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Bible Commentaries

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical

Judges 4

 

 

Verses 1-11

THIRD SECTION.

The Servitude To Jabin, King Of Canaan. Deborah, The Female Judge Of Fiery Spirit, And Barak, The Military Hero.

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Ehud being dead, Israel falls back into evil-doing, and is given up to the tyranny of Jabin, king of Canaan. Deborah, the Prophetess, summons Barak to undertake the work of deliverance

Judges 4:1-11

1And the children [sons] of Israel again did [continued to do] evil in the sight of the Lord [Jehovah;] when [and] Ehud was dead 2 And the Lord [Jehovah] sold them [gave them up] 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 Gentiles3[Harosheth-Hagojim]. And the children [sons] of Israel cried unto the Lord [Jehovah]; for he had nine hundred chariots of iron; and twenty years he mightily oppressed the children [sons] of Israel 4 And Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth,[FN1] she judged Israel at that time 5 And she dwelt [sat[FN2]] under the palm-tree of Deborah, between Ramah and Beth-el in mount Ephraim: and the children [sons] of Israel came up to her for judgment 6 And she sent and called Barak the son of Abinoam out of Kedesh-naphtali, and said unto him, Hath not the Lord [Jehovah the] God of Israel commanded [thee], saying. Go, and draw toward mount Tabor,[FN3] and take with thee ten thousand men of the children [sons] of Naphtali, and of the children [sons] of Zebulun? 7And I will draw unto thee, to the river [brook] Kishon, Sisera the captain of Jabin’s army, with[FN4] his chariots and his multitude; and I will deliver him into thine hand? 8And 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 9 And she said, I will surely go with thee: notwithstanding [but] the journey that thou takest [the expedition on which thou goest] shall not be for thine honour; for the Lord [Jehovah] shall sell [give up] Sisera into the hand of a woman. And Deborah arose, and went with Barak to Kedesh 10 And Barak called Zebulun and Naphtali to Kedesh; and he went up with ten thousand men at his feet:[FN5] and Deborah went up with him 11 Now Heber the Kenite, which was of the children [sons] of Hobab the father- [brother-] in-law of Moses, had severed himself from the Kenites, and pitched his tent unto the plain of Zaanaim [near Elon-Zaanannim], which is by Kedesh.[FN6]

TEXTUAL AND GRAMMATICAL

1 Judges 4:4—אֵשֶׁת לַפִּידוֹת: Dr. Cassel, taking the second of these words as an appellative, renders,—ein Weibsen Feuergeist, a woman of fiery spirit, cf. his remarks below. The possibility of this rendering cannot be denied; but it is at least equally probable that the ordinary view which regards Lapidoth as a proper noun is correct. Bachmann points out that the succession of statements in this passage is exactly the same as in “Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron,” “Huldah the prophetess, the wife of Shallum,” “Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel,” etc. These instances create a presumption that in this case too the second statement after the name will be one of family relationship, which in the absence of positive proof the mere grammatical possibility of another view does not suffice to countervail. The feminine ending of Lapidoth creates as little difficulty as it does in Naboth, and other instances of the same sort. Of Lapidoth we have no knowledge whatever. The mention here made of him does not necessarily imply that he was still living. Cf. Ruth 4:10; 1 Samuel 27:3; etc.—Tr.]

2 Judges 4:5.—יוֹשֶׁבֶת: Bachmann also translates “sat” (sass), although he interprets “dwelt;” cf. Judges 10:1; Joshua 2:15; 2 Kings 22:14. “As according to the last of these passages the prophetess Huldah had her dwelling (יוֹשֶׁבֶתוְהִיא) in the second district of Jerusalem, so the prophetess Deborah had her dwelling (וְהִיא יוֹשֶׁבֶת) under the Palm of Deborah.”—Tr.]

3 Judges 4:6.—וּמָשַׁכְתָּ בְּהַר תָּבוֹר: Dr. Cassel,—Ziehe auf den Berg Tabor, proceed to Mount Tabor. So many others. For בּ with a verb of motion, cf. Psalm 24:3. But inasmuch as משַׁךְ recurs immediately in Judges 4:7, and is there transitive, Bachmann proposes to take it so here: go, draw sc. an army, to thyself or together, on Mount Tabor. Cf the Vulgate.—Tr.]

4 Judges 4:7.—וְאֶת־רִכְבּוֹ: properly, “and (not, with) his chariots,” etc, although Cassel also has mit. אֵת is the sign of the accusative, not the preposition, as appears from the fact that it has the copula “and” before it.—Tr.]

5 Judges 4:10.—בְּרַגְלָיו: if the subject of וַיַּעַל be Barak, as the E. V. and Dr. Cassel take it, בְּרַגְלָיו can hardly mean anything else than “on foot,” as Dr. Cassel renders it; cf. Judges 4:15. But the true construction—true, because regular and leaving nothing to be supplied—is that which De Wette adopts: “and there went up, בְּרַגְלָיו, ten thousand men.” In this construction, which harmonizes perfectly with the context, בְּרַגְלָיו evidently means “at his feet,” i. e. as De Wette renders, “after him.”—Tr.]

6 Judges 4:11.—Dr. Cassel’s translation adheres strictly to the order of the original: “And Heber, the Kenite, had severed himself from Kain, the sons of Hobab, the brother-in-law of Moses, and had pitched his tent near Elon-Zaanannim, by Kedesh. On the rendering “brother-in-law,” instead of “father-in-law,” cf. Keil, on Exodus 2:18; Smith’s Bibl. Dict. s. v. Hobab.—Tr.]

EXEGETICAL AND DOCTRINAL

Judges 4:1. And Ehud was dead: i.e. For Ehud was no more. That the eighty years of rest were also the years of Ehud’s government is not indeed expressly stated, but seems nevertheless to be indicated in this verse. For “rest” is always coincident with “obedience towards God;” and obedience is maintained in Israel through the personal influence of the Judge. When he dies, the weakness of the people manifests itself anew. Hence, when we read that the people “continued to do evil, and Ehud was dead,” this language must be understood to connect the cessation of rest with the death of Ehud. Shamgar—no mention being made of him here—must have performed his exploit some time during the eighty years. The standing expression וַיֹּסִיפוּ, “and they continued,” is to be regarded as noting the continuance of that fickleness which obtains among the people when not led by a person of divine enthusiasm. They always enter afresh on courses whose inevitable issues they might long since have learned to know. The new generation learns nothing from the history of the past. “They continued,” Isaiah, therefore, really equivalent to “they began anew.”

