« ElőzőTovább »
HISTORY OF DEBORAH.
JUDGES IV, 21, 22, 23.
Then Jael, Heber's wife, took a nail of the lent, and took an hammer in her hand, and went softly unto
hiin, and smote the nail into his lemples, and fastened it into the and weary) so he died. And behold, as Barak pursued Sisera, Jael came out to meet him, and said unto him, Come, and I will shew thee the man whom thou seekest. And when he came into her tent, behold, Sisera lay dead, and the nail was in his temples. So Gou subdued on that day, Jabin the king of Canaan before the Children of Israel.
WHEN we consider how frequent, how violent, and how sudden are the transitions from condition to condition in human life, pride appears to be a mystery of folly, below contempt. To bebold a rational being assuining consequence on an empty, unmeaning title ; or from the possession of a little wealth, that bird of passage, eternally on the wing; or from beauty and strength, which accident or disease may blast in a moment, and which the lapse of a very few years certainly will impair ; to behold a man putting confidence in princes, or feeding on the applause of a multitade; to hear him saying to himself, “ Soul, take thy rest ; thou hast much goods laid up for many years." "My mountain standeth strong; I shall never be moved." All this is calculated to excite derision, not resentment; and when reason and experience ponder what the end may be, anger sinks into pity. Not only is frail man every moment at the mercy of a Being, almighty to save and to destroy ; but the proudest and mightiest is every moment in the power of the weakest and meanest of his fellow-creatures. The tongue of the wretch whom thou despisest, may ruin thy repntation forever. The crawling insect in thy path is armed with deadly poison against thy life. That nodding wall threatens to crush thee to pieces. Arm thee at all points, as well as thou canst, malice or hatred, envy or revenge will still find some part unguarded; and bleeding to death, thou shalt find thou wert not invulnerable.
Those who are distinguished by their rank, their abilities, or their virtues, attract the notice of many observers, and create to themselves many open and many more secret enemies. The history of Sisera, the captain of the host of Jabin, king of Canaan, is a striking illustration of mcet of these remarks. In him, we see a man rendered insolent by success, intoxicated with prosperity, betrayed into disgrace through confidence of victory, the dupe of confidence in his own strength, and then the victim of confidence, equally unwise, in the fidelity and attachment of a stranger. We behold him in the morning, advancing to the unequal conflict at the head of a mighty, and hitherto invincible host; in the evening, a bleeding corpse, fallen ingloriously by the hand of a woman.
Deborah, the prophetess of Israel, having transfused the patriotic ardour of her soul into Barak, not only directs him what he should do, but offers herself as the companion of the expedition which she had planned. With ten thousand men of the tribes of Żebulun and Naphtali under his command, Barak takes possession of Mount Tabor, meaning to act only on the defensive, till Providence should point out an occasion of acting to advantage. The rashness and impetuosity of Sisera soon presented him with such an opportunity. Enraged to think that an enemy so often discomfited, so long oppressed, so broken by calamity, should presume to make head against their lordly masters, he collects the whole of his vast strength, and invests the mountain, determined to crush the pupy insurrection at one blow.
The sagacious judge, and divinely inspired prophetess of Israel, observes the season to be favourable, observes that the unwieldy army of the Canaanites was ready to fall in pieces by its own weight, that their rain confidence was destroying them, and that, above all, Heaven was propitious. She gives the signal of attack, and lo, “ one chases a thousand, and ten put ten thousand to flight." The cause was of God, and it prospers : and the mighty hand and outstretched arın of Jehovah, once more asserts Israel into liberty.
Whatever praise is to be ascribed to the conduct of Barak on this occasion, and to the intrepidity of his little army, it is evident, from some expressions in the song of praise, composed in celebration of the victory, that the defeat of the Canaanites was in part, at least, iniraculous." They fought from heav. en." "The stars in their courses,” it is said, “ fought against Sisera.” By “ the stars" sone interpreters understand “the angels of God," who are gometimes designed by that name. Josephus takes the words in a different sense, and affirms, that an extraordinary storm of rain, mixed with hail, blinded the eyes of the Canaanites, and drove back their darts upon their own heads. The Rabbins, with still less appearance of probability, allege, that certain constellations of a pestilential influence, consumed the army of Sisera, burnt them up with thirst, and drove them for refreshment to the brook Kishon, where they were met in a languid, enseebled state, by the troops of Deborah and Barak, and put to the sword. The expedition from first to last, was without controversy conducted and crowned by the hand of Providence. But the narration of the event, on the sacred page, is too general and concise, to enable us to pronounce with confidence, where the province of human sagacity and valour ended; and where the interposition of Heaven began.
However it were, the victory was complete ; the enemy was totally routed and put to the edge of the sword; the commander in chief alone escapes the universal carnage of the field; and he, who a little before had nine hundred chariots of iron at his disposal, sees himself stripped of all, and is constrained to consult his safety by flight. A prince without subjects, and a general without an army, shrink into poor, wretched, solitary individuals, the more to be pitied, from the giddy height whence they have fallen.
