Notes on Judges 5:24-31
by Jonathan Spurlock
(Holts Summit, MO)
Judges 5:24, KJV: Blessed above women shall Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite be, blessed shall she be above women in the tent.
Now Deborah devotes the next several verses to Jael and her singular effort to assist Israel. Even though officially there was peace between Jabin and Sisera with Heber and his family (4:11), Jael may not have shared those same feelings.
The reference to “women in the tent” is not clear. Apparently women stayed in or near the tents unless they were summoned or requested, performing household tasks, or were taking care of flocks. Sarah, wife of Abraham, stayed in the tent when the Three Guests arrived (Gen. 18:6, 10). Rebekah was sent to draw water from the well (Gen. 24:15-20) and Rachel, plus the daughters of Jethro, represent shepherdesses (Gen. 29:6, 9; Exodus 2:16-17, respectively).
25 He asked water, (and) she gave (him) milk; she brought forth butter in a lordly dish.
This is recorded in Judges 4:19. Deborah mentions Jael gave Sisera not only milk but also “butter in a lordly dish”. What she meant by this in not certain—“butter” may refer to another milk byproduct besides “butter” as we know it today. This last phrase was not in the text of chapter 4.
26 She put her hand to the nail, and her right hand to the workmen's hammer; and with the hammer she smote Sisera, she smote off his head, when she had pierced and stricken through his temples.
Deborah is again using vivid language to express Jael’s deed. The text of chapter 4 does not give these details as recorded here. One explanation is that when Jael drove the tent peg into Sisera’s skull, the top part of the skull may have
become separated from the rest of it. 27 At her feet he bowed, he fell, he lay down: at her feet he bowed, he fell: where he bowed, there he fell down dead.
What Deborah means here in this verse is not certain. Sisera was sound asleep when Jael drove the tent peg into his skull.28 The mother of Sisera looked out at a window, and cried through the lattice, Why is his chariot (so) long in coming? why tarry the wheels of his chariots?
This is one of the few references for the love of a mother for her soldier son in the Bible. Apparently she had not heard of the battle’s outcome, nor of what had happened to Sisera.29 Her wise ladies answered her, yea, she returned answer to herself, 30 Have they not sped? have they (not) divided the prey; to every man a damsel (or) two; to Sisera a prey of divers colours, a prey of divers colours of needlework, of divers colours of needlework on both sides, (meet) for the necks of (them that take) the spoil?
Deborah gives the replies of the “wise ladies” to Sisera’s mother. They may be trying to say he is dividing the spoils of war, perhaps selecting a “damsel” or two to take along or selecting a beautiful garment.31 So let all thine enemies perish, O LORD: but (let) them that love him (be) as the sun when he goeth forth in his might. And the land had rest forty years.
This prayer of Deborah is entirely appropriate for that time, asking God to protect Israel. God blessed the nation and gave them rest for forty years.
Scripture quotations from the King James Version of the Bible (KJV)