sound of musicians at the watering places,
    there they repeat the triumphs of the LORD,
    the triumphs of his peasantry in Israel.

    “Then down to the gates marched the people of the LORD.
    “Awake, awake, Deborah!
    Awake, awake, utter a song!
    Arise, Barak, lead away your captives,
    O son of Abinoam.

    Then down marched the remnant of the noble;
    the people of the LORD marched down for him against the mighty.
    From Ephraim they set out into the valley,
    following you, Benjamin, with your kin
    from Machir marched down the commanders,
    and from Zebulun those who bear the marshal’s staff;
    the chiefs of Issachar came with Deborah,
    and Issachar faithful to Barak;
    into the valley they rushed out at his heels.

    Among the clans of Reuben
    there were great searchings of heart.
    Why did you tarry among the sheepfolds,
    to hear the piping for the flocks?

    Among the clans of Reuben
    there were great searchings of heart.
    Gilead stayed beyond the Jordan;
    and Dan, why did he abide with the ships

    Asher sat still at the coast of the sea,
    settling down by his landings.
    Zebulun is a people that scorned death;
    Naphtali too, on the heights of the field.

    “The kings came, they fought;
    then fought the kings of Canaan,
    at Taanach, by the waters of Megiddo;
    they got no spoils of silver.

    The stars fought from heaven,
    from their courses they fought against Sisera.
    The torrent Kishon swept them away,
    the onrushing torrent, the torrent Kishon.

    March on, my soul, with might!
    “Then loud beat the horses’ hoofs
    with the galloping, galloping of his steeds.

    “Curse Meroz, says the angel of the LORD,
    curse bitterly its inhabitants,
    because they did not come to the help of the LORD,
    to the help of the LORD against the mighty.

    “Most blessed of women be Jael,
    the wife of Heber the Kenite,
    of tent-dwelling women most blessed.

    He asked water and she gave him milk,
    she brought him curds in a lordly bowl.
    She put her hand to the tent peg
    and her right hand to the workmen’s mallet;
    she struck Sisera a blow,
    she crushed his head,
    she shattered and pierced his temple.

    He sank, he fell,
    he lay still at her feet;
    at her feet he sank, he fell;
    where he sank, there he fell dead.

    “Out of the window she peered,
    the mother of Sisera gazed through the lattice:
    ‘Why is his chariot so long in coming?
    Why tarry the hoofbeats of his chariots?’
    Her wisest ladies make answer,
    indeed, she answers the question herself:
    ‘Are they not finding and dividing the spoil?—
    A girl or two for every man;
    spoil of dyed stuffs for Sisera,
    spoil of dyed stuffs embroidered,
    two pieces of dyed work embroidered for my neck as spoil?

    “So perish all your enemies, O LORD!
    But may your friends be like the sun as it rises in its might.”

    Judges 5.231


    This is the first prayer found in Judges. Called the “Song of Deborah,” it is a poetic prayer/hymn that describes God’s saving acts. It contains blessings and praises to Him for the victory of the Israelite forces over their enemies. Based on the style of Hebrew, it is one of the oldest hymns in the Bible—perhaps from the 12th century BC. In the ancient world, it was not unusual to compose hymns or songs in celebration of a great victory. The Israelites did the same here.1

    Deborah is the third judge described in the book of Judges, and the only female judge mentioned. She is also the only judge who is also a prophet (4.4). Before she became judge, the Israelites had fallen back into their “evil” ways. They are living again with little reference to God (4.1). Once again, a foreign king conquers and oppresses them. This time it is King Jaban from Hazor. Through his military commander, Sisera, Jaban oppressed the Israelites for twenty years. Finally, they cry out to God and once more, God provides a leader for them.

    The story begins with Deborah summoning Barak, who acts her general of the army, a counterpart to Sisera. She tells him that God has promised to make them victorious over the Hazorites. She says that God will work “through the hand of a woman.” The story uses this phrase to make the reader think it is Deborah. While that is true in the larger sense, a sub-story fulfills those words, too. After the battle, Sisera runs away and hides in the tent of an Israelite woman, who kills him in his sleep. The enemy and its leader have been defeated at the hands of two women.