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The history, which this evening comes under our review, exhibits a new thing in the annals of human nature; asserts the sovereignty of the Most High over all persons and events; places the female character and importance in a new, a striking, and a respectable point of view ; and thereby admonishes the one sex to think of their own natural general superiority with deference, affection and honour to the manly excellencies of the female mind, when cultivated by a proper education, directed to a worthy object, and roused into exertion by a great and worthy occasion. Hitherto we have seen wise and good women, in the retired vale of domestic life, their proper and peculiar sphere ; Sarah, cooperating in the duties of hospitality with her venerable lord ; Rebekah, refreshing the weary traveller and the thirsty camel with water from the well, as they went on their way ; Rachel and the seven daughters of Jethro tending their father's flocks, and making them to lie down under the shade at noon; Miriam leading the festive dance and song, in celebrating the loving-kindness of the Lord, and the triumphs of Israel ; and Rahab giving shelter to the persecuted spies, and providing for the safety of her father's house.
But we are now to contemplate female genius and talents forcing their way to public observation, and to everlasting renown: eclipsing masculine sagacity and fortitude ; the inspirer and the example of generous patriotism and martial prowess. We are to contemplate feminine warmth and eagerness, under the influence of prophetic inspiration, and blended with the dignity and integrity of the judgement seat; female spirit, giving breath to the bloody trumpet of war, directing the movements of the embattled host, waking into sacred, poetic rapture, and adapting the joyful strains of victory, to the musical sounds of the living lyre.
Israel had now enjoyed a blessed repose of fourscore years; and are again corrupted by ease and prosperity. Their national character and conduct, are a striking representation of those, of many individuals, whom we are daily meeting with in the world; who are capable of bearing neither prosperity nor adversity; whom it is impossible to serve or to save ; who, by their perverseness or folly, are perpetually undoing the kindest designs, and counteracting the most vigorous efforts of their friends in their behalf, and whom, at length, friends are constrained to abandon in despair. Well has Nehemiah, their countryman, described this character, and displayed the patience and longsuffering of God, in that recapitulation of their history, addressed solemnly to Heaven, in the ninth chapter of his book; “And they took strong cities, and a fat land, and possessed houses full of all goods, wells digged, vineyards, and olive-yards, and fruit-trees in abundance. So they did eat, and were filled, and became fat, and delighted themselves in thy great goodness. Nevertheless, they were disobedient, and rebelled against thee, and cast thy law behind their backs, and slew thy prophets which testified against them to turn them to thee, and they wrought great provocations. Therefore thou deliveredst them into the hand of their enemies, who vexed them: and in the time of their trouble, when they cried unto thee, thou heardst them from heaven; and according to thy manifold mercies thou gavest them saviours, who saved them out of the hand of their enemies. But after they had rest, they did evil again before thee : therefore leftest thou them in the hand of their enemies, so that they had the dominion over them ; yet when they returned and cried unto thee, thou heardst them from heaven, and many times didst thou deliver them according to thy mercies ; and testifiedst against them, that thou mightest bring them again unto thy law : yet they dealt proudly, and hearkened not unto thy commandments, but sinned against thy judgements, which if a man do, he shall live in them; and withdrew the shoulder, and hardened the neck, and would not hear. Yet many years didst thou forbear them, and testifiedst
against them by the Spirit in thy prophets : yet would they not give ear: therefore gavest thou them into the hand of the people of the lands. Nevertheless, for thy great mercies sake thou didst not utterly consume them, nor forsake them; for thou art a gracious and merciful God."*
If we are to judge of the atrocity of the offence committed on the occasion before us, from the severity of the punishment, the length of its daration, and the violence of their oppressor, we must conclude it to have been uncommonJy grievous; for the Lord sold them into the hand of Jabin king of Canaan, part of whose formidable host consisted of nine hundred charicts of iron ; and who for “twenty years together mightily oppressed the children of Israel." Calamity is peculiarly oppressive, when it is embittered with the reflection, that it might have been prevented ; that it is the native fruit of our own doings: and with finding the wretched associates of our guilt the wretched par takers of our woe.
Hope seems quite extinguished in Israel. Not one man of common spirit, in the course of twenty years oppression, appears awakened to a sense of his country's wrongs, and generously prompted to hazard his life in removing, or arenging them. But the cause of the church of God is never to be despaired of. Its emblem is, “ the bush burning, but not consumed.” Its motto, " cast down, but not destroyed.” And whither are our eyes, at this time, directed to behold the saviour of a sinking country? Behold the residue of the Spirit is upon the head of a woman; the sacred flame of public spirit, smothered and dead in each manly breast, yet glows in a female bosom ; and the tribunal of judgement, deserted by masculine virtue and ability, is honourably and usefully filled by feminine sensibility, discernment, honesty and zeal. "And Deborah a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, she judged Israel at that time.”+ She was a wife and a mother in Israel, and such a wife is a crown to her husband, such a mother, the glory and pride of her children; but her great, her capacious soul embraced more than her own family, aimed at the happiness of thousands, sweetly blended public with private virtue. Is it unreasonable to suppose, that the discreet and wise management of her own household, first procured her the public notice and esteem: and that the prudent deportment of the matron, passed by a natural and easy transition into the sanctity of the prophetess, and the gravity and authority of the judge ? Certain it is, that the reputation which is not established on the basis of personal goodness, like a house built upon the sand, must speedily sink, and fall to pieces.
