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Bible Commentaries
Judges 5

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries

Verses 1-2

“Then sang Deborah and Barak the son of Abinoam on that day, saying. For that the leaders took the lead in Israel, for that the people offered themselves willingly, Bless ye Jehovah”

“The gender of the Hebrew verb here indicates that Deborah was the composer of this ode and that Barak assisted her in singing it, who perhaps sang the antistrophe.”(F1) As noted above, Deborah’s authorship is confirmed in Judges 5:7.

“For that the leaders took the lead in Israel” Myers mentioned an alternative rendition here, making the words read, “When locks hung loose in Israel,”(F2) making this a symbol of the vows which many Israelites had vowed unto the Lord. However, such an idea contradicts the revelation in Judges 5:8 that there was at that time a widespread “choice of new gods” instead of Jehovah, on the part of Israel. Therefore, such a translation should be rejected as a misstatement.

Verses 1-31


James Strahan called this, “The greatest war song of any age or nation.”(F3) The language used in this poem is identifiable with, “The Canaanite poetry of the second millennium B.C.”,(F4) and the “presence of Aramaisms here”(F5) in this chapter, unanimously held by the critics as dated in the 12th century B. C., confirms the fact that Aramaisms are NOT a sign of a late date, but appear in the oldest Biblical books.

“The historical significance of this chapter consists in its integrity as an incontestable Hebraic document of the twelfth century B.C., composed shortly after the events narrated.”(F6) George F. Moore also cited Deborah as the undeniable author of the poem, which is, “distinctly confirmed by Judges 5:7.”(F7) There are many other very significant features of this chapter which we shall cite in the notes below.

The alleged contradictions between the prose account of the rout of the Canaanites in Judges 4 and the poetic report of the same conflict in this chapter are of no importance whatever. “There is little in the two accounts that cannot be comfortably harmonized and nothing that requires an hypothesis of conflicting sources.”(F8)

The poetic arrangement of this chapter is an excellent demonstration of the early development of the distinctive Hebrew poetry which is characteristic of the Psalms and other portions of the O.T. Hebrew poetry is unique in that it is poetry that was based upon clauses of similar or of contrasting meaning, rather than merely upon the rhyme of various words.

For example, in Judges 5:19, we have:

“The kings came and fought;

Then fought the kings of Canaan.”

And in Judges 5:23:

“Curse ye Meroz, said the angel of Jehovah;

Curse ye bitterly the inhabitants therof.”

Sometimes the poetry is that of contrasting thoughts instead of parallel thoughts. An example of this is in Judges 5:8.

“They chose new gods;

Then was war in the gates.”

Verses 3-4

“Hear, O ye kings; give ear, O ye Princes; I, even I, will sing unto Jehovah; I will sing praises to Jehovah, the God of Israel. Jehovah, when thou wentest forth out of Seir, When thou marchedst out of the field of Edom, The earth trembled, the heavens also dropped, Yea, the clouds dropped water”

“Hear, O ye kings… princes” “These kings and princes were not those of Israel; Israel had no kings or princes; these are the kings and princes of the heathen nations.”(F9)

Psalms 68:7-9; Habakkuk 3:3-16, and this passage all relate to the same event and mutually explain each other. The subject is the march of Israel with the Lord at their head to take possession of Canaan.”(F10)

“Jehovah, when thou wentest forth out of Seir; When thou marchedst out of the field of Edom” This has puzzled some of the writers we have consulted, but the message is clear indeed. Deborah is here attributing the victory of Israel to the God of the Sinai Covenant, and, accordingly, she represents him as coming to Israel’s rescue from that direction, namely, from the south and from the east, and, since Sinai was southeast of Edom, God would have come through Edom on his way to help Israel. And as Keil noted, “There is an allusion here to the great storm rising out of Seir from the east, in which the Lord advanced to meet his people.”(F11)

“The heavens also dropped;
Yea, the clouds dropped water” (Judges 5:4).

The parallelism in these and the previous two clauses should be noted. Josephus described the terrible storm which is mentioned here poetically in the words, “the clouds dropped water.” Indeed they did!

