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Go to Bible: Judges 5
“Deborah and Barak the son of Abinoam sang.” The verb “sang” is a feminine singular verb even though Deborah and Barak are two people. This a one of the many cases where a plural subject takes a singular verb. The verb is likely feminine because Deborah is mentioned first and the women are emphasized in Judges 4 and 5.
“sang.” It is hard to know exactly how they “sang.” The word for “song” and “poem” are the same word in Hebrew. Whether they “sang” or “spoke” the words is not known.(top)
|Jdg 5:2||- (top)|
“sing...sing praise.” The Hebrew uses two different words for “sing.”(top)
“went forth out of Seir.” The poet is calling people’s attention to what God had done around the time of the Exodus, and compares it to His mighty deeds in the Judges period (cp. Deut. 33:2).
“field of Edom.” See Genesis 32:3. The Hebrew there is “field,” as here in Judges.(top)
“quaked.” Some scholars see the Hebrew word as being “flowed,” meaning “melted,” as if saturated by rain.(top)
|Jdg 5:6||- (top)|
“village-life.” The word implies unwalled, open villages. The word is singular, but imply the people who live in the villages.(top)
“Israel chose.” The text is literally “He chose,” but often “Israel” is used as a collective singular, and would take the pronoun “he.” It is also possible that “God” (Elohim) is the subject of the sentence and then it would read, “God chose new, then war was in the gates,” and “new” would be an adjective describing “new” leaders, such as Deborah, who then went to war (cp. NET). However, the fact that God consistently warned Israel that idolatry would lead to war and enslavement, and that is a major theme of Judges, is support for the traditional translation: “Israel chose new gods; then there was war in the gates” (cp. Deut. 32:17, “new gods”).
“Was there a shield or spear was seen among 40,000 in Israel?” The Canaanites had oppressed Israel for 20 years, and they disarmed Israel. This is still a tactic of the enemy today. A disarmed people is a weak and controllable people.(top)
“leaders.” The Hebrew is more literally, “decree makers; lawmakers.” It apparently refers to people in every level of any organization who make the rules and decrees.
“offered themselves willingly.” Some versions translate the Hebrew as “volunteered,” but the meaning is the same.
“Bless Yahweh!” Deborah is excited and thankful that there has been a change of heart in Israel and that people are willing to take a stand against evil.(top)
“you who ride on white female donkeys.” This refers to the wealthy. The poorer people walked on the road, as Judges 5:10 says. the color could be “white” or simply “light-colored” (NET).
“rich carpets.” The Hebrew word is used only here, and is related to the word “measure,” and carpet material was measured and sold even as carpet is sold by its measurements today.
“you who walk on the road.” After Deborah and Barak defeated the Canaanites, the roads were once again occupied.(top)
“righteous acts.” The Hebrew word is more literally, “righteousnesses” (a noun), but it refers to what we would call His righteous acts.
“went down to the gates.” They gathered at the gates of the cities for war, to support Deborah and Barak.(top)
“Get up, get up, Deborah!” Although most other English versions say “Awake,” Deborah was not asleep, nor even mentally “asleep.” She was waiting for guidance from Yahweh and, especially given the tense time, would have been wide awake both physically and mentally. When she got the revelation from Yahweh to move forward, then she needed to move quickly and decisively, thus the imperative fourfold exhortation to “get up.” Using a different Hebrew word, Barak was told to “stand up” and get moving.
“speak forth a song.” This is recounting the events before the battle, so Deborah is not rousing herself to action just to sing a cheerful melody. In this case, her “song” was most likely either her prophetic call to Barak to gather an army against the enemy (Judg. 4:6-7) or her final call to start the battle (Judg. 4:14), or perhaps even both.
“capture your captives.” This was a refrain commonly spoken by women as their men returned home from a battle with loot and possible captives (cp. Ps. 68:18).(top)
“for me.” Who the “for me” refers to is unclear, and scholars have suggested Deborah, Barak, and Yahweh. In any case, in the end, it is all for Yahweh.(top)
“whose root was against Amalek.” The Hebrew can be translated that way, and it is true that the root of Ephraim was against Amalek. Joshua was from the tribe of Ephriam and as early as the wilderness wanderings with Moses, Joshua led the battles against the Amalakites (Exod. 17:8-13). The idea that Ephraim’s root was “in Amelek” is “strange” (T. Butler, Word Biblical Commentary), and forces people to say that Amalek must have controlled some of the territory inherited by Ephraim, but that is unlikely and without any proof. But even if it were the case, that would not make Ephraim’s root Amalek.
