Chapter 5

JUDGES CHAPTER 5

The Song of Deborah

        • That day, Deborah and Abinoam’s son, Barak, sang this song:

          • When long hair hangs loosely in Israel, when the people offer themselves willingly, praise Yahweh.

          • Verse 2 in most translations reads something to the effect of “when the leaders took the lead in Israel…” I opted to go with the least common rendering for the opening phrase of verse 2 because, after reading the reasoning for each, the least common rendering seems to me most likely to be correct even though it doesn’t initially make much sense to an English reader. I’ll cite two commentaries, one supporting the common rendering and the other supporting the latter:

            • Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers supports the most common rendering, “The word [peraoth] only occurs in Deuteronomy 32:42, and there, as here, implies the notion of leading; so that the LXX. are doubtless right in rendering it, ‘In the leading of the leaders of Israel.’ God is praised because both leaders and people (Judges 5:9; Judges 5:13) did their duty. Peraoth is derived from perang, ‘hair’; and whether the notion which it involves is that of comati, ‘nobles, who wear long hair’ (comp. Homer’s ‘long-haired Greeks,’ and Tennyson’s ‘his beard a yard before him, and his hair a yard behind ‘), or ‘hairy champions,’ or the hair of warriors streaming behind them as they rode to battle (‘His beard and hoary hair streamed like a meteor to the troubled air’: Gray), leadership seems to be the notion involved.”

          • Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges supports the least common rendering, “The translation, after the LXX. cod. A, gives a good parallelism (leaders and people as in Jdg 5:9), but it rests on slender support. The noun rendered leaders has this meaning among others (such as abundant hair, in Arabic), but in Hebrew the verb ‘took the lead’ properly means to loosen Exodus 5:4, especially to let the hair go loose Leviticus 10:6; Leviticus 13:45, and the noun is used of the long locks of the Nazirites Numbers 6:5. Wearing the hair long was the mark of a vow not to do certain things until a specified object had been attained; the practice was observed not only by the Nazirites but by warriors bent upon vengeance;…Hence we may transl. when the locks grew long in Israel i.e. when the warriors took the vow of vengeance: this may be the meaning of the same word in Deuteronomy 32:42 ‘from the long-haired heads of the foe.’ Offered themselves willingly, of volunteering for battle, only again in 2 Chronicles 17:16, cf. Psalm 110:3…”

          • Hear, O kings! Listen O princes! I will sing to Yahweh; I will sing praise to Yahweh, the God of Israel.

        • Yahweh, when You went down from Seir, when You marched from the region of Edom, the earth trembled, the heavens poured, the clouds poured water. The mountains quaked before Yahweh, the One of Sinai, before Yahweh, the God of Israel.

          • Guzik cites Poole, “Seir and Edom are the same place; and these two expressions note the same thing, even God’s marching in the head of his people from Seir or Edom towards the land of Canaan.”

          • Regarding verse 5, some translations say that the mountains “flowed” rather than “quaked.” Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges notes that it could be either, “flowed down] streamed, Isaiah 64:1; the verb as in Isaiah 45:8, Job 36:28. The Hebr. form also allows the rendering quaked marg., LXX, from a different root.”

          • Benson Commentary offers an alternative translation for the ending of verse 5, favoring , “Even that Sinai — Or rather, As did Sinai itself. The whole verse might be better translated, The mountains flowed down at the presence of Jehovah; as did Sinai itself at the presence of Jehovah, the God of Israel…The prophetess here slides into the mention of a more ancient appearance of God for his people at Sinai, it being usual with the inspired writers, in repeating former actions, to put divers together in a narrow compass. The sense is, No wonder that the mountains of the Amorites and Canaanites melted and trembled, when thou didst lead thy people toward them; for even Sinai itself could not bear thy presence, but melted in like manner before thee.”

          • NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible offers another very valid explanation that favors the translation I used above, “The mountains quaked before the Lord [Yahweh], the One of Sinai, before the Lord [Yahweh], the God of Israel.” The commentators write, “This epithet [the One of Sinai] occurs only here and in the derivative Ps. 68:8, and may be considered an archaic title of Yahweh. Yahweh’s status is reinforced by the storm imagery, which the Canaanite religion generally associates with Baal as ‘the rider of the clouds.’ The poet draws from this well-known imagery to describe Yahweh as riding the clouds to the aid of his people. At the same time, the storm imagery anticipates the cosmic aspects of the victory later in the poem (vv. 19-21).”

