« VorigeDoorgaan »
thirty-four years later than the former, and one hundred and ninety-four years than the latter of these sacred compositions; but it is four hundred and ten years older than Homer, the great father of heathen poesy. From its high antiquity, therefore, were there nothing else to recommend it to notice, it is most respectable; but from its antiquity and the very nature of poetical composition, it must of necessity be, in some respects, involved in difficulty and obscurity. This we pretend not wholly to clear up or remove. Instead then of making an attempt in which we should probably, perhaps certainly fail, we shall satisfy ourselves with pointing out a few of the more obvious and striking beauties of a piece, which all will allow to contain many and shining excellencies.
The inscription of this hymn of praise, first challenges our notice. "Then sang Deborah, and Barak the son of Abinoam, on that day, saying." In exhibiting the character and conduct of this truly estimable woman, the feminine delicacy and reserve are never dropped. As a ruler and a prophetess she is introduced, under her relative character of the wife of Lapidoth. As the leader of armies to battle, and leader in the musical choir which celebrated the victories of her country, she is represented as the companion and coadjutrix of Barak, the son of Abinoam. She was undoubtedly the first woman of her own, perhaps of any age; but her consequence, in place of being diminished, is increased and supported by the blending of private, personal worth and ability, with the relations of social life, those of wife, mother and friend.
Adam might exist a little while in paradise, before Eve was formed, but nature, and reason, and religion, all seem to declare, that woman can neither comfortably nor reputably subsist, separated from that side whence she was originally taken. Who will deny that the superiority in point of discretion and understanding is frequently on the side of the female? But a woman forfeits all pretension to that very superiority, the moment she assumes or boasts of it. Whether, therefore, it were Deborah's own good sense, and female modesty, which preferred appearing in a connected, to appearing in a solitary state, though more flattering to vanity or whether the Spirit of God, in representing the most elevated of female geniuses in the most elevated of situations, thought proper to point her out as connected and dependent; the same lesson of moderation, diffidence, delicacy and condescension is powerfully inculcated and her sex is instructed where their true dignity, safety, honour and comfort lie.
The time is marked, when this triumphant anthem was first composed and sung. "On that day.' It had been a day of danger, anxiety and fatigue: a day of vengeance upon the insulting foe, a day of mutual congratulation and rejoicing; but ill had Israel deserved such a victory, and shamefully had Deborah improved it, if either the emotions of joy or of revenge had excluded those of gratitude and love. The tongue of Deborah, like the pen of a ready writer, dictates "acceptable words" to the thousands of her people; she cannot think of repose, till the evening sacrifice of praise be offered up, and from the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaketh. The day which the arm of Omnipotence had distinguished by wonders of mercy, must not be concluded without songs of deliverance. From "the confused noise of the warrior, and garments rolled in blood," the soul turns with holy joy, to the acknowledgement of that "right hand and holy arm which had gotten them the victory:" and in one solemn " praise ye the Lord" bursting at once from every tongue, every redeemed Israelite calls upon himself and upon his fellow to give unto JEHOVAH the glory due unto his name.
* Judges iv. 1.
Here the song naturally begins, by this it must be supported and in this it must terminate. All creatures, all events point out "Him first, Him last, Him midst, and without end." "Praise ye the Lord."
But, religion is "a reasonable service.' The divine essence we do not, we cannot know ; "the invisible things of God," even "his eternal power and deity," are to be discovered only "by the things which he has made," and the things which he doth. Here then the spirit of praise immediately fixes, and the recent interposition of a gracious Providence rises instantly into view: his" avenging of Israel," in which Jehovah is acknowledged as at once just and merciful: just, in recompensing tribulation to them that troubled his covenanted church and people; merciful in giving his troubled people rest.
Vengeance; the vengeance of God! Fearful thought! but oh, it is sweetly relieved, by the reflection, that the right of executing vengeance, is claimed by the God of mercy, with awful propriety, as his own. This dreadful thunder no arm but his own must presume to wield; Vengeance is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord." If I must be punished, "let me fall now into the hand of the LORD, for his mercies are great: and let me not fall into the hand of a man." The only vengeance permitted to man is a vengeance of kindness and forgiveness; the only coals which he must scatter, are the coals of the fire of love. "If thine enemy hunger, feed him, if he thirst, give him drink:" "Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good." "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you: that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust."*
The voluntary actions of the people in "offering themselves" to fight their own battles, are with singular beauty ascribed to the wisdom and goodness of God who has the "hearts of all in his hand," and can "turn them which way soever he will." He who could have saved by miracles, will save by means. If there be a spirit of concord to resist the common enemy, it is of the LORD. If internal dissension aid the enemy without, we behold a righteous God infatuating those whom he means to destroy.
