Bible Commentary

Judges 4

John Wesley’s Explanatory Notes

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Verse 2

[2] And 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.

Of Canaan — That is, of the land where most of the Canaanites, strictly so called, now dwelt, which seems to be in the northern part of Canaan. This seems to be of the posterity of that Jabin, whom Joshua slew, Joshua 11:11, who watched all opportunities to recover his ancient possessions, and to revenge his own and his father's quarrel.

In Hazor — In the territory or the kingdom of Hazor, which might now be restored to its former largeness and power.

Of the Gentiles — So called, because it was much frequented and inhabited by the Gentiles; either by the Canaanites, who being beaten out of their former possessions, seated themselves in those northern parts; or by other nations coming there for traffick, whence Galilee, where this was, is called Galilee of the Gentiles.

Verse 3

[3] And 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.

Mightily oppressed — More than former tyrants; from his malice and hatred against the Israelites; and from God's just judgment, the growing punishment being suitable to their aggravated wickedness.

Verse 4

[4] And Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, she judged Israel at that time.

A prophetess — As there were men-prophets, so there were also women-prophetesses, as Miriam, Exodus 15:20. Huldah, 2 Kings 22:14, and divers others; but the word prophets or prophetesses is ambiguous, sometimes being used of persons extraordinarily inspired by God, and endowed with the power of working miracles, and foretelling things to come; and sometimes of persons endowed with special gifts or graces, for the better understanding and discoursing about the word and mind of God. Of this sort were the sons of the prophets, or such as were bred in the schools of the prophets. who are often called prophets, as 1 Samuel 10:5,10. And because we read nothing of Deborah's miraculous actions, perhaps she was only a woman of eminent holiness, and knowledge of the holy scriptures, by which she was singularly qualified for judging the people according to the laws of God.

Judged Israel — That is, determined causes and controversies arising among the Israelites, as is implied, verse 5. And this Jabin might suffer to be done, especially by a woman. Yet the frequent discharge of this part of the judge's office, whereby she gained great power and authority with the people, did notably (though not observed by the tyrant) prepare the way for her sliding into the other part of her office, which was to defend and rescue the people from their enemies.

Verse 5

[5] And 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.

And she dwelt — Or, she sat: she had her judgment-seat in the open air, under the shadow of that tree; which was an emblem of the justice she administered there: thriving and growing against opposition, as the palm-tree does under pressures.

Came to her — To have their suits and causes determined by her sentence.

Verse 6

[6] And 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?

Called Barak — By virtue of that power which God had given her, and the people owned in her.

Kedesh Naphtali — So called, to distinguish it from other places of that name, one in Judah, and another in Issachar.

Hath not the Lord, … — That is, assuredly God hath commanded thee; this is not the fancy of a weak woman, which peradventure thou mayst despise; but the command of the great God by my mouth.

Mount Tabor — A place most fit for his purpose, as being in the borders of divers tribes, and having a large plain at the top of it, where he might conveniently marshal and discipline his army.

Naphtali and Zebulun — These she names because they were nearest and best known to Barak, and therefore soonest brought together, because they were nearest to the enemy, and therefore might speedily be assembled, whilst the other tribes, being at a distance, had better opportunity of gathering forces for their succour; and because these had most smarted under this oppressor, who was in the heart of their country; but these are not named exclusively, as appears by the concurrence of some other tribes.

Verse 7

[7] And 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.

Draw to Thee — By my secret and powerful providence, ordering and over-ruling his inclinations that way. In fixing the very place, she gave him a sign, which might confirm his faith, when he came to engage.

Verse 8

[8] And 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.

I will not go — His offer to go with her, shews the truth of his faith, for which he is praised, Hebrews 11:32, but his refusal to go without her, shews the weakness of his faith, that he could not trust God's bare word, as he ought to have done, without the pledge of the presence of his prophetess.

Verse 10

[10] And Barak called Zebulun and Naphtali to Kedesh; and he went up with ten thousand men at his feet: and Deborah went up with him.

