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THE THANKSGIVING SONG OF THE REDEEMED CHURCH.—Judges 5:1-11
CRITICAL NOTES.—The subject matter of this song is an ascription of praise to the God of Israel, as the Deliverer of His people in an evil day. While many hands were at work to bring out the happy issue, all the glory is reckoned to be due to Jehovah; or, if others are mentioned, it is as being instruments in His hand. This is the uniform manner of Scripture; hence the tone of piety which marks all its histories and meditations alike.
The definite purpose of the ode is, to express the gratitude which Israel owes to its God, for granting so sudden and complete a deliverance from the calamity, which had weighed down the spirit of the nation for twenty years, and had at last become so oppressive that it threatened to extinguish their name from the list of nations in the earth. This expression of gratitude is made in the form of a commemoration of God’s goodness, such as might live for the benefit of after ages; for no monument is so sure of preservation, or is of such wide-spread publicity, as that of a poem written with much warmth of feeling and beauty of style by an ardent, enthusiastic spirit, that feels devoutly thankful to God for His great mercies to His covenant people.
The time selected for raising this hymn of praise to Jehovah was at the moment of victory—after the work was done, and ere the people had retired to their homes. It was said to be sung “on that day,” not literally so, but before the occasion had passed, and in immediate connection with the great deliverance—while the flush of victory still mantled the cheek, while every heart was a-glow with gratitude, and while every tongue was attuned to song. Delay cools down; indeed it indicates that the feeling is not irrepressible (2 Chronicles 20:26; Isaiah 38:9-22; Luke 1:64-79).
Poetry is selected as the fitting form, in which to give expression to the adoration and thanksgiving so due to God on such an occasion. It better accords with the exultation of the national heart, and those glowing conditions of soul which are kindled by the sense of a newly-won deliverance. Prose usually moves within a fixed frame-work of rules, and partakes somewhat of the coldness and stiffness of artificialism; while poetry, spurning the trammels of art, rises up to a sphere of its own, where natural instincts are the only guide, and where the utterance is prompted by a fervid state of the feelings. The freedom of the poet is the freedom of the eagle, now moving along the smiling fields, now soaring in mid-heaven at pleasure; at one time frequenting the picturesque valley, at another wandering at will among the frowning crags, or dark mountain gorges. But while inspiration may often more fitly express itself in poetic than in other forms of speech, it would be wide of the mark indeed to identify the one with the other in any way whatever. The mountains are higher than the plains, but we never commit the mistake of identifying the highest mountains with the height of the stars. Human inspiration and Divine inspiration are separated by an immense interval. The former often appears in the form of poetical conception and expression, and is identical with it; the latter never so. Of the former there is very little in chaps. 3 and 4, while Judges 5:0 is full of it; but all the chapters in the Book are pervaded by the latter.
The order of thought in the chapter seems to be as follows:—First, comes a general announcement of the subject of song in Judges 5:2. The song itself is then divided into three sections, each containing three strophes, and each strophe consists of three verses. Thus section first extends from Judges 5:3-11 inclusive—the spirit of which is, to show the immense value of the victory which had been gained, as bringing back the ancient glory of the sacred nation. The first strophe (Judges 5:3-5) refers to the happy times of old when Israel was acknowledged before the whole earth as the chosen nation of the living God. This was a fact never to be forgotten; and hence it forms the prelude in almost every sacred hymn that was sung by that people in all their generations. This is attested by the whole Book of Psalms. The second strophe (Judges 5:6-8), in a few graphic touches, shows how far the nation had sunk from its former pitch of prosperity. And strophe third (Judges 5:9-11) glances at the state of liberty and of peace that would now be enjoyed by the people in the transactions of daily life, as contrasted with the terror to which they had been so long subjected. After a pause, section second begins at Judges 5:13-21, and presents us with a vivid account of the actors in the battle, and the means by which victory was decided for Israel. The first strophe describes the enthusiastic assembly of the good men and true who gathered themselves together to fight the Lord’s battle (Judges 5:13-15). In strophe second is set forth the faint-heartedness of those who would risk nothing in fighting such a battle (Judges 5:16-18). And the third strophe (Judges 5:19-21) describes the forces of the enemy, and the mighty powers by which they were overwhelmed. Section third (Judges 5:23-30) describes the dreadful fate of those who are opposed to God in battle, beginning with the frustration of hopes, and ending in utter ruin. First, a curse is pronounced on the men of indecision (Judges 5:23); next the enemy meets with death where he expected protection to life (Judges 5:24-27); and finally, a contrast is drawn between high expectations formed, and bitter experiences reaped (Judges 5:28-30). The expression of a wish that all God’s enemies would so perish (that is, the stubborn and impenitent) concludes the chapter.
Judges 5:1. Then sang Deborah and Barak, etc.] Not equally, or together. The verb for “sang” is singular, and of feminine gender. Deborah was a “prophetess,” and the mainspring of the whole movement. We may naturally suppose that she composed this beautiful lyric hymn, which is indeed full of the same force and fire that we see in the other glimpses of this remarkable woman’s character. Indeed the hymn itself indicates its authorship (see Judges 5:3; Judges 5:7; Judges 5:12). But Barak is associated with Deborah in the work of thanksgiving, for he, though guided by her, was yet the chief actor, and also represented the victorious host. A similar case occurs in Numbers 12:1, where Miriam and Aaron are said to have spoken together against Moses; but Miriam took the lead in this opposition, and Aaron merely went along. Hence the verb is singular and feminine. So it is here (תָּשַׁר). Deborah, with probably a number of female choristers, would begin the song, while Barak, with a company of men-singers, would respond, or sing the antistrophe, as in Exodus 15:1-21. There may have been a choir of priests and Levites, or the whole congregation may have joined in the exercise, returning to Mount Tabor for the purpose before dispersing to their homes. They had had no jubilee like it for at least twenty years. Every heart was full, and the difficulty was for anyone to be silent on such an occasion. And not only then, but the whole year round, every home in Israel would daily resound with similar strains of joy and gratitude.
A vast importance attaches to this song, because it was to be preserved among the treasured archives of the nation, and to be taught to the children’s children for many generations. Thus it would not only be a permanent memorial of God’s mighty acts on behalf of His people, but would form part of the public instruction of the nation for many ages, and so would assist in moulding the characters of myriads of minds, so that those who were not yet created should in due time praise the Lord. This truth is exemplified by the whole Book of Psalms.
That such a composition should have had its birth in such a declining age is indeed a marvel. We do indeed believe in its proper inspiration; for if it were not inspired, why should it form an integral part of the Book of Judges, and why should the Book of Judges form part of the Canon of Scripture—to which the Saviour Himself set His seal by so frequently referring to it as the sacred Word of God. Yet the literary beauty of the style is not altogether due to the Spirit of inspiration. In the act of inspiration, we believe, that the matter to be communicated to the world, through the medium of a particular human mind as the organ, is communicated by the Divine Spirit, but there is no interference with the natural organisation of that mind, its individual characteristics, or even the measure of its natural gifts, or educational accomplishments. The Spirit communicates the truth through that mind precisely in the way in which it is natural for it to express itself. Hence though even the language we believe to be inspired, it is language selected in the style of the mind that is inspired. Thus the language that dropped from the pen of a David, or an Isaiah, was that of the poet, for it was natural for these men to write poetically. Again, the language employed in the Books of “Kings” and “Chronicles” was natural to such a man as Ezra, or whoever may have been the author of the Books—one accustomed to deal with records, and conversant with facts and figures. In like manner, Deborah was not made a poetess for this particular occasion, and the gift withdrawn immediately on the completion of the ode. Rather do we regard her as having been a poetess by natural gifts and the proper cultivation of them; and in this ode we see the appropriate exercise of those gifts. We are not to suppose that the style here used was in any degree essentially different from what was natural to her. It was Deborah speaking, and not another mind created for the moment under her form; but it was the highest form of Deborah’s style.
If such a style were natural to Deborah, it is wonderful to meet with such a degree of literary refinement in an age, which is generally reputed to have been so barbarous and rude. Such regularity of accents, such harmony of cadences, and such attention to quantities, render this composition one of the most beautiful specimens of rhythm we have on record. It has all the perfection of art, yet all the freedom of nature—no fetter, yet perfect beauty. Cassel says, “There is no want of finish; but the pauses subordinate themselves to the thoughts, and these unfold themselves free as the waves. The peculiar character of the song consists of the boldness of its imagery, and the force of its unusual language—the most interesting feature being its alliteration, which appears in the highest development, as in the old Norse poems.” We might add, that it is also distinguished by its abrupt transitions and impassioned appeals, by its apostrophising both of the absent and the present, by its quick seizure of the salient features of the scene, and the dramatically vivid picture it presents, both of occurrences and of persons.
Judges 5:2. Praise ye the Lord for the avenging of Israel, etc.] The order in the original is more emphatic—“for the avenging of the avenges of Israel, when the people willingly offered themselves—Praise ye Jehovah!” This is a statement of the subject matter of the poem. The key-note is here pitched. The spirit of the meaning, according to our translation, seems to be, “for the rolling back on the heads of the enemy the long series of injuries which God’s Israel had received from them—Praise ye Jehovah.” Many find fault with this sentiment, as being not in accordance with the spirit even of the Old Testament, and try to bring a different meaning out of the words. The difficulty lies in the rendering of the phrase פְרָֹע פְּרָעוֹת. Gesenius takes it from an Arabic root, signifying “to lead.” So also does the Alexandrian MSS of the Sept. and some modern interpreters, as Bertheau, Ewald, etc. They accordingly make it, “for the bold leading of the leaders, as well as for the willing offering of themselves by the people. Praise Jehovah!” This is a just idea in itself, but it does not express the ultimate sentiment of the song, which refers to what was done, and not merely the manner of doing it. Besides this is not the direct meaning of the word פְּרָע, which originally refers to the hair of the head, and especially to the long waving hair, as in Ezekiel 44:20. Keil takes this sense of the word, but gives to the meaning an unexpected turn by saying, that as luxuriant hair is the sign of strength, so “the hairy ones” mentioned here mean “the strong in Israel showed themselves strong.” The champions in the fight went forth before the others bravely. This is a very free translation indeed, and is scarcely adopted by any others. Cassel makes the word signify “to make loose,” or to “become wild,” as when the hair flies wild and loose about the neck. The person who made a vow of consecration to God was directed to let his hair grow (Numbers 6:5); and the loose waving of his hair in the wind was a visible proof of his having devoted himself to the service of God. This, he says, applies to the whole army of Barak, who all wildly waved their hair in token of their entire consecration to Him. The praise was due for the appearance of so many persons with long locks to fight the battle of their God. He renders it “That in Israel wildly waved the hair—In the people’s self-devotion—Praise God.” This view also seems to be more ingenious than accurate. The most natural view seems to us to be that given in the authorised version. The head is uncovered, and the hair gets loose and disordered, when one is greatly agitated with some strong feeling—especially that of resentment for great injuries received. It is this condition of the hair that is here indicated by the word פְּרָע, and when its plural goes along with it, it means the highest degree, or the fullest measure of vengeance was taken on behalf of Israel. The plural form of the word is only used here and in Deuteronomy 32:42, where it is translated “revenges” upon the enemy. In what sense the word “avenges” or “revenges” is to be taken is very important, and will receive due notice afterwards.
When the people willingly offered themselves.] All who would do anything acceptably to God must first give themselves a free-will offering to Him (Romans 12:1; 2 Chronicles 17:16; Psalms 110:3; 2 Corinthians 8:5). Deborah praises God for conferring on the people this spirit of willingness. An unwilling, or a mechanical service, is one which the God who looketh on the heart cannot accept of. No service without the heart can be pleasing to Him. It is a dead service; and is the same with laying a putrefying corpse upon the altar.
Judges 5:3. Hear, O ye kings; give ear, O ye princes; I, even I, will sing unto the Lord, etc.] Having announced the subject, the speaker next calls for the close attention of the audience. It is a tale of such sacred importance as might well have kings for its listeners (comp. Deuteronomy 32:1; Isaiah 1:2; Isaiah 44:23; Micah 6:2). The allusion is not to any special class of kings, such as the kings of Canaan, but to kings in general, as being most dignified in station. Also, perhaps, as representing the powers of this world—that they may bow their heads, and confess they are nothing before Sion’s King. Farther, that they might learn the sin, danger, and folly of lifting themselves up against Israel’s God. To magnify Israel’s God is indeed the aim of the whole history (comp. Psalms 2:0). The singer says, she will sing, even she—with marked emphasis, to denote that she will make a special point of doing this service, and she will give her whole heart to the doing of it. Not only would she sing with the mouth, but she would add praise on the “ten-stringed lute” or cithern—one of the sweetest lyres or harps in use. Such is the force of זִמֵּר—to sing to an instrument, generally a lyre or harp. Lias says, “The word is onomatopoetic, and denotes the buzz of the chords of a stringed instrument. “Everything in the externals of worship had in that age of signs a deeper meaning than it has with us. The spirit of the statement is—I will take all the ways of praising my God, so that the work may be done in the fullest manner. The service of the heart shall be fully given, and that shall be expressed by the use of the sweetest stringed instruments. The name is “Jehovah, the God of Israel”—the covenant name of God. This implied that all that God had done for Israel was done on account of His gracious relations to that people, and the gracious promises He had made to them.
Judges 5:4. Lord, when thou wentest out of Seir, etc.] The singer here breaks off abruptly, and goes back at a bound over nearly 200 years to the time when God first adopted this people to be His own. This abrupt manner of shooting from point to point, selecting the chief points of the ever memorable history; and graphically grouping them together, is quite in the style of Hebrew poetry. Here the point of view occupied is what God was when He first met with them as a nation. What He showed Himself to be then was a standard for them to reckon by in all their after history. They might count with good reason that He would in all their after history be to them the same God that he was then. What was He then? The group of mountains which are usually known by the name of Sinai, or Horeb, were within the large tract of country known as Edom, or Seir. Indeed, the name “Seir” was sometimes given to the whole mountainous district which included Sinai (Deuteronomy 33:2). The boundary lines of the districts in the wilderness do not appear to have been very sharply defined. The scene at the giving of the law is doubtless referred to, with all the displays of unequalled majesty which Jehovah then made. He then made a revelation of Himself, showing what kind of a God He was—infinite in power, of sovereign authority, most jealous of His great name, of spotless purity, of inviolable truth, and resplendent in righteousness; while at the same time merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin, etc. This character was most impressively displayed at Mount Sinai, and the memory of it was to be kept up at every step in all their future history, that they might have vividly before their minds the character of the God to whom they sustained so close a relation, and with whom they were in constant dealing. The application to the present case was, that the same glorious perfections of character which Jehovah manifested at Sinai were now displayed against Sisera and his host, in so far as the case required, and that God was faithful in keeping His word to His people even at that distance of time. One broad feature of the Sinai scene is seized on as specially fit to be mentioned in connection with the destruction of Jabin’s army—the mighty power of the God of Israel. The solid earth trembled under His step as He marched out through the wilderness at the head of His people; referring to the fact, that when God came down on Mount Sinai to enter into covenant with Israel, “the whole mount quaked greatly.”
The heavens dropped, the clouds dropped water.] In Exodus 19:0 we read of a “thick cloud” and of “thunders”—in Judges 20:21 we read of the “thick darkness where God was.” In Hebrews 12:18 we read of a “tempest” as well as of “blackness and darkness.” In Psalms 68:8-9, we read that the “heavens dropped at the presence of God, and He sent a plentiful rain.” In Psalms 77:17-18, we are told “the clouds poured out water, the sky sent out a sound, etc. “All these references seem to point to the Sinai scene, and warrant us to conclude there was a thunder-storm, with a deluge of rain at the time of the giving of the law. It was an unheard of thing that that perpetually clear firmament should be darkened with thick clouds, and that that ever-brazen sky should pour water in floods on the arid sands of the desert.
Judges 5:5. The mountains melted from before the Lord, even that Sinai, etc.] נָזְליּ Many render shook or staggered. So Sept., Keil, Cassel, Lias, etc. The Greek, Chald., Arab, and Syr. This rendering is the most direct meaning of the word employed, and is supported by Isaiah 64:1-3, which should be translated “might tremble at thy presence”—Even that Sinai, etc.] Rather “this Sinai,” as if it were actually before her eye. It makes the account more vivid. Full of rocks though Sinai was, with rock piled on rock all the way to the summit, and, therefore, might be supposed firm as adamant, it yet trembled like a leaf in the wind! No wonder that Sisera with all his iron chariots could not stand before such a God as this!
Judges 5:6. In the days of Shamgar, etc.] These verses (6–8) were probably sung by a responsive choir to those who sang the verses going before (3–5). The singer now as abruptly returns to the times of Deborah, as at first she left them to sing of Sinai. Nothing is lost in preface. Even of the main subject only a few strokes are given. The purpose now is, to put the present down-trodden condition of Israel, when lying under the heel of the oppressor, in contrast with the enviable condition in which they stood, when so highly favoured of their God in the wilderness (Deuteronomy 4:7; Deuteronomy 4:32-38.)
Some would read, “After the days of Shamgar,” etc., or since his days. But this looks like leaving the natural interpretation of the phrase in order to get quit of a difficulty. Why not keep by the usual rendering? “In the days of Shamgar—and of Jael.” This Jael was not another Jael then the wife of Heber. Such a supposition (see Cassel) is purely arbitrary, and is merely adopted to escape a difficulty. Why not suppose these two persons to be contemporary? And why not regard the phrase to mean simply—in the days which Shamgar had to deal with—the hard times which he had to contend with; and so of Jael. These were the days on which their lot was cast, which they endured for a time—it might be for some years, but which at length, they were the means of entirely changing into a long course of bright and sunny days—so that all around them had the privilege of singing, “according to the days wherein thou hast afflicted us, and the years wherein we have seen evil, so do thou make us glad.” The poem may have been composed very soon—perhaps within a day or two after the terrible slaughter of Sisera’s army; but it is thrown into a form suitable for being sung in after ages. We believe Shamgar’s ground was somewhere in the South-West of the land; and we know Jael’s home was in the North of Israel.
