Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
Oppression of Israel by Jabin, and Deliverance by Deborah and Barak - Judges 4-5
This fresh oppression of the Israelites, and the glorious victory which they obtained over Sisera, Jabin's general, through the judge Deborah and the heroic warrior Barak, are so fully described in Deborah's triumphal song in Judg 5, that this song may be regarded as a poetical commentary upon that event. It by no means follows from this fact, however, that the historical account in Judg 4 was first of all founded upon the ode, and was merely intended to furnish an explanation of the song itself. Any such assumption is overthrown by the fact that the prose account in Judg 4, contains, as even Bertheau acknowledges, some historical details which we look for in vain in the song, and which are of great assistance in the interpretation of it. All that we can infer with any probability from the internal connection between the historical narrative and the Song of Deborah is, that the author of our book took both of them from one common source; though the few expressions and words which they contain, such as שׂמיכה in Jdg 4:18, תּצנח in Jdg 4:21, משׁכתּ in Jdg 4:6, and ויּהם in Jdg 4:15, do not throw any light upon the source from which they were derived. For, with the exception of the first, which is not met with again, the whole of them occur in other passages-the second in Jdg 1:14 and Jos 15:18, the third in the same sense in Jdg 20:37, and the fourth in Exo 14:24 and Jos 10:10. And it by no means follows, that because in the passages referred to, "yaahom is found in close association with songs or poetical passages" (Bertheau), the word itself must be borrowed from the same source as the songs, viz., from the book of Jasher (Jos 10:13). For המם is found in the same signification in Sa1 7:10; Exo 23:27, and Deu 2:15, where we look in vain for any songs; whilst it always occurs in connection with the account of a miraculous overthrow of the foe by the omnipotent power of God.
The Victory over Jabin and His General Sisera. - Jdg 4:1-3. As the Israelites fell away from the Lord again when Ehud was dead, the Lord gave them into the hand of the Canaanitish king Jabin, who oppressed them severely for twenty years with a powerful army under Sisera his general. The circumstantial clause, "when Ehud was dead," places the falling away of the Israelites from God in direct causal connection with the death of Ehud on the one hand, and the deliverance of Israel into the power of Jabin on the other, and clearly indicates that as long as Ehud lived he kept the people from idolatry (cf. Jdg 2:18-19), and defended Israel from hostile oppressions. Joshua had already conquered one king, Jabin of Hazor, and taken his capital (Jos 11:1, Jos 11:10). The king referred to here, who lived more than a century later, bore the same name. The name Jabin, "the discerning," may possibly have been a standing name or title of the Canaanitish kings of Hazor, as Abimelech was of the kings of the Philistines (see at Gen 26:8). He is called "king of Canaan," in distinction from the kings of other nations and lands, such as Moab, Mesopotamia, etc. (Jdg 3:8, Jdg 3:12), into whose power the Lord had given up His sinful people. Hazor, once the capital of the kingdoms of northern Canaan, was situated over (above or to the north of) Lake Huleh, in the tribe of Naphtali, but has not yet been discovered (see at Jos 11:1). Sisera, the general of Jabin, dwelt in Harosheth of the Goyim, and oppressed the Israelites most tyrannically (Mightily: cf. Jdg 7:1; Sa1 2:16) for twenty years with a force consisting of 900 chariots of iron (see at Jos 17:16). The situation of Harosheth, which only occurs here (Jdg 4:2, Jdg 4:13, Jdg 4:16), is unknown; but it is certainly to be sought for in one of the larger plains of Galilee, possibly the plain of Buttauf, where Sisera was able to develop his forces, whose strength consisted chiefly in war-chariots, and to tyrannize over the land of Israel.
At that time the Israelites were judged by Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, who dwelt under the Deborah-palm between Ramah (er Rm: see at Jos 18:25) and Bethel (Beitin: see at Jos 7:2) in the tribe of Benjamin, upon the mountains of Ephraim. Deborah is called נמיאה אשּׁה on account of her prophetic gift, like Miriam in Exo 15:20, and Hulda the wife of Shallum in Kg2 22:14. This gift qualified her to judge the nation (the participle שׁפטה expresses the permanence of the act of judging), i.e., first of all to settle such disputes among the people themselves as the lower courts were unable to decide, and which ought therefore, according to Deu 17:8, to be referred to the supreme judge of the whole nation. The palm where she sat in judgment (cf. Psa 9:5) was called after her the Deborah-palm. The Israelites went up to her there to obtain justice. The expression "came up" is applied here, as in Deu 17:8, to the place of justice, as a spiritual height, independently of the fact that the place referred to here really stood upon an eminence.
