Judges 5 Bible Commentary

John Wesley’s Explanatory Notes

(Read all of Judges 5)

Verse 1

[1] Then sang Deborah and Barak the son of Abinoam on that day, saying,

Deborah — The composer of this song.

Verse 2

[2] Praise ye the LORD for the avenging of Israel, when the people willingly offered themselves.

The Lord-Give him the praise who hath done the work. The people — Chiefly Zebulun and Naphtali.

Offered themselves — When neither Deborah nor Barak had any power to compel them.

Verse 3

[3] Hear, O ye kings; give ear, O ye princes; I, even I, will sing unto the LORD; I will sing praise to the LORD God of Israel.

The princes — You especially that live near, and have evil designs against Israel, know this for your caution, and terror too, if you presume to molest them.

God of Israel — Who, as you see by this plain instance, is both able and resolved to defend them from all their enemies.

Verse 4

[4] LORD, when thou wentest out of Seir, when thou marchedst out of the field of Edom, the earth trembled, and the heavens dropped, the clouds also dropped water.

Edom — Seir and Edom are the same place; and these two expressions note the same thing, even God's marching in the head of his people, from Seir or Edom, towards the land of Canaan: while the Israelites were encompassing mount Seir, there were none of the following effects; but when once they had done that, and got Edom on their backs, then they marched directly forward towards the land of Canaan. The prophetess being to praise God for the present mercies, takes her rise higher, and begins her song with the commemoration of the ancient deliverances afforded by God to his people, the rather because of the great resemblance this had with them, in the miraculous manner of them.

The earth trembled — God prepared the way for his people, and struck a dread into their enemies, by earth-quakes as well as by other terrible signs.

Dropped water — That is, thou didst send storms and tempests, thunder and lightning, and other tokens of thy displeasure upon thine enemies.

Verse 5

[5] The mountains melted from before the LORD, even that Sinai from before the LORD God of Israel.

Melted — Or, flowed, with floods of water powered out of the clouds upon them, and from them flowing down in a mighty stream upon the lower grounds, and carrying down part of the mountains with it.

Sinai — She slides into the mention of a more ancient appearance of God for his people in Sinai; it being usual in scripture repetitions of former actions, to put divers together in a narrow compass. The sense is, No wonder that the mountains of the Amorites and Canaanites melted and trembled, when thou didst lead thy people toward them; for even Sinai itself could not bear thy presence, but melted in like manner before thee.

Verse 6

[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.

Jael — Jael, though an illustrious woman, effected nothing for the deliverance of God's people, 'till God raised me up.

By-ways — Because of the Philistines and Canaanites, who, besides the public burdens which they laid upon them, waited for all opportunities to do them mischief secretly; their soldiers watching for travellers in common roads, as is usual with such in times of war; and, because of the robbers 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.

Verse 7

[7] The inhabitants of the villages ceased, they ceased in Israel, until that I Deborah arose, that I arose a mother in Israel.

Ceased — The people forsook all their unfortified towns, not being able to protect them from military insolence.

A mother — That is, to be to them as a mother, to instruct, and rule, and protect them, which duties a mother owes to her children.

Verse 8

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

Chose — 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.

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 — There was not, the meaning is not, that all the Israelites had no 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.

Verse 9

[9] My heart is toward the governors of Israel, that offered themselves willingly among the people. Bless ye the LORD.

My heart is toward — I honour and love those, who being the chief of the people in wealth and dignity, did not withdraw themselves from the work, as such usually do; but exposed themselves to the same hazards, and joined with their brethren in this noble but dangerous attempt.

The Lord — Who inclined their hearts to this undertaking, and gave them success in it. As she gives instruments their due, so she is careful the sovereign cause lose not his glory.

Verse 10

[10] Speak, ye that ride on white asses, ye that sit in judgment, and walk by the way.

Speak — Celebrate the praise of our mighty God.

That ride on white asses — That is, magistrates and nobles, who used to do so, chap. 12:14.

That walk — That is, you that can safely travel in those high ways, which before you durst neither ride nor walk in: so great and mean persons are jointly excited to praise God.

Verse 11

[11] They that are delivered from the noise of archers in the places of drawing water, there shall they rehearse the righteous acts of the LORD, even the righteous acts toward the inhabitants of his villages in Israel: then shall the people of the LORD go down to the gates.

From the noise — From the triumphant noise and shout of archers, rejoicing when they meet with their prey.

Of drawing water — At those pits or springs of water, which were precious in those hot countries, to which the people's necessities forced them to resort, and nigh unto which the archers usually lurked, that they may shoot at them, and kill and spoil them.

There — When they come to those places with freedom and safety, which before they could not, they shall with thankfulness rehearse this righteous and gracious work of God, in rescuing his people.

Of the villages — Whom she mentions, because as their danger was greater, verse 7, so was their deliverance.

