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The Jewish Study Bible Contextualizes the Hebrew Bible with accompanying scholarly text on Jewish traditions and history.

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Commentary on Judges

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Commentary spanning earlier chapters

6.1–10 :


1–2 :

The period of oppression lasted for only seven years, but since it involved subjugation by nomadic tribes with grazing flocks, they succeeded in causing great damage by destroying all the crops. The Israelites were forced to go into hiding and to conceal their grain in the hills.

3 :

Amalek…Kedemites, wandering tribes from southern and eastern deserts who joined the Midianites.

4 :

Gaza, located in the southwest of Israel, later marking the boundary of the land (1 Kings 5.4 ). Its mention here suggests that the entire land was devastated.

5 :

As locusts, an image emphasizing a large number and severe damage. Cf. Joel 1.6–7 .

7–10 :

Israel cried to the Lord, but this time He delayed the deliverer and sent a prophet to rebuke the people for being ungrateful and violating the covenant.

5.1–31 :

The Song of Deborah. This is a hymnof praise thanking and extolling God for overcoming the enemies that threatened His people. It incorporates calls and addresses expressing the joy of victory and the need to offer thanksgiving. The poem is written in the first person, presented from the viewpoint of the speaker; readers in effect sing the song and identify with the speaker. Besides the opening (vv. 2–3 ) and closing (v. 31a ) it consists of three sections. The first (vv. 4–11c) depicts God's theophany, the difficult situation of His people and its hope for salvation; the second (vv. 11d–23 ) portrays the Israelite warriors in contrast with the Canaanite kings; the third (vv. 24–30 ) focuses upon Jael, who represents victory, contrasted with Sisera's mother, who represents defeat. Although there are similarities between the song in ch 5 and the story in ch 4, there are also numerous differences: e.g., the story only mentions two tribes who participate in battle, the song mentions at least six; according to the song Sisera headed the Canaanite alliance and Jabin is not mentioned. Many scholars believe that the story was composed as an interpretation of the song. Stylistically, the song is in archaic Heb, and is extremely difficult, and in places, perhaps corrupt. It makes use of extensive contrasts and extreme transitions: from the LORD's might to Israel's unfortunate situation; from the Israelite tribes to their enemies; from Jael to Sisera's mother. It also conveys an atmosphere of spontaneous enthusiasm. The poem does not mention Judah, Simeon, and Levi, suggesting that it was composed in the north.

1 :

According to the editor, Deborah and Barak uttered the song in immediate reaction to the joy of victory.

5.2–3 :

Opening explaining the circumstances of reciting the song.

2 :

When locks go untrimmed, the Heb is difficult. The translation alludes to the phenomenon of Nazirites who dedicated themselves to warfare wearing long hair (see Num. ch 6 ). Rashi's interpretation, that the phrase refers to disturbances or even disasters that confronted Israel, is preferable. Dedicate, volunteer of one's own will. Bless, addressed to the people of Israel.

3 :

I will sing.…: The repetition emphasizes the function of the speaker and strengthens the involvement of the person later reciting the song.

5.4–5 :

God's theophany and His influence on the mighty forces of nature.

4 :

Seir …Edom, synonyms referring to God's revelation in the land of Edom, south‐ east of Judah. On the tradition of God's epiphany there, see Deut. 32.2 .

5 :

Quaked, some interpret the Heb in the sense of flowing, liquid matter. On the connection between earthquakes and liquid imagery, see Amos 9.5 .

5.6–11c :

Description of the difficult situation in Israel.

6 :

Shamgar, see 3.31 n.

7 :

Deliverance ceased: In the Aramaic Targum and in traditional exegesis the Heb word “perazon” is taken as referring to “open” cities. People were afraid to live in towns without a wall, and fled to fortified cities. You arose: Here the speaker addresses Deborah; see v. 12.

8 :

New gods: The cause of the difficult situation is the people's abandonment of the LORD for the gods of Canaan. See Deut. 32.15–19 . Then: This word is repeated five times (vv. 8, 11, 13, 19, 22 ). Its appearance indicates various stages in the course of the war: danger, gathering together, arrival at the battlefield, war, retreat. Forty thousand, an exaggerated typological number, intended to suggest a war of national dimensions.

9 :

Leaders: The Heb formula carries the connotation of legislators.

10 :

You riders…: Only the wealthy could allow themselves to ride specifically on yellowish donkeys. Riding on a donkey was a symbol of wealth; see 10.4 n.

11 :

Sound of archers: Alternately, the Heb may refer to the noise made by shepherds while dividing their flocks in order to water them. The sound of those who tell God's victories will be louder than this sound. His gracious deliverance: The LORD's deliverance restored confidence.

5.11d‐13 :

General description of preparation for war.

11 :

Gates: The city gate served as a gathering place. Those who had left the unwalled cities gathered at the gates of the fortified cities in order to set out to battle.

