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Bible Commentaries

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible

Judges 4

 

 

Verse 1

CHAP. IV.

Deborah and Barak deliver Israel from Jabin and Sisera: Jael puts Sisera to death.

Before Christ 1294.


Verse 2

Judges 4:2. Jabin, king of Canaan Canaan here means the Canaanites properly so called. Jabin was, doubtless, a descendant of the Jabin spoken of Joshua 11:1; Joshua 11:23 and Jabin, probably, (like Pharaoh,) was the common name of these kings. From the formidable number of his chariots, Judges 4:3 we may conclude that he had little or no infantry; and as the Israelites were forbidden the use of chariots, their fears might have arisen more naturally from this circumstance.


Verse 4-5

Judges 4:4-5. Deborah, a prophetess, &c.— Like Miriam, the sister of Moses and Aaron, Deborah was enriched with the gifts of heaven, necessary to instruct, to direct, and to govern: besides which, God excited her by the Holy Spirit to declare his will to the people, as appears by the following part of this history. Her name signifies a Bee, which has been given by other nations to illustrious women; as among the Greeks, the nymph said to be the nurse of Jove, is called Melissa, and the wife of Periander, king of Corinth, had the same name. See Witsii Miscel. Sac. tom. 1: lib. 1: cap. 23. The Hebrew renders it doubtful whether she was the wife of Lapidoth, or a woman of Lapidoth, but the first is the most common opinion. She judged Israel at that time; i.e. had the supreme authority: well known to be divinely inspired, she was respected as such, and the people submitted to her judgment. She dwelt under the psalm-tree of Deborah; or, as the LXX and Vulgate understand it, She sat under the palm-tree which was called by her name, where she administered justice. Calmet says, that it may be rendered a forest of palms.


Verse 6-7

Judges 4:6-7. And she sent and called Barak, &c.— In virtue of her supreme authority, which was uncontested by the whole nation, she sent for Barak; concerning whom we know no more than that he was born or dwelt in the city of Kedesh, in the tribe of Naphtali. Tabor, towards which Barak was ordered to draw his forces, was a famous mountain not far from Kedesh, in the tribe of Zebulun, and upon the confines of Issachar and Manasseh; which had a large plain at the top of it, where an army might be drawn up and exercised commodiously. Modern travellers confirm this. "Mount Tabor," says Maundrell, "stands by itself, about two or three furlongs within the plain of Esdraelon: after a very laborious ascent, which took up near an hour, we reached the highest part of the mountain: it has a plain area at the top, most fertile and delicious, of an oval figure, extending about one furlong in breadth, and two in length. This area is inclosed with trees on all parts, except towards the south. It was anciently environed with walls and trenches, and other fortifications, of which it exhibits many remains at this day.—From the top of Tabor you have a prospect which well rewards the labour of ascending it. It is impossible for man's eye to behold a higher gratification of this nature. On the north-west you discern at a distance the Mediterranean; and all around you have the spacious and beautiful plains of Esdraelon and Galilee, which present you with the view of many places memorable for the resort and miracles of the Son of God. At the bottom of Tabor westward, stands Daberah, a small village, supposed to take its name from Deborah. Near this valley is the fountain of Kishon." See Journey from Aleppo, p. 114. Concerning Kishon, Dr. Shaw tells us, "In travelling under a south-east brow of Carmel, I had an opportunity of seeing the sources of the river Kishon, three or four of which lie within less than a furlong of each other, and are called Rasel-Kishon, or the head of Kishon. These alone, without the lesser contributions, nearer the sea, discharge water enough to form a river half as big as the Isis. During the rainy season, all the water which falls on the eastern side of the mountain, or upon the rising ground to the southward, empties itself into it in a number of torrents, at which conjunctures it overflows its banks, acquires a wonderful rapidity, and carries all before it. It might be at such a conjuncture as this when the stars are said to fight against Sisera, (ch. Judges 5:21.) by bringing an abundance of rain, whereby the Kishon was occasionally so high and rapid, as to sweep away the host of Sisera in attempting to ford it. But these inundations are extemporaneous only, without any duration; for the course of the Kishon, which is but about seven miles in length, runs very briskly, till within half a league of the sea, where it loses itself." See Travels, p. 274.


