until they had destroyed Jabin, king of Canaan; took him, and put him to death, and took his cities, and destroyed the inhabitants of them, and so acted more agreeably to the declared will of God, that they should not spare the Canaanites, but destroy them.
INTRODUCTION TO Judges 5
This chapter contains a song of praise on account of the victories obtained over Jabin, and his kingdom; after an exhortation to praise is given, and kings excited to attend to it, the majestic appearance of God at Seir, on Sinai, is observed, to raise in the mind a divine veneration of him, Judges 5:1; then the miserable state and condition Israel was in before these victories, and therefore had the more reason to be thankful, Judges 5:6; the governors, and judges, and the people that were delivered, together with Deborah and Barak, are stirred up to rehearse the righteous acts of the Lord, and bless his name, Judges 5:9; and those who willingly engaged in the war are praised, and such who were negligent reproved, and some even cursed, Judges 5:14; but Jael, Heber's wife, is particularly commended for her exploit in slaying Sisera, Judges 5:24; and the mother of Sisera, and her ladies, are represented as wondering at his long delay, and as assured of his having got the victory, Judges 5:28; and the song is concluded with a prayer for the destruction, of the enemies of the Lord, and for the happiness and glory of them that love him, Judges 5:31.
on that day; not on the precise day on which the victory was obtained over Sisera and his army, but on occasion of that memorable day, and what followed upon it:
saying; the following divine hymn or song, penned by Deborah, under divine inspiration, as the sublimity of the style, the fine and noble thoughts and sentiments that are in it, the beautiful and elegant phrases in which they are expressed, abundantly show; no Sappho, or any Grecian poetess, nor indeed any poet whatever, uninspired, being equal to the writer of this poem.
when the people willingly offered themselves: to go and fight for Israel against their enemies, particularly those of the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali, Judges 5:18; though not excluding others that joined, who could not have been forced to it, had they not freely offered themselves; and which was owing to the secret influence of divine Providence on their hearts, moving and drawing them to this service; and therefore praise was due to the Lord on this account, who works in the hearts of men both to will and to do, as in things spiritual and religious, so in things natural and civil.
I, even I, will sing unto the Lord, I will sing praise to the Lord God of Israel: which are the words of Deborah particularly, and the repetitions serve to express how cordial, earnest, and vehement she was in her praise and thankfulness to God; thereby setting an example to others, encouraging them to the same practice, and directing persons of every rank and quality to give praise only to Jehovah, the self-existing, everlasting, and unchangeable Being; to him who is the Lord and God of Israel in a peculiar manner, and not to any of the gods of the Gentiles.
the earth trembled; and the like figure Homer (a) uses at the approach of Neptune, whom he calls the shaker of the earth, perhaps borrowed from hence; it may design the inhabitants of it, the Amorites, Moabites, Edomites, Philistines, Canaanites, and others:
and the heavens dropped, the clouds also dropped water; which, as it may literally refer to the storm and tempest of rain that might be then as now, see Judges 4:15, so may figuratively express the panic great personages, comparable to the heavens and the clouds in them were thrown into, when their hearts melted like water, or were like clouds dissolved into it.
(a) ' , Iliad. 13. v. 18, 34, 44.
even that Sinai from before the Lord God of Israel; or, "as that Sinai", the note of similitude being wanting; and the sense is, the mountains melted, just as the famous mountain Sinai in a literal sense did, when it trembled and quaked at the presence of God on it; the tokens of it, the fire and smoke, thunders, lightnings, and tempests there seen and heard; and which being observed, would call to mind the benefit Israel then received, which required praise and thankfulness, as well as would serve to express the awe and reverence of God due unto him.
in the days of Jael; the wife of Heber the Kenite, spoken of in the preceding chapter, Judges 4:17, who appears to be a woman of masculine spirit, and endeavoured to do what good she could to Israel, though not a judge among them, as Jarchi suggests; and who before this affair of Sisera had signalized herself by some deeds of hers in favour of Israel, and against their enemies; yet far from putting a stop to the outrages committed; for in the times of both these persons:
the highways were unoccupied, and the travellers walked through byways; the public roads were so infested with thieves and robbers, who stopped all they met with, and robbed them of what they had, that travellers and merchants with their carriages were obliged either to quit their employments, and not travel at all; or, if they did, were obliged to go in private roads, and roundabout ways, to keep clear of those rapparees the highways and public roads abounded with.