Judges 4:2-3. And Jehovah gave them up into the hand of Jabin, king of Canaan, etc. Joshua already had been obliged to sustain a violent contest with a Jabin, king of Hazor. He commanded a confederation of tribes, whose frontier reached as far south as Dor (Tantûra) on the coast, and the plains below the Sea of Tiberias. The battle of Jabin with Joshua took place at the waters of Merom (Lake Huleh); and from that fact alone Josephus inferred that “Hazor lay above (ὑπεροεῖται) this sea.” But its position was by no means so close to the lake as Robinson (Bibl. Res., iii365) wishes to locate it, which is altogether impossible The course of Joshua makes it clear that it lay on the road from Lake Merom to Zidon. For in order to capture Hazor, Joshua turned back (וַיָּשָׁב, Joshua 11:10) from the pursuit. It appears from our passage, and also from Joshua 19:37 that it must have been situated not very far from Kedesh, but in such a direction that from it the movements of Israel toward Tabor, on the line of Naphtali and Zebulon, could not be readily observed or hindered: that is to say, to the west of Kedesh. That its position cannot be determined by the similarity of modern names alone, is shown by the experience of Robinson, who successively rejected a Hazîreh, a Tell Hazûr, and el-Hazûry (for which Ritter had decided). For a capital of such importance as Hazor here and elsewhere appears to be, an elevated situation, commanding the lowlands (מֶלֶךְ־כְּנַעַן), must be assumed. It must have been a fortress supported by rich and fertile fields. These conditions are met by Tibnîn, as is evident from Robinson’s extended description of it (ii 451 ff.; iii57 ff.). The similarity of name is not wanting; for the Crusaders must have had some reason for calling it Toronum. William of Tyre (Hist. lib. xi5; in Gesta Dei Francorum, p798) described the place as adorned with vineyards and trees, the land fertile and adapted for cultivation. It lies midway between Tyre and Paneas, and is of immense importance for the control of the country. Robinson has justly remarked, that a fortress must have been on this spot long before the time of the Crusaders; nor does it raise any great difficulty that William of Tyre reckoned it to the tribe of Asher, on whose borders, at all events, it lay.[FN7]—The Jabin, king of Hazor, of our passage, evidently cherished the design of regaining, in some favorable hour of Israelitish supineness, the territory taken from his ancestors by Joshua. With this object in view, his general-in-chief, Sisera, kept the languishing nation under discipline at another point. The name of Sisera’s residence was Harosheth Hagojim. It may perhaps be possible to fix this hitherto wholly unknown place also. The power of the present Jabin must have extended as far as that of the earlier one (i.e. to Tantûra and the region south of the Sea of Tiberias); since otherwise the battle with Barak would not have been fought at the Kishon. Moreover, Naphtali, Zebulun, and Issachar were all interested in the war against him ( Judges 5:15). This being the case, it is certainly probable that Sisera’s residence was in this southern part of Jabin’s dominions. Sisera was commander of an army dreaded chiefly for its nine hundred iron chariots. But these were of consequence only on level ground. That is the reason why, Joshua 17:16 such prominence is given to the fact that just those Canaanites who lived in the plains of Beth-shean (Beisân) and Jezreel, through which latter the Kishon flowed, had iron chariots. The name itself of Harosheth Hagojim suffices to suggest its connection with iron chariots. Harosheth (Heb. Charosheth) is the place where iron was worked (charash, the smith). It is only natural to look for it in the plains just named. But the residence of Sisera is called Harosheth Hagojim, the Harosheth of the Gojim. By Gojim we must understand a race different not only from Israel, but also from the Canaanite, Aram, Edom, Moab, etc. The Targum translates Harosheth Hagojim by fortress or city of the Gojim (כְּרַכֵּי עַמְמַיָא), and thus refers us to Gelil Hagojim ( Isaiah 8:23 [E. V. Isaiah 9:1]), which is translated in the same way (כְּרַכֵּי stands often for עִיר, city). The prophet in the passage referred to, locates this Gelil of the Gojim on this side of the Jordan, in the neighborhood of the Lake of Tiberias. It is clearly erroneous to make this Galilœa Gentium cover the whole district of Galilee; for that included Zebulun, Naphtali, and the shore of Lake Tiberias, which the prophet mentions separately. If it be proper to interpret the passage geographically, Gelil Hagojim must lie south of Lake Tiberias, where subsequently Galilee began. Joshua himself also conquered a king of the Gojim in “גִּלְגָּל” ( Joshua 12:23). From the position given to this king in the catalogue, no geographical inference can be drawn, since the enumeration is made without any regard to the situation of localities. The passage becomes clear only when גִּלְגָּל is taken as גָּלִיל, making Joshua victorious over the king of the Gojim in Gelil. Now, it cannot escape notice that among the kings conquered by Joshua, no king of Beth-shean is found, although in Joshua 17:16 this place appears so important, and its territory must have been conquered, and although the cities in the plain of Jezreel are named. The conjecture, therefore, is plausible that Beth-shean is represented by the king of the Gojim. Beth-shean was the starting-point of the later Galilee (cf. Lightfoot, Opera, i216, etc.); it was the city of iron chariots; its population was always of a mixed character (Canaanites, Gojim, Jews, Judges 1:27; Chulin, 6 b). From the date of the first Greek notices of it (in the Septuagint, Josephus, etc.; cf. Ritter, xv432 [Gage’s Transl. ii335]), it appears under the name Scythopolis, city of the Scythians. On the question how this name originated, we are not to enter here. Thus much is certain, that it is not unsuitable to take the term Scythians as equivalent to Gojim; especially when we compare Genesis 14:1, where Tidal, king of the Gojim, is named in connection with Elam, Shinar, and Ellasar. Although our historical data are not sufficient to raise these probabilities to certainties, several considerations suggested by the narrative are of some weight. If Harosheth Hagojim is to be looked for in the vicinity of Beth-shean, the whole geography of the war becomes quite plain. Jabin and Sisera then occupy the decisive points at the extremities of the kingdom. The southern army of Sisera is the most oppressive to Israel, and its dislodgement is the main object. Barak is not to attack Hazor, for that is surrounded and supported by hostile populations, which it is impracticable as yet to drive out. Deborah’s plan is to annihilate the tyrannical power, where it has established itself in the heart of Israel. Tabor is the central point, where Naphtali and Zebulun can conveniently assemble. A straight line from Kedesh to that mount, runs through the territories of both. Sisera must fight or allow himself to be cut off. His overthrow is Israel’s freedom. His army is Jabin’s only hold on those regions. Hence, Sisera’s flight from the Kishon is northward, in order to reach Hazor. On the way, not far from either Hazor or Kedesh, his fate overtakes him.[FN8]

Judges 4:4. And Deborah a prophetic woman,אִשָּׁה נְביאָה. According to Numbers 11:25, the prophetic gift has its source in the “Spirit of Jehovah.” Its office answers to its origin: it preaches God and speaks his praises. Cause and effect testify of each other. Every one, whether man or woman, may prophecy, on whom the “Spirit of Jehovah” comes. The prophetic state is a divine ecstasy, a high poetic enthusiasm (ἐνθουσιάζειν, from θεός), under the influence of which the praises of God are spoken. On this account, the prophet resembled at times the Greek μάντις (from μαίνομαι); compare especially Jeremiah 29:26 (קםֵם;משֻׁבָּע וּמִחְנַכֵּא, connected with nabi, in the same chapter, Judges 4:8, is actually rendered μάντις by the LXX.). In itself, however, both as to derivation and meaning, naba, niba, is to be compared with ἔπειν. The prophet utters the ἔπος, in which the Spirit of Jehovah manifests itself; he declares the greatness and glory of God. He is a spokesman of God and for Him. Hence Aaron could be called the nabi of Moses ( Exodus 7:1). He was the ready organ of the spirit which resided in Moses. Doubtless, in the highest sense, Moses was himself the nabi With him, God spake mouth to mouth, not in visions and dreams and enigmas ( Numbers 12:6-8); not, that Isaiah, as He announced himself to Aaron and Miriam. Miriam was the first prophetess who praised God in ecstatic strains of poetry, with timbrels and dances, before all the people ( Exodus 15:20). It has been asked (cf. my treatise Ueber Prophetinnen und Zauberinnen im Weimar, Jahrbuch für Deutsche Sprache, vol. iv.), how it comes about that prophetic women constitute a “significant feature” of the old German heathenism only, whereas Jewish and Christian views assigned the gift of prophecy to men. The contrast certainly exists; it rests in the main upon the general difference between the heathen and the Scriptural view of the universe. The subjective nature of woman is more akin to the subjective character of heathenism. So much the higher must Deborah be placed. She was not, like Miriam, the sister of such men as Moses and Aaron. The objective spirit of her God alone elevates her above her people, above heroes before and after her. Not only the ecstasy of enthusiasm, but the calm wisdom of that Spirit which informs the law, dwells in her. Of no Judge until Samuel is it expressly said that he was a “prophet.” Of none until him can it be said, that he was possessed of the popular authority needful for the office of Judges, even before the decisive deed of his life. The position of Deborah in Israel is therefore a twofold testimony. The less commonly women were called to the office she exercised, the more manifest is the weakness of those who should have been the organs of divine impulses. That she, a woman, became the centre of the people, proves the relaxation of spiritual and manly energy. But on the other hand, the undying might of divine truth, as delivered by Moses, comes brilliantly to view. History shows many instances, where in times of distress, when men despaired, women aroused and saved their nation; but in all such cases there must be an unextinguished spark of the old fire in the people themselves. Israel, formerly encouraged by the great exploit of a left-handed Prayer of Manasseh, is now quickened by the glowing word of a noble woman.