But in order to secure the rights of her people against their outward foes also, she summoned Barak the son of Abinoam from Kedesh, in the tribe of Naphtali, on the west of the Huleh lake (see at Jos 12:22), and made known to him the commands of the Lord: "Up and draw to Mount Tabor, and take with thee 10,000 men of the children of Naphtali and Zebulun; and I will draw to thee into the brook-valley of Kishon, Sisera the captain of Jabin's army, and his chariots, and his multitude (his men of war), and give him into thy hand." משׁכתּ has been explained in different ways. Seb. Schmidt, Clericus, and others supply הקּרן or השּׁופר, draw with the trumpet (cf. Exo 19:13; Jos 6:5), i.e., blow the trumpet in long-drawn tones, upon Mount Tabor, and regard this as the signal for convening people; whilst Hengstenberg (Diss. ii. pp. 76, 77) refers to Num 10:9, and understands the blowing of the horn as the signal by which the congregation of the Lord made known its need to Him, and appealed to Him to come to its help. It cannot indeed be proved that the blowing of the trumpet was merely the means adopted for convening the people together; in fact, the use of the following משׁכתּי, in the sense of draw, is to be explained on the supposition that משׁכתּ is used in a double sense. "The long-drawn notes were to draw the Lord to them, and then the Lord would draw to them Sisera, the captain of Jabin's army. Barak first calls the helper from heaven, and then the Lord calls the enemy upon earth." Nevertheless we cannot subscribe to this explanation, first of all because the supposed ellipsis cannot be sustained in this connection, when nothing is said about the blowing of a trumpet either in what precedes or in what follows; and secondly, because Num 10:9 cannot be appealed to in explanation, for the simple reason that it treats of the blowing of the silver trumpets on the part of the priests, and they must not be confounded with the shopharoth. And the use made of the trumpets at Jericho cannot be transferred to the passage before us without some further ground. We are disposed therefore to take the word משׁך in the sense of draw (intransitive), i.e., proceed one after another in a long-drawn train (as in Jdg 20:37 and Exo 12:21), referring to the captain and the warriors drawing after him; whilst in Jdg 4:7 it is to be translated in the same way, though with a transitive signification. Mount Tabor, called Ἰταβύριον by the Greeks (see lxx Hos 5:1), the mountain of Christ's transfiguration according to an early tradition of the church, the present Jebel et Tur, is a large truncated cone of limestone, which is almost perfectly insulated, and rises to the height of about a thousand feet, on the north-eastern border of the plain of Jezreel. The sides of the mountain are covered with a forest of oaks and wild pistachios, and upon its flat summit, which is about half an hour in circumference, there are the remains of ancient fortifications (see Robinson, Pal. iii. pp. 211ff., and v. Raumer, Pal. pp. 37, 38). The words "and take with thee 10,000 men" are not to be understood as signifying that Barak was to summon the people together upon the top of Mount Tabor, but the assembling of the people is presupposed; and all that is commanded is, that he was to proceed to Mount Tabor with the assembled army, and make his attack upon the enemy, who were encamped in the valley of Kishon, from that point. According to Jdg 4:10, the army was collected at Kedesh in Naphtali. Nachal Kishon is not only the brook Kishon, which is formed by streams that take their rise from springs upon Tabor and the mountains of Gilboa, flows in a north-westerly direction through the plain of Jezreel to the Mediterranean, and empties itself into the bay of Acca, and which is called Mukatta by the natives (see Rob. iii. pp. 472ff., and v. Raumer, pp. 39, 50), but the valley on both sides of the brook, i.e., the plain of Jezreel (see at Jos 17:16), where the greatest battles have been fought for the possession of Palestine from time immemorial down to the most recent times (see v. Raumer, pp. 40ff.).
