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Bible Commentaries

The Pulpit Commentaries
Judges 5

 

 

Verses 1-31

EXPOSITION

5:1

Then sang Deborah, etc. The ode which follows was doubtless the composition of Deborah the prophetess, and was sung by her (as the gender of the Hebrew verb indicates), assisted by Barak, who perhaps sang the antistrophe (cf. Exodus 15:1, Exodus 15:21). It is a song of wonderful beauty and lyric power, somewhat difficult, as all Hebrew poetry is.

5:2

Her first feeling was one of patriotic joy that her countrymen had been roused to the venture of war, and of gratitude to God that it was so. "For the bold leading of the leaders of Israel, for the willing following of the people, praise ye the Lord.

5:3

Her song was worthy to be listened to by kings and princes. She calls their attention to the tale she had to tell of the great acts of the Lord.

5:4, 5:5

The recent victory recalled the glories of those days when God brought up Israel from Egypt into Canaan. She specifies the march from Seir or Her, and the day when Mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, and the whole mount quaked greatly.

5:6

From what misery God had saved the people! In the days of her predecessor Shamgar, when the Philistines overran the country, when Heber the Kenite still dwelt in the south of Judah, all traffic ceased in the land. The caravans were stopped, and travellers slunk into the by-ways.

5:7

Instead of The inhabitants of the villages ceased, some render the leaders ceased. Till Deborah arose and stirred up Barak, there was no one to put himself at the head of the people.

5:8

The cause of this misery was not far to seek; it was the idolatry of the people which provoked God to anger. Then their enemies were let loose upon them, and they dared make no resistance.

5:9

What a contrast with that fainthearted submission was the recent triumphant rising! Exultation and thanksgiving for the devotion of the people break out again, as in 5:2.

5:10

She appeals to the nobles who ride on white (or roan) asses, and sit on rich saddle-cloths (not sit in judgment), and to the people who walk by the way, alike to speak of the great deliverance.

5:11

A very difficult verse, and very variously rendered. For archers some give the interpretation dividers, i.e. MEN SHARING THE BOOTY THEY HAVE TAKEN; or, SINGING IN ALTERNATE VERSES. For They that are delivered from, some render far away from. Others again take the preposition from in the not uncommon sense of more than, meaning here louder than. The chief different senses which emerge are—

5:12

Awake, etc. She seems to go back in thought to the moment when she received the Divine call to her mission of deliverance, and executed it by the voice of her stirring prophecies. Then she lashed her soul into action, and roused Barak from his lethargy by the promise of spoil and victory.

5:13

Then he gave dominion to a mere remnant of Israel over the powerful among the people of Canaan, the Lord gave me dominion over the mighty men of Jabin.

5:14

They who spring (whose root is) from Ephraim went against Amalek, following thee, O Benjamin, with thy people; from Manasseh (Machir, son of Manasseh, Genesis 50:23) came down governors (literally, lawgivers: cf. verse 9), and out of Zebulun they that handle the baton of the commander, i.e. the military chiefs.

5:15

He was sent on foot into the valley. It was a mark of extraordinary valour that he rushed down from Mount Tabor on foot against the 900 iron chariots in the plain ( 4:14). For the divisions, etc. Or, among the water-brooks, i.e. the Reubenites, dwelling amidst their flocks among the water-brooks, were much perplexed with doubts whether they should stay still or join their countrymen.

5:17

In ships. The celebrated hat. hour of Joppa (Jonah 1:3), now Jaffa, was in the tribe of Dan. His breaches. The creeks and bays where they kept their fishing. boats.

5:19

The kings came and fought (cf. Joshua 11:1, Joshua 11:2, Joshua 11:5). They took no gain of money. These words may mean,

5:20

According to Josephus, a great storm in the face of the Canaanites led to their utter discomfiture, and also swelled the Kishon to overflow its banks.

5:21

Ancient. The word so rendered is only found here. The brook of ancient days, or things, probably means the brook celebrated from of old by the warlike deeds done on its banks.

5:22

Their mighty ones. Applied to bulls, Psalms 22:12, etc.; and to horses (A.V his strong ones), Jeremiah 8:16; his strong horses, Jeremiah 47:3.

5:23

Meroz, in the time of Jerome Meres, a village otherwise unknown, twelve miles from Samaria. The mighty. Not the same word as that so rendered in 5:22, but that usually rendered a mighty man, or a man of war.

5:24

Blessed above women, etc. With the selfish indifference of the men of Meroz she contrasts the valorous enthusiasm of Jael the Kenite, and blesses her for it as emphatically as she curses the inhabitants of Meroz.

5:25

A lordly dish. A dish fit for princes; perhaps one reserved for the most illustrious guests.

5:26

With the hammer. These words are not in the Hebrew, and should be omitted. She smote (not smote off), yea, she wounded (Psalms 68:21); she pierced through his temples.

5:30

Sped, i.e. come across some booty. For the necks of them that take the spoil. Literally, for the necks of spoil. It is a difficult and obscure expression. The spoil may mean the camels, horses, or mules taken from the enemy, and the articles described may mean the housings and trappings for their necks. Or the necks of spoil might mean the necks of the beasts of burden laden with spoil.

5:31

A fine application of the whole subject! Each such victory was a foretaste of the final victory over sin and death, and of the glory of the redeemed Church.

HOMILETICS

This splendid ode, so full of poetic fire and vivid dramatic effect, with its startling contrasts, its picturesque descriptions, its glowing eulogiums, its burning patriotism, its striking characters thrown into high relief by the stroke or two of genius, its passion and its pathos, is not deficient in ethos. We will single out two or three ethical lessons from their surroundings.

