Singing with Deborah

By Michael Fitzpatrick

A Reading from Judges 5:1-18

1 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 travelers 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 Sing 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 nobles;
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.


Music today is largely associated with entertainment. We listen to music to feel good, to dance, to have something in the background while we work. But not all of our music is purely for pleasure alone. When I think of the origins of rap and hip-hop, it was to tell stories of what actually happened on the streets of predominantly Black, and later Hispanic and Asian, communities. It was to create a record of those events that could be easily remembered and transmitted.

As contemporary Christians, I worry our relationship with music has lost this vital function. Songs in the scriptures were predominantly catalogs of concrete acts of advocacy and deliverance by the Almighty on a people’s behalf. Do we approach our hymns this way? Do we write songs today to catalog the concrete actions of the God who is for us? Deborah serves as a powerful model and reminder.

Notice that she cites times and places, and notes particular events. Israel would not fight “until I, Deborah, arose, / until I arose, a mother in Israel.” She tells in detail how she called for volunteers to defend the nation, even recalling who came forward to serve (and who did not). She proclaims the bravery of Jael who risked her life to assassinate the Canaanite commander Sisera who was oppressing the Israelite peoples. Yet all of these events are understood as God at work.

May we set ourselves anew to the work of crafting songs and other means of recording the Lord at work in our lives and parishes, so that we can edify one another in the faith by dwelling on what the redeeming God has already done for us, that we might trust the God who acts to act again.

Michael Fitzpatrick is a doctoral student in philosophy at Stanford University. He attends St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Palo Alto, Calif., where he serves as a lay preacher and teacher.

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