Judges 5:4, 5: Remembrance of God's Former Appearances

Verse 4:[1] LORD, (Deut. 33:2; Ps. 68:7) when thou wentest out of Seir, when thou marchedst out of the field of Edom, (2 Sam. 22:8; Ps. 68:8; Is. 64:3; Hab. 3:3, 10) the earth trembled, and the heavens dropped, the clouds also dropped water.


[Lord, when thou wentest forth from Seir, etc.] [Some take this and the following verse metaphorically.] When thou wentest forth (or, advancest [Junius and Tremellius]) from Seir (Munster, etc.); that is, when thou didst begin to leave mount Seir, and when thou didst withdraw from Idumea (Vatablus), in leading the people from there into the Promised Land; Numbers 20; 21; Deuteronomy 2:4, 8 (Malvenda out of Junius). That is to say, When the children of Israel began to proceed further, with the Lord going before them (Vatablus), then thou didst begin magnificently plead their case (Martyr).


[And thou passedst through] They note that צָעַד is to march with pomp and majesty[2] (Malvenda).


Seir and Edom are the same place; and these two expressions note the same thing, even God’s marching in the head of his people from Seir or Edom towards the land of Canaan. Whilst the Israelites were encompassing Mount Seir, there were none of the following effects; but when once they had done that, and got Edom on their backs, then they marched directly forwards towards the land of Canaan. The prophetess being to praise God for the present mercy, takes her rise higher, and begins her song with the commemoration of the former and ancient deliverances afforded by God to his people, the rather because of the great resemblance this had with them, in the extraordinary and miraculous manner of them.


[The earth was shaken] That is, The inhabitants of the region of Idumea trembled (Vatablus). The Canaanites, our enemies (who, while we were encircling mout Seir, were living securely), were terrified (Martyr). All earthly and heavenly things at thy presence were struck and shaken: Hyperbole (Malvenda out of Junius). Such fear pervaded them, that the very earth appeared to tremble (Martyr). She praises God, because He was present to the Israelites in this battle with no less help than when He fought for them against Sihon and Og, when they had passed by mount Seir, in which battle the mountains appeared to tremble (Munster).


The earth; either, 1. The inhabitants of the earth or land; or, 2. The earth, properly taken, as the following passages are; God prepared the way for his people, and struck a dread into their enemies by earthquakes, as well as by other terrible signs.


[And the heavens and the clouds dripped water] An Extreme Hyperbole; that is to say, The solid heavens themselves were dissolved into waters, and the thickest clouds in their entirety were changed into waters (Malvenda). It was just as if the heaven and the clouds were falling upon the lower plains as great masses of water (Martyr). She says the same thing twice (Vatablus) (not blindly, nor uselessly, but so that she might address our dullness, who are not wont to yield to one blow [Martyr]); the Heavens dripped, and the Clouds dripped: we at once see that heaven is taken for clouds: that is, the heaven was obscured with and full of clouds: for it was the author of that victory. It signifies that Princes and Generals lost heart (Vatablus). Princes dissolved into tears (certain interpreters in Vatablus).


The clouds also dropped water, that is, thou didst send most dreadful showers of rain, storms and tempests, thunder and lightning, and other tokens of thy displeasure, upon thine enemies; as may appear by comparing this with other parallel texts.


Verse 5:[3] (Deut. 4:11; Ps. 97:5) The mountains melted (Heb. flowed[4]) from before the LORD, even (Ex. 19:18) that Sinai from before the LORD God of Israel.


[The mountains flowed (thus Munster, Pagnine, Tigurinus)] An elegant poetic Hyperbole. The mountains dissolved, or crumbled; or even flowed down from excessive rains (Malvenda). Mountains of waters rolled down (Martyr). Mountains were turned into water (Vatablus). The mountains were shaken, and melted for fear, as it were (Menochius).


Melted, or flowed, with floods of water poured out of the clouds upon them, and from them flowing down in a mighty stream upon the lower grounds, and carrying down some part of the mountain with it, as is usual in excessive showers.


[From the face of the Lord] With the Lord approaching; or, at the coming of the children of Israel, with whom the Lord was (Vatablus).


