Who was Deborah?
(2) Deborah was a prophetess, fourth in the order of the "judges." In aftertime a palm tree, known as the "palm tree of Deborah," was shown between Ramah and Bethel, beneath which the prophetess was wont to administer justice. Like the rest of the "judges" she became a leader of her people in times of national distress.
This time the oppressor was Jabin, king of Hazor, whose general was Sisera. Deborah summoned Barak of Kedesh-naphtali and delivered to him the Divine message to meet Sisera in battle by the brook Kishon. Barak induced Deborah to accompany him; they were joined by 10,000 men of Zebulun and Naphtali.
The battle took place by the brook Kishon, and Sisera's army was thoroughly routed. While Barak pursued the fleeing army, Sisera escaped and sought refuge with Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite, near Kedesh. The brave woman, the prototype of Judith, put the Canaanite general to sleep by offering him a draft of milk and then slew him by driving a peg into his temple.
Thus runs the story in Jdg 4. It is on the whole substantiated by the ode in chapter 5 which is ascribed jointly to Deborah and Barak. It is possible that the editor mistook the archaic form Heb: qamti, in 5:7 which should be rendered "thou arosedst" instead of "I arose." Certainly the ode was composed by a person who, if not a contemporary of the event, was very near it in point of time. The song is spoken of as one of the oldest pieces of Hebrew literature.
Great difficulties meet the exegete. Nevertheless the general substance is clear. The Lord is described as having come from Sinai near the "field of Edom" to take part in the battle; `for from heaven they fought, the very stars from their courses fought against Sisera' (5:20). The nation was in a sad plight, oppressed by a mighty king, and the tribes loth to submerge their separatist tendencies.
Some, like Reuben, Gilead, Dan and Asher remained away. A community by the name of Meroz is singled out for blame, `because they came not to the help of Yahweh, to the help of Yahweh among the mighty' (5:23; compare the Revised Version, margin). Ephraim, Issachar, Machir, Benjamin were among the followers of Barak; "Zebulun .... jeopardized their lives unto the death, and Naphtali, upon the high places of the field" (verse 18).
According to the song, the battle was fought at Taanach by the waters of Megiddo; Sisera's host was swept away by "that ancient river, the river Kishon" (verse 21). Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, receives here due reward of praise for her heroic act. The paean vividly paints the waiting of Sisera's mother for the home-coming of the general; the delay is ascribed to the great booty which the conqueror is distributing among his Canaanite host.
"So let all thine enemies perish," concludes the song; "O Yahweh: but let them that love him be as the sun when he goeth forth in his might." It is a song in praise of the "righteous acts" of the Lord, His work of victory which Israel's leaders, `the long-haired princes,' wrought, giving their lives freely to the nation's cause. And the nation was sore bestead because it had become faithless to the Lord and chosen new gods. Out of the conflict came, for the time being, victory and moral purification; and the inspiring genius of it all was a woman in Israel, the prophetess Deborah.
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IBSE, (in the public domain) with minor edits.