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Chapter 5

Song of Deborah. (A)On that day Deborah sang this song—and Barak, son of Abinoam:

[a]When uprising broke out in Israel,
    when the people rallied for duty—bless the Lord!
Hear, O kings! Give ear, O princes!
    I will sing, I will sing to the Lord,
    I will make music to the Lord, the God of Israel.
[b](B)Lord, when you went out from Seir,
    when you marched from the plains of Edom,
The earth shook, the heavens poured,
    the clouds poured rain,
The mountains streamed,
    before the Lord, the One of Sinai,
    before the Lord, the God of Israel.
In the days of Shamgar, son of Anath,(C)
    in the days of Jael, caravans ceased:
Those who traveled the roads
    now traveled by roundabout paths.(D)
Gone was freedom beyond the walls,
    gone indeed from Israel.
When I, Deborah, arose,
    when I arose, a mother in Israel.[c]
New gods were their choice;
    then war was at the gates.
No shield was to be found, no spear,
    among forty thousand in Israel!
My heart is with the leaders of Israel,
    with the dedicated ones of the people—bless the Lord;
10 Those who ride on white donkeys,
    seated on saddle rugs,
    and those who travel the road,
Sing of them
11     to the sounds of musicians at the wells.
There they recount the just deeds of the Lord,
    his just deeds bringing freedom to Israel.
12 Awake, awake, Deborah!
    Awake, awake, strike up a song!
Arise, Barak!
    Take captive your captors, son of Abinoam!
13 Then down went Israel against the mighty,
    the army of the Lord went down for him against the warriors.
14 [d]From Ephraim, their base in the valley;
    behind you, Benjamin, among your troops.
From Machir came down commanders,
    from Zebulun wielders of the marshal’s staff.
15 The princes of Issachar were with Deborah,
    Issachar, faithful to Barak;
    in the valley they followed at his heels.
Among the clans of Reuben
    great were the searchings of heart!
16 Why did you stay beside your hearths
    listening to the lowing of the herds?
Among the clans of Reuben
    great were the searchings of heart!
17 Gilead stayed beyond the Jordan;
    Why did Dan spend his time in ships?
Asher remained along the shore,
    he stayed in his havens.
18 Zebulun was a people who defied death,
    Naphtali, too, on the open heights!(E)
19 The kings came and fought;
    then they fought, those kings of Canaan,
At Taanach by the waters of Megiddo;
    no spoil of silver did they take.
20 From the heavens the stars[e] fought;
    from their courses they fought against Sisera.(F)
21 The Wadi Kishon swept them away;
    the wadi overwhelmed them, the Wadi Kishon.(G)
    Trample down the strong![f]
22 Then the hoofs of the horses hammered,
    the galloping, galloping of steeds.
23 “Curse Meroz,”[g] says the messenger of the Lord,
    “curse, curse its inhabitants!
For they did not come when the Lord helped,
    the help of the Lord against the warriors.”
24 Most blessed of women is Jael,(H)
    the wife of Heber the Kenite,
    blessed among tent-dwelling women!
25 He asked for water, she gave him milk,
    in a princely bowl she brought him curds.(I)
26 (J)With her hand she reached for the peg,
    with her right hand, the workman’s hammer.
She hammered Sisera, crushed his head;
    she smashed, pierced his temple.
27 At her feet he sank down, fell, lay still;
    down at her feet he sank and fell;
    where he sank down, there he fell, slain.

28 [h]From the window she looked down,
    the mother of Sisera peered through the lattice:
“Why is his chariot so long in coming?
    why are the hoofbeats of his chariots delayed?”
29 The wisest of her princesses answers her;
    she even replies to herself,
30 “They must be dividing the spoil they took:
    a slave woman or two for each man,
Spoil of dyed cloth for Sisera,
    spoil of ornate dyed cloth,
    a pair of ornate dyed cloths for my neck in the spoil.”

31 So perish all your enemies, O Lord!(K)
    But may those who love you be like the sun rising in its might!

And the land was at rest for forty years.(L)


  1. 5:2–31 This canticle is an excellent example of early Hebrew poetry, even though some of its verses are now obscure.
  2. 5:4–5 The Lord himself marches to war in support of Israel. Storm and earthquake are part of the traditional imagery of theophany; cf. Ex 19:16, 18–20; Dt 33:2–3; Ps 18:7–15; 77:17–20; 144:5–7.
  3. 5:7 A mother in Israel: the precise meaning of the term “mother” is unclear, except that it seems to indicate Deborah’s position of leadership, and so may be a title (cf. 2 Sm 20:19).
  4. 5:14–22 The poet praises the tribes that participated in the war against Sisera: Ephraim, Benjamin, Machir (later regarded as a clan of Manasseh), Zebulun, Issachar, and Naphtali, the tribe of Barak (cf. 4:6). By contrast, the tribes of Reuben, Gilead (elsewhere a region occupied by Reubenites and Gadites), Dan, and Asher are chided for their lack of participation. The more distant tribes of Judah and Simeon are not mentioned, and some historians believe they were not part of Israel at this time.
  5. 5:20–21 Stars: the heavenly host, or angelic army. The roles played by the stars and the flash floods underscore the divine involvement in the battle (cf. 5:4–5).
  6. 5:21 Trample down the strong!: the meaning of these words is obscure. If this interpretation is correct, Deborah is the one addressed.
  7. 5:23 Meroz: an unknown locality in which Israelites probably resided, since its inhabitants are cursed for their failure to participate in the battle.
  8. 5:28–30 The scene shifts to the household of the slain Canaanite general, where the anxious foreboding of Sisera’s mother is countered by the assurances of the noblewomen.