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Deborah's Song of Victory - Judges 5
This highly poetical song is so direct and lively an utterance of the mighty force of the enthusiasm awakened by the exaltation of Israel, and its victory over Sisera, that its genuineness if generally admitted now. After a general summons to praise the Lord for the courage with which the people rose up to fight against their foes (Judges 5:2), Deborah the singer dilates in the first section (Judges 5:3-11) upon the significance of the victory, picturing in lively colours (1) the glorious times when Israel was exalted to be the nation of the Lord (Judges 5:3-5); (2) the disgraceful decline of the nation in the more recent times (Judges 5:6-8); and (3) the joyful turn of affairs which followed her appearance (Judges 5:9-11). After a fresh summons to rejoice in their victory (Judges 5:12), there follows in the second section (Judges 5:13-21) a lively picture of the conflict and victory, in which there is a vivid description ( a) of the mighty gathering of the brave to battle ( Judges 5:13-15); ( b) of the cowardice of those who stayed away from the battle, and of the bravery with which the braver warriors risked their lives in the battle ( Judges 5:15-18); and ( c) of the successful result of the conflict (Judges 5:19-21). To this there is appended in the third section (Judges 5:22-31) an account of the glorious issue of the battle and the victory: first of all, a brief notice of the flight and pursuit of the foe (Judges 5:22-24); secondly, a commemoration of the slaying of Sisera by Jael (Judges 5:24-27); and thirdly, a scornful description of the disappointment of Sisera's mother, who was counting upon a large arrival of booty (Judges 5:28-30). The song then closes with the hope, founded upon this victory, that all the enemies of the Lord might perish, and Israel increase in strength ( Judges 5:31). The whole song, therefore, is divided into three leading sections, each of which again is arranged in three somewhat unequal strophes, the first and second sections being introduced by a summons to the praise of God (Judges 5:2, Judges 5:12), whilst the third closes with an expression of hope, drawn from the contents of the whole, with regard to the future prospects of the kingdom of God ( Judges 5:31).
The historical introduction (“ Then sang Deborah and Barak the son of Abinoam on that day, saying ”) takes the place of a heading, and does not mean that the song of Deborah and Barak which follows was composed by them jointly, but simply that it was sung by them together, in commemoration of the victory. The poetess or writer of the song, according to Judges 5:3, Judges 5:7, and Judges 5:12, was Deborah. The song itself opens with a summons to praise the Lord for the willing and joyful rising up of His people.
2 That the strong in Israel showed themselves strong,
That the people willingly offered themselves,
Praise ye the Lord!
The meaning of פּרע and פּרעות is a subject of dispute. According to the Septuagint rendering, and that of Theodot., ἐν τῷ ἄρξασθαι ἀρχηγοὺς ἐν Ἰσραήλ , many give it the meaning to begin or to lead, and endeavour to establish this meaning from an Arabic word signifying to find one's self at the head of an affair. But this meaning cannot be established in Hebrew. פּרע has no other meaning than to let loose from something, to let a person loose or free (see at Leviticus 10:6); and in the only other passage where פּרעות occurs (Deuteronomy 32:42), it does not refer to a leader, but to the luxuriant growth of the hair as the sign of great strength. Hence in this passage also פּרעות literally means comati, the hairy ones, i.e., those who possessed strength; and פּרע , to manifest or put forth strength. The persons referred to are the champions in the fight, who went before the nation with strength and bravery. The preposition בּ before פּרע indicates the reason for praising God, or rather the object with which the praise of the Lord was connected. וגו בּפרע , literally “in the showing themselves strong.” The meaning is, “for the fact that the strong in Israel put forth strength.” התנדּב , to prove one's self willing, here to go into the battle of their own free will, without any outward and authoritative command. This introduction transports us in the most striking manner into the time of the judges, when Israel had no king who could summon the nation to war, but everything depended upon the voluntary rising of the strong and the will of the nation at large. The manifestation of this strength and willingness Deborah praises as a gracious gift of the Lord. After this summons to praise the Lord, the first part of the song opens with an appeal to the kings and princes of the earth to hear what Deborah has to proclaim to the praise of God.
3 Hear, ye kings; give ear, ye princes!
I, to the Lord will I sing,
Will sing praise to the Lord, the God of Israel.
4 Lord, when Thou wentest out from Seir,
When Thou marchedst out of the fields of Edom,
The earth trembled, and the heavens also dropped;
The clouds also dropped water.
5 The mountains shook before the Lord,
Sinai there before the Lord, the God of Israel.
The “kings and princes” are not the rulers in Israel, for Israel had no kings at that time, but the kings and princes of the heathen nations, as in Psalms 2:2. These were to discern the mighty acts of Jehovah in Israel, and learn to fear Jehovah as the almighty God. For the song to be sung applies to Him, the God of Israel. זמּר , ψάλλειν , is the technical expression for singing with an instrumental accompaniment (see at Exodus 15:2).
