Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Ch. 5 The Song of Deborah
There can be little doubt that this splendid Ode belongs to the same date as the events which it describes. The passions roused by the battle have not cooled down; the sense of a common danger, the enthusiasm of united action, the exultation in Jehovah’s triumphant aid, are felt with a vividness which only a contemporary could have put into words. The religious temper and the political situation agree with what we know of the period of the Judges from elsewhere, while the antique poetic language may well be characteristic of the same date. The Ode, then, is a most ancient composition, earlier probably than anything else in the Old Testament of the same extent; its original place may have been in some collection of old Hebrew songs such as the Book of Jashar (Joshua 10:13; 2 Samuel 1:18) or the Book of the Wars of Jehovah (Numbers 21:14). A text so ancient must inevitably have suffered in the course of ages; and though the general sense is clear, in many places we cannot follow the connexion of thought or interpret particular words. This is due partly to our ignorance of the ancient language, and even more to the exceedingly corrupt state of the text; in Jdg 5:8-15 especially the corruption is so deep-seated that it looks as if some accident had happened to the ms. from which our present text is descended. Prof. Moore suggests that at this point the page was obliterated or rubbed, so that the early copyist was driven to make what sense he could out of it. The process of corruption must have begun before the Greek Versions were made, for on the whole they presuppose much the same text as we have.
The Song is an invaluable witness to the history of the period. After a spell of oppression (Jdg 5:7), probably brought on by the expansion of the Israelite tribes in the direction of the Great Plain, the Canaanites, led by Sisera at the head of the local chiefs, made a determined effort to drive the Israelites back into their hills. To resist this formidable movement, and to put an end to an intolerable state of insecurity and humiliation, Deborah roused the tribes. Six of them, those immediately N. and S. of the Plain, responded to the summons; the remoter clans, Dan and Asher in the N., Reuben and Gilead (Gad) on the E. of Jordan, refused to stir themselves. Judah is not mentioned: it was cut off from Ephraim and the rest by a line of Canaanite strongholds (see p. xxx); Simeon and Levi, who are also passed over, seem to have been unable to maintain a distinct existence after the early stages of the invasion. The battle was fought near Taanach and Megiddo (Jdg 5:19), down the valley of the Kishon, whose waters, swollen by a tremendous storm (Jdg 5:20 f.), worked havoc among the Canaanite forces.
That a summons to battle could be sent round and meet with a response shews that the tribes admitted the claim of a common bond of race. At an earlier period some of them, at any rate, had wandered together in the desert, and camped together on the outskirts of Canaan (p. xxviii f.). Israel had not yet grown into a nation, but when the tribes made common cause against Sisera, under the impulse of Deborah’s high enthusiasm, they took the first step in the development of united national action. Stronger, however, than the bond of race was the influence of a common faith. The Song bears unmistakable witness to the fervour and reality of Israel’s religion at this early period. Jehovah is the God of Israel; He is no Canaanite deity, His seat is in the southern desert (Sinai, Horeb) whence He travels in tempest to His people’s aid (Jdg 5:4-5); His presence and power are on the side of Israel (Jdg 5:11); He fights in Israel’s battles (Jdg 5:23), and Israel’s enemies are His (Jdg 5:31). This faith, which gave to Israel a distinctive character among other races, confirms indirectly the tradition which connects the acceptance of Jehovah as the national God with Sinai and the work of Moses; herein lay the secret of Israel’s national progress during the ages of slow consolidation which followed.
The Song falls naturally into three divisions: A. Jdg 5:2-11 an introduction, B. Jdg 5:12-22 a description of the battle, C. Jdg 5:23-31 the sequel. Within these divisions some kind of strophical arrangement, i.e. a grouping of verses connected in thought, can be detected, thus:
Jdg 5:4-5. Jehovah’s advent.
Jdg 5:6-8. The recent oppression.
Jdg 5:9-11. ?? The celebration of Jehovah’s acts.
Jdg 5:13-15 a. The muster.
Jdg 5:15 b–18. The reluctant and the ready.
Jdg 5:19-22. The battle.
Jdg 5:24-27. The courage of Jael.
Jdg 5:28-30. The mother of Sisera.
Jdg 5:31 a. Conclusion.
To obtain a more complete symmetry, with a regular number of verse-lines in each strophe, the text must be considerably altered; and as the emendations are necessarily conjectural, none of the attempts to restore a perfectly consistent scheme of strophes and verse-lines can claim any certainty. Much ingenious labour has been spent upon the metre of the Song; but while we can hardly deny the existence of a metrical system in Hebrew, in this case the text is too insecure to establish any satisfactory results. All that can safely be said is that the prevailing rhythm contains four, or sometimes three, beats in each verse-line, e.g. Jdg 5:28 :The cursing of Meroz.Prelude.Exordium.
