I’ve begun to see the book of Judges as a historical theology narrative in which Israel’s stark slide toward ignoring God’s kingship may be perceived. Faith-wise, the Israelites definitely appear to have plunged in the time of the Judges. (Find the first two posts in this series here. I anticipate 3-4 more.)
Having skipped lightly over Shamgar, because the text nearly does the same, we see that Deborah, the 3rd judge, is unique:
- She is a prophetess.
- She is presented as having had a place for judging.
- It is not as a military leader that she earns her role.
- She is a woman.
Why, when I was a 9-year-old at Vacation Bible School, had my memorization list included Barak’s name along with Deborah’s as a Judge? Barak seems to be a non-entity, really.) In the story, Deborah’s prophecies and courage eclipse Barak’s might. He is criticized for a lack of courage,. The horrific story of the enemy Sisera’s death seems to show not only Jael’s (didja catch that name? Jah-El! Yahweh is God!) fearlessness but also the courageous faith of Deborah. It’s a victory, but not by traditional male might. What’s highlighted here is the power of women who were willing to take action.
Then comes the notable “Song of Deborah and Barak,” as the heading sometimes goes. It takes up an entire chapter of Judges, indicating its historical and theological significance within the narrative. A general principle of narrative interpretation is that when a portion of the story is notably longer (a conversation, a description, or in this case, a song of victory), the reader should take notice. And this song takes a whole chapter!
The song itself seems largely inaccessible to the modern ear. This is no “Wichita Lineman” or “She Loves Me, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah.” I suppose it’s more akin to “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” but that’s another story. Some tribes or portions of tribes are taken to task for not heeding the battle call. The exploits of other tribes are praised. The song’s overall impact, I suppose, is clear, but along the way, it speaks things that do not resonate or even make sense to me. The closing sentiment (5:28-30) about Sisera’s mother looking for her son, the now-dead general, to come home is just mean. The song’s conclusion seems to be cognizant of the Lord’s role, and Israel, having apparently relied a little on God for a short time, “had rest for 40 years” . . . but then did what was evil. Again.
And this time, at least in the narrative, God seems resistant to delivering them.
Next: Strength and weakness . . . Midian and Gideon