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endeavouring to suggest reflections suited to the occasion.
If permitted to advance to a second sabbath in a new year, we shall attempt to resume our accustomed pursuits: If to any, this be the last opportunity of the kind, the solemn farewell is now taken. And kind is that Providence which does not always let us know when we are saying “ finally farewell ;" which permits the bitterness of death to pass before we are sensible it is come. Woe, woe, woe, to the man who is punished with the foresight of the evil that is coming upon him. The exploits of a Deborah and a Barak now live only in the page of history: their song is now to be found only in a few measured words whose rythm is lost, whose sense is obscure, whose spirit is evaporated.
But, my friends, we have this day been commemorating* an event which will never sink in oblivion, never spend its force, never lose its importance. We have this day been carrying on, keeping up the song, which the enraptured shepherds of Bethlehem caught two thousand years ago from a choir of the heavenly host, which is ever pleasing, ever new ; let us again resume it, and teach it to our children. Glory, glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will towards men. Blessing and honour, and glory, and power be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb, forever and ever." Amen. Hallelujah!
HISTORY OF DEBORAH.
JUDGES V. 20, 21.
They fought from heaven : the stars in their courses fought against Sisera. The river of Kishon swept them away, that ancient river, the river Kishon : O my soul, thou hast trodden down strength.
In turning over the hallowed page of inspiration, and contemplating the various revolutions of human affairs which it unfolds, we seem transported to a superiour region; we behold the earthly ball rolling round beneath our feet; we witness the birth, the progress, the dissolution of nations; we learn to correct the prejudices of education, and our narrowness of conception ; we no longer ignorantly admire, nor superciliously despise our fellow-creatures ; we adore the great Father and Lord of all, who " has of one blood formed all nations of men to inhabit upon the face of the whole earth,” and “ whose kingdom ruleth over all. From that elevation, we observe with humble acquiescence and holy joy, the designs of eternal Providence, maturing, and executing themselves ; the individual passing away, but the species permanent; states and kingdoms changing their form, their spirit, their character ; but human nature the same under every government, in every climate, under every sky. We behold regions, and periods, and nations rising into notice, into eminence, into importance, by the talents, the virtues, the address of one man, of one woman; and returning again to obscurity and insignificance, through a defect of wisdom, of public spirit, of exertion.
* In the participation of the Lord's supper.
The history of perhaps no nation exhibits such striking and instructive variety of character and event, as that of the posterity of Abraham. It is interesting in itself, and it is closely connected with the general interests of mankind. That people, through a dispersion of near two thousand years, have preserved an existence. Hated, despised and persecuted by all other nations, they remain unextirpated ; a monument at once of the vengeance and of the care of Heaven: and no unequivocal intimations, from the oracles of truth, hold them up as the objects of eternal Providence, in events of superiour magnitude, yet to take place.
We have followed the successive changes which they underwent, with successive emotions of astonishment, exultation, indignation and sorrow.
And we find them at the defeat of Sisera and his host, in a situation highly critical and interesting. The prophetess Deborah in this celebrated song, goes into a comparative delineation of the respective merit and demerit of the several tribes; and thereby enables us to estimate the particular character of each, at different eras of their political existence. Jacob on his death-bed, and Moses on the wing to depart in his valedictory address, present us with a similar opportunity; of which we are now to avail ourselves, in the twofold view of extending a little our pittance of knowledge of human nature, and increasing our admiration of, and dependence upon, the Divine Providence.
In the dying benediction of Jacob, Judah, his fourth son, and the tribe which should spring from him make a most conspicuous figure. The spirit of prophecy employs every image expressive of power, greatness, plenteousness and duration, to represent the future eminence and superiority of that tribe. In ail the musters which were made of the people during the forty years wandering in the wilderness, and in the distribution of place and station according to divine appointment, in their encampments and removals, we still find Judah excelling in number and strength, and occupying the post of honour. But Moses takes leave of that tribe, with a very slight degree of notice; and in the song of Deborah their name is not so much as mentioned,
any allusion made to any exploit of theirs, in celebrating the triumph of that eventful day. Indeed the spirit and preeminence of Judah seems to have been gradually on the decline, from the days of Caleb, who conquered and dispossessed the sons of Anak; till they were revived, maintained and extended under David and Solomon. And for several centuries, we find this prerogative tribe, which was destined to the lasting honours of royalty and rule, sleeping in oblivion and unimportance with the insignificant tribe of Simeon, which hardly ever achieved any action, or produced any personage worthy of being remembered. Of so much consequence is one man in a tribe, in a nation, in a world.
But the person and tribe the most distinguished in the prophecy of Jacob, and the blessing of Moses, are also the most distinguished in this triumphant anthem. Ephraim, the younger son of Joseph, the beloved son of Jacob, raised by the destination and interposition of high Heaven, to power and precedency over his elder brother. To the exertions of this branch of the house of Joseph, in conjunction with those of Zebulon and Naphtali, the victory now by the blessing of God obtained over the armies of Canaan was chiefly to be ascribed. The spirit of their father Joshua, dead in so many other of the tribes of Israel, is alive in them, and happily is propitious to the common cause.
