The highways were deserted, חָדְלוּ אְָרָחוֹת: literally, they ceased to be highways. No one travelled on the public roads, because there was no security. The enemy plundered all through the country. He who was obliged to travel, sought out concealed by-paths, in order to elude the tyrant and his bands. These few lines give a striking picture of a land languishing under hostile oppression. חָדְלוּ פְרָזוֹן, open places, hamlets, ceased to exist. פְּרָזוֹן is the open country, in distinction from cities surrounded by walls and gates. One imagines himself to be reading a description of the condition of Germany in the 10 th century, when the Magyars invaded the land (cf. Widukind, Sächs. Gesch. i32). Henry I. is celebrated as a builder of cities, especially because by fortifying open villages he rendered them more secure than formerly against the enemy. All ancient expositors, Greek as well as Chaldee and later Rabbinic, consent to this explanation or פּרָזוֹן[FN20] (cf. Schnurrer, p46). Judges 5:8 also agrees with it: no place without walls was any longer secure against the hostile weapons of those who oppressed Israel; the conflict was pushed even to the very gates of the mountain fortresses. The attempt to make the word mean “princes,” “leaders,” labors under great difficulties; which modern expositors, almost all of whom have adopted it, have by no means overcome. It raises an internal contradiction to connect חָדְלוּ with פְּרָזוֹן, when taken in this sense. We can very properly say רֹעְבִיכ חָדְלוּ, “the hungry cease to be such,” but not “princes.” Of a banished dynasty there is no question. A Judge there was not; none therefore could cease to be. The lack of military virtue is first mentioned in Judges 5:8. Situated as Israel was, the misery of the people might be measured by the extent to which their fields and rural districts were devastated and rendered insecure. As to their “princes,” their hereditary chiefs, they in fact still existed. Nor does the form of the word need any correction (cf. Judges 5:11).
Till I arose (עַד שַׁקַּמְתִּי for עַד אֲשֶׁר קַמְתִּי) a mother in Israel:[FN21] who, as it were, bore Israel anew. It was the regeneration of Israel’s nationality that was secured at the Kishon. How came it about (she adds, Judges 5:8), that Israel had so fallen as to need a new mother? They had chosen “new gods” for themselves. The eternal God, before whom the mountains trembled, Him they had forsaken. Hence the loss of all their strength. They were hard pressed, up to the very gates of their fortresses. (לָחֶם is not simply war, but an already victorious and consuming oppression.) Resistance in the open field there was none anywhere. Among forty thousand not one sought safety by means of sword and shield.[FN22] The poet says “new gods,” not “other gods.” The objective idea is of course the same, but not the subjective thought as here entertained. For Israel had from of old its everlasting God,—Him whose glory the poem had delineated at the outset. But instead of that God, Israel chose them new gods, whom they had not formerly known. There is a profoundly significant connection of thought between this passage and the Song of Moses, Deuteronomy 32:17. There the thought, which is here implied, lies fully open: “They shall sacrifice to gods whom they never knew, to new gods, that came newly up, whom their fathers feared not.” The heathen gods of Canaan are in truth all new to Israel; for their own God had already chosen them in the desert, before ever they set foot in the land. Israel’s recent ruin was the consequence of their serving these new gods. That all manliness had vanished, that servitude prevailed up to the gates of their fortresses, that they were shut out from highway, hamlet, and fountain, was the bitter fruit of their unfaithfulness to their ancient God. Nor was deliverance possible, until, as the result of Deborah’s efforts, the people became regenerated by means of the ancient truth.
FN#14 - 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.
FN#15 - 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.]
FN#16 - 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.]
FN#17 - 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.]
FN#18 - 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.]
FN#19 - The use of בְּ in, in the sense of upon = after, cannot be considered surprising, when the poetical freedom of the language is taken into account. Even our German auf “upon” or “on”), of which Grimm says that in many cases it has appropriated the meaning of in, affords an instance of the same kind. To pass by other examples, we also say with equal propriety, “in vielen tagen” (in many days), and “nach vielen tagen” (after many days), not only when the reference is to the future, but even when it is to the past.—Although Shamgar slew the Philistines with an ox-goad, that fact cannot explain the non-employment of sword and lance in Judges 5:8 of the Song; for, as Barak’s heroes show ( Judges 4:16), there is no want of weapons, but of courage to use them.
