Judges 5:15
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.
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(15) And the princes of Issachar.—The ordinary reading of the Hebrew gives the meaning, “And my princes in Issachar (came down to battle) with Deborah.” If this be the right reading, Deborah calls them “my princes” with a touch of pride, and hence some have assumed that she belonged to the tribe of Issachar, not to that of Ephraim. But a very slight change gives the meaning of “the princes in Issachar.” Deborah did not take actual part in the battle, like Boadicea or Joan of Arc, but seems to have been close at hand, in the rear, to encourage the combatants, as the ancient British and German women used to do, and as Arab women do to this day.

Even Issachar, and also Barak: he was sent on foot into the valley.—Rather, even Issachar, as well as Barak, rushed down at his feet (i.e., after Barak) into the plain (emek).” It is a pity that the verse does not end here, for the next clause begins the description of “the malingerers,” whose cowardice or selfishness is triumphantly contrasted with the heroic daring of Zebulon and Naphtali in Judges 5:18.

For the divisions of Reuben there were great thoughts of heart.—The word for “divisions” (pelagoth) might mean “families” or “clans,” as the LXX., or “factions,” as the Vulgate seems to have understood it; but it almost certainly means streams, as in Job 20:17 (margin, “streaming brooks”), where alone it recurs. The allusion is to the Jabbok and its numerous affluents. “Thoughts of heart” only occurs elsewhere in Isaiah 12:1. where it is rendered “decrees,” with the epithet “empty,” or “vain.” Possibly, therefore, an ironic contrast is intended between the magnanimous “decisions” (chikekey lēbh) of Reuben and his evanescent “projects”( chikerey lēbh). The play of words is almost certainly contemptuous, and there may be some lurking scorn in the word pelagoth to imply either “rivers” or “factions.” Reuben debated and stayed at home on frivolous pretences, as Sparta did in the days of Marathon. But even then the sting of the reproach lies in the taunting question of the next verse.

Jdg 5:15. He was sent on foot — Or, when he was sent, with his foot, into the valley. This is not an immaterial remark of the prophetess. It expresses that the tribe or people of Issachar, following the counsel and example of their princes, were as hearty and valiant in the cause as Barak their general; and as he marched on foot to attack Sisera with his horses and nine hundred armed chariots, and that into the valley or plain, where horses and chariots are chiefly useful, so did they, with no less courage and resolution. This she said to show that the battle was Jehovah’s, and that he saveth not by horses, nor by chariots. For the divisions of Reuben — Or, separations, not so much of one from another, (for they seem to have been all well agreed in abiding at home with their sheep,) as of all from their brethren, from whom they were divided no less in their designs and affections than in their situation by the river Jordan: and they would not join their interests and forces with them in this common cause. Great thoughts — Or, great searchings, great and sad thoughts, and debates, and perplexities of mind among the Israelites, to see themselves deserted by so great and potent a tribe as Reuben was.

5:12-23 Deborah called on her own soul to be in earnest. He that will set the hearts of other men on fire with the love of Christ, must himself burn with love. Praising God is a work we should awake to, and awake ourselves unto. She notices who fought against Israel, who fought for them, and who kept away. Who fought against them. They were obstinate enemies to God's people, therefore the more dangerous. Who fought for them. The several tribes that helped are here spoken of with honour; for though God is above all to be glorified, those who are employed must have their due praise, to encourage others. But the whole creation is at war with those to whom God is an enemy. The river of Kishon fought against their enemies. At most times it was shallow, yet now, probably by the great rain that fell, it was so swelled, and the stream so deep and strong, that those who attempted to pass, were drowned. Deborah's own soul fought against them. When the soul is employed in holy exercises, and heart-work is made of them, through the grace of God, the strength of our spiritual enemies will be trodden down, and will fall before us. She observes who kept away, and did not side with Israel, as might have been expected. Thus many are kept from doing their duty by the fear of trouble, the love of ease, and undue affection to their worldly business and advantage. Narrow, selfish spirits care not what becomes of God's church, so that they can but get, keep, and save money. All seek their own, Php 2:21. A little will serve those for a pretence to stay at home, who have no mind to engage in needful services, because there is difficulty and danger in them. But we cannot keep away from the contest between the Lord and his enemies; and if we do not actively endeavour to promote his cause in this wicked world, we shall fall under the curse against the workers of iniquity. Though He needs no human help, yet he is pleased to accept the services of those who improve their talents to advance his cause. He requires every man to do so.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.

15. Then comes a reproachful notice of the tribes which did not obey the summons to take the field against the common enemy of Israel. By the

divisions—that is, the watercourses which descend from the eastern hills unto the Jordan and Dead Sea.

For the divisions of Reuben there were great thoughts of heart—They felt the patriotic impulse and determined, at first, to join the ranks of their western brethren, but resiled from the purpose, preferring their peaceful shepherd songs to the trumpet sound of war.

Were with Deborah, i.e. ready to assist her. Even Issachar. Heb. and Issachar, i.e. the tribe or people of Issachar, following the counsel and example of their princes, and being now at their commandments, as they were afterwards upon another occasion, 1 Chronicles 12:32.

And also Barak, or, even as Barak, i.e. they were as hearty and valiant as Barak their general; and as he marched on foot here and Judges 4:10, against their enemies’ horses and chariots, and that

into the valley, where the main use of horses and chariots lies; so did they with no less courage and resolution.

The divisions, or separations; whereby they were divided or separated, not so much one from another in their thoughts, counsels, and carriage in this war, (for they seem to be all too well agreed in abiding at home with their sheep, as it follows,) as all from their brethren, from whom they were divided no less in their designs and affections, than in their situation by the river Jordan; and they would not join their interests and forces with them in this common cause.

