Judges 4


The Israelites again rebel against God, and they are delivered

into the hands of Jabin, king of Canaan, 1, 2.

They cry unto God, and he raises up Deborah and Barak to deliver

then, 3-10.

Some account of Heber the Kenite, 11.

Barak attacks Sisera, captain of Jabin's army, at the river

Kishon, and gives him a total overthrow, 12-16.

Sisera leaves his chariot, and flies away on foot; enters the

tent of Jael, the wife of Heber, by whom he is slain, while

secreting himself in her apartment, 17-24.


Verse 1. When Ehud was dead.] Why not when Shamgar was dead?

Does this not intimate that Shamgar was not reckoned in the number

of the judges?

Verse 2. Jabin king of Canaan] Probably a descendant of the

Jabin mentioned Jos 11:1, &c., who had gathered together the

wrecks of the army of that Jabin defeated by Joshua. Calmet

supposes that these Canaanites had the dominion over the tribes of

Naphtali, Zebulun, and Issachar; while Deborah judged in Ephraim,

and Shamgar in Judah.

Verse 3. Nine hundred chariots of iron] Chariots armed with iron

scythes, as is generally supposed; they could not have been made

all of iron, but they might have been shod with iron, or had iron

scythes projecting from the axle on each side, by which infantry

might be easily cut down or thrown into confusion. The ancient

Britons are said to have had such chariots.

Verse 4. Deborah, a prophetess] One on whom the Spirit of God

descended, and who was the instrument of conveying to the

Israelites the knowledge of the Divine will, in things sacred and


She judged Israel] This is, I believe, the first instance of

gynaecocrasy, or female government, on record. Deborah seems to

have been supreme both in civil and religious affairs; and

Lapidoth, her husband, appears to have had no hand in the

government. But the original may as well be translated a woman of

Lapidoth, as the wife of Lapidoth.

Verse 5. The palm tree of Deborah] It is common for the Hindoos

to plant trees in the names of themselves and their friends; and

some religious mendicants live for a considerable time under


Verse 6. She sent and called Barak] She appointed him to be

general of the armies on this occasion; which shows that she

possessed the supreme power in the state.

Mount Tabor] "Mount Tabor," says Maundrell, "stands by itself,

about two or three furlongs within the plains of Esdraelon. It has

a plain area at the top, both fertile and delicious of an oval

figure, extending about one furlong in breadth, and two in length.

The prospect from the top is beautiful: on the N.W. is the

Mediterranean; and all around you have the spacious plains of

Esdraelon and Galilee, which present you with a view of many

places famous for the resort and miracles of the Son of God. At

the bottom of Tabor, westward, stands Daberah, a small village,

supposed to have taken its name from Deborah. Near this valley is

the brook Kishon. During the rainy season, all the water that

falls on the eastern side of the mountain, or upon the rising

ground to the southward, empties itself into it, in a number of

torrents: at which conjuncture it overflows its banks, acquires a

wonderful rapidity, and carries all before it. It might be at such

a time as this when the stars are said to fight against Sisera,

Jud 5:20, 21, by bringing an abundance of rain, whereby the

Kishon became so high and rapid as to sweep away the host of

Sisera, in attempting to ford it." See Maundrell and Shaw. This

mountain is very difficult of ascent; it took Mr. Maundrell nearly

an hour to reach the top; this, with its grand area on the summit,

made a very proper place for the rendezvous of Barak's army.

Antiochus used it for the same purpose in his wars; and Josephus

appears to have fortified it; and Placidus, one of Vespasian's

generals, was sent to reduce it. See more in Calmet.

Verse 9. The Lord shall sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.]

Does not this mean, If I go with thee, the conquest shall be

attributed to me, and thou wilt have no honour? Or, is it a

prediction of the exploit of Jael? In both these senses the

words have been understood. It seems, however, more likely that

Jael is intended.

The Septuagint made a remarkable addition to the speech of

Barak: "If thou wilt go with me I will go; but if thou wilt not go

with me, I will not go; οτιουκοιδατηνημερανενηευοδοι

κυριοςτοναγγελονμετεμου, because I know not the day in which

the Lord will send his angel to give me success." By which he

appears to mean, that although he was certain of a Divine call to

this work, yet, as he knew not the time in which it would be

proper for him to make the attack, he wishes that Deborah, on whom

the Divine Spirit constantly rested, would accompany him to let

him know when to strike that blow, which he knew would be

decisive. This was quite natural, and quite reasonable, and is no

impeachment whatever of Barak's faith. St. Ambrose and St.

Augustine have the same reading; but it is found in no MS. nor

in any other of the versions. See Jud 4:14.

Verse 10. Ten thousand men at his feet] Ten thousand footmen. He

had no chariots; his army was all composed of infantry.

Verse 11. Hohab the father-in-law of Moses] For a circumstantial

account of this person, and the meaning of the original word

chothen, which is translated son-in-law in Ge 19:14, see the

notes on Ex 2:15, 16, 18; 3:1; 4:20, 24; 18:5.

