Matthew Poole's Commentary
And the children of Israel again did evil in the sight of the LORD, when Ehud was dead.King Jabin oppresses Israel; his captain-general was Sisera, Judges 4:1-3. The prophetess Deborah from the Lord commands Barak to go out against him; promiseth victory; she herself marcheth with him, Judges 4:4-4:14. Sissera’s host is beaten; he flees: Jael hides him in her tent, and while he sleeps she kills him, Judges 4:15-23. King Jabin is destroyed, Judges 4:24.
No text from Poole on this verse.
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.King of Canaan, i.e. of the land where the most of the Canaanites, strictly so called, now dwelt, which seems to be in thee northern part of Canaan. This seems to be of the posterity of that Jabin, whom Joshua slew, Joshua 11:10 who watched all opportunities to recover his ancient possessions, and to revenge his own and father’s quarrel upon the Israelites.
In Hazor; either,
1. In the city of Hazor, which though taken and burnt by Joshua, Joshua 11:11, yet might be retaken and rebuilt by the Canaanites. Or,
2. In the territory or kingdom of Hazor, which might now be restored to its former largeness and power, Joshua 11:10, the names of cities being oft put for their territories, as Zorah, a city, Joshua 15:33, is put for the fields belonging to it, Judges 13:2, in which Samson’s parents lived, Judges 13:25 Judges 16:31 18:2.
Harosheth 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 traffic, or upon other occasions, as Strabo notes of those parts; whence Galilee, where this was, is called Galilee of the Gentiles.
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.More than the former tyrants; partly from his malice and hatred against the Israelites; and principally from God’s just judgement, the growing punishment being most suitable to their aggravated wickedness.
And Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, she judged Israel at that time.As there were men prophets, so there were also women prophetesses, as Miriam, Exodus 15:2, Huldah, 2 Kings 22:14, and divers others; but the word prophets or prophetesses is very ambiguous in both Testaments; sometimes being used of persons extraordinarily inspired by God, and endowed with a power of working miracles, and foretelling things to come; and sometimes of persons endowed with special, though not miraculous, gifts or graces, for the better understanding of and discoursing about the word and mind of God, for praising of God, or the like; of which see 1 Chronicles 25:1 1 Corinthians 11:5 14:1,3,4 &c. And of this sort were the sons of the prophets, or such who were bred in the schools of the prophets, who are often called prophets, as 1 Samuel 10:5,10-12. See, also 1 Kings 18:4 1 Kings 19:10. And because we read nothing of Deborah’s miraculous actions, peradventure she was only a woman of eminent holiness and prudence, and knowledge of the Holy Scriptures, by which she was singularly qualified for the judging of the people according to the laws of God. If it be alleged that she foresaw and foretold the following victory, so did all the sons of the prophets foresee and foretell Elijah’s translation, 2 Kings 2:3,5, which yet were not extraordinary prophets.
The wife of Lapidoth; or, a woman of Lapidoth; and so Lapidoth is not the name of a man, but of the place of her birth or abode.
She judged Israel, i.e. determined causes and controversies arising among the Israelites, as is implied, Judges 4:5. And this Jabin might suffer to be done, especially by a woman; and 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.
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.To have their suits and causes determined by her sentence.
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?She sent and 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, Joshua 15:23, and another in Issachar, 1 Chronicles 6:72.
Hath not the Lord God of Israel commanded? i.e. 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. Which command of God, and the following assurance of success, she might either gather from the general rules of Scripture, and the common course of God’s gracious providence, which was always ready to succour them when they cried to God; or receive by instinct or direction from God.
Go and draw, or, go; for so this word is oft used, as Genesis 37:28 Judges 20:37 Job 21:33; Hob. draw, to wit, thyself, or thy feet. 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. She names
Naphtali and Zebulun partly, because they were nearest and best known to Barak, and therefore soonest brought together; partly, because they were nearest to the enemy, and therefore must speedily be assembled, er else they were likely to be hindered in their design, whilst the other tribes, being at more distance, had better opportunity of gathering forces for their succour, and partly, because these had most smarted under their oppressor, who was in the heart of their country, and therefore were most forward in the present service: but these are not named exclusively, as appears by the concurrence of some other tribes, as is related, Jud 5.
