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HISTORY OF DEBORAH.
JUDGES V. 12, 13.
Awake, awake, Deborah awake, awake, utter a song: arise, Barak, and lead thy captivity captive, thou son of Abinoam. Then he made him that remaineth have dominion over the nobles among the people the Lord made me have dominion over the mighty.
It is natural for man to look forward to futurity; and to derive a part, at least, of his felicity and importance from the estimation in which he is to be held by posterity. He knows that his body must soon die, and his connexion with the world be dissolved; but he flatters himself with the fond hope, that his name may survive his ashes, and that his memory may be cherished and respected, though his person be lost in the grave, and sink into oblivion.
When this anticipation, and desire of immortality, serve as a stimulus to virtuous exertion, and call forth wisdom and goodness, honourably to fulfil their day, the love of fame is a respectable principle in the individual, because it becomes a blessing to mankind. But to wade to the temple of fame through a sea of blood; to extract "the bubble reputation" from widow's tears and the groans of expiring wretches, is worse than contemptible; it is detestable, it is monstrous. And, whatever national partiality and prejudice may have done, reason and humanity will always regard such characters as Alexander and Cæsar with abhorrence, strip them of their ill earned glory, and stigmatize their names to the latest generations, as the enemies of mankind.
The spirit of patriotism, in other respects noble and excellent, is here faulty, pernicious, and worthy of the severest censure. It encroaches on the sacred rights of loving-kindness and tender mercy. It encroaches on the more sacred prerogatives of high Heaven. It would make the God of the spirits of all flesh, a party in the quarrels of two petty states, and force the great interests of an universe to bend to the caprice, the pride, the ambition or revenge of some paltry prince. Hence, the literary monuments of all nations, exhibit a narrow, illiberal, ungenerous, impious spirit. The warlike genius of Rome acquired the ascendant over her rival Carthage. The literary genius of that gallant people assumed the superiority of course; and Punic perfidy, barbarity and cowardice, became the subject of proverbial apothegms, historical records, and poetical rhapsodies. But suppose, for a moment, the scales changed, and the fate of Carthage preponderating, and we should have had this whole picture reversed; and Roman not Punic faithlessness, cruelty and cowardice had been the burden of the song, and the object of detestation. While our notes of triumph rend the vault of heaven, cross that brook, look forward from the summit of that little hill, where we are celebrating victory with all the insolence of success, and erecting the monumental column to prosperous valour, and nought is to be seen, but sights of woe, no voice is to
be heard, but that of lamentation and despair; while angels, from yonder sphere, look down with pity and concern, such as angels feel, on both the victor and the vanquished. "The broad eye of one Creator, takes in all mankind: his laws expand the heart;" and the "Te Deum," which angels sing with rapture, is, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will towards men.'
We must carry these ideas with us as a corrective to the vehemence of poetical enthusiasm, and learn still to distinguish between the rapturous praise and censure of a female patriot, and the calm, equitable, unbiassed applause or condemnation of unerring wisdom and eternal justice. In the picture of human nature here suspended before our eyes, we behold it, as it is, not what it ought, in all respects, to be.
Deborah having proposed her subject, in plain and simple terms, in the second verse, and summoned the princes and potentates of the earth to listen to her song, as if the whole world were interested in the event she was about to celebrate, she presents to them an object supremely worthy of their attention and reverence, namely, the great JEHOVAH marching in awful state before the armies of his people, and delivering to them his dreadful law from Sinai, while universal nature bears witness to the presence of the Creator and Lord of all. "The earth trembling, the mountains melting, the powers of heaven shaken."
From thence she turns a weeping eye to the recent miseries of her yet bleeding country, and summons her compatriots to gratitude and joy, for the deliverance of that day, from the recollection of the cruel restraints under which they so lately lived, and the calamities which they endured: and she rises into holy rapture at the thought, that a gracious Providence had not only wrought salvation for his people, but made her the blessed instrument of effecting it. But in recalling the memory of former evils, in order to awaken holy joy, she fails not to trace those evils up to their proper source, in order to excite holy sorrow and contrition; "They chose new gods; then was war in the gates: was there a shield or spear seen among forty thousand in Israel ?"*
The great object of the prophetess is, to impress this everlasting and unchangeable truth, that sin is the ruin of any nation, and that salvation is of the Lord. The moment a new god is set up, behold a new enemy is in the gate. That instant the idol is pulled down, the hope of Israel revives. The poetic question of Deborah, "was there a shield or spear seen among forty thousand in Israel ?" expresses the highest degree of political dejection and distress; and represents the insulting foe, as not only filling all their borders with present consternation, but also, undermining all their hope for the time to come; stripping them of every kind of armour both for defence and attack; to such a degree, that not one man, out of forty thousand, was furnished for the field.
