THE LORD BRINGS VICTORY WHEN LEADERS LEAD AND PEOPLE COMMIT THEMSELVES TO FIGHT THE BATTLE
Characterized as a heroic poem, a war ballad, a victory hymn
I. (:1-5) CELEBRATING THE PRESENCE OF THE LORD FROM A HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE
“Then Deborah and Barak the son of Abinoam sang on that day, saying, That the leaders led in Israel, That the people volunteered, Bless the LORD! Hear, O kings; give ear, O rulers! I– to the LORD, I will sing, I will sing praise to the LORD, the God of Israel. LORD, when Thou didst go out from Seir, When Thou didst march from the field of Edom, The earth quaked, the heavens also dripped, Even the clouds dripped water. The mountains quaked at the presence of the LORD, This Sinai, at the presence of the LORD, the God of Israel.”
– The Leaders (Deborah and Barak) commended for leading
– The People commended for volunteering
– The Lord is to be Praised
Brensinger: Using imagery of the Sinai theophany (cf. Deut. 33:2; Ps. 68:8; Hab. 3:3), emphasis is now placed upon the fact that God’s presence has brought victory rather than either Israel’s own capabilities or Deborah’s personal leadership skills. In addition, such imagery anticipates the actual storm that plays so important a role in the battle itself (5:20-21). By linking the Sinai experience to the present events, Israel testifies that the Lord marches out on their behalf not merely in a recollection of the past, but also as a remarkable ongoing occurrence.
II. (:6-11) CELEBRATING THE LEADERSHIP OF DEBORAH TO BE THE LORD’S INSTRUMENT TO BRING ABOUT VICTORY AND DELIVERANCE FROM THE ENEMY OPPRESSORS
A. (:6-8) Deprivation of Israel Motivating the Compassion and Leadership of Deborah
“In the days of Shamgar the son of Anath, In the days of Jael, the highways were deserted, And travelers went by roundabout ways. The peasantry ceased, they ceased in Israel, Until I, Deborah, arose, Until I arose, a mother in Israel. New gods were chosen; Then war was in the gates. Not a shield or a spear was seen Among forty thousand in Israel.”
Brensinger: Apparently, the Canaanites’ exploitation of Israel has resulted in severe economic hardships. Trading has become virtually impossible, and everyday travel is curtailed or diverted, no doubt by the threat of thievery. Even the least-significant and secluded of villages has failed to escape the crisis. People no longer feel safe to leave their homes. As a result of such oppression – oppression rooted in Israelite idolatry . . . – Israel has been reduced to a state of utter defenselessness.
B. (:9) Delight in Victory
“My heart goes out to the commanders of Israel, The volunteers among the people; Bless the LORD!”
o Victory ascribed to the leaders who led
o Victory ascribed to the people who willingly volunteered and followed
o Victory ultimately ascribed the Lord who accomplished it
C. (:10-11) Deeds of the Lord Observed and Recounted
“You who ride on white donkeys, You who sit on rich carpets, And you who travel on the road– sing! 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.”
Wiersbe: Deborah and Barak summoned the wealthy nobles and the common travelers to join the singers at the wells and praise the Lord for what He did to Jabin’s army. Now it was safe to walk the roads, gather at the wells, and leisurely talk together. The people could leave the walled cities where they had run for protection and could return to their villages in peace. It was time for all Israel to praise God for His mercies to them.
Peter Pett: To ride on an ass was a position of prestige (Judges 10.4), and a white ass was seen as even more prestigious, the ride of princes. But they rode on asses when riding in peace. Thus those who ride on white asses are those who are important and distinguished, yet live in peace. They know nothing of war. The carpet was used for sitting on, and rich carpets were lush and comfortable. Thus those who sit on rich carpets are those who are wealthy and loll around at ease.
‘You who walk by the way.’ These are the ordinary people, the wayfarers, who can use the ordinary paths openly, unlike the previous furtiveness of captive Israel (verse 6). They should be grateful for their freedom.
The idea of all three descriptions is that Deborah is declaring that those who are at ease, far away and untroubled by war, will see what Yahweh will do for Israel, miserable in its captivity, revealing His rule over them, and it will be the talking point among them. All the world is called on to notice what God is doing.
III. (:12-18) CELEBRATING THE BRAVERY OF THE TRIBES WHO VOLUNTEERED TO JOIN IN THE FIGHT VS THOSE WHO SAT ON THE SIDELINES IN SHAME
A. (:12-15a) Willing Warriors
“Awake, awake, Deborah; Awake, awake, sing a song! Arise, Barak, and take away your captives, O son of Abinoam. Then survivors came down to the nobles; The people of the LORD came down to me as warriors. From Ephraim those whose root is in Amalek came down, Following you, Benjamin, with your peoples; From Machir commanders came down, And from Zebulun those who wield the staff of office. And the princes of Issachar were with Deborah; As was Issachar, so was Barak; Into the valley they rushed at his heels;”
Brensinger: those tribes who take active part in the struggle are those concentrated within the central and north-central regions of the land. Clearly, they are the ones most affected by such an “internal” Canaanite coalition, not to mention the ones least affected by surrounding forces causing problems elsewhere.
B. (:15b-18) Sideline Sitters
“Among the divisions of Reuben There were great resolves of heart. Why did you sit among the sheepfolds, To hear the piping for the flocks? Among the divisions of Reuben There were great searchings of heart. Gilead remained across the Jordan; And why did Dan stay in ships? Asher sat at the seashore, And remained by its landings. Zebulun was a people who despised their lives even to death, And Naphtali also, on the high places of the field.”
