What does Judges 5 mean?
Chapter Commentary:
The previous chapter uses a straightforward style to explain the story of Deborah and Barak. Through Deborah's prophetic leadership (Judges 4:4–5) and the obedience of Barak (Judges 4:6–10), Israel defeated the Canaanites in a convincing victory (Judges 4:12–16). The enemy general, Sisera, fled and was ultimately killed by a nomad woman named Jael (Judges 4:17–21). This chapter contains the prophetess Deborah's victory song about these events, told through poetic imagery, while adding detail and vibrant emotion to the same scenes from Judges chapter 4.

The song begins with a blessing for the Lord. That includes praise for God providing willing leaders and fighting men who offered themselves to join Barak in battle against the Canaanites. It is the Lord who gives victory through those who are willing to follow His lead (Judges 5:1–2).

Deborah directly addresses the defeated kings and princes of Canaan. Her song is not "to" them, but it is meant for them to hear. She sings this song to the Lord, the God of Israel. Hers is a taunt—a deliberate mocking and dismissing of the enemy—ensuring everyone knows that God brought about this victory. And, that this success has freed Israel from oppression to Canaan (Judges 5:3).

Next, Deborah's song describes the Lord as active. He came to guide Israel as the nation moved from outside of the Promised Land to take action within its borders. This entry into Canaan was accompanied by miracles, signs, and wonders of many kinds (Deuteronomy 6:22–23). The references to natural events, such as earthquakes and storms, is likely a direct counter to the Canaanite religion, which thought of Baal as a deity of storms (Judges 5:4–5).

Deborah depicts the time of Sisera's oppression (Judges 4:1–3) in dark terms. Likely due to the Canaanites' iron chariots, major roads were all but deserted. Israel lacked even the tools to defend herself. Out of this hardship, Deborah was called as a prophetess of God (Judges 4:4–5). She describes herself as a "mother," consistent with her leadership and role as a judge over the nation (Judges 5:6–8).

Despite the danger and a lack of equipment, the commanders of Israel willingly volunteered to join Barak in attacking Sisera and Canaan's army. Deborah calls for all who hear her song to spread the story of this event. She mentions communal places, such as wells and springs, where people would be prone to meet. They must repeat the triumphs of the Lord and His villagers in Israel. She makes this call to rich and poor alike—including the tradesmen and merchants whose businesses would have been especially disrupted (Judges 5:9–11).

Israel's path to victory began when the Lord "woke up" Deborah to give a message to Barak. He was commanded to raise an army. Willing leaders and fighters came from the tribes of Ephraim, Benjamin, Machir—a part of Manasseh— Zebulun, Issachar, and Naphtali. All willingly risked their lives (Judges 5:12–15).

However, Deborah also asks why the people of other tribes refused to come. She specifically calls out Reuben, Gilead—a part of Dan—and Asher. Reuben's depiction as wavering strongly resembles a prediction given by Jacob on his deathbed (Genesis 49:3–4). These rebukes are rhetorical questions (Judges 5:16–18).

Despite the lack of support from some Israelites, the battle was won. On the battlefield, Deborah poetically claims that nature, itself, went to war against Sisera. Part of this is the River Kishon as swelling to a torrent. This swept the enemy away and would probably have turned the fields below mount Tabor into a muddy trap for chariots. That Deborah gave an urgent command to attack, just as Sisera's men approached, suggests God arranged for the perfect combination of strategy and natural disaster to overwhelm the Canaanite forces (Judges 5:19–22).

In much stronger, more direct terms than were used for Israel's tribes, Deborah curses a town called Meroz for not helping the Lord against the mighty Canaanites. This might have been an area though which Sisera fled (Judges 4:15, 17), but was not stopped or challenged (Judges 5:23).

Deborah boldly blesses Jael for cleverly killing Sisera after he ran from the battle and attempted to hide. The moment is depicted in this song using repeated phrases and an echoing style. This is something like a "slow-motion replay" used to profound effect. The song describes the moment in detail, lingering on the body of Sisera and his utterly humiliating defeat at the hands of a woman (Judges 5:24–27).

