Israel again revolts, and is oppressed by Jabin. (1-3) Deborah concerts their deliverance with Barak. (4-9) Sisera defeated. (10-16) Sisera put to death by Jael. (17-24)
1-3. The land had rest for eighty years, which should have confirmed them in their religion; but it made them secure, and indulge their lusts. Thus the prosperity of fools destroys them. Jabin and his general Sisera, mightily oppressed Israel. This enemy was nearer than any of the former. Israel cried unto the Lord, when distress drove them to him, and they saw no other way of relief. Those who slight God in prosperity, will find themselves under a necessity of seeking him in trouble.
Verses 4-9 Deborah was a prophetess; one instructed in Divine knowledge by the inspiration of the Spirit of God. She judged Israel as God's mouth to them; correcting abuses, and redressing grievances. By God's direction, she ordered Barak to raise an army, and engage Jabin's forces. Barak insisted much upon her presence. Deborah promised to go with him. She would not send him where she would not go herself. Those who in God's name call others to their duty, should be ready to assist them in it. Barak values the satisfaction of his mind, and the good success of his enterprise, more than mere honour.
10-16. Siser's confidence was chiefly in his chariots. But if we have ground to hope that God goes before us, we may go on with courage and cheerfulness. Be not dismayed at the difficulties thou meetest with in resisting Satan, in serving God, or suffering for him; for is not the Lord gone before thee? Follow him then fully. Barak went down, though upon the plain the iron chariots would have advantage against him: he quitted the mountain in dependence on the Divine power; for in the Lord alone is the salvation of his people, ( Jeremiah 3:23 ) . He was not deceived in his confidence. When God goes before us in our spiritual conflicts, we must bestir ourselves; and when, by his grace, he gives us some success against the enemies of our souls, we must improve it by watchfulness and resolution.
Verses 17-24 Sisera's chariots had been his pride and his confidence. Thus are those disappointed who rest on the creature; like a broken reed, it not only breaks under them, but pierces them with many sorrows. The idol may quickly become a burden, Isa. 46:1 ; what we were sick for, God can make us sick of. It is probable that Jael really intended kindness to Sisera; but by a Divine impulse she was afterwards led to consider him as the determined enemy of the Lord and of his people, and to destroy him. All our connexions with God's enemies must be broken off, if we would have the Lord for our God, and his people for our people. He that had thought to have destroyed Israel with his many iron chariots, is himself destroyed with one iron nail. Thus the weak things of the world confound the mighty. The Israelites would have prevented much mischief, if they had sooner destroyed the Canaanites, as God commanded and enabled them: but better be wise late, and buy wisdom by experience, than never be wise.
Judges 4:1-17 . DEBORAH AND BARAK DELIVER ISRAEL FROM JABIN AND SISERA.
1. The children of Israel again did evil in the sight of the Lord, when Ehud was dead--The removal of the zealous judge Ehud again left his infatuated countrymen without the restraint of religion.
2, 3. Jabin king of Canaan--"Jabin," a royal title ruins of the old ( Joshua 11:10 Joshua 11:11 ). The northern Canaanites had recovered from the effect of their disastrous overthrow in the time of Joshua, and now triumphed in their turn over Israel. This was the severest oppression to which Israel had been subjected. But it fell heaviest on the tribes in the north, and it was not till after a grinding servitude of twenty years that they were awakened to view it as the punishment of their sins and to seek deliverance from God.
4. And Deborah, a prophetess--A woman of extraordinary knowledge, wisdom, and piety, instructed in divine knowledge by the Spirit and accustomed to interpret His will; who acquired an extensive influence, and was held in universal respect, insomuch that she became the animating spirit of the government and discharged all the special duties of a judge, except that of military leader.
the wife of Lapidoth--rendered by some, "a woman of splendors."
5. she dwelt under the palm tree--or, collectively, "palm-grove." It is common still in the East to administer justice in the open air, or under the canopy of an umbrageous tree.
6. she sent and called Barak--by virtue of her official authority as judge.
Kedesh-naphtali--situated on an eminence, little north of the Sea of Galilee, and so called to distinguish it from another Kedesh in Issachar.
Hath not the Lord God of Israel commanded?--a Hebrew form of making an emphatic communication.
Go and draw toward mount Tabor--an isolated mountain of Galilee, northeast corner of the plain of Esdraelon. It was a convenient place of rendezvous, and the enlistment is not to be considered as limited to ten thousand, though a smaller force would have been inadequate.
8. Barak said unto her, If thou wilt go with me, then I will go--His somewhat singular request to be accompanied by Deborah was not altogether the result of weakness. The Orientals always take what is dearest to the battlefield along with them; they think it makes them fight better. The policy of Barak, then, to have the presence of the prophetess is perfectly intelligible as it would no less stimulate the valor of the troops, than sanction, in the eyes of Israel, the uprising against an oppressor so powerful as Jabin.
9. the Lord shall sell Sisera into the hand of a woman--This was a prediction which Barak could not understand at the time; but the strain of it conveyed a rebuke of his unmanly fears.
11. Now Heber the Kenite . . . pitched his tent--It is not uncommon, even in the present day, for pastoral tribes to feed their flocks on the extensive commons that lie in the heart of inhabited countries in
plain of Zaanaim--This is a mistranslation for "the oaks of the wanderers." The site of the encampment was under a grove of oaks, or terebinths, in the upland valley of Kedesh.
13. the river of Kishon--The plain on its bank was chosen as the battlefield by Sisera himself, who was unconsciously drawn thither for the ruin of his army.
14. Barak went down from mount Tabor--It is a striking proof of the full confidence Barak and his troops reposed in Deborah's assurance of victory, that they relinquished their advantageous position on the hill and rushed into the plain in face of the iron chariots they so much dreaded.
15. the Lord discomfited Sisera--Hebrew, "threw his army into confusion"; men, horses, and chariots being intermingled in wild confusion. The disorder was produced by a supernatural panic
so that Sisera lighted down off his chariot, and fled away on his feet--His chariot being probably distinguished by its superior size and elegance, would betray the rank of its rider, and he saw therefore that his only chance of escape was on foot.
16. But Barak pursued . . . unto Harosheth--Broken and routed, the main body of Sisera's army fled northward; others were forced into the
17, 18. Sisera fled . . . to the tent of Jael--According to the usages of nomadic people, the duty of receiving the stranger in the sheik's absence devolves on his wife, and the moment the stranger is admitted into his tent, his claim to be defended or concealed from his pursuers is established.
19. she . . . gave him drink, and covered him--Sisera reckoned on this as a pledge of his safety, especially in the tent of a friendly sheik. This pledge was the strongest that could be sought or obtained, after he had partaken of refreshments, and been introduced in the inner or women's apartment.
20. he said unto her, . . . when any man doth come and enquire of thee and say, Is there any man here? that thou shalt say, No--The privacy of the harem, even in a tent, cannot be intruded on without express permission.
21. Then Jael took a nail of the tent--most probably one of the pins with which the tent ropes are fastened to the ground. Escape was almost impossible for Sisera. But the taking of his life by the hand of Jael was murder. It was a direct violation of all the notions of honor and friendship that are usually held sacred among pastoral people, and for which it is impossible to conceive a woman in Jael's circumstances to have had any motive, except that of gaining favor with the victors. Though predicted by Deborah [ Judges 4:9 ], it was the result of divine foreknowledge only--not the divine appointment or sanction; and though it is praised in the song [ Judges 5:24-27 ], the eulogy must be considered as pronounced not on the moral character of the woman and her deed, but on the public benefits which, in the overruling providence of God, would flow from it.