Judges 5:14: Commendation of the Tribes that Appeared for the Lord's War, Part 1

Verse 14:[1] (Judg. 3:27) Out of Ephraim was there a root of them (Judg. 3:13) against Amalek; after thee, Benjamin, among thy people; out of (Num. 32:39, 40) Machir came down governors, and out of Zebulun they that handle the pen (Heb. draw with the pen,[2] etc.) of the writer.


[Out of Ephraim, etc., מִנִּ֣י אֶפְרַ֗יִם שָׁרְשָׁם֙ בַּעֲמָלֵ֔ק] This is an obscure sentence, if there be any such. And a great part of the obscurity arise from the ambiguous signification of the ב [in בַּעֲמָלֵק, in/against Amalek], which generally signifies in, and conveys a state of rest: nevertheless, thereupon it is employed for motion toward a place, as in Leviticus 16:22;[3] thereupon it signifies against, as in Exodus 14:25;[4] thereupon it signifies with, as in Exodus 15:19[5] (Bonfrerius). [They render it variously.] Out of Ephraim was a root of them in Amalek (Montanus), or, against Amalek (Munster, Pagnine, Tigurinus, English, Dutch, Osiander). Of almost all this is the explanation, that two histories are here touched upon, one past, concerning the war conducted by Joshua against the Amalekites, Exodus 17, the other future, concerning the war conducted by the Saul the Benjamite, in which he destroyed them, 1 Samuel 15 (Bonfrerius, thus Tostatus, Cajetan and the Chaldean in Bonfrerius, thus Munster, Vatablus, Drusius, Osiander, Hebrews in Malvenda). From the tribe of Ephraim arose, as from a root, some famous victories against the Amalekites (Osianders’ Books of Joshua, Judges, etc.). Of Ephraim, understanding, he that was of Ephraim, that is, who was the root of them, exercised dominion in Amalek, or, fought against Amalek; namely, Joshua (Vatablus). [This exposition satisfies neither Bonfrerius, nor Serarius.] 1. To what end does he so suddenly treat of the Amalekites? 2. How was Joshua the root of them, that is, of the Ephraimites? For they did not proceed from him (Bonfrerius). Nevertheless, those Tribes appear at that time to have rushed upon the Amalekites, because they were wishing to join themselves to King Jabin, just as the same had previously done with Eglon, Judges 3, and the Canaanite Kings did here, Judges 5:19 (Serarius). Perhaps, with others fighting against Sisera, these two Tribes rushed upon the Amalekites, who were attempting to bring help to Sisera (Tirinus). Others refer this to Deborah (thus Martyr, certain interpreters in Malvenda), who appears to have been an Ephraimite from the location of her habitation in the mount of Ephraim, Judges 4:5 (Martyr, Malvenda), and is called the root of them, because at that time she was administrating the republic as Judge (Malvenda), and because this war was undertaken taken at her counsel and under her auspices. Now, by Amalek the Canaanites are figuratively understood (Martyr), who were deservedly compared with them with respect to both their hostility and ruin (Dutch). Some suppose that after the assault upon Jabin Deborah also led an attack upon the Amalekites. But this is uncertain (Malvenda). Out of Ephraim, that is, the Ephraimites. Now, here by a synecdoche of member the Manassites that dwelt on this side Jordan appear to be understood at the same time, that is, as a part of the Tribe of Joseph (Piscator). Out of Ephraim, out of those whose root is extended toward the Amalekites (Junius and Tremellius), that is, out of the tribes of Judah and Simeon, the inheritance of which eas extending all the way to the Amalekites, as it is evident from Judges 1:16 compared with 1 Samuel 15:6. Now, it is a metaphorical expression, whereby the Tribes are compared to a tree, the extreme part of which Southward is called a root (Junius, Piscator). [The Vulgate translates it otherwise:] From Ephraim He destroyed them unto Amalek. Thus the Septuagint: Ephraim uprooted them in Amalek. In the place of שָׁרְשָׁם/ SCHORSCHAM, the root of them, they were correctly reading, with only the points changed, שְׁרֵשָׁם/Scherescham, he uprooted them. I think that this is the sense of the passage: Either God, or the Israelites, pursued the fleeing Canaanites from Tabor and Kishon, where they were shattered, all the way to the tribe of Ephraim, from there unto the tribe of Benjamin, from there unto the Amalekites and the extreme Southern limits of the entire region of Israel, in such a way that it was never permitted to them to remain as safe, until they had passed beyond the borders of the region of Israel and unto the Amalekites (Bonfrerius generally out of Lapide).


