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woman went unto all the people in her wisdom; and they cut off the head of Sheba the son of Bichri, and cast it out to Joab; and he blew a trumpet, and they retired from the city every man to his tent. And Joab returned to Jerusalem and to the king.' (2 Sam. xx.)
There will be no doubt some fair affectors of refinement, borror-stricken at the idea of a woman being influential in the execution of a criminal, and condemn the age in which such deeds were done, as something too barbarous to be regarded without a shudder. Now, there are few of our countrywomen, we think, more painfully affected by scenes and thoughts of blood than ourself; but it is the necessity for such fearful punishments we feel and mourn, more than the punishment itself. The Eternal ordained capital punishments for capital crimes; and if His infinite wisdom and His immeasurable mercy saw that it was good so to do, surely we poor weak finite creatures of a day, can have neither right nor wisdom to deem such acts of justice cruel, or loathe them as remnants of barbarity. Joab's demand was unanswerably just. The man whose seditious and rebellious spirit sought to light the flame of discord all over Judea, and dared to arm his countrymen against the Lord's Anointed, was deserving of death; and his own execution saved the lives of hundreds.
Was it not then an act of far greater mercy to demand the head of Sheba, than, by the weak shrinking from a duty so painfully repugnant to woman's nature, expose men, women, and children, in countless numbers, to the destroying sword? Yet, from the latter few would shrink as they do from the former, only because there is something so dreadful in the idea of a woman seeking the life of a fellow-creature. She sought, in fact, to save life, not to take it; and her efforts were successful. Enviable must have been that “wise woman's” feelings as the trumpet sounded, and the fierce warriors under the command of Joab struck their tents, withdrew their battering-rams, and in goodly array marched away from the pre-doomed city; leaving freedom and rejoicing gladness behind them, in a people saved alike from the destroying sword, and from the sin of strife and rebellion against the Lord's Anointed !
Now, it is not at all likely that these wise counsels were the impulse of the moment. The women of Israel must have had a voice even in the senate of their several cities. Their position must have been alike elevated and intellectual. In a state liku Israel, composed as it was of so many unruly members and con. stantly seditious spirits, wisdom could no more bave obtained ascendency without cultivation then, than it can now. Haa there been any law confining woman to any particular sphere, prohibiting her interference in any religious or secular matters, wisdom and judgment would not only have been publicly useless in a woman, but privately uncultivated, and we should find no such instances as the two we have recorded. A little attentive thought on the condition of the beleaguered city, the multitude of diverse opinions with which at such a time it must have been agitated, moved as it was by the presence and pleadings of the arch-rebel himself, the fierce troops without, the noise of the siege, and all its concomitant terrors; and remember, that out of these multitudes it was a woman who came forward, a mother in Israel (bow sacred is the term !) who in her wisdom obtained not only the hearing of Joab, but, a more difficult matter, of the warring people, and bent them like a reed, only from the superiority of Mind,-must we not feel to our heart's core the real position of the women of Israel in the Past? That she, even as man, enjoyed not alone the spiritual, but the intellectual and refining privileges of being one of the chosen of God; and must we not long for that FUTURE, when we shall again be blessed and influential in our own most holy land, doing the will of God, and being in very truth spiritually and temporally helps meet for His sons ? Oh, shall not the thought of the past, and of the future, influence Israel's PRESENT, and waken her daughters to their immortal heritage, in being of the first-born children of the Lord; who holdeth them so inexpres;ibly dear, that the individual or nation who injureth them injureth the apple of His eye? Is not the thought that we are of a nation so beloved, sufficient incentive for the cultivation of spirituality, virtue, intellect
, wisdom, affection, devotedness to God and man, all that could make the days of this life even as the days of heaven on the earth ?"
The devotion of Rizpah is another exquisitely beautiful trait of female character. Its mention does not contain a lesson, but a picture. It does not tell us what woman should be, but what she is, and is valuable as proving that the women of the Bible are but portraits of woman's nature now. The stern mandate of the Lord against the bloody house of Saul had not all been fulfilled; and justice, that inscrutable justice which man dare not hope to explain, demanded the execution of the last remaining scions of the family of Saul. The narrative contained in the first nine verses of 2 Sam. xxi., is one on which it is better not to linger, lest it arouse doubts and questions verging on impiety. It is enough that it was the ordinance of the Eternal, and that He ever tempereth justice with mercy; and though to finite minds, in this instance, mercy may seem nidden in blood, it is enough for us to know, that “God's ways are not our ways, nor His thoughts our thoughts," and calmly resting on this blessed truth, dismiss the subject as one to be explained hereafter, when the immortal likeness of God in which made He man, purified from the corrupting clay, will be permitted to trace the secret of His
ways; and all that in His word seemed dark and terrible, bear witness to the perfect justice and the perfect mercy of Him, with whom “is the fountain of life, and in whose light we shall see light."