As the baffle began, there came down a great storm from heaven, with a vast quantity of rain and hail, and the wind blew the rain into the face of the Canaanites, and so darkened their eyes that their arrows and slings were of no advantage to them, and the coldness of the air did not permit the soldiers to make use of their swords. The great storm did not so much inconvenience the Israelites, for it was at their backs. They fell upon their enemies and slew a vast number of them; some fell by their own horses which were put into disorder, and not a few were killed by their chariots.(F12) A number of things about this battle are clarified in Deborah’s ode: (1) The storm came from the east; (2) the Canaanites were attacking from the west; (3) the horses stampeded westward away from the storm; (4) in fact the whole army fled westward; it would have been impossible to flee in any other direction; (5) the Israelites followed in swift pursuit; (6) this means that the “battle,” more accurately the “rout” probably took place over a distance of fifteen or twenty miles. These observations afford a full explanation of some of the critical allegations which we shall note below.

Verse 5

“The mountains quaked at the presence of Jehovah, Even yon Sinai at the presence of Jehovah, the God of Israel”

This is a very important verse. “The ancient and persistent tradition that connects the beginning of the religion of Israel with this holy mountain (Sinai) confirms the work of Moses beyond the shadow of a doubt.”(F13)

And that is by no means all that is proved by this reference. It effectively DENIES the critical canard that Yahweh was a Canaanite god which Israel adopted after they conquered the Promised Land. It reflects the great truth that God did indeed bring Israel out of Egypt, that he established the covenant with them at Sinai, and that God actually performed all the wonders that are attributed to Him in the Five Books of Moses.

“Deborah here, in her own distinctive way, conveys the truth that the God who is fighting for His people in this battle is the same God who showed Himself to Israel at Sinai.”(F14) “God was not a god of Canaan, whose worship Israel, in settling in the land and learning to until the soil, had adopted from the natives, but the God of the invaders, by whose help they conquered Canaan.”(F15)

Verses 6-7

“In the days of Shamgar the son of Anath, In the days of Jael, the highways were unoccupied. And the travelers walked through byways. The rulers ceased in Israel, they ceased. Until that I Deborah arose, That I arose a mother in Israel”

“In the days of Shamgar” The mention of this character was for the purpose of showing that the same conditions existed in the days of Jael that had previously existed in the days of Shamgar. This is a far cry from saying that Jael and Shamgar were contemporaries!

“The highways were unoccupied” “This is a graphic description of a country occupied by an enemy.”(F16)

“Until that I Deborah arose” Yates tells us that the Hebrew verb here may be understood either as first person or second person.(F17) However, there is no mandate in this fact that requires recent translators to deny the first person. We agree with Moore in the International Critical Commentary that this verse CONFIRMS the authorship of Deborah for this poem.

Verses 8-9

“They chose new gods; Then was war in the gates: Was there a shield or a spear seen among forty thousand in Israel? My heart is toward the governors of Israel, They offered themselves willingly among the people: Bless ye Jehovah”

“They chose new gods” Some scholars have labeled this verse difficult, but, as Yates said, “The most obvious meaning is that Israel turned to idolatry.”(F18) Davis agreed with this, writing that, “This was a time of open idolatry, for Israel chose new gods.”(F19)

There was, of course, a very disastrous consequence of the idolatry to which Israel at that time had given themselves. The cause of all their misery was not far to seek. “It was the idolatry of the people which provoked God to anger.”(F20)

“Was there a shield or spear seen…?” “This does not mean that there were no longer any weapons to be found among the Israelites. `Not seen’ is not the equivalent of `not found.’“(F21) Yes, of course, the Canaanites had done their best to disarm Israel, and no one dared to display a weapon, but Barak’s ten thousand men mustered on Mount Tabor were most certainly armed.

“The governors… offered themselves willingly” In the deplorable weakness and oppression which Israel at that time was enduring, it was a very noble thing indeed that the governors of the various tribes (not all of them, but several of them) responded to Deborah’s urgent appeal. “As Deborah thought of their patriotic devotion, her heart was filled with admiration and she broke out into thanksgiving and praise to Jehovah.”(F22)

Verses 10-11

“Tell of it, ye that ride on white asses, Ye that sit on rich carpets, And ye that walk by the way. Far from the noise of archers, in the places of drawing water, There shall they rehearse the righteous acts of Jehovah, Even the righteous acts of his rule in Israel. Then the people of Jehovah went down to the gates”

“Ye that ride on white asses… sit on rich carpets” Only rulers, magistrates and the wealthy customarily rode on white asses. The “rich carpets” were somewhat like “saddle blankets,” except that they were the “saddles.”