To give the Lord the glory for the victory which had been gained through His omnipotent help over the powerful army of Sisera, and to fill the heathen with fear of Jehovah, and the Israelites with love and confidence towards Him, the singer reverts to the terribly glorious manifestation of Jehovah in the olden time, when Israel was accepted as the nation of God (Ex 19). Just as Moses in his blessing (Deuteronomy 33:2) referred the tribes of Israel to this mighty act, as the source of all salvation and blessing for Israel, so the prophetess Deborah makes the praise of this glorious manifestation of God the starting-point of her praise of the great grace, which Jehovah as the faithful covenant God had displayed to His people in her own days. The tacit allusion to Moses' blessing is very unmistakeable. But whereas Moses describes the descent of the Lord upon Sinai (Ex 19), according to its gracious significance in relation to the tribes of Israel, as an objective fact (Jehovah came from Sinai, Deuteronomy 33:2), Deborah clothes the remembrance of it in the form of an address to God, to bring out the thought that the help which Israel had just experienced was a renewal of the coming of the Lord to His people. Jehovah's going out of Seir, and marching out of the fields of Edom, is to be interpreted in the same sense as His rising up from Seir (Deuteronomy 33:2). As the descent of the Lord upon Sinai is depicted there as a rising of the sun from the east, so the same descent in a black cloud amidst thunder, lightning, fire, and vapour of smoke (Exodus 19:16, Exodus 19:18), is represented here with direct allusion to these phenomena as a storm rising up from Seir in the east, in which the Lord advanced to meet His people as they came from the west to Sinai. Before the Lord, who came down upon Sinai in the storm and darkness of the cloud, the earth shook and the heaven dropped, or, as it is afterwards more definitely explained, the clouds dropped with water, emptied themselves of their abundance of water as they do in the case of a storm. The mountains shook ( נזלוּ , Niphal of זלל , dropping the reduplication of the ל נזלּוּ , Isaiah 63:19; Isaiah 64:2), even the strong rocky mountain of Sinai, which stood out so distinctly before the eyes of the singer, that she speaks of it as “this Sinai,” pointing to it as though it were locally near. David's description of the miraculous guidance of Israel through the desert in Psalms 68:8-9, is evidently founded upon this passage, though it by no means follows from this that the passage before us also treats of the journey through the desert, as Clericus supposes, or even of the presence of the Lord in the battle with Sisera, and the victory which it secured. But greatly as Israel had been exalted at Sinai by the Lord its God, it had fallen just as deeply into bondage to its oppressors through its own sins, until Deborah arose to help it (Judges 5:6-8).
6 In the days of Shamgar, the son of Anath,
In the days of Jael, the paths kept holiday,
And the wanderers of the paths went crooked ways.
7 The towns in Israel kept holiday, they kept holiday,
Until that I, Deborah, arose,
That I arose a mother in Israel
8 They chose new gods;
Then was war at the gates:
Was there a shield seen and a spear
Among forty thousand in Israel?
The deep degradation and disgrace into which Israel had sunk before the appearance of Deborah, through its falling away from the Lord into idolatry, forms the dark reverse of that glorification at Sinai. Although, after Ehud, Shamgar had also brought help to the people against their enemies by a victory over the Philistines (Judges 3:31), and although Jael, who proved herself a heroine by slaying the fugitive Sisera, was then alive, things had got to such a pitch with Israel, that no one would venture upon the public high roads. There are no good grounds for the conjecture that Jael was a different person from the Jael mentioned in Judges 4:17., whether a judge who is not further known, as Ewald supposes, or a female judge who stood at the head of the nation in these unhappy times ( Bertheau). ארחות חדלוּ , lit., “ the paths ceased,” sc., to be paths, or to be trodden by men. נתיבות הלכי , “ those who went upon paths,” or beaten ways, i.e., those who were obliged to undertake journeys for the purpose of friendly intercourse or trade, notwithstanding the burden of foreign rule which pressed upon the land; such persons went by “ twisted paths,” i.e., by roads and circuitous routes which turned away from the high roads. And the פּרזון , i.e., the cultivated land, with its open towns and villages, and with their inhabitants, was as forsaken and desolate as the public highways. The word perazon has been rendered judge or guidance by modern expositors, after the example of Teller and Gesenius; and in Judges 5:11 decision or guidance. But this meaning, which has been adopted into all the more recent lexicons, has nothing really to support it, and does not even suit our verse, into which it would introduce the strange contradiction, that at the time when Shamgar and Jael were judges, there were no judges in Israel. In addition to the Septuagint version, which renders the word δυνατοὶ in this verse (i.e., according to the Cod. Vat., for the Col. Al. has φράζων ), and then in the most unmeaning way adopts the rendering αὔξησον in Judges 5:11, from which we may clearly see that the translators did not know the meaning of the word, it is common to adduce an Arabic word which signifies segregavit, discrevit rem ab aliis , though it is impossible to prove that the Arabic word ever had the meaning to judge or to lead. All the old translators, as well as the Rabbins, have based their rendering of the word upon פּרזי , inhabitant of the flat country (Deuteronomy 3:5, and 1 Samuel 6:18), and פּרזות , the open flat country, as distinguished from the towns surrounded by walls (Ezekiel 38:11; Zechariah 2:8), according to which פּרזון , as the place of meeting, would denote both the cultivated land with its unenclosed towns and villages, and also the population that was settled in the open country in unfortified places-a meaning which also lies at the foundation of the word in Habakkuk 3:14. Accordingly, Luther has rendered the word Bauern (peasants). שׁקּמתּי עד for קמתּי אשׁר עד . The contraction of אשׁר into שׁ , with Dagesh following, and generally pointed with Seghol, but here with Patach on account of the ק , which is closely related to the gutturals, belongs to the popular character of the song, and is therefore also found in the Song of Solomon (Judges 1:12; Judges 2:7, Judges 2:17; Judges 4:6). It is also met with here and there in simple prose (Judges 6:17; Judges 7:12; Judges 8:26); but it was only in the literature of the time of the captivity and a still later date, that it found its way more and more from the language of ordinary conversation into that of the Scriptures. Deborah describes herself as “a mother in Israel,” on account of her having watched over her people with maternal care, just as Job calls himself a father to the poor who had been supported by him (Job 29:16; cf. Isaiah 22:21).
