What is Deborah’s Song?

hebrew judges 5


  1. Hebrew text Judges 5:1-12
  2. Hebrew with Translation
  3. Literary Structure – Rough Outline
  4. Closer Look – There are 3 Songs!
  5. Questions and thoughts
  6. Literary Devices used here

*Note: this translation and commentary is a work in process, part of a class in Level E where I have the privilege of asking questions on the text and my approach to it with the teacher, who doesn’t hesitate to disagree here and there and throw insight.

 Judges 5:1-12 Hebrew Text

judges 5:1-3 hebrewjudges-5-4-6 hebrewjudges-5-7-9 hebrewjudges-5-10-12 hebrew

Hebrew Text with Translation

Judges 5:1-3

judges 5:1-3 hebrewjudges-5-1-3-translation

Judges 5:4-6

judges-5-4-6 hebrewudges 5.4-6 translation

*reading in Hebrew here vv5,6 you will see the change in the order of the nouns and verbs ‘mountains flowed’ to ‘stopped paths’

  • mountains (noun) flowed (verb) v5 | stopped (verb) pathways (noun) v6
  • harim (noun) nazelu (verb) // hadelu (verb) orochoth (noun)

Which mirrors the other noticeable reversals in order between the Day of the LORD and the day of the false gods in Israel:

  • Deborah and Barak son of Avinoam v1 | Shamgar son of Anath and Jael v6
  • that day of victory | in the day of Shamgar / day of false gods in Israel

Judges 5:7-9

judges-5-7-9 hebrewjudges-5-7-9-translation

*note that 5:8 has a number of possible translations, it is often translated the opposite of this as ‘there was prosperity in the gates’ as the word ‘lechem’ is so similar to bread and occurs in this context only once. I will go into more detail on this later.

Judges 5:10-12

judges-5-10-12 hebrewjudges-5-10-12 translation

*So notice our translation could be future command or past tense:

  1. ‘Let them speak of the righteous deeds of adonai and his rural population’, as a command to remember to always do that future going forward OR
  2. ‘They recounted the righteous deeds of adonai and his people then they went down’ i.e. directly after the battle they recounted and went over the victory and all that happened, sort of cementing their reunion as ‘the people of God’ having fought side by side and left ‘that day’ of the false gods, back to the new day which is reflected again in the literary structure of the next verses paralleling the opening verses, with the restored order Deborah and Barak son of Avinoam.

Literary Structure Judges 5:1-12

Rough Outline: ABA¹

v.1 Deborah + Barak son of / that day

v.6 In the days of Shamgar son of + Jael : reversed order / reverse gods

A¹ v.12 Deborah + Barak son of /back to the day and of victory and obedience

However it is possible to zoom in on this and get:

A This day: of victory and freedom

B  Those days: Oppression

The leader arises

False gods led to the oppression

A² The leader’s heart belongs to the judges/ the leader leads, volunteers praise god

Closer Look: There are 3 Songs!

v.1   Song 1: Deborah + Barak son of /woman, man son ofבַּיּוֹם הַהוּא

v.2  Condition: when leaders lead and people follow then praise [Deborah and Barak are different types of leaders and Barak both follows Deborah and leads 10,000 people] Leaders mentioned in pairs vv.3, 10; also leaders mentioned with people throughout
vv.3-4 Song 2: Deborah addresses kings + rulers + Adonai

Shema disobedient leaders, obedient Deborah will sing directly to Adonai the real God of Israel of his victory in battle. Obedience theme, linked with ch.4 and Exodus, also rain is current battle [iron chariots]

vv.5-6 Flow vs cessation / obedience before Adonai vs the days of false gods | note alliteration מִפְּנֵי יְהוָה זֶה סִינַי מִפְּנֵי יְהוָה | בִּימֵי שַׁמְגַּר בֶּן-עֲנָת בִּימֵי

vv.7-8 They stopped all travel, held back from fighting

/ until I arose / <---notice the intertwining that highlights this phrase about the leader rising up, sandwich, would expect it after next sentence

They had chosen false gods and could not defend themselves in war.

v.9-10 Condition fulfilled: My heart belongs to the judges /I am a leader who leads, and you people who follow praise adonai, perfect equation, Adonai has fought for them, travel is restored, now rulers and people alike speak - it is now their turn to 'sing'

 v.9  בָּרְכוּ יְהוָה

v.10 וּשְׁבֵה
vv.11-12 Song 3: the rulers and people are to speak of the sound of the army ranks in battle between the watering places, and to recount what Adonai and the people did that day, the battle victory. THEN they went down to the city gates, where life returns to normal.

v.12 is now the song of the people recounting the events that just happened, the battle, the victory and from the beginning as described in Ch.4 where Deborah had to get up from under her palm tree and come down here, she had to give the command to Barak, hear the time and day from God and tell Barak to rise, it is the people recounting what she said to Barak

*note Barak had to stop singing in v.2 because v.3 he had no authority to address kings about disobedience and he admits in ch.4 that he can’t hear God, whereas Deborah the prophet and judge does all these things. And her song was one of leadership, away from the false gods and leading both the rulers and people back to Adonai the God of Israel, teaching them to sing his praise for the victory.

