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Bible Commentaries

Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible

Judges 5


Deborah exhorts to praise; she begins; recounts the former wonders and mercies of God to his people, Judges 5:1-5.

From the miseries of former times glories in their present state, Judges 5:6-9.

Excites the governors, &c. to praise the Lord, Judges 5:10-13.

Commends the chief of the tribes who went forth willingly to this battle, and checks the unwilling who tarried at home, Judges 5:14-18.

Describes the victory in all its circumstances, Judges 5:19-22.

Curseth Meroz for not coming to their assistance, Judges 5:23.

Extols Jael and her act, Judges 5:24-27.

Derideth Sisera’s court ladies, Judges 5:28-30.

Prays for like judgment on their enemies, and prosperity to God’s people, Judges 5:31.

Verse 1

Deborah was the composer of this song as may be gathered from Judges 5:7.

Verse 2

Praise ye the Lord; give him the praise who hath done the work.

For the avenging of Israel; or, for taking vengeance, to wit, upon his and their enemies, by Israel, or for Israel, for Israel’s benefit, or for the injuries and violences offered by them to Israel. The people; chiefly Zebulun and Naphtali, below, Judges 5:18; Judges 4:6, and others hereafter mentioned.

Willingly offered themselves, when neither Deborah nor Barak had any power to compel them.

Verse 3

You especially that live near to Israel, and have evil minds and designs against Israel, know this for your instruction, and caution, and terror too, if you shall presume to molest them.

To the Lord God of Israel, who, as you see by this plain instance, is both able and resolved to defend them from all their enemies.

Verse 4

Seir and

Edom are the same place; and these two expressions note the same thing, even God’s marching in the head of his people from Seir or Edom towards the land of Canaan. Whilst the Israelites were encompassing Mount Seir, there were none of the following effects; but when once they had done that, and got Edom on their backs, then they marched directly forwards towards the land of Canaan. The prophetess being to praise God for the present mercy, takes her rise higher, and begins her song with the commemoration of the former and ancient deliverances afforded by God to his people, the rather because of the great resemblance this had with them, in the extraordinary and miraculous manner of them.

The earth; either,

1. The inhabitants of the earth or land; or,

2. The earth, properly taken, as the following passages are; God prepared the way for his people, and struck a dread into their enemies by earthquakes, as well as by other terrible signs.

The clouds also dropped water, i.e. thou didst send most dreadful showers of rain, storms and tempests, thunder and lightning, and other tokens of thy displeasure, upon thine enemies; as may appear by comparing this with other parallel texts.

Verse 5

Melted, or flowed, with floods of water poured out of the clouds upon them, and from them flowing down in a mighty stream upon the lower grounds, and carrying down some part of the mountain with it, as is usual in excessive showers.

She slides into the mention of another and a more ancient appearance of God for his people, to wit, in Sinai; it being usual in Scripture repetitions of former actions to put divers together into a narrow compass, and in few words. The sense is, No wonder that the mountains of the Amorites and Canaanites melted and trembled when thou didst lead thy people towards them; for even Sinai itself could not bear thy presence, but melted in like manner before thee. Or, as that Sinai did upon a like manifestation of thyself; so there is only a defect of the particle as, which I have showed to be frequent.

Verse 6

In the days of Shamgar; whilst Shamgar lived, who was, if not a judge, yet an eminent person for strength and valour, Judges 3:31.

In the days of Jael: Jael, though an illustrious woman, and of great authority and influence upon the people, did effect nothing for the deliverance of God’s people till God raised me up, &c.

Through by-ways; partly because of the Canaanites, who, besides the public burdens and tributes which they laid upon them, waited for all opportunities of doing them mischief secretly; their soldiers watching for travellers in common roads, as is usual with such in times of war; and partly because of the robbers even of their own people, who having cast off the fear and worship of God, and there being no king or ruler in Israel to restrain or punish them, and being also many of them reduced to great want, through the oppression of the Canaanites, it is not strange, if, in those times of public disorder and ataxy, divers of the Israelites themselves did break forth into acts of injustice and violence, even against their own brethren, whom they could meet with in convenient places, which made travellers seek for by-paths.