Oút of the wíndow loóked and críed
The móther of Sísera oút of the láttice:
Whý do his cháriots tárry in cóming,
Whý línger the stéps of his teáms?
An imposing effect is produced by the frequent use of the kind of parallelism known as the climactic or progressive; (1) the first line is incomplete, and the second line repeats some words of it and completes them, e.g. Jdg 5:4 b (? text), Jdg 5:7; Jdg 5:12 b, Jdg 5:19 a (? text), 23b, cf. Psalm 29:1; Psalm 92:9 a, Psalm 93:3, Psalm 94:3 etc.; (2) the first line is complete, and the second line repeats some words of it with an addition, e.g. Jdg 5:3 b, Jdg 5:5; Jdg 5:11 b, Jdg 5:21; Jdg 5:24, cf. Psalm 22:4; Psalm 29:5; Psalm 29:8; Psalm 67:3; Psalm 77:16. This kind of parallelism is not common, and belongs only to elevated poetry.
Then sang Deborah and Barak the son of Abinoam on that day, saying,1. The title says that the Ode was sung by Deborah and Barak, no doubt on account of the 1st person in Jdg 5:3; Jdg 5:9; Jdg 5:13, and the verb rendered I arose in Jdg 5:7. But in Jdg 5:12 Deborah herself is addressed by name (cf. Jdg 5:15), and in Jdg 5:7 the verb can just as correctly be rendered thou didst arise; while the 1st person in Jdg 5:3; Jdg 5:9; Jdg 5:13 is readily explained by the love of personification so common in the O.T. (see on Jdg 1:3): the poet acts as the mouthpiece of his victorious countrymen. The title represents a traditional view of the Song, but it does not carry more weight than the title of the Song of Moses Exodus 15, or the headings of the Psalms.
Praise ye the LORD for the avenging of Israel, when the people willingly offered themselves.2. The translation, after the LXX. cod. A, gives a good parallelism (leaders and people as in Jdg 5:9), but it rests on slender support. The noun rendered leaders has this meaning among others (such as abundant hair, in Arabic), but in Hebrew the verb ‘took the lead’ properly means to loosen Exodus 5:4, especially to let the hair go loose Leviticus 10:6; Leviticus 13:45, and the noun is used of the long locks of the Nazirites Numbers 6:5. Wearing the hair long was the mark of a vow not to do certain things until a specified object had been attained; the practice was observed not only by the Nazirites but by warriors bent upon vengeance; for an illustration from Arabic see Wellhausen, Reste Arab. Heidenthums2, p. 123 n., and cf. Psalm 68:21. Hence we may transl. when the locks grew long in Israel i.e. when the warriors took the vow of vengeance: this may be the meaning of the same word in Deuteronomy 32:42 ‘from the long-haired heads of the foe.’ Offered themselves willingly, of volunteering for battle, only again in 2 Chronicles 17:16, cf. Psalm 110:3; usually of offerings to the Temple in Chr., Ezr., Neh. The translation For that … For that … Bless ye is contrary to usage, which rather requires When … When, as in Jdg 5:4 where the same construction occurs; but this does not agree with Bless ye. The exact sense of the verse is doubtful.
2, 3. Exordium.
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.3. The great ones of the earth are called upon to attend the praises of the victorious God of Israel. Hear … give ear a frequent parallelism, e.g. Genesis 4:23; kings … princes again in Habakkuk 1:10; Psalm 2:2; Proverbs 8:15; Proverbs 31:4. The word for princes thus occurs chiefly in the later literature, but it may have belonged to the elevated style in ancient poetry. I, unto Yahweh I will sing; there is a ring about the words in the original, and a strong emphasis on the pronoun. I will make melody, with voice and instruments, a word specially frequent in the Psalter.
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.4, 5. Jehovah’s advent. These verses describe the awful coming of Jehovah to help His people in the battle: the Godhead approaches in storm and thunder, in the very storm which brought disaster upon Sisera’s army, Jdg 5:20 f. Similar accompaniments of Jehovah’s presence are alluded to in Micah 1:3-4; Isaiah 64:1; Psalm 18:7-15; Psalm 50:3; Psalm 97:2-6. The ancient dwelling-place of Jehovah, before the establishment of the sanctuary on Zion, was not in Canaan but at Sinai (J’s name, and P’s) or Horeb (E and D) Exodus 3:1, 1 Kings 19:8, situated at a distance, of ‘eleven days by the Mt Seir road from Kadesh-Barnea’ (Deuteronomy 1:2), probably in Midian, E. of the Gulf of ‘Aḳăbah; from thence He issued across the field i.e. region of Edom into Canaan for the deliverance of His people. Cf. Deuteronomy 33:2; Habakkuk 3:3; Zechariah 9:14.
wentest forth … marchedst] Cf. Habakkuk 3:12 f., and Psalm 68:7 (imitated from here).