[After him out of Benjamin into thy peoples, O Amalek: That, O Amalek, is wanting in Hebrew (Bonfrerius): אַחֲרֶ֥יךָ בִנְיָמִ֖ין בַּֽעֲמָמֶ֑יךָ] After thee, Benjamin (understanding, either, will fight [Vatablus], or, was [Dutch]) in thy peoples (Munster, Tigurinus, Osiander), or, among thy peoples (Dutch, English), or, against thy peoples (Pagnine, Vatablus), that is, against peoples formerly conquered by thee, namely, the Amalekites (Vatablus), against whom Saul the Benjamite fought (Munster). Others otherwise: From Benjamin some (although few) initially joined themselves to Deborah (Martyr). Out of the Benjamites following thee among thy people (Junius and Tremellius, similarly Glassius, Dutch). From after thee (for the particle מ/from is to be repeated from the preceding member), that is, from those following thee, etc., for the preposition אַחֲרֵי/after, if it be taken concerning place, is sometimes used as a noun (Glassius’ “Sacred Grammar” 544). An Apostrophe toward God,[6] in which she relates that the remnants of Benjamin, preserved from that destruction, Judges 20, were not hindered by their fewness from being numbered among the people of God, that is, from making up one tribe, and following God: for we will show in the proper place that that history preceded this one in time (Junius). After thee, O Lord, Benjamin followed among the rest of thy people (Dutch). Others maintain that Ehud the Benjamite is here celebrated, who conquered the Moabites, Judges 3 (Malvenda, thus Osiander). Others thus: Barak pursued the fleeing troops of Sisera unto Ephraim, and unto Benjamin next to him; upon seeing this, the Ephraimites, and the Benjamites after them, joined themselves to Barak (Lapide). [Castalio joined these things with the preceding verb in this way:] In the valley thou, O Benjamin, wast following after thy compatriots. בַּעֲמָלֵק is read, that is, in the Amalekites; but the sense is not able to be established. The Greek interpreters appear to have read בָעֵמֶק, who translate it, ἐν κοιλάδι, in the valley; which reading agrees with the sense, for a little after it is said that Barak was sent into the valley, in which the battle was fought (Castalio). Therefore, the sense is, In this battle the Benjamites were not present, but the Ephraimites and Manassites their compatriots, worthy, who thereafter would be in command; likewise the Zebulunites, the chief men of letters, and the Issacharites, under the command of Barak (Castalio).


[From Machir] That is, from the tribe of Manasseh, whose firstborn (and indeed only-begotten [Bonfrerius]) was his son Machir (Vatablus, Piscator, Malvenda). Of the sons of Machir, or the half tribe of Manasseh beyond Jordan, see Joshua 17:1; 13:31 (Malvenda).

[They came down] Understanding, so that they might bring help to their brethren (Vatablus). They came down; that is, to me, ready to obey my commandment (Junius); to fight against the Canaanites caused to flee by Barak (Piscator).


[Princes (thus Pagnine, Osiander, English), מְחֹקְקִים] Directors (Munster); legislators (Tigurinus, Dutch). Those from whom military exercise appear not to be able to be expected or required (Montanus’ Commentary). I understand this of Shamgar, who slaughtered six hundred Philistines (Osiander).


[And from Zebulun, those that led the army to fight,וּמִ֙זְּבוּלֻ֔ן מֹשְׁכִ֖ים בְּשֵׁ֥בֶט סֹפֵֽר׃] Drawing the rod of the scribe (Dutch), or, with the stylus (in the rod [Tigurinus], in the wand [Montanus, Bonfrerius, Lapide]) of the scribe (Pagnine, Drusius, English, Martyr). שֵׁבֶט is a staff, but here it is taken for עֵט, a stylus (Drusius, Munster). [Some explain it of governors (thus Lapide, Bonfrerius).] Leaders in the staff of the scribe: I interpret it of Deborah, whom I think to be of the tribe of Zebulun, who governed the people, not so much with arms and a scepter, or a sword, as with laws and books and the stylus of the scribe (Osiander). Who govern with the reed of the scribe (Munster). What others render stylus, we would more correctly render as staff, rod, scepter (Bonfrerius). A staff was a mark of generals, whereby they draw, direct, and muster soldiers. Or, drawing in the stylus of the scribe, that is, commanders of soldiers leading into battle under certain terms of service, the accounts of which a scribe would record upon tables, and number the soldiers. For with a King or Emperor a scribe was wont to be present. See Livy’s History of Rome[7] 2:12 (certain interpreters in Malvenda). Others: assembling by the stylus of the scribed, understanding, they went down, from the immediately preceding member; that is, by whose authority the assembly is held, and to whom their compatriots yield with a single letter sent to them (Junius). Others simply take this as the staff of the scribe; so that it might be a periphrasis of the learned and wise, who are able to persuade by eloquence (Munster). Drawing, understanding, letters, that is, who were wont to write (Vatablus). Who were wont to guide (that is, draw) the stylus of the scribe: that is to say, And the Princes, indeed even the very scribes given to studies, took up arms, and came to the help of their brethren (certain interpreters in Vatablus). Who hold the scepter of letters (Castalio). Doctors, lawyers, and scribes, who were better with the stylus than arms. Who were trained in the drawing of the reed (Martyr). Writing with the reed of the scribe (Syriac, similarly Jonathan). Who are laboring over book-learning (Arabic).


