Whose Hoofbeats?

“Then beat the hoofs of the horses, from galloping — the galloping of his mighty ones!”

(Judges 5:22)

And in come the steeds! The loud noise of the horse hooves, thundering as they beat the ground like a drum in full gallop. The question is, whose steeds? Who is the “his” that is being spoken of in this context?

In most of our English Bibles, the inference that is made is that ryI;bAa (abiyr) refers to a mighty steed, though the term simply refers to “a mighty one” which might be a warrior, a commander, or even (in some cases) to the alpha-horse that leads the charge in battle. And that is a legitimate translation of the text, yet the “his” is still a bit vague to us. We know that the Israelite troops generally did not fight with cavalry. We know that Sisera had 900 chariots (Judges 4:3), so one might make the argument is that the galloping that is mentioned here is in reference to the flight of Sisera’s troops as they fled broken. Were this the case, the “his” would refer to Sisera.

Where I struggle with this interpretation has to do with the context of this verse. The “beat of the hoofs” reflects the sound of an army in good order and advancing, densely packed as they charge into battle — not the scattered hoofs of horses fleeing from their broken chariots. Further, the lines that lead up to this verse speak of God mustering the stars and the natural order to go to war against Sisera and his soldiers. Sisera, indeed, was not routed by the might of Baraq’s army; he was routed by the hand of God. God is the warrior of Israel (Exodus 15:3; Zephaniah 3:17). Thus, it mighty be suggested that these “mighty ones” are God’s angelic host — attacking alongside of the natural order — charging down upon God’s enemies…the “His” then referring to God himself as he is the Lord of hosts.

Either interpretation can be substantiated exegetically and contextually (as in verse 24, we read of Sisera’s defeat at the hands of Jael), the question that also must be asked is which also fits the spirit of the song that Baraq and Deborah are singing. Since the emphasis is on the triumphal nature of God mustering the universe to stand against the army of Sisera, I lean toward this latter interpretation. In the end, though, with either interpretation, God is gloriously victorious.

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