Judges 5:6
In the days of Shamgar the son of Anath, in the days of Jael, the highways were unoccupied, and the travellers walked through byways.
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(6) In the days of Shamgar.—In this and the two next verses is described the misery and dejection of Israel; and the names of Shamgar and Jael are mentioned to enhance the glory of Deborah, by showing that even the presence among the Israelites of two such heroic souls as Shamgar and Jael was unavailing to deliver them until Deborah arose. That Shamgar is thus (apparently) alluded to as a contemporary of Jael has an important bearing on the chronology; for it at least shows that simultaneous struggles may have been going on against the Philistines in the south and the Canaanites in the north.

In the days of Jael.—It has been thought so strange that Deborah should mention the name of the Bedouin chieftainess as marking the epoch, that some have supposed “Jael” to be the name of some unknown judge; and some have even proposed to read Jair. Others render it “the helper,” and suppose that Ehud, or Shamgar, is referred to. But (1) Jael is essentially a woman’s name (see Judges 4:17; Proverbs 5:19); (2) she is mentioned prominently in this very song as having put the finishing stroke to the victory of Israel; and (3) she may have been—and various incidents in the history lead us to suppose that she was—a woman of great importance and influence, even independently of her murder of Sisera.

The highways were unoccupied.—Literally, kept holiday. This had been foretold in Leviticus 26:22. The grass grew on them; there was no one to occupy them. “The highways lie waste, the wayfaring man ceaseth” (Isaiah 33:8). “The land was desolate after them, that no man passed through nor returned” (Zechariah 7:14). (Comp. 2Chronicles 15:5; Lamentations 1:4; Lamentations 4:18.)

Travellers.—Literally, as in the margin, walkers of paths. Those of the unhappy conquered race whose necessities obliged them to journey from one place to another could only slink along, unobserved, by twisted—i.e., tortuous, devious—bye-lanes. A traveller in America was reminded of this verse when he saw the neutral ground in 1780, with “houses plundered and dismantled, enclosures broken down, cattle carried away, fields lying waste, the roads grass-grown, the country mournful, solitary, silent.”—(Washington Irving’s “Life of Washington,” ch. 137)

Jdg 5:6. In the days of Shamgar, &c. — In this and the two following verses Deborah, to give the Israelites a just sense of their deliverance, and excite them to greater thankfulness, represents the miseries to which the Canaanites had reduced them by twenty years’ oppression; their public roads or high-ways were deserted for fear of robbers or violence; their villages depopulated; their cities blocked up, and their country overrun with the enemy’s soldiers; while themselves were disarmed, dispirited, and helpless; till it pleased God to look down upon them with compassion, and raise up deliverance for them. In the days of Jael, &c. — Jael, though an illustrious woman, effected nothing for the deliverance of God’s people. The travellers walked through by-ways — Because of the Philistines and Canaanites, who, besides the public burdens which they laid upon the Israelites, waited for all opportunities to do them mischief secretly; watching for travellers in common roads, as is usual with enemies in times of war; and because of the wicked even of their own people, who, having cast off the fear of God, and there being no king in Israel to punish them, broke forth into acts of injustice and violence, even against their own brethren. The Jael mentioned in this verse is generally taken to be the wife of Heber, who slew Sisera. But “the phrase, in the days of Jael, implies times past, and supposes that Jael was dead as well as Shamgar. Besides, what honour could redound to the prophetess from such a comparison? Is it worthy of a boast, that she, who was judge in Israel, had done more in delivering them from the enemy than Heber’s wife, who was only a sojourner in Israel, and whose husband was at peace with the enemy? The Jael, therefore, here mentioned, seems to have been a prophetess raised up before Deborah to judge Israel, but who died without delivering them. It is true indeed the name of this prophetess is not mentioned before; but neither are any of the transactions of the time in which she is supposed to have lived recorded; nor is Shamgar’s name mentioned more than once, Jdg 3:31, and then principally on account of that single exploit, of slaying six hundred Philistines with an ox-goad.” — Dodd.

5:6-11. Deborah describes the distressed state of Israel under the tyranny of Jabin, that their salvation might appear more gracious. She shows what brought this misery upon them. It was their idolatry. They chose new gods, with new names. But under all these images, Satan was worshipped. Deborah was a mother to Israel, by diligently promoting the salvation of their souls. She calls on those who shared the advantages of this great salvation, to offer up thanks to God for it. Let such as are restored, not only to their liberty as other Israelites, but to their rank, speak God's praises. This is the Lord's doing. In these acts of his, justice was executed on his enemies. In times of persecution, God's ordinances, the walls of salvation, whence the waters of life are drawn, are resorted to at the hazard of the lives of those who attend them. At all times Satan will endeavour to hinder the believer from drawing near to the throne of grace. Notice God's kindness to his trembling people. It is the glory of God to protect those who are most exposed, and to help the weakest. Let us notice the benefit we have from the public peace, the inhabitants of villages especially, and give God the praise.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. 6-8. The song proceeds in these verses to describe the sad condition of the country, the oppression of the people, and the origin of all the national distress in the people's apostasy from God. Idolatry was the cause of foreign invasion and internal inability to resist it. In the days of Shamgar; whilst Shamgar lived, who was, if not a judge, yet an eminent person for strength and valour, Judges 3:31.

In the days of Jael: Jael, though an illustrious woman, and of great authority and influence upon the people, did effect nothing for the deliverance of God’s people till God raised me up, &c.