FN#20 - Keil also has adopted it.
FN#21 - Wordsworth: “Until that 1 Deborah arose. Deborah, as an inspired person, looks at herself from an external point of view, and speaks of herself objectively, considering all her acts as due, not to herself, but to the Spirit of God. She does not praise herself, but blesses God who acted in her: so did Moses (see Numbers 12:3), and so Samuel ( 1 Samuel 12:11).—Tr.]
FN#22 - Isolated interpretations of the Middle Ages, taken up by a few moderns, find the subject in Elohim, as if “God had chosen new things.” But Judges 5:8 itself opposes this construction, to say nothing of the contradiction which it involves with the whole course of thought. To adopt Kemink’s correction, הַנָּשִׁ ם, “God chose women,” would only increase the distortion of the hymn, which even without this would arise from the change of subject. That not Elohim but Jehovah, would be used, were God the subject, is remarked by Bertheau (p88), who in his turn, however, unfortunately gives a wrong sense to Elohim.
The summons to praise god for deliverance
9My heart (was) with the Orderers of Israel,
Who devoted themselves among the people,—Praise God!
10 Ye who ride on beautifully-saddled asses,
Who sit on mats,
And walk through ways,—Sing!
11Instead of the cry of the contending at the cisterns,
They praise there the benefaction of God,
The benefaction of his freedom in Israel,—
When the People of God hastened down to the gates.
EXEGETICAL AND DOCTRINAL
Judges 5:9. Deborah has delineated, first, the glorious majesty of God; then, in contrast therewith, the ruin which overtook Israel because it forsook Him, and chose new gods who cannot help, till she arose, a mother in Israel. With that she returns to the beginning. For what had she done? She had called on the people to turn back, and consecrate themselves to God. When everything lay prostrate, Barak and his faithful followers had taken the vows of God upon themselves. If Deborah had become a “strong one” (gibbor) in Israel, so had those who followed her inspiring call. If she speaks of herself as Deliverer, it is not without including those to whom she imparted her faithful and courageous “heart.” Judges 5:9 resumes Judges 5:2. The ground of all her praise, is that Israel turned again to God. This had been stated in Judges 5:2; here, by way of farther transition from Judges 5:7, she adds the expression “my heart:” she has infused the new spirit into Israel. She has imparted her heart to the people, as a mother to her children. The “heart” is the seat of divine inspirations and hopes; it is the organ that praises, desires, and seeks after God. The contents of Deborah’s heart flowed over into Israel. “If thou wilt go with me,” says Barak, “then I will go.” “My heart,” she exclaims, “was with the orderers of Israel,” with those who devoted themselves, so that they devoted themselves, when they devoted themselves as חֹקְקֵי of Israel.[FN23] The explanation of חֹקְקֵי has been thought more difficult than it is. It has already been remarked above, that the duty of a Judge was to execute the mishpat, the law of Israel, according to the ordinances of Moses. Whenever a Judge reintroduced the observance of the law, divine order sprang up anew among the people. Now, הֹק and מִשְׁפָּט are ever conjoined (cf. Exodus 15:25). “What nation is there,” asks Deuteronomy 4:8, “that has such chukkim and mishpatim?” “Hear, O Israel, “reiterates Moses, in Deuteronomy 5:1, “the chukkim and mishpatim which I speak in your ears.” “Joshua made a covenant with the people ( Joshua 24:25), and set them chok and mishpat.” What the Shophet is for the mishpat, that the Chokek is for the chok. Both words have the same grammatical form; both have the same historical relations. Whoever watched over the chok of Israel, was a chokek. They were the Orderers of Israel; for chok is the “order” resulting from law. The men who followed Deborah, the leaders of the people, who staked their lives for Israel’s nationality in God, were not shophetim,—for that word was already used in a definitely restricted sense; but to the name chokekim, which the prophetess gives them, they were justly entitled. They were men of law and national order.