Barak replied that he would not go unless she would go with him - certainly not for the reason suggested by Bertheau, viz., that he distrusted the divine promise given to him by Deborah, but because his mistrust of his own strength was such that he felt too weak to carry out the command of God. He wanted divine enthusiasm for the conflict, and this the presence of the prophetess was to infuse into both Barak and the army that was to be gathered round him. Deborah promised to accompany him, but announced to him as the punishment for this want of confidence in the success of his undertaking, that the prize of victory - namely, the defeat of the hostile general - should be taken out of his hand; for Jehovah would sell (i.e., deliver up) Sisera into the hand of a woman, viz., according to Jdg 4:17., into the hand of Jael. She then went with him to Kedesh, where Barak summoned together Zebulun and Naphtali, i.e., the fighting men of those tribes, and went up with 10,000 men in his train ("at his feet," i.e., after him, Jdg 4:14; cf. Exo 11:8 and Deu 11:6) to Tabor ("went up:" the expression is used here to denote the advance of an army against a place). Kedesh, where the army assembled, was higher than Tabor. זעק, Hiphil with acc., to call together (cf. Sa2 20:4-5). Before the engagement with the foe is described, there follows in Jdg 4:11 a statement that Heber the Kenite had separated himself from his tribe, the children of Hobab, who led a nomad life in the desert of Judah (Jdg 1:16), and had pitched his tents as far as the oak forest at Zaanannim (see at Jos 19:33) near Kedesh. This is introduced because of its importance in relation to the issue of the conflict which ensued (Jdg 4:17 ff). נפרד with Kametz is a participle, which is used in the place of the perfect, to indicate that the separation was a permanent one.
As soon as Sisera received tidings of the march of Barak to Mount Tabor, he brought together all his chariots and all his men of war from Harosheth of the Goyim into the brook-valley of the Kishon. Then Deborah said to Barak, "Up; for this is the day in which Jehovah hath given Sisera into thy hand. Yea (הלא, nonne, as an expression indicating lively assurance), the Lord goeth out before thee," sc., to the battle, to smite the foe; whereupon Barak went down from Tabor with his 10,000 men to attack the enemy, according to Jdg 5:19, at Taanach by the water of Megiddo.
"And the Lord discomfited Sisera, and all his chariots, and all his army, with the edge of the sword before Barak." ויּהם, as in Exo 14:24 and Jos 10:10, denotes the confounding of the hostile army by a miracle of God, mostly by some miraculous phenomenon of nature: see, besides Exo 14:24; Sa2 22:15; Psa 18:15, and Psa 144:6. The expression ויּהם places the defeat of Sisera and his army in the same category as the miraculous destruction of Pharaoh and of the Canaanites at Gibeon; and the combination of this verb with the expression "with the edge of the sword" is to be taken as constructio praegnans, in the sense: Jehovah threw Sisera and his army into confusion, and, like a terrible champion fighting in front of Israel, smote him without quarter, Sisera sprang from his chariot to save himself, and fled on foot; but Barak pursued the routed foe to Harosheth, and completely destroyed them. "All Sisera's army fell by the edge of the sword; there remained not even to one," i.e., not a single man.
Sisera took refuge in the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, to escape the sword of the Israelites, as king Jabin lived at peace with the house of Heber, i.e., with this branch of the Kenites.
Jael received the fugitive into her tent in the usual form of oriental hospitality (סוּר, as in Gen 19:2-3, to turn aside from the road and approach a person), and covered him with a covering (שׂמיכה, ἁπ. λεγ., covering, or rug), that he might be able to sleep, as he was thoroughly exhausted with his flight.
On his asking for water to drink, as he was thirsty (צמתּי, defective form for צמאתּי), she handed him milk from her bottle, and covered him up again. She gave him milk instead of water, as Deborah emphatically mentions in her song in Jdg 5:25, no doubt merely for the purpose of giving to her guest a friendly and hospitable reception. When Josephus affirms, in his account of this event (Ant. v. 5, 4), that she gave him milk that was already spoiled (διεφθορὸς ἤδη), i.e., had turned sour, and R. Tanchum supposes that such milk intoxicated the weary man, these are merely later decorations of the simple fact, that have no historical worth whatever.
