Here, I. Deborah describes the distressed state of Israel under the tyranny of Jabin, that the greatness of their trouble might make their salvation appear the more illustrious and the more gracious (Jdg. 5:6): From the days of Shamgar, who did some thing towards the deliverance of Israel from the Philistines, to the days of Jael, the present day, in which Jael has so signalized herself, the country has been in a manner desolate. 1. No trade. For want of soldiers to protect men of business in their business from the incursions of the enemy, and for want of magistrates to restrain and punish thieves and robbers among them (men of broken fortunes and desperate spirits, that, having no employment, took to rob on the highroad), all commerce ceased, and the highways were unoccupied; no caravans of merchants, as formerly. 2. No travelling. Whereas in times when there was some order and government the travellers might be safe in the open roads, and the robbers were forced to lurk in the by-ways, no, on the contrary, the robbers insulted on the open roads without check, and the honest travellers were obliged to sculk and walk through by-ways, in continual frights. 3. No tillage. The fields must needs be laid waste and unoccupied when the inhabitants of the villages, the country farmers, ceased from their employment, quitted their houses which were continually alarmed and plundered by the banditti, and were obliged to take shelter for themselves and their families in walled and fenced cities. 4. No administration of justice. There was war in the gates where their courts were kept, Jdg. 5:8. So that it was not till this salvation was wrought that the people of the Lord durst go down to the gates, Jdg. 5:11. The continual incursions of the enemy deprived the magistrates of the dignity, and the people of the benefit, of their government. 5. No peace to him that went out nor to him that came in. The gates through which they passed and repassed were infested by the enemy; nay, the places of drawing water were alarmed by the archers—a mighty achievement to terrify the drawers of water. 6. Neither arms nor spirit to help themselves with, not a shield nor spear seen among forty thousand, Jdg. 5:8. Either they were disarmed by their oppressors, or they themselves neglected the art of war; so that, though they had spears and shields, they were not to be seen, but were thrown by and suffered to rust, they having neither skill nor will to use them.
II. She shows in one word what it was that brought all this misery upon them: They chose new gods, Jdg. 5:8. It was their idolatry that provoked God to give them up thus into the hands of their enemies. The Lord their God was one Lord, but this would not content them: they must have more, many more, still more. Their God was the Ancient of days, still the same, and therefore they grew weary of him, and must have new gods, which they were as fond of as children of new clothes, names newly invented, heroes newly canonized. Their fathers, when put to their choice, chose the Lord for their God (Josh. 24:21), but they would not abide by that choice, they must have gods of their own choosing.
III. She takes notice of God’s great goodness to Israel in raising up such as should redress these grievances. Herself first (Jdg. 5:7): Till that I Deborah arose, to restrain and punish those who disturbed the public peace, and protect men in their business, and then the face of things was changed for the better quickly; those beasts of prey retired upon the breaking forth of this joyful light, and man went forth again to his work and labour, Ps. 104:22, 23. Thus she became a mother in Israel, a nursing mother, such was the affection she bore to her people, and such the care and pains she took for the public welfare. Under her there were other governors of Israel (Jdg. 5:9), who, like her, had done their part as governors to reform the people, and then, like her, offered themselves willingly to serve in the war, not insisting upon the exemption which their dignity and office entitled them to, when the had so fair an opportunity of appearing in their country’s cause; and no doubt the example of the governors influenced the people in like manner willingly to offer themselves, Jdg. 5:2. Of these governors she says, My heart is towards them, that is, “I truly love and honour them; they have won my heart for ever; I shall never forget them.” Note, Those are worthy of double honour that recede voluntarily from the demands of their honour to serve God and his church.
IV. She calls upon those who had a particular share in the advantages of this great salvation to offer up particular thanks to God for it, Jdg. 5:10, 11. Let every man speak as he found of the goodness of God in this happy change of the posture of public affairs. 1. You that ride on white asses, that is, the nobility and gentry. Horses were little used in that county; they had, it is probable, a much better breed of asses than we have; but persons of quality, it seems, were distinguished by the colour of the asses they rode on; the white being more rare were therefore more valued. Notice is taken of Abdon’s sons and grandsons riding on ass-colts, as indicating them to be men of distinction, Jdg. 12:14. Let such as are by this salvation restored, not only to their liberty as other Israelites, but to their dignity, speak God’s praises. 2. Let those that sit in judgment be sensible of it, and thankful for it as a very great mercy, that they may sit safely there, that the sword of justice is not struck out of their hand by the sword of war. 3. Let those that walk by the way, and meet with none there to make them afraid, speak to themselves in pious meditations, and to their fellow-travellers in religious discourses, of the goodness of God in ridding the roads of those banditti that had so long infested them. 4. Let those that draw in peace, and have not their wells taken from them, or stopped up, nor are in danger of being caught by the enemy when they go forth to draw, there, where they find themselves so much more safe and easy than they have been, there let them rehearse the acts of the Lord, not Deborah’s acts, nor Barak’s, but the Lord’s, taking notice of his hand making peace in their borders, and creating a defence upon all the glory. This is the Lord’s doing. Observe in these acts of his, (1.) Justice executed on his daring enemies. They are the righteous acts of the Lord. See him pleading a righteous cause, and sitting in the throne judging aright, and give him glory as the Judge of all the earth. (2.) Kindness shown to his trembling people, the inhabitants of the villages, who lay most open to the enemy, had suffered most, and were most in danger, Ezek. 38:11. It is the glory of God to protect those that are most exposed, and to help the weakest. Let us all take notice of the share we in particular have in the public peace and tranquility, the inhabitants of the villages especially, and give God the praise of it.