Deborah’s Song of Triumph

When the princes of Israel take the lead,
when the people willingly offer themselves,
Yahweh, the Lord, be praised!

Listen, you rulers! Hear this, you kings!
I will sing to the Lord, I will sing;
music will make to Israel’s God,
Yahweh, the Lord, be praised!

O Lord, in the days of Moses of old
you marched from Sinai;
when we arrived via Edom’s land
then, too, you shook the earth.
From the heavens once more you have made downpour
floods on our enemies;
the mountains have quaked yet again before
Yahweh of Sinai’s thunder,
the Lord of Israel.

Even in days of Shamgar-ben-Anath,
the recent deliverer-judge,
the times of tent-dwelling Jael, brave wife
of Heber the pot-and-pan mender,
travellers zigzagged by winding paths
afraid of highway hold-ups.
Life in the unwalled villages ceased,
abandoned by refugees; it
ground to a halt, finito! …until
I, Queen Bee, arose,
rose up as a mother in Israel.
My heart beats strong for each hero prince,
Israel’s noble leaders,
and for their willing volunteers
among the tribes of my people.
Yahweh, the Lord, be praised!

You wealthy, astride your donkeys white,
sitting on saddle blankets,
and you poor pedestrians walking the lanes,
tune in to the voice of the singers
down at the wells, by the watering places,
reciting the righteous acts of the Lord,
victories of Israel’s warriors,
these villager volunteers.

Then Yahweh’s people, their voices raised,
marched down to the city gates:
‘Wake up, wake up, Deborah Bee,
burst into prophetic song;
Arise, Barak-ben-Abinoam,
and take your captives captive!’

Then the men who were left came down,
to sign up alongside the nobles;
the people of Yahweh came to me,
to join the ranks of the mighty.
Some came from Ephraim in Amalek’s land,
Benjamin’s volunteers too,
Makir’s Manassite law-makers arrived
with Zebulun’s history-writers,
to storm down that day to the valley of war.
But why, tell me, districts of Reuben, oh why
did you stay by the pastoral campfires
musing, while searching your motives of heart,
to music of shepherd pipers?
In Gilead Gad across Jordan stayed put,
and Dan lingered on by his ships.
Asher did not move inland from the coast
but hovered around his coves,
while the people of Zebulun risked their lives,
exposed on the mount of battle,
in the theatre of war with Naphtali.

Canaan’s kings came and fought,
they put up a fight at Taanach;
by the springs of Megiddo how they fought;
for their lives they battled … with mud!
They carried away no plunder of silver
for meteors fought that day;
the stars in their courses war declared
against the ranks of Sisera.
The river of Kishon swept them away,
Old Man River Kishon.

March on, my soul, be strong!

Then, thundering off went his horses’ hooves,
galloping, galloping, mighty steeds …
riderless away!

‘Curse Meroz!’ pronounced the messenger,
the angel of the Lord,
‘Bitterly curse those Naphtalites
who gave no help that day,
no help to the Lord against Canaan.’

Most blessed of tent-dwelling women be Jael,
the resourceful wife of Heber.
The fleeing general asked for water to drink,
the Mountain Goat gave him yogurt.
In a bowl fit for royals she brought curdled milk
as a nightcap, said she, for sweet dreaming!
Her left hand reached for the common tent peg,
her right hand the workman’s hammer.
She struck mighty Sisera right through his head,
shattered and pierced his temple.
At her feet he sank, … he fell, … there he lay;
at her feet he sank, … he fell;
at her feet collapsed, … brain-bashed he fell;
where he sank, he fell there – dead.

Through the window at home his mother peered,
behind the lattice exclaiming,
‘Why is his chariot so long delayed?
Why await we his chariot’s clatter?’
Her wisest lady-in-waiting said –
indeed, the old mother repeated,
‘Are they finding and dividing up
the loot, the plunder, the booty?
A girl or two for each soldier true;
bright clothes for my son, to boot;
colourful garments as plunder for him,
highly-embroidered from collar to hem –
all this, and more, as plunder?’

May all your foes, Lord, perish thus;
but may those who love you brightly shine
as when the sun ascends the heavens
from strength to strength after storm and rain.

Hugh Thompson (9th September 1998)

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