A Jewish Rabbin† has given a turn somewhat different to the words of the text, and not an absurd one. "Has Israel chosen new gods? then was war in the gates. Was there shield or spear seen among forty thousand?" that is to say, "From the time that Israel made choice of strange gods, they were under a necessity of maintaining war in their gates; or, of supporting a standing army for defence against the inroads of their enemies. But now that you offer yourselves willingly to the Lord, and put away the strange gods which are among you, see whether you have any need of shield or spear against the most formidable and numerous hosts of foes, against the thousands and forty thousands of Canaan? No, JEHOVAH himself is your shield and
* Judges v. 8.
+ Sal. Jarchi, page 64,
buckler, he fights your battles. Heaven and earth combine to destroy the adversary, the stars in their courses fought against Sisera, the river Kishon swallows them up.'
My heart is toward the governors of Israel, that offered themselves willingly among the people. Bless ye the Lord, Speak, ye that ride on white asses, ye that sit in judgement, and walk by the way. They that are delivered from the noise of archers in the places of drawing water; there shall they rehearse the righteous acts of the Lord, even the righteous acts towards the inhabitants of his villages in Israel; then shall the people of the Lord go down to the gates. That we may enter into the true spirit of the patriotic bard, let us suppose, what it is apparent she has in view, namely, severally to address the various orders and descriptions of men, whereof the Israelitish state was composed, and who had each a peculiar, as well as a common interest, in the salvation which they celebrated. She begins with her companions in the warfare, who, roused by her exhortations, and a sense of their country's wrongs, had cheerfully offered themselves to this laborious and hazardous service. "My heart is toward the governors of Israel, that offered themselves willingly among the people. Bless ye the Lord." They best knew how little was due to human skill and valour, how much to the gracious and powerful interposition of Heaven; let them, therefore, lead the band, and ascribe unto Jehovah the glory due unto his name. She next turns to the civil governors and judges of the land, and invites them to continue the song. "Speak, ye that ride on white asses, ye that sit in judgement, and walk by the way." Such was the simple state in which the rulers of Israel travelled from place to place, administering justice. The ideas, in her address to them, are tender and pathetic, and may be thus extended, "Alas! my associates in government, it was but yesterday, that we were rulers without subjects, judges without a tribunal, and without authority: the lives and property of Israel were not secured and protected by law, but were at the disposal of a foreign lawless despot; and your progress through the land in the exercise of your high office, was checked and overawed by a licensed banditti. Let us rejoice together, that government has reverted its channel; the highways are no longer blocked up, and therefore no longer unoccupied. Place your thrones of judgement where you will, in the gate, in the highway, the communication is open, there is none to make you afraid, the enemies whom you have seen, you shall see them no more again forever."
Her next address seems to be made to the shepherds of the lately oppressed country. "They that are delivered from the noise of archers in the places of drawing water; there shall they rehearse the righteous acts of the Lord, even the righteous acts towards the inhabitants of his villages in Israel; then shall the people of the Lord go down to the gates." They are represented as trembling at the sound of their own feet among the pebbles of the brook, lest thereby they should awaken the attention of their rapacious masters; they are afraid to drive their flocks to the watering place, lest they should expose themselves and their harmless fleecy charge, to the cruel shafts of the archer, ever on the watch to gall and annoy them. But now, there, even there, in the very scene of their sorrow and misery, where the rustling of a leaf durst not be heard, they shall break out together into singing; there, free from sorrow, free from fear," shall they rehearse the righteous acts of the Lord, even the righteous acts to the inhabitants of the villages in Israel." Finally, she calls upon the inhabitants of the villages, the husbandmen and vine-dressers, to add their voices to the swelling band, on recovering their tranquillity, on being restored to the felicity of labouring for themselves, and saved from the
*Judges v. 9-11,
+ Judges v. 9.
+ Judges v. 10.
§ Judges v. 11.
mortification of seeing lazy, insolent strangers devouring the fruit of their painful toil, and repairing, as before, in happier days, to their own gates, to their own judges for justice and judgement. Thus we hear, as it were, the tuneful choir gradually increasing in number, the peasant taking up the song which the shepherd had put into his mouth, the shepherd following the magistrate, the magistrate the soldier, till all Israel becomes one voice, one heart, one soul, to celebrate the high praises of God. Faint representation of that more glorious consummation, that purer triumph, that more auspicious day, that inexpressibly more important salvation, to which the believer in Christ Jesus looks in hope.
The voice of this universal chorus having ceased, a solemn pause of some moments seems to ensue; when the divinely-inspired poetess awakes to new rapture; and the harmony of myriads of joyful voices subsides into the melody of one simple strain. "Awake, awake, Deborah: awake, awake, utter a song: arise, Barak, and lead thy captivity captive, thou son of Abinoam."* What genuine touches of nature have we here, what simplicity, what pathos, what sublimity! She seems to regret her exhausted powers; her spirit is still willing; she cannot bear to cease so soon from so divine an employ; she starts into fresh enthusiasm. Having put words of praise into the mouths of a whole saved people, she takes up her own peculiar strain; "Awake, awake, Deborah awake, awake, utter a song :" And then, turning to the companion of her victory, excites him to make a public display of the wonderful trophies of that wondrous day; "Arise, Barak, and lead thy captivity captive, thou son of Abinoam." Exhibit them in chains, who had forged chains for the hands and feet of Israel; lead them captive, who led in captivity the freeborn sons of God; shew triumphantly the spoils of them that spoiled thee; "the prey taken from the mighty, and the lawful captive delivered;" them that oppressed thee fed with their own flesh, and drunken with their own blood, as with sweet wine;" a righteous "God contending with them, who contended with thee." "Thou son of Abinoam." She rouses her noble colleague to excel in praise, as he had excelled in counsel and courage, by one of the most powerful motives of human conduct, the honour of his father's name and family. Let the names of Barak and Abinoam be transmitted, hand in hand, with respect, to the latest generations; let the world know that on Abinoam a gracious Providence conferred the distinguished honour of being the father of the father of his country.