The name Deborah does not occur here for the first time. It was also borne by the nurse of Rebecca, who was buried near Bethel ( Genesis 35:8). Many find the name peculiarly appropriate for the prophetess. Its proper meaning Isaiah, “bee”; and in Hellenic oracles also bees play an important part (cf. Paus. ix40, etc.). This honor they enjoyed, however, only in consequence of the erroneous derivation of the name melitta from melos, a song. In like manner, Deborah (דְּבֹרָה), the bee, is not connected with dabar (דָּבַר), to speak; nor does it properly mean the “march of the bees” (Gesenius); neither is it “buzzing” (Fürst); but, as melitta from meli, honey, so Deborah is to be derived from debash (ךְּבַשׁ), which also means honey, the interchange of r and s being very common (honor, honos, etc.). Deborah is a female name akin in meaning to the German Emma,[FN9]—and does not necessarily imply any reference to the prophetic office in the case of our Deborah any more than in that of Rebecca’s nurse.

A woman of a fiery spirit,אֵשֶׁת לַפִּידוֹת. The majority of expositors, ancient as well as modern, regard Lapidoth as the name of Deborah’s husband. Yet it was felt by many that there was something peculiar in the words. If the ordinary interpretation were the true one, it would be natural to look also for a statement of the tribe to which the husband belonged. In accordance with the style of the ancients, the designation would have been at least once repeated (at Judges 5:1). To make it seem quite natural for Deborah always to appear without her husband, it had to be assumed that he was already dead. To avoid this, some old Jewish expositors assert that Barak was her husband,—Barak and Lappid being of kindred signification, namely, “lightning” and “flame.” But in all this no attention is paid to the uncommonness of the phenomenon presented in the person of a woman such as Deborah. What a burning spirit must hers have been, to have attained to such distinction in Israel! It was in perfect keeping with the poetical cast of the language of the age, that the people should seek to indicate the characteristic which gave her her power over them, by calling her אֵשֶׁת לַפִּירוֹת. If a capable woman was called אֵשֶׁת הַיִל, from הַיִל, strength ( Proverbs 31:10),—and a contentious woman, אֵשֶׁתמִדְוָנִים ( Proverbs 21:19); and if in אֵשֶׁת כְּםִילנּת (foolish woman, Proverbs 9:13), we are not to regard kesiluth as a proper name, it must also be allowed that אֵשֶׁת לַפִּידוֹת may be rendered “woman of the torch-glow,” especially when we consider what a fire-bearing, life-kindling personage she was. It is a fact, moreover, that lappid (torch) occurs almost as often in figurative as in literal language. The salvation of Jerusalem shines “like a torch” ( Isaiah 62:1). “Out of his mouth torches go forth” ( Job 41:11 (19)). The appearance of the heroes of Israel is “like torches” ( Nahum 2:5 (4)). The angel who appeared to Daniel had “eyes like torches of fire” ( Daniel 10:6). “The word of Elias,” says Sirach ( Sirach 48:1), “burned like a torch.” Concerning Phinehas, the priest, the Midrash says, that “when the Holy Ghost filled him, his countenance glowed like torches” (Jalkut, Judges, § 40).

The spirit of Deborah was like a torch for Israel, kindling their languid hearts. It was the power of her prophetic breath which fell on the people. This is the secret of her influence and victory. The moral energy which was at work is traced to its source even in the grammatical form of the word which describes it—לַכִּידוֹת, not לַפִיךִים,[FN10] albeit that the former, like כּםילוּת occurs but once.

She judged Israel. Inasmuch as in the gift of prophecy she had the Spirit of God, she was able to judge. Notwithstanding her rapt and flaming spirit, she was no fanatic. She judged the thronging people according to the principles of the law. The wisdom of this “wise woman” was the wisdom revealed by God in his law. She deals in no mysterious and awful terrors. The מִשְׁפָּם (judgment), for which Israel came to Deborah, was clear—did not consist in dark sayings, like the verses of the Pythia, though these also were called θέμιστες, θέμιτες (statutes, מִשְׁפָּטים; cf. Nägelsbach, Nachhom. Theologie, p183). The comparison with the Sphinx, instituted by Bochart (Phaleg, p471), was not fortunate; not even according to the notions of the grammarian Socrates, who represented the Sphinx as a native soothsayer, who occasioned much harm because the Thebans did not understand her statutes (cf. Jaep, Die griechische Sphinx, p15).

Judges 4:5. She sat under the palm-tree of Deborah. Under the palm still known to the narrator as that of Deborah (cf. “Luther’s oak,” in Thüringia). It is impossible to see why C. Bötticher (Ueber den Baumkultus der Hellenen, p523) should speak of “Deborah-palms.” She sat under a large palm, public and free, accessible to all; not like the German Velleda, who, according to Tacitus, sat in a tower, and to whom no one was admitted, in order to increase the veneration in which she was held. The palm was the common symbol of all Canaan; it adorned the coins of both the Phœnicians (Movers, ii1, 7) and the Jews.[FN11] From these coins, carried far and wide by sailors—and not, as is generally assumed, from the appearance of the coast when approached from sea, which showed many other things besides palm-trees,—arose the custom of calling those who brought them Phœnicians (φοῖνιξ, the palm). The symbolism of the palm, which the ancients admired in Delos, was based on ideas which were unknown to Israel. It referred to the birth of Apollo, not to divination.

Between ha-Ramah and Beth-el, on Mount Ephraim.[FN12] Beth-el lay on the border between Ephraim and Benjamin; so likewise Ataroth ( Joshua 16:2). Robinson discovered an Atâra in that region (Bibl. Res., i575). Not far from it, he came to a place, called er-Râm, lying on a high hill, which he regarded as the Ramah in Benjamin ( Judges 19:13), while Ritter (xvi537, 538 [Gage’s Transl. iv230]), identifies it with the Ramah of our passage. Both conjectures are tenable, since neither interferes with the statement that Deborah sat between Beth-el and Ramah, on Mount Ephraim,—on the border, of course, like Bethel itself (cf. בָּהָר, Joshua 16:1).