I. SELF-SACRIFICE FOR THE GOOD OF OTHERS. The ninth verse is an awakening call to voluntary sacrifice on the altar of the public good. While men in general are hanging back from exertion and danger in sloth or timidity, unwilling to run any risk, or to make any effort, there are those who, with high-minded zeal for their country's or their Church's weal, burst asunder the restraining bonds of selfishness, and, with their life in their hands, offer themselves willingly for the common cause. Deborah's burst of generous admiration toward those who did so in her time is a stirring call to us to imitate their example. But let us not imagine that such self sacrifice is confined to extraordinary occasions: or can be executed only on the platform of great emergencies. Unselfish efforts for the good of others find room for their exercise in the common round of every-day life. He who works when he is weary, who overcomes his natural shyness or timidity, who lays aside his own schemes or tastes and takes up work which is distasteful to him, who risks losses in money, in consideration, in convenience, in comfort, in ease, in leisure, that he may do something which he believes will be useful to others, is treading in the steps of these "willing governors," and deserves like them the warm approval of all generous hearts.

II. WORLDLY HINDRANCES. But we may see in the examples of Reuben and Gad what are the hindrances to such self-sacrificing work. There is a counter-call to the call of duty and of love, and that call is too a louder and a more persuasive one—the call of gain and worldly interest. When Deborah's message came to the Reubenites and Gileadites, and the blast of Barak's trumpet sounded in their ears, calling them to the help of the Lord against the mighty, the bleatings of their flocks and the lowing of their herds among the rich pastures of Jazer and Gilead seemed to tell them a different tale (see Numbers 32:1-42.). How could they leave those peaceful pastures, and exchange them for the battle-field? Jabin's iron chariots were nothing to them. What would become of their flocks and herds while they were far away? As their eyes ran through the sheep-folds, and they reckoned up in thought the wealth which they contained; as they thought of the lambing, and the sheep. shearing, and the sheep-market, and told the increase which they might expect, they seemed tied to those sheep-folds by bonds which could not be broken, and by a spell which could not be loosed. After a few doubts and hesitations they abode among the folds, and left their brothers across the Jordan to fight by themselves. And so it was with Dan and Asher. The movements of Sisera had not interfered with the trade of Joppa, or the fishing-boats of the sea-coast. The ships of Tarshish were coming and going as of old, laden with merchandise from all parts of the world; some touching there on their way to Tyre, others supplying the markets of Palestine with wrought iron, and cassia, and sweet-calamus. Already perhaps the silver and iron, the tin and the lead, brought by the ships of Tarshish from the Cassiterides, found their way to the fairs of Joppa; and the wheat of Minnith, and the oil and honey and pastry (Hebrew, pannag) of Judah, went out through its harbour to Tyre and Sidon (Ezekiel 27:12, Ezekiel 27:17, Ezekiel 27:19). And the men of Dan were all busy by that sea-side. Lading and unlading the ships, carrying the bales of merchandise on their strong backs, giving and receiving orders, piloting the foreign ships into harbour, plying to and fro as they handled the oar, stopping the leaks or mending the sails of ships that had come out of rough waters—there was no end of business to be done, and of money to be made. Why leave these peaceful gains and rush inland to perish by the sword? Surely they might be excused if they remained in ships, and continued on the sea-shore, enriching their country by their industry, while they left it to others to jeopard their lives in the high places of the field. And they did so; and in doing so have left us an instructive warning as to the hindrances which the world continually places in the way of high-minded action and generous self-sacrifice. "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world," if you would be free to serve either God or man, is the precept that settles upon the thoughts as we consider the gaps in the muster-roll of Israel at the battle by the waters of Megiddo.

III. THE ENMITY OF NEUTRALITY. But 5:23 reads us a yet sterner lesson. There are occasions when not to act for God is to act against God. There are occasions when a man cannot be neutral. When the Lord calls for help against the mighty, he that withholds that help is cursed. By so doing he is helping the enemies of God, and among the enemies of God he will fall. Here was Meroz in the very thick of the fight. Ephraim and Benjamin, Issachar and Manasseh, Zebulun and Naphtali, were pouring out their thousands to defend their altars and their homes. The honour of God, the freedom of God's people, the cause of truth against heathen error, the kingdom of God against the tyranny of Satan, were trembling in the balance. A few hundreds more or less might turn the scale. All Israel was awake and alive to the noble task before them. There was music in the tramp of the thousands of devoted men marching to the war which might have aroused the dullest soul and kindled the faintest spirit. It did not move the men of Meroz; they hung back in sullen indifference; they skulked behind their walls. No zeal for the glory of God, no sympathy with their brethren, could pierce through their heartless selfishness. As the angel of the Lord looked out from the windows of heaven, he saw their cowardice, he marked their back-drawing, he pronounced them cursed. There are times, our own times are such, when the enemies of the cross of Christ are unusually active against the truth. At such times Satan musters all his forces and would fain overthrow the Church of God. Infidelity stalks through the land. The leaders of sceptical opinion join hand in hand. Science and literature, wit and intellect, the press and the platform, fashion and numbers, are pressed into the service, to cast discredit upon the everlasting gospel of the grace of God. At such a time to be neutral and indifferent is to be a traitor to the Lord Jesus Christ. At such a time he calls to his help against the mighty all who believe in him, who love him, and who hope in his salvation, "Who is on the Lord's side, who?" is his appeal to his redeemed. Let no believer hold back from giving what help is in his power: the help of word and deed; the help of bold confession and of unflinching countenance; the help of tongue and pen; the help, if need be, of suffering and of martyrdom; the help of a devoted life, and of a holy Christian walk, in all humility, and purity, and faith, knowing whom he has believed, and fully assured that faith will be crowned with victory.

