THE BOOK OF JUDGES
Lesson 2: Chapters 2:6 - 5:31
Part I:The Second Prologue and Reflections on the Period of the Judges
Part II: The Wars Against Israel's Enemies
The Southern Campaign of the Judges Othniel, Ehud, Shamgar
The Northern Campaign of Deborah and Barak

Lord,
When the Israelites failed in their covenant obligations and chased after the false gods of their pagan neighbors, in Your mercy did not abandon Your people.   Instead You sent them deliverers and called them back into fellowship with You.   We pray that You will also send us righteous spiritual leaders to strengthen Your covenant people of the new Israel, the universal Church.   Give us women with the courage of Deborah to stand against the wicked and to teach the course of justice.   Send us men like Othniel and Barak who will wage war against immorality and secularism.   And, Lord, give us the humility to repent our sins as individuals and as a people that we may serve You and Your Church.   We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.   Amen.

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Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosened upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed ...

from "The Second Coming" by William Butler Yeats

The era of the Judges of Israel has been compared to the historical period of the American Wild West.   It was a time when pioneer families were trying to establish farms and settlements while surrounded by a hostile native population and without any central authority to maintain law and order.   The lines from the poem above, written by William Butler Yeats in 1919 in the aftermath  of World War I, express the thematic essence of the Book of Judges.

At the beginning of chapter two, God's messenger was sent to deliver a covenant lawsuit against the tribes for failing in their obedience to their covenant with God which meant a failure in their ability to dispossess the pagans living on their allotted tribal lands.   God's interaction with humans has been governed by covenants since Adam and Eve (Hos 6:7 ~ But they have broken the covenant like Adam; they have betrayed me).   See the list of the covenants in the chart "Yahweh Eight Covenants" in the Charts section on the website

God forms covenants with individuals: Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham (continued with Isaac and Jacob), Aaron and his descendants, Phinehas, and David), and He also forms corporate covenants with the unity of a people (the Sinai Covenant and the New Covenant in Christ Jesus).   There are two kinds of covenants that God makes with His people:

  1. Royal Grant Covenants that have no situations or sanctions imposed on God's partner in the covenant and rely entirely on God's divine promises to fulfill the covenant.
  2. Treaty Covenants in which both God and His people have obligations to fulfill in maintaining the covenant.   God always remains faithful to His covenant, but covenant failure by His people results in divine judgment delivered in the form of a covenant lawsuit for the violation of treaty covenants.

Covenant Treaties contain stipulations in the forms of commands and prohibitions that must be faithfully upheld.   Faith, trust and obedience yields covenant blessings, but unfaithfulness and failure to be obedient yields the sanctions of covenant judgments for violating the covenant with Yahweh.  See Lev 26:3-46 and Dt 28:1-68 covenant blessings and judgments/curses.   See more information on Biblical covenant treaties: chart Covenant Treaty Format in Sacred Scripture and also the document Covenant Treaty in Scripture.

Question: What kind of covenant was the Sinai Covenant?   What kind of covenant is the New Covenant in Christ Jesus?
Answer: They are both Covenant Treaties, but the New Covenant has elements of royal grant status in the indelible spiritual mark in the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Orders.

The two reasons for God's divine judgment in Judges 2:15 are based on God's commands in the form of covenant stipulations to the Israelites prior to the Conquest in Deuteronomy 7:1-6.  It is God's judgment that they have failed the covenant for two reasons (Judg 2:2):

  1. The Israelites have failed to destroy the pagan altars
  2. They have made covenant treaties with the pagan inhabitants of the land

Yahweh's judgment for covenant failure results in sanctions against Israel (Judg 2:3):

  1. Yahweh will not drive out the pagan nations.
  2. The pagans will oppress Israel.
  3. Their false gods will be a snare for the people.

Jesus came to fulfill the old Sinai Covenant and to establish a new and eternal covenant between God and mankind.   Jesus came in human form to fulfill three Old Covenant prophetic offices as God's supreme prophet, priest, and king (CCC 783).
Question: As God's supreme prophet, did Jesus call down a covenant lawsuit against the Jews of His generation for their covenant failures and in refusing to accept Him as their Messiah?
Answer: Yes, in Matthew 23:13-29 Jesus condemned the leadership of the Sinai Covenant for their failures and pronounced God's judgment against them, against Jerusalem, and against His generation.

Question: Did Jesus announce New Covenant blessings for obedience during His ministry?
Answer: Yes, in the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:1-12.

Question: Did Jesus also speak of covenant judgments?   See Mt 25:31-46.
Answer: Yes, in His discourse on the Last Judgment in Matthew 25:31-46.

Question: What is the difference between the Old Covenant blessings and judgments and the New Covenant blessings and judgments?   For Old Covenant blessings see Lev 26:3-13 and Dt 28:1-14; for covenant judgments see Lev 26:14-46 and Dt 28:15-26.
Answer: In the Old Covenant all the blessings and judgments are temporal, but in the New Covenant all the blessings and judgments are eternal.

Question: In God's judgment against Israel in Judges 2:1-5, are the judgments temporal or eternal?
Answer: The judgments are temporal.

The Second Introduction: Reflections on the Period of the Judges

Judges 2:6-10 ~ Review of the Condition of Israel after the Death of Joshua
6 Joshua having dismissed the people, the Israelites then went away, each one to his own heritage, to occupy the country.   7 The people served Yahweh throughout the lifetime of Joshua and throughout the lifetime of those elders who outlived Joshua and had known all the great deeds which Yahweh had done for the sake of Israel.   8 Joshua son of Nun, servant of Yahweh, was a hundred and ten years old when he died.   9 He was buried on the estate which he had received as his heritage at Timnath-Heres in the highlands of Ephraim, north of Mount Gaash.   10 And when that whole generation had been gathered to its ancestors, another generation followed it which knew neither Yahweh nor the deeds which he had done for the sake of Israel.

The obvious question is why has the inspired writer returned to the time of Joshua's death to offer part two of the prologue in 2:6-10?   The answer is that the prologue in chapter one was primarily a survey concerned with the military and political aspect of the renewed conquest dealing with the tribes of Israel's relationship with the Canaanites.   The religious aspect was only secondary.   But with the delivery of Yahweh's divine judgment in the form of a covenant lawsuit delivered by the messenger of Yahweh, the focus has shifted in 2:6-10 to the religious implications of Israel's failures, to Yahweh's perspective of His relationship with Israel, and the religious consequences of Israel's lack of a covenant relationship with Him.

Joshua 2:8-9 ~  Joshua son of Nun, servant of Yahweh, was a hundred and ten years old when he died.   9 He was buried on the estate which he had received as his heritage at Timnath-Heres in the highlands of Ephraim, north of Mount Gaash.  

Verses 8-9 mention Joshua's venerable age at his death and the site of his burial in the tribal lands of Ephraim (also see Josh 19:50 and 24:30).   The location is probably modern Khirbet Tibneh, about eleven miles southwest of Shiloh.   The mention Joshua's death offers a contrast between his faithfulness and the next shocking statement of the failure of the future generations in verses 11-15, while verses 7 and 10 offer a three part analysis of the disintegration of Israel's relationship with Yahweh over time.