Through by-ways; partly because of the Canaanites, who, besides the public burdens and tributes which they laid upon them, waited for all opportunities of doing them mischief secretly; their soldiers watching for travellers in common roads, as is usual with such in times of war; and partly because of the robbers even of their own people, who having cast off the fear and worship of God, and there being no king or ruler in Israel to restrain or punish them, and being also many of them reduced to great want, through the oppression of the Canaanites, it is not strange, if, in those times of public disorder and ataxy, divers of the Israelites themselves did break forth into acts of injustice and violence, even against their own brethren, whom they could meet with in convenient places, which made travellers seek for by-paths.

In the days of Shamgar, the son of Anath,.... Of whom see Judges 3:31; who succeeded Ehud as a judge, but lived not long, and did not much; at least wrought not a perfect deliverance of the children of Israel; but during his time till now, quite through the twenty years of Jabin's oppression, things were as they are after described:

in the days of Jael; the wife of Heber the Kenite, spoken of in the preceding chapter, Judges 4:17, who appears to be a woman of masculine spirit, and endeavoured to do what good she could to Israel, though not a judge among them, as Jarchi suggests; and who before this affair of Sisera had signalized herself by some deeds of hers in favour of Israel, and against their enemies; yet far from putting a stop to the outrages committed; for in the times of both these persons:

the highways were unoccupied, and the travellers walked through byways; the public roads were so infested with thieves and robbers, who stopped all they met with, and robbed them of what they had, that travellers and merchants with their carriages were obliged either to quit their employments, and not travel at all; or, if they did, were obliged to go in private roads, and roundabout ways, to keep clear of those rapparees the highways and public roads abounded with.

In the days of Shamgar the son of Anath, in the days of Jael, the highways were {b} unoccupied, and the travellers walked through byways.

(b) For fear of the enemies.

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.

Verse 6. - From what misery God had saved the people! In the days of her predecessor Shamgar, when the Philistines overran the country, when Heber the Kenite still dwelt in the south of Judah, all traffic ceased in the land. The caravans were stopped, and travellers slunk into the by-ways. Judges 5:6 6 In the days of Shamgar, the son of Anath,

In the days of Jael, the paths kept holiday,

And the wanderers of the paths went crooked ways.

7 The towns in Israel kept holiday, they kept holiday,

Until that I, Deborah, arose,

That I arose a mother in Israel

8 They chose new gods;

Then was war at the gates:

Was there a shield seen and a spear

Among forty thousand in Israel?

The deep degradation and disgrace into which Israel had sunk before the appearance of Deborah, through its falling away from the Lord into idolatry, forms the dark reverse of that glorification at Sinai. Although, after Ehud, Shamgar had also brought help to the people against their enemies by a victory over the Philistines (Judges 3:31), and although Jael, who proved herself a heroine by slaying the fugitive Sisera, was then alive, things had got to such a pitch with Israel, that no one would venture upon the public high roads. There are no good grounds for the conjecture that Jael was a different person from the Jael mentioned in Judges 4:17., whether a judge who is not further known, as Ewald supposes, or a female judge who stood at the head of the nation in these unhappy times (Bertheau). ארחות חדלוּ, lit., "the paths ceased," sc., to be paths, or to be trodden by men. נתיבות הלכי, "those who went upon paths," or beaten ways, i.e., those who were obliged to undertake journeys for the purpose of friendly intercourse or trade, notwithstanding the burden of foreign rule which pressed upon the land; such persons went by "twisted paths," i.e., by roads and circuitous routes which turned away from the high roads. And the פּרזון, i.e., the cultivated land, with its open towns and villages, and with their inhabitants, was as forsaken and desolate as the public highways. The word perazon has been rendered judge or guidance by modern expositors, after the example of Teller and Gesenius; and in Judges 5:11 decision or guidance. But this meaning, which has been adopted into all the more recent lexicons, has nothing really to support it, and does not even suit our verse, into which it would introduce the strange contradiction, that at the time when Shamgar and Jael were judges, there were no judges in Israel. In addition to the Septuagint version, which renders the word δυνατοὶ in this verse (i.e., according to the Cod. Vat., for the Col. Al. has φράζων), and then in the most unmeaning way adopts the rendering αὔξησον in Judges 5:11, from which we may clearly see that the translators did not know the meaning of the word, it is common to adduce an Arabic word which signifies segregavit, discrevit rem ab aliis, though it is impossible to prove that the Arabic word ever had the meaning to judge or to lead. All the old translators, as well as the Rabbins, have based their rendering of the word upon פּרזי, inhabitant of the flat country (Deuteronomy 3:5, and 1 Samuel 6:18), and פּרזות, the open flat country, as distinguished from the towns surrounded by walls (Ezekiel 38:11; Zechariah 2:8), according to which פּרזון, as the place of meeting, would denote both the cultivated land with its unenclosed towns and villages, and also the population that was settled in the open country in unfortified places-a meaning which also lies at the foundation of the word in Habakkuk 3:14. Accordingly, Luther has rendered the word Bauern (peasants). שׁקּמתּי עד for קמתּי אשׁר עד. The contraction of אשׁר into שׁ, with Dagesh following, and generally pointed with Seghol, but here with Patach on account of the ק, which is closely related to the gutturals, belongs to the popular character of the song, and is therefore also found in the Song of Solomon (Judges 1:12; Judges 2:7, Judges 2:17; Judges 4:6). It is also met with here and there in simple prose (Judges 6:17; Judges 7:12; Judges 8:26); but it was only in the literature of the time of the captivity and a still later date, that it found its way more and more from the language of ordinary conversation into that of the Scriptures. Deborah describes herself as "a mother in Israel," on account of her having watched over her people with maternal care, just as Job calls himself a father to the poor who had been supported by him (Job 29:16; cf. Isaiah 22:21).

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