Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
And the children of Israel again did evil in the sight of the LORD, when Ehud was dead.
Jud 4:1-17. Deborah and Barak Deliver Israel from Jabin and Sisera.
1. The children of Israel again did evil in the sight of the Lord, when Ehud was dead—The removal of the zealous judge Ehud again left his infatuated countrymen without the restraint of religion.
And the LORD sold them into the hand of Jabin king of Canaan, that reigned in Hazor; the captain of whose host was Sisera, which dwelt in Harosheth of the Gentiles.
2, 3. Jabin king of Canaan—"Jabin," a royal title (see on Jos 11:1). The second Jabin built a new capital on the ruins of the old (Jos 11:10, 11). The northern Canaanites had recovered from the effect of their disastrous overthrow in the time of Joshua, and now triumphed in their turn over Israel. This was the severest oppression to which Israel had been subjected. But it fell heaviest on the tribes in the north, and it was not till after a grinding servitude of twenty years that they were awakened to view it as the punishment of their sins and to seek deliverance from God.
And the children of Israel cried unto the LORD: for he had nine hundred chariots of iron; and twenty years he mightily oppressed the children of Israel.
And Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, she judged Israel at that time.
4. And Deborah, a prophetess—A woman of extraordinary knowledge, wisdom, and piety, instructed in divine knowledge by the Spirit and accustomed to interpret His will; who acquired an extensive influence, and was held in universal respect, insomuch that she became the animating spirit of the government and discharged all the special duties of a judge, except that of military leader.
the wife of Lapidoth—rendered by some, "a woman of splendors."
And she dwelt under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in mount Ephraim: and the children of Israel came up to her for judgment.
5. she dwelt under the palm tree—or, collectively, "palm-grove." It is common still in the East to administer justice in the open air, or under the canopy of an umbrageous tree.
And she sent and called Barak the son of Abinoam out of Kedeshnaphtali, and said unto him, Hath not the LORD God of Israel commanded, saying, Go and draw toward mount Tabor, and take with thee ten thousand men of the children of Naphtali and of the children of Zebulun?
6. she sent and called Barak—by virtue of her official authority as judge.
Kedesh-naphtali—situated on an eminence, little north of the Sea of Galilee, and so called to distinguish it from another Kedesh in Issachar.
Hath not the Lord God of Israel commanded?—a Hebrew form of making an emphatic communication.
Go and draw toward mount Tabor—an isolated mountain of Galilee, northeast corner of the plain of Esdraelon. It was a convenient place of rendezvous, and the enlistment is not to be considered as limited to ten thousand, though a smaller force would have been inadequate.
And I will draw unto thee to the river Kishon Sisera, the captain of Jabin's army, with his chariots and his multitude; and I will deliver him into thine hand.
And Barak said unto her, If thou wilt go with me, then I will go: but if thou wilt not go with me, then I will not go.
8. Barak said unto her, If thou wilt go with me, then I will go—His somewhat singular request to be accompanied by Deborah was not altogether the result of weakness. The Orientals always take what is dearest to the battlefield along with them; they think it makes them fight better. The policy of Barak, then, to have the presence of the prophetess is perfectly intelligible as it would no less stimulate the valor of the troops, than sanction, in the eyes of Israel, the uprising against an oppressor so powerful as Jabin.
And she said, I will surely go with thee: notwithstanding the journey that thou takest shall not be for thine honour; for the LORD shall sell Sisera into the hand of a woman. And Deborah arose, and went with Barak to Kedesh.
9. the Lord shall sell Sisera into the hand of a woman—This was a prediction which Barak could not understand at the time; but the strain of it conveyed a rebuke of his unmanly fears.
And Barak called Zebulun and Naphtali to Kedesh; and he went up with ten thousand men at his feet: and Deborah went up with him.
Now Heber the Kenite, which was of the children of Hobab the father in law of Moses, had severed himself from the Kenites, and pitched his tent unto the plain of Zaanaim, which is by Kedesh.
11. Now Heber the Kenite … pitched his tent—It is not uncommon, even in the present day, for pastoral tribes to feed their flocks on the extensive commons that lie in the heart of inhabited countries in the East (see on Jud 1:16).
plain of Zaanaim—This is a mistranslation for "the oaks of the wanderers." The site of the encampment was under a grove of oaks, or terebinths, in the upland valley of Kedesh.
