Notes & Commentary:
Ver. 1. Aod. Samgar is passed over, either because he was only a private man, who performed a feat of valour like Jahel, (chap. v. 6.; Salien) or because his government was so short and limited. Hence we need not wonder that he could not put a stop to the ravages of the Chanaanites, nor to the disorders of the people.
Ver. 2. Asor. Josue defeated the king of this country, Josue xi. 8. But some of his successors had contrived to raise themselves again to power. His dominion probably extended only over the tribes of Nephthali, Zabulon, and Issachar, while Debbora judged in Mount Ephraim, and Samgar in Juda. — He dwelt. It is not clear whether Jabin or Sisara dwelt in Haroseth, but most probably it was the latter, ver. 13. This city was on the northern banks of the Semechonite lake, (Calmet) surrounded with “woods,” as the Hebrew word signifies; (Vatable) though Bonfrere explains it “a shop, foundry, or arsenal,” as if the arms and chariots were made and kept here. A mixture of different idolatrous nations dwelt in it.
Ver. 3. Scythes. Hebrew, “chariots of iron.” (Calmet)
Ver. 4. Lapidoth, signifies “lamps,” and Barac, “thunder;” which has given rise to various conjectures, as if they were the same person. St. Ambrose thinks that Debbora was a widow at this time, and the mother of Barac. But St. Jerome says there is no proof of either. Others suppose that the excellence of the gift of prophecy would not permit her to cohabit with her husband. It is not unusual for women to possess this gift. Mary, the sister of Moses, Holda, the blessed Virgin, the daughter of St. Philip, &c., were prophetesses. The devil most commonly chose women to explain his oracles. — Judged. Many deny that this word is taken in the same latitude here, as when it is applied to men. The Jews exclude women from government, and Athalia was only a tyrant. The Roman laws will not admit women to exercise the right of judicature. But the text, as it is explained by the Fathers in general, will not permit us to refuse the prerogatives of a judge to Debbora. Her authority was not merely voluntary, in consequence of the people’s high opinion of her, as many would believe, with Salien, Worthington, &c., (Haydock) but she gave decisions which were binding on the Israelites; and she seems to have continued in the exercise of her functions along with Barac, after the victory which they gained over Sisara. The government of the latter was perhaps limited to the tribes which he had rescued from slavery. (Calmet) — He is guided by her counsel, as Christian princes ought to be by their spiritual superiors. (Origen) (Worthington)
Ver. 5. Name. Hebrew, “she dwelt (or sat to judge) under the palm-tree of Debbora.” “The oak of weeping,” allon Bacuth, under which Debbora, the nurse of Rebecca, was interred, was also near Bethel, Genesis xxxv. 8. (Haydock) — This city was on the confines of the tribes of Ephraim and of Benjamin, over which Debbora chiefly exercised her authority; and here she was consulted by the people. (Calmet)
Ver. 6. Cedes. There was another city of this name in Juda. (Haydock) — Barac was of the tribe of Nephthali. (Calmet) — The Lord, &c. Protestants translate, “hath not the Lord?” &c., as if the will of God had been notified to him before. We find that he makes some demur, ver. 8. (Haydock) — Thabor. A city of this name was also built at the foot or on the top of the mountain, and belonged to Zabulon. It is attributed to the Levites, 1 Paralipomenon vi. 77. The mountain rises in the midst of a vast plain, to the height of 30 stadia, (Josephus, Jewish Wars iv. 2.; St. Jerome in Osee v. 1,) or above 3000 paces, “which make a league, or an hour’s walk.” It is inaccessible on the northern side. There was a platform two-thirds as broad, at the top, where Polybius says a fortified city stood. Antiochus took possession of this strong-place, and Josephus repaired the fortifications, to keep the country in subjection. It is commonly supposed the Jesus Christ was transfigured on this once delightful mountain, which is now a desert. During the crusades, there was an episcopal city and a Benedictine monastery here. (Calmet)
Ver. 7. Hand. Cison flows through a luxuriant vale or champaign country, on the south of Mount Thabor, whence Barac came rushing down the rocks and precipices upon the army of Sisara, chap. v. 15. (Calmet) — This general was delivered into the hand of Barac, to be routed, though he was afterwards slain by the hand of Jahel, ver. 9., and 21. (Haydock)
Ver. 8. Not go. Septuagint and St. Augustine (q. 26,) add, “because I know not when the Lord will send his angel to grant me success.” St. Paul (Hebrews xi. 32,) praises the faith of Barac, so that he spoke thus out of prudence, that the people, seeing (Calmet) their revered prophetess in his company, (Haydock) might not condemn the undertaking as too rash and perilous. He therefore entreats her, in this earnest manner, to come with him, and point out the time when he must attack the enemy.
