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Bible Commentaries

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments

Judges 4

 

 

Verse 2

4:2. Jabin — This Jabin was probably descended from the other prince of that name, who fell by the hands of Joshua, Joshua 11:11. He doubtless had watched all opportunities to recover his ancient possessions, and to revenge his own and his father’s quarrel. King of Canaan — That is, of the land where most of the Canaanites, strictly so called, now dwelt, which seems to have been the northern part of Canaan. That reigned in Hazor — In the territory or kingdom of Hazor, which might now be restored to its former extent and power. Perhaps he had seized on the spot where Hazor formerly stood, and rebuilt that city. 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 thither for traffic, whence Galilee, where this was, is called Galilee of the Gentiles.


Verse 3

4:3. Mightily oppressed — More than former tyrants, from his malice and hatred against the Israelites, and from God’s just judgment, the growing punishment being suitable to their aggravated wickedness.


Verse 4

4:4. A prophetess — Such a one as Miriam, Exodus 15:23; Huldah, 2 Kings 22:14, and divers others; but the word prophets, or prophetesses, is ambiguous, sometimes being meant of persons extraordinarily inspired by God, and endowed with the power of working miracles, and foretelling things to come; and sometimes of persons endowed with special gifts or graces, for the better understanding and discoursing about the word and mind of God. Of this sort were the sons of the prophets, or such as were bred in the schools of the prophets, who are often called prophets, 1 Samuel 10:5; 1 Samuel 10:10. And because we read nothing of Deborah’s miraculous actions, some have thought she was only a woman of eminent holiness, and knowledge of the Holy Scriptures, by which she was singularly qualified for judging the people according to the laws of God. It appears, however, from 4:7; 4:9, that she was endowed with the gift of prophecy, properly so called, or of foretelling, at least in some instances, future events. Judged Israel — That is, determined causes and controversies arising among the Israelites, as is implied, 4:5. And this Jabin might suffer to be done, especially by a woman. Yet the frequent discharge of this part of the judge’s office, whereby she gained great power and authority with the people, did, in a peculiar manner, (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

4:5. And she dwelt — Or, as the Septuagint and Vulgate understand it, she sat: she had her judgment-seat in the open air, under the shadow of that tree, which was an emblem of the justice she administered there: thriving and growing against opposition, as the palm-tree does under pressures. Came to her — To have their suits and causes determined by her sentence.


Verse 6

4:6. Called Barak — By virtue of that power which God had given her, and the people owned in her. Out of Kedesh-naphtali — So called, to distinguish it from other places of that name, one in Judah, and another in Issachar. Hath not the Lord, &c. — That is, assuredly God hath commanded thee; this is not the fancy of a weak woman, which peradventure thou mightest despise; but the command of the great God by my mouth, 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. Naphtali and Zebulun — These she names, because they were nearest, and best known to Barak, and therefore would soonest be brought together; because they were nearest, to the enemy, and therefore must speedily be assembled, or else they were likely to be hindered in their design; while the other tribes, being at a distance, had better opportunity of gathering forces for their succour; and because these had most smarted under this oppressor, who was in the heart of their country; but these are not named exclusively, as appears by the concurrence of some other tribes.


Verse 7

4:7. Draw to thee — By my secret and powerful providence, ordering and overruling his inclinations. In fixing the very place, she gave him a sign which might confirm his faith when he came to engage.


Verse 8

4:8. If thou wilt go with me, then I will go — No doubt he thought he had great reason for making this resolution, because he might want her advice in doubtful matters, and her authority also, both to raise men and to keep them together in good order, and likewise to inspire them with courage. 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.


Verse 9

4:9. The journey thou takest — Hebrew, the way thou takest, which may mean the course he had resolved upon, not to go without her. Shall not be for thine honour — Though his faith was accepted, yet the weakness of it somewhat eclipsed his glory. The Lord shall sell Sisera into the hand of a woman — It is greatly to the honour of a conqueror to take the general of the enemy’s army, or to kill him with his own hand; which, she tells him, should be denied him, as a small punishment for his diffidence and reluctance to comply with her directions; and as he would not go without a woman, so a woman should take away his honour from him.


Verse 10

4:10. With ten thousand men at his feet — That is, following him as their leader. Possibly it also intimates that they were all footmen, there being no horses in Judea but what were brought out of other countries. This made the victory the more glorious, by the overthrow of a vast number of chariots and horses in the opposite army.


Verse 11-12

4:11-12. Now Heber the Kenite — The husband of Jael. Had severed himself from the Kenites — From the rest of his brethren, who lived in the wilderness of Judah. What the reason was of his leaving them, is not known; but there was a special providence of God in it. Pitched his tent — That is, his dwelling, which probably was in tents, as shepherds used to live. They showed Sisera — That is, his people showed him, or his spies.


