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Bible Commentaries

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

Judges 5

Verse 1

Then sang Deborah and Barak the son of Abinoam on that day, saying,

Then sang Deborah and Barak ... on that day. Nothing is said respecting the authorship of this noble triumphal ode; but modern criticism has established it, by a chain of strong circumstantial evidence, to be beyond a doubt an effusion of the patriotic and pious mind of Deborah herself. The freshness of feeling that pervades the entire composition-the strong hate evinced toward the enemy, as of one smarting under his insults and oppression-the details given respecting the severity and extent of his tyrannical exactions, and the reign of terror existing in the country-the names and number of the confederate tribes that obeyed the war-summons of Barak-the ascent of the Canaanite hosts, with, their defeat, and the course of their disastrous flight-the description given of the different situations of Jael and of Sisera's mother-indicate the intense interest and accurate knowledge of a contemporary.

Further, the selection of topics that form the burden of the song-the slight notice of the contest, contrasted with the manifest delight shown in describing the rout of the enemy-the praise lavished upon Jael and her deed, with the graphic picture of the rapidly varying emotions of Sisera's mother-afford unmistakeable proof that the author of this beautiful poem was a woman, who appears, from the use of the first person (Judges 5:7), to have been the prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth. 'How much art a song of the early times before David may possess in the midst of its simplicity is shown by this noble song of victory, which unites a really grand design with a regularly beautiful execution, and is a model of a genuine song of victory of nearly eight centuries before Pindar' (Ewald). The mode in which it was sung was most probably that adopted by Hebrew women in celebrating public deliverances (Exodus 15:20; 1 Samuel 18:6), Deborah, as leader, giving forth the tuneful utterances, echoed by a chorus of female singers, in presence of Barak and his victorious troops on their return from the triumphant pursuit.

Verse 2

Praise ye the LORD for the avenging of Israel, when the people willingly offered themselves.

For the avenging of Israel, [ bipªroa` (H6544) pªraa`owt (H6546) bª-Yisraa'eel (H3478)] - in the freeing of Israel from bondage (Robinson), or in the leading on of the lenders in Israel (Gesenius) [ bªhitnadeeb (H5068) `aam (H5971), in the people showing themselves willing - i:e., that the princes of Israel put themselves at the head of the people, who came with alacrity as a volunteer force, praise is due to the Lord. Septuagint, en too arxasthai archeegous en Israeel en proairesei laou eulogeite ton kurion]

Verse 3

Hear, O ye kings; give ear, O ye princes; I, even I, will sing unto the LORD; I will sing praise to the LORD God of Israel.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 4

LORD, when thou wentest out of Seir, when thou marchedst out of the field of Edom, the earth trembled, and the heavens dropped, the clouds also dropped water.

Lord, when thou wentest out of Seir ... In this highly figurative style, which is borrowed from the magnificent song of Moses (Deuteronomy 32:2), and was afterward adopted also, with a slight variation, by the Psalmist (Psalms 68:7-8), allusion is made to God's interposition on behalf of His people. Seir and the field of Edom represent the mountain range and the plain, extending along the south from the Dead Sea to the Elanitic Gulf. "Thou wentest out" indicates the particular form in which Yahweh appeared on this occasion for the deliverance of Israel-namely, in a violent tempest which, as may be gathered from this description, blew from the south or southwest.

Verse 5

The mountains melted from before the LORD, even that Sinai from before the LORD God of Israel.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 6

In the days of Shamgar the son of Anath, in the days of Jael, the highways were unoccupied, and the travellers walked through byways.

In the days of Shamgar ... in the days of Jael. Shamgar [Septuagint, Samegar] is mentioned, Judges 3:31, as a judge, who by one feat of bravery effected a deliverance, for Israel. According to Josephus ('Antiquities,' b. 5:, ch. 4:, sec. 3), his official rule continued only one year, and extended exclusively over those tribes which bordered on the Philistine territory. The association of Jael with Shamgar suggests the idea that reference is made to some unrecorded judge of that name, probably the successor of Shamgar, and whose public authority might be of equally brief duration. The presumption that this is the true interpretation, rather than that the reference is to the wife of Heber the Kenite, is strengthened by the fact that the name of this person is introduced by the formula "in the days of," which is commonly applied to men invested with public authority (cf. Judges 8:28; 1 Samuel 17:12; 2 Samuel 21:2). [ chaadªluw (H2308) 'ªraachowt (H734), the public roads rested, namely, from the noise of chariots, and the tread of feet; i:e., were not traveled.]

