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Adam Clarke Commentary

Judges 5

Introduction

The triumphant song of Deborah and Barak, after the defeat of Sisera, captain of the armies of Jabin, king of Canaan.

Verse 1

Then sang Deborah, and Barak - There are many difficulties in this very sublime song; and learned men have toiled much to remove them. That there are several gross mistakes in our version will be instantly acknowledged by all who can critically examine the original. Dr. Kennicott has distributed it into parts, assigned to Deborah and Barak alternately. But his division is by far too artificial. Dr. Hales has also given a version of it which, perhaps, comes nearer to the simplicity of the original; but it also leaves several difficulties behind. As these are the two best versions I have met with, I shall lay them both in parallel columns before the reader, after introducing the general description of this song, given by each of these learned men. These the reader will find at the conclusion of the chapter.

Verse 2

For the avenging of Israel - See the notes, etc., at the end of the chapter, Judges 5:28 (note).

Verse 4

When thou wentest out of Seir - Here is an allusion to the giving of the law, and the manifestation of God's power and glory at that time; and as this was the most signal display of his majesty and mercy in behalf of their forefathers, Deborah very properly begins her song with a commemoration of this transaction.

Verse 6

The highways were unoccupied - The land was full of anarchy and confusion, being everywhere infested with banditti. No public road was safe; and in going from place to place, the people were obliged to use unfrequented paths.

Verse 7

The villages ceased - The people were obliged to live together in fortified places; or in great numbers, to protect each other against the incursions of bands of spoilers.

Verse 8

They chose new gods - This was the cause of all their calamities; they forsook Jehovah, and served other gods; and then was war in their gates - they were hemmed up in every place, and besieged in all their fortified cities; and they were defenseless, they had no means of resisting their adversaries; for even among forty thousand men, there was neither spear nor shield to be seen. The Vulgate gives a strange and curious turn to this verse: Nova bella elegit Dominus, et portas hostium ipse subvertit; "The Lord chose a new species of war, and himself subverted the gates of the enemy." Now, what was this new species of war? A woman signifies her orders to Barak; he takes 10,000 men, wholly unarmed, and retires to Mount Tabor, where they are immediately besieged by a powerful and well-appointed army. On a sudden Barak and his men rush upon them, terror and dismay are spread through the whole Cannanitish army, and the rout is instantaneous and complete. The Israelites immediately arm themselves with the arms of their enemies, and slay all before them; they run, and are pursued in all directions. Sisera, their general, is no longer safe in his chariot; either his horses fail, or the unevenness of the road obliges him to desert it, and fly away on foot; in the end, the whole army is destroyed, and the leader ingloriously slain. This was a new species of war, and was most evidently the Lord's doings. Whatever may be said of the version of the Vulgate, (and the Syriac and Arabic are something like it), the above are all facts, and show the wondrous working of the Lord.

Verse 10

Ye that ride on white asses - Perhaps אתנות צחרות athonoth tsechoroth should be rendered sleek or well-fed asses; rendered asinos nitentes, shining asses, by the Vulgate.Ye that sit in judgment - ישבי על מדין yoshebey al middin; some have rendered this, ye who dwell in Middin. This was a place in the tribe of Judah, and is mentioned Joshua 15:61 .And walk by the way - Persons who go from place to place for the purposes of traffic.

Verse 11

In the places of drawing water - As wells were very scarce in every part of the East, and travelers in such hot countries must have water, robbers and banditti generally took their stations near tanks, pools, and springs, in order that they might suddenly fall upon those who came to drink; and when the country was badly governed, annoyances of this kind were very frequent. The victory gained now by the Israelites put the whole country under their own government, and the land was cleansed from such marauders. Dr. Shaw, in his account of the sea-coast of the Mauritania Caesariensis, page 20, mentions a beautiful rill of water that runs into a basin of Roman workmanship, called shrub we krub, "drink and be off," because of the danger of meeting with assassins in the place. Instead of such danger and insecurity, Deborah intimates that they may sit down at the place of drawing water, and there rehearse the righteous acts of the Lord; the land being now everywhere in peace, order and good government being restored.Go down to the gates - They may go down to the gates to receive judgment and justice as usual. It is well known that the gate was the place of judgment in the East.

Verse 12

Lead thy captivity captive - Make those captives who have formerly captivated us.

Verse 13

Make him that remaineth - This appears to be spoken of Barak, who is represented as being only a remnant of the people.

