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Bible Commentaries

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

Judges 4

 

 

Verse 1

And the children of Israel again did evil in the sight of the LORD, when Ehud was dead.

When Ehud was dead. The removal of this zealous judge left his infatuated countrymen again without the restraint of religion; because while the southern tribes were enjoying unmolested peace and rest during a protracted period of 80 years (Judges 3:30), the northern districts of the country were grievously oppressed by the residue of the old Canaanites, whom the Israelites had with culpable indifference and sloth permitted to retain their settlements.


Verse 2

And the LORD sold them into the hand of Jabin king of Canaan, that reigned in Hazor; the captain of whose host was Sisera, which dwelt in Harosheth of the Gentiles.

Jabin king of Canaan - Jabin was a dynastic title (Joshua 11:1). Although the number of petty chiefs who were leagued with this northern sovereign (cf. Joshua 11:1-4) is inconsistent with the statement, that the various tribes of Canaan were, at the period of the Israelite invasion, consolidated under one monarchy (as Suidas supposes Canaan), there does seem to have been a sort of confederacy, or united states, which looked to Jabin as their suzerain or head. Hence, he is designated "king of Canaan." The second Jabin had built a new capital on the ruins of the old (see the note at Joshua 11:10-11).

In addition to what was formerly said in regard to Hazor, the opinion of Porter ('Handbook of Syria and Palestine,' p. 442) is here subjoined. Hazor stood at the eastern base of the mountains near, or in the plain of, Huleh. On the right bank of a little stream, Nahr Hendaj, high up among the hills, half an hour from the road, is a ruined town called Kasyun, which deserves a visit, since it is at least as likely as any other place yet known to be the site of the long-lost Hazor. It must be sought for along the western or southwestern border of the basin of el-Huleh. Josephus says that Hazor lay over the lake Samochonitis ('Antiquities,' b. 5:, ch. 5:, sec.

1), and two passages of Scripture seem to imply that it lay southward of Kedesh. The northern Canaanites had recovered from the effects of their disastrous overthrow in the time of Joshua, and triumphed in their turn over Galilee and the whole region on both sides of the Jordan, as far south as the middle division of the land. Jabin had established, by the aid of Sisera, a military despotism, which was the severest oppression to which Israel had been subjected. But it fell heaviest on the tribes in the north; and it was not until after a grinding servitude of twenty years they were awakened to view it as the punishment of their sins, and to seek deliverance from God.

Sisera, which dwelt in Harosheth of the Gentiles. He is the only general of whom we read in these very ancient times, the kings themselves commonly leading their armies. The residence of Sisera was at a distance from Hazor, in a fortress called Harosbeth, which, judging from the tenor of the sacred history, must have stood on the western side of the lake of Merom (Bahr el-Huleh). Dr. Thomson ('The Land and the Book,' 1:, p.

144) thinks he has discovered its site further west, in a tell called Harothieh, 'situated just below the point where the Kishon, in one of its turns, beats against the rocky base of Carmel.' It was called Harosheth of the Gentiles, from its mixed population, as Galilee was in later times 'the woodcutting or quarry,' as the word signifies, of the mixed pagan population on the outskirts of Lebanon (Stanley, 'Jewish Lectures,' p. 320).


Verse 3

And the children of Israel cried unto the LORD: for he had nine hundred chariots of iron; and twenty years he mightily oppressed the children of Israel.

No JFB commentary on this verse.


Verse 4

And Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, she judged Israel at that time.

Deborah - i:e., a bee (see Josephus, 'Antiquities,' b. 5:, ch. 5:, sec. 2) [Septuagint, Debboora].

A prophetess , [ n


Verse 5

And she dwelt under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in mount Ephraim: and the children of Israel came up to her for judgment.

She dwelt under the palm tree - or, collectively, a palm grove. Stanley ('Sinai and Palestine,' p. 145) takes it to have been 'a well-known and solitary landmark,' and from the distinct specification of the locality, 'probably the same spot as that called Baal-tamar' (Judges 20:33), the 'sanctuary of the palm.' It is common in the present day in the East to administer justice in the open air, or under the canopy of an umbrageous tree. The traditionary spot which Deborah frequented is still pointed out; and it is remarkable that a great meeting or fair is statedly held at the place, as it has been uninterruptedly since her time, at which, among other matters of business, disputes are settled and quarrels adjusted between rival tribes. [The palm was rare in Palestine. But frequent notices of it do occur; and its contemporaneous existence with the vine has been used as an argument to prove that the mean temperature of that country has not changed since the days of Moses ('Edinburgh Journal of Science,' 1828; 'New Philosophical Journal,' April, 1862; also 'Plants of the Bible, Trees and Shrubs,' by Professor Balfour).]