Having thus simply proposed the glorious subject of her praise, "the sweet enthusiast" prepares to unfold and amplify it. She throws her eyes over the face of the whole earth: views all nations and their potentates, as interested in the glowing theme; and summons an admiring world to listen to her song. "Hear, O ye kings: give ear, O ye princes: I, even I, will sing unto the Lord; I will sing praise to the Lord God of Israel."+ What so delightful to a grateful and affectionate heart, as the enumeration of benefits received! What benefactor once to be compared with the Giver of all good, "the Father of lights, from whom cometh down every good gift, and every perfect!"
Having proposed her theme and summoned her august audience, the divine poetess seems to pause for a moment, as if awed by the presence of such a splendid audience, and overwhelmed with the magnitude of the task she has undertaken, and with renovated strength aims her flight, like the eagle, up to her native skies. The deliverance of that day brings former wonders of mercy to mind; and "God, the same yesterday, to-day and forever, is seen and adored in all. Instead of expatiating on the goodness of the Most High in strains addressed to the "kings and princes" whom she had called to attend, she rises at once to " JEHOVAH's awful throne," loses all sense of created majesty, and loses herself in the contemplation of infinite perfection. "Lord,
* Matt. v. 44, 45.
+ Judges v. 3.
when thou wentest out of Seir, when thou marchedst out of the field of Edom, the earth trembled, and the heavens dropped, the clouds also dropped water. The mountains melted from before the Lord, even that Sinai from before the Lord God of Israel."*
The former part of this animated address probably refers to that passage in the history of Israel which we have in the book of Numbers, chap. xx. relating to the passage of Israel through the land of Idumea, which was humbly and peaceably solicited, and unkindly refused. Of this, some particulars might have been preserved by tradition to the times of Deborah, though not admitted into the sacred canon, and suggested to her the lofty expressions which she here employs in celebrating the praises of Israel's God. Though he would not permit them to force a passage by the sword, through the country given to the posterity of Esau their brother, yet in guiding them round the confines of Idumea, in the majestic symbol of his presence, the pillar of cloud and fire, the great God might by some sensible tokens, make Edom to know, it was not from want of power, but of inclination, that he led his people in a circuitous course. The language of the prophetess, divested of its bold figurative dress is simply this, "The wonders of this day, O Lord, recal and equal the greatest wonders of ages past. We have seen the stars in their courses fighting against our enemies, as our fathers of old saw mountain and plain, heaven and earth, giving testimony to the presence and favour of the God of Israel. The field of Edom and the vale of Kishon are equally filled with the glory of the Lord. We recognize in the hand which has discomfited the host of Sisera, the same almighty power which restrained the Idumean, and conducted our ancestors, if not the nearest, certainly the best road to Canaan."
The latter part of the address evidently refers to the awful solemnity with which the law was given from Mount Sinai; in which all nature, without a figure, bare witness to the presence and power of nature's God. "The earth trembled, the hills melted with wax," the face of heaven was covered with blackness of darkness, lightning flashed, the hoarse thunder roared, the louder and more dreadful voice of the Eternal drowned its tremendous sound, men's hearts fail them for fear, Moses quakes.
What matter of joy to Israel, that he who of old had thus revealed his fiery law, that day, that very day had come riding on the swift wings of the wind for their salvation! To fix these emotions of rising gratitude and wonder, the bard dexterously and imperceptibly slides into a review of the recent distress and misery of her unhappy country; distress yet fresh in every one's memory, misery out of which they were just beginning to emerge and she takes occasion to pay a just tribute of respect to the memory of a great man, whom God had honoured to be the instrument of redemption to an oppressed people.
Those who are themselves the most deserving of praise, are ever the most liberal in bestowing it, where it is due. It is a slender and contemptible merit which seeks to shine by obscuring, concealing, or diminishing the worth of another. Deborah is but the more estimable, for the frank and unreserved commendation which she confers on departed or contemporary virtue and talents. "In the days of Shamgar, the son of Anath, in the days of Jael, the highways were unoccupied, and the travellers walked through by-ways. The inhabitants of the villages ceased, they ceased in Israel, until that I Deborah arose, that I arose a mother in Israel."+ What a melancholy picture have we here of a ruined, wretched country? By means of oppression, all intercourse is interrupted; commerce is languishing to death; life and property
* Judges v. 4, 5.
+ Judges v. 6, 7.
have become insecure: every thing dear to man is at the mercy of a haughty tyrant; ever exposed to the ravages of a lawless band of armed ruffians; the scanty and dejected inhabitants tremble at the sound of their own feet, at the sight of their own shadow; behold them skulking from place to place, stealing through by-ways, to carry on a starved and precarious traffic; suffering much, and fearing worse.
