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Bible Commentaries
Judges 5

Garner-Howes Baptist CommentaryGarner-Howes

Verses 1-8

Judges - Chapter 5

Conditions in Israel, vs. 1-8

The account of the victory over the Canaanites was put into a beautiful song by Deborah and Barak, which they sang on that day. This is another example of Hebrew poetry, which- commonly expresses a thought in its first line, then reiterates it in the second. Sometimes the first line is built on through several succeeding lines. A complete poetic structure is known as a strophe. The title of the song of Deborah and Barak seems to be stated in the first words, "Praise ye the Lord for the avenging of Israel."

The singers begin by attributing the victory to the Lord, but also sing praise to the men of Israel who willingly came to the Lord’s battle. It is news for the ears of kings and princes. Israel who had no royal rulers won through the might of their God. They needed no king, for their God came to their deliverance.

It is learned from the song that the Lord aided Israel by coming to them in His storm cloud. The song shows that the cloud arose over the mountains of Seir, in the country of Edom. The thunder shook the earth, and the rain came down. The melting of the mountains refers to the torrents of water from the flash flood of the thunderstorm. The Lord makes even His creation come to His aid in destroying the Canaanite army. The reference to Sinai is somewhat vague, since that notable mountain was many miles south of the Kishon valley. Perhaps the inference is that the storm reached all the way to that place.

Deborah and Barak next turned to a consideration of affairs in Israel in the times of the Canaanite bondage. It was a condition stemming from the times of Shamgar. The mention of Jael might be an indication as to why her family had moved from their kindred. Perhaps the Canaanites had been troubling them in their former home. The Israelites stayed off the main roads and travelled on the trails and bypaths out of fear of the Canaanite oppression. People had moved from the villages to find escape from their heavy hand. This was the condition when Deborah arose, a mother in Israel. She was the mother of Israel in the sense that she cared for their welfare, and interceded with the Lord for them. She loved her God and her people and prayed for them. So He used this faithful woman to bring about their repentance and deliverance. How desperately does the world need mothers like Deborah today! (2 Timothy 1:5)

The cause of their trouble is found in verse 8. They chose them the gods of the land, and they had found out what the gods of the land would bring them. There was war in their gates, and there was no material means by which they could fight back.

Verses 9-18

Roll Call of Tribes, vs. 9-18

Next the song turns to the praise of the governors of the land for their willingness to join the battle. The white ass was the mount of the upper class, the judges, and they are called to bless the Lord. Willingness is not always present with the Lord’s people, but here those who were leaders of the people set the example. The Lord uses willing workers to accomplish His purposes. These helped to secure the outcome of the battle, (2 Corinthians 8:12).

Now the picture comes to the village wells where the people meet to talk of events. The news of the battle will be rehearsed in these places, and the righteousness of the Lord will be praised. He will receive honor and glory for the deliverance of Israel. Those who have been saved from the archers of the Canaanites will show their gratitude to Him by praising Him publicly. This is as it should be with the Lord’s people at all times. It demonstrated a change for the better in Israel. So thrilling was the result that Deborah had to sing. She calls on Barak to sing and celebrate their victory in a parade of his captives. Those who survived the Canaanites’ oppression came to join in the battle, and the Lord gave them dominion over their enemies.

Beginning at verse 14 is found a roll call of the tribes, some of whom came to the battle and others who did not. First there was Ephraim who had shown his strength by rooting himself among the Amalekites, or as some commentators translate the passage, he came down into the valley to the battle. Benjamin was represented, as was Machir, or Manasseh across the Jordan, following their governors. Those of Zebulun mentioned in verse 14 probably refers to the leaders of the tribe. The princes of Issachar led their men on foot into the valley to face the foe, and in support of Barak. Some tribes considered coming, but in the end stayed away. Reuben remained with his sheep, despite searchings of the heart. The Reubenites were like a lot of people today who have intentions but never act on them. Gilead, or Gad, remained across Jordan, Dan stayed in his lot by the sea, and Asher remained in the coves and inlets of his seacoast.

The greatest praise was for Zebulun and Naphtali, the tribes from whom Barak drew his ten thousand men. They risked their lives to join the battle, being in the forefront of the fighting. Other tribes had come because of the bravery of these two. Only two tribes are not mentioned, Judah and Simeon. They were in the far south and probably not subjected to the Canaanite dominion.

Verses 19-23

Course of Battle, vs. 19-23

It appears that the kings of Canaan, meaning their princes and great men, came down to the Kishon valley in eager expectation of great victory against the un-equipped Israelite army. They expected to take great spoil. The vicinity of the battle is identified as Taanach, near Megiddo. Taanach was on the west side of the valley, and Megiddo was scarcely ten miles to the northwest. God had so used the elements in giving Israel the mighty victory that it seemed comparable to the event of Joshua’s day when the heavenly bodies joined in the fray (Joshua 10:12-14). The torrents of the river Kishon had swept the great army away. The sound of the horses’ hooves was muffled by the mire in which the iron chariots were stuck.

But some had failed to show up who should have been there. Meroz was very near Kedesh in the tribe of Naphtali, in the very area which suffered most from the depradations of the Canaanites. But they did not come to battle for their own deliverance. They had failed their brethren, they had failed the Lord, and they had failed themselves. Only a curse was left for them. How analogous is this to the state of those who go through life and fail in every respect to prepare for eternity! (2 Timothy 2:17-18)

Verses 24-31

Praise of Jael, vs. 24-31

The song turns now to laud the heroism of Jael. Her praise should surpass that of all women who live in tents, that is, of all nomadic women. Her hospitality toward Sisera when he came to her tent, and the manner of his death are romanticized by the poet. She is shown bringing to him milk, even cream (butter), when he only asked water. Then she took the tent nail and hammer and proceeded to kill him as he slept. The reference to smiting off Sisera’s head is rendered "smashed his head" in other versions, and this apparently is what occurred. Sisera came to Jael, bowing to her and seeking refuge with her. It is emphasized that he ultimately bowed down in death at her feet.

The last scene of the song is an imaginary one, of Sisera’s mother expectantly waiting for him. She is worried about his tardiness in returning. Furtively she looks through the lattice of the window and murmurs to her maids, pondering the reason for his delay in returning. She reassures herself, however, and her maids also reassure her. They had gone out with great expectation of spoil. The women expect to receive from the Canaanite warriors beautiful dyed cloth from the Israelites. Their men would take each a slave girl or two, and Sisera would surely bring his mother some of the beautiful needlework of the Israelite women to grace her neck.

Abruptly the song ends with this fruitless wait of Sisera’s mother. The singers pray that the Lord’s enemies may perish as did Sisera, and that all who love Him might prosper as the sun in its might, (Malachi 4:2-3).

A final note states that a period of forty years’ rest followed the deliverance wrought by Deborah and Barak in the power of God.

Lessons to be learned: 1) God’s people ought to feel like singing for the marvelous victories He gives them; 2) the Lord can, and does, use His creation to emphasize His power and give victory to His people; 3) there will be some who respond and some who resist the service of Christ; 4) some will refuse to consider their own best interests and be cursed for it; 5) at the last the worldly ambitions and expectations of men will be unrealized.

Bibliographical Information
Garner, Albert & Howes, J.C. "Commentary on Judges 5". Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ghb/judges-5.html. 1985.
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