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Judges 5:16: Condemnation of the Tribes Refusing to Appear for the Lord's War, Part 1

Verse 16:[1] Why abodest thou (Num. 32:1) among the sheepfolds, to hear the bleatings of the flocks? For (or, in[2]) the divisions of Reuben there were great searchings of heart.

[Why abodest thou between the two bounds?] Why abodest thou and sittest, O Reuben, in thine own land, which was situated between two borders, that is, Moab and Canaan? Or rather, Why hast thou desired to have peace as much with Sisera as with me? and, as it is vulgarly said, why swimmest thou between two waters (Lapide)? Why haltest thou in the middle, and doubtful between the borders of enemies and of Israelites, so that, according to the outcome of the war, thou mightest join thyself to the one or to the other (Tirinus, similarly Menochius, Osiander)? This word [that is, הַמִּשְׁפְּתַיִם] also signifies battle lines (Osiander).

[לָ֣מָּה יָשַׁ֗בְתָּ בֵּ֚ין הַֽמִּשְׁפְּתַ֔יִם] Why hast thou sat (or, remained [Munster, English, Vatablus], namely, in this war [Piscator]) between two orders? (Montanus), understanding, of sheep (Vatablus), or, between sheepfolds? (Munster, Pagnine, Vatablus, English). The Hebrew word appears to have regard to the custom of that, and also of the present, age; namely, that folds of sheep are divided into two orders placed over against each other, between which a man is able conveniently to pass, and to distribute their fodder to each (Dutch). Others: between two bundles (Junius and Tremellius, Piscator, Castalio), after the likeness of a slow-moving ass. Compare Genesis 49:14[3] (Piscator). Between paths, or ways (Syriac, Arabic). Why wouldst thou settle between the bundles? It is an Apostrophe[4] to the Tribes on the other side of Jordan, that they also might acknowledge the calling of

Deborah, and profess their allegiance (Junius).

[To hear (that thou mightest hear [Munster, Pagnine, Tigurinus, Castalio]) the hissing (bellowing [Tigurinus], or, bleating [Castalio]) of the flocks] Which is to say, In so profound a leisure, while thou seest thy brethren to be in enormous danger (Malvenda out of Vatablus). In hearing the hissings of the flocks, that is, by turning thine attention to this one, so that thou mightest conveniently take care of thy flocks: just as thine ancestors appeared about to do, if Moses had not by the commandment of God recalled them to their common duty toward their brethren, Numbers 32:6, etc. That is to say, Also acknowledge ye, therefore, your deliverer provided by God. Thus in the following verse (Malvenda out of Junius). If anyone should marvel that the word hissings is here used of the flocks, he should also know that thus it is used of the trumpeting of elephants by Arrianus,[5] Expedition of Alexander 5, Now, with the beasts worn out, although their powerful incursions were no more, but they were only making use of the hissing (Bochart’s Sacred Catalogue of Animals 1:2:45:470).

[With Reuben divided against himself, etc.[6]] This hemistich is repeated as if to intercalate a song, for elegance, with only one letter changed: for in verse 15 is found חִקְקֵי, that is, cogitations, or disputes, of heart; but here חִקְרֵי־לֵב is used, that is, searchings, or thorough siftings, of heart (Lapide). [Nevertheless, they render it variously.] And thou wouldst separate thyself, Reuben, together with the great and wise of heart (Munster). To the divisions of Reuben, of great men, who were appointed of heart (Tigurinus). Near the river, O great Reubenites, keen of mind (Castalio). The divisions of Reuben had great searchings of heart (Dutch). To the divisions of Reuben there are great searchings of heart, that is, From this thy separation thy heart is able easily to be discerned toward thy brethren. For, when the Church is endangered, many thoughts of hearts are revealed, Luke 2 (Osiander).

Why abodest thou, etc.: Why wast thou so unworthy and cowardly, so void of all zeal for God, and compassion towards thy brethren, and care for the recovery of thy own liberties and privileges, that thou wouldst not engage thyself in so just, so necessary, and so noble a cause, but didst prefer the care of thy sheep, and thy own present case and safety, before this generous undertaking? Reuben thought neutrality their wisest course, being very rich in cattle, Numbers 32:1. They were loth to run the hazard of so great a loss, by taking up arms against so potent an enemy as Jabin was; and the bleatings of their sheep were so loud in their ears, that they could not hear the call of Deborah and Barak to this expedition.

[1] Hebrew: לָ֣מָּה יָשַׁ֗בְתָּ בֵּ֚ין הַֽמִּשְׁפְּתַ֔יִם לִשְׁמֹ֖עַ שְׁרִק֣וֹת עֲדָרִ֑ים לִפְלַגּ֣וֹת רְאוּבֵ֔ן גְּדוֹלִ֖ים חִקְרֵי־לֵֽב׃

[2] Hebrew: לִפְלַגּוֹת.

[3] Genesis 49:14: “Issachar is a strong ass couching down between two burdens (הַמִּשְׁפְּתָיִם)…”

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

[5] Lucius Flavius Arrianus of Nicomedia was a second century Greek historian and a Roman senator.

[6] Hebrew: לִפְלַגּ֣וֹת רְאוּבֵ֔ן גְּדוֹלִ֖ים חִקְרֵי־לֵֽב׃.

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Dr. Dilday
Dr. Dilday
Mar 05, 2018

Matthew Henry: 'In this great engagement she observes who stood neuter, and did not side with Israel as might have been expected. It is strange to find how many, even of those who were called Israelites, basely deserted this glorious cause and declined to appear. No mention is made of Judah nor Simeon among the tribes concerned, because they, lying so very remote from the scene of action, had not an opportunity to appear, and therefore it was not expected from them; but for those that lay near, and yet would not venture, indelible marks of disgrace are here put upon them, as they deserved....

Reuben basely declined the service, Judges 5:15, 16. Justly had he long ago been deprived…

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