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Deborah’s Song, the Destruction of the Wicked, and Peace in Our Time

June 23, 2014

The Book of Judges keeps a running chronology of the tenure of each judge. The following are the verses that sum up each period:

1. Othniel: 3:11: “And the land was quiet (Heb., wattishqot) forty years. And Othniel the son of Kenaz died.”

2. Ehud: 3:30: “So Moab was subdued that day under the hand of Israel. And the land was quiet for eighty years.”

3. Deborah: 5:31: “So perish all Thine enemies, O LORD; but they that love Him be as the sun when he goeth forth in his might. And the land had rest forty years.

4. Gideon: 8:28: “So Midian was subdued before the children of Israel, and they lifted up their heads no more. And the land had rest forty years in the days of Gideon.”

5. Tola: 10:1-2: “And he judged Israel twenty and three years, and died, and was buried in Shamir.”

6. Jair: 10:3: “And after him arose Jair, the Gileadite; and he judged Israel twenty and two years.”

7. Jephtah: 12:7: “And Jephthah judged Israel six years. Then died Jephthah the Gileadite, and was buried in one of the cities of Gilead.”

8. Ibzan: 12:8-9: “And after him Ibzan of Beth-lehem judged Israel. And he had thirty sons, and thirty daughters he sent abroad, and thirty daughters he brought in from abroad for his sons. And he judged Israel seven years.”

9. Elon 12:11: “And after him Elon the Zebulunite judged Israel; and he judged Israel ten years.”

10. Abdon: 12:13-14: “And after him Abdon the son of Hillel the Pirathonite judged Israel. And he had forty sons and thirty sons’ sons, that rode on threescore and ten ass colts; and he judged Israel eight years.”

11. Samson: 15:20: “And he judged Israel in the days of the Philistines twenty years.” 16:31: Then his brethren and all the house of his father came down, and took him, and brought him up, and buried him between Zorah and Eshtaol in the burying-place of Manoah his father. And he judged Israel twenty years.

12. Eli: Samuel 4:18: “And it came to pass, when he made mention of the ark of God, that he fell from off his seat backward by the side of the gate, and his neck broke, and he died; for he was an old man, and heavy. And he had judged Israel forty years.”

Note the peculiarity of the eras of the first four Judges. The description of the land as being quiet, as opposed to the later eras, which are generally described by smaller and non-round numbers of years, and how the active verb is used: wayyishpot or hu shafat, both meaning “he judged,” as opposed to a general description of the state of peace, “the land was quiet.” This reflects the fact that during the first two centuries of settlement, the Israelites were generally moving in the right direction with regards to conquering the land, driving out the idolaters, and settling the land, which Moses had already declared would have to be a gradual process. However, because of the people’s backsliding into idolatry and the new influx of Philistines, the Israelites eventually became an occupied people in their own land. The Philistines came to dominate them, and the pockets of Canaanite settlement left in the land became Philistine.

Note another a peculiarity. The verse that sums up Deborah’s ministry is also the last verse of her victory song. One would have imagined that the verse would actually be two, with the first ending “in his might,” because, as Rashi and others have pointed out, that is where the song ends, and the line about the land being quiet was added by the book’s author. Yet, if one were to check in the properly written scrolls of the prophets, the Song of Deborah, like the Song at the Sea and David’s Song, is written in brick formation. That it, the first line has the words arranged into three sections, then the second with two sections, and so on until the end of the song, like this,

hjg       hhhiuhiuh        hoh

hbhjhjhjjh           jkhljhkjkjh

hjg      hhhiuhiuh        hoh

hbhjhjhjjh            jkhljhkjkjh

and the words, “and the land was quiet…” appear as part of the words of the song, and not in the usual prose, block formation of the rest of the book!

I believe that the prophet’s inclusion of the story’s postscript in Deborah’s song teaches something important: peace and quiet are ultimately achieved with the downfall of the wicked, and this is reflected by the way the song is sung every year on Shabbath Shira:

כֵּן יֹאבְדוּ כָל-אוֹיְבֶיךָ/ יְהוָה

וְאֹהֲבָיו/ כְּצֵאת הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ בִּגְבֻרָתוֹ;

!וַתִּשְׁקֹט הָאָרֶץ אַרְבָּעִים שָׁנָה

So perish all Thine enemies/ O LORD

but they that love Him/ be as the sun when he goeth forth in his might.

And the land had rest forty years!

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