Question: How is that time breakdown presented?
Answer: It is presented in three parts through the lifetime of Joshua, the lifetime of the elders of the holy warrior generation who survived Joshua and experienced the mighty works of God in the wilderness journey and the first stage of the conquest, and the generation that followed them that violated their covenant obligations and their relationship with God.

An outline of the three parts can be viewed this way:

  1. In the lifetime of Joshua (verse 7a)
    1. Israel "served Yahweh"
    2. Israel "had known all the great deeds which Yahweh had done for the sake of Israel"
  2. In the lifetime of the elders who outlived Joshua (verse 7b)
    1. Israel "served Yahweh"
    2. Israel "had known all the great deeds which Yahweh had done for the sake of Israel"
  3. The time of "another generation" after the death of the holy warriors of the conquest (verse 10)
    1. Did not "know" Yahweh
    2. Did not know "the deeds which he had done for the sake of Israel"

In Scripture the Hebrew word yahad, "to know," means either the knowledge of sexual intimacy or covenant knowledge.   The generation that did not "know" Yahweh failed to keep the covenant with Yahweh and no longer maintained a relationship with Him.

Question: How does the inspired writer explain the apostasy of the new generation?   Apostasy means the total rejection of the religious faith someone once possessed.   Etymology: from the Latin apostasia, "falling away or separation from;" and from the Greek apostasies, "revolt" or literally "a standing off."
Answer: The explanation for the abandonment of Yahweh and His covenant by the new generation is that unlike their forefathers they did not have firsthand experience of the works of God for Israel and then their forgetfulness of their history and ingratitude for God's works on behalf of Israel led to the sin of apostasy.

Judges 2:11-19 ~ Summary of the Age of the Judges
11 The Israelites then did what is evil in Yahweh's eyes and served the Baals.   12 They deserted Yahweh, God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of Egypt, and they followed other gods, from those of the surrounding peoples.   They bowed down to these; they provoked Yahweh; 13 they deserted Yahweh to serve Baal and Astartes.   14 Then Yahweh's anger grew hot against Israel.   He handed them over to pillagers who plundered them; he delivered them to the enemies surrounding them, and they were no longer able to resist their enemies.   15 Whenever they mounted an expedition, Yahweh's hand was there to foil them, as Yahweh had told them and as Yahweh had sworn to them, so that they were in dire distress.   16 Yahweh then appointed them judges, who rescued them from the hands of their plunderers.   17 But even to their judges they refused to listen.   They prostituted themselves to other gods and bowed down before these.   Very quickly they left the path which their ancestors had trodden in obedience to the orders of Yahweh; they did not follow their example.   18 When Yahweh appointed judges for them, Yahweh was with the judge and rescued them from the hands of their enemies as long as the judge lived, since Yahweh relented at their groans under their persecutors and oppressors.   19 But once the judge was dead, they relapsed into even worse corruption than their ancestors.   They followed other gods; they served them and bowed down before them and would not give up the practices and stubborn ways of their ancestors at all.  

Notice the statement that "the Israelites did what is evil in Yahweh's eyes."  It will be repeated eight times; seven times within the section on the history of the Judges (3:7, 12 [twice]; 4:1; 6:1; 10:6 and 13:1) to remind us of the root of Israel's problem with maintaining her covenant with Yahweh.   Verse 12 is a reminder of God's great works in liberating the Israelites from bondage in Egypt.   The statement highlights the people's ingratitude in forgetting the miracles God worked on Israel's behalf in the Exodus and His acts of divine protection.

Question: In this passage, how does the inspired writer summarizes the reoccurring four part cycle that will be the condition of Israel in the era of the Judges?  This four part cycle will be the focus of the history of Israel in chapters 3-12.
Answer: It is a cycle of sin, suppression, supplication, and salvation:

  1. Israel's disloyalty to God (sin).
  2. God removes his hand of protection and Israel is oppressed by her enemies (subjugation).
  3. Israel's repentance and pleas to God for deliverance (supplication).
  4. God sends a judge to unite the people and rescue them from their enemies (salvation).

Question: How does the inspired writer summarize Israel's sin in verses 11-13 and what commandment was broken by the Israelites?   See Ex 20:3-6; Dt 5:7-10 and CCC 2068, 2072, 2084-2141.
Answer: The Israelites abandoned Yahweh to worship the false idols of their pagan neighbors.   They broke the first of the Ten Commandments which requires that no other gods are to be worshiped, no graven images of earthly or heavenly things are to be made for worship, and they are to serve God alone.

Baal was the chief deity in the Canaanite pantheon.   He was the storm god and the god of fertility and warfare.   The reference is to the "Baals" in the plural in verse 11 because every Canaanite city had their own form of Baal worship as in Baal of Peor whose worship first led the Israelite men into the sin of immorality and idol worship on the Plains of Moab in Numbers 25:1-3.

Astarte (also called Asherah in 3:7) was a Canaanite goddess and the consort El the father of Baal, but in this period of Canaanite idol worship she is called the wife of Baal.   She is seen as a mother figure and fertility goddess.   In the plural "Astartes" can refer to the goddess or to various cult objects associated with her worship (Dt 12:3; 16:21; Judg 6:25; 1 Kng 14:23; 16:33; 2 Kng 18:4).

Question: What were the consequences of God's judgment against Israel?   See verses 14-15 and also Dt 28:15-46.
Answer: As God had warned the Israelites through Moses:

  1. God allowed the Canaanites to pillage their settlements and to oppress them.
  2. God did not bless any military expedition against the Canaanites.

Question: When did the cycle of salvation end and another cycle of sin begin?   See verse 19.
Answer: After the death of Yahweh's judge.

Joshua 2:20-3:6 ~ Why God Allowed the Pagan Nations to Remain in Canaan
20 Yahweh's anger then blazed out against Israel, and he said, Since this people has broken the covenant which I laid down for their ancestors, since they have not listened to my voice, 21 in future I shall not drive before them any one of those nations which Joshua left when he died, in order, by means of them, to put Israel to the test, to see whether or not they would tread the paths of Yahweh as once their ancestors had trodden them.'   23 Hence, Yahweh allowed these nations to remain; he did not hurry to drive them out, and did not deliver them into the hands of Joshua.
3:1 These are the nations which Yahweh allowed to remain, by their means to put all those Israelites to the test who had not experienced any of the Canaanite wars 2 this was only to instruct the Israelites' descendants, to teach them the art of war, those at least who had not experienced it previously: 3 the five chiefs of the Philistines, all the Canaanites, the Sidonians, and the Hittites who lived in the range of the Lebanon, from the uplands of Baal-Hermon to the Pass of Hamath.   4 They were used to put Israel to the test and see if they would keep the orders which Yahweh had given their ancestors through Moses.   5 The Israelites lived among the Canaanites, Hittites and Amorites, the Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites; 6 they married their daughters, they gave their own sons to their daughters and they served their gods.

Several reasons are given for God slowing the progress of the conquest and allowing the Canaanites to continue to live in the Promised Land.
Question: In addition to the plan of God revealed to Israel in Deuteronomy 7:22 that He would drive the Canaanites out "little by little" and the judgment in Judges 2:3 that God would no longer help to drive out the pagans because of Israel's covenant failures (2:20), what other two reasons are given in this passage?
Answer:

  1. God has left them to be a "test" for Israel to see if Israel will remain faithful to Yahweh (Judg 2:22; 3:4).
  2. God has left the enemy so that in the continuing warfare the new generations will learn the art of war (Judg 3:1).