they ceased in Israel: for they were the villages which belonged to the Israelites that were plundered, and not those that belonged to any of the Canaanites; and these were the unhappy circumstances Israel were under
until that I Deborah arose, that I arose a mother in Israel; until it pleased God to raise her up, and endow her in a very wonderful and extraordinary manner with gifts qualifying her to be a nursing mother to Israel, to teach and instruct them in the mind and will of God, to administer judgement and justice to them, to protect and defend them, and in all which she discovered a maternal affection for them; and as a good judge and ruler of a people may be called the father of them, so she, being a woman, is with propriety called a mother in Israel, having an affectionate concern for them as her children: now, till she arose, there was no perfect salvation and deliverance wrought for them, since the death of Ehud, even throughout the days of Shamgar and Jael; which is observed to excite praise and thankfulness on the present occasion, which hereby became the more illustrious.
then was war in the gates; when they fell into idolatry, then God suffered the judgment of war to come upon them, even into the gates of their fortified cities, which were the security of them, and where were their courts of judicature, but by war disturbed and made to cease:
was there a shield or spear seen among forty thousand in Israel? though the number of the Israelites were several hundred thousands, yet there were not to be seen among them shields and spears sufficient for 40,000; or not one among 40,000 was armed; which was owing either to their negligence and sloth in not providing themselves with arms, or not taking care of them in a time of peace; so that when war came into their gates, they had nothing to defend themselves with, or annoy their enemies; or to their cowardice, not daring to take up a shield or spear in their own defence; or to the enemy, Jabin king of Canaan, having disarmed them, that they might not be able to make a revolt, from him, and recover their liberties. Ben Gersom refers it to the times of Joshua, when there was no need of a shield and spear among the 40,000 of the children of Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh, that came over Jordan with them, since God fought for them; and the Targum seems to understand it of Sisera's army, that came against Israel with shields, spears, and swords; and makes the number of them to be in all 300,000, which is just the number of foot soldiers Josephus makes his army to consist of; and yet, though so numerous and so well armed, could not stand before Barak with 10,000 men only; See Gill on Judges 4:17, the words rather refer to the cival war of the Benjamites with the Israelites, when 40,000 of the latter were killed, which was before the times of Deborah, Judges 20:21.
that offered themselves willingly among the people; to go along with them, and march at the head of them, to fight Sisera and his army; thereby setting a good example, and animating the people to battle, and inspiring them with courage and intrepidity; when they saw their chiefs and the heads of them exposing their lives with them in defence of their country, and the rights of it:
bless ye the Lord; for giving them such spirits, to engage so willingly in this service, and for giving them success in it.
ye that sit in judgment; which seems to describe judges upon the bench, sitting to hear and try causes, and pass righteous judgment; these are also exhorted to give thanks to the Lord, that they were now restored to their seats of judgment, from which they were driven; or where they could not peaceably exercise their office, which they now might and did: Cocceius renders the word "on measures", as if these were persons that presided over measures, and took care that they were just and right. Though Kimchi and Ben Melech say, that Middin, which we render "in judgment", is either the name of a city in the book of Joshua; see Gill on Joshua 15:61, or the name of a way (f) well known, in which they were afraid to go because of the enemy, but now went in it with safety, and therefore had reason to speak well of God, and praise his name; but this is rather intended in the next clause:
and walk by the way; the common people that travelled from place to place on business, who before were obliged to leave the public roads, and go in byways, Judges 5:6 but now could travel in the common road without fear, and therefore ought to be thankful.
