What does Judges 5:18 mean?
ESV: Zebulun is a people who risked their lives to the death; Naphtali, too, on the heights of the field.
NIV: The people of Zebulun risked their very lives; so did Naphtali on the terraced fields.
NASB: Zebulun was a people who risked their lives, And Naphtali too, on the high places of the field.
CSB: The people of Zebulun defied death, Naphtali also, on the heights of the battlefield.
NLT: But Zebulun risked his life, as did Naphtali, on the heights of the battlefield.
KJV: Zebulun and Naphtali were a people that jeoparded their lives unto the death in the high places of the field.
NKJV: Zebulun is a people who jeopardized their lives to the point of death, Naphtali also, on the heights of the battlefield.
Verse Commentary:
Deborah's celebratory song (Judges 5:1) has been holding four groups to account; these refused to send any men to fight a battle against the Canaanites (Judges 4:12–16). Named tribes or people included Reuben, Gilead—likely including parts of Gad and Manasseh—Dan, and Asher (Judges 5:13–17).

Now she acknowledges two more tribes who sent fighters for the cause. These, it seems, were the main forces recruited by Barak (Judges 4:10). She points out that the stakes were high, and the risk was great. The people of Zebulun risked their lives to join in, as did the volunteers from Barak's home tribe of Naphtali (Judges 4:6). They were willing to die on the field of battle to stand with Barak, on behalf of the Lord, against Sisera and his fearsome iron chariots (Judges 4:1–3).

Scripture, through Deborah, praises their courage and faithfulness. The others were unwilling and refused to join. This clear answer and direct praise contrasts the lingering question hanging over the uninvolved tribes: "why?"
Verse Context:
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.
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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