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.I will draw unto thee, by my secret and powerful providence, ordering and overruling his inclinations that way.
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.His offer to go with her shows the truth of his faith, for which he is praised, Hebrews 11:32; but his refusal to go without her shows 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, whom he thought God would preserve and deliver, and himself for her sake.
And 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.Notwithstanding the journey, Heb. the way, i.e. the course or practice, as the way is taken, Numbers 22:32.
A woman; either,
1. Jael; or rather,
2. Deborah, who being, as it were, the judge and chief commandress of the army, the honour of the victory would be ascribed to her. But for Jael, her fact would have been the same, though Barak had gone into the field without Deborah.
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.At his feet, i.e. who followed him or his footsteps; possibly he intimates that they were all footmen, the Israelites neither now having, nor otherwise allowed to have, a multitude of horses; and so this is emphatically added, to signify by what contemptible means God overthrew Sisera’s great host, wherein there were ten thousand horses, as Josephus reports.
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, Judges 4:17.
The Kenite; of whom see Numbers 24:21,22 Jud 1:16. Hobab; called also Jethro. See Numbers 10:29. From the Kenites; from the rest of his brethren, who lived in the wilderness of Judah, Judges 1:16; which removal is here mentioned, lest any should wonder to find the Kenites in this place.
His tent, i.e. his dwelling, which probably was in tents, as shepherds used.
And they shewed Sisera that Barak the son of Abinoam was gone up to mount Tabor.They, i.e. his people dwelling there, or his spies; or, he was told, this being an impersonal speech.
And 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.No text from Poole on this verse.
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, fall to thy work. Gone out before thee, to wit, as General of thine army, to fight for thee: see Judges 5:20 2 Samuel 5:24.
Barak went down from Mount Tabor 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, Joshua 17:16, but boldly marcheth down into the valley, to give Sisera the opportunity of using all his horses and chariots, that so the victory might be more glorious and wonderful.
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.The Lord discomfited Sisera, with great terror and noise, as the word signifies, Exodus 14:24 Joshua 10:10 1Sa 10, most probably with thunder, and lightning, and hailstones, or other such instruments of destruction poured upon them from heaven, as is sufficiently implied, Judges 5:20.
With the edge of the sword, i.e. by the sword of Barak and his army, whose ministry God used; but so that they had little else to do but to kill these whom God by more powerful arms had put to flight.
Fled away on his feet, that he might flee away more secretly and securely in the quality of a common soldier, whereas his chariot would have exposed him to more observation and hazard.
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.To wit, in the field; for there were some who fled away, as Sisera did.
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.To the tent of Jael; for women had their tents apart from their husbands, Genesis 24:67 31:33. And here he thought to lurk more securely than in her husband’s tent.
There was peace; not a league or 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 a peaceable people, abhorring war, and wholly minding pasturage, and were not Israelites, with whom his principal quarrel was; and especially by God’s overruling disposal of his heart to favour them who were careful to keep themselves uncorrupted with Israel’s sins, and therefore are preserved from their plagues.
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 in the manner, though the substance of her act was lawful and worthy.
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.Gave him milk to drink; either because she had not water in her tent, and pretended fear of discovery or some inconvenience if she went out to fetch it; or as a signification of greater respect; or as a likely mean to cast him into a sleep, which she desired and designed; to which end possibly she might mix something with it to cause sleep, which she could not so conveniently have done with water. Covered him, upon pretence of hiding him, but really to dispose him to sleep.
Again 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.He speaks imperiously to her; but it is observable, that she gives him no promise to do so, nor makes him any answer; possibly because though she knew her design upon him was warrantable, yet she had proceeded too far in using dissimulation therein.
