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Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible
Judges 5

 

 

Introduction

Judges 4-5. Deborah and Barak Deliver Israel.—The record of this deliverance appears first in a prose and then in a poetical form, of which the latter is the older, written without doubt under the inspiration of the actual events. There are some striking differences between the two versions. In the prose narrative the oppressor of Israel is Jabin, king of Hazor, whose captain is Sisera; Deborah's home is in Mount Ephraim; only the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali fight the tyrant; and Jael murders Sisera when he lies asleep in her tent. In the triumphal Ode there is no Jabin; Sisera is at the head of the kings of Canaan, himself the greatest king of all; Deborah appears to belong to the tribe of Issachar; all the tribes around the Great Plain (p. 29) take part in the conflict; and Jael slays Sisera while he is standing and drinking. The discrepancies are due partly to the prose writer's attempt to combine the story of Sisera with an independent story of Jabin, king of Hazor (see Joshua 11:1-5), and partly to his misunderstanding of some lines in the Ode (Judges 5:26).

Judges 5. The Song of Deliverance.—The Song of Deborah—so called because of the words "I, Deborah, arose" (Judges 5:7)—is a splendid battle-ode, evidently contemporaneous with the events which it celebrates. It breathes the patriotic fervour and religious enthusiasm which inspired the loftiest minds in Israel, and proves that a great faith was already working wonders in the tribes which till lately had been desert nomads. "It is a work of genius, and therefore a work of that highest art which is not studied and artificial, but spontaneous and inevitable" (Moore, 135). R. H. Hutton calls it "the greatest war-song of any age or nation." Unfortunately the text has suffered a good deal, and in some passages we can do no more than guess the sense.


Verses 1-12

Judges 5. The Song of Deliverance.—The Song of Deborah—so called because of the words "I, Deborah, arose" (Judges 5:7)—is a splendid battle-ode, evidently contemporaneous with the events which it celebrates. It breathes the patriotic fervour and religious enthusiasm which inspired the loftiest minds in Israel, and proves that a great faith was already working wonders in the tribes which till lately had been desert nomads. "It is a work of genius, and therefore a work of that highest art which is not studied and artificial, but spontaneous and inevitable" (Moore, 135). R. H. Hutton calls it "the greatest war-song of any age or nation." Unfortunately the text has suffered a good deal, and in some passages we can do no more than guess the sense.

Judges 5:1 f. Yahweh is praised for two reasons: because the leaders of the people were leaders, taking their proper place at the post of honour and danger; and because the battle was fought not by conscripts but by volunteers (cf. Psalms 11:03).

Judges 5:3. Read "I, to Yahweh I will sing," where it is possible, though not necessary, that "I," as in many of the Psalms, means collective Israel. "I will sing praise" means, I will make melody with voice and instruments.

Judges 5:4 f. Yahweh's special place of abode was still Seir, in the field of Edom, from which He is conceived as coming forth in a thunderstorm. As He passes, the earth trembles and the heavens are in commotion (so the LXX). The second half of Judges 5:5 disturbs the flow of ideas, and is probably a marginal gloss which has found its way into the text

Judges 5:6. If Shamgar was one of the Judges (Judges 3:31), it is very strange that he should be named here as if he had recently been a leading oppressor of Israel, perhaps the immediate forerunner of Sisera. Moore treats the words "in the days of Jael" as a gloss. The Heb. of Judges 5:7 b is ambiguous, meaning either "till I, Deborah, arose," or "till thou, Deborah, didst arise." The LXX has "till Deborah arose."

Judges 5:8 a yields no certain sense

Judges 5:8 b means that the Israelites had to fight with such poor weapons as they could find.

Judges 5:10 f. Very obscure.


Verses 12-18

Judges 5:12-18. Glory and Shame.—Deborah and Barak are apostrophised. She is called to awake and utter a battle-song, such as will arouse a slumbering people like the sound of a trumpet; a Men of Harlech or a Marseillaise, that summons heroes to victory or death; not a song after battle, like the pæan we are interpreting.

Judges 5:13. Read, "Then came down Israel like noble ones, the people of Yahweh came down for Him like heroes."

Judges 5:14-18. The response to the martial call is varied. Some of the tribes, leaping to arms, achieve deathless honour; others, lagging at home, are covered with eternal shame and contempt. Phrase after phrase seizes the reader's memory. How striking is the contrast between shirkers and heroes—Reuben sitting among the sheep-folds, listening to the calling of the flocks, Gilead abiding beyond Jordan, Dan remaining by his ships, and Asher sitting still in his creeks at the shore, while Zebulun, Ephraim, Manasseh, and Benjamin quit their mountain homes, Issachar provides a commander-in-chief, Zebulun and Naphtali come down from the high places to jeopardise their lives unto the death!

