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Bible Commentaries
Judges 5

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

Verse 1

Introduction 5:1

The writer credited Deborah with composing this song (cf. Judges 5:7), even though he wrote that both Deborah and Barak sang it (Judges 5:1). [Note: For information helpful in understanding Hebrew poetry, see Cundall and Morris, pp. 91-93; and G. Buchanan Gray, The Forms of Hebrew Poetry.]

"It is important to notice that Deborah sang this song of praise on the same day God gave His people victory. . . . We ought to learn, as we observe these people, the priority of praise in believers’ lives." [Note: Inrig, p. 72.]

Verses 1-31

2. Deborah’s song of victory ch. 5

One writer called this song "the finest masterpiece of Hebrew poetry" that "deserves a place among the best songs of victory ever written." [Note: Robert H. Pfeiffer, Introduction to the Old Testament, p. 326.] It is the equivalent of a victory celebration when the troops come home (cf. Exodus 15; Psalms 68).

"Observe that each of the three major sections centers around a basic contrast: in Judges 5:2-11 c, the explosive God and humiliated people; in Judges 5:11 d-23, daring warriors and cautious brothers; in Judges 5:24-30, gutsy woman and poor mommy." [Note: Davis, p. 82.]

Verse 2

Call to praise 5:2

This opening verse gives the reason, as well as the call, to bless the Lord. The leaders of the Israelites led, and the people followed their leadership voluntarily. This was a major reason for the Israelites’ success in this battle. When God’s people carry out their assigned responsibilities and cooperate, God grants success. Unfortunately, many good works flounder because the saints refuse to work together as God has gifted them. Cooperation is one of the major themes in this song.

Verses 3-5

God’s former salvation 5:3-5

Deborah called all people of consequence to pay attention to the record of God’s sovereignty that follows (cf. Exodus 15:18). "Kings" may refer to pagan kings and "rulers" to Israel’s leaders. She compared God’s revelation at Sinai, when He gave the Israelites His covenant, to His intervention for His people in their most recent battle. She pictured God going from Mt. Seir in Edom to Mt. Sinai, where He appeared to the Israelites in great power in a storm and earthquake (cf. Exodus 19:18; Deuteronomy 33:2). She later spoke of God’s recent deliverance of His people in similar terms (Judges 5:20-21). The description is poetic. We should not interpret it as literally as a prose narrative.

Verses 6-8

Background of God’s recent deliverance 5:6-8

During the days of Shamgar and Jael the Canaanites were so strong that the people with the birthright to the land feared to go out on the main highways. Instead they traveled the back roads to avoid molestation. Peasant farmers could not raise or sell crops because of the Canaanite threat. They stopped working because of the Canaanite oppression. The Israelites chose new gods in the sense that they turned to idols as a result of God not delivering them for 20 years. These conditions led to war in the gates of the cities, that is, internal strife in Israel. The 40,000, or less likely 40 military units, were evidently Israel’s soldiers who did not have normal weapons.

When God raised up Deborah, Israel’s fortunes changed dramatically. Deborah saw herself as merely a mother in Israel, not a great warrior or even a prophetess, though she filled both of those roles. A mother is an unlikely leader of a successful revolutionary war. Yet God used Deborah to give new life to Israel and to nurture the conditions that would sustain her life. "Mother in Israel" also reflects the honor and gratitude that the people extended to Deborah.

Verses 9-11

A renewed call to bless God 5:9-11

Judges 5:9 is very similar to Judges 5:2. In Judges 5:10-11, Deborah urged all the Israelites to sing praises to God for His recent victory. Those who rode on white donkeys (Judges 5:10) were the upper classes, the rulers. Those who sat on (rich) carpets (Judges 5:10) may refer to the wealthy or perhaps those who stayed at home rather than participating in the fighting. [Note: Cundall and Morris, p. 96, preferred the second view.] Those who traveled the roads (Judges 5:10) were the middle classes. Deborah called all these groups to sing praises to God for His deliverance. The writer pictured them as gathering at the wells and town gates to talk about and rejoice together in God’s goodness for giving victory to His people.

Verses 12-18

The faithful and unfaithful participants 5:12-18

God had to rouse Deborah to oppose the Canaanites; she did not initiate this action. God also roused her to sing His praise after the victory. After God stimulated Deborah and Barak into action, several Israelite survivors of the oppression followed their lead into the Valley of Jezreel. They came from the tribe of Ephraim in the region Amalekites had formerly occupied (cf. Judges 12:15). They also came from Benjamin, western Manasseh (Machir), and Zebulun. Perhaps only the princes or leaders from Issachar came (cf. Judges 6:34-35). Most of Issachar’s territory lay in the valley were this battle took place. Perhaps most of the residents of Issachar were too fearful to participate. Notable by their absence were the tribes of Reuben, the Gileadites (Gad and the part of Manasseh east of the Jordan), Dan, and Asher. The description of Dan staying "in ships" (Judges 5:17) may mean the Danites were pursuing commercial activities off their Mediterranean coast.

". . . they may have become too closely associated with their Phoenician and Canaanite neighbors to engage them in war . . ." [Note: Lewis, p. 41.]