Seir] the mountain range E. of the ‘Arâbah, from the S. of the Dead Sea to the Gulf of ‘Aḳăbah, in which the field of Edom lay, Genesis 32:3; Genesis 36:8. Seir was the home of Esau, Deuteronomy 2:5; Joshua 24:4.
the heavens also dropped] The object water is suspended till the next line, an instance of the parallelism noted above (1). But instead of dropped the LXX. A gives were in commotion, which perhaps implies the Hebr. word for swayed; this correction is adopted by some scholars. The last two lines of this v. and the second of Jdg 5:5 are copied in Psalm 68:8.
The mountains melted from before the LORD, even that Sinai from before the LORD God of Israel.5. flowed down] streamed, Isaiah 64:1; the verb as in Isaiah 45:8, Job 36:28. The Hebr. form also allows the rendering quaked marg., LXX, from a different root.
Even yon Sinai at the presence of the Lord, the God of Israel] yon Sinai, pointing to the mountain, which however is not visible from the Great Plain. The mention of Sinai after the Theophany has advanced from Edom northwards introduces confusion, and the words lit. mean this is Sinai. They are probably a marginal gloss made by some early reader to whom the expressions in Jdg 5:4-5 suggested the descent of Jehovah upon Sinai for the giving of the law, Exodus 19:18 ff., which is not referred to here. From the margin the words found their way into the text. They spoil the rhythm of the line.
In the days of Shamgar the son of Anath, in the days of Jael, the highways were unoccupied, and the travellers walked through byways.6. Shamgar the son of Anath] See on Jdg 3:31. It is extraordinary that the period of the oppression (in the days of as Jdg 15:20) should be dated by Shamgar, if he was the deliverer referred to in Jdg 3:31, and by Jael who slew the leader of the Canaanite army. We have seen reason to question the account of Shamgar in Jdg 3:31; the context of the present passage clearly implies that he was not a deliverer but a foreign oppressor, perhaps the predecessor of Sisera. Jael must be the same person as the heroine of Jdg 5:24 ff.; but she belongs to the time, not of the oppression, but of its termination. When once Shamgar had been treated by late interpreters as an Israelite champion (Jdg 3:31), the words in the days of Jael were probably inserted to mark the period more exactly.
the high ways were unoccupied] lit. ‘the ways ceased’ (Jdg 5:7), i.e. were disused, a doubtful meaning; render, with a slight change in the Hebr. pronunciation, the caravans ceased marg. The oppression had put a stop to all intercourse and trade, cf. Jdg 9:25; travellers were driven to use circuitous routes. The next line runs, in parallelism with ‘caravans,’ and walkers by paths walked by crooked ways; the word ways is repeated incorrectly from the previous line; it is sufficiently implied by the plur. adj. crooked, as in Psalm 125:5.
6–8. The recent oppression.
The inhabitants of the villages ceased, they ceased in Israel, until that I Deborah arose, that I arose a mother in Israel.7. The rulers ceased] The Targ., Peshitto, Jewish commentators followed by AV., treat the Hebr. pěrâzôn (sing.), found only here and Jdg 5:11, as equivalent to pěrâzôth (plur.) = ‘open regions,’ ‘hamlets,’ as opposed to walled towns, Ezekiel 38:11, Zechariah 2:3; hence perâzî ‘hamlet-dweller’ 1 Samuel 6:18 and, doubtfully, Perizzites Jdg 1:5 n. But this rendering inhabitants of villages does not suit Jdg 5:11; ‘the righteous acts towards his peasantry’ makes sense in English, but it does not fairly represent the harshness of the Hebrew. Another ancient rendering, is ‘powerful ones,’ LXX. B, Vulgate fortes, rulers, more strictly ‘power,’ ‘rule’; but this, though suitable for Jdg 5:11, has no support in usage or etymology. The meaning of the word here and in Jdg 5:11 must be left uncertain. In the following words ceased in Israel, they ceased, the repetition of the verb is either accidental, or a clause has dropped out.
Until that I Deborah arose] till thou didst arise, Deborah, didst arise etc. The verb is to be taken as 2nd fem. (archaic), on account of the address in Jdg 5:12, though the Massoretic scribes intended the form to be 1st pers., as it usually is: LXX, Vulgate 3rd pers., Peshitto, Targ. 1st pers.
a mother in Israel] Cf. the use of father in. Isaiah 22:21; Job 29:16.
