Bible Insights

Deborah’s Song

Psalm 159 from Beyond Psalm 150

After Moses dies, his successor, Joshua, leads the people to conquer and settle in the promised land. Then a series of judges (leaders) work to free the people from recurring cycles of oppression.

The book of Judges lists one female judge among many male counterparts. Deborah, a judge and a prophet, takes the mantle of leadership when Barak lacks the courage to do so by himself. Through her direction, God provides the nation of Israel with victory. In doing so, another woman, Jael, plays a decisive part.

Deborah (along with Barak) then offers this psalm of praise to God for delivering them from their enemies.

Because the leaders took the lead in Israel,
    because the people offered themselves willingly,
be blessed, Yahweh!
“Hear, you kings!
    Give ear, you princes!
I, even I, will sing to Yahweh.
    I will sing praise to Yahweh, the God of Israel.
Yahweh, when you went out of Seir,
    when you marched out of the field of Edom,
the earth trembled, the sky also dropped.
    Yes, the clouds dropped water.
The mountains quaked at Yahweh’s presence,
    even Sinai at the presence of Yahweh, the God of Israel.
In the days of Shamgar the son of Anath,
    in the days of Jael, the highways were unoccupied.
    The travelers walked through byways.
The rulers ceased in Israel.
    They ceased until I, Deborah, arose;
    Until I arose a mother in Israel.They chose new gods.
    Then war was in the gates.
    Was there a shield or spear seen among forty thousand in Israel?
My heart is toward the governors of Israel,
    who offered themselves willingly among the people.
    Bless Yahweh!
Speak, you who ride on white donkeys,
    you who sit on rich carpets,
    and you who walk by the way.
Far from the noise of archers, in the places of drawing water,
    there they will rehearse Yahweh’s righteous acts,
    the righteous acts of his rule in Israel.
Then Yahweh’s people went down to the gates.
‘Awake, awake, Deborah!
    Awake, awake, utter a song!
    Arise, Barak, and lead away your captives, you son of Abinoam.’
“Then a remnant of the nobles and the people came down.
    Yahweh came down for me against the mighty.
Those whose root is in Amalek came out of Ephraim,
    after you, Benjamin, among your peoples.
Governors come down out of Machir.
    Those who handle the marshal’s staff came out of Zebulun.
The princes of Issachar were with Deborah.
    As was Issachar, so was Barak.
    They rushed into the valley at his feet.
By the watercourses of Reuben,
    there were great resolves of heart.
Why did you sit among the sheepfolds?
    To hear the whistling for the flocks?
At the watercourses of Reuben,
    there were great searchings of heart.
Gilead lived beyond the Jordan.
    Why did Dan remain in ships?
    Asher sat still at the haven of the sea,
    and lived by his creeks.
Zebulun was a people that jeopardized their lives to the death;
    Naphtali also, on the high places of the field.
The kings came and fought,
    then the kings of Canaan fought at Taanach by the waters of Megiddo.
    They took no plunder of silver.
From the sky the stars fought.
    From their courses, they fought against Sisera.
The river Kishon swept them away,
    that ancient river, the river Kishon.
    My soul, march on with strength.
Then the horse hoofs stamped because of the prancing,
    the prancing of their strong ones.
‘Curse Meroz,’ said Yahweh’s angel.
    ‘Curse bitterly its inhabitants,
    because they didn’t come to help Yahweh,
    to help Yahweh against the mighty.’
Jael shall be blessed above women,
    the wife of Heber the Kenite;
    blessed shall she be above women in the tent.
He asked for water.
    She gave him milk.
    She brought him butter in a lordly dish.
She put her hand to the tent peg,
    and her right hand to the workmen’s hammer.
With the hammer she struck Sisera.
    She struck through his head.
    Yes, she pierced and struck through his temples.
At her feet he bowed, he fell, he lay.
    At her feet he bowed, he fell.
    Where he bowed, there he fell down dead.
Through the window she looked out, and cried:
   Sisera’s mother looked through the lattice.
‘Why is his chariot so long in coming?
    Why do the wheels of his chariots wait?’
Her wise ladies answered her,
    Yes, she returned answer to herself,
‘Have they not found, have they not divided the plunder?
    A lady, two ladies to every man;
to Sisera a plunder of dyed garments,
    a plunder of dyed garments embroidered,
    of dyed garments embroidered on both sides, on the necks of the plunder?’
So let all your enemies perish, Yahweh,
    but let those who love him be as the sun when it rises in its strength.

Judges 5:2–31 (WEB)

Reflections on Deborah’s Song

Like Deborah, we may find ourselves in positions we didn’t want. And like Barak, we may cower from what God wants us to do.

When faced with what we don’t want, do we pull back in human fear or move forward in godly power? Are we able to praise Yahweh for the results? May we have the courage to do what’s right and what God calls us to do.

Explore the other psalms—sacred songs of praise, petition, and lament—scattered throughout the Bible in Peter’s book Beyond Psalm 150.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.