FN#1 - The author’s version of the Song forms an essential part of his exposition, and we therefore substitute a translation of it, adhering as closely as practicable to his German, for the ordinary English text. For Dr. Cassel’s rendering of יִהוָֹד, cf. “Textual and Grammatical,” note1, p23. In general, it will be seen that he does not anxiously aim at literalness. The black-faced letters are designed to imitate, rather than reproduce, the alliteration which in our author’s view forms a marked feature of the poem (see above). It may be useful to some readers to be referred to the following readily accessible English versions of the Song: Robinson’s, with an extended commentary, in Bibl. Repository, 1831, p568; “Review of Hollmann on the Song of Deborah,” Chris. Spectator (New Haven), ii307; Robbins, “The Song of Deborah,” Bibliotheca Sacra, 1855, p597; Milman’s version, in Hist. of the Jews, i292; Stanley’s, in Jewish Church, i370. The whole special literature of the subject is given by Bachmann, i298 ff.—Tr.]
2That in Israel wildly waved the hair
In the people’s self-devotion,—Praise God!
3Hear, O ye kings, give ear, O ye princes:
I for God,[FN2] unto Him will I sing,
I will strike the strings unto God, the Lord of Israel!
4O God, at thy march from Seir,
At thy going forth from Edom’s fields,
The earth trembled, and the heavens dropped,
Yea, the clouds dropped down water.
5The mountains were dismayed before God,
Even this[FN3] Sinai, before God, the Lord of Israel.
TEXTUAL AND GRAMMATICAL
1 Judges 5:3.—Dr. Cassel: Ich für Gott; but the accents separate אָנֹכִי from לַיהוָֹה, and there appears no good reason for disregarding them. The position and repetition of the subject אָנֹכִי serve to bring the person of the Singer prominently into view, and that not in her character as woman, but as prophetess, filled with the Spirit of God, and therefore entitled to challenge the attention of kings and princes. So Bachmann.—Tr.]
2 Judges 5:5.—זֶה סִינַי: literally, “this Sinai.” “Sinai is present to the poetic eye of Deborah” (Wordsworth). Dr. Cassel translates by the definite article, der Sinai.—Tr.]
Judges 5:2. The above translation of Judges 5:24 differs from all earlier renderings, which however also differ more or less from each other. The most interesting among them is that of those Greek versions which render “ἐν τῷ ἄρξασθαι ἀρχηγόυς.” It has been followed by a multitude of esteemed expositors (Schnurrer, Rosenmüller, Ewald, Bertheau, Böttger, Kemink); and yet it betrays its Egyptian origin, since in connection with בִּפְרֹעַ פְּרָעוֹת it thought only of the Egyptian Pharaoh or king, and expounded accordingly. A similar, more homiletical interpretation proceeds from the Targum. This was more naturally reminded of פּוּרְעֲבוּת, ultio, vindicta; the Midrash, by speaking of the cessation of the sufferings, whose previous existence is implied in the necessity for vengeance, shows that it adopts the same interpretation. Teller also, perhaps unconsciously, arrived at the same explanation. The interpretation of Raschi, who takes פֶּרַע as equivalent to פֶּרֶץ, and of those who suppose it equivalent to פֶּרֶט, may, like various others, be passed over in silence. The natural exposition, which is always at the same time the poetical, has on all sides been overlooked. פֶּרַע is undoubtedly (as in Arabic) the hair of the head, and more particularly the long, waving nair, the coma,[FN5] as appears from Ezekiel 44:20. פְּרָעוֹת is its plural form, and is used in Deuteronomy 32:42, where blood is spoken of as flowing down from the hairy head (מֵראֹשׁ פַּרְעוֹת אוֹיֵב). Hence the verb פָּרַע, (cf. κομᾷν, to cultivate the hair), signifies “to make loose,” to allow to “become wild,” as when the hair flies wild and loose about