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Verses 1-31

Deborah’s Triumph Song

This song celebrates the victory of Judges 4 but from the point of view, not of a later annalist, but of a contemporary poet—very possibly (though see Judges 5:12) the prophetess herself. The lyric outburst is one of the finest in any language; its style (though many of the words are now very obscure) is typical of the best Hebrew poetry. Its independence of Judges 4 may be inferred from the variations it exhibits. Sisera is represented as king: the majority of the tribes, not Zebulun and Naphtali only, are summoned: and the manner of Sisera’s death is different. It says much for the fidelity of the compiler that he did not attempt to ’edit’ these apparent discrepancies.

1-5. Introductory.

1. For the avenging of Israel] RV ’for that the leaders took the lead in Israel.’ The Hebrew word most probably has to do with ’letting loose’; perhaps, ’with the streaming locks of warriors.’

3. A good instance of the ’parallelism’ of Hebrew poetry; parallel, and sometimes almost identical thoughts are placed side by side. Abundant instances can be found in almost every Psalm. For the kings and princes, cp. Psalms 2:2; Habakkuk 1:10.

4. Seir] the mountainous region which extends from the E. of the Dead Sea to the head of the Red Sea. The northern half of it was inhabited by Edom. Towards the southern end of it is Sinai (Judges 5:5). Jehovah is still thought of as dwelling in the desert, where He had first revealed Himself to Israel, and where He delivered them from Egypt. Cp. Psalms 18:7; Isaiah 64:1; Habakkuk 3:10.

6-11. The Oppression.

6. Shamgar] mentioned (if he is the same man) in Judges 3:31 here, the reference can hardly be to a Judge and deliverer. So with Jael; perhaps another individual is intended; or the correct name has fallen out of the text.

Unoccupied] Because of the insecurity of the country.

7. The villages] RV ’rulers’; the word occurs in v. 11, and probably means ’peasantry.’ The great trade routes were empty, and even rural life stagnated.

8. The first two clauses are very obscure; the second should perhaps be ’the barley-bread failed.’

10. Speak] (RV ’tell’) means properly ’meditate upon it.’ Of the three classes addressed, the first consists of magistrates or leading men, the second (in judgment should be, as RV, ’on rich carpets’) of the wealthy, the third of the people.

11. The words in italics, supplied by the translators, help us to make sense of this v., though they cannot be considered certain. In contrast to Judges 5:6 there is now deep peace throughout the whole country-side.

12-23. The gathering of the tribes, and the battle.

12. Captivity] either ’thy captives’ or ’thy captors’; cp. Psalms 68:18; Ephesians 4:8.

13. RV is more probable; ’then came down a remnant of the nobles and of the people.’ The two classes are joined as in Judges 5:2 and Judges 5:9.

14. RV ’out of Ephraim came down they whose root is in Amalek.’ This seems to suggest that Amalek once possessed the land of Ephraim; but see on Judges 12:15. The largest and smallest tribes are mentioned together, as in Hosea 5:8. Machir] a clan of Manasseh (apparently used here for the whole tribe) which is generally connected with Grilead. Pen of the writer] RV ’marshal’s staff’; the ’writer’ is the officer who musters the troops.

15. He was sent] RV ’into the valley they’ (the men of Issachar) ’rushed forth at his feet.’ Reuben dwelt in N. Moab, E. of the Dead Sea; in the later history the tribe is never heard of, as, from this v., is not surprising. For the divisions] RV ’by the watercourses’ (so in Judges 5:16).

17. Gilead] i.e. ’the people Uving in Gilead.’ Reuben and Manasseh have been already mentioned; hence, Gad. Dan] would seem to have already migrated to the N. and to have connected itself with the seafaring Phoenicians (Judges 18:7). For Asher, see Judges 1:31. Breaches] RV ’creeks,’ or harbours.

19. Kings] the petty chiefs of districts and towns among the Canaanites. Taanach.. Megiddo] see on Judges 1:27.

20, 21. The very forces of nature were in alliance against Canaan. Kishon, though second to the Jordan (35 m. long from source to sea), is often, in parts, dry in the summer. Like other mountain-fed streams, it rises rapidly after a storm; here, its torrents sweep away the Canaanite chariots.

21. Strength] Abstract for concrete.

22. RV ’Then did the horsehoofs stamp by reason of the pransings.’ This v., describing the battle, would seem naturally to precede Judges 1:21., describing the rout.

23. Meroz] an unknown place. The mention of Jael immediately after suggests that the villagers of Meroz might have done what Jael did with such success.

24-27. The Death of Sisera.

24. Sisera, according to the code of the times, on entering Jael’s tent, was entitled to protection. Could a prophetess, it has been asked, invoke a blessing on an act of sheer treachery? (cp. Judges 4:17). There may have been extenuating circumstances of which we are ignorant; more probably the v. is simply an utterance of the poet’s joy at an act without which the victory would have been imperfect, and might have proved fruitless: see Intro. § 7. Women in the tent] Bedouin women: nomads.

25, 26. These vv. say nothing about Sisera’s lying down to sleep, and they suggest that he was killed in the act of drinking (note ’smote off’ instead of smote through’): but (see Judges 5:27) this is not absolutely necessary.

25. Butter] Properly sour milk or curds. Lordly dish] A bowl fit for nobles.

27. The repetition is highly effective.

28-30. Ironical representation of the expectation at Sisera’s home.

28. Cried] in eager, half-anxious tones.

30. Have they not sped?] rather, ’Do they not find?’—the form of the word denotes an unfinished action, which accounts for the delay.

A damsel or two] rather, ’A slave-girl, two slave girls, for each brave man’. Prey] RV ’spoil.’ Needlework on both sides] means two pieces of needlework (for each man). RV ’embroidery.’

31. Final prayer. The last clause is added by the editor.

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