Hitherto, we have seen only “ holy men of God speaking as they were moved by the holy Ghost." But the great Jehovah is no respecter of persons or sexes: “the secret of the Lord is with them that fear him, and he sheweth unto them his holy covenant.” The simple dignity of her unadorned, unassuming state is beautifully represented: “She dwelt under the palm-tree of Deborah, between Ramah and Beth-el, in Mount Ephraim : and the children of Israel came up to her for judgement."I Behold a female mind exalted above the pageantry and pride of external appearance; pot deriving consequence from the splendour of her attire, the charms of her person, or the number of her retinue, but from the affability of her manners, the purity of her character, the sacredness of her office, the impartiality of her conduct, the importance of her public services; not wandering from place to place, hunting after a little empty applause, but sought unto of all Israel for the eminency, and extensive utility of her talents and her virtues. Her canopy of state was the shade of the palm-tree, her rule of judgement the law and the testimony of the living God; her motive, the inspiration of the Almighty ;
* Nek. ix, 25-31.
+ Judges iv. 4.
Judges iv. 5.
her aim and end, the glory of God, and the good of her people ; her reward, the testimony of a good conscience, the respect of a grateful nation, the admiration of future generations, the smiles of approving Heaven. What are, compared to these, the ermined robe, the ivory sceptre, the chair of state, the glittering diadem !
But alas! what availeth the most upright and impartial administration of justice, among a people euslaved in the extreme, groaning under a foreign yoke, holding liberty, property, and life, by the wretched tenure of a tyrant's caprice? The ardent soul of Deborah aspires at nothing short of a total emancipation of her bleeding country from these inglorious chains. And like a true prophetess of the living and true God, she engages in this noble and generous enterprise, not with the zeal of an enthusiast, not in an idle, inactive reliance on supernatural assistance; but in the honest confidence of a good cause, the diligent use of the most promising means, the ultimate dependence on the blessing of Him “ who worketh all things after the counsel of his will."
The character of this illustrious heroine, grows upon us as we proceed; and exhibits a picture of female excellence, to which her own sex may look with emulation and honest pride, and ours, with admiration and esteem, unmixed with envy. An ordinary woman, in her place, and possessed of her advantages, would probably have aimed at the sole reputation of having deJivered her country. But when a military operation is to be set on foot, for the attainment of this end, with the modest reserve becoming her sex, she satisfies herself with advising only. When the sword of Israel is to be drawn, let it be wielded by manly hands ; let Barak come in for a share of the danger, the labour, and the praise. She is to be the directing head, and he the active hand. But what was the broken strength of two of the least of the tribes of Israel? What were ten thousand men, to carry on offensive war, against a power which could employ aine hundred chariots of iron as part of his force? What must have been the number of infantry that corresponded to this formidable armament ? For such a handful of men to appear in arms, was to provoke their own fate, not to serve their bleeding country; it was to rouse their haughty oppressors into more violent rage and cruelty, not to attack them with a probability of success. The force called for by the prophetess, by divine appointment, was thus small, that the glory of all, in the issue, might be ascribed solely to God: and it was thus great, to teach mankind, that, as they hope to prosper, their own exertions must cooperate with the influence of overruling Providence.
Such was either the general despondency that prevailed in Israel at that dark period, or such the general confidence reposed in Deborah, that Barak accepts the commission given him, and consents to head the forces of his country into the field, under the express condition that their prophetess and judge would be his companion and directress in the warfare. To this she yields a cordial assent, and cheerfully engages to take part in all that regarded the public service, whether counsel or resolution were needful to carry it on. She would not, could it with propriety be avoided, become a leader in arms, but feels no reluctance, is conscious of no fear, when attending the captain of the Lord's host into “ the valley of decision." It is pleasant to obe serve how the manly virtues, properly modified and corrected, may be adopted into the female character, not only without giving offence, but so as to communicate the highest satisfaction and win approbation; and how, on the other hand, the softest of the female graces, may, without sinking the manly character, without exciting contempt, become a shade to the boldest, hardiest masculine qualities. Courage has been reckoned an attribute peculiar to men ; but it is easy to conceive it so raised, and so expressed, and so exerted as to be not only pardonable in, but highly ornamental to, woman, “A hen gathering her chickens under her wings," is a picture not only of maternal ienderness, but of the most undaunted intrepidity. “A bear bereaved of her whelps,” is not more fierce and more fearless. A mother defying the danger of the pestilential air which she inhales from her smitten child; a mother fying as a lioness on the brutal wretch who dared to crush her little darling; how dignified, what a noble creature she is ! A tender virgin stirred up into holy indignation at hearing her absent.friend traduced by the tongue of malevoleuce, forgetting herself for a moment, to repel the barbarous insult. O it is a disorder so lovely, that it almost deserves to be stamped with the name of virtue. To see Deborah quitting her seat under the palm-tree, to attend Barak to the top of Mount Tabor, when the enemies of her God and of her country are to be engaged and subdued ; what heart does not catch fire from her heroic ardour! what tongue can withhold its tribute of praise !
