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Barnes' Notes on the Bible
1And the children of Israel again did evil in the sight of the LORD, when Ehud was dead.
2And the LORD sold them into the hand of Jabin king of Canaan, that reigned in Hazor; the captain of whose host was Sisera, which dwelt in Harosheth of the Gentiles.
See Joshua 11:1 note. Since the events there narrated, Hazor must have been rebuilt, and have resumed its position as the metropolis of the northern Canaanites; the other cities must also have resumed their independence, and restored the fallen dynasties.
Harosheth (identified by Conder with El Harathlyeh, see Judges 4:6) is marked by the addition of the Gentiles, as in Galilee of the nations Genesis 14:1; Isaiah 9:1. The name Harosheth signifies workmanship, cutting and carving, whether in stone or wood Exodus 31:5, and hence, might be applied to the place where such works are carried on. It has been conjectured that this being a great timber district, rich in cedars and fir-trees, and near Great Zidon Joshua 11:8, Jabin kept a large number of oppressed Israelites at work in hewing wood, and preparing it at Harosheth for transport to Zidon; and that these woodcutters, armed with axes and hatchets, formed the soldiers of Barak's army.
3And the children of Israel cried unto the LORD: for he had nine hundred chariots of iron; and twenty years he mightily oppressed the children of Israel.
Oppressed - The same word is used Exodus 3:9 of the oppression of Israel by the Egyptians. If they were put to task-work in hewing timber, their condition was very like that of their ancestors making bricks.
4And Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, she judged Israel at that time.
Deborah, a prophetess - Her name, meaning a bee, is the same as that of Rebekah's nurse (marginal reference). The reason of her preeminence is added. She was "a woman, a prophetess," like Miriam Exodus 15:20; Huldah 2 Kings 22:14, etc. In Judges 4:6, Judges 4:9,Judges 4:14, we have examples of her prophetic powers, and in Judges 5 a noble specimen of prophetic song. Though the other Judges are not called prophets, yet they all seem to have had direct communications from God, either of knowledge or power, or both (compare Judges 3:10 note).
5And she dwelt under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in mount Ephraim: and the children of Israel came up to her for judgment.
She dwelt - Rather, "she sat," namely, to judge the people Judges 4:10, but not in the usual place, "the gate" Ruth 4:1-2; Proverbs 22:22. It suited her character, and the wild unsafe times better, that she should sit under a palm-tree in the secure heights of Mount Ephraim, between Ramah and Bethel (Judges 20:33 note). This verse shows that the Judges exercised the civil as well as military functions of rulers 1 Samuel 7:15-17.
6And she sent and called Barak the son of Abinoam out of Kedeshnaphtali, and said unto him, Hath not the LORD God of Israel commanded, saying, Go and draw toward mount Tabor, and take with thee ten thousand men of the children of Naphtali and of the children of Zebulun?
The name Barak signifies lightning, an appropriate name for a warrior. It is found also as Barca or Barcas, among Punic proper names. Compare Mark 3:17. On Kedesh-Naphtali see the marginal reference.
Deborah speaks of God as Yahweh the God of Israel, because she speaks, as it were, in the presence of the pagan enemies of Israel, and to remind the Israelites, in the day of their distress, that He was ready to perform the mercy promised to their fathers, and to remember His holy covenant. This title, too, would recall to their memories in an instant all His past acts in Egypt, at the Red Sea, in the wilderness, and in the conquest of Canaan.
The object of "drawing (toward Mount Tabor" rather, spreading out, compare Judges 20:37) was to effect a junction of the northern tribes with the tribes of Ephraim and Benjamin, who were separated from them by the plain of Esdraelon, where Sisera's chariots would naturally congregate and be most effective. Mount Tabor rises from the plain of Esdraelon, about 1,865 ft. above the sea, and its broad top of nearly a mile in circumference afforded a strong position, out of reach of Sisera's chariots. If El Harathiyeh be Harosheth, Sisera must have marched from the west. Harathiyeh is a height in the range which separates Esdraelon from the plains of Acre, under which the Kishon breaks through in its course to the sea.
7And I will draw unto thee to the river Kishon Sisera, the captain of Jabin's army, with his chariots and his multitude; and I will deliver him into thine hand.
The brook or stream Kishon (Nahr Mukutta), so called from its winding course, caused by the dead level of the plain of Esdraelon through which it flows, rises, in respect to one of its sources or feeders, in Mount Tabor, and flows nearly due west through the plain, under Mount Carmel, and into the Bay of Acre. In the early or eastern part of its course, before it is recruited by the springs on Carmel, it is nothing but a torrent, often dry, but liable to swell very suddenly and dangerously, and to overflow its banks in early spring, after rain or the melting of snow. The ground on the banks of the Kishon near Megiddo (Mujedd'a, see Joshua 12:21 note) becomes an impassable morass under the same circumstances, and would be particularly dangerous to a large number of chariots.
8And Barak said unto her, If thou wilt go with me, then I will go: but if thou wilt not go with me, then I will not go.
Barak, like Gideon Judges 6:15, Judges 6:36, Judges 6:40, and Abraham Genesis 15:2-3; Genesis 17:18, and Moses Exodus 4:10, Exodus 4:13, and Peter Matthew 14:30-31, exhibited some weakness of faith at first. But this only makes his example more profitable for our encouragement, though he himself suffered some lost by his weakness Judges 4:9.
9And she said, I will surely go with thee: notwithstanding the journey that thou takest shall not be for thine honour; for the LORD shall sell Sisera into the hand of a woman. And Deborah arose, and went with Barak to Kedesh.