The highways were unoccupied, or deserted.] Lit. the paths ceased. There was no security on the public highways of the country—no safety for life and property, and hence no one could leave his house in peace, and go along the public roads to do the duties of business. The enemy were prowling in all directions, and travellers were afraid to walk in the usual highways, lest they should be either robbed or murdered—perhaps both. Reference is made to such times, supposed to be the days of the Judges, and to no times more fitly than the present, in 2 Chronicles 15:5. And the travellers walked through by-ways.] Those who were obliged to travel at all slunk into concealed by-paths to elude the bands of the oppressor. They are called “twisted paths,” or circuitous footpaths, which turned away from the high roads. The caravans proper had ceased to exist; there were only foot passengers anywhere to be seen moving through the land. Trade had been completely driven off the roads. Business was at a standstill everywhere. The whole population were in hiding! They were afraid to show themselves in public at any point.
Judges 5:7. The inhabitants of the villages ceased.] Rather the villages ceased. Cassel makes it, the open places, the hamlets, which were unwalled, and, therefore, liable to become a prey to the spoiler. It was thus in Hungary in the 17th century when it was overrun by the Turks. The dwellers in the open flat country, with unwalled villages (the farmers and others) in contradistinction to the walled towns disappeared (Deuteronomy 3:5; 1 Samuel 6:18; Ezekiel 38:11.) “Lawlessness and terror prevailed, and the intercourse of commerce was unknown. The sons were afraid to traverse the plains which their fathers had conquered, and stayed shivering at home.” (Wiseman), Compare the times of the captivity as pictured by Zechariah in Judges 7:14; or that seen in the visions of Isaiah as the natural effects of sinful times. (Isaiah 33:8). That there should be villages or hamlets, and homesteads unprotected, scattered all over the country, is the indication of security and peace. But where a country is unprotected while there are enemies all around, the people feel compelled to shut themselves up in walled towns. So it now was. Many indeed had no other homes than the holes of the rocks, the caves, the thickets or jungles, the high places, and even the pits, in which that picturesque land abounded. (1 Samuel 13:6). What a commentary on the statement that “sin is the reproach of any people!”—until that I Deborah arose, a mother in Israel.] Not meaning so much, as that Israel was born again as a nation through her; though it might be said that Israel recovered its nationality through her influence. But the phrase is similar to that applied to certain patriots, who on account of their noble conduct in defending and acting as protectors of their country, are called “the fathers of their country.” Deborah was the deliverer of her country, and so earned the title of “a mother in Israel.” (2 Samuel 20:19). The phrase, “a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem,” occurs in Isaiah 22:21. (Comp. Job 29:16). Queen Elizabeth was accustomed to say, she could believe nothing of her people that parents would not believe of their children.
Judges 5:8. They chose new gods.] Hence the loss of all their strength. The real “strength of Israel” they abandoned. “They lightly esteemed the rock of their salvation.” They had no desire for the fellowship of a holy God. They chose gods with a character like their own, gods of their own invention. Not one, but many. “The serpent’s grammar first taught men to decline God plurally: “Ye shall be as gods” (Trapp)—“new gods”—not worshipped by their fathers. (Deuteronomy 32:17).
There was war in the gates.] They so “provoked Him to jealousy with strange gods,” that He allowed the enemy to press even up to the gates of their towns, and besieged them; so that the gates, which were usually the seat of the administration of justice, became the scene of war. The word לָחֶם means, as Cassel says, “not simply war, but an already victorious and consuming oppression.” There was a “besieging of the gates.” None went out and none came in. Quiet was completely driven out of the land. “There is no peace to the wicked.” As the tide of idolatry rolled over the land everywhere, so did the flood of national misery. Resistance in the open field there was not anywhere; and even in their fortified places, the enemy kept clamouring at the gates. Their manliness had vanished; they kept skulking behind their shut gates; while outside the enemy had it all their own way, and were ever on the point of breaking through! All the bitter fruit of sin.
Was there a shield or spear seen among forty thousand in Israel?] Not that the people had not any such weapons (as in 1 Samuel 13:22), for if so, the battle of Kishon could not have been fought. The reference is not to Barak’s army, which consisted of 10,000 men. The meaning seems to be, that a spirit of trembling had so generally seized the people of Israel, that not a single man among so many as 40,000 had the courage to stand forth to fight his country’s battle in the field. There were three kinds of spears, as referred to in the Old Testament. The first was a long slender lance; the second a javelin; and the third—that referred to here (romach), a heavier weapon.
Judges 5:9. Again there is a turn in the song. The transition is abrupt, as all transitions are here. There are no prefaces, and no connecting narratives. Central statements only are made. They break on the ear without warning and without comment. My heart is toward the governors of Israel,] i.e. is drawn to them in admiration of their conduct. “The leaders” came to the front when the call was made for volunteers to fight the Lord’s battle. They had all the more merit in doing this, because on them lay the burden of the responsibility, and on them fell the brunt of the danger. Their conduct also would powerfully stimulate the rank and file. God was to be praised for this; for it was His Spirit that rested on the leaders, and put such courage and self devotion into them.
Judges 5:10. Speak, ye that ride on white asses, etc.] Rehearse ye, celebrate in a song of praise. Lit.meditate ye. Many render it, sing. (Comp. Psalms 145:5; Psalms 105:2). “White spotted asses.” There are no asses white all over, but asses with white spots. Asses in Palestine were usually of a red colour. The white spotted were highly prized on account of their beauty, and were rare, consequently were costly, and hence were used by the upper classes. (Judges 10:4; Judges 12:14). Ye that sit in judgment.] Rather that sit on carpets, or coverings, some make it saddle-clothes, such as are put on asses. (Matthew 21:7). These are the rich and prosperous. Those who walk by the way.] Those who travel on foot represent the middle and lower classes, who have to do their business without any such help. Keil, however, supposes three classes are referred to: the upper classes, judges and others who ride on costly animals; the rich resting at home on their splendid carpets; and the poor travellers and common people who can now go quietly along the high road again without fear of interruption from the foe. The nobles, the wealthy, and the poor alike enjoyed a long-wished for security in going abroad through the country which their God had given them.
Judges 5:11. They that are delivered from the noise of archers, etc.] This verse has received many different renderings, which we cannot notice in detail. It seems to express a new thought, and to refer to a dreadful hardship which was daily experienced all over the land. People could not want their supplies of water, and the wells were usually situated outside the towns, so that in going to the wells there was always exposure. The enemy knowing this oftentimes planted a company of skilled archers to shoot arrows at those who came to the wells, and while in the act of drawing water many were either wounded or killed. But now such as had this duty to perform were no longer in danger. They were delivered from “the cry of the sharp-shooters,” or the tumult of the archers at the places where they drew waters. And now having no fear of any sudden attack there, and of being wounded, or robbed, or carried captive, they at these spots shall henceforth be so filled with gratitude at the consciousness of their profound security, that they shall there rehearse the mighty acts of the Lord, etc. Strifes at these places were not uncommon. (Genesis 26:18-21; Exodus 2:17-19; Jeremiah 4:29). “Righteous acts.” because they were performed in truth to His covenant, and were in themselves righteous. Then shall the people go down to the gates.] The people could leave their hiding-places in the mountains and walled towns, and return to pass through the gates to the villages and the open plains, to pursue again the peaceful work of commerce, and of carrying on the daily business of life. The victory so recently gained had cleansed the land of these marauders.
MAIN HOMILETICS.—Judges 5:1-11
A HIGH STARTING POINT AND A GREAT DOWNFALL
1. God’s people have songs given them to sing in the night. The times of the Judges were for the most part a night season in the history of the Church, and especially the period to which this chapter refers. But no night is so dark as to be without its stars, or so cheerless as to be without its songs in God’s dealings with the children of the promises. This effusion of the person chosen for the time to represent Israel’s feelings under the treatment they received at the hands of God’s Providence, is hung up like a torch in the night of the national history, to revive faith and encourage hope. When passing through the waters, the river is not permitted to overflow, neither when walking through the fire, as God’s people must sometimes do, is the flame allowed to kindle upon them. “Though sorrowful they are yet always rejoicing—though persecuted they are not forsaken—though cast down they are not destroyed.” “When troubles abound their consolations do much more abound by Christ.” They are never altogether without hope. They are saved by hope. Bunyan rightly makes his Christian sing after each trying episode of his history—after his fight with Apollyon, his getting clear of the Valley of the Shadow of Death, his deliverance from Vanity Fair, and his escape from Doubting Castle.
The Church of God, even amid the dark shadows of the Old Testament age, had her times for the use of the harp, and every instrument of joy. There was “a time to laugh as well as a time to weep.” And these times would have been far more numerous, and greatly more exultant had there been more true penitence, and less relapsing into sin. But no night was so long as entirely to extinguish the hope of returning day, or so dark as to put out all the stars, or so destructive in its effects as to prevent the recovery of all that is really valuable. It is part of God’s arrangement in His Providential rule over this sorrowful world, to give men songs to sing in the night, perhaps lest they should become demoralised. Though there can be no real hearty singing and thorough enjoyment without being able to say of God: “He is my God! though Thou wast angry with me, Thine anger is turned away.” (Job 35:10.) True heart-singing in the night of trouble is exemplified in Psalms 42, 57, 22, 77, 116.
2. The duty of keeping God’s works in everlasting remembrance. The object of composing this ode was not only to make it the matter of praise on a single occasion, but especially to keep up the memory of this great deliverance to remote generations, for the honour of the Divine name. The same sentiment pervades most of the Davidic Psalms, which, as a matter of fact, have served this purpose in the past. In like manner, this song has been the means of preserving to the Church, for many generations, a most instructive chapter of God’s doings for her, and His dealings with her, at a critical stage of her history. God’s mighty acts are worthy of being thus remembered for many reasons:—
(1.) They are marvellously instructive. The two points on which, for our own benefit, it is needful to have the fullest instruction, are God’s character and ways, and our own character and ways. Instruction on these points is of permanent value; and it is the light which is thrown upon these that is specially noticed in the Book of Psalms, when the writers make mention of God’s mighty acts. What an instructive revelation is made of man’s character as it is exhibited in the times of Deborah—the perversity of his nature in so stubbornly baking the wrong course, notwithstanding all the Divine teaching given, though so many remonstrances were used, so many warnings given, so many chastisements up to this point inflicted. And after the cloud of vengeance had burst on these sinners, how long do they continue suffering bitterly before they will turn to Him who smites them, or acknowledge their offence! What tenacity of sin belongs to the depraved human heart! What blindness of mind and hardness of heart! What depth of alienation from God! What infatuation in “kicking against the pricks!” What daring defiance of God’s authority! What desecration of His holy covenant!
On the other hand, what a revelation is given of God’s long-suffering patience in dealing with this people! How long does He remain silent while they go on sinning against Him! We see Him faithfully warning, earnestly entreating, and strongly expostulating. We see Him loathe to smite at all, and for a long time the sword remains in the sheath. When at last it must come forth, it is used at first but lightly; very reluctantly the severity of the stroke is increased; but the moment that true penitence is shown, it is removed, and the penitent is dealt with as a child. Even when the sword, or rather the rod, is used most severely, it is still “in measure;” it is always to correct, and not to destroy, or make a full end. And at the very worst, we never see God renouncing His character to this people as their covenant God! This is the climax of the whole revelation of God’s character made. How rich the instruction conveyed!
(2.) They are in themselves spectacles of great beauty. A thing of beauty is a joy for ever. And here the beauty is absolutely perfect. The eye never wearies with looking on perfection. The soul is satisfied with it, so that it can demand nothing more of excellence in the object than what it already has. All human works, however, at the very best, are only relatively perfect. There is something both on the surface and under the surface, which indicates decay, defect, or alloy. The sweetest music after a time begins to pall on the ear. The most exquisite picture does not always continue to charm the eye. Man’s works, when looked at in different lights, will always present some feature of imperfection. Not so with the works of God. The most minute, even microscopical examination, will only reveal their absolute perfection more and more.
In all these redemption-works, on behalf of His people, which God wrought in the days of the Judges, what a God-like manner of working do we see in them all! How tame and vapid would they all have become if the events and means had been left in the hands of men! Have they not all a sacred touch about them, which no hand can give them but God’s own? What a marvellous perpetuity of freshness belongs to everything which bears that touch! We read the tales a thousand times, and yet the interest continues fresh. The print of the Divine hand on the page preserves it so. How perfectly is every work done which God’s hand undertakes to do. When that hand begins to work, how smoothly does every wheel go round to accomplish His purpose! What a complete change passes over the land in an incredibly short space of time! There is no hurry or bustle, no driving in hot haste. Everything is done calmly, with simplicity, in a way to confound human reason, but with irresistible efficacy. The most unlikely instruments are chosen to do great things. A mighty army is utterly destroyed by the strategy of a woman; and the most celebrated general of the age is brought down to the dust of death by the hand of another woman and an alien! Such efficiency can God impart to the weakest instrumentality, when it so seems good in His sight. He can make everything converge to carry out His purpose.
What a magnificent spectacle of beauty there is in the display of God’s goodness to this people! How often did He pardon them! How often turn away His anger! How patient in waiting for their repentance! How long-suffering in bearing with their provocations! Each of these features is a perfect study, and the longer each is studied the perfection of its beauty becomes more and more visible. So with the glorious display of power made, which is unapproachable in its grandeur. The manifestation also of wisdom surpasses man’s power to appreciate it—of His justice, which is “like the great mountains”—of His faithfulness, which “reacheth unto the clouds”—and of His righteousness, which “is very high.” “Who can utter the mighty acts of the Lord? Who can show forth all His praise? His works are honourable and glorious: they are all done in truth and uprightness.”
(3.) They are never fully comprehended. The thought of God’s own character is something too vast for our minds to comprehend. It is not true philosophy to take no higher ground, to suppose that the human mind can adequately comprehend any of the thoughts of the Infinite mind; God alone can comprehend Himself. Hence God’s plan of salvation is called “a mystery.” But so difficult is it to comprehend it, that the angels of God, so remarkable for their wisdom, have been studying it with rapt interest through the whole history of time, and still have not made it out. The narrow mind of a creature never can fully grasp any of the thoughts of God. Hence He must always remain, more or less, the Unknown God. The same grand attributes of character He has so often presented to our view we have never yet fully comprehended, and never can; so that every time we come again to look at the great perfections set before us, we feel the subject is perpetually fresh, in a greater or less degree. We may be always forming larger, and still larger, conceptions of God’s majesty, and every feature of His character, without ever exhausting the subject.
(4.) They are of such vast importance to our interests. What an infinitely valuable privilege to have this God for our God!—one so full of condescension as to come down and hold fellowship, so intimately and so freely, with men on the earth—to ally Himself so closely with them—to permit such freedom of access, and to promise to do so much in answer to humble and believing prayer! What a great possession it is for the soul of man to be able to say—the God who can do such mighty works is my God, in all the love of His heart, and in all the strength of His arm. Whatever else is overlooked, I cannot for a moment forget this grand truth that God is mine! God’s works in the past are all pledges for the future, for those whom He begins to love He loves to the end. A record of His mighty acts is thus virtually a treasury of exceeding great and precious promises. Every good thing He has done to any of His people already is a proof that He will repeat the same favour to the same person, or to any others of His people, when they are in all respects placed in the same circumstances. His right hand never loses its power. What it was in the days of Barak it is still, and will be to the end of time. These mighty acts show what resources belong to our God, and how much we have to draw upon when an emergency arises.
3. The high starting-point of the Divine Love never to be forgotten. Judges 5:4-5. Here the prophetess looks back, as the eye of the godly Israelite was always instructed to do, to the early days of God’s church, to compare what took place then with the chequered experiences of her own day. That light of the early days was already a good way in the distance, but it shone as a fixed star, an object of hope to the people of God, in all the future stages of their eventful history. There they saw the high pitch of that Love at its outset, in dealing with this people, and they were taught to regard it as the love of an unchangeable God, “whose gifts and calling are without repentance” or any change of purpose. However obscured the future manifestations of that love might be, or however mysterious it might seem in its workings, it was always a fact that it was pitched high at first. The march of that people, as the people of God, was first seen as they came over the mountains, or along the desert of Seir, and then Jehovah Himself was at their head, acknowledging them as His own people, and showing, by mighty signs and wonders, what resources of power He was prepared to put forth on their behalf. The solid earth trembled, the heavens dropped rains, yea the clouds poured out a deluge in the arid wilderness. The mountains also melted before His step. These phenomena only are mentioned, owing to the rule of severe brevity which is observed in the text. But they are given as a specimen of what actually occurred. (See Psalms 68:7-9; also Habakkuk 3:12.
1. The sentiment is this, that as that love was when it first took them by the hand, so it would ever continue to be at all future stages of their history. The question for them to determine simply was how high did that love rise at its beginning—how did it show itself? and to what extent did it manifest itself? The answer is to be found in the phenomona of Sinai, when God first formally adopted them to Himself to be His people, and showed how far he was prepared to go on their behalf—how much power He kept in readiness to fulfil the promptings of His love. The great mark of His love to these children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was, that He made use of them and their history as a medium to reveal His own glorious character, in the eyes of all the nations. Their history was rendered illustrious at every step by the glimpses that were given of His glorious perfections, and from first to last He was known as the Holy One of Israel! In being thus brought so nigh to God they were raised to an unspeakable height above all other nations, so that their history at the outset read like no other history.
2. These antecedents were never to be forgotten. They laid the foundation of all future expectations. However low at any time they might sink, there was always a ground of hope, that they would sooner or later rise to the enviable height of being a people “beloved of the Lord, and dwelling safely” under the shadow of His protecting wing. “For there was none like unto the God of Jeshuran, when He rode upon the heavens in their help, and in His excellency on the sky!” Throughout the whole of the hazardous journey which He led them, when He conducted them to their future promised home, His language was, “I bare you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto myself.”
