« PreviousContinue »
length, friends are constrained to abandon in despair. Well has Nehemiah, their countryman, described this character, and displayed the patience and long-suffering 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 deliverest them into the hand of their enemies, who vexed them and in the time of their trouble, when they cried unto thee, thon heardest 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 heardest 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 judgments, which if a man do, he shall live in them; and withdrew the shoulder, and hardened their neck, and would not hear, Yet many years didst thou forbear them, and testifiedst against them by thy 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," Neh. ix. 25....81.
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 duration, and the violence of their oppressor, we must conclude it to have been uncommonly grievous: for the Lord sold them into the haud of Jabin king of Canaan, part of whose formidable host consisted of nine hundred chariots 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 partakers of our woe.
Hope seems quite extinguished in Israel. Not one man of cominon 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 avenging 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 judgment, deserted by masculine virtue and ability, is honorably and usefully filled by feminine sensibility, discernment, honesty and zeal. "And Deborah a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, she judged Israel at that time," Judges iv. 4. 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 judgment," Judges iv. 5. Behold a female mind exalted above the pageantry and pride of external appearance; not deriving consequence from the splendor 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 judgment the law and the testimony of the living God: her motive, the inspiration of the Almighty; 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 dia. dem!
But alas! what availeth the most upright and im partial administration of justice, among a people enslaved in the extreme, groaning under a foreign yoke, holding liberty, property and life, by the wretched te nure of a tyrant's caprice? the ardent soul of Debo rah 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, and 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 delivered 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 labor, 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 nine hundred chariots of iron as a 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;
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 co-operate with the influence of over-ruling 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 observe 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 tenderness, but of the most undaunted intrepidity. "A bear bereaved of her whelns." is not more fierce