They chose new gods; then was war in the gates: was there a shield or spear seen among forty thousand in Israel?8. It is still the period of the oppression, though Jdg 5:7 has for a moment anticipated matters by alluding to the ‘rise’ of Deborah. The first half of the verse yields no certain meaning. They chose new gods, lit. it (Israel) chooses etc., implies that Israel had been guilty of apostasy, and so was punished by an invasion; this is an idea quite foreign to the poem. Of the other renderings, God chose new things, nova bella elegit Dominus, Vulgate, is ungrammatical in Hebr. and open to the objection that Jehovah, not Elohim, is the Name in the poem; he chooses new judges (Ewald) is based upon an erroneous interpretation of Elohim in Exodus 21:6 etc. There was war in the gates seems to point to some occasion (then) in the unsettled times before Deborah; in Jdg 5:11 the gates are those of the enemy; but the word for war is wholly anomalous. Disregarding the vowels, the consonants might be translated then there was barley bread, similarly LXX. A, Lucian; but no good sense can be extracted from this. The corruption is too deep-seated for emendation; probably an early attempt was made to correct the passage from Deuteronomy 32:17.
Was there a shield or spear seen] When the war broke out the able-bodied men in Israel had no proper weapons with which to meet the well-armed Canaanites; they were compelled to use such rude implements as they could find. 40,000 is a round number, not to be pressed; contrast the 301,000 men above twenty assigned in Numbers 26 (P) to the six tribes who here take part in the war.
My heart is toward the governors of Israel, that offered themselves willingly among the people. Bless ye the LORD.9. governors] Apparently the same word as in Jdg 5:14, though the form is slightly different, lit. lawgivers, Isaiah 10:1; but in a primitive community the lawgivers would be the military leaders (Jdg 5:14), hence tr. commanders, cf. Deuteronomy 33:21, Isaiah 33:22; Vulgate principes.
That offered themselves willingly] See on Jdg 5:2. The verse seems to repeat the thought of Jdg 5:2, though the meaning of the latter is doubtful.
9–11. The celebration of Jehovah’s acts. This seems to be the meaning of Jdg 5:11; Jdg 5:9-10 are exceedingly obscure, owing to the condition of the text. After dwelling upon Israel’s sufferings, the poet, so far as we understand him, turns with thankful emotion to those who helped to put an end to them.
Speak, ye that ride on white asses, ye that sit in judgment, and walk by the way.10. In this most obscure verse the poet is generally supposed to call upon various classes of Israelites to take their share in celebrating the victory.
Tell of it] So LXX, Vulgate The verb means talk (against) Psalm 69:12, or speak (to) Job 12:8, but properly to meditate upon, muse Psalm 105:2; Psalm 145:5 etc.; it does not occur in early literature (Genesis 24:63 is textually doubtful). The word is corrupt.
ye that ride on white asses] more exactly, as the Arabic shews, tawny, reddish-grey, asses, i.e. choice animals such as would be ridden by persons of dignity; the leading men in ancient Israel used to ride on asses, just as members of the ruling house in Zanzibar, and as the sheikhs in S. Arabia, do at the present day. Cf. Jdg 10:4, Jdg 12:14, 2 Samuel 17:23; 2 Samuel 19:26.
rich carpets] from a word which means garment, raiment (e.g. Jdg 3:16), here supposed to refer to the raiment, i.e. saddle-cloths, of the asses. This is highly precarious, and the word, which is irregular though perhaps not impossible in form1, must be considered corrupt. LXX. cod. A interprets the two lines as referring to a triumphal procession; LXX. cod. B, Targ., Vulgate in judgement, by a false etymology.
 Instead of îm, it has the plur. ending în, the normal form in Aramaic; which occurs, however, regularly in the Moabite Stone, and in the O.T. 25 or 26 times (15 in Job) in passages either dialectical or late.
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.11. Another most obscure verse.
Far from] The prep. (a single letter in Hebr.) is suspicious; omitting it we may render The voice of the archers …!, or Hark! the archers …, resting after battle by the cool, shaded wells which are a favourite place of resort in the East. The word for archers, however, is uncertain; Budde conjectures Hark! how merry they are …! (the word as in Exodus 32:6); places of drawing water as well as archers, only here.
There shall they rehearse] i.e. where the people congregate: the verb occurs once again with a somewhat similar meaning in Jdg 11:40 of celebrating the daughter of Jephthah.
the righteous acts of the Lord] His justice displayed in delivering His people; Micah 6:5; 1 Samuel 12:7, cf. Psalm 103:6.
of his rule] See on Jdg 5:7.
went down] The word is used of the advance of the Israelite army (Jdg 5:13-14), hence the gates will be those of the enemy. But the whole clause anticipates the description of the campaign, which does not begin till Jdg 5:12; it closely resembles the first half of Jdg 5:13, and may safely be expunged as a doublet, to the great improvement of rhythm and thought.
Awake, awake, Deborah: awake, awake, utter a song: arise, Barak, and lead thy captivity captive, thou son of Abinoam.12. The real subject of the Song, introduced by the previous verses, begins here. Part II, Jdg 5:12-22, describes the muster and the battle. Like Part I it consists of three stanzas; like Part III (which has two longer stanzas) it starts with a short prelude, Jdg 5:12 cf. Jdg 5:23.