While Deborah, without hesitation, agrees to accompany Barak to the high places of the field, by virtue of the spirit of prophecy which was found upon her, she informs him that the glory he should obtain, was to suffer considerable diminution, not only by her participation of it, but also by the communication of it to another woman, for whom Providence had reserved the honour of putting the last hand to this arduous undertaking. Indeed this seems to be a crisis, in the history of human nature, at which Providence intended to exbibit the powers of the female mind in all their force and all their extent ; intended to represent the sex in every situation that can create esteem, inspire love, command respect, or awaken terror. The united spirits and achievements of Deborah, and Jael the wife of Heber, seem to comprehend the whole compass of the feminine character in its more extraordinary feelings and exertions; and in the displaying the conduct of these two individuals, rouse our attention to the whole sex, as the most warm, steady and affectionate of friends, or the most formidable, dangerous and determined of enemies.
But we must not bring forward both at once. We conclude with a reflection or two, on what has been suggested from the history of Deborah.
I. It exposes the folly of despising or undervaluing any description of our fellow-creatures in the lump. All national reflections are founded in ignorance and folly; and the despisers have osien paid dear for their insolence and presumption. The illiberal abuse so indiscriminately poured upon the gentler sex, is of the same nature. It generally comes from men something worse than the worst part of womankind. The truly sensible, and the truly brave, entertain far better and far more just sentiments of female utility and importance in the scale of being; and are ever disposed to ascribe to female capacity and worth, more than female modesty and wisdom are disposed to assume, or even to receive. No good man ever wished to see the female character undervalued or degraded ; and perhaps very few good women have ever violently coveted stations and employments which belong peculiarly to men. But as nature delights in producing variety, as well as uniformity, it is not to be wondered at, if we sometimes meet with men more silly, timid and frivolous, than the most insignificant of the other sex ; and on the other hand, women as daring, as enlightened, as magnanimous, as public spirited as the first among mankind. The rivalship, however, and competition of the sexes, is altogether ridiculous and absurd. Each has its distinct, and both have their conjoined dignity and usefulness—and mutual concession is the truest wisdom in the one and in the other.
But, II. However weak and contemptible the instrument were in itself, from the hand that wields it, it becomes mighty and respectable : and the history before us becomes, and that not darkly, a typical representation of the
gospel of Christ, which was “to the Jews a stumblingblock, and to the Greeks foolishness.” Pride and self-sufficiency smile at the idea of a female prophet, a female judge, a female poet, a female politician, a female warrior; and yet, in truth, women have filled all these offices, with credit to themselves, and with satisfaction to the public. And “ who hath made man's mouth ? or who maketh the dumb or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind ?” In the honoured list of those who “ through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens,” female names too stand recorded with commendation and renown. And what hast thou, O man, but what thou hast first received ?"-"God hath chosen the foolish , things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are : that no flesh should glory in his presence."
III. As the great ruler of the world never can want an instrument to save, so he is always provided with instruments to punish. “ He is wise in heart and mighty in strength; who hath hardened himself against him and hath prospered ?" The haughtiest of monarchs is at length constrained to “praise, and extol, and honour the King of heaven, all whose works are truth, and his ways judgement, and those that walk in pride he is able to abase.” “By a strong hand and stretched-out arm,” Pharaoh is at length compelled to "let Israel go.” “Humble" then “thyself,” O man, “ under his mighty hand.” “Be wise now, O ye kings, be instructed, ye judges of the earth, serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling."
The next Lecture will carry on the history of Deborah, in connexion with that of Jael. I conclude the present, with calling on the female part of my audience to bless God, that while he has carried some of their sex, through the most arduous employments, most eminent stations, and most hazardous enterprizes, not only with safety, but with applause, he is pleased, in general, to put their talents and their virtues to a trial less severe; and let them remember, that after all which has been, or may be said, in praise of the few who have acted wisely and well upon the public theatre, to the generality, " the post of honour is a private station."