In order to be quite sure, Sisera entreated his hostess to stand before the door and turn any one away who might come to her to seek for one of the fugitives. עמד is the imperative for עמדי rof , as the syntax proves that the word cannot be an infinitive. The anomaly apparent in the use of the gender may be accounted for on the ground that the masculine was the more general form, and might therefore be used for the more definite feminine. There are not sufficient grounds for altering it into עמוד, the inf. abs. Whether Jael complied with this wish is not stated; but in the place of anything further, the chief fact alone is given in Jdg 4:21, namely, that Jael took a tent-plug, and went with a hammer in her hand to Sisera, who had fallen through exhaustion into a deep sleep, and drove the plug into his temples, so that it penetrated into the earth, or the floor. The words ויּעף והוּא־נרדּם are introduced as explanatory of the course of the events: "but he was fallen into a deep sleep, and exhausted," i.e., had fallen fast asleep through exhaustion. "And so he died." ויּמת is attached as a consequence to וגו התּצנח ... ותּתקע, whereas ויּעף belongs to the parenthetical clause נרדּם והוּא. This is the explanation adopted by Rosenmller, and also in the remark of Kimchi: "the words ויּעף נרדּם indicate the reason why Sisera neither heard Jael approach him, nor was conscious of the blow inflicted upon him." For the combination of ויּעף with ויּמת, "then he became exhausted and died," which Stud. and Bertheau support, does not give any intelligible thought at all. A man who has a tent-peg driven with a hammer into his temples, so that the peg passes through his head into the ground, does not become exhausted before he dies, but dies instantaneously. And ויּעף, from עוּף, equivalent to עיף (Jer 4:31), or יעף, and written with Patach in the last syllable, to distinguish it from עוּף, volare, has no other meaning than to be exhausted, in any of the passages in which it occurs (see Sa1 14:28, Sa1 14:31; Sa2 21:15). The rendering adopted by the lxx, ἐσκοτώθη, cannot be grammatically sustained.
When Barak, who was in pursuit of Sisera, arrived at Jael's tent, she went to meet him, to show him the deed which he had performed. Thus was Deborah's prediction to Barak (Jdg 4:9) fulfilled. The Lord had sold Sisera into the hand of a woman, and deprived Barak of the glory of the victory. Nevertheless the act itself was not morally justified, either by this prophetic announcement, or by the fact that it is commemorated in the song of Deborah in Jdg 5:24. Even though there can be no doubt that Jael acted under the influence of religious enthusiasm for the cause of Israel and its God, and that she was prompted by religious motives to regard the connection of her tribe with Israel, the people of the Lord, as higher and more sacred, not only than the bond of peace, in which her tribe was living with Jabin the Canaanitish king, but even than the duties of hospitality, which are so universally sacred to an oriental mind, her heroic deed cannot be acquitted of the sins of lying, treachery, and assassination, which were associated with it, by assuming as Calovius, Buddeus, and others have done, that when Jael invited Sisera into her tent, and promised him safety, and quenched this thirst with milk, she was acting with perfect sincerity, and without any thought of killing him, and that it was not till after he was fast asleep that she was instigated and impelled instinctu Dei arcano to perform the deed. For Jehovah, the God of Israel, not only abhors lying lips (Pro 12:22), but hates wickedness and deception of every kind. It is true, He punishes the ungodly at the hand of sinners; but the sinners whom He employs as the instruments of His penal justice in carrying out the plans of His kingdom, are not instigated to the performance of wicked deeds by an inward and secret impulse from Him. God had no doubt so ordered it, that Sisera should meet with his death in Jael's tent, where he had taken refuge; but this divine purpose did not justify Jael in giving to the enemy of Israel a hospitable reception into her tent, making him feel secure both by word and deed, and then murdering him secretly while he was asleep. Such conduct as that was not the operation of the Spirit of God, but the fruit of a heroism inspired by flesh and blood; and even in Deborah's song (Jdg 5:24.) it is not lauded as a divine act.
"So God subdued at that time Jabin the king of Canaan before the children of Israel; and the hand of the Israelites became heavier and heavier in its pressure upon him, until they had destroyed him." וקשׁה הלוך ... יד ותּלך, "the hand ... increased more and more, becoming heavy." הלך, used to denote the progress or continual increase of an affair, as in Gen 8:3, etc., is connected with the infinitive absolute, and with the participle of the action concerned. קשׁה is the feminine participle of קשׁה, like גּדל in Gen 26:13 (see Ges. 131, 3, Anm. 3). The overthrow of Jabin and his rule did not involve the extermination of the Canaanites generally.