Since the Amalakites were not in this battle, one might ask why they even come up in Deborah’s poem. Apparently they come up because they were the quintessential enemies of Israel. They were the first ones to attack Israel after Israel left Egypt (Exod. 17:8) and God said He would make war on them continually (Exod. 17:16). So here in Judges 5, although the Canaanites were the ones who oppressed Israel for 20 years (Judg. 4:3), Deborah mentions them in her poem for effect and emphasis.
“After you, Benjamin, among your peoples.” This is not a complete sentence in English, and it is not a complete sentence in Hebrew. In fact, the versions are divided as to what it means and how to translate it. The two primary interpretations are that it is saying that Benjamin followed Ephraim into battle ( CJB; HCSB; NIV, NJB), and that Ephraim followed Benjamin into battle (ESV; NASB; NET; NLT). Judges 5 is Hebrew poetry, and like most poetry, some sentences are incomplete and vocabulary words are used in unusual ways, making this chapter difficult to understand in a precise way. The text is simply unclear about who followed who into battle.
“the officer’s staff.” The Hebrew text is unclear because the phrase is used only here, and so the English versions translate it in many different ways, including “the pen of the writer” (KJV); “census-counter’s staff “ (Fox); and “staff of office” (NASB). Zebulun was in the heat of the battle (Judg. 5:18), so they apparently were taking some form of leadership or forward role in the fighting, so “officer’s staff” seemed logical and was similar to many other English versions.(top)
“the plain.” The Jezreel Valley at the foot of Mount Tabor is actually a wide plain, and the Hebrew word can mean “valley” or “plain.”
“behind him.” The Hebrew is more literally, “at his feet,” using the same idiom as in Judges 4:10.
“Among the divisions.” The Hebrew word translated “divisions” can refer to the divisions of a tribe, thus “clans,” and it can also relate to streams of water, such as “by the watercourses.” The Transjordan tribal area of Reuben was divided by deep valleys that had water running through them, and those natural valleys may have divided the people of Reuben into different clans or groups. It seems that the word was purposely used to portray the different groups in Reuben.
“deliberations of heart.” There is some manuscript discrepancy, and some manuscripts read “searchings,” but the Massoretic Text is more difficult and likely to be original. Furthermore, Judges 5:16 has “searchings,” and it is common in Hebrew poetry that the same fact is stated in two different ways. In this case, “deliberations” would be in verse 15 and “searchings” is in verse 16. The people of Reuben thought about the situation and the plight of their fellow Israelites, but did nothing about it.(top)
“campfires.” The meaning of the Hebrew word is debated. For “campfires,” see Word Biblical Commentary for Judges 5:16, the only other place this Hebrew word is used is Genesis 49:14.
“the playing of pipes.” The Hebrew word can also be “whistle,” but that does not make as much sense here. A shepherd might whistle for the flock to follow or come, but he would not normally be sitting, he would be up and moving and getting the attention of the sheep.(top)
“Gilead.” There is no tribe of Gilead, so this may be a circumlocution for the tribe of Gad. The tribe of Dan was located in the Transjordan, east of the Jordan River.
“ships.” The original allotment of Dan had access to the Mediterranean Sea.
“harbors.” The Hebrew word is only used here in the Bible, and it has the connotation of being a place that is protected from the force of the ocean and used as a landing place for boats. It could be translated “bay,” since it is naturally occurring and not man-made. Asher was in north Israel, and the Mediterranean coast of Asher had many more bays and jetties than did the lower coast of Israel.(top)
|Jdg 5:18||- (top)|
“at Taanach, by the waters of Megiddo.” Taanach and Megiddo are both on the southern side of the Jezreel Valley; Taanach is more southeast and Megiddo is more southcentral. The cities are about 5 miles apart.
“They took no plunder of silver.” This is an ironic and perhaps even humorous way of saying the Canaanites lost the battle.(top)
|Jdg 5:20||- (top)|
“brook...brook...brook.” There is an irony here. Ordinarily, the “brook” Kishon was no threat to the Canaanite chariots, but with God’s involvement, even a small “brook” helped Israel. This battle also highlights the spiritual battle between Yahweh and Baal, the storm god. Who is in charge of the water? The Canaanites would say Baal is, but in this record, Yahweh shows, as He did when he covered the Egyptians with the sea, that He was stronger than the pagan gods and in ultimate control of the water. Although Baal is not mentioned in this record, he is in the next record in which God empowers Gideon. Gideon’s family lived in the area and had an altar to Baal.