Judges 5:8 describes the cause of the misery into which Israel had fallen. חדשׁים אלהים is the object to יבחר , and the subject is to be found in the previous term Israel. Israel forsook its God and creator, and chose new gods, i.e., gods not worshipped by its fathers (vid., Deuteronomy 32:17). Then there was war ( לחם , the construct state of לחם , a verbal noun formed from the Piel, and signifying conflict or war) at the gates; i.e., the enemy pressed up to the very gates of the Israelitish towns, and besieged them, and there was not seen a shield or spear among forty thousand in Israel, i.e., there were no warriors found in Israel who ventured to defend the land against the foe. אם indicates a question with a negative reply assumed, as in 1 Kings 1:27, etc. Shield and spear (or lance) are mentioned particularly as arms of offence and defence, to signify arms of all kinds. The words are not to be explained from 1 Samuel 13:22, as signifying that there were no longer any weapons to be found among the Israelites, because the enemy had taken them away (“not seen” is not equivalent to “not found” in 1 Samuel 13:22); they simply affirm that there were no longer any weapons to be seen, because not one of the 40,000 men in Israel took a weapon in his hand. The number 40,000 is not the number of the men who offered themselves willingly for battle, according to Judges 5:2 ( Bertheau); for apart from the fact that they did not go unarmed into the battle, it is at variance with the statement in Judges 4:6, Judges 4:10, that Barak went into the war and smote the enemy with only 10,000 men. It is a round number, i.e., an approximative statement of the number of the warriors who might have smitten the enemy and delivered Israel from bondage, and was probably chosen with a reference to the 40,000 fighting men of the tribes on the east of the Jordan, who went with Joshua to Canaan and helped their brethren to conquer the land (Joshua 4:13). Most of the more recent expositors have given a different rendering of Judges 5:8. Many of them render the first clause according to the Peshito and Vulgate, “ God chose something new,” taking Elohim as the subject, and chadashim (new) as the object. But to this it has very properly been objected, that, according to the terms of the song, it was not Elohim but Jehovah who effected the deliverance of Israel, and that the Hebrew for new things is not חדשׁים , but חדשׁות (Isaiah 42:9; Isaiah 48:6), or חדשׁה (Isaiah 43:19; Jeremiah 31:22). On these grounds Ewald and Bertheau render Elohim “judges” (they chose new judges), and appeal to Exodus 21:6; Exodus 22:7-8, where the authorities who administered justice in the name of God are called Elohim. But these passages are not sufficient by themselves to establish the meaning “judges,” and still less to establish the rendering “new judges” for Elohim chadashim . Moreover, according to both these explanations, the next clause must be understood as relating to the specially courageous conflict which the Israelites in their enthusiasm carried on with Sisera; whereas the further statement, that among 40,000 warriors who offered themselves willingly for battle there was not a shield or a lance to be seen, is irreconcilably at variance with this. For the explanation suggested, namely, that these warriors did not possess the ordinary weapons for a well-conducted engagement, but had nothing but bows and swords, or instead of weapons of any kind had only the staffs and tools of shepherds and husbandmen, is proved to be untenable by the simple fact that there is nothing at all to indicate any contrast between ordinary and extraordinary weapons, and that such a contrast is altogether foreign to the context. Moreover, the fact appealed to, that אז points to a victorious conflict in Judges 5:13, Judges 5:19, Judges 5:22, as well as in Judges 5:11, is not strong enough to support the view in question, as אז is employed in Judges 5:19 in connection with the battle of the kings of Canaan, which was not a successful one, but terminated in a defeat.
The singer now turns from the contemplation of the deep degradation of Israel to the glorious change which took place as soon as she appeared: -
9 My heart inclines to the leaders of Israel;
To those who offered themselves willingly in the nation. Praise ye the Lord!
10 Ye that ride upon white asses;
Ye that sit upon covering,
And that walk in the way, reflect!
11 With the voice of the archers among drawers (of water),
There praise ye the righteous acts of the Lord,
The righteous acts of His villages in Israel.
Then the people of the Lord went down to the gates!
We must supply the subst. verb in connection with ל לבּי , “ My heart is (sc., inclined) towards the leaders of Israel,” i.e., feels itself drawn towards them. הוקק for מהוקק (Judges 5:14), the determining one, i.e., the commander or leader in war: as in Deuteronomy 33:21. The leaders and willing ones are first of all to praise the Lord for having crowned their willingness with victory.