And the travelers, [ wªholªkeey (H3212) nªtiybowt (H5410)] - those who used to walk in beaten (trodden) paths. [ 'ªraachowt (H734) `ªqalqalowt (H6128), winding, crooked ways; i:e., go through devious and unfrequented by-ways (cf. Psalms 125:5). The Septuagint renders the whole clause thus: exelipon hodous kai eporeutheesan atrapous, eporeutheesan hodous diestrammenas].

Verse 7

The inhabitants of the villages ceased, they ceased in Israel, until that I Deborah arose, that I arose a mother in Israel.

The inhabitants of the villages ceased, [ chaadªluw (H2308) pªraazown (H6520)] - rule; i:e., (concrete for) rulers ceased in Israel. And so the Septuagint renders it: exelipon dunatoi. But the Hebrew word does not necessarily mean that the Shophetim were not in Israel, because they had left the country, but that they no longer exercised their public functions, and through loss of heart let anarchy universally prevail.

Until that I ... arose a mother in Israel., [ 'eem (H517) is used here in the same sense as 'aab (H1), father, frequently is, for paternal ruler-doing good and providing for the interests of others (cf. Job 29:16; Psalms 68:6; Isaiah 22:21).] And so Deborah assumed the office of ruler and councellor, not for, the gratification of her personal ambition, but for the good of the people, over whom she watched with the lively interest and solicitude of a mother over her children. These verses describe the sad condition of the country, the oppression of the people, the disorderly state of the country, and the origin of all the national distress in the people's apostasy from God. Idolatry was the cause of foreign invasion, and internal inability arising from sloth or cowardice to resist it. (As to the highways in ancient Palestine, see Reland, 'Palaestina,' illustrated, vol. 1:, b. 2:, chs. 3:, 4:)

Verse 8

They chose new gods; then was war in the gates: was there a shield or spear seen among forty thousand in Israel?

They chose new gods. This clause has been variously rendered. But we shall notice only two. [ Yibchar (H977) 'ªlohiym (H430) chªdaashiym (H2319).] Some, as the Peshito version and the Vulgate, taking the middle word for the nominative, translate 'God chose new things'-namely, the government and agency of a woman. But the generality of ancient versions and of modern scholars view the passage in the same light as our translators, and consider 'Israel' (understood, though not expressed) to be the proper subject. [Thus, the Septuagint, exelexanto theous kainous, they chose new gods; namely, Baal and Ashtaroth-Syrian or Phoenician idols, different from those of Egypt (see the note at Deuteronomy 32:17). The Alexandrine version (as in Tischendorf's notes), eeretisan theous kenous hoos arton krithinon, as barley bread.]

Then was war in the gates, ['aaz, then] - from that time, or therefore, namely, on account of that idolatry [ laachem (H3901) shª`aariym (H8179)], was siege of the gates; i:e., their cities were besieged. The word "gates" is used in a sense to denote doors of a house or temple, the entrance into a camp, the approaches of a city, or the passes into a country through which an enemy can invade the interior. This latter signification is the most apposite here, as descriptive of the insidious assaults, and grinding oppression of the Canaanites. [The Septuagint has: tote epolemeesan poleis archontoon, then the cities of the rulers made war. This is an erroneous translation; because the rulers were universally inactive until Deborah roused them.]

