Judges 5
Barnes' Notes
Then sang Deborah and Barak the son of Abinoam on that day, saying,
Deborah, as "a prophetess," both composed and sang this noble ode, which, for poetic spirit and lyric fire, is not surpassed by any of the sacred songs in the Bible. And, as Miriam took up the first verse of the song of Moses Exodus 15:21, and sang it as an antiphony, so Barak, with the chorus of men, answered the song of Deborah by singing Judges 5:2, which is also exactly suited for an antiphon, summing up as it does the subject matter of the whole ode. Compare David's example 2 Samuel 6:15.

Praise ye the LORD for the avenging of Israel, when the people willingly offered themselves.
Render "For the leading of the leaders in Israel (the princes), for the willingness of the people (to follow them) bless ye the Lord." See Deuteronomy 32:42 note, and compare Judges 5:9 and Judges 5:13, where the nobles and the people are again contrasted.

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.
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.
Compare Psalm 68:7-9, and Habakkuk 3:3-16. The three passages relate to the same events, and mutually explain each other. The subject of them is the triumphant march of Israel, with the Lord at their head, to take possession of Canaan, and the overthrow of Sihon, Og, and the Midianites. This march commenced from Kadesh, in the immediate neighborhood of Self, and the victories which followed were an exact parallel to the victory of Deborah and Barak, accompanied as it had been with the storm which made Kishon to overflow his banks.

The mountains melted from before the LORD, even that Sinai from before the LORD God of Israel.
In the days of Shamgar the son of Anath, in the days of Jael, the highways were unoccupied, and the travellers walked through byways.
Words dcscriptive of a state of weakness and fear, so that Israel could not frequent the highways. It is a graphic description of a country occupied by an enemy.

The inhabitants of the villages ceased, they ceased in Israel, until that I Deborah arose, that I arose a mother in Israel.
Render the word "villages" (here and in Judges 5:11) judgment, rule, or judges, rulers. The sense is "The princes (or magistrates) ceased in Israel," i. e. there was no one to do justice in the gate, or defend men from their oppressors.

They chose new gods; then was war in the gates: was there a shield or spear seen among forty thousand in Israel?
The "war in the gates" describes the hostile attacks of the Canaanites, which were the punishment of the idolatry of the Israelites (compare the marginal references), and the reduction of Israel to an unarmed and unresisting state under the Philistine dominion. See Judges 3:31 note.

My heart is toward the governors of Israel, that offered themselves willingly among the people. Bless ye the LORD.
My heart ... - In this deplorable weakness of Israel how noble was the conduct of the governors who volunteered to lead the people against their oppressors. Deborah's heart was filled with admiration as she thought of their patriotic devotion, and broke out into thanksgiving to Yahweh.

Speak, ye that ride on white asses, ye that sit in judgment, and walk by the way.
Ye that ride on white donkeys ... - i. e. nobles or magistrates. Deborah appeals to the classes mentioned in Judges 5:6-7, to bear witness to the happy change that had followed the overthrow of Jabin.

That sit in judgment - Rather "that sit on saddles, or horse-cloths," a further description of those who ride on asses.

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.
The sense of the King James Version is that, whereas formerly they could not go in safety to draw water from their wells, but were shot at by the archers of the enemy, now they were delivered from such tumults; and standing round the wells in security rehearsed the righteous acts of the Lord in delivering them, and "the righteous acts of His government in Israel." (See Judges 5:7).

Then shall the people of the Lord go down to the gates - Israelites, who had hid themselves in caves and deserts, could return in security to the gates of their own cities for justice, or commerce, or to dwell there, now that the Canaanite was subdued.

Awake, awake, Deborah: awake, awake, utter a song: arise, Barak, and lead thy captivity captive, thou son of Abinoam.
Deborah incites Barak to carry off as his prey the captive Canaanites and their sheep and cattle (their "captivity").

Then he made him that remaineth have dominion over the nobles among the people: the LORD made me have dominion over the mighty.
This verse is otherwise rendered: "then a remnant of the nobles came down; the people of the Lord came down for me against the mighty." The following verses mention in detail who this "remnant" were.

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.
Render "Of Ephraim (Deborah's own tribe) came down those whose root is in Mount Amalek Judges 12:15; after thee (O Ephraim) came Benjamin among thy people; of Machir (the west-Jordanic milies of Manasseh. See Joshua 17:1-6) there came down the chiefs, and of Zebulon they that handle the staff of the officer" the military scribe, whose duty it was, like that of the Roman tribunes, to keep the muster roll, and superintend the recruiting of the army. (See 2 Kings 25:19.)

