Judges Chapter 4  PDF  MSWord

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Go to Bible: Judges 4
Jdg 4:1(top)
Jdg 4:2

“Yahweh sold them into the hand of Jabin.” The fact that God “sold” Israel portrays them as slaves. Israel served Yahweh, who brought them out of Egypt, and so when they were not happy with Him as a “master,” He sold them to other masters, as if they might be happy with them, but of course they never were.

“Jabin king of Canaan.” This is obviously not the “Jabin” of the book of Joshua (Josh. 11:1). “Jabin” is apparently a dynastic name. Family names were passed down generation after generation.

“Harosheth-hagoyim.” That is “Harosheth of the Gentiles.” This is likely because this was a city that Israel had not conquered and so Gentiles lived there. “Harosheth” has to do with plowing a field, so this was likely a fertile spot in the Jezreel Valley and perhaps at the foot of Mount Carmel (but the exact location is not precisely known).

Jdg 4:3

“severely oppressed.” The Hebrew is more literally, “strongly oppressed.”

Jdg 4:4

“wife of Lappidoth.” It has been suggested that since Lappidoth means “torches,” the phrase should be translated “a fiery woman,” rather than “the wife of Lappidoth.” However, although that is semantically a possibility, as Everett Fox points out, “the form [of the Hebrew] here generally calls for a proper name.”a

Also, it would be rare indeed for a woman in that culture to not be married, so much so that a woman without children was considered cursed. Far from being any kind of detraction, saying that Deborah was the wife of Lappidoth would give her standing and credibility in the culture, and also likely a good deal of personal satisfaction. That the Bible does not say anything else about her family is not unusual since she herself is the focus. Moses’s sister Miriam was a powerful woman, and yet we know nothing of her husband or children, and that is also true of other women in the Bible who powerfully served God. It is apparent from the biblical record that Deborah, whose name means “bee” in Hebrew, was a determined and fiery woman, but that fact does not need to be specifically pointed out.

Fox, The Schocken Bible, Vol. 2, The Early Prophets.
Jdg 4:5

“sitting as judge.” Kings and judges “sat,” that is, ruled or judged. The Bible would not be saying that she lived under a palm tree. That is where Deborah held court, if you will.

“between Ramah and Bethel.” Ramah is in the tribal area of Benjamin and Bethel is in Ephraim, so Deborah was judging quite close to the southern border of Ephraim.

“for judgment.” Deborah was known to have the spirit of God upon her, and so the “judgments” she made involved all kinds of things people would want to have God’s direction about.

Jdg 4:6(top)
Jdg 4:7

“I will deploy against you.” This is Yahweh speaking (Judg. 4:6, “Has not Yahweh commanded you saying…..”). Yahweh will cause the Canaanites to be drawn out against Israel.

Jdg 4:8

“If you will go with me.” Barak’s statement is not an act of cowardice, although it does show that he did not have confidence that he would not need further information once the battle was near. Deborah was a prophetess and it was customary for the king to have prophets, seers, diviners, etc., with him at the sight of battle to keep him informed. And Deborah did go with Barak to the battle (Judg. 4:9), and she told Barak when to start the attack (Judg. 4:14).

Jdg 4:9

“go, yes, go,” This is the figure of speech polyptoton for emphasis.

[For more on the figure and the translation, see commentary on Genesis 2:16.]

“but it will not be your glory...because.” This prophecy of Deborah to Barak is not a rebuke to Barak, but rather a prophetic warning to him to protect his heart from being overly disappointed when he did not get to kill Sisera. God’s plan was to give Sisera, who had been cruel to so many women and families, into the hand of a woman.

“your glory.” This was an idiomatic phrase that might be used here because sometimes when a warrior killed another warrior and took his armor and weapons, they were considered “his glory.” Even though Barak’s army defeated Sisera’s army, Deborah told Barak, in terms he would clearly understand, that he would not have the opportunity to kill Sisera, the commander of the Canaanite army.

Jdg 4:10

“and 10,000 men.” In Judges 3, the Israelites defeated 10,000 Moabites with the help of God. Now, with the help of God, 10,000 Israelites defeat the Canaanites.

“went up at his feet.” This is an idiom. In this case, it means behind him.

Jdg 4:11

“the brother-in-law of Moses.” When Moses lived in Midian he married Zipporah, but there is some confusion in the text about who Moses’ relatives are. In many English versions, the names Reuel, Jethro, and Hobab are all used for Moses’ father-in-law. There are several scholarly ideas as to how to sort this out, but there is no need to delve into all the different opinions, instead, the Bible student simply needs to know the situation and the easy solution. As we will see, Reuel and Jethro are different names for the same man, while Hobab is Moses’ brother-in-law, not his father-in-law.

Moses’ father-in-law is called “Reuel” (Exod. 2:18; Num. 10:29), but he is also called “Jethro” (Exod. 3:1; 4:18; 18:1, 2, 5, 6, 9, 10, 12). We get some help as to why that is from Exodus 3:1 and 18:1, where the man is called, “Jethro, the priest of Midian.” The easy solution is that Reuel and Jethro are the same man, and “Jethro” is Reuel’s priestly name, because it is twice used with the description, “the priest of Midian.” Also, although “Jethro,” like most Hebrew words, can have more than one meaning, it is significant that it means “excellent, excellence,” and thus the name/designation “Jethro” (“Excellence”) fits with his position as the priest of Midian.

