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(MT versing)
The Song of Deborah and Barak The Song of Deborah Deborah
The Song of Deborah and Barak The Song of Deborah and Barak
5:1 5:1-3
5:1 5:1
5:31d 5:31d 5:31d

READING CYCLE THREE (see "Bible Interpretation Seminar")


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

  1. First paragraph
  2. Second paragraph
  3. Etc.


  1. This poem has several female actors.
    1. Deborah (Jdgs. 5:1, 3, 7, 12)
    2. Jael (Jdgs. 5:24-27)
    3. the wives and mothers of the defeated and destroyed Canaanite army (Jdgs. 5:28-30)

  2. The writing and singing of a song of victory after a successful battle is common in the ANE (cf Exodus 15; Numbers 21; Deuteronomy 32; 1 Samuel 18; see G. B. Caird, The Language and Imagery of the Bible, "Saga," pp. 204-205, #1).

    The NASB Study Bible, p. 318, suggests that the

    1. Book of the Wars of the Lord, cf. Num. 21:4
    2. Book of Jashar, cf. Jos. 10:13

    both were songs/psalms of the genre.

    The oral traditions of the ANE were passed on through songs and stories (see D.).

  3. Notice YHWH is depicted as bringing rain from the southern mountains (Seir, Sinai, Jdgs. 5:4,5). This would be unusual, because the rain mostly comes from the north. The torrent of Jdgs. 5:4-5 was a natural event but with supernatural intensity, timing, and locality, just as
    1. the plagues of Egypt
    2. the miracles of the wilderness wanderings (i.e., quail)
    3. the crossing of Jordan in Joshua 3

  4. This ancient poem was possibly passed on by oral tradition before being written down. A new book by John Walton and Brent Sandy, The World of Scripture, documents how oral societies passed on their traditions. This is a very helpful book.

  5. The Hebrew words are rare and the text ambiguous. Several options/theories are possible.

  6. YHWH is often depicted as "the Divine Warrior" (i.e., Isa. 59:16-17). This is "holy war" terminology. YHWH fights on His people's behalf (cf. Jos. 10:14,42; Roland deVaux, Ancient Israel, p. 260, lists several characteristic ways)
    1. elements of nature used in the battle ‒ Jos. 10:11, 12-14; 24:7; Jdgs. 5:20; 1 Sam. 7:10; Ps. 18:14
    2. enemy thrown into confusion ‒ Exod. 23:27; Deut. 7:23; Jdgs. 4:15; 7:22; Jos. 10:10; 1 Sam. 7:10; 14:20; Ps. 144:6
    3. sending a "divine terror" ‒ 1 Sam. 14:15

    The victory was not the courage, strength, number, or weaponry of Israel, but the presence of their God. It was His victory!


1Then Deborah and Barak the son of Abinoam sang on that day, saying,
2"That the leaders led in Israel,
 That the people volunteered,
 Bless the Lord!
3Hear, O kings; give ear, O rulers!
 I—to the Lord I will sing,
 I will sing praise to the Lord the God of Israel.
4Lord when You went out from Seir,
 When You marched from the field of Edom,
 The earth quaked, the heavens also dripped,
 Even the clouds dripped water.
5The mountains quaked at the presence of the Lord
 This Sinai, at the presence of the Lord the God of Israel."

5:1 "Deborah and Barak" This same duo is mentioned in Jdgs. 5:12, but Jdgs. 5:7 emphasizes "Deborah." The NT book of Hebrews emphasizes the role of Barak (cf. Heb. 11:32). They were both to be honored, as was Jael (Jdgs. 5:24-27).

Deborah (NIDOTTE, vol. 4, pp. 512-513) functioned as the revealer of YHWH's will (i.e., prophetess), but Barak acted as the military leader (i.e., judge). However, the prophecy of Jdgs. 4:8 highlights the brave action of one Kenite woman, Jael.