3. Hence when Israel was lying among the pots, with soiled garments, and filthiness was in all her skirts, she is yet called upon to remember Sinai and its manifold glories—the days of her youth when she stood forth as the Queen of all the nations of the earth; and, as she was in those golden days, so she was to think she might become still. So should God’s people in every age act. They are to look at the terms on which God enters into covenant with all who truly repent and believe the Gospel. However low they may sink under the trials and afflictions of this life, they must never forget that they are “the sons of God”—and are therefore “heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ”—that all which the promises of God contain is theirs—theirs by good legal right—that all the titles spoken of in the Gospel are theirs, all the privileges, all the hopes and prospects, all the immeasurable advantage of being the brethren of the Son of God, all the infinitely valuable possession of having the Holy Spirit of God to dwell in the heart as His proper home—that all these unspeakably precious things are theirs; and though concealed as yet from the eye of the world, that it will not be possible long to conceal such possessions; and when they come out, their possessor will be elevated to a throne in the heavens, and will spend a glorious life, “rejoicing with joy unspeakable, and full of glory.”
4. Remember the starting-point—is the exhortation addressed to every soul that embraces Christ as its Saviour, in all the future stages of its history. That love which redeemed you, and called you by name; which brought you out of darkness into light; which first you saw bleeding on a cross, bearing the weight of Divine, not merely human, wrath on your account, and which procured for you the means of getting the pardon of every sin, and acceptance before God as righteous; that love which presented to you God’s highest possession—His own Son in human form, that it might become your possession; that love, as you first met it, is always to be carefully remembered as the measure of the kindness which the soul may always expect to receive at the hands of the God to whom it is reconciled. When God gives Christ, He gives Himself. He becomes a God to the receiver of Christ. He opens out His glorious perfections, and says, “Having given so much in making my first gift, I will now keep back nothing.” There is the fountain out of which the streams of your souls’ supplies are for ever to flow. And when future and further wilderness journeys are to be made, remember the Rock you met with at the beginning of the way, and form your expectations from what you saw and experienced then. The streams may rise as high as the fountain head. Higher they do not need to rise. There will be consistency in the love that follows thee all the way; for “I am the Lord thy God from the land of Egypt.”
What a comforting memory for the Christian pilgrim to carry in his bosom as he pursues his weary journey, often finding “the journey to be too great for him,” and “his soul much discouraged because of the way!” God never forgets the first high pitch of His love, but will from time to time go as high again in its manifestations, to prove that, notwithstanding its being occasionally obscured by clouds of sin, He yet really loves with an everlasting love.
4. The desolation produced by departure from God. Judges 5:6-11. From the days of Eve and downwards, departure from God ever leads to a great fall. From that cause, how soon did every leaf in paradise wither! and how quickly did paradise itself disappear from the earth! Here the language—“they forsook the Lord”—is the constant refrain in the melancholy dirge of Israel’s history. And now, through Deborah, as the mouthpiece of sinning Israel in her day, we have confession made of the terrible downfall from the most exalted prosperity to the lowest adversity, through departure from the living God. The enemy is seen coming in like a flood, and overrunning the land. The happiest land under heaven becomes the most miserable. Her tale is meant for posterity, as well as the time then passing, and she fixes the date. She writes the history of her own times—the times of her youth, but which she lived long enough, to be the means under God of changing into something bright and glorious. Distress unexampled prevailed. A weighty incubus pressed down every energy. The humiliation of sin was complete. For—
(1.) There was no liberty. The Israelite could not freely walk through his own country. That land, where formerly he was accustomed to sit under his vine and his fig-tree, none making him afraid, had now become his prison. “The public roads were unoccupied. They that travelled at all skulked along the by-paths.” What an expressive history have we here in a single line! Those whom the Lord had made free were now become slaves. The inhabitants were deprived of the use of their country, so that all business had practically come to a stand-still. Their departure from God had led to His departure from them; and they had now to reckon on their best friend as become their most dreadful enemy. There can be no neutrality. If God is not for us, we will soon find He is against us. “If we forsake Him, He will cast us off.”
(2.) They led a life of danger. They could not even go to the wells for water to drink. Knowing the necessity of their frequently being obliged to go there for supplies of the refreshing liquid in that land of drought, the archers planted themselves in the thickets around these wells; and it was generally at the risk of robbery, or even death, that the precious boon could be gained. Indeed, the enemy might appear at any hour, or at any point, all over the land. From unexpected quarters he might descend without a moment’s warning, like the hawk swooping down on the dove, and no safety to life or property could be relied on anywhere. It was a reign of terror. It was an enemy whose tender mercies were cruel. The old serpent that had been scotched, not killed, now reared its head, and darted its venom, against the hand that was once raised against it. Instances, indeed, were of daily occurrence to show what Canaanitish malice could do in retaliation for the past attempts which Israel made to destroy them.
When a man forsakes his God, and walks after the lust of his own heart, dangers quickly rise up around him. His cry is, “Lord, how are they increased that trouble me! how many rise up against me!” On the other hand, “when a man’s ways please the Lord, He maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him.”
(3.) They led a life of degradation. They were in the position of a people trampled down, and unable to help themselves, while no one cared to come to their assistance. When they went abroad at all, they durst not look the enemy in the face, they had to skulk along in the by-paths. They made their most innocent visits furtively. They had to snatch the most common blessings of life by stealth. If their enemies could have prevented it, they would have been deprived of the very air and light of heaven!—O, sin is a hard master! All its service is a “service with rigour.” “The way of transgressors is hard.”
(4.) A stop was put to the industries of life. Trade ceased on the public highways. There could be no commerce. Intercourse of one part of the country with another was completely blocked. The land too must have ceased to be tilled, and the ordinary harvests would be nowhere. Famine must have begun to stare them in the face. The acquisition of wealth too would be impossible, and, in the case of the great majority, the means of supporting life would be reduced to a minimum.
(5.) There was no peaceful enjoyment of life. “The villages” or unwalled towns ceased out of the land. Those models of peaceful homes which are scattered everywhere over our own land, whether in the valley, on the plain, or on the mountain-side, especially in sequestered districts, had one after one in that country to be forsaken, because of the ruthless assaults made on their inoffensive occupants by men of marauding instincts. Where pillage, and possibly wanton barbarities became general, it was impossible to live without protection. Hence, villages, hamlets, and country districts were deserted, and the refuge of walled towns was universally sought. The whole nation had to live in hiding, or shut up within walls and gates. Quietude throughout the land was destroyed. The pleasures of home-life were unknown. There was no home at home.
(6.) There was no repose from trouble. It was a state of perpetual alarm. The enemy’s grasp was on the nation’s throat. “War was brought to the very gates.” They had “to fight for their altars and their firesides.” The enemy was a stranger to pity. The spectacles of family suffering that ever met the eye made no impression on hearts of stone; and there was no relaxation of the iron grip. From day to day, and all the year round, thus it was with poor crushed Israel, whose life was one continual moan. It was not life, but a living death. The dreams of night, and the waking realities of day, spoke only of wretchedness; while a dull leaden cloud of despair seemed to close over their national prospects for ever.
(7.) To crown all, there was a general spirit of trembling. The manhood was taken out of them, and no wonder. They had become a nation of cowards. There was panic everywhere. Not a single hand was raised to grasp a shield or spear among so many as forty thousand of Israel. It was an absolute prostration of the national energies. They were chicken-hearted, crestfallen cowed and spiritless—a community of poltroons and dastards.
“The Spirit of the Lord had departed from them, and an evil spirit from the Lord troubled them.” To depart from the Lord and “observe lying vanities, is to forsake our own mercies.” When the Lord departs from a soul, it becomes stricken with fear, and trembling seizes upon it. “The strong man becomes as tow.” The mighty is “clothed with trembling.” Witness the great ones from whom God has departed (1 Samuel 13:7; Daniel 5:6; Acts 24:25). What a striking commentary does this pass of Israel’s history read on the sure words of prophecy uttered, respecting the evil result of their forsaking the Lord God of their fathers! “The Lord shall give thee a trembling heart, and sorrow of mind. Thy life shall hang in doubt before the, and thou shalt fear day and night, and shalt have none assurance of thy life. In the morning thou shalt say, would God it were even! and at even thou shalt say, would God it were morning! for the fear of thine heart, and for the sight of thine eyes.”
5. Thanksgiving for a great Deliverance. Judges 5:1-11. This is the entire purpose of the song. When the deliverance had been accomplished, “then sang Deborah,” etc. And the subject of this strong heart-utterance is stated to be “to praise the Lord for the avenging of Israel”—The singer is most explicit in stating the object in view. “I will sing unto the Lord—I will sing praise to the Lord God of Israel.” Again she breaks out, “Bless ye the Lord.” The people who are delivered “shall rehearse the righteous acts of the Lord,” etc. It was customary for the sweet singers of Israel, with David in the foreground, to call on the whole people at fitting times to give thanks to the God of Israel for His great mercies to His people (Psalms 105:1-2; Psalms 106:1-2; Psalms 107:1-3; Psalms 111:1-2; Psalms 118:1-4). Indeed, the whole Book of Psalms is a prolonged exercise of thanksgiving and praise to God for mercies received, along with confession of sin, and petition for Divine blessings. Such “praise is comely” in God’s redeemed ones. The merest glance at God’s acts towards those whom He has delivered from sin and wrath justifies the expectation of never-ceasing gratitude. “While I live I will praise the Lord; I will sing praises to my God while I have any being.” The obedience of the Christian life, as regards means, springs entirely from this source; for it is out of gratitude for the great blessings of redemption, so freely and richly bestowed, that every believer runs in the ways of new obedience. The gratitude shown here was genuine and acceptable to God, because:—
(1.) It was spontaneous. It was not required by any command given, but it came unbidden from hearts overflowing with thankful feelings for the mercies received. This spontaneous character of the thanksgiving made it come up as a savour of sweet incense unto the Lord; for gratitude, if not a free-will offering, is nothing. In the present case, it was full-hearted and fresh; it was warm and enthusiastic; it was suitable for the occasion, and thoroughly natural. It was altogether up to the mark; for the heart comes out in every line, and, though more than three thousand years have passed since this anthem was first sung, it seems as fervid and glowing as if it had been sung but yesterday.
(a). Nature of gratitude. Gratitude is love responding to love. It is the magnetism of love. When a generous heart magnetises another heart with something of its own nature, the effect comes out in the form of gratitude,
“Which makes each generous impulse of our nature,
Warm into ecstasy.”
It is the offspring of goodness; the acknowledgment of love’s conquests; the homage which the heart presents at the footstool of loving kindness. It is something more excellent than ordinary obedience. The latter is virtue in the positive degree; gratitude is the same in the superlative degree of comparison. In ordinary obedience, the will is tranquil and moderate in its action; in gratitude, it is enthusiastic and overflowing.
(b). Hence the superior excellence of the kind of obedience which the gospel of Christ produces. No obedience is so free, for it springs entirely from the heart’s own promptings. None is so powerful, for it has in it the full force of the will. None is so unconstrained, for it needs no command to call it forth. None is so sure in its action, for it is instinctive and irrepressible. None is so living and buoyant, for the deepest and finest strings of the soul are touched, and the highest electric life, of which it is susceptible, is elicited. Hence no offerings are more acceptable to God than the outpourings of grateful hearts. This is the kind of worship rendered in heaven by the redeemed ones before the throne; and no incense is so grateful and precious, as the boundless gratitude which every one of that vast company expresses in honour of the Redeemer’s name. Even among fellowmen nothing is more pleasant to receive than genuine gratitude;
“Sweet is the breath of vernal shower
The bees’ collected treasures sweet,
Sweet music’s melting fall, but sweeter yet
The still small voice of gratitude.”
(2). It was religious. This is something far deeper than patriotism. That Deborah and Barak with all the willing-hearted volunteers whom they led were sterling patriots, we cannot for a moment doubt. The very dust of their country was dear to them, and had that been the only impulse under which they acted, everyone in his place would, we believe, have well earned the reputation of a hero. But they felt they were fighting for the cause of their God on the earth, and the promotion of His glory in the eyes of the nations, much more than their country’s renown, was the motive that stirred their hearts. Deeper was the patriotism of the Jew than the representative of any other nationality, for his country was a gift specially bestowed by the hand of his God in token of very peculiar favour (Genesis 17:4-8). It was therefore a sacred land, and on it the Divine blessing was supposed continually to rest, unless in so far as it might be prevented by the people’s sins. It was the chosen theatre for the display of the Divine perfections on the earth. It was occupied by God’s church—the people with whom He was in covenant relationship as His own people. It was therefore “God’s own land.” (Psalms 85:1; Psalms 79:1). It was a “Holy Land.” The patriotism of the Israelite therefore had necessarily much of the religious element in it, in a manner and on grounds, which the member of no other nation had. Yet it was ever the glory of the Divine name, to which the true people of God had regard, as that which was most dear to them in all the anxieties they cherished, and in all the sacrifices they made. Their thanksgiving was strictly a religious act.
(3). It proceeded from a due sense of the magnitude of the favour shown.—Knowledge to appreciate the excellence of the Divine blessings, and the loving-kindness of God in bestowing them, is ever regarded in Scripture as a root principle of religious character. “Whoso is wise, and will observe these things, even they shall understand the loving-kindness of the Lord.” (Psalms 64:9; Psalms 111:2; Psalms 34:8). It is set forth as one of the chief barriers to all real improvement, that the professing people of God were so often “a people of no understanding—sottish children—my people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” (Comp. Psalms 73:20-21; Psalms 94:7-10; Psalms 32:8-9; Psalms 78:34-35, also 11, 42; and Isaiah 11:3).
That the faithful Israelites fully appreciated the value of the Divine favour shown them in this deliverance appears in the whole character of the effusion. This is proved indeed by the very fact, that it should have been determined to hand down the memory of the event in the form of a national ode to be sung to latest generations. The stirring nature of the composition too shows not only a state of warmth, but even of exultation. Such appreciative worship is in the highest degree glorifying to God. They regarded this deliverance as:—
(a). Coming from God’s own hand. The nation was so spirit broken, that no thought of resistance arose among the people themselves. The idea of raising a breakwater, to the over-running flood came from Deborah, and to her as a prophetess of the Lord, it was communicated by the God into whose ear so many penitential confessions on the one hand, and cries for help on the other, came up. “His soul was grieved for the misery of Israel.” It was His Spirit that rested on Deborah, and that passed from Deborah to Barak—and from these again, first to the princes, and then to all the willing ones among the people. The scheme of obtaining emancipation by means of a battle was of the Lord. The proclamation to assemble for the fight was His—the place of rendezvous was of His appointment, and the rule to be followed in selecting soldiers for the army, in choosing only the willing-minded, was expressly ordered by Him. The spirit of dauntless courage and assured confidence of success, which animated the little army of Barak, was infused into them by Him; while the mighty forces of nature which awoke so suddenly, and so marvellously, against the formidable host of Sisera, producing an absolute panic among their ranks, were all arrayed against them by the God of Israel. Thus it ever is with the truly pious. They see God’s wisdom planning and directing, and God’s hand controlling and bending all things to carry out His own mind and will. And to Him, in every event, they ascribe all the praise.
(b). They regarded it as most unexpected. “If the Lord should open the windows of heaven, might such a thing be?” Nothing seemed more remote from all bounds of possibility than the lifting up of the heavy incubus which now pressed on the hearts and shoulders of the people. The population generally must have been terribly thinned (Judges 5:13), and the male population appear to have been degraded to the condition of slaves, while all spirit of heroism seemed to have died out in Israel. It was a sky full of dull leaden clouds, and not a rift could be seen anywhere to relieve the gloom.
(c). They felt it was most opportune. Things were going from bad to worse. It was impossible that the energies of the nation could much longer bear the strain to which they were put. When all commerce had disappeared, and the fields had practically ceased to be tilled; when the whole people were shut up as prisoners within walled towns, or lived in hiding among rocks and caves, with the most precarious means of subsistence, it was inevitable that starvation should soon have come over all the homes of Israel. The sands of the national glass were fast running out, and that once mighty people, before whom all the nations of Canaan fell, were on the verge of becoming extinguished, through the want of the means of subsistence, and the savage cruelties of an iron-hearted tyrant. “If it had not been the Lord who was on our side, now might Israel say, when men rose up against us, then they had swallowed us up quick when their wrath was kindled against us; the waters had overwhelmed us, the stream had gone over our soul; then the proud waters had gone over our soul. Blessed be the Lord, who hath not given us a prey to their teeth. Our soul is escaped as a bird out of the snare of the fowler.”
(d). They realised it as most complete. The defeat of Sisera was not only a rout—it was a ruin. The elements of nature were awakened against them in such fury, that it was impossible for them for a moment to stand their ground. It was as if the chaff should try to make headway against the whirlwind. They fell before the sword of Barak and his heroes as sheep decoyed to the slaughter. It became proverbial in the songs of Israel to say, “Do to them as to Sisera, as to Jabin at the brook of Kishon; who perished at Endor; they became as dung for the earth.” “The river of Kishon swept them away. That ancient river—the river Kishon.” The result of this overthrow was not only to weaken perceptibly the power of the oppressor, but absolutely to extinguish it. The sky of Israel was cleared in a single day. Not a cloud—not a speck—remained. Israel was free as on the day when they stood on the farther shores of the Red Sea and saw the Egyptians, their oppressors, dead on the strand. “The Lord’s work is a perfect work.”
(e). This deliverance was reckoned invaluable. It not only put a stop to the pining away of the nation, and acted as a balm to their patriotic feelings, but it preserved the existence of the only people in all the earth, that were worshippers of the true God, and bore witness to His name among the nations. Had that people been swept away, the whole earth would have presented an unrelieved spectacle of idol worship. Degenerate as Israel had become, there was still a remnant among them who “feared the Lord and thought upon His name.” For the sake of the few He would not destroy the many. Also, the system of sanctuary service, which had been established among this people, still continued, though greatly neglected and overlapped with many incongruities. It was of vital importance to preserve that system. And of the utmost consequence it was to keep up a channel, by which God’s truth and God’s promises might be handed down to latest generations. Thus the gratitude of these pious singers sprung from a due appreciation of the greatness of the mercy shown by this deliverance.