IV. THE END OF THE UNGODLY (verse 31). All the enemies of the Lord will surely perish. The day is not far off which will mark the difference between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not. The Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ; and then they that love him shall be as the sun when he goeth forth in his might. The righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father, and they who confessed Christ before men will be confessed of him before the angels of God. Such are the fuller prophecies of the New Testament, confirming the obscurer prophecies of the Old, and encouraging us to hold on our faith without wavering, in the certainty of the great reward.

HOMILIES BY A.F. MUIR

5:2

Self-sacrifice and its Inspirer.

There are two other renderings of this verse, viz; "That in Israel wildly waved the hair in the people's self-devotion,praise God" (Cassel); and, "For the leading of the leaders in Israel, for the free self-offering of the people, praise Jehovah (Stanley, after LXX.). It is immaterial which of these we prefer; the chief thought is evidently that which appears in all. It is the key-note of this heroic song, as it is the essence of heroism and true religion always—self-sacrifice to God.

I. THE SPIRIT IN WHICH GREAT DEEDS ARE WROUGHT. The outburst has its source in Divine patriotism or religious enthusiasm. A consciousness of a representative character and destiny animates the Israelites. Religious devotion binds them into complete communion. Private aims and interests are forgotten.

1. It is this spirit which rescues the war of deliverance from objections to war simply as such. As an act of self-devotion it was a truly devout, and therefore religiously legitimate, war. No hope of personal gain animates the host of Israel. It is patriotism in its noblest form. These soldiers are all volunteers; they obey a Divine voice. How many wars would cease were such feelings consulted! The saints' contest with evil should be con- ducted from a like principle. We should know what "manner of spirit" we are of.

2. It was this spirit which made so effectual the struggle in which they were engaged. They were desperate, devoted men. No half-measure would be tolerated. Having counted the cost, they were willing to carry it on a outrance. God's battle with error and wickedness has suffered because of the half-heartedness of those who wage it.

3. It was this spirit which conferred upon the deed its aesthetic beauty and epic grandeur, It is a fine question to determine what that is that gives the essential character to the noble, chivalrous, and religious enthusiasms of men. A careful survey of any considerable number of them will show that not only unselfishness, but self- sacrifice, is their fundamental principle. Selfish aims, or the impulse of self-aggrandisement, vitiates the deed, however externally magnificent; and vice versa, the magnanimous forgetfulness of self, the conscious foregoing of personal ends and aims, will give nobility and piety even to works externally indifferent or apparently ignoble. The sentiment of a deed is its true character. Here it assumes a dignity and glory that command the admiration of the poet and the artist. It is part of the excellence of noble deeds to inspire. There is nothing so inspiring as self-devotion. But this is the vital breath of all true religion. Religious enthusiasm is contagious. The pious hero cannot long remain alone. True worship is the praise of the cross, where the power of darkness sustained its signal, final defeat. "By the obedience of one shall many be made righteous." If we are truly religious our lives also will blossom forth in acts that poets might sing and orators extol.

II. THE INSPIRER OF GREAT DEEDS. That they are not a spontaneous outgrowth of our nature is the general confession of those who have wrought them. The object of Israel's admiration and obedience was Jehovah. It was in the inspiration derived from him the deliverance was wrought. God in Christ, as embodying the highest excellency in sympathetic relation with ourselves, is an even more powerful stimulus to heroism and piety. "For Christ's sake" is a formula that covers a vast proportion of "whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, and pure, and lovely, and of good report," in the world's history.—M.

5:6, 5:7

National ruin and the true deliverer.

The mighty deed of Shamgar did not avail to reduce the interior of Israel to a state of order and security. Whoever Jael (the Helper) may have been, whether Ehud, Shamgar, or some other hero, even he was unable to restore confidence to the dwellers in the country, or to render communication between the towns and villages easy and secure; The description here reminds one of Germany in the tenth century, or Sicily and Greece in our own times. A strong hand and a central government are required in order to inspire confidence and to render the conditions of life uniform and reliable. A country may be great in military strength, and yet, socially and politically, at a standstill because of the absence of due internal administration, of public institutions, and zeal for the public welfare. We have here—

I. A VIVID PICTURE OF NATIONAL DECAY.

1. The means of inter-communication were rendered useless. "The highways were deserted." Main thoroughfares have ever been requisite for the proper inter-communication of the different parts and towns in a country. They are therefore one of the first means employed for opening up internal resources and developing commerce and civilisation. All really great governments have distinguished themselves in road-making; as, for instance, the Incas of Peru, the Chinese, and the Romans. It was the boast of the Roman writer that the circuit of the empire could be made through Europe, Asia, and Africa, without risk to life or property, by a private traveller. The sight of deserted highways suggests the collapse of commerce and social intercourse. It is more striking than the complete absence of roads would be. And highways that continued in disuse would soon got out of repair and be rendered impassable. In the present day a similar state of things prevails over a large part of Palestine and Asia Minor. Travellers make their journeys by night, and avoid the villages and public roads. The wandering Arab brings the desert with him wherever he goes.

2. The country districts depopulated. This would rapidly reduce the country to barrenness, and render the support of the nation more precarious. A mere tithe of the population could then be supported, and the nation would be kept in a state of weakness.

