What does Judges 5:12 mean?
ESV: “Awake, awake, Deborah! Awake, awake, break out in a song! Arise, Barak, lead away your captives, O son of Abinoam.
NIV: Wake up, wake up, Deborah! Wake up, wake up, break out in song! Arise, Barak! Take captive your captives, son of Abinoam.'
NASB: 'Awake, awake, Deborah; Awake, awake, sing a song! Arise, Barak, and lead away your captives, son of Abinoam.
CSB: "Awake! Awake, Deborah! Awake! Awake, sing a song! Arise, Barak, and take your prisoners, son of Abinoam! "
NLT: 'Wake up, Deborah, wake up! Wake up, wake up, and sing a song! Arise, Barak! Lead your captives away, son of Abinoam!
KJV: Awake, awake, Deborah: awake, awake, utter a song: arise, Barak, and lead thy captivity captive, thou son of Abinoam.
NKJV: “Awake, awake, Deborah! Awake, awake, sing a song! Arise, Barak, and lead your captives away, O son of Abinoam!
Verse Commentary:
So far, Deborah's song has mostly been about who she is singing to, as well as the God she sings for (Judges 5:1, 4–5). She has just urged those who hear it to distribute the story of the Lord's victory over the Canaanite oppressors. They should tell it wherever they go (Judges 5:10–11).

Here, the process of Israel's redemption from Canaanite oppression is presented in poetic terms. The action is initiated by God's call to Deborah and Barak. The Lord says to her, "Awake!" This brings in the idea of awareness: becoming conscious of God's voice. Deborah is empowered as a prophetess to hear the words of God. The Lord tells her the moment has come to break out in song. In some ways, this "song" is the summons she extended to Barak (Judges 4:6–10); it's also the God-given order she gave for Barak and his men to launch into battle (Judges 4:14). Either way, this beautiful metaphor depicts her role as the deliverer of God's messages.

The message to Barak the deliverer, through Deborah the prophetess, is much clearer. She was called on to become aware, and to speak. Barak is told to act. His work begins with raising an army from among his countrymen. The call to lead away captives reverses what had been the status quo for twenty years in Israel (Judges 4:1–3). Barak was leading the Israelite "captives" into battle against their captors to become free people once again.
Verse Context:
Judges 5:12–18 describes Deborah's rise to power and her appeal for Israel to fight against their Canaanite oppressors (Judges 4:1–3). This passage includes praise for the tribes of Ephraim, Benjamin, Zebulun, Issachar, Naphtali, and parts of Manasseh. These tribes answered the call and joined the battle. Reuben, Gad, Dan, Asher, and other portions of Manasseh are criticized for failing to respond.
Chapter Summary:
Deborah and Barak sing a victory song she has written. This celebrates all the Lord accomplished through Israel's victory in battle over Sisera and Canaan. She praises God for willing volunteers and calls for everyone to pass along the story. She tells of the torrent of water that flowed down the Kishon River and swept away the enemy. She describes in detail the death of Sisera at the hands of a woman and even shows his mother crying for his return. Her song emphasizes that credit for success goes to the Lord.
Chapter Context:
Judges 5 follows the narrative-style account of the battle between Sisera and Barak, as instigated by the prophetess Deborah in chapter 4. This chapter is a song, poetically depicting the same series of events. Deborah describes Sisera's defeat in battle, Jael's bold killing of the cruel general Sisera, and the tears of his mother as she waits for him at home. The following chapter shows that Israel—once again—responds to this hard-won peace with another cycle of idolatry, sin, and oppression (Judges 6:1).
Book Summary:
The Book of Judges describes Israel's history from the death of Joshua to shortly before Israel's first king, Saul. Israel fails to complete God's command to purge the wicked Canaanites from the land (Deuteronomy 7:1–5; 9:4). This results in a centuries-long cycle where Israel falls into sin and is oppressed by local enemies. After each oppression, God sends a civil-military leader, labeled using a Hebrew word loosely translated into English as "judge." These appointed rescuers would free Israel from enemy control and govern for a certain time. After each judge's death, the cycle of sin and oppression begins again. This continues until the people of Israel choose a king, during the ministry of the prophet-and-judge Samuel (1 Samuel 1—7).
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