**Also 4:9 Deborah command Barak to rise, so he would not be telling her to order him.

The translations about long hair and musicians and vague singing on Deborah’s part, as well as over and back between her and Barak lose their focus from the impact of what the text is really saying, imo.

Some Questions & Thoughts

  1. v.1 which day – immediately after battle or some time later
  2. v.3 can we also see a double meaning in addition to the parallism staircase?I belong to Adonai, AND I to Adonai [will sing]. There is a contrast between being for and against Adonai with the false gods. ‘I belong to Adonai, I rose up, I have the heart of a judge’ a leadership that stands out and rouses the people into action.
  3. v.4 we are talking about ‘going out to battle, marching of Adonai’? Note ch.4 and Exodus itself has many of these earth shaking and natural elements going on, that time it was Pharaoh who hardened his heart afterwards, it’s like the entire book of Judges has the Israelites behaving like Pharaoh, though they get temporary reprieve when they do return to the convenant.
  4. v.4 any particular significance in Seir and Edom?
  5. v.5 mountains don’t normally move, there is a contrast here between ordinary things being stopped with the false gods and movement of even extraordinary things with the real god.
  6. v.6 In the days of Shamgar and Jael – two good people, so why were those days bad, according to some commentaries big problem here but it seems coherent to me: the condition of Deborah and Barak’s song ‘when leaders lead and people follow’ was not met, we have a leader who was not followed and a person who was ready to follow but had been waiting on a leader. The people did not follow Shamgar back to god or to fight off the false gods after he saved them, they instead returned to them. And Jael though a heroine in this account killing Sisera, she was in need of leaders in Israel to lead first before she could play her part, she belongs to the ‘freely offered’ or ‘followed’ people.
  7. v.7 Shaqamti Deborah  Why does eteacher course E emphasize so much second person instead of original bibical text when it does fit: [I belong to Adonai v3?], I arose as a leader, I have the heart of the judges of Israel, v.12 the people recount her getting up, Ch.4 Barak asked her to come I Deborah rose up
  8. There could be more going on with gender, but that needs a wider context to interpret.
  9. v.9 can we use an imperative here as with the Shulamite הַמִּתְנַדְּבִים בָּעָם בָּרְכוּ יְהוָה
  10. v.11 they recounted /past tense use of a yiqtol there? Then they went down. Also translation as army divisions not musicians.
  11. v.12 refers back to ch4 where she was under her palm tree and had to get up and go to the battle to lead Barak and his army and tell him when God said to move 4:14
  12. Ch2 and ch6 talks about the exodus covenant and oppression of Egypt, it’s in the language here too: the earth, rain, stopped there, the people stopped here.
  13. Note the clear reference to the rich rulers however it is almost a mockery, their fine asses and carpets sound so weak, unable to meet the needs of a people in bondage and war where neither shield nor spear were to be seen earlier, and another contrast with Deborah who rose up and whose heart was different, though it does seem to be a full set of different rulers and people.
  14. Notice the similar sounding roots /alliteration between white asses and armies between vv10 and 11, צְחֹרוֹת / מְחַצְצִים [again our contrast between the rulers who did not rule and those who did] but missed in the translations that seems to think these ranks/divisions are singers, instead look at how the root is used in Proverbs 30.27 for armies
  15. Get up Deborah is the people referring to her getting up from the palm tree in ch4, and the song is leadership and obedience to Adonai and victory

Literary Structure & Devices Used in Judges 5:1-12:

Here is a general outline, simplified, there is a LOT going on in this text:

And here is a glimpse of some of the literary devices in play, but there are many many more, too dynamic to capture on paper:

literary devices used in judges 5

Notice the reversal in order of nouns and verbs across sentences eg mountains flowed stopped pathways, though there is more than one meaning to these it includes the basic one too.

 [I have not finished writing this section!]
  • Overall structure ABA¹ inclusio, semi-chiastic structure, pairs of verses  as outlined above.
  • Parallelism eg staircase, chiastic structures eg v.3
  • Alliteration eg v.3 has much parallel with v2: hear hear, rulers rulers, I I, Adonai Adonai, sing sing
  • Full sets eg rulers/people/Adonai; earth, skies, clouds, mountains; riders, sitters, walkers – merismus
  • Repetition with words being used twice eg rulers, hear, sing, preposition I, Adonai
  • Different words chosen of same meaning e.g. hear/rulers/sing
  • Note:The ‘going out’ בְּצֵאתְךָ of Adonai [the root important for the theme of the deliverance from bondage in Egypt, those listening at the time would have made the connection with Egypt and Exodus, and that gives us another connection of the root בִּפְרֹעַ פְּרָעוֹת with ruler/pharoh in v2] See Narrative Framework, chapters 2 and 6 of Judges.