“Far from the noise of archers” Due to difficulties in the text here, several meanings have been proposed by various scholars, but by far, the most reasonable outline of what is meant here is given in the KJV, namely, “Those who can now draw water from the wells without being molested by the hostile archers shall sing praises to God in the very places where they were wont to be attacked.”(F23) Yates also cited Keil’s translation of this place: “With the drawers of water, there praise ye the righteous acts of the Lord,”(F24) adding that, “This presupposes a scene of victory in which the warriors, having returned from the field of battle, mingle with the women at the watering-troughs, recounting to them the victories wrought by God.”

The difference in these two understandings is in the identity assigned to the archers. In the first, the archers are enemies, and in the second the archers are victorious Israelites. We cannot tell, which is the accurate view, but the significant thing in both understandings of the passage is that Israel is celebrating an overwhelming victory.

Verses 12-14

“Awake, awake, Deborah; utter a song: Arise, Barak, and lead away the captives, thou son of Abinoam. Then came down a remnant of the nobles and the people; Jehovah came down for me against the mighty. Out of Ephraim came down they whose root is in Amalek; After thee, Benjamin, among the peoples; Out of Machir came down governors, And out of Zebulun they that handle the marshall’s staff”

“Lead away the captives” Dalglish pointed out how: “A similar phrase, `lead captivity captive,’ was later applied to (1) the triumphal procession of God (Psalms 68:17 f); (2) and to the conquering Christ (Ephesians 4:8-10; Colossians 2:15, and 2 Corinthians 2:14-16).”(F25)

“A remnant of the nobles and the people” Not all of Israel responded to the call of Deborah. The word “remnant” here reminds us of Isaiah’s use of the same term to describe the “faithful.” In all ages, it has always been the same. Only a “remnant” choose to obey the Word of God.

“Jehovah came down for me” The remnant was more than enough. With God’s help, the victory for God’s people was won in spite of those who did not respond.

“Ephraim… Benjamin… Machir… Zebulun” These were the tribes that responded. Machir was the principle unit in the tribe of Manasseh.

“Whose root is in Amalek” Keil gave the meaning of this as indicating that, “Ephraim had settled in the territory once occupied by the Amalekites.”(F26) Cundall, however, rejected this, stating that, “There is no evidence of this.”(F27) This writer believes that there is probably a prophetic meaning here. Ephraim, even this early in his history, was no doubt showing signs of that eventual apostasy in which he would usurp the place of God Himself. Deborah was a resident of the territory of Ephraim, and she was no doubt aware of the direction in which Ephraim was moving. The Amalekites were sworn enemies of God, and there is a hint here that a root of the same enmity might also be in Ephraim.

Nevertheless, in this roll-call of the faithful tribes, the name of Ephraim heads all the rest, and added to the two tribes who, in the beginning, heeded Deborah’s summons, namely, Zebulun and Naphtali, the number of participating tribes in the war against the Canaanites reached a total of six. This is not a contradiction of the fact that only two tribes are mentioned in Judges 5:4. As noted earlier, the campaign was extended far beyond the initial phase of it related in Judges 4.

Verses 15-18

“And the princes of Issachar were with Deborah; As was Issachar, so was Barak; Into the valley they rushed forth at his feet. By the watercourses of Reuben There were great resolves of heart Why sattest thou among the sheepfolds, To hear the pipings for the flocks? At the watercourses of Reuben There were great searchings of heart. Gilead abode beyond the Jordan: And Dan, why did he remain in ships? Asher sat still at the haven of the sea, And abode by his creeks. Zebulun was a people that jeoparded their lives unto the death, And Naphtali upon the high places of the field”

“As was Issachar” Robert Boling, writing in the Anchor Bible, tells us that the Masoretic Text here has the words: “My captains in Issachar.”(F28) This is supportive of the view that Deborah was of that tribe. “That Deborah comes from the area called the `Mountain of Ephraim,’ does NOT mean that she was an Ephraimite.”(F29)

“At the watercourses of Reuben, there were great searchings of heart” “Deborah is saying that, at first, the Reubenites made magnanimous resolutions to help their brethren against Jabin, but that they stayed at home and let the opportunity slip.”(F30)

“Asher abode by his creeks” This is apparently a reference to Asher’s fishing business.