II. THE SECRET OF NATIONAL REGENERATION. Deborah was a mother in Israel. The military hero played his part, but failed of highest success. It was for her, by wise and statesmanlike measures, internal administrations and a strong central government, to bring to the people's doors the fruits of military success. She fostered a national spirit, encouraged a respect for law, and rendered it as safe to dwell in the country as within the walled city. The continuous policy of Deborah achieved the reconstitution of the land and its freedom from internal lawlessness.—M.

5:8

The peril of national irreligion.

The conscience of Israel is here addressed. The coincidence of new idolatries with "war in the gates" was strikingly suggestive. It could not be accidental. There was nothing in which Israel had had more continued experience than in the connection of idolatry with national weakness and misery.

I. DECLINE COMMENCES WITH THE FIRST DEPARTURE FROM THE WORSHIP OF JEHOVAH. It was as they trusted in Jehovah and acquainted themselves with him that they were able to drive out their enemies. The weakening of this religious principle undermined the moral character and strengthened the force of sensuous influences. It is only as the soul anchors itself on the Eternal that it is able rightly to regard the outward and temporary affairs of life.

II. THE ADOPTION OF OTHER GODS IS PUNISHED AS A CULMINATING AFFRONT. In this we see not so much the indirect results of idolatrous practice as the immediate chastisement of Jehovah's own hand. The apostasy is deliberate; punishment must be proportionately stern and extreme. Those who have known his character and will, and yet deliberately despise them, deserve the more condign punishment. We see this principle at work in many a life. There are sins which seem to invite a terrible vengeance. Do we provoke God's anger? Let us remember that he can be a consuming fire. Deliberate rejection of God is a direct invitation and challenge to his wrath.

III. THE FINAL RESULT OF IDOLATRY IS EFFEMINACY AND ABJECT HELPLESSNESS. This is proved by an appeal to history. The Israelites had an instance of it in their own experience. There may have been weapons in Israel, but the idol worshipper had lost the courage to wield them. Idolatry, as a degraded conception of God, degrades its votaries. It has ever been linked with licentiousness and vice. The conscience is gradually destroyed, and with it all moral strength disappears.—M.

5:10, 5:11

Testimony and thanksgivng the duty of the redeemed.

The classes here addressed are representative of the entire nation—nobles, judges or elders, and common people. The deliverance affected all, and those specially benefited are called out. The hand of God is to be publicly acknowledged and celebrated in song; and this was seemly and right. So it is the duty of the redeemed of Christ to rehearse his marvellous works and ways with them.

I. THIS OUGHT TO BE DONE SEVERALLY AND IN PARTICULAR. In the case of each there is some peculiarity. It will illustrate afresh God's manifold mercy. "This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles."

II. IT OUGHT TO BE DONE PUBLICLY AND COLLECTIVELY. The national recognition of God is a most impressive and instructive spectacle. It becomes the more so if spontaneous, and not the result of legislative enactment or meaningless tradition.

III. THE REASONS FOR THIS ARE MANIFOLD.

1. It is due to him. The work of Christ is very great, involving vast effort and suffering. It is full of love and wisdom, adapted to our special need. And in all the work of redemption no credit is to be taken to ourselves; the merit is wholly his. "By the grace of God I am what I am." To withhold the praise is therefore worse than theft.

2. It is the highest and most blessed exercise of the religious nature. Man was born "to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever." In so doing his nature attains its highest end and complete spiritual development. The harmony of praise and prayer has its reflex influence upon the utterer, and as God in Christ is the most glorious object of adoration, the heart is expanded, uplifted, strengthened, and purified. There is nothing we are so liable to as forgetting God's mercies, and our dependence upon them; and therefore it is well to rehearse them.

3. It is a benefit to others. The world is full of misconceptions and low thoughts of God, and indifference towards the Divine. By such rehearsals the true character of God is vindicated. Men are taught to trace all blessings to their real Author. Doubters, etc. are counselled and directed towards clear, healthy, and health-giving ideas of God. Thus the gospel of the grace of God is preached most effectively. Others catch the contagion. Are we silent? What is the cause? Ingratitude; or it may be we are strangers to the grace of God. Let us yield ourselves to it now. Perhaps we too shall sing in a higher realm "unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood."—M.

5:14-23

National defence a common responsibility.

We have here an interesting glimpse of the behaviour of the various tribes in the war of freedom. Not all were summoned to battle; but of these only two answered to the call.

I. WHO ARE SUMMONED TO THE GREAT WAR? All the tribes whose interests were threatened in the first place; but the others might have come from a feeling of brotherhood. Through Christ the solidarity of the race is revealed. We have nearer and further claims, a more and a less imperative call, yet the interest of each is involved in that of the whole. The debt we all owe to Christ binds us henceforth "not to live to ourselves." c, Am I my brother's keeper?"

II. WHO RESPOND? Two tribes and a friendly alien. This showed a lack of public spirit, and of a true national conception. The Captain of our salvation calls. Who are willing? "Will ye also go away?" A few, all over. In every Church one or two have to bear the burden and heat of the day. Is this right?

III. THE EXCUSES AND OCCUPATIONS OF THOSE WHO HOLD BACK. Very picturesque is the description—not a little satirical. How sorry the figure cut by those who tarry at home when the battle rages I the excuses of those who were asked to follow Christ!