Judges 4:6-7. And she sent and called Barak out of Kedesh-naphtali. That which especially comes to view here, is the moral unity in which the tribes still continued to be bound together. Deborah, though resident in the south of Ephraim, had her eyes fixed on the tyranny which pressed especially on the tribes of the north. While of the priests at Shiloh none speak, she nevertheless cannot rest while Israel is in bondage. But she turns to the tribes most immediately concerned. Kedesh, to the northwest of Lake Huleh, has been identified in modern times, still bearing its old name. It is situated upon a rather high ridge, in a splendid region (Rob. iii366 ff.). There, in Naphtali, lived Barak (“lightning,” like Barcas), the man fixed on by Deborah to become the liberator of his people. The names of his father and native place are carefully given, here, and again at Judges 5:1. The power of Deborah’s influence shows itself in the fact that Barak, though living so far north, readily answers her summons to the border of Benjamin. At the same time, Barak’s obedience to the call of the prophetess, is in itself good evidence, that he is the called deliverer of Israel. But she not only calls him, not only incites him to the conflict; she also gives him the plan of battle which he must follow.

Go, and gradually draw toward Mount Tabor, with ten thousand men of Naphtali and Zebulun. (לֵךְ וּמַשַׁכְתָּ בְּהַר תָּבוֹר וְלָקַחְתָּ עמְּךָ) The word מָשַׁךְ always conveys the idea of drawing, whether that which is drawn be the bow, the furrow, or the prolonged sounds of a musical instrument; tropically, it is also used of the long line of an army, advancing along the plain. Its meaning here, where the object which Barak is to draw is put in another clause, “וְלָקַתְתָּ עִמְךָ עֲשֶׂרֶת,” is made plain by the analogous passage, Exodus 12:21. There Moses says, מִשְׁכוּ וּקְתוּ לָכֶם צֹאן לְמִשְׁפְּחֹתֵיכֶם; and the sense is evidently that the families are to sacrifice the passover one after another (משֶׁכוּ), each in its turn killing its own lamb. The same successive method is here enjoined by Deborah. Barak is to gather ten thousand men toward mount Tabor, one after another, in small squads. This interpretation of the word is strengthened by the obvious necessity of the case. The tyrant must hear nothing of the rising, until the hosts are assembled; but how can their movements be concealed, unless they move in small companies? For the same reason they are to assemble, not at Kedesh, but at a central point, readily accessible to the several tribes. Mount Tabor (Jebel Tor), southwest of the Sea of Tiberias, is the most isolated point of Galilee, rising in the form of a cone above the plain, and visible at a great distance, though its height is only1755 (according to Schubert, 1748) Par. feet.[FN13] Barak, however, is not to remain in his position on the mountain. If Sisera’s tyranny is to be broken, its forces must be defeated in the plain; for there the iron chariots of the enemy have their field of action. Hence, Deborah adds that Sisera will collect his army at the brook Kishon, in the plain of Jezreel. “And I”—she speaks in the “Spirit of Jehovah”—“will draw him unto thee, and deliver him into thine hand.”

Judges 4:8. And Barak said. Barak has no doubt as to the truth of her words, nor does he fear the enemy; but yet he will go only if Deborah go with him, not without her. Her presence legitimatizes the undertaking as divine. It shows the tribes he summons, that he seeks no interest of his own—that it is she who summons them. He wishes to stand forth as the executor merely of the command which comes through her. The attempt to draw a parallel between Deborah and Jeanne d’Arc, though it readily suggests itself, will only teach us to estimate the more clearly the peculiar character of the Jewish prophetess. The latter does not herself draw the sword, for then she would not have needed Barak. Joan, like Deborah, spoke pregnant words of truth, as when, on being told that “God could conquer without soldiers,” she simply replied, “the soldiers will fight, and then God will give victory;” but she fought only against the enemies of her country, not the enemies of her faith and spiritual life. It was a romantic faith in the right and truth of an earthly sceptre, for which the poor maiden fell: the voice which called Deborah to victory was the voice of the Universal Sovereign. No trace of sentimentalism, like that of Dunois, can be discovered in Barak; nevertheless, he voluntarily retires behind the authority of a woman, because God animates and inspires her.

Judges 4:9-10. She said: the expedition on which thou goest, shall not be for thine honour; for Jehovah will give Sisera into the hand of a woman. The victory will be ascribed, not to Barak, but to Deborah. It will be said, “a woman conquered Sisera.” This is the first and obvious meaning of the words;[FN14] by the deed of Jael they were fulfilled in yet another sense. The honor of hewing down Sisera did not fall to Barak. Nevertheless, Barak insists on his condition. He will have the conflict sanctified by her presence. Something similar appears in Greek tradition: with reference to a battle in the Messenian war it is said (Paus. iv16), that “the soldiers fought bravely, because their Seers were present.”

And Deborah arose, and went with Barak to Kedesh. For the sake of the great national cause, she leaves her peaceful palm; and by her readiness to share in every danger, evidences the truth of her announcements. Kedesh, Barak’s home, is the place from which directions are to be issued to the adjacent tribes. Thither she accompanies him; and thence he sends out his call to arms. Some authority for this purpose, he must have had long before: it is now supported by the sanction of the prophetess. When it is said, that he “called Zebulun and Naphtali to Kedesh,” it is evident that only the leaders are intended. It cannot be supposed that the troops, in whole or in part, were first marched up to Kedesh, and then back again, southward, to Tabor. In Kedesh, he imparts the plan to the heads of families. Led by these, the troops collect, descending on all sides from their mountains, like the Swiss against Austria, and proceed towards Tabor—“on foot” (בְּרַגְלָיו), for they have neither chariots nor cavalry. Their numbers constantly augment, till they arrive on Tabor,—Barak and Deborah always at their head.

Judges 4:11. And Heber, the Kenite, had severed himself from Kain, the sons of Hobab, the brother-in-law of Moses. We read above that the tribe of the Kenite, the father-in-law of Moses, decamped from Jericho with the tribe of Judah ( Judges 1:16), and, while the latter carried on the war of conquest, settled in Arad. From there the family of Heber has separated itself. While one part of the tribe has sought a new home for itself below, in the extreme south of Judah, the other encamps high up, in the territory of Naphtali. It is as if the touching attachment of this people to Israel still kept them located at the extremities of the Israelitish encampment, in order, as of old, to show them the way. Above, Judges 1:16 they are called “sons of the Kenite, the father-in-law of Moses”; here, “Kain (cf. Numbers 24:22), the sons of Hobab, the brother-in-law of Moses.” Ancient expositions[FN15] have been the occasion of unnecessary confusion as to Jethro’s name. הָתן means to contract affinity by marriage; and, just as in German Schwäher (father-in-law) and Schwager (brother-in-law) are at bottom one, so the Hebrew חוֹהֵן may stand for both father-in-law and brother-in-law. The father-in-law of Moses was Jethro; as priest, he was called Reuel (רְעוּאֵל). He did not accompany Israel, but after his visit to Moses, went back to his own land ( Exodus 18:27). His son Hobab, however ( Numbers 10:29), had remained with Israel; and when he also would return home, Moses entreated him to abide with them, that he might be for eyes to them on the way, and promised him a share in whatever good might be in store for Israel. The proposal was accepted, and the promise was kept. In the north and south of Canaan, the Kenites had their seats. They are here designated “sons of Hobab,” because it was from him, the ancient guide of Israel, that they derived their position in the land. Heber’s tent was in the vicinity of Kedesh, near Elon Zaanannim,[FN16] mentioned also at Joshua 19:33, as a place on the border of Naphtali. The name may have originated from the sojourn of the Kenites; a supposition which becomes necessary, if with an eye to Isaiah 33:20; Isaiah 33:17 it be interpreted to mean the “oak of the wandering tent.”[FN18]

HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL

Compare the reflections at the end of the next section.