(4.) It was a voluntary tribute of the heart’s love. There was no constraint put on any one to get up such an effusion as this. No command was issued. It rose unbidden from hearts that felt it to be a relief to pour out their feelings in thanksgiving. Every singer seemed to say, “Bless the Lord, O, my soul; and all that is within me bless His holy name! Bless the Lord, O, my soul, and forget not all His benefits.” “My mouth shall praise Thee with joyful lips—I will praise Thee with my whole heart. I will remember Thy wonders of old; I will meditate on all Thy works and talk of Thy doings.” “How excellent is Thy loving kindness, O God! How precious are Thy thoughts to me. How great is the sum of them,” etc. And again he says, “I will praise Thee among the people; I will sing unto Thee among the nations. For Thy mercy is great unto the heavens, and thy faithfulness reacheth unto the clouds. Remember the marvellous works that He hath done—His wonders and the judgments of His mouth.” “I love the Lord because He hath heard my voice and my supplication. Blessed be my rock; the God of my salvation be exalted.” “She loved much; for to whom much is forgiven the same loveth much.”
(5.) It was the confession of a deep obligation. The people of that day felt it was as life from the dead to have so great a deliverance wrought for them. Between the murky gloom of the midnight sky, and the brightness of noon day the contrast was not greater, than the changed face of things produced by the destruction of the oppressor, from what the land groaned under before. All that realised it seemed prepared to say: “What shall we render unto the Lord for all His benefits towards us? Who remembered us in our low estate, for His mercy endureth for ever; and redeemed us from our enemies, for His mercy endureth for ever!” “O Lord, I am thy servant; truly I am thy servant—thou hast loosed my bonds.” “I will publish with the voice of thanksgiving and tell of all His wonderful works.” “We will bless the Lord from this time forth, and for evermore” “I will mention the loving kindnesses of the Lord, and the praises of the Lord, according to all that the Lord hath bestowed on us, and His great goodness toward the house of Israel, which He hath bestowed on them according to His mercies, and according to the multitude of His loving kindnesses.”
1. Gratitude is often at a great discount. One says: “We write our blessings on the water, but our distresses on the rock.” “There was a little city and few men within it; and there came a great king against it and besieged it, and built bulwarks against it. Now there was found in it a poor, wise man, who by his wisdom delivered the city,; yet no man remembered that same poor man. “As the Dead Sea drinks in the Jordan, and is never the sweeter, and as the ocean receives all the rivers, yet is never the fresher; so men receive the river of God’s daily mercies, and yet remain entirely insensible of them, and ungrateful for them. The heath in the desert needs rain far more than the water-lily. But let the showers come down upon the heath—there is no motion, no sign that the shower is welcomed, or is working. On the other hand, the moment the rain begins to fall on the water-lily, though it is rooted in water, and has its chief element in it, its leaves seem to be clapping their hands, and the whole plant rejoices in the falling of the rain.
2. Necessity of constant thanksgiving. It was a beautiful tradition among the Jews: That when God created the world, He asked the angels what they thought of the work of His hands. One of them replied, that it was so vast and so perfect, that only one thing was wanting to it, namely, that there should be created a clear, mighty, and harmonious voice, which should fill all the quarters of the world incessantly with its sweet sound, day and night, to offer up thanksgiving to its Maker for His incomparable blessings. “In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” “Give thanks always for all things unto God and the Father, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ; submit yourselves one to another in the fear of God.” Psalms 145:2; Psalms 35:28; Psalms 71:8; Psalms 71:15; Psalms 71:24; Psalms 116:2; Psalms 104:33; Psalms 34:1; Psalms 81:6.
3. Manner of showing gratitude. “A rich youth in Rome had suffered from a dangerous illness. On recovering his health, his heart was filled with gratitude, and he exclaimed, ‘O thou all-sufficient Creator! could man recompense thee, how willingly would I give thee all my possessions!’ Hermas, the herdsman, heard this, and said to the rich youth, ‘All good gifts come from above; thither thou canst send nothing. Come, follow me.’ He took him to a hut where was nothing but misery and wretchedness. The father lay on a bed of sickness, the mother wept, the children were destitute of clothing, and crying for bread. Hermas said, ‘See here an altar for the sacrifice; see here the Lord’s brethren and representatives.’ The youth assisted them bountifully; and the poor people called him an angel of God. Hermas smiled and said, ‘Thus turn always thy grateful countenance, first to heaven and then to earth.’ ” [Krummacher.]
4. The true spirit of gratitude. Two elements especially enter into this spirit. The one is to have low thoughts of one’s self. This was exemplified by Jacob when he said, “I am less than the least of all thy mercies.” The other is to realise, that as guilty creatures, we deserve wrath not favours. (1 Timothy 1:12-16.) A mind that is educated to gratitude, and has become healthfully sensitive to manifestations of the Divine goodness thus expresses itself:—
“When all thy mercies, O my God,
My rising soul surveys,
Transported with the view I’m lost,
In wonder, love and praise.”
“Looking in through the patched, broken window of an humble cabin one day, a minister saw a poor gray-haired, bent son of toil, at a rude table, with hands raised to God, and his eyes fixed on some crusts of bread with a cup of water, in all humility and contentment exclaiming. This, and Jesus Christ too! This, and Jesus Christ too!” [Guthrie.]
COMMENTS AND SUGGESTIONS.—Judges 5:1-11
I. No memorials are really lasting, but such as are erected to the glory of God.
1. Monuments in honour of human daring when the purpose is pure and noble, as in the case of the patriot. or in honour of great and noble deeds which benefit human society, or which reveal virtues that belong to the social life of man with man, have their place, and are universally held to be worthily reared. Yet how few even of these go down through the centuries! With regard to the mass of the great ones of the earth, who have earned distinction at the hands of their fellow mortals, it is by an extravagant figure of speech that they are said to be immortalised. The verdict of the really immortal book holds good, “all the glory of man is as the flower of grass.” Monuments of every kind erected by the hand of man, whether by kings or princes, to immortalise themselves, or by communities for the glory of distinguished citizens, gradually crumble under touch of the hand of time, so that not only are many swept entirely away, but those reared in the past which still survive, are found only in a state of ruins. They do not serve the purpose so much of commemorating glory, as that of intimating that the glory is departed.
2. These monuments were fading memorials of subjects of fading interest. They all belong to the category of man’s relations to his fellow man, and therefore must be limited in duration. Man himself is short-lived, and necessarily his aureola must soon fade.
“For what is Life? An hour-glass on the run,
A mist retreating from the morning sun,
A busy, bustling, still-repeated dream.
It’s length? A minute’s pause, a moment’s thought.
And happiness? A bubble on the stream
That in the act of seizing shrinks to nought.”
It is only when man begins to work, or to live for the glory of God, that he becomes really immortal, and that his fame, as well as himself, live for ever. God will not give His glory to another, and He will see to it, that, under His providence, all the glory of man shall sooner, or later be abased.
3. But the ode of Deborah and Barak must live. Its object is not merely to record the stirring events of the battlefield, or to celebrate the heroism of the actors themselves; it is not to speak of stars and medals or fresh titles of distinction conferred on the handful of heroes that poured down from Mount Tabor when the signal was given. But that which imparts a deathless interest to this song, and merits for it a place on the page of the national history to latest generations, is, that here we have another proof of God’s covenant love to His people, a fresh illustration of His faithful shepherd care in watching over their interests, His jealousy in saving them from the hand of the enemy, and His making use of the events of their history anew to illustrate the glory of His own name in all the earth. These considerations raise the subject of this song to an elevation far above that which belongs to the most famous battlefields of ancient history. The names of the mighty captains that led the hosts of Egypt, or Assyria, or Babylon, or Persia to battle, are already for the most part in oblivion, while the far humbler names of Deborah and Barak are engraven for everlasting remembrance in the Book of God, and shall not grow dim while sun and moon endure.
4. This ode also has a connection with the coming Messiah. The deliverance here celebrated was literally a redemption of the church of God from the consequences of her sins. It was one of many deliverances which God wrought out for His church, as preliminaries to the glorious and eternal redemption which the Messiah was to accomplish for that church when He should appear in “the fulness of time.” It was the kindling of a new light in the firmament of Israel’s history, the appearance of an additional star in the dark night, to keep alive hope in the heart of the desponding church, a star which would shine on till it brought in Messiah’s day.
II. God’s dealings with His Church are worthy of the widest publicity.
A place is given to this song in the only book in the world which God acknowledges to be His, and the circulation of which is destined to cover the earth as the waters cover the seabed. It shall, therefore, become known through this song to the inhabitants of the whole world down to the end of time, what great things God did for His people in this age of great declension and suffering. And this is ever the wish of the Lord of the church, to glorify Himself in the eyes of the world by means of His church, for even “unto principalities and powers in heavenly places is made known by the church the manifold wisdom of God.” What took place in this dark and distant age, though but a fragment of history, becomes of the greatest importance, when looked at as a link in the chain of God’s dealings with His Church. It repeats, in the background, the story of the Divine faithfulness and love, which is elsewhere exhibited so conspicuously in the brighter pages of the church’s history. It shows that His Church is loved by Him in all stages of its history, that “His work in it and towards it is honourable and glorious,” that “He is ever mindful of His covenant, and in due time sends redemption to His people.” The history of God’s dealings with His Church hangs together as a whole, and the same principles of truth and righteousness are conspicuous in every part.
III. Sin terribly weakens all that give way to it.
Israel had now for many years been a spectacle to the world of a people that had been forsaken of their God. How completely had the strength gone out of the nation! It was as if a paralysis had seized upon it, and every faculty had become inert; or as if a giant, with brawny arms and muscular limbs, had sunk down to the diminutive form of a sickly dwarf. That which had been a Samson among the nations was now shorn of its locks. All that have to do with sin become terribly weakened, for—
1. God’s frown is upon such FROM WITHOUT. The external aspect of His Providence, sooner or later, is against them, for sin must always bring the frown of the Ruler of Providence. That frown may find expression in a thousand ways. For all the creatures are in God’s hand, and He can move them at will to act, consciously or unconsciously, the part of enemies to those who are the objects of His displeasure. When a man’s ways displease the Lord, He can make even his bosom friends to be at enmity with him. He can put a lion in his path, and should he flee from the lion, He has a bear ready to meet him, or if he go into the house, and lean his hand on the wall, He commands the serpent to bite him. When David sinned, God raised up enemies round about him “like bees,” and as numerous and as wasp-like in their nature (Psalms 3:1; Psalms 118:11-12). When Solomon sinned, his powerful kingdom was rent in twain (1 Kings 11:9-13); and adversaries were raised up against him, notwithstanding all his prosperity (1 Kings 11:14; 1 Kings 11:23; 1 Kings 11:26).
Events too are turned against the sinner. Loose as events seem to hang on one another, they are yet all linked together in a chain, and even heathen poets tell us that the highest link of that chain is fastened to Jupiter’s chair—that the chain may wave and shake this way or that way, but that the hand that holds it is steady, and the eye that guides it is infallible. The brightest prospects of the sinner may end in disappointment; his most skilfully-laid plans may be defeated; and all his prosperity may be turned into adversity, by a single turn of the wheel. God will set His face against that man, and follow him for evil, and not for good. When “he flees from the iron weapon, the bow of steel shall strike him through. The gin shall take him by the heel, and the robber shall prevail against him. Terrors shall make him afraid on every side, and shall drive him to his feet. His strength shall be hunger-bitten, and destruction shall be ready at his side.” He puts snares in all his mercies, crosses in all his comforts, and, in the expressive language of Scripture, “curses his blessings.” “There is no peace for the wicked.” (Psalms 37:1-2; Isaiah 45:9.)
2. God takes away the sources of their strength FROM WITHIN. When God fights against a man it is not only in the way of meeting him outwardly face to face, but He also attacks him equally and more formidably from within. He dries up the sinews of his strength; He takes courage out of his heart and nerve out of his arm. He goes close up to the rebel and attacks him at the very seat of his strength. When He fought against Pharaoh and his host, He not only opposed them with the waters of the Red Sea, but He “pulled off their chariot-wheels, so that they drove them heavily.”
Israel had now become “a silly dove without heart.” Its strength was emasculated. When they went out to battle against the enemy, not only were all the circumstances and accidents of the occasion turned against them by the overruling of Divine Providence, but their resources within themselves were withdrawn—their spirit of heroism, their skill in devising expedients, and their harmony of action. A spirit of poltroonery seized upon them; their princes became as children, and the men of might did not find their hands. God whispered to conscience, His vice-gerent in the the soul, and they were pursued with terrors, even as the dried leaves are tossed by the wind. When their stalwart foes met them in the field, they fell, as if the rock on which they leaned were taken away from behind them, and they were swept away by the resistless fury of the hostile wave (Deuteronomy 28:64-65).
3. Examples of the weakening effects of sin. When Israel took of the “accursed thing” they began to flee before their enemies. When Samson sinned, his locks were shorn and his strength went from him. Ahab, though an absolute monarch upon the throne, yet felt himself weak, and the nation brought to the brink of ruin, because of his vile idolatries. Though ably succoured by the energetic Jezebel, he yet felt himself so weak, that he durst not lift a finger, or move his tongue, against the one man that stood forth to vindicate the character of Jehovah. When Gehazi treacherously took the money and raiment of Naaman to the dishonour of Israel’s God, he became enfeebled for life, for he went out from the prophet’s presence a leper white as snow. When Saul disobeyed the commandment of the Lord, notwithstanding his goodly appearance and his first successes, he began to show a quaking heart in face of the formidable Philistines. Before Goliath he was dismayed and greatly afraid. After shedding much innocent blood, and wickedly thirsting to take the life of the son of Jesse, though divinely anointed to occupy the throne of Israel, his terrors so increased, as his sins increased, that he abjectly submits to ask guidance in his dilemma from a woman with a familiar spirit, and finally he rushes on to the commission of suicide. When King Herod had barbarously murdered the holy man of God, peace forsook his pillow, and the victim of his violence ever floated before his eyes, as a spectre of which he could not get quit, so that when he heard of Jesus he said, “It is not Jesus—it is John, risen from the dead!” though, being a Sadducee, he believed in no resurrection. When the band of soldiers from the priests and scribes came to take Jesus, at the slightest whisper of His voice they “went backward and fell to the ground.”
IV. Dark nights are followed by bright mornings in the history of God’s people.
At the beginning of God’s dealings with His people, we are told that “God heard their groaning (under Pharaoh), and remembered His covenant.” This is the secret of all that is peculiar in the Divine dealings with them. Here we find a differentiating principle. Other nations were left one by one to perish. This nation, after many a dark night, has always a morning of joy to succeed it. They have no thorns without roses; no tears shed without being followed by smiles. Threatenings are indeed fulfilled, but promises are also remembered. When the tempest has blown hard for a while, the sky again clears up, and the sun shines with wonted warmth and splendour. The life of the people of God in this world is thus a perpetual paradox, as set forth in 2 Corinthians 4:8-10; and 2 Corinthians 6:8-10. For
1. There are reasons for joy as well as sorrow. They are a redeemed people, and the price is Christ’s precious blood. If their sins deserve the severest marks of the Divine displeasure, the great fact is always present before God, that for them an atonement has been made, and these very sins have already been punished for on a substitute. While the evil desert of the sins must be made manifest to their own eye, and in their bitter experience, the fulness of the Divine satisfaction found in the atonement made for them must also be impressed on them in their happy experience. The blood of His own Son is sprinkled upon them; therefore they are sacred and cannot be dealt with as refuse or castaways.
2. He has expressly promised to return to them in love when they repent. Many assurances are given to this effect throughout the whole of the prophecies. (Jeremiah 3:12-15; Jeremiah 30:18-20; also, 8, 9; Hosea 14:1-5; Joel 2:12-20).
3. They are brought into endearing relations to God. God will sometimes show that He regards them with a Father’s affection. “He will not be always wroth,” lest it should be supposed either that they are less loved than hated, or, that if once they were beloved, they are so now no longer. They are His children; they bear His image, however imperfectly brought out it is; they are His inheritance; they are the brethren of His Son, and “joint heirs” with that Son of all that belongs to the common Father. He cannot, therefore be always showing His anger towards them. (Psalms 103:9, etc).
4. A continual turning of the back would be more than they could bear. “He remembered that they were but flesh,” etc., and “being full of compassion, He forgave their iniquity and destroyed them not.” (Psalms 78:38-39, and Isaiah 57:16).
5. All their nights are destined soon to end in day. Whatever clouds belong to their history shall pass over their heads in time. Not one shall darken their sky in the world beyond. It is indeed needful so long as sin remains, that they should drink of the waters of Marah, and that sometimes they should “go mourning without the sun;” but it is not seemly, that they should never be allowed to taste of the first fruits of the land of promise, while travelling through the wilderness on to the promised rest. It must be seen that they are the beloved of God, destined to sing and to shine for ever, and therefore objects so tenderly dealt with, that a kind voice must now and again break through the dark clouds saying, “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.” If the “days of their mourning shall soon be ended,” we may expect that some rifts will occasionally be seen in the clouds, to show that it is not a settled rain of sorrows which now falls upon them, but that soon there will be a breaking up, to be followed by a sunshine that shall last for ever.
CHAPTER 5.—Judges 5:12-23
THE THANKSGIVING SONG.—Continued
CRITICAL NOTES.— Judges 5:12. Awake, awake, Deborah, etc.] Having adverted in the above paragraph to the high pitch of prosperity, which Israel might naturally claim, as the nation of Jehovah—to what it had guiltily lost—and to what, through God’s covenant mercy, had been won back, the singer now addresses herself to the thrilling history connected with the regaining of this prosperity, and the vast importance to the cause of God of the remarkable success achieved.
