Scripture Sketches.

22. Deborah.

1894 157 The sins of Israel had brought them once more into the bondage of the Canaanites, who treated them with exceptional severity — contrasted with the comparatively mild and wise rule of their previous conquerors, the Philistines. The highways, Deborah says, were deserted: the inhabitants cowered and slunk through the by-ways to hide themselves from the brutal Sisera and his troops, who seem from Judges 5:30, etc., to have been of the type of "Kirke's lambs" or the infamous Mérode's brigade of the original "marauders." In this extremity God raised up Deborah as a prophetess who, assisted by Barak, a cool, steady, able soldier, took up His people's cause.

When a woman becomes prominent in public affairs our sense of "the proprieties" is apt to be shocked. We do not greatly admire "the long-haired men and the short-haired women." The phrase is Dr. Holmes' (and a very good one), but the idea is as old at least as the Epistle to the Corinthians. The excellent lady whose voice is so weighty in "society" informs her friends that she never could do such a thing (which is, indeed, true), and that this woman is "simply seeking notoriety" (which is often very untrue); for women like Deborah are mostly forced — called by God or by urgent providential circumstances — into the position which they take, and are often glad to retire from it when their work is done. There was no man in France that could do what Joan of Arc did to regain the independence of that country; and when her mission was accomplished, she apparently wished to retire into privacy: that an exacting popularity prevented her, and a cruel bigotry destroyed her, was not her fault. It was when there was no one else to lead the ancient Britons that Queen Boadicea led them against their Roman oppressors. Of course that is not always the case. But if there be times such as those we are considering of national convulsion and universal crisis, we must not be surprised to see strange and abnormal things occur. God will in providence or in grace take up whatsoever instrument He chooses, — the younger son Jacob instead of Esau, the wife Priscilla instead of Aquila — and in this His sovereign power is made known. We are reminded that none of us have any claim to the posts of honour in His service; and we do well when we abstain from in any way discouraging, but, on the contrary, recognise, countenance, and so far as we consistently can, assist those, whosoever they may be, whom He raises to any important work.

Deborah had that insight in selecting men for important posts which characterised the English Elizabeth so highly. She sends for Barak, a brave, able, prudent chief who was precisely the man for an emergency. It is true that he had not much faith, but his lack of faith was compensated (so far as that is possible) by increase of caution: for though these two qualities may very well exist together, yet if a man have little faith, he urgently needs much caution. Thus when Deborah, in a characteristically vigorous and peremptory way, requires him to lead the army against Sisera, he says that he will go if she go with him, — not unless. He does not mind imperilling his life at her proposal, but she must come too and commit herself to the enterprise. She replies that she will go, but that he will lose the chief honour by making such a request. Very good. That consideration would not weigh much with a man like Barak: so far from feeling any jealousy, he voluntarily joins in Deborah's eulogy of Jael when the battle is over. Sometimes a man gets the more honour by surrendering the glory of an achievement to another, as Outram did, when in a chivalrous courtesy he surrendered the command of the army of relief to Havelock and served as a volunteer under him at Lucknow.

Barak leads forth the gallant men of the north country: — men of Zebulon, "expert in war, which could keep rank, not of a double heart;" and of Naphtali, of the hind's feet and "goodly words." The Canaanitish host is enormous, nine hundred war-chariots in front, Sisera, cruel as the Austrian Wallenstein, in the van; but, as Alaric said to the Romans, "The thicker the grass, the easier it is mown." God was not "on the side of the big battalions" that day. The stars in their courses fight against Sisera. The hosts join battle. The phalanx of iron chariots is broken by the valiant warriors of Zebulon and Naphtali. Sisera leaps down and flies. The Canaanites are mightily overthrown. "The river of Kishon swept them away, that ancient river, the river of Kishon...!

We should not expect to find the more delicate feminine instincts developed much in Deborah's position and circumstances. The times called for the more masculine ones; and whether possessed by a man or a woman, they were equally valuable to the nation. In some few women of this type, however, the softer and gentler features of character were highly developed, — as in her of Orleans. In Elizabeth there seem to have been none at all. In Deborah the sense of them was present, but peculiarly inverted by the horrible circumstances through which the nation had been passing, if we may judge from Judges 5:8.


>Scripture Sketches.

>23. Deborah's Song.

1894 169 The splendid triumphal song of Deborah "stirs the blood like the sound of a trumpet." In the vehemence, and high ardent fire of its enthusiasm, it is entirely characteristic of the woman. It has all the martial clank of Anne Askew's "Like as an armied knight." But none of the forgiving christian spirit which characterizes the closing lines of the modern martyr's poem is to be found in Deborah's, — quite the reverse. All the fierce wrath of the Marseillaise and the Ca ira pales before it. How she extols Zebulon and Naphtali and the princes and tribes who came to the struggle! With what a scathing and withering satire does she depict the ever vacillating Reuben sitting on the fence with his "heart-searchings" by the "water-courses!" Then with what a solemn and awful denunciation does she rise and curse Meroz: — "Curse ye bitterly the inhabitants thereof; because they came not to the help of Jehovah, — to the help of "Jehovah against the mighty"!