And all classes of the people, both high and low, have reason to join in the praise. Those who ride upon white, i.e., white-spotted asses, are the upper classes generally, and not merely the leaders (cf. Judges 10:4; Judges 12:14). צהר , lit. dazzling white; but since there are no asses that are perfectly white, and white was a colour that was highly valued both by Hebrews and Arabs, they applied the term white to those that were only spotted with white. Those who sit upon coverings ( מדּין from מד , a covering or carpet, with the plural termination ין , which is to be regarded as a poetical Chaldaism) are the rich and prosperous; and those who walk on the way, i.e., travellers on foot, represent the middle and lower classes, who have to go about and attend to their affairs. Considered logically, this triple division of the nation is not a very exact one, as the first two do not form a true antithesis. But the want of exactness does not warrant our fusing together the middle term and the first, and understanding by middin either saddles or saddle-cloths, as Ewald and Bertheau have done; for saddle-cloths are still further from forming an antithesis to asses, so that those who ride upon white asses could be distinguished, as the upper classes and leaders, from those who sit upon saddles, or are “somewhat richer.” Moreover, there is no reason for regarding these three classes as referring simply to the long line of warriors hastening from the victory to the triumphal fête. On the contrary, all classes of the people are addressed, as enjoying the fruits of the victory that had been obtained: the upper classes, who ride upon their costly animals; the rich resting at home upon their splendid carpets; and the poor travellers, who can now go quietly along the high-road again without fear of interruption from the foe (Judges 5:6). שׂיחוּ is rendered “ sing ” by many; but this rendering cannot be sustained from Psalms 105:2 and Psalms 145:5, and it is not necessary on the verse before us, since the well-established meaning of the word “ponder,” reflect, sc., upon the acts of the Lord, is a perfectly suitable one.
The whole nation had good reason to make this reflection, as the warriors, having returned home, were now relating the mighty acts of the Lord among the women who were watering their flocks, and the people had returned to their towns once more. This is in all probability the idea of the obscure verse before us, which has been interpreted in such very different ways. The first clause, which has no verb, and cannot constitute a sentence by itself, must be connected with the following clause, and taken as an anakolouthon, as יתנּוּ שׁם does not form a direct continuation of the clause commencing with מקּול . After the words “ from the voice of the archers,” we should expect the continuation “ there is heard,” or “there sounds forth the praise of the acts of the Lord.” Instead of that, the construction that was commenced is relinquished at יתנּוּ שׁם , and a different turn is given to the thought. This not only seems to offer the simplest explanation, but the only possible solution of the difficulty. For the explanation that מן is to be taken as signifying “away from,” as in Numbers 15:24, etc., in the sense of “far from the voice of the archers, among the watering women,” does not suit the following word שׁם , “there,” at all. It would be necessary to attribute to מן the meaning “no more disquieted by,” a meaning which the preposition could not possibly have in this clause. מחצצים are not sharers in the booty, for חצץ simply means to cut, to cut in pieces, to divide, and is never applied to the sharing of booty, for which חלּק is the word used (vid., Judges 5:30; Psalms 68:13; Isaiah 9:2). מחצּץ is to be regarded, as the Rabbins maintain, as a denom. from חץ , to hold an arrow, signifying therefore the shooter of an arrow. It was probably a natural thing for Deborah, who dwelt in Benjamin, to mention the archers as representatives of warriors generally, since this was the principal weapon employed by the Benjaminites (see 1 Chronicles 8:40; 1 Chronicles 12:2; 2 Chronicles 14:7; 2 Chronicles 17:17). The tarrying of the warriors among the drawers of water, where the flocks and herds were being watered, points to the time of peace, when the warriors were again occupied with their civil and domestic affairs. יתנּוּ is a simple aorist. תּנּה , lit. to repeat, then to relate, or praise. “ The righteousness of Jehovah,” i.e., the marvellous acts of the Lord in and upon Israel for the accomplishing of His purposes of salvation, in which the righteousness of His work upon earth was manifested (cf. 1 Samuel 12:7; Micah 6:5). פּרזונו צדקות has been rendered by modern expositors, either “the righteous acts of His guidance or of His decision” ( Ewald and Bertheau), or “the righteous acts of His commanders,” or “the benefits towards His princes (leaders) in Israel” ( Ros. and others). But neither of these can be sustained. We must take פּרזון here in just the same sense as in Judges 5:7; the country covered with open towns and villages, together with their inhabitants, whom Jehovah had delivered from the hostile oppression that had rested upon them, by means of the victory obtained over Sisera. After that victory the people of the Lord went down again to their gates, from the mountains and hiding-places in which they had taken refuge from their foes (Judges 5:6, Judges 5:7), returning again to the plains of the land, and the towns that were now delivered from the foe.
Judges 5:12 forms the introduction to the second part, viz., the description of the conflict and the victory. Throwing herself into the great event which she is about to commemorate, Deborah calls upon herself to strike up a song, and upon Barak to lead off his prisoners:
12 Awake, awake, Deborah!
Awake, awake, utter a song!
Rise up, Barak, and lead captive thy captives, O son of Abinoam!
עוּרי has the tone upon the last syllable on the first two occasions, to answer to the rapid summoning burst of the Lord in the opening address ( Bertheau). שׁבי שׁבה , to lead away captives, as the fruit of the victory; not merely to lead in triumph. On the form וּשׁבה with Chateph-patach, see Ewald, §90, b. In the next three strophes of this part (Judges 5:13-21) the progress of the conflict is described; and in the first two the part taken in the battle by the different tribes ( Judges 5:13-15, and Judges 5:15-18).
13 Then came down a remnant of nobles of the nation;
Jehovah came down to me among the heroes.
14 Of Ephraim, whose root in Amalek;
Behind thee Benjamin among thy peoples.
From Machir came down leaders,
And from Zebulun marchers with the staff of the conductor.
15 a And princes in Issachar with Deborah,
And Issachar as well as Barak,
Driven into the valley through his feet.