Verse 6

And she sent and called Barak the son of Abinoam out of Kedesh-naphtali, and said unto him, Hath not the LORD God of Israel commanded, saying, Go and draw toward mount Tabor, and take with thee ten thousand men of the children of Naphtali and of the children of Zebulun?

She sent and called Barak - i:e., lightning, as Hamilcar, a famous Carthaginian general, was called Barca. Deborah summoned him, i:e., Barak, by virtue of her official authority as judge.

Kedesh-naphtali - situated on an eminence, not far from Hazor, a little north of the sea of Galilee, and so called to distinguish it from another Kedesh in Issachar. It is now Kades. It was 20 Roman miles from Tyre, and not far from Paneas (Robinson, 'Biblical Researches,' 3:, p. 354; Stanley, 'Sinai and Palestine,' p. 331; also 'Lectures on the Jewish Church,' p. 319).

Hath not the Lord God of Israel commanded - a Hebrew form of making an emphatic communication.

Go and draw toward mount Tabor - now Jebel et-Tur, an isolated mountain of Galilee, at the northeast grainer of the plain of Esdraelon. It was a convenient, because a central place of rendezvous for the northern tribes; and the contingent of troops which Barak mustered is not to be considered as limited strictly to 10,000. There were some additional volunteers from Benjamin and Ephraim. But still they formed a force quite inadequate to encounter the army of Sisera on the plain; and therefore they encamped on the mount. Barak's army, consisting of 10,000 foot soldiers "of the children of Naphtali and of the children of Zebulun," could not have been living in Galilee at this time; because this would imply an actual possession of the land assigned to them in the northern provinces, which is contradicted by this part of the history in every page of it. Only a few scattered members of the tribes had settled themselves here and there on their estates, and the object of the battle, which, as appears from Judges 4:7, was plainly aggressive, was to put the whole of them into actual possession (see the note at Judges 5:16-17; Judges 5:23) (Drew's 'Scripture Lands,' p. 107).


Verse 7

And I will draw unto thee to the river Kishon Sisera, the captain of Jabin's army, with his chariots and his multitude; and I will deliver him into thine hand.

No JFB commentary on this verse.


Verse 8

And Barak said unto her, If thou wilt go with me, then I will go: but if thou wilt not go with me, then I will not go.

Barak said unto her, If thou wilt go with me, then I will go. This somewhat singular request of Barak to be accompanied by Deborah was not altogether the result of weakness. The Orientals always take what they account dearest to the battlefield along with them, under the belief that the presence of the beloved Object animates their courage. The presence of women of rank in the camp of the Orientals is not uncommon. Every classical scholar will remember the generous conduct of Alexander in the tent of Darius, when the ladies of the Persian court became his captives; and the beautiful episode of Panthea is universally known (see further the note at Judges 5:30). The policy of Barak, then, to secure the presence of the prophetess is perfectly intelligible, as it would unless stimulate the valour of the troops than sanction, in the eyes of Israel, the uprising against an oppressor so powerful as Jabin. [The Septuagint explains the motives of Barak in a added clause, hoti ouk oida teen heemeran en hee euodoi kurios ton angelon met' emou, because I know not the day on which the Lord may send his messenger with me and prosper me.]


Verse 9

And she said, I will surely go with thee: notwithstanding the journey that thou takest shall not be for thine honour; for the LORD shall sell Sisera into the hand of a woman. And Deborah arose, and went with Barak to Kedesh.

The Lord shall sell Sisera into the hand of a woman. This was a prediction which Barak could not understand at the time; but the strain of it conveyed a rebuke for his unmanly fears.

Deborah arose, and went with Barak. She became de facto the commander-in-chief (see her speech, Josephus, 'Antiquities,' b. 5:, ch. 5:, sec. 3).


Verse 10

And Barak called Zebulun and Naphtali to Kedesh; and he went up with ten thousand men at his feet: and Deborah went up with him.

Barak called Zebulun and Naphtali to Kedesh - by the blast of silver trumpets (see the note at Numbers 10:9). The oppressed tribes were naturally expected to bear the brunt of the war.


Verse 11

Now Heber the Kenite, which was of the children of Hobab the father in law of Moses, had severed himself from the Kenites, and pitched his tent unto the plain of Zaanaim, which is by Kedesh.

