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Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible

Judges 4

 

 

Introduction

Judges 4-5. Deborah and Barak Deliver Israel.—The record of this deliverance appears first in a prose and then in a poetical form, of which the latter is the older, written without doubt under the inspiration of the actual events. There are some striking differences between the two versions. In the prose narrative the oppressor of Israel is Jabin, king of Hazor, whose captain is Sisera; Deborah's home is in Mount Ephraim; only the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali fight the tyrant; and Jael murders Sisera when he lies asleep in her tent. In the triumphal Ode there is no Jabin; Sisera is at the head of the kings of Canaan, himself the greatest king of all; Deborah appears to belong to the tribe of Issachar; all the tribes around the Great Plain (p. 29) take part in the conflict; and Jael slays Sisera while he is standing and drinking. The discrepancies are due partly to the prose writer's attempt to combine the story of Sisera with an independent story of Jabin, king of Hazor (see Joshua 11:1-5), and partly to his misunderstanding of some lines in the Ode (Judges 5:26).

Judges 5. The Song of Deliverance.—The Song of Deborah—so called because of the words "I, Deborah, arose" (Judges 5:7)—is a splendid battle-ode, evidently contemporaneous with the events which it celebrates. It breathes the patriotic fervour and religious enthusiasm which inspired the loftiest minds in Israel, and proves that a great faith was already working wonders in the tribes which till lately had been desert nomads. "It is a work of genius, and therefore a work of that highest art which is not studied and artificial, but spontaneous and inevitable" (Moore, 135). R. H. Hutton calls it "the greatest war-song of any age or nation." Unfortunately the text has suffered a good deal, and in some passages we can do no more than guess the sense.


Verses 1-13

Judges 4:1-13. The Preparation for War.—D's framework is found in Judges 4:1-4 and Judges 4:23 f.

Judges 4-5. Deborah and Barak Deliver Israel.—The record of this deliverance appears first in a prose and then in a poetical form, of which the latter is the older, written without doubt under the inspiration of the actual events. There are some striking differences between the two versions. In the prose narrative the oppressor of Israel is Jabin, king of Hazor, whose captain is Sisera; Deborah's home is in Mount Ephraim; only the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali fight the tyrant; and Jael murders Sisera when he lies asleep in her tent. In the triumphal Ode there is no Jabin; Sisera is at the head of the kings of Canaan, himself the greatest king of all; Deborah appears to belong to the tribe of Issachar; all the tribes around the Great Plain (p. 29) take part in the conflict; and Jael slays Sisera while he is standing and drinking. The discrepancies are due partly to the prose writer's attempt to combine the story of Sisera with an independent story of Jabin, king of Hazor (see Joshua 11:1-5), and partly to his misunderstanding of some lines in the Ode (Judges 5:26).

Judges 4:2. He gives Jabin the title "king of Canaan," an evident misnomer, for Canaan had no single king, but a great many petty chiefs—called in Judges 5:19 "the kings of Canaan"—each governing his own town or district. Jabin reigned in Hazor (p. 29), which was near Kedesh-Naphtali (Joshua 19:36, 2 Kings 15:29) on the west side of the lake of Hûleh, far north from the Plain of Esdraelon. Sisera, on the other hand, dwelt in Harosheth (p. 29), which is identified with Harithîyeh, at the SW. corner of the plain. His town was called "Harosheth of the nations," or foreigners, and Professor Macalister "wonders whether it might not bear the special meaning of the foreigners par excellence, the most outlandish people with whom the Hebrews came into contact—that is to say, the Philistines and their cognate tribes." This idea leads to the further suggestion that the war of Deborah and Barak was waged not against the Canaanites, but against the Philistines. But it is difficult to suppose that the Philistine kings could be called "the kings of Canaan." And the ring of finality in the triumphal Ode—"So let thine enemies perish, O Yahweh" (Judges 5:31)—would, on this theory, after all be delusive, since the Philistines, instead of being crushed, were at the beginning of their great and for a time, victorious career. These arguments; however, are not quite decisive, and it must be admitted that Sisera's "chariots of iron" (3) are strongly in favour of the new theory, for it seems certain that the use of iron was introduced into Syria by the Philistines (pp. 57, 257), and that they kept the monopoly of the iron trade for a long time in their own hands (1 Samuel 13:19-23).

Judges 4:4. Deborah was a prophetess, a woman inspired to declare the will of God.

Judges 4:5 is probably a late addition, made by a writer who committed two mistakes, confounding the Deborah of this story with the one in Genesis 35:8, and giving the word "Judge" (Judges 4:4) a legal significance. Deborah sitting under a palm-tree as an arbitress of disputes is an imaginary figure. Ramah was 5 m. and Bethel 12 m. N. of Jerusalem, while Deborah in all probability belonged to the tribe of Issachar, far in the north (Judges 5:15).

Judges 4:6. The champion whom she summoned to her side bore the name of Barak, which means "lightning"; cf. the Punic name Barkas. Kedesh-Naphtali (p. 29), so called in distinction from Kedesh-Barnea in the Negeb, is now Kades, 4 m. NW. of the lake of Huleh. Tabor (p. 29), the dome-shaped mountain at the NE. corner of the Great Plain, was the natural mustering place for the Galilean tribes. Naphtali and Zebulun had their settlements in the region to the west of the Sea of Galilee, and in this narrative it appears as if they alone were involved in the conflict with Sisera.

Judges 4:7. The Kishon (p. 29), on whose banks the battle was fought, rises near Jenin, and flows westward through the Great Plain, at one season contracted into a small muddy stream, at another swollen into a raging torrent.

Judges 4:8 f. Barak wishes the prophetess to accompany him in his campaign, that she may counsel himself and inspire his followers. She consents to go, but predicts that the glory of the victory will not be his. For the reader, certainly, the interest of the story, and still more of the poem, hinges on the action of two women, and in the end he divides the honours between them.

Judges 4:11. This is inserted to explain how Heber the Kenite, whose home would naturally be in the Negeb, came to be encamped so far north. For "in Zaanannim" read Bezaanim; site doubtful.


Verses 14-23

Judges 4:14-23. The Battle of the Kishon and the Death of Sisera.—The Galilean highlanders rushed like a torrent down the slope of Mt. Tabor, and swept the enemy before them. When Sisera left his chariot and fled on foot (Judges 4:15), he made westward for Harosheth. The tent of Jael was pitched somewhere in the Great Plain, not (as Judges 4:11; Judges 4:17 would imply) away north in the neighbourhood of Kedesh or Hazor. The account of Sisera's death given in this chapter differs materially from the representation in the triumphal Ode. Jael covers him with a rug," or perhaps the word (which is found only here) means "a tent curtain"; she opens her milk-skin, and bids him drink; she apparently agrees to stand at the tent door and put his pursuers off the scent; and she waits till he has fallen into a deep sleep before she lifts her hammer and drives a tent-pin through his temples. Contrast with this the older account which is found in Judges 5:24-27. We cannot doubt for a moment which of these versions is to be accepted. Criticism has vindicated a woman's honour.

 


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Bibliography Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Judges 4:4". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/pfc/judges-4.html. 1919.

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