Was there a shield or spear seen among forty thousand in Israel? [ maageen (H4043) differed from tsinaah (H6793) (1 Kings 10:16-17; 2 Chronicles 9:16) in that it was a short small buckler, intended solely for defence, and of great service in the warfare of ancient times; romach (H7420), a lance or spear, used by heavy-armed troops (Numbers 25:7; Nehemiah 4:7). It is commonly coupled with tsinaah (H6793), the long shield (1 Chronicles 12:8; 1 Chronicles 12:24; 2 Chronicles 11:12; 2 Chronicles 14:7; 2 Chronicles 25:5). The particle 'im (H518), though an interrogative, is frequently used to express a strong negation; so that this sentence, "was there a shield or spear?" is virtually a strong affirmation that 'there was not a shield or spear'-an affirmation which, though perhaps not intended to be taken in its literal strictness, yet implies that the Israelites were sadly deficient in military weapons, and were for the most part totally unprepared for war.] The number 40,000 is used according to Oriental usage-a definite for an indefinite number (Genesis 7:17; Jonah 3:4).

Verse 9

My heart is toward the governors of Israel, that offered themselves willingly among the people. Bless ye the LORD.

My heart is toward the governors of Israel. In this verse gratitude is expressed to the respective leaders of the tribes, who with so much alacrity took part in the contest; but above all, to God, who inspired the patriotic disposition, as well as the strength to fight.

Verse 10

Speak, ye that ride on white asses, ye that sit in judgment, and walk by the way.

Speak, ye that ride on white asses - i:e., join in this song of praise. [ 'ªtonowt (H860) tsªchorowt (H6715), bright shining she-asses (cf. Judges 10:4: Bovet, 'Voyage en Terre Sainte,' p. 311).] Those which are dappled are most highly prized; but being rare, and therefore costly, are possessed only by the wealthy and great. 'Some are of considerable size, and when fancifully dyed with henna, their tails and ears bright red, and their bodies spotted, like an heraldic talbot, with the same colour, they bear the chief priests and the men of the law, as they appear to have done from the earliest times' (Layard, 'Nineveh and Babylon,' p. 472, note). [The Septuagint has: epibebeekotes epi onou theeleias meseembrias, riding upon a female donkey from the south, namely, Arabia, or some adjoining region.]

Ye that sit in judgement - or on the tribunal of justice [deriving the word from diyn (H1777), justice. But others, more correctly, viewing miyn as an Aramaic form of mirym, plural of mar, a garment, a carpet, render the clause, 'ye that sit on carpets.'] This interpretation accords well with the habit of Oriental grandees, who, whether riding or resting, sit on carpets. 'Ye that walk by the way,' describes the commonalty or the poorer classes, whose circumstances oblige them to use their legs in traveling. All classes, high and low, were thus called upon to join in offering this tribute of thanksgiving.

Verse 11

They that are delivered from the noise of archers in the places of drawing water, there shall they rehearse the righteous acts of the LORD, even the righteous acts toward the inhabitants of his villages in Israel: then shall the people of the LORD go down to the gates.

They that are delivered ..., [ miqowl (H6963) mªchatstsiym (H2686)] - from the shouting either of archers [as the Targums render it, from chets, an arrow] or of those dividing [namely, the booty, from chaatsats, to divide].

In the places of drawing water, [ mash'abiym (H4857)] - between or among the water-troughs. 'Near the wells and fountains the robber and assassin commonly took his station; and in time of war the enemy placed their ambush there, because the flocks and herds, in which the wealth of the country chiefly consisted, were twice every day collected to those places, and might be seized with less danger when the shepherds were busily engaged in drawing water. This circumstance is alluded to by Deborah. A perfect comment on her words is furnished by a historian of the crusades, who complains that, during the siege of Jerusalem by the Christian armies, numbers of their men were daily cut off, and their cattle driven away by the Saracens, who lay in ambush for this purpose pear all the fountains and watering-places' (Paxton's 'Illustrations of Scripture,' vol. 1:, p. 52.)

There shall they rehearse the righteous acts of the Lord, [ tsidqowt (H6666) ... pirzonow (H6520)] - the righteous acts of His rule in Israel; namely in the defeat of Jabin, and the restoration of Israel's freedom.