          • In the days of Shamgar, son of Anath, in the days of Jael, the main roads were abandoned, and travelers kept to the byways.

          • NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible provides this interesting information, “In this lawless period, roads were dangerous, and travelers were subject to attack by bandits. Farmers and merchants traveled by hillside tracks instead. The roads of the ancient Near East were for the most part unpaved…Although unpaved, those which were intended for wheeled transport (called the ‘wagon roads’ in the Nuzi tablets) had to be staked out, leveled, and constantly maintained. However, very few texts describe the construction and maintenance of these roads…Assyrian kings rarely boasted of their road constructions, as it appeared to be the duty of the local populations.”

          • The warriors ceased, they did not appear in Israel until, I, Deborah, arose as a mother in Israel.

          • Again, we have another uncertain passage. The obscure Hebrew word is “perazon,” and is rendered variously as: “villagers,” “rulers,” “warriors,” Luther even translates it “peasantry.” Part of the issue is that the very same Hebrew word is used in verse 11, so whichever rendering is selected needs to fit contextually in both locations. Various commentaries treat the issue differently:

            • Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers seems to have no problem with rendering it differently in verse 7 than in verse 11, “The one Hebrew word for ‘the inhabitants of the villages’ is perâzôn. The rendering of our version is supported by the Chaldee, and by the meaning of the analogous words in Deuteronomy 3:5.1Samuel 6:18, &c. But this cannot be the meaning in Judges 5:11; and it is far more probable that the LXX. (Cod. B) is right in rendering it ‘princes’ (dunatoi; Vulgate, fortes), though the difficulty of the word is shown by its being simply transliterated (phrazon) in the Alexandrine MS. The meaning probably is ‘warlike chiefs’ (comp. Habakkuk 3:14).”

          • Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges states the issues, but prefers to remain undecided, “The Targ., Peshitto, Jewish commentators followed by AV., treat the Hebr. pěrâzôn (sing.), found only here and Jdg 5:11, as equivalent to pěrâzôth (plur.) = ‘open regions,’ ‘hamlets,’ as opposed to walled towns, Ezekiel 38:11, Zechariah 2:3; hence perâzî ‘hamlet-dweller’ 1 Samuel 6:18 and, doubtfully, Perizzites Jdg 1:5 n. But this rendering inhabitants of villages does not suit Jdg 5:11; ‘the righteous acts towards his peasantry’ makes sense in English, but it does not fairly represent the harshness of the Hebrew. Another ancient rendering, is ‘powerful ones,’ LXX. B, Vulgate fortes, rulers, more strictly ‘power,’ ‘rule’; but this, though suitable for Jdg 5:11, has no support in usage or etymology. The meaning of the word here and in Jdg 5:11 must be left uncertain. In the following words ceased in Israel, they ceased, the repetition of the verb is either accidental, or a clause has dropped out.”

          • Israel chose new gods, then war was at the gates. Not a shield or spear was seen among 40,000 in Israel.

          • And, once again, we have disagreement on the proper rendering of the text. There’s a pretty big difference between the two options. It is either something along the lines of “Israel chose new gods,” OR “God chose new leaders.” Again, I will juxtapose 2 commentaries:

            • Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers states, “The Chaldee and the LXX. agree in this interpretation, which is strongly supported by Deuteronomy 32:16-17. The Syriac and Vulgate render it ‘God chose new things,’ or ‘wars’ (nova bella elegit Dominus, Vulg.); but this gives a poorer sense, and is open to the objection that Jehovah, not Elohim, is used throughout the rest of the song. It alludes to the idolatry (Jeremiah 2:11) which brought the retribution described in the next clause. Ewald and his pupil, Bertheau, render ‘gods’ (Elohim) by ‘judges;’ but this is very doubtful, though the word has that meaning in Exodus 21:6; Exodus 22:7-8.

            • Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges writes, “It is still the period of the oppression, though Jdg 5:7 has for a moment anticipated matters by alluding to the ‘rise’ of Deborah. The first half of the verse yields no certain meaning. They chose new gods, lit. it (Israel) chooses etc., implies that Israel had been guilty of apostasy, and so was punished by an invasion; this is an idea quite foreign to the poem. Of the other renderings, God chose new things, nova bella elegit Dominus, Vulgate, is ungrammatical in Hebr. and open to the objection that Jehovah, not Elohim, is the Name in the poem; he chooses new judges (Ewald) is based upon an erroneous interpretation of Elohim in Exodus 21:6 etc.”

          • My heart goes out to the commanders of Israel, those offering themselves willingly among the people. Bless Yahweh!

          • You who ride on tawny donkeys, you who sit on saddle blankets, and you who walk along the road, consider the voice of the singers gathered at the watering holes. They recount Yahweh’s righteous victories, the righteous deeds of His warriors in Israel. Then Yahweh’s people went down to the gates.

            • The vast majority of translations render the color of the donkey as white. I’ve chosen to use the word “tawny” because in almost every Study Bible I have, it is noted that “white” is not the best translation of the Hebrew word. The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible explains, “…’white’ translates a Hebrew word that occurs only here in the OT, meaning ‘tawny,’ i.e., light colored animals, brownish orange to light brown. Because female donkeys of this color would have been rare, as symbols of status the rich preferred them over the generic gray animals. Among the Canaanites the economically powerful advertised their social standing further by dressing donkeys with luxurious ‘saddle blankets.’ In a time of trouble for Israel, Canaanite merchants rode up and down the public roads in confidence, on their equivalents to luxury limousines.”

          • NLT Illustrated Study Bible adds, “Both the rich (those who ride) and the poor (those who walk) were to listen and spread the song, which would have both a spiritual and social impact as it was disseminated.”

          • Verse 11 is so obscure that there is quite a wide range of translations and they differ significantly. The examples below, selected from this translation comparison, are a good representation of the variation:

            • ASV: “Far from the noise of archers, in the places of drawing water, There shall they rehearse the righteous acts of Jehovah, [Even] the righteous acts of his rule in Israel. Then the people of Jehovah went down to the gates.”

          • HCSB: “Let them tell the righteous acts of the Lord, the righteous deeds of His warriors in Israel, with the voices of the singers at the watering places. Then the Lord’s people went down to the gates.”

            • ESV: “To the sound of musicians at the watering places, there they repeat the righteous triumphs of the LORD, the righteous triumphs of his villagers in Israel.”Then down to the gates marched the people of the LORD.”

              • KJV: “They that are delivered from the noise of archers in the places of drawing water, there shall they rehearse the righteous acts of the LORD, even the righteous acts toward the inhabitants of his villages in Israel: then shall the people of the LORD go down to the gates.”

              • NASB: “At the sound of those who divide flocks among the watering places, There they shall recount the righteous deeds of the LORD , The righteous deeds for His peasantry in Israel. Then the people of the LORD went down to the gates.”

          • As you can see, the Hebrew here is just too uncertain to translate with confidence. Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers admits, “Amid these uncertainties we have nothing better to offer than the conjecture of our translators.”

          • Wake up! Wake up, Deborah! Wake up! Wake up, sing a song. Get up Barak! Take your captors captive, son of Abinoam!

          • Then the remnant went down to the nobles; Yahweh’s people went down for Him against the mighty.

          • Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges prefers the rendering of the B codex of the Septuagint, “Then came down a remnant] The Massoretic scribes intended the verb to mean ‘then may the remnant (i.e. of Israel) rule over the noble ones,’ a prayer; but the noble ones like the mighty are most naturally Israelites, and after then the LXX and other Verss. give a perfect. With a slight change of pronunciation the RV. renders ‘Then came down a remnant of the nobles and the people,’ inserting and without any right. The word for remnant means, not ‘a mere handful,’ but survivors from a battle, a sense unsuitable here; we may perhaps correct the form to Israel (Budde, Moore), and thus obtain a good parallelism to the people of the Lord, as the words are to be read (LXX. B). The whole verse may be restored: ‘Then came down Israel like noble ones, The people of the Lord came down for Him as heroes. For Him (LXX) is preferable to for me in the text.’”

          • From Ephraim their root they marched down into the valley; following you Benjamin, with your people; from Machir, the commanders marched down; and from Zebulun, those who carry a commander’s staff.