In most English versions, however, “Hobab” is also said to be the father-in-law of Moses (Judg. 4:11). However, we get help from Numbers 10:29 because it says that Hobab is the son of Reuel: “Hobab, the son of Moses’ father-in-law, Reuel the Midianite.” If Reuel and Jethro are the same person, and Hobab is the son of Reuel, then Hobab is Moses’ brother-in-law, not his father-in-law.

Obviously, Hobab cannot be both the father-in-law and brother-in-law of Moses, but there is an easy solution to this apparent contradiction. Hebrew is a consonantal language and originally it only had two vowels, aleph and ayin, both of which are pronounced as a variation of the letter “A.” The rest of the Hebrew alphabet is consonants. Many centuries later, after the time of Christ, “vowel points,” little markings, were added to the Hebrew text to help people pronounce and understand the text, which was very important since fewer and fewer people spoke Hebrew regularly. In Hebrew, the words for “father-in-law” and “brother-in-law” are based on the same consonants, and the vowel points that distinguish the two words in the current Masoretic text were added by interpreters. So the Hebrew root words are the same and the distinction between “brother-in-law” and “father-in-law” has to be concluded from the context. Since the Bible tells us that Hobab is the son of Reuel, we know that Hobab and Reuel are not the same person and Hobab is Moses’ brother-in-law.a

A number of English translations have corrected Judges 4:11 to read that Hobab is the “brother-in-law” of Moses rather than his “father-in-law” (cp. ASV; BBE; ERV; NIV; NLT).

“as far away as the oak.” Because of bandits and raiders, it was not generally considered safe for someone to pitch their tent away from the main encampment of their tribe. We do not know how far the oak of Zaanannim by Kadesh was from the main Kenite camp, but it was far enough away that it was specifically mentioned, and Sisera was able to approach Jael’s tent without being intercepted by any other men of the Kenite tribe, which would never have happened had Heber’s tent been in or close to the outskirts of the Kenite camp.

“Kadesh.” The word “kadesh” means separated, and is from the same root as kodesh (or qodesh), meaning “holy.” There were a number of cities named Kadesh in the Bible; at least 3. For Heber to be as far north as Kadesh (the one near the Sea of Galilee, south of what would be Tiberias; not the Kadesh adjacent to the Hulah Valley north and west of Lake Hulah) is very unusual, because the majority was in the area of Judah (Judg. 1:16).

Cp. Gaebelein, Expositor’s Commentary: Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 & 2 Samuel, 3:405.
Jdg 4:12(top)
Jdg 4:13

“chariots of iron.” The chariots would not have been totally made of iron, but would have had iron protective plates, iron rims on the wheels, etc.

“brook Kishon.” The brook Kishon runs on the south side of the Jezreel Valley, and is seasonal. It does not run year around, but during and for a while after the rainy season.

Jdg 4:14(top)
Jdg 4:15

“into a panic.” This is what Yahweh did to the Egyptians; the Hebrew uses the same word for panic (Exod. 14:24-25).

“army.” Same word as in Exod. 14:24 with the Egyptian army.

“the mouth of the sword.” Used to show great destruction, as if the sword was eating its victims (see commentary on Josh. 6:21).

“got down from.” The chariots were supposed to give the Canaanites an advantage, but with God’s intervention, they became a liability.

Jdg 4:16

“edge.” The word “edge” is literally, “mouth.” The sword is being personified here as if it had a huge mouth and was devouring the enemy.

Jdg 4:17

“Sisera fled away on foot to the tent of Jael the wife of Heber.” It is noteworthy that Sisera’s army fled west toward home, but Sisera fled east, in the opposite direction of his army. The fact that he fled “to the tent...of Heber” meant he knew Heber was there and was intending to hide there.

“To the tent of Jael.” It is possible, even likely, that Heber had more than one wife, each of whom, according to custom, would have their own tent. For an unstated reason, Sisera went to Jael’s tent. It would have been Heber’s tent, but the tent used by Heber and his wife Jael, and therefore referred to in the text as Jael’s tent.

Jdg 4:18

“Turn aside.” Jael spoke politely, as if Sisera was walking by and had somewhere to go and she was asking him to stop and rest awhile. This was a polite way of inviting people to you (cp. Gen. 19:2; Ruth 4:1).

“blanket.” The Hebrew word refers to a thick coverlet, like a thick blanket. Although thick cloth was used for rugs, the translation “rug,” which appears in many English versions, is misleading and hardly warranted. The ground in the Galilee is dirt, not sand, and covering the commanding general of the kingdom in which you live with a dirty rug would have been an insult and totally unacceptable. Jael would not have done it, and Sisera would not have accepted it.

Jdg 4:19

“skin-bottle.” A “bottle” or container made from animal skin.

[For more on skin-bottles, which were usually made from the skins of goats, see commentary on 1 Sam. 10:3.]

“skin-bottle of milk.” Showing hospitality and going above and beyond what was asked. There may also be a kind of mother image going on, because in Judges 5, Deborah is referred to as a mother and Sisera’s mother is waiting for him to come home.

Jdg 4:20(top)
Jdg 4:21(top)
Jdg 4:22(top)
Jdg 4:23

“before the children of Israel.” That is, right in the presence of the children of Israel, who had an involvement in the work of God.

Jdg 4:24

“pressed harder and harder against Jabin.” The Israelites did not destroy Jabin right after killing Sisera and his army. The full destruction of Hazor took some time after Sisera and his army were killed.

“destroyed.” The Hebrew is more literally “cut off” Jabin, but in this context, it means destroyed.


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