“Reuben… Dan… Asher…” The tribes that did not respond to Deborah’s appeal are here enumerated and taunted.

“Gilead abode beyond the Jordan” We agree with Yates that Gilead here stands for the two and one half tribes that were settled east of the Jordan river, namely, Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh.(F31)

“Zebulun and Naphtali” These are singled out for special praise. They were the first to respond to the call to fight Jabin and the Canaanites.

It is rather strange that Judah and Simeon are not mentioned at all, either as participants, or as ones who stayed at home. It has been supposed that they themselves were busy in a war against the Philistines and that they were therefore not able to participate.

Verses 19-21

“The kings came and fought; Then fought the kings of Canaan, In Taanach by the waters of Megiddo: They took no gain of money. From heaven fought the stars, From their courses they fought against Sisera. The river Kishon swept them away, The ancient river, the river Kishon. O my soul, march on with strength”

“The kings came and fought” A number of very careless commentators write very freely about who “the king” of Canaan was. Note the plural “kings” here. We have no idea how many “kings” of Canaan there were, but the story of Adonibezek, as we noted earlier, mentions no less than “seventy kings” which he had conquered, and it is a fair guess that there were dozens of such petty “kings”’ involved in this war with Israel. For purposes of defense, they had all joined forces under Jabin, and Jabin had named Sisera, in all probability another one of the petty “kings” of Canaan, as the commander-in-chief of the united armies.

“They fought in Taanach by the waters of Megiddo” Megiddo was a tributary to Kishon a few miles west of Mount Tabor, and this mention of the battle by “Megiddo” does NOT contradict the truth that the battle started at Mount Tabor. How then did it get to Megiddo? When the violent hail and rain storm thundered down upon them from the east, 900 horses, dragging their chariots with their astounded drivers after them, performed one of the greatest stampedes of human history.

The Israelites pursued them, and the battle reached as far as the mouth of the tributary Megiddo. Therefore, allegations that there is some kind of a contradiction here as to where the battle took place are ridiculous. Given the big stampede and the hot pursuit of Barak and his men, the battle was fought in a dozen different places. See Josephus’ account of what happened, above.

“Megiddo” gave its name to the conflict mentioned in Revelation, Armagedon ([~Har] [~Magedon]) (Revelation 16:16).

“From heaven fought the stars” “The powers of heaven were arrayed against Sisera, and the victory was not won by Israel alone.”(F32)

“The river Kishon swept them away” Anyone familiar with what horses will do in the face of a hailstorm could have no trouble envisioning what happened. The direction from which the hail came determined the direction in which the stampeding horses moved, and that propelled many into the turbulent waters of the flooding Kishon, or into the mire of the flood plain.

Josephus’ statement that many were killed “by the chariots” suggests that there might have been swords or scythes attached to the wheels of the chariots, although T. C. Mitchell of the British Museum was of the opinion that, “This practice was probably not introduced until Persian times.”(F33)

Verses 22-23

“Then did the horsehoofs stamp By reason of the prancings, the prancings of their strong ones. Curse ye Meroz, said the angel of Jehovah, Curse ye bitterly the inhabitants thereof, Because they came not to the help of Jehovah, To the help of Jehovah against the mighty”

“Then did the horsehoofs stamp” This is a poetic description of that devastating stampede of frightened horses, there having been no possibility whatever that the charioteers of Sisera’s army could have restrained or hindered them in any manner.

“Curse ye Meroz” “The inhabitants of this village, located twelve miles from Samaria, hung back, and gave no help in the day of battle, even though it had been Jehovah himself who had called them,”(F34) but the significant thing is that the angel of Jehovah himself commanded the curse. The reason is significant. “Because they came not to the help of Jehovah.” What a dreadful warning is this for hundreds of thousands of “good people” who have never lifted even a little finger to help the cause of God in times of widespread rebellion, atheism, and violence.