Gates — Of their cities, which were the chief places to which both city and country resorted for public business and matters of justice, from which they they had been debarred by their oppressors; but now they had free access and passage, either in or out of the gates, as their occasions required; and they who had been driven from their cities, now returned to them in peace and triumph; so the citizens deliverance is celebrated here, as the country-mens is in the foregoing words.

Verse 12

[12] Awake, awake, Deborah: awake, awake, utter a song: arise, Barak, and lead thy captivity captive, thou son of Abinoam.

Awake — Stir up thyself and all that is within thee, to admire and praise the Lord. This work needs and well deserves the utmost liveliness and vigour of soul.

Lead captivity captive — How could this be done, when there was none of them left? chap. 4:16. 1. None were left to make head against them. 2. None is often put for few, and those few might be taken after the battle, and carried captive, and led in triumph.

Verse 13

[13] Then he made him that remaineth have dominion over the nobles among the people: the LORD made me have dominion over the mighty.

He made him, … — Thus God did not only preserve the poor and despised remnant of his people, from the fury of the oppressor, and from the destruction which Sisera designed, but also gave them the victory, and thereby the dominion over the nobles of Canaan, who were combined against them.

Me — Tho' but a weak woman.

Verse 14

[14] Out of Ephraim was there a root of them against Amalek; after thee, Benjamin, among thy people; out of Machir came down governors, and out of Zebulun they that handle the pen of the writer.

Ephraim — Now she relates the carriage of the several tribes in the expedition; and she begins with Ephraim.

A root — Of the Ephraimites. By root she seems to mean a branch, as that word is sometimes used. By which also she may note the fewness of those that came out of Ephraim, yielding but one branch or an handful of men to this service.

Amalek — The constant enemy of the Israelites, who were confederate with their last oppressors the Moabites, chap. 3:13, and in all probability took their advantage now against the Israelites in the southern or middle parts of Canaan, while their main force was drawn northward against Jabin and Sisera. Against these therefore Ephraim sent forth a party, and so did Benjamin.

Benjamin — Benjamin followed Ephraim's example.

The people — Among the people of Benjamin, with whom these few Ephraimites united themselves in this expedition.

Machir — That is, out of the tribe of Manasseh, which are elsewhere called by the name of Machir, namely, out of the half tribe which was within Jordan; for of the other she speaks, verse 17.

Governors — Either civil governors, princes and great persons, who were as ready to hazard themselves, as the meanest: or military officers, valiant and expert commanders, such as some of Machir's posterity are noted to have been.

Writer — That is, even the Scribes, who gave themselves to study and writing, whereby they were exempted from military service, did voluntarily enter into this service.

Verse 15

[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.

With Deborah — Ready to assist her.

Issachar — Heb. and Issachar, that is, the tribe or people of Issachar, following the counsel and example of their princes.

Barak — That is, they were as hearty and valiant as Barak their general; and as he marched on foot 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.

Divisions — Or, separations, not so much one from another, (for they seem to be all so well agreed in abiding at home with their sheep) 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, 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.

Verse 16

[16] Why abodest thou among the sheepfolds, to hear the bleatings of the flocks? For the divisions of Reuben there were great searchings of heart.

Why abodest — Why wast thou so unworthy and cowardly, that thou wouldest not engage thyself in so just, so necessary, and so noble a cause, but didst prefer the care of this sheep, and thy own ease and safety, before this generous undertaking? Reuben thought neutrality their wisest course; being very rich in cattle, Numbers 32:1. They were loath to run the hazard of so great a loss, by taking up arms against so potent an enemy as Jabin: and the bleatings of their sheep were so loud in their ears, that they could not hear the call of Deborah and Barak.

Verse 17

[17] Gilead abode beyond Jordan: and why did Dan remain in ships? Asher continued on the sea shore, and abode in his breaches.

Gilead — Sometimes taken strictly for that part of the land beyond Jordan which fell to the half-tribe of Manasseh, and sometimes both for that part of Manasseh's, and for Gad's portion, as Joshua 13:24-25,29-31, and so it seems to be understood here; and the land Gilead is here put for the people or inhabitants of it, Gad and Manasseh.

Beyond Jordan — In their own portions, and did not come over Jordan to the help of the Lord, and of his people, as they ought to have done.

In ships — Dan, whose coast was near the sea, was wholly intent upon his merchandise, and therefore could not join in this land expedition.

Sea-shore — Where their lot lay.

His breaches — Either in the creeks of the sea, or, in their broken and craggy rocks and caves.

Verse 18

[18] Zebulun and Naphtali were a people that jeoparded their lives unto the death in the high places of the field.

Jeoparded — Heb. despised, comparatively; they chose rather to venture upon a generous and honourable death, than to enjoy a shameful and servile life.

High-places — That is, upon that large and eminent plain in the top of mount Tabor, where they put themselves in battle array, and expected the enemy; though when they saw they did not come up to them, they marched down to meet them.

Verse 19

[19] The kings came and fought, then fought the kings of Canaan in Taanach by the waters of Megiddo; they took no gain of money.