Looking back to the commencement of the battle, the poetess describes the streaming of the brave men of the nation down from the mountains, to fight the enemy with Barak and Deborah in the valley of Jezreel; though the whole nation did not raise as one man against its oppressors, but only a remnant of the noble and brave in the nation, with whom Jehovah went into the battle. In Judges 5:13 the Masoretic pointing of ירד is connected with the rabbinical idea of the word as the fut. apoc. of רדה : “ then (now) will the remnant rule over the glorious,” i.e., the remnant left in Israel over the stately foe; “Jehovah rules for me (or through me) over the heroes in Sisera's army,” which Luther has also adopted. But, as Schnurr. has maintained, this view is decidedly erroneous, inasmuch as it is altogether irreconcilable with the description which follows of the marching of the tribes of Israel into the battle. ירד is to be understood in the same sense as ירדוּ in Judges 5:14, and to be pointed as a perfect ירד .
(Note: The Cod. Al. of the lxx contains the correct rendering, τότε κατέβη κατάλειμμα . In the Targum also ירד is correctly translated נתת , descendit, although the germs of the rabbinical interpretation are contained in the paraphrase of the whole verse: tunc descendit unus ex exercitu Israel et fregit fortitudinem fortium gentium. Ecce non ex fortitudine manus eorum fuit hoc; sed Dominus fregit ante populum suum fortitudinem virorum osorum eorum .)
“ There came down,” sc., from the mountains of the land into the plain of Jezreel, a remnant of nobles. לאדּירים is used instead of a closer subordination through the construct state, to bring out the idea of שׂריד into greater prominence (see Ewald, §292). עם is in apposition to לאדּירים , and not to be connected with the following word יהוה , as it is by some, in opposition to the accents. The thought is rather this: with the nobles or among the brave Jehovah himself went against the foe. לי is a dat. commodi, equivalent to “for my joy.”
“ From ( מנּי , poetical for מן ) Ephraim,” sc., there came fighting men; not the whole tribe, but only nobles or brave men, and indeed those whose roots were in Amalek, i.e., those who were rooted or had taken root, i.e., had settled and spread themselves out upon the tribe-territory of Ephraim, which had formerly been inhabited by Amalekites, the mount of the Amalekites, mentioned in Judges 12:15 (for the figure itself, see Isaiah 27:6; Psalms 80:10, and Job 5:3). “ Behind thee,” i.e., behind Ephraim, there followed Benjamin among thy (Ephraim's) people ( עממים , a poetical form for עמּים , in the sense of hosts). Benjamin lived farther south than Ephraim, and therefore, when looked at from the stand-point of the plain of Jezreel, behind Ephraim; “but he came upon the scene of battle, either in subordination to the more powerful Ephraimites, or rushing on with the Ephraimitish hosts” ( Bertheau). “ From Machir,” i.e., from western Manasseh, there came down leaders (see at Judges 5:9), sc., with warriors in their train. Machir cannot refer to the Manassite family of Machir, to which Moses gave the northern part of Gilead, and Bashan, for an inheritance (comp. Joshua 17:1 with Joshua 13:29-31), but it stands poetically for Manasseh generally, as Machir was the only son of Manasseh, from whom all the Manassites were descended (Genesis 50:23; Numbers 26:29., Numbers 27:1). The reference here, however, is simply to that portion of the tribe of Manasseh which had received its inheritance by the side of Ephraim, in the land to the west of the Jordan. This explanation of the word is required, not only by the fact that Machir is mentioned after Ephraim and Benjamin, and before Zebulun and Issachar, but still more decidedly by the introduction of Gilead beyond Jordan in connection with Reuben, in Judges 5:17, which can only signify Gad and eastern Manasseh. Hence the two names Machir and Gilead, the names of Manasseh's son and grandson, are poetically employed to denote the two halves of the tribe of Manasseh; Machir signifying the western Manassites, and Gilead the eastern. “ From Zebulun marchers ( משׁך , to approach in long processions, as in Judges 4:6) with the staff of the conductor.” ספר , writer or numberer, was the technical name given to the musterer-general, whose duty it was to levy and muster the troops (2 Kings 25:19; cf. 2 Chronicles 26:11); here it denotes the military leader generally.
שׂרי , “ my princes,” does not furnish any appropriate meaning, as neither Deborah nor Barak was of the tribe of Issachar, and it is not stated anywhere that the Issacharites gathered round Deborah as their leaders. The reading שׂרי ( stat. constr.), adopted by the old versions, must be taken as the correct one, and the introduction of the preposition בּ does not preclude this (compare בגּלבּע הרי , 2 Samuel 1:21, and Ewald, §289, b.). עם , which is used to denote an outward equality, as in 1 Samuel 17:42, and is substantially the same as the כּן which follows (“ just as ”), is construed without כּ in the first clause, as in Psalms 48:6. בּעמק : into the valley of Jezreel, the plain of Kishon. בּרגליו שׁלּח , as in Job 18:8, to be sent off, i.e., incessantly impelled, through his feet; here it is applied to an irresistible force of enthusiasm for the battle. The nominative to שׁלּח is Issachar and Barak.
15 b At the brooks of Reuben were great resolutions of heart.
16 Why remainest thou between the hurdles,
To hear the piping of the flocks?
At the brooks of Reuben were great projects of heart.
17 Gilead rests on the other side of the Jordan;
And Dan ... why tarries he by ships?
Asher sits on the shore of the sea,
And by his bays he reposes.
