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Bible Commentaries

Matthew Poole's English Annotations
on the Holy Bible

Judges 4



Verse 2

King of Canaan, i.e. of the land where the most of the Canaanites, strictly so called, now dwelt, which seems to be in thee northern part of Canaan. This seems to be of the posterity of that Jabin, whom Joshua slew, Joshua 11:10 who watched all opportunities to recover his ancient possessions, and to revenge his own and father’s quarrel upon the Israelites.

In Hazor; either,

1. In the city of Hazor, which though taken and burnt by Joshua, Joshua 11:11, yet might be retaken and rebuilt by the Canaanites. Or,

2. In the territory or kingdom of Hazor, which might now be restored to its former largeness and power, Joshua 11:10, the names of cities being oft put for their territories, as Zorah, a city, Joshua 15:33, is put for the fields belonging to it, Jude 13:2, in which Samson’s parents lived, Jude 13:25 Jude 16:31 18:2.

Harosheth of the Gentiles; so called, because it was much frequented and inhabited by the Gentiles; either by the Canaanites, who being beaten out of their former possessions, seated themselves in those northern parts; or by other nations coming there for traffic, or upon other occasions, as Strabo notes of those parts; whence Galilee, where this was, is called Galilee of the Gentiles.

Verse 3

More than the former tyrants; partly from his malice and hatred against the Israelites; and principally from God’s just judgement, the growing punishment being most suitable to their aggravated wickedness.

Verse 4

As there were men prophets, so there were also women prophetesses, as Miriam, Exodus 15:2, Huldah, 2 Kings 22:14, and divers others; but the word prophets or prophetesses is very ambiguous in both Testaments; sometimes being used of persons extraordinarily inspired by God, and endowed with a power of working miracles, and foretelling things to come; and sometimes of persons endowed with special, though not miraculous, gifts or graces, for the better understanding of and discoursing about the word and mind of God, for praising of God, or the like; of which see 1 Chronicles 25:1 1 Corinthians 11:5 14:1,3,4 &c. And of this sort were the sons of the prophets, or such who were bred in the schools of the prophets, who are often called prophets, as 1 Samuel 10:5,10-12. See, also 1 Kings 18:4 1 Kings 19:10. And because we read nothing of Deborah’s miraculous actions, peradventure she was only a woman of eminent holiness and prudence, and knowledge of the Holy Scriptures, by which she was singularly qualified for the judging of the people according to the laws of God. If it be alleged that she foresaw and foretold the following victory, so did all the sons of the prophets foresee and foretell Elijah’s translation, 2 Kings 2:3,5, which yet were not extraordinary prophets.

The wife of Lapidoth; or, a woman of Lapidoth; and so Lapidoth is not the name of a man, but of the place of her birth or abode.

She judged Israel, i.e. determined causes and controversies arising among the Israelites, as is implied, Jude 4:5. And this Jabin might suffer to be done, especially by a woman; and the frequent discharge of this part of the judge’s office, whereby she gained great power and authority with the people, did notably (though not observed by the tyrant) prepare the way for her sliding into the other part of her office, which was to defend and rescue the people from their enemies.

Verse 5

To have their suits and causes determined by her sentence.

Verse 6

She sent and called Barak, by virtue of that power which God had given her, and the people owned in her.

Kedesh-naphtali; so called, to distinguish it from other places of that name, one in Judah, Joshua 15:23, and another in Issachar, 1 Chronicles 6:72.

Hath not the Lord God of Israel commanded? i.e. assuredly God hath commanded thee: this is not the fancy of a weak woman, which peradventure thou mayst despise, but the command of the great God by my mouth. Which command of God, and the following assurance of success, she might either gather from the general rules of Scripture, and the common course of God’s gracious providence, which was always ready to succour them when they cried to God; or receive by instinct or direction from God.