the neck; wherefore it is said of Aaron ( Exodus 32:25) that he had caused the people פְּרָעֹה, “to grow wild,” and of the people that they “had grown wild” (פָּרֻעַ). The circumstances under which the hair was allowed to grow, are well known. The person who makes a vow, who would be holy unto God, is directed ( Numbers 6:5) to let his hair grow (גַּדֵּל פֶּרַע). The instance of Samson, to which we shall come hereafter, is familiar. The present occasion for this observance arose בְּהִתְנַדֵּב עָם,[FN6] when the people consecrated themselves, devoted themselves (se devovit), to God,—the people, namely, who gave heed to the voice of Deborah, and placed themselves in the position of one who called himself holy unto God. Israel, through disobedience, had fallen into servitude. Those who followed Barak, had faith in God; upon the strength of this faith they hazarded their lives. They devoted themselves wholly as a sacrifice to God. The verse therefore exhibits a profound apprehension of the essential nature of the national life. It sets forth the ground of the very possibility of the Song of Solomon, and therefore stands at its head. Israel could be victorious only by repentance and return to obedience.[FN7] The prophetess delineates, poetically and with forcible beauty, the people’s great act of self-devotion, when whole tribes give themselves to God,—their hair streaming, their hearts rejoicing,—and place their strength and trust in Him. They were the κάρηκομόωντες[FN8] of a divine freedom. This interpretation also brings the parallelism out clearly: בִּפְרֹעַ stands in both causal and appositional correlation with בְּהִתְנַדֵּב. The preposition בְּ points out the condition of the people in which they conquered and sang. The Song is the people’s consecration hymn, and praises God for the prosperous and successful issue with which He has crowned their vows. “Praise ye God,” it exclaims, “for the long locks,”—i.e. for and in the people’s consecration. The result of every such consecration as God blesses, is his praise. And now, the nations must hear it! The object of Israel’s national pride, is its God. Hence, Israel’s song of triumph is a call upon surrounding kings to hear what God did for his people when they gave themselves up to Him.[FN9]
Judges 5:3. Hear, O ye kings and princes. Both are expressions for the “mighty ones” among the nations, cf. Psalm 2:2. רֹזְנִים are the great, the strong. Rosen manifestly answers to the Sanskrit vrisna (Benfey, i332), Old High German rîso, giant.—Deborah proposes not merely to sing, but adds, I will play (אֲזַמֵּר). As in the Psalm, singing and playing are joined together, one representing thought, the other sound. The action expressed by זִמֵּר, is performed on various instruments (cf. Psalm 144:9, “ten-stringed lute”), chiefly on the cithern, a species of harp or lyre ( Psalm 98:5, etc.), but also with timbrels and citherns ( Psalm 149:3, cf. Psalm 81:3). Miriam also accompanied her antiphonal song with timbrels (tympanis, Exodus 15:20), Jephthah’s daughter used them as she came to meet her father ( Judges 11:34). Nor can they have failed as an accompaniment to the Song of our prophetess. Tympana (toph, timbrels) appear in antiquity as the special instrument of impassioned women (Creuzer, Symbolik, iii489). The derivation of the word זָמַר is not clear. Delitzsch is doubtless right in deciding (Psalter, i19) that it has nothing to do with the samar which signifies to “prune the vine.” That samar reminds one of the Greek σμίλη, a clasp and carving-knife. Simmer, to play (scil. mismor, ψαλμός), distinguishes itself as an onomatopoetic word. The primitive Greek singer, whose contest with the muses in cithern-playing Homer already relates, was named Thamyris (Il. ii594).
