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  3. Judges Chapter 5

Judges Chapter 5


The song of Deborah and Barak.

Verse 1 Then Deborah and Barak the son of Abinoam sang on that day, saying:

Sang. It has been a favorite method of many nations to celebrate national victories by martial songs. The national anthems of many countries illustrate the type of song found in chapter 5.

In a day when textbooks were rare or non-existent this song was doubtless an effective instrument in preserving the narrative of the victory of Israel over Jabin. It stands as one of the greatest martial poems ever written.

The statement is made that Deborah and Barak sang the song.

Some have thought that the poem was written originally by Deborah to be sung as a duet in which Deborah would sing first and then Barak would answer in song. However, it cannot be definitely known that this was the case.

This song is one of the most difficult passages of the whole Bible to translate. It embodies many Hebrew words that have since dropped out of use; hence, their meaning is difficult to ascertain.

The song was probably handed down unchanged from its original composition and thus incorporated into the book of Judges when this book was written, perhaps a long time afterward.

As in the case today, languages anciently underwent changes, so that in the course of a few centuries, many words were dropped from common usage.

The poem begins with words of praise to God for victory (2–5), followed by a description of the state of affairs that preceded the battle (6–8).

There is rich praise for the tribes that took part in the uprising, while reproaches are hurled at those who failed to respond in the crisis hour (vs. 14–17).

This is followed by a description of the battle (18–22), the death of Sisera at the hand of Jael (24–27), and the anxiety of Sisera’s mother as she awaits his return from the engagement (28–31).

Verse 2. “When leaders lead in Israel,

When the people willingly offer themselves,

Bless the Lord!

Do you think the people will follow if the leaders do not perform?

Verse 3. Hear, O kings! Give ear, O princes!

I, even I, will sing to the Lord;

I will sing praise to the Lord God of Israel.

Hear, O kings. This verse exhibits clearly the parallelism that marks Hebrew poetry. The verse is divided into two parts, the division being made after the word “princes.”

Each part states the same thought twice in slightly different words.

Where our English Bible repeats the word “sing” in the second half of the verse, the Hebrew has two words for the idea, the second having the added connotation of singing accompanied by stringed musical instruments.

“Lord, when You went out from Seir,

When You marched from the field of Edom,

The earth trembled and the heavens poured,

The clouds also poured water;

Seir. The mountainous region that extends from the east of the Dead Sea southward toward the Red Sea.

The reference to this mountain seems to be with the object of showing God’s presence with the Israelites on their journey toward Canaan.

This presence was manifested in miraculous ways; for example, in the supernatural supply of food and water, and in the presence of Christ in the pillar of fire and the cloud that accompanied them.

The God who anciently had worked so wonderfully had again intervened and wrought marvelously for His people.

In this instance Mt. Tabor, rather than Seir, had been the scene of His exploits.

Verse 5 The Mountains melted from before the LORD, even that Sinai from before the LORD God of Israel.

Mountains melted. A figure of speech for the quaking of Mt. Sinai at the time of the giving of the law. The memory of this miraculous event is recalled also as an illustration of God’s power.

Verse 6 In the days of Shamgar, son of Anath,

In the days of Jael,

The highways were deserted,

And the travelers walked along the byways.

The days of Shamgar. See on 3:31.

Highways were deserted. This and the next two verses describe the miserable plight of the land under Canaanite rule.

The state of war disrupted travel and commerce to the extent that the highways were unused and those who had to travel were forced to use unfrequented paths through the countryside.

This suspension of travel arose from the presence of Canaanite garrisons situated at strategic places along the main roads.

From these the Canaanite was able to hinder the movements of the Hebrews, and thus prevent possible guerrilla warfare and, at the same time, disrupt trade and commerce.

Verse 7 Village life ceased, it ceased in Israel,

Until I, Deborah, arose,

Arose a mother in Israel.

