Barak the Faithful Servant
Sermon: Barak the Faithful Servant
Judges 4:8 Barak said to her, “If you go with me, I will go; but if you don’t go with me, I won’t go.”
Three Pictures of Barak’s Faith
First: Judges 4
Second: Judges 5
Third: Hebrews 11:32-34
Three Kinds of Faith
Victorious Faith (example: David)
Walk on Water Faith (example: Peter)
“Need a Push” Faith (examples: Gideon)
APPLICATION - Ask yourself these three questions:
Is this God’s battle?
Do you care who gets the glory?
What is my role in this battle?
Sermón: Barac el Siervo Fiel
Jueces 4:8 Barac le respondió: Si tú fueres conmigo, yo iré; pero si no fueres conmigo, no iré.
Tres Cuadros de la Fe de Barac
La Fe de Barac en Jueces 4
La Fe de Barac en Jueces 5
La Fe de Barac en Hebreos 11:32-34
Tres Tipos de Fe
La Fe Victoriosa (David)
La Fe que Anda sobre el Agua (Pedro)
La Fe que necesita un empuje (Gedeón)
APLICACIÓN- Haz estas Tres Preguntas:
¿Es esta batalla de Dios?
¿Me importa quién recibe la gloria?
¿Cuál es mi papel en esta batalla?
Barak the Faithful Servant
Three pictures of Barak’s faith
First: Judges 4
4:8 Barak said to her, If you go with me, I will go; but if you don’t go with me, I won’t go./ Barac le respondió: Si tú fueres conmigo, yo iré; pero si no fueres conmigo, no iré
v.1 the Problem
Second: Judges 5
v.8 NO weapons
v.14-15,18 Volunteers…….15-17,23 Refuse to Help
v.20-21 divine Help
v.31 Repentance for a season
Third: Hebrews 11:32-34
32 And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets, 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies
Three kinds of faith
Victorious Faith (example: David and Goliath)
step out and the results are victory!
Walk on Water Faith (example: Peter
He walks on water but then sinks and has to be saved
1st Step Faith (ex: Gideon)
Moses, Jeremiah, father of Mk.9:24…….they need a push to take 1st step
APPLICATION: Three Important Questions for you
Is this God’s battle? He fights for his glory and honor
If so then he recruits the leader, soldiers, designs the strategy, picks the place, etc
God the Warrior, finding on behalf of his honor and on behalf of his people
This is a story about God, who is the real hero, and his people Israel, and their enemies God’s battles are for the honor of His name.
Do you care who gets the glory (credit)?
or how he wins the battle? …stars, rain, jael,
What is my role in this battle?
Don’t try to do God’s part
Why did God pick Barac?......Why didn’t he put Deborah or Jael in the Hall of Faith?
God gets all the glory in this victory
Deborah rules cause the men are weak…………….so God gets the glory for the victory
Barak leads because he is initially weak…………..so God gets the glory for the victory
Jael is the most unlikely of all to be the heroine…..so God gets the glory for the victory
VP – 4:1 Después de la muerte de Ehud, los israelitas volvieron a hacer lo malo a los ojos del Señor,
2así que el Señor los entregó al poder de Jabín, un rey cananeo que gobernaba en la ciudad de Hasor. El jefe de su ejército se llamaba Sísara, y vivía en Haróset-goím.
3Jabín tenía novecientos carros de hierro, y durante veinte años había oprimido cruelmente a los israelitas, hasta que por fin estos le suplicaron al Señor que los ayudara.
4En aquel tiempo juzgaba a Israel una profetisa llamada Débora, esposa de Lapidot.
5Débora acostumbraba sentarse bajo una palmera (conocida como “la palmera de Débora”), que había en los montes de Efraín, entre Ramá y Betel, y los israelitas acudían a ella para resolver sus pleitos.
6Un día, Débora mandó llamar a un hombre llamado Barac, hijo de Abinóam, que vivía en Quedes, un pueblo de la tribu de Neftalí, y le dijo: —El Señor, el Dios de Israel, te ordena lo siguiente: ‘Ve al monte Tabor, y reúne allí a diez mil hombres de las tribus de Neftalí y Zabulón.
7Yo voy a hacer que Sísara, jefe del ejército de Jabín, venga al arroyo de Quisón para atacarte con sus carros y su ejército. Pero yo voy a entregarlos en tus manos.’
8—Solo iré si tú vienes conmigo —contestó Barac—. Pero si tú no vienes, yo no iré.
9—Pues iré contigo —respondió Débora—. Solo que la gloria de esta campaña que vas a emprender no será para ti, porque el Señor entregará Sísara en manos de una mujer. Entonces Débora fue con Barac a Quedes.
10Allí Barac llamó a las tribus de Zabulón y Neftalí, y reunió bajo su mando un ejército de diez mil hombres. Débora iba con él.
11Cerca de Quedes, junto a la encina de Saanaim, estaba el campamento de Héber el quenita, quien se había separado de los demás quenitas que, como él, descendían de Hobab, el suegro de Moisés.
4:12Cuando Sísara supo que Barac había subido al monte Tabor,
13reunió sus novecientos carros de hierro y a todos sus soldados, y marchó con ellos desde Haróset-goím hasta el arroyo de Quisón.
14Entonces Débora le dijo a Barac:—¡Adelante, que ahora es cuando el Señor va a entregar en tus manos a Sísara! ¡Ya el Señor va al frente de tus soldados! Barac bajó del monte Tabor con sus diez mil soldados,
15y el Señor sembró el pánico entre los carros y los soldados de Sísara en el momento de enfrentarse con la espada de Barac; hasta el mismo Sísara se bajó de su carro y huyó a pie.
16Mientras tanto, Barac persiguió a los soldados y los carros hasta Haróset-goím. Aquel día no quedó con vida ni un solo soldado del ejército de Sísara: todos murieron.
17Como Jabín, el rey de Hasor, estaba en paz con la familia de Héber el quenita, Sísara llegó a pie, en su huida, hasta la tienda de Jael, la esposa de Héber,
18la cual salió a recibirlo y le dijo: —Por aquí, mi señor, por aquí; no tenga usted miedo. Sísara entró, y Jael lo escondió tapándolo con una manta;
19entonces Sísara le pidió agua, pues tenía mucha sed. Jael destapó el cuero donde guardaba la leche y le dio de beber; después volvió a taparlo.
20Sísara le dijo:—Quédate a la entrada de la tienda, y si alguien viene y te pregunta si hay alguien aquí dentro, dile que no.
21Pero Sísara estaba tan cansado que se quedó profundamente dormido. Entonces Jael tomó un martillo y una estaca de las que usaban para sujetar la tienda de campaña, y acercándose sin hacer ruido hasta donde estaba Sísara, le clavó la estaca en la sien contra la tierra. Así murió Sísara.
22Y cuando Barac llegó en busca de Sísara, Jael salió a recibirlo y le dijo:—Ven, que te voy a mostrar al que andas buscando. Barac entró en la tienda y encontró a Sísara tendido en el suelo, ya muerto y con la estaca clavada en la cabeza.
23Así humilló el Señor aquel día a Jabín, el rey cananeo, delante de los israelitas.
24Y desde entonces los israelitas trataron a Jabín cada vez con mayor dureza, hasta que lo destruyeron.
5 1Aquel día, Débora y Barac, hijo de Abinóam, cantaron así:
2 “Alaben todos al Señor, porque aún hay en Israel hombres dispuestos a pelear; porque aún hay entre el pueblo hombres que responden al llamado de la guerra.
3 ¡Escúchenme, ustedes los reyes! ¡Óiganme, ustedes los gobernantes! ¡Voy a cantarle al Señor!, ¡voy a cantar al Dios de Israel!
4 Cuando tú, Señor, saliste de Seír; cuando te fuiste de los campos de Edom, tembló la tierra, se estremeció el cielo, las nubes derramaron su lluvia
5 Delante de ti, Señor, delante de ti, Dios de Israel, temblaron los montes, tembló el Sinaí.
6 En los tiempos de Samgar, hijo de Anat, y en los tiempos de Jael, los viajeros abandonaron los caminos y anduvieron por senderos escabrosos
5:7 las aldeas de Israel quedaron del todo abandonadas. Fue entonces cuando yo me levanté, ¡yo, Débora, una madre de Israel!
8 “No faltó quien se escogiera nuevos dioses mientras se luchaba a las puertas de la ciudad, pero no se veía un escudo ni una lanza entre cuarenta mil israelitas.
9 “¡Yo doy mi corazón por los altos jefes de Israel, por la gente de mi pueblo que respondió al llamado de la guerra! ¡Alaben todos al Señor!
10 “Díganlo ustedes, los que montan asnas pardas; y ustedes, los que se sientan en tapetes; también ustedes, los viajeros:
11 ¡allá, entre los abrevaderos, y al son de sonoros platillos, proclamen las victorias del Señor, las victorias de sus aldeas en Israel!
12 “¡Despierta, Débora, despierta, despierta y entona una canción! ¡Y tú, Barac, hijo de Abinóam, levántate y llévate a tus prisioneros!
13 “Entonces bajaron los israelitas a luchar contra los poderosos; bajaron por mí las tropas del Señora luchar contra los hombres de guerra.
14 Algunos hombres de Efraín bajaron al valle,y tras ellos fueron las tropas de Benjamín. De los de Maquir, bajaron sus jefes, y de los de Zabulón, sus gobernantes.
15También acompañaron a Débora los jefes de Isacar; Isacar fue el apoyo de Barac, pues se lanzó tras él al valle. “Si en los escuadrones de Rubén hay grandes hombres de corazón resuelto,
16 ¿por qué se quedaron entre los rediles, oyendo a los pastores llamar a sus ovejas? ¡En los escuadrones de Rubén hay grandes hombres de corazón miedoso! [Había grandes indecisiones de corazón]
17 “Galaad se quedó acampando al otro lado del río Jordán; Dan se quedó junto a los barcos, y Aser se quedó en la costa y no se movió de sus puertos;
18pero en las alturas de los campos, Zabulón y Neftalí arriesgaron la vida.
19 “Entonces los reyes vinieron a Taanac, junto a las aguas de Meguido; los reyes cananeos vinieron en plan de guerra, pero no obtuvieron plata ni riquezas.
20 Desde el cielo, desde sus órbitas, las estrellas lucharon contra Sísara;
21el arroyo, el arroyo antiguo, el arroyo de Quisón los barrió a todos ellos.¡Tú aplastarás la garganta de los poderosos!
22 “¡Resuenan los cascos de los caballos! ¡Galopan, galopan los briosos [valientes ] corceles [caballos]!
5:23 Y el ángel del Señor anuncia:‘¡Que caiga una dura maldición sobre Meroz y sus habitantes!’ Pues no acudieron, como los valientes, en ayuda del Señor.
24 “¡Bendita sea entre las mujeres Jael, la esposa de Héber el quenita! ¡Bendita sea entre las mujeres del campamento!
25Agua pidió Sísara; leche le dio Jael. ¡Crema le dio en un tazón especial!
26 Mientras tanto, tomó la estaca con la izquierda y el mazo de trabajo con la derecha, y dando a Sísara un golpe en la cabeza le rompió y atravesó las sienes.
27 Sísara se retorcía a los pies de Jael; retorciéndose de dolor cayó al suelo, y allí donde cayó, allí quedó muerto.
28 “La madre de Sísara, afligida, se asoma a la ventana y dice: ‘¿Por qué tarda tanto en llegar su carro? ¿Por qué se retrasa su carro de guerra?’
29 Algunas damas sabihondas [sabias] le responden,y aun ella misma se repite:
30 ‘Seguramente se están repartiendo lo que ganaron en la guerra. Una esclava [muchacha], y aun dos, para cada guerrero; para Sísara las telas de colores: una tela, y aun dos, bordadas de varios colores, para el cuello del vencedor.’
31 “¡Que así sean destruidos, Señor, todos tus enemigos, y que brillen los que te aman, como el sol en todo su esplendor!” Después de eso hubo paz en la región durante cuarenta años.
|The Prose Account||The Poetic Account|
|On that day Deborah and Barak son ofAbinoam sang this song:Because of total commitment in IsraelBecause the people willingly offer themselves—Praise the Lord!Hear this, you kings!Listen you rulers!I to the Lord, I will sing;I will make music to the Lord, the God of Israel.O Lord, when you went out from Seir,when you marched from the land of Edom,the earth shook, the heavens gushed;the clouds gushed down water,the mountains quakedbefore the Lord, the One of Sinaibefore the Lord, the God of Israel.|
|After Ehud died, the Israelites once again did evil in the eyes of the Lord. So the Lord sold them into the hands of Jabin, a king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor. The commander of his army was Sisera, who lived in Harosheth Haggoyim. Because he had nine hundred iron chariots and had cruelly oppressed the Israelites for twenty years, they cried to the Lord for help.||In the days of Shamgar son of Anath,in the days of Jael, the roads were abandoned;travelers took to winding paths.Village life ceased; in Israel it ceased—|
|Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading Israel at that time. She held court under the Palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites came to her [for a decision from God].||Until I arose, Deborah,I arose, a mother in Israel.God chose new [leaders],war came to the city gates,and not a shield or spear was seenamong forty thousand in Israel.|
|My heart is with Israel’s princes,with the willing volunteers among the peoplePraise the Lord!You who ride on tawny donkey,You who sit on saddle blankets,and you who walk along the road, considerAmid the sound of shepherdsat the watering placesThey recite the righteous acts of the Lord,the righteous acts of his villagers in Israel.Then the people of the Lord went downto the city gates.|
|She sent for Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali and said to him, “The Lord, the God of Israel, commands you: “Go, take with you ten thousand men of Naphtali and Zebulun and lead the way to Mount Tabor. I will lure Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his troops to the Kishon River and give him into your hands.’ ”Barak said to her, “If you go with me, I will go; but if you don’t go with me, I won’t go.”Very well,” Deborah said, “I will go with you. But because of the way you are going about this, the honor will not be yours, for the Lord will hand Sisera over to a woman.”|
|So Deborah went with Barak to Kedesh,where he summoned Zebulun and Naphtali. Ten thousand men followed him, and Deborah also went with him.||Wake up, wake up, Deborah!Wake up, wake up, break out in song!Arise, O Barak!Take captive your captives, O son of Abinoam.Then the survivors went downagainst the nobles;the people of the Lord went down with meagainst the mighty.Some came from Ephraim,whose roots were in Amalek;Benjamin was with the people who followed you.From Makir captains came down,from Zebulun those who beara commander’s staff.The princes of Issachar were with Deborah;Yes, Issachar was with Barak,rushing after him into the valley.In the districts of Reubenthere was much searching of heart.Why did you stay among the campfiresto hear the whistling for the flocks?In the districts of Reubenthere was much searching of heart.Gilead stayed beyond the Jordan.And Dan, why did he linger by the ships?Asher remained on the seacoastand stayed in his coves.The people of Zebulun risked their very livesso did Naphtali on the heights of the field|
|Now Heber the Kenite had left the other Kenites, the descendants of Hobab, Moses’ brother-in-law, and pitched his tent by the great tree in Zaanannim near Kedesh.When they told Sisera that Barak son of Abinoam had gone up to Mount Tabor,Sisera gathered together his nine hundred iron chariots and all the men with him, from Harosheth Haggoyim to the Kishon River.|
|Then Deborah said to Barak, “Go! This is the day the Lord has given Sisera into your hands. Has not the Lord gone ahead of you?” So Barak went down Mount Tabor, followed by ten thousand men.||“Kings came, they fought;the kings of Canaan fought;At Taanach by the waters of Megiddo,they carried off no silver, no plunder.|
|At Barak’s advance, the Lord routed Sisera and all his chariots and army by the sword, and Sisera abandoned his chariot and fled on foot.||From the heavens the stars fought,from their courses they fought against Sisera.The river Kishon swept them away,the age-old river, the river Kishon.March on, my soul; be strong!Then pounded the horses’ hoofs—Rearing wildly his mighty steeds.|
|But Barak pursued the chariots and army as far as Haroshet Haggoyim. All the troops of Sisera fell by the sword; not a man was left.|
|Curse Meroz, said the angel of the Lord.‘Curse its people bitterly,because they did not come to help the Lord,to help the Lord against the mighty.’|
|Sisera, however, fled on foot to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, because there there were friendly relations between Jabin king of Hazor and the clan of Heber the Kenite.|
|Jael went out to meet Sisera and said to him, “Come, my lord, come right in. Don’t be afraid.”So he entered her tent, and she put a covering over him.||Most blessed of women be Jael,the wife of Heber the Kenite,most blessed of tent-dwelling women.|
|“I’m thirsty,” he said. “Please give me some water.” She opened a skin of milk, gave him a drink, and covered him up.||He asked for water,and she gave him milk;in a bowl fit for noblesshe brought him curdled milk.|
|“Stand in the doorway of the tent,” he told her. “If someone comes by and asks you, ‘Is anyone here?’ say ‘No.’ ”|
|But Jael, Heber’s wife, picked up a tent peg and a hammer and went quietly to him while he lay fast asleep, exhausted. She drove the peg through his temple into the ground, and he died.||Her hand reached for the tent peg,her right hand for the workman’s hammer.She struck Sisera, she crushed his head,she shattered and pierced his temple.At her feet he sank, he fell, he lay;Where he sank, there he fell—plundered.|
|Barak came by in pursuit of Sisera, and Jael went out to meet him. “Come,” she said, “I will show you the man you’re looking for.” So he went in with her, and there lay Sisera with the tent peg through his temple—dead.|
|“Through the window peered Sisera’s mother;behind the lattice she cried out,‘Why is his chariot so long in coming?Why is the clatter of his chariots delayed?’ ”The wisest of her ladies answers her;But she answers herself,‘Are they not finding and dividing the spoils:A girl or two for each man,colorful garments as plunder for Sisera,colorful garments embroidered,highly embroidered garmentsfor the neck of the spoiler?’“So may all your enemies perish, O Lord!But may they who love you be like the sunwhen it rises in its strength.”|
|On that day God subdued Jabin, the Canaanite king, before the Israelites. And the hand of the Israelites grew stronger and stronger against Jabin, the Canaanite king, until they destroyed him.Then the land had peace for forty years.|
4:1 After Ehud died, the Israelites once again did evil in the eyes of the Lord. 2 So the Lord sold them into the hands of Jabin, a king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor. The commander of his army was Sisera, who lived in Harosheth Haggoyim. 3 Because he had nine hundred iron chariots and had cruelly oppressed the Israelites for twenty years, they cried to the Lord for help. 4 Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading Israel at that time. 5 She held court under the Palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites came to her to have their disputes decided. 6 She sent for Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali and said to him, “The Lord, the God of Israel, commands you: ‘Go, take with you ten thousand men of Naphtali and Zebulun and lead the way to Mount Tabor. 7 I will lure Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his troops to the Kishon River and give him into your hands.’ ” 8 Barak said to her, “If you go with me, I will go; but if you don’t go with me, I won’t go.” 9 “Very well,” Deborah said, “I will go with you. But because of the way you are going about this, the honor will not be yours, for the Lord will hand Sisera over to a woman.” So Deborah went with Barak to Kedesh, 10 where he summoned Zebulun and Naphtali. Ten thousand men followed him, and Deborah also went with him. 11 Now Heber the Kenite had left the other Kenites, the descendants of Hobab, Moses’ brother-in-law, and pitched his tent by the great tree in Zaanannim near Kedesh. 12 When they told Sisera that Barak son of Abinoam had gone up to Mount Tabor, 13 Sisera gathered together his nine hundred iron chariots and all the men with him, from Harosheth Haggoyim to the Kishon River. 14 Then Deborah said to Barak, “Go! This is the day the Lord has given Sisera into your hands. Has not the Lord gone ahead of you?” So Barak went down Mount Tabor, followed by ten thousand men. 15 At Barak’s advance, the Lord routed Sisera and all his chariots and army by the sword, and Sisera abandoned his chariot and fled on foot. 16 But Barak pursued the chariots and army as far as Harosheth Haggoyim. All the troops of Sisera fell by the sword; not a man was left. 17 Sisera, however, fled on foot to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, because there were friendly relations between Jabin king of Hazor and the clan of Heber the Kenite. 18 Jael went out to meet Sisera and said to him, “Come, my lord, come right in. Don’t be afraid.” So he entered her tent, and she put a covering over him. 19 “I’m thirsty,” he said. “Please give me some water.” She opened a skin of milk, gave him a drink, and covered him up. 20 “Stand in the doorway of the tent,” he told her. “If someone comes by and asks you, ‘Is anyone here?’ say ‘No.’ 21 But Jael, Heber’s wife, picked up a tent peg and a hammer and went quietly to him while he lay fast asleep, exhausted. She drove the peg through his temple into the ground, and he died. 22 Barak came by in pursuit of Sisera, and Jael went out to meet him. “Come,” she said, “I will show you the man you’re looking for.” So he went in with her, and there lay Sisera with the tent peg through his temple—dead. 23 On that day God subdued Jabin, the Canaanite king, before the Israelites. 24 And the hand of the Israelites grew stronger and stronger against Jabin, the Canaanite king, until they destroyed him.
5:1 On that day Deborah and Barak son of Abinoam sang this song: 2 “When the princes in Israel take the lead, when the people willingly offer themselves— praise the Lord! 3 “Hear this, you kings! Listen, you rulers! I will sing to the Lord, I will sing; I will make music to the Lord, the God of Israel. 4 “O Lord, when you went out from Seir, when you marched from the land of Edom, the earth shook, the heavens poured, the clouds poured down water. 5 The mountains quaked before the Lord, the One of Sinai, before the Lord, the God of Israel. 6 “In the days of Shamgar son of Anath, in the days of Jael, the roads were abandoned; travelers took to winding paths. 7 Village life in Israel ceased, ceased until I, Deborah, arose, arose a mother in Israel. 8 When they chose new gods, war came to the city gates, and not a shield or spear was seen among forty thousand in Israel. 9 My heart is with Israel’s princes, with the willing volunteers among the people. Praise the Lord! 10 “You who ride on white donkeys, sitting on your saddle blankets, and you who walk along the road, consider 11 the voice of the singers at the watering places. They recite the righteous acts of the Lord, the righteous acts of his warriors in Israel. “Then the people of the Lord went down to the city gates. 12 ‘Wake up, wake up, Deborah! Wake up, wake up, break out in song! Arise, O Barak! Take captive your captives, O son of Abinoam.’ 13 “Then the men who were left came down to the nobles; the people of the Lord came to me with the mighty. 14 Some came from Ephraim, whose roots were in Amalek; Benjamin was with the people who followed you. From Makir captains came down, from Zebulun those who bear a commander’s staff. 15 The princes of Issachar were with Deborah; yes, Issachar was with Barak, rushing after him into the valley. In the districts of Reuben there was much searching of heart. 16 Why did you stay among the campfires to hear the whistling for the flocks? In the districts of Reuben there was much searching of heart. 17 Gilead stayed beyond the Jordan. And Dan, why did he linger by the ships? Asher remained on the coast and stayed in his coves. 18 The people of Zebulun risked their very lives; so did Naphtali on the heights of the field. 19 “Kings came, they fought; the kings of Canaan fought at Taanach by the waters of Megiddo, but they carried off no silver, no plunder. 20 From the heavens the stars fought, from their courses they fought against Sisera. 21 The river Kishon swept them away, the age-old river, the river Kishon. March on, my soul; be strong! 22 Then thundered the horses’ hoofs— galloping, galloping go his mighty steeds. 23 ‘Curse Meroz,’ said the angel of the Lord. ‘Curse its people bitterly, because they did not come to help the Lord, to help the Lord against the mighty.’ 24 “Most blessed of women be Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, most blessed of tent-dwelling women. 25 He asked for water, and she gave him milk; in a bowl fit for nobles she brought him curdled milk. 26 Her hand reached for the tent peg, her right hand for the workman’s hammer. She struck Sisera, she crushed his head, she shattered and pierced his temple. 27 At her feet he sank, he fell; there he lay. At her feet he sank, he fell; where he sank, there he fell—dead. 28 “Through the window peered Sisera’s mother; behind the lattice she cried out, ‘Why is his chariot so long in coming? Why is the clatter of his chariots delayed?’ 29 The wisest of her ladies answer her; indeed, she keeps saying to herself, 30 ‘Are they not finding and dividing the spoils: a girl or two for each man, colorful garments as plunder for Sisera, colorful garments embroidered, highly embroidered garments for my neck— all this as plunder?’ 31 “So may all your enemies perish, O Lord! But may they who love you be like the sun when it rises in its strength.”
RVR – 4:1 Después de la muerte de Aod, los hijos de Israel volvieron a hacer lo malo ante los ojos de Jehová. 2Y Jehová los vendió en mano de Jabín rey de Canaán, el cual reinó en Hazor; y el capitán de su ejército se llamaba Sísara, el cual habitaba en Haroset-goim. 3Entonces los hijos de Israel clamaron a Jehová, porque aquél tenía novecientos carros herrados, y había oprimido con crueldad a los hijos de Israel por veinte años.4Gobernaba en aquel tiempo a Israel una mujer, Débora, profetisa, mujer de Lapidot; 5y acostumbraba sentarse bajo la palmera de Débora, entre Ramá y Bet-el, en el monte de Efraín; y los hijos de Israel subían a ella a juicio. 6Y ella envió a llamar a Barac hijo de Abinoam, de Cedes de Neftalí, y le dijo: ¿No te ha mandado Jehová Dios de Israel, diciendo: Ve, junta a tu gente en el monte de Tabor, y toma contigo diez mil hombres de la tribu de Neftalí y de la tribu de Zabulón; 7y yo atraeré hacia ti al arroyo de Cisón a Sísara, capitán del ejército de Jabín, con sus carros y su ejército, y lo entregaré en tus manos? 8Barac le respondió: Si tú fueres conmigo, yo iré; pero si no fueres conmigo, no iré. 9Ella dijo: Iré contigo; mas no será tuya la gloria de la jornada que emprendes, porque en mano de mujer venderá Jehová a Sísara. Y levantándose Débora, fue con Barac a Cedes. 10Y juntó Barac a Zabulón y a Neftalí en Cedes, y subió con diez mil hombres a su mando; y Débora subió con él. 11Y Heber ceneo, de los hijos de Hobab suegro de Moisés, se había apartado de los ceneos, y había plantado sus tiendas en el valle de Zaanaim, que está junto a Cedes. 12Vinieron, pues, a Sísara las nuevas de que Barac hijo de Abinoam había subido al monte de Tabor. 13Y reunió Sísara todos sus carros, novecientos carros herrados, con todo el pueblo que con él estaba, desde Haroset-goim hasta el arroyo de Cisón. 14Entonces Débora dijo a Barac: Levántate, porque este es el día en que Jehová ha entregado a Sísara en tus manos. ¿No ha salido Jehová delante de ti? Y Barac descendió del monte de Tabor, y diez mil hombres en pos de él. 15Y Jehová quebrantó a Sísara, a todos sus carros y a todo su ejército, a filo de espada delante de Barac; y Sísara descendió del carro, y huyó a pie. 16Mas Barac siguió los carros y el ejército hasta Haroset-goim, y todo el ejército de Sísara cayó a filo de espada, hasta no quedar ni uno. 17Y Sísara huyó a pie a la tienda de Jael mujer de Heber ceneo; porque había paz entre Jabín rey de Hazor y la casa de Heber ceneo. 18Y saliendo Jael a recibir a Sísara, le dijo: Ven, señor mío, ven a mí, no tengas temor. Y él vino a ella a la tienda, y ella le cubrió con una manta. 19Y él le dijo: Te ruego me des de beber un poco de agua, pues tengo sed. Y ella abrió un odre de leche y le dio de beber, y le volvió a cubrir. 20Y él le dijo: Estate a la puerta de la tienda; y si alguien viniere, y te preguntare, diciendo: ¿Hay aquí alguno? tú responderás que no. 21Pero Jael mujer de Heber tomó una estaca de la tienda, y poniendo un mazo en su mano, se le acercó calladamente y le metió la estaca por las sienes, y la enclavó en la tierra, pues él estaba cargado de sueño y cansado; y así murió. 22Y siguiendo Barac a Sísara, Jael salió a recibirlo, y le dijo: Ven, y te mostraré al varón que tú buscas. Y él entró donde ella estaba, y he aquí Sísara yacía muerto con la estaca por la sien.
23Así abatió Dios aquel día a Jabín, rey de Canaán, delante de los hijos de Israel. 24Y la mano de los hijos de Israel fue endureciéndose más y más contra Jabín rey de Canaán, hasta que lo destruyeron.
RVR 5:1Aquel día cantó Débora con Barac hijo de Abinoam, diciendo: 2 Por haberse puesto al frente los caudillos en Israel, Por haberse ofrecido voluntariamente el pueblo, Load a Jehová. 3 Oíd, reyes; escuchad, oh príncipes; Yo cantaré a Jehová, Cantaré salmos a Jehová, el Dios de Israel. 4 Cuando saliste de Seir, oh Jehová, Cuando te marchaste de los campos de Edom, La tierra tembló, y los cielos destilaron, Y las nubes gotearon aguas. 5 Los montes temblaron delante de Jehová, Aquel Sinaí, delante de Jehová Dios de Israel.6 En los días de Samgar hijo de Anat, En los días de Jael, quedaron abandonados los caminos, Y los que andaban por las sendas se apartaban por senderos torcidos. 7 Las aldeas quedaron abandonadas en Israel, habían decaído, Hasta que yo Débora me levanté, Me levanté como madre en Israel.8 Cuando escogían nuevos dioses, La guerra estaba a las puertas; ¿Se veía escudo o lanza Entre cuarenta mil en Israel? 9 Mi corazón es para vosotros, jefes de Israel, Para los que voluntariamente os ofrecisteis entre el pueblo. Load a Jehová. 10 Vosotros los que cabalgáis en asnas blancas, Los que presidís en juicio, Y vosotros los que viajáis, hablad. 11 Lejos del ruido de los arqueros, en los abrevaderos,Allí repetirán los triunfos de Jehová, Los triunfos de sus aldeas en Israel; Entonces marchará hacia las puertas el pueblo de Jehová. 12 Despierta, despierta, Débora; Despierta, despierta, entona cántico. Levántate, Barac, y lleva tus cautivos, hijo de Abinoam.13 Entonces marchó el resto de los nobles;
El pueblo de Jehová marchó por él en contra de los poderosos. 14 De Efraín vinieron los radicados en Amalec, En pos de ti, Benjamín, entre tus pueblos; De Maquir descendieron príncipes,Y de Zabulón los que tenían vara de mando.15 Caudillos también de Isacar fueron con Débora; Y como Barac, también Isacar Se precipitó a pie en el valle. Entre las familias de Rubén Hubo grandes resoluciones del corazón. 16 ¿Por qué te quedaste entre los rediles, Para oír los balidos de los rebaños? Entre las familias de Rubén
Hubo grandes propósitos del corazón. 17 Galaad se quedó al otro lado del Jordán; Y Dan, ¿por qué se estuvo junto a las naves? Se mantuvo Aser a la ribera del mar, Y se quedó en sus puertos. 18 El pueblo de Zabulón expuso su vida a la muerte, Y Neftalí en las alturas del campo.19 Vinieron reyes y pelearon;
Entonces pelearon los reyes de Canaán, En Taanac, junto a las aguas de Meguido, Mas no llevaron ganancia alguna de dinero. 20 Desde los cielos pelearon las estrellas; Desde sus órbitas pelearon contra Sísara. 21 Los barrió el torrente de Cisón, El antiguo torrente, el torrente de Cisón. Marcha, oh alma mía, con poder. 22 Entonces resonaron los cascos de los caballos Por el galopar, por el galopar de sus valientes.