[And Sinai] That (or this [Jonathan]) Sinai (Septuagint, Syriac, Arabic, Pagnine, Montanus); even that Sinai (English, Dutch, similarly Junius and Tremellius). That is to say, Not only those unto which thou wast advancing, but also those which thou wast leaving far behind, as was mount Sinai (Junius). It is not strange if the Canaanites were troubled at thy sight, since even that Sinai was not able to bear thy descent upon it, but shook to its foundation. That Sinai: כ/as, the note of similitude, is wanting (Martyr). As that Sinai (Munster, Vatablus, Tigurinus, Martyr, Menochius), understanding, trembled (Vatablus, Pagnine, Menochius). That is to say, If the mountain began to tremble, which is a creature without understanding, how much more man (Vatablus)? [But to others that explication of these verses does not satisfy.] For, 1. that trickling down of waters is ridiculous, neither is any such recorded. 2. Since the Israelites passed along the borders of the Idumeans peacefully, no cause is able to be devised of those calamities inflicted upon the Idumeans by God (Bonfrerius). Therefore, those explain these verses of mount Sinai and of the wonders displayed on it (thus Lyra, Montanus’ Commentary, Bonfrerius, Cajetan in Bonfrerius). That these things pertain to the giving of the Law, it is evident from two parallel passages, Deuteronomy 33:2 and Psalm 68:8. At that time there were lightnings, thunders, clouds, even shakings of the earth, as it is gathered from Exodus 19:18 and Psalm 68 (Bonfrerius). [But against this opinion are opposed many things.] Objection 1: How might God, coming to mount Sinai, be said to have come from Seir? Responses: 1. If that passage in Deuteronomy 33, with that not withstanding, that God is there said to have arisen from Seit, and to have shined forth from Paran, when the Israelites had not yet visited those places, is understood concerning the giving of the Law, why might not the same be said concerning this passage? 2. This is said, because, with the Israelites remaining at Sinai, on that side, where Idumea and mount Seir were, toward the East the Divine splendor from the fiery cloud was first seen to appear to and to come forth, so that it plainly appeared to come from that region, and slowly approached more closely to the mount. Objection 2: We do not read with the other wonders that rains and waters flowed, while here the heavens and the clouds are said to drip with water. Response: That at that time there was hail and rain appears probable from the lightnings and thunderings, which are not wont to be without those. Question: But why does she begin her song from the wonders displayed at Sinai? Response: She tacitly compares the wonders done in her time with those ancient prodigies, which now seemed to be renewed (Bonfrerius). She stirs up again the former blessings of God, that she might show that God renews, and therefore continues, His care and beneficence toward Israel. The sense: When with us, O Lord, thou didst walk with the Ark in the desert to which Seir, or Idumea, was adjacent, then thou didst show thy presence, power, etc., through storms, thunder, etc., by which the Idumeans and other neighboring nations thou didst so dismay that they did not dare to resist us (Lapide).


Even that Sinai: She slides into the mention of another and a more ancient appearance of God for his people, to wit, in Sinai; it being usual in Scripture repetitions of former actions to put divers together into a narrow compass, and in few words. The sense is, No wonder that the mountains of the Amorites and Canaanites melted and trembled when thou didst lead thy people towards them; for even Sinai itself could not bear thy presence, but melted in like manner before thee. Or, as that Sinai did upon a like manifestation of thyself; so there is only a defect of the particle כ/as, which I have showed to be frequent.

[1] Hebrew: יְהוָ֗ה בְּצֵאתְךָ֤ מִשֵּׂעִיר֙ בְּצַעְדְּךָ֙ מִשְּׂדֵ֣ה אֱד֔וֹם אֶ֣רֶץ רָעָ֔שָׁה גַּם־שָׁמַ֖יִם נָטָ֑פוּ גַּם־עָבִ֖ים נָ֥טְפוּ מָֽיִם׃


[2] Judges 5:4a: “Lord, when thou wentest out of Seir, when thou marchedst out (בְּצַעְדְּךָ) of the field of Edom…”


[3] Hebrew: הָרִ֥ים נָזְל֖וּ מִפְּנֵ֣י יְהוָ֑ה זֶ֣ה סִינַ֔י מִפְּנֵ֕י יְהוָ֖ה אֱלֹהֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃


[4] Hebrew: נָזְלוּ.

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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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