A third unnamed reason could also be the possible conversion of the Canaanite neighbors who have the opportunity to hear about the one and only God.   Also part of that "test" is that the people needed to understand that they must rely on God to protect them and to not begin to think that Israel's success in driving out their enemies was solely because of Israel's efforts or rightness aside from God (Dt 9:4, 6).   It is human nature to become complacent concerning one's relationship with God when one's life seems to be successful without His guiding hand.

Question: Does God want to tempt the Israelites to sin?
Answer: No.   Sin is contrary to God's very nature.   He is the God of righteousness.  

God does not tempt us to sin, but He does allow us to be tested.   St James wrote Never, when you are being put to the test, say, God is tempting me'; God cannot be tempted by evil, and he does not put anybody to the test.   Everyone is put to the test by being attracted and seduced by that person's own wrong desire (Jam 1:13-14).   On the contrary, God wants to set us free from evil.   As far as "testing" is concerned, sometimes God allows us to be tested by trials.   The Holy Spirit makes us discern between trials which are necessary for the growth of the inner person and the temptation which leads to sin and death.   We must also discern between being tempted and consenting to temptation which is not the same (see CCC 2847).   We are promised, as St. Paul wrote: No testing has overtaken you that is not common to man.   God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, so that you may be able to endure it (1 Cor 10:13 NAB).   God wants the Israelites to be spiritually strengthened by resisting the temptation to worship idols and to resist following the ways of their pagan neighbors.

Judges 3:3 ~ ... the five chiefs of the Philistines, all the Canaanites, the Sidonians, and the Hittites who lived in the range of the Lebanon, from the uplands of Baal-Hermon to the Pass of Hamath.

This is the first mention of the Philistines as enemies of Israel.   The Philistines had five city-states on the southern coast of Canaan.   When the other pagan inhabitants of Canaan are driven out, the Philistines will remain as the Israelites greatest enemies.(1) The Sidonians and Hivites were peoples living in Phoenicia at the opposite end (northern end) of Canaan from the Philistines.   Sidonians lived along the coast and their powerful city-state was Sidon.   The Hivites settled in the hills of Lebanon (Gen 10:17, 19; 1 Chr 1:13-15).

Judges 3:5-6 ~The Israelites lived among the Canaanites, Hittites and Amorites, the Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites; 6 they married their daughters, they gave their own sons to their daughters and they served their gods.

Question: What are the three violations of the commands of Yahweh that are mentioned in verses 5-6?
Answer:

  1. The Israelites lived among the pagans.
  2. The Israelites intermarried with the pagans.
  3. The Israelites served the pagan gods.

We now see the reason the inspired writer included the short story of the marriage between Caleb's daughter Achsah and Kenaz's son Othniel.(2)
Question: What is the contrast between the two passages mentioning marriage and what is ironic about the two accounts?
Answer: The Israelites adopting the practice of marrying pagans is in contrast to the approved model of marriage that is ironically between the children of Gentile converts Caleb and Kenaz in Judges 1:13-15.

That the Israelites of the new generations are now intermarrying with the pagans is a direct violation of the covenant prohibition in Deuteronomy 7:3-4 You must not intermarry with them; you must not give a daughter of yours to a son of theirs, or take a daughter of theirs for a son of yours, for your son would be seduced from following me into serving other gods; the wrath of Yahweh would blaze out against you and he would instantly destroy you.   The spiritual decline of the covenant people is reflected in their moral decline.

Question: Does this mean an Israelite could never marry a Gentile?   See Rt 4:21-22 and Mt 1:5-6, 16.
Answer: No.   An Israelite could marry someone who became a convert and entered into the covenant with Yahweh as Caleb the Kenizzite did and as Rahab of Jericho did in marrying Salmon of the tribe of Judah. They became the parents of Boaz who married the Gentile Moabitess Ruth.   Boaz and Ruth became the great-grandparents of King David, the ancestor of Jesus of Nazareth.

The Wars Against Israel's Enemies:
the Judges Othniel, Ehud, Shamgar and Deborah

Chapter 1 of Judges recounted the wars of the renewed conquest beginning with the tribe of Judah and ending with the tribe of Dan.   Now the history of the Judges of Israel reflects that same order: beginning with Othniel of the tribe of Judah and ending with Samson of the tribe of Dan.

Judges 3:7-11 ~ Othniel
7 The Israelites did what is evil in Yahweh's eyes.   They forgot Yahweh their God and served Baals and Asherahs.   8 Then Yahweh's anger blazed out against Israel: he handed them over to Cushan-Rishathaim king of Edom, and the Israelites were enslaved to Cushan-Rishathaim for eight years. 9 The Israelites then cried to Yahweh and Yahweh raised for the Israelites a deliverer who rescued the, Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb's younger brother.   10 The spirit of Yahweh was on him; he became judge in Israel and set out for war.   Yahweh delivered Cushan-Rishathaim king of Edom into his hands, and he triumphed over Cushan-Rishathaim.   11 The country then had peace for forty years.   Othniel son of Kenaz then died.

The repeated phrase "The Israelites did what is evil in Yahweh's eyes" is first mentioned 2:11 where the phrase introduced an overview of the period of the judges; it is repeated eight times.   Now it introduces the time of the Judges when God called Othniel to liberate His people.   Othniel's name may mean "lion of God."

We now see the reason the inspired writer included what seemed to be misplaced information about Judah's boundary with Edom in 1:36.   It is the Edomites that will be the first to subjugate the Israelites.   That the Israelites were "enslaved" (verse 8) means that they became a vassal people of the Edomites and were required to pay an annual tribute.   It was the common burden of a subjugated people.   Since they were farmers and herdsmen, their tribute was in agricultural products and animals.   Do not miss the irony that the king of Moab had become fat on the servitude of Israel's tribute.   His obesity symbolizes his greed, and his greed will make him an easy target for his assassin's double-edged tongue (Ehud's lie) and dagger.

 Most of the stories of each of the twelve judges that God sent to deliver Israel are presented in a seven-part formulaic sequence (see Judges Lesson 1, handout 2 to help you answer the question).

Question: How does the story of Othniel fit this seven-part sequence?
Answer:

  1. Announcement of Israel's wrong doing (verse 7)
  2. Statement of Yahweh's response (verse 8a)
  3. Notice of how long Israel was oppressed by the enemy (verse 8b)
  4. Reference to Israel's repentance in "crying out" to God (verse 9a)
  5. Announcement of God "raising up" a deliver (verse 9b)
  6. Description of how deliverance was achieved (verse 10)
  7. Concluding statement of how long peace lasted (verse 11)

Question: Who is Othniel?   See 3:9; Josh 14:6; 15:16-19; Judg 1:12-15; 1 Chr 4:13.
Answer:

Now it becomes clear that the inspired writer had two reasons for returning to events that were already recorded in Joshua 14:6-15 15:13-19 during the fifth year of the first stage of the conquest in the midst of recounting the progress of the renewed conquest after the death of Joshua in Judges 1:9-15:

  1. To record the settlement of two convert families of Gentiles within the tribal lands of Judah.
  2. As background for the judgeship of Othniel son of Kenaz and nephew of Caleb.