▣ "sang on that day" Judges 5 is ancient poetry. It was from the memoirs of Deborah but written by another. Because of Jdgs. 4:12, which seems to be a refrain from a choir or music group, it was possibly written by the Levites to be used in the Tabernacle/Temple.

5:2 "the leaders led in Israel" The term "leaders" (BDB 828) means the "locks hung loose in" The soldiers let their hair grow long as a symbol of a vow or commitment to God (i.e., Nazirite, cf. Numbers 6). This same allusion can be seen in Deut. 32:42; 2 Sam. 14:26; Ezek. 24:2; and Acts 18:18.

Here, the Qal INFINITIVE CONSTRUCT and the NOUN of the same root (BDB 828, KB 970) are combined for emphasis.

▣ "the people volunteered" This was a time of a loose tribal confederation. There was no central government to dictate military conscription. This poem highlights the volunteerism of some tribes and condemns others for not being willing to come (cf. Jdgs. 5:16-17).

▣ "Bless the Lord" This is a repeated refrain in this poem, which probably means it had been adapted to worship liturgy (cf. Jdgs. 5:9; BDB 138, KB 159, Piel IMPERATIVE).

"Lord" is the special covenant name for Israel's Deity.



5:3 "Hear. . .give ear" These are synonymous in Hebrew.

  1. BDB 1033, KB 1570, Qal IMPERATIVE
  2. BDB 24, KB 27, Hiphil IMPERATIVE

These IMPERATIVES are addressed to either

  1. the city-state kings of Canaan and their leaders
  2. the leaders of the tribes of Israel (Jdgs. 5:19; this psalm became liturgy in an annual worship service)

▣ "I. . .I" This poem begins with the acknowledgment that both Deborah and Barak (Jdgs. 5:12) sang this song, but in Jdgs. 5:3,7 the focus is on Deborah.

5:4-5 There are several titles for Israel's Deity.

  1. YHWH (the Lord)
  2. YHWH of Sinai (NET Bible, NRSV, TEV, NJB, JPSOA, REB)
  3. God of Israel

Number 2 is literally "the One of Sinai." This is an archaic title for YHWH, the owner of Sinai (cf. Ps. 68:8).

There is some disagreement among scholars of the VERB here.

  1. "quaked" ‒ BDB 272, KB 272, Niphal PERFECT, LXX
  2. "trickled" ‒ BDB 633, KB 683, Qal PERFECT; used only three times in the OT: here; Isa. 64:1, 3; see Targums and Peshitta translations

This imagery is

  1. a flashback to Sinai (cf. Exodus 19); YHWH's promised blessing of Ps. 68:7-10
  2. a prelude to the flood that caused victory over Sisera

All creation trembles at the approach (i.e., theophany) of its Creator.

  1. a personified earth
  2. YHWH's human creatures

Remember, His coming can be for blessing or judgment.

5:4 "out from Seir. . .from the field of Edom" Judges 5:4-5 may be a flashback to Sinai (Exodus 19). Many people believe that Mt. Sinai is not located in the southern peninsula but closer to Edom because of this reference compared with Deut. 33:2 and Hab. 3:3.


▣ "marched" This VERB (BDB 857, KB 1040, Qal INFINITIVE CONSTRUCT) denotes a military attack (cf. Ps. 68:7; Isa. 63:1; Hab. 3:12). This is YHWH as the "Divine Warrior" for His people (see NIDOTTE, vol. 4, pp. 545-549; cf. Isa. 59:17).

5:4, 5 ". . .the heavens also dripped
Even the clouds dripped water.
The mountains quaked at the presence of the Lord"
These all seem to be metaphors of rain ("dripped," BDB 642, KB 694, Qal PERFECT, twice, cf. Ps. 68:8-10), which the Lord used to overcome Sisera. The word "quake" (Jdgs. 5:5) literally means "flowed down" (BDB 633, KB 683, Qal PERFECT). This is a different word from "quaked" (BDB 950, KB 1271) of Jdgs. 5:4c (and Exod. 19:18).

