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Explaining the Book

Bible Study Guide

Judges

Judges 5 Commentary

So the destruction of Sisera was a pretty quick matter. But the destruction of Sisera’s king, Jabin, took a little longer. And yet it happened eventually. The Lord saved his people from their enemy. He used a “weaker vessel” as Peter would say to do it. But isn’t that how God works? He uses the weak to confound the strong.

Judges 5:1-8

Now, all of this calls for a celebration. We’ve heard the facts of the story. We’ve heard the timeline of things. But now we’re going to celebrate the Lord’s victory with a song in the form of Hebrew poetry in chapter 5. Chapter 4 gave us the events. Chapter 5 now gives us some of the emotion behind the events. It also fills in some details we didn’t hear about in chapter 4. Let’s begin by reading verses 1 through 8 of chapter 5.

5:1 ¶ Then sang Deborah and Barak the son of Abinoam on that day, saying,

2 Praise ye the LORD for the avenging of Israel, when the people willingly offered themselves. 3 Hear, O ye kings; give ear, O ye princes; I, even I, will sing unto the LORD; I will sing praise to the LORD God of Israel. 4 LORD, when thou wentest out of Seir, when thou marchedst out of the field of Edom, the earth trembled, and the heavens dropped, the clouds also dropped water. 5 The mountains melted from before the LORD, even that Sinai from before the LORD God of Israel. 6 In the days of Shamgar the son of Anath, in the days of Jael, the highways were unoccupied, and the travellers walked through byways. 7 The inhabitants of the villages ceased, they ceased in Israel, until that I Deborah arose, that I arose a mother in Israel. 8 They chose new gods; then was war in the gates: was there a shield or spear seen among forty thousand in Israel?

The song starts out with praising the Lord for the people offering themselves willingly for the battle. We’ll see that elaborated below. The song then personifies God as coming from the southeast in Edom to Kedesh where the battle happened. Then we’re given a picture of the desolation that the Canaanite oppressors brought to Israel in the days of the first minor judge Shamgar and Jael. Why the desolation? Why the oppression? Verse 8 – Israel chose new gods. And the true God – their God – then disarmed them and sent the oppressors.

Judges 5:9-13

Let’s read the next section in verses 9 through 13.

9 My heart is toward the governors of Israel, that offered themselves willingly among the people. Bless ye the LORD. 10 Speak, ye that ride on white asses, ye that sit in judgment, and walk by the way. 11 They that are delivered from the noise of archers in the places of drawing water, there shall they rehearse the righteous acts of the LORD, even the righteous acts toward the inhabitants of his villages in Israel: then shall the people of the LORD go down to the gates. 12 Awake, awake, Deborah: awake, awake, utter a song: arise, Barak, and lead thy captivity captive, thou son of Abinoam. 13 Then he made him that remaineth have dominion over the nobles among the people: the LORD made me have dominion over the mighty.

I won’t say much about this section. Only that again Deborah and Barak are giving thanks for the people of Israel who willingly offered themselves.

Judges 5:14-18

And verses 14 through 18 elaborate on this fact.

14 Out of Ephraim was there a root of them against Amalek; after thee, Benjamin, among thy people; out of Machir came down governors, and out of Zebulun they that handle the pen of the writer. 15 And the princes of Issachar were with Deborah; even Issachar, and also Barak: he was sent on foot into the valley. For the divisions of Reuben there were great thoughts of heart. 16 Why abodest thou among the sheepfolds, to hear the bleatings of the flocks? For the divisions of Reuben there were great searchings of heart. 17 Gilead abode beyond Jordan: and why did Dan remain in ships? Asher continued on the sea shore, and abode in his breaches. 18 Zebulun and Naphtali were a people that jeoparded their lives unto the death in the high places of the field.

Ephraim, Benjamin, Machir in Manasseh, Zebulun, Issachar. All of these tribes were those who participated willingly in the battle. And they are heartily commended in this song. But then we have those who didn’t participate. See? You wouldn’t have known this information without this song. In the narrative we didn’t get any idea that some people didn’t participate in this battle. We do here though. Reuben is viewed as hiding away with the sheep and listening to their bleating. Gilead stayed in his land, too. Dan remained in ships, because obviously his original territory was on the sea coast. So was Asher’s. Then finally the song extolls in a special way Zebulun and Naphtali.

