Heroes of the Faith –
Deborah, Judges 4 - 5
Comments on Judges 3, Ehud
Judges 4:1-10, Deborah & Barak Go to Battle.
Judges 4:11-24, Jael Kills Sisera.
Judges 5:1-16, Deborah & Barak Distribute Praise & Blame.
Judges 5:17-31, Deborah & Barak Praise Jael.
Comments on Judges 6 - 7, Gideon
Comments on Judges 10 - 11, Jephthah
Comments on Judges 13 - 16, Samson
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Judges 4:1-10, Deborah & Barak Go to Battle. (2/1/2010)
During the time of the Judges, Israel had no central government. Instead, each tribe was ruled by its own elders. This was a time of ... shall we say ... mixed adherence to God's law. Whenever one or more tribes fell into serious apostasy, God allowed the people to be oppressed by one of the local Canaanite nations until they learned their lesson and repented. At that point, God would raise up a Judge, who was normally a charismatic military leader. The Judge would unite one or a few tribes and lead them in battle to throw off the oppressor. Although we know the names of 13 Judges, we only know the stories of six.
One of the Judges we know something about is Deborah. She wasn't a war fighter herself, but more of a commander-in-chief. She told Barak that he was supposed to go out and fight. Barak said he would go only if she - the actual Judge - would come with him. The Lord was initially going to let Barak defeat Sisera, but after he declined to go alone, Deborah reported that now Sisera would be delivered into the hand of a woman.
Judges 4:11-24, Jael Kills Sisera. (2/2/2010)
Long ago, but in this same galaxy, I was teaching a Bethel teacher-training class, and we were studying today's passage. I read some of it out loud to them, as follows:
"Jael, Heber's wife, took a tent-peg, picked up a hammer, crept up to him, and drove the peg into his skull as he lay sound asleep. His brains oozed out on the ground, his limbs twitched, and he died."
What an uproar! They all said, "What?? Where are you reading from? Are you making that up??" As a matter of fact, I wasn't. That's how the New English Bible, Second Edition, translates it. Now, to be sure, that is not what the standard Hebrew text says, and it isn't what the Septuagint says, because I checked. So I don't know exactly where the translators came up with this. I think we can all agree, however, that it is probably an accurate picture of what happens when a tent peg is driven through somebody's temple with a hammer, and one that the usual translation doesn't fully explore. Don't I keep telling you to read various translations so that you will get new insights?
On a less exciting note, the hoorah about the 900 iron chariots arose from the fact that the Israelites were still in the Bronze Age, while many of their enemies were in the Iron Age. It was sort of like fighting nuclear weapons with tanks.
Random Walk in a Gallery of Religious Art, Step 28: Judges 5:1-31, Song of Deborah (4/8/15)
Judges 5:1-16, Deborah & Barak Distribute Praise & Blame. (2/3/2010)
The Song of Deborah is a rip-roaring victory song. It praises God (1-5, 31); allocates some of the credit to Deborah (the prophetess) and Barak (the general) (6-13); congratulates the tribes that followed them (14-15, 18-23); mocks the tribes that didn’t fight (16-17); describes Jael’s critical role in the victory (24-27); and finishes with a poignant vignette of the defeated Canaanite General Sisera’s mother (28-30). Whew! So Doré’s picture of an exultant Deborah and her rapt listeners is spot on.
But where on earth was that pillar? I said yesterday that it wasn’t there in David’s time; it certainly wasn’t there several hundred years earlier in Deborah’s time! And take a look at the guy in the far back on the right in each picture: same guy. HAHAhahaha! I’m really getting to like old Gustave, whom wikipedia characterizes as a “prodigy troublemaker.”
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The Song of Deborah is thought by many scholars to be the oldest piece of the Bible that we have. It's a victory song that praises God and all the tribes that followed Deborah and sneers at tribes that didn't help. (We'll read the rest of it tomorrow.) Judges had no means of forcing tribes to cooperate; they relied totally on God-given charisma to raise armies and to enforce purity of worship and compliance with their decisions about the cases brought to them. Strangely enough, the Song doesn't even mention the tribes of Judah or Simeon, but this may be because they were located too far to the south to participate.
Judges 5:17-31, Deborah & Barak Praise Jael. (2/4/2010)
Deborah and Barak continue to celebrate the tribes who fought the Canaanites and ridicule the ones that didn't. They also make special mention of two women: Jael, by whose hand Sisera died, and his mother, to whom he did not return.
The last sentence, "There was peace in Israel for about forty years," is not part of the Song of Deborah. Most of the stories of the Judges end with this or a similar statement. There is peace in the land during the tenure of the Judge, under whose charismatic guidance the people are faithful to God. Each of the judges is a hero both in the sense of being a victorious military and political leader, and in the sense of providing an example of particular faithfulness to God.
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