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The Songwriters

In our continuing series of character studies about valiant and virtuous women in the Scriptures, Sis. Carmel Page draws our attention to a great woman of faith. ~ Editor
Read Time: 7 minutes

“The sun can conquer anything. It can kill by sapping all energy, but it can also defeat famine by making new crops flourish. The sun can burn a man’s brain so that he can’t even walk toward the shade. The sun can also lift spirits, bringing new light after darkness.”

These were the musings of a man who was walking due south for many days. Each day he started before dawn, rested when it became too hot, then walked on beside his long evening shadow. It was late afternoon and still blisteringly hot.

The man swigged from his waterskin. He was nearly at his destination, so on this day, he carried on through the midday heat. He was a poet and a songwriter; he hadn’t achieved fame, but he loved to write, and tunes danced their way into his head with the rhythm of each step.

He wanted to write a song that used the sun as a metaphor for the power we have when we follow God. Sun… come… run…fun…begun, there are a lot of words that rhyme with sun, but none of them seemed right. In the distance was the Palm of Deborah, and underneath its cool shade, there would be a warm welcome.

Without a fair judge like Deborah, it would have been a lot worse.

Deborah deserved a palace, not a palm tree, but the indigenous people do not get what they deserve in occupied territory. Jabin, King of Canaan, had invaded twenty years ago, and the Children of Israel had suffered. Without a fair judge like Deborah, it would have been a lot worse.

At least people could sit in the shade of her palm tree where Deborah would settle their disputes. She had more wisdom than a court full of men, and she had everyone’s respect. The man walked into the tree’s shade, hips, knees, lower back all aching from days of walking. As he sank into the cool cushions, they hugged his aching joints. He drank juice, cool and sweet.

He thought “I should write a song about Deborah. What rhymes with Deborah? Something must rhyme with Deborah.”

“Will you do that?”

“Ahh, what?”

“Barak, have you been listening to me or not?” Deborah laughed. “I’ve just told you why I sent for you. You do realize the LORD, the God of Israel, told me to send for you?”

“Yes, yes I know, and that’s why I’ve come.” He was flustered. Had he dozed off?

“So, will you recruit ten thousand men from Naphtali and Zebulun and lead them up to Mount Tabor?”

That was a long journey to set off again—back up north from where he had just come. Deborah explained the plan.

“God will lead Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his troops to the Kishon River and then give Sisera into your hands.”

The last thing Barak wanted to do was fight Sisera. He had cruelly oppressed the Israelites for twenty years. He had nine hundred chariots fitted with iron and seemed impossible to defeat. Barak was frightened of Sisera, but he trusted Deborah; everyone trusted Deborah.

“If you go with me, I will go, but if you don’t go with me, I won’t go.”

“Certainly, I will go with you,” said Deborah without any hesitation. “But because you don’t trust God to protect you, he will deliver Sisera into the hands of a woman.”

Barak sat up and scratched his head. Had he done wrong to ask Deborah for help? Everyone asked Deborah for help! Perhaps he should have accepted what she said. She knew God’s plan. Now Deborah was going to accompany him, and she would be the one to slay Sisera, he thought. That would be something to write a song about!

The Triumph of Faith

So, Deborah accompanied Barak on the journey back north to Kadesh. More hot roads and sleeping rough. And now Barack had a woman to look after too, although Deborah seemed quite able to look after herself. Being with her was rather like being a small boy again and having a mother looking after him.

Fortunately, the men of Zebulun and Naphtali were enthusiastic about joining him. He soon had ten thousand under his command. Barak wondered if they would have been so enthusiastic if he hadn’t arrived with Deborah. Barak set off with his army of foot soldiers marching up the flat valley floor, striding the wadis where they were narrow enough to leap and then, onwards up Mount Tabor.

It was an arduous trek, but it gave them the advantage of high ground where chariots fitted with iron were too heavy to follow. Sisera rode into the Kishon valley with his men and nine hundred chariots. Barak and Deborah watched from the mountainside. Then Deborah said, “Go! This is the day the LORD has given Sisera into your hands. Has not the LORD gone ahead of you?”

So Barak went down Mount Tabor, with ten thousand men following him. He was at the front, but he didn’t feel vulnerable because his Lord, the God of Israel, was ahead of him. Barak saw God before him, in the sky, a mighty pillar of cloud, dark as death, then an explosion of water dropped from it, drenching everything, the mountain quaked with the echo of thunder.

Torrents hurtled down the mountain to the flat valley below. Flash-floods filled wadis, overwhelmed brooks, and engulfed chariot wheels. As the rain fell from the sky onto Sisera’s chariots, Barak’s army fell from the mountainside. Water rising from below, ten thousand men attacking from above.

The crash of lightning, slash of swords, smash of bones. A bloodbath flowed across the valley in a tide of destruction. While Sisera’s soldiers fought for him, leaping from their bogged-down chariots into the rising waters, fighting till the last breath was gone from them, Sisera got down from his sinking chariot and fled on foot.

No sooner had the fighting abated than the flash flood drained away. Like flotsam on a beach, the bodies of Sisera’s army emerged from the waters; the half-sunken chariots lay before them. But Sisera could not be found amongst the dead, so Barak, with a small group of men, set out in search of him.