Some scholars have suggested that a better translation of this phrase may be "at ease." This reading rests on Ugaritic usage of the Hebrew word. [Note: See Peter Craigie, Ugarit and the Old Testament, pp. 84-86; and J. Gray, pp. 287-88.] I tend to prefer the traditional reading.

"The [Hebrew] text of Judges is generally in good condition, ranking with the Pentateuch among the best preserved parts of the OT. The Song of Deborah in chapter 5, however, is an ancient poem with several textual problems stemming from the obscurity of its vocabulary." [Note: Wolf, p. 380.]

The more remote tribes stayed at home and did not participate in the war. Note the lack of tribal unity in Israel that only increased as time passed.

"A voluntary lack of fellowship with other believers will inevitably produce a lack of enthusiasm for God’s work." [Note: Inrig, p. 80.]

Deborah commended the people of Zebulun and Naphtali especially for their bravery (Judges 5:18).

Verses 19-22

God’s defeat of the Canaanites 5:19-22

The great victory was due to God’s supernatural intervention for Israel. He increased the effectiveness of the Israelite soldiers. The kings in Judges 5:19 are probably all Canaanite kings, as the NIV translation suggests. Taanach stood near Megiddo, which may have been in ruins at this time. [Note: W. F. Albright, The Archaeology of Palestine, p. 117.]

The stars (Judges 5:20) symbolize the forces of heaven that were more specifically the rains God sent. This personification ridiculed the Canaanites’ belief in astrology. [Note: Wolf, p. 414.] The flood that resulted from the rain made it impossible for the Canaanites to use their horses and chariots effectively (cf. Exodus 14:25).

"In all probability we have to think of a terrible storm, with thunder and lightening and hail, or the sudden bursting of a cloud, which is poetically described as though the stars of heaven had left their courses to fight for the Lord and His kingdom upon earth." [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, pp. 320-21.]

Since Baal was the storm god, Deborah was glorifying Yahweh over Baal in what she said here.

Verses 23-27

God’s curse and blessing 5:23-27

Meroz (Judges 5:23) may refer to Merom, an Israelite village in Naphtali, west of Hazor, the Canaanite stronghold. Evidently, out of fear of reprisals, the Israelites who lived there did not join their brethren in fighting their foe. In contrast, Jael feared nothing, but faced with the opportunity to kill Sisera did so boldly. This made her "most blessed of women," the embodiment of God’s will for justice and righteousness (cf. Luke 1:42; Luke 1:51-53). "Curds" refers to the coagulated part of milk from which cheese comes, in contrast to the watery whey.

"By having Sisera fall and saying that he ’lay’ at Jael’s feet-more literally, ’between her feet [or legs]’-the poet suggests the sexual dimension of the scene. The potential rapist is subdued by the potential victim; that is, the poet contributes to what is also evident in the narrative version in Judges 4:17-22 -the ’womanization’ of Sisera . . ." [Note: McCann, p. 57.]

Verses 28-30

A picture of frustrated hope 5:28-30

Deborah put herself in the shoes of Sisera’s mother (cf. Judges 5:7) and imagined what she must have been thinking as she anticipated his victorious return. However, deep in her heart the mother of the commander wondered if he would return. Instead of wearing a beautiful garment she ended up wearing sackcloth and ashes.

"The word for ’girl’ [or maiden] (raham, Judges 5:30) normally means ’womb,’ brusquely suggesting the lustful treatment each one could expect." [Note: Wolf, p. 416.]

This touch is added confirmation that Jael was defending herself from a potential rapist when she killed Sisera. As noted earlier, this song is full of contrasts. The simplicity of Jael’s tent (Judges 5:24) also contrasts with the mother of Sisera’s palace (Judges 5:28). [Note: Robert Alter, The Art of Biblical Poetry, p. 45.]

Verse 31

The final chorus 5:31

The song concludes with a reminder that those who oppose Yahweh will perish. Those who love Him will prosper, as Israel did in this battle through His intervention for her. [Note: See Barnabas Lindars, "Deborah’s Song: Women in the Old Testament," Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester 65:2 (Spring 1983):158-75.] This verse invites the reader to consider how we too may join God in His work of crushing oppressors, His enemies, and so take our place among His friends. [Note: McCann, p. 61.]

Following this victory and the battles that followed (Judges 4:24), the land saw no major wars for 40 years (Judges 5:31). One writer pointed out several features of the ministry of Deborah that reveal Israel’s inverted life during the era of the judges. [Note: Freema Gottlieb, "Three Mothers," Judaism 30 (Spring 1981):194-203.] Perhaps the most obvious is the fact that a woman rather than a man led Israel at this particular time.

The emphases in this song are that God’s people should honor Him for His salvation, the importance of cooperation in God’s work, and the heroism of people such as Jael. The greatest argument for the propriety of Jael’s action is God’s honoring of her in this song (Judges 5:24-27). The whole song of Deborah celebrates the establishment of God’s justice and righteousness (cf. Judges 5:11).

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Judges 5". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/judges-5.html. 2012.
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