Judges 5

Judges 5,
Friday, May 4, 2018

Scholars say that yesterday’s prose version of the story of Deborah and Jael is newer than the next chapter’s poetry.  Like the song of  the sea attributed to Miriam at the sea after the parting of the Red Sea in Exodus, this is ancient.  Compare several translations to get a hint of how hard it is to translate some of the nouns and verbs.  

Check your maps now, for hints of how the later prose version, focused on events in the future northern kingdom of Israel rather than the southern one of Judah, has origins in a saga addressing wider geography into legend and myth.  

God shakes earth and heaven, entering the land from Edom in the south, the trade routes to the Gulf.  When the passes are blocked, the caravans cease and prosperity is lost.  That’s when the judges Shamgar (in prose attributed to Gaza after Ehud) and Jael (in prose subordinated to Deborah the judge) rise up.

The song is open to interpretation, again revealing our assumptions about why people fight, or hold back and resist joining common cause with allies.  The geographic fringes hang back: Asher in the north stays with their ships, Reuben east of the Jordan, dither with their flocks.  I read economic interests outside the Edom passes.

Strong words are directed to potential allies who fail ‘us’, even as grand cosmic claims are made for the stars battling in a mirror of local wars.  Strong praise is sung for Jael, courageous woman who will not submit to the implied threat of a warrior in her tent. Don’t mess with women like Jael!  

One female heroine is contrasted with Sisera’s household.  Their warrior delayed, they speculate that he is delayed by pillaging and indulgence in the spoils of war, including the enemy’s women (Jael?)  In any age, in relation to any war, such stories are sung – calling blessings on allies, and curses on opponents.  In our generation, when ‘our institutions do our sinning for us’ and others suffer violence, overt and covert, to sustain our comfort, this is unfamiliar.

We are accustomed to an ‘eirenic’ spirituality, a quietism that associates religion and pacifists or innocent victims.  Judges claims a more militant, if not necessarily violent still violent if necessary, for a people claiming their right to exist, claiming their providential place.  Can you see how our ‘tolerant’ age may fit Judges’ caricature of an age of ‘fat and lazy’ infidelity?

Then Deborah and Barak son of Abinoam
sang on that day, 

2 ‘When locks are long in Israel,
 when the people offer themselves willingly—
bless the Lord!

3 ‘Hear, O kings; give ear, O princes;
to the Lord I will sing,
   I will make melody to the Lord, 
the God of Israel.

4 ‘Lord, 
when you went out
from Seir,
   when you marched
from the region of Edom,
the earth trembled,
   and the heavens poured,
   the clouds indeed poured water. 

5 The mountains quaked
before the Lord, 
the One of Sinai,
   before the Lord,
 the God of Israel.

6 ‘In the days of Shamgar son of Anath,
in the days of Jael, 
caravans ceased
   and travellers kept to the byways. 

7 The peasantry prospered in Israel,
they grew fat on plunder,
because you arose,
arose as a mother
 in Israel. 

8 When new gods were chosen,
then war was in the gates.

Was shield or spear to be seen
among forty thousand in Israel?
9 My heart goes out to the commanders of Israel
who offered themselves willingly
 among the people.

   Bless the Lord.

10 ‘Tell of it,
 you who ride on white donkeys,
you who sit on rich carpets,
   and you who walk by the way. 

11 To the sound of musicians
at the watering-places,
   there they repeat the triumphs of the Lord,
   the triumphs of his peasantry in Israel.

‘Then down to the gates
marched the people
of the Lord.

12 ‘Awake, awake, Deborah!
   Awake, awake, utter a song!
Arise, Barak, lead away your captives,
O son of Abinoam. 

13 Then down marched
the remnant of the noble;
   the people of the Lord
marched down for him
against the mighty. 

14 From Ephraim they set out
into the valley,
   following you, 
 with your kin;
from Machir marched down the commanders,
   and from Zebulun those who bear the marshal’s staff; 
15 the chiefs of Issachar came with Deborah,
   and Issachar faithful to Barak;
   into the valley
they rushed out
at his heels.

Among the clans of Reuben
there were great searchings of heart. 

16 Why did you tarry among the sheepfolds,
to hear the piping for the flocks?

Among the clans of Reuben
there were great searchings of heart. 

17 Gilead stayed beyond the Jordan;
and Dan, why did he abide with the ships?

Asher sat still at the coast of the sea,
 settling down by his landings. 

18 Zebulun is a people that scorned death;
Naphtali too, on the heights of the field.

19 ‘The kings came, they fought;
then fought the kings of Canaan,
at Taanach, by the waters of Megiddo;
 they got no spoils of silver. 

20 The stars fought from heaven,
 from their courses they fought against Sisera. 

21 The torrent Kishon
swept them away,
   the onrushing torrent,
 the torrent Kishon.
   March on, my soul, 
with might!

22 ‘Then loud beat the horses’ hoofs
with the galloping, 
galloping of his steeds.

23 ‘Curse Meroz,
 says the angel of the Lord,
curse bitterly its inhabitants,
because they did not come
to the help of the Lord,
   to the help of the Lord
against the mighty.

24 ‘Most blessed of women be Jael,
the wife of Heber the Kenite,
 of tent-dwelling women most blessed. 

25 He asked water and she gave him milk,
she brought him curds in a lordly bowl. 

26 She put her hand to the tent-peg
and her right hand to the workmen’s mallet;
she struck Sisera a blow,
she crushed his head,
   she shattered and pierced his temple. 

27 He sank, he fell,
he lay still at her feet;
at her feet he sank, he fell;
where he sank, 
there he fell dead.

28 ‘Out of the window
she peered,
the mother of Sisera
gazed through the lattice:

“Why is his chariot so long in coming?
   Why tarry the hoof-beats of his chariots?” 

29 Her wisest ladies make answer,
indeed, she answers the question herself: 
30 “Are they not finding and dividing the spoil?—
   A girl or two for every man;
spoil of dyed stuffs for Sisera,
   spoil of dyed stuffs embroidered,
   two pieces of dyed work
 for my neck as spoil?”

31 ‘So perish all your enemies, O Lord!
   But may your friends be
like the sun as it rises in its might.’

And the land had rest for forty years.