Next, the song turns to imagine the reaction of Sisera's mother, as she waits for him at home. These details shed some light on Sisera's reputation. His mother and other noble women assume he is so busy dividing up loot from battle that he's running late. Part of that assumption seems to be the soldiers enjoying the women of Israel—crassly referred to as "wombs"—suggesting Sisera had a reputation for that kind of cruelty. The unspoken implication is that Sisera's friends and family will soon learn the unthinkable has happened: he has been defeated and killed (Judges 5:28–30).

Finally, Deborah prays for God to bring similar defeat to all His enemies. She pleads for those who honor God to be strengthened, and become like the sun: bright, invincible, and powerful. The final phrase of the chapter returns to the typical narrative style of the book of Judges, noting that Deborah and Barak won forty years of peace in Israel (Judges 5:31).

As the start of the next chapter shows (Judges 6:1), Israel will then fall into the same cycle of sin and oppression seen before (Judges 2:11–19). This will bring about the next judge, Gideon, whose story takes up all of chapters 6, 7, and 8.
Verse Context:
Judges 5:1–11 begins a song composed by Deborah, the prophetess and judge of Israel (Judges 4:4–5). This segment introduces the troubles experienced by God's chosen people leading up to their battle against Canaan. Though Israel had been blessed by God and His miracles when they came out of Egypt, the nation had fallen under oppression. As explained in the prior chapter (Judges 4:1–10), the people responded to Deborah's call for action. What follows is a celebration of Israel's victory against Sisera, Jabin, and the Canaanite army (Judges 4:12–16).
Judges 5:12–18 describes Deborah's rise to power and her appeal for Israel to fight against their Canaanite oppressors (Judges 4:1–3). This passage includes praise for the tribes of Ephraim, Benjamin, Zebulun, Issachar, Naphtali, and parts of Manasseh. These tribes answered the call and joined the battle. Reuben, Gad, Dan, Asher, and other portions of Manasseh are criticized for failing to respond.
Judges 5:19–23 recounts the battle briefly depicted in Judges 4:12–16. In poetic language, the passage indicates that Sisera's Canaanite army was thoroughly defeated. While partly symbolic, this segment also suggests an unexpected flood as part of God's plan for Israel's victory. Meroz, likely a town that failed to aid their fellow Israelites, is cursed.
Judges 5:24–31 completes a song of victory celebrating the defeat of the Canaanites (Judges 4:12–16). This especially notes the slaying of Sisera, Canaan's general, by the woman Jael. Her brutally efficient methods were described in the prior chapter (Judges 4:17–21). Sisera's death is given an especially dramatic, poetic treatment—the ancient written equivalent of a slow-motion sequence. The passage also imagines the surprise which will accompany Sisera's death, depicting it from the view of his mother and servants. The song ends with a plea that God would extend the same defeat to all His enemies. The peace won by Barak and Deborah (Judges 4:4–7) will last forty years.
Chapter Summary:
Deborah and Barak sing a victory song she has written. This celebrates all the Lord accomplished through Israel's victory in battle over Sisera and Canaan. She praises God for willing volunteers and calls for everyone to pass along the story. She tells of the torrent of water that flowed down the Kishon River and swept away the enemy. She describes in detail the death of Sisera at the hands of a woman and even shows his mother crying for his return. Her song emphasizes that credit for success goes to the Lord.
Chapter Context:
Judges 5 follows the narrative-style account of the battle between Sisera and Barak, as instigated by the prophetess Deborah in chapter 4. This chapter is a song, poetically depicting the same series of events. Deborah describes Sisera's defeat in battle, Jael's bold killing of the cruel general Sisera, and the tears of his mother as she waits for him at home. The following chapter shows that Israel—once again—responds to this hard-won peace with another cycle of idolatry, sin, and oppression (Judges 6:1).
Book Summary:
The Book of Judges describes Israel's history from the death of Joshua to shortly before Israel's first king, Saul. Israel fails to complete God's command to purge the wicked Canaanites from the land (Deuteronomy 7:1–5; 9:4). This results in a centuries-long cycle where Israel falls into sin and is oppressed by local enemies. After each oppression, God sends a civil-military leader, labeled using a Hebrew word loosely translated into English as "judge." These appointed rescuers would free Israel from enemy control and govern for a certain time. After each judge's death, the cycle of sin and oppression begins again. This continues until the people of Israel choose a king, during the ministry of the prophet-and-judge Samuel (1 Samuel 1—7).
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