Verse 14

Out of Ephraim - a root of them - Deborah probably means that out of Ephraim and Benjamin came eminent warriors. Joshua, who was of the tribe of Ephraim, routed the Amalekites a short time after the Israelites came out of Egypt, Exodus 17:10 . Ehud, who was of the tribe of Benjamin, slew Eglon, and defeated the Moabites, the friends and allies of the Ammonites and Amalekites. Machir, in the land of Gilead, produced eminent warriors; and Zebulun produced eminent statesmen, and men of literature. Probably Deborah speaks here of the past wars, and not of any thing that was done on this occasion; for we know that no persons from Gilead were present in the war between Jabin and Israel. See Judges 5:17 . Gilead abode beyond Jordan.

Verse 15

The princes of Issachar - They were at hand and came willingly forth, at the call of Deborah, to this important war. Barak - was sent on foot - I have no doubt that ברגלין, without regarding the points, should be translated with his footmen or infantry. Thus the Alexandrian Septuagint understood it, rendering the clause thus: Οὑτω Βαρακ εξαπεστειλεν πεζους αυτου εις την κοιλαδα, "Barak also sent forth his footmen into the valley." Luther has perfectly hit the meaning, Barak mit seinen fussvoleke, "Barak with his footmen."For the divisions of Reuben - Either the Reubenites were divided among themselves into factions, which prevented their co-operation with their brethren, or they were divided in their judgment concerning the measures now to be pursued, which prevented them from joining with the other tribes till the business was entirely settled. The thoughts of heart, and searchings of heart, might refer to the doubts and uneasiness felt by the other tribes, when they found the Reubenites did not join them; for they might have conjectured that they were either unconcerned about their liberty, or were meditating a coalition with the Canaanites.

Verse 17

Gilead abode beyond Jordan - That is, the Gadites, who had their lot in those parts, and could not well come to the aid of their brethren at a short summons. But the words of Deborah imply a criminal neglect on the part of the Danites; they were intent upon their traffic, and trusted in their ships. Joppa was one of their sea-ports.Asher continued on the seashore - The lot of Asher extended along the Mediterranean Sea; and being contiguous to Zebulun and Naphtali, they might have easily succoured their brethren; but they had the pretense that their posts were unguarded, and they abode in their breaches, in order to defend them.

Verse 18

Zebulun and Naphtali - jeoparded their lives - The original is very emphatic, חרף נפשו למות chereph naphsho lamuth, they desolated their lives to death - they were determined to conquer or die, and therefore plunged into the thickest of the battle. The word jeoparded is a silly French term, and comes from the exclamation of a disappointed gamester: Jeu perdu! The game is lost; or J'ai perdue! I have lost.

Verse 19

The kings came and fought - It is conjectured that Jabin and his confederates had invaded Manasseh, as both Taanach and Megiddo were in that tribe: and that they were discomfited by the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali at Taanach and Megiddo; while Barak defeated Sisera at Mount Tabor.They took no gain of money - They expected much booty in the total rout of the Israelites; but they were defeated, and got no prey; or, if applied to the Israelites, They fought for liberty, not for plunder.

Verse 20

They fought from heaven - The angels of God came to the assistance of Israel: and the stars in their orbits fought against Sisera; probably some thunder storm, or great inundation from the river Kishon, took place at that time, which in poetic language was attributed to the stars. So our poet sung relative to the storms which dispersed the Spanish armada in 1588: - To aid old England - frustrate Spain's desire."Perhaps it means no more than this: the time which was measured and ruled by the heavenly bodies seemed only to exist for the destruction of the Canaanites. There may be also a reference to the sun and moon standing still in the days of Joshua.

Verse 21

The river of Kishon swept them away - This gives plausibility to the above conjecture, that there was a storm at this time which produced an inundation in the river Kishon, which the routed Canaanites attempting to ford were swept away.

Verse 22

Then were the horsehoofs broken - In very ancient times horses were not shod; nor are they to the present day in several parts of the East. Sisera had iron chariots when his hosts were routed; the horses that drew these, being strongly urged on by those who drove them, had their hoofs broken by the roughness of the roads; in consequence of which they became lame, and could not carry off their riders. This is marked as one cause of their disaster.