A severe censure of the conduct of the two tribes and a half beyond the river, is more than insinuated; it is brought directly forward. They are represented as totally lost to all public spirit, and wrapt up in cold selfishness and indifference. Jordan was a kind of defence to them from the Canaanitish foe, and the cries of their oppressed brethren beyond the river are drowned
in the more interesting bleatings of their own flocks. The same spirit of selfishness is represented as pervading the tribes who inhabited the sea coasts, Dan and Asher, and who, subsisting by trade, and absorbed by the love of gain, steeled their hearts to the feelings of sympathy and humanity. Drawing their supplies from the ocean, they forget they have a country; and under the influence of one domineering lust, all the better claims of the human heart, are suppressed and silenced. They pursue their merchandize, as the others attended to their sheep-farms, regardless what their wretched countrymen meanwhile endured. " For the divisions of Reuben there were great thoughts of heart. Why abodest thou among the sheepfolds, to hear the bleatings of the flocks ? For the divisions of Reuben there were great searchings of heart, Gilead abode beyond Jordan: and why did Dan remain in ships? Asher continued on the seashore, and abode in his breaches.”*
Such is the general view of the state of Israel at this period, which the words of Deborah convey. The import of many of the expressions which the prophetess employs to convey her feelings on this occasion, we pretend not to understand or to explain. Is it any wonder that in a poetical composition upwards of three thousand years old, in a language so little studied, referring to a bistory which the outline only is drawn, there should be many things difficult to be understood ? This much is evident upon the face of it, that Israel at that unhappy period exhibited a spectacle, bearing but too near a resemblance to what our own timest have seen dreadfully realized. A whole host of foes, a world in arms, combined to work the downfal of a sinful devoted country. Internal discord, the extinction of public virtue, the dominion of barefaced iniquity--but, the arm of the Lord is revealed, and salvation is wrought.
The picture which the poetess draws of the desperate state of Israelitish affairs is truly affecting; and is a happy preparation for a display of that unexpected and astonishing relief, which had just turned their sorrow into glad
Judah lulled asleep in listless inaction, without exertion, without existence; a fourth part of the national force, on the other side Jordan, careless, tending their flocks; another fourth devoted to their private traffic; the sword of judgement in the feeble hand of a female; confederated kings threatening their utter extirpation ; enemies, numerous, “ strong and lively, and hating them with a cruel hatred ;” what power can dissipate the gathered storm ? That power which says to the roaring ocean, “ Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further, and here shall thy proud waves be stayed.” “ They fought from heaven : the stars in their courses fought against Sisera.”\ Behold all nature engaged in the cause of Israel's God. The heavenly host first take up the quarrel ; angels, legions of “ angels that excel in strength :" "the least of whom could wield these elements.” The most powerful and splendid parts of inanimate nature feel the alarm, and join their influence ; “the stars in their courses. The earth quickly hears the heaven; the waters swell and rage ; Kishon increased, most probably, by the recent dreadful tempest which had fallen from the air, rises suddenly upon them, and, like the Red Sea of old, swallows up, as in a moment, the enemy and the avenger.
There is a singular force and beauty in the repetition of the name of the river, with the addition of the epithet "ancient.” It is natural for men to value themselves on the antiquity of their country, and its cities. It is the fond term which, in the honest pride and exultation of our hearts, we affix to our own land; it seems to confer additional dignity and importance; we associate in the idea, the valour and success of former times; we feel our hearts
* Judges v. 15–17. + Great-Britain embroiled with France, Spain, Holland, America, and an arıned neutrality.
Judges v. 20.
attracted as to a common parent; filial affection and brotherly love revive at the sound. In the enthusiasm of pious and poetical inspiration, she bestows animation and passion on the flood; she represents it as rising in pride and joy, and overflowing its banks, to serve the cause of ancient friends, lying under the rod of insolence and oppression. And the period pathetically closes, with the prophetess, in a single word, apostrophizing herself as the honoured, happy instrument of cooperating with intelligent and animated nature in trampling pride and cruelty into the dust. “O my soul, thou hast trodder down strength."
I have already anticipated much of what I had to say, on the subject of the glowing eulogium which Deborah pronounces on the conduct of ** Jael the wife of Heber.” Permit me only to repeat, that in order to our fully adopting the sentiments of the Israelitish poetess, we must be acquainted with many circumstances of the case, which the conciseness of the sacred history enables us not to discover ; that there is a singularity in the whole conduct and occasion of the business, which forbids it to be drawn into a precedent, and pleaded in ordinary cases as an example or an excuse, that we are to distinguish carefully betwixt the poetic ardour and enthusiasm of a female bard and patriot, and the calm, unimpassioned praise and censure of sound reason, or The deliberate approbation of the God of truth, mercy and justice. We know certainly that God cannot love nor commend perfidy, cruelty or revenge. But he justly may, and often does employ the outrageous passions of one great offender to punish those of another. And that through ignorance, prejudice, or wilful misconception, the wisest of men are very incompetent judges of the ways and works of the Almighty.