Judges 5:4-5. O God at thy march from Seir. An Israelitish song can praise God only by rehearsing the history of Israel. For the fact that God is in its history constitutes the sole foundation of Israel’s national existence and rights over against other nations. But this immanence of God in the history of the people, manifests itself most wonderfully in those events through which, as by steps, Israel became a nation. For not in Egypt, where Israel was a servant, was the nation born, nor through the exodus alone; the nationality of Israel is the child of the desert. There, through the self-revelation of God, Israel became a free people. The journey through the desert—of which Sinai was the central point,—by the giving of the law and the impartation of doctrine, by the wonderful provision of food and the gift of victory, and by the infliction of awful judgments, became one continuous act of divine revelation. Thus, Israel came forth from the desert a perfected nation. The prophetic insight of the Hebrew poets, at one clear glance, traces the desert-birth of the nation back to the manifest nearness of God as its cause. All that happened to the people came from God. “The Lord came from Sinai,” says the Song of Moses ( Deuteronomy 33:2), “and rose up from Seir; He shined forth from Mount Paran.” The 114 th psalm ( Judges 5:2) represents the exodus from Egypt as the beginning of Israel’s nationality: “Then Judah became his sanctuary.” Deborah takes Seir and Edom, whence Israel entered history as a nation, as representatives of the whole desert; which from her position was, even geographically, quite natural. The 68 th Psalm, borrowing from this passage, at the same time explains it by substituting more general terms for Seir and Edom:[FN10] “When thou wentest forth before thy people, when thou didst march through the wilderness.” The wilderness was the theatre of the revelation of God. There He appeared to his people. Where is there another nation to whom this occurred? “Hear, ye kings,” cries the prophetess, what nation was ever raised up, instructed, and led, by the manifest presence of such a God?
The earth trembled. The superior grandeur of Scriptural over the noblest Hellenic conceptions, is scarcely anywhere more clearly apparent. The earthquake, with Hesiod and others, is symbolic of conflict between the powers above and those below, between Zeus and Typhon:—
“Great Olympus trembled beneath the immortal feet
Of the Ruler rising up, and hollow groaned the earth. …
The earth resounded, and the heavens around, and the floods of ocean.”[FN11]
To the prophetic spirit of Deborah, also, and of the Psalm, the earthquake becomes a powerful symbol; but it is the symbol of the creature’s humility and awe on account of the sacred nearness of God. For Israel’s sake, God descended from on high; the creature knows its Lord, and trembles. The earth trembles,[FN12] and “the heavens pour.” (In the desert peninsula of Sinai the latter is a wonder. Even at this day, the Bedouins cherish the superstition that Moses had in his possession the book which determines the fall of rain.) The heavens lose their brazen aridity; whatever is hard and unyielding, firm as rock and stone, becomes soft and liquid:[FN13] the mountains stagger, the rocks flow down like water (נָזְלוּ). The earthquake-belt that girdles the Mediterranean afforded numerous instances of such phenomena. Tremendous masses of rock have been shaken down from Mount Sinai by earthquakes (Ritter xiv601, etc.). Even this Sinai. That Isaiah, Sinai especially, Sinai before all others is the mountain that shook when God descended, according to the statement, Exodus 19:18; “and the whole mount quaked greatly.” Thunders rolled and heavy clouds hung upon its summit ( Exodus 19:16). “The mountains saw thee,” says Habakkuk ( Judges 3:10), “and they trembled; the overflowing of the waters passed by.” “What ailed you, ye mountains, that ye trembled like lambs?” asks the Psalmist, Psalm 114:6 : “Before the Lord the earth trembled, before the God of Jacob.”
These introductory ascriptions of praise to God, have no reference to the battle at the Kishon. They magnify the power and majesty of Israel’s God, as manifested in the nation’s earlier history. Such is the God of Israel, the nations are told. Such is He who has chosen Israel for his people. It was there in the desert that they became his; and for that reason the poet selects the scenes of the desert as the material of her praise. She speaks with great brevity: the 68 th Psalm amplifies her conceptions. Very unfortunate is the conjecture (Böttger) that by Sinai Tabor is meant. It is altogether at variance with the spirit of the old covenant, which could never consent to make Sinai the representative of any less sacred mountain. Moreover, the battle was not on Tabor, but in the plain, near the Kishon. With Judges 5:5 closes that part of the Song by which the “kings and princes” are informed that the God whom the elements fear, has become the Lord of Israel. With Judges 5:6 the poetess first enters on the history of the state of affairs which existed in Israel previous to her great deed.
FN#2 - Judges 5:3.—Dr. Cassel: Ich für Gott; but the accents separate אָנֹכִי from לַיהוָֹה, and there appears no good reason for disregarding them. The position and repetition of the subject אָנֹכִי serve to bring the person of the Singer prominently into view, and that not in her character as woman, but as prophetess, filled with the Spirit of God, and therefore entitled to challenge the attention of kings and princes. So Bachmann.—Tr.]