12 :

Strike up the chant: Deborah is expected to prophesy on the eve of the war. Take your captives: On the connection between victory and booty, see v. 30 .

13 :

Then was the remnant …: The Heb is difficult. A preferable reading is “Then they went down to Sarid [a city in the Jezreel Valley] against the mighty ones [i.e., the Canaanite kings; see v. 25 ], the LORD's people with their warriors.”

5.14–18 :

Description of the Israelite side. Most commentators state that six tribes went to war (Ephraim, Benjamin, Machir [i.e., Manasseh], Zebulun, Issachar and Naphtali), while four other tribes (Reuben, Gilead [i.e., Gad and the other half of Manasseh], Dan and Asher) refused to join. According to the interpretation suggested here, all ten northern tribes participated.

14 :

In Amalek: This phrase is unclear; hence one should adopt the emendation based on the similarity of the Heb letters: “From Ephraim chieftains [went down] to the valley (Heb ‘mk; Amalek is ‘mlk).” Your kin: The collective noun here follows the plural in the Heb, which may be interpreted as: “After you, Benjamin, among your kinfolk.” This usage strengthens the sense of Benjamin's large army. Benjamin is mentioned as a fighting tribe in ch 20 , in the blessing of Jacob (Gen 49.27 ), and in the description of the establishment of the kingdom (2 Sam. ch 11 ). Machir: The first‐born son of Manasseh; cf. Josh. 17.1 . Marshal's staff: the Heb word suggests commanders, who recorded the number of those going to war (see 2 Kings 25.19 ).

15 :

So was Issachar: It is strange that Issachar is repeated twice in this v., while Naphtali is absent. It therefore seems likely that it originally read “Naphtali.” This conjecture is strengthened by the fact that Barak was from Kedesh‐Naphtali, and by the affinity of this v. to the description of Naphtali in the blessing of Jacob (Gen. 49.21 ). Heart: The ancients thought of the heart as the center of thinking and wisdom (see, e.g., 1 Kings 3.12 ).

16 :

Why then: the Heb “lamah” (why) does not necessarily imply query. Here and in v. 17 it seems preferable to read as a term of negation with an emphatic mem. Thus, it is not a denunciation of Reuben, and later Dan, for not taking part in the battle. A preferable translation, which notes Reuben's participation, is: “You [certainly] did not stay among the sheepfolds…!”

17 :

Tarried, alternately, “dwelled” or “lived,” suggesting that even though the inhabitants of Gilead (Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh) lived far away from the locus of events, they took part in them. And Dan…ships, alternately, “Dan [certainly] did not linger by the ships.” The mention of ships is difficult, because the territory of Dan, both in the south and in the north, has no connection to the sea. Asher: The tribe Asher, who dwelt on the northern coastal plain, also joined the war.

18 :

Zebulun…Naphtali: These two tribes alone are mentioned as bold warriors. This is why they alone are mentioned in the prose story (ch 4 ). Open heights: The war was in the valley; the expression alludes to Naphtali's inheritance.


The battle.

19 :

Kings of Canaan: Jabin, who is mentioned in the prose story, does not appear here; v. 20 notes Sisera as heading the alliance. At Taanach, by Megiddo's waters: The battlefield was between Taanach and one of the tributaries of the Kishon next to Megiddo, in Jezreel Valley, near the ancient international highway connecting Egypt and Mesopotamia (see 4.7 ).

21 :

The raging torrent: The Heb is obscure, and an emendation suggests “the brook Kishon came in front of them.” March on: The joy of victory finds expression as the speaker addresses himself.

22 :

A description of the noise of the enemy's horses' feet fleeing from the battle's confusion.

23 :

Meroz, which has not been identified and whose inhabitants did not join the battle, is cursed. The warriors: Here and in v. 13 it speaks of the warriors of Israel who joined the LORD's battle.

5.24–27 :

Description of the killing of Sisera in Jael's tent. Death at the hands of a woman was considered shameful; cf. 9.54 . The appearance of Jael in the poem is not explained; furthermore, the song does not suggest that Sisera slept, implying instead that Jael struggled with Sisera. The poem describes Sisera's death in slow motion.

5.28–30 :

Transition to Sisera's house. The mother's apprehension contrasts with the ladies' expectations of booty. This scene, which is not found in the narrative in ch 4 , portrays Sisera's demise from a different perspective.

28 :

The picture of a woman looking through the window is repeated in the Bible (2 Sam. 6.16; 2 Kings 9.30 ) and in other ancient Near Eastern texts.

30 :

Dyed cloths…embroidered: The making of dye was expensive; hence colored clothing was expensive, as were garments embroidered with colored threads. Cf. Exod. 26.36 . Every neck: This seems to refer to the necks of those who took the spoils.

5.31a :

Closing. His friends: The people of the LORD are compared to the sun, rising with great intensity.

5.31 :

Editorial conclusion. These words are not part of the song, but are the closing frame of the Deborah‐Barak cycle. In its present location it emphasizes the transition to a new cycle of stories.

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