The idea is that people who lived in unwalled hamlets deserted them to dwell in walled towns where they could be protected from indiscriminate plundering, whether by Canaanites or by robbers who multiply in periods of anarchy like this.

Verse 8 They chose new gods; then was war in the gates: was there a shield or spear seen among forty thousand in Israel?

Chose new gods. This statement seems to have been included to explain the reason why the Israelites had been reduced to this state.

Then was war. The Hebrews were given no peace. The Canaanites began to attack the Israelite walled towns, hemming in the people.

Evidently the Canaanites, like the Philistines later, had proscribed, prohibited the trade of the smith and all armament making among the Hebrews, so that there was hardly an effective shield or spear among 40,000 men of military age. This policy effectively eliminated any danger of retaliation by the Hebrews.

Verse 9 My heart is with the rulers of Israel

Who offered themselves willingly with the people.

Bless the Lord!

Rulers. After depicting the troubles of Israel the poet turns in verses 9 to 11 to ask various categories of Hebrew citizens to give thanks for those who had helped to put an end to their Canaanite overlords.

First of these were the “rulers” or, literally, the “lawgivers” or “law enforcers.” These were princes like Barak who risked their lives for Israel’s victory.

They were men in the government of Israel whose duty it was to stand for law and national order, and on this occasion they showed themselves to be worthy of their trust.

Deborah could well call upon the people to thank God for the part such men had played in the defeat of their enemies, the Canaanites.

There are many faithful leaders in the churches of today, both lay and clergy, who have given the best years of their lives fully and willingly for the sake of the well-being of the church.

Such men deserve the appreciation of the church and of society. We may well bless God for them and their labors, as Deborah did for the leaders who helped to fire with zeal the uprising against the Canaanites.

Verse 10 “Speak, you who ride on white donkeys,

Who sit in judges’ attire,

And who walk along the road.

You who ride. Men of wealth and influence, as indicated by the choice animals that only such a class could afford. In other words, let the wealthy, those that sit on rich tapestries (this rendering is a suggested alternative for “ye that sit in judgment”), and those that now can travel along the once unfrequented highways, meditate upon and speak of the marvelous victory God wrought for His people upon this memorable occasion.

Verse 11 Far from the noise of the archers, among the watering places,

There they shall recount the righteous acts of the Lord,

The righteous acts for His villagers in Israel;

Then the people of the Lord shall go down to the gates.

Recount. Those who lived now under conditions of peace were to pause amid their tranquil surroundings to rehearse this narrative and to give thanks to God for His assistance in defeating the enemy and restoring peace to Israel.

The people could now move about unafraid, carrying on the pursuits of everyday life. However, they should remember that their state of peace was due to the righteous acts of God, whose power aided the brave Israelite leaders to throw off the bondage and oppression of the Canaanites.

Verse 12 Awake, awake, Deborah!

Awake, awake, sing a song!

Arise, Barak, and lead your captives away, son of Abinoam!

Awake. In poetic terms the call is given to Deborah to rouse herself and summon the tribes.

Sing a song. Not the song of praise for victory but a war song to stir up the tribes and fire them for battle.

Arise, Barak. As the recognized military leader of the Hebrews, Barak is addressed and urged to launch out on a campaign that would result in the captors’ being captured.

Verses 13,14 “Then the survivors came down, the people against the nobles;

The Lord came down for me against the mighty.

From Ephraim were those whose roots were in Amalek.

After you, Benjamin, with your peoples,

From Machir rulers came down,

And from Zebulun those who bear the recruiter’s staff.

Ephraim. Formerly only the tribes of Naphtali and Zebulun were named as rallying behind Barak (4:10). Here it is shown that there were contingents from Ephraim in the central highlands and from Benjamin still farther to the south as well.

Machir. Son of Manasseh (Gen. 50:23). Head of the chief family of the tribe. The family received its inheritance in Gilead, to the east of Jordan. Here, however, the name is thought to be used poetically for the whole tribe of Manasseh (see also Num. 32:40; Deut. 3:15).

