The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Judges 4

Jdg 4:1

AFTER EHUD DIED: It is a tribute to his character that declension came in again only after his death: Jdg 2:18,19.

Jdg 4:2

SOLD: Impl slavery (Rom 6:17; 7:14). Sold, as if they were "unprofitable servants"!

HAZOR: The city of Hazor lay almost nine miles north of the Sea of Galilee. During the time of Joshua, it was a Canaanite stronghold in northern Palestine. During the conquest of Canaan, as Joshua marched his army northward, he was confronted by a coalition of forces under the leadership of Jabin, king of Hazor. The biblical record declares that the Israelite army resoundingly defeated this confederation and burned Hazor to the ground (Josh 11:1-14). In excavations at Hazor in 1955-1958, and in 1968, Yigael Yadin discovered evidence that this city had been destroyed in the 13th century BC. He identified the ruins with Joshua's conquest.

Yadin's discoveries actually revealed that there were two destructions of Hazor: one in the 13th century BC, and another in the 15th century BC (Avi-Yonah 481,482). This is precisely the picture presented in the OT. In addition to the conquest of Hazor during the time of Joshua in the mid-15th century BC, two hundred years later, in the period of Israel's judges, the Hebrews again engaged the king of Hazor in battle. In the days of Deborah and Barak (c 1258 BC), the armies of Hazor, under Sisera, were decisively defeated by the Israelites (Jdg 4:2...), and, undoubtedly Hazor was destroyed again.

SISERA... HAROSHETH: It is distinctly remarkable, and mysterious, that these names come together in Ezra 2:52,53.

HAROSHETH: A city near Hazor. Sig "mechanical work". Gentile artificers, makers of chariots (v 3?).

Jdg 4:3

NINE HUNDRED: "This seems to be a very big number, but in an inscription about a victory at Megiddo (BC 1468) over an Asiatic coalition, Thothmes III claims to have taken 924 chariots as part of the plunder" (WJR).

CHARIOTS: Impl pride (Isa 37:24), trust in flesh (Psa 20:7; Isa 31:1). Israel feared them (Jdg 1:19), but foolishly, for "our weapons are not carnal" (2Co 10:4), and God is greater than the chariots of Gentiles (Psa 71:6). Ref to God's chariots in Psa 68:17; Isa 66:15.

Jdg 4:4

DEBORAH: (1) Sig "bee", industrious, orderly motion. Domestic, natural, in ct to mechanical Sisera. Travel in swarms, united (Deu 1:44; Psa 118:12; Isa 7:18; Pro 6:8). Deb was a "mother in Israel" (Jdg 5:7).

(2) "This name means: 'the woman of the Word'. The mistaken meaning 'bee' derives from the idea of an insect which talks as it goes" (WJR).

Jdg 4:5

PALM: Rt "upright", "beautiful" (Jer 10:4; Song 7:7). Sym glorified saints (Psa 92:12). Grows straight upward, and spreads leaves to heaven. "Set mind on things above" (Col 3:1). Sym peace, victory (Joh 12:13; Rev 7:9). Used in feast of tabernacles (Lev 23:40).

DEBORAH: As the first Deborah, Rebekah's faithful nurse (Gen 24:59), still nurse to 12 sons of Jacob. Thus also a mother in Israel (Jdg 5:7), whose burial was near Bethel (Gen 35:8).

Jdg 4:6

KEDESH: "Sanctuary" (Jos 20:7), but in the path of Sisera as they came from Hazor.

MOUNT TABOR: A notable, cone-shaped mountain standing alone (Psa 89:12).

Jdg 4:7

KISHON RIVER: See Psa 83:9. Here, Elijah slew prophets of Baal ((1Ki 18:40).

Jdg 4:8

Notice his supreme confidence in Deborah. Barak is mentioned in Heb 11, but Deb is not. She is a helper in background, to strengthen and encourage (Rom 16:1; Phi 4:3; 1Pe 3:1,2).

Barak's reaction on being thus commissioned throws an interesting light on his character... Here is good and sufficient reason for Barak's inclusion in the list of heroes in Hebrews 11 who wrought "by faith". By these, his only recorded words (in Jdg 5:1 the verb is feminine singular; so the song was Deborah's in the first instance), he demonstrates his possession of the first of all necessary characteristics of the child of God -- utter lack of confidence in himself, but implicit confidence in the leader appointed by God, however ill-judged such a leader might be by the world.