Ver. 9. Thee. Protestants, “the journey that thou takest, shall not be for thine honour, for the Lord shall sell Sisara,” &c. It is certain, however, that Barac acquired great commendations on this occasion: but if he had not been accompanied by Debbora, he would not have shared the glory of the victory with her and another woman. (Haydock) — Some suppose that Debbora speaks of herself; others explain her words of Jahel. They may both be right. (Menochius) — Cedes. Here the Israelites took the generous resolution to throw off the yoke, and marched to seize the fort of Thabor. This motion gave the alarm to Jabin, who sent his general to besiege them, and to occupy the passages of the Cison, chap. v. 18.
Ver. 11. Valley. Hebrew elon, may denote also, (Septuagint) “a wood of oaks,” (Calmet) or a plain. (Haydock) — Haber probably left the first settlement of the Cinites near Engaddi, when his brethren went (Calmet) into the southern parts of the tribe of Juda, chap. i. 16. This is mentioned, that we might know how his wife came to be in those parts, ver. 17, &c. Whether he had given information to Jabin of these movements, as he was at peace with him, we cannot assert; but his being mentioned in this place, might seem to insinuate as much. Hebrew, ver. 12, “they told or shewed Sisara,” &c. His wife, at least, did not prove unfaithful to Israel. (Haydock)
Ver. 13. Cison. Part of this torrent falls into the Mediterranean, and part into the sea of Tiberias. It rises from Mount Thabor, (which is about two hours’ walk, south-west of Nazareth) and from Gelboa, &c. (Menochius) — Here Sisara displayed his immense army, if we may credit Josephus, Jonathan, &c. But the Scripture only specifies 900 chariots of iron. (Calmet) — Whence, however, we may conclude that his horse and foot would be very formidable. Yet all were presently routed by the small company of Barac, who had God for his leader, ver. 14. (Haydock)
Ver. 15. Terror. The most dreadful storms of thunder, lightning, &c., (chap. v. 20,) discomfited the enemy, while the sword of Barac (Calmet) dealt death around, so that Sisara and all his army presently turned their backs, (Haydock) and the general himself being stricken with a panic, leapt from his chariot, as if he thought his horses did not run fast enough. Thus Homer represents two Trojans abandoning their chariots, to escape the fury of Diomed and of Achilles. (Iliad v., and xx.)