Awake, awake, Deborah] We are transported to the time before the outbreak of the war; the poet calls upon Deborah to rouse herself and summon the tribes.
utter a song] lit. ‘speak a song’ (an unusual expression), not the present song of praise for victory won, but the war-song which stirred up the clans for battle, and promised them success (cf. Jdg 4:6-7; Jdg 4:14).
Arise, Barak] as the recognized military leader. A slight change of pronunciation gives the improved rendering take prisoner those who took thee prisoner, cf. 1 Kings 8:48, Isaiah 14:2; this is the proper meaning of the word, rather than ‘lead captives in a triumph,’ cf. Numbers 21:1; Deuteronomy 21:10; Psalm 68:18. Barak himself had suffered at the enemy’s hands; like Gideon (Jdg 8:18), he had wrongs of his own to avenge.
The LXX. cod. A, however, suggests a better form of the original text than that which lies before us; eliminating doublets we obtain the following:
Rouse thee, rouse thee, Debôrah;
arouse the myriads of the people:
in thy strength arise, Barak,
capture thy captors, son of Abinôam.
We thus have a four lined verse, which is much wanted (cf. Jdg 5:23), and we get rid of speak a song. The second line of the present text is readily explained as a corruption of the first.
13–15a. The muster.
Then he made him that remaineth have dominion over the nobles among the people: the LORD made me have dominion over the mighty.13. Then came down a remnant] The Massoretic scribes intended the verb to mean ‘then may the remnant (i.e. of Israel) rule over the noble ones,’ a prayer; but the noble ones like the mighty are most naturally Israelites, and after then the LXX and other Verss. give a perfect. With a slight change of pronunciation the RV. renders ‘Then came down a remnant of the nobles and the people,’ inserting and without any right. The word for remnant means, not ‘a mere handful,’ but survivors from a battle, a sense unsuitable here; we may perhaps correct the form to Israel (Budde, Moore), and thus obtain a good parallelism to the people of the Lord, as the words are to be read (LXX. B). The whole verse may be restored:
Then came down Israel like noble ones,
The people of the Lord came down for Him as heroes.
For Him (LXX) is preferable to for me in the text.
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.14. Out of Ephraim came down they whose root is in Amalek] i.e. those Ephraimites whose settled home was ‘in the hill country of the Amalekites,’ the latter term being used in Jdg 12:15 to describe the situation of Pirathon in the land of Ephraim. But the poet can hardly mean that only the Ephraimites of Pirathon came to the war, and there is no evidence that this district was the chief stronghold of Ephraim (Moore); moreover the Amalekites, though Jdg 12:15 implies a settlement of them in the north, belong properly to the deserts far S. of Judah (see on Jdg 1:16). Lit. the words mean ‘From E. their root (is) in Amalek,’ a singularly harsh expression. No doubt for Amalek we should read in the valley, with LXX. A, Luc., and other Verss.; for their root a verb is wanted, as in the third line of this verse; ‘they went’ shâru (cf. Isaiah 57:9, and the use of shâru = to pass along in Assyrian), suggested by Winckler, Altor. Forsch. i. 193, suits the context, but is no more than a guess.
After thee, Benjamin, among thy peoples] The pronoun thy evidently refers to Ephraim; but if the Benjamites came ‘after,’ they could not be ‘among’ the people of Ephraim; so correct after thee to thy brother (LXX. A). Thy brother Benjamin was among thy people seems to mean that, Benjamin, being too small to provide a contingent under its own chiefs, marched in the ranks of Ephraim.
Machir] probably stands here for Manasseh, of which it formed the chief clan; according to Joshua 17:1 Machir was the eldest, according to Genesis 50:23, Numbers 26:29 the only, son of Manasseh. The settlement of Machir in Gilead E. of Jordan (Numbers 32:39 ff., Deuteronomy 3:15) probably did not take place till later times. The context shews that governors denote military leaders, see on Jdg 5:9, and cf. Deuteronomy 33:21; in Genesis 49:10, Numbers 21:18, Psalm 60:7 the word is used of the staff or wand of a commander (translated sceptre in A. and RV.).
they that handle the marshal’s staff] or, that march with the marshal’s staff. Another designation of a chief, more exactly one who writes, enrols the muster of troops, cf. 2 Kings 25:19, Jeremiah 52:25, 2 Chronicles 26:11 referring to the later organization of the army: he carried a baton as a badge of office.
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.15. the princes of Issachar were with Deborah] This seems to be the meaning; if Deborah belonged to the tribe of Issachar we can understand why she accompanied it; contrast Jdg 4:5 n. Issachar is not mentioned in ch. 1 (see p. 3). The settlements of the tribe lay S.E. of the Plain, S. of Naphtali, and S.E. of Zebulun, to judge from Joshua 19:17-23, which, however, defines the boundaries of a much later age. At this period Issachar had not earned the ignoble reputation with which it is taunted in Genesis 49:14 f.