Question: Who are the Edomites who oppressed the tribe of Judah?   See Gen 25:20-26, 29-30; 36:9.
Answer: The Edomites were descendants of Jacob's twin brother Esau.

The Edomites did not worship Yahweh.   The name of Edom's king is Cushan-Rishathaim (koosh'an-rish'uh-thay'-im), meaning "Cushan of double wickedness;" it may be an Israelite modification of his original name.   The seemingly out-of-place reference to Edom in Judges 1:36 on the border of Canaan was a prelude to this conflict between the tribe of Judah whose lands are in southern Canaan and the state of Edom south of the Dead Sea.

Question: For what reason did Othniel take up the leadership of his people?
Answer: He was divinely called by God, and God's Spirit rested upon Othniel to empower him.

Question: For how many years did the Edomites oppress the tribes of Judah and Simeon?   For how many years was there peace after Othniel's victory?
Answer: They were oppressed for eight years, and during Othniel's lifetime they enjoyed forty years of peace.

Judges 3:12-30 ~ Ehud
12 Again the Israelites began doing what is evil in Yahweh's eyes, and Yahweh strengthened Eglon king of Moab against Israel, since they were doing what is evil in Yahweh's eyes.   13 Eglon in conjunction with the sons of Ammon and Amalek marched on Israel, beat them and captured the City of Palm Trees.   14 The Israelites were enslaved to Eglon king of Moab for eighteen years.   15 The Israelites then cried to Yahweh, and Yahweh raised a deliverer for them, Ehud son of Gera, a Benjaminite; he was left-handed.  The Israelites appointed him to take their tribute to Eglon king of Moab.   16 Ehud made himself a short sword; it was double-edged and a foot and a half [a cubit] long, and strapped it under his clothes on his right thigh.   17 He presented the tribute to Eglon king of Moab.   This Eglon was a very fat man.   18 Having presented the tribute, Ehud sent away the men who had been carrying it; 19 but he himself, on reaching the Idols which are near Gilgal, went back and said, I have a secret message for you, O king.'   The king commanded silence, and all his attendants withdrew.   20 Ehud went up to him; he was sitting in his private room upstairs, where it was cool.   Ehud said to him, I have a message from God for you, O king.'   The latter immediately rose from his seat.   21 Then Ehud, reaching with his left hand, drew the dagger he was carrying on his [outer] right thigh and thrust it into the king's belly [it came out behind].   22 The hilt too went in after the blade, and the fat closed over the blade [and it went out], since Ehud did not pull the dagger out of his belly again.   23 Ehud went out through the privies, having shut and bolted the doors of the upstairs room behind him.   24 When he had gone, the servants came back and looked; the doors of the upstairs room were bolted.   They thought, He is probably covering his feet in the inner part of the cool room.'   25 They waited until they became embarrassed, but still he did not open the doors of the upstairs room.   Eventually, they took the key and opened the door; and there lay their master, dead, on the ground.   26 Meanwhile, Ehud had got away, passed the Idols and made good his escape to safety in Seirah.   27 Once there, he sounded the horn in the highlands of Ephraim, and the Israelites came down from the hills with him at their head.   28 And he said to them, Follow me, because Yahweh has delivered your enemy Moab into your hands.'   So they followed him, seized the fords of the Jordan against Moab and allowed no one to cross.   29 On that occasion they beat the Moabites, some ten thousand men, all tough and seasoned fighters, and not one escaped.   30 That day Moab was humbled under the hand of Israel, and the country had peace for eighty years.   [..] literal translation IBHE, vol. I, page   638.  

Notice the twice repeated statement that Israel "did what was evil in Yahweh's eyes..." in verse 12.
Question: How is the story of Ehud presented in the seven-part formulaic sequence?
Answer:

  1. Announcement of Israel's wrong doing (3:12a)
  2. Statement of Yahweh's response (3:12b)
  3. Notice of how long Israel was oppressed by the enemy (3:14)
  4. Reference to Israel's repentance in "crying out" to God (3:15a)
  5. Announcement of God "raising up" a deliver (3:15b)
  6. Description of how deliverance was achieved (3:16-29)
  7. Concluding statement of how long peace lasted (3:30)

The story of Ehud is one of the more detailed, colorful, and gory stories of the Book of Judges.   The Moabites, whose kingdom was on the east side of the Jordan River north of Edom and south of the tribal lands of Reuben, became Israel's oppressors.   They formed an alliance with the Ammonites and Amalekites and captured Jericho, "City of Palms."   For eighteen years the Israelites were required to pay tribute to Moab until the Israelites cried out to God who "raised" Ehud as their deliverer.   Apparently the king of Moab received the Israelite tribute in the city of Jericho.

Question: What does the narrative tell us about Ehud?
Answer: He was a left-handed man from the tribe of Benjamin who freed Israel from eighteen years of Moabite domination.

Do not miss the detail that he was left-handed.   It is a detail that is not only significant to the story but significant to the tribe of Benjamin.(3) What is interesting is that this is the first of several passages about left-handed people in the Bible, all of which involve men in military contexts and all, curiously enough, come from the tribe of Benjamin.   In addition to left-handed Ehud, Judges 20:16 refers to 700 Benjaminites who could use the sling with great accuracy.   Every man could sling a stone at a rabbit and not miss and all were left-handed.   Finally, 1 Chronicles 12:2 relates that some of the Israelites who came to support David when he ruled in Hebron included some two dozen ambidextrous warriors who could use either the bow or the sling "with either the right or the left hand" and they were also Benjaminites.   This noted left-handedness of Benjamites is rather ironic since the name "Benjamin" in Hebrew means "son of [my] right hand."

Ehud is selected as part of the delegation to take the annual tribute to be presented to the King of Moab.   After delivering the tribute, he begins to return across the Jordan back into Israel with the delegation.   But immediately after the crossing at Gilgal, he tells the other Israelites he must return.   You will remember that Gilgal is the site of the first Israelite camp in the Promised Land and had since become a religious and political center for the confederation of tribes.   Joshua set up twelve standing stones from the Jordan River at Gilgal to commemorate the miracle of God parting the waters for the Israelites to cross into Canaan for the first time (Josh 4:1-9, 19-24).   Joshua's stones cannot be the "idols" near Gilgal referred to in verse 19.   They could be a circle of standing stones erected by the pagans or they were pagan idols that the Israelites had erected.

Question: Why did Ehud leave with the other Israelites?   Why didn't he just make the request for a private audience when he was at the palace of king Eglon?
Answer: It is possible that he wanted to protect the other Israelites if his mission to assassinate the king failed.   It was also easier for one man to slip away than a large group of men who would not have been permitted a private audience without armed guards.

The king received Ehud in his private chamber where he was probably engaged in relieving himself on his privy.   He probably expected Ehud was going to report some treachery on the part of his people.   It was there that Ehud assassinated the fat Moabite king by using a double-edged dagger which he had hidden under his tunic by tying it to his outer right thigh (yarek in Hebrew means outer); it is the reasonable side from which to draw a weapon for a left-handed man.   What "went out," part of the literal Hebrew text of verse 21, was not the sword but the mortally wounded king lost control of his bowels.   It is a symbol of the man's corruption.   That the Moabite king received Ehud in his private chambers while he was relieving himself can be determined from the context of the passage in which "covering his feet" in verse 24 is a euphemism for relieving nature.