IV. STRICT ACCOUNT WILL BE TAKEN OF THE CONDUCT OF EACH, AND THE REWARD WILL BE GIVEN ACCORDINGLY. The sharp eye of the prophetess scanned the host she accompanied. To each is apportioned the praise or blame. God sees the heart.—M.

5:20

The hopelessness of opposition to God.

This verse is variously interpreted as an astrological allusion—as descriptive of a thunder-storm, accompanied by wind, hail, and floods, producing confusion (Josephus); or as suggestive of the delay which lost Sisera the opportunity. The explanation of Berthau, referring it to the Divine intervention, appears more reasonable and spiritually sufficient. All through the mind of the prophetess dwells upon God as the Helper and Avenger. But there is room for an intermediate idea. The stars are symbols of an unvarying law and universal destiny. Generalise upon the great contest between right and wrong. The combatants are not only men; the whole universe is involved. Angels join in the fray. God himself is against the sinner. The latter must be vanquished.

I. THE ULTIMATE CHARACTER OF THE CONTEST OF THE WICKED WITH THE RIGHTEOUS. An accidental circumstance may excuse it; a temporary character may be assumed by it. We may not divine the whole scope and drift of the quarrel. Truth may not be wholly on one side or the other. Sometimes a prophetic insight assures us that we are with God, or against him. Ultimately the question is one of right and wrong.

II. THE COMBATANTS INVOLVED. Not human opponents merely; the question too large for this. The laws of the universe; the angels of God; destiny; God himself—visibly contending in the person of his Son, invisibly in the councils of eternity.

III. THE CERTAINTY OF THE ISSUE.—M.

5:23

The curse of Meroz.

The site of this city or district not verified. A singularity about the people's conduct. Others had withheld as well as they; but they had either

The consequence was that they inherited the primacy of the curse. Was it that the ban destroyed the very name and memory of the place from the face of the earth? It became a "locus classicus in Talmudic expositions of the ban against persons and things" (Cassel).

I. THERE ARE CIRCUMSTANCES IN WHICH INDIFFERENCE AND INACTION WITH RESPECT TO THE CAUSE OF GOD IN THE WORLD CONSTITUTE A FEARFUL CRIME. The nation they belonged to represented for them the kingdom of God. It was suffering from grievous servitude. When the short, desperate struggle for freedom took place, everything might depend upon the faithfulness of those situated as they were. They hung back, or co-operated with the enemy. This was a sin against the Divine brotherhood and the cause of God. Indifference at any time is wicked; but the habit may some time or other suddenly reveal itself in tremendous heinousness. Special efforts to promote the kingdom of Christ, to prevent the dying out of religious institutions or movements, critical periods in individual lives, ought to call forth our most generous and self-denying aid. It might just be our help that was needed in order to success; our indifference that sealed the fate of a soul turning towards Cod, or a religious movement upon which depended important results.

II. GREATER RESPONSIBILITIES AND PRIVILEGES ENTAIL A GREATER CURSE UPON UNFAITHFULNESS. Terrible vengeance was taken upon the erring city. Of how much greater punishment shall Christian apostasy be thought worthy?(Hebrews 10:28-30). We sin against greater light. How great is our debt to grace! What issues depend upon our being found faithful! Remember Christ's warnings (Matthew 11:23; Matthew 18:6; Matthew 23:37).—M.

5:24

The conduct of Jael.

A moral perplexity to modern times. This arises from the advance, amounting almost to a revolution, in the spiritual sentiment of the world. It is from the higher platform of the New Testament that we see the deed in its true relations and proportions.

I. ITS JUSTIFICATION. There are several grounds, upon any or all of which the deed may be defended.

1. That of a relative and imperfect morality. Morality in that age was not perfectly revealed or realised. With increasing light of revelation and spiritual experience come new moral levels and tests. A thing may be comparatively or relatively right which is not absolutely so. The fact that we condemn the action is not due to our superior natural light, but simply to the teachings of Christianity, the outgrowth and perfecting of the crude morality of the Old Testament.

2. On the principle that the obligation to tell the truth depends upon the existence of a normal and friendly relation between men; the permission to kill carrying with it that of dissimulation (Mozley).

3. Because Jael followed as a mere instrument the impulse of the Absolute. Is it not credible that persons may be moved by a superior reason to do things justifiable from the standpoint of that superior reason, but which, if they fully realised what they were doing, would be utterly unlawful for them to do?

II. ITS BEARINGS UPON INSPIRATION, etc. OF HOLY SCRIPTURE. The inspiration of Scripture cannot be affected by the inspired sanction of such a deed. Inspiration does not necessarily involve a knowledge of the" whole counsel of God." It has its degrees, and is reliable so far as it goes. A merely human production would have avoided such apparent self-contradictions. That there are moral mysteries and difficulties in the Bible, which are nevertheless seen to have possible solutions beyond the immediate knowledge of man, is a strong presumption in favour of its being Divine.

III. HOW FAR IS JAEL AN EXAMPLE TO BE IMITATED? In no wise. This is an exceptional case, all of whose circumstances must be taken into account She is, like many whom a special destiny seems to isolate from their fellows, almost to be pitied, save for the thought that she acted as the servant of God. The instincts by which we condemn her deed are evidently of God, and must therefore be followed.—M.

5:31

The sunlike life.

Cf. Proverbs 4:18. A beautiful simile. Many points of resemblance between the course and nature of the sun and the character and life of the Christian.

I. PROGRESS. Steady. By gradual, regularly increasing advance. The hours and days and years can be measured by it. We can calculate upon it. Continual. Not by fits and starts. Ever forward, even when not seen. Culminating. Noon is splendour and strength; sunset is fulfilment.