The history drops the myriads which composed the army of Sisera, into a silent grave; and pursues the sad tale of the unhappy man himself up to his tragical death. Seeing his army slaughtered and put to flight, and himself in danger of falling into the hands of triumphant Israel, he alights from his chariot, and flees away on foot. “How are the mighty fallen, and the weapons of war perished !" What a sad reverse, within the compass of one short day! And to such reverses, human life is eternally liable. The greatest of uninspired bards has put this passionate exclamation in the mouth of a dethroned monarch of our own country, addressing himself to his few wretched attendants, the poor remains of his departed state :
Cover your heads, and mock not flesh and blood
SHAKESPEARE.-King Richard II.
Behold the mighty Sisera weary and faint with thirst, without one, of so many thousands, to assist or comfort his flight, seeking refuge from his pursuers in the tents of an allied power, Heber the Kepite.
By looking back to the book of Numbers, chap. x. we find that Hobab, the son of Raguel or Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, had left his native residence, to attend the camp of Israel as their guide through the wilderness, and had been persuaded by Moses, his brother-in-law, to cast in his lot among that people, upon a solemn assurance, that, on their settlement in Canaan, he, and bis family, and descendants, should share in the fruits of victory, and obtain a portion in the land promised to the children of Abraham. This accounts for our finding them established, at such a distance of time, in the border of Kedesh Naphtali. On the invasion of the country, however, by Jabin, king of Canaan, we find them observing a strict neutrality. “There was peace between Jabin the king of Hazor, and the house of Heber the Kenite."'* In the confidence of this, Sisera betakes himself to the Kenite for protection ; and is received by Jael, the wife of Heber, with every mark of humanity and respect, due to a great man, and a friend, in distress. She brings him milk to quench his thirst, covers him carefully up in her own tent to repose himself from the vexation and fatigue of that disastrous day, and to conceal him from the pursuit of Barak. She promises inviolably to keep secret the place of his concealment; and relying on that promise, weary and worn out, he falls into a profound sleep. Jael avails herself of his defenceless situation, and seizing such arms as were at band, a hammer and one of the pins or nails used in stretching out the tent, she transfixes the head of the unhappy sleeper as he lay along, and with redoubled blows fastens the bleeding temples to the ground.
Such was the inglorious end of a man, on whom that morning's sun had risen with a smiling aspect; who awoke from sleep in the possession of all that royal favour could bestow, all that sovereign power could compel, all that flattering hope could promise. Of the motives which could impel Jael to such a deed of horror, we have no information. Her conduct, we know, is celebrated in the song of Deborah in terms of the strongest approbation ; which obliges us to conclude, that there are circumstances in the story, which the Spirit of God has not thought proper to disclose. The great Jehovah needs not a vindication of his conduct, from the labour and ingenuity of a wretched, ignorant mortal. He has but to discover a few little particulars, which are as yet bid from our eyes; and then, what now consounds and overwhelms our understanding, becomes clear and intelligible to the meanest capacity. Instead, therefore, of vainly and presumptuously attempting to reconcile this action of Jael with the laws of morality, which, by the glimmering light we have, is impossible, we shall make a few observations on the history, of a general and practical nature. And
I. We repeat, what has been already suggested, “ that human reason is a very incompetent judge of divine proceeding." We know so little, so very little of the system of nature; our own constitution is such an inexplicable mystery to ourselves; we meet every where so many difficulties, contradictions, defects, redundancies ; at least we take upon us to think and call them so, as must lead us to this conclusion, that, either the work of God is imperfect; or that we cannot find out him and his work unto perfection. Now the little reason we have cannot hesitate an instant in choosing its side of this alternative. And if we confessedly are unqualified to judge of that which is less, dare we presume to pronounce concerning that which is greater. If the volume of nature, spread open to the perusal at once of our senses and our
* Judges iv. 17.