18 Zebulun, a people that despises its soul even to death,
And Naphtali upon the heights of the field.
In this strophe Deborah first of all mentions the tribes which took no part in the conflict ( Judges 5:15-17), and then returns in Judges 5:18 to the Zebulunites, who staked their life along with Naphtali for the deliverance of Israel from the yoke of the enemy. The enumeration of the tribes who remained at a distance from the conflict commences with Reuben ( Judges 5:15 and Judges 5:16). In this tribe there did arise a lively sympathy with the national elevation. They held meetings, passed great resolutions, but it led to no practical result; and at length they preferred to remain quietly at home in their own comfortable pastoral life. The meaning brooks for פּלגּות is well established by Job 20:17, and there is no reason whatever for explaining the word as equivalent to פּלגּות מפלגּות , divisions (2 Chronicles 35:5, 2 Chronicles 35:12; Ezra 6:18). The territory of Reuben, which was celebrated for its splendid pastures, must have abounded in brooks. The question, Why satest thou, or remainedst thou sitting between the hurdles? i.e., in the comfortable repose of a shepherd's life, is an utterance of amazement; and the irony is very apparent in the next clause, to hear the bleating of the flocks, i.e., the piping of the shepherds, instead of the blast of the war-trumpets.
Gilead, Dan, and Asher took no part at all. By Gilead, the tribes of Gad and half Manasseh are intended. The use of the term הגּלעד to denote the whole of the territory of the Israelites on the east of the Jordan probably gave occasion to this, although גלעד (without the article) does not refer to the land even here, but refers primarily to the grandson of Manasseh, as the representative of his family which dwelt in Gilead. (For further remarks, see at Judges 5:14.) Dan also did not let the national movement disturb it in its earthly trade and commerce. גּוּר , to keep one's self in a place, is construed here with the accusative of the place, as in Psalms 120:5. The territory of Dan included the port of Joppa (see at Joshua 19:46), where the Danites probably carried on a trade with the Phoenicians. Asher also in his land upon the coast did not allow himself to be disturbed from his rest, to join in the common war of its nation. ימּים חוף is used, as in Genesis 49:13, for the shore of the Mediterranean Sea. מפרצים , ἁπ. λεγ. , literally a rent, and hence applied to a bay, as an incision made in the sea-shore.
Zebulun and Naphtali acted quite differently. Zebulun showed itself as a people that despised its life even to death, i.e., that sacrificed its life for the deliverance of its fatherland. Naphtali did the same in its mountain home. The two tribes had raised 10,000 fighting men at Barak's call ( Judges 4:10), who constituted at any rate the kernel of the Israelitish army.
If we run over the tribes enumerated, it seems strange that the tribes of Judah and Simeon are not mentioned either among those who joined in the battle, or among those who stayed away. The only way in which this can be explained is on the supposition that these two tribes were never summoned by Barak, either because they were so involved in conflict with the Philistines, that they were unable to render any assistance to the northern tribes against their Canaanitish oppressors, as we might infer from Judges 3:31, or because of some inward disagreement between these tribes and the rest. But even apart from Judah and Simeon, the want of sympathy on the part of the tribes that are reproved is a sufficient proof that the enthusiasm for the cause of the Lord had greatly diminished in the nation, and that the internal unity of the congregation was considerably loosened.
In the next strophe the battle and the victory are described: -
19 Kings came, ... they fought;
The kings of Canaan fought At Taanach, at the waters of Megiddo.
A piece of silver they did not take.
20 From heaven they fought,
The stars from their courses fought against Sisera.
21 The brook of Kishon swept them away,
The brook of the olden time, the brook Kishon.
Go on, my soul, in strength!
The advance of the foe is described in few words. Kings came on and fought. They were the kings of Canaan, since Jabin, like his ancestor ( Joshua 11:1.), had formed an alliance with other kings of northern Canaan, who went to the battle under the command of Sisera. The battle took place at Taanach (see at Joshua 12:21), by the water of Megiddo, the present Lejun (see at Joshua 12:21), i.e., by the brook Kishon (cf. Judges 4:7). Taanach and Megiddo were not quite five miles apart, and beside and between them there were several brooks which ran into the southern arm of the Kishon, that flowed through the plain to the north of both these towns. The hostile kings went into the battle with the hope of slaying the Israelites and making a rich capture of booty. But their hopes were disappointed. They could not take with them a piece of silver as booty. בּצע , which generally signifies booty or gain, is probably to be taken here in its primary sense of frustum, from בּצע , to cut off or cut in pieces, a “piece of silver,” equivalent to a single piece of valuable booty.
For not only did the Israelites fight against them, but he powers of heaven also. “ From heaven ” is more minutely defined by “ the stars from their courses.” These words explain the statement in Judges 4:15, “the Lord discomfited Sisera;” though in our opinion not so clearly as to enable us to define more precisely the natural phenomenon by which God threw the enemy into confusion. In all probability we have to think of a terrible storm, with thunder and lightning 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.