[Bishop Hall: It is no wonder if they, who, ere four-score days after the law delivered, fell to idolatry alone; now, after four-score years since the law restored, fell to idolatry among the Canaanites. Peace could in a shorter time work looseness in any people. And if forty years after Othniel’s deliverance they relapsed, what marvel is it, that in twice forty years after Ehud they thus miscarried?—The same: Deborah had been no prophetess, if she durst have sent in her own name: her message is from Him that sent herself. “Hath not the Lord God of Israel commanded?” Barak’s answer is faithful, though conditional; and doth not so much intend a refusal to go without her, as a necessary bond of her presence with him. Who can blame him, that he would have a prophetess in his company? If the man had not been as holy as valiant, he would not have wished such society.—The same: To prescribe that to others, whieh we draw back from doing ourselves, is an argument of hollowness and falsity. Barak shall see that Deborah doth not offer him that cup whereof she dares not begin: without regard of her sex, she marches with him to Mount Tabor, and rejoices to be seen of the ten thousand of Israel.—Hengstenberg (Genuineness of the Pentateuch, ii101): To grant succor through a woman was calculated to raise heavenwards the thoughts of men, which are so prone to cleave to the earth. If the honor was due to God alone, they would be more disposed to show their gratitude by sincere conversion. That Barak was obliged to lean on Deborah, depended on the same law by which Gideon was chosen to be the deliverer of Israel from the Midianites, though his family was the meanest in Prayer of Manasseh, and himself the youngest in his father’s house; that law by which Gideon was divinely directed to take only three hundred men from the whole assembled host; the women Deborah and Jael stand in the same category with the ox-goad of Shamgar. In all ages God is pleased to choose for his service the in considerable and the despised.—Tr.]

Footnotes:

FN#1 - Judges 4:4—אֵשֶׁת לַפִּידוֹת: Dr. Cassel, taking the second of these words as an appellative, renders,—ein Weibsen Feuergeist, a woman of fiery spirit, cf. his remarks below. The possibility of this rendering cannot be denied; but it is at least equally probable that the ordinary view which regards Lapidoth as a proper noun is correct. Bachmann points out that the succession of statements in this passage is exactly the same as in “Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron,” “Huldah the prophetess, the wife of Shallum,” “Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel,” etc. These instances create a presumption that in this case too the second statement after the name will be one of family relationship, which in the absence of positive proof the mere grammatical possibility of another view does not suffice to countervail. The feminine ending of Lapidoth creates as little difficulty as it does in Naboth, and other instances of the same sort. Of Lapidoth we have no knowledge whatever. The mention here made of him does not necessarily imply that he was still living. Cf. Ruth 4:10; 1 Samuel 27:3; etc.—Tr.]

FN#2 - Judges 4:5.—יוֹשֶׁבֶת: Bachmann also translates “sat” (sass), although he interprets “dwelt;” cf. Judges 10:1; Joshua 2:15; 2 Kings 22:14. “As according to the last of these passages the prophetess Huldah had her dwelling (יוֹשֶׁבֶתוְהִיא) in the second district of Jerusalem, so the prophetess Deborah had her dwelling (וְהִיא יוֹשֶׁבֶת) under the Palm of Deborah.”—Tr.]

FN#3 - Judges 4:6.—וּמָשַׁכְתָּ בְּהַר תָּבוֹר: Dr. Cassel,—Ziehe auf den Berg Tabor, proceed to Mount Tabor. So many others. For בּ with a verb of motion, cf. Psalm 24:3. But inasmuch as משַׁךְ recurs immediately in Judges 4:7, and is there transitive, Bachmann proposes to take it so here: go, draw sc. an army, to thyself or together, on Mount Tabor. Cf the Vulgate.—Tr.]

FN#4 - Judges 4:7.—וְאֶת־רִכְבּוֹ: properly, “and (not, with) his chariots,” etc, although Cassel also has mit. אֵת is the sign of the accusative, not the preposition, as appears from the fact that it has the copula “and” before it.—Tr.]

FN#5 - Judges 4:10.—בְּרַגְלָיו: if the subject of וַיַּעַל be Barak, as the E. V. and Dr. Cassel take it, בְּרַגְלָיו can hardly mean anything else than “on foot,” as Dr. Cassel renders it; cf. Judges 4:15. But the true construction—true, because regular and leaving nothing to be supplied—is that which De Wette adopts: “and there went up, בְּרַגְלָיו, ten thousand men.” In this construction, which harmonizes perfectly with the context, בְּרַגְלָיו evidently means “at his feet,” i. e. as De Wette renders, “after him.”—Tr.]

FN#6 - Judges 4:11.—Dr. Cassel’s translation adheres strictly to the order of the original: “And Heber, the Kenite, had severed himself from Kain, the sons of Hobab, the brother-in-law of Moses, and had pitched his tent near Elon-Zaanannim, by Kedesh. On the rendering “brother-in-law,” instead of “father-in-law,” cf. Keil, on Exodus 2:18; Smith’s Bibl. Dict. s. v. Hobab.—Tr.]

FN#7 - Bachmann identifies “Hazor with Hŭzzûr or Hazîreh, two hours W. of Bint Jebeil, in the heart of Northern Galiee, on an acclivity with extensive ruins and a sepulchral vault of great antiquity,” cf. Rob. iii62. He remarks that for Tibnîn nothing speaks except its importance from a military point of view, which of itself is not sufficient evidence. “The similarity of the mediæval name Toronum (= Hazor?) is wholly illusory.”—Tr.]

FN#8 - To our author’s identification of Harosheth ha-Gojim with Beth-shean, Bachmann objects that the latter city is known by its usual name to the writer of Judges; cf. Judges 1:27. He is “inclined to adopt the view of Thomson, The Land and the Book, Judges 29, who finds Harosheth in Harthîeh, a hill or mound at the southeastern corner of the Plain of Akka, close behind the hills that divide this plain from that of Jezreel, on the north side of the Kishon, yet so near the foot of Carmel as only to leave a passage for the river. This mound is covered with the remains of old ramparts and buildings.”—Tr.]

FN#9 - From the same root with emsig, industrious, and meise, emmet, ant.—Tr.]

FN#10 - That Isaiah, apparently, the energy proceeds from a woman, and therefore the word which figuratively characterizes it, has, by a sort of attraction, a feminine, rot masculine plural given it.—Tr.]

FN#11 - Stanley (Jewish Church, i352): “On the coins of the Roman Empire, Judæa is represented as a woman seated under a palm-tree, captive and weeping. It is the contrast of that figure which will best place before us the character and call of Deborah. It is the same Judæan palm under whose shadow she sits, but not with downcast eyes, and folded hands, and extinguished hopes; with all the fire of faith and energy, eager for the battle, confident of the victory.”—Tr.]

FN#12 - The rendering of the Targum here is quite remarkable: “And she sat in the city, in Ataroth Deborah.”

FN#13 - Cf. Ritter, xv393 [Gage’s Transl. ii311; also Rob. ii 351 ff.]

FN#14 - This is the first and obvious meaning of the words, and it is very strange that Bachmann should pronounce this interpretation, from which but for Jael no one would ever have dreamed of departing, impossible.—Tr.]

FN#15 - In giving Jethro seven names, homiletical applications were followed. Thus, Hobab was taken as a surname of Jethro, “because he was dear to God.” (Jalkut, Judges, n38.)

FN#16 - To pitch one’s tent “in the vicinity” of a place, is expressed by עַד: so here, עַד אֵלוֹן; so Genesis 38:1, עַד־אִישׁ עֲדֻלָּמִי.