Judges 5:10. Praise God. The Song of Deborah is a hymn of praise to God: praise forms the keynote to all its variations. The refrain of Judges 5:2 is here repeated, because the thought of Judges 5:2 has come up in a new form. The arrangement of the poem is delicate and beautiful. Judges 5:2 called on all to praise God. Thereupon she herself began to sing, Judges 5:3 : “I will praise;” her own personality comes to view in her song of God, and again in the saving power through which she became a mother of Israel. From Judges 5:9 she transfers the work of praise to others. The self-devotion of “her heart” had communicated itself to the people. “Praise God,” she resumes; but now they are to sing who have been delivered, and enjoy the fruits of victory. The whole Song is a hymn of freedom. How extreme and miserable was the recent oppression! The country was full of danger, intercourse interrupted, life enslaved. But now everything is free again. Every kind of movement is practicable. The highways are secure Therefore, praise is to employ all who enjoy this return of rest. Whoever now is able to travel, without being hindered, robbed, or put in peril of his life, is to thank God who restored him this privilege. They who can ride, rest, or walk in peace again—for now animals are not stolen, tents are not plundered, foot-travellers are not murdered,—are to know and proclaim the preciousness of this new blessing. It is the habit of Biblical writers to comprehend the various movements of persons under the terms “walking, standing, and sitting” (cf. Psalm 1:1). Here, where the freedom of the open country is spoken of, riding is naturally mentioned in the place of standing, which was included in the other expressions. The riders are represented as riding on אתֹנוֹת צחֹרוֹת. To ride on asses, was certainly a well-known custom (cf. Judges 10:4; Judges 12:14); but the mention of “white,” or as it is commonly rendered, “white-dappled” asses, would not be very suitable. Even though the connection of the word צְחֹרוֹת with those roots which signify “to glisten,” should be finally established, still it will always seem more appropriate to refer it to the beautiful, ornamented coverings that served for saddles. But there seems to be also a philological affinity between tsachar and what the Greeks and Romans called σάγμα, σάγη, sagma,[FN24]and the Germans saumsattel (pack-saddle). Asses, we know, carried burdens: provisions, corn, wine, etc. ( Genesis 42:25; Genesis 45:23; 1 Samuel 25:18; cf. Bochart, Hieroz. i184). They are to this day the important beast of burden in Palestine; and to leave the ass unladen, even on steep mountain paths, is considered injurious (Ritter, xvii295). The Targum (Jonathan), in its rendering of Leviticus 15:9, uses the word σάγη; for זָגָא, and not זוֹנָא, is to be read in its text at that place (a fact overlooked by Sachs, Beiträge zur Sprachf., note2, 196). The thought suggests itself naturally that restored freedom and security must have been of special value to those who transported important and costly articles. The passage becomes peculiarly significant, if brought in to connection with the safety of traffic and intercourse, consequent upon the enemy’s destruction.—And sit on mats. Since here also the blessings of freedom are the subject of discourse, those only can be meant who were accustomed to sojourn in tents and tent-villages. “To spread the covering,” and “to pitch the tent,” are to this day equivalent expressions. “To sit on cloths,” was the poetic phrase for dwelling in the open country, in hamlets, oases, and on highways, without needing the protection of walls and fortifications. מִדִּין (mats) is undoubtedly a plural of מַד, garment. It is in keeping with the make of ancient, especially of oriental dress, that the various terms for garment, covering, cloth, are more indefinite and interchangeable than in modern times.[FN25] Such, for instance, is the case with בֶּגֶד, garment ( Numbers 4:6-13); compare also כְּסוּת, covering ( Deuteronomy 22:12). For the establishment of this general signification of מִדִּין, Teller has rendered meritorious service. In a manuscript note in a copy of his “Notœ Criticœ,” now in my possession, he directs attention to ἱμάτιον as a cognate word. At all events, that also has the double sense of garment and covering, or cloth. The same, as is well known, is the case with ἐσθής and vestis. The word, mats (Latin, matta), in the translation above, is used merely for the sake of assonance; a philological connection between it and the Hebrew word is not discoverable.—הֹלְכֵי עַל־דֶּדִּ, foot-travellers, on the proper public roads. They too are no longer driven to seek winding paths. All, whether they ride, sit, or walk, have become free. Therefore, sing praise to God! שִׂיחוּ, to celebrate in Song of Solomon, as the Psalmist uses it ( Psalm 145:5): “Words of thy wonders will I sing” (אָשִׂיחָה).
