Judges 5:6-9: Israel's Distress

Verse 6:[1] In the days of (Judg. 3:31) Shamgar the son of Anath, in the days of (Judg. 4:17) Jael, (Lev. 26:22; 2 Chron. 15:5; Is. 33:8; Lam. 1:4; 4:18) the highways were unoccupied, and the travellers (Heb. walkers of paths[2]) walked through byways (Heb. crooked ways[3]).

[In the days of Shamgar…in the days of Jael] Question: Why are Shamgar and Jael conjoined? Response: It was Deborah’s intention to indicate that whole time which had been under Ehud, or after him, unto this victory. Therefore, she describes that from the days of the two that had been most excellent of each sex at that time, Shamgar and Jael (Menochius out of Bonfrerius, Junius). From the death of Ehud, when Shamgar was judge, unto the days of Jael, that is, unto the present time (Tirinus). Jael is here introduced, because she was the first woman among the Kenites, unto whom accordingly the Kenites would gather, but with difficulty and secretly (Lapide out of Serarius). Shamgar was Judge for only a small time, and he merely began the liberation (Lapide). Even if he smote six hundred men with a ploughshare, he did not prevail to restrain the brigandage of that time (Bonfrerius).

[The paths were quiet, חָדְל֖וּ אֳרָח֑וֹת[4]] Ceased (were desolate [Tigurinus, Castalio], or, were unoccupied [English]) the ways (Munster) (or, the paths [Montanus]); the ways were closed (Arabic, similarly the Syriac); they abandoned they ways (Septuagint). They abandoned the direct roads; namely, of the royal way, and running directly from place to place. There is an Ellipsis of a word to be elicited from the contrary word, a thing common in the Scriptures; for to these are opposed the twisting paths at the end of the verse (Junius, Piscator, Glassius’ “Sacred Grammar” 714). No one was daring to walk along the well-trodden ways and paths; but if the necessity of the journey was urging one, he was walking bypaths (Bonfrerius, Munster). The paths ceased, that is, travelers ceased (Vatablus, Drusius, Jonathan). Thus the paths of the Ishmaelites, Genesis 37:25,[5] ὁδοιπόροι/travelers in the Septuagint, viatores/travels in Jerome, signifying troops of Ishmaelites. Thus in Isaiah 21:13, the paths of the Dedanim.[6] So here paths are the companies of travelers making a journey at the some time to some place, as it is done to the present day in the East, especially in Syria (Bonfrerius).

[Through out-of-the-way tracks] Hebrew: they were walking along crooked ways[7] (Syriac, similarly the Arabic, Montanus, Junius and Tremellius), which were chosen in preference to public roads: as it is generally done when soldiers infest a region (Junius, Piscator, Malvenda). It signifies that commerce was broken off (Grotius).

In the days of Shamgar; whilst Shamgar lived, who was, if not a judge, yet an eminent person for strength and valour, Judges 3:31. In the days of Jael: Jael, though an illustrious woman, and of great authority and influence upon the people, did effect nothing for the deliverance of God’s people till God raised me up, etc. Through byways; partly because of the Canaanites, who, besides the public burdens and tributes which they laid upon them, waited for all opportunities of doing them mischief secretly; their soldiers watching for travellers in common roads, as is usual with such in times of war; and partly because of the robbers even of their own people, who having cast off the fear and worship of God, and there being no king or ruler in Israel to restrain or punish them, and being also many of them reduced to great want, through the oppression of the Canaanites, it is not strange, if, in those times of public disorder and ataxy, divers of the Israelites themselves did break forth into acts of injustice and violence, even against their own brethren, whom they could meet with in convenient places, which made travellers seek for bypaths.

Verse 7:[8] The inhabitants of the villages ceased, they ceased in Israel, until that I Deborah arose, that I arose (Is. 49:23) a mother in Israel.

[The strong ceased in Israel, חָדְל֧וּ פְרָז֛וֹן] The villages, or country communites, ceased (Pagnine, Montanus, Castalio, Dutch); that is, The villages, that is, the unfortified towns, were deserted (Vatablus). The inhabitants of unfortified place were compelled to flee to safer places, lest they be exposed as prey to the enemy (Munster). Peasants ceased (Junius and Tremellius), or, each peasant (Junius), the inhabitants of villages or towns (Munster, English). But the Vulgate and Septuagint translate פְרָזוֹן as the strong, or powerful, who are certainly able to be in the place of walls to cities. And in Habakkuk 3:14 they translate פְּרָזִים[9] as armies (Kimchi, Pagnine, Vatablus); bellatores/warriors in Jerome; δυνάστας, the powerful, in the Septuagint (Bonfrerius).

The villages ceased; the people forsook all their unfortified towns, as not being able to protect them from military insolence.