Ah, little do we reflect, living at our ease, enjoying the blessings of mild and equitable government, "sitting every one under his vine, and under his figtree, while there is none to make us afraid:" little do we reflect on the misery and tears of myriads of our fellow-creatures oppressed, and there is none to help them; whose cry incessantly rises up to heaven, but rises in despair. Think what multitudes of the bold and hardy Africans are yearly driven or trepanned into servitude, through the violence or craft of their own countrymen, or, through the more fierce and unrelenting principle of European avarice, which has reduced slavery to a system, has invented an article of commerce which God and nature abhor, and concur to prohibit; and what is the subject of the infamous, impious traffic? the souls and bodies of
Who can turn his eyes, without weeping tears of blood, to the fertile soil, clement air, and the simple, harmless inhabitants of the eastern world, and observe the gifts of nature perverted into a curse, the goodness of Providence thwarted by the cursed lust of power, or more cursed lust of wealth, and the patient, uncomplaining Asiatic, perishing for hunger, in his own luxuriant domain and the Ganges disgorging millions of fetid corpses into the ocean, the corpses of wretches who died for lack of food, to purchase for a still greater wretch an empty title, and a seat among the lawgivers of the wisest, most polished and humane of the nations of the western world.
Look to the thin and scanty remains of the populous and prosperous nations of the southern hemisphere, and a land whose veins are gold and its mountains silver, of which Spanish cruelty and avarice have been constrained to make a desert, in order to secure the possession of it. Behold the sullen, dejected native trampling under his feet gold and diamonds, which he dare not put forth his hand to touch; and reproaching Heaven with heaping upon him in its anger, treasures which have attracted, not the pious zeal and attention, but the infernal rage, of men who nevertheless dare to call themselves christians.
Behold yet again-No, I sicken at the horrid prospect-and will no longer encroach upon the feelings of humanity, by exhibiting the more than savage barbarity of systematic cruelty and oppression. God of mercy, put a speedy end to these horrors! assert thy offspring into liberty, the glorious liberty of the sons of God. Let us return to the sweet mistress of Israelitish song; I see her warm, and rise into native, conscious worth and importance: and honour the lovely pride, the honest vanity of the female patriot. "The inhabitants of the villages ceased, they ceased in Israel, until that I Deborah arose, that I arose a mother in Israel."* If ever there were ability, if ever there were services, if ever there were an occasion, which could warrant selfpraise, it was the ability, the public services of Deborah, and the glorious occasion on which she wrote and sung. Shew me such exertions for the public good, and let a man, let a woman be as vain as they will, and let affected humility and self-denial say what they will, it is an honourable and. laudable ground of glorying that God has made us the means of conveying happiness to others. But occasions of doing justice to eminent, public female worth so seldom occur, that I must reserve to myself the pleasure of accompanying
this great woman, this more than princess, through the remainder of her song, in another Lecture.
-Men and brethren, we are furnished with a much more noble subject of praise a subject which angels delight to celebrate in celestial strains-a subject which carries us back into the eternal counsels of peace "before the world was," which carries us forward to the grand consummation, when "time shall be no longer;" when "the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads:" when
they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” Need I point out the era, christians, and the spot, and the performers, and the audience, or repeat the words of the lofty theme?-"There were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling-clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God, in the highest, and on earth peace, good will towards men. 21* Here are celebrated, not the transient interests of a petty tribe, the momentary triumph of the oppressed, and the downfal of the oppressor; not events which have long ago spent all their force, and left no trace behind; but the broad, unbounded, permanent interests of mankind; thriumph of "the love of Christ which passeth knowledge;" of "the peace of God which passeth all understanding;" events which extend their influence into eternity. We celebrate "the praises of Him, who hath called us out of darkness into his marvellous light"—of God, who "so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."+-Of "Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen."‡ Of Him "who, through death, has destroyed him that had the power of death, that is the devil." The burden of the christian's song is, "Salvation," salvation begun, going on, ready to be accomplished. "The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign forever and ever."S
The song of Deborah exhibits awful distinctions between man and man, between nation and nation; presents a mystery of Providence, which human understanding endeavours in vain to trace in the song of the redeemed of the Lord, all distinction is abolished; it presents a mystery of grace which "angels desire to look into ;" it is in full harmony sung, by those who have
come from the east and from the west, from the south and from the north, and have sat down with Abraham and Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of God:" where the spirit of this world finds no place, and its differences are absorbed of the "spirit of love: where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free; but Christ is all, and in all." Let these reflections be practically improved, in conformity to the apostolic exhortation, by our daily learning to put on, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; forbearing one another, and forgiving one another-and above all these things, put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts."
Luke ii. 8-14,
+John iii. 16.
Rev. i. 5, 6.
§ Rev. xi. 15.