6"In the days of Shamgar the son of Anath,
 In the days of Jael, the highways were deserted,
 And travelers went by roundabout ways.
7The peasantry ceased, they ceased in Israel,
 Until I, Deborah, arose,
 Until I arose, a mother in Israel.
8New gods were chosen;
 Then war was in the gates.
 Not a shield or a spear was seen
 Among forty thousand in Israel.
9My heart goes out to the commanders of Israel,
 The volunteers among the people;
 Bless the Lord
10You who ride on white donkeys,
 You who sit on rich carpets,
 And you who travel on the road—sing!
11At the sound of those who divide flocks among the watering places,
 There they shall recount the righteous deeds of the Lord
 The righteous deeds for His peasantry in Israel.
 Then the people of the Lord went down to the gates."

5:6 "Shamgar" This is the poetic account of the brief historical footnote found in Jdgs. 3:31.

▣ "Shamgar. . .Jael" Both deliverers are from unexpected persons, both non-Israelites, one a Bedouin's wife.

▣ "Jael" This goes back to Jdgs. 4:11,17-22. YHWH's power is seen through the victory accomplished by a Bedouin wife.

▣ "and travelers went by round-about ways" There are several possible meanings to these two lines of poetry.

  1. caravan routes were made difficult by
    1. taxation from Hazor
    2. marauding bandits
  2. the poor or rural people (BDB 826) were impacted by the trade or rain problem
  3. the wadis used as roads in the dry period were suddenly and unexpectedly filled with torrents of runoff water

5:7 "The peasantry ceased" This is a term (BDB 826, also Jdgs. 5:11) that speaks of the poor rural farmers and shows the exploitation of the Canaanites.

The JPSOA translates the first two lines as "Deliverance ceased, ceased in Israel." Notice the repeat of the VERB (BDB 292, KB 292, both Qal PERFECT). The Hebrew word, "the peasantry" (BDB 826) is interpreted by the Targums as referring to cities without walls. However, the term could refer to "leaders" (BDB 826, i.e., REB, "champions," NET Bible, cf. Hab. 3:14).

▣ "I, Deborah" The RSV and Jerusalem Bible see "I" as an archaic form of "you." However, it can also be translated "I" (NASB, NIV, Peshitta). Therefore, we are not sure about the authorship of this particular poem.

NASB  "New gods were chosen"
NKJV, NJB, REB  "They chose new gods"
NRSV, JPSOA  "when new gods were chosen"
TEV  "the Israelites chose new gods"

The questions are:

  1. Who chose?
  2. What does "gods" mean?

    The options are as follows, for #1

    1. YHWH chose new leaders (cf. Jdgs. 5:9; NET Bible)
    2. Israelites (cf. Deut. 32:17; TEV)
    3. Canaanite fertility pantheon

For the second question, one must decide which meaning of Elohim fits the context best.

It is crucial that one looks at Jdgs. 5:6-11 and determines the meaning of the strophe.

  1. Why were the highways deserted?
  2. Why had the peasantry ceased?
  3. Who is to rejoice with the coming war?


▣ "Then war was in the gates" This phrase can have several meanings.

  1. There was conflict among the Israelite tribal leaders on what to do about the Canaanite idolatry (cf. Jdgs. 1:27, 28, 30, 31, 32, 33, 35; 2:2-3, 11; i.e., "the gate," the place of government).
  2. There was conflict over whether to join Deborah and Barak in confronting Jabin and Sisera (cf. Jdgs. 5:16, 17, 23).
  3. The NET Bible translates it as "then fighters appeared in the city gates" (see "new gods" as warriors/leaders, Jdgs. 5:8a).

▣ "Not a shield or a spear was seen
 Among the forty thousand in Israel"
This supports option #2 above. Many tribes (cf. Jdgs. 5:16-17,23) did not join the insurgency of Deborah and Barak.

