Author of more than 28 books of poetry, Juan Felipe Herrera was the 2015 U.S. poet laureate. When Herrera talks about poetry’s importance, he doesn’t name its ability to teach. Instead, he describes poetry’s capacity for conveying beauty. He uses words like choreography. He calls a poem “a choir on the page.”
In our reading today, we have the poetic version of Israel’s battle against Canaan, described in chapter 4. Occasionally Scripture will record a historical event as both prose and poetry. Another example of this is from Exodus 14 and 15, which includes both a prosaic account of the crossing of the Red Sea and a song of praise that Moses and the Israelites sang to the Lord. The differences between prose and poetry are well known. Prose usually offers a linear accounting of events, while poetry takes liberty to excite the imagination. Note, for example, that our poetic account of the battle in today’s reading includes a scene of Sisera’s mother wondering anxiously about his delay in returning home (vv. 28–30).
In Judges 5, Deborah and Barak celebrated God’s victory in poetic verse and song. But they also mention the human characters who participated in the drama of divine rescue. They also give praise for the willingness of God’s people to offer themselves to Him (v. 2). In poetic parallelism, Deborah and Barak recite “the victories of the LORD, the victories of his villagers in Israel” (v. 11), reminding us that God’s work does not eliminate human responsibility. In fact, we can praise God not only for His victory but also for the willing obedience of His servants like Jael, whose hand was used by God for securing salvation (v. 26).
Apply the Word
Ancient Israel used singing as part of worship. And they didn’t just sing about the Lord and His works. They sang to the Lord, addressing their praise to Him. As today’s key verse reminds us, we are commanded to sing songs. What important part does music play in your spiritual life throughout the week—and not just on Sundays?