Verse 8

Judges 4:8. And Barak said unto her Does not Barak shew here some degree of incredulity, ill agreeing with that eulogy given of him by St. Paul, Hebrews 11:32? Certainly not: his is not the language of incredulity, but of prudence and precaution. He doubts not that Deborah speaks to him in the name of the Lord; he refuses not to undertake what she enjoins; but he is solicitous that she should attend him, both to assist him with her advice, and to inspire his soldiers with the courage necessary for so hazardous an undertaking. See Calmet. Deborah tells him, Judges 4:9. (according to Mr. Saurin's exposition,) that if she was in his army, it was to her that they would attribute the victory, and that it would be a kind of dishonour for him, that a woman should carry away that glory which ought to be the ambition of the general; but I should rather think that the words of Deborah allude to Jael's exploit.

REFLECTIONS.—Twenty years the iron yoke of Jabin lay heavy upon Israel; when now at last God hears his people's cry, and comes to deliver them. Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, at that time judged Israel. She was raised up by the spirit of God, endued with wisdom, and favoured with prophetic foresight. All these gifts, as her name implies, she industriously employed for the public; sweet to her friends, but armed with a sting to smite her enemies. To her the people resorted for judgment in their controversies, and for direction in their religious concerns. Her abode, or rather her seat of justice, was under a palm-tree in mount Ephraim. Grieved at the sufferings of the people, she here, under a divine impulse, forms plans for their rescue; but being, as a woman, unfit to head the armies in the field, she calls Barak to her assistance. Him she directs what forces to levy, points out the encampment, and assures him from God, that, strong as the hosts of Jabin were, yet they and their captain should both fall into his hand. Barak hesitates; yet, if she will go with him, consents to undertake the expedition; her presence, as a prophetess, being more his dependence than the sword of his soldiers: Note; (1.) When we go to war against our spiritual enemies, it is a great encouragement to have the advice and prayers of those upon whose experience and piety we can depend. (2.) When God will destroy his enemies, their resistance is in vain; and their gathering to battle, is only rushing into the snare.


Verse 10

Judges 4:10. At his feet Deborah and Barak first went to Kedesh to levy the necessary forces, Judges 4:9.; which collected, they set forward for mount Tabor, Judges 4:6. Barak having the men at his feet; i.e. following him as their general.


Verse 11

Judges 4:11. Now Heber the Kenite This verse is a parenthesis, to render more intelligible what follows in the 17th verse. The Kenites lived after the manner of the Midianites, from whom they descended, in tents, not in houses. Zaanaim was in the tribe of Naphtali, where there was a plain, or rather an oak grove.


Verse 15

Judges 4:15. And the Lord discomfited Sisera Though the expression in the text may be well understood according to the Scripture idiom, without any miraculous interposition; yet it is generally supposed, from the signification of the original word ויהם vayaham, (which imports a terror by the noise of thunder and lightning; see Schultens Orig. Heb. lib. 1: p. 140.) that the Lord interposed miraculously: see 1 Samuel 7:10. Joshua 10:10.; and something of this kind seems to be acknowledged by Deborah in her song, Judges 4:20. Josephus, who is of this opinion, greatly aggrandizes the affair. He says, 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. See Antiq. lib. 5: cap. 5.

REFLECTIONS.—Barak, at Deborah's command, having quickly raised the ten thousand men, chiefly out of the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali, encamped on mount Tabor; and Deborah, according to her promise, accompanied him. Sisera is soon informed of these military preparations, either by the Canaanites or the Kenites, who lately removed into this part of the country out of Judah, and were at peace with Jabin. He immediately collects his army, with his nine hundred chariots of iron, in which his strength lay, and against which ten thousand footmen were a very unequal match. When the armies were thus encamped, the one at the brook beneath, and the other in the mountain above;

1. Deborah issues the order for the battle to begin. Barak and the people might well tremble at the sight before them; but she assures them that they need not fear; God is with them, and this very day should they see his great salvation. The victory is already won, since God has promised it. Note; If God be for us, let us never fear who are against us.

2. Barak obeys. He trusts not to his encampment on the mountain, nor waits there to be attacked; but, trusting on the divine promise, boldly descends. Struck with a panic fear, the army of Sisera dares not to abide his coming, but, discomfited of God, seek in vain by flight to save themselves from the sword of Barak. Note; (1.) They who go forth in faith must return victorious. (2.) When God pursues the sinner, flight is vain.