Perhaps if his faith had been stronger he would have led the rebellion without the help of Deborah, secure in the knowledge that since the inspired prophetess had blessed his mission it was bound to prosper.

Jdg 4:9

THE HONOR WILL NOT BE YOURS: So that man cannot boast himself. God delivers by many or few, as He chooses (2Ch 14:4; 1Sa 14:6).

TO A WOMAN: In all this, God is victor. No flesh shall glory (1Co 1:30,31). The woman typ Christ, seed of woman (Gen 3:15), born not of man (Joh 1:31), who smote Sisera (serpent, sin) in the forehead (v 21). Death at the hand of a woman was a shameful thing (Jdg 9:53,54).

KEDESH: "If this is the Kedesh usually marked on the maps as Kedesh-naphtali, several difficulties arise. For it means that Barak chose as his rallying place a spot only four miles from Jabin's capital and quite 40 miles from Mount Tabor, the centre appointed him by Deborah. The attempt to organise thousands of fighting men so close to the enemy and so far from the centre of action would have been both impossible, and sheer idiocy, if it had been possible.

"To all this there is a simple solution. The name Kedesh (= holy place) is one of the commonest in Palestine. At least four others of the same name are known, one of these also being in Naphtali, as the narrative requires (4:6). It is situated on high ground immediately to the southwest of the sea of Galilee, and thus answers also far more appropriately to the name 'Kedesh in Galilee in mount Naphtali' (Josh 20:7) than the other which is fully 20 miles from Galilee. The identification is due to Conder who in his day probably knew the topography of ancient Palestine in greater detail than any of modern times. The maps are almost all of them wrong in making Kedesh-naphtali away to the north; and thereby many a student has been misled. Yet the only reason for the more commonly accepted identification is a heap of ruins in a valley, with the Arabic name Kades. On the other hand, the site proposed by Conder is within a few miles of Mount Tabor and would be eminently suitable as a rendezvous for the northern tribes" (WJR).

Jdg 4:10

WHERE HE SUMMONED ZEBULUN AND NAPHTALI: Barak's call of faith: only a few from other tribes responded (Jdg 5:14-18). The region of Zeb & Naph was a despised (Isa 9:1), dirty region (1Ki 9:10-13), with a different accent (Mat 26:73; Luk 22:59), out of which came no good thing (Joh 1:46). A type of Christ, a Galilean, who called 11 apostles out of Galilee (Judas Iscariot was only apostle not from Galilee.)

TEN THOUSAND: Ten thousand in the northern army, and 30,000 in the southern army (Jdg 5:8).

Jdg 4:11

HEBER THE KENITE: An unfaithful member of a righteous family. The family of Jethro, Moses' father-in-law (Exo 18), and the Rechabites (Jer 35).

THE GREAT TREE: "Elon". Root "strength" or "oak". The Heb is consistently translated "tree(s)" in NIV, but "plain" in Gen 12:6; 13:18; 14:13; 18:1; Deu 11:30. Cp also Jdg 4:11; 9:6,37; 1 Sa 10:3.

Jdg 4:14

HAS NOT THE LORD GONE AHEAD OF YOU?: "This last phrase might mean 'Do not I know that the Lord has gone out before thee?' but far more likely it signifies: 'Canst thou not see that the Lord has gone out before thee?', as though appealing to some visible sign that there was no mistaking.

"What the sign was can be inferred from the details in Deborah's song. 'Lord, when thou wentest out of Seir, when thou marchest out of the field of Edom, and the heavens dropped, the clouds also dropped water' (Jdg 5:4); ie, the crossing of Jordan had been marked by earthquake and storm. The presence of the Lord, then, had been signified by these phenomena of nature. There could be little point in alluding to the fact, except to draw attention to similar happenings during Barak's triumph. Such theophany through storm and tempest is not infrequent in Scripture. It was the same at the Red Sea (Exo 15:8,10 and Psa 77:15-20, especially v 18) and in the conquest of Canaan (Deu 9:3); it was the same more than once in David's experience (2Sa 5:20; Psa 18:6-15); it was the same also when the angel of the Lord went forth and smote Sennacherib's army (Isa 30:30-33); and it will be the same yet again when the Lord for the last time brings deliverance to Zion (Zec 14:3; Psa 83:13-15; Mat 24:30).

