Judges 5:20: The Stars of Heaven Show Up to Fight

Verse 20:[1] (see Josh. 10:11; Ps. 77:17, 18) They fought from heaven; (Judg. 4:15) the stars in their courses (Heb. paths[2]) fought against Sisera.

They fought from heaven: Or, they from heaven, or the heavenly host fought, by thunder, and lightning, and hailstones, possibly mingled with fire. Compare Joshua 10:11; 1 Samuel 7:10.

[The stars remaining in their order and course] That is, Not cast into confusion, nor suffering anything, just as it formerly happened under Joshua[3] (Menochius, Tirinus, Lyra, Lapide, Bonfrerius). Or this is said to indicate that they fought after the manner of some consummately well-ordered army, with no one disturbing the order, or deserting his place (Bonfrerius).

[הַכּֽוֹכָבִים֙ מִמְּסִלּוֹתָ֔ם[4]] The stars from their stations (Tigurinus), or, from their positions (Munster), ways (Pagnine), paths (Vatablus); from (or in [English]) their courses (Castalio, English, Dutch); from their elevations (Junius and Tremellius, Piscator), that is, superior regions of the atmosphere. The expression is transferred from soldiers fighting from a more highly elevated position (Junius, similarly Grotius). Compare 2 Maccabees 10:29;[5] 11:8.[6] מְסִלּוֹת are high places (Grotius). Darts are more easily, powerfully, and accurately hurled from a higher to a lower position, than vice-versa (Lapide). Question: What are these stars? and how do they fight? Responses: 1. The stars here are Angels (Estius, thus Vatablus, Mariana,[7] Grotius, a great many interpreters in Bonfrerius), who are called stars on account of their heavenly nature and splendor (Grotius). Angels are called the morning stars, Job 38:7; and in Revelation 12:4 the dragon draws the stars of heaven (Bonfrerius). 2. They are to be taken here properly as Stars (Lapide, Bonfrerius, thus Lyra, Menochius, Tigurinus, Junius, Piscator). But how were Stars fighting? Response: The Stars cause those tempests of hail, winds, lightnings, etc., by which they were broken (Tirinus, similarly Junius, Lapide, Bonfrerius). From the influx of the stars tempests naturally spring, thunder, hail, etc. Now, God had augmented the influx of these, or inhibited the force and influx of other stars restraining tempests (Bonfrerius). She says, from their ways, lest one should think that those either descended from heaven, or deviated from their courses (Martyr). Perhaps the song speaks of the stars, that the battle was fought at night, with the stars shining (Estius).

The stars; which raised those storms by their influences, which they do naturally and ordinarily, but now far more, when God sharpened their influences, and disposed the air to receive and improve their impressions. In their courses, or, from their paths, or stations, or high places. As soldiers fight in their ranks and places assigned them, so did these, and that with advantage, as those enemies do which fight from the higher ground.

[1] Hebrew: מִן־שָׁמַ֖יִם נִלְחָ֑מוּ הַכּֽוֹכָבִים֙ מִמְּסִלּוֹתָ֔ם נִלְחֲמ֖וּ עִם־סִיסְרָֽא׃

[2] Hebrew: מִמְּסִלּוֹתָם.

[3] See Joshua 10:11-14.

[4] מְסִלָּה, highway or raised way, is derived from the verbal root סֶלָה, or סָלַל, to lift up.

[5] 2 Maccabees 10:29: “But when the battle waxed strong, there appeared unto the enemies from heaven five comely men upon horses, with bridles of gold, and two of them led the Jews…”

[6] 2 Maccabees 11:8: “And as they were at Jerusalem, there appeared before them on horseback one in white clothing, shaking his armour of gold.”

[7] John Mariana (c. 1536-1624) was a Spanish Jesuit priest and scholar. While teaching theology in Rome, Robert Bellarmine was among his pupils. His magnum opus was the thirty-book history of Spain, Historiæ de Rebus Hispaniæ, and he wrote Scolia upon both Testaments.

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