Day and night, from the beginning of the barley harvest, till the rain came down from heaven, a period of many weeks, did Rizpah, the daughter of Aiah, keep solitary watch beside the mouldering bodies of the last remnants of the house of Saul. “She took sackcloth and spread it for her upon the rock, and suffered neither the birds of the air to rest upon them by day, nor the beasts of the field by night.” What a volume of woman's heart is told in that brief verse! That devotedness to the beloved dead which would guard the poor remnants of mortality from all insult of bird or beast-that lingering beside all which was spared her, alas, for that mournful “all !" Scorched by the sun of day, and chilled by the dews of night, yet move she not from the stony rock, nor cared she for aught besides. Mourning, yet not repining; guarding the hallowed dead, yet breathing not her anguish, save through the tears that fell on the impenetrable rock, the sighs that mingled with the breeze. Who might feel for her, sole remnant of that bloody house? Who might lament those deaths which retribution called ? None. And the mourner asked naught of man. Her world was by the dead, and there the mocking sun and the pitying moon gazed down upon her in her sad and solitary watch. And oh, is not this woman ?-Is not this the love, the devotedness, which are the natural dwellers of woman's heart, when naught but nature speaks ? And not entirely unsympathized
was her affliction. It reached the ear, and penetrated the heart. of the feeling and affectionate king, and the bones of Saul and Jonathan, and of them that were hanged, were gathered by David's express command, and buried with due honors in the sepulchre of Kish the father of Saul, which was in the country of his tribe ; and thus that fearful ignominy, so revolting to an Israelite, the denying burial to the dead, was removed from the house of Saul by the devotion of a woman. Who, then, will assert that the purest and best feelings of our nature find rio place in the Word of God? Who can seek to make religiou trample on the most sacred feelings of humanity, by asserting that, if we truly love the Lord, we can never grieve nor be afflicted ? How painfully mistaken are those who would thus instruct, and how sadly deceived those who would banish all feeling from woman's nature! Who would guide her by rule and measure ? Who would check every enthusiastic impulse, every kind sentiment, every sympathizing emotion, every imaginative glow, all because it is so unfitted for this unromantic world; and therefore destines its possessor to more pain than pleasure ? Oh, if we believe the Word of the Lord divine, let us come there, and we shall find guides for feeling as well as for action. There we find the emotions which God in His mercy gave, encouraged, not subdued ; feeling, devotedness, affection, enthusiasm, all that can lift us up from the mere 'petty concerns and thoughts of a day, are there brought forward; and why then should the sweet emotions of the Israelite in the past, be deemed folly and romance, and so unworthy of the Israelite in the present? Oh! as women, women of Israel, let us cultivate every emotion which can refine and elevate and prepare us for that Future which has been so long our promised heritage! We are but strangers and sojourners in the land of our captivity; but our destiny is laid up with our God for that day when, in the face of the whole world, we shall be acknowledged as His own.
The next striking evidence of woman's social position in our present Period, is found in the far-famed, often-quoted judyment of Solomon. The wisdom of the monarch's sentence is the point generally insisted upon, to the exclusion of all the other topics of interest which this remarkable incident presents.
The term harlot, more than once applied to women in the Bible, had a very different meaning to that in which it is alone used now. It is generally supposed to signify, indiscriminately an innkeeper or hostess, as in the case of Rahab, or women in the servile classes, independent of servitude in households, but occupying some trades in Jerusalem peculiar to themselves. They had, in consequence, neither rank, wealth, nor any of the usual accessories to the royal favor. Yet we find that the very first persons who obtained access to Solomon, after the offerings with which he sanctified his entrance into Jerusalem, were two women of this class. It was not that there were no inferior courts of justice in the Mosaic Law, no order or division of ranks in the Jewish State. There were all these. Yet, if the women of Israel demanded the judgment of their monarch himself, the very lowest classes had access to him; and their cases were heard and judged. Certainly a very different mode of proceeding to the customs of other nations, either then or now.
Surrounded by his officers and court, in the magnificent array which marked all the proceedings of King Solomon, the monarch listened with patient and sympathizing attention to the tale of affliction boldly spoken before him. It was a sad and a strange one, and seemingly so difficult for a just decision on the part of the youthful judge, that interest was in no slight degree excited. Two women dwelt in the same house, to each of whom a child was born; the one within three days of the other. They were alone within the house, and the child of the one woman died, and she arose at midnight and changed the dead for the living; and when her companion awoke in the morning, to nurse her child, behold it was dead; but when she had looked on it attentively, it was not her child which she did bear. And when the complainant narrated this tale, her opponent denied that it was so, saying, “ Nay, but the living is my son, and the dead is thy son! And this said, No, but the dead is thy son, and the living is my son; and thus they spake before the king.” In a modern court of justice we think a similar case would be found somewhat difficult to solve. Solomon made no pause ; repeating the charge and its denial, so as to make it clear to all who heard, he continued, “ Bring me
sword," and when obeyed, pronounced that memorable sentence which first revealed his godlike wisdom to his subjects :
-“ Divide the living child in two, give half to the one, and half to the other. Then spake the woman whose the living child was, unto the king, for her bowels yearned unto her son :