The kings of Canaan could do nothing against these powers. They were smitten; the brook Kishon washed them (i.e., their corpses) away. The meaning “to wash away” is well established by the dialects and the context, though the verb itself only occurs here. As the battle was fought between Taanach and Megiddo, i.e., to the south of the brook Kishon, and the smitten foe fled towards the north, many of them met with their death in the waves of the brook, which was flowing over its banks at the time. The brook is called קדוּמים נחל , i.e., the brook of the old world or the olden time (according to the lxx Cod. Vat. χειμάῤῥους ἀρχαίων ), as the stream that had been flowing from time immemorial, and not, as the Chaldee interprets it, the stream that had been celebrated from olden time on account of the mighty acts that had been performed there. The meaning suggested by Ewald and others, “brook of attacks, or slaughters,” is not well sustained, although קדּם is sometimes used to denote a hostile encounter. The last clause interrupts the description of the slaughter and the victory. Borne away by the might of the acts to be commemorated, Deborah stimulates her soul, i.e., herself, to a vigorous continuation of her song. תּדרכי is jussive, and עז an accusative governed by the verb, in strength, vigorously; for she had still to celebrate the glorious results of the victory. This is done in the third part of the song (Judges 5:22-31), the first strophe of which (Judges 5:22-24) describes in brief drastic traits the flight of the foe, and the treatment of the fugitives by the people of the land.
22 Then did the hoofs of the horses stamp
With the hunting, the hunting of his strong ones.
23 Curse ye Meroz, saith the angel of the Lord;
Curse ye, curse ye the inhabitants thereof!
Because they came not to the help of Jehovah,
To the help of Jehovah among the mighty.
24 Blessed before women be Jael,
The wife of Heber the Kenite,
Blessed before women in the tent!
The war-chariots of the enemy hunted away in the wildest flight (Judges 5:22). The horses stamped the ground with the continuous hunting or galloping away of the warriors. דהרה , the hunting (cf. דּהר , Nahum 3:2). The repetition of the word expresses the continuance or incessant duration of the same thing (see Ewald, §313, a.). אבּירים , strong ones, are not the horses, but the warriors in the war-chariots. The suffix refers to סוּס , which is used collectively. The mighty ones on horses are not, however, merely the Canaanitish princes, such as Sisera, as Ewald maintains, but the warriors generally who hunted away upon their war-chariots.
The enemy, or at all events Sisera, might have been destroyed in his flight by the inhabitants of Meroz; but they did not come to the help of the Israelites, and brought down the curse of God upon themselves in consequence. That this is the thought of Judges 5:23 is evident from the context, and more especially from the blessing pronounced upon Jael in Judges 5:24. The situation of Meroz, which is not mentioned again, cannot be determined with certainty Wilson and v. Raumer imagine that it may be Kefr Musr on the south of Tabor, the situation of which at all events is more suitable than Marussus, which was an hour and a half to the north of Beisan, and which Rabbi Schwarz supposed to be Meroz (see V. de Velde, Mem. p. 334). The curse upon the inhabitants of this place is described as a word or command of the angel of the Lord, inasmuch as it was the angel of the Lord who fought for Israel at Megiddo, as the revealer of the invisible God, and smote the Canaanites. Deborah heard from him the words of the curse upon the inhabitants of Meroz, because they did not come to help Jehovah when He was fighting with and for the Israelites. “ Among the heroes,” or mighty men, i.e., associating with the warriors of Israel.
Jael behaved altogether differently, although she was not an Israelite, but a woman of the tribe of the Kenites, which was only allied with Israel (see Judges 4:11, Judges 4:17.). For her heroic deed she was to be blessed before women ( מן as in Genesis 3:14, literally removed away from women). The “ women in the tent ” are dwellers in tents, or shepherdesses. This heroic act is poetically commemorated in the strophe which follows in Judges 5:25-27.
25 He asked water, she gave him milk;
She handed him cream in the dish of nobles.
26 She stretched out her hand to the plug,
And her right hand to the workmen's hammer,
And hammered Sisera, broke his head,
And dashed in pieces and pierced his temples.
27 Between her feet he bowed, he fell, he lay down:
Between her feet he bowed, he fell:
Where he bowed, there he fell down dead.
Assuming that the fact itself is well known, Deborah does not think it necessary to mention Sisera's name in Judges 5:25. חמאה , which generally signifies thick curdled milk, is used here as synonymous with חלב , in the sense of good superior milk. ספל is only used here and in Judges 6:38, and signifies a bowl or vessel for holding liquids (see Arab., Chald, and Talm.; also Bochart, Hieroz, i. pp. 625ff., ed. Ros.). The dish of nobles is a fine costly bowl, such as they are accustomed to hand to noble guests. The whole verse is simply intended to express the thought, that Jael had given to her guest Sisera a friendly reception, and treated him honourably and hospitably, simply in order to make him feel secure.
“ Her hand,” i.e., the left hand, as is shown by the antithesis, “her right hand,” which follows. On the form תּשׁלחנה , the third pers. fem. sing. with נה attached, to distinguish it the more clearly from the second pers., see the remarks on Exodus 1:10. עמלים הלמוּת , hammer or mallet of the hard workers, is a large heavy hammer. For the purpose of depicting the boldness and greatness of the deed, the words are crowded together in the second hemistich: הלם , to hammer, or smite with the hammer; מחק , ἁπ. λεγ. , to smite in pieces, smite through; מחץ , to smite or dash in pieces; חלף , to pierce or bore through. The heaping up of the words in Judges 5:27 answers the same purpose. They do not “express the delight of a satisfied thirst for revenge,” but simply bring out the thought that Sisera, who was for years the terror of Israel, was now struck dead with a single blow. כּרע בּאשׁר , at the place where he bowed, there he fell שׁדוּד , overpowered and destroyed. In conclusion, the singer refers once more in the last strophe (Judges 5:28-30) to the mother of Sisera, as she waited impatiently for the return of her son, and foreboded his death, whilst the prudent princesses who surrounded her sought to cheer her with the prospect of a rich arrival of booty.