Then shall the people of the Lord go down to the gates - i:e., return to their cities in tranquillity and joy. The wells, which are at a little distance from towns in the East, are, in unsettled times, places of danger. But in peace they are scenes of pleasant and joyous resort. The poetess anticipates that this song may be sung, and "the righteous acts of the Lord" rehearsed, at these now tranquil "places of drawing water." Deborah, now rousing herself to describe, in terms suitable to the occasion, the preparation and the contest, calls, in a burst of poetic enthusiasm, on Barak to parade his prisoners in triumphal procession. Then follows a eulogistic enumeration of the tribes which raised the commanded levy, or volunteered their services-the soldiers of Ephraim, who dwelt near the mount of the Amalekites, the small quota of Benjamin; the "governors," valiant leaders "out of Machir," the western Manasseh; and out of Zebulun.

Verse 12

Awake, awake, Deborah: awake, awake, utter a song: arise, Barak, and lead thy captivity captive, thou son of Abinoam.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 13

Then he made him that remaineth have dominion over the nobles among the people: the LORD made me have dominion over the mighty.

The rod of the numberers - those who made up and kept the muster-rolls; and the princes who, with impetuous alacrity, rushed on with Barak to the charge in the plain.

Verse 14

Out of Ephraim was there a root of them against Amalek; after thee, Benjamin, among thy people; out of Machir came down governors, and out of Zebulun they that handle the pen of the writer.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 15

And the princes of Issachar were with Deborah; even Issachar, and also Barak: he was sent on foot into the valley. For the divisions of Reuben there were great thoughts of heart.

He was sent on foot into the valley. The verb being in Pual, the sense is, 'he' (i:e., Barak) 'sent himself,' i:e., rushed down, on foot into the plain. Then comes a reproachful notice of the tribes which did not obey the summons to take the field against the common enemy of Israel. By the "divisions," - i:e., the water-courses which descended from the eastern hills unto the Jordan and Dead Sea. The next clause may be rendered:

By the streams of Reuben great were their resolves. This tribe felt the patriotic impulse, and determined at first to join the ranks of their western brethren; but resiled from their purpose, preferring their peaceful shepherd songs to the trumpet sound of war.

Verse 16

Why abodest thou among the sheepfolds, to hear the bleatings of the flocks? For the divisions of Reuben there were great searchings of heart.

Why abodest thou among the sheepfolds? [ hamishpªtayim (H4942), folds, enclosures for sheep, open above, often made of hurdles, in which, during the summer months, the flocks are kept by night (cf. Genesis 49:4).] The Hebrews seem to have used the dual form on account of folds of this kind being divided into two parts for the accommodation of different kinds of flocks (Gesenius). The statement is reiterated as it were with an ill-suppressed sneer of scorn and pity, that upon the banks of their mountain streams the members of the tribe of Reuben cherished strong aspirations for liberty, and formed high resolves to hasten to the aid of their oppressed brethren. But with a characteristic instability (Genesis 49:4) they were satisfied with having resolved, and did not carry their resolutions into action.

Verse 17

Gilead abode beyond Jordan: and why did Dan remain in ships? Asher continued on the sea shore, and abode in his breaches.

Gilead abode beyond Jordan - i:e., both Gad and the eastern half of Manasseh chose to dwell at ease in their Havoth-jair, or villages of tents, while Dan and Asher, both maritime tribes, continued with their ships and in their 'breaches' (havens, creeks), prosecuting their trade of fishery. The mention of these craven tribes is concluded (Judges 5:18) with a fresh burst of commendation on Zebulun and Naphtali, which two tribes bore the chief burden, and drew the highest glory of the day.

Verse 18

Zebulun and Naphtali were a people that jeoparded their lives unto the death in the high places of the field.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 19

The kings came and fought, then fought the kings of Canaan in Taanach by the waters of Megiddo; they took no gain of money.

The kings came and fought. This describes the scene of battle, and the issue. It would seem (Judges 5:19) that Jabin was reinforced by the troops of other Canaanite princes. The battlefield was near Taanach (now Ta'annuk), on a tell or mound in the level plain of Megiddo (now Lejjun), on its southwestern extremity, by the left bank of the Kishon.

They took no gain of money - they obtained no plunder.

Verse 20

They fought from heaven; the stars in their courses fought against Sisera.