Go and draw, or, go; for so this word is oft used, as Genesis 37:28 Jude 20:37 Job 21:33; Hob. draw, to wit, thyself, or thy feet. Mount Tabor; a place most fit for his purpose, as being in the borders of divers tribes, and having a large plain at the top of it, where he might conveniently marshal and discipline his army. She names

Naphtali and Zebulun partly, because they were nearest and best known to Barak, and therefore soonest brought together; partly, because they were nearest to the enemy, and therefore must speedily be assembled, er else they were likely to be hindered in their design, whilst the other tribes, being at more distance, had better opportunity of gathering forces for their succour, and partly, because these had most smarted under their oppressor, who was in the heart of their country, and therefore were most forward in the present service: but these are not named exclusively, as appears by the concurrence of some other tribes, as is related, Jud 5.

Verse 7

I will draw unto thee, by my secret and powerful providence, ordering and overruling his inclinations that way.

Verse 8

His offer to go with her shows the truth of his faith, for which he is praised, Hebrews 11:32; but his refusal to go without her shows the weakness of his faith, that he could not trust God’s bare word, as he ought to have done, without the pledge of the presence of his prophetess, whom he thought God would preserve and deliver, and himself for her sake.

Verse 9

Notwithstanding the journey, Heb. the way, i.e. the course or practice, as the way is taken, Numbers 22:32.

A woman; either,

1. Jael; or rather,

2. Deborah, who being, as it were, the judge and chief commandress of the army, the honour of the victory would be ascribed to her. But for Jael, her fact would have been the same, though Barak had gone into the field without Deborah.

Verse 10

At his feet, i.e. who followed him or his footsteps; possibly he intimates that they were all footmen, the Israelites neither now having, nor otherwise allowed to have, a multitude of horses; and so this is emphatically added, to signify by what contemptible means God overthrew Sisera’s great host, wherein there were ten thousand horses, as Josephus reports.

Verse 11

Heber; the husband of Jael, Jude 4:17.

The Kenite; of whom see Numbers 24:21,22 Jud 1:16. Hobab; called also Jethro. See Numbers 10:29. From the Kenites; from the rest of his brethren, who lived in the wilderness of Judah, Jude 1:16; which removal is here mentioned, lest any should wonder to find the Kenites in this place.

His tent, i.e. his dwelling, which probably was in tents, as shepherds used.

Verse 12

They, i.e. his people dwelling there, or his spies; or, he was told, this being an impersonal speech.

Verse 14

Up, Heb. arise, delay not, fall to thy work. Gone out before thee, to wit, as General of thine army, to fight for thee: see Jude 5:20 2 Samuel 5:24.

Barak went down from Mount Tabor he doth not make use of the advantage which he had of the hill, where he might have been out of the reach of his iron chariots, Joshua 17:16, but boldly marcheth down into the valley, to give Sisera the opportunity of using all his horses and chariots, that so the victory might be more glorious and wonderful.

Verse 15

The Lord discomfited Sisera, with great terror and noise, as the word signifies, Exodus 14:24 Joshua 10:10 1Sa 10, most probably with thunder, and lightning, and hailstones, or other such instruments of destruction poured upon them from heaven, as is sufficiently implied, Jude 5:20.

With the edge of the sword, i.e. by the sword of Barak and his army, whose ministry God used; but so that they had little else to do but to kill these whom God by more powerful arms had put to flight.

Fled away on his feet, that he might flee away more secretly and securely in the quality of a common soldier, whereas his chariot would have exposed him to more observation and hazard.

Verse 16

To wit, in the field; for there were some who fled away, as Sisera did.

Verse 17

To the tent of Jael; for women had their tents apart from their husbands, Genesis 24:67 31:33. And here he thought to lurk more securely than in her husband’s tent.

There was peace; not a league or covenant of friendship, which they were forbidden to make with that cursed people, but only a cessation of hostilities, which he afforded them because they were a peaceable people, abhorring war, and wholly minding pasturage, and were not Israelites, with whom his principal quarrel was; and especially by God’s overruling disposal of his heart to favour them who were careful to keep themselves uncorrupted with Israel’s sins, and therefore are preserved from their plagues.

Verse 18

Fear not: this was a promise of security, and therefore she cannot be excused from dissimulation and treachery in the manner, though the substance of her act was lawful and worthy.

Verse 19

Gave him milk to drink; either because she had not water in her tent, and pretended fear of discovery or some inconvenience if she went out to fetch it; or as a signification of greater respect; or as a likely mean to cast him into a sleep, which she desired and designed; to which end possibly she might mix something with it to cause sleep, which she could not so conveniently have done with water. Covered him, upon pretence of hiding him, but really to dispose him to sleep.

