Deborah here concludes this triumphant song,
I. With the praises of Jael, her sister-heroine, whose valiant act had completed and crowned the victory. She had mentioned her before (Jdg. 5:6) as one that would have served her country if it had been in her power; now she applauds her as one that did serve it admirably well when it was in her power. Her poetry is finest and most florid here in the latter end of the song. How honourably does she speak of Jael (Jdg. 5:24), who preferred her peace with the God of Israel before her peace with the king of Canaan, and though not a native of Israel (for aught that appears) yet heartily espoused the cause of Israel in this critical conjuncture, jeoparded her life as truly as if she had been in the high places of the field, and bravely fought for those whom she saw God fought for! Blessed shall she be above women in the tent. Note, Those whose lot is cast in the tent, in a very low and narrow sphere of activity, if they serve God in that according to their capacity, shall in no wise lose their reward. Jael in the tent wins as rich a blessing as Barak in the field. Nothing is more confounding, grievous, and shameful, than disappointment, and Deborah here does most elegantly describe two great disappointments, the shame of which was typical of sinners’ everlasting shame.
1. Sisera found a fatal enemy where he expected a firm and faithful friend. (1.) Jael showed him the kindness of a friend, and perhaps at that time intended no other than kindness, until God, by an immediate impulse upon her mind (which impulses then were to be regarded, and carried so much of their own evidence with them that they might be relied upon, but cannot now be pretended to), directed her to do otherwise, Jdg. 5:25. He asked only for fair water to quench his thirst, but she, not only to show her housewifery and good housekeeping, but to express her respect to him, gave him milk and brought forth butter, that is (say some interpreters), milk which had the butter taken from it; we call it butter-milk. No (say others), it was milk that had the butter still in it; we call it cream. Whichsoever it was, it was probably the best her house afforded; and, to set it off, she brought it in a lordly dish, such as she called so, the finest she had, and better than she ordinarily used at her own table. This confirmed Sisera’s opinion of her friendship, and made him sleep the faster and the more secure. But, (2.) She proved his mortal enemy, gave him his death’s stroke: it is curiously described, Jdg. 5:26, 27. [1.] How great does Jael look, hammering Sisera, as it is in the margin, mauling that proud man who had been so long the terror of the mighty, and sending him down slain to the pit with his iniquities upon his bones! Ezek. 32:27. She seems to have gone about it with no more terror nor concern than if she had been going to nail one of the boards or bars of her tent, so confident was she of divine aid and protection. We read it she smote off his head, probably with his own sword, which, now that his head was nailed through, she durst take from his side, but not before, for fear of waking him. But because there was no occasion for cutting off his head, nor was it mentioned in the history, many think it should be read, she struck through his head. That head which had been proudly lifted up against God and Israel, and in which had been forged bloody designs for the destruction of God’s people, Jael finds a soft place in, and into that with a good will strikes her nail. [2.] How mean does Sisera look, fallen at Jael’s feet! Jdg. 5:27. At the feet of this female executioner he bowed, he fell; all his struggles for life availed not; she followed her blow until he fell down dead. There lies extended the deserted carcase of that proud man, not on the bed of honour, not in the high places of the field, not having any glorious wound to show from a glittering sword, or a bow of steel, but in the corner of a tent, at the feet of a woman, with a disgraceful wound by a sorry nail struck through his head. Thus is shame the fate of proud men. And this is a very lively representation of the ruin of those sinners whose prosperity slays them; it flatters and caresses them with milk and butter in a lordly dish, as if it would make them easy and happy, but it nails their heads and hearts too to the ground in earthly-mindedness, and pierces them through with many sorrows; its flatteries are fatal, and sink them at last into destruction and perdition, 1 Tim. 6:9, 10.
2. Sisera’s mother had the tidings brought her of her son’s fall and ruin when she was big with expectation of his glorious and triumphant return, Jdg. 5:28-30, where we have, (1.) Her fond desire to see her son come back in triumph: Why is his chariot so long in coming? She speaks this, not so much out of a concern for his safety, or any jealousy of his having miscarried (she had no fear of that, so confident was she of his success), but out of a longing for his glory, which with a feminine weakness she was passionately impatient to see, chiding the lingering chariot, and expostulating concerning the delays of it, little thinking that her unhappy son had been, before this, forced to quit that chariot which they were so proud of, and which she thought came so slowly. The chariots of his glory had now become the shame of his house, Isa. 22:18. Let us take heed of indulging such desires as these towards any temporal good thing, particularly towards that which cherishes vain-glory, for this was what she here doted on. Eagerness and impatience in our desires do us a great deal of prejudice, and make it intolerable to us to be crossed. But towards the second coming of Jesus Christ, and the glories of that day, we should thus stand affected (Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly), for here we cannot be disappointed. (2.) Her foolish hope and confidence that he would come at last in so much the greater pomp. Her wise ladies answered her, and thought they gave a very good account of the delay; yea, she (in her wisdom, says the Chaldee) tauntingly made answer to herself, “Have they not sped? No doubt they have, and that which delays them is that they are dividing the prey, which is so much that it is a work of time to make a distribution of it.” In the spoil they pleased themselves with the thought of, observe, [1.] How impudently, and to the reproach and scandal of their sex, these ladies boast of the multitude of damsels which the soldiers would have the abusing of. [2.] How childishly they pleased themselves with the hope of seeing Sisera himself in a gaudy mantle of divers colours; how charmingly would it look! of divers colours of needle-work, plundered out of the wardrobe of some Israelitish lady; it is repeated again, as that which pleased their fancy above any thing, of divers colours of needle-work on both sides, and therefore very rich; such pieces of embroidery they hoped Sisera would have to present his mother and the ladies with. Thus apt are we to deceive ourselves with great expectations and confident hopes of honour, and pleasure, and wealth in this world, by which we prepare for ourselves the shame and grief of a disappointment. And thus does God often bring ruin on his enemies when they are most elevated.
II. She concludes all with a prayer to God, 1. For the destruction of all his foes: “So, so shamefully, so miserably, let all thy enemies perish, O Lord; let all that hope to triumph in Israel’s ruin be thus disappointed and triumphed over. Do to them all as unto Sisera,” Ps. 83:9. Though our enemies are to be prayed for, God’s enemies, as such, are to be prayed against; and, when we see some of God’s enemies remarkably humbled and brought down, this is an encouragement to us to pray for the downfall of all the rest. Deborah was a prophetess, and this prayer was a prediction that in due time all God’s enemies shall perish, Ps. 92:9. None ever hardened his heart against God and prospered. 2. For the exaltation and comfort of all his friends. “But let those that love him, and heartily wish well to his kingdom among men, be as the sun when he goeth forth in his strength; let them shine so bright, appear so glorious in the eye of the world, cast such benign influences, be as much out of the reach of their enemies, who curse the rising sun because it scorches them; let them rejoice as a strong man to run a race, Ps. 19:5. Let them, as burning and shining lights in their places, dispel the mists of darkness, and shine with more and more lustre and power unto the perfect day.” Prov. 4:18. Such shall be the honour, and such the joy, of all that love God in sincerity, and for ever they shall shine as the sun in the firmament of our Father.
The victory here celebrated with this song was of such happy consequence to Israel that for the best part of one age they enjoyed the peace which it opened the way to: The land had rest forty years, that is, so long it was from this victory to the raising up of Gideon. And well would it have been if, when the churches and the tribes had rest, they had been edified, and had walked in the fear of the Lord.