23 Maldecid a Meroz, dijo el ángel de Jehová; Maldecid severamente a sus moradores, Porque no vinieron al socorro de Jehová, Al socorro de Jehová contra los fuertes.24 Bendita sea entre las mujeres Jael, Mujer de Heber ceneo; Sobre las mujeres bendita sea en la tienda. 25 El pidió agua, y ella le dio leche; En tazón de nobles le presentó crema. 26Tendió su mano a la estaca, Y su diestra al mazo de trabajadores, Y golpeó a Sísara; hirió su cabeza, Y le horadó, y atravesó sus sienes. 27 Cayó encorvado entre sus pies, quedó tendido; Entre sus pies cayó encorvado; Donde se encorvó, allí cayó muerto.28 La madre de Sísara se asoma a la ventana, Y por entre las celosías a voces dice: ¿Por qué tarda su carro en venir? ¿Por qué las ruedas de sus carros se detienen? 29 Las más avisadas de sus damas le respondían, Y aun ella se respondía a sí misma:30 ¿No han hallado botín, y lo están repartiendo? A cada uno una doncella, o dos; Las vestiduras de colores para Sísara, Las vestiduras bordadas de colores; La ropa de color bordada de ambos lados, para los jefes de los que tomaron el botín. 31 Así perezcan todos tus enemigos, oh Jehová; Mas los que te aman, sean como el sol cuando sale en su fuerza. Y la tierra reposó cuarenta años.
4:4 Deborah, a prophetess. She was an unusual woman of wisdom and influence who did the tasks of a judge, except for military leadership. God can use women mightily for civil, religious, or other tasks, Huldah the prophetess (2 Kin. 22:14), Philip’s daughters in prophesying (Acts 21:8, 9), and Phoebe a deaconess (Rom. 16:1). Deborah’s rise to such a role is the exception in the book because of Barak’s failure to show the courage to lead courageously (vv. 8, 14). God rebuked his cowardice by the pledge that a woman would slay Sisera (v. 9). 4:19, 20 she … gave him a drink, and covered him. Usually, this was the strongest pledge of protection possible. 4:21 a tent peg and … a hammer. Jael’s bold stroke in a tent rather than on a battlefield draws Deborah’s and Barak’s praise (5:24–27). Her strength and skill had no doubt been toughened by a common Bedouin duty of hammering down pegs to secure tents, or striking them loose to take down tents.5:1 sang on that day. The song (vv. 1–31) was in tribute to God for victory in Judg. 4:13–25. Various songs praise God for His help, Moses’ (Ex. 15), David’s (2 Sam. 23:1–7), and the Lamb’s (Rev. 15:3, 4). 5:10 white donkeys. Because of this unusual color, they were a prize of kings and the rich. 5:11 Far from the noise of the archers, among the watering places. The wells were at a little distance from towns in the E, away from the battles and often places for pleasant reflection. 5:14 roots were in Amalek. Ephraim as a tribe took the central hill area, which the Amalekites had held with deep roots.5:17 why did Dan remain on ships? Danites migrated from their territory to Laish N of the Lake of Chinneroth (Sea of Galilee) before the Israelite triumph of Judg. 4, though details of it are not given until Judg. 18. They became involved with Phoenicians of the NW in ship commerce (Joppa as a coastal city, Josh. 19:46). As with some other tribes, they failed to make the trek to assist in the battle of Judg. 4. 5:20 stars … fought. A poetic way to say that God used these heavenly bodies to help Israel. They are bodies representing and synonymous with the heavens, the sky from which He sent a powerful storm and flood (“torrent” of the Kishon River, v. 21) that swept Syrians from their chariots. God also hid the stars by clouds, increasing Syrian ineffectiveness. 5:24–27 Though this act was murder and a breach of honor, likely motivated by her desire for favor with the conquering Israelites, and though it was without regard for God on her part, God’s overruling providence caused great blessing to flow from it. Thus the words of vv. 24–27 in the victory song.5:31 The intercessory prayer committed to God’s will ends a song that has other aspects: blessing God (v. 2), praise (v. 3), affirming God’s work in tribute (vv. 4, 20), and voicing God’s curse (v. 23).
deliverance by deborah and barak from the oppression of canaanites (chaps. 4-5) The focus of attention switches to the Northern tribes (4:6; 5:14-15, 18) who were oppressed by a coalition of Canaanites united under Jabin of Hazor (4:2), apparently a descendant of King Hazor who was conquered by Joshua (Josh. 11:1-13). Unlike the preceding oppressions by foreign invaders, this one was instigated at the hands of the Canaanite population of the land, some of the same people that the Israelites had failed to drive out of northern Canaan (Jud. 1:30-33). The defection of Israel (4:1) 4:1. That the Israelites once again did evil indicated their continuing tailspin into the idolatrous practices of the Canaanites (2:19; 3:7, 12). This defection seems to have reappeared only after Ehud died, indicating his positive influence in leading the people as judge. The dating of this chapter with the judgeship of Ehud suggests that Shamgar’s deliverance of Israel (3:31) occurred during rather than after Ehud’s period of leadership.The distress under the Canaanites (4:2-3) 4:2-3. About 200 years earlier the Lord had freed Israel from slavery in Egypt. Now, in contrast, He sold them into the hands of the Canaanites as punishment for their sins (2:14; 3:8; 1 Sam. 12:9). Jabin was probably a hereditary title (a different Jabin in Josh. 11:1-13). Hazor (Tell el-Qedaḥ) was the most important northern Canaanite stronghold in northern Galilee about 8 1/2 miles north of the Sea of Kinnereth (Galilee). Neither Hazor nor its king Jabin play an active role in the narrative in Judges 4-5, for attention is centered on Sisera, the Canaanite commander from Harosheth Haggoyim (4:13, 16) sometimes identified with Tell el-Amar (located by a narrow gorge where the Kishon River enters the Plain of Acre about 10 miles northwest of Megiddo). The Canaanite oppression was severe because of their superior military force, spearheaded by 900 iron chariots (v. 13). The oppression lasted for 20 years, so that the Israelites again cried to the Lord for help. The deliverance by Deborah and Barak (4:4-5:31a) (1) The leadership of Deborah. 4:4-5. Deborah (whose name means “honeybee”) was both a prophetess and a judge (she was leading Israel). She first functioned as a judge in deciding disputes at her court, located about 8 or 10 miles north of Jerusalem between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim. She was apparently an Ephraimite though some have linked her with the tribe of Issachar (5:15). Nothing else is known about her husband Lappidoth (meaning “torch,” not to be identified with Barak, meaning “lightning”). (2) The commissioning of Barak (4:6-9). 4:6-7. Deborah summoned Barak who was from the town of Kedesh in Naphtali, a city of refuge (Josh. 20:7), usually identified as Tel Qedesh, five miles west by northwest of Lake Huleh, close to the Canaanite oppressors in Galilee. An alternate site, Khirbet el-Kidish on the eastern edge of the Jabneel Valley, about a mile from the southwest shore of the Sea of Galilee, is more closely located to Mount Tabor where the army of Israel was mustered by Barak. Deborah, speaking as the Lord’s prophetess, commanded Barak to muster 10,000 men from the tribes of Naphtali and Zebulun and lead them to Mount Tabor. Conical Mount Tabor rises to 1,300 feet and was strategically located at the juncture of the tribes of Naphtali, Zebulun, and Issachar in the northeast part of the Jezreel Valley. (Issachar, not mentioned in this chapter, is mentioned in Jud. 5:15.) Mount Tabor was a place of relative safety from the Canaanite chariots and a launching ground from which to attack the enemy below. The message from God informed Barak that He would be in sovereign control of the battle (I will lure Sisera . . . and give him into your hands). 4:8-9. Regardless of his motivation, Barak’s conditional reply to Deborah (if you don’t go with me, I won’t go) was an unfitting response to a command from God. Perhaps Barak simply wanted to be assured of the divine presence in battle, represented by His prophetess-judge Deborah. It is noteworthy that Barak is listed among the heroes of faith (Heb. 11:32). Deborah agreed to go but said that Barak’s conditional response to the divine command (the way you are going about this) was the basis for withholding the honor of victory over Sisera from Barak (the Lord will hand Sisera over to a woman). Barak no doubt thought she meant herself, but the statement was prophetic, anticipating the role of Jael (Jud. 4:21). (3) The gathering of the troops. 4:10-13. Accompanied by Deborah, Barak led 10,000 men from the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali . . . to Mount Tabor. Parenthetically (in anticipation of vv. 17-22), an explanation is given that the nomad, Heber the Kenite, had left his clan in southern Judah (1:16) and pitched his tent . . . near Kedesh. On Hobab as Moses’ brother-in-law (or father-in-law), see Numbers 10:29. When Sisera heard of Barak’s action, he positioned his army with its 900 iron chariots (Jud. 4:3) near the Kishon River, probably in the vicinity of Megiddo or Taanach (5:19) in the Jezreel Valley. (4) The defeat of the Canaanites. 4:14-16. At Deborah’s command (Go!) and encouragement (the Lord has given Sisera into your hands), Barak led his men down Mount Tabor against the much stronger forces of Sisera. As promised by Deborah . . . the Lord routed Sisera and all his chariots and army. The means used by God were both human (by the sword) and divine (bringing an unseasonable and violent storm that mired the chariots in the floodwaters of the Kishon; 5:20-22). Sisera abandoned his chariot and fled on foot, apparently in a northeastern direction past Mount Tabor, while Barak’s forces pursued the grounded Canaanites till not a man was left. (5) The flight and death of Sisera. 4:17-22. Sisera . . . fled on foot in the direction of Kedesh (a city of refuge) or perhaps Hazor, and ran toward the tents of Heber the Kenite who had friendly relations (šālôm, “peace”) with Jabin king of Hazor. Jael, the wife of Heber, offered Sisera all the expected Near Eastern hospitality, for she covered him either with a fly-net or with a rug for concealment, gave him a drink of milk, probably yogurt (5:25), and stood at the tent door to divert intruders as he slept. However, Jael apparently did not share her husband’s allegiance to King Jabin, for as soon as Sisera was fast asleep, she took a tent peg and with a hammer . . . drove it through his temple into the ground (5:26), an unusual breach of Near-Eastern hospitality! Since Bedouin women had the task of pitching the tents, she was an expert with the implements she used. Jael then attracted the attention of Barak who was going by in pursuit of Sisera, and showed him the corpse. Thus Deborah’s prophecy (4:9) was fulfilled, for
two women received honor for the defeat of Sisera—Deborah who started it and Jael who finished it. (6) The destruction of Jabin.4:23-24. The defeat of Jabin’s army initiated a period of constant decline in Galilee until Canaanite forces were no longer a threat to Israel. (7) The hymn of victory (5:1-31a).
5:1. This ancient poem, which may have been initially preserved in a collection such as “the Book of the Wars of the Lord” (Num. 21:14) or “the Book of Jashar” (Josh. 10:13), is literally a victory hymn (well known in examples from the 15th to 12th centuries b.c. in Egypt and Assyria). This hymn was no doubt written by Deborah herself (Jud. 5:7-9) though Barak joined with her in voicing its theme (v. 1). With profound simplicity the hymn ascribes to Yahweh, the covenant God of Israel, victory over Sisera and the Canaanites. It also fills in a few incidental gaps in the narrative not given in chapter 4. It is noteworthy that the theme of blessing and cursing is prominent throughout. The victory hymn has five parts: (a) the heading of the hymn (5:1), (b) the praise by Deborah (vv. 2-11), (c) the muster of the tribes (vv. 12-18), (d) the defeat of the Canaanites (vv. 19-30), and (e) the concluding prayer of cursing and blessing (v. 31a).5:2-5. The opening call to praise the Lord is related to the rise of the volunteer spirit in Israel among both princes and people (v. 2). A typical proclamation of praise (v. 3) is followed by a historical recital of the Lord’s previous saving deeds (vv. 4-5). Yahweh is identified as the One of Sinai (Ps. 68:8) and associated with events prior to the crossing of the Jordan under Joshua. The mention of Seir (Deut. 33:2He said: “The LORD came from Sinai and dawned over them from Seir; he shone forth from Mount Paran. He came with myriads of holy ones from the south, from his mountain slopes. / Sinai … Seir … Paran. Mountains associated with the giving of the law) and Edom (Hab. 3:3, which mentions Teman, an Edomite town) has led some scholars to locate Mount Sinai just east of the Arabah Valley (south of the Dead Sea), but this is unlikely.5:6-8. Deborah next described the contemporary situation of distress that gripped the Northern tribes of Israel (3:31; 4:2-3) till she arose a mother in Israel. Outside the fortified (walled) cities, Israelite life in the villages and on the roadways came to a standstill because of the oppression by the Canaanites, which came right up to the city gates. This distress was rooted in Israel’s idolatry—they chose new gods. 5:9-11. Deborah praised God because of faithful leaders and volunteers among the people who responded in the time of crisis. She called on rich (who ride on white donkeys) and poor (who walk along the road) alike to hear the song of victory. The righteous acts of the Lord were those by which He had intervened to bring salvation and victory to His people. 5:12-18. The song of victory itself begins with a call for Deborah and Barak to initiate the action. Blessing is pronounced on those tribes that responded freely to the muster for battle—Ephraim . . . Benjamin. . . . Makir (a division of the tribe of Manasseh, usually the portion east of the Jordan but here perhaps the combined tribe or just the division west of the Jordan; Num. 26:29; 27:1), Zebulun, and Issachar (Jud. 5:14-15). The explanation about Ephraim’s roots being in Amalek (v. 14) apparently indicates that the Ephraimites lived in the central hill country previously occupied by the Amalekites. A series of taunts implying curses (the curse on the Israelite city of Meroz in v. 23 for failing to render aid during the battle) is directed against the tribes of Reuben. . . . Gilead (apparently Gad and perhaps part of Manasseh), Dan, and Asher (vv. 15-17). The tribes of Zebulun (v. 14) and Naphtali, however, are praised for their parts in the battle (v. 18; 4:6, 10). 5:19-22. The kings of Canaan were from the confederacy of Canaanite city-states under Jabin of Hazor whose army was commanded by Sisera. The battle zone included Taanach (located five miles southeast of Megiddo). The highly poetic language—from the heavens the stars fought . . . against Sisera—does not imply a belief that the stars caused rain, but simply affirms divine intervention in the battle. As implied in verse 21, God’s intervention took the form of an unseasonable rain (the Canaanites would never have risked taking their chariots into marshy territory in the rainy season) which turned the dry riverbed of the Kishon into a raging torrent (1 Kings 18:40). 5:23-27. A curse was pronounced on Meroz (perhaps located on route of Sisera flight) for failure to aid in battle, but a blessing was pronounced on Jael for her act of slaying Sisera (4:21-22), an act apparently regarded as expressing faithfulness to the covenant people of Israel with whom her clan had been identified through Moses. The vivid picture of Sisera’s death (5:26-27) was not intended to narrate the steps of the physical action, but to describe metaphorically and in slow motion, so to speak, the fall of a leader.5:28-30. The pathos of the fallen general is amplified by an ironic description of Sisera’s mother awaiting the unrealizable return of her son from battle. Her anxiety—Why is his chariot so long in coming?—and the hopeful excuses of his delay made by one of her maidens and herself contrast vividly with the real situation.5:31a. It is appropriate for a hymn describing Yahweh’s victory over idolatrous enemies to conclude with a curse on evil enemies and a blessing on those who are faithful to Yahweh. To be like the sun when it rises means to have a life full of blessing. The duration of peace (5:31b) 5:31b. The deliverance of Israel from Canaanite power under the judgeship of Deborah brought peace to the land for 40 years.
“Two Are Better than One, and Three Are Better Still”
The cast of 7 characters in this drama is as follows:
Jabin: King of Hazor in Canaan; a tyrant
Deborah: a Jewish judge; a woman of faith and courage
Barak: a reluctant Jewish general
Sisera: captain of Jabin’s army
Heber: a Kenite neighbor, at peace with Jabin
Jael: wife of Heber; handy with a hammer
Jehovah God: in charge of wars and weather
Act one: a tragic situation (Jdg. 4:1–3) Jabin is the key person in act one, for God raised him up to discipline the people of Israel. For eighty years, the Jews had enjoyed rest because of the leadership of Ehud, the longest period of peace recorded in the Book of Judges. But no sooner was this godly judge removed than the people lapsed back into idolatry, and God had to punish them (Jdg. 2:10–19). Israel as portrayed in the Book of Judges illustrates the difference between “religious reformation” and “spiritual revival.” Reformation temporarily changes outward conduct while revival permanently alters inward character. When Ehud removed the idols and commanded the people to worship only Jehovah, they obeyed him; but when that constraint was removed, the people obeyed their own desires. The nation of Israel was like the man in Jesus’ parable who got rid of one demon, cleaned house, and then ended up with seven worse demons (Matt. 12:43–45). The empty heart is prey to every form of evil. Canaan was made up of a number of city-states, each of which was ruled by a king (Josh. 12). “Jabin” was the official title or name of the King of Hazor (Josh. 11:1). He was also called “King of Canaan.” This title probably means that he was the head of a confederacy of kings. Joshua had burned Hazor (Josh. 11:13), but the Canaanites had rebuilt it and occupied it. With his large army and his 900 chariots of iron, Jabin was securely in control of the land. As you read the narrative, however, you get the impression that Sisera, captain of Jabin’s army, was the real power in the land. Jabin isn’t even mentioned in Deborah’s song in Judges 5! Once again, the people of Israel cried out to God, not to forgive their sins but to relieve their suffering. (See vv. 6–8 for a hint of what life was like in those days.) Had they truly repented, God would have done much more than deliver them from physical slavery. He would have liberated them from their spiritual bondage as well. To ask God for comfort and not cleansing is only to sow seeds of selfishness that will eventually produce another bitter harvest. David’s prayer is what Israel needed to pray: “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me” (Ps. 51:10).
Act two: a divine revelation (Jdg. 4:4–7) God had raised up a courageous woman named Deborah (“bee”) to be the judge in the land. This was an act of grace, but it was also an act of humiliation for the Jews; for they lived in a male-dominated society that wanted only mature male leadership. “As for My people, children are their oppressors, and women rule over them” (Isa. 3:12). For God to give His people a woman judge was to treat them like little children, which is exactly what they were when it came to spiritual things. Deborah was both a judge and a prophetess. Moses’ sister Miriam was a prophetess (Ex. 15:20); and later biblical history introduces us to Huldah (2 Kings 22:14), Noadiah (Neh. 6:14), Anna (Luke 2:36), and the four daughters of Philip (Acts 21:9). God called Deborah a prophetess and a judge, but she saw herself as a mother to her people. “I, Deborah arose, that I arose a mother in Israel” (Jdg. 5:7). The wayward Jews were her children, and she welcomed them and counseled them. God revealed to Deborah that Barak (“lightning”) was to assemble and lead the Israelite army and draw Sisera’s troops into a trap near Mount Tabor; and there the Lord would defeat them. Mount Tabor lies at the juncture of Zebulun, Naphtali, and Issachar, not far from the Kishon River. If Barak would lead the Israelite army toward Mount Tabor, God would draw Sisera and his troops toward the Kishon River, where God would give Barak the victory. When God wants to glorify Himself through His people, He always has a perfect plan for us to follow. God chose the leader of His army, the place for the battle, and the plan for His army to follow. God also guaranteed the victory. It was like the “good old days” of Joshua again! Act three: a reluctant participant (Jdg. 4:8–10) We aren’t told that Barak was a judge, which explains why he got his orders from Deborah, God’s appointed leader in the land.
Barak was from Naphtali, one of the tribes that would send volunteers to the battlefield (v. 6).
Like Moses before him (Ex. 3–4), and Gideon (Jdg. 6) and Jeremiah (Jer. 1) after him, Barak hesitated when told what God wanted him to do. We know that “God’s commandments are God’s enablements” and that we should obey HIs will in spite of circumstances, feelings, or consequences. But we don’t always do it! Was Barak’s response an evidence of unbelief or a mark of humility? He didn’t accuse God of making a mistake; all he did was ask Deborah to go with him to the battle. Was that because she was a prophetess and he might need a word from the Lord? Or was it to help him enlist more volunteers for the army? The fact that Deborah agreed to accompany Barak suggests that his request wasn’t out of God’s will, although in granting it, God took the honor from the men and gave it to the women. Barak enlisted [6 tribes] 10,000 men from his own tribe of Naphtali and the neighboring tribe of Zebulun (Jdg. 4:6, 10; 5:14, 18). Later, volunteers from the tribes of Benjamin, Ephraim, and Manasseh west (v. 14), and Issachar (v. 15), joined these men, and the army grew to 40,000 men (v. 8). It’s possible that the original 10,000 soldiers initiated the campaign that lured Sisera into the trap, and then the other 30,000 joined them for the actual battle and “mopping up” operation. The 4 tribes that were summoned but refused to come were Reuben, Dan, Asher, and Manasseh east (vv. 15–17). When you consider that weapons were scarce in Israel (5:8; 1 Sam. 13:19–22) and that there was no effective standing army, what Deborah and Barak did was indeed an act of faith. But God had promised to give them victory, and they were depending on His promise (Rom. 10:17).
Act four: a victorious confrontation (Jdg. 4:11–23) The Lord is the leading actor in this scene. He not only controlled the enemy army and brought it into the trap, but He also controlled the weather and used a storm to defeat Sisera’s troops. Sisera is warned (vv. 11–12). Verse 12 suggests that it was Heber and his family who first warned Sisera that the Jews were about to revolt and where the Israelite army was mustering. Kenites in 1:16 and discovered that they were distant relatives of the Jews thru Moses.
It seems strange that Heber the Kenite would separate himself from his people, who worshiped Jehovah, and be friendly with idolatrous tyrants like Jabin and Sisera (4:17). Perhaps he needed the protection and business of the Canaanites as he carried on his trade as an itinerant metalworker. The Kenites seem to be attached to the tribe of Judah (1:16); but the men of Judah weren’t among the volunteers in Barak’s army. It’s possible, however, to view Heber from another perspective and see him as a part of God’s plan to lure Sisera into the trap. Heber wasn’t an ally of Jabin’s; he was simply trying to maintain a neutral position in a divided society. But once the Jewish army was in place at Mount Tabor, Heber ran and gave the news to Sisera; and Sisera had no reason to question the report. Sisera began to move his army and fell right into the trap. Sisera is defeated (vv. 13–16). The Canaanites depended on their 900 iron chariots to give them the advantage they needed as they met the Jewish army (1:19; Josh. 17:18). What they didn’t know was that the Lord would send a fierce rainstorm that would make the Kishon River overflow and turn the battlefield into a sea of mud (Jdg. 5:20–22). The water and mud would severely impede the mobility of the Canaanite chariots and horses, and this situation would make it easy for the Israelite soldiers to attack and slaughter the enemy. The trap worked, and the enemy army was wiped out. Along with the storm from the heavens and the flood from the swollen river, God sent confusion in the minds of the enemy troops. The word translated “routed” (4:15) means “confused, thrown into panic.” This is what God had done to Pharaoh’s charioteers in the Red Sea (Ex. 14:24) and would later do to the Philistines in Samuel’s day (1 Sam. 7:10). One thing that helped to confuse and frighten the Canaanites was the sudden appearance of torrential rain during the traditional dry season. Since Sisera wouldn’t have taken his chariots to the fields if he had suspected any kind of bad weather, we can safely assume that this battle was fought during the June-to-September dry season. When you remember that the Canaanite god Baal was the god of storms, you can see how the sudden change of weather could have affected the superstitious Canaanites. Had their own god Baal turned against them? Was the God of Israel stronger than Baal? If so, then the battle was already lost, and the wisest thing the soldiers could do was flee. Sisera is slain (vv. 17–23). While Barak and his men were pursuing and killing the fleeing Canaanites, some of whom were in chariots and others on foot, the Canaanite captain Sisera was running for his life, probably heading toward Hazor and safety. But weariness got the best of him, and providentially he was near the tents of Heber at the oak of Zaanannim (v. 11). This famous oak was on the border of Naphtali (Josh. 19:33), about six miles east of Mount Tabor. Since Sisera knew that Heber and his people were friendly toward Jabin, this settlement seemed a good place to stop and rest. When Heber’s wife, Jael, came out to meet Sisera and invited him into her tent, the Canaanite captain was sure that he was at last safe. After all, in that culture nobody would dare enter a wife’s tent except her husband. Jael gave him milk instead of water and then covered him with a blanket, and he was confident that he had found a dependable ally and could rest in peace. But Sisera made the mistake of telling Jael to lie if anyone asked whether he was there. Being a wise woman, she concluded that Sisera was fleeing the battlefield, which meant that the Jews had won the battle and the Canaanite grip on the land was broken. If she protected Sisera, she’d be in trouble with the Jews, her own relatives. No doubt somebody was chasing Sisera, and whoever it was wouldn’t be satisfied until the captain was dead. But Sisera had no reason to suspect danger. After all, Heber’s clan was friendly to the Canaanites, Jael had shown him hospitality and kindness, and no pursuing Jewish soldier was likely to force his way into a woman’s tent. What Sisera didn’t know was that God had promised that a woman would take his life (Jdg. 4:9). When Sisera was in a deep sleep, Jael killed him by pounding a tent peg through his head. In the Eastern nomadic tribes, it was the women who put up and took down the tents; so Jael knew how to use a hammer. When Barak arrived on the scene, he discovered that his enemy was dead and that Deborah’s prediction had been fulfilled. For a captain to flee from a battle was embarrassing; for him to be killed while fleeing was humiliating; but to be killed by a woman was the most disgraceful thing of all (9:54).Should we bless or blame Jael for what she did? She invited Sisera into her tent, treated him kindly, and told him not to be afraid; so she was deceitful. The Kenites were at peace with Jabin, so she violated a treaty. She gave Sisera the impression that she would guard the door, so she broke a promise. She killed a defenseless man who was under her protection, so she was a murderess. Yet Deborah sang, “Blessed above women shall Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite be, blessed shall she be above women in the tent” (5:24). To begin with, let’s not read back into the era of the Judges the spiritual standards taught by Jesus and the apostles. Also, let’s keep in mind that the Jews had been under terrible bondage because of Jabin and Sisera; and it was God’s will that the nation be delivered. Both Jabin and Sisera had been guilty of mistreating the Jews for years; and if the Canaanite army had won the battle, hundreds of Jewish girls would have been captured and raped (v. 30). Jael not only helped deliver the nation of Israel from bondage, but also she helped to protect the women from the most vicious brutality. She wasn’t a Semitic “Lady Macbeth” who murdered her guest for her own personal gain. There was a war on, and this courageous woman finally stopped being neutral and took her stand with the people of God.
Act five: a glorious celebration (Jdg. 5:1–31) When they wanted to celebrate special occasions, the Jewish people often expressed themselves in song; so the writer shifts from narrative prose to jubilant poetry. Future generations might forget what the history book said, but they were not likely to forget a festive song. (Ex. 15, Deut. 32, 2 Sam. 1:17–27, and Ps. 18.) The personal pronouns in Judges 5:7, 9, and 13 indicate that this was Deborah’s victory song; but just as Barak joined her in the battle, so he joined her in the victory celebration. A poem or song isn’t something you can easily outline because it’s a spontaneous emotional expression that often defies analysis. Unlike classical English poetry, Hebrew poetry contains recurring themes, expressed in different ways and frequent outbursts of praise and prayer. The following outline is only a suggested approach to this magnificent song of victory. Praise the Lord, all you people! (vv. 1–12) In verses 1–9, Deborah and Barak praise the Lord for all that He did for His people. He gave unity to the leaders so that Barak could assemble an army (v. 2; and see v. 9). The same God who gave Israel victory in the past would give them victory again (vv. 4–5). Israel had entered into a covenant with the Lord at Mount Sinai, and He would fulfill His promises to His special people. Since conditions were so terrible in the land that something had to be done, God raised up Deborah to be a mother in Israel (vv. 6–9). The enemy took over because the people had turned from Jehovah to worship false gods. Deborah was concerned about the spiritual life of the people as well as their physical and political welfare. Note that this first section (vv. 2–9) begins and ends with “Praise to the Lord” and “Bless ye the Lord.” According to verses 10 and 11, Deborah and Barak summoned the wealthy nobles (“those who ride on white asses”) and the common travelers to join the singers at the wells and praise the Lord for what He did to Jabin’s army. Now it was safe to walk the roads, gather at the wells, and leisurely talk together. The people could leave the walled cities where they had run for protection and could return to their villages in peace. It was time for all Israel to praise God for His mercies to them. This praise stanza closes with a call to action (v. 12). God commanded Deborah to wake up and sing and Barak to wake up and attack the enemy. Because of her faith, Deborah could sing before the battle started as well as after the battle ended. Praise the Lord for the volunteers (vv. 13–18). Deborah was grateful that the people offered themselves willingly in the service of the Lord (vv. 2, 9) and that the nobles did their share in recruiting soldiers from the tribes (v. 13). Six tribes united in sending volunteers. Except for the people in the town of Meroz (v. 23), the men of Naphtali responded, as did the men of Zebulun, Issachar, Benjamin, Ephraim, and Manasseh west (Machir). The phrase in verse 14, “They that handle the pen of the writer” (literally, “the staff of a scribe”), may refer to the recruiting officers who wrote down the names of the soldiers. They were not “summer soldiers” but brave men who were serious about fighting the Lord’s battles. However, there were four tribes that didn’t volunteer and do their share of fighting. The tribe of Reuben pondered the call to arms but finally stayed at home. They were probably considering Deuteronomy 20:1–9, Israel’s law of warfare, and examining their hearts to see whether they were qualified to go to war. Since Manasseh east (Gilead) was safe on the other side of the Jordan, they also stayed home (Jdg. 5:17). Dan and Asher on the coast also elected not to heed the call to battle. In contrast to these shirkers, the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali are especially praised for risking their lives in the service of the Lord and their country (v. 18). Keep in mind that during this period in history “every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (21:25). When Joshua was the commander of Israel’s armies, all the tribes participated; but when Barak summoned the forces, only half of them went to war against Jabin. The people of God today are not unlike the people of Israel when it comes to God’s call for service: some immediately volunteer and follow the Lord; some risk their lives; some give the call serious consideration but say no; some keep to themselves as though the call had never been given.