FN#17 - Where, according to De Wette’s translation, Jerusalem is spoken of as a “Zelt das nicht wandert”—a tent that does not wander.—Tr.]

FN#18 - The reading δρυὸς πλεονεκτούντων, found in some Greek versions, expounds צַעֲנַנִּים as if it came from בָּצַע; while the ἀναπαυομένων of other versions giver it the sense of שַׁאֲנָן, which is so rendered, Jeremiah 48:11


Verses 12-24

The Battle of the Kishon. Sisera, defeated, seeks shelter in the tent of Jael, wife of Heber the Kenite, and is slain by her

Judges 4:12-24

12And they shewed Sisera that Barak the son of Abinoam was gone up to Mount Tabor 13 And Sisera gathered [called] together all his chariots [his whole chariot-force], even nine hundred chariots of iron, and all the people that were with him, from Harosheth of the Gentiles [Harosheth Hagojim] unto the river [brook] of Kishon 14 And Deborah said unto Barak, Up; for this is the day in which the Lord [Jehovah] hath delivered [delivereth] Sisera into thine hand: is [doth] not the Lord [Jehovah] gone [go] out before thee? So Barak went down from Mount Tabor, and ten thousand men after him 15 And the Lord [Jehovah] discomfited [confounded] Sisera, and all his [the] chariots, and all his [the] host, with the edge of the sword[FN19] before Barak; so that [and] Sisera lighted down off his chariot, and fled away on 16 his feet. But [And] Barak pursued after the chariots, and after the host, unto Harosheth of the Gentiles [Harosheth Hagojim]: and all the host of Sisera fell 17 upon [by] the edge of the sword; and there was not a man left. Howbeit, Sisera fled[FN20] away on his feet to the tent of Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite: for there waspeace between Jabin the king of Hazor and the house of Heber the Kenite 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 [And he turned] in unto her into the tent, [and] she covered him with a mantle.[FN21] 19And 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 [the milk-skin], and gave 20 him drink, and covered him. Again [And] 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, Isaiah 21there any man here? that thou shalt say, No. Then [And] Jael Heber’s wife took a nail of the tent [the tent-pin], and took an [the] hammer in her hand, and went softly unto him, and smote [drove] the nail [pin] into his temples, and fastened it [and it pressed through] into the ground: for he was fast asleep, and weary. Song of Solomon 22he died.[FN22] And behold, as [omit: as] Barak pursued Sisera, [and] Jael came out [went] 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 [pin] was in his temples 23 So God subdued on that day Jabin the king of Canaan before the children [sons] of Israel 24 And the hand of the children [sons] of Israel prospered, and prevailed [grew continually heavier] against Jabin the king of Canaan, until they had destroyed Jabin king of Canaan.

TEXTUAL AND GRAMMATICAL

1 Judges 4:15—לְפִי־חֶרֶב. Standing in connection with וַיָּהָם, these words are of somewhat difficult interpretation. Dr. Cassel’s rejection of them will not commend itself to most critics; nor is the provisional translation he gives of them, “in the conflict,” exactly clear. The best view is probably that of Bachmann, that the expression denotes the great operative cause by which Jehovah confounded the enemy. Barak’s men, rushing down from the mountain, and falling suddenly on the hosts of Sisera, cutting down with remorseless sword all that stood in their way, threw the enemy into utter confusion; but the effect is rightly ascribed to Jehovah, from whose Spirit both the impulse and the strength to execute proceeded.—Tr.]

2 Judges 4:17.—Dr. Cassel translates by the pluperfect: “had fled,” cf. below. But it seems better to retain the indefinite perfect. The narrative left Sisera for a moment, in order in Judges 4:16 briefly to indicate the fate of the army, but now returns to him. Cf. 1 Kings 20:30, and many similar instances.—Tr.]

3 Judges 4:18.—שְׂמִיכָה. This word means a “covering;” but exactly what sort of covering is uncertain. Dr. Cassel translates here by Regentuch, raincloth, perhaps to indicate its close, impervious texture. Dr. Bachmann thinks it was “probably a rather large covering or mat of thick, soft material (perhaps skin or goat’s-hair), on which a person lay down and in which he at the same time wrapped himself up,—a sort of mattrass and coverlet in one. Similar articles still form part of the furniture of the Bedouin’s tent and the Fellah’s dwelling.” He derives the word from שָׂמַךְ=סָמַךְ, in its usual sense to support, to lean, specifically to recline at table. Accordingly the proper meaning of the word would be “supporting;” then, concretely, that which supports or serves to recline upon.—Tr.]

4 Judges 4:21.—Dr. Cassel: “and he—for weariness he had fallen fast asleep—died.” Keil: “Now he was fallen into a deep sleep, and was wearied (i.e. from weariness he had fallen fast asleep); and so he died.” Similarly Bachmann. The clause וַיָּעֵףוְהוּא manifestly designed to set forth the circumstances which enabled Jael to approach Sisera unperceived; consequently, the “for” of the English version is perfectly proper, and formally not less correct than Dr. Cassel’s German, which was only designed to correct Luther’s version: “he however, fell asleep, swooned away, and died.” Dr. Wordsworth (p99) considers it a mistake to suppose that Jael “smote a nail into Sisera’s head while he was asleep.” He would render: “and he fell down astounded, and feinted away, and died.” The passage is a curiosity in interpretation.—Tr.]

EXEGETICAL AND DOCTRINAL

Intensely vivid pictures, and of the highest historical clearness, are drawn in these simple sentences. The reader is conducted, in imagination, into the tumult of the battle, and stands horror-stricken in the tent of Jael.

Judges 4:12. And they told Sisera. Jabin was in Hazor, Sisera in Harosheth Hagojim. Since the tidings from Tabor come to Sisera, he must have been near the scene of action; whilst Jabin appears to be at a distance from all the events narrated.

Judges 4:13-14. And he called together, וַיַּוְעֵק. זָעַק means properly, to cry; here, as in Judges 4:10, to assemble by crying, κηρύττειν: he mobilizes the troops quartered round about. Everything revolves about Sisera. He is the prominent, controlling personage; commander, probably, of the mercenaries, who on account of their mixed[FN23] character, were also perhaps called Gojim. The chariots, which Sisera orders to be sent to the brook Kishon, must already have been in the plain, since otherwise they could not have been transported. Their head-quarters cannot have been anywhere else than at Beisân, where at the same time they commanded the best chariot and cavalry roads to the country beyond the Jordan. The plain of Jezreel to which he conducts them, is ground on which his army can properly unfold itself. He leads them to the southwest side of Tabor, where the mountain shows its greatest depression. It must have been his intention, in case Barak did not attack, to surround him on the mountain, and thus compel him to descend into the valley. But before the terrible chariot-force has well arranged itself, the Israelitish army, fired with divine enthusiasm by Deborah, and led by Barak, charges down on the flanks of the enemy, and breaks up their battle ranks. Everything is thrown into confusion—panic terrors ensue,—everything turns to flight. The great captain has lost his head; of all his strategic plans nothing remains; only presence of mind enough is left him to seek salvation from destruction by not fleeing in his chariot, nor with the others.

Judges 4:15-24. And Jehovah confounded them Deborah had promised that God would go before them—as He went before Joshua, not visibly as an angel (as the Targum has it), but in the might of his Spirit, which He puts upon his heroes. It is by that quickening Spirit that, in their charge from the height, Barak becomes lightning, and Deborah a torch, by which the enemy is consumed. וַיָּהָם, “He confounded them,” as He confounded the host of the Egyptians ( Exodus 14:24). When confusion enters the ranks of the chariots, all is lost. They are then worse than useless. God did this, that Israel might conquer.