(b) Descriptio Africae, l. 5. p. 574. (c) Plutarch. de Iside. (d) Cartwright's Preacher's Travels, p. 106. (e) Ludolph. Ethiop. Hist. l. 1. c. 10. Vid. Philostorg. Eccles. Hist. l. 3. c. 11. (f) Vid. David de Pomis Lexic. fol. 19. 3.
there shall they rehearse the righteous acts of the Lord; coming to those places again, it would put them in mind to what hazards and dangers they had been exposed formerly by the enemy, but now were freed from; and this would lead them to discourse of and repeat the righteous dealings of God in taking vengeance on their enemies and delivering them from them:
even the righteous acts towards the inhabitants of his villages in Israel; they being now in no danger of having their houses broke open, and their substance plundered as before, Judges 5:7 then shall the people of the Lord go down to the gates; either of their enemies, pursuing them unto them, as they did, Judges 4:16 or rather to the gates of their own cities, where they had now free egress and regress; and those that were in the fortified cities, who had fled thither from the villages because of the rapine of the enemy, now would go down to the gates, and pass through them, and return to their villages again; or else the meaning is, that the people would now frequent as formerly the courts of judicature held in the gates of their cities, to have justice done them, and be in no fear of being disturbed by the enemy, as before.
(g) So Cocceius, Noldius, p. 561. No. 1992.
arise, Barak, and lead thy captivity captive, thou son of Abinoam; for though the whole army of Sisera was destroyed, that not a man was left, Judges 4:16 yet as Barak pursued to Harosheth of the Gentiles, many there and in other places which fell into his hands, that belonged to Jabin, might be taken captive by him; and though the Canaanites were to be slain, yet they might first be led captive in triumph; and besides, there might be some of other nations that were taken by him in this war; see Psalm 68:18.
have dominion over the nobles among the people; that is, over the Canaanitish nobility, that were among the people under Jabin; but he being conquered by the Israelites, his people and even his nobles became subject to them; and this was the Lord's doing, as the following words show:
the Lord made me have dominion over the mighty; that is, Deborah, to whom God gave dominion either over the mighty ones of Israel, being raised up to be their judge; or over the mighty Canaanites, she having a concern in the conquest of them and triumph over them, through her direction, advice, command, and presence, though a woman.
after thee, Benjamin, among thy people; which the same Targum and the same writers interpret of a future fact, and as spoken of by way of prophecy; and suppose that Saul of the tribe of Benjamin is meant, and the people of Benjamin, the two hundred thousand footmen he took with him, and fought against Amalek, and destroyed them, 1 Samuel 15:1 but it is rather to be understood of the tribe of Benjamin in general, which at this time went out against Amalek, to prevent their giving any assistance to Jabin king of Canaan, and who were followed in it by a party of the Ephraimites; so that Benjamin has the greatest honour given it, partly as it was first in this affair, and partly as it was general, the whole tribe engaged, whereas only a few in Ephraim, and those stimulated by the example of Benjamin:
out of Machir came down governors; Machir was the only son of Manasseh, and therefore this must respect that tribe, half of which was settled on the other side Jordan, and to which Jarchi and other Jewish writers ascribe this, and suppose it refers to the princes and great men of it, who subdued the Amorites, and took the sixty cities of Argob in the time of Moses; though Kimchi and Ben Gersom understand it of some of them that came from thence to assist in this war; but it is clearly suggested in Judges 5:17 that they abode beyond Jordan, and gave no assistance at all; it therefore must be understood of the half tribe of Manasseh, within Jordan, from whence came great personages, with a number of men no doubt along with them, to lend an helping hand against the Canaanites, or to be employed as assistants under Barak in this expedition:
and out of Zebulun they that handle the pen of the writer; which being a maritime tribe, and employed in trade and navigation, had many clerks famous for their readiness in handling the pen; but these through a zeal for the common cause dropped their pens, and took to the sword, in vindication of the rights and liberties of themselves and their brethren; for which they are justly commended.
even Issachar: not the princes only, but the whole tribe also; so the Targum paraphrases it,"the rest of the tribe of Issachar:"
and also Barak, he was sent on foot into the valley; which was at the bottom of Mount Tabor, from whence he was sent down by Deborah, when Sisera's army was come thither; and where he went cheerfully on foot at the head of his 10,000 men, to engage Sisera with his horse and chariots; and which latter were capable of doing great execution in the valley, by running among the foot, and cutting them in pieces with the scythes at the side of them; but Barak, fearless of danger, readily obeyed the command of the judge and prophetess, believing it was of God: or the words may be rendered, as by Noldius (h).