Verse 23

Curse ye Meroz - Where Meroz was is not known; some suppose it was the same as Merom, nigh to Dotham. The Syriac and Arabic have Merod; but where this was is equally uncertain. It was certainly some city or district, the inhabitants of which would not assist in this war.Curse ye bitterly - ארו ארור oru aror, curse with cursing - use the most awful execrations.Said the angel of the Lord - That is, Barak, who was Jehovah's angel or messenger in this war; the person sent by God to deliver his people.To the help of the Lord - That is, to the help of the people of the Lord.Against the mighty - בגבורים baggibborim, "with the heroes;" that is, Barak and his men, together with Zebulun and Naphtali: these were the mighty men, or heroes, with whom the inhabitants of Meroz would not join.

Verse 24

Blessed above women shall Jael - be - She shall be highly celebrated as a most heroic woman; all the Israelitish women shall glory in her. I do not understand these words as expressive of the Divine approbation towards Jael. See the observations at the end of Judges 4:24 (note). The word bless, both in Hebrew and Greek, often signifies to praise, to speak well of, to celebrate. This is most probably its sense here.

Verse 25

She brought forth butter - As the word חמאה chemah, here translated butter, signifies disturbed, agitated, etc., it is probable that buttermilk is intended. The Arabs form their buttermilk by agitating the milk in a leathery bag, and the buttermilk is highly esteemed because of its refreshing and cooling quality; but there is no reason why we may not suppose that Jael gave him cream: Sisera was not only thirsty, but was also exhausted with fatigue; and nothing could be better calculated to quench his thirst, and restore his exhausted strength, than a bowl of cream. I am surprised that Mr. Harmer should see any difficulty in this. It is evident that Deborah wishes to convey the idea that Jael was more liberal and kind than Sisera had requested. He asked for water, and she brought him cream; and she brought it to him, not in an ordinary pitcher, but in the most superb dish or bowl which she possessed. See at the end of Judges 4:24 (note).

Verse 26

She smote off his head - The original does not warrant this translation; nor is it supported by fact. She smote his head, and transfixed him through the temples. It was his head that received the death wound, and the place where this wound was inflicted was the temples. The manner in which Jael despatched Sisera seems to have been this:1. Observing him to be in a profound sleep she took a workman's hammer, probably a joiner's mallet, and with one blow on the head deprived him of all sense.2. She then took a tent nail and drove it through his temples, and thus pinned him to the earth; which she could not have done had she not previously stunned him with the blow on the head. Thus she first smote his head, and secondly pierced his temples.

Verse 27

At her feet he bowed - בין רגליה bein ragleyha, "between her feet." After having stunned him she probably sat down, for the greater convenience of driving the nail through his temples.He bowed - he fell - He probably made some struggles after he received the blow on the head, but could not recover his feet. Aeschylus represents Agamemnon rising, staggering, and finally falling, under the blows of Clytemnestra. - Agam. v. 1384.

Verse 28

Cried through the lattice - This is very natural: in the women's apartments in the East the windows are latticed, to prevent them from sending or receiving letters, etc. The latticing is the effect of the jealousy which universally prevails in those countries.Why is his chariot so long in coming? - Literally, Why is his chariot ashamed to come? Dr. Lowth has very justly observed, that this is a striking image of maternal solicitude, and of a mind divided between hope and fear.She cried through the lattice,Why tarry the wheels of his chariot?'Yea, she immediately returned answer to herself;A damsel, yea, two damsels to every man:To Sisera, a prey of divers colors;A prey of divers colors of needlework,Finely coloured of needlework on both sides,A spoil for adorning the neck.'To enhance the beauty of this passage, there is, in the poetic conformation of the sentences, an admirable neatness in the diction, great force, splendor, accuracy; in the very redundance of the repetitions the utmost brevity; and, lastly, the most striking disappointment of the woman's hope, tacitly insinuated by that sudden and unexpected apostrophe,is expressed more fully and strongly by this silence than could have been painted by any colouring of words." See Dr. Lowth, 13th Prelection, Proverbs 4:18 , Proverbs 4:19 .For other matters relative to this song I must refer to the two translations which immediately follow; and their authors' notes on them.Dr. Kennicott says, "This celebrated song of triumph is most deservedly admired; though some parts of it are at present very obscure, and others unintelligible in our English version. Besides particular difficulties, there is a general one that pervades the whole; arising as I humbly apprehend, from its being considered as entirely the song of Deborah. It is certain, though very little attended to, that it is said to have been sung by Deborah and By Barak. It is also certain there are in it parts which Deborah could not sing, as well as parts which Barak could not sing; and therefore it seems necessary, in order to form a better judgment of this song, that some probable distribution should be made of it; whilst those words which seem most likely to have been sung by either party should be assigned to their proper name; either to that of Deborah the prophetess, or to that of Barak the captain.Dr. Hales observes, "That the design of this beautiful ode, which breathes the characteristic softness and luxuriance of female composition, seems to be twofold, religious and political; first, to thank God for the recent victory and deliverance of Israel from Canaanitish bondage and oppression; and next, to celebrate the zeal and alacrity with which some of the rulers volunteered their services against the common enemy, and to censure the lukewarmness and apathy of others who stayed at home, and thus betrayed the public cause; and, by this contrast and exposure, to heal those fatal divisions among the tribes, so injurious to the commonwealth. The first verse, as a title, briefly recites the design or subject of the poem, which consists of eight stanzas.