This is very important: Meroz had done nothing, and yet they were bitterly cursed. They are cursed because they had done nothing; nothing! while their brethren were grappling in death-struggle on the high places of the field to save the testimony of God from destruction. She will not curse Reuben, for he does take some concern in the conflict; he had his "heart-searchings"; and, doubtless, only that it always took him so long to come to a conclusion, he would have been in the battle; for his sympathies were usually in the right direction, and he was no coward. (But that was always the way with poor Reuben; just when he made his mind up what to do, and got down from the fence to start, he would meet the other people coming back from the fight; and then they would have the ill-breeding to laugh at him, — it was really very annoying!)

But Meroz was in the centre of the seat of a war which was being waged on behalf of God's work, and in which its own existence was involved. There was some palliation of the inaction of Gilead and others — though they are rebuked, — for they were not locally implicated; but none whatever for Meroz which was in the thick of the responsibility, yet with a base and selfish cowardice left the labour and the danger to others, whilst content to benefit by the results. Meroz was as much worse than Reuben as the callous Pilate was worse than the timid Nicodemus.

People who take this neutral attitude in a great crisis get a reputation with shallow-minded persons for sagacity and impartiality; but Solon knew them: he ordered them to be put to death. And Deborah, who knew them through and through — that their sagacity is cowardice and their impartiality is heartless indifference — curses them with the fierce and scornful hatred that such a nature as hers feels toward all that is vile and despicable.

It is not intended to suggest that Christians must take sides in every controversy which arises. Ninety-nine out of every hundred disputes are best left alone, when they will quietly die out. But in a case like this, where the issue is directly between God and Satan, between Christ and Belial, if they hold aloof from identifying themselves with the right cause — whether actively or passively, prominently or subordinately, — they adopt the course of Meroz. If, for instance, we live in a time when all the fundamental doctrines of Christianity are being assailed, those who stand indifferently by are traitors to their Lord.

The difficulties which are so often found in regard to Deborah's song disappear when we observe that the inspired author expressly states that it is Deborah's song, — "then sang Deborah" — and gives no hint that the song itself was inspired, though of course the record of it is. Those who believe in the verbal and literal inspiration of Scripture, whilst believing that the whole book is authentic and inspired by God, yet recognise that many of the persons whose words are there (divinely) recorded were untruthful speakers, and of course what they said was often false and in no way sanctioned by the Holy Ghost who recorded their utterances. Or they may have been good men who said things, wise or unwise, to which however we must be careful not to give the same place of authority as we give to the inspired Scripture in which it is contained. This is no "new" doctrine. It is what, I suppose, all hold who keep the "orthodox" views of inspiration, but who have sufficient thought to remember that when we have, for instance, Judas Iscariot or Satan speaking, we are not to take what they say as inspired, though the record of the fact that they thus spoke 'is inspired.

All this would seem obvious enough, yet it seems necessary to argue it; for advantage is given to opponents continually by its being loosely said that the Scripture says this or that, when really it only says that such a person said it. How often do we hear people assert that the Bible says, "Stolen waters are sweet," when the fact is that so far from that, the Scripture says that a wicked woman said it! Mr. Jay preached from Job ii. 4, "All that a man hath will he give for his life." When the sermon was printed, by a mistake of one letter, the word "life" was changed to "wife." Jay wrote in the margin that that depended upon circumstances. It however depends no more upon circumstances than the original statement does; for it was the devil who was speaking, and this was one of those half-truths which are worse than whole lies. Millions of men have refused to give up their principles to save their lives; and Job, himself, proved the falsity of so cynical a statement.

But Deborah was a prophetess: would not then whatever is recorded of her sayings be inspired? Not necessarily: Moses was a prophet; yet we are told when he said, "Hear now, ye rebels," that he spake unadvisedly with his lips. Paul was a prophet, yet he had to recall his language when he learned that it was the High priest whom he was speaking to. We have generally some indication when the servants of God claimed to speak by inspiration; and there is no such indication in regard to Judges 5. The Holy Ghost records that Deborah and Barak sang these things, but in no way puts sanction on all that they say, — such as the very natural, but somewhat savage, way in which they eulogize all the details of Jael's heroic treachery, and rejoice over the anticipated horror of Sisera's mother, watching for his home coming whilst he was lying dead in Jael's tent with a tent pin nailing his head to the floor.

Jael did a great service to Israel no doubt — the precise reverse of Meroz, for she was not locally implicated. But if her action is praised, this does not necessarily imply that the manner of carrying out that action is approved. It was wholly treacherous, and the excuses of those who say that any deception is fair in war do not apply; for Jael's people were not at war with Sisera — unless she identified herself with Israel. Had she taken a more straightforward course with faith in God, she would have been equally successful. She took her own course, however, and rid the earth of as great a monster as Charlotte Corday did. When King George praised and welcomed Warren Hastings for his great success in India, nobody ever accused him of approving of all Hastings' actions, such as his prompting As-ul-Dowlah to rob his own mother; nor when the English parliament passed a resolution of eulogy on Clive for his meritorious services in the east, did anyone suggest that it put its sanction on his forgery of Watson's name to the treaty with Omichund. This principle may be applied in a dangerous way, I am aware; but it is none the less true and important in understanding such passages as that which has been before us.