  • Literary devices linking vv4-5 include:
  • A full set: earth, heavens, clouds, mountains [i.e. everything in between]
  • Different words used for the same thing בְּצֵאתְךָ מִשֵּׂעִיר /  בְּצַעְדְּךָ מִשְּׂדֵה אֱדוֹם
  • Repetition with words used twice  מִשֵּׂעִיר / אֱדוֹם
  • Similar sound effects for different roots בְּצֵאתְךָ מִשֵּׂעִיר / בְּצַעְדְּךָ מִשְּׂדֵה
  • Staircase parallelism: poured, poured water

vv.6-7: In the days of Shamgar / Jael, there was a cessation of all normal life, the highways…

  • This paragraph is referring to a snapshot in time, conditions as they were before…
  • Verse 6 is a punctuation in that we have a different day, a different time, there is a repetition and reverse in the order from verse 1 [man son of…, woman]
  • Vv6-7 are also a pair, v7 is connected with v6 and continues it as is seen by the verb חָדְלוּ which gets repeated 3 times across vv6-7, and elaborates on the first statement ‘the ways ceased’, ‘the travelers had to find backroads’, ‘all of village life ceased’ and is used in a way to emphasize that complete cessation
  • And note the root for that פְרָזוֹן has a sound parallel / alliteration with our leaders in v2 בִּפְרֹעַ פְּרָעוֹת
  • Staircase parallelism: until I arose, a mother in Israel – the staircase is further elaboration of the first statement ‘until I arose’, which means this is very specifically Deborah, emphasizing the womanhood/motherhood, this excludes Barak here. And that is in keeping with ch4, she is the leader here in this arrangement, they are not equals.


  • Note life is moving now again, rulers and people are riding and walking
  • Note the clear reference to the rich rulers however it is almost a mockery, their fine asses and carpets sound so weak, unable to meet the needs of a people in bondage and war where neither shield nor spear were to be seen earlier, and another contrast with Deborah who rose up and whose heart was different
  • Notice the similar sounding roots /alliteration between white asses and armies between vv10 and 11, צְחֹרוֹת / מְחַצְצִים [again our contrast between the rulers who did not rule and those who did] but missed in the translations that seems to think these ranks/divisions are singers, instead look at how the root is used in Proverbs 30.27 for armies
  • There is a big interplay here and juxtaposition of time frames, the battle superimposed on the present, two timelines meet here in the song

vv.10-11: Riders of white asses, those who sit on carpets, and pedestrians/those who walk the paths, consider, from the sounds of the ranks/divisions/armies between the watering places, precisely there recount the deeds of Adonai and the people, and then his people went up to the gates

  • We have two imperatives connecting vv10-11, ‘consider/speak might be a better translation there’ and ‘recount’/which may be a past use of the yiqtol as well as future, these are following on the preceding imperative of v9 to ‘praise Adonai’
  • |’consider’ could also be ‘speak’ and contrasts the ‘listen’ of verse 3, now it is their turn to sing because conditions are met, obedience, first Deborah and Barak, then Deborah and the 40k and the victory of the God of Israel. Also note ‘recount’ could be a past tense use of the yiqtol so they could all have recounted right there at the battle and then went down to the gate to resume life again.
  • So that is explaining how they are to ‘praise Adonai’, precisely to consider what happened and retell it [just as with the Song of the Sea, they like the precise details of the victory].
  • Here they are told to recount / or past tense ‘have recounted’ at a particular place, right between the watering places [a third reference to life having started again if they can go back there / after riders, sitters, walkers = travelers and open paths, and having gone down to the ‘gates’] but that is also where the ranks were, likely where the battle was fought, and to tell what happened there, they are the righteous deeds of Adonai and the volunteer population who fought.
  • Then the people of Adonai went down to the gate, i.e. life was flowing again, and they are Adonai’s people again in contrast to their former choice of new gods, not choosing the new gods any more.
  • B vv2-3 When rulers rule/ obedience theme
  • C vv4-5 Adonai god of Israel, heaven and earth and everything in between bows to him
  • C’ vv8-9 False gods, war, life is stopped, helpless, until a ruler ruled with a different heart, the heart of a judge, time to praise Adonai
  • B’ vv10-11 rulers consider /obedience theme

vv.12 Closes second paragraph Rise rise [get up is better, get up from the palm tree which is what she had to do in ch4] Deborah, rise rise give the command from God/sing your song of leadership judge, rise Barak and take your captives/fight and win, son of Avinoam

  • The people who are singing ‘recounting’ as they were told to do in the previous verses, to praise, consider and recount what happened in this event: Deborah standing up with a different heart to the rulers and being the ruler who rules, the people who volunteer now are praising Adonai for achieving victory with them as their god, out of bondage again, and introduces third paragraph which we did not cover but continues the recounting in more elaborate detail of what happened, the recounting of the actual defeat of the enemy, Adonai’s victory and actions.
  • Note the reference to captives is taken up at the end of the song and it shows a distinction between the God of Israel and the false gods of the enemy – the enemy mother thinks her son’s army will have taken captive a girl or two each, but we see the God of Israel had the women leading and winning, not taken captive. This exact same difference between the god of Israel is also brought out in Exodus 20-21, the Book of the Covenant, and much of this song is paralleling that theme-wise and structurally.