Ten thousand at his feet — That is, who followed him; possibly he intimates that they were all foot-men; and so this is emphatically added, to signify by what contemptible means God overthrew Sisera's great host.

Verse 11

[11] Now 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.

Heber — The husband of Jael.

Of Hobab — Called also Jethro.

The Kenites — From the rest of his brethren, who lived in the wilderness of Judah.

His tent — That is, his dwelling, which probably was in tents, as shepherds used.

Verse 12

[12] And they shewed Sisera that Barak the son of Abinoam was gone up to mount Tabor.

They — That is, this people dwelling there, or his spies.

Verse 14

[14] And 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.

Up — Heb. arise, delay not. If we have ground to believe, that God goes before us, we may well go on with courage and cheerfulness.

Gone before thee — Namely, as general of thine army, to fight for thee.

Went down — He doth not make use of the advantage which he had of the hill, where he might have been out of the reach of his iron chariots, but boldly marcheth down into the valley, to give Sisera the opportunity of using all his horses and chariots, that so the victory might he more glorious.

Verse 15

[15] And 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.

Discomfited — With great terror and noise, as the word signifies, probably with thunder and lightning, and hail-stones, poured upon them from heaven, as is implied, chap. 5:20.

Edge of the sword — That is, by the sword of Barak and his army, whose ministry God used; but so, that they had little else to do, but to kill those whom God by more powerful arms had put to flight.

On his feet — That he might flee away more secretly in the quality of a common soldier, whereas his chariot would have exposed him to more observation.

Verse 16

[16] But 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.

Left — In the field; for there were some who fled away, as Sisera did.

Verse 17

[17] Howbeit 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.

The tent of Jael — For women had their tents apart from their husbands. And here he thought to lurk more securely than in her husband's tent.

Peace — Not a covenant of friendship, which they were forbidden to make with that cursed people, but only a cessation of hostilities, which he afforded them because they were peaceable people, abhorring war, and wholly minding pasturage, and were not Israelites, with whom his principal quarrel was; and especially by God's over-ruling disposal of his heart to favour them who were careful to keep themselves uncorrupted with Israel's sins, and therefore preserved from their plagues.

Verse 18

[18] And 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.

Fear not — This was a promise of security, and therefore she cannot be excused from dissimulation and treachery.

Verse 19

[19] And 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.

A bottle of milk — As a signification of greater respect.

Covered him — Upon pretence of hiding him.

Verse 21

[21] Then 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.

A nail of the tent — Wherewith they used to fasten the tent, which consequently was long and sharp. This might seem a very bold attempt, but it must be considered, that she was encouraged to it, by observing that the heavens and all the elements conspired against him, as one devoted to destruction. In the following son, Deborah doth not commend Jael's words, verse 18. Turn in my Lord, fear not; but only her action: touching which, this one consideration may abundantly suffice to stop the mouths of objectors. It cannot be denied, that every discourse which is recorded in scripture, is not divinely inspired, because some of them were uttered by the devil, and others by holy men, but mistaken. This being so, the worst that any can infer from this place is, that this song, tho' indited by a good woman, was not divinely inspired, but only composed by a person transported with joy for the deliverance of God's people, but subject to mistake; who therefore, out of zeal to commend the instrument of so great a deliverance, might overlook the indirectness of the means, and commend that which should have been disliked, And if they farther object, that it was composed by a prophetess, and therefore must be divinely inspired; it may be replied, that every expression of a true prophet was not divinely inspired; as is evident from Samuel's mistake concerning Eliab, whom he thought to be the Lord's anointed, 1 Samuel 16:6. This is said upon supposition that Jael acted deceitfully in this affair; but if we suppose, which is much more likely, that Jael fully intended to afford Sisera the shelter and protection which he sought of her, but was afterwards by the immediate direction of heaven ordered to kill him, the whole difficulty vanishes, and the character both of Jael and of Deborah remains unimpeached.

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