Praise the Lord for His victory (vv. 19–23). It’s one thing to show up for duty and quite something else to go into battle. Sisera had organized an alliance of the Canaanite kings, and their united forces (with 900 chariots) met the Jewish army at Megiddo on the plain of Jezreel. Since it was the dry season of the year, the charioteers expected to annihilate the army of Israel. But God had other plans. He sent a tremendous rainstorm that turned the Kishon River into a raging torrent and the battlefield into a swamp. A raindrop is a very fragile thing; but if you put enough of them together, you can defeat an army! The army of Israel trusted the Lord to give them victory because this is what He had promised (4:6–9). Deborah and Barak didn’t curse the people of Meroz; it was the angel of the Lord who did it. It must have embarrassed Barak to know that a town in his own tribe of Naphtali had refused to send volunteers to assist in this important battle. “Meroz stands for the shirker,” said Phillips Brooks in a famous sermon; “for him who is willing to see other people fight the battles of life, while he simply comes in and takes the spoils.” Note that
their sin wasn’t simply failing to assist Israel; they failed to help the Lord! Praise the Lord for a courageous woman (vv. 24–31). Deborah’s blessing on Jael reminds us of Gabriel’s words to Mary (Luke 1:42). Because of Barak’s hesitation, Deborah announced that a woman would get the credit for killing the captain of the enemy army (Jdg. 4:8–9). The phrase “smote off his head” in verse 26 doesn’t mean that she decapitated him with a hammer and a tent peg. The word means “crushed” or “smashed.” With one stroke, she sent the tent peg through his temple, shattered his head, and killed him. The description of Sisera’s death in verse 27 gives the impression that he was standing in the tent when Jael struck him and then fell dead at her feet. But he was lying down asleep when he was slain (v. 18). We may have here some Hebrew poetic license, but it’s also possible that in the agony of his death Sisera raised himself up from the tent floor and then sank at her feet and expired. The singer moves from describing Sisera’s death to portraying Sisera’s mother watching for her son’s return (vv. 28–30). What a pathetic picture of hope where there is no hope! How many people today are looking out the window of false assumptions and expecting something to happen that will never happen. Sisera was dead; he would never come home to his mother’s love again. His mother and her attendants kept telling themselves and each other that everything was fine, but it wasn’t. The closing prayer (v. 31) contrasts the enemies of the Lord—who like Sisera go out in darkness—with the people who love God, who are like the noonday sun. The battle at Megiddo was more than just a conflict between opposing armies. It was a conflict between the forces of darkness and the forces of light. We either love Christ and walk in the light, or we are His enemy and perish in the darkness.The curtain comes down on our drama, but I predict that the cast will be making curtain calls as long as people read and study the Bible. “For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope” (Rom. 15:4)
4:1–5:31 The fourth judge was Deborah, whose triumphs—along with Barak’s—make up the first extended account in the Book of Judges. Unique to this episode is the poetic victory hymn (ch. 5) that follows the narration of the Israelite victory.4:1–3 This new chapter follows the pattern of the Book of Judges by echoing the events of ch. 3. Again the people sinned and suffered oppression, this time enduring 20 years of Canaanite rule. 4:2 Jabin king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor: Years earlier Joshua had defeated a king of Hazor named Jabin (Josh. 11:1–15). Probably Jabin was a title rather than a proper name, resembling the use of the title Abimelech among the Philistines (Gen. 20:2; 26:1) or Ben-Hadad among the kings of Damascus. The name Jabin has been found in a text from Mari, an archaeological site on the Euphrates River. The system of small rival kingdoms prominent in Joshua’s day still prevailed during the period of the judges (Josh. 2:2), but Jabin was clearly more powerful than most. Hazor, having been destroyed earlier (Josh. 11:11), had now been rebuilt. The site of Sisera’s headquarters, Harosheth Hagoyim, is unknown, but the ensuing battle was played out in northern Israel around Mt. Tabor (v. 6) and the River Kishon (v. 7). 4:4–10 The campaign of the Israelite tribes began with the introduction of Deborah. This episode also demonstrated widespread cooperation between the tribes. In response to the threat in the north, Deborah, who lived in the south of Ephraim near the territory of Judah (v. 5), ordered the Israelites to send troops against Sisera. At least six tribes contributed soldiers: Naphtali, Zebulun, Ephraim, Benjamin, western Manasseh (Machir), and Issachar (v. 6; 5:14, 15). 4:4 Deborah is one of five women to be called a prophetess in the Old Testament. The others are Miriam (Ex. 15:20), Huldah (2 Kin. 22:14; 2 Chr. 34:22), Isaiah’s wife (Is. 8:3), and Noadiah, a false prophetess (Neh. 6:14). 4:5 Ramah and Bethel were in the southern part of the land, near Judah. Ramah was in the territory of Benjamin (Josh. 18:25), and Bethel was near the border between Benjamin and Ephraim (Josh. 8:17; 18:13). 4:6, 7 Deborah summoned Barak from Kedesh in Naphtali, a settlement southwest of the Sea of Galilee. The soldiers were to gather at Mt. Tabor, where the territories of Issachar, Naphtali, and Zebulun met (v. 6). The battle would be fought along the River Kishon, which flows northwest into the Mediterranean, south of Mt. Tabor. 4:8, 9 Barak hesitated to lead the Israelites in battle. His lack of nerve forced Deborah to go with him, and subsequently the glory for the victory would go to a woman. We naturally assume that Deborah would be this woman, but we discover later that Jael, a Kenite woman, killed the notorious Sisera (vv. 17–22). Both women were heroines in a time when Israel’s leadership was mostly bankrupt. In fact, Deborah is shown in the best light of all the judges in the book. She is called a prophetess (v. 4), and many sought out her decisions (v. 5). For this reason, she is called “a mother in Israel” (5:7). She is probably included among the “leaders” in Israel (5:2), and she instructed Barak in the strategy of the battle (4:9, 14). She also was a prominent author of the victory song (5:1) and gave her name to a place in Israel, the palm tree of Deborah (v. 5). 4:11–16 The details of the victory are now recounted. Verse 11 anticipates the narrative in vv. 17–22 by introducing Heber, Jael’s husband, who lived near Kedesh and who was distantly related to the Israelites. The emphasis in vv. 12–16 is on God’s power and His work.4:13 The centerpiece of Sisera’s impressive army was nine hundred chariots of iron; they were swift, maneuverable weapons of war. However, the chariots seem to have become mired in the waters of the River Kishon (5:19–22). 4:17–24 The details of Sisera’s death are told in the slow, suspenseful manner that characterized the story of Eglon’s death (3:12–30). The story’s conclusion is that God Himself subdued Jabin. 5:1–31 This chapter contains the victory song of Deborah and Barak. The hymn praises God for His triumph over the Canaanites and bears the hallmarks of very archaic Hebrew. Its vivid descriptions of the events seem as if they might have come from eyewitnesses to them, which Deborah and Barak were. 5:1 The verb sang here is in a feminine singular form, which supports the point made earlier about Deborah’s prominence over Barak (4:8, 9). 5:2–9 The introduction to the hymn is set off by calls to worship at the beginning and end—Bless the Lord! (vv. 2, 9). Verse 3 also contains a call to worship similar to that found in many psalms. 5:2 When leaders lead: The phrase literally means “the long-haired ones who let their hair hang loose.” The precise meaning of the phrase is obscure, but it may mean that loosed locks or flowing hair were signs of great strength or leadership. People willingly offer themselves tells of the glad cooperation of the Israelites. The Hebrew term is related to the noun for “freewill offerings” (Lev. 7:16; 22:23). sing praise (Heb. zamar) (5:3; 2 Sam. 22:50; 1 Chr. 16:9; Ps. 47:6, 7; 147:1) Strong’s #2167: This Hebrew word usually refers to singing which exalts God, sometimes to singing accompanied with a musical instrument (Ps. 98:5; 149:3). In the Scripture, such singing is frequently addressed to the Lord and is an expression of gratitude for something He has done for the worshiper (Ps 9:11; 105:2) or for His mercy and justice (Ps. 101:1). This word often is used as a summons for God’s people to praise Him (5:3; Is. 12:5). The English word psalm is derived from the Greek translation of this Hebrew word – zamar 5:4, 5 A brief historical review now follows the calls to worship in vv. 2, 3. These verses refer to the Lord’s marching from Seir and Edom, which likely refers to God’s transferring His “abode” from the wilderness (Mt. Sinai, v. 5) into Canaan, by way of the land of Edom. This corresponds to the movement of His people from Sinai (Kadesh) northward into Canaan (Num. 10:12; 20:22).5:6–8 Another historical review now follows the first one, detailing the bleak state of affairs before the battle until Deborah arose as a deliverer (vv. 6, 7). Israel had even chosen new gods, resulting in divine judgment (v. 8; 10:14). 5:7 The phrase a mother in Israel occurs twice in the Old Testament, here and 2 Sam. 20:19. The title is given to Deborah as one of honor, respect, and prominence. 5:10–18 This section begins again with calls to worship in vv. 10–12. Verse 13 describes the battle in very general terms. Verses 14, 15, 18 praise the tribes who heeded Deborah’s call. Ten of the twelve tribes are mentioned here, five and a half favorably, because they responded to Deborah and Barak’s summons. Four and a half tribes are criticized because they did not join their countrymen: Reuben (vv. 15, 16), Gad and eastern Manasseh (Gilead), Dan, and Asher (v. 17). Judah and Simeon are not mentioned in the song or in ch. 4. 5:10 This verse calls all classes of society to bear witness to the mighty acts of God, from the ruling classes, those riding on white donkeys, to the lowest classes, those who walk along the road. 5:14 Machir is identified here with western Manasseh, in whose territory the battle took place. Elsewhere Machir is identified with eastern Manasseh (Josh. 13:30, 31). Machir was a noted warrior (Josh. 17:1). 5:17 The reference to Dan remaining on ships probably reflects the location of their original inheritance, which was along the south-central coastal plain where they would have had access to the sea (Josh. 19:40–46). Later they migrated northward, having been forced out of their territory ( 1:34; 18:1; Josh. 19:47). Some scholars connect this tribe with the Danunians, a sea people who invaded the eastern Mediterranean shortly after 1200 b.c. However, the Bible clearly establishes the existence of the tribe of Dan many years earlier (Gen. 30:6; 49:16–18). 5:19–23 The victory proper is now described in vivid terms, and a curse is pronounced on Meroz, a site otherwise unknown (v. 23). The stars themselves were fighting against Sisera (v. 20), a vivid metaphor of God’s intervention. The prose account says, “And the Lord routed Sisera and all his chariots and all his army with the edge of the sword before Barak” (4:15). The frantic pounding of the horses’ hooves, their galloping, galloping, suggests the chaos caused by the waters of the River Kishon (vv. 21, 22; 4:7). 5:24–30 The poem now contrasts the two women who waited on Sisera: Jael, who killed him (vv. 24–27), and his mother, who longed for his return (vv. 28–30). Sisera’s mother appears for the first time; in her futile waiting, she and her companions delude themselves as they dream up imagined glories that he was taking part in. 5:26 The poem speaks of Sisera sinking and falling at Jael’s feet as she strikes his head, while the prose account tells us he was already lying down when she struck him (4:21). The poem is using graphic, emotive language, which it repeats several times to make the point. Sisera’s death probably was a bloodier affair than the prose account indicates. 5:28–30 The point of this pathetic story of Sisera’s mother is not to elicit sympathy for her, but rather to remind us of Jael’s stunning accomplishment. Sisera’s mother expected her son to shower his people with great plunder; instead, Sisera lay dead at Jael’s feet. Three times in the Old Testament we read of women who looked through the window: Sisera’s mother, Saul’s daughter Michal (2 Sam. 6:16), and Jezebel (2 Kin. 9:30). All three opposed God’s will and suffered accordingly. 5:31 The hymn concludes with praise to the Lord, as many psalms do. The prose account resumes with another period of forty years of rest (3:11).
4:2 Jabin: Probably a descendant of the king of Hazor by the same name during Joshua’s conquest (Josh. 11:1). 4:4 See chart “Old Testament Women.”4:6 Naphtali … Zebulun: Troops from northern tribes.4:7 The Kishon flows westward through the Valley of Jezreel. 4:9 It would be a disgrace for a woman to receive greater military glory than the commander, perhaps a rebuke for Barak’s timidity. 4:11 Hobab: See note on Ex. 2:16.4:12–15 Barak and his army had camped near Mount Tabor (v. 12). Sisera and his army came from the north and camped near the Kishon River. Barak’s forces moved down and met them there.4:15 Judg. 5:4, 5 tells how God routed the Canaanite chariots: with a miraculously timed thunderstorm and flash flood. fled away on foot: Perhaps because his chariot had become mired in mud.4:17–21 Verse 11 explains the geography of vv. 17–22. Heber the Kenite had relocated from the ancestral home of the Kenites in the So to the far N of Canaan. Thus as Sisera fled the battle, he passed the tent of Heber’s wife Jael. 5:2 A reference to the tribes’ covenant obligation to assist one another in time of war. See chart “Hymns and Songs.”5:8 Not a … spear: Israel’s troops were disarmed during the time of oppression.5:10 Those who ride on white donkeys were nobles. The ones who walk along the road may have been merchants or commoners.5:14, 15 roots … in Amalek: A descendant of Ephraim defeated Amalek. Ephraim, Benjamin, Machir (here rep the western half of Manasseh), Zebulun, and Issachar were the tribes dominated by Jabin and Sisera.5:15–17 Reuben and Gilead (Gad) along with Dan and Asher seem not to have responded to the summons for help.5:19 The battle was fought between Taanach and Megiddo in the Jezreel Valley. 5:20, 21 A poetic description of a miracle of weather on Israel’s behalf. Out of the heavens came torrential rains causing flash floods. 5:23 Meroz was a community in northern Palestine. Its people failed to come to the help of the Lord when He needed them. There is no greater failure than this. 5:24–27 A poetic description of events related in 4:17–21. If Jael’s decisively brutal act grates on our sensibilities, we must remember the brutal nature of the times. The delicate and indecisive did not survive.
DEBORAH, THE WOMAN JUDGE Judges 4:1–5:31 In these two chapters the Scribe has combined older prose and poetic materials into an intentional theological unity. As with the other stories of the judges, this one is an epic tale of sin (4:1), disciplinary suffering (v. 2; see above, p. 61) and cruel oppression (v. 3), followed by deliverance (vv. 23–24) and a generation of peace and justice (5:31b). A 12th cent. B.C.E. battle for control of the roads in the Esdraelon Valley of Galilee becomes a paradigm of God’s support for his “friends” in opposition to his “enemies,” the oppressors (5:31. Political-Military Oppression The Engine of Oppression As king (4:2, 23, 24) of “the kings of Canaan” (5:19), Jabin is the Scribe’s northern counterpart to Adoni-bezek in the south (1:5–7), symbol of Canaanite political power in the north. As commander of the fearsome corps of nine hundred iron chariots (4:3, 13) as well as a large fighting force, Sisera symbolizes the power of military technology in the service of oppressive political policy. This symbol would be well understood in the days of Jeremiah and the Scribe (Jer. 4:13; 6:23). In this account, military victory (Judg. 4:15–16) is the necessary first step toward ending political oppression (vv. 23–24).Economic Strangulation The meaning of the “cruel oppression” (4:3) is suggested in the poetic version of the battle. There we read of abandoned roads (5:6), with travel possible only by crooked back roads, and a pall of fear on village life (v. 7). This seems to point to the economic strangulation of the life of the Israelite villagers by control of the major trade routes, such as the west-to-east road from Dor to Beth-shean and the south-to-north road from Joppa to Hazor by way of Megiddo, for the importance of control of trade routes in Judges). This interpretation of 5:6–7 is confirmed by the reference in v. 10 to roads once more open, following the Israelite victory over Sisera. Plunder We also learn that the kings of Canaan had been extracting unjust gain or “plunder” (5:19 ; cf. 2:14, 16) from the villagers. The term translated “spoils” (RSV) means, more specifically, “gain” made by violence, as in the case of Samuel’s sons (1 Sam. 8:3) or, in the Scribe’s time, Jehoiakim’s “dishonest gain” (Jer. 22:17) and the “evil gain” of the rich people of Jerusalem (Hab. 2:9). The victory won by Barak meant that the kings of Canaan were no longer able to exploit the Israelite villagers in this way. Rape One final clue about oppression may be seen in the thoughts attributed to Sisera’s mother, that her son might be dividing captive Israelite girls among the soldiers (Judg. 5:30). With Israelite poverty created by economic exploitation, and brute force in the hands of soldiers on raids, sexual violation of women would be common. This is one meaning of “afflict” (2:18). The Hebrew word may mean “to humble or force a woman sexually,” as in 19:24, where it is translated “ravish” (see below, p. 165). Jael’s cold-blooded murder of Sisera (5:26), Deborah’s exultation over his death (v. 24), as well as the mocking tone in the portrayal of Sisera’s mother (vv. 28–30) lead us to surmise that this general was particularly hated by women.The period of oppression lasted “twenty years” (4:3), which is the Scribe’s way of saying that this was the most serious threat to the unity and survival of the people thus far.Note on Judges 5:7 Some scholars give a different interpretation of the phrase “the peasantry ceased,” preferring to translate the verb as “grew fat,” that is, on raids on Canaanite caravans . The problem with this interpretation is that it does not fit with the climax of vv. 6–8, “until you arose… ,” or the reference to the poor preparation of the militia for battle (v. 8). Another interpretation of v. 7 could be given which accepts the proposed translation along the lines suggested by Deut. 32:15–16, that “grew fat” refers to the capitulation of some of the oppressed people when they “forsook God.”God’s Deliverer A Mother in Israel (5:7) The sudden appearance of Deborah, “a woman, a prophet” (Judg. 4:4, literal translation), is completely unexpected in “a collection of writings by males from a society dominated by males… portraying a man’s world” . She is identified not by father, husband (RSV “the wife of Lappidoth” in 4:4 may well mean “spirited woman,” or son, but rather as “a mother in Israel” (5:7). Compassion for her divided and oppressed “children” made Deborah act to redress their wrongs. Her vision of an alternative to her “children’s” helplessness gave them strength to unite in a struggle for a transformed society. Her sense of timing, her faith in God, and her skill in strategic planning led to the end of Canaanite power in the north (4:23–24). Her wise warning to Barak to give up hope of personal glory on the road to war (v. 9) stands in sharp contrast to the words of the “wisest ladies” of Sisera’s mother (5:29–30). Deborah’s wise leadership gave her people a generation of stability (5:31b). Liberation Ferment in Ephraim The ferment for reform that led to liberation began in the Ephraimite hill country under Deborah’s palm tree (4:5), where the oppressed people came to her for relief from injustice. Canaanite economic oppression backed up by military power had begun to move down into Ephraim. According to the Scribe’s time frame, this area had recently been liberated from Moabite colonial oppression on the east by Ehud (3:30) and from expansionist pressure from the pre-Philistine Sea Peoples on the west along the Gezer-Aijalon road by Shamgar (3:31). Deborah “arose” (5:7) “at that time” (4:4) as Israel’s mother-savior. The Galilee Flashpoint The action takes place in Galilee (4:10), where, as the prologue has informed us (1:30, 33), Israelites and Canaanites lived together without obvious conflict. We may guess that this uneasy peace was broken by two factors. First was a growing dependence of the Israelite villagers on trade with the Canaanite cities (cf. 3:5–6). This would result in increasing exploitation by the cities and vulnerability to Canaanite practices and values, as suggested by the comment about “new gods” (5:8; cf. Deut. 32:17). Second, the peace was broken by the powerful coalition of Canaanite city-states (such as the four mentioned in Judg. 1:30, 33, and the seven in v. 31, called the “kings of Canaan” in 5:19). This Canaanite coalition was allied with the northern branch of the pre-Philistine Sea Peoples under Sisera (4:2).
War in the Gates (5:8) From Deborah’s Palm to Mt. Tabor. Deborah, inspired by Yahweh, made the decision for war, against the better judgment of Barak (4:8). This decision was made in response to the cries which the people brought to God (v. 3) through her (v. 5) as a prophet (v. 4). The nine occurrences of the Hebrew verb halak (here only in ch. 4) demonstrate the decision “go!” (v. 6), the debate “if you will go with me, I will go” (v. 8), and the rapid movement of Deborah and Barak to the north (v. 9) from Ephraim to Mt. Tabor. On their way north (v. 9), Deborah would be able to meet with the elders of the villages of Ephraim and Manasseh “in the gates” (5:8) to urge their participation in the liberation struggle. Besides being a mountain sacred to the three northern tribes of Zebulun, Naphtali, and Issachar, Mt. Tabor was a military vantage point from which a militia of volunteers could challenge those in control of both the trade routes mentioned above. That is the reason Barak’s muster on Tabor caused Sisera to field his chariot corps and troops (4:13). From Tabor to Victory. In the poetic version we find five critical moments, indicated by the Hebrew word translated “then,” describing the swift course of the battle. The sudden decision for war (5:8) is followed by the rush down the slopes of Tabor (vv. 11, 13), the counterattack of the “kings of Canaan” (v. 19), and the panic-stricken retreat of the chariot corps, bogged down in the muddy valley of the swollen Kishon River (vv. 21–22). For the ethical problem posed by Jael’s murder of Sisera (4:21; 5:24–27), and the significance of Sisera’s mother (5:28–30). Note on the Tribal Participation in the Battle of Kishon The mention of ten tribes implies a northern federation at this time. Only two tribes are mentioned in the prose narrative (4:6, 10), but four others appear in the poem as participants in the battle (5:14–15). Issachar (v. 15) joined Naphtali and Zebulun, since their territories join at Mt. Tabor. Perhaps we may assume that the three others (Benjamin, Ephraim, and Manasseh-Machir) were guarding the escape routes on the southern rim of the valley. This might account for the discrepancy between the ten thousand troops of the prose account (4:6, 10, 14) and the forty thousand of the poem (5:8). Some scholars suggest that the other four tribes (vv. 15–17) also participated in the battle. The list of tribes in Judg. 5 is interpreted as a “tribal muster” at a covenantal assembly recalling the victory. The absence of Judah is most noticeable and may mean that Judah was not yet fully a part of the tribal league. Yahweh’s Decisive Role The reader learns that this war was planned by Yahweh, with victory promised in advance (4:6–7). Deborah encouraged Barak and his ten thousand militia with the words, “Does not the Lord go out before you?” (v. 14). Finally, Yahweh “struck terror into Sisera” (v. 15 “routed”). The same Hebrew verb appears in Joshua with the translation “threw them into a panic” (Josh. 10:10), in Exodus as “discomfited” (Exod. 14:24), and elsewhere as “throw… into great confusion” (Deut. 7:23; cf. Ps. 18:14; 144:6). In each case Yahweh is the subject, and the action involves natural phenomena (i.e., hail stones, the returning sea, or a lightning storm) to cause the panic among Israel’s enemies. As we read in the song, Yahweh caused the skies to pour down a torrential rain (Judg. 5:4), perhaps believed to be brought by the stars as servants of Yahweh (v. 20; cf. Ps. 103:21). This turned the Kishon River, usually a small stream with little water in the plain of Esdraelon, into an “onrushing torrent” that “swept them away” (Judg. 5:21) like “the torrents of perdition” (Ps. 18:4; cf. Isa. 30:28). It was this storm that threw Sisera and his chariot corps into a panic. This intervention was proof that Yahweh, not Baal, controlled the forces of nature, in particular the storm that terrorized Sisera (1 Kgs. 17:1; 18:1, 45). It showed further that the stars were not “gods” but creatures and servants of Yahweh. Finally, Yahweh was the God of Sinai (Judg. 5:5), and his divine intervention was both to rescue his covenant partners from oppression and to give them “rest” (v. 31b) in order to create a new society of justice and freedom (cf. v. 23). Perspectives 1. Whose Point of View?Interpretation of this story in prose and poetry will depend on who is reading it and in what situation. Those who are suffering oppression will be able to identify the present-day equivalents of Jabin, the kings of Canaan, and Sisera. Those whose situation is not as difficult should try to read this narrative in solidarity with the oppressed. It could be that some readers would find themselves more like the oppressors than like the forces of Deborah and Barak! Those who would like to use the fervor or warlike emotions of this song in uncritical support of a nation or a cause would do well to examine the use of the word “perish” (5:31a) in Lev. 26:38 and Deut. 8:19–20. 2. Jael in Context (5:24) In the wider biblical context, the words “most blessed of women” are spoken only twice: by Deborah about Jael, and by Elizabeth about Mary (Luke 1:42). Yet the two women are completely different from each other. We must try to understand what lies behind these words in Jael’s case. In the first place, we should not look at Jael as a “model for morality,” but rather as a “mirror for identity”. The fact that Deborah called her “blessed” does not necessarily mean that God does the same. We should not be shocked at finding Jael’s bloody deed recorded in the Bible, but rather we should look for similarities between ourselves and Jael. Second, we should read Scripture in solidarity with the oppressed. If we put ourselves in the place of those who have suffered under tyrants like Hitler, Stalin, Somoza, or Idi Amin, we can understand how Deborah could call the woman who destroyed Sisera “blessed.” As he had humiliated Hebrew women in the past, Sisera was now humiliated by a woman’s hand. Deborah’s words resonate with those of later prophets (Isa. 14:4b–7; Nah. 3:19). Third, the “peace between Jabin the king of Hazor and the house of Heber the Kenite” (Judg. 4:17) was not an alliance which Jael betrayed by her act. Rather, it was an accommodation which the Canaanite political power made with the Kenite clan of itinerant smiths because of their valuable skills in metalworking. Indeed, the Canaanites may have been trying to gain control of this skill, since there was no “shield or spear” in Israel (5:8). The Kenites were converts to Yahwism from Mosaic days (4:11) and allies of Judah (1:16). Jael was acting in loyalty to Israel, as she understood her duty. Finally, we may relate this act of Jael to Mary’s words that God “has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree” (Luke 1:52). Words spoken by Isaiah about God’s plan to “break the Assyrian in my land” so that “his yoke shall depart from them” (Isa. 14:24–25) may help to put Sisera’s defeat by Barak and his murder by Jael into the perspective of God’s purpose for the whole earth (v. 26)—that through this people “all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:3). 3. The Haughty Queen (5:28–30)We can get perspective on these verses by reading them alongside Isa. 47. Babylon is pictured there as a proud queen, a lover of pleasures, secure in her wickedness and opulence, who says in her heart, “I shall not sit as a widow or know the loss of children” (Isa. 47:8). Yahweh gave his people into her hands for disciplinary suffering, but Babylon overstepped the bounds set by the Lord of nations and showed God’s people “no mercy” (Isa. 47:6). The words said of Babylon could be said of Sisera’s mother: “evil shall come upon you, for which you cannot atone;… ruin shall come on you suddenly, of which you know nothing” (v. 11). We may also hear overtones of Amos’ harsh words about the women of Samaria (Amos 4:1–3) or Isaiah’s about the women of Jerusalem, with their luxurious living from the fruits of oppression (Isa. 3:16–24).4. Remembering Deborah In keeping with her role as “a mother in Israel,” Deborah modestly disappears from the narrative after her inspiring words to Barak on Mt. Tabor (Judg. 4:14). When later generations remembered this incident, they thought of Barak the man instead of Deborah the woman (1 Sam. 12:11; Heb. 11:32; Ps. 83:9). However, Deborah lives on in the words of her song of justice and hope (Judg. 5), calling on later “Deborahs” to “awake,… utter a song” (v. 12) again. Christians have remembered her inspiring courage in the hymn “March on, O soul, with strength!… ’gainst lies and lusts and wrongs. 5. Helping God The only instance in the OT in which the word “help” (Heb. ˓azar) is used of humans helping God is in the curse on Meroz (Judg. 5:23; repeated for emphasis). Elsewhere we learn that God is deeply disappointed when no one answers his call (Jer. 7:13; Isa. 50:2; 59:16; 63:5) for “fellow workers” (1 Cor. 3:9). Abraham J. Heschel has said that “God needs… partners” who “aid God so that His justice and compassion prevail.” Our supreme responsibility, says John Merkle, paraphrasing Heschel, is “to help liberate God from captivity and let the divine mercy flow through our lives to save the innocent who suffer” . The Canaanite and Barak Cycle (4:1–5:31) Judges 4–5 offers a rare presentation of a single event in 2 versions, 1 prose (chap. 4), other poetic (chap. 5). Indeed these chapters offer students of Old Testament literature an invaluable resource for examining the differences between ancient Hebrew poetry and prose. The only parallel to this juxtapositioning of prose and poetic accounts of the same event in the entire Old Testament is found in Exodus 14–15, which recounts and celebrates the Israelite crossing of the Reed Sea. Scholars have expended a great deal of effort and spent a lot of ink discussing the chronological relationship between these two chapters. Although a complete survey of explanations is impossible here, opinion divides among five principal possibilities. First, the poem is original, and the narrative is derivative. The former’s archaic grammatical, lexical, and orthographic features suggest an origin much older than the prose account in which it is embedded. Accordingly, the narrative account is expository, recasting the [often vague and enigmatic] hymnic version of the defeat of the Canaanites under the leadership of Deborah in more realistic narrative form, and completing the picture by filling in missing details from other recollections of these early times. Second, a minority opinion holds the prose account to be original, and the poetic version as a creative distortion of history. Third, the two accounts represent independent literary versions of a treasured story. The poem may indeed be early, but the texts derive from different oral traditions. Fourth, both poet and narrator had access to the same basic data, though not necessarily in written form. The differences in the accounts are the result of different genres.Fifth, recognizing that any reconstruction of the chronological relationship between chaps. 4 and 5 is speculative, in their present literary context the prose and poetic accounts function as complementary versions of the same event. This last approach seems most appropriate if one is to understand the rhetorical function of these variant versions in the context of the book. The reader must recognize at the outset that we know of the poetic version of the battle between Deborah-Barak and Jabin-Sisera only because a prose narrator has embedded it within his larger composition. This means that its present literary purpose cannot be understood without reference to the overall agenda of the book. An understanding of their relationship in context is best achieved by placing the texts side by side, as we have done in the following synopsis:
Israel and the Canaanites: A Synopsis of the Prose and Poetic Accounts (Judges 4–5)
Juxtaposed like this, the peculiarities of the prose and poetic accounts of Israel’s victory over Sisera and the Canaanites are obvious. In addition to the differences in vocabulary, tone, and poetic style, the following differences may be noted. First, and most obviously, although the sequence of events described/ reflected in the two versions is parallel, the versions highlight different aspects. Without belaboring variations in detail, the prose version lacks any reference/ allusion to: (1) Israel’s celebrative response (5:1–3); (2) Yahweh’s approach from Sinai to aid the Israelites (5:4–5); (3) praise for Israel’s warriors (5:9–11); (4) a roll call and evaluation of tribal participation (5:13–18); (5) cosmic involvement in the victory over Sisera’s army (5:20–21); (6) the curse of Meroz for noninvolvement (5:23), or anyone else for that matter; (7) interest in the secondary victims of the slaughter on the battlefield, the families of the warriors (5:28–30). On the other hand, the poetic account lacks any reference/allusion to: (1) the role of Jabin, king of Canaan (4:2); (2) the personal background and professional activity of Deborah prior to the battle (4:4–5); (3) her role in calling up Barak (4:6–9); (4) the relationship between Heber, the husband of Jael, and the Canaanites (4:11); (5) Sisera’s mustering of his forces (4:12); (6) Deborah’s specific involvement in the battle (4:14); (7) Barak’s pursuit and defeat of Sisera’s army (4:16); (8) Sisera’s flight to Jael (4:15, 17); (9) Barak’s pursuit of Sisera, his encounter with Jael, and discovery of the slain enemy (4:22). Second, whereas the prose version provides a self-contained logical and chronological account leading up to a climax (4:23–24), the poetic version consists of a collage of more or less independent scenes, with little or no effort on the part of the composer to create a coherent plot line. Indeed, if the narrative account were not available, it would be difficult to reconstruct the course of the battle from the ode alone. Third, God’s participation and Israel’s participation in the victory are portrayed quite differently. The prose account highlights the role of Yahweh with overt references to his activity. Although the poet calls for praise to God for the victory (5:2, 9) and the reader of the poem cannot imagine this victory without him, he/she alludes to his involvement only obliquely. On the other hand, quite ironically, the narrator’s lens focuses on Barak, even though his role is deliberately diminished. He pursues the enemy army, but Yahweh routs them (4:15–16); he pursues Sisera, but Jael claims the prize (4:17–22). Fourth, these portrayals of Yahweh are matched by the portrayals of women in the respective texts. Although both accounts highlight the involvement of women in the pursuit and outcome of the battle, only the prose account explicitly raises gender as an issue (4:9). Indeed, the narrator deliberately highlights the initiative and power of female participants while humiliating the male characters. The song, on the other hand, minimizes the role of Barak, but it does not humiliate him. Whereas the prose narrative portrays him as subservient to Deborah, the ode itself and the prose preamble perceive them in a complementary relationship (5:1, 12). Gender issues are not a primary concern of chap. 5, but the chapter’s womanly outlook gives this text its distinctive flavor. One may propose that whereas the narrator expresses the way the world views women, the poet expresses how women view the world. These differences should not blind the reader to the onomastic, lexical, and thematic links that prove that the narrative and the song have in mind the same crisis, the same characters, and the same events. But the ode also fits the picture of Israel painted in the rest of the book. Not only do the varied responses of the tribes to the crisis reflect the same fractured sociopolitical realities portrayed elsewhere, but the tribes listed in the roll (5:14–18) are also reminiscent of the “anticonquest” survey in chap. 1; the references to Taanach and Megiddo in 5:19 recall 1:27–28; Amalek (5:14) will resurface in chaps. 6–7 and 10; Issachar (5:15) and Gilead (5:17) reappear in chaps. 10–12 and 21. The chronological note in 5:6 links the time of the crisis and the ensuing battle to events known from elsewhere in the book (3:31), but the preamble fixes the composition of the song in the aftermath of the present defeat of the Canaanites. These similarities reflect the complementarity of Judges 4 and 5. Whatever the origin of the Song of Deborah, by juxtaposing these two texts the author has presented the reader with two lenses with which to view a single event. The texts do indeed display obvious dissimilarities in style, tone, texture, and emphases, but the versions do not contain any significant differences that cannot be attributed to differences in genre and function. Both versions of the story go back to a common source, the historical victory of the Israelites under the prophetic inspiration of Deborah and the military leadership of Barak over the Canaanites. It is evident from Judges 4 and 5 (and Exodus 14–15) that Israelite scribes could compose different accounts of the same events. In this they followed a common ancient Near Eastern pattern. The numerous prose and poetic accounts of the same battles that have been preserved in ancient Assyrian and Egyptian writings demonstrate that differences in form, style, and detail reflect differences in purpose. Texts that aimed to inform tended to be written in prose; those intended to praise the victorious king of gods tended to be composed in poetry or at least an embellished rhetorical style. Unlike most of the extrabiblical variant versions, which are known from independent sources, in Judges 4–5 we observe a narrator deliberately juxtaposing these accounts for heightened rhetorical effect. The placement of the victory hymn after the prose account of the battle intentionally mirrors the celebration of victors after the historical event. The poetic mode is deliberately employed because it captures the emotion of the original participants and inspires the reader to rejoice with them. The poem was deemed useful to the author of the book because it draws the reader into the ancient celebrants’ praise to God for his gracious intervention in the affairs of his people when they had nowhere else to turn. Through the mouth of Deborah (and Barak) the writer was able to express his feelings of joy and delight in God (and ridicule of the enemy) with an intensity denied him in the conventions of narrative discourse. Concerning the origins of these prose and poetic reminiscences we may only speculate. Since Deborah’s base of operations was “under the palm tree of Deborah” (4:5) between Bethel and Ramah, it is conceivable the Ephraimite inhabitants of these towns treasured these traditions and passed them on orally from generation to generation. On the other hand, since Deborah was a prophet, the accounts of her activity may have been preserved by the guild of prophets along with other stories involving this profession. If Deborah was indeed the composer of the song, both versions may derive ultimately from the same circles. No unit in the Book of Judges has engaged more scholarly discussion than Judges 4–5. In addition to the problem of the relationship between these chapters, critical scholarship has often been concerned with reconstructing the evolution of the text and/or the historical events described here. Some have suggested that these chapters represent a variant tradition of the events recorded in Josh 11:1–11. Others have argued for the fusion of two separate traditions, the defeat of Jabin of Hazor at Kadesh in upper Galilee and Barak’s battle against Sisera in the central plain. More recent source and tradition critical analysts prefer to speak in terms of the growth of the text from an original core, by a series of additions to the present form. But the majority of contemporary studies eschew speculation about the evolution of the text in favor of a holistic literary or a feminist ideological interpretation. The heroic roles played by women and the negative light in which men are cast in this chapter offers investigators fertile ground for feminist commentary. While feminist approaches offer many fresh insights into the biblical text, too often modern agendas are imposed upon these ancient documents, overriding and obscuring the original intention of the narrator/song writer. In their enthusiasm to celebrate the subversion of patriarchy, such interpretations subvert the authority of God and obscure the message he seeks to communicate through this text. The biblical author was obviously interested in women’s affairs and achievements, but in the final analysis Deborah and Jael are not heroic figures because of their revisionist challenges to prevailing social structures; they are heroines because of what they accomplish as agents of the divine agenda, which in this instance has less to do with overthrowing oppressive patriarchy than the role they play in Yahweh’s overthrowing oppressive Canaanites. The entire account is deliberately crafted to highlight the salvation provided by God. He is the chief Operator, pulling the strings, raising generals, deploying armies, dictating strategy, and effecting victory. In the end both narrative and song celebrate the saving work of Yahweh. The basic structure of this account is determined by the paradigm that governs all six deliverance narratives. While the shapes of the opening (vv. 1–3) and closing (vv. 23–24) verses are determined largely by the anticipated formulae, the actual story of salvation that falls between this formulaic framework is recounted with great skill, making ample use of repetition, irony, dialogue, characterization, ambiguity, and surprise. This central core breaks into four discreet acts, each signaled by a circumstantial clause that functions as an episode marker: the call of Barak (vv. 4–10); the defeat of Sisera’s forces (vv. 11–16); the slaying of Sisera (vv. 17–21); the arrival of Barak (v. 22).