The inspired writer does not comment on the morality of the act of assassination.   Ehud uses a key to lock the door of the chamber which had a double sided lock when he left.   The identification of Ehud's haven at Seriah is unknown (verse 26).   He then sounded the war trumpets in central Israel, calling the tribes to battle.   So they followed him, seized the fords of the Jordan against Moab and allowed no one to cross... the Israelites followed Ehud and cut off the retreat of the Moabite soldiers out of Jericho.   The detail that ten thousand Moabites died in battle is probably a number meant to represent a great number of men and not an actual number (see the same number repeated seven times in 1:4; 3:29; 4:6, 10, 14; 7:3; 20:1).

Question: For how many years was Israel at peace?   How does this peace compare to the other periods of peace in the Book of the Judges?   See the chart of the Judges.
Answer: Eighty years; it is the longest period of peace.

Judges 3:31 ~ Shamgar
31 After him came Shamgar son of Anath.   He routed six hundred of the Philistines with an ox-goad; he too was a deliverer of Israel.

This short account of Shamgar does not have the typical seven-part sequence.   His name is not Hebrew and he is identified as son of Anath, the name of a Canaanite warrior goddess.   This suggests that he was a Gentile convert who might have been the son of a Canaanite woman who served in the temple of the goddess Anath, or his mother was named after the goddess, or it is an honorary title because of his exploits.   He fought the Philistines who lived on the southern coast of Canaan with an unconventional weapon.   Perhaps he had been a farmer who worked with oxen.   That he killed six hundred Philistines with an ox-goad is of course hyperbole to highlight his great skill as a warrior.   He is not called a judge/deliverer in the passage, but according to tradition he has been counted as a judge.   He is a contemporary of the judge Deborah and her military leader Barak and they honor him by mentioning his name in their victory song in Judges 5:6.  

Chapter 4: The Judge Deborah and the Northern Campaign

Zebulun is a people who have braved death, Naphtali too, on the high ground of the country. The kings came and they fought, how they fought, those kings of Canaan, at Taanach, near the Waters of Megiddo, but no booty of silver did they take!   The stars fought from heaven, from their orbits they fought against Sisera.   The torrent of Kishon swept them away, the torrent of old, the torrent of Kishon.   March on, be strong my soul!
Judges 5:18-21 (the Song of Deborah and Barak)

Judges 4:1-10 ~ The Story of Deborah and Barak
4:1 Once Ehud was dead, the Israelites again began doing what is evil in Yahweh's eyes, 2 and Yahweh handed them over to Jabin king of Canaan, who reigned at Hazor.   The commander of his army was Sisera, who lived in Haroshet-ha-Goiim.   3 The Israelites then cried to Yahweh; for Jabin had nine hundred iron chariots and had cruelly oppressed the Israelites for twenty years.   4 Deborah, a prophetess [nab'ia issa = prophet woman], wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at the time.   5 She used to sit under Deborah's Palm between Ramah and Bethel in the highlands of Ephraim, and the Israelites would come to her for justice.   6 She sent for Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali, and said to him, Has not Yahweh, God of Israel commanded, "Go!   March to Mount Tabor and with you take ten thousand of the sons of Naphtali and the sons of Zebulun.   7 I shall entice Sisera, the commander of Jabin's army, to encounter you at the Torrent of Kishon with his chariots and troops; and I shall put him into your power." 8 Barak replied, If you come with me, I shall go; if you will not come, I shall not go, for I do not know how to choose the day when the angel of Yahweh will grant me success.'   9 I shall go with you then,' she said, but, the way you are going about it, the glory will not be yours; for Yahweh will deliver Sisera into the hands of a woman.'   Deborah then stood up and went with Barak to Kedesh.   10 Barak summoned Zebulun and Naphtali, ten thousand men marched behind him, and Deborah went with him.
[..] = literal translation IBHE, vol. I, page 639.

The seven-part sequence of the story of the Judge Deborah begins in 4:1 but won't be completed until 5:31.   Note the different phases of the sequence as you read the narrative.   It is unclear why the narrative returns to the Judge Ehud in verse 1 skipping over Shamgar.   Perhaps it is because Shamgar is a contemporary of Deborah (see 5:6) and the Israelites began to fall into sin with the death of the earlier judge, Ehud.

"Jabin" is the name of a dynasty of kings who ruled from the Canaanite city of Hazor north of the Sea of Galilee.   Joshua fought and defeated a king Jabin and his chariots in Joshua chapter 11.   Sisera is the new king Jabin's commanding general who lives at Harosheth-of-the-Gentiles, Canaanite territory which was strategically located somewhere in the forests near Mount Tabor west of the Plain of Megiddo (also called the Plain of Esdraelon) and southeast of Mount Carmel; the Hebrew root hrsh means "wooded height."   Sisera's name is not Semitic and it has been suggested that he was one of the "sea people" who had recently settled along the coast.   Archaeologists have found a connection with his name on the island of Sardinia in the Mediterranean.

Deborah (whose name means "honey bee") is a prophetess (verse 4) from the tribe of Ephraim (a half tribe of Joseph) in north-central Israel.   She has the same Hebrew name as the nurse of Rebekah wife of Isaac (Gen 24:59; 35:8).   Deborah the Judge is one of four prophetesses whose names are recorded in the Old Testament in addition to Miriam sister of Moses (Ex 15:20); Huldah (2 Kng 22:14; 2 Chr 34:22) and Noadiah (Neh 6:14).   Isaiah's wife is also called a prophetess but is not named (Is 8:14).   Deborah is the only judge who is described in the act of dispensing justice as God's representative to the people (verse 6).

Judges 4:6-7 ~ She sent for Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali, and said to him, Has not Yahweh, God of Israel commanded, "Go!   March to Mount Tabor and with you take ten thousand of the sons of Naphtali and the sons of Zebulun?   7 I shall entice Sisera, the commander of Jabin's army, to encounter you at the Torrent of Kishon with his chariots and troops; and I shall put him into your power."  

Deborah sent for her general, Barak (means "lightening" in Hebrew) from the tribe of Naphtali in the Galilee.   It seems from her questioning of Barak that she may have previously commanded him to prepare for battle against the Canaanites and he had not yet rallied his forces.

Question: What is Barak's problem? What is Barak's concern and what is his condition for beginning the war?   What is Deborah's solution to the problem?
Answer: Barak lacks confidence.   Deborah must go with him because he does not know when to begin the attack.   She agrees to go to battle with the army of Israel, and she encourages her general that his victory is assured.

Deborah takes up a very unconventional role for a woman of her times.   She is a judicial leader and she is a military strategist.   It is her plan that the battle should take place at Mount Tabor and the Kishon River.   The Kishon is a stream that flows westward through the Plain of Megiddo for most of the year, but during the rainy season the stream swells to the point of overflowing its banks to make much of the plain near the river swampy.   She commands Barak to enlist his own tribe and the neighboring Galilean tribe of Zebulun to fight the Canaanites.   The battle will take place during the rainy season (see Judg 5:21).

Question:   Why does Deborah choose Mount Tabor and the surrounding plain as the site of the battle at the rainy season of the year?   What is her strategy?   See Judg 4:3; 5:21.
Answer: The Canaanites have the military advantage over the Israelites in their war horses and nine hundred chariots, but in the rainy season the horses and chariots will be mired in the mud and God will increase Israel's advantage while decreasing the effectiveness of the Canaanites chariots.