          • Some translations render “into the valley” as “Amalek.” However, I have sided with the translations that follow the Septuagint, Codex A- one such translation being the ESV.

          • The princes of Issachar were with Deborah and Barak; into the valley they rushed at his heels. But among the clans of Reuben, there was great indecision.

          • Again, I have chosen to side with the Septuagint which omits the second Issachar and replaces the Masoretic’s “resolve of heart” with “searching of heart” (the latter of which is understood to mean “indecision”).

          • Why do you sit among the sheepfolds to hear the whistling for the flocks? There was great indecision among Reuben’s clans.

          • Gilead stayed on the other side of the Jordan. And why did Dan stay in ships? Asher sat still at the coast, staying in his harbors.

          • The people of Zebulun risked their lives, as did the people of Naphtali, on the heights of the battlefield.

          • NLT Illustrated Study Bible summarizes, “These verses honor those who volunteered and shame those who did not.” ESV Archaeology Study Bible adds, “Ten of the 12 tribes are mentioned here. Five of them (and part of a sixth) are mentioned favorably since they responded to Deborah and Barak’s call to arms: Ephraim, Benjamin, western Manasseh (Machir) (v. 14), Zebulun (vv. 14, 18), Issachar (v. 15), and Naphtali (v. 18). Four and a half tribes did not respond to the summons: Reuben (vv. 15-16), Gad and eastern Manasseh (Gilead), Dan, and Asher (v. 17). Judah and Simeon are not mentioned in chs. 4-5.”

          • The kings came and fought, the kings of Canaan fought at Tanaach, by the waters of Megiddo; but they got no plunder of silver.

          • The stars fought from heaven, they fought Sisera from their courses. The Kishon River swept them away, that ancient torrent, the Kishon River. March on, my soul, with strength!

          • Then the horses’ hoofs beat loudly, the galloping, galloping of his steeds.

          • Curse Meroz” says the angel of Yahweh, “Curse her inhabitants bitterly because they didn’t come to the help of Yahweh, to the help of Yahweh against the mighty.”

            • NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible writes, “Mentioned only here in the OT. Though it cannot be located, it must have been within a triangle whose apexes are marked by Mount Tabor on the east, where Barak assembled his troops…the Kishon River in the west, and Megiddo or Tanaach in the south…” Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges adds, “Probably this village lay on the route of Sisera’s flight, and the inhabitants, though they were Israelites, made no effort to help their kinsmen in following up the victory.”

          • Jael is the most blessed of women, the wife of Heber the Kenite, the most blessed of all women who live in tents. He asked for water and she gave him milk. In a bowl fit for nobles, she brought him curds. Then with her left hand she reached for a tent peg, and with her right hand a workman’s hammer. She struck Sisera; she crushed his head; she shattered and pierced his temple. Between her feet he sank, he fell, he lay. Between her feet he sank down, he fell. Where he sank, there he fell- dead.

          • She looked through the window; Sisera’s mother cried out through the lattice, “Why is his chariot taking so long to return? Why don’t I hear the hoofbeats of his chariot? Her wisest ladies answer, and she repeats the words to herself: “Are they not finding and dividing up the plunder- a wench or two for every man; colorfully dyed garments for Sisera; embroidered, colorful garments for the neck of the plunderer.

          • Guzik writes, “Every death has consequences and Deborah thought of and celebrated the consequences of Sisera’s death.”

            • NLT Illustrated Study Bible notes, “The wise women betrayed Sisera’s evil intentions as they tried to encourage his mother.”

            • Guzik cites Cundall regarding the variation in translation for “wench”: “Elsewhere in the Old Testament it means ‘womb’, and in the Moabite Stone it has the meaning ‘girl-slaves.’ The nearest English equivalent is ‘wench,’ and it is clear that these unfortunate captives would be used to gratify the lusts of their captors.” Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers points out that the term is meant to exhibit the derogatory way in which the Canaanites viewed Israelite women, “…the word used is strongly contemptuous, as though a captive Hebrew girl could only be described by a term of scorn.”

          • So may all your enemies die, O Yahweh, but may all those who love Him be like the rising of the sun in its power. And the land had rest for 40 years.