Verses 24-27

“Blessed above women shall Jael be, The wife of Heber the Kenite; Blessed shall she be above women in the tent. He asked water, and she gave him milk; She brought him butter in a lordly dish. She put her hand to the tent-pin, And her right hand to the workman’s hammer; And with the hammer she smote Sisera, she smote through his head; Yea, she pierced and struck through his temples. At her feet he bowed, he fell, he lay: Where he bowed, there he fell down dead”

“Blessed above women shall Jael be” Deborah was an inspired prophetess, and her words here must be construed as a blessing conveyed with God’s approval upon the wife of Heber. Of course this is contrary to what nearly all the commentators write about this, and we agree that Christians cannot, in any sense, agree that Jael’s behavior in this episode was moral, yet there must be something here that we do not understand. Without professing any full agreement with his remarks, we submit this quotation from Strahan:

“If the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon Gideon and upon Jephthah when they went to overthrow the enemies of Israel, who will say that the same Spirit did not impel the wife of Heber to take the life of Sisera, and to inspire Deborah to call her `Blessed above women’?”(F35)

The words here are very similar to Elizabeth’s greeting of the Virgin Mary, “Blessed art thou among women” (Luke 1:42).

Amerding has this regarding this event: “Jael, despite the vicious nature of her violent act, kept covenant-faith with the nation to which her people had been joined, and Heber’s `peace with Jabin’ (Judges 4:17) was a violation of his family’s prior commitment to Yahweh.”(F36)

“She brought him butter in a lordly dish” The parallelism in this with the preceding clause indicates, as Barnes said, that, “This should be rendered `curdled milk,’ probably a fermented and intoxicating drink.”(F37) The “lordly dish” would have allayed any suspicion that Sisera might have had.

“At her feet he bowed, he fell, he lay” “This recapitulates Sisera’s arrival at Jael’s tent and his collapse in exhaustion.”(F38)

“Where he bowed, there he fell down dead” This is a poetic reference to the fact that when Sisera collapsed from exhaustion in Jael’s tent, that was the end of him. It was the same as if he had fallen dead. This is in no sense a contradiction of the account in Judges 4, but the skillful addition of a number of pertinent details omitted in Judges 4. This is characteristic of the Bible. In all of the recapitulations we have studied, not one of them fails to add details not previously mentioned. This runs some scholars nearly crazy, but that is the way the Word of God is!

Verses 28-30

“Through the window she looked forth and cried, The mother of Sisera cried through the lattice, Why is his chariot so long in coming? Why tarriest the wheels of his chariots? Her wise ladies answered her, Yea, she returned answer to herself. Have they not found, have they not divided the spoil? A damsel, two damsels, for every man; To Sisera a spoil of dyed garments, A spoil of dyed garments embroidered, Of dyed garments embroidered on both sides, on the necks of the spoil”

This portion of Deborah’s song is beautiful beyond description, exhibiting an imaginative picture of Sisera’s mother looking through the windows of Sisera’s residence and growing apprehensive at the delay in his return from the battle. We must correct the scholars who call that residence “the palace,” and refer to Sisera’s mother as, “the queen mother.” Nothing of that kind is in this passage. While true enough that Sisera was, in all probability, one of the many “kings of Canaan,” there is not a word in Deborah’s song that mentions any such possibility, and for critics to allege a contradiction with Judges 4, alleging that Jabin is “the king” there, and that Sisera is “the king here” is nothing but critical imagination!

There was no need whatever for Deborah to have dragged Jabin into this ode; he had nothing whatever to do with the battle that Deborah’s song so beautifully extolls.

“Yea, she returned answers to herself” Some “wise ladies” indeed were those who tried to allay the fears of Sisera’s mother. The marginal reading in the ASV here has: “Yet, she repeated her words unto herself.”

“A damsel, two damsels, for every man” A very disrespectful word for “damsel” is in the original here. Moore renders it: “A wench or a couple of them for each man.”(F39) According to the customs of ancient warfare, “It is clear that these unfortunate captives would be used to gratify the lusts of their captors.”(F40) This type of wickedness was specifically forbidden by the Lord in His commandments to Israel (Deuteronomy 21:10-14). “This contemptuous word for `woman’ is found on the Moabite Stone (circa 850 B.C.), where it is used in the same contemptuous sense of `wench.’“(F41)

Verse 31

“So let all thine enemies perish, O Jehovah: But let them that love him be as the sun when he goeth forth in his might. And the land had rest forty years”

These verses state the great spiritual lesson of the Song. “The enemies of the Lord will perish like the host of Sisera; but all that love our Lord Jesus Christ shall shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father (Matthew 13:43; Daniel 12:3).”(F42)

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Judges 5". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/judges-5.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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