Question: What penalty does Deborah impose on her general for his hesitation concerning engaging in the battle without her presence?
Answer: The final "glory" of the battle will not be his but will be given "into the hands of a woman."

Judges 4:9b-10 ~ Deborah then stood up and went with Barak to Kedesh.   10 Barak summoned Zebulun and Naphtali, ten thousand men marched behind him, and Deborah went with him.
Kesesh (Hebrew means "to be holy") was a place allotted to the tribe of Naphtali in southern Galilee (Josh 19:37).   It was Barak's home (4:6) and the rendezvous point for Barak's army.   The first to respond to the call was Barak's tribe and the neighboring tribe, but a total of five and a half of the northern tribes will respond to the summons (5:14-15).   Once again the "ten thousand" serves as a euphemism for an undetermined large number.

Judges 4:11 ~ Heber the Kenite
Heber the Kenite had parted company with the tribe of Kain [the Kenite clan] and with the sons of Hobab, father-in-law of Moses; he had pitched his tent near the Oak of Zaanannim, not far from Kedesh.
[..] = literal translation IBHE, vol. I, page 640.

The Kenites are pastoral nomads who live in tents and herd domestic sheep and goats (see Num 24:21; Judg 1:16; 4:11). Moses' wife Zipporah was related to the Midianites and the Kenites. Her father was said to be a priest of Midian, but her brother is said to be a Kenite. There are several sites named Kedesh in the Holy Land, and in addition to the Kedesh that was Barak's home there is a second site called Kedesh in the Galilee northwest of Lake Huleh that was a town allotted to the tribe of Naphtali (Josh 19:37).   This Kedesh was designated a city of refuge and a Levitical town (Josh 20:7; 21:32).   It is probably this second more northern site that Sisera retreated to for safety.   It is located near the Canaanite stronghold of Hazor and away from the center of Israelite strength.   Zaanannim is the point on the southern border of Naphtali with Issachar (see Josh 19:33) and is about five miles west of the Sea of Galilee.

Question: Who are the Kenites?   See Num 10:29-32 and Judg 1:16.
Answer: They are the Gentiles who are descendants of Moses' brother-in-law Hobab who settled within the tribal lands of Judah.

It is unclear whether the Kenites are resident aliens or converts but it appears that it is more likely they are resident aliens who live within Israel's boundaries and are bound to observance of the laws of the covenant (Num 15:13-16).   It is clear that Caleb and his extended family members are converts with full membership in the covenant because he was a chieftain in the tribe of Judah and his descendants and other family members like his brother Kenaz and his nephew Othniel are listed in the genealogies of the tribe of Judah in 1 Chronicles 4:13-16.   Evidently Heber the Kenite had a falling out with his clan and moved away from their lands in the Negeb (southern tribal lands of Judah).   He moved north and settled in the territory of the Israelite tribe of Naphtali in the Galilee on land that bordered the territory still occupied by the Canaanite king Jabin with whom he had good relations (Judg 4:17b).

Judges 4:12-16 ~ The Battle at Mount Tabor
Sisera was informed that Barak son of Abinoam had encamped on Mount Tabor.   Sisera summoned all his chariots, nine hundred iron chariots, and all the troops he had, from Harosheth-ha-Goiim to the Torrent of Kishon.   Deborah said to Barak, Up! For today is the day when Yahweh has put Sisera into your power.   Is not Yahweh marching at your head?"   And Barak charged down from Mount Tabor with ten thousand men behind him.   At Barak's advance, Yahweh struck terror into Sisera, all his chariots and his entire army.   Sisera leapt down from his chariot and fled on foot.   Barak pursued the chariots and the army as far as Harosheth-ha-Goiim.   Sisera's whole army fell by the edge of the sword; not one man was spared.

The Israelites charged down from Mount Tabor to meet the Canaanites on the plain of Megiddo.   According to Judges 4:7 and 5:19 the Canaanites were drawn into battle at Taanach near the Kishon River.   The main pass that runs northeast through the hill country from the Plain of Sharon to the Valley of Jezreel was dominated by the cities of Megiddo and Taanach (about five miles southeast from Megiddo).   This area's strategic location caused it to be frequently used as a battleground.(4) Archaeological excavation at Taanach indicate it was destroyed about 1125 BC; the destruction may be associated with this battle and may help us set the date of this part of the narrative.   The victory of Barak at the Kishon River is recalled in Psalm 83:9.(5)

Question: According to Christian tradition, what theophany took place at Mount Tabor in the New Testament?
Answer:   It is the traditional site of the Transfiguration of the Christ.

Judges 4:17-24 ~ The Death of Sisera
17 Sisera meanwhile fled on foot towards the tent of Jael [Yael], the wife of Heber the Kenite.   For there was peace between Jabin king of Hazor and the family of Heber the Kenite.   18 Jael came out to meet Sisera and said to him, Stay here, my lord, with me; do not be afraid!'   He stayed with her in her tent, and she covered him with a rug.   19 He said to her, Please give me a little water to drink, for I am thirsty.'   She opened the skin of milk, gave him some to drink and covered him up again.   20 Then he said to her, Stand at the tent door, and if anyone comes and questions you, if he asks, "Is there a man here?' say, "No."' 21 But Jael the wife of Heber took a tent-peg and picked up a mallet; she crept up softly to him and drove the peg into his temple right through to the ground.   He was lying fast asleep, worn out; and so he died.   22 And now Barak came up in pursuit of Sisera, Jael went out to meet him and said, Come in, and I will show you the man you are looking for.'   He went into her tent; and there was Sisera dead, with the tent-peg through his temple.   23 Thus God that day humbled Jabin king of Canaan before the Israelites.   24 And the Israelites bore down more and more heavily on that king of Canaan, Jabin, until he was utterly destroyed.

Sisera fled to Kedesh near Hazor in northwestern Galilee.   He believes he is safe at the settlement of Heber who is an ally of the Canaanites and seeks sanctuary in the tent of Heber's wife.   Jael (literally Ya-el, there is no letter "j" in Hebrew), is a Hebrew/Semitic name.   Jael's invitation is to Sisera is seductive.  Ironically Sisera feared the Israelite general Barak when he should have feared the woman Jael.   Like Shamgar she also uses an unconventional weapon that was part of her everyday life.

Question: What is the contrast in this passage?
Answer: Sisera's cowardliness is contrasted with Jael's courage.

Jael's husband Heber may have had good relations with the Canaanites, but it is clear from her actions where Jael's loyalty rested.   She is honored as a heroine of Israel, and she is the third woman named in the Judges narrative: Most blessed of women be Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite; of tent-dwelling women, may she be most blessed! (Judges 5:34).

Question: What prophecy has been fulfilled in Jael defeating Israel's enemy Sisera?
Answer: It is a fulfillment of Deborah's prophecy to Barak in Judges 4:9 that the final victory would come "at the hands of a woman."

Question: Jael's action in crushing the head of her enemy recalls what prophecy from Genesis 3:15?   The pronoun in that passage can be read as either "he" or "she." See Rev 12:9 for the identity of the "serpent" in Genesis chapter 3.
Answer: The prophecy is that there will be enmity between "the woman" and the "serpent" Satan and their offspring.   The prophecy continues that she or he (her offspring) will crush the head of the serpent.   The prophecy ultimately concerns "the woman" Mary whose son Jesus will come to redeem mankind and destroy the works of Satan, but figuratively Sisera is a son/offspring of Satan and Jael has filled the role of the woman who defeats Satan's agent who intended to destroy God's people.

