Judges 5 – The Song of Deborah

Then Deborah and Barak the son of Abinoam sang on that day, saying, 2 “That the leaders led in Israel, That the people volunteered, Bless the LORD! 3 “Hear, O kings; give ear, O rulers! I– to the LORD, I will sing, I will sing praise to the LORD, the God of Israel. 4 “LORD, when You went out from Seir, When You marched from the field of Edom, The earth quaked, the heavens also dripped, Even the clouds dripped water. 5 “The mountains quaked at the presence of the LORD, This Sinai, at the presence of the LORD, the God of Israel.

6 “In the days of Shamgar the son of Anath, In the days of Jael, the highways were deserted, And travelers went by roundabout ways. 7 “The peasantry ceased, they ceased in Israel, Until I, Deborah, arose, Until I arose, a mother in Israel. 8 “New gods were chosen; Then war was in the gates. Not a shield or a spear was seen Among forty thousand in Israel. 9 “My heart goes out to the commanders of Israel, The volunteers among the people; Bless the LORD! 10 “You who ride on white donkeys, You who sit on rich carpets, And you who travel on the road– sing! 11 “At the sound of those who divide flocks among the watering places, There they shall recount the righteous deeds of the LORD, The righteous deeds for His peasantry in Israel. Then the people of the LORD went down to the gates. 12 “Awake, awake, Deborah; Awake, awake, sing a song! Arise, Barak, and take away your captives, O son of Abinoam. 13 “Then survivors came down to the nobles; The people of the LORD came down to me as warriors. 14 “From Ephraim those whose root is in Amalek came down, Following you, Benjamin, with your peoples; From Machir commanders came down, And from Zebulun those who wield the staff of office. 15 “And the princes of Issachar were with Deborah; As was Issachar, so was Barak; Into the valley they rushed at his heels; Among the divisions of Reuben There were great resolves of heart. 16 “Why did you sit among the sheepfolds, To hear the piping for the flocks? Among the divisions of Reuben There were great searchings of heart. 17 “Gilead remained across the Jordan; And why did Dan stay in ships? Asher sat at the seashore, And remained by its landings. 18 “Zebulun was a people who despised their lives even to death, And Naphtali also, on the high places of the field.

19 “The kings came and fought; Then fought the kings of Canaan At Taanach near the waters of Megiddo; They took no plunder in silver. 20 “The stars fought from heaven, From their courses they fought against Sisera. 21 “The torrent of Kishon swept them away, The ancient torrent, the torrent Kishon. O my soul, march on with strength. 22 “Then the horses’ hoofs beat From the dashing, the dashing of his valiant steeds. 23 ‘Curse Meroz,’ said the angel of the LORD, ‘Utterly curse its inhabitants; Because they did not come to the help of the LORD, To the help of the LORD against the warriors.’ 24 “Most blessed of women is Jael, The wife of Heber the Kenite; Most blessed is she of women in the tent. 25 “He asked for water and she gave him milk; In a magnificent bowl she brought him curds. 26 “She reached out her hand for the tent peg, And her right hand for the workmen’s hammer. Then she struck Sisera, she smashed his head; And she shattered and pierced his temple. 27 “Between her feet he bowed, he fell, he lay; Between her feet he bowed, he fell; Where he bowed, there he fell dead. 28 “Out of the window she looked and lamented, The mother of Sisera through the lattice, ‘Why does his chariot delay in coming? Why do the hoofbeats of his chariots tarry?’ 29 “Her wise princesses would answer her, Indeed she repeats her words to herself, 30 ‘Are they not finding, are they not dividing the spoil? A maiden, two maidens for every warrior; To Sisera a spoil of dyed work, A spoil of dyed work embroidered, Dyed work of double embroidery on the neck of the spoiler?’ 31 “Thus let all Your enemies perish, O LORD; But let those who love Him be like the rising of the sun in its might.” And the land was undisturbed for forty years. – (Judges 5:1-31 NASB)

 

Gustave Dore’s interpretation of the prophetess Deborah.

At the conclusion of the war, after Deborah has defeated the enemies of Israel, she and her general sing a song of victory, the spoils of war, and the death of their enemies. They sing of the deeds of Jael, the grief of a mother whose dead son will never come home, distributing captured maidens to the victorious warriors; and they sing a request that all enemies of God die.

This song celebrating the death of an enemy troubles me.

I was appalled at the celebratory tone that pervaded our society at the death of Osama bin Laden. On Facebook I posted Proverbs 24:17 “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles.” A Christian Facebook friend who had served in the military took offense and started quoting scripture back at me. His view, if I understood it correctly, was that violence is a necessity in order for Christ to be communicated to certain people groups. He firmly believed in “just war” and that the targeted killing of individuals was necessary and acceptable. He unfriended me on Facebook shortly thereafter.

I read the same Bible, and worship the same God as this man, but have come to a radically different conclusion. Violence is never the God honoring solution to a problem. My theological belief is that Christians are called to live at peace with one another and with the world around them. To live at peace is both to refrain from acts of violence, and to work toward removing the causes of violence in this world.

I believe that a violent reaction to violence only spawns more violence. We are called to share the Good News of Jesus to all the world. The Good News is that through Jesus we can be united with the will of God. I believe that violence is outside of the will of God.

 

The Deserter (1916) by Boardman Robinson.

How can I believe that violence is outside of God’s will when passages like Deborah’s Song are in the Bible? How can my former Facebook friend believe that violence is necessary when Jesus says, “If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also…” (Matthew 5:39). There are no easy answers; we live in a tension. We live in a fallen world in which evil things happen. My view is that killing people is always evil, even if it may be justified. Lots of people do not like that and it is a hard to live out.

Regardless whether you are a pacifist or an advocate of “just war” there are parts of the Bible that we must all struggle with. Do we turn the other cheek, or do we go to war and celebrate our victories? We can not just ignore the difficult passages that do not line up with our theology. I am not always sure what to do with stories like the Song of Deborah. I will not brush it off as, “well, it was a different time, a different covenant, and a different people”; but, I also will not accept that God sanctions murder. Living out our faith is hard.

Application:

  • Write down three ways you contribute to violence in our world.
  • Write down three ways you can work to eliminate violence in our world.
  • Think of the last person about whom you had thoughts similar to those expressed in the Song of Deborah; take five minutes and pray for that person.

Queries:

  • How do you incorporate the song of Deborah into your understanding of God?
  • If you are a pacifist how does your theology interpret the celebratory nature of this song? If you are a just war advocate how do you respond to Jesus’ instruction to turn the other cheek?
  • Is violence ever Godly?
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