A People’s Deliverance

By James Cornwell

Reading from Judges, 5:1-18

1 Then Deborah and Barak son of Abinoam sang on that day, saying:
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, Deborah,
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, Benjamin, 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.


Deborah and Barak sing a song of the wondrous works of God in their victory over an enemy army. The song recounts how this oppressor had overrun Israel as a result of the Israelites choosing other gods. Of particular interest is who gets praised as central to the overthrow of the oppressor.

We might imagine that the ones who energize the forces of the faithful remnant are mighty warriors with great deeds to their names, or political leaders, or prophets. Instead: “They that are delivered from the noise of archers in the places of drawing water, there shall they rehearse the righteous acts of the Lord… then shall the people of the Lord go down to the gates.” It is “the people” — those who are going about their daily work, “drawing water” —  it is these who “rehearse the righteous acts of the Lord,” these who call upon Deborah the prophetess to raise up Barak, who is called to “lead…captivity captive” and defeat the armies of the oppressor.

The message is clear: God’s deliverance does not wait to be catalyzed by powerful politicians, or celebrities, or public intellectuals, or “thought leaders,” or bestselling authors, or any other public figure. It is is begun by those who are of little account doing daily work in their communities, recounting the righteous acts of God.

If we truly seek for all oppression to cease, we cannot neglect our own callings. We cannot neglect gathering at “the places of drawing water” to recount God’s righteous deeds. And we should remember another woman who responded to God’s call, and how in her humility she bore a son to the people, who, as we read in Ephesians, “led captivity captive,” delivering us from all adversaries, even sin and death.

James Cornwell lives and teaches in the Hudson Valley with his wife Sarah and their five children.

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