II. ILLUMINATION. In the Christian life nothing need be concealed. We are "children of the light, and of the day." Openness, honesty, actions of simplicity and good report. Knowledge is light, and it is by knowing the Eternal that we live. The spiritual are the light of the world. Christ is so par excellence; but all Christians shine with his brightness, and exhibit his character. We are so to live as that others can take knowledge of us that we have been with Jesus, and that they may follow us as we follow him. The figure also suggests that Christians may become clear, and bright, and free from darkness as light itself is. Spiritual illumination is not ever a borrowing from without. We may have light and life in ourselves. The sun is independent of circumstances, and shines on even when half the world is dark. It is also a figure for vindication and triumph. The day shall declare how much! The glory and beauty of the spiritual man shall then be revealed. ― M.

HOMILIES BY W.F. ADENEY

5:7

A mother in Israel.

The position and character of Deborah and her mission to Israel are suggestive of the Scriptural teaching concerning women and their work.

I. GOD RAISED UP A WOMAN FOR THE DELIVERANCE OF HIS PEOPLE. Deborah appears in the line of deliverers. The others are all fighting men. In the present instance a warrior, Barak, is associated with the prophetess; yet it is not he, but the woman, Deborah, who secured victory, for she tells us that the hamlets were deserted until she arose. The Bible assigns great honour and high privileges to women. In Jewish history they are often prominent and famous for noble services. Women were among the most honoured of the disciples of Christ. In spite of the narrow views regarding the rightful position of women with which St. Paul is credited, that great apostle was ready to recognise the valuable work of women in the Church (Philippians 4:3). Women have peculiar powers for such work as requires sympathy and the gentleness which is at the root of true greatness (Psalms 18:35). And many women who are not called to imitate the heroic career of Deborah may take example from the compassion of Pharaoh's daughter, the hospitality of Abigail, and the charity of Dorcas.

II. THE WOMAN CHOSEN FOR THE DELIVERANCE OF ISRAEL WAS A MOTHER. The peculiar virtue of celibacy is a late invention which finds no basis in the Bible. There marriage is honourable (Hebrews 13:4), and to mothers a peculiar honour is given (1 Timothy 2:15). The joys and cares of maternity deepen the nature of women and develop the noblest and most Divine of all affections—a mother's strong, tender, devoted love. A true mother will not have the less affection for others because her first duty is to her own children. She is no perfect mother, even, whose whole affection and care is confined to her family. With her maternal affection is little more than a form of selfishness, the offspring being regarded as an enlargement of the personality of the parent. The true mother is motherly in her nature, and shows her motherliness in all relations of life; so that to her friends, her nation, and the needy, her thought and care partake of the mother's fond, self-sacrificing devotion. Therefore patriotism is notantagonistic to maternal affection, but offers a field for its noblest efforts.

III. THOUGH A MOTHER IS CHOSEN FOR THE WORK OF DELIVERING ISRAEL, SHE IS NOT CALLED TO SACRIFICE ANY WOMANLY GRACE IN PERFORMING THE TASK. Deborah was no Amazon. Hers was not the fierce fighting of Barak. She was a prophetess. 1, Her mission was to inspire and encourage. This is one of woman's noblest works. Women are unfaithful when they check their sons or husbands in the performance of dangerous duties.

2. Her mission was also to utter God's praises after victory had been secured. Women, more sensitive than men, should be able to arouse songs of thanksgiving, while men may be slower to awake to the full feeling of gratitude. In leading the praises of the Church women have a truly womanly mission.—A.

5:9

Self-dedication.

Deborah's heart turns in motherly affection to those rulers of Israel who have willingly offered themselves to the service of their God and their country. It should be the aim of the Christian to emulate such self-devotion in the cause of Christ and of humanity.

I. THE OFFERING WAS TO GOD AND THE COUNTRY.

1. It was to God. Though this fact is not expressly named here, as in the case of Jehoshaphat's captain, Amasiah (2 Chronicles 17:16), it is plainly implied, inasmuch as the people had been incited by a Divine messenger and were living under a theocracy. God was the King, and the soldier's fidelity to his king was fidelity to God. Men devote themselves to business, pleasure, art, literature, science. The highest object of devotion is to live to God. This may be pursued through the necessary earthly occupations, elevating and consecrating them by making them part of God's service.

2. The devotion was also to the country. Patriotism is a Christian duty. But the Christian is called to care for the large human world. We are called upon to live for the good of others, to aim at increasing their happiness and spiritual welfare. This aim is not divergent from that of serving God. We render him service by working for the good of others according to his will, and so as to render him honour.

II. THE OFFERING OF THE GOVERNORS WAS OF THEMSELVES. God is not satisfied with our gifts; he asks for our hearts (Proverbs 23:26). The true preachers of God's will will say, "We seek not yours, but you" (2 Corinthians 12:14). No gifts will be acceptable to God until we have first given our own selves to him (2 Corinthians 8:5). The sacrifice of self-dedication, which was symbolised to the Jew in the whole burnt offering, is a sacrifice still looked for under the Christian dispensation, not as a propitiation for sin, but as a thank offering. This, and no less, constitutes our reasonable service (Romans 12:1). We offer ourselves to God when we render him the homage of our hearts in love, when we sacrifice our wills to his will in submission and obedience, when we make it the object of our life to please and serve and honour him. We cannot compensate for lack of personal devotion by payment, as in some countries the conscript can do in regard to military service. Our gifts will not take the place of our work. We cannot serve God by proxy. The work of the missionary or of any professional agent of the Church must not be regarded as a substitute for the work of the private Christian. God claims the personal service of all of us.