It is possible this refers to the ill equipped farmers/soldiers of Israel (cf. 1 Sam. 13:19-22).

▣ "forty thousand" Both of these words can be literal or figurative, depending on the context. Here, probably a military unit.



5:9 "My heart" See SPECIAL TOPIC: HEART.

▣ "the volunteers" This VERB (BDB 621, KB 671) was used in Jdgs. 5:2 (Hithpael INFINITIVE CONSTRUCT). Here, it is a Hithpael ACTIVE PARTICIPLE. It refers to the tribes and geographical areas that joined the insurgency of Deborah and Barak. They are blessed for their obedience to a divine mandate and courage to act.

Judges 5:10-11 documents some of the people who should "Bless the Lord."

  1. the wealthy (possibly leaders of Jdgs. 5:3)
  2. the shepherds/musicians

They should tell of His acts of deliverance (i.e., in the past), cf. Jdgs. 5:11. He cares for His people. He acts on their behalf. He is the faithful covenant God of Israel (cf. Jdgs. 5:3a). In this context several specific groups are mentioned.

  1. the volunteer leadership, Jdgs. 5:2,9
  2. travelers/merchants, Jdgs. 5:10
  3. wealthy, Jdgs. 5:10
  4. shepherds/musicians, Jdgs. 5:11
  5. villagers (i.e., rural farmers), Jdgs. 5:11
  6. the survivors of the oppressed, Jdgs. 5:13
  7. The AB, p. 110, suggests that Jdgs. 5:10b refers to judges following the use of a NOUN (BDB 192) instead of "carpet" (BDB 551). If so, then another group is meant to "Bless YHWH," judges.

5:10 "white donkeys" These are metaphorical for the rich and wealthy (cf. Jdgs. 10:4; 12:14). Donkeys were the transportation of choice in the ANE. White (yellowish) donkeys were rare and extremely expensive. They were sought after as a status symbol.

NASB, NRSV  "rich carpets"
NKJV  "sit in judge's attire"
TEV  "saddles"
NJB, REB  "saddle blankets"
JPSOA  "saddle bags"

This NOUN (BDB 551, KB 546) can refer to

  1. saddle cloth
  2. special outer garment
    1. Ehud's cloak, Jdgs. 3:16
    2. Saul's war attire, 1 Sam. 17:38
    3. Joab's military attire, 2 Sam. 20:8
    4. Jonathan's royal robe, 1 Sam. 18:4
    5. priest's garment, Lev. 6:3
    6. judge's attire (NKJV)

Only context can determine. Here, a cloth over the back of a donkey seems best. Only the rich would have beautiful saddle cloths or saddles (TEV).

NASB, NJB  "sing"
NKJV  "speak"
NRSV, TEV  "tell of it"
JPSOA, NASB margin  "declare it"
REB, Peshitta  "ponder this"
NET  "pay attention"

The MT has a Qal IMPERATIVE (BDB 967, KB 1319), which means

  1. muse
  2. talk
  3. study
  4. consider

I think the REB catches the meaning of the context. NIDOTTE, vol. 3, p. 1234, says "fluctuating between the act of speaking and thinking."

NASB  "At the sound of those who divide flocks among the watering places"
NKJV  "Far from the noise of the archers, among the watering places"
NRSV  "To the sound of musicians at the watering places"
TEV  "Listen! The noisy crowds around the wells"
NJB  "To the sounds of the shepherds at the watering places"
JPSOA  "Louder than the sound of archers, there among the watering places"
JPSOA footnote  "Louder than the thunder peals"
REV, LXX  "Louder than the sound of merry makers at the places where they draw water"

The root חצע (BDB 346) can mean

  1. divide (NASB, NJB; i.e., shepherds)
  2. archers (NKJV, JPSOA; the sound of flying arrows should not be louder than the praise)
  3. musicians (NRSV, REB; who assembled at the watering holes)

The UBS Text Project, p. 79, suggests "dividers" ("A" rating). In context it refers to someone praising YHWH for His powerful deeds of deliverance.