The Marks of Israel’s Canaanization (4:1) 4:1 The negative evaluation formula with which this cycle opens is virtually identical in form to the opening of the Moab and Ehud cycle. As in 3:12, the expression wayyōsipû … laʿăśôt, literally “and they added … to do,” in context means “and they relapsed into a pattern of behavior.” This beginning highlights the fundamentally unresolved spiritual issue in Israel. The divine victory had not altered their deeply rooted bent toward paganism, expressed in actions found evil in the eyes of Yahweh. The formula is modified only by the awkward addition of a circumstantial clause, wĕʾēhûd mēt, “And Ehud died,” which most translations interpret as a pluperfect. This comment suggests the Deborah-Barak story originally followed immediately after the account of Ehud’s life and that the Shamgar note represents a later, though intentional insertion. God’s Agent of Punishment (4:2) 4:2 Yahweh’s response to Israel’s apostasy is expressed in the stronger version of the divine committal formula. The benefactor/oppressor is identified as “Jabin, king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor.” Since Josh 11:1–15 describes Joshua’s victory over Jabin and his total razing of his capital, Hazor, the present account is often interpreted as a garbled version of the same event. The name Jabin is not the problem, since this probably represents a sort of dynastic name at Hazor rather than a personal name. The reference to Hazor presents a more serious problem. This city, appropriately referred to in Josh 11:10 as “the head of all these kingdoms,” dominated the valley north of the Sea of Galilee for five centuries until its utter destruction under Joshua. It was not to be rebuilt until the time of Solomon, for whom it represented the major northern fortification. How then could the king of this city hold Israel hostage for twenty years prior to the victory achieved under Barak? Some argue that since Jabin’s name and the reference to Hazor appear only incidentally in the account (vv. 2, 17) and Hazor does not fit the topographical picture in the accounts that follow, these must be seen as a later interpolation inspired by Joshua 11. Such solutions, however, are based on silence. It is conceivable that elements of the Hazor dynasty escaped the destruction of Joshua and that, with the Israelite failure to consolidate control over all the conquered territory in the wake of the Conquest, a member of the royal house returned to the ruins and reasserted his rule. Because of his connections as the head of the Canaanite city states, within decades he may have managed to rearm and reassert his authority over the Israelites. But since his rule was short-lived, he left no lasting mark on the archaeological record. The absence of Jabin from the events described in this chapter reflects the author’s primary interest in his general, whose defeat was decisive in the Israelites’ salvation from the Canaanites. The loss of Jabin’s army at Kishon marked the decline of Hazor’s power in the region. Later reminiscences of these events recognize the roles of Hazor and its king (1 Sam 12:9; Ps 83:9 [Hb. 10]), confirming that their insignificance in the present narrative is more apparent than real. In fact, contrary to prevailing opinion, the main character in vv. 1–3 is Jabin. Sisera is introduced by means of two circumstantial clauses, almost as an afterthought because of the role he will play in the narrative that follows.The brunt of the Israelite challenge to Jabin’s authority will be felt by his surrogate, Sisera. Sisera is unknown as a Canaanite name. The form sîsĕrāʾ suggests he may have been a Hittite or Hurrian mercenary like Shamgar in 3:31 or a member of the Sea Peoples. This need not mean that the Canaanites and Sea Peoples (Philistines) were allied against Israel. Mercenaries were opportunists, offering their services to anyone who would hire them. This identification offers further evidence for the power and influence of Jabin, who apparently was able to attract an enemy general to lead his own forces. His title is given as śar ṣĕbāʾô, “commander of his army.” The circumstantial clause at the end of v. 2 identifies his base of operation (v. 16). Some interpret the participle yôšēb, from yāšab, “to sit,” as equivalent to “to sit as king, to rule.” However, this need not mean that his power rivaled that of Jabin. In the ancient world a suzerain would often reward a vassal for services rendered by granting him his own territory (naḥălâ). Harosheth-Haggoyim may have been Sisera’s grant from Jabin. The location of Harosheth-Haggoyim is frustrated by the absence of this name anywhere else. Attempts to link it with Muḫrashti named in the Amarna archives seem forced. The form of the name resembles gĕlîl haggôyim, “district of the nations/Gentiles,” in Isa 9:1 [Hb. 8:23]. But what is to be made of ḥărōšet? Prevailing opinion understands the word to mean “forested area.” However, the fact that Sisera’s forces included nine hundred chariots, which could be deployed only in coastal and alluvial plains (1:19), renders this interpretation problematic. A more logical solution relates the expression to an Akkadian cognate, erištu, “cultivated land,” and explains the vocalization as another example of “pejorative pointing,” presumably because of some pagan association. Accordingly, Haroshet-Haggoyim probably means “cultivated field of the Gentiles,” an explanation that not only suits the fertile alluvial plain between Taanach and Megiddo but also accords with the present linkage with chariots, the reference to the Canaanite chariot bases in the river plains (ʿēmeq) in 1:19, and the location of the battle in 5:19.
Israel’s Response to the Oppression (4:3) 4:3 As in the previous episodes, the pain of oppression causes the Israelites to cry out to Yahweh for help. However, this time the narrator adds two significant causal clauses. First, they felt the pressure of a military force that included nine hundred chariots of iron. Whether the number is interpreted literally or as epic exaggeration, in light of 1:19 this superior technology had rendered the Canaanites invincible to Israelite armies marching out in their own strength. In view of the note in 1:19, this observation prepares the reader for a later encounter in the plains. Second, Jabin is said to have oppressed Israel severely for twenty years. While the pressure was undoubtedly felt most by the northern tribes, the author generalizes the problem and the response with the inclusive reference to “the descendants of Israel.”
God’s Agent of Deliverance (4:4–10) In contrast to the preceding episodes, the present narrative places great emphasis on the manner in which a deliverer is raised up for Israel. Although the narrator’s comments omit any explicit reference to Yahweh’s intervention on Israel’s behalf and the account lacks the divine provision of leadership formula, vv. 4–10 represent an exposition of the formula, “And the Lord raised up a deliverer for them.” This is also his response to their cry in v. 3, a response communicated from start to finish through his spokesperson, Deborah. Indeed from a form critical perspective, vv. 4–10 function as a call narrative, more particularly a “protested call” account, in which the challenge to enter divine service is resisted by the person called. The narrative breaks down into four discreet segments.The Prophetic Agent of the Call (4:4–5) 4:4 The account of the call of the deliverer opens formally with the identification of the principal character, Deborah, and a description of her activity by means of two circumstantial clauses. The name Deborah, which means “bee,” has been encountered once before, in Gen 35:8, where it identifies Rachel’s nurse. The expression ʾiššâ nĕbîʾâ classifies her professionally: she is a prophet. Although the etymology of nābîʾ remains uncertain, the role of the prophet is clearly defined in texts like Exod 4:15–16 and 7:1–2. A prophet serves as a spokesperson for deity to the people. The designation here deliberately places Deborah in the succession of Moses (cf. Deut 18:15–22) and in the company of other female bearers of this title. Whatever else the narrative will say about Deborah, the reader must remember that she is first and foremost, if not exclusively, a prophet. In keeping with the patricentric nature of ancient Israelite society and the pattern of biblical narrative generally, Deborah is identified further with reference to the significant man in her life; she is the wife of Lappidoth. The use of a feminine plural form for a man’s name seems odd at first, but lappîdôt, literally “torches, flashes,” probably should be interpreted as an abstract plural. The association of the wife of “Lappidoth” with Barak, which means “lightning,” makes it tempting to identify the two, especially since the name does not appear again. However, not only is this an Ephraimite family, against Barak, who comes from Kadesh in Naphtali, but the parallels with the way other female prophets are introduced also eliminates the need for him to play a role in the story. These same parallels also show how equally misguided are more recent attempts to rob Deborah of a husband by interpreting ʾēšet lappîdot as an adjective, that is, “fiery woman.” If any significance is to be attached to the name, it probably points to Deborah as a brilliant light in the dark days of the governors. 4:5 After identifying Deborah as a professional prophet, the description of her professional activity as “judging Israel” catches the reader off guard. The participle form šōpĕṭâ invites one to view her as a female version of the other deliverers identified as šôpĕṭîm, “governors, rulers.” Deleting v. 5 as secondary, G. F. Moore found the weight of this evidence so convincing that he argued for translating hîʾ šōpĕṭâ ʾet yiśrāʾēl in v. 4 (NIV, “she was leading Israel”) as “she delivered Israel.” He finds parallels to Deborah in the German Veleda, who supported Civilis in his efforts to throw off the Roman yoke, and Joan of Arc, the devout maid from Domrémy, Champagne, who led the French forces in delivering her land from England. Accordingly, Cundall introduces Deborah as “the savior of her people and the only woman in the distinguished company of the Judges.” Commenting on 5:6–8, he notes that “this desperate situation obtained until Deborah arose to effect the deliverance of the nation.” Support for this interpretation is found in 5:6–8, which associates Deborah’s appearance in Israel with the return of security in the countryside. Indeed, despite their difficulty, the verses that follow create the impression that Deborah was involved in marshalling the troops. Furthermore, the placement of her name ahead of Barak’s in 5:1 suggests primary credit for the victory is hers. Finally, the striking parallel between Sisera, Jabin’s army commander, who “sits/rules” (yāšab) in Harosheth-Haggoyim, and Deborah, who “sits/rules” under her own palm tree, suggests that this woman represents the Israelite counterpart to Sisera. However, upon closer reading, the presentation of Deborah as a savior of her people is more apparent than real, and the participle šōpĕṭâ may call for different interpretation. The “altogether enigmatic” nature of the narrative raises numerous questions. If the author looked upon Deborah as one of the deliverers of Israel:
1. Why is she not introduced as one whom Yahweh had raised up?
2. Why is there no reference to her inspiration and empowerment by Yahweh’s Spirit (rûaḥ yhwh)?
3. Why does she need Barak to accomplish the deliverance?
4. Why is the verb yāšaʿ, “to save,” never applied to her?
5. Why does she say, “The Lord will sell Sisera into the hands of a woman” instead of “into my hands”?
6. Why does the author observe that “she went up with Barak” (4:10) but avoid placing her at the head of the troops?
7. Why does Deborah announce to Barak, “This day the Lord has given Sisera into your hands” rather than “my hands” (4:14)?
8. Why is she absent from the description of the actual battle (4:15–17), and why does she never meet Jabin or Sisera?
9. Why did the poet prefer the title “mother in Israel” over “savior of Israel” (5:7)?
10. Why does the poet avoid the root qûm, “to rise,” let alone referring to Yahweh as the causative subject, when he speaks of Deborah’s rise?
11. What is this woman doing in what everyone acknowledges traditionally as a man’s world—leading soldiers into battle?
12. Perhaps most intriguing, why does the narrator portray her character so different qualitatively from most of the other deliverers?
Admittedly, the narrative says nothing negative about the paradigmatic Othniel. Ehud’s personality is not criticized overtly, but his tactics, which look for all the world like typical Canaanite behavior, leave the reader wondering whether he is to be viewed as a hero or as a villain. The moral and spiritual characters of the governors who follow Deborah display a rapid downward spiral. Far from being solutions to the Canaanization of Israelite thought and ethic, Gideon, Jephthah, and Samson were themselves all parts of the problem. These are not noblemen; they are “antiheroes.” But as the only unequivocally positive major personality and as the only one involved in the service of God prior to her engagement in deliverance activities, she stands out as a lonely figure indeed. Significantly, in later lists of the deliverers, Barak’s name may appear, but never Deborah’s, presumably because this was not her role. She communicates Yahweh’s response to the people’s cry, but she is not the answer. Verse 5 describes the manner in which Deborah performed her professional duties and sets the stage in the reader’s mind for the call of the deliverer. Her posture is described as “sitting” under the Palm Tree of Deborah. The verb yāšab certainly implies exercising official function, but the NIV’s “she held court” represents too legal an interpretation, as we shall see. The reference to the Palm of Deborah suggests some association with the “oak of weeping” (ʾallôn bākût), under which her namesake, Rebekah’s nurse, was buried. The present vocalization of “palm” (tōmer), which occurs elsewhere only in Jer 10:5, where it denotes a post or scarecrow in a field, either represents a dialectical variation of the more common tāmār (3:13) or another case of “pejorative pointing,” reflecting the narrator’s disposition toward trees treated as sacred in paganized contexts. More significant than the tree itself is its location between Ramah and Bethel in the hills of Ephraim. Accordingly she sits not at Bethel or at Shiloh, where the ark is, but outside the town. But there is more. With her seat centrally located in the hill country of Ephraim, Deborah was accessible to the entire nation of Israel, and so they came up to her for “judgment.”Every word in the last clause of v. 5 is carefully chosen. First, those who come to Deborah are identified as bĕnê yiśrāʾēl, “the sons of Israel.” Although many interpret the expression individually, as if the citizens were approaching her to settle their private disputes, in the book it always functions as a collective for the entire nation. In this context “sons of Israel” should be interpreted exactly as it has been in v. 3. Second, the nation “went up” to her. Since Deborah sits “in the hill country of Ephraim,” the choice of the verb ʿālâ is natural (cf. 1:4). However, the affinities of vv. 4–5 with 20:18, 23, 27 suggest that the verb functions almost technically for “to go up [to the high place] to inquire [of the deity].” By stationing herself near Bethel, Deborah represents an alternative to the priesthood which had lost its effectiveness as mediator of divine revelation, and her pronouncements function as a substitute for the Urim and Thummim. But why were the Israelites coming to her? While the answer is implicit in the verb “to go up,” it is explicitly expressed in lammišpāṭ. The NIV’s “to have their disputes decided” reflects the traditional interpretation of the word, perhaps on the model of Moses in Exod 18:16. Accordingly, Deborah holds what Soggin calls a “forensic office.” However, not only is it difficult to see a connection between such a judicial function and her role in the rest of the narrative; unlike the surrounding narratives, the conclusion to the account also omits any reference to the duration of her service as judge after the defeat of Jabin. The forty years of rest (5:31) is attributed to God and the Israelite’s collective power (4:23–24). By this time Deborah is long out of the picture. In fact, the author seems to have had no interest in any judicial activity at all. It is tempting to interpret this text through the lens of 1 Sam 7:15–17, which describes the service of Samuel in similar terms, but the differences are significant. In any case, nowhere is Deborah (or Samuel for that matter) portrayed as actually holding court and settling disputes among the citizens.The case for Deborah as a legal functionary rests entirely upon the presence of the root šāpaṭ in “she was judging [šōpĕṭâ] Israel at that time” (4:4), and “The sons of Israel came to her for the judgment [lammišpāṭ]” (4:5). Nowhere else in the book does the term require a judicial interpretation. Where their roles are defined, the “judges” are presented primarily as deliverers. Even in the formulaic notes that an individual “judged” Israel so many years, the word carries a more general meaning, “to govern.” Indeed one wonders why the narrator would have inserted this parenthetical reference to the settlement of relatively petty civil disputes when the issue in the chapter is a national crisis. This seems to have been the conclusion of the Massoretes, whose vocalization of lammišpāṭ translates “for the judgment.” This reading suggests that a particular issue is in mind, not a series of cases or a routine fulfillment of professional duties. In the present context the issue that concerns the Israelites is their oppression at the hands of Jabin and the Canaanites.Accordingly, the action described in v. 5 represents an exposition on “the sons of Israel cried out [ṣāʿaq] to the Lord” in v. 3a. In the narratives on the united monarchy, when subjects appeal (ṣāʿaq) to a king for help in a matter, his pronouncement in response is designated his mišpāṭ. In the Book of Judges such cries (ṣāʿaq/zāʿaq) for deliverance are always directed to Yahweh by “the sons of Israel.” Especially instructive is 10:14, which notes that when “the sons of Israel” made their appeal to him, he retorted sarcastically, “Go and cry out (zāʿaq) to the gods whom you have chosen! Let them save (hôšîaʿ) you from your distress (ṣārâ)!” Accordingly, when “the sons of Israel” come to Deborah for “the judgment,” they are not asking her to solve their legal disputes but to give them the divine answer to their cries, which is described in the following verses. The fact that the Israelites come to her instead of the priest reflects the failure of the established priestly institution to maintain contact with God, a spiritual tragedy explicitly described in the early chapters of 1 Samuel. The Commissioning of Barak (4:6–7)
4:6–7 In vv. 6–7 the focus shifts from Deborah, the medium through whom the divine response to the Israelite distress is sought and received, to Barak, whom God calls to solve the crisis. Deborah answered the Israelites’ inquiry by dispatching (šālaḥ) her own representative(s) to call (qārāʾ) Barak to divine service. The deliverer is identified by name, patronymic, and home. Barak, “lightning,” was the son of Abinoam (“Father is pleasant”) of Kedesh in Naphtali. Because Kedesh (“sanctuary”) was a common place name, several candidates for this site appear. Assuming this Kedesh must be relatively near to Mount Tabor and that it is the same Kedesh as is mentioned in v. 11, most identify this site with modern Khirbet Qedish, one mile west of the southern end of the Sea of Galilee. However, it is preferable to equate this site with Tell Qadesh in upper Galilee, north of Lake Huleh. Joshua had conquered this city earlier (Josh 12:22) and set it aside as a Levitical city (Josh 21:32) and city of refuge (Josh 20:7). The distance of this city from the sight of the battle with Sisera is no obstacle to this interpretation; the text says only that Barak the son of Abinoam was from Kedesh of Naphtali. Why Barak was chosen we may only speculate, but the proximity of his home in Kadesh to Hazor, the seat of Jabin the oppressor, adds a special dimension to his appointment. Although no details of Deborah’s initial meeting with Barak are given, significantly she enters the picture at precisely the same point as does the malʾāk (“envoy”) of Yahweh in 6:11. The text does not mention that she received any explicit orders from God, but the form of her commissioning speech reflects a clear prophetic self-consciousness. She introduces her speech with a variation of the prophetic citation formula which in context signifies a firm declaration: “Surely the Lord God of Israel has commanded, ‘Go!’ ” (hălōʾ ṣiwwâ yhwh ʾĕlōhê yiśrāʾēl lēk). In addition, as an authorized representative of Yahweh she communicates his charge in the first person. The commissioning speech itself consists of two parts. First, by means of a series of imperatives, Barak is charged to go (lēk) and deploy (māšak) ten thousand troops from Naphtali and Zebulun at Mount Tabor. Mount Tabor rises steeply 1,843 feet above sea level at the NE corner of the Jezreel Valley, controlling one of the most important crossroads in the regionThis command signals that God is not only calling the general; he also determines the strategy. Second, Barak is promised Yahweh’s personal support in the anticipated battle. The divine Commander will deploy (māšak) Sisera and all his forces (identified as chariots and infantry) against Barak, but he will deliver them over into his hand. Reminiscent of Yahweh’s manipulation of Pharaoh and his armies in Exodus 14 and Gog in Ezekiel 38–39, the enemy is portrayed as a puppet controlled by the hands of God. The One who had sold Israel into the hands of Jabin will also engineer the oppressors’ defeat. The Hesitation of Barak (4:8)4:8 The narrative should have moved directly from v. 7 to v. 10, but Barak’s response provides one of the keys to the rest of the chapter. Despite Yahweh’s assurance of victory, Barak resists the call. His protestation is less emphatic than Moses’ in Exodus 3–4 and less apologetic than Gideon’s in Judg 6:15, but it is clear he is not impressed with Deborah’s commissioning speech. On the surface his reaction, “If you go with me I, I will go; but if you don’t go with me, I won’t go,” appears cowardly. He will not enter the fray unless he has this woman beside him holding his hand. And this impression is reinforced by Deborah’s response. But at a deeper level the objection reflects a recognition of Deborah’s status. The request to be accompanied by the prophet is a plea for the presence of God. The Promise of Divine Presence (4:9a) 4:9a At this point in other call narratives Yahweh responds with reassuring promises of his presence and/or authenticating signs. Both elements are found here, albeit in veiled form. The first is evident in Deborah’s firm promise of her own presence (lit., “I will certainly go with you”). It is easy to trivialize the significance of this declaration by interpreting them simply as the words of a strong woman to a weak-willed man. The timing of Deborah’s words is critical, for it occurs precisely at the point where, in other call narratives, Yahweh promises his personal presence to a reluctant agent. The prophet obviously functions as Yahweh’s alter ego. Her presence alone is enough to guarantee victory over Sisera. To reinforce Yahweh’s commitment to Barak, Deborah also offers him an authenticating, if ironic, sign. Barak will need to step out in faith in the divine promise, for the sign she presents is proleptic in nature: Yahweh will sell Sisera into the hands of a woman, to whom the glory would go. When this happens, Barak will know that he has been called by God and that God has intervened on Israel’s behalf. But the sign raises the question whether or not she expected to be that woman. In the end the answer to the question catches Barak and the reader off guard. The Summons to Arms (4:9b–10) 4:9b–10 The final scene in the call of Barak demonstrates the success of Deborah’s mission. True to her words, she rises from her “prophetic chair” and accompanies Barak to Kedesh. From his home he summons (zāʿaq) the men of Zebulun and Naphtali to assemble, and they come by the thousands. The narrative offers no explanation for the troops’ response, but one may surmise that Deborah’s presence in Kedesh was a critical factor. Since all Israel recognized her as a prophet, her presence alongside Barak symbolized the divine imprimatur on his leadership. The ten thousand men who answered Barak’s call testify to her standing in Israel and the newfound credibility of Barak as a savior of the nation. Deborah’s mission on Yahweh’s behalf has been a complete success. The reluctant general has been commissioned, and his troops have gathered. To clarify the preceding sequence of scenes, we may summarize the movements of the primary participants as follows:
(1) The Israelites come to Deborah under her “palm” to seek an answer from Yahweh regarding their oppression at the hands of King Jabin of Hazor.
(2) Having received a response from God, Deborah sends messengers to Kadesh-Naphtali, north of Hazor, to fetch Barak.
(3) Barak answers their call and comes to Deborah under her “palm.”
(4) Pursuant to their conversation in vv. 6–9a, Barak returns to his home in Naphtali, accompanied by Deborah.
(5) When he summons the men of Zebulun and Naphtali, a huge force of ten thousand troops assembles to him in Kedesh.