First, she is careful that her spirit be raised to the proper pitch, while engaged in celebrating so lofty a theme. She calls on her soul to bestir itself, to brace up every faculty, to shake off drowsiness, and sing with morning freshness and vigour the inspiring theme of the deliverance of God’s Church. Parallel expressions are found in Psalms 103:1-2; Psalms 108:2; Psalms 57:8; Isaiah 51:9-10. It is in a somewhat similar strain that our great epic bard begins one of the loftiest songs of all time,
“Of man’s first disobedience, and the fruit
Of that forbidden tree, whose mortal taste
Brought death into the world, and all our woe—
Sing heavenly muse—…
… what in me is dark
Illumine; what is low, raise and support.”
It implies the consciousness, on the part of the author, of the greatness of the theme before him, and his desire to have his spirit elevated to the highest degree, while attempting to do justice to his task. Deborah wished to sing not only with gratitude, but with enthusiasm.
Arise Barak, and lead thy captivity captive.] While Deborah was the real head of the movement, and gave directions in all that was to be done, it was Barak’s part to take the field, and deal with the enemy. The call is significantly given, not to fight, but to lead captive his prisoners—seize tokens of triumph. For, in fact, it was not so much a fight that was given Barak to do, as a pursuit. The victory was gained by the God of battles; “the Lord is gone out before thee.” Barak’s work was merely to gather the fruits. To take prisoners was always regarded as humiliating to the other camp, and a sign of complete triumph to the conqueror. (Numbers 21:1; 68:18).
The singer next proceeds, in section second, to speak of the actors engaged in this conflict, and of the terrible nature of the conflict itself. In the first strophe (Judges 5:13-15), she holds up to honour those, who, at all risks, came forward, to fight the battle of their God. In strophe second of this section (Judges 5:16-18), she marks out for reprobation those who refused to take part in the struggle, from consideratiors of what was agreeable to flesh and blood. And in strophe third, she graphically describes the battle itself (Judges 5:19-22), ending in complete victory for the people of God; And section third winds up the whole with two animated and sublime stanzas, containing a blessing on her who destroyed the leader of the enemy’s host, and describing the bitter disappointment about to fall on that leader’s home.
It is not wonderful that much diversity of opinion should exist, as to the correct rendering of the text, and the interpretation of the meaning. The style is singularly abrupt and sententious, and the construction is highly elliptical. It is also to be remembered that the Hebrew language, though terse and forcible in expression, in the use of such words as it has, is yet greatly defective in compass and fulness, compared with languages of more mature growth, such as the Greek or the English. Hence the want of precision in fixing the cases of nouns, and the moods and tenses of verbs, also the force of prepositions, of prefixes and affixes, and indeed the exact reading of the text. The same word, too, has often some difference of meaning in one connection from what it has in another. In addition to these general considerations, there are difficulties peculiar to this ode. The account given is of the most condensed character. There are no prefatory statements, no connecting sentences, no filling up of the picture. Of subsidiary matter there is none; and only a few leading strokes are given to bring out the salient features of the scenes described, from which details are left to be inferred. It is therefore only approximately that we can arrive at an accurate reading or correct interpretation.
Judges 5:13. Then he made him that remaineth have dominion, etc.] It is difficult to make a good sense out of the translation given in our A.V. The meaning depends on the rendering we give to the word יְר֥ד, which our translators make to be “have dominion,” deriving it from רָדָה, to rule. But two strong reasons are against this acceptation. A word exactly similar, occurring in Judges 5:14, is translated “came down;” and this agrees with the stream of thought in the paragraph, which describes, not the result of the battle, but rather the mustering of the combatants: dominion as yet was not gained over the enemy. There is also good reason to believe the word, יָרַד, pointed as a perfect, is really the word used here, which signifies “went down.” The verse will then read, “Then (at that time, on that occasion—as if the speaker were addressing future listeners) came down (rushed down from Mount Tabor) the remnant (those who had escaped—the small number left after the waste of life for twenty years) towards the mighty ones of the people (the haughty oppressors, as in Psalms 136:18, “famous kings”): Jehovah (Himself) came down for me (for my help) against the powerful (i.e., the renowned heroes in Sisera’s army).” The singer regards herself as entrusted with the guiding of the great movement, and speaks as the responsible party. It was only a handful of men that rushed down from the Mount, where they had assembled, to throw themselves on the serried ranks of the foe, and they did so at Deborah’s call. They had confidence in her as commissioned by God, and hazarded their lives in fighting with men of superior strength, when she gave the call. This fact is first stated in the account given of the battle. Next, we are told how this handful was made up.
Judges 5:14. Out of Ephraim was there a root of them against Amalek, etc.] The prophetess is glad to be able to say that her own tribe was well represented. Read—“from out of Ephraim came those whose root is in Amalek”—referring probably to the spot called “the Mount of the Amalekites” (Judges 12:15). For while the larger body of that people occupied the Sinaitic wilderness, another smaller wave of them moved from the Ararat district westward towards central Canaan, of which we have indications in Genesis 14:7; Judges 3:13; Judges 12:15. The tradition is, that they once possessed a certain stronghold in Canaan, of which a portion of the Ephraimites dispossessed them, and settled down in their place. From this circumstance they got a name for bravery, and were known as the men who settled down in Mount Amalek. After thee, Benjamin.] Following behind, and in brotherhood with thee; Benjamin, though small (Judges 20:0.), sent a contingent. Out of Machir came governors.] Machir was Manasseh’s eldest son, or, as some think, his only son; and so his name is applied to the tribe. But it is the Cis-Jordanic, or west side of the Jordan portion of the tribe, that is referred to here. The Trans-Jordanic portion occupied the country of Gilead, and so are called by that name, along with the tribe of Gad, with whom they usually acted (Judges 5:17). The gist of the statement appears to be, that this half-tribe sent its best men. Out of Zebulun they that handle the pen of the writer.] Rather, those that handle the staff of the military officer, i.e., those who keep the muster-roll of the army—who superintend the recruiting of the troops, and the calling over of their names. These officials seem to have been known under the name of “scribes.” and occupied a very high position in the State, so few in those days apparently being qualified to perform their duties (2 Kings 25:19; 2 Chronicles 26:11; 2 Kings 19:2).
Judges 5:15. And the princes of Issachar were with Deborah, etc.]—in Issachar, not of. The meaning may be, that while Barak led on the forces of Zebulun and Naphtali, out of whom his army principally was taken, the princes in Issachar put themselves at the head of the men of their own tribe, and stood shoulder to shoulder with Barak—even Issachar, and also Barak]—the two acting together—going abreast into the valley—with Deborah]—on her side. Cassel, however, supposes that the word כֵּן is not here to be taken as the adverb, but as the noun, and renders it, not “as also Barak,” but was “the base, or pedestal of Barak.” True, the territory of Issachar supplied the space for the battle-ground. It was also the chief support of Barak, or rather was among the foremost in the fight, or they may have mustered more strongly than others, the enemy encamping in their own fields. But this interpretation, though possible, does not seem so natural and simple as the other. He was sent on foot into the valley.] Supported by Issachar and its princes he was sent, etc. The original word is much stronger than simply “was sent” שֻלַּח (Puhal) has the force of was shot, as an arrow from the bow—referring, as Cassel says, to “the storm-like rapidity of Barak’s movements.” Either they were instigated by Deborah to rush with impetuosity into the valley (or rather the plain), or, being impelled by their own enthusiasm, they so rushed (Job 18:8).
At the close of Judges 5:15 begins an account of the laggards and cowards, in this great day of decision. For the divisions of Reuben, there were great thoughts of heart.] This is often taken to mean: on account of the divided counsels, and the consequent heart-burnings and party strifes which prevailed in the tribe of Reuben, there were many anxious thoughts and much concern experienced. But this interpretation is not justified by the word here used, פְּלַנּוֹת. When that word is translated divisions, it signifies divisions into classes or ranks, or division of a whole into its parts, and not by any means division of heart thoughts, or heart purposes. We do not know from this word, whether there was variance or discord in this tribe or not. The proper rendering of the original word is at the brooks of Reuben (Job 20:17; Psalms 1:3), there were great resolutions of heart formed, not merely thoughts. They would do great things—they would go in a body to the war; they would not be behind their brethren, nor would they forsake them; they would stand firm in the hour of danger; as became the tribe of the eldest brother, they would set an example to be followed by all the others—with many such thoughts. The country of Reuben possessed rich pasturage, and, lying as it did between the hills to the East of Jordan and the river itself it naturally abounded in springs and streams. Hence it was natural to speak of them as sitting by their brooks, or small streams. At first they seemed to be loud in their professions of zeal and resolved to do great things. It was easy to do so by the water-courses, sitting at ease, with nothing to make them afraid. But as they continued to think over the matter, and the many dangers and sacrifices they would have to make, by joining in the war, came more fully into view, they began to hesitate, and at length preferred to remain quietly at home following their comfortable pastoral pursuits.
Judges 5:16. Why abodest thou among the sheepfolds]—the enclosures made of hurdles, in which, during summer, the flocks are kept by night. The dual number is used because the folds of this sort were divided into two parts of the different kinds of flock” (Genesis 49:14). Keil gives the spirit of the passage thus: “Why didst thou remain in the comfortable repose of a shepherd’s life, to hear the bleatings of the flocks—or the piping of the shepherds, instead of the blast of the war. trumpets?”—The word translated “great searchings of heart,” does not refer to close self-examination as to the state of their hearts, to find out secret or indwelling sins, but rather denotes anxious ponderings or deliberations, as to the decision to which they should come. They perplexed themselves how they could both preserve a name for loyalty to their God, and yet save themselves from the hazard and self-sacrifice of plunging into the war. They racked their brains to make the best possible compromise. There was a sifting of all possible ways of deciding, so as to preserve their ease and comfort on the one hand, while yet they floated high the banner of allegiance to Jehovah on the other—a class of religious professors that has been numerous in all ages. To make high professions without standing firmly by them, was Reuben’s character from the beginning. “Unstable as water thou shalt not excel.” This interpretation corresponds with the call of the prophetess, chiding them for their want of decision.
Judges 5:17. Gilead abides beyond Jordan, etc.] Gilead was the grandson of Manasseh, and represented the portion of the tribe that lay beyond Jordan. Hence the charge of neutrality here referred to, is brought against the half-tribe of Manasseh to the East of Jordan, and also the tribe of Gad; both tribes being always closely associated together, probably owing to their common love for pastoral pursuits. They both occupied the country of Gilead. The use of the present tense in these verses makes the picture more vivid. The poetess describes it, as if she saw the scenes passing before her eye at the moment of writing. It is put down to the dishonour of the two tribes mentioned, that they took no part in the war. The same is said of Dan and Asher. Why did Dan remain in ships? Why does Dan tarry in ships? i.e. carrying on his usual trade. Dan had a sea-board of some considerable value, though it was very limited. It seems to have included Joppa, which was then, and long after, a place of considerable value. (Joshua 19:46; also Ezra 3:7; 2 Chronicles 2:16). They perhaps traded with the Phœnicians, many of whom would probably be in Sisera’s army; and they would not care to quarrel with their customers, in case it might hurt their trade—a miserable policy!—for, by failing to assist their brethren, they undermined their own security and freedom, in allowing the enemy to be successful. They thought only of their own gains—or, as Trapp puts it, “they cared only to dress up their own cabins, when the whole ship was in danger.” Asher sits still by the sea-shore, and abides by his breaches]. He reposes securely in his creeks, and river-mouths. He will not leave his comfortable home on the Mediterranean. (Joshua 19:28-29). The word “breaches” refers to incisions made on the coast, or indentations. (Comp. Genesis 49:13).
Judges 5:18. Zebulun and Naphtali were a people that jeoparded, etc.] In contrast with those just mentioned, she makes most honourable mention of Zebulun and Naphtali. They not only came forward, but they exposed their lives in the unsheltered or open places of the field. They acted with contempt of life, when the honour of their God was at stake. They were found in the forefront of the fight, and, however great the risk, they thought only of doing their duty when the call was given. Similar contempt of life, when sacred principles were at stake, was exemplified by the apostles before the Sanhedrim, and especially by Paul and his coadjutors. (Acts 15:26; Acts 15:24; Acts 21:13-14; Philippians 3:8; Revelation 2:10.)
Judges 5:19. Here begins a new strophe, giving a description of the battle. Kings came, and fought, etc.] As in the days of Joshua, the King of Hazor seems to have been at the head of a confederacy of kings (Joshua 11:10.) As then, so now, these kings fought along with Jabin, showing the formidable nature of the array that was set against Israel, all under the command of Sisera “Taanach”—“the name is still preserved in a village on the slope of the hills skirting the plain on the south.” (Stanley). “Megidd.” describes yet more accurately the spot in the plain where the battle was fought. Both are mentioned as royal cities in Joshua 12:21. Both belonged to Manasseh, though just within the territories of Issachar (Joshua 17:11; 1 Chronicles 7:29). In these passages they are mentioned together—also in 1 Kings 4:12. “They were not quite five miles apart, and between them were several brooks which ran into the southern arm of the Kishon, that flowed through the plain, to the north of both these towns” (Keil). They took no gain of money.] They seized no spoil of silver—or, not so much as a single piece of silver. Cassel makes it, they received no composition money to buy them off without fighting, on the one hand, nor did they secure any booty after it, on the other. (Comp. 1 Kings 14:26; 1 Kings 15:18; 2 Kings 15:20).
Judges 5:20. They fought from heaven; the stars in their courses, etc.] Another rapid transition, from the kings fighting, to those that fought against them. It was not the Israelites alone that fought. If Sisera had confederates, so also had Israel. And these were from heaven—the stars in their courses. There were visible signs that the mighty hand of the Ruler of nature was at work—probably by a violent storm supernaturally raised, and beating full in the face of the foe, yet not such as to prevent Barak’s army from carrying on the fight, or rather the pursuit—for it was not so much a battle as a rout. Whether hailstones beat in the faces of the Canaanites, driven by a fierce wind (Joshua 10:10-11; 1 Samuel 7:10); or whether simply a black thunder cloud came down upon them, accompanied by heavy drops of rain dashing in their faces, and also rendering the ground slippery and swampy (Judges 5:22), or, whether there were also threatening and lurid appearances in the sky, filling them with deadly terror, at the thought that the invisible powers were against them—that same mighty God of Israel that destroyed their fathers in the days of Joshua—we are not informed. But that the hand of the Almighty was displayed in some remarkable way, there can be no doubt; for of this we are expressly assured in Judges 4:15. (Comp. Exodus 14:24). The stars have all along been supposed to rule the sky, and to exercise either a benign, or a disastrous influence, on the lot of men on the earth; so much so that it has become proverbial to speak of the stars as “propitious” or “unpropitious” (p. 234). (Comp. Psalms 68:1; Psalms 68:3-5; Psalms 18:32-40; Psalms 44:1-7; also Psalms 18:7-17.)
Judges 5:21. The river of Kishon swept them away, etc.] When swollen by the sudden and tremendous downpouring from the skies. Sisera’s army seems to have been collected to the south of the Kishon, between Taanach and Megiddo, according to the statement in Judges 4:7. There they were collected as in a trap, for there was the greatest confluence of the waters. Also, when the terrible phenomena of the heavens came around them, they had no resource but to retrace their steps across the river, that being the only passage northward to their own country. But lo! suddenly, as if by magic, they find themselves deluged with water! The Kishon, which only two hours ago was a small brook that a foot traveller might easily cross, is now a roaring torrent, which sweeps away man, horse, and chariot before it. It overflows its banks, and the vast “multitude” of the great captain are overwhelmed amid the surging waves of an avenging sea. They little knew what resources were at the command of the God of Israel, and least of all did they foresee, that that diminutive stream was in a few hours to be the destruction of that mighty host. That ancient river, etc.] (p. 188), that river so famous of old. Most streams are amongst the oldest things in the world, realising the truth of the poet’s lines on “The Brook”—
“For men may come, and men may go,
But I flow on for ever.”
But the phrase in the text seems to refer, not so much to the existence of the river for so long a time, but to the fact that it was well known in past times for its remarkable associations. So recently as 1799, in a battle between the French and the Turks, many of the latter perished in the sudden rising of its waters. In the spring season, especially, it sends down a flood of rushing waters, and hence some think that the destruction of Sisera’s host took place about the time of the Feast of Weeks—end of April or beginning of May. But this is pure conjecture, and proceeds on the supposition, that there was nothing more than natural influences at work on this great occasion when Jehovah threw Sisera’s army into confusion, and, like a terrible champion fighting on behalf of Israel, smote it without quarter. Some think also that the attack made by Israel was made in the night season. This also is mere supposition—O, my soul, thou hast trodden down strength!] An exclamation of exultant gratitude for the immense victory gained. Fancying herself the spirit of the storm, riding on the top of the wave of victory, and seeing the vast image of might presented by Sisera’s army ground before her to powder, which she sweeps like dust from her feet, ‘she exclaims in adoring rapture—“O, my soul, thou hast trodden down strength!” This was said in the spirit of Mary, when she uttered the memorable words—“He that is mighty hath done for me great things; holy is His name!”
Judges 5:22. Then were the horses’ hoofs broken by the means of the prancings, etc.] It was not customary to shod horses in the east on any occasion, hence their hoofs were apt to get broken through their plungings in the mire, or their wild stampings as they galloped in terror to get away in haste from the scene. The word here translated “prancings,” refers to the blow given by a horse’s foot, like that of a hammer on an anvil (Isaiah 41:7). The Canaanites fled with the utmost precipitation, so that the horse’s hoofs might in many cases have been splintered, battered, and broken by the roughness of the roads. “Their mighty ones” refers to the horses, as in Jeremiah 8:16; Jeremiah 47:3.