▣ "they shall recount the righteous deeds of the Lord" This could refer to

  1. YHWH's care for the poor, powerless, and aliens (cf. Deuteronomy)
  2. YHWH's victory over the Canaanite forces

The mention of "gates" in line d of the poetry in Jdgs. 5:11 may link to Jdgs. 5:8a. In 5:8b the tribes did not help but here they volunteer to fight.

▣ "the people of the Lord" In the OT this refers uniquely to the descendants of Abraham, but in the NT it is widened to all people of faith in Jesus (cf. Rom. 2:28-29; 4:1-25; 9:6; Gal. 6:16; Eph. 2:11-3:13; Phil. 3:3; Col. 2:11). It is only in Dispensationalism's presuppositions that the church is not "the new Israel." My theological understanding on this subject has been labeled "replacement theology" but a better name would be "default theology." Israel failed in her world mission.



▣ "gates" The gate was the place for judicial decisions and social gatherings in ancient Israel (cf. Jdgs. 5:8b).

12"Awake, awake, Deborah;
 Awake, awake, sing a song!
 Arise, Barak, and take away your captives, O son of Abinoam.
13Then survivors came down to the nobles;
 The people of the Lord came down to me as warriors.
14From Ephraim those whose root is in Amalek came down,
 Following you, Benjamin, with your peoples;
 From Machir commanders came down,
 And from Zebulun those who wield the staff of office.
15And the princes of Issachar were with Deborah;
 As was Issachar, so was Barak;
 Into the valley they rushed at his heels;
 Among the divisions of Reuben
There were great resolves of heart.
16Why did you sit among the sheepfolds,
 To hear the piping for the flocks?
 Among the divisions of Reuben
There were great searchings of heart.
17Gilead remained across the Jordan;
 And why did Dan stay in ships?
 Asher sat at the seashore,
 And remained by its landings.
18Zebulun was a people who despised their lives even to death,
 And Naphtali also, on the high places of the field."

5:12 This verse starts with five IMPERATIVES.

  1. "Awake" ‒ BDB 734, KB 802, Qal three times; i.e., take military action, cf. Jdgs. 4:14; Jos. 8:3; 24:9; 2 Sam. 2:14
  2. "Sing" (lit. speak) ‒ BDB 180, KB 210, Piel; this may refer to a prophetic utterance by Deborah before the battle
  3. "Take away your captives" ‒ BDB 985, KB 1382, Qal; i.e., symbol of victory

The question is

  1. Does this refer to future actions? (Jdgs. 5:13)
  2. Does this refer to past actions?
NASB, NRSV  "take away your captives"
NKJV, TEV, Peshitta  "lead your captives away"
NJB  "capture your captors"
JPSOA  "take your captives"
REB  "take prisoners in plenty"

The MT has a COGNATE ACCUSATIVE, "take back your captives." It could refer to

  1. the release of Israelite slaves, captives
  2. the Israeli soldiers taking prisoners from the defeated Canaanite confederation cities
  3. an idiom for victory

5:13 This is a difficult line of poetry. I think the NJB catches the essence of the line in context.

"Then Israel marched down to the gates;
Like champions, Yahweh's people marched down to fight for Him"

This reinforces the IMPERATIVES of Jdgs. 5:12 and expands the focus from Deborah and Barak to all those willing to answer YHWH's call (through Deborah) to resist the Canaanite oppression in the north. Not all the tribes and northern cities responded (Jdgs. 5:16-17, 23).

I also think that the Jewish Study Bible, p. 52c has a viable translation.

"Then they went down to Sarid (a city in the Jezreel Valley)
Against the mighty ones (i.e., the Canaanite Kings; see Jdgs. 5:25),
The Lord's people with their warriors."