God’s Gift of Deliverance (4:11–22) In light of the patterns set by 3:10 and 3:27–29, the reader expects Barak’s victory over Sisera and his army to be swift and decisive, even though, in light of 4:9, somehow the glory will ultimately go to Deborah. But both expectations prove mistaken. The description of the conflict is unusually long and takes some unexpected turns. Verse 11, constructed as a complex circumstantial clause, signals an ominous complication in the plot. The reader does not know yet that the information provided here will be important for the ending of the story. It could have been inserted before v. 17, but that would have detracted from the connection between vv. 12–16 and 17–22. The remainder of the text divides into two parts: vv. 12–16 describe the fulfillment of Deborah’s first speech (vv. 6–7); vv. 17–22 describe the fulfillment of the second (v. 9). Together these segments explain the resolution of the ambiguity in the latter. We expect that Deborah will be the hero, but once she has given her speeches, she disappears from the scene. With respect to plot, cast, and detail of presentation, juxtaposed the two accounts of the victories over the Moabites (3:16–29) and the Canaanites (4:12–22) display an impressive chiastic A B B A structure, which may be illustrated as follows:Additional links in detail will be noted in the commentary.The Complication in the Plot (4:11)4:11 From out of nowhere, and for no immediately apparent reason, the narrator introduces a new character, Heber the Kenite. Some see here an allusion to a clan of Kenites rather than an individual, but the following narratives, particularly vv. 17–22, require a personal, individual interpretation. The narrator takes pains to link Heber with the Kenites whom he had introduced earlier in 1:16, adding the name of Moses’ father-in-law, Hobab, which had been missing in that context. The actions of Heber reflect both his nomadic spirit and his independence. Not satisfied with the arid environment of Arad in southern Judah, he picks up stakes and moves to the more hospitable region of northern Naphtali. Scholars are not agreed on the place where Heber pitched his tent. The issue is complicated by the fact that the Hebrew phrase translated “by the great tree in Zaanannim near Kedesh” (ʿad-ʾēlôn bĕṣaʿănnanîm ʾăšer ʾet-qedeš) is problematic at every point. Though some force the preposition ʿad (NIV, “by”) to mean “near,” it actually means the opposite, highlighting the distance between Heber’s point of origin (1:16) and his destination. It seems he moved as far away from his clan as possible. ʾēlôn may denote any large tree, but it often refers to a specific tree, a terebinth or oak that marks a sacred spot. Heber may have viewed the tree as a symbol of divine protection and blessing. The word rendered “Zaanannim” has an inner-Masoretic spelling variant. The NIV has probably chosen correctly to read with the variant as in Josh 19:33. Its meaning, however, is uncertain. While most translations treat it as a proper noun, if the word derives from ṣāʿan, “to pack up,” and is cognate to Arabic ṣʿn, “to wander about as a nomad, roam,” then the reference could be to a place where caravaneers stop or transfer goods. The proposition ʾet in ʾet qedeš may bear the sense “near, alongside of,” but this still does not tell us which Kedesh the author has in mind. Assuming Heber’s camp must be located near Mount Tabor, most understand Heber to have pitched his tent at Khirbet Qedish, near the southern end of the Sea of Galilee. While this identification may answer one geographic question, it creates several of its own, and an identification with the northern Kedesh remains the best solution for several reasons. (1) It avoids the need to identify Kedesh with two different locations in a single literary context. (2) It takes seriously the preposition ʿad, which is best understood as an extreme [northerly] location. (3) A seminomad allied with the king of Hazor (v. 17) is better located near Hazor than at the southern end of the Sea of Galilee. (4) Since Sisera is portrayed as Jabin’s commander, with his forces in shambles (v. 15), he would naturally seek protection from his superior and head for the vicinity of Hazor. Heber’s tent nearby would not be suspected by his pursuers. (5) If Heber’s camp was near Barak’s Kedesh, he may be the informer who reported to Jabin (and by extension to Sisera) that Barak’s troops had left Kedesh and were headed for Mount Tabor (v. 12). Although this identification does not solve all the logistical problems, it heightens the irony of the story. By seeking refuge with Jael, the wife of Jabin’s ally, Sisera virtually placed himself in Barak’s hands. But in the end the glory eluded Barak! The Defeat of the Enemy Army (4:12–16). The chapter is half over by the time we finally get to the battle between the forces of Israel and the enemy. The tempo picks up in vv. 12–16. 4:12–13 Sisera hears that Barak has moved his troops down from Kedesh and has assembled them on Mount Tabor. The identity of the informer is not revealed. One may surmise that Heber passed on the word that Barak had assembled his troops or that Jabin had observed them move from Kedesh to Mount Tabor and had relayed orders to Sisera to mobilize. The general responds immediately, summoning all nine hundred of his iron chariots and the rest of his troops from Harosheth-Haggoyim to the Kishon River, which drains the Jezreel (Esdraelon) Valley, beginning its course in the hills of northern Samaria near Megiddo and flowing northwestward through the plain of Acre, finally emptying into the Mediterranean at the foot of Mount Carmel.
The narrative leaves the impression that Sisera is functioning on his own (or Jabin’s) initiative, but the reader knows from v. 7 that Yahweh is setting the stage for the showdown. 4:14 Through his prophet Deborah, Yahweh signals the moment of his own action on Israel’s behalf by calling the people to action and announcing his victory over the enemy. The call to action, “Arise” (qûm, NIV, “Go!”) is ambiguous, leaving open the question whether the Israelites are to go on the offensive or simply to stand by and watch the salvation of Yahweh. The narrator records no call to attack, only Deborah’s declaration that the day for God to deliver Sisera into Barak’s hands has arrived. The form of the committal formula used by Deborah tempts the reader to look upon her as a female version of Ehud, but only for a moment. Not only does she not address the troops; instead of calling Barak to follow her, she declares that Yahweh assuredly goes before him. Barak obeys dutifully, with all his troops behind him. 4:15–16
Verse 15 is the key to the entire chapter: despite the presence of ten thousand Israelite troops, it was Yahweh who caused Sisera’s entire fleet of chariots and all his troops to panic before his sword and before Barak. The verb hāman, which means “to bring into motion and confusion,” recalls several other texts, most notably God’s action against the Egyptians in Exod 14:24, in which natural phenomena are marshalled to effect the rout. The role of Barak is deliberately diminished, not only by retaining Yahweh as the subject of the verb, but also by taking the sword out of Barak’s hand and emphasizing that all the action occurs “before” (lipnê) him. Yahweh is the divine warrior who goes before his hosts. Sensing the hopelessness of his army’s situation, Sisera leaps (yārad) from his chariot and flees on foot. But Barak, worried primarily about the army, pursues the Canaanite troops as far as Sisera’s headquarters in Harosheth-Haggoyim. He does not stop until all have been slaughtered.
The Assassination of the Enemy Leader (4:17–22) 4:17–22 Verse 15 had introduced a complication in the drama: the army was routed, but Sisera had escaped, leaving the reader wondering how God’s word through Deborah would be fulfilled. Would the prophet go after him while Barak chased the army? But after her announcement that Yahweh was about to deliver Sisera into Barak’s hands, she too had disappeared. And once the army has been destroyed, Yahweh also exits the narrative. In the meantime the plot slows down to a crawl, as the intense action of the masses in vv. 12–16 gives way to the deliberate activity of an individual, a newcomer to the scene, a second woman, Jael. The stylistic and verbal links between vv. 17–22 and a part of the Ehud narrative in 3:16–26 are obvious: (1) the absence of the divine hand; (2) the focus on individual actions; (3) the use of speech to get the victim into a vulnerable position; (4) the motif of treachery and deception; (5) the sequence of murder and discovery; (6) the use of the verb tāqaʿ, “to thrust,” at the critical moment (3:21; 4:21); (7) the sequence of entry and discovery.
Verse 15 had ended with the reader’s eyes fixed on Sisera, fleeing on foot and disappearing over the horizon. After the summary description of Barak’s mopping up operations with respect to Sisera’s army (v. 16), the reader’s gaze is returned to the fleeing general. How much time has elapsed we may only speculate. While Barak is occupied with the mopping-up operations at Harosheth-Haggoyim, Sisera would logically have headed northeast along the Grand Trunk Highway that ran from Megiddo to Hazor, the seat of his suzerain Jabin. Recognizing that with Jabin’s main forces decimated no protection was to be found in the capital (cf. v. 23), the general continued running northward until he came to the tent of Heber the Kenite, a recognized ally of Jabin. 4:17 For its treachery, brutality, and the element of surprise, the description that follows in vv. 17–22 is matched in the book only by Ehud’s assassination of Eglon. The episode begins innocently enough. In his flight Sisera heads for the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, who had entered into an alliance with Jabin. The expression šālôm, “friendly relations,” denotes much more than the absence of hostilities. In contexts like this it functions as a covenant term. The fact that Sisera thought he would be safe in Heber’s camp suggests the alliance had been formalized in some sort of treaty. Accordingly, Heber posed a double threat to Israel. Not only had he separated from the main clan of the Kenites, who were allies of Israel (1:16), but he had also formally bound himself by treaty to their enemy. By all political and ethical standards Sisera should have found security here. But his dream of safety would turn into the worst possible nightmare. 4:18 Without a hint of any connection with Deborah or her pronouncement that Yahweh would sell Sisera into the hands of a woman (v. 9), the narrator introduces us to Jael. It is doubtful her name, yāʿēl, which means “mountain goat,” bears any literary importance. Instead the reader must look to the narrative itself, paying particular attention to the author’s skillful characterization through speech and action. From beginning to end, Jael controls the events described. She goes out to meet Sisera; she initiates the conversation; she, a woman, invites this strange man into her tent; she covers him with a rug—all this before Sisera utters his first word. But this obviously did not strike Sisera as unusual or odd. Even her speech has a soporific effect. The form of her address and invitation, literally, “To me turn aside, my Lord, turn aside to me” (ʾēlāyw sûrâ ʾădōnî sûrâ ʾēlay) and her words of reassurance, “Don’t be afraid,” offers him all the security he needs. Like Eglon in 3:20, he is seduced by her speech. Innocently he enters her tent and lets her put “a covering” (śĕmîkâ) over him. The word occurs only here in the Old Testament, and its meaning remains unsure. The NIV follows the early versions, which appear to have read bimĕkasseh, “with a covering,” which makes sense in the context. One may imagine a thick sheep or goat skin rug, which would have been extremely warm, to be sure, but this is no time to worry about comfort. In addition to Sisera’s concern for concealment, Jael may have been taking intentional steps to stifle the noise involved in her subsequent actions. 4:19 Once inside, Sisera tries to take the initiative, with a polite request for a little water to quench his thirst. Having been on the run for so far and so long, his thirst is understandable. But the significance of Jael’s substitution of milk for water is not clear. Some suggest it is part of her seduction; to induce sleep. Others propose the introduction of milk to the narrative intentionally intensifies the “mothering” motif. In any case, by giving Sisera milk rather than water Jael reseizes the initiative, a conclusion supported by the following verbs, which succeed each other in rapid fire: “she opened a skin of milk, and she gave him to drink, and she covered him.” 4:20 In v. 20 Sisera attempts to regain control of the situation, without realizing that in the process he is actually prescribing his own dissolution. His command to her to stand at the entrance of the tent to deflect any curious visitor is natural and seemingly innocent, but his instructions to Jael are filled with irony. On the surface the hypothetical question that he anticipates people approaching her tent will ask seems to raise questions about her morality. Which man (ʾîš) would come to her tent and ask her, “Is there a man [ʾîš] inside?” Obviously, this is the question of a husband, who suspects his wife of adulterous behavior, for which an Israelite woman would be subject to the death sentence. But to Sisera it is a matter of his own life and death. Little does he realize that in prescribing her answer to the question, ʾāyin, “There is no one,” he is passing judgment on himself, for in the end this mighty general of Jabin turns out to be a nobody. 4:21 This verse describes this transformation in brutal detail. Jael, intentionally identified as Heber’s wife, takes a tent peg (yĕtad hāʾōhel) and a mallet (maqqebet, NIV, “hammer”), sneaks up to him, and drives it through his skull (raqqâ), pinning his head to the ground. The circumstantial clause at the end of the verse explains how this was possible. Sisera had collapsed and had fallen into a deep sleep; therefore he died. 4:22 The story concludes by returning the reader’s attention to Barak, who was last seen pursuing Sisera’s beleaguered forces to Harosheth-Haggoyim (v. 16). Although Sisera has feared that someone might be chasing him, the reader has had no hint that Barak might reappear. In fact, Deborah’s pronouncement in v. 9 might even have led one to believe that he was out of the picture for good. But suddenly, from out of nowhere, he bursts back into the picture in hot pursuit of Sisera. Though Deborah had predicted that the honor of victory would elude his grasp and be seized by a woman, the narrator portrays him as doing everything in his power to negate the divine word. Flush from [his?] victory of the Kishon, the man who had hesitated to heed the call of God in the beginning succumbs to the call of ambition. Barak is not only running after Sisera; he is running after glory! [not sure about this statement]The final scene bursts his egotistical balloon. [disagree] In words echoing her welcome to Sisera in v. 18, Jael again seizes the initiative and goes out to meet Barak. She knows his agenda, but he does not know hers. She is the only one who speaks. She invites him in, promising to show him the person he is seeking. He probably expects to find Sisera cowering in a corner, easy prey for him. She escorts him into the tent, and there, to his shock, is Sisera, pinned to the ground with a tent peg through his skull. His silence is deafening. In a flash, gone is the victory! In a moment, gone is the glory, from Barak, that is! With magnificent irony Deborah’s dual prophecy has been fulfilled. Yahweh has committed Sisera into Barak’s hands (v. 7), but he has also committed him into the hands of a woman. Unfortunately for him, the woman has won the honor (v. 9). As in the case of Ehud, the events described in vv. 17–22 raise serious questions about Jael. How is the reader to interpret her? Is she to be viewed as a heroine or a villain? The answers obviously depend upon one’s point of view. To the author of the account Jael was obviously an agent of divine deliverance, the fulfillment of Deborah’s prediction (v. 9), though he too will have marveled that this role should have been played by one who not only is not a prophet nor an Israelite. She is the wife of one allied against the Israelites! It is understandable that to the Israelites, who benefited from her actions, she became a hero (5:24–27). However, upon closer analysis, her actions and character are patently ambiguous. In Barak’s eyes, Jael had triumphed in a masculine role, and in so doing she had shamed him and robbed him of the glory of victory. Her speech and actions had displayed a deep contempt not only for Sisera but also for him. To the Canaanites, Jael’s conduct represented the ultimate in treachery. In assassinating Jabin’s five-star general, she had guaranteed the enemy the victory. One can only imagine how Jael’s husband, Heber, felt about her actions. Not only had she broken fundamental social rules of wifely support; she had also violated deeply entrenched customs of ancient Near Eastern hospitality. First she, a woman, usurps his exclusive right as a male to offer hospitality to a male. Then, having lulled her guest into a false sense of security, she premeditates and executes his murder. If the song in chap. 5 will ascribe to Deborah the honorific title of “Mother in Israel” (5:7), Jael obviously represents a different paradigm of motherhood. Like Ehud’s assassination of Eglon in the previous chapter, the account of her behavior seems to have been lifted from a Canaanite notebook. The narration offers no hint of any spiritual motivation on her part or any concern for Israel. She acts entirely on her own and for her own (mysterious) reasons. Her actions are not only deviant and violent but socially revolutionary, challenging prevailing views of female roles in general and the relationship of husband and wife in particular. However, just because the author records her deeds does not mean he approves of them. It simply adds to the mystery of divine providence, demonstrating implicitly what the following verses explicitly affirm: God is able to incorporate the free activities of human beings [Jael] into his plan for his own glory and for the salvation of his people. God’s Gift of Security (4:23–24) 4:23–24 The story concludes provisionally in vv. 23–24 with an editorial summary of the effects of the defeat of Sisera’s army. Remarkably, the protagonists in the drama that has riveted our attention since v. 4 have all disappeared. The reader learns hereby that this story is not primarily about Deborah and Barak, or Barak and Sisera, or Sisera and Jael, or Jael and Barak. The author would be disappointed if our analyses ended with these intriguing characters or the dynamics of power and control that play between them. This is a story about God, who is the real hero, and his people Israel, and their enemies the Canaanites, represented by Jabin their king. The conclusion reminds the reader that the conflict in the Book of Judges is not between patriarchy and egalitarianism, between men and women, or even between Israelite leaders and the rulers of the nations. The conflict is between the divine King and the kingdom of Light on the one hand and the forces of the kingdom of darkness on the other. The narrator’s commentary in vv. 23–24 reflects his perception of the synergy between the divine hand and human effort in historical events. On the one hand, on that day it was God who subdued the Canaanites. The expressions “on that day” and “before Barak” intentionally allude to vv. 14–15. On the other hand, the Israelites maintained their pressure on the Canaanites until they had annihilated Jabin and the Canaanites. The reader will have to wait until the end of the next chapter to learn how long they enjoyed the benefits of this victory.The Poetic Celebration (5:1–31) After the dramatic narrative of the victory over the Canaanites, we encounter one of the oldest poems in the Old Testament. Few texts in the historiographic writings of the Old Testament have engaged as much study in the past two or three decades as Judges 5. Intrigued by its textual riddles, emotional intensity, psychological energy, and theological profundity, scholars have found in the “Song of Deborah” grist for a steady stream of publications. The first item on the agenda of many of these is to reconstruct the literary evolution of the piece by isolating the original core and identifying the redactional additions. Recognizing that any reconstructions are speculative, others follow a holistic approach, even though the text consists of a series of more or less independent literary fragments, often unconnected thematically or syntactically. But these problems obviously loom larger in the minds of modern Western readers than in the minds of those responsible for composing and transmitting the final form of the poem.By noting that this literary piece was “sung” (šîr), the preamble to chap. 5 (v. 1) distinguishes it formally from the surrounding narrative. As a song, it bears the marks of typical Hebrew poetry: the parallelistic balancing of lines based on conventional pairs of words, alliteration, paranomasia, chiasmus, and formulaic constructions. Like Hebrew poetry generally, it is divided into a series of stanzas and/or strophes, but in this case each bears its own literary stamp and contributes its own substance to the overall development of the theme. This poem also displays a pronounced meter, though the metric pattern is too inconsistent to provide a reliable basis for surgical textual operations.The composite nature of the poem complicates its generic classification. In its present context (immediately after a narrative account of Israel’s victory over the Canaanites) the song as a unit functions as a victory hymn of praise to Yahweh, analogous to Egyptian victory odes of Thutmose III and Merneptah, Tikulti-Ninurta I’s ode of triumph over Kaštiliaš, and especially the Song of the Sea in Exodus 15. Whereas the extrabiblical odes represent hyperbolic celebrations of superhuman achievements, Exodus 15 and Judges 5 overflow with praise to God. But our text is not exclusively so. The last two stanzas focus on individual human activity: Jael’s brutal murder of Sisera and the portrait of Sisera’s anxious mother, waiting for her son. Because this seems odd in a victory hymn, some have preferred to identify this poem as a ballad, which “moves quickly from theophany to troubled times, from the appearance of Deborah to the muster of the tribes, and finally to the battle and its climatic sequel.” On the other hand, the poet’s inclusion of this unrestrained praise of the woman not only assumes her participation in the divine work but also functions as a taunt of Sisera, and with him the Canaanites, who stand in the way of Yahweh’s agenda. In form and content the Song represents a mixed genre. Each of the successive segments possesses its own generic integrity and must be analyzed on its own terms. But the final lyric product is immeasurably more brilliant and powerful than the sum of its parts, celebrating in a single ode the victory of God over the enemy and the heroism of the human participants. Scholars are divided on questions of date and authorship of this ode. Most agree that—along with the Blessing of Jacob (Genesis 49), the Song of the Sea (Exodus 15), the oracles of Balaam (Numbers 23–24), and the Blessing of Moses (Deuteronomy 33)—Judges 5 ranks among the oldest monuments of Hebrew literature. But how close the composition of the song was to the events it describes is not clear. Some, especially those who prefer to classify this text as a cult-liturgical piece rather than a victory psalm, date it a century or two after the events. The preamble declares that Deborah and Barak sang this song, which suggests it was created for the celebrations that occurred immediately after the victory over Sisera. But this does not yet identify the composer. The fact that Deborah and Barak sang this song does not necessarily mean that either of them composed it.However, the traditional view that Deborah was responsible for its composition rests on fairly solid ground. First, the composer frequently speaks in the first person, especially the first half. Second, in v. 7, the identity of the first person speaker is explicitly named (“Deborah”) and described (“mother in Israel”). Third, in v. 23 the poet quotes a curse attributed to the envoy (NIV, “angel”) of Yahweh (malʾak yhwh). While the identity of this “angel” is uncertain, this may be an evasive self-reference. The expression recalls 2:4, where the same title had been given to another messenger of a divine word. Fourth, though not conclusive, this identification fits with the order of the names, “Deborah and Barak,” and the use of the feminine singular verb, wattāšar, “And she sang,” in the preamble. Fifth, the leadership of Deborah, a woman, in victory celebrations accords with the picture of the role of women in other biblical and extrabiblical texts. This may also account for the sensitive female perspective evident especially in the latter parts of the song in particular. Sixth, the attribution of the song to Deborah agrees with her prophetic status as announced and described in chap. 4. The song itself represses her prophetic standing before God, but in its theological interpretation of the victory over the Canaanites it clearly reflects a prophetic understanding of the event. In this regard too the song complements the narrative account. In chap. 4 the focus was not on the battle against Sisera as such but on the course of events as the fulfillment of Deborah’s prophecies in vv. 6–7, 9, 14. Although the Song makes no direct reference to her prophetic involvement, it arises out of Deborah’s prophetic self-consciousness. By placing the ode in Deborah’s mouth, the author of the book correctly recognizes that her interpretation of the battle is fundamentally a prophetic word.But the attribution of the psalm to Deborah must be qualified. Not only does the preamble note that Barak sang it with her but the description of the theophany in vv. 4–5 may also have been inspired by conventional images of a divine appearance. More importantly, on the basis of internal evidence, the song itself appears to be multivoiced. Deborah herself is addressed (along with Barak) in the second person in v. 12 and in the third person in v. 15. But the reader must remember that this is not a literary photograph but impressionistic poetry. These extraordinary constructions may be attributable entirely to the text’s poetic genre. The ascription of the Song to Deborah and Barak in the preamble suggests it must have been composed shortly after Israel’s victory over Jabin and the Canaanites. The vividness of the description and the energy of the poem, with its rapid succession of vocatives, exclamations, and imperatives, reflect the excitement of the event.Several additional considerations argue for an early, premonarchic date. First, the absence of Judah from the list of tribes points to a time when Judah had not yet achieved her hegemonic position in Israel. Second, according to v. 6, the poet recognizes the chronological simultaneity of Jael’s and Shamgar’s times. Third, and most impressively, the language of the poem represents an archaic style of Hebrew. Scarcely a line of this song is without problems; by some estimates in 70 percent of the verses the key words are difficult. Unlike the surrounding narrative, characteristic of classical Judean Hebrew, the ubiquity of archaic and hapax (unique) forms suggests that this document is ancient. Like Chaucerian and Shakespearean poetry, this ode was passed on from generation to generation unchanged.Two introductory questions of intention remain: (1) Why was this song composed in the first place? (2) Why did the author of the Book of Judges insert it here? The answer to the first depends upon the generic classification ascribed to the poem: as history it informs; as a ballad it entertains; as a heroic ode it inspires; as a hymn it calls for celebration. As a poetic recital of historical events, this ode offers the reader/hearer a glimpse into the early history of Israel. Because it offers a nearly contemporary picture of premonarchic Israel, some would argue that the picture it paints of Israel’s formative years is more reliable than the surrounding prose narrative. It characterizes these early decades as troubled times. Not only was the nation at the mercy of outsiders with whom they competed for control of the land (control of the Jezreel Valley seems to have been a key element in this conflict), internally the tribes found it difficult to work in concert. To be sure, Israel’s sense of a national community consisting of at least nine (or ten) tribes antedated the monarchy, but internal tensions were created by varying levels of tribal loyalty to the confederate ideal. The ode also offers a picture of the economy of the Israelites, who made their living by trading, herding sheep, and supporting the maritime trade of the Phoenicians. Above and beyond its sociopolitical significance, this poem reflects religious conditions in early Israel. Most obviously, the ideal Israel is portrayed as the people of Yahweh, engaged in his service, committed to him in covenant love, and called upon to bless and praise him (vv. 2–3). Conversely, the twofold occurrence of “The Lord, the God of Israel” in vv. 3 and 5 formally presents him as the patron deity of the nation. But unlike the gods of the nations around, Yahweh is not a territorial deity, hemmed in by the geographical boundaries of the land his people occupy. He is the cosmic Lord, the Commander of all the hosts of heaven (v. 20), who resides in Sinai and marches forth from Seir, the mountain of Edom, as the divine Warrior. But this song is also well aware of the fickleness of Israel’s devotion to their God. In fact, like the narrator of the Book of Judges as a whole, the composer attributes the turmoil and terror within Israel in this period to the nation’s betrayal of their God. “War in the gates” (NIV, “war came to the city gates”) is associated directly with the people’s choosing (bāḥar) “new gods,” that is, gods unknown to their ancestors (v. 8). Although this poem offers a window into the premonarchic social and religious world of Israel, its value in reconstructing specific historical events of this period is limited. This is after all a song, an impressionistic literary portrait, rather than a historical narrative. Driven by emotion, it is pervaded by figurative language. Without the benefit of chap. 4 only the barest of historical details could be extracted. The Israelites were engaged in a battle in the valley of Jezreel with Canaanite forces under the leadership of Sisera. Although the summons to battle appears to have gone out to the entire nation, not all the tribes responded. The Israelites seem to have been galvanized into action by two characters, Deborah and Barak, but their precise roles are not clear. In the end Israel’s victory was achieved with the aid of meteorological intervention and the heroic action of an outsider, Jael, who personally killed the enemy general. More than this we cannot extract from this poem. For the context and course of the battle and the specific actions of the protagonists we must consult the preceding prose account. This piece was also written at least in part to entertain an Israelite audience. The images of Yahweh marching forth from Seir like a conquering warrior, the deserted highways, Deborah the mother in Israel, affluent merchants riding on white donkeys draped with rich carpets, and stars fighting from heaven captivate the reader. Hardly anyone would fail to be amused by the ironic portrayals of Jael and Sisera’s mother in the concluding scenes. But the poem is much more than a ballad. The admiration of the poet for the principal characters is transparent. As a group the warriors of several tribes of Israel, especially the troops of Zebulun and Naphtali, who were willing to sacrifice their lives for the nation, are held up as models of courage. But individually the highest accolades go to two women, Deborah and Jael, whose courage and sagacity won the day for Israel. The feminine motif is obvious and intentional. On the one hand, Barak (“lightning”), the champion of Israel, is totally outshone by Deborah. He takes second place to her in the preamble (v. 1) and plays only a limited role in the ode. Deborah’s rise accounts for the turn in Israel’s fortunes, she receives the honorific epithet of “Mother in Israel” (v. 7), and she wins the loyalty of the troops (v. 15). On the other hand, Sisera, the champion of Canaan, falls victim to the shrewdness and energy of Jael. For her courage this outsider receives her own honorific epithet, “most blessed among women” (v. 24). Indeed because of her heroics this period in Israel’s history is referred to as “the days of Jael” (v. 6).
Although the deeds of these two women awe and inspire the reader, the composer would be disappointed with many contemporary studies that fail to rise beyond the human performances on the earthly stage to the heavenly sphere, where Yahweh sits enthroned above all the hosts of the universe. In the last analysis this is a hymn of celebration to God. He is the divine warrior, who has routed Sisera and his army, for whom the stars have fought from above and for whom the Kishon has fought from below. The warriors of Israel are Yahweh’s army (v. 23), and those who refuse to respond to the call to arms betray him. At the same time Sisera and his army are not merely the point men for Jabin and the Canaanites; they are enemies of Yahweh (v. 31). Obviously this ode has more than one aim. However, the opening summons to “bless the Lord” (v. 2; cf. v. 9) and to “sing praises to the God of Israel” (v. 3) and the concluding recognition of those who love determine its primary function: the celebration of Yahweh’s triumph over Israel’s foes. But in celebrating God’s triumph over the Canaanites, the poet also wages a polemical war against the gods of the Canaanites. In this ode, filled with allusions from Canaanite mythology, Yahweh assumes roles that the natives (and compromising Israelites) had ascribed to Baal, then beats the Canaanite deity at his own game. These observations may clarify the composition of the poem as an independent entity in the first place, but they do not explain its present incorporation in a larger literary composition. The prose conclusion (v. 31b) logically and stylistically follows immediately after 4:24. Why then does the author of the book interrupt the flow of the narrative with this lengthy insertion of an extraneous piece? What contribution does the poem make to the overall thesis of the book? The answer has already been hinted at in the discussion of its religious significance. First, the poem lends credibility and authority to the author’s perception of the premonarchic era as a time of religious syncretism, a problem that underlies the recurring crises in the book. His impressions of the causes of Israel’s problems are not figments of his imagination. This poem offers early objective evidence of this fundamental point.