And they shewed Sisera that Barak the son of Abinoam was gone up to mount Tabor.
And Sisera gathered together all his chariots, even nine hundred chariots of iron, and all the people that were with him, from Harosheth of the Gentiles unto the river of Kishon.
13. the river of Kishon—The plain on its bank was chosen as the battlefield by Sisera himself, who was unconsciously drawn thither for the ruin of his army.
And Deborah said unto Barak, Up; for this is the day in which the LORD hath delivered Sisera into thine hand: is not the LORD gone out before thee? So Barak went down from mount Tabor, and ten thousand men after him.
14. Barak went down from mount Tabor—It is a striking proof of the full confidence Barak and his troops reposed in Deborah's assurance of victory, that they relinquished their advantageous position on the hill and rushed into the plain in face of the iron chariots they so much dreaded.
And the LORD discomfited Sisera, and all his chariots, and all his host, with the edge of the sword before Barak; so that Sisera lighted down off his chariot, and fled away on his feet.
15. the Lord discomfited Sisera—Hebrew, "threw his army into confusion"; men, horses, and chariots being intermingled in wild confusion. The disorder was produced by a supernatural panic (see on Jud 5:20).
so that Sisera lighted down off his chariot, and fled away on his feet—His chariot being probably distinguished by its superior size and elegance, would betray the rank of its rider, and he saw therefore that his only chance of escape was on foot.
But Barak pursued after the chariots, and after the host, unto Harosheth of the Gentiles: and all the host of Sisera fell upon the edge of the sword; and there was not a man left.
16. But Barak pursued … unto Harosheth—Broken and routed, the main body of Sisera's army fled northward; others were forced into the Kishon and drowned (see on Jud 5:21).
Howbeit Sisera fled away on his feet to the tent of Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite: for there was peace between Jabin the king of Hazor and the house of Heber the Kenite.
17, 18. Sisera fled … to the tent of Jael—According to the usages of nomadic people, the duty of receiving the stranger in the sheik's absence devolves on his wife, and the moment the stranger is admitted into his tent, his claim to be defended or concealed from his pursuers is established.
And Jael went out to meet Sisera, and said unto him, Turn in, my lord, turn in to me; fear not. And when he had turned in unto her into the tent, she covered him with a mantle.
And he said unto her, Give me, I pray thee, a little water to drink; for I am thirsty. And she opened a bottle of milk, and gave him drink, and covered him.
19. she … gave him drink, and covered him—Sisera reckoned on this as a pledge of his safety, especially in the tent of a friendly sheik. This pledge was the strongest that could be sought or obtained, after he had partaken of refreshments, and been introduced in the inner or women's apartment.
Again he said unto her, Stand in the door of the tent, and it shall be, when any man doth come and inquire of thee, and say, Is there any man here? that thou shalt say, No.
20. he said unto her, … when any man doth come and enquire of thee and say, Is there any man here? that thou shalt say, No—The privacy of the harem, even in a tent, cannot be intruded on without express permission.
Then Jael Heber's wife took a nail of the tent, and took an hammer in her hand, and went softly unto him, and smote the nail into his temples, and fastened it into the ground: for he was fast asleep and weary. So he died.
21. Then Jael took a nail of the tent—most probably one of the pins with which the tent ropes are fastened to the ground. Escape was almost impossible for Sisera. But the taking of his life by the hand of Jael was murder. It was a direct violation of all the notions of honor and friendship that are usually held sacred among pastoral people, and for which it is impossible to conceive a woman in Jael's circumstances to have had any motive, except that of gaining favor with the victors. Though predicted by Deborah [Jud 4:9], it was the result of divine foreknowledge only—not the divine appointment or sanction; and though it is praised in the song [Jud 5:24-27], the eulogy must be considered as pronounced not on the moral character of the woman and her deed, but on the public benefits which, in the overruling providence of God, would flow from it.
And, behold, as Barak pursued Sisera, Jael came out to meet him, and said unto him, Come, and I will shew thee the man whom thou seekest. And when he came into her tent, behold, Sisera lay dead, and the nail was in his temples.
So God subdued on that day Jabin the king of Canaan before the children of Israel.
And the hand of the children of Israel prospered, and prevailed against Jabin the king of Canaan, until they had destroyed Jabin king of Canaan.