The stars in their courses fought - a fearful tempest burst upon them, and threw them into disorder. The stars that betokened the time of rain are here connected with the sudden swelling and overflow of the river (cf. Judges 5:4: Josephus, 'Antiquities,' b. 5:, ch. 5:, sec. 4).

Verse 21

The river of Kishon swept them away, that ancient river, the river Kishon. O my soul, thou hast trodden down strength.

The river of Kishon swept them away. The enemy was defeated near "the waters of Megiddo," the sources and side streams of the Kishon: they that fled had to cross the deep and marshy bed of the torrent, but the Lord had sent a heavy rain-the waters suddenly rose-the warriors fell into the quicksands, and, sinking deep into them, were drowned or washed into the sea (Van de Velde, 1:, p. 187-189; Robinson 'Biblical Researches,' 3:, p. 230, note, 384; Stanley, 'Sinai and Palestine,' p. 381: cf. Josephus, 'Antiquities,' b. 5:, ch. Researches,' 3:, p. 230, note, 384; Stanley, 'Sinai and Palestine,' p. 381: cf. Josephus, 'Antiquities,' b. 5:, ch.

v., sec. 4).

Verse 22

Then were the horsehoofs broken by the means of the pransings, the pransings of their mighty ones.

Horse-hoofs. Anciently, as in many parts of the East still, horses were not shod. The breaking of the hoofs denotes the hot haste and heavy irregular tramp of the routed foe.

Verse 23

Curse ye Meroz, said the angel of the LORD, curse ye bitterly the inhabitants thereof; because they came not to the help of the LORD, to the help of the LORD against the mighty.

Curse ye Meroz - a village on the confines of Issachar and Naphtali, which lay in the course of the fugitives; but the inhabitants declined to aid in their destruction. The ground of this anathema was, that the whole body of Israelites, holding the tenure of their lands on condition of military service, were bound when called upon to appear on the field as the national militia in defense or furtherance of the public interests.

Verse 24

Blessed above women shall Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite be, blessed shall she be above women in the tent.

Blessed above women shall Jael ... be. A high eulogy is pronounced on her devoted loyalty to Israel, and the important service she rendered by her deed of extraordinary daring. In these verses is a most graphic picture of the treatment of Sisera in the tent of Jael.

Verse 25

He asked water, and she gave him milk; she brought forth butter in a lordly dish. Butter, [ chem'aah (H2529), curdled milk; Septuagint, bouturon: a favourite beverage in the East]. Josephus calls it sour milk, which, diluted with water, is called "leban", and is common, for a refreshing, beverage in Palestine.

In a lordly dish, [ bªceepel (H5602) 'adiyriym (H117)] - in a princely, i:e., precious, bowl.

Verses 26-27

She put her hand to the nail, and her right hand to the workmen's hammer; and with the hammer she smote Sisera, she smote off his head, when she had pierced and stricken through his temples.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verses 28-30

The mother of Sisera looked out at a window, and cried through the lattice, Why is his chariot so long in coming? why tarry the wheels of his chariots?

In these verses a sudden transition is made to the mother of the Canaanite general, and a striking picture is drawn of a mind agitated between hope and fear-impatient of delay, yet anticipating the news of victory, and the rewards of rich booty.

Verse 28. The mother of Sisera looked out at a window, and cried through the lattice. The window in an Eastern house is made of wood in the latticed form, to serve as a folding door, and is large, extending from the ceiling to the floor, for the purpose of being fully opened, not only for the admission of light, but for the circulation of air. Windows commonly look into the quadrangular court, while the side of the house next the street is a dead, bare wall. But there were anciently, as there still are, exceptions to this general rule (2 Kings 9:30; Proverbs 7:9). The windows which front the street in the modern East are high in the wall and narrow, so that although, when opened, the inmates are enabled to see whatever is going on without, it is impossible for any passenger to distinguish any object in the interior of the dwelling. Doubtless the latticed window out of which Sisera's mother looked was in the same style; and as she probably chose it as commanding a view along the spacious plain of Jezreel (Esdraelon), her thoughts were naturally engrossed with one subject of intense and hourly-increasing anxiety, as she strained her eyes to catch the first glimpse of the general and his troops returning, as she doubted not they would do, flushed with, victory and laden with booty. (Byron's 'Giaour' has a fine passage, in which Hassan, having been slain by a sudden onslaught of his foe, the Giaour, the mother of Hassan is represented as awaiting his return, and wondering at his delay.