[A mother in Israel] As if a mother in Israel: thus, I was a nurse to it, that is, as a nurse (Drusius). That I might be as a mother (Vatablus). She is called a mother, 1. because by the prophetic spirit, as a mother to children, and a Prophet to disciples (whom the Scripture calls the sons of the Prophets), she was giving counsel: 2. because by this war she, as a pious mother, was driving evil from the Israelites (Junius, Piscator); on account of maternal love toward them (Lapide, Bonfrerius): 3. because she was not incited to them so that she might act tyrannically (Martyr).

A mother, that is, to be to them as a mother, to instruct, and rule, and protect them, which duties a mother oweth to her children as far as she is able.

Verse 8:[10] They (Deut. 32:16; Judg. 2:12, 17) chose new gods; then was war in the gates: (so 1 Sam. 13:19, 22; Judg. 4:3) was there a shield or spear seen among forty thousand in Israel?

[The Lord chose new wars] God thought it fit to choose and to employ a new method of fighting and conquering (Menochius). He is God, who chose new things, that is, He introduced a new appearance and form of Israelite affairs. Indeed, it is rare that the armed are conquered by the unarmed (Martyr). Or, new wars, that is, The Victory was brought forth from heaven by the help of God and new wonders (Bonfrerius). God chose a new thing (Arabic, thus the Syriac).

[יִבְחַר֙ אֱלֹהִ֣ים חֲדָשִׁ֔ים] He was choosing (since he chose [Munster, Vatablus, Pagnine, similarly Castalio, Tigurinus, Junius and Tremellius], supply, Israel [Munster, Vatablus]) new gods (Munster, English). Verbatim: he will choose: but Enallage of time is common among the Hebrews (Bonfrerius). New gods, that is, other gods. Thus in Exodus 1, a new King, that is, another king; and new tongues in Mark 16:17, that is, other tongues, Acts 2:4; a new name in Isaiah 62:2, that is, another name (Drusius). Before Saturn ye had no God: from him is the reckoning of all divinity, either superior or more well-known: Tertullian’s[11] Apology 10 (Gataker). She sets forth idolatry as the reason for the afflictions into which the people had fallen. See Judges 2:10, etc. (Junius, Martyr). When he first began to worship idols


They chose new gods: They did not only submit to idolatry when they were forced to it by tyrants, but they freely chose new gods; new to them, and unknown to their fathers, and new in comparison of the true and everlasting God of Israel, being but upstarts, and of yesterday.

[He toppled the gates of the enemies, אָ֖ז לָחֶ֣ם שְׁעָרִ֑ים] Then was war in the gates (Vatablus, English, Dutch, Pagnine, Tigurinus), that is, in the cities; or, enemies began to storm their cities (Vatablus). A part is taken for the whole, the gate for the whole city. Thus the gate of his enemies, Genesis 22:17, that is, whatever belongs to their right or dominion, they shall possess; and, in Deuteronomy 17:2, in one of the gates, that is, of the cities; Obadiah 11. Thus in Psalm 87:2, He loveth the gates of Zion, that is, the city of Jerusalem. Moreover, war is in the place of warrior; like wine, that is, a man of wine; deceit, that is, a man of deceit (Drusius). Then the warrior was in the gates, that is, he got hold of all things: for in the gates were munitions and judgments (Junius).

In the gates, that is, in their walled cities, which have gates and bars; gates are oft put for cities, as Genesis 22:17; Deuteronomy 17:2; Obadiah 11. Then their strongest holds fell into the hands of their enemies.

[If a shield and spear appeared[12] (similarly Munster, Pagnine, Vatablus)] If is put in the place of Not (Lapide, Menochius). Neither shield, nor spear, etc. (Tigurinus, Castalio). Or, it is the formula of an oath (Martyr); that is to say, Let me come to ruin, if they had dared to take up arms; because God had taken away their courage, they shut themselves up in their cities, and did not dare to go forth (Vatablus). Or thus, Let me come to ruin, if among them a shield or sword was able to be found, etc. The Tyrant had so disarmed them. You will say, ten thousand followed Barak, who do not appear to have been unarmed. Responses: 1. Perhaps swords are not denied to them, but only shield and spear; of which the former is for defense, the other for offense, without which the Israelites were able to appear unarmed; for they were not so concerned about other arms. 2. Or, that expression is hyperbolical (Bonfrerius). There were not among forty thousand, etc., that is, in any entire tribe, and so in the entire people of Israel (Junius). There were no shields and spears in the entire army, but they were only armed with slings, ploughshares, like Shamgar, and mattocks. Compare 1 Samuel 13:19 (Lapide).

Was there, that is, there was not; the meaning is not that all the Israelites had no arms, for here is mention made only of shields or spears; so they might have swords, and bows, and arrows to offend their enemies; but either that they had but few arms among them, being many thousands of them disarmed by the Canaanites; or that they generally neglected the use of arms, as being utterly dispirited, and without all hope of recovering their lost liberty, and being necessitated to other employments for subsistence.

Verse 9:[13] My heart is toward the governors of Israel, that (Judg. 5:2) offered themselves willingly among the people. Bless ye the LORD.