Now Heber the Kenite , [Septuagint, Chaber]

... had severed himself from the Kenites (i:e., who were established in the south of Palestine: see the note at Judges 1:16),

And pitched ... unto the plain of Zaanaim. It was a sort of debateable land (Stanley, 'Sinai and Palestine,' p.

332), this powerful nomadic chief having secured the quiet enjoyment of the pastures there by the adoption of a neutral position. (In addition to what is said in the passage referred to, see an account of the Yehud Chebr, the Arab descendants of Heber the Kenite, in Schwarz's 'Descriptive Geography and Brief Historical Sketch of Palestine,' 1850). It is not unusual, even in the present day, for pastoral tribes to feed their flocks on the extensive commons that lie in the heart of inhabited countries in the East (see the note at Judges 1:16). "The plain of Zaanaim," or Zaanannim (see the note at Joshua 19:11) [ `ad (Hebrew #5704) 'eelown (Hebrew #436), at the oak or terebinth of Zaanaim; Septuagint, heoos druos pleonektountoon, as far as the oak of the overreaching; Stanley, 'the oaks of the wanderers']. The site of the encampment was under a grove of oaks or terebinths in the upland valley of Kedesh.


Verse 12

And they shewed Sisera that Barak the son of Abinoam was gone up to mount Tabor.

They showed Sisera - namely, the Kenites; because it seems that they were the parties who communicated intelligence of the formidable insurrection of the Israelite tribes, as well as of the actual muster of the rebel forces under Barak at Tabor.


Verse 13

And Sisera gathered together all his chariots, even nine hundred chariots of iron, and all the people that were with him, from Harosheth of the Gentiles unto the river of Kishon.

Sisera gathered together ... from Harosheth of the Gentiles - (see the note at Judges 4:2.) Several allied kings brought their respective troops also (see Judges 5:3; Judges 5:19). Sisera, believing that with his immense host he could easily surround the mount Tabor, and force the rebels to surrender, marched out into the plain of Esdraelon.

Unto the river of Kishon , [ nachal (Hebrew #5158), a torrent, apparently from the deep gully or ravine through which it flows; Septuagint, eis ton cheimarroun, the wintry torrent; qiyshown (Hebrew #7028) - i:e., curved, winding (from qiysh (Hebrew #7027), a bow); and this is the character of the stream, which, as flowing through a level plain, pursues a very meandering course.] 'We still find the same river a considerable stream, under the name of el-Mukutta, flowing along the base of Carmel into the bay of 'Akka. A principal source of the Kishon is in the vicinity of mount Tabor; although probably the branch fed from the southern arm of the plain and the southern hills is in general not less important. During the rains much water must necessarily come from the wadies northwest of Tabor, and there form what Burckhardt calls the river of Deburieh, upon the great plain near that village. But the Kishon of the plain is not now a permanent stream: it usually flows only during the season of rain, and for a short time afterward. Yet the river, as it enters the sea at the foot of Carmel, never becomes dry; and we must therefore seek for its perennial sources along the base of that mountain. Whether the brook at Lejjun (Megiddo) reaches the bed of the Kishon during the summer we are not informed; but the main sources appear to be lower down in the valley by which the channel issues from the plain of Esdraelon' (Robinson, 'Biblical Researches,' 3:, p. 228, 229; also 'Physical Geography,' p. 171; Stanley, 'Sinai and Palestine,' p. 331). That plain is said to be about 15 miles square. While Deborah and Barak stationed their bands of devoted followers on the broad summit of Tabor, the host of Sisera, with its nine hundred iron chariots, naturally took up its position on the level plain of Megiddo, on its southwestern extremity by the banks of the Kishon, and near the Canaanite town Taanach (Judges 4:19) (i:e., sandy soil), now Taannuk, a village on the slope of the hills skirting the plain on the south.


Verse 14

And Deborah said unto Barak, Up; for this is the day in which the LORD hath delivered Sisera into thine hand: is not the LORD gone out before thee? So Barak went down from mount Tabor, and ten thousand men after him.