Verse 14

4:14. Deborah said unto Barak, Up — Hebrew, Arise, Delay not. If we have ground to believe that God goes before us, we may well go on with courage and cheerfulness. Is not the Lord gone before thee? — Namely, as general of thine army, to fight for thee. So Barak went down — He did not make use of the advantage which he had of the hill, where he might have been out of the reach of Sisera’s iron chariots, but boldly marched down into the valley, to give him the opportunity of using all his horses and chariots, that so the victory might be more glorious. 4:15. The Lord discomfited Sisera — The particulars of the battle are not recorded in the sacred text; but it evidently appears from thence that there was something extraordinary and miraculous in this defeat of Jabin’s host. The Hebrew word יהם, jaham, imports that they were discomfited with great terror and noise, probably with thunder, lightning, and hail- stones, poured upon them from heaven, as is implied 5:20 ; and as the same word is used Joshua 10:10; and 1 Samuel 7:10. Josephus confirms this opinion, assuring us that “as soon as the armies were engaged, there arose a prodigious tempest of hail and rain, which drove in the faces of the Canaanites, and occasioned a total rout of them.” — Antiq., lib. 5. cap. 5. The heavens, therefore, had the principal share in this great overthrow. With the edge of the sword — That is, by the sword of Barak and his army, whose ministry God used; but so, it seems, that they had little else to do but to kill those whom God, by more powerful arms, had put to flight. And fled away on his feet — He thought his chariot not swift enough to carry him out of danger, and imagined he should be less exposed to observation, and less liable to be discovered, when he fled like a common soldier. To which we may add, that in ancient times valiant men were wonderfully swift of foot; as is observed of Asahel, 2 Samuel 2:18; and every one knows it was the character of Achilles among the Greeks.


Verse 16-17

4:16-17. There was not a man left — In the field; for there were some who fled away, as Sisera did. The tent of Jael — For women had their tents apart from their husbands. And here he probably thought he would be more secret and secure than in her husband’s tent, or in any other place in that encampment, as it would have been a much greater insult to Heber for any Israelite to search for him there than in any other of his tents. For there was peace between Jabin and the house of Heber — Not a covenant of friendship, which they were forbidden to make with the Canaanites, but a cessation of hostilities, which Jabin granted them, because they were peaceable people, abhorring war, and wholly minding pasturage, and were not Israelites, with whom his principal quarrel was. Add to this, that God disposed his heart to favour those who were careful to shun idolatry, and other sins wherewith Israel had corrupted themselves.


Verse 18-19

4:18-19. Jael said unto him, Turn in, my lord — If Jael now intended to betray and deliver him to Barak, or otherwise to injure him, her addressing him in this manner was dissimulation and treachery, and is not to be excused. But it is highly probable that she had now no other intention toward him, in inviting him into her tent, than merely to afford him that shelter and protection which he sought of her, and such relief and refreshment as she would have afforded to any weary and distressed Israelite. Accordingly she covered him with a mantle, that he might take rest in sleep, and when he asked for a little water to drink, because he was thirsty, she opened a bottle of milk and gave him drink. In what she did afterward she seems to have been actuated by a divine impulse or suggestion, of which she had beforehand neither thought nor conception. God, it must be remembered, had foretold by the prophetess, not only before the battle, but before the enterprise to shake off the yoke of Jabin was undertaken, that he would deliver Sisera “into the hand of a woman,” 4:9. This method then, God, who is wise in all his ways, and holy in all his works, took to accomplish this prediction. He brought Sisera to Jael’s tent, disposed her mind to invite him in, and when he lay sunk in sleep, powerfully suggested to her mind what before was the very reverse of all her thoughts, namely, to take his life, and that in a way so very singular and unprecedented, that one can hardly suppose she would ever have thought of it, had not God put it into her mind, and impelled her to it. Bishop Patrick justly observes, “she might as well have let Sisera lie in his profound sleep till Barak took him, if she had not felt a divine power moving her to this, that the prophecy of Deborah might be fulfilled.” Dr. Waterland is of the same opinion. “It can scarce be doubted,” says he, “but that Jael had a divine direction or impulse to stir her up to this action. The enterprise was exceeding bold and hazardous, above the courage of her sex, and the resolution she took very extraordinary, and so it has the marks and tokens of its being from the extraordinary hand of God.” Certainly, as Dr. Dodd remarks, “nothing but this authority from God could warrant such a fact, which seemed a breach of hospitality, and to be attended with several other crimes; but was not so when God, the Lord of all men’s lives, ordered her to execute his sentence upon Sisera. In this view all is clear and right, and no objectors will be able to prove there was any treachery in it: for she ought to obey God rather than man; and all obligations to man cease, when brought in competition with our higher obligations toward God.” And that this is the true view of the action appears still more evident from the celebration of it by Deborah the prophetess, in a hymn or song of solemn praise and thanksgiving offered to God on the occasion of it: see 5:24-27. In Dr. Leland’s answer to Christianity as Old as the Creation, p. 2, and in Saurin’s 11th Discourse, vol. 3, the reader will find a more complete justification of this affair.


Verse 21-22

4:21-22. Then Jael took a nail of the tent — That is, one of that sort on which the cords of the tent were fastened, and which consequently were of a large size. Come, and I will show thee the man whom thou seekest — Thus both parts of Deborah’s prophecy concerning Sisera were fulfilled. He was delivered into the hand of Barak, according to the prediction, 4:7; but not alive, and therefore not to Barak’s honour, as was foretold 4:9. For, when he came into her tent, behold Sisera lay dead, and the nail was in his temples.

 


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Bibliography Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Judges 4:4". Joseph Benson's Commentary. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/rbc/judges-4.html. 1857.

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