28 Through the window there looks out and cries aloud
The mother of Sisera, through the lattice work,
Why does his chariot delay its coming?
Why tarry the steps of his team?
29 The wise of her princesses reply:
- But she repeats her words to herself -
30 Surely they are finding and sharing booty:
A maiden, two maidens to the head of a man,
Booty of variegated cloths for Sisera:
Booty of variegated cloths, garments worked in divers colours,
A variegated cloth, two garments worked in divers colours for his neck as booty.
Sisera's mother looks out with impatience for the return of her son, and cries aloud out of the window, Why is he never coming?-foreboding the disastrous result of the war. תּיבּב , ἁπ. λεγ. , signifies to cry; in Aramaean it is used for הריע and רנּן , to denote a loud joyful cry; here it evidently signifies a loud cry of anxiety. For the repeated question, Why does his chariot delay its coming? is evidently expressive of anxiety and alarm. The form אחרוּ , perf. Piel for אחרוּ , may be attributed to the influence of the aleph, which favours the seghol sound, like יחמוּ in Genesis 30:39. The combination of מרכּבותיו פּעמי , “steps of his chariots,” cannot be explained, as it is by Bertheau, on the ground that the word פעמי , as a general expression for intermittent movement, might also be applied to the jerking of the wheels in rolling, but simply on the supposition that מרכּבות , as a synonym for רכב , is used for the horses yoked to the chariot in the sense of team, like רכב in 2 Samuel 8:4; 2 Samuel 10:18, etc.
The princesses in attendance upon Sisera's mother sought to console her with the remark, that Sisera would have to gather together rich booty, and that his return was delayed in consequence. In the expression “the wisest of her princesses” (see Ges. §119, 2), the irony is very obvious, as the reality put all their wise conjectures to shame. תּעננּה , third pers. plur. fem. for תּענינה . The second hemistich of Judges 5:29 contains a clause inserted as a parenthesis. אף־היא is adversative: “ but she;” אף is only an emphatic copula; the antithesis lies in the emphatic change of subject indicated by היא אמריה השׁיב , lit. to bring back her words, i.e., to repeat. להּ is used in a reflective sense, “to herself.” The meaning is: But Sisera's mother did not allow herself to be quieted by the words of her wise princesses; on the contrary, she kept repeating the anxious question, Why does Sisera delay his coming? In Judges 5:30 there follows the answer of the wise princesses. They imagine that Sisera has been detained by the large amount of booty which has to be divided. הלא , nonne, is he not, in the sense of lively certainty. They will certainly discover rich booty, and divide it. רחם , uterus, for puella. “ A girl (or indeed probably) two girls to the head of the man, ” i.e., for each man. צבעים , coloured things, cloths or clothes. רקמה , worked stuff, or garments worked in divers colours (see the remarks on Exodus 26:36), is attached without the vav cop. to צבעים , and is also dependent upon שׁלל . The closing words, שׁלל לצוּארי , “ for the necks,” or (as the plural is also frequently used to signify a single neck, e.g., Genesis 27:16; Genesis 45:14) “ for the neck of the booty,” do not give any appropriate sense, as שׁלל neither signifies animals taken as booty nor the taker of booty. The idea, however, that שׁלל is used for שׁלל אישׁ , like הלך in 2 Samuel 12:4 for הלך אישׁ , viator, and חתף in Proverbs 23:28 for חתף אישׁ , seems inadmissible, since שׁלל ecni has just before been used three times in its literal sense. There is just the same objection to the application of שׁלל to animals taken as booty, not to mention the fact that they would hardly have thought of having valuable clothes upon the necks of animals taken as booty. Consequently the only explanation that remains, is either to alter לצוּארי into לצוּארו or לצוּאריו , or else to change שׁלל into שׁגל , the royal spouse. In the former case, שׁלל would have to be taken as in apposition to רקמתים צבע : a variegated cloth, two worked in divers colours for his (Sisera's) neck as booty, as the lxx have rendered it ( τῷ τραχήλῳ αὐτοῦ σκῦλα ). Ewald and Bertheau decide in favour of the second alteration, and defend it on the ground that שׁלל might easily find its way into the text as a copyist's error for שׁגל , on account of שׁלל having been already written three times before, and that we cannot dispense with some such word as שׁגל here, since the repetition of שׁלל three times, and the threefold use of ל , evidently show that there were three different kinds of people among whom the booty was to be distributed; and also that it was only a fitting thing that Sisera should set apart one portion of the booty to adorn the neck of his wife, and that the wisest of the noble ladies, when mentioning the booty, should not forget themselves.
31 a So shall all Thine enemies perish, O Jehovah!
But let those who love Him be like the rising of the sun in its strength.
This forms the conclusion of the song. כּן , so, refers to the whole of the song: just in the same manner as Sisera and his warriors. The rising of the sun in its strength is a striking image of the exaltation of Israel to a more and more glorious unfolding of its destiny, which Deborah anticipated as the result of this victory. With the last clause, “ And the land had rest forty years ” (cf. Judges 3:11, Judges 3:30; Judges 8:28), the account of this event is brought to a close.
The Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary is a derivative of a public domain electronic edition.
Keil, Carl Friedrich & Delitzsch, Franz. "Commentary on Judges 5". Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13