Second, this poem recognizes that Israel was rescued from her enemies by extraordinarily courageous and gifted individuals. But more important, if the nation ever triumphs over her enemies, the glory must go ultimately and primarily to Yahweh, who deals with his people in mercy and grace, not according to what they deserve. God does indeed act for the benefit of his people, but he is driven by his own sovereign power and the determination to preserve a people called by his name. No one can stand against him when he appears. Preamble (5:1) 1On that day Deborah and Barak son of Abinoam sang this song: 5:1 Verse 1 functions as an editorial introduction to the song, comparable to the introductions to other ancient poems in the Old Testament. Three features of the note are significant. First, the role of Barak continues to be suppressed by naming him after Deborah. Second, as already observed, the genre of the document is suggested by the verb šîr, “to sing.” Third, the author intentionally links the singing of the song chronologically with the defeat of Sisera. The expression “on that day” (bayyôm hahûʾ) suggests it was composed as a spontaneous and instantaneous response to the triumph.Stanza I: Introit (5:2–3) 2“When the princes in Israel take the lead,when the people willingly offer themselves—praise the Lord!3“Hear this, you kings! Listen, you rulers!I will sing to the Lord, I will sing;I will make music to the Lord, the God of Israel. 5:2 The song opens with a rousing call for praise to God. The introit divides into two parts, an exhortation to praise God, expressed in the plural imperative, and the personal response of the lyricist, expressed in the first person. However, the former (v. 2) also divides into two segments, which respectively announce the context/occasion for celebration and charge the hearers/readers to bless Yahweh. The reasons for praise are expressed by means of two semantically parallel lines (each consisting of the preposition beth + infinitive construct + subject): the rulers of Israel took charge, and the people volunteered. Typical of poetry, objects for the verbs are omitted; the poet assumes familiarity with the historical event. The verse presents three major interpretive issues. First, what is the function of beth + infinitive construction? The NIV understands it in the usual sense, that is, as a temporal adverb, “When …” But this makes little sense before the imperative. In this context the preposition + infinitive is better interpreted “in view of the fact that …,” a function normally born by ʿal or ʾăšer.Second, what is the meaning of the root prʿ, which occurs twice, in the infinitive (biprōaʿ) and its cognate subject (pĕrāʿôt)? The NIV’s “when princes take the lead” assumes a derivation from a root cognate to Arabic faraʿa, “to excel, be eminent.” Conjoined with ʿam, “people,” Deborah hereby apparently recognizes the involvement of the leadership and the general population. But this interpretation is far from certain. If the present usage is to be related to Num 5:18 and 6:5, where the verb speaks of loosing the hair, then one may imagine either some routine act of preparation for battle or a ritual act of dedication. The context requires a correlative for hitnaddēb, “to present oneself, volunteer,” in the next line, which suggests a derived meaning something like “to let go, to abandon everything” [for the battle]. N. K. Gottwald is on the right track when he opines that the verse praises “the spontaneity and enthusiasm of the citizens in arms in their spirited response to the call to battle.” Accordingly, the first line of this pair may be translated “Because of the total commitment in Israel.” Third, what does it mean to “bless the Lord”? When the verb bērēk (piel) is used of someone greater “blessing” an inferior, it means “to endue someone with special power, to bestow special benefactions upon.” However, when someone lesser “blesses” a superior, it means “to acknowledge that person as the source of special power/benefactions.” In such contexts the verb functions as a virtual synonym of “to praise, extol.” This is clearly the sense required here. Yahweh is recognized as the worthy object of praise because the people have eagerly volunteered for battle. 5:3 The rhythm of the poem becomes more regular in v. 3, as Deborah summons the kings and commanders of Canaan to listen to him as she sings her praise to Yahweh. Of course the kings are not present to hear her, and even if they were, they would hardly have relished the triumphalist tone of this song. On the contrary, to the defeated Canaanites the sound of the victors expressing their delight in God for having triumphed over them (and by implication over their gods) will have been like salt in the wounds they were still licking. The singers’ enthusiasm is reflected in the parallelism of the next lines: I will sing to the Lord, I will sing; I will make music to the Lord, the God of Israel. Within the context of the Book of Judges this is a rare and welcome expression of devotion to Yahweh, here explicitly recognized as the God of Israel. These lines represent Deborah’s response to her own summons in the previous verse, and the verbs “to sing” and “to make music” represent her definition of the verb to “bless.” These verbs not only set the tone for the entire song but also announce the theme. Although Deborah will draw the reader into the scenes of Jael and Sisera’s mother toward the end of the ode, the reader must be aware that this is first and foremost a song of praise to God, not to any human hero. Stanza II: The Introduction of Yahweh (5:4–5) 4“O Lord, when you went out from Seir,when you marched from the land of Edom,the earth shook, the heavens poured,the clouds poured down water.5The mountains quaked before the Lord, the One of Sinai,before the Lord, the God of Israel. 5:4–5 Having declared her purpose in vv. 2–3, Deborah introduces the One who is to receive her praise in four versets of exquisite poetry. In theophanic form she envisions Yahweh as a divine warrior marching forth from Seir/Edom to the aid of his people. In Gen 36:20–21 and 1 Chr 1:38 Seir is a personal name, identifying the ancestor of an ethnic group associated with the Horites, who lived in the hill country of Seir (Gen 14:6). Deuteronomy 2:12, 22 notes that by the time the Israelites came up from Egypt the Edomites, descendants of Esau, Isaac’s elder son, had displaced the Horites and taken over their territory south and east of the Dead Sea. In terms reminiscent of his descent on Mount Sinai (Exodus 19), the song celebrates the arrival of Yahweh. When he passes through the heavens, the clouds release their water, and when he touches down on earth, the mountains quake. Scholars have long been intrigued by the association of Yahweh not only with Sinai but also with Seir/Edom in this text, as well as several other ancient and/or archaizing poems. Many find in these allusions support for what is commonly known as the speculative Kenite/Midianite hypothesis, according to which Yahweh was originally a Kenite or Midianite deity. By this theory the Israelites supposedly first learned of Yahweh when the group that came out of Egypt encountered the Midianites on their journey that eventually led them to Canaan. This passage supposedly alludes to Yahweh’s homeland in the south. Although the Israelites did indeed receive their primary revelation of him at Sinai, hypotheses like these are not only too speculative to be taken seriously but they distract from the primary intention of the text. This portrayal of Yahweh marching forth from Sinai/Seir/Edom represents a deliberate polemic against the perspectives cherished by the kings whom the poet has summoned to listen. They were Canaanites, whose god Baal resided in the north, on Mount Zaphon. But the Israelite triumph over Sisera and Jabin represented more than an earthly victory of an oppressed people over the oppressor. Yahweh, the Lord, had triumphed over Baal.
The biblical records consistently portray Sinai in the south as the site where Yahweh had appeared to the nation, gathered at the foot of the mountain, entered into covenant relationship with them, and then revealed the Torah. This was the definitive moment when he established himself as “the God of Israel” and Israel as “the people of the Lord.” Accordingly he may be designated zeh sînai, “the One of Sinai.” Having become their God, he led them from the south through Seir and Edom to the promised land. The present victory is of a piece with the history of his battles on Israel’s behalf since that date. If this introduction to Yahweh announces to the kings of Canaan that Yahweh, not their god, Baal, reigns supreme, it does the same for the Israelites whose fascination with Baal had brought on the present crisis. Like Elijah at Mount Carmel many years later (1 Kings 19), Deborah hereby announces that Yahweh who brought the nation up from Sinai alone is the God of Israel. This agenda is reinforced by the storm imagery, which the Canaanite religion generally associates with Baal. But the poet hereby claims that Yahweh, not Baal, rides the clouds to the aid of his people. At the same time the storm imagery anticipates the cosmic aspects of the victory later in the poem (vv. 19–21). Stanza III: The Emergence of Deborah (5:6–8) 6 “In the days of Shamgar son of Anath, in the days of Jael, the roads were abandoned;travelers took to winding paths. 7Village life in Israel ceased, ceased until I, Deborah, arose,arose a mother in Israel.8When they chose new gods,war came to the city gates,and not a shield or spear was seen among forty thousand in Israel. 5:6–8 Having introduced the One who is worthy of all praise, Deborah describes her own rise as his agent in six picturesque binary versets. Self-effacingly she does not identify the chronological context as “the days of Deborah” but as “the days of Shamgar” and “the days of Jael.” The expressions are significant for several reasons. First, and most obviously, they express Deborah’s admiration for these individuals and their significance in Israel’s history. Second, they reflect the ad hoc nature of the prophetic office. Deborah’s prophetic self-consciousness is beyond doubt, but she refuses to claim the right to designate an era after herself.
Third, by naming the period after not one but two foreigners, Deborah laments Israel’s own lack of civil leaders by whom the period could be named. Fourth, by identifying Shamgar by patronymic, “son of Anath,” she heightens the irony of the situation. Yahweh, who has discredited Baal with this victory over the Canaanites, is not above employing Shamgar, a member of a military guild dedicated to Anath, the consort of Baal in Canaanite mythology.Verses 6–8 do not reflect a precise chronology, but like the narrator of chap. 4, Deborah presents her own rise against the background of the crisis that gripped Israel in the eleventh century. She does so by describing the symptoms of the emergency in a series of colorful word pictures. First, the roadways were deserted. The word ʾŏrāḥôt, “paths,” from ʾāraḥ, “to be on the road, to wander,” refers to the winding caravan routes that criss-crossed the land of Palestine, especially across the Jezreel Valley linking northern Israelites with their countrymen to the south, perhaps in contrast to the main roads. The verb ḥādal, meaning “to cease, to hold back, refrain,” occurs three times in vv. 6–7 and functions as a key word. With the present inanimate subject the clause functions as a figure of speech for deserted highways. Israelite caravaneers have ceased to travel on their normal trade routes for fear of attack and/or extortionary tolls demanded at crossroads by the Canaanite oppressors. Second, instead of taking direct routes (nĕtîbôt) to their destinations, caravaneers and travelers resorted to evasive side roads, presumably through thickets and rough mountain passes to avoid detection by the enemy.
Third, the villagers in Israel held back. There is no agreement on the correct interpretation of the first verset of v. 7. It seems best, however, to understand pĕrāzôn (“village life”) as a collective designation for residents of rural unwalled settlements, in contrast to ʿārîm, “towns,” which were by definition fortified with protective walls. Unlike the walled Canaanite towns of the valleys and plains, Israelite villages in the hill country were unfortified (cf. Ezek 38:11). Instead, defense was based on their elevated hilltop locations and the arrangement of houses on the village perimeters. The psychological paralysis of the villagers is reflected in the twofold use of ḥādal, “to refrain, hold back.” Afraid of attack from the enemy in the open field, these folks stayed at home—farmers refused to go out to the fields, and trade among the tribes of Israel came to a standstill. In view of the Canaanite stronghold in the Jezreel Valley, the northern tribes seem to have been completely cut off from their southern fellow Israelites.
With (lit.) “Until I, Deborah, arose; Until I arose, a mother in Israel,” Deborah announces a break in the crisis. Her amazement at the turn of events is highlighted in four ways: (1) the repetitive parallelistic construction; (2) shifting from third to first person; (3) replacing conventional qamti,̂ “I rose,” with the awkward form šaqqamtî, which, if not a dialectical variant of šākam, “to rise early,” certainly sounds like it; (4) interjecting her personal name, Deborah, in the first line and interpreting her role in Israel with “mother in Israel” in the second. At first sight the expression ʾēm bĕyiśrāʾēl (“as mother in Israel”) appears to be an honorific title, perhaps reflecting Deborah’s acknowledged prophetic status within the nation. However, it probably should be interpreted less technically, anticipating the contrasting reference to Sisera’s mother in v. 28 and highlighting Deborah’s surprise that a woman should have played the decisive role in turning the tables. At the same time, the expression evokes affectionate maternal images, as if Deborah is the agent through whom Yahweh expresses his protective care over a people in a stressful and bewildering period. Although v. 8 is notoriously difficult, particularly the first line, it seems to describe resultant and/or concomitant circumstances to the rise of Deborah. First, God chose new leaders for Israel. The NIV follows the traditional interpretation in assuming that the subject of yibḥar, “to choose,” is Israel. It also assumes that the allusion is to Israel’s apostasy, which brought on the economic and political crisis, and the war referred to in the following line, in keeping with the general perspective of the surrounding narratives. However, not only does this interpretation introduce a notion that is otherwise foreign to the Song; it calls for a plural verb in place of the present singular. Furthermore, it overlooks the chronological sequence of events reflected in vv. 7–8: Deborah arose; then God chose new leaders; then fighting broke out. Thus it seems more natural to treat “God” as the subject of the verb and ḥădāšîm, “new ones,” that is, “new leaders,” as the object. One should see in the sequence of statements an allusion to Deborah’s involvement in the choice of Barak. But Barak’s role is deliberately downplayed by avoiding his name and by the use of a generalizing plural. In keeping with the theocentric agenda of the song, however, God is credited with the action. With the rise of Deborah and the choice of new leaders, the time had come for Israel to go on the offensive. The consonantal form of lḥm šʿrym looks like “bread (leḥem) in the gates,” but the Massoretes seem to have recognized that this makes no sense. So to avoid confusion they vocalized the first word lāḥem, creating a noun from a root meaning “to fight, engage in battle.” Since the Israelites lived in unwalled villages (pĕrāzôn), the “gates” must refer to the fortified Canaanite towns in the valleys. In the absence of any references to Israelite aggression toward Canaanite settlements in the previous narrative, this description is best interpreted as a licensed poetic portrayal of Canaanite attacks on Israelite villages as if they were walled towns. The last line of v. 8 describes Israel’s lack of weapons of war. Expending all their energies in eking out a living, the Israelites lacked any shields or spears needed to defend themselves. The number forty thousand represents a round figure for the tally of Israelite troops who responded to the call to arms. The lack of arms is rightfully interpreted as another symptom of the nation’s depressed condition, but in this context it represents another way of highlighting the role of Yahweh in the victory over the Canaanites.
Like the earlier battle of Jericho, this battle will be won by God in spite of human inadequacy. Stanza IV: A Call for Praise for Yahweh’s Righteous Acts (5:9–11c) 9My heart is with Israel’s princes, with the willing volunteers among the people. Praise the Lord! 10 “You who ride on white donkeys, sitting on your saddle blankets, and you who walk along the road, consider 11the voice of the singers at the watering places. They recite the righteous acts of the Lord, the righteous acts of his warriors in Israel. 5:9 Verses 9–11a express Deborah’s pride in Israel and praise to God for their response to the call to arms. The first verset (v. 9) bears several resemblances to v. 2: the same admiration for the leaders and volunteers among the troops, and the same summons to the hearer to bless Yahweh. The first word, libbî, “my heart, my thoughts,” expresses Deborah’s admiration for her people. The word for “princes,” ḥôqĕqê, is new. The participle derives from the root ḥāqaq, “to engrave, inscribe,” from which we also get ḥōq, “ordinance, law.” Accordingly, ḥōqēq suggests a leader in the community, tribal governor, perhaps one who writes down the names of those who volunteer and/ or command the troops in battle (cf. v. 14). 5:10 This verse fulfills the same function in this stanza as the first verset of v. 3 does in the first. The three designations for the addressees answer to the “kings” and “rulers” mentioned in the earlier context. However, instead of calling upon the Canaanite princes, Deborah now appeals to the rich merchants who smugly continued to ply their trade while the Israelites languished in their deprivation and vulnerability. Tawny female donkeys were preferred by the rich over the generic gray animals. They advertised their status by dressing the donkeys with luxurious [saddle] blankets. The Canaanite merchants’ sense of security in these troubled times for Israel is reflected in their confident traveling up and down the public roads. Whereas Deborah had earlier called upon the kings to listen to her ode, these she summons to meditation. Let them reflect and speak about Yahweh’s deeds and the sudden change in the fortunes of her countrymen. As in the appeal to the kings, one detects here a note of scorn and derision. The losers are called upon to sing with the victors. 5:11a-c Every phrase in v. 11 is difficult. The first is best interpreted as a reference to the excited conversations that engage those who gather at the water holes, whether these be wells or springs or pools of water. “Singers” translates a participle form that occurs only here. It should probably be understood as deriving from ḥāṣaṣ, “to divide,” alluding either to the distribution of water or the division of flocks for the purpose of watering (NASB). Like the post office in many small towns of the prairies, the watering holes served as community gathering places, where gossip was exchanged and significant events celebrated. There the Canaanite travelers stop and listen and join in the celebration of Yahweh’s victory. The reason for celebration is the “the righteous acts of the Lord” (ṣidqôt yhwh) and “the righteous acts of his villagers (NIV, “warriors”) in Israel.” However, since the fundamental meaning behind ṣdq is vindication rather than moral justice, and since this event in particular vindicates the Israelites as well as Yahweh, many interpret these righteous acts as victories. Deborah will herself recite those righteous actions in reverse order. Verses 11e–18 recount the righteous acts of God’s pirzōn, “villager[s]” in Israel; vv. 19–23 recite Yahweh’s righteous actions. Stanza V: A Recitation of Israel’s Righteous Actions (5:11d–18) “Then the people of the Lord went down to the city gates.12‘Wake up, wake up, Deborah! Wake up, wake up, break out in song! Arise, O Barak! Take captive your captives, O son of Abinoam.’13“Then the men who were left came down to the nobles;the people of the Lord came to me with the mighty. 14Some came from Ephraim, whose roots were in Amalek; Benjamin was with the people who followed you. From Makir captains came down, from Zebulun those who bear a commander’s staff. 15The princes of Issachar were with Deborah; yes, Issachar was with Barak, rushing after him into the valley. In the districts of Reuben there was much searching of heart. 16Why did you stay among the campfires to hear the whistling for the flocks? In the districts of Reuben there was much searching of heart. 17Gilead stayed beyond the Jordan. And Dan, why did he linger by the ships? Asher remained on the coast and stayed in his coves. 18The people of Zebulun risked their very lives; so did Naphtali on the heights of the field. 5:11d The strophe breaks are not easily established in this poem, but the last line in v. 11 is best treated as a thesis statement to vv. 12–18. The opening word ʾāz, “then,” echoes its earlier appearance in v. 8 and commends the interpretation of “Then the people of the Lord went down to/ against the gates” as a clarification of “Then [there was] war in the gates.” The verb yārad reflects the topography of the land, the Israelites occupying the hill country and having to go down to the cities in the plains. Again the reference to “gates” serves figuratively for the fortified cities of the Canaanites. Remarkably only here in the entire Book of Judges are the Israelites identified as ʿam yhwh, “the people of the Lord.” The expression reflects the ideal established by Yahweh’s covenant with his people at Mount Sinai many years earlier. Yahweh is the patron God of Israel; it is as his people that they volunteer for military service. 5:12 The emotional intensity of the ode picks up in v. 12 as Deborah imaginatively portrays God summoning to action the principal Israelite protagonists in the battle. The parallelism is deliberate, but so are the subtle distinctions drawn between Deborah and Barak. She begins logically with Yahweh’s summons to her to prophetic action. The twofold repetition of the imperative ʿûrî ʿûrî does not mean to “awake” from slumber but to rouse oneself for action. The prescribed action is identified with dabbĕrî šîr, literally “Speak a song!” It is difficult to know whether Deborah has in mind her own call of Barak (cf. 4:4–10) or her summoning of the army to battle (4:14). In either case by referring to the moment as a “song,” Deborah expresses her delight in reflecting on the event. This was the turning point in the struggle with the oppressor. The summons to Barak is more martial in tone. The verb qûm, “Arise,” employs the same root as the narrator’s declarations that God “raised” a deliverer for Israel in 3:9 and 15. The avoidance of this term for Deborah is deliberate. She does indeed play the most important role, but not as deliverer; as prophet she represents the presence and voice of God. Whereas the charge to Deborah is to “pronounce a song,” Barak, the son of Abinoam, is commanded to “take captive his own captives,” reversing the present situation in which Israel is held hostage by the Canaanites and ironically inverting the expectation of Sisera’s mother in v. 30. 5:13 In v. 13 the recitation of Israel’s “righteous” response resumes. The prophet has been aroused and the general summoned; now let the troops answer the call. This verse functions as a thematic opening announcement, describing in general terms the reaction of the Israelites to Yahweh’s call to arms. Although the second line ascribes to the respondents the honorific title of “people of the Lord,” the first line seems to identify them less nobly as śārîd, “escapees, survivors,” an apparent allusion to the oppression under which they had languished for so long. The endings of these lines are difficult. Assuming they function relatively synonymously, most interpret both ʾaddîrîm, “nobles,” and gibbôrîm, “the mighty,” as complimentary characterizations of the Israelite troops. However, this requires either an unnatural interpretation of the preposition before the first word or an emendation of the text. It is preferable to see in the first line a variation of v. 11de, with śārîd, “survivors” (NIV, “the men who were left”) substituting for “people of the Lord” and “the nobles” referring to the Canaanites who live in the “gates.” The use of contrasting expressions “survivors” and “people of the Lord” to refer to the same group is continued in the next line as “the people of the Lord” is brought back from v. 11d, and “against the nobles” is replaced by “against the mighty ones.” The motley remnant of Israelite survivors of the oppression dares to attack the vastly superior might of the Canaanites for Deborah, that is, for Yahweh, since as his prophet she represents him before the troops. In vv. 14–18 Deborah recites the roll of Israelite warriors. However, in so doing she laments the incompleteness of the list. The catalog of troops is divided into three groups: the volunteers (vv. 14–15a); the resistors (vv. 15b–17); the award winners (vv. 18). The Volunteers (5:14–15a) 5:14–15a Pride of place in the list of gallant troops goes to the Ephraimites, perhaps because this was Deborah’s tribe. Whatever the reason, this early impression of the Ephraimites is quite different from the centuries-later view of the narrator, who rarely has anything positive to say about this tribe. The following phrase, “whose roots were in Amaleq,” makes little sense in the context unless at this time the Amalekites (who later joined with the Midianites in oppressing Israel; cf. 6:3) had established a foothold in some of the Ephraimite highlands. Next came the Benjamites, with their military companies, followed by the commanders (mĕḥōqĕqîm, cf. v. 9) of Makir. Pentateuchal records observe that Makir was the eldest of Manasseh’s sons (Gen 50:23) and the father of Gilead. Numbers 32:39–40 reports that Makir captured the land of Gilead and that Moses assigned the land to him. Some suggest that Makir is the name of an originally itinerant mercenary group, but since the name here obviously refers to Manassite territory west of the Jordan, it is less speculative to accept Makir as a “poetic substitute” for Manasseh. According to the last line of v. 14, Zebulun’s contribution consisted of military leaders, “those who mustered with the staff of the commander.” Judging by the amount of attention given to Issachar in v. 15, Deborah has the highest praise for this tribe. Their officers stood by her, and the tribe was loyal to Barak. Set under his immediate command (NIV “rushing after him”; lit. “sent at his feet”), they charged into the valley [of Jezreel]. The Resistors (5:15b–17) 5:15b But not all was well in Israel. Among the clans (NIV “districts”) of Reuben there was serious reflection. It is difficult to know what to make of the pair of similar expressions that occur at the ends of vv. 15 and 16 respectively. At first sight the first (lit.), “the resolutions of heart were great/intense,” appears to suggest a loyal Reubenite response to the call up of troops. But the clause is quite ambiguous and could just as well be interpreted negatively: they were resolute in their refusal to go. 5:16 This verse settles the issue, as Deborah asks why the Reubenite clans sat around their campfires/open hearths while musicians entertained them with shepherds’ pipes. This is an image of men who cannot be bothered; these pastoralists are indifferent to the wars of their sedentary countrymen on the other side of the Jordan. The last line creates an inclusio with v. 15b, but it also represents a clever play on the earlier version. They appeared to have serious second thoughts, but in the end they refused to get involved. 5:17 Verse 17 adds the names of Gilead, Dan, and Asher to the list of those who could not be bothered to intervene on behalf of their countrymen. Gilead remained on the other side of the Jordan. Gilead is a topographical designation for the region east of the Jordan between the Yarmuk River in the north and the Wadi Hesban in the south. Here the name substitutes for Gad, to whom the southern part of this region was allotted (Josh 13:24–28). In the west Dan was busy in the shipping industry, presumably as clients of the Phoenicians. While the association of Dan with the northern tribe of Asher suggests that the battle with the Canaanites occurred later than the events described in chaps. 17–18, the use of the verb gûr, “to sojourn” (NIV “linger”), indicates they had not yet established themselves firmly in their new territory in the Hulah Valley north of the Sea of Galilee. As for the men of Asher, they preferred the beaches and harbors of the Mediterranean to the inland battlefields. All of these tribes (Reuben, Gad, Dan, Asher) might have been excused for noninvolvement because of distance or preoccupation with other duties, but the statement contains a strong element of rebuke. The Award Winners (5:18) 5:18 The roll call of Israelite tribes concludes in v. 18 as Deborah singles out Zebulun and Naphtali for special honor. Both are characterized for their bravery, disdaining their lives (nepeš) to the point of death. The final phrase, “on the heights of the field,” seems to do double duty, describing the Esdraelon Valley, where the battle occurred, as a region of undulating fields and gentle hills. The latter give way to higher foothills as one moves to the edges of the valley. It has already been observed that this document preserves one of the earliest extant records of Israel’s premonarchic period. Ten names are listed. Two tribes are referred to by secondary names (Makir = Manasseh; Gilead = Gad). The absence of two tribes that received territorial allotments from Joshua (Judah and Simeon) suggests either that this song antedates the ascendancy of Judah under David’s reign or that it reflects a subtle anti-Judahite posture. Some tribes refused to join the campaign; Judah and Simeon are out of the picture altogether. Although Deborah expresses a keen sense of nationality and clearly recognizes which tribal groups are in and which are out, she also recognizes several fundamental problems in Israel. First, restricted to the hill country of Palestine, they reside in unwalled settlements without defensive weapons and are vulnerable to outside harassment. This situation undoubtedly derives from the economic and military superiority of the Canaanites living in the fertile valleys, but it may also be a leftover effect of Merneptah’s campaign in Palestine in 1207 b.c. Second, while theoretically united in their worship of Yahweh, the Israelites lack political and military cohesion. Some tribes refused to sacrifice individual interest and well-being for the sake of the nation. These come under sharp rebuke. On the other hand, Deborah acknowledges the loyalty of Zebulun and Naphtali, two tribes that were relatively insignificant in later history, but at this time they played a vital role in rescuing the nation from oblivion at the hands of aliens’ oppressions. Ephraim’s rising influence is reflected in this tribe’s position at the head of the list in vv. 11–17. In any case, contrary to minimalists who argue that the history of Israel begins with David, or even later, this song attests to a vibrant sacral community of faith united by traditions of common descent from an ancestor Jacob and the worship of Yahweh that existed in Palestine in the twelfth century b.c. Stanza VI: The Battle (5:19–23) 19“Kings came, they fought; the kings of Canaan fought at Taanach by the waters of Megiddo, but they carried off no silver, no plunder. 20From the heavens the stars fought, from their courses they fought against Sisera. 21The river Kishon swept them away, the age-old river, the river Kishon. March on, my soul; be strong! 22Then thundered the horses’ hoofs—galloping, galloping go his mighty steeds. 23‘Curse Meroz,’ said the angel of the Lord. ‘Curse its people bitterly, because they did not come to help the Lord, to help the Lord against the mighty.’ Verses 19–23 represent the climax of the Song, telescoping into five short poetic verses the actual battle between the Israelite and Canaanite forces. In the absence of any corresponding reference to kings fighting in the prose account (4:13–16), the opening double reference (in chiastic arrangement) may be explained as poetic hyperbolic flourish. To Deborah, the Israelite triumph over Sisera represented a victory over all the Canaanite kingdoms of the land, a truly remarkable feat in view of the deprivation described in vv. 6–7 and the superiority of Canaanite military technology. Indeed the primary antagonist, Sisera, is not mentioned until the end of v. 20. 5:19 The construction in v. 19 construes the enemies as going on the offensive, rallying their forces “at Taanach, by the waters of Megiddo.” Since Megiddo is not located on the Wadi Kishon, the phrase “the waters of Megiddo” anticipates the course of the battle. Waiting until Barak’s troops had come down Mount Tabor and entered the Jezreel Valley, Sisera mobilized his forces and crossed the Kishon, which lay between the two armies. For most of the year the Kishon is little more than a brook and would have posed no problem for infantry or chariotry. But the last line of v. 19 hints at how badly the battle went for the Canaanites: they failed to make off with any loot, here referred to in terms of “plunder” (or “plunder,” beṣaʿ) and “silver” (kesep). 5:20–21 Undoubtedly Sisera expected a swift and easy victory for his vastly superior military forces. There was no way he could have prepared for what actually happened: the intervention of heavenly forces on Israel’s behalf, the sudden flooding of the Kishon, and the crippling of the chariotry. The first phenomenon is described in magnificently enigmatic form: the stars left their courses and fought against Sisera from heaven. In this imagery Deborah draws on a common ancient Near Eastern literary motif, according to which the gods intervene on their devotees’ behalf by engaging the heavenly hosts. Note especially the following excerpt from the Gebel Barkal stela of Thutmose III of Egypt (1479–1425 b.c.): Hear you, O people of the South who are at the holy mount … so that you may know the wonderful deed (of Amon-Ra) … (the guards) were about to take up (their watchposts) in order to meet at night and carry out the watch command. It was in the second hour (=in the second watch) and a star came from the south of them. Never had the like occurred. It flashed against them from its position. Not one withstood before it … with fire for their faces. No one among them found his hand nor looked back. Their chariotry/horses were not more …The second phenomenon, the flooding of the Kishon, echoes what happened to Pharaoh’s armies at the Reed Sea. Suddenly, what had previously been an immeasurable advantage becomes a death trap. The heavens opened up, deluging the Jezreel Valley with rain and turning the placid and predictable Kishon into a mighty torrent, softening the ground for horses and chariots and sweeping the chariots away. This association of the stars fighting from heaven and the flooding of the Kishon seems odd to the modern reader, but both may be understood as evidences of the arrival of Yahweh (cf. vv. 4–5), who usurps the signs of theophanic advent which Canaanites had associated with Baal. In some Ugaritic texts the stars are declared to be the source of rain. The last line of v. 21, which is awkward in context, seems to represent Deborah’s spontaneous outburst at the thought of this incredible event. The self-exhortation to “advance with strength” is triumphalist, conjuring up images of a conqueror treading the neck of the vanquished. 5:22 The sense of v. 22 is also obscure, primarily because the roots of the verb hālam and the noun dahărôt are extremely rare. The first (“thundered”), which elsewhere means “to hammer,” is generally viewed as a reference to the pounding of horses’ hooves as they gallop off. The duplication of dahărôt dahărôt (NIV, “galloping, galloping”) supposedly captures the rhythmic clatter of galloping horses. But the context renders this interpretation unlikely. Both the prose account, which speaks of the total rout of the chariot group by Barak’s infantry (4:15–16), and the poetic version, which speaks of the chariots being swept away, leave little room for galloping horses. It is preferable to interpret dāhărôt as the wild rearing of the stallions in the frenzy of battle and hālĕmû as the frantic flailing of their fore hooves in the tumult of torrent. In any case, v. 22 is best understood as the incapacitation of the horses. This is the last in a triad of supernatural events that conspired against the Canaanites. 5:23 The stanza concludes with a command by a messenger of Yahweh (malʾak yhwh) to curse Meroz because they did not support Yahweh against the Canaanite heroes (NIV, “mighty,” gibbôrîm). The verse is awkward for several reasons. In the first place it would have been more appropriate after the complaints about Reuben, Gilead, Dan, and Asher in vv. 16–17. Second, Meroz, which is mentioned only here in the Old Testament, cannot be located. It must have been located within a triangle whose apexes are marked by Mount Tabor on the east, where Barak assembled his troops (4:6, 12, 14), the Kishon in the west, and Megiddo or Taanach in the south, perhaps near Sarid, though a closer identification is impossible. Third, what is the envoy (traditionally rendered “angel”) of Yahweh doing here? We have not heard from him or any such figure since 2:4. In view of the similarity of roles between prophets and messengers in this book and elsewhere, this verse could be considered a prophetic utterance, Deborah being the most likely candidate for speaker. Accordingly, she who had announced the arrival of Yahweh to fight for his people (4:14) would hereby invoke a curse on this town at God’s command.On the other hand, Neef has recently associated this angelic figure with the malʾak yhwh, “messenger of the Lord,” who appears elsewhere in texts involving the conquest of Canaan. In Exod 23:20; 32:34; 33:2 the “angel” is the one sent by God to go before Israel, guide them through the desert, and lead them into the promised land. Since these references occur within contexts where Israel is not to turn away to the gods of the Canaanites (Exod 23:23) and to refuse to enter into any agreements with them, lest they become a snare to Israel (Exod 23:28–33; Judg 2:3), the messenger’s involvement may provide the clue to the Meroz problem. The people of Meroz have violated the divine command specifically. They seem to have arrived at agreements with the Canaanites who lived in the vicinity and adopted their gods. By invoking this curse on Meroz, the town is presented as an example for the rest of the nation. This interpretation is rendered all the more plausible in view of the juxtapositioning of the reference to the curse next to Jael. As noted earlier, the verse seems awkwardly placed until one recognizes the contrast. Meroz represents those Israelites who have taken their stand on the side of the Canaanites; Jael represents those non-Israelites who have taken their stand on the side of Israel. Stanza VII: In Praise of Jael (5:24–27) 24“Most blessed of women be Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, most blessed of tent-dwelling women. 25He asked for water, and she gave him milk; in a bowl fit for nobles she brought him curdled milk. 26Her hand reached for the tent peg, her right hand for the workman’s hammer. She struck Sisera, she crushed his head, she shattered and pierced his temple. 27At her feet he sank, he fell; there he lay. At her feet he sank, he fell; where he sank, there he fell—dead. The Song takes an unexpected turn in vv. 24–27, as Deborah shifts her attention from the public spectacle of armies battling in the Jezreel Valley to the private encounter between two individuals, Jael and Sisera. The events portrayed transpire inside the former’s tent. No information on how or why Sisera found himself inside Jael’s tent is offered; the composer assumes familiarity with the story as told in chap. 4. Although scholars have tended to highlight the discrepancies between this account of Jael’s heroic deeds and the prose narrative in 4:17–22, we may begin by noting the points of agreement. (1) The human hero of the story is a woman, Jael by name. (2) Jael is the wife of Heber the Kenite. (3) The critical event occurs inside a tent. (4) Jael responds to Sisera’s request for water by giving him milk. (5) Her instruments of death were a hammer and a tent peg (yātēd). (6) She drove the tent peg through Sisera’s skull. (7) Sisera ended up dead on the ground.