As was Issachar, so was Barak] What can this mean? The construction of the sentence is harsh, and the second Issachar is omitted by LXX and Vulgate We should expect the name of another tribe here; in view of Jdg 5:18, cf. Jdg 4:6, Naphtali deserved honourable mention at this point.
Into the valley they rushed forth at his feet] i.e. at his heels, after him, cf. Jdg 4:10, Jdg 8:5. The rendering they rushed is a questionable paraphrase of the verb which lit. = he was sent, i.e. according to usage was let go Genesis 44:3, or dismissed Isaiah 50:1; the form must be incorrect. Winckler repeats the verb which he suggests for Jdg 5:14 a.
15b–18. The reluctant and the ready.
By the watercourses of Reuben] For the rendering watercourses cf. Job 20:17. But the territory of Reuben was dry rather than well-watered (like that of Gad); perhaps the old rendering divisions (LXX, Vulgate), i.e. sections of the tribe, is to be preferred; for this use of the word cf. 2 Chronicles 35:5. Instead of resolves, lit. decisions, the form in Jdg 5:16 b is better, soundings, lit. investigations, cf. 1 Samuel 20:12 ‘when I have sounded my father.’ Transl. Among the divisions of Reuben great were the soundings of heart, i.e. to find out one another’s sentiments. Note the character of Reuben given in Genesis 49:4.
Why abodest thou among the sheepfolds, to hear the bleatings of the flocks? For the divisions of Reuben there were great searchings of heart.16. among the sheepfolds] Genesis 49:14, cf. Psalm 68:13; the meaning is uncertain; it ought to be ‘fire-places’ or ‘ash-heaps,’ according to the etymology of the Hebr. word.
the pipings for the flocks] The root is used of whistling, hissing, in order to call together, Isaiah 5:26; Isaiah 7:18; Zechariah 10:8; cf. pastoria sibila of Ovid, Met. xiii. 785 (Moore); it does not mean ‘to play on the flute.’ The last line of this verse is incorrectly repeated from Jdg 5:15 b.
Reuben was settled E. of the Jordan, N. of Moab, and probably became to a great extent merged in the native population; see the prayer in Deuteronomy 33:6. Already the tribe was losing political importance; it preferred an isolated, agricultural life to taking part in the national movement.
Gilead] is usually the country occupied by the Israelites on the E. of the Jordan, from the Yarmuk (Sherî‘at el-Menâḍire) in the N. to the valley of Heshbon (Wadi Ḥesbân) in the S. Reuben inhabited the lower part, and East-Manasseh, probably at a later period, obtained possession of the upper. Here Gilead is not a country but a tribe, and, we may suppose, stands for Gad.
Dan, why did he remain in ships?] An obscure line. The reference is not to the southern settlements of Dan (Joshua 19:40 ff.), but to the northern (ch. Jdg 18:27 ff.): the migration described in the latter passage must have taken place before the time of this Ode; see on Jdg 1:34. Laish (Tell el-Ḳâdî, near Bâniâs), however, is far inland; Dan nowhere reached the sea-coast. Hence remain in ships is taken to mean ‘sojourns near the sea-faring people.’ The verb strictly = ‘to dwell as a protected alien,’ and might imply that Dan lived in dependence upon a powerful neighbour; but to take ships as = ‘shipping people,’ i.e. the Phoenicians, is to strain the language. Sojourns in ships might perhaps mean that the Danites had to work the Phoenician galleys, and so were not at liberty to take up the cause of their Israelite brethren (so Budde Comment., and E. Meyer).
Asher] occupied the Hinterland of the Phoenician coast, and perhaps was not sufficiently independent of the Phoenicians to join the Israelite muster.
by his creeks] The word occurs only here; but light is thrown upon it by Arabic, which uses nouns from the same root in the sense of a gap by which boats ascend the mouth of a river; so render landing-places.
In Genesis 49:13 the expressions ‘dwells by the sea shore,’ ‘the shore of ships’ are found in connexion with Zebulun, and may be borrowed from here. Lagrange, on the contrary, thinks that they are inserted here from Genesis 49, and that Dan and Asher are foreign to the original text; he retains creeks in the sense of gorges for Gilead. This is one way of overcoming the difficulties.
Gilead abode beyond Jordan: and why did Dan remain in ships? Asher continued on the sea shore, and abode in his breaches.
Zebulun and Naphtali were a people that jeoparded their lives unto the death in the high places of the field.18. In contrast to the lethargy of the tribes on the E. and N. was the heroic valour of Zebulun and Naphtali.
the high places of the field] is hardly applicable to the field of battle, which was a plain; perhaps the general meaning is, the two tribes came fearlessly down from their mountain homes prepared to sacrifice all for the cause. See further on Jdg 4:6.