Recruiter’s staff. Literally, “the staff of the scribe.” Thought to refer to the insigne of the officer whose duty it was to muster the troops, keeping the count of how many men reported from each place.

Verse 15 And the princes of Issachar were with Deborah;

As Issachar, so was Barak

Sent into the valley under his command;

Among the divisions of Reuben

There were great resolves of heart.

Issachar. Another participant tribe. However, not all the tribes rallied to Deborah and Barak when they issued the call to battle. Some tribes had refused outright to join in the battle, and others hesitated and pondered until the battle was over.

Great thoughts. What probably happened when the summons to battle reached the various clans of the tribe of Reuben, living not so far away across the Jordan River, was a hurried discussion about what to do.

Each clan kept sounding out the others to discover their sentiments as to whether the tribe should go to battle or not. Around the folds of their flocks they talked and talked.

They reflected on the necessity and feasibility of acting till the time for it was past. They were apparently still hesitating and discussing what they should do when the news of the victory reached them.

Why did you sit among the sheepfolds,

To hear the pipings for the flocks?

The divisions of Reuben have great searchings of heart.

Gilead stayed beyond the Jordan,

And why did Dan remain on ships?

Asher continued at the seashore,

And stayed by his inlets.

Gilead. The country across the Jordan east and south of the Sea of Galilee. Here spoken of as if it were one of the tribes. The writer apparently used the word “Gilead” in place of Gad, the tribe that inhabited a part of this territory.

Remain in ships. Gilead abode beyond Jordan: and why did Dan remain in ships? Asher continued on the seashore, and abode in his breaches” (KJV). This verse is from the Song of Deborah which is one of the oldest texts in the Bible.

Did the Tribe of Dan have ships? The Hebrew word for “ships” is ‘nywt which is probably a homograph (two different words with the same written form).

Three different Ugaritic texts have the word ‘an or ‘any which is the same form as the Hebrew word for “ships,” but means “to relax, be at ease” (Craigie, 1983, p.85; KTU 1.14.III.6; KTU 1.5.I.23; KTU 1.3.V.35).

One of the Ugaritic texts has the verb gr meaning “to remain”  followed by ‘an which is the same as the Hebrew gwr also followed by ‘anywt in Judges 5:17. The Hebrew and Ugaritic phrase seems to be linguistically equivalent. Therefore Craigie translates Judges 5:17 as follows:

“Gilead stayed beyond the Jordan; and Dan, why did he abide at ease? Asher sat still on the coast of the sea, settling down by his landings” (p.85).

Asher continued. Asher, apparently, was also experiencing absorption by the Canaanites and seafaring Phoenicians of Tyre and Sidon to such an extent that they did not feel inclined to join in the Hebrew revolt.

Union with the world, breathing its spirit and aims, takes away the desire of many Christians to join in the warfare against the hosts of darkness. While their brethren engage actively in Christian missionary endeavor, they sit back unmoved and uninterested.

Asher continued at the seashore. Literally, “in his landing places.” The phrase has been explained as describing the appearance of the boat piers and the spaces or “breaches between them.”

Verse 18 Zebulun is a people who jeopardized their lives to the point of death,

Naphtali also, on the heights of the battlefield.

Heights of the battlefield. These words probably refer to small elevations, on which the hosts of Sisera endeavored to regroup and defend their lines.

The men of Zebulun and Naphtali, who, as observed from chapter 4:10, formed the main body of the Israelites, evidently carried these centers of resistance by storm, and thus brought about the complete rout of Sisera’s formidable army.

Verse 19 The kings came and fought,

Then the kings of Canaan fought

In Taanach, by the waters of Megiddo;

They took no spoils of silver.

Kings of Canaan. Sisera’s army may possibly have included kings of the neighboring fortified Canaanite cities like Taanach and Megiddo, two cities on the southern bank of the river; but the daring attacks of the men of Zebulun and Naphtali apparently overran these strongholds in the confusion of battle.