For a discussion of why a place name (i.e., Sarid), see NIDOTTE, vol. 3, pp. 1271-1272. Sarid is a city on the southern border of Zebulun (cf. Jos. 19:10, 12).

The MT has "remnant" or "survivor" (BDB 975, i.e., those who survived the Canaanite persecution). The name of the city (Sarid) and the term "remnant/survivor" have the same consonants (see NIDOTTE, vol. 3, pp. 1271-1272).

NASB, NKJV, JPSOA, LXXB  "in Amalek"
NRSV, TEV, NJB, REB, LXXA  "in the valley"

Amalek (BDB 766) does not seem to fit the previous inhabitants of Ephraim's allotment (cf. Jdgs. 12:15). The term "valley" (BDB 770, cf. Jdgs. 5:15c) is similar and makes more sense in this context. The Canaanites wanted the battle to be in the valley because of their 900 iron chariots.

▣ "Machir" This line of poetry documents the cooperation of the fighting men of east and/or west Manasseh. Machir was Manasseh's oldest son (cf. Jos. 17:1). In Num. 26:29 his family settled in Gilead (i.e., east of the Jordan). But because of Jdgs. 5:17, this refers only to the ones living in Canaan itself (west Manasseh).

NASB  "staff of office"
NKJV  "the recruiter's staff"
NRSV, JPSOA  "the marshal's staff"
NJB  "the commander's staff"
REB  "the musterer's staff"
LXXB  "a rod of the scribe's account"
Peshitta  "the pen of a scribe"

The MT has "the marshal's staff" (BDB 986 CONSTRUCT BDB 708). The rod, staff, scepter (BDB 980) represented

  1. the person in charge of mustering troops
  2. the person in charge of recording the names of the troops

Both options fit 2 Kgs. 25:19; 2 Chr. 16:11; Jer. 52:25.

5:15 "Issachar. . .Issachar" I like the comment in the Jewish Study Bible, p. 521:

"It is strange that Issachar is repeated twice in this verse, while Naphtali is absent. It, therefore, seems likely that it originally read 'Naphtali.' This conjecture is strengthened by the fact that Barak was from Kedesh-Naphtali."

▣ "They rushed at his heels" This refers to close military formation (cf. Jdgs. 4:10).

NASB, NKJV  "great resolve of heart"
NRSV, NJB, REB  "great searching of heart"
TEV  "they could not decide to come"
JPSOA  "great decisions of heart"

Some Hebrew MSS have

  1. resolve
  2. searching

The men of Reuben were divided about the war. They could not make up their minds (contrasts to Jdgs. 5:18).

Apparently this is a sign of the capture and dissolution of Reuben by Moab.

5:15d-16 This seems to be a derogatory reference to Reuben holding a committee meeting (Jdgs. 5:16a,b) but coming to no conclusion nor taking any action.

The Jewish Study Bible takes Jdgs. 5:16-17, not as a comment about Reuben, Manasseh, Dan, and Asher choosing not to help, but an affirmation that they did (cf. P. 521, i.e., taking the Hebrew word "lamah," BDB 554, lit. "why," Jdgs. 5:16,17, as a negation, not a question).

5:16 "sheepfolds" Most English translations follow this definition of the MT's word (BDB 1046, KB 1637), but there are other options of understanding this rare term.

  1. saddlebags (NASB margin; NIV)
  2. fire place (BDB 1046, cf. Ezek. 40:43)

5:17 "Gilead" This NOUN (BDB 166) can refer to

  1. a person ‒ Jdgs. 11:1-2
  2. a tribe ‒ Num. 26:29-30
  3. a geographical area ‒Jos. 22:9; Jdgs. 10:17 (allocation of Gad)
  4. here it seems to refer to eastern Manasseh, while "Machir" of Jdgs. 5:14 refers to western Manesseh

▣ "why did Dan stay in ships" This shows the historicity of this ancient account which refers to the tribe of Dan still being in the south near the coast (cf. Jos. 19:40-46). Part of Dan moves to the far north in Judges 19-21.