FN#3 - Judges 5:5.—זֶה סִינַי: literally, “this Sinai.” “Sinai is present to the poetic eye of Deborah” (Wordsworth). Dr. Cassel translates by the definite article, der Sinai.—Tr.]
בִּפְרֹעַ פְּרָעוֹת בְּישׂרָאֵל
בְּהִתְנַדֵּב עָם בָּרְכוּ יִהוָֹה
FN#5 - That we must go back to the sense of this word, is also admitted by Keil; but he attaches a meaning to it which It never has. [Keil: פְּרָעוֹת here means properly comati, hairy persons, i. e. those who are endowed with strength. The champions in battle are meant, who by their prowess and valor preceded the people.”—Tr.]
FN#6 - The verb נָדַב occurs only in Exodus,, Ezra, Chronicles, and here.
FN#7 - The Targum, though merely paraphrastic, in its spirt agrees entirely with this interpretation.
FN#8 - “Long-haired,” cf. the Homeric καρηκομόωντας Αχαιοὺς, “long-haired Greeks,” Il. ii11, etc. Among the later Greeks, long hair was the badge of freedom, and hence was not allowed to slaves. See Smith’s Dict. Antiquities, s. v. “Coma.”—Tr.]
FN#9 - Dr. Bachmann adopts the view of Judges 5:2 given by the LXX. according to the Alexandrine Codex: ἐν τῷ ἄρξασθαι ἀρχηγοὺς ἐν ̓Ισραήλ, and translates, “that the leaders led,” etc. The idea of “leading” or “going before,” he says, may be readily derived from the radical meaning of פָּרַע, to break forth,” sc. into prominence (hervorbrechen). His criticism on our author’s translation is as follows: “To say nothing of the fact that the partitive (?) בְּיִשׂרָאֵל excites surprise, standing as it does in parallelism with עָם, it may well be doubted whether the expression taken in this sense would ever have been intelligible, notwithstanding the alleged explanatory apposition of the second member of the verse; at all events, in the language of the law פָּרַע denotes, not an Acts, but a condition (the consequence of the תַּעַר לֹא־יַעְבֹר, Numbers 6:5), such as at the beginning of the fulfillment of a vow of consecration—and to a beginning the reference would have to be here,—could have no existence.”—Tr.]
FN#10 - For בְּצֵאתְךָ מִשֵּׂעִירִ, Psalm 68 substitutes לִפְנֵי עַמֶּךָ, and for בְּצַעְךְּךָ מִשְּׂדֵה אֱדוֹם it has בְּצַעְדְּךָ בִישִׁימוֹן.
FN#11 - Hesiod, Theogon., v840, etc.
FN#12 - Cf. Jeremiah 10:10; Joel iv (iii.) :16, etc.
FN#13 - “The mountains melt like wax,” cf. Psalm 97:5.
The Previous Distress
6After[FN14] the days of Shamgar, son of Anath,
After the Helper’s (Jael’s) days,
The highways were deserted.
The traveller went in winding ways.
7Deserted were Israel’s hamlets,[FN15] deserted,
Till I Deborah rose up—rose up a mother in Israel.
8New gods had they got them[FN16]—therefore the press of war approached their gates;[FN17]
Among forty thousand in Israel was there found[FN18] or shield or spear?
