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Some years after Moses led the people of Israel out of Egypt and after Joshua took them into the land that God had promised Abram, Israel was led by a series of judges. Moses picked the first judges, people who feared God and were known to be trustworthy and uncorrupt.
After Joshua died, but before the people of Israel demanded a king, the Israelites attempted to settle in the Promised Land. It was a time of great turbulence. The judges, whose lives are recorded in the Old Testament book of Judges, ruled during this interim. They weren’t quite kings, but instead were the heads of families who rose to prominence for their great wisdom. Gideon and Samson were two of the more famous judges.
Deborah, too, became a nationally renowned judge and prophet. She lived around 1250 BC, and was known to sit under a palm tree (named after her!) to hear disputes needing
One day, she summoned Barak, a general in the army. She told him God had spoken: Barak was to fight Sisera’s mighty army. God had promised Barak the victory. Barak, not quite as confident as he should have been about this proclamation, was only willing to go into battle if Deborah would go with him. She agreed to go, but because of his cowardice, she announced, he wouldn’t get credit for defeating Sisera.
As you might imagine, Barak’s army crushed Sisera’s army. Sisera fled from the battlefield and hid in the tent of a woman named Jael. After getting him sleepy with warm milk, Jael killed Sisera by . . . well, it was gruesome.
In one of the oldest Hebrew poems, Deborah responded to the victory God gave by singing a beautiful song of praise and thanksgiving. It takes up the entire fifth chapter of Judges. Here’s
a portion of it:
they let it blow wild in the wind.
volunteered with abandon,
Hear O kings! Listen O princes!
To God, yes to God, I’ll
Make music to God,
to the God of Israel. . . .
Warriors became fat and sloppy,
no fight left in them.
Then you, Deborah, rose up;
you got up, a mother in Israel. . . .
Lift your hearts high, O Israel,
with abandon, volunteering yourselves with the people–
You who ride on prize donkeys
comfortably mounted on blankets
And you who walk down the roads,
Gather at the town well
and listen to them sing,
Chanting the tale of God’s victories,
his victories accomplished in Israel.
Then the people
went down to the city gates.
Wake up, wake up, Deborah!
Wake up, wake up, sing a song!
On your feet, Barak!
Take your prisoners, son of Abinoam! . . .
Most blessed of all women is Jael,
wife of Heber the Kenite,
most blessed of homemaking women.
He asked for water,
she brought milk;
In a handsome bowl,
she offered cream.
She grabbed a tent peg in her left hand,
with her right hand she seized a hammer.
She hammered Sisera, she smashed his head,
she drove a hole through his head.
He slumped at her feet. He fell. He sprawled.
He slumped at her feet. He fell.
Slumped. Fallen. Dead. . . .
Thus may all God’s enemies perish,
while his lovers be like the unclouded sun.
Of course we agree with Deborah that when the Lord does a great thing for us, we should respond with a song of praise. But what’s special about Deborah’s song is that she is the only judge who responds this way. While over and over again in the book of Judges the people turned their backs on God, and then God still rescued them from certain defeat, only Deborah says, “Hold everything! We need to sing a hymn of praise to the God who has granted us victory!“
Abraham laughed with joy as a response to finally having a son, and Moses gave a long and beautiful speech to all the people before he died, reminding them to stay true to the Lord. But Deborah breaks into song, the way most of us do every Sunday in church, as a way of thanking God.
There’s another interesting note about Deborah’s song: In it, she tells everyone in the nation to sing praises to God. This is not her personal song; it’s a national anthem of praise to God. She encourages all the people to stop what they’re doing, to wake up, and to sing out to the Lord who has saved them.
When did you last wholeheartedly sing your praises to God? What was the reason for your praise? What’s your favorite song of praise? Some of our national songs, such as “God Bless America” and “My Country ‘Tis of Thee,” are national songs of praise to God. The next time you sing one of these songs, sing it as a prayer.
If you like this and you’d like to read more, check out my book, Ask Seek Knock. Thanks.
Copyright Tony Jones, 2008. Used by permission of NavPress. www.navpress.com