Deborah said unto Barak, Up: for this is the day in which the Lord hath delivered Sisera into thine hand. From the commanding position the Israelites had taken up, she must have seen the hostile cavalcade advancing across the plain, and finally encamping at Taanach, on a long spur of the mount. The plain on the bank of the Kishon was chosen as the battlefield by Sisera himself, who was unconsciously drawn there for the ruin of his army. It is just at this point that the traveler catches the first distinct view of the arched summit of Tabor. From that summit Deborah must have watched the gradual drawing of the enemy toward the spot of her predicted triumph. She raised the cry, which twice over occurs in the story of the battle, "Arise, Barak" (cf. Judges 4:12). She gave with unhesitating confidence to the doubting troops the augury which Barak had asked before the insurrection began - "This (this, and no other) is the day in which the Lord hath delivered Sisera into thine hand" (cf. Judges 4:8, Septuagint version).

From Tabor to Taanach is a march of about thirteen miles, and therefore the approach must have been long foreseen by the Canaanite forces (Stanley, 'Lectures on the Jewish Church,' p. 321). We are rather inclined to think that the camp of Sisera was surprised by an unexpected attack from the mountains very early in the morning. On receiving the signal from Deborah, Barak ordered his troops forthwith to march. It is a striking proof of the full confidence Barak and his troops reposed in Deborah's assurance of victory, that they relinquished their advantageous position on the hill, and rushed into the plain in face of the iron chariots they so much dreaded. They were at first agitated by fear (Josephus, 'Antiquities, b. 5:, ch. 5:, sec. 3); besides, they were ill-accoutred, or but rudely armed (Judges 4:8); because Jabin had practiced the same policy as the Philistines afterward did (1 Samuel 13:19-22). 'Rapidly they descend the mountain, cross over by Nain into the valley of Jezreel, then incline to by left, to avoid the low and marshy ground, and by the first faint light of the morning they are upon the sleeping host of the Canaanites. This assault, wholly unexpected, threw them into instant and irrevocable confusion. But half awake, the whole army fled in dismay down the plain, hotly pursued by the victorious Barak. No time was allowed them to recover from their panic. God also fought against, them (Judges 4:14, middle clause; also Judges 4:4). Josephus ('Antiquities,' b. 5:, ch. 5:, sec. 4) adds that a storm from the east beat furiously in the faces of the Canaanites, but only on the backs of the Hebrews' ('The Land and the Book,' i:e. p. 142).

The flight became indiscriminate, multitudes were massacred by the plain of Endor, between Tabor and the little Hermen (Psalms 83:10), and still they ran westward, probably in the hope of finding refuge in the Canaanite fortress of Megiddo; but the numerous rivulets which issue from the hills of Megiddo having been swollen by the rain, had converted the adjacent fields into an impassable morass (Judges 4:19), and prevented them continuing that line of retreat. The victorious enemy was behind them; on their left were the hills of Samaria, in the hands of their enemies; on their right was the swollen river and the marshes of Thora; they had no alternative but to make for the narrow pass which led to Haresheth. The space, however, becomes more and more narrow, until within the pass it is only a few rods wide. There horses, chariots, and men became mixed in horrible confusion, jostling and treading down one another; and the river, here swifter and deeper than above, runs zigzag from side to side of the vale, until, just before it reaches the castle of Harosheth (Harothieh), it dashes sheer up against the perpendicular base of Carmel. There is no longer any possibility of avoiding it. Rank upon rank of the flying host plunge madly in, those behind crushing those before deeper and deeper in the tenacious mud, They stick fast-are overwhelmed-are swept away by thousands ('The Land and the Book,' 1:, p. 143).


Verse 15

And the LORD discomfited Sisera, and all his chariots, and all his host, with the edge of the sword before Barak; so that Sisera lighted down off his chariot, and fled away on his feet.

The Lord discomfited Sisera - Hebrew, threw his army into confusion. The disorder was produced by a supernatural panic (see the note at Judges 4:20).

So that Sisera lighted down off his chariot, and fled away on his feet. Sauve qui peut-`Every man look to himself'-became the order of the day. Sisera's chariot, being probably distinguished by its superior size and elegance, would betray the rank of its rider, who saw, consequently, that his only chance of escape was on foot. His flight was in a different direction from that of his army.


Verse 16

But Barak pursued after the chariots, and after the host, unto Harosheth of the Gentiles: and all the host of Sisera fell upon the edge of the sword; and there was not a man left.

But Barak pursued after the chariots, and after the host, unto Harosheth of the Gentiles. Broken and routed, the main body of Sisera's army fled northwards; others were forced into the western branch of kishon (the Megiddo) and drowned (see the note at Judges 4:21).


Verse 17

Howbeit Sisera fled away on his feet to the tent of Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite: for there was peace between Jabin the king of Hazor and the house of Heber the Kenite.