MAIN HOMILETICS.—Judges 5:12-22
THE LIST OF HONOUR, AND THE LIST OF DISHONOUR
I. Services to God should be performed with alacrity and with zeal.
In all service rendered to God everything depends on the spirit in which it is performed. However excellent the professed object of any service may be, such as prayer or praise, it is nothing with God if it is a dead service. The Pharisee is never reckoned to have prayed to God at all, though, from the beginning to the end of life, he may have faultlessly gone through the forms of worship. In like manner, feeble or languid service is an unworthy offering to present before Him, who requires “to be worshipped in spirit and in truth.” The requirement of the law of duty is “love with all the heart and soul.” Of the same character ought every oblation to be which is laid on the altar of our God Dull or sluggish devotion resembles the presenting of “the torn,” “the lame,” or “the sick,” in sacrifice to God. On the other hand, when the whole soul is awakened to the performance of any religious service, when every faculty is stirred up to do its part, when the understanding has clearness of perception, and fulness of appreciation, of both the matter and the obligation of the duty before it, when the will gives itself with full force and without any drawback to its discharge, when the conscience is implicity obeyed, when the affections are in the highest state of delight and fullest sympathy with the exercise, and when the whole soul presents itself with the utmost harmony in all its faculties in rendering the services, then it is a sacrifice coming up with a savour of sweet incense, acceptable and well-pleasing unto God.
Such was the character of the service which Deborah now laid upon the altar, in offering praise to the God of salvation for all that He had done. She is anxious that her tribute of thanksgiving should be rendered in the right frame of mind, and therefore begins with calling on her soul to rouse itself in every faculty, not only to have wandering thoughts called in, but to become quickened all through to go about the work before her in the most efficient manner. On such a theme she feels that her soul should be in a state of rapture; she feels that
“Passion is reason; transport temper here.”
To this end ought we to begin all service rendered to God, with earnest supplications for the all-quickening Spirit to fill our hearts, that we may not be cold or lethargic in the performance of duty, but do everything with appreciation of the excellence of the service, and in warm and cordial sympathy with it (Psalms 71:22-24; Psalms 108:2; Psalms 119:16; Psalms 119:25; Psalms 119:47-48, etc.). The spirits before the throne are examples of the services that are most glorifying to God, and that most abundantly receive His approving smile. “His will is done in heaven,” not only nominally and universally, but with fervent and exultant hearts, cheerfully and with alacrity, promptly, swiftly and unquestioningly. The seraphim, “with two of their wings do fly,” rather, stand in the attitude of being ready to fly at a moment’s notice, when the lightest whisper is given by Him who sits on the throne. “The living creatures in the wheels ran and returned like a flash of lightning.”
II. Redemption seasons are testing seasons.
Deborah’s day was marked by a great redemption wrought for Israel, and it was pre-eminently a time for putting the whole people to a strict test of character before God. This paragraph is occupied with a stating of the result brought out by the application of the test. Never since the days of Joshua had such a sifting process been gone through as now. The touch-stone was, “Who would run every hazard for the honour of God’s name?” Some were expressly called on to devote themselves to the work, as in the case of Zebulun and Naphtali. Others had merely the opportunity presented, but were not directly called. This, however, sufficed to test whether the heart was sufficiently sensitive to come forward to uphold that honour, or whether it was so indifferent as to prefer to risk nothing, by declining to move, when left entirely to itself to decide. So it was with most of the other tribes. This testing of character was made in intimate association with the deliverance wrought, implying that it was most important, and indeed essential, that the two things should go together. For:
1. God’s church must be purified when she receives special marks of His favour. It is ever to a pure church that He grants His blessings—penitent, trustful, loyal. When, at any time, much idolatrous impurity has gathered around it, with the “fan in His hand, He thoroughly purges his floor,” separating the wheat from the chaff. Any circumstances which bring out whether regard for religious principle prevails over love of ease, or worldly interest, will serve for a winnowing process. When Christ came, there was a thorough sifting of men’s characters, by the strict rules which He laid down for admission into His kingdom. He judged everything in character by “the thoughts and intents of the heart.” Fair appearances without that were nothing. This test was so sharp in its operation, that it cut off whole classes of persons who reckoned themselves most sure of entering the kingdom—fulfilling the prophetic words, “Who may abide the day of His coming? for He is like a refiner’s fire, and like fuller’s soap?” (Isaiah 31:9; Daniel 5:27; 1 Corinthians 11:19; 1 Corinthians 11:32; Luke 2:35). The ocean requires storms to sweep over it to keep it from putrefying.
Different in appearance, yet similar in reality, were the means taken, in Deborah’s days, to ascertain whether the professing church possessed the true features of the Divine image—love to God showing itself in reverence for the Divine name, zeal for the Divine honour, devotion to the cause of God, obedience under trying circumstances to His call, and willingness to make great personal sacrifices for His sake. When God would do great things on behalf of His church, He first sees to it, that, in character and conduct, it is somewhat worthy of Him. He first “heals Israel’s backslidings.” and then “loves him freely. He becomes to him as the dew, causing Him to grow as the lily, and to cast forth his roots as Lebanon.” The summons to do battle with Sisera was a searching test of character for the tribes of Israel, and was amply sufficient to prove, that every man who stood it was a man of faith and an Israelite indeed. As representing Israel, the noble band who presented themselves on the hill of Tabor was the sample of a pure church.
(1.) In the wide-spread idolatry of the Ahab and Jezebel period, the people as a whole were tested on the question, whether they would accept of Jehovah or Baal to be their God; and an unanimous response was made for Jehovah. Then the long-denied blessing of rain was sent on the land.
(2.) Before the people entered on the possession of the promised inheritance, a winnowing process of solemn dealings had been carried on with them in the wilderness, resulting in the disappearance, by plagues and otherwise, of the unbelieving fathers, and the burning of many salutary lessons into the hearts of the children, so that when the time for granting the blessing came, they went forward with steady trust in their God against the formidable hosts of the Canaanites.
(3.) Previous to the great deliverance, which God wrought for Israel at Ebenezer in the days of Samuel, we are told that “all Israel lamented after the Lord, put away their strange gods, and served Jehovah only.”
(4.) When God promised in the days of Ezekiel, that, ere long, He would deliver His captive Israel, and bring them into their own land, He also promised to “sprinkle them with cleansing water, and purge them from all their filthiness and idols.”
(5.) Before the first Christian Church was favoured with the remarkable Pentecostal effusion from on high, proof was given that, though small in numbers, she was, as regards character before God, in an eminently fit state to receive the promised blessing from her exalted Lord. All were Israelites indeed; all were devotedly attached to their Lord; all were full of the spirit of prayer, and were strong in faith; and all had much of the spirit of love and unity.
2. Some must be found to stand the test when deliverance is granted. It is only on account of such that deliverance comes. It is seldom that all can abide the test applied. In the present case, several whole tribes were unrepresented in the day of decision, while some others sent only a small contingent. But there were a considerable number (more than 10, 000) whose loyalty was unmistakable; and it was because of the noble decision of these men, in coming forward to fight the battle of the Lord, that the Divine presence and protection were extended to the whole nation at this juncture. Had Israel become so corrupt, that none had been found faithful in adherence to the cause of Jehovah, there had been no deliverance; for, in such a case, there would have been no spot in the picture on which the Divine eye could have rested with complacency; and so, the vine which God brought out of Egypt must, like the barren fig-tree, have been cut down as a cumberer of the soil. There must ever be something to justify God in showing marks of His favour. Had even Sodom’s walls contained but ten righteous persons, that number, small as it is, of men who bore the image of God, would have made it a suitable thing for God to have spared the whole city for a time. But the principle is, that the wicked are only spared for the sake of the righteous. Hence the propriety of asking the people to give themselves as volunteers to this battle, that it might be seen who were faithful to the covenant of the God of Israel. These being discovered, the blessing came on the whole land for their sakes (Psalms 25:10; Acts 27:24; Job 42:8; Genesis 20:17; Genesis 19:29; Exodus 32:9-10; Exodus 32:14).
(1.) In the days of the purgation of Jerusalem, two-thirds of the people were to be destroyed, but the remaining third were to be purified in the fire, and preserved as a people to keep up the honour of Jehovah’s name in the earth (Zechariah 13:9).
(2.) At the time of the iniquitous worship of the golden calf, a stern test was applied. In reply to the question, “Who is on the Lord’s side?” all the sons of Levi stood forward, and complied with the rigorous requirement, to slay every man his brother and companion. Because of this staunch loyalty to the sovereignty of their God, and that too of such of the people, as stripped themselves of their ornaments and mourned for their sin, the whole people were spared at a moment when they were in imminent risk of being consumed. (Exodus 32:26-29; Exodus 33:4-6; Exodus 33:14).
(3.) When the spies returned from their mission, and gave depressing accounts of the difficulty of subduing the land, a strong test was applied to the faith of the people, so that we hear of none except Caleb and Joshua, along with Moses, who stood fast in their allegiance to their God. The result was, that the masses perished in the wilderness, but, for the sake of the few who stood the test, another generation more believing than the fathers were raised up, to preserve the name of Israel, as the people of the living God.
(4.) Out of regard to the presence of one good king, Jehoshaphat, the armies of three kings, who were gathered together in the land of Moab, were saved in a remarkable manner, when otherwise they would certainly have perished of the miseries of thirst (2 Kings 3:14).
3. A testing process is needed to discover fit instruments for accomplishing the deliverance. Israel’s present needs discovered not only Deborah and Barak, but also the whole of the good men and true, who formed the army of the deliverance. The fire tries every man’s character of what sort it is. Times of great peril bring men of decision to the front. Ordinary men can steer the vessel, so long as there is only a gentle ripple on the surface, but, when the waves run mountains high, it takes the firmest nerve, and the most skilful seamanship, to bring it safely to harbour. When an army of children are in the field, there are no circumstances to test valour, or soldierly bearing. But let a legion of Anakim appear, and instantly, the men of true faith, and unshaken confidence in their God, are discovered. Thus Joshua came to be known as one fitted to lead the people, in the work of dispossessing the Canaauites of the rich lands, they had shown themselves to be so unworthy to occupy. It was thus that the Othniels and Shamgars, the Baraks and Gideons, and other “saviours” of their country and people were brought to light. It was thus too, that David had such remarkable qualities of character exhibited, as fitted him, not only to save Israel from all their perils, but also to raise them rapidly to the highest pitch of prosperity. Thus too Joseph became known as a man qualified to rescue multitudes in his day, from the horrors of general famine, at a time of greatest peril to all lands.
In general history, such names as these might be mentioned, as persons whose great qualities became known, through the perilous character of their times, viz., Alfred, Wallace, Bruce, Tell, Cincinnatus, Julius Cœsar, Hannibal, Napoleon Buonaparte, Cromwell, Columbus, Washington, and many others. In sacred, or church history, such names might be given as the twelve apostles, Paul and his companions, the Christian Martyrs, Chrysostom, Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Wesley, Whitfield, Knox, the Scottish Covenanters, the English Puritans, Carey, Martin, Brainerd, etc.
4. Redemption times are times for imparting new life to the Church. God accompanies her deliverance with His blessing. This is seen in various ways:
(1.) He makes the testing process become a healthful discipline. To have a severe test applied, such as that which the people of Israel now experienced, was to suffer a great disturbance of one’s natural ease. A peremptory call was made to sacrifice personal feelings, in order to maintain religious principle. A strong act of will was required to be put forth on the side of righteousness, at the expense of inflicting deep pain on natural feelings. There was indeed a call to “crucify the flesh.” But this was really a blessing in disguise, for it was a great step taken towards self-conquest—the point of obeying implicitly the call of religious duty, without any murmuring from “flesh and blood.” It implied a destruction of those elements in a man’s nature, which would resist the Divine voice.
Any strong exercise of self-denial, indeed, is a most healthful discipline when God so overrules it. From the want of this, many persons get settled down in their old depressed habits, just as wine, when not emptied from vessel to vessel, gets settled on its lees, and, as the result, there is greater weddedness to evil, and greater insensibility to good. But sharp and imperious calls for making sacrifice of feeling on behalf of principle, shake the soul out of this state of spiritual torpor, and clear away the dangerous crusts which would otherwise soon encase it in a state of hardness (comp. Jeremiah 48:11-12; Psalms 55:19; Amos 6:1; Zephaniah 1:12). Great storms teach a man to take the helm with a firm hand amid the tossings and dashings of the wave. They rouse up his spirit to guide the vessel steadily in its course, shunning the rocks, steering safely between Scylla and Charybdis, and at last reaching the desired haven on the other side. Discipline begets courage, presence of mind, hardihood in braving dangers, and great promptness in meeting them. It requires more than the mild zephyrs of summer to make a great character. The rough Borean blasts of winter are more likely to produce the thing desired. Discipline moulds character. A beautiful statue lies in the block of marble; discipline, like the hand of the sculptor, brings it out.
(2.) He fills His Church with gratitude and praise. This is the natural effect of obtaining a great and scarcely expected deliverance. Nothing is better fitted to awaken in the soul a sense of fresh and powerful obligations, than when such a blessing is conferred. Of the influence of gratitude we have already spoken (see p. 259, 260).
(3.) She experiences a new sense of liberty. She is freed at once from a heavy external oppression, and from an inward load of anxiety on the heart. Hence a new flush of zeal, and a fresh glow of ardour in the service of God. Hence a “pressing forward to what is before,” with a lighter and more buoyant heart.
(4.) She also feels that a new and brighter hope is enkindled within her. Hope is one of the mightiest of all motives in stimulating to activity. Sometimes it is represented as “an anchor of the soul, keeping it sure and steadfast.” At other times, it is spoken of as a powerful spring of influence, causing the soul to bound forward to meet a joyous future, and already to realise that future. The dark clouds of Israel’s coming history, so long lurid in their appearance, were now tipped all over with golden edgings. They were “saved by hope;” and so cheered and quickened in doing their great work as a Church.
(5.) Fresh supplies of Divine influence are also given. When He shows His love to the Church by granting a great deliverance, it is but seemly that it should also receive a fresh touch from His gracious hand, to make it more like to Himself and more worthy of His love. Hence, oftentimes a fresh baptism of the Spirit is imparted, and a quickening of the Church life takes place, at the same time that she is delivered out of the hands of her enemies. It is, indeed, expressly stated that He would redeem His people out of the hands of their enemies, that they “might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness, all the days of their life.” When the time for rebuilding the waste places of Zion should come round, God promises to “lay her stones with fair colours, and her foundations with sapphires, to make her windows of agate, her gates of carbuncles, and all her borders of pleasant stones.” Frequently, on the pages of prophecy, God’s visiting His Church with visible and temporal prosperity, is regarded as synonymous with granting her a spiritual revival (see Isaiah 60:1, etc; Isaiah 52:1-2; Isaiah 41:10-20; Isaiah 32:13-18; Isaiah 43:1-6; Isaiah 49:13-23; Zechariah 12:8-10; Jeremiah 32:37-44).
III. The character of the men on God’s list of honour. The matter to be decided in the contest between Sisera and Israel was not simply, whether Israel was to continue any longer as one of the separate nations of the earth—though that too was greatly important, the preservation or extinction of a nation—but it was the far larger question, whether the honour of Israel’s God was to be kept up, by showing Himself able to protect the people that were called by His name, and whom he had engaged to defend, and also, whether he should henceforth continue to have a people to represent Him on the earth at all. This lifted the contention to an infinitely higher pitch than an ordinary fight between two armies. The test applied to Israel, we have also seen was such, as to make a thorough sifting of religious character, sure to detect the half-hearted and the faint hearted, and which only the thorough-going Israelites could stand. For this double reason—that the occasion was one of such vast importance, and that the terms required of those who should devote themselves were so crucial, it was meet, that those who ranged themselves on the Lord’s side should have their names put down on a list of honour, for remembrance through all the ages of time, in the hallowed circle of the church of the living God.
What names were put on this list?
(1.) Not all who were “of Israel.” For “they are not all (counted to be) Israel, who are of Israel.” The vast majority of those who were by birth the seed of Abraham, in this age, as in so many other ages, belonged to another category. Only those who could take their life in their hand, and do their duty to their God at any cost, were counted worthy. Decision of religious character, and not the accident of natural birth, constitutes the differentiating line. Allegiance to God must be held superior to all other considerations.
(2.) Not merely the brave. All who fought on the side of Israel this day were true heroes, and were on that account deserving of an honourable place in the history of the nation. We admire a spirit of true courage and high-souled bearing, wherever it is shown; and never does such a spirit shine to more advantage, than when it is exhibited in defence of God’s truth, and God’s cause on the earth. Yet simple bravery is not in itself a religious virtue, and may be possessed by those who have neither part nor lot with the people of God. It is most beautiful when associated with true religion, when under its control, and enlisted in its service; but it is to fall down to a heathen Roman standard of virtue, to make it synonymous with religion itself.