Verse 7

The villages ceased; the people forsook all their unfortified towns, as not being able to protect them from military insolence.

A mother, i.e. to be to them as a mother, to instruct, and rule, and protect them, which duties a mother oweth to her children as far as she is able.

Verse 8

They did not only submit to idolatry when they were forced to it by tyrants, but they freely chose new gods; new to them, and unknown to their fathers, and new in comparison of the true and everlasting God of Israel, being but upstarts, and of yesterday.

In the gates, i.e. in their walled cities, which have gates and bars; gates are oft put for cities, as Genesis 22:17; Deuteronomy 17:2; Obadiah 1:11. Then their strongest holds fell into the hands of their enemies.

Was there, i.e. there was not; the meaning is not that all the Israelites had no arms, for here is mention made only of shields or spears; so they might have swords, and bows, and arrows to offend their enemies; but either that they had but few arms among them, being many thousands of them disarmed by the Canaanites; or that they generally neglected the use of arms, as being utterly dispirited, and without all hope of recovering their lost liberty, and being necessitated to other employments for subsistence.

Verse 9

I greatly honour and love those, who being the chief of the people in wealth and dignity, did not withdraw themselves from the work, as such usually do; but did expose themselves to the same hazards, and joined with their meaner brethren in this noble but dangerous attempt, and by their examples and countenance engaged others in it.

Bless ye the Lord; who inclined their hearts to this undertaking, and gave them success in it. As she gives instruments their due, so she is careful the sovereign Cause and Lord of all lose not his glory.

Verse 10

Speak; celebrate the praises of our mighty God, whose hand hath done this.

Ye that ride on white asses, i.e. magistrates and nobles, who used to do so, Judges 10:4; Judges 12:14; horses being in a manner forbidden there, Deuteronomy 17:16.

Ye that walk by the way, i.e. you that now can safely travel about your business in those highways, which before you durst neither ride nor walk in. So great and mean persons are jointly excited to praise God.

Verse 11

From the noise of archers; either,

1. From the noise or sound, and consequently the force of those arrows which are shot at them; but she names the noise, because this epithet is frequently given to bows and arrows in poetical writings. Or,

2. From the triumphant noise and shout of archers rejoicing when they meet with their prey.

In the places of drawing water; at those pits or springs of water, which were scarce and precious in those hot countries, to which the people’s necessities forced them oft to resort, and nigh unto which the archers did usually lurk in woods, or thickets, or hedges, that from thence they might shoot at them, and kill and spoil them. When they come to those places with freedom and safety, which before they could not, they shall with thankfulness rehearse this righteous, and faithful, and gracious work of God, in rescuing his people, and punishing his enemies. He mentions the inhabitants of his villages, because as their danger was greater, Judges 5:7, so was their deliverance, and their obligation to praise God.

To the gates, to wit, of their cities, which were the chief places to which both city and country resorted for public business and matters of justice, from which they had been debarred by their oppressors; but now they had free access and passage, either in or out of the gates, as their occasions required; and they who had been driven from their cities, now returned to them in peace and triumph; so the citizens’ deliverance is celebrated here, as the countrymen’s is in the foregoing words.

Verse 12

Awake, awake; stir up thyself and all that is within thee to admire and praise the Lord.

Lead thy captivity captive: how could this be done when there was none of them left? Judges 4:16.

Answ. 1. None were left to make head against them.

2. None is oft put for few, and those few might be taken after the battle, and carried captive, and led in triumph, and afterward slain.

Verse 13

Thus God did not only preserve the poor and despised remnant of his people from the fury of the oppressor before this war, and from the destruction which Sisera designed and promised himself to bring upon them by this war; but also gave them the victory, and thereby the dominion over the princes and nobles of Canaan, who were combined against them.

Me, though but a weak woman.