Verse 14. Up; for this is the day] This is exactly the purpose

for which the Septuagint state, Jud 4:8, that Barak wished

Deborah to accompany him. "I know not," says he, "THE DAY in which

God will send his angel to give me prosperity: come thou with we

that thou mayest direct me in this respect." She went, and told

him the precise time in which he was to make the attack: Up, for

THIS is the DAY in which the Lord hath delivered Sisera into thine


Went down from Mount Tabor] He had probably encamped his men on

and near the summit of this mount. See Clarke on Jud 4:6.

Verse 15. The Lord discomfited Sisera] vayiahom

Jehovah; the Lord CONFOUNDED, threw them all into confusion, drove

them pell-mell-caused chariots to break and overthrow chariots, and

threw universal disorder into all their ranks. In this case Barak

and his men had little to do but kill and pursue, and Sisera in

order to escape, was obliged to abandon his chariot. There is no

doubt all this was done by supernatural agency; God sent his angel

and confounded them.

Verse 18. Jael went out to meet Sisera] He preferred the woman's

tent because of secrecy; for, according to the etiquette of the

eastern countries, no person ever intrudes into the apartments of

the women. And in every dwelling the women have a separate


Verse 19. She opened a bottle of milk] She gave more than he

requested; and her friendship increased his confidence and


Verse 20. Stand in the door of the tent] As no man would intrude

into the women's apartment without permission, her simply saying,

there is no man in my tent, would preclude all search.

Verse 21. A nail of the tent] One of the spikes by which they

fasten to the ground the cords which are attached to the cloth or


He was fast asleep and weary.] As he lay on one side, and was

overwhelmed with sleep through the heat and fatigues of the day,

the piercing of his temples must have in a moment put him past


Verse 22. Behold, Sisera lay dead] What impression this made on

the victorious Barak is not said: it could not give him much

pleasure, especially when he learned the circumstances of his


Verse 24. The hand of the children of Israel prospered]

vattelech haloch, it went, going-they followed up this

victory, and the consequence was, they utterly destroyed Jabin and

his kingdom.

IT will naturally be expected that something should be said to

justify the conduct of Jael: it must be owned that she slew Sisera

in circumstances which caused the whole transaction to appear

exceedingly questionable. They are the following:-

1. There was peace between her family and the king of Canaan.

2. That peace was no doubt made, as all transactions of the kind

were, with a sacrifice and an oath.

3. Sisera, knowing this, came to her tent with the utmost


4. She met him with the most friendly greetings and assurances

of safety.

5. Having asked for water, to show her friendship and respect

she gave him cream, and that in a vessel suitable to his dignity.

6. She put him in the secret part of her own tent, and covered

him in such a way as to evidence her good faith, and to inspire

him with the greater confidence.

7. She agreed to keep watch at the door, and deny his being

there to any that might inquire.

8. As she gave him permission to secrete himself with her, and

gave him refreshment, she was bound by the rules of Asiatic

hospitality to have defended his life, even at the risk of her


9. Notwithstanding, she took the advantage of his weariness and

deep sleep, and took away his life!

10. She exulted in her deed, met Barak, and showed him in

triumph what she had done.

Now do we not find, in all this, bad faith, deceit, deep

hypocrisy, lying, breach of treaty, contempt of religious rites,

breach of the laws of hospitality, deliberate and unprovoked

murder? But what can be said in her justification? All that can be

said, and all that has been said is simply this: "She might have

been sincere at first, but was afterwards Divinely directed to do

what she did." If this was so, she is sufficiently vindicated by

the fact; for God has a right to dispose of the lives of his

creatures as he pleases: and probably the cup of Sisera's iniquity

was full, and his life already forfeited to the justice of God.

But does it appear that she received any such direction from God?

There is no sufficient evidence of it: it is true that Deborah, a

prophetess, declares her blessed above women; and this seems to

intimate that her conduct was pleasing to God. If Deborah was

inspired on this occasion, her words are a presumptive proof that

the act was right; unless we are to understand it as a simple

declaration of the reputation she should be held in among her own

sex. But we do not find one word from Jael herself, stating how

she was led to do an act repugnant to her feelings as a woman,

contrary to good faith, and a breach of the rules of hospitality.

Nor does the sacred penman say one word to explain the case; as in

the case of Ehud, he states the fact, and leaves his readers to

form their own opinion.

To say, as has been said in the case of Eglon, that "Sisera was

a public enemy, and any of the people whom he oppressed might be

justified in taking away his life," is a very dangerous position,

as it refers one of the most solemn acts of judgment and justice

to the caprice, or prejudice, or enthusiastic feeling of every

individual who may persuade himself that he is not only concerned

in the business, but authorized by God to take vengeance by his

own hand. While justice and law are in the world, God never will,

as he never did, abandon cases of this kind to the caprice,

prejudice, or party feeling, of any man. The conduct of Ehud and

Jael are before the tribunal of God: I will not justify, I dare

not absolutely condemn; there I leave them, and entreat my readers

to do the like; after referring them to the observations at the

end of the preceding chapter, where the subject is considered more

at large.

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