TEXTUAL AND GRAMMATICAL
1 Judges 5:6.—On this translation of בְּ, compare the author’s remarks below. The justification they attempt, Isaiah, however too forced and artificial to be satisfactory. The passages cited in its support, are rather against it. For in Numbers 14:11, it is the very fact that Israel’s unbelief exists contemporaneously, in the presence, as it were, of mighty wonders, that makes it so culpable. And so in the passages cited from Isaiah ( Judges 5:25; Judges 9:11 (12); Judges 10:4), it is the continuance of Jehovah’s anger while surrounded, so to speak, by the terrible evidences of previous punitive inflictions, that gives it its full dreadfulness. It seems necessary, therefore, to take בְּ here in the sense of “in,” “during.” It is necessary, further, to place Shamgar not in, but after, the eighty years’ rest procured by Ehud, cf. on Judges 3:31; for while the “land rested,” such a state of affairs as Deborah here describes cannot have existed. He belongs to the period of the Canaanite oppression in the north, and fought against the Philistines who rose up in the south (so Bachmann and others). A single exploit is told of him; and the comparatively inferior position assigned him in the Book of Judges, seems to warrant the conclusion that it was the only remarkable deed he did. That deed, however, was one which would make him universally known and held up as a great hero. Deborah seizes on this popular estimate of Shamgar, in order by contrast to heighten the glory of the divine deliverance just achieved. Such was your condition when your great hero lived, she says: but now, behold, what hath God wrought!—The words בִּימֵי יָעֵל, “in the days of Jael,” contain another difficulty. It must strike every one as inappropriate that one who, so far as we know, had only now become famous, and that by a deed of deliverance, namely, Jael, the slayer of Sisera, should be connected with the past misery. Dr. Cassel’s suggestion that יָעֵל is to be taken as a surname or popular designation of some hero (see below), becomes therefore exceedingly attractive. But according to our view of בִּ, the hero thus designated cannot be Ehud, but must be Shamgar.—Tr.
2 Judges 5:7—פּרָזוֹן. Gesenius and Fürst define this word as properly meaning, “rule, dominion;” here, concrete* for “rulers, leaders.” So also Bertheau, De Wette, Bunsen, and similarly many previous expositors and versions: LXX, Cod Vat. δυνατοί, al. codd. οἱ κρατοῦντες (Cod. Al. simply transfers the word, and writes φράζων); It. Vers. potentes, Vulg. fortes. This undoubtedly yields a good sense; but, as Bachmann points out, it rests on a meaning of the root פָּרַז, which although belonging to it in Arabic, it does not practically have in Hebrew. Moreover, it appears to be a hazardous proceeding to separate פְּרָזוֹן from פְּרָזָה in signification, if not (as Fürst does) in root-relations. Accordingly, Bachmann and Keil, like our author and others, explain פְּרָזוֹן by פְּרָזָה, and make it mean the “open country,” or “the unwalled cities or villages of the open country.” In this they only follow the Targum, Peshito, most of the Rabbins, and many earlier and later expositors. The form of the word shows that it is properly an abstract, cf. Ges. Gr. 83, 2; 84, 15; Ewald, 163, b, d. Keil and Cassel make it apply in the concrete to the cities, villages, or hamlets, Bachmann to the population, of the open country (Landvolk). The connection of the passage, he thinks, requires a personal, not local, signification; for as Judges 5:8a corresponds to (or rather gives the ground of) Judges 5:6 c d, so Judges 5:7 a (the cessation of פְּרָזוֹן) must correspond to Judges 5:8b (the absence of shield and spear). He further argues that as in Judges 5:2; Judges 5:7b, and8 b, בְּיִשׂרָאֵל refers to the people of Israel, it must also refer to them in Judges 5:7a; and, finally, that the signification “rural population,” is more suitable in Judges 5:11. The ultimate result is the same whether one or the other interpretation be adopted; yet, as Bachmann’s arguments do not appear to have much force, and as the immediately preceding mention of highways leads the mind to think of local centres of population rather than of the population itself, we prefer to interpret villages or hamlets.—Tr.]
3 Judges 5:8.—Dr. Cassel’s translation conforms more closely to the original: Gewählt hatten sie neue Götter,—“they had chosen new gods.” The above English rendering was adopted in order to reproduce the alliteration of the German.—Tr.]
4 Judges 5:8.—אָז֖ לָחֶ֣ם שְׁעָרי֑ם: literally, “then war (was at the) gates.” לָחֶם is best explained as a verbal noun from piel, the vowel of the final syllable of the absolute לָחֵם being shortened because of the close connection with the following word, and the retraction of the tone being omitted on account of the toneless initial syllable of שְׁעָרִים (Bertheau, Keil, Bachmann). שְׁעָרִים may be genitive (in which case לָחֶֽם must be in the construct state) or accusative of place, which is more simple.—Tr.]