Ver. 16. Multitude. Josephus allots Sisara the same number of horse and foot as he did to Jabin, whom Josue defeated and slew, chap. xi. 4. But instead of 20,000 chariots, he only gives Sisara 3000, which number appears to be far too great, and unauthorized by the Scripture. (Haydock)
Ver. 17. Tent. The women had separate tents from their husbands. Haber, it seems, was from home, and was not molested by the Chanaanites. He continued neuter during this war. What then must we think of the conduct of his wife? Commentators generally justify her, as the Scripture gives her great commendations, and as the family of the Cinites enjoyed the religion and privileges of the Israelites. Hence this portion of it could not make a league with the enemy of God’s people, to the detriment of the latter; and if they did, they were bound to break it as soon, at least, as God manifested his will, that the enemy should be destroyed. Jahel might however deserve the praise of fortitude, which the Scripture gives her, and yet mingle some human imperfection in her manner of acting. She seems to speak with fraud, and to betray the sacred rights of hospitality; and it is doubtful whether Haber himself could renounce the alliance with Jabin, (particularly if they had taken mutual oaths to observe it, as was then customary) without informing him of his resolution. Fides, quando promititur, etiam hosti servanda est. (St. Augustine, ep. i. ad Bonif.) See Grotius, Jur. iii. 19. (Calmet) — Yet, if she told a lie, it was only an officious one, (Menochius) such as Sisara desired should be told for his safety, ver. 20. (Haydock) — It is lawful to use stratagems against an enemy. (Salien, in the year of the world 2741.) See Josue ii., and viii. 4. Debbora pronounces the name of Jahel to be most blessed, (chap. v. 24,) which shews that she was inspired by God to kill Sisara. If we consider her action in any other light, it will certainly appear very shocking, as Rahab could not escape the accusation of treason towards her country by any other means. Aod, Judith, &c., who washed their hands in the blood of sinners, (Psalm lvii. 11,) would undoubtedly have been condemned at any merely human tribunal, which would not admit the plea of inspiration. (Haydock) — Besides this secret impulse, Jahel might be acquainted with the prediction of Debbora, (ver. 9,) and with the miraculous victory which encouraged her to destroy the common enemy, (Abulensis, Josephus, &c.; Tirinus) the only remnant of an immense army. (Haydock) — The peace which subsisted between her family and the Chanaanites, was a forced one, (Tirinus) and perhaps consisted only in the former being allowed to live quietly (Du Hamel) in the midst of these idolaters, whose manners they abhorred; (Haydock) while the Israelites, though at a greater distance, were so severely treated even when they were so weak as to adore the idols (Tirinus) of their oppressors. Thus the divine Providence was pleased to reward virtue, and to punish infidelity. (Haydock) — The Fathers consider Debbora as a figure of the Synagogue, which begins the attack against the empire of the devil, while the victory is reserved for the Christian Church, represented by Jahel, a woman living among the Israelites, though of a different nation, and engrafted, as it were, like the wild olive on the good olive tree. She [the Christian Church] gains strength in the midst of persecutions, and, armed with the cross of Christ, destroys the captain of the worldly empire. (Origen, hom v.; St. Augustine, contra Faust. xii. 31, &c.) (Calmet) — Jahel was also a figure of the blessed Virgin, who crushed the serpent’s head. (Worthington) [Genesis iii. 15]
Ver. 18. Cloak, or rough hairy bed coverlet. Hebrew Semica, occurs no where else. (Calmet)
Ver. 19. Milk, out of a shew of greater civility. The Rabbins say the milk was sour, which is conformable to the manners of the oriental nations. Valle remarks, that the Arabs still give the preference to it. The bottle in which it was kept was made of leather, (utrem) and the milk was like cream, chap. v. 25. Some think that wine was not then used in this family, as the Rechabites, descendants of the Cinites, always refrained from it, Jeremias xxxv. But it is not certain that they did at this time, nor that they sprang from this branch of the family.
Ver. 21. Tent. Such nails were used to fasten down the skins, of which the tent was composed. (Calmet) — This resembled a stake, though Josephus says it was made of iron. (Menochius) — And died. Thus he met a more ignoble fate, which would be more hateful to a warrior. Abimelech ordered his armour-bearer to kill him, that it might not be said that he had fallen by the hand of a woman, chap. ix. 54. Extreme fatigue, and the will of Providence, caused Sisara to fall asleep so soon. How many, like him, like down in health, and rise no more! (Haydock)
Ver. 23. Humbled Jabin, though he was not present in this battle. The Israelites followed up the victory, and presently brought their late oppressor to ruin, that all might confess, none could resist their power, when God was propitious to them; as, on the other hand, the most feeble state was able to reduce them to servitude, when they proved rebellious. (Haydock)
Bible Text & Cross-references:
Debbora and Barac deliver Israel from Jabin and Sisara. Jahel killeth Sisara.