as Issachar, so Barak; he was sent, &c. the one as the other, with equal readiness and cheerfulness, courage and intrepidity, descended the mountain, at the order of Deborah, and took the field in the open plain, to engage with Sisera and his numerous host:
for the division of Reuben there were great thoughts of heart; either for their divisions among themselves in their own councils, some being for going over Jordan to assist their brethren the Israelites against Jabin, and free them from his yoke, pitying their distressed state and condition; and others were for keeping at home, and taking care of their flocks, and not intermeddle in the quarrel; judging it to be most for their worldly peace and profit to observe a neutrality: by reason of which divisions no assistance was given. Or for their divisions and separations from their brethren the Israelites, from whom they were not only separated by the river Jordan, but in their affections to them, and regards for them; keeping at a distance from them, when their help was required: and this conduct of theirs caused many thoughts of heart in Deborah and Barak, in the princes and people of Israel, who could not well understand the reason of it; and which caused much grief and uneasiness of mind, that so powerful a tribe, and who had been assisting to them in the conquest of the land, and lay convenient to help them, yet should be so very indifferent to them.
(h) "sicut Issachar sic Barach", Concord. Ebr. part. p. 305. No. 1214. So Belg.
for the divisions of Reuben there were great searchings of heart; this is repeated to show how much the prophetess, the general of the army, the princes and people, were affected with this conduct of the tribe of Reuben; it gave them much pain and uneasiness, occasioned many inquiries, caused much discourse and conversation, and put them upon thinking, and greatly exercised their minds, what should be the meaning of their behaving after this manner. Cocceius takes these words to be spoken ironically, and renders them,"at the rivers of Reuben were great men in searchings of heart;''there were wisdom, prudence, counsel, searching, and discerning of spirits, preferring their flocks to the people of God.
and why did Dan remain in ships? the Danites inhabiting Joppa, and other places bordering on the Mediterranean sea, attended their navigation and merchandise; and which they chose rather to do, than to appear in the field of battle in the behalf of their brethren; judging this to be a sufficient excuse, though the question put implies the contrary; according to the Targum, they were meditating a flight, and put their goods into ships to flee with them, should Sisera get the day:
Asher continued on the sea shore; on the shore of the Mediterranean sea, attending traffic and business, and did not concern themselves at all in this war:
and abode in his trenches; in his towns and cities, the walls of which had been broken down by the Canaanites, and remained unrepaired, nor were they suffered to repair them; and therefore excused themselves on this account from engaging in the war, being obliged to stay at home to keep and defend their cities; which were in such a ruinous and weak condition, that the enemy might enter at any time: some render it, "in their creeks" (i) bays and havens where they had much shipping, and which required their attendance.
(i) "in portubus", V. L. "ad sinus suos", some in Vatablus.
that jeoparded themselves unto the death; exposed them to the utmost danger, fearless of death itself: or reproached (k) their lives; were careless of them, valued them not; they were not dear to them, but were ready to part with them freely, in the cause of liberty in which they were engaged:
in the high places of the field; on the top of Mount Tabor, where they were mustered, and from whence they beheld the vast host of Sisera surrounding them; and yet, with an undaunted bravery and courage, descended the hill to fight with them. The Vulgate Latin version reads, "in the country of Merome"; in the plains and fields of it, near which were the waters of Merom, where Joshua fought Jabin, a former king of Canaan, and supposed by some to be the same with Kishon here, Joshua 11:5.
(k) "probris affecit", Pagninus; so the Targum.
then fought the kings of Canaan in Taanach by the waters of Megiddo; the other kings of Canaan, which came into the assistance of Jabin, either in the times of Joshua; or rather which now joined Sisera's army, in those places, which both belonged to Manasseh, but were in the tribe of Issachar, of which See Gill on Joshua 17:11 and were at some distance from each other, as appears by the villages and country around, and belonging to each; and such was the largeness of Sisera's army, reinforced by those kings, that according to the Targum it reached from Taanach to Megiddo; the same is observed by the Jewish commentators; the waters of Megiddo are the same with the river Kishon, which ran near the city:
they took no gain of money; that is, either of Jabin king of Canaan, whom they came to serve; but freely engaged with him, and maintained their own troops, which they brought into the field, and had raised at their own expense; but according to Kimchi the sense is, they took no money of the Israelites that fell into their hands, but slew them, would not save their lives, though they offered them money, being like the merciless Medes, Isaiah 13:17 but rather the meaning is, that whereas they came big with expectation of a large booty among the Israelites, they were disappointed, and obliged to flee without any.