Great thoughts, or, great searchings, as it is Judges 5:16; great and sad thoughts, and debates, and perplexities of mind among the Israelites, to see themselves deserted by so great and potent a tribe as Reuben was.

And the princes of Issachar were with Deborah,.... On Mount Tabor, whither they came to offer themselves to join in the war against Jabin; or to assist with their counsels, the men of this tribe being understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do, 1 Chronicles 12:32.

even Issachar: not the princes only, but the whole tribe also; so the Targum paraphrases it,"the rest of the tribe of Issachar:"

and also Barak, he was sent on foot into the valley; which was at the bottom of Mount Tabor, from whence he was sent down by Deborah, when Sisera's army was come thither; and where he went cheerfully on foot at the head of his 10,000 men, to engage Sisera with his horse and chariots; and which latter were capable of doing great execution in the valley, by running among the foot, and cutting them in pieces with the scythes at the side of them; but Barak, fearless of danger, readily obeyed the command of the judge and prophetess, believing it was of God: or the words may be rendered, as by Noldius (h).

as Issachar, so Barak; he was sent, &c. the one as the other, with equal readiness and cheerfulness, courage and intrepidity, descended the mountain, at the order of Deborah, and took the field in the open plain, to engage with Sisera and his numerous host:

for the division of Reuben there were great thoughts of heart; either for their divisions among themselves in their own councils, some being for going over Jordan to assist their brethren the Israelites against Jabin, and free them from his yoke, pitying their distressed state and condition; and others were for keeping at home, and taking care of their flocks, and not intermeddle in the quarrel; judging it to be most for their worldly peace and profit to observe a neutrality: by reason of which divisions no assistance was given. Or for their divisions and separations from their brethren the Israelites, from whom they were not only separated by the river Jordan, but in their affections to them, and regards for them; keeping at a distance from them, when their help was required: and this conduct of theirs caused many thoughts of heart in Deborah and Barak, in the princes and people of Israel, who could not well understand the reason of it; and which caused much grief and uneasiness of mind, that so powerful a tribe, and who had been assisting to them in the conquest of the land, and lay convenient to help them, yet should be so very indifferent to them.

(h) "sicut Issachar sic Barach", Concord. Ebr. part. p. 305. No. 1214. So Belg.

And the princes of Issachar were with Deborah; even {l} Issachar, and also Barak: he was sent on foot into the valley. For the divisions of Reuben there were great {m} thoughts of heart.

(l) Even the whole tribe.

(m) They marvelled that they did not cross the Jordan to help them.

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.

Verse 15. - He was sent on foot into the valley. It was a mark of extraordinary valour that he rushed down from Mount Tabor on foot against the 900 iron chariots in the plain (Judges 4:14). For the divisions, etc. Or, among the water-brooks, i.e. the Reubenites, dwelling amidst their flocks among the water-brooks, were much perplexed with doubts whether they should stay still or join their countrymen. Judges 5:15שׂרי, "my princes," does not furnish any appropriate meaning, as neither Deborah nor Barak was of the tribe of Issachar, and it is not stated anywhere that the Issacharites gathered round Deborah as their leaders. The reading שׂרי (stat. constr.), adopted by the old versions, must be taken as the correct one, and the introduction of the preposition בּ does not preclude this (compare בגּלבּע הרי, 2 Samuel 1:21, and Ewald, 289, b.). עם, which is used to denote an outward equality, as in 1 Samuel 17:42, and is substantially the same as the כּן which follows ("just as"), is construed without כּ in the first clause, as in Psalm 48:6. בּעמק: into the valley of Jezreel, the plain of Kishon. בּרגליו שׁלּח, as in Job 18:8, to be sent off, i.e., incessantly impelled, through his feet; here it is applied to an irresistible force of enthusiasm for the battle. The nominative to שׁלּח is Issachar and Barak.

15b At the brooks of Reuben were great resolutions of heart.

16 Why remainest thou between the hurdles,

To hear the piping of the flocks?

At the brooks of Reuben were great projects of heart.

17 Gilead rests on the other side of the Jordan;

And Dan ... why tarries he by ships?

Asher sits on the shore of the sea,

And by his bays he reposes.

18 Zebulun, a people that despises its soul even to death,

And Naphtali upon the heights of the field.

In this strophe Deborah first of all mentions the tribes which took no part in the conflict (Judges 5:15-17), and then returns in Judges 5:18 to the Zebulunites, who staked their life along with Naphtali for the deliverance of Israel from the yoke of the enemy. The enumeration of the tribes who remained at a distance from the conflict commences with Reuben (Judges 5:15 and Judges 5:16). In this tribe there did arise a lively sympathy with the national elevation. They held meetings, passed great resolutions, but it led to no practical result; and at length they preferred to remain quietly at home in their own comfortable pastoral life. The meaning brooks for פּלגּות is well established by Job 20:17, and there is no reason whatever for explaining the word as equivalent to פּלגּות, מפלגּות, divisions (2 Chronicles 35:5, 2 Chronicles 35:12; Ezra 6:18). The territory of Reuben, which was celebrated for its splendid pastures, must have abounded in brooks. The question, Why satest thou, or remainedst thou sitting between the hurdles? i.e., in the comfortable repose of a shepherd's life, is an utterance of amazement; and the irony is very apparent in the next clause, to hear the bleating of the flocks, i.e., the piping of the shepherds, instead of the blast of the war-trumpets.

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