Out of Ephraim, etc.: Now she relates the carriage and miscarriage of the several tribes in this expedition; and she begins with Ephraim. Was there a root of them; either, first, Of the Ephraimites; or, secondly, Of them that came forth to this expedition. By root she seems to mean a branch, as that word is sometimes used, as Isaiah 11:10; 53:2; by which also she may note the fewness of those that came out of Ephraim, that fruitful bough consisting of many branches, Genesis 49:22, yielding but one branch or a handful of men to this service. Against Amalek, the constant and sworn enemy of the Israelites, who were confederate with their last oppressors the Moabites, Judges 3:13, and in all probability took their advantage now against the Israelites in the southern or middle parts of Canaan, whilst their main force was drawn northward against Jabin and Sisera. Against these therefore Ephraim sent forth a party; and so did Benjamin, as it here follows; and these hindered their conjunction with Jabin’s forces, and gave their brethren the advantage of fighting with Sisera alone. After thee, Benjamin: Benjamin followed Ephraim’s example. Or, after thee, O Benjamin; and thus the preeminence is here given to Benjamin in two respects: First, That he was first in this expedition, as indeed he lay near the Amalekites, and by his example encouraged the Ephraimites. Secondly, That the whole tribe of Benjamin, though now but small, came forth to this war, when the numerous tribe of Ephraim sent only a handful to it. Among the people; either, first, Among the people of Benjamin, with whom those few Ephraimites united themselves in this expedition. Or, secondly, Among the people or tribes of Israel, to wit, those who engaged themselves in this war. Out of Machir, that is, out of the tribe of Manasseh, which are elsewhere called by the name of Machir, as Joshua 13:31, to wit, out of the half tribe which was within Jordan; for of the other she speaks Judges 5:17. Governors; either civil governors, the princes and great persons, who were as ready to hazard themselves and their ample estates as the meanest; or military officers, valiant and expert commanders, such as some of Machir’s posterity are noted to have been. They that handle the pen of the writer, that is, even the scribes, who gave themselves to study and writing, whereby they were exempted from military service, did voluntarily enter into this service. Or, they that drew, to wit, the people after them, as that verb is used, Judges 4:6.[8] With the pen of the scribe or writer, that is, who did not only go themselves, but by their letters invited and engaged others to go with them to the battle.

[1] Hebrew: מִנִּ֣י אֶפְרַ֗יִם שָׁרְשָׁם֙ בַּעֲמָלֵ֔ק אַחֲרֶ֥יךָ בִנְיָמִ֖ין בַּֽעֲמָמֶ֑יךָ מִנִּ֣י מָכִ֗יר יָֽרְדוּ֙ מְחֹ֣קְקִ֔ים וּמִ֙זְּבוּלֻ֔ן מֹשְׁכִ֖ים בְּשֵׁ֥בֶט סֹפֵֽר׃


[2] Hebrew: מֹשְׁכִ֖ים בְּשֵׁ֥בֶט.


[3] Leviticus 16:22: “And the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a land not inhabited (אֶל־אֶ֣רֶץ גְּזֵרָ֑ה): and he shall let go the goat in the wilderness (בַּמִּדְבָּר).”


[4] Exodus 14:25: “And took off their chariot wheels, that they drave them heavily: so that the Egyptians said, Let us flee from the face of Israel; for the Lord fighteth for them against the Egyptians (בְּמִצְרָיִם).”


[5] Exodus 15:19a: “For the horse of Pharaoh went in with his chariots and with his horsemen (בְּרִכְבּ֤וֹ וּבְפָרָשָׁיו֙) into the sea, and the Lord brought again the waters of the sea upon them…”


[6] That is, an exclamation addressed to an absent person in a poem.


[7] Titus Livius (c. 59 BC-17 AD) wrote a history of Rome, Ab Urbe Condita, from its founding to the time of Augustus.


[8] Judges 4:6b: “…Hath not the Lord God of Israel commanded, saying, Go and draw (וּמָשַׁכְתָּ) toward mount Tabor, and take with thee ten thousand men of the children of Naphtali and of the children of Zebulun?”

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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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