Some commentators have accused Jael of violating the regionally observed "law of hospitality" in killing Sisera.   However, they are failing to take into account that in those same understood rules of hospitality that a man was never to approach a woman who was alone.   The head of the household could invite a male guest to sleep in the porch area of a tent, but invasion of the women's quarters in the interior of a tent was punishable by death.   The same rules are observed by Bedouin tribes today.   Technically, Jael was acting within her rights in killing Sisera.

Question: What is the irony in comparing the two generals (Barak and Sisera) with the two women (Deborah and Jael) in the narrative?
Answer: Barak was hesitant and Sisera was a coward, but both Deborah and Jael were courageous, confident and decisive; it is an ironic role reversal.

Judges 4:24  ~ 24 And the Israelites bore down more and more heavily on that king of Canaan, Jabin, until he was utterly destroyed.

This is the second destruction of Hazor (see Josh 11:10-11).   Excavations at Hazor have revealed evidence of two periods of massive destruction.   After the second destruction the city was not rebuilt until the time of Solomon during the tenth century BC.   The first destruction layer was marked by a massive fire and in the later destruction layer the heads and hands of statues of pagan deities were found that had been intentionally broken off (Archaeological Study Bible, pages 322 and 350).

Judges 5:1-31 ~ The Victory Song of Deborah and Barak

The victory hymn of Miriam and Moses in Exodus 15:1-18 and the victory hymn of Deborah and Barak are two of the oldest poems/hymns in the Bible.

Question: What do both hymns have in common
Answer: Both hymns were composed to remember a victory of Yahweh over Israel's enemies.   In both victory hymns, the singers are a woman who is a prophetess of Israel and a man, and both are acknowledged as leaders of the people of God.   Women have always been important in God's plan for man's salvation.

1 They sang a song that day, Deborah and Barak son of Abinoam, and the words were:
2 That the warriors in Israel unbound their hair,
that the people came forward with a will, bless Yahweh!
3 Listen you kings! Give ear, you princes!
From me, from me comes a song for Yahweh.
I shall glorify Yahweh, God of Israel.

The Israelite warriors unbound their hair because it was a tradition for them to fight with their hair loose like a consecrated Nazirite since they were God's "holy warriors" (Num 6:5; Judg 16:17).   Israelite warriors consecrated themselves for battle: they prepared themselves by becoming ritually "clean," and they had no relations with a woman (1 Sam 2-5/2:1-4).   In the case of King David's rebellious son Absalom, his unbound long hair was his undoing (2 Sam 18:9).   The singers glorify God and bless those Israelites who willingly came forward to fight the pagan kings and princes who were the enemies of Israel.

4 Yahweh, when you set out from Seir,
when you marched from the field of Edom, the earth shook,
the heavens pelted, the clouds pelted down water.
5 The mountains melted before Yahweh of Sinai,
before Yahweh, God of Israel.

Seir is the mountainous region southeast of the land of Canaan.   This poetically descriptive passage recalls the great event of Yahweh leading the people of Israel in final part of the march from the mountains of Seir in southern Edom to the plains of Moab and the camp on the east side of the Jordan River prior to the conquest.   It is an event remembered with the same imagery in Psalms 68:7-8.

6 In the days of Shamgar son of Anath,
in the days of Jael, there were no more caravans;
those who went forth on their travels
took their way along by-paths.

The story of Judge Shamgar was told in 3:31; he was apparently a contemporary of Deborah and Barak.   There were no more caravans because of the violence in the land.   The caravans avoided the northern territory of Canaan and took other routes.

7 The villages in Israel were no more,
they were no more until you arose, O Deborah,
until you arose, mother of Israel!

Verse 7 is hyperbole; there were still villages in Israel but the exaggeration emphasizes the anarchy and danger of this period before God chose Deborah as Israel's deliverer.   She is the only person in the Old Testament who is given the title "mother of Israel."

8 They were choosing new gods
when war was at the gates.
Was there one shield, one spear to be found
Among the forty-thousand men in Israel?
9 My heart is with the leaders of Israel,
with the people who came forward with a will!
Bless Yahweh!

Verse 8 reminds us of the apostasy in the period of the Judges.   The Israelites were abandoning Yahweh in favor of "new gods" and calling on them instead of Yahweh.   There should have been more than 40,000 men in Israel.   Perhaps the reference is to those Israelites who responded to Barak's call to war.   Nevertheless, the Israelites were unprepared for war and without shields and shears.   Despite the low numbers of the Israelites willing to fight, the hope for victory is with the military leaders and the willing warriors for whom Yahweh is to be blessed.

10 You who ride white donkeys
and sit on saddle-blankets as you ride,
and you who go on foot,
11 sing to the sound of the shepherds
at the watering places!
There they extol Yahweh's blessings,
His saving acts for his villages in Israel!
Then Yahweh's people marched down to the gates.

All classes of society: the rich and the poor and the shepherds in the fields, are thankful for Yahweh's blessings and give Him credit as the deliverer of Israel who has led His warriors to the gates of their enemies.

12 Awake, awake, Deborah!
Awake, awake, declaim a song!
Take heart, to your feet, Barak,
Capture your captors, son of Abinoam!
13 Then Israel marched down to the gates;
like champions, Yahweh's people marched down to fight for him!

Notice that Deborah is given precedence over Barak as she was in verse 1 and will be again in verse 15.   She is named four times (verses 1, 7, 12, 15, and Barak is named three times (verses 1, 12 and 15).   Barak is listed among the "heroes of the faith" in Hebrews 11:32.

14 The princes of Ephraim are in the valley.
Behind you, Benjamin is in your ranks.
Captains have come down from Machir,
Those who yield the commander's staff from Zebulun.
15 The princes of Issachar are with Deborah;
Naphtali, with Barak, in the valley follows in hot pursuit.

These verses name the tribes who fought for Barak and Deborah: Ephraim (Deborah's tribe), Benjamin, the clan of Machir from the tribe of Manasseh who had lands in the Transjordan on the east side of the Jordan River (Num 32:39), Zebulun, Issachar, and Naphtali (Barak's tribe).

16 In the clans of Reuben there was much searching of heart.
Why did you stay among the sheepfolds,
Listening for the whistle, with the flocks!
In the clans of Reuben,
There was much searching of heart.

17 Gilead stayed on the other side of the Jordan,
And why should Dan have stayed aboard ship"
Asher remained beside the sea,
Peacefully living within his ports.
18 Zebulun is a people who have braved death,
Naphtali too, on the high ground of the country.

Verse 17 lists the northern tribes who refused to fight. The Reubenites from the Transjordan did not come (even though there was apparently dissent within the tribe over the decision not to aid in the fight).   "Listening for the whistle" refers to the signal between the herdsmen of Reuben.   Gilead refers to the tribe of Gad whose lands were in the region called the Gilead also in the Transjordan north of Reuben's lands.  Dan and Asher who lived along the northern Mediterranean coast also failed to join the fight.   Evidently the tribe of Dan had now migrated north after failing to secure their lands in the center of Canaan west of Benjamin.   Again the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali are praised probably because they were the vanguard of the army of Israel.

