James Gray - Concise Bible Commentary
And the children of Israel again did evil in the sight of the LORD, when Ehud was dead.Judges 4:1-5:31
THE ERA OF DEBORAH
THE SERVITUDE TO CANAAN (Judges 4)
We met before with “Jabin king of Canaan, that reigned in Hazor” (see Joshua 11), but this seems to have been a second of the name who built a new capitol on the ruins of the former one. The Israelites failed to exterminate these enemies on the north, who had now become strong enough to visit them with the severest oppression they had yet experienced, and which lasted twenty years (Jdg 4:3).
Deborah’s appearance on the scene (Jdg 4:4) is remarkable, who stands out uniquely in the sacred history of her nation. There was no predecessor and no successor like her. The palm tree under which she dwelt (Jdg 4:5) may mean the open air court where justice was administered during her judgeship.
While a judge, she was not a military leader, hence the call for Barak to rally Naphtali and Zebulun which were in proximity to the enemy and suffered the heaviest oppression (Jdg 4:6). This was not her call, but God’s call communicated in some special way to her, and it was God, and not Barak, who was to deliver the enemy into their hands (Jdg 4:7).
Barak’s reply may not have been such an evidence of weakness as it appears, since the presence of the prophetess would encourage the troops and add sanction to the conflict (Jdg 4:8). Nevertheless, it met with rebuke (Jdg 4:9) and an ultimate disappointment very humiliating to a conqueror.
Notice that this was the Lord’s battle, and not man’s (Jdg 4:15), as we have seen so many times in the history of Israel. That the panic was caused in a supernatural way is seen in Jdg 4:20.
Jael’s Savage Deed
No apology can be made for the action of Jael the Kenite woman of Jdg 4:17-21. Her house was at peace with the Canaanites. She had invited the fugitive into her dwelling. She had given him the special protection of the women’s apartment, always sacred to the Oriental, and she had come upon him unawares with probably one of the pins with which the tent ropes are fastened to the ground. She was the meanest of maddest murderers.
It must not be supposed that although her action was foreknown to God it was sanctioned by Him; neither that because Deborah praises it in her song (chap. 5), therefore she is pronouncing a eulogy on the moral character of the woman.
The following is the manner in which The Expositor’s Bible refers to it: Jael is no blameless heroine, neither is she a demon. Deborah, who understands her, reads clearly the rapid thoughts, the swift decision, the unscrupulous act, and sees, behind all, the purpose of serving Israel. The praise of Jael is therefore with knowledge, but she herself would not have done the thing she praises.
Not here can the moral be found that the end justifies the means, or that we may do evil with good intent, which never was a Bible doctrine, and never can be. On the contrary, we find it written clearly that the end does not justify the means.
Rightly does Christian society affirm that a human being in any extremity common to men, is to be succored without inquiry whether he is good or bad.
Law is to be of no private, sudden, unconsidered administration. Only in the most solemn and orderly way is the trial of the worst malefactor to be gone about, sentence passed, justice executed. To have reached this understanding of law with regard to all accused and suspected persons is one of the great gains of the Christian period.
We need not look for anything like the ideal of justice in the age of the Judges; deeds were done then and honestly praised which we must condemn. They were meant to bring about good, but the sum of human violence was increased by them, and more work made for the reformer of after times.
DEBORAH’S SONG (Judges 5)
The words of this chapter appear in better form in the Revised Version, where they are arranged as poetry.
The song begins with a reference to God’s interposition on behalf of His people by a storm (Jdg 5:4-5). Then the condition of the people is depicted (Jdg 5:6-7) and their apostasy from God (Jdg 5:8). This latter was the cause of their affliction.
Praise is spoken for the tribal leaders and especially for God in the help rendered in extremity (Jdg 5:9), and all the great and wealthy are urged to join in it (Jdg 5:10-11).
At Jdg 5:12, Deborah bestirs herself to greater flights of fancy, and Barak is urged to parade his prisoners in triumph. Then follows an account of the tribes if Israel which assisted in the conflict, Ephraim, who dwelt near the Amalekites, Benjamin, Zebulun, Issachar. Reuben is reproached for abiding among the sheepfold, and Gad, Dan and Asher for not leaving their ships to assist in the fight. Zebulun and Naphtali are again especially commended (Jdg 5:14-18).
The battle is described. Jabin seems to have been reinforced by other kings, who joined him without any money recompense (Jdg 5:19). The storm helped Israel, swelling the river so that the enemy were sunk in the quick-sands, or washed into the sea (Jdg 5:20-21).
The story of Jael’s action follows in Jdg 5:24-27. Butter in Jdg 5:25 seems to refer to curdled milk. From Jael a transition is made to the mother of Sisera, the Canaanitish commander, who is looking through the window wondering why her son is so long in returning from the battle. Her companions help her to the answer by suggesting that the victors have waited to divide the prey (Jdg 5:28-30).
The song concludes with an invocation to Jehovah in Jdg 5:31. The land now rested for forty years.
It is to be remembered that this was a song of Deborah, and not a song of God. The record of the song is inspired by God, and in that sense is part of His Word, but it is not to be supposed that the Spirit of God indicted it, as is true of some other parts of Holy Writ.
A parallel has been found in the history of Oliver Cromwell, in whose letter after the storming of Bristol he ascribes the victory to God, saying, “They that have been employed in this service know that faith and prayer obtained this service for you. God hath put the sword in the parliament’s hands for the terror of evil-doers, and the praise of them that do well.”
This may have been true, and yet God should not be held accountable for everything that Cromwell did or said with reference to that action.
1. To what part of Canaan is our attention called in this lesson?
2. Which tribes seemed to have taken the lead in this conflict?
3. Name some evidences of supernatural interposition.
4. Is Jael’s action justifiable?
5. Of what does this lesson speak as one of the gains of Christian teaching?
6. Make an analysis of Deborah’s song.
7. Where does inspiration terminate in this case, in the thoughts of Deborah or in the record of her thoughts?
8. Where has a parallel been found in modern history?