Judges 5:14. Machir was the eldest son, i.e. the chief clan, of Manasseh (Joshua 17:1).

Judges 5:15. In Reuben there are great searchings or soundings of heart—to be or not to be—craven deliberations and discussions while the enemy's chariots are thundering through the land and a nation's existence is at stake.


Verses 19-22

Judges 5:19-22. The Battle of Megiddo.—The waters of Megiddo were tributaries of the Kishon. Taanach and Megiddo (p. 30) were both towns on the left bank of the river. The battle-field of Megiddo long afterwards suggested the name of the last weird battle of the nations—the apocalyptic Armageddon (Revelation 16:16).

Judges 5:20. The very stars take part in the fight—a magnificent poetical way of saying that all the forces of the universe are arrayed on the side of righteousness. The battle must have been fought in winter or spring. Yahweh's storm-clouds burst, and the swollen river swept many of Israel's enemies away.—In Judges 5:22 b there is an attempt to imitate the galloping of horses in flight.

Judges 5:23. The curse of Meroz brands with everlasting guilt and shame an otherwise long-forgotten town, whose inhabitants missed the greatest opportunity ever given to man or nation—the opportunity of helping God. Venturing nothing, Meroz lost everything that men of honour care to live for, while she earned the coward's curse. This verse was a favourite text of the old Covenanters. Instead of "against the mighty" one may equally well read "among the heroes"; a great idea either way.


Verses 24-28

Judges 5:24-26. The Blessing of Jael.—Jael's deed is unhesitatingly and emphatically approved. While the oppressor of Israel stood in her tent, drinking the milk she gave him, she suddenly felled him to the earth with her tent-hammer. In Judges 5:26 read, "She put her hand to the mallet, Her right hand to the hammer, And she hammered Sisera." It is often supposed that, seizing a wooden tent-peg in her left hand and a hammer in her right, she drove the peg through his temples into his brain—surely a difficult thing to do to a standing warrior. But according to the laws of Heb. parallelism, the second line of Judges 5:26 is merely a variation of the first, so that she had only one weapon, called now a mallet and now a hammer, with which she dealt the death-blow. And when a woman of leonine courage, burning with a sense of intolerable wrongs, becomes the minister of a country's vengeance and of Yahweh's justice, we hold our breath and are silent. Who will blame her? If her victim had fallen in battle, or been led a captive to his doom, everyone would have given thanks. And if the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon Gideon and upon Jephthah when they went to overthrow the enemies of Israel, who will say that the same spirit did not impel the wife of Heber to take the life of Sisera, and inspire the prophetess Deborah to call her blessed among women?

Judges 5:25. For "butter" read "sour milk," which is still the most refreshing drink among the Bedouin.


Verses 28-30

Judges 5:28-30. The Mother of Sisera.—There is irony—almost matchless irony—in the closing lines of the poem, but it is not cruel mocking irony. The words were neither written, nor meant to be recited or sung, in a spirit of derision. Can any one read them now without emotions of pity and fear? With inimitable art, in the manner of the highest tragedy, the poet depicts a group of high-born, light-hearted women, upon whom is falling, unseen, the shadow of death. The scene in the harim of Sisera's palace—the face at the lattice-window, the feverish waiting for the homecoming hero, the chiding of lingering chariot wheels, the questions of fretful impatience, the quick and confident rejoinders, the feeding of fancy with visions of conquest and spoil—how vividly all this has been conceived! And, having painted his picture, the artist leaves it. A lesser poet, like the writer of a famous French war-song would have sent a messenger with the tidings that the hero was mort et enterré. Nothing of the kind happens here. That face is left at the lattice—the face of a mother for ever waiting a son who never will return. [Perhaps we should adopt mg. in Judges 5:29; the mother, too anxious to accept the reassurance of her ladies keeps muttering her forebodings to herself—a fine touch of nature.—A. S. P.] With Judges 5:31, cf. Psalms 68:2 f; Psalms 92:9. It is assumed that, the enemies of Israel being Yahweh's enemies, the victory is a victory for Him; and it is remarkable that even thus early—perhaps in the twelfth century B.C.—those who serve Him, and fight His battles, are described not as those who fear Him but as those who love Him. Does not that fact explain everything?

 


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Bibliography Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Judges 5:4". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pfc/judges-5.html. 1919.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, November 13th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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