(3.) Not merely the patriotic. Not a few make so much of the qualities of patriotism and bravery, as shown in these days of the Judges, that they speak of these features, as that on which the claim of these men to live in history rests. It is spoken of as the heroic—the iron age—the military age; the age of great warriors, and great feats, accomplished on the battle-field. But to regard that as the chief thing, fails to bring out the true interest of the history. To confine the narrative to this, is to reduce it to the level of common history, and to put its sacred character into the shade. Love of one’s country, according to a mere human standard, is a feature held in great estimation. We account the true patriot one of the most honourable of men. And patriotism, in the case of the Jew, had a specially hallowed character. He dwelt in a “holy land,” a land which was the gift of Jehovah Himself to His chosen people, as a pledge of His love, a land which was sacred to the cause of righteousness in a world of sin, which was ruled over by Jehovah as its king, and which was the spot chosen by Jehovah, for the development of the great scheme of human redemption by Jesus Christ. Yet something, even of this, the Israelite might have, in the way of national pride, without having any true love in his heart to God. Patriotism, after all, is but the second thing. That which entitled any to have their names placed on God’s special list of honour was:
1. Their deep concern for the honour of the Divine name. This, more than any other circumstance, characterised the men who now stood forward in the defence of the cause of their God. They were true fearers of the God of Israel, and nothing was dearer to their hearts, than to see His name worshipped and honoured throughout the land. Though not possessed of the bright display of the Divine character which we now have in the face of Jesus Christ, they did not fail to prize the manifestation of that character, which they had in their own national institutions and history. The former of these set forth a wonderful subject of study, in a system where “Mercy and Truth did meet together, and Righteousness and Peace embraced each other.” And in the latter—their national history—they saw a great meaning in the mighty signs and wonders, which had been wrought for them, since the days of the land of Egypt. In both these together, as in a Bible, they found a treasury of materials, from which to form fit conceptions of what reverence, love, and praise were due to the name of the God of Israel. And, in proportion as that name was most dear to them, and hallowed by them, were they concerned and distressed to see it every day, for so long a time, blasphemed over the land. They were not insensible to all the streams of mercy, which their God had made to follow them in every part of their history, to His Fatherly watchful care over them, and the costly love He had lavished on them, in so many forms, as the people He had chosen for Himself; and now, it was most painful for them to look on the dark ingratitude of their people, their infidelity to their sacred engagements to follow Jehovah only, and to hear the shouts of triumph on the part of the heathen, in celebrating the praises of their dumb idol gods, as far superior to the God of the trampled down Hebrews! To show the burning anxiety of their hearts, the moment they got an opportunity of doing something to retrieve the dishonour done to Jehovah’s name, they embraced it without delay, counting not their lives dear to them, if only they might well perform the deep obligations, under which they felt themselves, to speak and act for the glory of Israel’s God.
Examples. In this they resembled the good in the days of Malachi, who, amid abounding iniquity “feared the Lord and thought upon His name—speaking often one to another.” as to what might be best to be done. This was most pleasing to their God, who “hearkened and heard and a book of remembrance was written before Him.” on their behalf. Similarly, too, did the good in Ezekiel’s days act, “who did sigh and cry for all the abominations that were done in the midst of Jerusalem.” Their names were taken down to be remembered for future honours (Malachi 3:16-17; Ezekiel 9:4, etc., also Psalms 119:136; Psalms 119:153; Psalms 119:158). God’s rule is, “them that honour me I will honour.” (see Luke 22:28-30; Malachi 4:2; Psalms 85:9; Psalms 112:1-3; Zechariah 1:14; Zechariah 8:1-8; Psalms 147:11; Leviticus 10:1-3). Abraham acted for the honour of his God, when he said, “Let there be no strife between thee and me.”—for the Canaanite is in the land, and nothing will be so much to the discredit of our religion in his eyes, as to see those who profess the name of God falling out among themselves (Genesis 13:7-9). Thus did David show jealousy for the name of his God, when he uttered the noble words, “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God” (1 Samuel 17:26; see also 2 Kings 22:19-20; Genesis 22:12; Genesis 22:16-18).
2. Their self-dedication to uphold the Divine honour. “The people willingly offered themselves.” Emphasis is put on this as the principal thing worthy of celebration. It is indeed the text of the ode—the thing to be sung of, along with the signal defeat of the enemy; for Judges 5:2 contains a statement of the subject of the whole chapter. This thought is again alluded to in Judges 5:9, and enlarged in Judges 5:13-18; Judges 5:23, where the distinction is drawn, and the greatest importance attached to it, between those who spontaneously offered themselves to the great work, and those who drew back—the one being mentioned with special marks of honour, and the other being consigned to reproach, and even to cursing.
(1.) Every man who came forward at Barak’s call was a volunteer. It was the act of his own free-will. Barak was indeed directed to raise 10, 000 men out of Zebulun and Naphtali; but in what manner? It is not given in the form of a peremptory command, either to the tribes as such, or to individuals, saying, “Go, and fight against this company,” but “Who will go?” Hence the careful wording of the charge given to Barak, “Go and draw towards Mount Tabor” (Judges 4:6)—implying that no one was to be compelled, but the act was to come of their own accord. And when Barak went to fulfil his commission, he called them—he did not command them under penalties. Their acceptance of all risks was their own spontaneous act. Barak seems to have found no difficulty in finding the number of men wanted; and besides these, there seem to have been a considerable number of volunteers from the other tribes. With men of true principle, though not expressly called, it was yet motive enough to have the opportunity offered. They required no farther inducement. But the feature in the account to which God calls special attention is, that those who came forward to meet this all-important juncture for God’s cause, did so by an act of self-surrender. It was in the highest sense a religious act.
(2.) A single act sometimes sheds a flood of light on the whole character. It reveals the motives and hidden springs of action, and shows, beyond the shadow of a doubt, the true pole to which the heart points. It indicates, not only whether the bias is towards God, but how strong that bias is, how much it is willing to sacrifice for Him, and whether its affection is supreme. In the present instance, the test of character was so strong, that every man who took the field, felt he was endangering his life; and virtually said, he was prepared to make the sacrifice for the honour of His God. Translated into words his act meant, “it is not necessary for me to live; it is indispensable that I should be loyal to my God!” One of the “six hundred” of the famous Balaklava charge, on being asked by the writer of these lines, what he thought when the order was given to take the Russian guns in front, replied, “I thought of nothing but obeying orders!” Such was the spirit of these noble-hearted Israelites. They thought of nothing but vindicating the name of their God, when an opportunity offered.
(3.) This spirit of free self-consecration makes the service done specially well-pleasing to God. When devotion to God rises higher than the love of life itself, it is pre-eminently a sacrifice which comes up with an odour of a sweet smell unto God. Never did any single act we read of in all history, receive such a marked commendation from God, as the act of Abraham, in laying his only son, whom he loved, on the altar, as a sacrifice, in obedience to God’s command. In that surrender, he sacrificed his tenderest human affections, and his brightest future hopes, all from loyalty to his God, and so was rewarded with blessings of the highest mark down to the end of time. When Esther went in to the king, she took her life in her hand, rather than see the destruction of the people of her God, and so a book is written to immortalise her memory. It was a deep heart-sorrow to Nehemiah, when he heard how the city of his God lay in ruins, and was a reproach among the heathen, and, at the risk of his life, he sought permission of his king to rebuild its walls; for which act his name shines like a star, from age to age, in the firmament of the Church. Other examples we have in the recorded history of Moses and of David on many occasions; of Joshua and Caleb (Numbers 14:6-10); of Zerubbabel, and the chief of the fathers in his day (Ezra 3:4); the Apostles (Acts 5:41); Stephen (Acts 6:7); also John the Baptist (Mark 6:17-20); and Paul on many occasions. These men were noble illustrations of the principle of loyalty, which the Saviour Himself lays down as the rule in His kingdom, in Luke 14:26.
3. Their faith, which overcame all obstacles. Their distinctive character was, that they were men of faith. This in God’s sight is incomparably more honourable, than to say, they were “governors,” “princes,” or “men that rode on white asses.” Some of them were such, yet not because they were so, but because they acted as men of faith, and true loyalty to their God, are they there enrolled on God’s list of honour. Birth, valour, skill, knowledge, and patriotism, in their place, gain distinction among men. But it is by faith, carried out into practice amid the stern difficulties of life, that the names which live through all time in God’s Book of remembrance, have their title to be marked out as those whom God delights to honour. Had they gone to this battle merely from love of adventure, or from a certain love of romance, which some people find in the practice of war, their names had long since perished, like myriads of others of whom we only vaguely know that once they were.
(1.) They believed in the face of natural impossibility. Had Barak’s handful of men calculated the probable chances of war, according to natural appearances, they must have unanimously come to the conclusion, that without supernatural aid, there was not the faintest possibility of their succeeding against the masses of the Canaanitish host. Nothing could be more foolhardy, than to engage the enemy with such a disparity of force. So few in number—the want of discipline—the want of arms—the want of skill and prestige; while the enemy were a numerous host, disciplined in a high degree—well equipped with armour and having chariots of iron—also stalwart and strong in physique—there seemed no proportion between the two camps. There was the clearest proof, that they were men of the right stamp; that they could trust their God when all was dark around them, as well as when the way was clear; that God, having promised to go out before them, would find ways and means of vindicating His own cause, though they did not see how. They believed that though there was not a speck of cloud in the sky, though there was no muttering of thunder, or sign of earthquake, or pestilence, or other large army brought to their assistance; though they knew absolutely nothing of the means by which God was to fight against Sisera, and saw no possible natural means that could be used, they yet believed that God would, in some way known to Himself, appear on their behalf at the right time, and would effectually dispose of the enemy’s force, simply on the ground, that He had given his word for it that it should be so. Through Deborah He had spoken. The whole scheme of battle was of His appointment, which amounted to a series of testimonies that He would fight for them. An express assurance was also given by Deborah (Judges 4:14). This belief in God’s bare word, in the face of apparent impossibilities, is true faith—the faith which overcomes.
Abraham believed God’s simple testimony respecting a numerous seed, and waited on for more than twenty years, though all hope of its fulfilment, in the ordinary course of nature, had passed away. Moses believed that God would supply food and drink to His people in the wilderness and trusted accordingly, though he knew nothing, when he entered it, about the descent of manna daily for forty years, or the water gushing out of the rock for so long a time. He only knew that God had commanded him to conduct the people through the wilderness, and that for all details He must trust Him to provide everything when the time came. Every sinner, under the gospel, is required to believe on God’s testimony, that all his sins will be graciously forgiven, if he trusts in “Christ crucified,” as the appointed way of receiving a righteous pardon, and if he also expresses deep sorrow for his sins, and is sincere in desiring to lead a new life. It is faith, too, which says, “I know that God will hear my prayer for Christ’s sake, when I trust in Christ and have sorrow for my sins, because I have God’s word for it.”
(2). They trusted in God to bring out any issue that He pleased. This also is part of the province of faith, and it is a higher province than that just mentioned. They believed it was their duty, not to dictate, or suggest anything as to the best issue, nor even to ask questions, but to leave it all in God’s hand, assured that He had a perfect knowledge of all the circumstances, could at any moment determine what was best to be done, both for His glory and for their good, and that He would infallibly do it. Prayer would indeed be abundantly offered in expression of their desires, but always in submission to His will. Their trust in Him was complete, that He would always do what was best; the ground of this trust being God’s own character, because He is what He is. Illustrations of this are everywhere in Scripture (John 17:11; John 14:31; Luke 22:42; 1 Samuel 3:18; Psalms 37:5; Isaiah 26:3; 2 Samuel 16:10-12; Job 1:21; Lamentations 3:26.
(3.) They believed in God’s glory as the highest and most sacred of all things. Apart from all consequences, they could not rest, while God’s glory was tarnished, and His honour was laid in the dust. That one fact was sufficient to rouse every dormant energy they possessed, and lead them to acquiesce in any requirement that might be made, for retrieving the honour of the Divine name. They had indeed the expectation of deliverance by some miraculous means, but independent of that, simply on the ground that God’s name had been profaned, and that reverence for it must be restored, they offered themselves up heart and soul at the call of duty. Whether they should die or live, it was enough for them to know, that the way was opened for their striking a blow in so sacred a cause.
(4.) They believed that God would be faithful to all His promises and gracious purposes, i.e., to all that was contained in His covenant with His people. For His covenant contains not only promises, but also purposes and arrangements—the promises and arrangements being the unfolding of the purposes. The purport of the whole transaction, on this occasion, they understood to be the manifestation of Jehovah’s glory before all eyes, in the redemption of His people from the hands of their enemies. This redemption they believed must be accomplished, because it was in the line of the fulfilment of the Divine promises, and the unfolding of the gracious purposes, towards the chosen people. These are mentioned throughout Scripture as the grounds of many a deliverance (Psalms 105:42-45; Psalms 106:41-46; Psalms 25:10; Psalms 85:8-10; Psalms 89:3-5; Psalms 89:22-24; Psalms 89:33-36; Joshua 21:45; Isaiah 54:7-10).
Firm in this faith, these true-hearted Israelites saw no difficulties in the way. In their eyes, the mountains had already become a plain. It was for them simply to await the call of their God, and act entirely as He might direct. Their faith could “remove mountains” and “overcome the world.” All these belonged to the list of honour.
IV. The names on the list of dishonour. In the trial of character now made, while some nobly stood the test, many more were found wanting. The rock on which they split was, their unwillingness to sacrifice their own personal ease and comfort for the sake of their religious principles. Thus it was with the multitudes who came around the Saviour, desirous to become His disciples, but who stumbled at the announcement, “if any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me.” Human nature is substantially the same in all ages. The claims of flesh and blood are preferred to God’s honour and the interests of His cause. Men think of their own feelings and interests first, whatever may befall God’s name or cause in the world. In opposition to this the Master lifts his voice in the solemn and oft-repeated formula, “Whosoever will save his life shall lose it, and he who loseth his life for my sake shall find it.” Illustrations of the latter part of this statement have been given above; now we have illustrations of the former part. There are four classes specified here who cannot stand the test:
1. Those who are emotional but without principle;
2. The non-emotional and indifferent;
3. Those who are engrossed with the cares of this life;
4. Those who stubbornly refuse to declare themselves on the Lord’s side. The first three cases correspond with the three classes of unprofitable hearers, whom the Saviour describes in the parable of the sower. The circumstances are different, but the outlines of character are the same. We have:
1. Those that are emotional, but without principle. Of this Reuben is the illustration, who, at once, with a flush of impulsive feeling joyfully responded to the call made to arise and defend the Lord’s cause, but quickly, as they began to realise the stern demand of self-denial made upon them, the hopeful feeling began to evaporate, and all trace of their heroic professions speedily disappeared. So it was with the stony-ground hearers. When gospel truths were brought before their minds, instantly they were aglow with love, with admiration, with zeal, or warm devotion, according to the representation made, and they are forward to make great professions of devotedness to the cause of their God. But there is no counting of the cost; there is no fixed principle as the source of these feelings. And when they come face to face with the real sacrifices they will have to make by entering Christ’s service, they begin to cool down, and try to make a compromise.
This marks the character of Reuben. (See Critical Notes, Judges 5:15-16.) At first, “by the brooks of Reuben, there were great resolutions of heart.” High purposes were formed, and proud protestations were made. The lions were seen only in the imagination, and in their ardour they would fight and overcome a whole army of them. But when the first gush of zeal was over, and they began to think what it would really cost to beard the lions, their impetuous valour slackened rein and became more discreet. When fear was aroused, first they came to a standstill; then began to doubt; then to be irresolute; next to be lukewarm; and finally to waver; to attempt a compromise; and end in drawing back. Hence, in Judges 5:16, we read, “By the brooks of Reuben there were anxious ponderings of heart.”—searchings, debatings with themselves, as to what decision they should come to, to get out of the dilemma. They loved their ease too well, reclining on the green pastures, and beside the purling brooks of their rich pastoral country, to think of going out to try conclusions at arms with the warlike Sisera. Hence, on second thoughts, they would exercise their ingenuity in endeavouring to discover reasons, to justify them in falling from their first magnanimous purpose, to go manfully forward among the foremost in this holy enterprise.
What were the resolutions? “Let us go boldly forward! Let us take the lead! It must not be said of the men of Reuben, that they were either ashamed or afraid, to do battle for the Lord against the mighty. Rather, it becomes the tribe of the eldest brother to lead the van, and be an example of loyalty to all the other tribes. Let us, as of old, go ready armed (Numbers 32:17) along with our brethren, to deliver the land from the dark shadow of the oppressor. Let but the arm of the Lord awake, as in the ancient days—the days of the renowned Joshua, when Sun and Moon stood still in their places, when hailstones fell from heaven on the heads of the enemies, and when armies of hornets made them turn their backs. Then fear shall take hold on the Canaanitish host, their hearts shall melt like wax, and there shall not be spirit in them any more.” But when the fit of fervour was over, and they began to look calmly at difficulties, fears came trooping up like dark clouds gradually darkening a bright blue sky.
What were the earnest deliberations? “After all, we have not been called to engage in this conflict, like the men of Zebulun and Naphtali. If any others are expected to assist in the great cause, it devolves on the tribes to the west of the Jordan to come to the rescue. Nine tribes and a half are Cis-Jordanic; are not these sufficient to meet the emergency? The remaining two and a half tribes being Trans-Jordanic, may well be exempted. Besides we are a pastoral people, unaccustomed to the work of war, and could do little against iron chariots—surely, we should be excused. Many lives would certainly be lost, and our dwellings be turned into houses of mourning. During our absence too, who would defend our hearths, and care for our cattle; and when there are such immense flocks and herds in our borders, it would be most culpable in us to leave them without shepherds to tend and provide for them. Charity and justice alike begin at home. Our first duty is to our wives and children, our domestics, and our cattle. And then, it cannot be wondered at, if a pastoral people, accustomed to dwell in fertile meadows, should prefer to hear the pipings of the shepherds, sitting in peaceful security, to the wild blasts of the war-trumpets, summoning the hosts to the battlefields. On the whole, we think it better to remain at home.”
It is the old manner of the deceitful human heart, “I go, sir; and went not.” “Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, and went back to her people and her gods.” The stony-ground hearer’s good resolutions soon “withered away.” The aged apostle confessed that with the lapse of time, which tries all things, “all they that were in Asia had turned away from him,” even such leaders as “Phygellus and Hermogenes.” The Galatian Christians who at first “received him as an angel of God, and would have plucked out their own eyes and given them to him,” by-and-bye began to forsake him for the Judaising teachers of the day. Such conduct is not only contemptible because of its cowardice and selfishness, but is also heinously guilty, because it trifles with the honour of Jehovah’s name, and turns the back on all the sacred claims of duty we owe to Him. Against all such frittering away of sacred obligations of duty, “the day of the Lord that cometh shall burn as an oven.” The next class is:
2. The non-emotional and indifferent. This class is represented by Gilead, meaning Gad, and the portion of Manasseh, that was beyond Jordan. They showed little or no feeling in the matter, but remained passive. They correspond somewhat to the wayside hearers. These the Saviour likens to the hard common, or public highway, that is beaten down through the rush of traffic upon it—“the constant trail of the waggons of business.” It denotes minds that are, through ignorance, or want of receptivity, insensible to gospel calls, and deaf to gospel arguments and pleadings; that in fact feel nothing, and decide nothing because they understand nothing. The truth produces the same effect on them that water does on a stone. There is no movement of the conscience and the heart.