In the conflict. לְפִי־חֶרֶב. This is the only meaning which these words can have, if they properly belong here. In that case, however, the phraseology לְפִי־חֶרֶב.… וַיָּהָם is peculiar, and admits only of an artificial explanation. Bertheau’s idea, that God is represented as a champion hero with his sword, is altogether inadmissible. To me it seems likely that לְפִי־חֶרֶב did not originally stand here at all, but slipped in from Judges 4:16, an error easily accounted for by the fact that the next word, לִפִנֵי, begins with the same letters.

And Sisera lighted down off his chariot. Because on that he was likely to be recognized. The bulk of the army, on account of the chariots, can only flee along the plain, back to Harosheth, whence they advanced. Sisera takes to his feet, in order to escape by other roads. He foresees that Barak will pursue the army, and look for him there. Therefore he secretly flees in a northern direction towards Hazor; and gains thereby at all events the advantage that Barak seeks him in the other direction, towards Harosheth. During the tumult in which his proud army is shattered by the heroic deeds of Israel, he has succeeded in getting well on towards his destination, and thinks himself to have found a safe hiding-place with a friend. The language is designedly chosen to indicate this order of events first, Judges 4:15, and Sisera fled; then, Judges 4:16, Barak pursued; finally, Judges 4:17, Sisera had fled.—Between Heber the Kenite and Jabin there was peace; the Kenite therefore had not shared the oppression under which Israel suffered. Consequently, Sisera could hope to find in his tent a little rest from the fatigue of his long-continued[FN24] exertions. Securer still was the shelter of the woman’s tent. In that of Heber, he might have feared the violence of Barak: the tent of a woman no one enters with hostile purpose. He seems first to have made inquiries. She meets him with friendly mien, invites him urgently, and quiets his apprehensions: “fear not,” she says; she prepares him a couch that he nay rest himself, and covers him carefully with a close covering. The covering is called שׂמִיכָה, a word which occurs only here. The derivations given in Bochart (Phaleg, 748) and in the recent lexicons (Gesenius, Fürst), throw no light on it. שְׂמִיכָה is the Syriac and Chaldee משכא hide, skin, leather; Arabic, משך (cf. Freytag, Lex. Arab., iv, sub voce), cilicium, saccus. This is finally indicated by those Greek versions (followed also by Augustine; and cf. Rördam, p83) which translate it δέῤῥις; for that means not only “hide,” but also “leathern covering,” and a female garment, according to the Etymol. Magnum, where we read of a γυνὴ μέλαιναν δέῤῥιν ἠμφιεσμένη. Thus also the direction of certain Rabbins that this word is to be interpreted as מְשִׂיכְלָא (stragula), explains itself. The Targum also agrees with this; for it has גּוּנְכָא, καυνάκη, a covering rough on one side. Nor is anything else meant by the word גְּלוּפְקְרָא (in Targum of Jonah, Deuteronomy 24:13). It must be a close covering, fitted to conceal the soldier who lies under it.

Sisera is not incautious. He proceeds to ask for drink, pleading thirst. She gives him of her milk. It is an ancient, oriental practice, common to all Bedouins, Arabs, and the inhabitants of deserts in general, that whoever has eaten or drunk anything in the tent, is received into the peace of the house. The Arab’s mortal enemy slumbers securely in the tent of his adversary, if he have drunk with him. Hence, Saladin refuses to give drink to the bold Frank Knight, Reinald of Chatillon, because he wishes to kill him (Marin, Hist, of Saladin, ii19). Sisera thinks that he may now safely yield to sleep. Only he feels that he ought first to instruct Jael how to answer any pursuers that may come. How did he deceive himself! Sisera is made to know the demonlike violence [dämonische Gewalt] of a woman’s soul, which, when it breaks loose, knows no bounds True, Jabin is at peace with Heber. But Jael’s race and its history have from time immemorial intergrown with those of Israel. Israel’s freedom is her freedom; Israel’s glory, her glory. How many women have been dishonored and carried away as booty by Sisera ( Judges 5:30)! Shall she be idle, when the tyrant gives himself up into her hands? What, if she saves him? Will it not be treason on her part against the ancient covenant with Israel? Will he not, by virtue of his vigor and skill, collect fresh troops, and threaten Israel anew? Shall it be said, Jael saved the enemy of the people among whom she lived as among brothers, to their destruction? The conflict in which she finds herself is great; and none but a great and powerful soul could end it as she does. She will not allow him to escape—as he will do, if she refuse to harbor him; and yet, she can harbor him only to destroy,—and that not without doing violence to ancient popular custom. She makes her decision. She scorns the reward which Sisera’s safety might perhaps have brought her. She takes the nobler object into consideration—the freedom of a kindred nation,—and the older right preponderates. A ruthless warrior stands before her, the violator of a thousand laws of right, and all hesitation vanishes. She has no sword with which to hew the oppressor down, and seizes the terrible weapon of womanly cunning, before which no law can stand. Besides, it has been noticed, even in modern times, that in general the women of those regions care less about the rights of hospitality than the men. Burkhardt in his wanderings had personal experience of this (Ritter, xiv179).

Jael, through her terrible deed, far surpasses similar female characters of other times and nations. Concerning the Greek Aretophila, of Cyrene, Plutarch (On the Virtues of Women, n19) exclaims: “Her glorious deed raises her to the rank of the most ancient heroines!” What was her deed? By poison, lies, and perjury, she finally succeeded in overthrowing the tyrant who loved her, the husband who trusted her! But she would never have risen to such an undertaking, had he not slain her first husband. Still more horrible is the Chriemhild of the German Nibelungen. She invites those whom she wishes to murder, from a great distance; she not only violates the rights of hospitality, but her victims are her own relatives, countrymen, and friends. Jael has no by-ends, no personal wrong to avenge; the tyrant is a stranger to her, and not properly her enemy. But he is the oppressor of the freedom of the people of God, with whose life her own and that of her race have become identified. She does a demonlike deed,—but does it solely and purely in the service of general ideas.[FN25]

It had not been necessary for her to kill him. Scarcely was her deed accomplished, before Barak, swift as lightning both in battle and in pursuit, appeared. But, since it was done, it served to manifest the faithfulness of the Kenite, and to increase the disgrace of Jabin. Barak had gained nothing by personally slaying the flying foe; only the honor of the hostile chieftain had been sub-served, if he had fallen by the sword of the hero. Filled with astonishment, Barak enters the tent of Jael—a noble subject for the painter’s pencil![FN26]—and before him lies the mighty Sisera, a dead Prayer of Manasseh, nailed to the earth by a woman! A victory thus begun, could not but end magnificently. Continually more telling were the blows that fell on Jabin’s head, until his power was annihilated. No other Jabin reigned in Hazor. His name is thrice repeated in verses23,24, in order to emphasize its importance.

HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL

Deborah, the female Judges, full of fire, and Barak the hero. Israel’s sin remains ever the same. When their hero dies, when the elders who have seen the works of God are no more, the younger generation apostatizes. So perverse and cowardly is the human heart; and times do not change, nor experience teach it.—Starke: Peace and too prosperous days are not long good for men.

But the danger of the judgment becomes ever greater, the tyranny of sin ever stronger and nearer. The king of Aram, whom Othniel smote, was distant; the king of Moab, beyond the Jordan; but the king of Hazor is in the midst of the land, possessed of unprecedented power. However, the greater the power of the enemy, the more manifest become the wonders of God’s compassion. The deliverer raised up against Moab, though left-handed, is a man; but against the master of nine hundred iron chariots, the battle is waged through a woman. Thus, 1. the heathen learn that victory comes not by horses or horsemen, but by the word of God; and, 2. Israel is humbled, not only by the judgment, but also by the mercy, of God.