It is not ancestry, it is not country that can bestow celebrity on a deedless name, on an idle or worthless character; it is illustrious virtue, it is superiour wisdom, it is useful ability that confers nobility, true nobility on families, and celebrity on countries. Contending cities claim the honour of giving birth to Homer. Strip Athens of her renowned sons, and she sinks into a mass of rocks and sand. How would the heart of Abinoam glow with delight, as often as the sound of his name reached his ears, in connexion with that of a son whom a grateful country acknowledged, and celebrated with songs, as its saviour!
In the 13th verse we see the low and reduced state of Israel again brought into view, to prepare for a fresh discovery of the power and goodness of God, and to exhibit in another point of light, the solidity, strength and security of his church, "out of weakness made strong," " waxing," in a moment, "valiant in fight, turning to flight the armies of the aliens." "Then he made him that remaineth have dominion over the nobles among the people: the Lord made me have dominion over the mighty."+ In two striking particulars, this gracious interposition of Heaven is emphatically pointed out:
+ Judges v. 13.
* Judges v. 12. Vol. VI.
"He made him that remaineth to have dominion. It was not the strength of Israel which God employed in crushing the "nobles" and pride of Canaan, it was not by opposing force to force, skill to skill, that Providence decided the contest; but by a scattered, broken remainder; but by a dispirited handful, that durst not trust themselves in the plain against the enemy, but by an unarmed rabble whom Sisera held in contempt, that Jehovah trampled the glory of Jabin in the dust; as by a cake of barley bread rolling down upon a tent and levelling it with the ground.
To set the divine sovereignty in a still stronger light, Deborah suggests, but not in the spirit of self-confidence, that when God did appear for his people, he did it, not by kindling martial ardour and resentment in manly bosoms, by putting the machine in motion in the usual way; but by creating a new thing in the earth; by endowing a woman with more than manly sagacity and resolution; by making a woman the life and soul of a sinking nation; that God himself might have the undivided praise. "The Lord made me have dominion over the mighty." Is it not somewhat remarkable, that Deborah is only once described as the wife of Lapidoth? whereas Barak is repeatedly, both in history and in song, brought forward as the son of such a father. Is it to mark the base degeneracy of Israel at this period? all masculine virtue extinguished, and importance sunk; the only trace of the existence of the man, that he was the husband of such a woman? The repetition of this relation therefore may have been omitted, because it would have reflected reiterated disgrace upon the one, without adding much to, perhaps somewhat detracting from, the glory of the other. Whereas the blazoning of a son's praise, instead of detracting from, is the most gratifying addition to, a father's honour.
In the passage which follows, the prophetess goes with a poetical and prophetic enthusiasm into a detail of the distinguishing characters, of the several tribes of Israel, according to the part which they had taken, or neglected to take, in the cause of their country, at this trying crisis, which at present I shall simply quote, with a single remark; and then conclude. "And the princes of Issachar were with Deborah; even Issachar, and also Barak; he was sent on foot into the valley. For the divisions of Reuben there were great thoughts of heart. Why abodest thou among the sheepfolds, to hear the bleatings of the flocks? for the divisions of Reuben there were great searchings of heart. Gilead abode beyond Jordan: and why did Dan remain in ships?
Asher continued on the seashore, and abode in his breaches. Zebulun and Naphtali were a people that jeoparded their lives unto the death in the high places of the field."* This is the third time that prophetic inspiration has presented us with the discriminating features of the sons of Israel, and of the tribes which descended from them, at three different periods, and in very different situations-Jacob on his dying bed, Moses on the wing to ascend Mount Nebo, and Deborah on the defeat of Sisera. The comparative view of Israel, at these distant periods, seems to me a subject of curious, pleasant and not useless disquisition, and I mean to devote the meditation of a particular evening to it.
The seasont arrests us now, and demands a series of reflections suited to winter, and change, and decay, and death. The past rushes upon our memory and affections in an impetuous tide. The future still presents the same impenetrable curtain to our eager eyes. We go on fondly planning; and after a thousand proofs of vanity, return to treasure up for ourselves vexation of spirit. But we shall be relieved at length, and ere long land on that shore where fear and hope are no longer. If permitted to enter on the commencement of another year, we shall endeavour to improve that kind indulgence, by
* Judges v. 15-18.
The last day of the year.