The kings came and fought, then fought the kings of Canaan in Taanach by the waters of Megiddo; they took no gain of money.19. the kings of Canaan] the chiefs of the principal Canaanite cities in the Plain and neighbourhood; Sisera, if not their overlord, was their leader. The kings of Canaan are mentioned in the Amarna letters, e.g. 101, 13; cf. Joshua 5:1, and contrast the unhistorical term king of C. in ch. Jdg 4:2 n.
Taanach … Megiddo] See on Jdg 1:27; the waters of M. are the Kishon. The two towns are on the left bank of the river; ch. 4 rather implies that the battle took place at the foot of Tabor, which is about 15 m. from Taanach, cf. Jdg 4:14.
They took no gain of money] They expected spoil (Jdg 5:30, cf. Exodus 15:9), but their expectations were disappointed.
19–22. The battle.
They fought from heaven; the stars in their courses fought against Sisera.20. Render with a slight change of the stop:
From heaven fought the stars:
From their highways they fought with Sisera.
The kings fought … The stars fought] A splendid contrast. Jehovah used the forces of nature as His allies and instruments; cf. Joshua 10:11; 1 Samuel 7:10; Psalm 18:14; Jeremiah 23:19. Here it was the tempest (Jdg 5:4 f.), flooding the Kishon (Jdg 5:21), which providentially helped the Israelites.
The river of Kishon swept them away, that ancient river, the river Kishon. O my soul, thou hast trodden down strength.21. swept them away] The battle must have taken place in the winter or spring, for in summer the Kishon runs low. The fate of Sisera’s host finds a parallel in the battle of Mt Tabor between the army of Napoleon and the Turks, Apr. 16, 1799, when many of the latter were drowned when attempting to escape across a part of the plain inundated by the Kishon.
That ancient river] lit. torrent of antiquity, so LXX. B, Targ. (‘where the wonders and mighty deeds of old were wrought for Israel’). Another translation, based on Arabic usage, is torrent of onsets; or, developing the meaning of the root ‘be before, in front,’ we might render onrushing torrent, alluding to the swollen waters. The exact sense must remain obscure.
O my soul, march on with strength] A questionable rendering, for the verb is not an imperative. The text as it stands is probably an attempt to make some sense of an ancient corruption. The line may have formed part of the previous one: ‘the torrent of Kishon trode them down mightily’—but to reconstruct the original form of the sentence is hopeless.
Then were the horsehoofs broken by the means of the pransings, the pransings of their mighty ones.22. did … stamp] or hammered (i.e. the earth); the same verb as in Jdg 5:26. In the next line the Hebrew words imitate the gallop of horses in precipitate flight. Cf. Nahum 3:2. Their strong ones are the enemy’s steeds; cf. Jeremiah 8:16; Jeremiah 47:3.
Part iii. Jdg 5:23-31 a. The death of Sisera. The four-lined Jdg 5:23 forms a prelude; cf. the opening of Part ii.
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.23. Curse ye Meroz] Probably this village lay on the route of Sisera’s flight, and the inhabitants, though they were Israelites, made no effort to help their kinsmen in following up the victory. Similarly Succoth and Penuel refused to give Gideon assistance, Jdg 8:5-9. The situation of Meroz is unknown.
the angel of the Lord] Perhaps Jehovah Himself in manifestation; see on Jdg 2:1. But it is conceivable that the angel is a later insertion designed to soften the direct intervention of Jehovah at this point.
against the mighty] or among the mighty (marg.), or, with a slight change, as heroes, cf. Jdg 5:13 n.
Blessed above women shall Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite be, blessed shall she be above women in the tent.24. The courageous devotion of Jael is set effectively against the unpatriotic selfishness of Meroz. Jael here receives enthusiastic praise for what strikes us as nothing less than a treacherous murder. According to the standards of the times, however, it would not appear in this light at all, and such are the standards by which we must judge the morality of the deed.
the wife of Heber the Kenite] interrupts the parallelism and spoils the rhythm of the verse; it is evidently a gloss from Jdg 4:17, where the words are in place.
women in the tent] The Bedouin are described as dwellers in tents Jdg 4:11, Jdg 8:11; Jeremiah 35:7.
He asked water, and she gave him milk; she brought forth butter in a lordly dish.25. The original is more forcible:
Water he asked, milk she gave,
In a bowl fit for nobles she offered him curd.
A bowl of (i.e. fit for) nobles was a large, rich bowl. The word, only here and Jdg 6:38 in Hebr., is mentioned in Assyrian inscriptions as an object of plunder or tribute, e.g. a bowl was brought to Shalmaneser by Jehu (Schrader, COT. i. p. 199). Not butter, which the Bedouin do not use, but curdled milk is meant, a refreshing drink such as would be offered to a guest. Genesis 18:8.
