The Prayers and Praises of Women: Deborah

On the edge of the Wilderness of Shur, a family duo raised a song of victory. Moses and Miriam led the people of Israel in a triumphant song of praise and worship. A generation later, at the cusp of the promised land, a new duo came to the fore. Moses, now aged and wilderness-worn, and Joshua, the young leader, taught the people a song of remembrance and warning. In Judges 5, yet another song is raised in the Valley of Jezreel. This third duo, though unlikely and improbable, stood in the footprints of their mighty ancestors as they sang of victory, judgement, praise and warning.

“How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” (Psa 137:4)[1] was the question of the exiles in the spiritually barren land of Babylon. Seven-hundred years prior, Israel was experiencing that same poverty and loss of song. They were in the land, but decline, disobedience and lack of leadership had left the people barren and joyless. Could the Lord work in such a day? Could a song of victory rise from the lips of Israel again? The song of Deborah and Barak is a testament to the Lord’s mercy and faithfulness to shine His face on His people. We should be encouraged that the Lord can work today, despite our weakness and regardless of the enemy’s power.

The song of Deborah is ancient and far removed from us. Yet, Scripture devotes a whole chapter to record its details. We must also consider that 250 years of biblical history pass before another song is added to the canon. All of this invites us to ask, “Why is this here?” and, “What can we learn?” The songs of the day can reveal much about the condition of a people. The top recording artist of 2020 was a Korean group named BTS; a generation earlier, in 1980, it was Michael Jackson; and in 1940 it was Bing Crosby. Each says much about his particular generation, so let us direct our attention to the generation of 1300 B.C. and learn the necessary lessons recorded for us.

Prominent Praise

Psalm 150 exhorts us, “Praise the Lord! Praise God in His sanctuary; Praise Him in His mighty firmament! Praise Him for His mighty acts; Praise Him according to His excellent greatness! Let everything that has breath praise the Lord” (vv1,2,6). Deborah understood this principle of putting praise first as she composed her song. She praised the Lord for His person, power and prerogative. She also recognized this key point, that if the people of God are to be moved, then the Lord must move first. In our day we continue to need the Lord to go before to stir up leaders and shepherds, evangelists and prayer warriors; and this all begins with praise.

Present Conditions

The time of the judges was a dark day in Israel’s history, when “there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Jdg 17:6). Deborah acknowledges the dangers of the day, speaking of the “deserted highways” (5:6). She highlights the lack of activity in the “village life that ceased” (v7). She admits to the weakness of Israel by reckoning “not a shield or spear among forty thousand” (v8). Most importantly she aims at the heart of their issue by plainly stating, “They chose new gods” (v8). In such a time, the Lord found faithful Deborah under the palm tree, and Barak, who was willing to go forth at her urging.

Passionate Combatants

The lines of verse recorded by Deborah are meant to encourage and immortalize the details of this great battle, and 3000 years later we still ponder them. But Deborah took another precise accounting as well. Those tribes and families who took up the mantle of battle are clearly delineated, while those who deferred are remembered with shame. Those from Ephraim, Benjamin, Machir (Manasseh), Zebulun, Napthali and Issachar rallied to the battle. Deborah placed value on their services by stating that they “offered themselves willingly” and were “a people who jeopardized their lives to the point of death” (vv9,18). Those who abstained did so for sheep, ships, the seashore, and great searchings of the heart. We must confess that it is often the trivial things of this life that keep us disengaged from spiritual warfare.

Peculiar Heroines

We have pointed out already that Deborah and Barak were an unlikely duo. And yet, within the battle, the true champion of the people arose, as the least likely of heroes vanquished the enemy. Jael was a Kenite, a nomad, and someone who had to make a distinct choice when Sisera arrived at her tent. Deborah speaks twice of her own personal awakening, “Awake, awake, Deborah! Awake, awake, sing a song!” (v12). But she also speaks twice of Sisera’s demise beneath the hammer of Jael, “At her feet he sank, he fell, he lay still; at her feet he sank, he fell; where he sank, there he fell dead” (v27). Spiritual battles are won following awakenings and distinctive choices to serve the Lord and His people. Before we leave Deborah’s verse it must be highlighted that Jael is the only woman in the OT to be called blessed. What an honor she was paid when Deborah sang, “Most blessed among women is Jael” (v24). We too are invited to share in unmerited blessing and honor linked with service for the Lord.

Promised Prosperity

The song closes poignantly and memorably with words of blessing and cursing, and lines of proverb and prayer: “Thus let all Your enemies perish, O Lord! But let those who love Him be like the sun when it comes out in full strength” (v31).

At the Constitutional Convention in 1787, George Washington was seated in a chair with a carving of the sun. Benjamin Franklin is credited with immortalizing this chair when he stated that he had often “looked at that [carving] behind the President without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting: but now at length I have the happiness to know that it is a rising and not a setting sun.” We indeed are not fixing our eyes on Victorian furniture but on the divinely inspired Scripture. And we leave the song of Deborah with this assurance that we serve the God of the Eternal Son who delights to shine upon us in all His effulgent power.

[1] Scripture quotations in this article are from the NKJV.