No spoils. In the place of receiving rich war booty as a result of joining Sisera’s campaign, these kings lost both their cities and their lives.

Are we fighting in the wrong army?

Verse 20 They fought from the heavens;

The stars from their courses fought against Sisera.

Stars. That is, the forces of nature, either literally or poetically as representing the power of God, who controls the forces of nature.

Verse 21 The river Kishon swept them away, the age-old river, the river Kishon. March on, my soul; be strong!

Deborah seems to imagine herself as present on the battlefield, and with these words encourages herself to press on with courage until victory is assured.

Verse 22 Then the horses’ hooves pounded,

The galloping, galloping of his steeds.

The terror and confusion of the rout evidently caused the horses to stampede wildly over the plain, breaking their unshod hoofs and thereby rendering the horses lame and useless.

Verse 23 Curse Meroz,’ said the angel of the Lord,

‘Curse its inhabitants bitterly,

Because they did not come to the help of the Lord,

To the help of the Lord against the mighty.’

Meroz. Not identified with any certainty, but apparently near the scene of the battle. In sharp contrast to the patriotic and brave men from the other tribes who dared to oppose the Canaanites, the Israelite inhabitants of Meroz, on the path of the retreating hosts of Sisera, refused to render assistance in any form.

With the aid of these men the pursuing Israelites could probably have prevented any of the Canaanites, perhaps even Sisera, from escaping the field of battle.

Because of their refusal to help, the angel of the Lord pronounced a curse upon them. Theirs was not a sin of commission but of omission.

Their transgression in this instance was that they did nothing in the hour of need, and for this the curse of God fell upon them.

No other verse in the book of Judges constitutes so severe a warning to the members of the church today as the one that here curses those who refuse to help in time of crisis.

In the face of a crying need for laborers, many professed Christians are content to follow their leisurely, selfish course, refusing to render any assistance to the church of God as it engages in battle with Satan.

They say that the work of the church is to be performed by the ministers, and accept no responsibility for themselves. The curse of Meroz rests upon these unfaithful Christians unless they turn from their listless non-cooperation.

Verse 24 “Most blessed among women is Jael,

The wife of Heber the Kenite;

Blessed is she among women in tents.

Blessed among women. The Hebrew word here translated “blessed” is often used in the sense of “to praise,” “to speak highly of,” “to celebrate.”

In contrast with the refusal of the inhabitants of Meroz to help their kindred is Jael, a woman who was not racially connected with the Israelites, who was, in fact, politically allied with their enemies.

Women in the tent. That is, Jael would be the most prominent of all Bedouin women.

Verse 25 He asked for water, she gave milk;

She brought out cream in a lordly bowl.

Lordly bowl. A bowl appropriate for men of rank, perhaps one of the exquisite bowls from Crete.

Verses 26,27 She stretched her hand to the tent peg, Her right hand to the workmen’s hammer;

She pounded Sisera, she pierced his head,

She split and struck through his temple.

At her feet he sank, he fell, he lay still;

At her feet he sank, he fell;

Where he sank, there he fell dead.

Hammer. By combining this poetic account of Jael’s act with the literal account of 4:21 the following picture emerges.

While Sisera was fast asleep Jael approached quietly and struck him a terrific blow with the hammer, thus crushing his head.

Though mortally wounded he struggled partly to his feet. Then, according to 5:27, he went down on his knees (Heb. kara‘, “to bow down upon the knees”), and lay there slaughtered (literally, “treated with violence”).

Then it was that Jael drove the tent peg through his temples, fastening him to the ground. Yet it is difficult to know how literally the language of this poem should be regarded.

Verse 29 “The mother of Sisera looked through the window,

And cried out through the lattice,

‘Why is his chariot so long in coming?

Why tarries the clatter of his chariots?’

Mother of Sisera. It has been fittingly remarked that this passage of dramatic irony, describing the worry and fear of Sisera’s mother, could, most likely, have been written only by a woman.