the stars in their courses fought against Sisera it seems as if it was in the night that this battle was fought, at least that the pursuit lasted till night, when the stars by their brightness and clear shining favoured the Israelites, and were greatly to the disadvantage of the Canaanites; unless it can be thought, as is by some, that the stars had an influence to cause a tempest of rain, hail, thunder, and lightnings, by which the army of Sisera was discomfited in the daytime, as before observed.
that ancient river, the river Kishon; called ancient, either because it was from the beginning of the creation, and not cut by the art of men, as some rivers are; or because it was spoken of by poets and historians in ancient times; or because of famous exploits done here of old; so the Targum,"the river where signs and mighty works were done for Israel of old.''Some take the word Kedumim to be another name of the river, so called from its windings and turnings, and, as it were, meeting itself. So some travellers tell us (m) the river Kedumim, the same with Kishon, is so called, because it meets itself, being by its meanders formed like a sling or noose, as Kishon signifies; it rises at Mount Tabor, and discharges itself into the Mediterranean sea, at the foot of Mount Carmel; so Hillerus (n) says, Kishon signifies bending in manner of a snare, or net, or meander, and takes it to be the same with the Pagida of Pliny (o), which in the Greek tongue signifies the same:
O my soul, thou hast trodden down strength; a strong and mighty army, through her prayers and supplication, advice and direction; or thou hast trodden with strength, that is, the river Kishon, as some Jewish interpreters understand it, who suppose that another miracle was wrought; that as the waters of the river swelled when the Canaanites attempted to escape over it, so it sunk and became fordable for Deborah and the Israelites; a miracle, as they suppose, somewhat similar to that at the Red sea.
(l) Journey from Aleppo, &c. p. 57. (m) Egmont and Heyman's Travels, par. 2. p. 2.((n) Onomastic. Sacr. p. 186, 405, 865. (o) Nat. Hist. l. 5. c. 19.
the pransings of the mighty ones; either their riders, princes, and great personages, who made them prance, leap, and run with great speed and force; or horses strong and mighty, being such as were selected for this purpose, and trained to war.
curse ye bitterly the inhabitants thereof; or "curse cursing" (r); repeat it, give them curse upon curse, curse them most vehemently: the reason of which follows:
because they came not to the help of the Lord; that is, of the people of the Lord, whose cause was the Lord's; for though he stood in no need of their help, yet their negligence and neutrality were highly resented by him, and therefore repeated:
to the help of the Lord against the mighty; the mighty Canaanites, and their mighty kings, and mighty hosts; or "with the mighty" (s), Barak and his 10,000: now though others, who did not come into their assistance, are only discommended, being at a distance, yet those are cursed, being very near, and saw the peril their brethren were in, and yet would not lend an helping hand.
(p) T. Bab. Moed Katon, fol. 16. 1.((q) De loc. Heb. fol. 93. D. (r) "maledictie maledicendo", Pagninus, Montanus. (s) "cum fortibus", Pagninus, Tigurine version; so Patrick.
blessed shall she be above the women in the tent; above all women that dwell in tents: this being a proper description of a woman, whose character it is to abide in her tent, dwell at home, and mind the business of her family; and may have respect to the manly action she performed in her tent, equal, if not superior, to what was done in the field.
she brought him fresh butter in a lordly dish; which signifies either the same, the milk with cream on it, for that is meant by butter; or having first taken off the cream, she gave him milk to drink, and then brought the cream in a dish for him to eat, and thereby the more incline him to sleep; and this she brought in a dish fit for any lord or nobleman to eat out of; in such a polite and courteous manner did she use him, so that he could have no suspicion of her having any ill design against him. R. Jonah, as Kimchi notes, interprets this of a dish of the mighty or lordly ones, of the shepherds, the principal of the flock, as they are called in Jeremiah 25:34, out of which they had used to drink their milk, or eat their cream, and such an one was likely enough to be Jael's tent; from this Hebrew word "sepel", here used, seems to come the Latin word "simpucium" or "simpulum", used in things sacred, and which, according to Pliny (t), was an earthen vessel; and so some of the Rabbins, as Kimchi observes, say, this was a new earthen vial; it is very probable it was a broad platter or dish fit for such an use.