Sisera fled ... to the tent of Jael - i:e. (roe, Proverbs 5:19, English version), wild goat, gazelle [Septuagint, Iaeel]. Sisera fled ... to the tent of Jael - i:e. (roe, Proverbs 5:19, English version), wild goat, gazelle [Septuagint, Iaeel]. According to the usages of nomadic people, the duty of receiving the stranger in the sheikh's absence devolves on his wife; and the moment the stranger is admitted into the tent, his claim to be defended or concealed from his pursuers is established. But how came the tent of Heber to be pitched in the neighbourhood of Carmel, when it was stated that he residence was at "the plain of Zaanaim, which is by Kedesh"? (Judges 4:11.) 'An incident which happened to myself,' says Dr. Thomson ('The Land and the Book,'

i., p. 145), 'will explain why Heber was found at the bottom of the plain at the time of the battle. With a guide from Nazareth, I once crossed the lower part of Esdraelon in the winter. It was then full of Arab tents. The home of those nomads was in the mountains north of Nazareth, toward Safet; and they came down here only to pass the cold mouths of winter. This was the very thing that Heber did; and if any one should object, that if Heber lived near Kadesh, why not descend to the Huleh immediately below for the winter, rather than migrate to this distant place? for the simple reason, I answer, that this place was under the government of his ally, Jabin, and the other was not.'


Verse 18

And Jael went out to meet Sisera, and said unto him, Turn in, my lord, turn in to me; fear not. And when he had turned in unto her into the tent, she covered him with a mantle.

No JFB commentary on this verse.


Verse 19

And he said unto her, Give me, I pray thee, a little water to drink; for I am thirsty. And she opened a bottle of milk, and gave him drink, and covered him.

She opened a bottle of milk, and gave him drink , [ no'd (Hebrew #4997) hechaalaab (Hebrew #2461)] - a skin or leather bag, so called from being shaken, in order to make the milk into butter. [Septuagint, eenoixe teen askon tou galaktos.] Josephus says ('Antiquities,' b. 5:, ch. 5:, sec. 4) it was sour milk, or what the Arabs call "leban"; a favourite and refreshing beverage.

And covered him. Sisera reckoned on this as a pledge of his safety, especially in the tent of a friendly sheikh. This pledge was the strongest that could be sought or obtained, after he had partaken of refreshments, and been introduced into the inner or wife's apartment-a sanctuary inviolable by the intrusion even of her nearest relations, unless by her express permission. Eucouraged by all these circumstances, Sisera surrendered himself to sleep, after a day of exhausting fatigue. Josephus ascribes his profound slumbers to the copious amount of sour milk that he had taken.


Verse 20

Again he said unto her, Stand in the door of the tent, and it shall be, when any man doth come and inquire of thee, and say, Is there any man here? that thou shalt say, No.

No JFB commentary on this verse.


Verse 21

Then Jael Heber's wife took a nail of the tent, and took an hammer in her hand, and went softly unto him, and smote the nail into his temples, and fastened it into the ground: for he was fast asleep and weary. So he died.

Then Jael ... took a nail of the tent - a wooden or iron pin-most probably one of the pins, about a foot long and sharp at one end, with which the tent ropes are fastened to the ground. Escape was almost impossible for Sisera. But the taking of his life by the hand of Jael was deliberate murder. It was a direct violation of all the notions of honour and friendship that are usually held sacred among pastoral people, and for which it is impossible to conceive a woman in Jael's circumstances to have had any motive, except that of gaining favour with the victors. Though predicted by Deborah, the act was the result of divine foreknowledge, not of divine appointment or sanction; and though it is raised in the song contained in the following chapter, the eulogy must be considered as pronounced, not on the moral character of the woman and her deed, but on the public benefits which, in the overruling providence of God, would flow from it.


Verse 22

And, behold, as Barak pursued Sisera, Jael came out to meet him, and said unto him, Come, and I will shew thee the man whom thou seekest. And when he came into her tent, behold, Sisera lay dead, and the nail was in his temples.

As Barak pursued Sisera, Jael came out to meet him. Having complete the rout of the Canaanite host, Barak was probably on his return home to Kedesh, when he was surprised by the intelligence of the awful tragedy that had been enacted within the tent of the Kenite, and subsequently by the ghastly spectacle of the corpse of Sisera, which Jael exhibited to him. This last scene closed the proceedings of that eventful day, as with it also ends the narrative of the national triumph of Israel over the last general confederacy of the Canaanites.

 


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Bibliography Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Judges 4:4". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/jfu/judges-4.html. 1871-8.

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