Over against the delight in the deed of one woman is presented the misery of another, trying vainly to stifle the presentiment of disaster.

While Sisera lies in ignominious death, in his distant capital his mother anxiously wonders what keeps him so long. Filled with worry, she stands looking out of the window down the road for the distant cloud of dust announcing the return of the commander’s party.

She peers and listens, but the rolling of the victorious chariots is not heard, and this strikes fear to her heart.

Verses 29,30 Her wisest ladies answered her,

Yes, she answered herself,

‘Are they not finding and dividing the spoil:

To every man a girl or two;

For Sisera, plunder of dyed garments,

Plunder of garments embroidered and dyed,

Two pieces of dyed embroidery for the neck of the looter?’

Dividing the spoil. To quiet the forebodings of his mother the wise ladies in waiting gave assurances.

The mother also sought to reassure herself and them with the thought that their army was delayed in gathering the booty.

They picture to themselves the fine garments, the embroidered cloth, the captive maidens, with the distribution of which their men are occupied and so are delayed in their return home.

The irony of the appellative “wise ladies” is obvious, for their conjecture was far from the truth.

The author of the poem dramatically does not describe the disappointment of the proud women, but leaves the reader, who knows the narrative, to imagine the scene when the message of Sisera’s defeat arrives — no booty, no victory.

The hero is dead, the army is shattered. All is lost. No more fearful picture of the utter defeat of an enemy could be given.

Verse 31 “Thus let all Your enemies perish, O Lord!

But let those who love Him be like the sun

When it comes out in full strength.”

So the land had rest for forty years.

Let those. The striking word in this passage is “thus.” It brings the whole drama before our eyes again – the proud confidence of the Canaanites, the terrific onslaught of the Hebrews, the terror of the rout, the fleeing Sisera, his death at the hand of a woman, the anxiety of his mother.

The song ends with the expressed desire that with like finality all the enemies of God may perish — as indeed they will eventually.

The fearful slaughter of the enemy described in this chapter must be understood in the light of the age in which the events occurred. For a further consideration of the problem see on Deut. 14:26.

Like the sun. The glorious picture here presented of those who love and serve the Lord is reflected by the prophets Isaiah (ch. 60:1), Daniel (ch. 12:3), and Malachi (ch. 4:2; GC 632).

Christ Himself used similar language to describe those who become citizens of the kingdom (Matt. 13:43).

John saw an angel ascending from the east, like the sun, with the seal of God to affix upon those prepared to receive it (Rev. 7:2, 3).

Those sealed by this angel “appeared as if the sun had just risen from behind a cloud and shone upon their countenances, causing them to look triumphant, as if their victories were nearly won” (EW 89).

Land had rest. How fitting it would have been if the people, in this period of rest, had walked in the ways of the Lord. There is a lesson for the church of God today.

In this time of comparative peace, we are challenged to live up to the light of present truth, and thereby hasten the finishing of God’s work and the consummation of the glorious destiny of the remnant people.


23 CE 70; CH 529; ChS 36; CS 49; CT 210; Ev 112, 237, 397; 2T 166, 216, 217, 247, 284, 395, 427, 626; 3T 57, 525; 5T 77, 381; 6T 40, 461, 464, 475; 7T 237; 8T 41, 80, 246; 9T 133, 140; WM 139

Many of our people are lukewarm. They occupy the position of Meroz, neither for nor against, neither cold nor hot. They hear the words of Christ, but do them not. If they remain in this state, he will reject them with abhorrence. Testimonies to the Battle Creek Church p 60

As an illustration of the failure on your part to come up to the work of God, as was your privilege, I was referred to these words: “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.” What had Meroz done? Nothing. And this was their sin. They came not up to the help of the Lord against the mighty.  {PH099 46.3}

Let all who believe the truth begin to work. Do the work that lies nearest you; do anything, however humble, rather than be, like the men of Meroz, do-nothings.  {8T 246.1}

Updated on 21st Mar 2022

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