5:24–25 The killing of Sisera is described with savage pleasure. The stanza opens with an unrestrained praise of Jael, an outsider, the wife of Heber the Kenite (4:17). Indeed Deborah recognizes her initially as the most blessed of women. Perhaps because of the composer’s high esteem for Deborah in particular and Israelite women in general, however, the blessing is qualified by limiting the comparison to women who live in tents. These would include the Kenites and other non-Israelite migratory folk who moved up and down Palestine, in contrast to the Israelites who lived in houses. What draws Deborah’s admiration is Jael’s resourcefulness and her courage. First, when Sisera, her guest, asked for water, she not only brought him milk but treated him royally by serving the milk in a magnificent bowl, fit for the leader of the Canaanite nobles. Even the verb, hiqrîbâ, “she brought/presented,” in the second line is formal, as in the presentation of tribute to a king (3:17, 18) or offerings to God. The reference to curds or yogurt (ḥemʾâ) in the second line does not mean she presented him with two kinds of food. The expression concretizes and/or specifies ḥālāb in the first line, which may refer to any milk product. The canons of poetic parallelism require the double reference. 5:26 The narration slows down deliberately in vv. 26–27 as the poem describes with obvious relish the death of the enemy of Israel. Verse 26 consists of two pairs of semantically parallel lines. In each case the second line offers a more precise definition of the action cited in the first line. The first pair of lines focuses on the murderer, Jael, who grasps the tools of murder—a tent peg and a workman’s hammer. The specification occurs in the designations for hand; yādāh, “her hand,” is replaced with yĕmînāh, “her right hand.” While the second pair highlights the action of Jael by employing four different but similar sounding words for “striking,” the attention is drawn to Sisera the victim by replacing the general term, “his head,” with, “his temple.”5:27 Verse 27 offers one of the most impressive examples of staircase parallelism in the Old Testament. But it is not only the repetition that determines its force. The visual impression is reinforced by beginning the lines with the prepositional phrase “Between her feet …” Though Deborah refuses to take the focus off Jael, what she describes here is the sight Barak would have faced when he entered the tent: Sisera collapsed, fallen, lying dead on the floor. The verbs function as virtual synonyms; their combination creates the image of a totally vanquished foe, an impression reinforced by the replacement of the verb šākab, “to lie,” with the passive participle, šādûd, “plundered, violently despoiled” (NIV, “dead”) of his manly glory.Stanza VIII: Waiting in Vain for the Prize (5:28–30)28“Through the window peered Sisera’s mother; behind the lattice she cried out, ‘Why is his chariot so long in coming? Why is the clatter of his chariots delayed?’29The wisest of her ladies answer her; indeed, she keeps saying to herself, 30‘Are they not finding and dividing the spoils: a girl or two for each man, colorful garments as plunder for Sisera, colorful garments embroidered, highly embroidered garments for my neck—
all this as plunder?’The shocking shift in image and emotion from stanza VII to VIII is almost too much for the reader. One moment we are inside Jael’s tent, observing Jael, who has cast off her traditional matronly role and now stands triumphantly over the corpse of Sisera, a victim of her violent act. The next moment we are in his mother’s house as she gazes out her window and wonders why her son does not return from the battle. If the first scene seems contrived, the pathos of the second is entirely realistic. With extraordinary poignancy Deborah has captured the hope and horror of war as seen through a woman’s eyes. The men are engaged in the fury of battle, while the women wait and wonder at home. As we listen, we do not know whether or not to feel sorry for Sisera’s mother. We know that Sisera will never return, but she does not. We know that if he did, he would come bearing the spoils of war, but it would be at Israel’s expense. Deborah, the literary artist, is an Israelite, and her intent is to draw us into her view of the world. But Sisera’s mother is a human being too; she is a mother, worried about her son.5:28–29 Assuming the posture of an outside observer, the poet describes Sisera’s mother gazing out her window and weeping. The image of this noble woman in her palace with royal retainers presents a sharp contrast to Jael, the rustic wife of Heber the Kenite living in her tent. And the poignancy of the scene is heightened by the rare (in poetry) insertion of direct speech. Her feelings are expressed in a pair of parallel questions, each beginning with “Why?” With just cause she worries about the delay of Sisera’s chariots. But she waits in vain for the sight of his chariots on the horizon and the sound of horses’ hooves. The personal attendants of Sisera’s mother try to console her, no doubt by describing the best-case scenario. However, she tries to convince herself that all is well by answering her own question. No doubt based on stories that her own son has told after previous victories, she imagines a scene in the enemy camp after they have been defeated. 5:30 The answer of Sisera’s mother is cast in the form of a complex rhetorical question, which, in anticipating a positive answer, reflects the woman’s heartlessness. Even as she speaks she imagines her son’s soldiers discovering the loot in the enemy camp and dividing it as booty. The items she lists represent the highest prizes of war. For the victors, at the top of the list are the enemy’s women, here referred to as raḥam raḥămātayim, literally “a womb, a pair of wombs” for each man, that is, “a wench, two wenches.” One might have expected a refined woman like Sisera’s mother to be more sensitive to the vulnerability of women in the violent world of male warfare. At the very least she could have used a more neutral expression like naʿărāh, “girl, damsel,” or ʾāmāh, “maid, handmaid.” Her preference for this overtly sexual expression reflects the realities of war: to victorious soldiers the women of vanquished foes represent primarily objects for their sexual gratification, another realm to conquer. Obviously this woman’s loyalties to her son and her own people overshadow her concern with the welfare of her gender as a group. The second treasured prize of war was rich garments plundered from the enemy camp. Two expressions describe these garments. The first is “colorful garments as plunder” (lit., “the plunder of colorful garments”). The second is more literally “a garment double embroidered for the neck of the spoiler.” Stanza IX: Concluding Aspiration (5:31a) 31“So may all your enemies perish, O Lord! But may they who love you be like the sun when it rises in its strength.” Having focused on matters of personal human interest for seven verses, in v. 31 the poem returns to the theological plane. This is after all an ode of praise to Yahweh for the victory he has won on Israel’s behalf. The conclusion is cast in the form of a double petition addressed to God, reflecting a consciousness of the covenant blessings and curses as spelled out in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28. First, the composer prays that all Yahweh’s enemies would perish, that is, experience the same fate as Sisera and the Canaanites. In keeping with other early poems in which enmity against God is a common theme, this plea assumes that anyone who opposes Israel opposes Yahweh. Accordingly, the composer of this song must have had in mind any non-Israelite enemies of Yahweh, like Sisera and the Canaanites or Pharaoh in Exodus 15. But the expression is deliberately ambiguous and, within the present literary context of the Book of Judges, the narrator undoubtedly intends a paraenetic challenge to his readers. An enemy of God is anyone whose actions and aims run counter to Yahweh’s agenda. If the Israelites persist in their apostasy and continue behaving like Canaanites, this virtual curse applies to them as well. Second, Deborah prays for the vindication and victory of “those who love him.” Her original audience will surely have identified these as the people of Israel, in opposition to the Canaanites. Like “those who are your enemies” in the previous line, however, the expression ʾōhăbāyw (lit., “ones loving him”) intentionally opens the possibility of divine vindication to anyone who loves Yahweh. The semantic range of Hebrew ʾāhēb corresponds to the English “love,” and its recognized opposite is also “hate” (śānēʾ), as Judg 14:16 indicates. The word occurs only two additional times in Judges, in each case describing the sexual and/or marital love between a man and a woman. But the Hebrew term ʾāhēb is much more than an emotional term; it denotes, fundamentally, “covenant commitment.” The theological antecedent to the present reference is found in the second command of the Decalogue and has direct relevance for the problem that plagued Israel during the period of Judges: You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything.… You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate [śānēʾ] me, but showing love [ḥesed] to thousands who love [ʾāhēb] me and keep my commandments. Exod 20:5–6 Deborah prays that those who are covenantally committed to Yahweh and who express that commitment with grateful and unreserved obedience may be like the sun when it rises in full force. Although the idiom derives ultimately from the daily emergence of the sun on the eastern horizon, one may recognize in the present usage a polemic against pagan notions. In ancient Near Eastern thought the sun was worshiped as a deity who rode triumphantly across the sky in his chariot each day. The association of the sun with a chariot derives from the sun’s disclike appearance. The ancients perceived it as a chariot wheel turning through the heavens. Indeed the present image may have been suggested to Deborah by the earlier references to Sisera’s chariots. If this interpretation is correct, the prayer not only wishes for Yahweh’s people continued triumph against their enemies; this military nuance also creates a fitting inclusio with the opening vision of Yahweh coming forth from Sinai ahead of his people (v. 4). No earthly chariots can stand against those who are covenantally committed to God. God’s Gift of Security (Continued) (5:31b) Then the land had peace forty years. 5:31b Having interrupted the final note on this narrative concerning Deborah and Barak and the Canaanites with the Song that derives from shortly after the events described in chap. 4, the narrator returns to some unfinished business. Without commentary or interpretation he notes simply that the land had rest for forty years, that is, for one generation, after the defeat of Sisera and Jabin. But the reader is left to wonder whether the internal causes of the previous crises have actually been resolved. Only by reading on does one learn the truth.
Theological and Practical Implications The Book of Judges portrays a degenerate Israelite society. Little that transpires in the book is normal or normative. The Canaanite oppression was Yahweh’s response to the persistent idolatry of his people. It is remarkable that when they cry out and come to Deborah for a word from God concerning their problems, he answers. But the answer he provides catches everyone by surprise. On first sight the call and commissioning of Barak seems natural enough, except that Barak is an unlikely leader. Weak-willed and indecisive, he hesitates to enter the fray. When he engages the enemy in battles at Yahweh’s command, Yahweh provides a remarkable victory, but he will not allow Barak the satisfaction of using this event for personal glory. God’s battles are not fought with human weapons nor for the sake of human glory. The honor of Yahweh’s name is the primary concern. From another perspective this account paints a remarkable picture of strong and courageous women. Jael dares to break with convention and with her family’s loyalties to come to the aid of Yahweh’s people. The author draws no moral lessons from her action; he merely presents these as another extraordinary example of God’s ability to incorporate the free actions of human beings in the fulfillment of his plan. As for Deborah, this remarkable woman is without doubt the most honorable human figure in the Book of Judges and one of the most remarkable characters in the entire Old Testament. As the prophet of God in a dark and dismal age she represented a ray of light and hope. Yahweh is the true hero of the account, but the character and achievements of his agent should not be minimized. In an era of weak men God raised a woman to serve as a lightning rod against his wrath. The priesthood’s silence in the chapter is deafening. But just because they are in spiritual decline does not mean that Yahweh has abandoned his people totally. He still has his representative. She sits not at Bethel or Shiloh, where the ark is, but outside the town, receiving the pleas of the Israelites on Yahweh’s behalf. Her commissioning of Barak represents the divine mišpāṭ. In fact, as his representative she goes the second mile. She accompanies him into battle, as a recognized representative and spokesperson for the Commander in Chief. That is her role; no more and no less. In so doing she is granted full authority to take her place among the continuous line of God’s servants the prophets. While they served as agents of God’s grace in every age, in none was it more welcome (and undeserved) than in the dark days of the governors. To borrow a note from the first century a.d. author Pseudo-Philo, in Deborah the grace of God has been awakened; through her the works of Yahweh have been praised. That people in our day, especially women, should find inspiration in Deborah is not surprising. She does not displace men in officially established positions of leadership, but her gender does not disqualify her from significant service for God. And so it will be in any age. God’s call to service often catches his people by surprise, but when he calls, we must respond to his command, even when it appears to run counter to convention.
Oppression by Jabin and Sisera Ended by Deborah and Barak. 4:1–5:31. 4:1. And the children of Israel again did evil in the sight of the Lord when Ehud was dead. During the lifetime of Ehud, Israel remained true to the Lord. Subsequently, however, a fresh outbreak of idolatry ushered in another period of oppression. 2. The Lord sold them into the hand of Jabin, king of Canaan, that reigned in Hazor. The earlier oppressions were from outside the land of Canaan. Jabin, however, a Canaanite ruler, led an uprising against the Israelites who, under Joshua, had dispossessed them. Hazor was the most important stronghold in northern Canaan. The captain of whose host was Sisera, which dwelt in Harosheth of the Gentiles. Sisera’s home, Hărōshet haggôyim, is modern Tell ’Amar, located at the place where the Kishon River passes through a narrow gorge to enter the Plain of Acre. It is about ten miles northwest of Meggido. 3. He had nine hundred chariots of iron. See 1:19, where the Philistines are similarly described as possessing chariots of iron. These were most formidable war equipment to the Israelites, who had not yet entered the Iron Age. Twenty years he mightily oppressed the children of Israel. For half a generation Israel was oppressed by the Canaanites, who used their strategic locations in the Valley of Esdraelon as vantage points from which to expand their holdings.4. And Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, she judged Israel at that time. Deborah is described as both a prophetess and a Judge. At a time of despair she aroused her people to fight. 5. And she dwelt under the palm tree of Deborah. Instead of dwelt we might read sat. Part of Deborah’s responsibility as a Judge was to sit as arbitress in the settlement of disputes. The particular tree associated with her Judgeship was between Ramah and Beth-el. Ramah was in Benjamin, north of Jerusalem. This is the area in which Samuel subsequently judged Israel (I Sam 7:16). 6. And she sent and called Barak the son of Abinoam out of Kedesh-naphtali. Kedesh-naphtali was a City of Refuge (Josh 20:7; 12:22). This was the part of Israel closest to the Canaanite oppressors. Go and draw toward mount Tabor. Barak was ordered to muster the armies of Israel at Mount Tabor, in the northeastern part of the Plain of Esdraelon. 7. And I will draw unto thee to the river Kishon, Sisera ... and I will deliver him into thine hand. Deborah spoke as a prophetess. God promised through her to bring destruction to Sisera’s armies. 8. If thou wilt go with me, then I will go. Barak wanted the assurance that the prophetess would accompany him, thus insuring success in battle. 9. And she said, I will surely go with thee ... the Lord shall sell Sisera into the hand of a woman. Deborah promised to accompany Barak, but she declared that a woman would be the heroine. This anticipates the part played in the defeat of the Canaanites by Jael, the wife of Heber. 10. And Barak called Zebulon and Naphtali to Kedesh. The two northern tribes had the responsibility of meeting the threat from Sisera.11. Now Heber the Kenite, which was of the children of Hobab, the father-in-law of Moses. The sacred historian provides some background material concerning the Kenites. They appear to have been nomadic smiths whom Moses first met during his sojourn in the desert before he became leader of the Exodus. Heber had separated himself from the main body of his tribe and had settled near Kedesh. 12. And they showed Sisera that Barak the son of Abinoam was gone up to mount Tabor. Sisera, being informed of Barak’s movements, assembled his forces, including the nine hundred iron chariots, and marched from Harosheth to the Kishon. 14. So Barak went down from mount Tabor, and ten thousand men after him. Assured by Deborah that God was about to bring a great victory to Israel, Barak and his ten thousand men sallied forth against the Canaanite army in the valley. 15. And the Lord discomfited Sisera. The Canaanites were panic-stricken. The sudden onslaught of the Israelite army and the storm that caused the Kishon to overflow its banks (5:21) forced the Canaanites to flee from their chariots, which they left mired in the valley 17. Sisera fled away on his feet to the tent of Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite. With the rest of his army destroyed, Sisera’s prime concern was to save his own life. For there was peace between Jabin the king of Hazor and the house of Heber the Kenite. Sisera had reason to think that he would be safe if he reached the house of Heber. Evidently the Canaanites had not oppressed the nomadic Kenites in their midst, and the Kenites had not taken part in the Israelites uprising against them. 18. And Jael went out to meet Sisera, and said unto him, Turn in, my lord. Jael offered the hospitality of her tent to the frightened Sisera. Whether or not she invited him into her tent in order to kill him is a matter of inference. She covered him with a mantle. The exact meaning of the word rendered mantle is uncertain. It may also be rendered tent curtain. 19. She opened a bottle of milk, and gave him drink, and covered him. Sisera asked for water, but Jael opened the lamb or goatskin bottle in which milk was kept and poured him a bowlful. 20. Stand in the door of the tent. Sisera had reason to suspect that the Israelites would pursue him. He asked Jael to tell them that he was not in her tent. Her acts of hospitality led him to feel that he could trust her. 21. Then Jael, Heber’s wife, took a nail of the tent...and smote the nail into his temples...So he died. Among the Bedouins it is the responsibility of the women to pitch the tents, and this may have been true in antiquity. The tent pin and the mallet that Jael used were probably of wood. Sisera, exhausted from his difficult escape, was sound asleep, and Jael considered this her opportunity to kill the enemy of Israel. Some commentators suggest that Jael was not sympathetic with the neutrality of her husband (4:17), and that her actions toward Sisera were motivated by her loyalty toward Israel. Whether or not her murder of Sisera was premeditated is beside the point, as far as the record in Judges is concerned. From the Israelite point of view, she was a heroine for bringing death to Sisera. 22. And, behold, as Barak pursued Sisera, Jael came out to meet him. Jael brought Barak the good news that the Canaanite captain was dead. 23. So God subdued on that day Jabin the king of Canaan before the children of Israel. Scripture does not abstract God from historical proceses. The act of Jael is described, but the victory is ascribed to God. The attitude toward history throughout the Bible is consistent. God allows the heathen to chasten his people, and God raises up delivers to save them. Cause and effect is meaningful at the historical level, but God is seen as the Power behind all that takes place, good or bad. It is not necessary to justify Jael’s act. Even wicked deeds are represented in Scripture as furthering God’s ultimate purposes (cf. Acts 2:23, 24; Ps 76:10).
5:1. Then sang Deborah and Barak. The account of the defeat of Sisera is given in two recensions, one in prose (Judges 4), and the other in poetry (Judges 5). Most critical authorities ascribe very great antiquity to the Song of Deborah, dating it near the events it describes. 2. Praise ye the Lord for the avenging of Israel, when the people willingly offered themselves. The ode commences with an exhortation to praise the Lord. The words that immediately follow have been interpreted in varying ways. One rendering preserves the parallelism of the original: For the leading of the leaders in Israel, for the volunteering of the people. Quite different is the translation: For that they let the long hair go loose in Israel. The latter suggests either that Israel became practically a nation of Nazarites, or that they enjoyed the freedom and strength with which the long hair of the Nazarite was associated. 3. Hear, O ye kings; give ear, O ye princes. The rulers of the nations are urged to consider the mighty acts of the God of Israel. 4. Lord, when thou wentest out of Seir, when thou marchedst out of the field of Edom. In contrast to the fertility-gods of Canaan, the God of Israel was associated with the arid regions of the south, particularly Sinai and Horeb. As he had entered into covenant with his people at Sinai, and as he had provided for them during the wilderness wandering, so now he is pictured as coming out of Seir and Edom to deliver his people from their oppressors. 5. The mountains melted from before the Lord. The RSV renders this, The mountains quaked before the Lord. Moore prefers The mountains streamed, which is comparable to the RV flowed down. The picture is of God setting forth from his abode to assist his people in the conflict with Sisera. All nature was convulsed as God acted in power. The imagery is poetic and is designed to impress upon the mind of the reader the awesomeness of the Divine activity. Even that Sinai. The Israelites doubtless associated Sinai with the theophany to Moses and the giving of the Law. There Israel entered into covenant with God. Here God is pictured as coming from the south, even Sinai, to deliver his people. 6. The highways were unoccupied, and the travellers walked through byways. The Canaanites had secured control of the main roads throughout the land, so that the Israelites who had to travel used the byways, literally, crooked paths, the circuitous bypaths unfrequented by the enemy. 7. The inhabitants of the villages ceased. Peasants deserted their villages for the protection of the walled cities. Others suggest the rendering, The rulers ceased in Israel. Until that I, Deborah, arose. The verb may be either the first person or the second person, feminine, with an archaic ending. Most recent translations render, Until that thou didst arise, Deborah (JPS; similarly RSV). A mother in Israel. The phrase occurs in II Sam 20:19, where it denotes a city. 8. They chose new gods. These words have puzzled Biblical scholars. Their most obvious meaning is that Israel, devoid of help from God, turned to idolatry. Some commentators make God the subject, reading, God (˒Elōhı̂m) chose something new (so the Peshitta and the Vulgate). Others translate ˒Elōhı̂m as judges, although such a usage is foreign to the Book of Judges. It seems best to render the words as in the AV, seeing in them a description of the apostasy of the people of Israel and their desperate attempt to gain help from idols. Then was war in the gates. Raids of the enemy reached the very gates of the Israelite cities. Was there a shield or spear seen among forty thousand in Israel? Either the Israelites were unarmed, or they feared to let their arms be seen by the enemy. 9. My heart is toward the governors of Israel, that offered themselves willingly among the people. The poet expresses gratitude for the leaders of Israel who proved faithful in a time of crisis.10. Ye that ride on white asses. All classes of people had reason to be thankful. The rich merchants and the nobility rode on white asses. Ye that ... walk by the way. The poorer classes had to journey on foot in carrying on their business. 11. There shall they rehearse the righteous acts of the Lord. Some expressions in this verse are obscure to the modern reader. Albright suggests that at the signal of the cymbals between the drum beats, the people were to repeat the words of praise. In the AV, interpretive words are supplied in italics: They that are delivered; i.e., from the noise of archers—implying that enemy archers are meant. Keil and Delitzsch translate: With the voice of the archers among drawers of water, there praise ye the righteous acts of the Lord. This pre-supposes a scene of victory in which the warriors, having returned from the field of battle, mingle among the women at the watering-troughs, recounting to them the victories wrought by God. 12. Awake, awake, Deborah. These words form an introduction to the second part of the song, which describes the conflict and victory. 13. Then he made him that remaineth have dominion. The people of the Lord, thought of as but a remnant, would rule the mighty. The RSV renders it: Then down marched the remnant of the noble. 14. Out of Ephraim was there a root of them against Amalek. The RV renders it: Out of Ephraim came down they whose root is in Amalek; i.e., Amalekite nomads had invaded central Canaan. Out of Machir came down governors. Machir was a branch of the tribe of Manasseh. The part of Manasseh that settled west of the Jordan took part in the conflict. 16. Why abodest thou among the sheepfolds? Certain of the tribes did not take part in the battle against the Canaanites. They are the subject of a series of taunts. 17. Gilead abode beyond Jordan. No help came from the two and one-half tribes which settled east of the Jordan. Similarly, Dan, Asher, Zebulon, and Naphtali are chided for their indolence.19. The kings came and fought. After the account of the attitude of the tribes, the poet describes the battle itself. Sisera led a confederacy of kings against Israel. In Taanach, by the waters of Megiddo. Taanach, located five miles southeast of Megiddo, commands one of the passes to the Plain of Esdraelon. The waters of Megiddo are the Kishon and its tributaries. They took no gain of money. This may be interpreted as a taunt, in which case it would assert that the campaign was profitless. It may also refer to the kings who, in their eagerness to fight against Israel, did not accept the pay of hirelings.20. The stars in their courses fought against Sisera. The God of Israel intervened on behalf of his people. The very forces of nature itself were arrayed against the Canaanite. 21. The river of Kishon swept them away. In this area the Kishon is not normally a dangerous stream. At the critical moment of battle it swelled into a torrent that rendered the Canaanite chariots unless. 22. Then were the horsehoofs broken. The JPS renders, Then did the horsehoofs stamp; i.e., stamp the earth in their efforts to escape. 23. Curse ye Meroz. The town of Meroz did not join the Israelites in their attack upon the Canaanites. Its site is unknown. Some think it was located along the route of Sisera’s flight, and that its inhabitants failed to capture him. The curse on Meroz may be contrasted with the blessing on Jael. 24. Blessed above women shall Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite be. In contrast to the cowardice of the men of Meroz, the devotion of Jael stands out in bold relief. lessed above women is a Hebrew superlative, meaning, “Most blessed of women.” 25. Water he asked, milk she gave him. The pronouns effectively identify the characters in the story, Sisera and Jael. She brought forth butter in a lordly dish. The word hem˒â, rendered butter in the AV, was artificially soured milk. It was made by shaking milk in the skin bottle in which it was stored, and fermenting it with the stale milk adhering to the skin from previous use. The beverage is still prepared by Bedouin Arabs. The lordly dish would have been a dish of large size, a vessel fit for a lord. 26. She put her hand to the nail. The prose account in 4:21 helps explain the action. Jael took the tent pin in her left hand and the mallet in her right hand, and so smote the sleeping Sisera. The act was one of bravery in that she risked her own life to kill Israel’s enemy. Had Sisera awakened, Jael would have been at his mercy. 27. At her feet ... he fell down dead. The falling need not imply that Sisera was in an upright position when he was smitten. The poet is describing the result of the blow of Jael. The fact that Israel’s enemy had been killed was an occasion for rejoicing, and the poet almost gloats over Jael’s triumph. The fact that the powerful Sisera was killed by a woman was a particular occasion for rejoicing. 28. The mother of Sisera looked out at a window. The scene—a most human one—now shifts to Sisera’s home. Sisera’s mother was concerned about her son. She wondered why he was late in returning from battle. 29. Her wise ladies answered. The women of rank who were with her attempted to encourage her. They were “wise” but in this instance did not know the truth. 30. Have they not divided the prey. It takes some time to divide the spoils of war. The victorious army must make proper distribution. They killed the men, divided the women among the warriors (to every man a damsel or two), and distributed the spoil itself at the behest of the victor. This was the normal practice in ancient warfare. The strong irony of the present reference is that Sisera was not sharing such fruits of victory, but was a corpse at the foot of a woman, his murderess. 31. So let all thine enemies perish, O Lord. The poet suddenly breaks off his graphic description of Sisera’s fate with a prayer to God. May all of God’s enemies perish as Sisera perished. Conversely, let them that love him be as the sun when he goeth forth in his might. The sun, annihilating the darkness of night by its invincible power, is here symbolic of the strength of those blessed by God. And the land had rest forty years. The destruction of Sisera brought relief to the harassed Israelites. For a generation Israel was free from outside interference.
4:1–5:31 Deborah’s triumph over Sisera (commander of a Canaanite army)—first narrated in prose (ch. 4), then celebrated in song (ch. 5). At the time of the Canaanite threat from the north, Israel remained incapable of united action until a woman (Deborah) summoned them to the Lord’s battle. Because the warriors of Israel lacked the courage to rise up and face the enemy, the glory of victory went to a woman (Jael)— and she may not have been an Israelite. 4:1–2 Except for the Canaanites, Israel’s enemies came from outside the territory they occupied. Nations like Aram Naharaim, Moab, Midian and Ammon were mainly interested in plunder, but the Canaanite uprising of chs. 4–5 was an attempt to restore Canaanite power in the north. The Philistines engaged in continual struggle with Israel for permanent control of the land in the southern and central regions. 4:2 Jabin. See Ps 83:9–10. The name was possibly royal rather than personal. Joshua is credited with having earlier slain a king by the same name (Jos 11:1, 10). Hazor. The original royal city of the Jabin dynasty; it may still have been in ruins (see note on Jos 11:10). Sisera sought to recover the territory once ruled by the kings of Hazor. Sisera. His name suggests he was not a Canaanite. 4:3 nine hundred. The number probably represents a coalition rather than the chariot force of one city. In the 15th century B.C., Pharaoh Thutmose III boasted of having captured 924 chariots at the battle of Megiddo. Israelites. Mainly Zebulun and Naphtali, but West Manasseh, Issachar and Asher were also affected. 4:4 Deborah. Means “bee”; cf. Dt 1:44. She is the only judge said to have been a prophet. Other women spoken of as prophets are Miriam (Ex 15:20), Huldah (2Ki 22:14), Noadiah (Ne 6:14) and Anna (Lk 2:36), but see also Ac 21:9. 4:5 Palm of Deborah. The Hebrew word for “honey” refers to both bees’ honey and the sweet syrupy juice of dates. Deborah, the Bee, dispensed the sweetness of justice as she held court, not in a city gate where male judges sat, but under the shade of a “honey” tree. See also note on 1Sa 14:2. 4:6 Barak. Means “thunderbolt”—which suggests that he is summoned to be the Lord’s “flashing sword” (Dt 32:41). He is named among the heroes of faith in Heb 11:32. Kedesh in Naphtali. A town affected by the Canaanite oppression. Naphtali and Zebulun. Issachar, a near neighbor of these tribes, is not mentioned here but is included in the poetic description of the battle in 5:15. In all, six tribes are mentioned as having participated in the battle. Mount Tabor. A mountain about 1,300 feet high, northeast of the battle site. 4:7 With the Israelites encamped on the slopes of Mount Tabor, safe from chariot attack, the Lord’s strategy was to draw Sisera into a trap. For the battle site, Sisera cleverly chose the Valley of Jezreel along the Kishon River, where his chariot forces would have ample maneuvering space to range the battlefield and attack in numbers from any quarter. But that was his undoing, for he did not know the power of the Lord, who would fight from heaven for Israel with storm and flood (see 5:20–21), as he had done in the days of Joshua (Jos 10:11–14). Even in modern times storms have rendered the plain along the Kishon virtually impassable. In April of 1799 the flooded Kishon River aided Napoleon’s victory over a Turkish army. 4:9 a woman. Barak’s timidity (and that of Israel’s other warriors, whom he exemplified) was due to lack of trust in the Lord and was thus rebuked (see note on 9:54). 4:11 Heber the Kenite. Since one meaning of Heber’s name is “ally,” and since “Kenite” identifies him as belonging to a clan of metalworkers, the author hints at the truth that this member of a people allied with Israel since the days of Moses has moved from south to north to ally himself (see v. 17) with the Canaanite king who is assembling a large force of “iron chariots” (v. 3; see note on Jos 17:16). It is no doubt he who informs Sisera of Barak’s military preparations. other Kenites. Settled in the south not far from Kadesh Barnea in the Negev (see 1:16). Hobab. See Nu 10:29. 4:14 gone ahead of you. As a king at the head of his army (see 1Sa 8:20). See also Ex 15:3 (“the LORD is a warrior”); Jos 10:10–11; 2Sa 5:24; 2Ch 20:15–17, 22–24. Barak went down Mount Tabor. The Lord’s “thunderbolt” (see note on v. 6) descends the mountain to attack the Canaanite army. 4:15 routed. See note on v. 7. The Hebrew for this word is also used of the panic that overcame the Egyptians at the Red Sea (Ex 14:24) and the Philistines at Mizpah (1Sa 7:10).
