The Song of Deborah: Princes of Israel vs. Kings of Canaan

Song of Deborah

The “Song of Deborah” is one of the oldest passages in the Bible. It is a poetic war memorial honoring the sole female judge: Deborah. It portrays Israel as a royal family, a group of princes who ally together to defeat the Canaanite King Sisera.

The battle is recounted in such a way as to make it memorable and easily transmitted from generation to generation. It is jam-packed with important information about the battle including locations, allies, and “suspects.” These suspects comprise a list of Israelites who did not join the battle which leaves their loyalty in question moving forward.

The battle takes place in the Valley of Jezreel at Taanach near the waters of Megiddo (presumably the Kishon River). The Canaanite Kings are defeated by the “princes” of Israel. Although the monarchy had not yet been established, the volunteer villagers of Israel’s contributing tribes were presented as princes. From whence is their royalty derived? This is not clear. One can infer that the royal bloodline is more spiritual than familial: these are the children of YHWH. What is clear is that they were following the LORD (YHWH) and that their willingness to fight the battle alongside of Deborah and Barak gave them the honorary status of princes.

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The Jordan River seems to not only divide the terrain, but it also seems to divide loyalty and obligation. Of the tribes and warriors mentioned in the song, none of those who fought were from east of the Jordan. The tribes which are praised for their sending volunteers to fight with Deborah were ALL from west of the Jordan.

Song of Deborah

Together, the volunteer army under the leadership of one amazing Ephriamite woman—and in large part due to the cunning actions of a singular Kenite woman—defeats the Canaanite King Sisera. The LORD needed their help to defeat the mighty, and those who did not come to their assistance are cursed. 

It’s an interesting look at pre-monarchical Israel. The song definitely does not portray a unified country, but rather a group of tribes from west of the Jordan River banding together to defeat a common enemy. The tribes from the east of the Jordan are cursed for not showing up when their fellow countrymen (and women) needed them.

This song would be sung from one generation to another ensuring future generations would know those whom they could trust and those about whom they should think twice prior to forming any treaties or alliances.