[My heart loves the princes of Israel, לִבִּי֙ לְחוֹקְקֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל] My heart is toward the scribes of Israel (Montanus, similarly Jonathan), toward the interpreter (Syriac), who, when there was tribulation, ceased not from interpreting the Law (Jonathan). Or thus, toward the scribes; that is to say, I exhort you, writers of events, and authors of annals, to celebrate this victory with all your might (certain interpreters in Malvenda). Others: toward the governors, or princes, or magnates (Munster, Pagnine, Vatablus, Drusius), keepers of the laws (Munster). חוֹקְקֵי is a Benoni,[14] Qal, from חָקַק, to inscribe, in the place of which מְחוֹקְקֵי in the Poel is more common (Piscator). De jure there were magistrates of the people, although de facto the tyrant prohibited them (Bonfrerius). My soul appeals to those that have commissions in Israel, that is, the Generals that were in charge of this campaign (Junius).

[Who by their own will, etc.] Hebrew: who willingly offer themselves among the people;[15] rank-and-file soldiers that had come voluntarily (Junius). [Others refer this to the Princes themselves.]

My heart is toward, etc.: I greatly honour and love those, who being the chief of the people in wealth and dignity, did not withdraw themselves from the work, as such usually do; but did expose themselves to the same hazards, and joined with their meaner brethren in this noble but dangerous attempt, and by their examples and countenance engaged others in it.

[Bless ye the Lord] Namely, because he restored your courage (Vatablus).

Bless ye the Lord; who inclined their hearts to this undertaking, and gave them success in it. As she gives instruments their due, so she is careful the sovereign Cause and Lord of all lose not his glory.

[1] Hebrew: בִּימֵ֞י שַׁמְגַּ֤ר בֶּן־עֲנָת֙ בִּימֵ֣י יָעֵ֔ל חָדְל֖וּ אֳרָח֑וֹת וְהֹלְכֵ֣י נְתִיב֔וֹת יֵלְכ֕וּ אֳרָח֖וֹת עֲקַלְקַלּֽוֹת׃

[2] Hebrew: וְהֹלְכֵ֣י נְתִיב֔וֹת.

[3] Hebrew: אֳרָח֖וֹת עֲקַלְקַלּֽוֹת׃.

[4] חָדַל signifies to cease.

[5] Genesis 37:25: “And they sat down to eat bread: and they lifted up their eyes and looked, and, behold, a company of Ishmeelites (אֹרְחַ֣ת יִשְׁמְעֵאלִ֔ים) came from Gilead with their camels bearing spicery and balm and myrrh, going to carry it down to Egypt.”

[6] Isaiah 21:13: “The burden upon Arabia. In the forest in Arabia shall ye lodge, O ye travelling companies of Dedanim (אֹֽרְח֖וֹת דְּדָנִֽים׃).”

[7] Hebrew: אֳרָח֖וֹת עֲקַלְקַלּֽוֹת׃.

[8] Hebrew: חָדְל֧וּ פְרָז֛וֹן בְּיִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל חָדֵ֑לּוּ עַ֤ד שַׁקַּ֙מְתִּי֙ דְּבוֹרָ֔ה שַׁקַּ֥מְתִּי אֵ֖ם בְּיִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃

[9] Habakkuk 3:14: “Thou didst strike through with his staves the head of his villages (פְּרָזוֹ): they came out as a whirlwind to scatter me: their rejoicing was as to devour the poor secretly.”

[10] Hebrew: יִבְחַר֙ אֱלֹהִ֣ים חֲדָשִׁ֔ים אָ֖ז לָחֶ֣ם שְׁעָרִ֑ים מָגֵ֤ן אִם־יֵֽרָאֶה֙ וָרֹ֔מַח בְּאַרְבָּעִ֥ים אֶ֖לֶף בְּיִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃

[11] Tertullian was a Latin Father of the second century. He labored as an apologist during times of persecution. He is remembered for his contribution of the vocabulary concerning the doctrine of the Trinity in the Latin-speaking West, and his involvement in the Montanist movement.

[12] Hebrew: מָגֵ֤ן אִם־יֵֽרָאֶה֙ וָרֹ֔מַח.

[13] Hebrew: לִבִּי֙ לְחוֹקְקֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל הַמִּֽתְנַדְּבִ֖ים בָּעָ֑ם בָּרֲכ֖וּ יְהוָֽה׃

[14] The active participle is sometimes called a Benoni. It can be treated as a verb or a noun, depending upon context. בֵּינוֹנִי/Benoni signifies central or middle, standing between the past and future tenses.

[15] Hebrew: הַמִּֽתְנַדְּבִ֖ים בָּעָ֑ם.

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Dr. Steven Dilday holds a BA in Religion and Philosophy from Campbell University, a Master of Arts in Religion from Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia), and both a Master of Divinity and a  Ph.D. in Puritan History and Literature from Whitefield Theological Seminary.  He is also the translator of Matthew Poole's Synopsis of Biblical Interpreters and Bernardinus De Moor’s Didactico-Elenctic Theology.




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