(t) Nat. Hist. l. 35. c. 12.
and her right hand to the workman's hammer; in her right hand she took a hammer, such as carpenters, and such like workmen, make use of, and workman like went about her business she had devised, and was determined upon, being under a divine impulse, and so had no fear or dread upon her:
and with the hammer she smote Sisera; not that with the hammer she struck him on the head, and stunned him, but smote the nail she had put to his temples and drove it into them:
she smote off his head; after she had driven the nail through his temples, she took his sword perhaps and cut off his head, as David cut off Goliath's, after he had slung a stone into his forehead; though as this seems needless, nor is there any hint of it in the history of this affair, the meaning may only be, that she struck the nail through his head, as the Septuagint, or broke his head, as the Targum:
when she had pierced and stricken through his temples; that being the softest and tenderest part of the head, she drove the nail quite through them to the ground, Judges 4:21.
at her feet he bowed, he fell; when she redoubled her blow:
where he bowed, there he fell down dead; and struggled and stirred no more; thus ingloriously did this general of a vast army die. This action is not otherwise to be justified, but by its being done through an impulse of the Spirit of God upon her, to take away the life of an implacable enemy of God's people; otherwise it might seem to be a breach of hospitality towards her guest she had invited in, and of the peace which subsisted between this general's prince and her husband; and therefore is not to be drawn into an example where there is no appearance of a divine warrant.
and cried through the lattice; which is but another word for a window, which was not of glass, that being of a later invention, but made in lattice form, in a sort of network, full of little holes to let in air and light, and look out at; here she stood and cried with a very loud uneasy tone; the word signifies a sort of a groaning howling noise, discovering impatience and uneasiness; and so the Vulgate Latin and Syriac versions render it, "she howled"; saying in a whining way:
why is his chariot so long in coming? she did not doubt at all of victory, and concluded it would soon be obtained, and there would be very little trouble and difficulty in getting it, and therefore wondered his chariot was not in sight:
why tarry the wheels of his chariots? the nine hundred he took with him, of the return of which she made no doubt, only was uneasy until they appeared, that she might be delighted with the glory of the triumph; the Targum is,"why are the runners hindered, who should bring me a letter of the victories?''
yea, she returned answer to herself; before they could well give theirs, she soon recollected herself what might be, and must be, the occasion of this delay; and this, according to the Targum, she made in her wisdom, what her great wisdom quickly suggested to her was certainly the case, and with which she comforted and quieted herself.
have they not divided the prey? doubtless they have, which being large, and the captives many, has taken up much of their time to look over, and make an equal and proper division of, and that most certainly is the cause of the delay:
to every man a damsel or two? or "a womb or two (w)", using both unchaste and contemptuous language (x), and pleasing themselves with the virgins of Israel being abused by the common soldiers, which was too frequently the case with the Heathens at gaining a victory:
to Sisera a prey of divers colours, a prey of divers colours of needlework, of divers colours of needlework on both sides; suits of clothes of different colours, such as were the works of the women of Sidon (y), and those curiously interwoven or wrought with a needle, and that on both sides of the silk or material of which they were made; and so such as were of great worth and esteem, and such it was expected, and with confidence and assurance of it, Sisera would bring with him, and make presents of to his mother and her ladies, or which he would have for his own wear and use, or both:
meet for the necks of them that take the spoil? the general of the army, and the chief men to whom the spoil was brought, and then divided suitably to the rank and quality of every soldier. Pliny (z) says, the Phrygians first invented the art of needlework; hence the garments wrought, and those that made them, were called after their name; but it is certain it was known by the ancient Hebrews and Canaanites, see Exodus 26:36.
(u) "nonne invenient", Pagninus, Montanus, Tigurine version, Vatablus (w) "vulvam vulvas duas", Piscator. (x) Vid. R. Sol. Urbin. Ohel Moed, fol. 59. 1.((y) Julian. Opera, par. 1. crat. 2. p. 94. Vid. Homer. Iliad. 6. ver. 289, 290. (z) Nat. Hist. l. 8. c. 48.