The JPSOA suggests a place name, "Onioth," which it calls "a presumed designation of Dan's region" (p. 521) instead of the usual, "with the ships" (BDB 58).

▣ "Asher sat at the seashore" It is possible that this implies limited sea trade even among the Hebrews. The tribal allocation of Asher was on the seacoast in north central Canaan, parallel to the Sea of Galilee.

5:18 This verse lauds these two northern tribes (i.e., Zebulun, Naphtali, cf. Jdgs. 4:6) for their bravery in battle (the Hebrew idiom is found only here, "despised their lives").

As a matter of fact, they are the only tribes mentioned in the account of Judges 4 (cf. 4:6).

▣ "on the high places of the field" The tribal allocation of Naphtali was north and west of the Sea of Galilee and located in hill country (cf. Jos. 20:7; NIDOTTE, vol. 3, p. 1218, #5).

19"The kings came and fought;
 Then fought the kings of Canaan
 At Taanach near the waters of Megiddo;
 They took no plunder in silver.
20The stars fought from heaven,
 From their courses they fought against Sisera.
21The torrent of Kishon swept them away,
 The ancient torrent, the torrent Kishon.
 O my soul, march on with strength.
22Then the horses' hoofs beat
 From the dashing, the dashing of his valiant steeds.
23'Curse Meroz,' said the angel of the Lord
 'Utterly curse its inhabitants;
 Because they did not come to the help of the Lord,
 To the help of the Lord against the warriors.'"

5:19 The site of this battle was on the plains of Jezreel, also called the Valley of Megiddo.

▣ "They took no plunder in silver" Taking spoils is mentioned in Jdgs. 5:30. Possibly this encounter was like Jericho (i.e., under the ban where all the spoils belonged to YHWH).

The other option is to see this verse as referring to the thoughts and actions of the Canaanite warriors who expected booty (cf. Jdgs. 5:30).

5:20 "The stars fought from heaven" This is imagery of God fighting on behalf of Israel. It may also be a metaphor about God sending the rain storm. Stars were the source of rain in Canaanite mythology, AB, p. 113.

Some have seen this as a reference to the rejection of astral worship, which may be true because of line 2, "their courses/paths" (BDB 700). This would imply YHWH's power (cf. Gen. 1:14-19; Ps. 19:1-6).

5:21 There is a play on the word "wadi" (BDB 636), which is mentioned three times. YHWH's unexpected rain storm flooded Sisera's iron chariots and gave the victory.

The last line of the verse is

  1. a statement of encouragement to the Israeli tribes participating in the battle
  2. an implied IMPERATIVE (cf. JPSOA) addressing the Kishon for flooding at the appropriate time (poetic imagery).
    1. swept them away ‒ BDB 175, KB 204, Qal PERFECT; this root is found only here in the OT
    2. confronted them (suggested emendation by NET Bible to a unique verb, קדם, BDB 869, to form a better parallelism)

The word "soul" is nephesh (BDB 659). See notes at Ezek. 18:4.

5:22 "The horses hooves beat" This must refer to the Canaanite chariot force (cf. Jdgs. 4:5). The term (BDB 187) "galloping/dashing" is repeated for emphasis (see Nah. 3:2).

5:23 "'Curse Meroz,' said the angel of the Lord" This is an Israeli town in Naphtali that would not participate in the actions against this Canaanite force and is, thereby, cursed because of their lack of faith. Possible etymology of the name (BDB 931) is "lean" or "wasting." AB has "cry doom on doomsville," p. 114.

This verse reflects the Hittite-Suserain treaty pattern, like Deuteronomy and Joshua 24.

This "cursing" (BDB 76, KB 91) is reenforced in two ways.

