“Between her feet.” The idea is “between her legs,” and the inference is clearly sexual. In this case, there is a difference between biblical idioms and modern ones that puts the translator in a dilemma. Judges 5:27 is such a case, because although the Hebrew text says “between her feet,” the modern reader would better understand the Bible if it said, “between her legs.” Nevertheless, it seems better to translate the Hebrew literally as “between her feet” and teach the English reader that it referred to the man’s position in sexual intercourse.
Judges 4 and 5 are the record of the Canaanite oppression of Israel and Israel’s deliverance by Deborah and Barak. The Canaanite oppression lasted 20 years and involved things that were common in Canaanite culture, such as sexual oppression of all types, including rape and the kidnapping and enslaving of women. The oppression and subjugation of women by the Canaanites are reversed by God in Judges 4 and 5, because Deborah and Jael, two women, are the major players in the destruction of the Canaanites, and it makes sense that the sexual repression under the Canaanites is represented in an ironic and reversed way in Judges 4 and 5: there are a lot of sexual terms and innuendo in those two chapters. For example, when the text says, “Between her feet,” there is a clear sexual innuendo, but also irony. Usually when a warrior invades the tent of another man’s wife and is “between her feet,” the woman is being raped—but not in this case. Here, Jael is the dominant one and Sisera has been penetrated by a tent peg.
The idioms, innuendos, and the fact that Judges 5 is Hebrew poetry and therefore often does not use prose-like sentences makes literal translation difficult, and the English reader is forced to learn some of the idioms to best understand the text. For example, the Hebrew, the word “feet” was a clear sexual reference, but not so much in English. There are a number of references in the Bible that show that “feet” often represented or were associated with the genital area. In Ezekiel 16:25, the wanton woman “opened her feet to everyone who passed by.” In Isaiah 7:20, the cruel Assyrian captors would “shave the hair of the feet” of the Jewish captives, a reference to shaving their pubic hair as a sign of domination designed to embarrass and fulfill sexual lust. Sadly, in Isaiah 7:20 many English versions have “shave the hair of the legs,” which misses the point of the Hebrew text entirely, and gives a false and meaningless interpretation in English. Then, the Assyrians led their shamed and oppressed captives away “naked and barefoot” and “with buttocks bared” (Isa. 20:4).
In 2 Kings 18:27 and Isaiah 36:12, the Hebrew phrase for urine is, “the water of the feet.” In Deuteronomy 28:57, the woman gives birth “between her feet.” That seems to be the proper idea also in Genesis 49:10, which foretells that the scepter will not depart from Jacob, or a “ruler” “from between his feet” until the Messiah comes. In other words, Judah’s descendants would rule until the Messiah, and indeed, Judah’s line was traced to the Messiah, as we see from the genealogies in Matthew and Luke. The word for “ruler” can also be scepter or “ruler’s staff,” as many translations have, but commentators have struggled trying to explain why the scepter would be between the ruler’s feet. The better explanation seems to be the common one, that rulers would be descendants of Judah.a
Any Hebrew reader clearly got the sexual reference in the phrase, “between her feet” in Judges 5:27 (especially because it is unlikely that Sisera was actually between her feet when she killed him, she likely stood beside him), but the English reader may not understand the sexual reference because we use “legs,” not “feet,” and speak of the man being “between her legs.” Although sexual idioms used the word “feet,” other words were used idiomatically for the genitals as well. For example, Jeremiah 13:22 uses “heel” and says her “heel” was violated, speaking of the woman being raped. The word “thigh” was also used for the genitals (see commentary on Gen. 24:2).
“bowed down.” This is a word that is used of submission. It is not to bow down in worship, but to bow down or bend the knee in submission. This is irony. For 20 years the oppressed Israelite women “bowed down” to Sisera, no doubt unwillingly, but now he unwillingly bows down and submits to a woman.
“destroyed!” This is more irony in the text. The Hebrew word is shadad (#07703 שָׁדַד), and it is not the standard word for “dead.” It means more like “ravished, ruined, destroyed,” and can have sexual overtones and in some contexts refer to rape. Sisera had ravished many women, and now he is ravished, despoiled, ruined, destroyed, by a woman.