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, being headed with iron: these weapons she chooseth, either,
1. Because she had no better weapons at hand, this being only the woman’s tent, where arms use not to be kept, and these people being wholly given to peace, and negligent of war, or Sisera having disarmed them before this time. Or,
2. Because she had more skill in the handling these than other weapons, being probably accustomed to fasten the tents herewith. Or,
3. Because this was very proper for his present posture, and which she knew would be effectual.
Into his temples; which is the softest part of the skull, and soonest pierced. This might seem a very bold attempt; but it must be considered that she was encouraged to it, partly, by observing that the heavens and all the elements conspired against him, as against one devoted to destruction; partly, by the fair opportunity which God’s providence put into her hands; and principally, by the secret instinct of God inciting her to it, and assuring her of success in it.
Quest. What shall we judge of this act of Jael’s? It is a difficult question, and necessary to be determined, because on the one hand there seems to be gross perfidiousness, and a horrid violation of all the laws of hospitality and friendship, and of the peace which was established between Sisera and her; and on the other side, this fact of hers is applauded and commended in Deborah’s song, Judges 5:24, &c. And some who make it their business to pick quarrels with the Holy Scriptures, from hence take occasion to question and reject their Divine authority for this very passage, because it commends an act so contrary to all humanity, and so great a breach of faith. And whereas all the pretence of their infidelity is taken from the following song, and not from this history, wherein the fact is barely related, without any reflection upon it, there are many answers given to that argument; as,
1. That there was no league of friendship between Jael and Sisera, but only a cessation of acts of hostility; of which See Poole "Judges 4:17".
2. That Deborah doth not commend Jael’s words, Judges 4:18, Turn in, my lord; fear not; in which the great strength of this objection lies; but only her action, and that artifice, that he asked water, and she gave him milk; which, if impartially examined, will be found to differ but little from that of warlike stratagems, wherein a man lays a snare for his enemy, and deceives him with pretenses of doing something which he never intends. And Sisera, though for the time he pretended to be a friend, yet was in truth a bitter and implacable enemy unto God, and all his people, and consequently to Jael herself. But these and other answers may be omitted, and this one consideration following may abundantly suffice to stop the mouths of these men. It cannot be denied that every word, or passage, or discourse which is recorded in Scripture is not divinely inspired, because some of them were uttered by the devil, and others by holy men of God, but mistaken, (the prophets themselves not always speaking by inspiration,) such as the discourse of Nathan to David, 2 Samuel 7:3, which God presently contradicted, 2 Samuel 7:4,5, &c., and several discourses of Job’s three friends, which were so far from being divinely inspired, that they were in a great degree unsound, as God himself tells them, Job 42:7,
Ye have not spoken of me the thing that is right, as my servant Job hath. This being so, the worst that any malicious mind can infer from this place is, That this song, though indited by a good man or woman, was not divinely inspired, but only composed by a person piously-minded, and transported with joy for the deliverance of God’s people, but subject to mistake; who therefore, out of zeal to commend the happy instrument of so great a deliverance, might easily overlook the indirectness of the means by which it was accomplished, and commend that which should have been disliked. And if they further object, that it was composed by a prophetess, Deborah, and therefore must be divinely inspired; it may be replied,
1. That it is not certain what kind of prophetess Deborah was, whether extraordinary and infallible, or ordinary, and so liable to mistakes; for there were prophets of both kinds, as hath been proved above, on Judges 4:4.
2. That every expression of a true and extraordinary prophet was not divinely inspired, as is evident from Nathan’s mistake above mentioned, and from Samuel’s mistake concerning Eliab, whom he thought to be the Lord’s anointed, 1 Samuel 16:6.
And, 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.No text from Poole on this verse.
So God subdued on that day Jabin the king of Canaan before the children of Israel.No text from Poole on this verse.
And the hand of the children of Israel prospered, and prevailed against Jabin the king of Canaan, until they had destroyed Jabin king of Canaan.No text from Poole on this verse.