"Consequently Deborah's words would, in effect, mean this: 'See the black storm clouds gathering over the plain. Now is your opportunity. Here is a clear sign that the angel of the Lord is delivering the enemy into your hand.' 'They fought from heaven; the stars in their courses fought against Sisera' (Jdg 5:20)" (WJR).

It is a good guess that the resultant downpour (Jdg 5:4) created conditions in the valley that rendered the heavy iron chariots of the Canaanites useless, and even a burden.

TEN THOUSAND MEN: Typ of Psa 68:17 (the chariots of the LORD are 20,000).

Jdg 4:15

Cp Jdg 5:22: blindness, lunacy.

ABANDONED... CHARIOT... FLED ON FOOT: Notice repetition (v 17). Sisera was a renowned charioteer (Jdg 5:28) who trusted greatly in his chariot of iron. But now he has been brought down to level of those he had oppressed -- helpless, alone, in a hostile land.

Jdg 4:16

AS FAR AS HAROSHETH HAGGOYIM: A complete victory, first in Plain of Esdraelon, and then all the way back to the stronghold of the enemy.

NOT A MAN WAS LEFT: Total extermination, as commanded (Deu 20:16,17).

Jdg 4:17

SISERA, HOWEVER, FLED ON FOOT TO THE TENT OF JAEL, THE WIFE OF HEBER: So he knew where it was, although lately moved from Zaanaim (v 11).

TENT OF JAEL: By eastern custom, each wife had her own tent: Gen 24:67; 31:33.

JAEL: "Wild goat" -- from rt "ascend", on the mountains, impl a woman used to hardship and isolation. A faithful wife of a traitorous man, Heber. (Or is the meaning "yah/el" -- ref to names of God?)

FRIENDLY RELATIONS: "Shalom" = peace. Sig unity, fellowship (Psa 55:20). Heber had associated (sig of name) as closely as possible with the Gentiles around him.

"But there is another figure, separate and distinct from all the rest, near that excited gathering in Kedesh. The Kenites from the time of Moses had been in close alliance with Israel. They were a race of wanderers, rarely settling anywhere for long. Very probably they were the tool and weapon makers of their time, for the name Kenite means 'smith', and is to be linked with Tubal-cain (Gen 4:22,24)...

"Heber the Kenite had travelled far afield beyond the terrain usually frequented by his tribe, either because of or with a view to alliance with Jabin and his henchmen. The narrative is emphatic that not only was their peace between Jabin and Heber (4:17), but also an intimate friendship existed with Sisera. The details of Sisera's flight require such a conclusion, for Sisera fled... to the tent of Jael', as though he sought sanctuary there of set purpose and not be accident. Further, Jael recognised him immediately and spoke as one not unknown by him... The strange rapprochement between this Kenite and Israel's hated oppressor calls for explanation. It may be that he was being employed by Sisera in the manufacture of weapons and of armour for his chariots. But the juxtaposition of two verses suggests something further. Immediately after the mention of Heber come the words: 'And they told Sisera that Barak the son of Abinoam was gone up to mount Tabor.' It seems to hint that the news of Barak's uprising came to Sisera from Heber. In other words, Heber may have been acting as spy and fifth columnist for Sisera whilst outwardly maintaining the traditional friendship with Israel" (WJR).

Jdg 4:21

TENT PEG: Sig permanence in God's tabernacle. Cp Isa 22:23-25: a nail in a sure place. Cp Zec 10:4: a nail in God's holy place.

A tent pin of iron, says Josephus. His correct inference, no doubt, from Heber being a Kenite smith.

QUIETLY: "The Hebrew text has an asterisk against the word, implying that there is something strange about it. A change of one letter (which does not alter the pronunciation) turns it into: 'on fire' or in a frenzy' " (WJR).

FAST ASLEEP, EXHAUSTED: "This is a translation dictated by the translator's mental concept of what actually happened. Instead: 'he was cast into a deep sleep' (sw Dan 8:18; 10:9; Psa 76:6), and he fainted (sw Jdg 8:15; Isa 40:28-31; LXX: 'was darkened', ie, knocked unconscious), and he died. This reading now fits all the other details" (WJR).

Jdg 4:23

SUBDUED: From rt for "Canaan", to bow down.

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