Verse 14

Now she relates the carriage and miscarriage of the several tribes in this expedition; and she begins with


Was there a root of them; either, first, Of the Ephraimites; or, secondly, Of them that came forth to this expedition. By

root she seems to mean a

branch, as that word is sometimes used, as Isaiah 11:10; Isaiah 53:2; by which also she may note the fewness of those that came out of Ephraim, that

fruitful bough consisting of many branches, Genesis 49:22, yielding but one branch or a handful of men to this service.

Against Amalek, the constant and sworn enemy of the Israelites, who were confederate with their last oppressors the Moabites, Judges 3:13, and in all probability took their advantage now against the Israelites in the southern or middle parts of Canaan, whilst their main force was drawn northward against Jabin and Sisera. Against these therefore Ephraim sent forth a party; and so did Benjamin, as it here follows; and these hindered their conjunction with Jabin’s forces, and gave their brethren the advantage of fighting with Sisera alone.

After thee, Benjamin: Benjamin followed Ephraim’s example. Or, after thee, O Benjamin; and thus the pre-eminence is here given to Benjamin in two respects: First, That he was first in this expedition, as indeed he lay near the Amalekites, and by his example encouraged the Ephraimites. Secondly, That the whole tribe of Benjamin, though now but small, came forth to this war, when the numerous tribe of Ephraim sent only a handful to it.

Among the people; either, first, Among the people of Benjamin, with whom those few Ephraimites united themselves in this expedition. Or, secondly, Among the people or tribes of Israel, to wit, those who engaged themselves in this war.

Out of Machir, i.e. out of the tribe of Manasseh, which are elsewhere called by the name of Machir, as Joshua 13:31, to wit, out of the half tribe which was within Jordan; for of the other she speaks Judges 5:17.

Governors; either civil governors, the princes and great persons, who were as ready to hazard themselves and their ample estates as the meanest; or military officers, valiant and expert commanders, such as some of Machir’s posterity are noted to have been.

They that handle the pen of the writer, i.e. even the scribes, who gave themselves to study and writing, whereby they were exempted from military service, did voluntarily enter into this service. Or, they that drew, to wit, the people after them, as that verb is used, Judges 4:6. With the pen of the scribe or writer, i.e. who did not only go themselves, but by their letters invited and engaged others to go with them to the battle.

Verse 15

Were with Deborah, i.e. ready to assist her. Even Issachar. Heb. and Issachar, i.e. the tribe or people of Issachar, following the counsel and example of their princes, and being now at their commandments, as they were afterwards upon another occasion, 1 Chronicles 12:32.

And also Barak, or, even as Barak, i.e. they were as hearty and valiant as Barak their general; and as he marched on foot here and Judges 4:10, against their enemies’ horses and chariots, and that

into the valley, where the main use of horses and chariots lies; so did they with no less courage and resolution.

The divisions, or separations; whereby they were divided or separated, not so much one from another in their thoughts, counsels, and carriage in this war, (for they seem to be all too well agreed in abiding at home with their sheep, as it follows,) as all from their brethren, from whom they were divided no less in their designs and affections, than in their situation by the river Jordan; and they would not join their interests and forces with them in this common cause.

Great thoughts, or, great searchings, as it is Judges 5:16; great and sad thoughts, and debates, and perplexities of mind among the Israelites, to see themselves deserted by so great and potent a tribe as Reuben was.

Verse 16

Why wast thou so unworthy and cowardly, so void of all zeal for God, and compassion towards thy brethren, and care for the recovery of thy own liberties and privileges, that thou wouldst not engage thyself in so just, so necessary, and so noble a cause, but didst prefer the care of thy sheep, and thy own present case and safety, before this generous undertaking? Reuben thought neutrality their wisest course, being very rich in cattle, Numbers 32:1. They were loth to run the hazard of so great a loss, by taking up arms against so potent an enemy as Jabin was; and the bleatings of their sheep were so loud in their ears, that they could not hear the call of Deborah and Barak to this expedition.