  1. the use of the Qal IMPERATIVE
  2. the addition of the INFINITIVE ABSOLUTE of the same root
    1. NASB, "utterly curse"
    2. NRSV, JPSOA, "bitterly curse"

Note again the mentioning of "the angel of the Lord." See note at Jdgs. 2:1. It is possible that here it should be "messenger of YHWH" and refer to Deborah, the prophetess.



24"Most blessed of women is Jael,
 The wife of Heber the Kenite;
 Most blessed is she of women in the tent.
25He asked for water and she gave him milk;
 In a magnificent bowl she brought him curds.
26She reached out her hand for the tent peg,
 And her right hand for the workmen's hammer.
 Then she struck Sisera, she smashed his head;
 And she shattered and pierced his temple.
27Between her feet he bowed, he fell, he lay;
 Between her feet he bowed, he fell;
 Where he bowed, there he fell dead."

5:24-27 The poetic account does not mention or imply Sisera was asleep. There may have been a struggle. In the ANE it was humiliating to be defeated/killed by a woman. YHWH was with her! She acted in concert with Barak as a military deliverer.


5:26 "his temple" See note at Jdgs. 4:21.

5:27 He is dead!

  1. he bowed ‒ BDB 502, KB 499, Qal PERFECT, 3 times
  2. he fell ‒ BDB 656, KB 09, Qal PERFECT, 3 times
  3. he lay ‒ BDB 1011, KB 1486, Qal PERFECT

The mighty Canaanite general, dead at the feet of a Bedouin wife!

28"Out of the window she looked and lamented,
 The mother of Sisera through the lattice,
 'Why does his chariot delay in coming?
 Why do the hoofbeats of his chariots tarry?'
29Her wise princesses would answer her,
 Indeed she repeats her words to herself,
30'Are they not finding, are they not dividing the spoil?
 A maiden, two maidens for every warrior;
 To Sisera a spoil of dyed work,
 A spoil of dyed work embroidered,
 Dyed work of double embroidery on the neck of the spoiler?'
31Thus let all Your enemies perish, O Lord
 But let those who love Him be like the rising of the sun in its might."
And the land was undisturbed for forty years.

5:28-31 Judges 5:28-31 is really ironic sarcasm put in the mouth of Sisera's mother about why he did not return home. It implies they were delayed by dividing the spoils of war, including the captured women (cf. Gen. 34:27-29). This is the reason why he is late; when in reality, he was dead. This is also a mother's hope that her son will return to her.

The "dyed work" (BDB 1021 CONSTRUCT BDB 840, only in 5:30 three times) mentioned in Jdgs. 5:30 was a characteristic gift which was given to the commander of the victorious army. It was some kind of beautiful outer garment to remember the victory.

It is possible from the MT that the ornament went around the necks of the animals given to the commander as spoil.

5:31 "Let. . .let" There are two IMPERFECTS used in a JUSSIVE sense.

  1. Let YHWH's enemies (i.e., idolaters perish (cf. Ps. 68:2; 92:9)
  2. Let those who love Him be like the rising sun (imagery of glory and power, cf. Ps. 19:4-6; 89:36, 37). Those who love Him (cf. Exod. 20:6; Deut. 5:10; 6:5; 7:9; Ps. 5:11; 69:36; 119:132) in this context, are those who were obedient to Deborah's call to arms.

The Peshitta and Vulgate have "they would love you."


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

  1. Who wrote this psalm?
  2. Is Deborah a prophetess or a judge?
  3. Are prophetesses common in the OT?
  4. Are Jdgs. 5:4-5 a flashback to Exodus 19 or a prelude?
  5. Define "peasantry" in Jdgs. 5:7,11.
  6. Who chose "new gods" in Jdgs. 5:8?
  7. Why does "Amalek" appear in Jdgs. 5:14?
  8. Are Jdgs. 5:16-17 positive or negative?
  9. What does "the stars fought from heaven" mean?
  10. What is the "dyed work of double embroidery" of Jdgs. 5:30?

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