The winding up of the sacred poem, suggests the most satisfactory apology for the conduct of Jael and accounts at the same time for the warmth of the strains in which Deborah celebrates that conduct. It is the horrid use which conquerors usually made of victory, to which I allude. The wretched females of the vanquished people fell a prey to the brutal lust of the victors. This was a case so common that 6 the mother of Sisera and her wise ladies" are represented as so lost to feminine delicacy and compassion as remorselessly to exult in the thought of portioning out the virgins of Israel to Sisera and his soldiers, as the mere instruments of a brutal pleasure ; as an article of horrid booty for the lawless plunderer. 66 The mother of Sisera looked out at a window, and cried through the lattice, Why is his chariot so long in coming? why tarry the wheels of his chariots? Her wise ladies answered her, yea, she returned answer to herself, Have they not sped ? have they not divided the prey, to every man a damsel or two? To Sisera a prey of divers colours, a prey of divers colours of needle-work, of divers colours of needlework on both sides, meet for the necks of them that take the spoil ?"* Now, may we not suppose both Jael and Deborah animated with a holy indignation against the intended violators of their sex's modesty and honour, and with a holy joy, on the defeat of their ungracious purpose? May we not innocently suppose a mixture of virtuous female spirit inspiring what the one acted and the other sung? Our pity for the fallen warrior, and his untimely, inglorious fate, must of course abate, when we consider that a righteous and merciful Providence, by whatever means, shortened a life, and stopped a career, which threatened the life, the virtue, the happiness of thousands.
In personifying the character of Sisera's mother and her attendants, Deborah presents us with a happy imitation of a passage in the song of Moses on the triumphant passage of the Red Sea ; where the poet insinuates himself, by a bold figure of eloquence, into the councils of Pharaoh, overhears their
* Judges y. 28--30.
formidable resolutions, and in the close of the scene, rejoices in seeing their counsels, once so much dreaded, turned into foolishness, by the grace and power of Heaven. “ The enemy said, I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil; my lust shall be satisfied upon thein ; I will draw my sword, my hand shall destroy them. Thou didst blow with thy wind, the sea covered them; they sank as lead in the mighty waters."* So here, Deborah brings in the matrons of Canaan as anticipating the fruits of victory, prematurely enjoying the triumph of the subjection of the Israelitish damsels to their own pride, and the pleasure of their warriors; and she inspirits the gratitude and joy of her fair countrywomen, by gently hinting at the dreadful hazard which they had run. This too, of course, diminishes our concern for the cruel disappointment which the mother of Sisera endured, looking and looking, from her window, but still looking in vain for him who was never more to return; expecting and expecting that lingering chariot, which the ancient river Kishon had long ere now swept down its stream : fushed with hope, only to make calamity more bitter. And let that hope be forever blasted, which could be accomplished only by what humanity shudders to think of.
Having thus enjoyed self-gratulation, and called forth the grateful congratulations of her delivered country, and with heroic ardour trampled on disappointed lust, insolence and ambition, she now aims a nobler flight. The world and its transitory interests and employments disappear. The throne of God meets her enraptured eye. Private, personal, national animosity are no more : all, all is lost in the higher, unlimited, unchanging interests of the divine glory " So let all thine enemies perish, O Lord.” This is but a prophetic enunciation of what needs must be. After one revolution bas obliterated another, one mortal interest swallowed another up-after the distinctions of Jew and Gentile, Greek and barbarian, bond and free are lost and forgotten, the honours of the divine justice and mercy shall flourish and prevail. They that are afar from him ; of whatever other name or description, shall perish; and the workers of iniquity shall be destroyed.
But the pious leader of the heavenly theme, as if unwilling to shut up her song with an idea so gloomy as the awful displeasure of the great God against his adversaries, relieves herself and us, by taking up the more encouraging view of the favour of Jehovah to his friends, and thus she fervently breathes out her soul ; " But let them that love him, be as the sun when he goeth forth in his might."
Next to the great Lord of nature himself, who is,
- to us invisible, Or dimly seen, in these his lowest works;
that glorious creature of his power, the sun, is the most striking and impressive of all objects. And poets of every description have enriched and ennobled their compositions by allusions to the glorious orb of day, " of this great world the eye and soul,” as the brightest inanimate image of Deity here below, the fountain of light, the dispenser of vital warmth, the parent of joy. The inspired sacred writers have likewise happily employed it to represent the most glorious animated image of God in our world, a wise and good man
going from strength to strength ;” shining as a light in a dark place; silently, without expectation of return, without upbraiding, in an unceasing revolution of diffusing happiness : aiming at resemblance to his Creator by becoming a god to his fellow-creatures. It is thus that Deborah concludes her song; with a warm effusion of faith, and hope, and desire, that righteousness might
** Exod. xv. 9, 10.