Judges 5:21: The Kishon River Shows Up to Fight

Verse 21:[1] (Judg. 4:7) The river of Kishon swept them away, that ancient river, the river Kishon. O my soul, thou hast trodden down strength.


[The torrent Kishon draws their corpses, גְּרָפָם] It rolled them down (moved them away [Munster], dragged them away [Castalio]) (Montanus, Tigurinus, Dutch); it swept them away (Pagnine, Dutch, English), that is, it carried them off after the manner of brooms (Vatablus). גָּרַף is a ἅπαξ λεγόμενον, hapax legomenon [that is, it occurs only once in Scripture], but among the Arabs it occurs here and there; as when they say סיל גרף, a torrent carrying all things away; that is, גרף properly denotes a precipice, as in Matthew 8:32, עלי גרף, κατὰ τοῦ κρημνοῦ, down a steep place, per præceps,[2] along a precipice. Thus גָּרַף is used of the torrent, which, falling along a precipice, carries all things away; thence גְּרָפָם, it carried them away (Bochart’s Sacred Geography “Phaleg” 1:16:465; 1:42:757). They maintain that גָּרַף is properly to roll together, from the noun אֶגְרוֹף/fist, as if you should describe a hand rolling up. You are able to translate it, after the likeness of nets it drew or carried them away, from the Æthiopic גרף, net or drag-net, Matthew 13:47. The Syriac tongue affords more help, in which this verb is very common, and is put in the place of שָׁטַף, to overflow, Song of Solomon 8:7;[3] Isaiah 10:22.[4] It signifies to draw, to draw away, to draw out of its place: whence also it is used in the place of חָשַׂף, to draw, in the Syriac, Isaiah 30:14[5] (Dieu). The torrent Kishon flows at the base of mount Tabor, where Sisera was destroyed: hence his soldiers, fleeing through the torrent Kishon, with it overflowing and swollen in the providence of God, were exhausted and drowned. Josephus says that it swelled because of the sending of a mighty rain[6] (Lapide).


The river of Kishon, though not great in itself, and therefore fordable, was now much swelled and increased by the foregoing storm and rain, as Josephus affirms; and therefore drowned those who being pursued by the hand of God, and by the Israelites, were forced into it, and thought to pass over it, as they did before.


[The torrent of Cadumim, נַ֥חַל קְדוּמִ֖ים] [They vary.] Torrent of the ancients, or, of antiquities; or, the ancient torrent (Munster, Pagnine, Vatablus, English); from a number of older ones (Vatablus). The sense: either, 1. that most ancient torrent, wonderfully celebrated even by ancient Poets (Malvenda): or, 2. a torrent that had been idolatrously worshipped in ancient times (Lightfoot): or, 3. Kishon, although it is but a torrent, flows anciently, and does not cease to flow, like other torrents that often dry up in the summer; thus Marinus (Lapide): or, 4. unto this the torrent Kishon was ordained by God from the beginning, that the Canaanites might perish in it; according to that in Proverbs 16:4, The Lord does all things because of Himself (Vatablus, thus Montanus’ Commentary, Lapide). Others: the torrent of easterners: for קֶדֶם signifies east. The torrent Kishon is divided into two parts: one flows Westward into the Mediterranean Sea; the other glides Eastward into the sea of Gennesaret; and this part is called קְדוּמִים/Cadumim (Serarius). This does not displease (Bonfrerius). But it is able to be translated, the torrent of the prevented, or, seized beforehand (certain interpreters in Lapide, Bonfrerius); that is, where the men of Sisera had been unexpectedly prevented and drowned by the waters (Lapide, Bonfrerius). Others: the torrent of meetings (Junius and Tremellius), that is, where both armies, rushing together, joined in combat (Junius, Piscator). So called from קֶדֶם/before, because one army stood before the other (Malvenda).


That ancient river; so called, either, first, In opposition to those rivers which are of a later date, being made by the hand and art of man. Or, secondly, Because it was a river anciently famous for some remarkable exploits, for which it was celebrated by the ancient poets or writers, though not here mentioned.


[O my soul, dread down the strong (similarly the Dutch, Glassius),תִּדְרְכִ֥י נַפְשִׁ֖י עֹֽז׃] My soul shall dread down (thou shalt tread down, O my soul [Glassius]) strength (Montanus); that is, tread down: A future/imperfect in the place of an imperative, which often occurs. Strength, that is, whatever was strong, or the torrent (Junius), or the enemies themselves, over-confident in their own strength, and now subdued and laid low (Glassius’ “Grammar” 387). Thou hast trodden down, O my soul, strength (English), or, on strength (Pagnine). I said, O my soul, thou shalt trample upon strength (Junius and Tremellius); that is, As heavenly and earthly things by divine influence rushed upon the enemies; so also I most zealously applied myself, that for my part with the army I might bring the matter to an end (Junius). Thou shalt trample on: Be urgent in prayer in the presence of God, that He might trample upon. Or, thou wast trampling upon, that is, by being urgent in prayer before God in the time of battle. And then I said is not to be supplied (Piscator). Great is the force and energy of the speech. What they had done in the battle she is still representing to herself in her mind, just as if the matter were being conducted at that very moment; whence it is nt strange if she feel the same disposition of soul (Bonfrerius). Others: my soul shall tread upon (O my soul, thou shalt tread upon [Tigurinus]) him bravely (Munster). [Castalio conjoins this with what precedes in this manner, Pass over the River Kishon, O my soul, bravely.] Thou hast trodden upon, understanding, that river; that is, I with my own feet pass over bravely and with strength; which is to say, But me, a weak woman, he was not able to carry across (Vatablus). Although this river was impassable to the enemy, yet it yielded to the Israelites a solid path (Munster). But this is to invent a new miracle without necessity (Bonfrerius).


Thou hast trodden down strength, that is, thou, O Deborah, though but a weak woman, hast, by God’s assistance and blessing upon thy counsels and prayers, subdued a potent enemy. Such apostrophes and abrupt speeches are frequent in poetical scriptures.

[1] Hebrew: נַ֤חַל קִישׁוֹן֙ גְּרָפָ֔ם נַ֥חַל קְדוּמִ֖ים נַ֣חַל קִישׁ֑וֹן תִּדְרְכִ֥י נַפְשִׁ֖י עֹֽז׃


[2] Thus the Vulgate.


[3] Song of Solomon 8:7: “Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it (וּנְהָר֖וֹת לֹ֣א יִשְׁטְפ֑וּהָ): if a man would give all the substance of his house for love, it would utterly be contemned.”


[4] Isaiah 10:22: “For though thy people Israel be as the sand of the sea, yet a remnant of them shall return: the consumption decreed shall overflow (שׁוֹטֵף) with righteousness.”


[5] Isaiah 30:14: “And he shall break it as the breaking of the potters’ vessel that is broken in pieces; he shall not spare: so that there shall not be found in the bursting of it a sherd to take fire from the hearth, or to draw (וְלַחְשֹׂף) water out of the pit.”


[6] Antiquities 5:5.

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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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