4:18 he entered her tent. Since ancient Near Eastern custom prohibited any man other than a woman’s husband or father from entering her tent, Jael seemed to offer Sisera an ideal hiding place. 4:19 skin. Containers for liquids were normally made from the skins of goats or lambs. milk. See note on 5:25. Jael, whose name means “mountain goat,” gave him milk to drink—and it was most likely goat’s milk (see Ex 23:19; Pr 27:27). 4:21 drove the peg through his temple. The laws of hospitality normally meant that one tried to protect a guest from any harm (see 19:23; Ge 19:8). Jael remained true to her family’s previous alliance with Israel (she may not have been an Israelite) and so undid her husband’s deliberate breach of faith. Armed only with domestic implements, this dauntless woman destroyed the great warrior whom Barak had earlier feared. 4:22 there lay Sisera … dead. With Sisera dead the kingdom of Jabin was no longer a threat. The land “flowing with milk and honey” had been saved by the courage and faithfulness of “Bee” (see note on v. 4) and “Mountain Goat” (see note on v. 19). 5:1–31 To commemorate a national victory with songs was a common practice (see Ex 15:1–18; Nu 21:27–30; Dt 32:1–43; 1Sa 18:7). The Book of the Wars of the LORD (see note on Nu 21:14) and the Book of Jashar (see note on Jos 10:13) were probably collections of such songs. The song was probably written by Deborah or a contemporary (see v. 7 and NIV text note). It highlights some of the central themes of the narrative (cf. Ex 15:1–18; 1Sa 2:1–10; 2Sa 22; 23:1–7; Lk 1:46–55, 68–79). In particular, it celebrates before the nations (v. 3) the righteous acts of the Lord and of his warriors (v. 11). The song may be divided into the following sections: (1) the purpose of the song (praise) and the occasion for the deeds it celebrates (vv. 2–9); (2) the exhortation to Israel to act in accordance with their heroic past (vv. 10–11a); (3) the people’s appeal to Deborah (vv. 11b–12); (4) the gathering of warriors (vv. 13–18); (5) the battle (vv. 19–23); (6) the crafty triumph of Jael over Sisera (vv. 24–27); (7) the anxious waiting of Sisera’s mother (vv. 28–30); and (8) the conclusion (v. 31). 5:4–5 Poetic recalling of the Lord’s terrifying appearance in a storm cloud many years before, when he had brought Israel through the desert into Canaan (see Dt 33:2; Ps 68:7–8; Mic 1:3–4; see also Ps 18:7–15). 5:4 Seir. Mt. Seir (in Edom). For a similar association of Seir (and Mount Paran) with Sinai see Dt 33:2. the heavens poured. See Ps 68:7–10. 5:5 the One of Sinai. See Ps 68:8. An earthquake and thunderstorm occurred when God appeared at Mount Sinai (Ex 19:16–18). 5:6 Shamgar. See note on 3:31. roads were abandoned. Because of enemy garrisons and marauding bands (see note on 4:1–2) the roads were unsafe. 5:7 Village life … ceased. The inhabitants of villages fled to walled towns for protection. 5:8 not a shield or spear was seen. Either because Israel had made peace with the native Canaanites (see 3:5–6) or because she had been disarmed (see 1Sa 13:19–22). 5:10 who ride on white donkeys. An allusion to the nobles and the wealthy (see 10:4; 12:14). 5:11 voice of the singers. The leaders are encouraged by the songs of the minstrels at the watering places—songs that rehearse the past heroic achievements of the Lord and his warriors. 5:12 Wake up. A plea to take action (see Ps 44:23; Isa 51:9). Take captive your captives. The same action is applied to God in Ps 68:18 and to Christ in Eph 4:8 (see notes on those verses). 5:13–18 The warriors of the Lord who gathered for the battle. The tribes who came were Ephraim, Benjamin, Manasseh (“Makir” is possibly both East and West Manasseh; see Dt 3:15; Jos 13:29–31; 17:1), Zebulun (vv. 14, 18), Issachar (v. 15) and Naphtali (v. 18). Especially involved were Zebulun and Naphtali (v. 18; see 4:10), the tribes most immediately affected by Sisera’s tyranny. Reuben (vv. 15–16) and Gad (here referred to as Gilead, v. 17), from east of the Jordan, and Dan and Asher, from along the coast (v. 17), are rebuked for not responding. Judah and Simeon are not even mentioned, perhaps because they were already engaged with the Philistines. Levi is not mentioned because it did not have military responsibilities in the theocracy (kingdom of God). 5:14 roots … in Amalek. Some Amalekites apparently once lived in the hill country of Ephraim (see 12:15). Makir. The firstborn son of Manasseh (Jos 17:1). Although the descendants of Makir settled on both sides of the Jordan (see Dt 3:15; Jos 13:29–31; 17:1; 1Ch 7:14–19), reference here is to those west of the Jordan (see v. 17; Jos 17:5). 5:18 on the heights of the field. Perhaps connected to Ge 49:21, where Naphtali is described as a “doe set free.” 5:19 Megiddo. Megiddo and Taanach dominated the main pass that runs northeast through the hill country from the plain of Sharon to the Valley of Jezreel. Because of its strategic location, the “plain of Megiddo” (2Ch 35:22) has been a frequent battleground from the earliest times. There Pharaoh Thutmose III defeated a Canaanite coalition in 1468 B.C., and there in A.D. 1917 the British under General Allenby ended the rule of the Turks in Palestine by vanquishing them in the Valley of Jezreel opposite Megiddo. In Biblical history the forces of Israel under Deborah and Barak crushed the Canaanites “by the waters of Megiddo” (v. 19), and there Judah’s good king Josiah died in battle against Pharaoh Neco II in 609 B.C. (2Ki 23:29). See also the reference in Rev 16:16 (see note there) to “the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon” (i.e., “Mount Megiddo”) as the site of the “battle on the great day of God Almighty” (Rev 16:14). 5:20 stars fought. A poetic way of saying that the powers of heaven fought in Israel’s behalf (see notes on 4:7; Jos 10:11; Ps 18:7–15). 5:21 swept them away. See note on 4:7. 5:23 Meroz. Because of its refusal to help the army of the Lord, this Israelite town in Naphtali was cursed. Other cities were also punished severely for refusing to participate in the wars of the Lord (see 8:15–17; 21:5–10). 5:25 curdled milk. Artificially soured milk made by shaking milk in a skin-bottle and then allowing it to ferment (due to bacteria that remained in the skin from previous use). 5:28 This graphic picture of the anxious waiting of Sisera’s mother heightens the triumph of Jael over the powerful Canaanite general and presents a contrast between this mother in Canaan and the triumphant Deborah, “a mother in Israel” (v. 7). 5:31 The song ends with a prayer that the present victory would be the pattern for all future battles against the Lord’s enemies (see Nu 10:35; Ps 68:1–2). your enemies … they who love you. The two basic attitudes of people toward the Lord. As Lord of the covenant and royal Head of his people Israel, he demanded their love (see Ex 20:6), just as kings in the ancient Near East demanded the love of their subjects. forty years. A conventional number of years for a generation
The Victory of Deborah and Barak Over Jabin and Sisera (4:1-5:31) 1. The prose account (4:1-24)
Somewhat in the form of Hebrew parallelism, Judges has two supplementary accounts of the victory over the Canaanites. The first is in narrative fashion; the second is a majestic poem. Chapter 5 has received numerous plaudits for its artistic beauty, but scholars are beginning to recognize the artistry of the narrative account also (see esp. John H. Stek, "The Bee and the Mountain Goat: A Literary Reading of Judges 4," a. The oppression (4:1-3) 1-3 The next major oppression came at the hands of a coalition of Canaanite forces led by Jabin and Sisera, and it affected primarily the northern tribes. Jabin lived in Hazor, once the largest city in Palestine, some nine miles north of the Sea of Galilee and located on the main route between Egypt and Mesopotamia. Joshua had defeated a Jabin king of Hazor, who had been the leader of the powerful northern coalition (Josh 11:1-11), and the Israelites had burned the city. Some scholars (cf. IB, 2:12-24) believe that chapters 4-5 are another version of that battle. Yet it is not unusual for several kings to use a dynastic name like "Jabin". Since the thirteenth-century destruction level at Hazor (Stratum I of the plateau, c. 1230 B.C.) shows no evidence of the burning required by Joshua 11:11, it is possible to identify Stratum III (c. 1400 B.C.) with Joshua's victory (Wood, Distressing Days, p. 102, and Waltke, "Palestinian Evidence," pp. 43-44). Stratum I could then be related to the Jabin of Judges 4-5. "Harosheth Haggoyim" (v. 2; lit., "Harosheth of the nations") has been identified with Tell el-Harbaj, just south of the Kishon River at Mount Carmel (Wood, Israel's History, p. 216 n. 39). Another possibility is Tell el-`Amr, twelve miles northwest of Megiddo. Sisera's strength lay in his 900 chariots, a sizable force for this early period, though Thutmosis III in the fifteenth century B.C. claimed to have seized 924 chariots at Megiddo (cf. ANET, p. 237). With this military advantage, Sisera terrorized the tribes living near the Valley of Jezreel.b. Deborah's challenge to Barak (4:4-10)4-5 Throughout the time of the judges, women played an important role, and Deborah was the most outstanding of them (v. 4). She was a prophetess, like Miriam (Exod 15:20) and Huldah (2 Kings 22:14), and also a judge (cf. Introduction: Title). Because the rule of women was not normal in Israel, her prominence implies a lack of qualified and willing men. Deborah sat as judge some fifty miles from Jezreel at the southern end of Ephraim's territory. But the Lord commanded her to challenge Barak of Naphtali to confront Sisera's troops. Deborah's involvement in the conflict indicates that the effects of the Canaanite oppression were felt even in Ephraim and Benjamin. The reference to a palm tree (v. 5) may allude to the stateliness and gracefulness of women (Song of Songs 7:7-8). The palm is associated with prosperity in Psalm 92:12 and leadership in Isaiah 9:14. 6 Barak lived in Kedesh, probably the same as Khirbet Qedish at the southern end of the Sea of Galilee (cf. Y. Aharoni, Land of the Bible [Philadelphia: Westminster, 1962], p. 204). Naphtali and Zebulun, the first tribes to be summoned, covered most of Israel's territory north of the Jezreel Valley. Cone-shaped Mount Tabor, at the boundary of the two tribes, rises some thirteen hundred feet from the valley and affords an unmistakable meeting place. Barak was told to "lead the way" to Mount Tabor, a translation of the same Hebrew word (mashak) rendered "lure" in the next verse. If Barak did his part, God would lead the enemy into the trap. Literally mashak means "to draw along," and it is used of the sounding of the ram's horn (Exod 19:13). Since Ehud and Gideon blew such trumpets to assemble troops, Barak may have done likewise. Verse 10 says only that he "summoned" the tribes but does not tell us precisely how.7 Deborah revealed that the site of the battle would be near the Kishon River. This river, originating in the hills south and east of Taanach, flowed in a northwesterly direction through the Valley of Jezreel and emptied into the Mediterranean north of Carmel. During the summer months it dwindled to a mere stream. The surrounding valley was excellent terrain for deploying chariots. During the spring, however, the rains caused the river to overflow its banks and flood the low-lying areas nearby. Mount Tabor lay ten miles east of the Kishon.8-10 In response to the challenge, Barak expressed his willingness to go, but only if Deborah accompanied him (v. 8). Her presence as a prophetess would assure contact with the Lord, just as the presence of Moses and the ark of the covenant brought victory in battle (Num 10:35) while their absence meant defeat (Num 14:44). Barak's lack of faith prompted Deborah to predict that the honor of killing Sisera would belong to a woman (v. 9), namely Jael, wife of Heber the Kenite (see v. 11). So Deborah went along, and her support helped Barak raise the necessary troops (v. 10). They began the search for troops in Kedesh, Barak's hometown.c. Jael's husband introduced (4:11)11 This seemingly intrusive verse acquaints the reader with the family of the woman Deborah had just alluded to in v. 9. As the narrative well shows, she was Jael. She belonged to the nomadic Kenites, most of whom lived in the arid regions of southern Judah (1:16). As relatives of Moses, the Kenites had a strong tie with Israel. The "great tree" in Zaanannim is mentioned also in Joshua 19:33 as a landmark on the border of Naphtali. It lay on the escape route taken by Sisera after the battle.d. Sisera's army routed by Barak (4:12-16)12-14 When Sisera learned of Israel's troop movements at the northeastern end of the valley, he called out his entire chariot force and a large army to advance against them from the west (vv. 12-13). The presence of a sizable force at Mount Tabor cut off the line of communication between Sisera and King Jabin in Hazor. The main road from Megiddo to Hazor ran along the edge of Mount Tabor. Humanly speaking Barak's hastily gathered army had no chance against such might, but Deborah said that this was the opportune moment (v. 14). She encouraged Barak by announcing that "the LORD [had] gone ahead of [him]." This reference to going ahead is a technical term used of a king marching at the head of his army (1 Sam 8:20). The Lord would take the lead in striking down the enemy (2 Sam 5:24).15-16 The Lord's role is even clearer in v. 15 as he threw Sisera's army into confusion. The word hamam ("routed") is used also of the panic that engulfed Pharaoh's chariots in the Red Sea (Exod 14:24, "confusion") and that which the Philistines arrayed against Samuel (1 Sam 7:10, "panic"). The last passage mentions God's thunder (cf. also Josh 10:10-11); and Deborah's song (5:20-21) shows that a sudden downpour overwhelmed Sisera's chariots, as the swelling river turned the ground to mud that clogged the wheels. Deborah may have pointed to the gathering storm clouds as she sent Barak into battle. The main conflict took place at Taanach, some five miles south of Megiddo (5:19). The Lord's control of the forces of nature showed his superiority over Baal, the Canaanite storm god. Sisera would not have tried to depend on chariots during the rainy season; so this storm probably struck some time after the spring rains that normally end in May. In Palestine rain is almost unheard of from June through September. The lightly armed Israelites quickly demoralized the bogged-down Canaanites, who turned and fled westward to Harosheth Haggoyim (v. 16). It was a decisive victory, for the Canaanites never again formed a coalition against Israel. Even Sisera was forced to abandon his useless chariot and flee north, away from the heated action.e. Sisera slain by Jael (4:17-24) 17 Sisera headed north away from the main line of pursuit. He may have hoped to reach Hazor eventually, but his strength was running out. When he arrived at Zaanannim, he decided to take advantage of the hospitality of the friendly Kenites. He knew of their cordial relationship with Jabin but was clearly unaware of their intermarriage with Israel (v. 11).18-20 Jael greeted Sisera as "lord," in deference, he thought, to his lofty military title (v. 18). Her offer of refuge was tempting, for who would search for him in a woman's tent? Besides, the law of hospitality among nomads guaranteed the safety of one's guests. To this day Arabs will not allow anyone visiting them to be harmed while in their tent. Jael put a covering over the exhausted leader and, instead of the water he asked for, gave him some milk from a skin (v. 19). It was probably a kind of yogurt or curdled milk (5:25)--a drink called leben which is still commonly used by the Arabs. The liquid was kept in animal skins, just as skins were also used for storing wine (Josh 9:4, 13). Though Jael's kindness convinced Sisera of his safety, he took one more precaution by asking her to mislead any potential searching party (v. 20).21 When Sisera had fallen into a deep sleep, Jael picked up a wooden mallet and a tent peg and drove the peg into his temple. In her eagerness to kill the hated oppressor, Jael used enough force to hammer the tent peg into the ground. The blows resemble the extreme force with which Ehud stabbed Eglon (3:22). Women normally did the work of putting up and taking down the tents; so Jael knew how to handle her tools.
Although Jael's action was a startling violation of the law of hospitality, Sisera was a man who had "cruelly oppressed the Israelites for twenty years" (4:3). Since he had had no mercy on God's covenant people, Sisera probably lay under the sentence of "total destruction" placed on the Canaanites in general (Deut 7:2; Josh 6:17 [cf. NIV mg.]). Centuries later Ahab was denounced for setting free Ben-Hadad, king of Damascus, a man God "had determined should die" (1 Kings 20:42). Similarly, King Saul was censored for sparing the life of the Amalekite king Agag, whom Samuel himself put to death (1 Sam 15:33). Victory over the enemy was usually not considered complete until the leaders were eliminated, and in specific cases the Lord demanded that their lives be taken.22 When Barak finally tracked Sisera down, Jael showed him the dead commander. Again there is a close similarity with Eglon, for both leaders were "dead" (nopel meth lit., "fallen dead"; cf. 3:25). Deborah's prediction had come true; Barak lost the honor of vanquishing his chief rival. Sisera had died at the hands of a woman--in that culture a disgraceful death (cf. 9:54).23-24 The rout of Sisera's army broke the power of Jabin, king of Canaan (v. 23). Without his commanding general, Jabin succumbed to the Israelite forces (v. 24). His eventual destruction doubtless includes the loss of his capital at Hazor.2. The poetic version--the Song of Deborah (5:1-31) The victory over the Canaanites was also commemorated in a poem of rare beauty. Called the "Song of Deborah," this masterpiece expresses heartfelt praise to God for leading his people in triumph. It is a hymn of thanksgiving, a song of victory like Exodus 15 or Psalm 68. The poetry itself is magnificent, featuring many examples of climactic (repetitive) parallelism (vv. 7, 19-20, 27) and onomatopoeia (v. 22). Climactic parallelism is also well known from Ugaritic, a fact that suits the ancient character of this song that contains archaic language and a host of difficult forms. Few deny that the ode was written by an eyewitness soon after the events it celebrates. Deborah is usually considered the author; the connection between prophetess and music is a natural one (cf. the reference to Miriam in Exod 15:20-21). Verses 1 and 7 support Deborah's authorship, though it is grammatically correct to translate v. 7 as either "I" or "you."a. Praise to God for his intervention (5:1-5)1 A prose verse similar in form to Exodus 15:1 introduces the song. "Moses and the children of Israel" parallels "Deborah and Barak." In each case the author is likely the first person who is mentioned. Both songs also commemorate the supernatural overthrow of horses and chariots.2 The opening line is one of the most obscure in the song. It could also be translated "When locks of hair grow long in Israel," alluding to the practice of leaving hair uncut to fulfill a vow (Num 6:5, 18). This would connote dedication to the Lord in participating in a "holy war." Deuteronomy 32:42 may refer to long-haired soldiers, though "leaders" is also a possibility there. The willingness of the people to fight for the Lord is emphasized in the parallel line. The Hithphael of nadab ("willingly offer") normally refers to those making voluntary contributions for the building of the sanctuary (Ezra 2:68), though the military sense is also present in 2 Chronicles 17:16 (cf. Ps 110:3 also). "Praise" is literally from the verb "to bless" (barak).
3 Out of deep gratitude for God's motivating work among the people, Deborah lifted her heart to the One worthy of praise. She wanted kings and rulers to hear about the God of Israel and his magnificent victory. The word for "rulers" (rozenim) denotes high officials. It is also found parallel to "kings" in Habakkuk 1:10 and Psalm 2:2.
The song is directed to Yahweh (the LORD), the name of God that expresses his covenant relationship with Israel. It is accompanied by musical instruments, though "make music" could mean "compose music."
4-5 These two verses describe a theophany (a visible, temporal manifestation of God), a characteristic of songs of victory (Ps 68:7-8 [MT 8-9]). God's intervention is compared with his awesome appearance at Sinai (v. 5), where the covenant with Israel was established to the accompaniment of thunderstorm and earthquake (Exod 19:16-18). This is an apt reference, for it was the rains that had been Sisera's undoing and again revealed God's transcendent power.
"Seir" (v. 4) is a name for the mountains of Edom, a region between the Dead Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba. The same relationship between Edom and Sinai occurs in Deuteronomy 33:2.
b. Conditions during the oppression (5:6-8)
6 Conditions were deplorable as Canaanite robbers roamed the highways, making travel dangerous. Commercial trading was likewise stopped, and the economy was adversely affected. "Caravans" may in fact be referred to if 'orahot ("roads") is changed to 'orehoth . In Isaiah 21:13 it clearly means "caravans." These difficulties existed in the time of Shamgar and Jael. These two heroes may have been contemporaries, and both were non-Israelites (3:31 and 4:11).
7-8 Agriculture also was disrupted by the marauders. Life in unwalled villages was unsafe, and crops had to be abandoned (v. 7). This lamentable situation continued until Deborah came on the scene. Her deep concern for the nation and her abilities as prophetess and judge inspired the people to take action. But first they had to give up the "new gods" they had chosen (v. 8). God had sent war and oppression because of their sin; now they were being effectively disarmed as well (cf. comment on 3:31). The last part of v. 8 might also mean that a potential army of forty thousand was too cowardly to use their available weapons.
c. Challenge to recount the Lord's victory (5:9-11)
9 Though the function of vv. 9-11 is difficult to determine, these verses pick up the encouraging theme of v. 2. Oppression and defeat have given way to triumph, as travelers can once more move about freely and normal activities are resumed. The author's heart goes out to the volunteers and leaders whose courage made this possible. The "princes" (hoqaqim) are individuals with authority (Deut 33:21 ["leader"]); in v. 14 they are called "captains."
10-11 All classes of travelers are told to listen as the singers recount God's great acts (v. 11). The wealthy often rode female donkeys, and sometimes kings used their colts (v. 10; cf. Gen 49:11; Zech 9:9). Whether rich or poor, all would stop at the wells and have an opportunity to hear about the Lord's "righteous acts."
The final two lines of v. 11 present the reverse of v. 8. Instead of war coming to the gates, people would congregate there for normal judicial and business activities. "Gates" may be used by metonymy for "cities" (Jer 14:2).
d. The roles of the individual tribes (5:12-18)
To throw off the Canaanite yoke, it was important for the tribes to cooperate in battle. Those who participated are commended, while the tribes who shirked their responsibility are condemned.
12 The section begins with a call to Deborah herself to awake. Normally "wake up" is a plea to take action (Ps 44:23; Isa 51:9), and apparently Deborah had to be roused from her complacency as a judge in southern Ephraim (4:5). The song she is asked to "break out in" may have been a war song (cf. 2 Sam 1:18). Barak too is called on to take captives, implying a convincing victory. The same imagery is applied to God in Psalm 68:18 and to Christ as Conqueror in Ephesians 4:8.
13 The response of the people is given here, and the opening line indicates that the years of oppression took a heavy toll in lives. The verse may reflect a two-stage gathering of troops. First, volunteers may have joined their tribal leaders, before journeying together to the rallying point at Mount Tabor. The last phrase could be translated "against the mighty," meaning the enemy. The ambiguous preposition b is handled that way in v. 23.
14 Ephraim and Benjamin, two southern tribes, are mentioned first, perhaps because of their association with Deborah. The reference to Amalek is probably a geographical one. In 12:15 part of Ephraim is called "the hill country of the Amalekites," the former inhabitants of that area.
Makir usually refers to the half-tribe of Manasseh east of the Jordan, but here the western half is clearly intended (Josh 13:30-31) since the battle occurred within its borders.
Zebulun is mentioned in vv. 14 and 18 and is highly praised for its bravery. Along with Naphtali, Zebulun had responded to Barak's initial summons (4:10).
15a Issachar, located at the eastern end of the Jezreel Valley, also participated enthusiastically as Barak led the charge from Mount Tabor.
15b-16 Several tribes somewhat distant from the problem area earned the author's wrath for their inactivity. Apparently Reuben at least seriously considered sending some men, for their "searching of heart" is mentioned twice. The tribes from Transjordan had made an important contribution to the conquest under Joshua, but pressure from the Moabites may have influenced Reuben's decision. The mention of campfires and flocks presents a tranquil picture, however, in contrast with war cries and clashing armies.
17 Gilead was a grandson of Manasseh, but the term "Gilead" is more commonly used as a geographical designation for much of Transjordan. The tribe of Gad possessed most of Gilead (Josh 13:24-25), though the half-tribe of Manasseh also lived there (Josh 13:31). "Reuben" and "Gilead" would thus include all three of the tribes across the Jordan.
The tribe of Dan had encountered difficulty in taking possession of their inheritance ever since the time of Joshua (cf. 1:34). It is not surprising, then, that they did not help solve this largely northern problem. The reference to "ships" implies that Dan had not yet migrated to the north.
Asher, situated along the coast north of Carmel, had also failed to dislodge the Canaanites. Yet Asher was close enough to the oppressed area to have offered some assistance.
18 The aloofness of these tribes is sharply contrasted with the wholehearted efforts of Zebulun and Naphtali. The connection of Napthali with the "heights of the field" may stem from the description of that tribe as a "doe set free" in Genesis 49:21.
Judah and Simeon are not mentioned in this catalog of tribes, presumably because of their location far to the south.
e. The battle described (5:19-23)
The vividness of the poetry increases as the author uses repetition, satire, and concrete imagery to paint a lively picture. "Fought" occurs four times; "river" three times; and the words "kings," "Kishon," and "galloping" occur twice. This poetic account should be closely compared with the description of the battle in 4:12-16.
19 The armies clashed at Taanach, near Megiddo, and the kings of Canaan were supremely confident of victory. With a touch of sarcasm, the author says that this time there was no plunder. They had robbed and oppressed the Israelites for the last time.
20-22 The Canaanites' downfall came as God intervened. In v. 20 the stars are personified, doubtless in reference to the cloudburst sent by the Lord of hosts. The reference to the participation of the stars may be a slap at astrological readings used by the Canaanites. As the rains fell, the river Kishon overflowed its banks; and chariots and riders were swept away (v. 21a).
The surging river encouraged the Israelites to "march on" (darak) in pursuit of the enemy (v. 21b). The same word is used of "trampling down" the high places of the enemy in Deuteronomy 33:29 and of "overrunning" the foe in Judges 20:43. The mighty horses of the foe were no match for the people of the "mighty One" of Israel. In the context "thundering hoofs" (cf. v. 22) seems to relate to the frantic retreat. Or it may refer generally to the supposedly invincible chariot corps. The repetition of "galloping" (daharoth) in the Hebrew is a striking example of onomatopoeia.
23 The city of Meroz, perhaps the same as Khirbet Maurus, seven miles south of Kedesh Napthali, came under God's curse for failing to fight. The curse was pronounced by the angel of the Lord, who is mentioned here for the first time since 2:4. Meroz was undoubtedly located in the heart of the oppressed area; so the condemnation of that community was more severe than that of the distant tribes. Since elsewhere in Judges cities refusing to participate in urgent battles were destroyed by the Israelites (8:15-17; 21:8-10), Meroz may have shared the same fate.
f. Jael praised for her deed (5:24-27)
24 In sharp contrast to the curse against Meroz is the blessing reserved for Jael, a woman who refused to remain neutral in this crucial conflict. Probably the blessing is pronounced by the poet rather than the Lord, for Jael's method of disposing of the enemy was certainly questionable (cf. Introduction: Special Problems). The details included in this poetic section have already been discussed in the prose account of 4:19-21.
25-26 Jael treated Sisera in accord with his "noble" standing (v. 25). The same word 'addir is used of the nobles of Israel in v. 13. But this once magnificent leader was quickly struck down as four powerful verbs in v. 26 describe the action. The first verb, "struck" (halemah), was translated "thundered" when applied to horses' hoofs in v. 22. The thundering steeds of Sisera proved no match for the hammering blows of Jael. This heroine is compared to an expert archer also, for the verbs "shattered" and "pierced" are used of arrows in Numbers 24:8 and Job 20:24.
27 Verse 27 is an outstanding example of climactic parallelism. The words "sank" and "fell" occur three times each, and "feet" occurs twice. This repetition builds up to the final and climactic word of the verse. "Dead" is literally "destroyed" (shadud). Sisera had been a mighty and devastating force against Israel, but now the destroyer was himself destroyed (cf. Isa 33:1).
g. Sisera's mother's futile wait (5:28-30)
28-30 The scene shifts from Jael's tent to the luxurious home of Sisera. With a skillful, dramatic touch, the author reflects on the agonized waiting of Sisera's mother for the return of her son (v. 28). The long delay could mean that the illustrious warrior had tasted defeat, but his mother and her ladies-in-waiting console themselves with visions of plunder (vv. 29-30). It was common for soldiers to carry off beautiful maidens as trophies of victory (cf. 21:12). The word for "girl" (raham v. 30) normally means "womb," brusquely suggesting the lustful treatment each one could expect.
"Garments" (v. 30) were a special prize of war (cf. Josh 7:21; Zech 14:14), and Sisera as commander was sure to secure the most beautiful for his family. The "colorful" garments were of dyed material (Job 38:14), and the embroidered cloth was the possession of brides (Ezek 16:10, 13) and princesses (Ps 45:14).
The suffering and longing of Sisera's mother resembles the agony of Hector's wife and mother described in the Iliad. Both scenes are moving and powerful.
h. Conclusion (5:31)
31 As in another song of victory (Ps 68:1-2), there is rejoicing over the fall of the wicked. The language reflects the statement made every time the sacred ark of the covenant was carried into battle (Num 10:35). Reference to the sun and its strength closely parallels Psalm 19:4b-6 and Malachi 4:2.
The stunning defeat of Sisera resulted in forty years of peace for Israel.