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.
Even Issachar ... - i. e. "and, as well as Issachar, Barak also with the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali, rushed down on foot from Mount Tabor into the valley to attack the iron chariots of Sisera."

For the divisions - Better: "among the brooks." Reuben ought to have followed in this catalogue of patriots, but with that abruptness for which this poem is so conspicuous, Deborah adverts to his absence instead.

Why abodest thou among the sheepfolds, to hear the bleatings of the flocks? For the divisions of Reuben there were great searchings of heart.
Great searchings - (thoughts, Judges 5:15) of heart Deborah means to say that at first the Reubenites made magnanimous resolutions to help their brethren against Jabin. But they stayed at home, and let the opportunity slip.

Gilead abode beyond Jordan: and why did Dan remain in ships? Asher continued on the sea shore, and abode in his breaches.
The land of Gilead, on the east of Jordan, was divided between Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh, who are both comprehended here. Joppa was in the territory of Dan Jos 19:46, and was in later times the sea-port for Jerusalem.

His breaches - Rather havens; i. e. the creeks and bays and river-months by which their coast was broken. Joshua 19:29.

Zebulun and Naphtali were a people that jeoparded their lives unto the death in the high places of the field.
In contrast with the selfishness of the tribes just named, Deborah reverts with enthusiasm to the heroic prowess of Zebulun and Naphtali.

The kings came and fought, then fought the kings of Canaan in Taanach by the waters of Megiddo; they took no gain of money.
The Canaanite hosts are now described, led to battle by their numerous kings. (Compare Joshua 12:21.)

They took no gain of money - i. e. either they got no booty, as they expected, or, they did not fight for plunder, but for life and victory (compare Judges 4:16 and Judges 5:30).

They fought from heaven; the stars in their courses fought against Sisera.
God fought on the side of Israel, and gave them the victory. Josephus relates that, just as the battle began, a violent tempest came on with a great downfall of rain; and a hailstorm, which, driving full in the faces of the Canaanites, so blinded and benumbed them with cold, that they could neither use their bows with effect nor even hold their swords.

The river of Kishon swept them away, that ancient river, the river Kishon. O my soul, thou hast trodden down strength.
The word translated ancient occurs only here. The phrase probably means that Kishon was celebrated from ancient times on account of the battles fought on its banks.

Then were the horsehoofs broken by the means of the pransings, the pransings of their mighty ones.
Probably an allusion to the frantic efforts of the chariot-horses to disengage themselves from the morass (Judges 4:15 note).

Mighty ones - Applied to bulls Psalm 22:12 and horses Jeremiah 8:16; Jeremiah 47:3; Jeremiah 50:11; elsewhere, as probably here, to men.

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.
The inhabitants of Meroz (a village 12 miles from Samaria) hung back, and gave no help in the day of battle, although it was Yahweh who called them. Hence, the curse pronounced by the Angel of the Lord.

Blessed above women shall Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite be, blessed shall she be above women in the tent.
The blessing here pronounced is in strong contrast with the curse of Meroz. Deborah speaks of Jael's deed by the light of her own age, which did not make manifest the evil of guile and bloodshed; the light in ours does.

He asked water, and she gave him milk; she brought forth butter in a lordly dish.
Butter - Rather curdled milk, probably a fermented and intoxicating drink. All these marks of respect and friendship would lull Sisera into security.

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.
Rather "she smote his head, and she struck and pierced through his temple."

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.
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?
The scene is changed to the palace of Sisera.

Her wise ladies answered her, yea, she returned answer to herself,
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?
Render the latter part of the verse "a booty of dyed garments for Sisera, a booty of dyed garments and of party-colored cloth, a dyed garment and two party-colored clothes for the necks of the booty," the spoil or booty being either captive damsels, or captive cattle on whose necks these clothes are to be placed (either as ornament or as a burden; compare Judges 8:21, Judges 8:26). But possibly "the necks of the booty" may mean the backs or shoulders (of men or beasts) laden with booty.

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.
A most striking conclusion, in which the spiritual truth, which the whole narrative is intended to convey, comes out. The enemies of the Lord will perish like the host of Sisera, and all their hopes will end, like those of Sisera's mother, in bitter disappointment and shame; but all that love our Lord Jesus Christ shall shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Compare Matthew 13:43; Daniel 12:3.

Notes on the Bible by Albert Barnes [1834].
Text Courtesy of Internet Sacred Texts Archive.

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