`His mother looked from her lattice high `His mother looked from her lattice high. 'Tis twilight-sure his train is nigh. She would not rest in the garden bower, But gazed through the grate of the steepest tower.

Why comes he not?-his steeds are fleet; Nor shrink they from the summer heat,' etc.

This spirited description is evidently a modern adaptation of the concluding passage in the beautiful dithyrambic of Deborah.)

Why tarry the wheels of his chariots?, [ pa`ªmeey (H6471)] - the paces of his chariots.

Verse 29. Her wise ladies answered her. In her impatient anxiety she is represented as seeking comfort from her maids of honour, who, from their experience or by their adroitness in practicing the arts of courtiers, suggested many probable causes of the delay, without including the possibility either of discomfiture or of death.

Yea, she returned answer to herself. J. D. Michaelis suggests that the reading should be, 'and she (namely, the mother of Sisera) replied to her (namely, the wise lady) who was comforting her.' 'There is,' he remarks, 'in the following a truly exquisite imitation of female conversation, the mother of Sisera, a proud, light-minded woman, always expressing a hope of better tidings than her attendants promised, and drawing a bright picture from her excited imagination.'

Verse 30. Have they not sped? The conversation is thus arranged by the writer abovenamed:-The wise ladies-`Will they not have got?' Sisera's mother, interrupting-`They will be dividing the prey. That must be the cause of the delay.' The wise ladies-`A maiden to every man' (literally, to the head of a man). Sisera's mother-`Two maidens' (namely, to every man). They-`To Sisera a prey of divers colours' (i:e., a garment, not made of coloured patches sewed together, but woven with threads previously dyed) (see the note at Exodus 35:25: cf. Wilkinson's 'Ancient Egypt.,' 3:125). She, dilating adds-`A garment of divers colours of needle-work, of divers colours of needle-work' (i:e., the word being dual, embroidered on both sides) (Rosenmuller, 'Scholia,'

h. 1.; J.D. Michaelis, ed. of Lowth's 'Lectures on Hebrew Poetry,' p. 259); or, two embroidered cloaks (Bertheau, 'Commentary,' h. 1.) for the necks [ shaalaal (H7998) for 'iysh (H376) shaalaal (H7998)] of a warrior.

Sisera's mother attributed the delay in his return to the great number of captives (female captives) taken from the enemy-females of the Israelite soldiers taken prisoners in their camp, equally with seizures made in the villages and towns through which the conquerors passed (see Xenophon, 'Cyrus,' 1. 4:; Herodotus, 'Polhymnia,' cap. 39:; Homer, 'Iliad,' b. 1:, capture of Briseis). With regard to sumptuous dress, gorgeous and party-coloured cloaks are worn by military officers of high rank in the East, and these are made like what are used among ourselves, to fit closely to the neck. The devices of embroidery are bestowed chiefly on those portions of the robe which are close to the neck, and which frequently display both ingenuity and taste. Such cloaks are much valued, being worn, not by the women only, but by men, even by stern warriors; and as a rule in ancient warfare, a richly embroidered cloak, when discovered among the booty, was reserved after a victory as a prize for the general or commander of the victorious party. Hence, Sisera's mother, in the fondness of her maternal anticipations, allotted an elaborate and gaily decorated cloak to her son as the reward of his gallant conduct.

Verse 31

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

So let all thine enemies perish, O Lord ... The ode concludes with a wish in unison with the pious and patriotic character of the prophetess. The author of the song seems at the close to cast a retrospective glance on the issues of that eventful battle; and after expressing a hope that the enemies of the Lord might all share the fate of Sisera and his army, then uttered a fervent prayer that Israel, as the true people of God, might henceforth run a course of national prosperity as brilliant and beneficial as the summer's sun.

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Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Judges 5". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfu/judges-5.html. 1871-8.