There was no want of warlike men in Israel; but lances break like rushes, when the heart is not courageous. Israel, with all its strong men, is impotent so long as it lacks faith in its God. Barak is a valiant hero, but a woman must call him His name is “Lightning,” and his deeds are mighty; but the lightning is kindled by the fire-words of the prophetess. As Moses sings after the Exodus, “The Lord is a man of war, the Lord is his name,” so Deborah’s word and song testify that God alone can save. To make this truth seen and believed by all, He lends his victory to a woman. Thus the vanity of men reveals itself, who ascribe to themselves that which belongs to God. Military readiness is of no avail, when readiness of spirit is not cherished. Not legions, but prophets, guard the kingdom of God. God only can conquer, and He suffers not men to prescribe the instruments of conquest.

Barak was a valiant hero, for he was obedient. He followed, but did not begin. Hence, also, though he gained the victory in the field, he nevertheless did not complete it. He took his impulse from a woman,—with Deborah, but not without her, he was willing to go where he went; a woman likewise finished the victory, when Jael slew the leader of the enemy. He waited for the spirit which Deborah breathed into him; not so did Jael wait for his sword to lay Sisera low. Hence, a woman’s name became connected both with the beginning and the end of the great achievement. Thus God grants results according to the measure of courage. As we believe, so we have. If Barak had believed like Deborah, he would have been as near to God as she was. But the Spirit of God needs no soldiers to conquer. He glorifies, through his word, the despised things of the world. Jesus selected as disciples, not athletes, but children of God who sought their Father. Put up thy sword, He said to Peter. When risen from the dead, it was to a woman that He first appeared.

Starke: Holy men love holy company, for therein they find a great blessing.—The same: We with our distrust often close God’s hands, so that but for our own actions, He would give us far more than He does; for God is more inclined to give, than we to receive.—The same: So are men’s hearts in the hands of God, that out of the timid He can make heroes, and out of heroes, cowards.—Gerlach: The holy faith that animates the deed of Jael, is of divine origin; the ways and methods, however, of rude and savage times continue in part until the time when all the promises of God in Christ shall be fulfilled.

Footnotes:

FN#19 - Judges 4:15—לְפִי־חֶרֶב. Standing in connection with וַיָּהָם, these words are of somewhat difficult interpretation. Dr. Cassel’s rejection of them will not commend itself to most critics; nor is the provisional translation he gives of them, “in the conflict,” exactly clear. The best view is probably that of Bachmann, that the expression denotes the great operative cause by which Jehovah confounded the enemy. Barak’s men, rushing down from the mountain, and falling suddenly on the hosts of Sisera, cutting down with remorseless sword all that stood in their way, threw the enemy into utter confusion; but the effect is rightly ascribed to Jehovah, from whose Spirit both the impulse and the strength to execute proceeded.—Tr.]

FN#20 - Judges 4:17.—Dr. Cassel translates by the pluperfect: “had fled,” cf. below. But it seems better to retain the indefinite perfect. The narrative left Sisera for a moment, in order in Judges 4:16 briefly to indicate the fate of the army, but now returns to him. Cf. 1 Kings 20:30, and many similar instances.—Tr.]

FN#21 - Judges 4:18.—שְׂמִיכָה. This word means a “covering;” but exactly what sort of covering is uncertain. Dr. Cassel translates here by Regentuch, raincloth, perhaps to indicate its close, impervious texture. Dr. Bachmann thinks it was “probably a rather large covering or mat of thick, soft material (perhaps skin or goat’s-hair), on which a person lay down and in which he at the same time wrapped himself up,—a sort of mattrass and coverlet in one. Similar articles still form part of the furniture of the Bedouin’s tent and the Fellah’s dwelling.” He derives the word from שָׂמַךְ=סָמַךְ, in its usual sense to support, to lean, specifically to recline at table. Accordingly the proper meaning of the word would be “supporting;” then, concretely, that which supports or serves to recline upon.—Tr.]

FN#22 - Judges 4:21.—Dr. Cassel: “and he—for weariness he had fallen fast asleep—died.” Keil: “Now he was fallen into a deep sleep, and was wearied (i.e. from weariness he had fallen fast asleep); and so he died.” Similarly Bachmann. The clause וַיָּעֵףוְהוּא manifestly designed to set forth the circumstances which enabled Jael to approach Sisera unperceived; consequently, the “for” of the English version is perfectly proper, and formally not less correct than Dr. Cassel’s German, which was only designed to correct Luther’s version: “he however, fell asleep, swooned away, and died.” Dr. Wordsworth (p99) considers it a mistake to suppose that Jael “smote a nail into Sisera’s head while he was asleep.” He would render: “and he fell down astounded, and feinted away, and died.” The passage is a curiosity in interpretation.—Tr.]

FN#23 - According to Ezekiel ( Ezekiel 27:10), Paras, Lud, and Phut, were in the army of the king of Tyre, as mercenaries. The same prophet ( Ezekiel 38:5), addressing Gog, implies that he had Paras, Cush, and Phut, in his service. It is certainly more reasonable to think of the Assyrian Cush (Cossæans) as connected with the army of Gog, than of the African. In place of Gog and Magog, an ancient interpretation already pats Cimmerians and Scythians. In like manner, Symmachus explains the king of Elam, who invaded Palestine, to be the king of the Scythians. The historical fact that people of Scythian manners served in the armies of the Phœnicians, may serve to render the existence of a Scythian colony at Beisân more probable at least, than it is on the basis of the traditions communicated by Pliny and others, which are only like similar stories current at Antioch and elsewhere.

FN#24 - Stanley: “It must have been three days after the battle that he reached a spot, which seems to gather into itself, as in the last scene of an eventful drama, all the characters of the previous acts.”—Tr.]

FN#25 - Dr. Wordsworth, treating the question, “What is the true character of Jael’s act?” argues that as it was commended by the Song of Deborah, and as that Song “is recited by the Holy Ghost as the utterance of one who spake by his own inspiration,” it follows that “Jael must have received a special commission from God to attempt and perform this act.” Much in the history, he says, “confirms this conclusion.” What he adduces, however, is not worth repeating. Dr. Bachmann enters into the discussion very fully. The salient points of his essay may, however, be stated in few words. He thinks it unquestionable that the language of Deborah, Judges 4:9, “Jehovah shall sell Sisera into the hand of a woman,” is a prediction of the chieftain’s destruction by Jael. This utterance of the prophetess cannot have been unknown to Jael. Hence, when the latter sees Sisera approach her tent for shelter, she at once obtains the clear and certain conviction that it is by her hands that he is to fall. She therefore acts under a divine commission. Her invitation to Sisera, her promise of protection, and her honorable entertainment of him, are not to be defended. But “although she transcended the proper limits in the means she employed, it is not to be denied that the operation of the Spirit of God influenced her deed, nor that she acted from the impulse of the obedience of faith. It Isaiah, moreover, only from this point of view that we obtain an explanation of the fact that Deborah in her judgment ( Judges 5:24 ff.) so entirely overlooked the human weakness that clung to Jael’s deed.” Compare the remarks of Dean Stanley, Hist. of the Jewish Church, i365–370.—Tr.]

FN#26 - It is powerfully treated in the Bibel in Bildern, published by Schnorr.

 


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Bibliography Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Judges 4:4". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/lcc/judges-4.html. 1857-84.

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