5 Judges 5:8.—אִם־יֵרָאֶה. According to Keil and others אִם introduces a negative interrogatory. But as אִם with simple, direct questions is rare, cf. Ges. Gr. 153, 2, Bachmann prefers to regard it as the אִם of obtestation: “if shield or spear were seen!” i.e. they were not seen. So also Bertheau, Gesenius, Fürst (in their Lexicons), and many others.—Tr.]
EXEGETICAL AND DOCTRINAL
Judges 5:6-8. After the days of Shamgar, שַׁמגַּר בִּימֵי. The difficulty of the passage can scarcely be removed, if, as is usually done, the preposition בְּ be taken in the sense of “in,” “during.” During the days of Shamgar such misery cannot have come upon Israel. The narrator could not in that case have said of him, Judges 3:31, that he “delivered Israel,” just as ( Judges 5:15) he speaks of Ehud as a “deliverer.” If Shamgar was no deliverer, how can it be said “and after him (or like him, i.e. Ehud, cf. on Judges 3:31) was Shamgar?” It seems impossible to assume (as nevertheless Keil also does), that the poetess could say of the days of such a hero, that there was no resistance and defense, no sword or shield, in Israel. The disparaging connection in which, were this assumption true, it would please her to exhibit the hero, is also wholly at variance with her spirit. To this must be added that, as was above shown to be probable, Shamgar’s famous exploit and further activity fall within the eighty years of “rest” after Ehud. At all events, Shamgar’s fame is related before the time in which Israel again begins to sin, and consequently again falls into servitude. It cannot therefore be otherwise understood, than that Deborah retraces the misery of her people up to the time of this last hero. “Since the days of Shamgar,” i.e. upon and after his days, the highways began to be deserted.[FN19] Philologically, this form of expression is not without analogies. God says ( Numbers 14:11), “They believe not me, בְּכֹל הָאֹתוֹת”, in, i.e. after “all the wonders I have done among them.” In the same manner we are to interpret בְּכָל several passages of Isaiah ( Judges 9:11 (12); Judges 5:25; Judges 10:4): “the Syrians and Philistines devour Israel,—in all that, after all that, notwithstanding all that, his anger is not turned away.” Thus the sense of our passage also becomes clear. Notwithstanding that the days of Shamgar have been, i.e. after them, misery began. His heroic deed against the Philistines, was the last great act performed by Israel. But the author adds, “in, after, the days of Jael.” That this cannot be the stout-hearted woman who slew Sisera, is self-evident, since Deborah, speaking of her contemporary, could not say “in the days of Jael.” But apart from this, the Song itself ( Judges 5:24) distinguishes this Jael by carefully designating her as the “wife of Heber, the Kenite.” Moreover, Jael is properly a man’s name. The other assumption, however, that Jael was a Judges, who lived before Deborah’s time, rests on slender foundations. It is utterly inconceivable that the narrator, who communicates the Song of Deborah, had he so understood it, would not have told us something of this Judge Jael. He would at all events have inserted his name, at least in some such manner as that of Shamgar himself, of Elon the Zebulonite, and of Abdon ( Judges 12:11-15), of whom nothing is reported beyond the general fact that they judged Israel. The only remaining supposition, and one fully accordant with the poetic cast of the Song of Solomon,, Isaiah, that Jael was the knightly surname of Shamgar, or even more probably of Ehud. We know that Gideon is frequently mentioned by his heroic name Jerubbaal, and that Samson is simply styled Bedan ( 1 Samuel 12:11). That Jael might readily become the beautiful popular designation of a man so determined and rapid in his movements as Ehud, is evident, whether we take it to mean the Mountain-climber, the August One, the Prince, or the Rock-goat, whose facile ascent to the most inaccessible rocky heights is astonishing. Most probably, however, the name is connected with the word הוֹעִיל, to help. The same word, which is often used negatively concerning heathen gods (לאֹ יוֹעִילוּ, “they help not,” 1 Samuel 12:21, Jeremiah 2:8, etc.), is here employed positively to denote one who was a “Helper” of Israel in distress. The sense, moreover, becomes thus perfectly clear: “After the days of Shamgar, after the days of Jael (Ehud),” the people perished through their sins; that Isaiah, as Judges 4:1 asserts, and Judges 5:8 of this chapter confirms,—“they had chosen themselves new gods.”