Judges 5:19-23

Then we’re told of what happened when these tribes came together willingly. Verses 19 through 23.

19 The kings came and fought, then fought the kings of Canaan in Taanach by the waters of Megiddo; they took no gain of money. 20 They fought from heaven; the stars in their courses fought against Sisera. 21 The river of Kishon swept them away, that ancient river, the river Kishon. O my soul, thou hast trodden down strength. 22 Then were the horsehoofs broken by the means of the pransings, the pransings of their mighty ones. 23 Curse ye Meroz, said the angel of the LORD, curse ye bitterly the inhabitants thereof; because they came not to the help of the LORD, to the help of the LORD against the mighty.

Poetically, we’re told that stars fought against the Canaanites. The Kishon River is also poetically pictured as sweeping away Israel’s enemies. This is what can happen in poetry. Objects in nature can be personified.

Then verse 23 kind of cuts into the song with a curse. Meroz apparently was a city that did not come to help Barak fight against Sisera. This song has extolled again and again the people who fought willingly. And in contrast it issues the strongest rebuke to those among God’s people who won’t offer themselves willingly to his work.

Judges 5:24-27

But the song doesn’t stay focused on curses and this lack of willingness. Verses 24 through 27 focus on our very unlikely hero in this story – Jael.

24 Blessed above women shall Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite be, blessed shall she be above women in the tent. 25 He asked water, and she gave him milk; she brought forth butter in a lordly dish. 26 She put her hand to the nail, and her right hand to the workmen’s hammer; and with the hammer she smote Sisera, she smote off his head, when she had pierced and stricken through his temples. 27 At her feet he bowed, he fell, he lay down: at her feet he bowed, he fell: where he bowed, there he fell down dead.

In contrast to faithless Meroz, Jael willingly offered herself to fight for the Lord’s cause.

Judges 5:28-31

So she’s an example of a woman who was on the right side of this battle. And the song ends with a close-up of another woman. This time it’s Sisera’s mother. Let’s read verses 28 through 31.

28 The mother of Sisera looked out at a window, and cried through the lattice, Why is his chariot so long in coming? why tarry the wheels of his chariots? 29 Her wise ladies answered her, yea, she returned answer to herself, 30 Have they not sped? have they not divided the prey; to every man a damsel or two; to Sisera a prey of divers colours, a prey of divers colours of needlework, of divers colours of needlework on both sides, meet for the necks of them that take the spoil? 31 ¶ So let all thine enemies perish, O LORD: but let them that love him be as the sun when he goeth forth in his might.

And the land had rest forty years.

So Sisera’s mom and her wise women console themselves in vain imaginations. They reassure themselves that Sisera will be home soon. “You now — they’re just picking up some ladies as plunder. They’re just dividing the rest of the spoil. Don’t worry. They’ll be home soon.” You might be tempted to feel sorry for Sisera’s mother. Please don’t. One of the thoughts she consoles herself with is Sisera’s exploitation of captive women. She says in verse 30 that Sisera and his men each get a damsel or two. The word “damsel” is “rechem”. It can mean “girl”. But it’s also often literally translated “womb”. One modern English version sort of supplies the idea that Sisera’s mom was probably expressing when they translate her statement as “a girl or two for each man to rape!” That’s the kind of brutality that comes along with pagans going to war. And it’s the kind of brutality and immorality that Sisera’s mother was encouraging and even hoping for in her son. She was consoling herself with this thought!

But the song ends with comfort and assurance. May all the enemies of the Lord, just like Sisera, perish. But Lord, strengthen the ones who love you. And then the land has rest for 40 years.

What a stirring conclusion. But you know it’s just going to get worse again. In these two chapters we saw a failure of male leadership. But we had a happy ending. But just in the next verse we have the children of Israel doing evil in God’s sight. And then we’ll see the Lord raise up a man named Gideon.

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