Verse 17

Gilead is sometimes taken more largely, for all the land of the Israelites beyond Jordan, as Numbers 32:1,Numbers 32:26,Numbers 32:29. So it is not here taken, because Gilead is here distinguished from Reuben and his land. Sometimes it is taken more strictly for that part of the land beyond Jordan which fell to the half tribe of Manasseh, as Numbers 32:39,Numbers 32:40; Deuteronomy 3:15; Joshua 17:1. And sometimes both for that part of Manasseh’s, and for Gad’s portion, as Joshua 13:24,Joshua 13:25,Joshua 13:29-31. And so it seems to be understood here; and the land Gilead is here put for the people or inhabitants of it, Gad and Manasseh.

Beyond Jordan, in their own portions, and did not come over Jordan to the help of the Lord, and of his people, as they ought to have done.

Dan, whose coast was near the sea, was wholly intent upon his merchandise and shipping, as the great instrument both of his riches and safety; and therefore would not join in this land expedition.

On the sea-shore, where their lot lay.

In his breaches; either, first, In the creeks of the sea, whether in design to save themselves by ships in case of danger, as Dan also intended; or upon pretence of repairing the breaches made by the sea into their country. Or, secondly, In their broken and craggy rocks and caves therein, in which they thought to secure themselves.

Verse 18

Jeoparded, Heb. despised, or reproached, or contemned, comparatively; they chose rather to venture upon a generous and honourable death, than to enjoy a shameful and servile life.

In the high places of the field, i.e. upon that large and eminent plain in the top of Mount Tabor, where they put themselves in battle-array, and expected the enemy; though when they saw he did not come up to them, they marched down to meet and fight him.

Verse 19

The kings; either confederate with him, or subject to him: for it is known that there were divers petty kings in those parts; which also ofttimes were subject to one greater and more potent king; and particularly this Hazor, where this Jabin now reigned, Judges 4:2, was beforetime the head of divers petty kingdoms, Joshua 11:10. Taanach and Megiddo were two eminent cities, belonging indeed to Manasseh, Judges 1:27, but seated in the tribe of Issachar, Joshua 17:11, not far from Mount Tabor, Joshua 17:10; Judges 1:27, nor from the river Kishon.

They took no gain of money; either, first, From Sisera. They fought without pay, whether from mere hatred of the Israelites, and a desire to be revenged upon them; or from a full hope and confidence of paying themselves abundantly out of Israel’s spoils. Or, secondly, From the Israelites; so the sense is, They fell, lost all their hopes of money, and rich spoils, and booty, which they assured themselves of; instead of gaining a prey, they lost themselves.

Verse 20

Or, they from heaven, or the heavenly host fought, by thunder, and lightning, and hailstones, possibly mingled with fire. Compare Joshua 10:11; 1 Samuel 7:10.

The stars; which raised those storms by their influences, which they do naturally and ordinarily, but now far more, when God sharpened their influences, and disposed the air to receive and improve their impressions.

In their courses, or, from their paths, or stations, or high places. As soldiers fight in their ranks and places assigned them, so did these, and that with advantage, as those enemies do which fight from the higher ground.

Verse 21

The river of Kishon, though not great in itself, and therefore fordable, was now much swelled and increased by the foregoing storm and rain, as Josephus affirms; and therefore drowned those who being pursued by the hand of God, and by the Israelites, were forced into it, and thought to pass over it, as they did before.

That ancient river; so called, either, first, In opposition to those rivers which are of a later date, being made by the hand and art of man. Or, secondly, Because it was a river anciently famous for some remarkable exploits, for which it was celebrated by the ancient poets or writers, though not here mentioned.

Thou hast trodden down strength, i.e. thou, O Deborah, though but a weak woman, hast, by God’s assistance and blessing upon thy counsels and prayers, subdued a potent enemy. Such apostrophes and abrupt speeches are frequent in poetical scriptures.

Verse 22

Their horses, in which they put most confidence, had their hoofs, which is their support and strength, broken, either by dreadful hailstones, or rather, by their swift and violent running over the stony grounds, when they fled away with all possible speed from God and from Israel.