The kings — There were divers petty kings in those parts who were subject to Jabin.

Megiddo — Taanah and Megiddo were two eminent cities, not far from mount Tabor, nor from the river Kishon.

No gain — They fought without pay, whether from mere hatred of the Israelites, and a desire to be revenged upon them: or from a full hope and confidence of paying themselves abundantly out of Israel's spoils.

Verse 20

[20] They fought from heaven; the stars in their courses fought against Sisera.

From heaven — Or, they from heaven, or the heavenly host fought, by thunder, and lightning, and hail-stones, possibly mingled with fire.

The stars — Raising these storms by their influences, which they do naturally.

Courses — Or, from their paths, or stations. As soldiers fight in their ranks and places assigned them, so did these.

Verse 21

[21] The river of Kishon swept them away, that ancient river, the river Kishon. O my soul, thou hast trodden down strength.

River of Kishon — Which, though not great in itself, was now much swelled by the foregoing storm and rain, and therefore drowned those who being pursued by the hand of God, and by the Israelites, were forced into it, and thought to pass over it, as they did before.

Ancient river — So called, either, first, in opposition to those rivers which are of a later date, being made by the hand and art of man. Or, secondly, because it was a river anciently famous for remarkable exploits, for which it was celebrated by the ancient poets or writers, though not here mentioned.

Trodden down — Thou, O Deborah, though but a weak woman, hast by God's assistance subdued a potent enemy. Such abrupt speeches are frequent in poetical scriptures.

Verse 22

[22] Then were the horsehoofs broken by the means of the pransings, the pransings of their mighty ones.

Horses hoofs — Their horses, in which they put most confidence, had their hoofs, which are their support and strength, broken, either by dreadful hail-stones, or rather, by their swift and violent running over the stony grounds, when they fled with all possible speed from God and from Israel.

Pransings — Or because of their fierce or swift courses.

Mighty ones — Of their strong and valiant riders, who forced their horses to run away as fast as they could.

Verse 23

[23] 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.

Meroz — A place then, no doubt, eminent and considerable, tho' now there be no remembrance of it left, which possibly might be the effect of this bitter curse; as God curseth Amalek in this manner, that he would utterly blot out their remembrance. And this place above all others may be thus severely cursed; because it was near the place of the fight, and therefore had the greatest opportunity and obligation to assist their brethren.

The angel, … — She signifies, that this curse proceeded not from her ill-will towards that place, but from divine inspiration; and that if all the rest of the song should be taken but for the breathings of a pious soul, but liable to mistake, yet this branch of it was immediately directed to her by the Lord, the angel of the covenant.

Of the Lord — Of the Lord's people: for God takes what is done for, or against his people, as if it was done to himself. The cause between God and the mighty, the principalities and powers of the kingdom of darkness, will not admit of a neutrality.

Verse 24

[24] Blessed above women shall Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite be, blessed shall she be above women in the tent.

Blessed — Celebrated, and endowed with all sorts of blessings more than they.

In the tent — In her tent or habitation, in her house and family, and all her affairs: for she and hers dwelt in tents. The tent is here mentioned as an allusion to the place where the fact was done.

Verse 25

[25] He asked water, and she gave him milk; she brought forth butter in a lordly dish.

Butter — Or, cream, that is, the choicest of her milk: so the same thing is repeated in different words.

Lordly dish — Which you are not to understand of such a costly dish as the luxury of after ages brought in, which is not agreeable to the simplicity either of this family, or of those ancient times; but of a comely and convenient dish, the best which she had, and such as the better sort of persons then used. Probably Jael at that time intended him no other than kindness, 'till God by an immediate impulse on her mind, directed her to do otherwise.

Verse 28

[28] The mother of Sisera looked out at a window, and cried through the lattice, Why is his chariot so long in coming? why tarry the wheels of his chariots?

Looked out — Expecting to see him returning: for she concluded, that he went forth not so much to fight, as to take the spoil.

Verse 30

[30] Have they not sped? have they not divided the prey; to every man a damsel or two; to Sisera a prey of divers colours, a prey of divers colours of needlework, of divers colours of needlework on both sides, meet for the necks of them that take the spoil?

Have they not, … — That is, it is certain they have got the prey, only they tarry to distribute it, according to every man's quality and merit.

Verse 31

[31] So let all thine enemies perish, O LORD: but let them that love him be as the sun when he goeth forth in his might. And the land had rest forty years.

So let — That is, so suddenly, so surely, so effectual and irrecoverably. Deborah was a prophetess and this prayer was a prediction, that in due time all God's enemies shall perish.

In his might — When he first riseth, and so goeth on in his course, which he doth with great might, even as a strong man that runneth a race, and so as no creature can stop, or hinder him; even so irresistible let thy people be. Such shall be the honour and such the joy of all that love God in sincerity, and they shall shine for ever as the sun in the kingdom of their father.