reason, present many things not only hard, but impossible to be understood, can we deem ourselves qualified, or entitled to explain, to justify, or to arraign the more dark and mysterious ways of Providence ? And which is the greater pride and presumption, that which is forever "charging God foolishly," or that which sets itself up as the bold interpreter and assistant of eterual wisdom and justice ? Observe
II. An obvious reason, why these difficulties are permitted in the frame of nature, the conduct of Providence, and the revelation of the grace of God. It is, to form us to submission, to exercise our patience, to fix our attention, to whet our industry, to repress our boldness, to increase and confirm our confidence in God. It is a mark of respect to supcriour wisdom and virtue, not always to require an explanation, but to repose implicit trust in known goodness and integrity. A wise man in the consciousness of his own rectitude, disdains to acknowledge the obligation of clearing up his conduct to every prating meddler, who may think proper to call him to account; and who has neither a right, nor a capacity to judge of his motives. And shall we withhold from our Maker that decent respect which we so cheerfully pay to a fallible, imperfect fellow-creature ? Shall we refuse to take the God of truth upon his word ? Shall we think it much if in some cases he exact belief, without his vouchsafing to assign a reason? “Why dost thou strive against him? He giveth not account of any of his matters."* Our sacred bard has sublimely expressed this noble sentiment, drawn from the volume of inspiration. Considering the divine providence under the image of a vast sealed-up book, chained to the eternal throne, containing the character, the revolutions, the destination of angels and men, but closed to the inspection of every created eye. We observe,
III. That it is doing the grosscst injustice to the wise and righteous Governor of the world, to suppose him in every point approving the person, or the conduct by which he carries on his great designs. Cyrus and Nebuchadnezzar are styled the servants of God, though the one knew him not, and the other openly defied him. The rod which he condescendeth to use, for the chastisement of disobedient and gainsaying children, when their reformation is accomplished, he often breaks and dashes on the ground. Every instrument he employs must necessarily partake of human imperfection ; but it folJows not that he is pleased with imperfection. The devices of Satan himself shall in the issue redound to the glory of God, as " the wrath of man must praise him ;' but that wrath is hateful to his nature, and those devices his wisdom counteracts, and his justice condemns. We are not therefore to mistake the patriotic ardour of a female Israelitish bard, for the calm the merited applause of the God of mercy and truth. I can easily conceive the person, whom national partiality, resentment or gratitude would celebrate in strains of admiration, to be regarded with abhorrence by the Father of mercies, the avenger of falsehood, the refuge of the miserable. And while Israelitish Deborah, in the heat of her zeal, makes the eulogium of a woman so unlike herself, and styles Jael, the wife of Heber, who murdered her sleeping guest, ti blessed above women,” why may not a christian Dorcas, a woman of mercy and humanity, “a woman full of good works, and almsdeeds," under the mild and gentle influence of that religion which she believes, feels and practices, reprobate the cruel and perfidious act, and its author, in terms of the severest indignation ? Indeed, the conduct of Jael, considered by itself, is a horrid complication of all that is base and detestable in human nature; an infamous violation of sacred truth; a daring infringement of the law of nature and nations; a flagrant breach of the laws of hospitality, which the most
* Job xxxiii. 13.
savage natures and nations have respected as sacred; the vilest degradation. of her character as a woman ; the most barbarous exhibition of a little mind, enjoying the triumph over unsuspecting credulity, and defenceless misery. “ Cursed be her anger, for it was fierce, and her wrath for it was cruel.” Obserre,
IV. Into what dreadful extremes we impetuously rush, when the radical principles of our nature are once subdued. Time must have been, that the idea of shedding the blood of another, would have chilled the blood in Jael's veins. What must it have cost her, to overcome the timidity, the tenderness, the compassion of her sex! But being overcome, lo, each gentle, feminine passion is lulled asleep; and frantic zeal, or demoniac revenge alone is awake. Ah me, what beast of prey so savage and unrelenting, as a human being destitute of pity! Ah me, how easily the best things degenerate into the worst ! Of what importance is it, to guard against the first deviation from the simple and direct path! Who can promise for himself, that he shall stop, return, and regain the right road, when he pleases ? Observe,
V. That the rarity of the instances, the peculiarity of the situations, and ihe singularity of the spirit and conduct, apparent in the female characters here brought into public view, forbid, by more than a positive law, female interference in matters of business and of government. Beliere me, my fair friends, it is not stripping you of your just importance, it is increasing and securing it, to say, the shade is your native, your proper station : it is there you shine, it is there you are useful, it is there you are respectable. Your heart and your understanding assent to the truth of it. Is there a woman among you, who would not prefer in obscurity, the affection of her husband, the attachment and gratitude of her children, the estimation and respect of her friends, to all the public splendour of Deborah's magisterial power, and prophetic spirit; to all the blushing, empurpled honours of Jael's more than masculine resentment? It is not your want of talents for government we dispute; it is the suitableness of governments to your talents, your natural dispositions, your real honour and happiness. A wise and good woman never can desire to become the object of universal admiration, nor the subject of every one's discourse. If you aiio at so much, depend upon it, you will lose something of what you have, and what is infinitely better than all the incense: of flattery, than all the sonnets of a thousand poetic swains. In the history of our own country, the reigns of two female sovereigns shine with conspicuous lustre. They were periods of great national prosperity and glory. But the weakest of women would not surely thence infer, that the sceptre ought always to be committed to female hands. With all due deference to the memory of an Elizabeth and an Anne, and the general felicity which their administration diffused orer the land ; Great Britain can look with pride and exultation to a Queen, whose personal glory and virtues far exceed theirs. Not a sovereign indeed, but a partner of the throne : who shines in reason's eye, because she affects not to shine ; reigns over willing hearts, because she disclaims all rule ; is great and blessed among women, because she nobly sinks the princess in the woman, the wife, the mother and the friend.
We encroach no farther on your patience, by extending our observations on the subject. And the rather, as a review of the song of Deborah, composed on this memorable occasion, will, if God permit, bring it again before us, and place female genius in our eye, in a new, and not unpleasing point of light; uniting poetic and musical skill to fervent devotion, beroic intrepidity, and prophetic inspiration. A combination how rare, how instructivo, how Bespectable !