Judges 5:11. The prophetess continues to depict the wonderful change from servitude to freedom While the enemy had the upper hand, there was security only within the gates; up to the threshold of these, the inhabitants were hunted and pursued. A lively conception of such a condition of society, may be obtained from the history of Germany from the 13 th to the 16 th century, when it often happened that large cities were at war with their neighbors. In Palestine, cities being built on hilltops, water must be procured outside of the gates. It was at a well, at the time of water-drawing ( Genesis 24:11), that Eliezer met Rebecca, coming out of the city. In time of war, this water-drawing was a dangerous occupation. The crowd was great, and every one wished to be the first to get away. Consequently, there was no lack of contention and vociferation. How all that is changed! Now the maidens draw leisurely and merrily, praising God the while, who has restored quiet and security. The philological explanation agrees perfectly with this exposition, verse 11 does not depend on Judges 5:10; it introduces a new thought. מְחַצְצִים is to be taken or read as מְהַצְצִים, i.e. as participle of the piel הִצָּה, to strive, quarrel, rixari (cf. Numbers 26:9; Psalm 60:2; etc.), connected with the niphal נִצָּה, often used of persons who strive and contend with each other ( Deuteronomy 25:11; Exodus 2:13; etc.).[FN26] The “voice” of those who thus contend is wont to attract attention; and a voice is now also heard: שָׁם יְתַנּוּ, there they sing aloud, there resounds the song of those who praise the mercy of God. (יְחַנּוּ from תָּנָה, piel, imperfect, 3d person, plural, to sound, to sing; Sanskrit, tâna, τόνος, German tönen.) The harsh voice of contention is replaced by the sounds of praise. The burden of this praise? The benefits of God—the benefits which his all-disposing arm has bestowed on Israel, in that, after their self-surrender and return to Him, He has made them free again from the enemy. The consequence of his interposition is פְּרָזוֹן, freedom: Israel is free again, and no longer depends on walls for safety. פְּרָזוֹן is derived from פָּרַז, just as חִפָּזוֹן from חָפַז. It contains the notion of that which is free, of freedom, as it is expressed by the prophet Zechariah, quite in the spirit of our Song of Solomon, when he says (chapter Judges 2:8-9 (4, 5)): “Jerusalem shall dwell open (פְּרָזוֹת, i.e. without walls); and I, saith the Lord, will be unto her a wall of fire round about.” When Israel devotes itself to God, it is at rest; accordingly, after the deeds of the several Judges are related, it is constantly added, “and the land had rest.” Then enemies are powerless; exposed hamlets are secure; God is their protection. There, at the cisterns, they praise the goodness of God which manifests itself in this newly recovered freedom.
When the people of God hastened down to the gates. Here also the beauty of the internal arrangement of the Song comes prominently to view. Verse8 says, they chose themselves new gods, אָז לָחֶם שְׁעָרִים; verse9—interrupted by the praise of God, but resumed in the last line of Judges 5:11,—when they devoted themselves to God, לַשְּׁעָרִים אָזיָרְדוּ. When the people apostatized, they were pressed up to their very gates, and fled; when, by self-surrender, they became a people of God, they rushed boldly down to the gates and through them. The consequence of the first was flight; that of the second, impetuous attack.[FN27] In the former case, among forty thousand there was not a man capable of making resistance; in the latter—and herewith the Song enters on the delineation of the conflict,—it was a small band who threw themselves upon the mighty. In Judges 5:9-11 the prophetess, by praising God for freedom, interrupted the progress of her Song’s narrative, just as she does in Judges 5:3-5 and in Judges 5:12, to which and the following verses we now pass on.