III. THE OFFERING WAS VOLUNTARY. Deborah rejoices in the fact that the governors offered themselves willingly.

1. The only acceptable service of God must be willing service. God leaves us free to accept or reject his service, he uses no violent compulsion to drive us into it. There is no conscription for recruiting the regiments of the kingdom of heaven; all soldiers in that glorious army are volunteers. This is important, because

2. We have every motive to render this willing service. We are free from compulsion, but we are not free from obligation. We are to blame if we do not freely offer ourselves, and if we persist in refusing it will go ill with us at the last.

In application of these truths it may be noticed that some are waiting to be called into the Church or for service. Such waiting is a mistake. Christ is waiting for us. He has called us; he expects our free self-dedication. Let us not wait to be sought or asked, but freely offer ourselves to his service.—A.

5:14

Literary occupations.

Whether these men of Zebulun were poets, chroniclers, or only merchants' clerks, their occupation was distinctly different from that of their brethren, and the peculiar duties attaching to it may serve to illustrate those which belong to a corresponding class of men in our own day.

I. LITERATURE IS A FIELD OF HONOURABLE INDUSTRY. Iris a foolish misnomer which characterises handicraftsmen as the only "working men." Men can and do work at least as hard with their brains as with their hands; and such work is not the most unworthy of honourable effort. We cannot make a greater mistake than to confine the epithet "manly" to the exercise of brute force, an exercise in which a Hercules would be out-matched by a gorilla. True manliness is the right development of all the noblest powers of a man, among which the intellectual must take a high place.

II. LITERATURE MAY BE MADE A SOURCE OF THE HIGHEST GOOD TO MANKIND. Writing is a means of expressing, preserving, and disseminating ideas. This means has been chosen by God for the promotion of religion, viz; in the Bible. Therefore it is foolish to despise literature as unpractical; it may be the most useful instrument for benefiting mankind. This should be remembered by those who have literary power, and should prevent them from wasting their talents on the selfish enjoyment of intellectual luxury. Literary ability is, like the gift of tongues, a Divine gift bestowed on men for the good of the whole world.

III. IN ORDER THAT LITERATURE MAY EFFECT THE GREATEST GOOD, IT MUST BE ENLISTED IN THE SERVICE OF GOD. They who "handle the pen of the writer" must be among those who "willingly offer themselves" to the service of the Lord. God claims our best for his work. Men who have literary gifts should understand that they are not at liberty to write simply for occupation, for amusement, for money, or for fame, but for the honour of God and the good of men. Such considerations should secure more conscientiousness in writing; the observance of the great literary duties of truthfulness, fairness, purity, and charity; and the pursuit of elevating themes.

IV. THEY WHO ARE CALLED TO LITERARY DUTIES MUST NOT FEEL THEMSELVES EXONERATED FROM MORE GENERAL OBLIGATIONS. The literary man must some times lay down the pen and draw the sword. The danger of sedentary and literary occupations is that they should lead to indolence and an unpractical habit of life. It will not do for any of us to live in the delicious seclusion of dream-land. There are stern tasks and serious burdens which all true men will have to encounter if the terrible realities of the world's wickedness and misery are to be faced as the claims of God and humanity demand of us. While the trumpet sounds to war it is treason for the men of Zebulun to linger behind in learned leisure; and while God calls his people to do battle for him against the ignorance and sin of the world, there is no excuse for the most gifted, the most fastidious, or the most occupied to shirk their share of the dangers and toils of hard warfare.—A.

5:16

Indolent indecision.

The men of Reuben who refused to obey the call to arms appear to have indulged at once in questioning criticism and in selfish inactivity, and thus they illustrate the close association of indolence and indecision. Indolence encourages indecision by checking the energy requisite for choice, and indecision encourages indolence by closing all doors of action. The situation of indolent indecision may be considered from the point of view of indolence and from that of indecision.

I. THE SITUATION REGARDED ON THE SIDE OF INDOLENCE.

1. Private business was one excuse for negligence of public duty. People often make their business an excuse for not undertaking the work Christ calls them to (Matthew 22:5). But this results either

2. Love of ease led to negligence of public duty. It was less arduous to tend the flocks than to assemble for war.

3. Love of peace may have had the same effect. The Reubenites may have been peculiarly men of peace, while the Ephraimites were men of war. There are times, however, when the peaceful habit is sinful, and when we are only hiding our indolence under the cloak of peace, and when it is our duty to take up the cross, which is involved in facing the confusion and harshness of conflict. It is wrong to refuse to maintain the right and to rebuke falsehood and wickedness out of the love of peace.

4. Pleasure may have inclined to indolence. That was no time for dreaming pastoral idyls when the nation was in jeopardy and a Deborah was sounding the war-trumpet. Music and poetry, and the love of nature and art have their place among the innocent amenities of life; but when aestheticism becomes a religion, and the graces of life take the places of its duties, the harmless pleasures which allure us from stern tasks become positive sins. The wretchedness, the vice, the crime which darken the very atmosphere of Christendom leave none of us free to luxuriate in soft dreams of imaginary bliss, instead of doing our utmost to conquer these hideous monsters.