Mark the unhesitating faith and courage of Deborah, and the rebuke to Barak's timidity, "the Lord shall sell Sisera into the hand of a woman" (Jael, Judges 4:22). For a similar use of a weak instrument, that the excellency of the power might be of God, compare the history of Gideon and his 300, David and his sling, Shamgar and his ox-goad, Samson and the jawbone of the ass. (See 1 Corinthians 1:26, 1 Corinthians 1:31.) Barak would probably think the woman must be Deborah. The prophecy was only explained by its fulfillment. Her presence as a prophetess would give a divine sanction to Barak's attempt to raise the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali. To Barak himself it would be a pledge of her truth and sincerity. She probably commissioned some chief to raise the tribes of Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh (Judges 5:14, compare Psalm 80:2), while she went with Barak and mustered Zebulun, Naphtali, and Issachar.
10And Barak called Zebulun and Naphtali to Kedesh; and he went up with ten thousand men at his feet: and Deborah went up with him.
Rather, "and ten thousand men went up (to Tabor) at his feet;" i. e. as his followers ("after him," Judges 4:14).
11Now Heber the Kenite, which was of the children of Hobab the father in law of Moses, had severed himself from the Kenites, and pitched his tent unto the plain of Zaanaim, which is by Kedesh.
Read, "Heber the Kenitc had severed himself from the Kenites which were of the children of Hobab," etc., "unto the oak (or terebinth tree) in Zaanaim" (or Bitzaanaim, which Conder identifies with Bessum, twelve miles southeast of Tabor, and near Kedesh on the Sea of Galilee). This migration of Heber the Kenite, with a portion of his tribe, from the south of Judah to the north of Naphtali, perhaps caused by Philistine oppression, had clearly taken place recently. It is mentioned here to account for the subsequent narrative, but possibly also because the news of the great muster of the Israelites at Kedesh had been carried to Sisera by some of the tribe Judges 4:12, whose tents we are here informed were in the immediate neighborhood of Kedesh.
12And they shewed Sisera that Barak the son of Abinoam was gone up to mount Tabor.
13And Sisera gathered together all his chariots, even nine hundred chariots of iron, and all the people that were with him, from Harosheth of the Gentiles unto the river of Kishon.
14And Deborah said unto Barak, Up; for this is the day in which the LORD hath delivered Sisera into thine hand: is not the LORD gone out before thee? So Barak went down from mount Tabor, and ten thousand men after him.
15And the LORD discomfited Sisera, and all his chariots, and all his host, with the edge of the sword before Barak; so that Sisera lighted down off his chariot, and fled away on his feet.
Lighted down off his chariot - Probably his chariot stuck in the morass (see the note at Judges 4:7); or he might leave his chariot in order to mislead his pursuers, and in hope of gaining a place of safety while they were following the track of the chariot-wheels and the bulk of the host.
16But Barak pursued after the chariots, and after the host, unto Harosheth of the Gentiles: and all the host of Sisera fell upon the edge of the sword; and there was not a man left.
What with the overflowing of the Kishon Judges 5:21, by which numbers were drowned, and the panic which had seized the defeated army, and made them an easy prey to the sword of the pursuing Israelites, Sisera's whole force was cut to pieces and broken up.
17Howbeit Sisera fled away on his feet to the tent of Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite: for there was peace between Jabin the king of Hazor and the house of Heber the Kenite.
Sisera went, not to Heber's tent, but to Joel's, as more secure from pursuit. Women occupied a separate tent. Genesis 18:6, Genesis 18:10; Genesis 24:67.
18And Jael went out to meet Sisera, and said unto him, Turn in, my lord, turn in to me; fear not. And when he had turned in unto her into the tent, she covered him with a mantle.
19And he said unto her, Give me, I pray thee, a little water to drink; for I am thirsty. And she opened a bottle of milk, and gave him drink, and covered him.
20Again he said unto her, Stand in the door of the tent, and it shall be, when any man doth come and inquire of thee, and say, Is there any man here? that thou shalt say, No.
Stand in the door ... - The characteristic duplicity of the Oriental character, both in Sisera and Joel, is very forcibly depicted in this narrative. It is only by the light of the Gospel that the law of truth is fully revealed.
21Then Jael Heber's wife took a nail of the tent, and took an hammer in her hand, and went softly unto him, and smote the nail into his temples, and fastened it into the ground: for he was fast asleep and weary. So he died.
If we can overlook the treachery and violence which belonged to the morals of the age and country, and bear in mind Jael's ardent sympathies with the oppressed people of God, her faith in the right of Israel to possess the land in which they were now slaves, her zeal for the glory of Yahweh as against the gods of Canaan, and the heroic courage and firmness with which she executed her deadly purpose, we shall be ready to yield to her the praise which is her due. See Judges 3:30 note.
22And, behold, as Barak pursued Sisera, Jael came out to meet him, and said unto him, Come, and I will shew thee the man whom thou seekest. And when he came into her tent, behold, Sisera lay dead, and the nail was in his temples.
23So God subdued on that day Jabin the king of Canaan before the children of Israel.
24And the hand of the children of Israel prospered, and prevailed against Jabin the king of Canaan, until they had destroyed Jabin king of Canaan.
See the margin. The meaning is, that Barak's great victory was the beginning of a successful resistance to Jabin, by which the Israelites recovered their independence, and finally broke the Canaanite power. Accordingly, we hear no more of Canaanite domination in the Book of Judges.