“O my soul, march on in strength.” The Hebrew text is poetry, and therefore very difficult to assign only one meaning. The verse can also legitimately mean something such as, “O my soul, trample on the strong.” Both meanings are true and both apply here, so this verse is a good example of a double entendre (the figure of speech amphibologia).(top)
“Then the horse.” Although some scholars see this verse as the Canaanite army trying to desperately escape, it seems to be more of a summary of the attack, with the hoofs hammering the ground in the attack. By the time of the escape, the ground was soaked and there would not be the hammering of the ground. The word “then” at the start of the sentence does not demand strict chronological order.
“hammered.” There is a wordplay here with the word “hammer” because it is the same root as in Judges 5:26 with the hammer that Jael used to kill Sisera.
“because of the galloping.” The galloping caused the hoofs to hammer the ground.
“mighty ones.” This word could refer to the horses, or the riders, or the combination of the horse and rider as a “mighty one.” Most scholars think it just refers to the horses, but there are verses in Scripture where the mighty ones are people.(top)
“Meroz.” If this is a location, the location is unknown.
“Curse, yes, curse.” This is the figure of speech polyptoton for emphasis (see commentary on Gen. 2:16). There is also a sharp contrast between Judges 5:23 and 24 in that this verse starts with “curse,” while Judges 5:24 with “bless.”
“the mighty.” This refers to people, whereas “mighty ones” in verse 22 is different and does not have to refer to people.(top)
“women in the tent.” The text describes women in terms of their major domestic sphere in the ancient biblical world.(top)
“She brought near to him curds.” The Hebrew word translated “brought near” is qarab (#07126 קָרַב), and it is used in Leviticus 1 of “bringing near” an offering to God; “approaching” God with an offering (see commentary on Lev. 1:2, “approaches with”). There are other Hebrew words for the simple act of bringing, or giving, something to someone, so it seems that this is the author’s deliberate use of qarab in a way that adds to the irony of the whole situation between Jael and Sisera. Jael “brought near” the curds as if bringing a sacrifice or offering to Sisera, but as the record continued, Sisera himself became the sacrifice.
“curds.” The Hebrew is difficult to exactly reproduce in English. It is milk that is in the process of souring, but it is not really “curds” in the true sense of the word, although that is close, nor is it “butter” (KJV), “curdled milk” (HCSB); “cream” (DBY; NKJ); or “yogurt” (NLT). In the hot climate of the ancient Near East, “milk” did not stay milk for very long, so it was always in the process of becoming something more cheese-like.(top)
“She reached out her hand.” This verse has five verbs in quick succession, showing the determination of Jael and quick succession of what happened in the event. Sisera was a strong and experienced warrior, and Jael had to move quickly and decisively when the opportunity arose. Hesitation could have cost her her life. The are times in life when slow and thoughtful action is important, and other times when quick decisive action is necessary. The wise person knows the difference and knows how to act in both situations.(top)
“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 is 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 uses 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 (cp. Gordan Wenham: Word Biblical Commentary: Genesis).
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.”
“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 twenty 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.(top)
“so long in coming.” The Hebrew word for “long” is related to shame. Fox (The Shocken Bible) has “shamefully-late,” and Rotherham’s Emphasised Bible has “ashamed to come.”
“the hoofbeats from his chariots delayed?” The Hebrew word can refer to the sound of the chariots (NIV) or sound of the horse's hoofs (NASB). It usually involves the sound of footsteps, so the hoofbeats of the horses seems likely correct.(top)
“her ladies.” In another context, this could be “princesses,” but her son was not a king, so “ladies” is better here.(top)
“woman.” The Hebrew word is “womb,” which highlights the sexual nature of the Canaanite oppression of Israel. Sexual perversity in life and worship was part of the Canaanite lifestyle, and even Sisera’s mother expected him to come home from the battle with a “womb” or two—slave women for his pleasure. It was fitting in this time of Canaanite oppression, which was especially hard on the women, that Deborah would arise as the prophetess who would engineer the defeat of the Canaanites, and Jael the wife of Heber would kill Sisera, the Canaanite commander.
“for the necks as spoil?” This is a very difficult phrase in Hebrew, but it is poetry. The idea seems to be that the garments were taken as spoil (cp. ESV). However, it could be that the garments were on the necks of the spoil (the women), or even that the garments were for the necks of the spoilers, but that involves a change to the text.(top)
“O Yahweh.” The sentence changes abruptly from direct address to speaking of God in the 3rd person.(top)