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.26. While he was standing (Jdg 5:27) and about to drink, Jael dealt him a shattering blow with a wooden implement. We are tempted to suppose that, if he had drunk, he would have been protected by the laws of Eastern hospitality. So in The Talisman, Sir Walter Scott makes Saladin dash the cup from the hand of the Grand Master of the Templars before assassinating him; had he tasted it, he would have been safe. Talisman p. 535 (ed. 1879 A. and C. Black). In Jdg 4:19, however, Jael has no scruples about killing Sisera after he has partaken of her hospitality.
According to the parallelism of Hebr. poetry her hand and her right hand mean the same thing; and so should nail and workmen’s hammer. But can the latter term be thus rendered? workmen ought rather to be sufferers, worn out with toil and misery, Job 3:20; Job 20:22; the meaning labourer is only found in Proverbs 16:26 (late); moreover hammer (a doubtful form, and a different word from mallet in Jdg 4:21) can hardly be another name for nail or tent-peg. What is meant by this synonym we do not know; but it is clear that Jael used one weapon, not two. The account in Jdg 4:21 gives a different version of the tradition. Translate the last two lines:
And she hammered Sisera, shattered his head,
And crushed and clave his temples.
The word rendered clave might perhaps mean caused to pass away, made to vanish; properly it = pass on, or through, here apparently in the sense of piercing, cf. Job 20:24. The description is that of a heavy, crushing blow.
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.27. The effect of the blow, vividly depicted in short, abrupt words; from a standing position his body collapsed; lit. ‘he dropped on his knees, fell headlong, and lay a broken wreck upon the ground.’ For he bowed cf. Jdg 7:5-6, Isaiah 46:1; he fell cf. 1 Samuel 28:20; he lay cf. Lamentations 2:21; dead lit. ‘destroyed,’ ‘spoiled,’ cf. Jeremiah 4:30, Isaiah 33:1.
The second line, at her feet he bowed, he fell is probably an erroneous repetition from the first.
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?28. For a translation of the verse see p. 54. Out of the window looked cf. 2 Samuel 6:16; 2 Kings 9:30. Lattice, again in Proverbs 7:6 "" window; the rendering comes from LXX. A; cod. B gives ‘a hole in the wall.’
and cried] Only here; in Aramaic the word means ‘shout,’ ‘sound’ the clarion; so we might render cried shrilly. But this cannot be pronounced certain; we should expect a parallel to looked out, as LXX. A (‘considered well’) and Targ. (‘looked attentively’) suggest.
28–30. The mother of Sisera. The last scene is a fine piece of dramatic irony. The king’s mother is pictured as waiting eagerly for her son’s return; her disappointment is left to the imagination.
Her wise ladies answered her, yea, she returned answer to herself,29. The queen-mother is surrounded by her princesses in the ḥarîm of the palace. The wisest of them will soon discover their folly! The mother ‘tries to silence her presentiment by the same kind of answer which her sage companions give her’ (Moore).
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?30. The verse has suffered from corrupt repetitions: spoil four times, divers colours three times. Omitting the superfluous words we may restore the text as follows:
Are they not finding, dividing the spoil?
a wench or two for each man;
a spoil of dyed garments for Sisera;
a broidered cloth or two for my neck (?).
A wench or two: the word (only here in this sense in the O.T.) is used by Mesha in his inscription of the women captured from the Israelites (Moab. St. l. 17). Spoil of dyed garments lit. ‘booty of dyes,’ i.e. dyed stuffs. A broidered cloth or two, the construction is the same as in line 2; for the word cf. Ezekiel 16:10; Ezekiel 16:13; Ezekiel 16:18; Psalm 45:14; strictly it means variegated work, either woven or embroidered, see Exodus 38:23; spoils of this kind were much valued, cf. 2 Samuel 1:24. The end of the last line is obscure: the text runs for the necks of the spoil, as though these rich stuffs would be used to caparison the animals led in the triumph of the captors! The parallelism suggests a personal reference corresponding to Sisera; so LXX ‘for his neck as a spoil.’ Ewald ingeniously proposed for the last word queen (Psalm 44:9; Nehemiah 2:6), changing only one letter. On the whole it seems preferable to omit the word, and read for my neck or for his neck; but there can be no certainty about the restoration.
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.31. Conclusion.
So let all thine enemies perish] With the same completeness, with the same overthrow of proud confidence. The language recalls Psalm 68:2-3; Psalm 92:9. It is taken for granted that Israel’s enemies are Jehovah’s also. Jehovah’s friends are compared to the rising of the sun, an impressive figure which fitly closes the Ode. It is remarkable to find such an expression as them that love him at this early date. This idea is strongly characteristic of Deut., and of Dtc. passages in the Hexateuch, e.g. Exodus 20:6 = Deuteronomy 5:10; cf. the late Psalm 31:23; Psalm 97:10; Psalm 145:20.
And the land had rest] A chronological note added by the Rd; see on Jdg 3:11.