Inrig: characterizes the tribes singled out for a reluctant spirit:
– Reuben: the tribe who would not act
o They were moved by sentiment, but not to sacrifice.
– Gilead: the tribes which lacked fellowship
o Gilead isn’t the name of one tribe but two – Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh which had never crossed the Jordan River . . . A voluntary lack of fellowship with other believers will inevitably produce a lack of enthusiasm for God’s work.
– Dan: the tribe which lacked growth
o The first tribe to go into apostasy; never realized their potential
– Asher: the tribe which lacked vision
o Focused on their work and their business
IV. (:19-23) CELEBRATING THE MIRACULOUS VICTORY OF THE LORD OVER THE POWERFUL PAGAN WARRIORS
A. (:19) Futility of Pagan Kings
“The kings came and fought; Then fought the kings of Canaan At Taanach near the waters of Megiddo; They took no plunder in silver.”
B. (:20-22) Invincibility of Divine Forces
“The stars fought from heaven, From their courses they fought against Sisera. The torrent of Kishon swept them away, The ancient torrent, the torrent Kishon. O my soul, march on with strength. Then the horses’ hoofs beat From the dashing, the dashing of his valiant steeds.”
C. (:23) Cursing of Uncommitted Bystanders
“‘Curse Meroz,’ said the angel of the LORD, ‘Utterly curse its inhabitants; Because they did not come to the help of the LORD, To the help of the LORD against the warriors.’”
Brensinger: both its character or makeup as well as its location are unknown. However, the scathing condemnation directed against it, condemnation that far exceeds in severity the earlier criticism of various tribes, implies that it was in a superior position to be of help Of importance here is the fact that Meroz’s failure to assist in the cause is not so much an affront to the people of Israel as a rejection of God himself and the responsibilities that he assigns. Such rejection, even in threatening situations involving holy war, is despised and condemned (cf. Jer. 48:10).
F B Meyer: The cooperation of God and man is clearly revealed throughout the Bible. We are His fellow-workers, “fellow-helpers with the truth:’ It is well worth our notice that some of the strongest denunciations in the Bible are against those that do nothing. It is a sin not to do, not to come against might to the help of the Lord. “Curse ye Meroz.” O my soul, dost thou rightly fulfil all the opportunities of thy life? The virgins that slept without oil: the man that hid the talent: the nations that did it not to the least of the king’s brethren; these are held up by Christ to the most terrible denunciations that His gentle lips could frame.
V. (:24-30) CELEBRATING THE CONTRAST BETWEEN THE BOLD EXPLOITS OF THE HEROINE JAEL AND THE DESPAIRING LAMENT OF THE MOTHER OF SISERA
A. (:24-27) The Bold Exploits of the Heroine Jael
“Most blessed of women is Jael, The wife of Heber the Kenite; Most blessed is she of women in the tent. He asked for water and she gave him milk; In a magnificent bowl she brought him curds. She reached out her hand for the tent peg, And her right hand for the workmen’s hammer. Then she struck Sisera, she smashed his head; And she shattered and pierced his temple. Between her feet he bowed, he fell, he lay; Between her feet he bowed, he fell; Where he bowed, there he fell dead.”
B. (:28-30) The Despairing Lament of the Mother of Sisera
“Out of the window she looked and lamented, The mother of Sisera through the lattice, ‘Why does his chariot delay in coming? Why do the hoofbeats of his chariots tarry?’ Her wise princesses would answer her, Indeed she repeats her words to herself, ‘Are they not finding, are they not dividing the spoil? A maiden, two maidens for every warrior; To Sisera a spoil of dyed work, A spoil of dyed work embroidered, Dyed work of double embroidery on the neck of the spoiler?’
Dale Ralph Davis: The picture of Sisera’s mother is simply dripping with holy sarcasm. Here she is, peering anxiously through the upstairs window, squinting into the distance, demanding in suppressed fear the reason for Sisera’s delay. Why hadn’t she heard the clatter of his chariot horses yet? Where is her boy?
The suave princesses who attend Sisera’s mother reassure her . . .: You know it takes time to divide up all the spoil; and they’ll likely rape some girls, and think of how many lovely additions to your wardrobe Sisera will be collecting!
A. Benediction – Cursing and Blessing
“Thus let all Thine enemies perish, O LORD; But let those who love Him be like the rising of the sun in its might.”
Inrig: Two reasons that motivated such exemplary volunteer service:
1) Their attitude toward God – (:31) knew what it was to love God
2) Their attitude toward service – (:23) knew what it was to help the Lord
Motyer: a central theme of the entire book. The poem’s opening words (5:2-5) tell us that for those who have the eyes to see, there is the never-failing confidence of true Israelites in a Judge who goes forth in majesty to direct all their ways. Its closing words (5:28-31) tell us that for those who cannot or will not see there is only the “Canaanite” confidence which is, in the end, illusion. The latter must “perish”; the former will be “like the sun as he rises in his might”.
Block: In ancient Near Eastern thought the sun was worshiped as a deity who rode triumphantly in his chariot each day. The association of the sun with a chariot derives from the sun’s disclike appearance. The ancients perceived it as a chariot wheel turning through the heavens. Indeed the present image may have been suggested to Deborah by the earlier references to Sisera’s chariots. If this interpretation is correct, the prayer not only wishes for Yahweh’s people continued triumph against their enemies; this military nuance also creates a fitting inclusion with the opening vision of Yahweh coming forth from Sinai ahead of his people (v. 4). No earthly chariots can stand against those who are covenantally committed to God.
B. Rest and Slippage
“And the land was undisturbed for forty years.”