By the means of the pransings; or, because of their fierce or swift courses. Of their mighty ones; either, first, Of their strong and valiant riders, who forced their horses to run away as fast as they could. Or, secondly, Of their horses, as this word signifies, Jeremiah 8:16; Jeremiah 47:3; Jeremiah 50:42, i.e. of themselves; the antecedent for the relative.

Verse 23

Meroz; a place then, no doubt, eminent and considerable, though now there be no remembrance of it left, which possibly might be the effect of this bitter curse; as God curseth Amalek in this manner, that he would utterly blot out their remembrance, &c., Exodus 17:14; Deuteronomy 25:19. And this place above all others may be thus severely cursed, either because it was near the place of the fight, and therefore had the greatest opportunity and obligation to engage with and to assist their brethren; and their denying their help was a great discouragement to all their brethren, whose hearts, no doubt, were greatly afflicted, and might have utterly fainted at this great miscarriage, and scandalous example; or for some other great aggravation of their cowardice and treachery, which may easily be imagined, though it be not here expressed.

Said the angel of the Lord: she signifies that this curse proceeded not from her spleen or ill will towards that place, nor from her own private opinion or affection, but from Divine inspiration; and that if all the rest of the song should be taken but for the breathings and expressions of a pious and devout soul, but liable to mistake, yet this branch of it was immediately dictated to her by the Lord, by the ministry of an angel; otherwise she neither would nor durst have uttered so bitter a curse against them.

Of the Lord; either, first, Of the Lord’s people; for God takes what is done for or against his people as if it was done to himself: see Isaiah 63:9; Zechariah 2:8; Matthew 25:45. Or, secondly, Of the Lord himself, who though he did not need, yet did require and expect their help and concurrence; and he expresseth it thus, to show the sinfulness and unreasonableness of their cowardly desertion of this cause, because it was the cause of God, and they had the call of God to it, whom they knew to be able easily to crush that enemy whom they dreaded, and who had promised to do it.

Verse 24

Blessed above women; celebrated, and praised, and endowed with all sorts of blessings more than they. But of this fact of Jael’s, See Poole "Judges 4:21".

In the tent; in her tent or habitation, in her house and family, and all her affairs; for she and hers dwelt in tents. The tent is here mentioned in allusion to the place where this fact was done.

Verse 25

Butter, or, cream, i.e. the choicest of her milk; so the same thing is repeated in differing words.

In a lordly dish; which you are not to understand of such a stately and costly dish as the luxury of after-ages brought in, which is not agreeable to the simplicity, either of this family, or of those ancient times; but of a comely and convenient dish, the best which she had, and such as the better sort of persons then used.

Verse 26

Her hand, i.e. her left hand, as appears from the nature of the thing; and from the

right hand, which is opposed to it. Smote off, or, struck through, as the LXX. and Syriac render it; or brake, as the Chaldee hath it.

When she had pierced, Heb. and she pierced; or, and the nail pierced.

Verse 27

Here is a lively representation of the thing done. At the first blow or wound he was awakened, and made some attempt to rise; but being astonished and very weak, she also following her first blow with others, he found himself impotent, and fell down dead; and then she struck the nail quite through his head into the ground, as is said, Judges 4:21.

Verse 28

Looked out at a window, expecting to see him returning; for she concluded that he went forth not so much to fight as to take the spoil.

Verse 30

Have they not divided the prey? i.e. it is certain they have got the prey, only they tarry to view it and distribute it, according to every man’s quality and merit.

Of them that take the spoil, Heb. of the prey; the prey put for the men of prey, those, or who take the prey; as kindred is put for a man of kindred, or a kinsman, Ruth 3:2; and Belial, for a man of Belial, 2 Samuel 16:7; and days, for a man of days, or an old man, Job 32:7.

Verse 31

So, i.e. so suddenly, so surely, so effectually and irrecoverably.

When he goeth forth in his might; when he first riseth, and so goeth on in his course, which he doth with great might, even as a strong man that runneth a race, Psalms 19:5, and so as no creature can stop or hinder him; even so irresistible let the people be.

Forty years; how to be computed, See Poole "Judges 3:11".

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Bibliographical Information
Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Judges 5". Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. 1685.