Verse 20

He speaks imperiously to her; but it is observable, that she gives him no promise to do so, nor makes him any answer; possibly because though she knew her design upon him was warrantable, yet she had proceeded too far in using dissimulation therein.

Verse 21

A nail of the tent; wherewith they used to fasten the tent, which consequently was long and sharp, being headed with iron: these weapons she chooseth, either,

1. Because she had no better weapons at hand, this being only the woman’s tent, where arms use not to be kept, and these people being wholly given to peace, and negligent of war, or Sisera having disarmed them before this time. Or,

2. Because she had more skill in the handling these than other weapons, being probably accustomed to fasten the tents herewith. Or,

3. Because this was very proper for his present posture, and which she knew would be effectual.

Into his temples; which is the softest part of the skull, and soonest pierced. This might seem a very bold attempt; but it must be considered that she was encouraged to it, partly, by observing that the heavens and all the elements conspired against him, as against one devoted to destruction; partly, by the fair opportunity which God’s providence put into her hands; and principally, by the secret instinct of God inciting her to it, and assuring her of success in it.

Quest. What shall we judge of this act of Jael’s? It is a difficult question, and necessary to be determined, because on the one hand there seems to be gross perfidiousness, and a horrid violation of all the laws of hospitality and friendship, and of the peace which was established between Sisera and her; and on the other side, this fact of hers is applauded and commended in Deborah’s song, Jude 5:24, &c. And some who make it their business to pick quarrels with the Holy Scriptures, from hence take occasion to question and reject their Divine authority for this very passage, because it commends an act so contrary to all humanity, and so great a breach of faith. And whereas all the pretence of their infidelity is taken from the following song, and not from this history, wherein the fact is barely related, without any reflection upon it, there are many answers given to that argument; as,

1. That there was no league of friendship between Jael and Sisera, but only a cessation of acts of hostility; of which See Poole "Jude 4:17".

2. That Deborah doth not commend Jael’s words, Jude 4:18, Turn in, my lord; fear not; in which the great strength of this objection lies; but only her action, and that artifice, that he asked water, and she gave him milk; which, if impartially examined, will be found to differ but little from that of warlike stratagems, wherein a man lays a snare for his enemy, and deceives him with pretenses of doing something which he never intends. And Sisera, though for the time he pretended to be a friend, yet was in truth a bitter and implacable enemy unto God, and all his people, and consequently to Jael herself. But these and other answers may be omitted, and this one consideration following may abundantly suffice to stop the mouths of these men. It cannot be denied that every word, or passage, or discourse which is recorded in Scripture is not divinely inspired, because some of them were uttered by the devil, and others by holy men of God, but mistaken, (the prophets themselves not always speaking by inspiration,) such as the discourse of Nathan to David, 2 Samuel 7:3, which God presently contradicted, 2 Samuel 7:4,5, &c., and several discourses of Job’s three friends, which were so far from being divinely inspired, that they were in a great degree unsound, as God himself tells them, Job 42:7,

Ye have not spoken of me the thing that is right, as my servant Job hath. This being so, the worst that any malicious mind can infer from this place is, That this song, though indited by a good man or woman, was not divinely inspired, but only composed by a person piously-minded, and transported with joy for the deliverance of God’s people, but subject to mistake; who therefore, out of zeal to commend the happy instrument of so great a deliverance, might easily overlook the indirectness of the means by which it was accomplished, and commend that which should have been disliked. And if they further object, that it was composed by a prophetess, Deborah, and therefore must be divinely inspired; it may be replied,

1. That it is not certain what kind of prophetess Deborah was, whether extraordinary and infallible, or ordinary, and so liable to mistakes; for there were prophets of both kinds, as hath been proved above, on Jude 4:4.

2. That every expression of a true and extraordinary prophet was not divinely inspired, as is evident from Nathan’s mistake above mentioned, and from Samuel’s mistake concerning Eliab, whom he thought to be the Lord’s anointed, 1 Samuel 16:6.


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Bibliography Information
Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Judges 4:4". Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. 1685.

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