Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible, by John Wesley, [1754-65], at sacred-texts.com
jdg 4:2Of Canaan - That is, of the land where most of the Canaanites, strictly so called, now dwelt, which seems to be in the northern part of Canaan. This seems to be of the posterity of that Jabin, whom Joshua slew, Jos 11:11, who watched all opportunities to recover his ancient possessions, and to revenge his own and his father's quarrel. In Hazor - In the territory or the kingdom of Hazor, which might now be restored to its former largeness and power. Of the Gentiles - So called, because it was much frequented and inhabited by the Gentiles; either by the Canaanites, who being beaten out of their former possessions, seated themselves in those northern parts; or by other nations coming there for traffick, whence Galilee, where this was, is called Galilee of the Gentiles.
jdg 4:3Mightily oppressed - More than former tyrants; from his malice and hatred against the Israelites; and from God's just judgment, the growing punishment being suitable to their aggravated wickedness.
jdg 4:4A prophetess - As there were men - prophets, so there were also women - prophetesses, as Miriam, Exo 15:20. Huldah, Kg2 22:14, and divers others; but the word prophets or prophetesses is ambiguous, sometimes being used of persons extraordinarily inspired by God, and endowed with the power of working miracles, and foretelling things to come; and sometimes of persons endowed with special gifts or graces, for the better understanding and discoursing about the word and mind of God. Of this sort were the sons of the prophets, or such as were bred in the schools of the prophets. who are often called prophets, as Sa1 10:5, Sa1 10:10. And because we read nothing of Deborah's miraculous actions, perhaps she was only a woman of eminent holiness, and knowledge of the holy scriptures, by which she was singularly qualified for judging the people according to the laws of God. Judged Israel - That is, determined causes and controversies arising among the Israelites, as is implied, Jdg 4:5. And this Jabin might suffer to be done, especially by a woman. Yet the frequent discharge of this part of the judge's office, whereby she gained great power and authority with the people, did notably (though not observed by the tyrant) prepare the way for her sliding into the other part of her office, which was to defend and rescue the people from their enemies.
jdg 4:5And she dwelt - Or, she sat: she had her judgment - seat in the open air, under the shadow of that tree; which was an emblem of the justice she administered there: thriving and growing against opposition, as the palm - tree does under pressures. Came to her - To have their suits and causes determined by her sentence.
jdg 4:6Called Barak - By virtue of that power which God had given her, and the people owned in her. Kedesh Naphtali - So called, to distinguish it from other places of that name, one in Judah, and another in Issachar. Hath not the Lord, &c. - That is, assuredly God hath commanded thee; this is not the fancy of a weak woman, which peradventure thou mayst despise; but the command of the great God by my mouth. Mount Tabor - A place most fit for his purpose, as being in the borders of divers tribes, and having a large plain at the top of it, where he might conveniently marshal and discipline his army. Naphtali and Zebulun - These she names because they were nearest and best known to Barak, and therefore soonest brought together, because they were nearest to the enemy, and therefore might speedily be assembled, whilst the other tribes, being at a distance, had better opportunity of gathering forces for their succour; and because these had most smarted under this oppressor, who was in the heart of their country; but these are not named exclusively, as appears by the concurrence of some other tribes.
jdg 4:7Draw to Thee - By my secret and powerful providence, ordering and over - ruling his inclinations that way. In fixing the very place, she gave him a sign, which might confirm his faith, when he came to engage.
jdg 4:8I will not go - His offer to go with her, shews the truth of his faith, for which he is praised, Heb 11:32, but his refusal to go without her, shews the weakness of his faith, that he could not trust God's bare word, as he ought to have done, without the pledge of the presence of his prophetess.
jdg 4:10Ten thousand at his feet - That is, who followed him; possibly he intimates that they were all foot - men; and so this is emphatically added, to signify by what contemptible means God overthrew Sisera's great host.
jdg 4:11Heber - The husband of Jael. Of Hobab - Called also Jethro. The Kenites - From the rest of his brethren, who lived in the wilderness of Judah. His tent - That is, his dwelling, which probably was in tents, as shepherds used.
jdg 4:12They - That is, this people dwelling there, or his spies.
jdg 4:14Up - Heb. arise, delay not. If we have ground to believe, that God goes before us, we may well go on with courage and cheerfulness. Gone before thee - Namely, as general of thine army, to fight for thee. Went down - He doth not make use of the advantage which he had of the hill, where he might have been out of the reach of his iron chariots, but boldly marcheth down into the valley, to give Sisera the opportunity of using all his horses and chariots, that so the victory might he more glorious.
jdg 4:15Discomfited - With great terror and noise, as the word signifies, probably with thunder and lightning, and hail - stones, poured upon them from heaven, as is implied, Jdg 5:20. Edge of the sword - That is, by the sword of Barak and his army, whose ministry God used; but so, that they had little else to do, but to kill those whom God by more powerful arms had put to flight. On his feet - That he might flee away more secretly in the quality of a common soldier, whereas his chariot would have exposed him to more observation.
jdg 4:16Left - In the field; for there were some who fled away, as Sisera did.
jdg 4:17The tent of Jael - For women had their tents apart from their husbands. And here he thought to lurk more securely than in her husband's tent. Peace - Not a covenant of friendship, which they were forbidden to make with that cursed people, but only a cessation of hostilities, which he afforded them because they were peaceable people, abhorring war, and wholly minding pasturage, and were not Israelites, with whom his principal quarrel was; and especially by God's over - ruling disposal of his heart to favour them who were careful to keep themselves uncorrupted with Israel's sins, and therefore preserved from their plagues.
jdg 4:18Fear not - This was a promise of security, and therefore she cannot be excused from dissimulation and treachery.
jdg 4:19A bottle of milk - As a signification of greater respect. Covered him - Upon pretence of hiding him.
jdg 4:21A nail of the tent - Wherewith they used to fasten the tent, which consequently was long and sharp. This might seem a very bold attempt, but it must be considered, that she was encouraged to it, by observing that the heavens and all the elements conspired against him, as one devoted to destruction. In the following son, Deborah doth not commend Jael's words, Jdg 4:18. Turn in my Lord, fear not; but only her action: touching which, this one consideration may abundantly suffice to stop the mouths of objectors. It cannot be denied, that every discourse which is recorded in scripture, is not divinely inspired, because some of them were uttered by the devil, and others by holy men, but mistaken. This being so, the worst that any can infer from this place is, that this song, tho' indited by a good woman, was not divinely inspired, but only composed by a person transported with joy for the deliverance of God's people, but subject to mistake; who therefore, out of zeal to commend the instrument of so great a deliverance, might overlook the indirectness of the means, and commend that which should have been disliked, And if they farther object, that it was composed by a prophetess, and therefore must be divinely inspired; it may be replied, that every expression of a true prophet was not divinely inspired; as is evident from Samuel's mistake concerning Eliab, whom he thought to be the Lord's anointed, Sa1 16:6. This is said upon supposition that Jael acted deceitfully in this affair; but if we suppose, which is much more likely, that Jael fully intended to afford Sisera the shelter and protection which he sought of her, but was afterwards by the immediate direction of heaven ordered to kill him, the whole difficulty vanishes, and the character both of Jael and of Deborah remains unimpeached.