II. THE SITUATION REGARDED ON THE SIDE OF INDECISION.

1. Indecision is often the effect of directing intellectual energy to negative criticism rather than to practical contrivance. Criticism is most valuable in its place; but when it is carried to the point of fastidiousness it becomes nothing less than a fatal, paralysing influence. Reuben was divided in counsel, uncertain as to the best course to pursue, and therefore did nothing. So there are people who waste their energies in exposing the defects of all plans of action, and yet have not the inventiveness and strength to discover and pursue better plans. But it is better to work in an imperfect method than not to work at all.

2. Indecision can only be conquered by cultivating strength of will and convictions of duty It is the will that decides. When the intellect is cultivated at the expense of the will, moral paralysis is the result. Strength of will can be best attained in its right form by the exercise of what will we already have under convictions of duty. We should remember that our chief mission in the world is not criticism, but work. God calls us to action, and even if we work imperfectly and often fail, he will be better pleased at our well-meant, though perhaps mistaken, efforts to do what we believe to be right than at the inactivity which refuses to do anything from fear of committing the smallest error.—A.

5:23

The curse of Meroz.

I. THE CURSE WAS FOR INACTIVITY. Meroz had committed no offence, but is solely to blame for failing in action. Innocence of positive guilt is not enough to secure us from condemnation in the judgment of God. We shall be judged by what we have left undone as well as by what we have done. In Christ's vision of judgment, those who are made to stand on the left of the throne and are then condemned to outer darkness are not offenders against the moral law, but simply persons who have neglected the active duties of charity (Matthew 25:45). It is a very common error for people to suppose that they are blameless so long as they keep themselves unspotted from the world, forgetting that the first duty of religion is the energetic exercise of charity (James 1:27). Better to have some faults and much useful service than to be faultless and useless. The soldier who returns from war with scarred face and stained garments is nobler than he who fears to enter the battle lest he shall soil his raiment or mar his countenance.

II. THE CURSE WAS FOR INACTIVITY IS REGARD TO PUBLIC DUTY. Meroz was unpatriotic. Possibly the men on whom the curse fell were diligent farmers and kind and careful parents. But they neglected their duty to their country. We must beware of the narrowness of the parochial mind. The congregation which studies its own edification alone, and has no care for the evangelising of the nation and for mission work among the heathen, brings itself under the curse of Meroz. In the faithful payment of taxes, in the conscientious use of the franchise, in the right use of influence in public matters men have a constant call to patriotic duty. But we have all larger duties to men as men, and so long as misery, ignorance, and wickedness prevail none of us can escape condemnation until we have done our part to remove those evils.

III. TEE CURSE WAS FOR INACTIVITY IN A TIME OF WAR.

1. It-was the time of the nation's greatest need and danger when Meroz was discovered to be indolently unpatriotic. Great emergencies reveal the evil which has existed unobserved in quieter times. If we are not faithful in that which is least we shall be proved unfaithful in that which is greatest. The evil which may be fatal to our nation in times of danger may be lurking among us unseen in these more quiet times. Therefore the shameful failings of those who are held up to the reprobation of history may be no worse than the mean selfishness which pervades the lives of multitudes who meet with no blame, simply because the day of trial has not yet made their character apparent to the world.

2. The danger in which the unfaithfulness of Meroz was revealed brought a call to aggressive action. Meroz was found wanting in a time of war. We are called to resist evil. If we permit others to be oppressed by injustice and cruelty when we might deliver them by any sacrifice and toil of our own, we bring ourselves under the curse of Meroz. Christianity is aggressive. It is the duty of Christians not merely to promote purity, and charity, and truth, etc; but to expose and attack the vices and wrongs of the world.—A.

5:31

The triumph of the Church.

The triumph of Israel after the overthrow of the Canaanites is an illustration of the ultimate triumph of the Church.

I. THE FACT OF THIS TRIUMPH. We have encouragements to think that the Church will not only be saved, but will be saved with honour—will triumph.

1. This implies the destruction of her enemies. We need not look for that in violence, after the manners of the Crusades or of the Inquisition.

2. It implies the bestowal of honour on the Church. She shall shine like the sun, no longer despised.

3. It implies the enjoyment of great happiness. Darkness represents sorrow; sunlight represents joy.

4. It implies the gift of power. No influence on earth is so powerful as that of the sun. The people of God will have opportunity for noble service and for the exercise of large faculties.

5. It implies the exercise of benevolence. The sun scatters light, warmth, life. He brings new life out of the death of winter, and spreads beauty and glory over the face of the earth. The triumph of the Church will not be like that of old tyrannies, marked by bloodshed and misery, but a source of life and joy and glory to all within its reach. There is healing in the wings of the Sun of righteousness.

II. THE SOURCE OF THIS TRIUMPH.

1. It is accorded by God. Deborah speaks of it in prayer. It was not the courage of the warrior, but the unseen help of God that secured the victory to Israel. We grow fearful as we see the raging might of evil, and compare this with the trembling weakness of our own hearts. But God is with us; he makes the cause of the Church his own. Christ has already conquered, and now he calls us only to meet defeated foes.

2. It is secured through devotion to God. The enemies of God perish. These are not men whom God treats as enemies, but such as set themselves in enmity against him. They who triumph are the lovers of God. The essence of religion is love to God, and this is here the ground of the assurance of victory given by him.

3. It is attained by silent and gradual means. The sun does not burst out suddenly, he makes no noise to announce the coming day. So the triumph of the Church is gradual as the growing dawn, silent as the spreading light. Yet, like the light, it wall be recognised by its visible presence and its bountiful fruits.—A.

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Judges 5:4". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tpc/judges-5.html. 1897.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, December 11th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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