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Deborah, as “a prophetess,” both composed and sang this noble ode, which, for poetic spirit and lyric fire, is not surpassed by any of the sacred songs in the Bible. And, as Miriam took up the first verse of the song of Moses Exodus 15:21, and sang it as an antiphony, so Barak, with the chorus of men, answered the song of Deborah by singing Judges 5:2, which is also exactly suited for an antiphon, summing up as it does the subject matter of the whole ode. Compare David’s example 2 Samuel 6:15.
Render “For the leading of the leaders in Israel (the princes), for the willingness of the people (to follow them) bless ye the Lord.” See Deuteronomy 32:42 note, and compare Judges 5:9 and Judges 5:13, where the nobles and the people are again contrasted.
Compare Psalms 68:7-9, and Habakkuk 3:3-16. The three passages relate to the same events, and mutually explain each other. The subject of them is the triumphant march of Israel, with the Lord at their head, to take possession of Canaan, and the overthrow of Sihon, Og, and the Midianites. This march commenced from Kadesh, in the immediate neighborhood of Self, and the victories which followed were an exact parallel to the victory of Deborah and Barak, accompanied as it had been with the storm which made Kishon to overflow his banks.
Words dcscriptive of a state of weakness and fear, so that Israel could not frequent the highways. It is a graphic description of a country occupied by an enemy.
Render the word “villages” (here and in Judges 5:11) judgment, rule, or judges, rulers. The sense is “The princes (or magistrates) ceased in Israel,” i. e. there was no one to do justice in the gate, or defend men from their oppressors.
The “war in the gates” describes the hostile attacks of the Canaanites, which were the punishment of the idolatry of the Israelites (compare the marginal references), and the reduction of Israel to an unarmed and unresisting state under the Philistine dominion. See Judges 3:31 note.
My heart ... - In this deplorable weakness of Israel how noble was the conduct of the governors who volunteered to lead the people against their oppressors. Deborah’s heart was filled with admiration as she thought of their patriotic devotion, and broke out into thanksgiving to Yahweh.
Ye that ride on white donkeys ... - i. e. nobles or magistrates. Deborah appeals to the classes mentioned in Judges 5:6-7, to bear witness to the happy change that had followed the overthrow of Jabin.
That sit in judgment - Rather “that sit on saddles, or horse-cloths,” a further description of those who ride on asses.
The sense of the King James Version is that, whereas formerly they could not go in safety to draw water from their wells, but were shot at by the archers of the enemy, now they were delivered from such tumults; and standing round the wells in security rehearsed the righteous acts of the Lord in delivering them, and “the righteous acts of His government in Israel.” (See Judges 5:7).
Then shall the people of the Lord go down to the gates - Israelites, who had hid themselves in caves and deserts, could return in security to the gates of their own cities for justice, or commerce, or to dwell there, now that the Canaanite was subdued.
Deborah incites Barak to carry off as his prey the captive Canaanites and their sheep and cattle (their “captivity”).
This verse is otherwise rendered: “then a remnant of the nobles came down; the people of the Lord came down for me against the mighty.” The following verses mention in detail who this “remnant” were.
Render “Of Ephraim (Deborah’s own tribe) came down those whose root is in Mount Amalek Judges 12:15; after thee (O Ephraim) came Benjamin among thy people; of Machir (the west-Jordanic milies of Manasseh. See Joshua 17:1-6) there came down the chiefs, and of Zebulon they that handle the staff of the officer” the military scribe, whose duty it was, like that of the Roman tribunes, to keep the muster roll, and superintend the recruiting of the army. (See 2 Kings 25:19.)
Even Issachar ... - i. e. “and, as well as Issachar, Barak also with the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali, rushed down on foot from Mount Tabor into the valley to attack the iron chariots of Sisera.”
For the divisions - Better: “among the brooks.” Reuben ought to have followed in this catalogue of patriots, but with that abruptness for which this poem is so conspicuous, Deborah adverts to his absence instead.
Great searchings - (thoughts, Judges 5:15) of heart Deborah means to say that at first the Reubenites made magnanimous resolutions to help their brethren against Jabin. But they stayed at home, and let the opportunity slip.
The land of Gilead, on the east of Jordan, was divided between Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh, who are both comprehended here. Joppa was in the territory of Dan Joshua 19:46, and was in later times the sea-port for Jerusalem.
His breaches - Rather havens; i. e. the creeks and bays and river-months by which their coast was broken. Joshua 19:29.
In contrast with the selfishness of the tribes just named, Deborah reverts with enthusiasm to the heroic prowess of Zebulun and Naphtali.
The Canaanite hosts are now described, led to battle by their numerous kings. (Compare Joshua 12:21.)
They took no gain of money - i. e. either they got no booty, as they expected, or, they did not fight for plunder, but for life and victory (compare Judges 4:16 and Judges 5:30).
God fought on the side of Israel, and gave them the victory. Josephus relates that, just as the battle began, a violent tempest came on with a great downfall of rain; and a hailstorm, which, driving full in the faces of the Canaanites, so blinded and benumbed them with cold, that they could neither use their bows with effect nor even hold their swords.
The word translated ancient occurs only here. The phrase probably means that Kishon was celebrated from ancient times on account of the battles fought on its banks.
Probably an allusion to the frantic efforts of the chariot-horses to disengage themselves from the morass (Judges 4:15 note).
Mighty ones - Applied to bulls Psalms 22:12 and horses Jeremiah 8:16; Jeremiah 47:3; Jeremiah 50:11; elsewhere, as probably here, to men.
The inhabitants of Meroz (a village 12 miles from Samaria) hung back, and gave no help in the day of battle, although it was Yahweh who called them. Hence, the curse pronounced by the Angel of the Lord.
The blessing here pronounced is in strong contrast with the curse of Meroz. Deborah speaks of Jael’s deed by the light of her own age, which did not make manifest the evil of guile and bloodshed; the light in ours does.
Butter - Rather curdled milk, probably a fermented and intoxicating drink. All these marks of respect and friendship would lull Sisera into security.
Rather “she smote his head, and she struck and pierced through his temple.”
The scene is changed to the palace of Sisera.
Render the latter part of the verse “a booty of dyed garments for Sisera, a booty of dyed garments and of party-colored cloth, a dyed garment and two party-colored clothes for the necks of the booty,” the spoil or booty being either captive damsels, or captive cattle on whose necks these clothes are to be placed (either as ornament or as a burden; compare Judges 8:21, Judges 8:26). But possibly “the necks of the booty” may mean the backs or shoulders (of men or beasts) laden with booty.
A most striking conclusion, in which the spiritual truth, which the whole narrative is intended to convey, comes out. The enemies of the Lord will perish like the host of Sisera, and all their hopes will end, like those of Sisera’s mother, in bitter disappointment and shame; but all that love our Lord Jesus Christ shall shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Compare Matthew 13:43; Daniel 12:3.
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Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Judges 5". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12