Some days later, Barak reached a Bedouin camp. They were Kenites, who had a history of friendliness to Israel but also had an alliance with Jabin. Barak was unsure if he could trust them. Just then, a woman came out to meet him.

She Bruised His Head

“Come,” she said, “My name is Jael. I will show you the man you’re looking for.” Was it a trap? Jael led Barak to her tent. He felt awkward entering and stood in the doorway. As his eyes adjusted from the desert brightness to the dark, he saw someone asleep on a bed mat.

In the perfumed tent, decorated with women’s embroideries, he saw a hammer on the floor, incongruous on a beautifully woven mat. The sleeper was covered in a colorful blanket. Barak could hear the bleat of animals outside and the laughter of the children playing nearby.

As his eyes grew accustomed, he saw that it was Sisera’s head snuggled into a red pillow. He was lying on his side and looked peacefully asleep. Barak’s eyes were playing tricks on him. Through Sisera’s temple, he thought he could see a tent peg, blood congealed around it, blood across the pillow, blood on the floor.

Jael pulled back the door curtain so that Barak could see better. He had come from a battlefield. He had seen many men dead, killed in the anger and rage of battle and yet that hadn’t prepared him for the sight of Sisera. The idea that a woman had held a tent peg above his sleeping head and hammered him into the ground was unsettling.

On the journey back, Barak’s mind was in a spin. He wasn’t inspired to write poetry or songs. But once again, under Deborah’s Palm tree, there was a party. There was praise for the God who saved them and much singing.

Who Wrote the Song?

Nowadays, we call the song they sang “The Song of Deborah” but nowhere does it actually say she wrote it. Deborah was a Judge. She believed in justice, so this verse does sound like her:

When the princes in Israel take the lead, when the people willingly offer themselves— praise the LORD! Hear this, you kings! Listen, you rulers! I, even I, will sing to the LORD; I will praise the LORD, the God of Israel, in song. (Judg 5:2-3 NIV).

But surely any of the soldiers who witnessed the battle and the miracle that happened would want to sing about it:

The earth shook, the heavens poured, the clouds poured down water. The mountains quaked before the LORD, the One of Sinai, before the LORD, the God of Israel. From the heavens the stars fought, from their courses they fought against Sisera. The river Kishon swept them away, the age-old river, the river Kishon. March on, my soul; be strong! Then thundered the horses’ hooves— galloping, galloping go his mighty steeds. (Judg 5:4,5,20-21).

It sounds as if the next words were Deborah’s. But is it arrogant to sing about yourself like that? Or was it custom for singers to imagine what their hero was saying? I don’t know if Barak really liked to write lyrics, but I can imagine he wrote this part about Deborah:

Deborah was the only female Judge who was also a prophet. The only other person who held both roles was Samuel.

Villagers in Israel would not fight; they held back until I, Deborah, arose, until I arose, a mother in Israel. (Judg 5:7).

Or did the people make up the song?

Then the people of the LORD went down to the city gates. “Wake up, wake up, Deborah! Wake up, wake up, break out in song! Arise, Barak! Take captive your captives, son of Abinoam. (Judg 5:11-12).

Or was it the tribes who didn’t fight who sang to honor those who did?

The people of Zebulun risked their very lives; so did Naphtali on the terraced fields. Kings came, they fought, the kings of Canaan fought. At Taanach, by the waters of Megiddo. (Judg 5:18-19).

I’ve never heard the song referred to as Jael’s song, but it is about her too. I wonder why we think Deborah wrote about herself if we don’t think Jael wrote as well?

Most blessed of women be Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, most blessed of tent-dwelling women. He asked for water, and she gave him milk; in a bowl fit for nobles she brought him curdled milk. Her hand reached for the tent peg, her right hand for the workman’s hammer. She struck Sisera, she crushed his head, she shattered and pierced his temple. At her feet he sank, he fell; there he lay. At her feet he sank, he fell; where he sank, there he fell—dead. (Judg 5:24-27).

Anyone could have penned the song’s ending:

So may all your enemies perish, LORD! But may all who love you be like the sun when it rises in its strength. (Judg 5:31).

We don’t know who wrote “Deborah’s Song”, although I’ve enjoyed wondering if Barak was a songwriter. It could have been compiled by all the actors in the event. We do know about the actions of Deborah, Barak and Jael. The two women broke gender stereotypes at every turn and rose to every challenge.

Deborah was a married woman, “the wife of Lappidoth.” Some people have speculated that Barak (“lightning”) was Lappidoth (“light”), the two names having similar meanings. If so, they were a couple who fully understood how to work together, each using their own skills, to serve God.

Deborah was the only female Judge who was also a prophet. The only other person who held both roles was Samuel. She prophesied that a woman would defeat Sisera, and she was right. Despite asking Deborah for help, Barak is listed in Hebrews 11 as one of the faithful.

Perhaps he was the one “whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies.” (Heb 11:34).

Jael committed one of the most gruesome acts in scripture, but her acts were celebrated in song. I don’t know how long they sang the song, but after Deborah and Jael assisted Barak in the battle against Jabin and Sisera, the land had peace for forty years.

Carmel Page
Chesterfield Ecclesia, UK

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