19 The kings came and they fought,
How they fought, those kings of Canaan,
At Taanach, near the Waters of Megiddo,
But no booty of silver did they take!

The "kings" are the rulers allied with Jabin.   We have direct testimony as to the sight of the battle.   Taanach is near the Kishon River on the Plain of Megiddo.   Archaeologists have excavated a battle site at Taanach which indicates the town was destroyed about 1125 BC.   The Israelites did not take any booty of precious metals because those items were to be melted down and dedicated to the treasury of the Sanctuary, and the warriors were obedient to that command (Dt 7:25; Josh 6:19, 24).   This is a holy war.

20 The stars fought from heaven,
From their orbits they fought against Sisera.
21 The torrent of Kishon swept them away,
The torrent of old, the torrent of Kishon.
March on, be strong my soul!

In Biblical poetry "stars" often refer to "angels" (see Rev 1:20).   God intervened to bring Israel victory.   It was the rainy season and God sent so much rain that the Kishon was swollen beyond its banks and flooded the plain.

22 The horses' hooves then hammer the ground:
Galloping, galloping go his steeds.
23 Curse Meroz,' said the Angel of Yahweh,
curse, curse the people living there
For not having come to Yahweh's help
To Yahweh's help as warriors!'

A near-by Israelite town is cursed for the people's failure to join the fight.   Its curse was fulfilled since no site identified as this town has been discovered.

24 Most blessed of women be Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite;
of tent-dwelling women, may she be most blessed!
25 He asked for water; she gave him milk;
She offered him curds in a lordly dish.
26 She reached her hand out to seize the peg,
Her right hand to seize the workman's mallet.

She hammered Sisera, she crushed his head,
She pierced his temple and shattered it.
27 Between her feet, he crumpled, he fell, he lay.
At her feet, he crumpled, he fell.
Where he crumpled, there he fell, destroyed.

In verses 24-27 we have the retelling of Sisera's death.   Notice the repetition three times that "crumpled, he fell," emphasizing the momentous event of Sisera's death at the hands of Jael.   His gruesome defeat in death is contrasted in the next verses by the description of Sisera's mother anxiously waiting for her son's victorious return.

28 At the window, she leans and watches,
Sisera's mother, through the lattice,
Why is his chariot so long coming?
Why so delayed the hoof-beats from his chariot?'

29 The wisest of her ladies answers,
And she to herself repeats,
30 Are they not collecting and sharing out the spoil:
girl, two girls for each warrior'
a booty of colored and embroidered stuff for Sisera,
one scarf, two embroidered scarves for me!'

Verses 28-30 paint a painful picture of an anxious mother who loves her son.   Her servants try to comfort her by explaining that her son is delayed in dividing the spoils of war with his men.   She comforts herself by repeating their words to herself and thinking about what gifts he will bring her.   The irony is that he is already dead and beyond the concerns of this world.

31 So perish all your enemies, Yahweh!
And let those who love you be like the sun
when he emerges in all his strength!

Question: How many times is the Divine Name YHWH invoked in this poem?
Answer: Fourteen times.

Judges 5:31 ~And the country had peace for forty years.

Question: How is the story of Deborah presented in the seven-part formulaic sequence?
Answer:

  1. Announcement of Israel's wrong doing (4:1)
  2. Statement of Yahweh's response (4:2)
  3. Notice of how long Israel was oppressed by the enemy (4:3b)
  4. Reference to Israel's repentance in "crying out" to God (4:3a)
  5. Announcement of God not "raising up" a deliver but a prophetess (4:4)
  6. Description of how deliverance was achieved (4:5-10)
  7. Concluding statement of how long peace lasted (5:31)

Deborah, unlike the other Judges, is never explicitly called a "deliverer"/ "savior," nor does the text ever state that she "delivered"/ "saved" the Israelites from the "hand of their enemies" (compare with Judg 2:16 and 6:14; 8:22; 12:2; 13:5), or brought "deliverance"/ "salvation" to Israel (compare with Judg 15:18).   The verb "to save" is never applied to Deborah.   Instead she is called "the mother of Israel" in 5:7; it is a title that can be applied to no other Judge!  

Question for reflection or group discussion:
The greatest sin of the generations of Israelites in the era of the judges was to abandon Yahweh to worship false gods.   In what ways do professing Christians today also abandon God and replace Him with other forms of "false gods"?   What is the definition of "false gods" in the modern age and how do we protect the next generation of our children from falling prey to these "false gods" who take them away from the One True God and the guidance of Mother Church?

Endnotes:

1. The Philistines were probably the people referred to as "the sea people" in Egyptian documents documents (see Balaam's prophecy concerning the invasion of "the sea people" in Num 24:23-24). The Philistines had a colony on the coast of the Levant in the era of Abraham and Isaac (Gen 21:32-34; 26:15-18), but in the 12th and 11th centuries BC, a series of natural disasters brought about a migration of these peoples from Greece, the Mediterranean islands (Crete) and Anatolia into the Levant.   The Egyptians repelled their advance into Egypt and so they settled into five cities along the southern coast of Canaan.

2. The descendants of Othniel will be listed as a clan of Judah in 1 Chronicles 27:15 during the reign of King David in the early 10th century BC, and one of Othniel's descendants will be a chief military commander serving King David.

3. Factors that influence handedness have been studied for decades.   Some studies based on prenatal ultrasounds show that handedness formation occurs prenatally before societal influences on handedness are present.   Thus, it seems possible that the tribe of Benjamin produced more left-handed people than did other Israelite tribes.   Perhaps they were genetically inclined to left-handedness and the tribe may also have encouraged it.   The Hebrew term for "left-handed" in Judges 3:15 and 20:16 literally means "restricted in his right hand."   Did the Benjamites bind the right arms of their sons to their sides to encourage use of the left hand in the same way teachers in past decades used to force left-handed children to write with their right hands?   The meaning of the term "left-handed" in Hebrew seems to allow for the possibility, or it might also mean something like "can't use his right hand like normal."   It is also possible that a left-handed warrior had an advantage.   Most warriors were trained to fight right-handed opponents so a left handed warrior might have an upper hand against a right handed opponent who was unused to fighting a lefty.   The Benjamites had the reputation of being skilled warriors.   In addition, the ancient gates of cities were often built with a right-hand turn in order to further expose right-handed attackers, suggesting another possible benefit for left-handed soldiers.

4. Battles on the Plain of Megiddo: Pharaoh Thutmose III defeated a Canaanite coalition in 1468 BC; Israel's King Josiah died in a battle against Pharaoh Neco II in 609 BC (2 Kng 23:29); and in 1917 AD the British General Allenby ended the rule of the Ottoman Turks in Palestine by defeating them in the Valley of Jezreel opposite Megiddo.   The Plain of Megiddo is also referred to in the Book of Revelation as the site of the final battle on the Day of the Lord; it is the Armageddon of Rev 16:14 (in Hebrew Har-mageddon means "Mount Megiddo" a possible reference to Mount Tabor).

5. It was near the Kishon River that the prophet Elijah killed the prophets of Baal when they failed the test to prove the power of their false god on Mount Carmel (1 Kng 18:40).

Catechism references:

Judges 2:12 (CCC 2068, 2072)

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