1 And the children of Israel again did evil in the sight of the Lord after the death of Aod,
2 *And the Lord delivered them up into the hands of Jabin, king of Chanaan, who reigned in Asor: and he had a general of his army named Sisara, and he dwelt in Haroseth of the Gentiles.
3 And the children of Israel cried to the Lord: for he had nine hundred chariots set with scythes, and for twenty years had grievously oppressed them.
4 And there was at that time Debbora, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, who judged the people.
5 And she sat under a palm-tree, which was called by her name, between Rama and Bethel, in Mount Ephraim: and the children of Israel came up to her for all judgment.
6 And she sent and called Barac, the son of Abinoem, out of Cedes, in Nephthali: and she said to him: The Lord God of Israel hath commanded thee: Go, and lead an army to Mount Thabor, and thou shalt take with thee ten thousand fighting men of the children of Nephthali, and of the children of Zabulon:
7 And I will bring unto thee in the place of the torrent Cison, Sisara, the general of Jabin’s army, and his chariots, and all his multitude, and will deliver them into thy hand.
8 And Barac said to her: If thou wilt come with me, I will go: if thou wilt not come with me, I will not go.
9 She said to him: I will go, indeed, with thee, but at this time the victory shall not be attributed to thee, because Sisara shall be delivered into the hand of a woman. Debbora therefore arose, and went with Barac to Cedes.
10 And he called unto him Zabulon and Nephthali, and went up with ten thousand fighting men, having Debbora in his company.
11 Now Haber, the Cinite, had some time before departed from the rest of the Cinites, his brethren, the sons of Hobab, the kinsman of Moses: and had pitched his tents unto the valley, which is called Sennim, and was near Cedes.
12 And it was told Sisara, that Barac, the son of Abinoem, was gone up to Mount Thabor:
13 And he gathered together his nine hundred chariots armed with scythes, and all his army, from Haroseth of the Gentiles, to the torrent Cison.
14 And Debbora said to Barac: Arise, for this is the day wherein the Lord hath delivered Sisara into thy hands: behold, he is thy leader. And Barac went down from Mount Thabor, and ten thousand fighting men with him.
15 *And the Lord struck a terror into Sisara, and all his chariots, and all his multitude, with the edge of the sword, at the sight of Barac; insomuch, that Sisara leaping down from off his chariot, fled away on foot,
16 And Barac pursued after the fleeing chariots, and the army, unto Haroseth of the Gentiles; and all the multitude of the enemies was utterly destroyed.
17 But Sisara fleeing, came to the tent of Jahel, the wife of Haber, the Cinite, for there was peace between Jabin, the king of Asor, and the house of Haber, the Cinite.
18 And Jahel went forth to meet Sisara, and said to him: Come in to me, my lord; come in, fear not. He went into her tent, and being covered by her with a cloak,
19 Said to her: Give me, I beseech thee, a little water, for I am very thirsty. She opened a bottle of milk, and gave him to drink, and covered him.
20 And Sisara said to her: Stand before the door of the tent, and when any shall come and enquire of thee, saying: Is there any man here? thou shalt say: There is none.
21 So Jahel, Haber’s wife, took a nail of the tent, and taking also a hammer: and going in softly, and with silence, she put the nail upon the temples of his head, and striking it with the hammer, drove it through his brain fast into the ground: and so passing from deep sleep to death, he fainted away and died.
22 And behold, Barac came pursuing after Sisara: and Jahel went out to meet him, and said to him: Come, and I will shew thee the man whom thou seekest. And when he came into her tent, he saw Sisara lying dead, and the nail fastened in his temples.
23 So God that day humbled Jabin, the king of Chanaan, before the children of Israel:
24 Who grew daily stronger, and with a mighty hand overpowered Jabin, king of Chanaan, till they quite destroyed him.
2: 1 Kings xii. 9.
15: Psalm lxxxii. 10.