3. A total overthrow is given to these numerous hosts. They are pursued to the very gates of their city, and not a man spared from the sword: both chariots and horses are fallen, and Sisera alone escapes on foot, only to fall more ignominiously in the tent of Jael. Note; (1.) When God begins in earnest with his enemies, he will also make an end. (2.) We do well to prosecute our successes against our corruptions, and quicken our diligence the more we prevail against them.


Verses 17-20

Judges 4:17-20. Sisera fled—to the tent of Jael The common Arabs so far observe the modes of the east, as to have a separate apartment in their tents for their wives, made by letting down a curtain, or a carpet, upon occasion, from one of their pillars; though they are not so rigid as some of the eastern people in these matters. Dr. Pococke tells us, that his conductor, who was an Arab, led him two or three miles to his tent, where there was an encampment of Arabs; and that there he sat down with his conductor's wife and others round the fire.—"The Arabs," says he, "are not so scrupulous as the Turks about their women; and though they have their harem, or woman's part of the tent, yet such as they are acquainted with come into them. I was kept in the harem for greater security, the wife being always with me; no stranger ever daring to come into the woman's apartment, unless introduced." According to the custom of the present Arabs, therefore, it was not absurd in Sisera to hope that he might be received into Jael's tent, the harem of Heber. It appears too, that her tent was a much safer place than any other in that encampment, wherein to secrete himself, as it would have been a much greater insult to this Kenite Emir, for any Israelite to have attempted to search for him there, than in any other of his tents. Observations, p. 79.


Verse 21

Judges 4:21. Then Jael, Heber's wife, &c.— This nail was one of those great pins with which they fastened the tents to the ground. Bishop Patrick upon this event observes, that 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 prophesy of Deborah might be fulfilled. 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. It can scarcely be doubted, says Dr. Waterland, that Jael had a divine direction or impulse to stir her up to this action. The enterprise was exceedingly bold and hazardous, above the courage of her sex. The resolution she took appears very extraordinary, and shows the marks and tokens of its being from the extraordinary hand of God. In this view all is clear and right, and no objectors will be able to prove that 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 towards God. But we are to consider, that what is done in very uncommon cases, and upon occasions very extraordinary, is not to be judged of by common rules. See Scrip. Vind. p. 75. They, who would enter into a more complete justification of this affair, will find satisfaction in Dr. Leland's answer to Christianity as old as the Creation, p. 2.

REFLECTIONS.—The army being destroyed, we have here an account of the death of their general.

1. His flight. His chariot was now no longer his safety; and though, in this confidence, he drew near to battle, he finds by experience how vain a thing is this to save a man. Creature-dependances thus usually fail us.—The tents of the Kenites seemed to promise a safe retreat; and as there was peace between Jabin and them, he flees thither for protection.

2. His reception here was seemingly as hospitable as he could wish. Jael, the wife of Heber, stood at the tent-door; invited him in, to repose in her apartment; refreshed him, thirsty with his flight; and covered him up as weary, for sleep as well as for concealment. Having wished her to deny others entrance there, and by a lie to divert his pursuers, he thinks he may now lie down in peace, and take his rest. How delusive are appearances! how often is our danger nearest, when we conceive ourselves most secure, and our ruin meditating by those in whom we place the greatest confidence! Note; They who trust in man will usually be disappointed; they who trust in God, never.

3. His death. Fatigued with his flight, his senses were soon locked up in sleep, and Jael, on divine warrant, meditates and performs the fatal deed.—Stealing softly to him, with one of the nails of the tent and a hammer in her hand, as he lay on his side, she smote him through both his temples, and fastened him to the ground: so he fell, as was foretold, by the hand of a woman. Note; God often chooses the weak things of the world to confound the mighty.

4. Barak comes, and finds Sisera slain. Jael welcomes him to her tent, and shews him his enemy fallen, to their common joy. Note; The death of an oppressive tyrant is a general mercy.

5. From that day Israel pursued the blow, subdued Jabin, and destroyed his people and cities; and thus, taught by experience, acted more conformably to the divine command and their own advantage, in utterly destroying this devoted people. Note; (1.) It is wisdom to improve under past experience. (2.) God's commands and our real interests are inseparable.

 


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Bibliography Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Judges 4:4". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/tcc/judges-4.html. 1801-1803.

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