Judges 5:8
They chose new gods; then was war in the gates: was there a shield or spear seen among forty thousand in Israel?
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(8) They chose new gods.—The Chaldee and the LXX. agree in this interpretation, which is strongly supported by Deuteronomy 32:16-17. The Syriac and Vulgate render it “God chose new things,” or “wars” (nova bella elegit Dominus, Vulg.); but this gives a poorer sense, and is open to the objection that Jehovah, not Elohim, is used throughout the rest of the song. It alludes to the idolatry (Jeremiah 2:11) which brought the retribution described in the next clause. Ewald and his pupil, Bertheau, render “gods” (Elohim) by “judges;” but this is very doubtful, though the word has that meaning in Exodus 21:6; Exodus 22:7-8.

Then was war in the gates.—The Canaanites drove the Israelites from the city gates, where judgments were given, and expelled them from their towns; so the Targum explains it to mean, “the storming of gates,” and so too Rabbi Tanchum. One MS. of the LXX. and the Syriac and Arabic versions have the strange rendering, “they chose new gods like barley bread,” which Theodoret explains to mean, “as though after eating wheaten bread, men would voluntarily descend to coarse barley bread”; but this is only due to an inferior reading.

Was there a shield or spear.—This is usually, and not unnaturally, explained to mean that there had been a general disarmament (comp. Judges 3:31; 1Samuel 13:19); we must then assume that the Israelites had only bows, slings, and swords. But (1) there is no indication whatever (but rather the reverse, Judges 4:15) that Barak’s army—which, moreover, consisted of 10,000, not 40,000—was unarmed; and (2) the context seems to favour the meaning that, in spite of these degradations, there was not a warrior in all Israel who dared to put on his armour.

Among forty thousand.—Even if the number is meant as a round or general number, it is remarkable. It is true that though Barak only had 10,000 men with him, the contingents of Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh are not counted; but even then the number shows that Israel was weakened and disunited, for the Transjordanic tribes alone had sent 40,000 men to help Joshua in the conquest of Canaan (Joshua 4:13).

Jdg 5:8. They chose, &c. — That is, the Israelites, after the death of Ehud, forsook the Lord, and served other gods. And they did not only submit to idolatry when they were forced to it by tyrants, but they freely chose it. New gods — New to them, and unknown to their fathers, and new in comparison of the true and everlasting God of Israel, being but of yesterday. There was war in the gates — That is, in their walled cities, which have gates and bars; gates are often put for cities; then their strong holds fell into the hands of their enemies. Was there a shield? &c. — There was not. The meaning is not, that all the Israelites were without arms; but, either they had but few arms among them, being many thousands of them disarmed by the Canaanites and Philistines, or that they generally neglected the use of arms, as being without all hope of recovering their liberty.

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.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. 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. They did not only submit to idolatry when they were forced to it by tyrants, but they freely chose new gods; new to them, and unknown to their fathers, and new in comparison of the true and everlasting God of Israel, being but upstarts, and of yesterday.

In the gates, i.e. in their walled cities, which have gates and bars; gates are oft put for cities, as Genesis 22:17 Deu 17:2 Obadiah 1:11. Then their strongest holds fell into the hands of their enemies.

Was there, i.e. there was not; the meaning is not that all the Israelites had no arms, for here is mention made only of shields or spears; so they might have swords, and bows, and arrows to offend their enemies; but either that they had but few arms among them, being many thousands of them disarmed by the Canaanites; or that they generally neglected the use of arms, as being utterly dispirited, and without all hope of recovering their lost liberty, and being necessitated to other employments for subsistence.

They chose new gods,.... That is, Israel, as most of the Jewish commentators interpret it; for the verb is singular, and Israel agrees well with it: this they did after the death of Joshua; it refers to their first idolatry, begun by Micah, Judges 17:1 they chose other gods than the true God; Baalim and Ashtaroth they are said to serve, Judges 2:11, and besides the gods of the Canaanites and Phoenicians, they sought after and introduced new ones from other places, or the same may be meant; since all besides the true God, the eternal Jehovah, the Ancient of days, and everlasting King, are new gods that lately sprung up: the Arabic and Syriac versions are,"God chose a new king;''so Ben Gersom; to perfect this wonder; for not only Sisera and his army were drawn to the gates of Israel to a proper place to fall in, but the victory was not obtained by Israel by their own force and strength; for they had no weapons of war, not a shield nor a spear, but for a very few men, but it was the Lord that fought for them in a new way; the former sense seems best, and agrees with what follows:

then was war in the gates; when they fell into idolatry, then God suffered the judgment of war to come upon them, even into the gates of their fortified cities, which were the security of them, and where were their courts of judicature, but by war disturbed and made to cease:

was there a shield or spear seen among forty thousand in Israel? though the number of the Israelites were several hundred thousands, yet there were not to be seen among them shields and spears sufficient for 40,000; or not one among 40,000 was armed; which was owing either to their negligence and sloth in not providing themselves with arms, or not taking care of them in a time of peace; so that when war came into their gates, they had nothing to defend themselves with, or annoy their enemies; or to their cowardice, not daring to take up a shield or spear in their own defence; or to the enemy, Jabin king of Canaan, having disarmed them, that they might not be able to make a revolt, from him, and recover their liberties. Ben Gersom refers it to the times of Joshua, when there was no need of a shield and spear among the 40,000 of the children of Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh, that came over Jordan with them, since God fought for them; and the Targum seems to understand it of Sisera's army, that came against Israel with shields, spears, and swords; and makes the number of them to be in all 300,000, which is just the number of foot soldiers Josephus makes his army to consist of; and yet, though so numerous and so well armed, could not stand before Barak with 10,000 men only; See Gill on Judges 4:17, the words rather refer to the cival war of the Benjamites with the Israelites, when 40,000 of the latter were killed, which was before the times of Deborah, Judges 20:21.

They chose new gods; then was war in the gates: was there a {d} shield or spear seen among forty thousand in Israel?

(d) They had no heart to resist their enemies.

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.

Verse 8. - The cause of this misery was not far to seek; it was the idolatry of the people which provoked God to anger. Then their enemies were let loose upon them, and they dared make no resistance. Judges 5:8Judges 5:8 describes the cause of the misery into which Israel had fallen. חדשׁים אלהים is the object to יבחר, and the subject is to be found in the previous term Israel. Israel forsook its God and creator, and chose new gods, i.e., gods not worshipped by its fathers (vid., Deuteronomy 32:17). Then there was war (לחם, the construct state of לחם, a verbal noun formed from the Piel, and signifying conflict or war) at the gates; i.e., the enemy pressed up to the very gates of the Israelitish towns, and besieged them, and there was not seen a shield or spear among forty thousand in Israel, i.e., there were no warriors found in Israel who ventured to defend the land against the foe. אם indicates a question with a negative reply assumed, as in 1 Kings 1:27, etc. Shield and spear (or lance) are mentioned particularly as arms of offence and defence, to signify arms of all kinds. The words are not to be explained from 1 Samuel 13:22, as signifying that there were no longer any weapons to be found among the Israelites, because the enemy had taken them away ("not seen" is not equivalent to "not found" in 1 Samuel 13:22); they simply affirm that there were no longer any weapons to be seen, because not one of the 40,000 men in Israel took a weapon in his hand. The number 40,000 is not the number of the men who offered themselves willingly for battle, according to Judges 5:2 (Bertheau); for apart from the fact that they did not go unarmed into the battle, it is at variance with the statement in Judges 4:6, Judges 4:10, that Barak went into the war and smote the enemy with only 10,000 men. It is a round number, i.e., an approximative statement of the number of the warriors who might have smitten the enemy and delivered Israel from bondage, and was probably chosen with a reference to the 40,000 fighting men of the tribes on the east of the Jordan, who went with Joshua to Canaan and helped their brethren to conquer the land (Joshua 4:13). Most of the more recent expositors have given a different rendering of Judges 5:8. Many of them render the first clause according to the Peshito and Vulgate, "God chose something new," taking Elohim as the subject, and chadashim (new) as the object. But to this it has very properly been objected, that, according to the terms of the song, it was not Elohim but Jehovah who effected the deliverance of Israel, and that the Hebrew for new things is not חדשׁים, but חדשׁות (Isaiah 42:9; Isaiah 48:6), or חדשׁה (Isaiah 43:19; Jeremiah 31:22). On these grounds Ewald and Bertheau render Elohim "judges" (they chose new judges), and appeal to Exodus 21:6; Exodus 22:7-8, where the authorities who administered justice in the name of God are called Elohim. But these passages are not sufficient by themselves to establish the meaning "judges," and still less to establish the rendering "new judges" for Elohim chadashim. Moreover, according to both these explanations, the next clause must be understood as relating to the specially courageous conflict which the Israelites in their enthusiasm carried on with Sisera; whereas the further statement, that among 40,000 warriors who offered themselves willingly for battle there was not a shield or a lance to be seen, is irreconcilably at variance with this. For the explanation suggested, namely, that these warriors did not possess the ordinary weapons for a well-conducted engagement, but had nothing but bows and swords, or instead of weapons of any kind had only the staffs and tools of shepherds and husbandmen, is proved to be untenable by the simple fact that there is nothing at all to indicate any contrast between ordinary and extraordinary weapons, and that such a contrast is altogether foreign to the context. Moreover, the fact appealed to, that אז points to a victorious conflict in Judges 5:13, Judges 5:19, Judges 5:22, as well as in Judges 5:11, is not strong enough to support the view in question, as אז is employed in Judges 5:19 in connection with the battle of the kings of Canaan, which was not a successful one, but terminated in a defeat.

The singer now turns from the contemplation of the deep degradation of Israel to the glorious change which took place as soon as she appeared: -

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