The Song of Deborah
“The Song of Deborah is one of the finest examples of an ode of triumph preserved in Israelite literature [with] a vividness, an almost staccato effect of action and a spirit of sheer exultation” (Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, chapter 5 summary). The song celebrates the outcome related in our previous reading—a most unexpected deliverance from an apparently unconquerable and desperately cruel foe.
Considering all that transpired, the opening lines of the song are most instructive: “When leaders lead in Israel, when the people willingly offer themselves, Bless the Lord!” While this is not an exact translation of the Hebrew here, the idiom used being somewhat obscure, it does perhaps convey the intent behind it. And the sentiment is certainly a true one in any case. For strong, fearless, visionary leadership combined with a people who willingly offer themselves to God produces an irresistibly powerful and successful combination. Wherever there is vacillation and little success among God’s people, at least one of these two factors is missing.
The song gives some very interesting details of God’s maneuvering in the deliverance from Jabin, as well as the conditions of Israel’s servitude to that terrible king. Verses 4-5 reveal that God caused a major rainstorm just before or during the battle. No doubt the muddy ground mired the heavy iron chariots of Jabin, vastly reducing his army’s strength and demoralizing his troops. God often uses weather to confound armies, and it has even apparently happened in modern times.
Verses 6-9 reveal the severity of Jabin’s oppression. Main highways were desolate of traveler, whether trader or pilgrim; all took the rougher unknown, but safe, trails through the hill country. Moreover, the many small Israelite villages were under constant fear of destruction, and as a result many were depopulated, the people either moving to larger cities or preferring tent dwelling, as did Jael.
Verse 20 has been interpreted in several ways, with some scholars preferring to understand it as an ironic slap at the Canaanite practice of astrology, while others view the stars as symbolic of real heavenly forces, implying that Israel had angelic help in its fight against Jabin. Another explanation is that the reference is to meteors.