Under Canaanite Oppression

After Ehud's death the Jews forsook the ways of the Torah. This time the Jews were delivered into the hands of the Canaanites, who, under Jabin, king of Hazor fiercely oppressed the Jews. His general Sisera, a mighty warrior with iron chariots and cavalry, but a cruel and brutal man, oppressed the Jews for twenty years.

Grievous was the oppression, and the piteous cry of despair rose to G‑d, who mercifully raised up a deliverer.


There lived at that time between Ramah and Beth-el, in the mountain of Ephraim, a wise and G‑d-fearing woman named Deborah, the wife of Lapidoth, renowned as a prophetess. In the midst of sin idolatry, she had remained true to G‑d and His word, and she was recognized and appealed to as the supreme Judge by the whole nation. Under a palm-tree which remained famous in after ages, she sat and spoke words of advice, warning, and judgment. Seeing the oppression of the people, and feeling for them in their misery, she sent for Barak, the son of Abinoam.

Barak Responds

Barak consented to accept the call only if Deborah agreed to accompany him. Sisera learned of Barak's approach and prepared his army for battle against the Jews. A mighty warrior, Sisera placed himself at the head of his men. At first the Canaanites had the upper hand, but suddenly G‑d threw Sisera's army into general confusion, causing his terrified warriors to flee pell-mell in all directions. Seeing the unexpected turn of the battle, Sisera descended from his chariot and ran to hide himself in one of the non-Jewish houses on the road. There lived in that district Heber the Kenite, who was a descendant of Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses. This Heber had been on good terms with Jabin, the king of Hazor, and Sisera felt certain of finding a safe refuge in Heber's house. Jael, Heber's wife, offered to conceal him until the Jewish armies would pass. Exhausted from battle, Sisera soon fell into a heavy slumber. Brave Jael decided to make Sisera pay for his cruel deeds. Cautiously approaching the sleeping warrior, she drove a long nail through his temple, putting an end to the life of the hated oppressor. In the meantime Barak had hotly continued his pursuit of Sisera. Following his traces, he breathlessly approached Heber's tent. Jael came to meet him in all the flush of triumph, and exclaimed, "Come, and I will show thee the man whom thou seekest." She led Barak into the tent, and there lay the cruel captain dead.

The Song of Deborah

As a result of this victory, the Canaanites were again reduced to submission. Returning after the victory to her peaceful abode in the mountain of Ephraim, Deborah immortalized the recent war by composing a poem of singular and almost unequalled beauty. The Song of Deborah is second only to the song which Moses and Israel sang when they saw the miracle that G‑d had wrought on the shores of the Red Sea.

Deborah begins by praising the men in Israel who took the vow and consecrated themselves to the war of liberation, and as a mark of this vow they let their hair grow long, like the Nazirites:

"When men let grow their hair in Israel,

"When the people offer themselves willingly,

"Bless ye the L-rd.

"Hear, O ye kings; give ear, O ye princes,

"I, unto the L-rd will I sing;

"I will sing praise to the L-rd, G‑d of Israel..."

The prophetess sings of G‑d's might in days of old, especially at the revelation at Sinai, and then goes on to describe Israel's plight under the oppression of the bands of Canaanites, when all travel on the highways was abandoned, and the people had no weapons with which to defend themselves:

"In the days of Shamgar the son of Anath,

"In the days of Jael, the highways ceased,

"And the travelers walked through byways.

"The rulers ceased in Israel, they ceased,

"Until that I did arise, Deborah,

"That I did arise a mother in Israel...

"My heart goes out to the governors of Israel

"That offered themselves willingly among the people.

"Bless ye the L-rd..."

Then out goes her war cry, and the tribes gather behind her banner:

"Awake, awake, Deborah, awake, awake, utter a song!

"Arise, Barak, and lead thy captivity captive,

"Thou son of Abinoam!...

"Out of Ephraim came they whose root is in Amalek;

"After thee, Benjamin, among thy peoples;

"Out of Machir came down governors,

"And out of Zebulun they handle the marshal's staff..."

She rebukes those of the tribes who were slow in joining her, preferring to listen to the 'pipings of the shepherds.' In contrast she holds up the shining example of Zebulun and Naphtali who offered their lives on the battle fields. Then she describes the terrible battle, and the wonderful miracles that helped Israel to victory:

"They fought from heaven,

"The stars in their courses

"Fought against Sisera.

"The brook Kishon swept them away,

"That ancient brook, the brook Kishon.

"O my soul, tread them down with strength!..."

Deborah praises the brave woman Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, descendent of Jethro, who with her own hands assassinated the cruel despot Sisera:

"Blessed above women shall Jael be,

"The wife of Heber the Kenite,

"Above women in the tent shall she be blessed...

"At her feet he sank, he fell, he lay;

"At her feet he sank, he fell;

"Where he sank, there he fell dead...

"So perish all Thine enemies, O, L-rd;

"But they that love Him

"Be as the sun going forth in its might."

For forty years the Jews lived in peace under the wise guardianship of Deborah and Barak.