Judges 5


  1 Then sang Deborah and Barak the son of Abinoam on that day, saying,
  2 Praise ye the LORD for the avenging of Israel, when the people willingly offered themselves.
  3 Hear, O ye kings; give ear, O ye princes; I, even I, will sing unto the LORD; I will sing praise to the LORD God of Israel.
  4 LORD, when thou wentest out of Seir, when thou marchedst out of the field of Edom, the earth trembled, and the heavens dropped, the clouds also dropped water.
  5 The mountains melted from before the LORD, even that Sinai from before the LORD God of Israel.
  6 In the days of Shamgar the son of Anath, in the days of Jael, the highways were unoccupied, and the travellers walked through byways.
  7 The inhabitants of the villages ceased, they ceased in Israel, until that I Deborah arose, that I arose a mother in Israel.
  8 They chose new gods; then was war in the gates: was there a shield or spear seen among forty thousand in Israel?
  9 My heart is toward the governors of Israel, that offered themselves willingly among the people. Bless ye the LORD.
  10 Speak, ye that ride on white asses, ye that sit in judgment, and walk by the way.
  11 They that are delivered from the noise of archers in the places of drawing water, there shall they rehearse the righteous acts of the LORD, even the righteous acts toward the inhabitants of his villages in Israel: then shall the people of the LORD go down to the gates.
  12 Awake, awake, Deborah: awake, awake, utter a song: arise, Barak, and lead thy captivity captive, thou son of Abinoam.
  13 Then he made him that remaineth have dominion over the nobles among the people: the LORD made me have dominion over the mighty.
  14 Out of Ephraim was there a root of them against Amalek; after thee, Benjamin, among thy people; out of Machir came down governors, and out of Zebulun they that handle the pen of the writer.
  15 And the princes of Issachar were with Deborah; even Issachar, and also Barak: he was sent on foot into the valley. For the divisions of Reuben there were great thoughts of heart.
  16 Why abodest thou among the sheepfolds, to hear the bleatings of the flocks? For the divisions of Reuben there were great searchings of heart.
  17 Gilead abode beyond Jordan: and why did Dan remain in ships? Asher continued on the sea shore, and abode in his breaches.
  18 Zebulun and Naphtali were a people that jeoparded their lives unto the death in the high places of the field.
  19 The kings came and fought, then fought the kings of Canaan in Taanach by the waters of Megiddo; they took no gain of money.
  20 They fought from heaven; the stars in their courses fought against Sisera.
  21 The river of Kishon swept them away, that ancient river, the river Kishon. O my soul, thou hast trodden down strength.
  22 Then were the horsehoofs broken by the means of the prancings, the prancings of their mighty ones.
  23 Curse ye Meroz, said the angel of the LORD, curse ye bitterly the inhabitants thereof; because they came not to the help of the LORD, to the help of the LORD against the mighty.
  24 Blessed above women shall Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite be, blessed shall she be above women in the tent.
  25 He asked water, and she gave him milk; she brought forth butter in a lordly dish.
  26 She put her hand to the nail, and her right hand to the workmen's hammer; and with the hammer she smote Sisera, she smote off his head, when she had pierced and stricken through his temples.
  27 At her feet he bowed, he fell, he lay down: at her feet he bowed, he fell: where he bowed, there he fell down dead.
  28 The mother of Sisera looked out at a window, and cried through the lattice, Why is his chariot so long in coming? why tarry the wheels of his chariots?
  29 Her wise ladies answered her, yea, she returned answer to herself,
  30 Have they not sped? have they not divided the prey; to every man a damsel or two; to Sisera a prey of divers colours, a prey of divers colours of needlework, of divers colours of needlework on both sides, meet for the necks of them that take the spoil?
  31 So let all thine enemies perish, O LORD: but let them that love him be as the sun when he goeth forth in his might. And the land had rest forty years.

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