“Gilead abides beyond Jordan.” They were simply indifferent, but in their case, godlessness, not ignorance, seems to have been the cause. Even indifference at such a crisis was a most serious crime. They had no heart to the cause of their God. This lay at the bottom of their indifference, for without this there was no propelling power to move them forward. And having nothing to urge them on, on the one side, there was much to keep them back on the other. They seemed to say—“We are not bound to enter into this conflict. It is no concern of ours. We live on the Trans-Jordanic side of the country, and are away from the scene of conflict. It belongs to the tribes whose territories are exposed to the incursions of the great northern power. Barak has not called us to take part in this struggle, and as the river divides us from the battlefield, it cannot be held obligatory in us to move in the matter. It is purely a matter of option with us, and being so, we prefer to run no risk. Why should we rush needlessly into danger? We are a pastoral people and care little for the work of war. But we trust our brethren will be victorious, and we shall be glad to see them freed from the grasp of the cruel oppressor.”
And so these people of the east of Jordan lands became conspicuous by their absence. But by their passive attitude and stolid indifference they contracted the highest degree of guilt. It is as if a man could look on and see a friend, whom he was under the weightiest obligations to love and esteem, openly insulted and foully calumniated, while yet he did not speak a word, or show the slightest concern for his friend’s honour and good name. When a man acts thus by his God, it becomes incomparably more criminal, for it implies that he is perfectly indifferent to the honour of Jehovah’s great name! Nothing could more provoke God to anger, or excite more thorough contempt on the part of man. It is an outrage on the name of religious brotherhood, and it is a daring defiance of the jealousy of Him who is a consuming fire! (Revelation 3:14-15.)
3. Those who are engrossed with the cares of this life. This we take to be the spirit of the allusion made to Dan and Asher. “Why does Dan tarry in ships? Asher sits still by the sea-shore, and reposes in his creeks and river mouths.” They are loth to leave their comfortable home on the Mediterranean. It is highly probable, that a large number of the Phœnicians, and the great commercial traders in the north-west of Palestine, were in Sisera’s army; in which case, had the tribes of Dan and Asher embarked on this conflict, they must have quarrelled with their nearest neighbours and best customers. For it would appear that the principal trade of these two tribes was by sea. By going to war, therefore, with the populations of the sea-board, “their craft would be in danger.” In reply to solicitations to join their brethren, they would doubtless reply as many have done since, and still do from age to age, “Our worldly interests will materially suffer should we dare to draw the sword against Sisera. An embargo will be put on our ships. Our maritime trade will be annihilated. Terrible reprisals also will be sure to come from the enemy. Besides we have ships in harbour getting ready for sea; and we have a fleet of small vessels engaged in trade, which must all become useless, and be laid up on the beach as so much rotten wood, if we venture to enter into battle with those with whom we carry on transactions in business. It would be madness in us to follow Barak in this conflict. We pray you, let us be excused! We are extremely sorry it should be so; but if you take from us our staple trade we shall be absolutely ruined. We wish all success to Zebulun and Naphtali in this unequal contest; but since they only have been expressly called to come forward, let the matter rest as so arranged. We pray you again, hold us excused!” Those who speak thus virtually say, “when our worldly interests are touched, ye have taken away our gods, and what have we more?” The favour of God, instead of being the all-important motive, is put into the background, and scarcely counts for anything, while men’s portion of good in this life practically becomes the only consideration. The honour of God’s name touches them but very lightly, if at all, but how to preserve their own worldly interest engrosses their whole soul. They think it preposterous, when their temporal business is in danger, that they should be expected to do anything for God’s cause and interest in the world. They seem never to have considered, that to have God’s favour on their side, is to have the best of all preservatives of their prosperity, and the most effectual security against loss of any kind.
This case is similar to that of the thorny-ground hearer. “The cares of this world choke the word.” Crowds of anxious thoughts fill all the chambers of the soul, so that no leisure is left for attention to the things of God. It is impossible to listen to messages from the unseen world, when the eye is distracted with the sights, and the ear with the sounds, of the world of sense. As well might a man listen attentively to a serious narration of facts, while a flood of water is being poured over him, as give ear to arguments addressed to the conscience, while harrassed with the worry of worldly business and care. “There was no room for Jesus in the inn.” Neither is there room in a heart, which is already filled with the world, for the things of God. “Demas forsook the advocate of Christianity, having loved this present world.” “All seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s.” The idea of adding a little more to the stock already gained is reckoned the cardinal end of life. The worldling indeed—
“Throws up his interest in both worlds,
First starv’d in this, then damn’d in that to come.”
“His life is one long sigh for wealth; he would coin his life-blood into gold; he would sell his soul for gain.” How many would sell their prospect of immortal happiness for a mess of pottage! (Hebrews 12:16; Matthew 26:15; Isaiah 55:2; Luke 12:18-19; Proverbs 8:10.) The worldly spirit steals away the affections; it fosters a grovelling taste; and it hardens and enslaves the heart. It is the voice of wisdom that says, “Love not the world,” etc.
4. Those who stubbornly refuse to help on the Lord’s side. This applies to Meroz, of whom the prophetess intimates that by command of the angel of the Lord a curse must be pronounced on them because, when they were so near the scene of the battle-field—only a little to the North—and it would have been so exactly in their way to have intercepted the enemy in their flight homeward, they seem, from some unaccountable reason, to have positively declined to give any assistance. When they might have turned the movement of Sisera’s army into a disastrous retreat, such was their strange apathy, that a golden opportunity was lost to the sacred cause. “To whom much is given, of them much will be required.” Whether it was a town occupied by Canaanites within the borders of Israel, or whether it was a place which, though belonging to Israel, was so steeped in idolatrous practices, that it had lost all regard for the name and the cause of Israel’s God, we are not informed. But it seems to have been the latter. It is supposed that Meroz commanded a main pass among the hills, to the west of the Hermon range, through which a considerable portion of Sisera’s army required to make their escape.
These people were virtually taking the side of God’s enemies on the day of decision. They would rather give their sympathies to Sisera, the despiser of Israel’s God, and the red-handed oppressor of His people, than to Jehovah, the covenanted King of Israel. This was an act of treason against Him, whom they had solemnly sworn to revere and obey as the one living and true God. Hence their guilt. Neutrality before God counts for opposition.
The curse on Meroz was not pronounced by Deborah out of any feeling of revenge on her part. Had it been so, we do not see how it could have been justified. But it is expressly announced that the curse was from “the angel of the Lord”—who acted as the “keeper of Israel,” who calls them “my people,” who “in all their afflictions was Himself afflicted,” who gives a special charge to kings and others respecting them, saying, “Touch not mine anointed,” and who added, “he that toucheth you toucheth the apple of mine eye.” He is called “the angel, Jehovah,” because He personates Jehovah, both in His tone of authority, and the prerogatives to which He lays claim (Judges 2:1-5; Exodus 14:19; Exodus 23:20; Exodus 32:34, corresponding with Exodus 33:14, not Exodus 33:2; Joshua 6:14-15; Acts 7:38; Malachi 3:1). It was His sacred property, the people that represented Him, whom Sisera had dared to dishonour and to tread down as the mire, so that complicity with him on the part of the inhabitants of Meroz was a heinous offence. And this was the day of reckoning, when justice ruled the hour.
Cases of persons who stubbornly refuse to perform a sacred service for God’s Church, which God in His Providence puts in their way, imply great guilt, and occur not infrequently. (Matthew 25:42; Matthew 25:44; James 4:17; Matthew 27:23-24; Matthew 27:26; Acts 3:13, etc; Acts 13:45, also Acts 5:7-10; Acts 24:24-27; 2 Timothy 4:14-15; John 12:42-43, also John 12:48).
COMMENTS AND SUGGESTIONS.—Judges 5:13-23
I. The mixed state of the church of God in the present world.
When God applies the winnowing shovel to His floor on this occasion, how many are found to have gone back from the covenant of their God! It is a melancholy fact, that so many false disciples should be found at every sifting time, wearing the same livery with the true. In every age, the “foolish virgins” walk with the wise. “Tares” grow in the same field with the “wheat.” The dross is largely mixed with the jewels.
The thread of the church’s history is, at no part, free from the coils of the old serpent, and his brood. “When the sons of God come together, Satan comes also among them.” The children of the Wicked One associate themselves with the children of the kingdom. An Achan is found in the pure camp of Joshua; a Cain in the family of Adam; a mocking Ishmael in that of Abraham; a Gehazi in the house of Elisha; and an Ananias and Sapphira in the pure society of the first Christian church. Even in the church under the pastoral care of the Apostle John, there were those of whom he said, “they went out from us, because they were not of us,” etc. In Paul’s days “many made shipwreck of faith.” And even in the Master’s own hallowed circle (though not undetected), there was one wrapped up in the thick folds of the cloak of hypocrisy—“Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil?”
It is indeed, so common to hear of Christ being wounded in the house of His friends; and so frequently is the form of the wolf seen protruding from under the sheep’s clothing, that one becomes staggered to know what to make of it. That men should every day be calling Christ, Lord, Lord, while yet they do not the things which He says, looks as if Satan were making a desperate effort to efface the distinction between Christ’s friends and Christ’s foes. But when, from such a paragraph as this, we find it has been so from the beginning, while yet that distinction is never lost, we are led to conclude that God but permits this confusion of characters to be made for a time, with a wise end in view. And the day is coming on when that line, which is often now so dim and imperceptible, will be made clear with the light of beams from His own throne. “Then shall men discern between the righteous and the wicked.” Even now, we sometimes meet with a genuine character—one in whom is no guile—a man true as steel, about whom there is no mistake—who is the same whatever wind may blow, and whose hands and heart verify the sentiments and professions of his lips—a reliable, out-and-out Christian.
II. Many have no root to their religion.
Hence the reason why, “like the morning cloud and the early dew, it passeth away.” The religion of several of the tribes was found wanting in this day of trial, because it had no foundation of principle. They appear to have had some sense of religious obligation, and rather gave the calls made on them the go-by, than openly questioned them. “They had no root in themselves, and so endured but for a time.” There was no receptivity for the claims of religion. There was nothing in them to bear a severe strain when tried. Like reeds, they bent before the blast. Just as the plants must have a hold of the soil to be able to keep their places, when the winds blow around them on all sides, so men must have a firm grasp of religious truth with the heart, as well as the understanding, to be able to stand true, when there is nothing to encourage, but everything to shake, constancy.
This root, or firm setting in the soil, is that which many want in every age. They may have—
(1.) Seriousness of religious manner, but nothing more.
(2.) Strict outward morality, but nothing more.
(3.) Punctual observance of religious duties, but nothing more.
(4.) Benevolence and amiability of disposition, but nothing more.
(5.) Great genius and high mental culture, but nothing more.
(6.) A good intellectual knowledge of the Scriptures, but nothing more.
(7.) Frequent religious impressions, but nothing more.
The heart is so deceitful, that it will invent seventy times seven likenesses of true religion rather than once accept the reality.
III. The test of faith separates between the false and the true in religious character.
Those Israelites who stood on God’s list of honour were, if any thing, men of faith. By this they were marked out from others. They believed in their God. Every thing about Him was to them sacred. Would they venture their lives for Him? Yes; they said they would even count life less dear. Others said, no; that is too much to hazard. Would they leave their homes, and all that is dear there, perhaps never to return? Yes; for they loved their God with a deeper love, than that which they bore to father and mother, wife or children. Others said, that is a hard saying, who can hear it? Would they leave behind them all their property and gains, and let their worldly affairs take care of themselves, very likely to become deranged, if not entirely destroyed? Yes; they could do that too; indeed that never seems to have cost them a thought. Ah! but say others, it is surely madness to risk everything we have in the world. We might give a donation, or we might employ a substitute to do something for the good cause.
How different the two characters! The one founded on entire trust in the character of God, and some proper conception of His claims upon us. The other on a vague illusion which they call religion, but which in reality means nothing. The stupendous sacrifice which God makes for them, is not with them a matter of sincere belief, and helps them nothing in deciding how much they shall sacrifice for Him. Neither can they trust Him with anything, as children could entrust a loving father with all that is precious in the world from first to last, that he might look after it for them. The one class take everything from God on trust; they leave all decisions in His hands, believing that He will do all things right—be most kind, most just, most wise, and most true, in all that He decides for them; for He is their God, self given to them through Christ, even as they are self-given to Him. They live entirely to God and for God. For the other class this is far too thorough work. They cannot depart from the fundamental idea of living mainly to please themselves. Anything they give to God, of their affections, their work, their time, their worldly good, is merely a deduction from that, smaller or larger, but the foundation must be undisturbed. They do not believe in God, they believe in themselves.
Faith is a thorough test. Not only is God put on the one side, and self or the world on the other, when the soul is making its choice, but the world is set forward to the greatest advantage. It is seen, it is felt, it is present, and in every way the appeal is most strong to “flesh and blood.” On the other hand; the things of God are unseen, are unfelt, and are absent. And in addition to this, “flesh and blood” must be subject to principles of righteousness and truth in the hands of a gracious Father. When the soul under these circumstances decides for God, it must be held to be thoroughly tested. This is faith.
IV. All who are enrolled on God’s side are expected to do Him service.
The first practical lesson they learn is, “We are no longer our own.” “We live to Him who died for us and rose again.” “None of us liveth to himself,” etc. (1 Corinthians 6:19; 2 Corinthians 5:14-15; Romans 14:7-8; Romans 6:13; Romans 6:19).
V. All acceptable service to God must be cordially given.
First, Deborah, as a mighty heart gave herself with buoyancy and fervour to the work; the same spirit she infused into Barak. Barak and she together inspired the governors and men of Zebulun and Naphtali with like fervour. These again influenced Issachar, Manasseh, Ephraim, and Benjamin. The Saviour was “clad with zeal as a cloak.” Cordial service will characterise the better days of the Church’s history (Psalms 110:3). In Nehemiah’s days, the people “earnestly repaired” the wall; “they had a mind to work” (Colossians 3:23; 2 Chronicles 31:21).
CHAPTER 5—Judges 5:23-31
THE MISERABLE END OF THE WICKED
CRITICAL NOTES.— Judges 5:23. Curse ye Meroz, etc.] (See above p. 285.) No fellow creature may presume to pronounce a curse on another, at their own instance, from any cause whatever. This passage cannot be pleaded as an example, for the prophetess expressly declares it was the doing of the Angel-Jehovah. The sin was one of omission; but though it seemed to be nothing more than neutrality, it implied in reality covert sympathy with the enemy, and a real abandonment of connection with the covenant God.
Judges 5:24. Blessed above women shall Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite be, etc.] This is put in opposition to the curse on Meroz. Though only allied to Israel, and but a woman, she did most material service for God’s Church in destroying its worst enemy (see on Judges 4:11; Judges 4:17-18). The “women in the tent” refer to those in her circle of life—dwellers in tents, or shepherdesses. Women’s fitting place is “the tent” (Proverbs 7:11; Titus 2:5), as men’s place is the battlefield. The name of her husband is also given, to distinguish her the better. She is praised for making the fullest use of her opportunity.
Judges 5:25. He asked water; she gave him milk, etc.] Put the verb in the singular, “he asks—she gives.” She must have known it was Sisera. For, on his first appearance, she hails him with the address, “Turn in, my lord, turn in; fear not.” Then she covered him with the sleeping rug (Judges 4:18-19). And now when he asks water, she not only gives milk, but the best the house could afford. She brought forth butter in a lordly dish.] She carries him butter. חֶמְאָה—the more solid forms of milk—curdled milk (Gesenius); cream (Lias); good superior milk (Keil), who says the word is here synonymous with הָלָב or sweet, rich milk. סֵפֶל a costly bowl used by nobles—one reserved for distinguished guests. The Chaldee and Sept. render it phial, not a bottle, but a shallow drinking bowl.
Judges 5:26. She puts her (left) hand to the nail, etc.] or “tent pin”—the peg with which the tent was fastened. It was most likely of iron, like a nail driven into the wall (Isaiah 22:23; Isaiah 22:25). And her right hand to the (heavy) workman’s hammer.] The mallet of the hand workers. הָלַם—she smites with the hammer, or hammers Sisera, smites off his head, when she had pierced and stricken through his temples. Cassel makes it, she swings it over Sisera, smites his head, crushes through and transpierces his temples. “He who sought to crush Israel with nine hundred chariots was himself crushed with one iron nail.”
Judges 5:27. At (or between) her feet he bows, he falls, he lies down; at (between) her feet he bows, he falls; where he bows, there he falls down dead.] There is an accumulation of words in these two verses to express the deed now done, which marks it with special emphasis. Not that the perpetrator took delight in gratifying a thirst for revenge, but it brings out the thought, that he who had been so long the terror of Israel, now falls dead at a single blow. (Keil.) It is graphically rendered by Cassel—“At her feet he curls himself and falls, at her feet he lies, curls himself again and falls; and as he curls himself again, falls—dead!” Done too by a woman’s hand!
Judges 5:28. The mother of Sisera looked out at a window, etc.] This falling of the curtain on the death-scone, and transferring the reader’s thoughts the next moment to the gorgeous palace, to tell what is going on there, tends greatly to heighten the effect of the picture. An event so tragic in itself, viewed alone or from any point, becomes tenfold more terrible in the light of the awful contrast here presented. The abruptness of the transition, the appalling character of the contrast, the giving only of bold snatches of statement in the narrative, and leaving much for the imagination to fill up in its own way, all combine to render this one of the most effective dramatic representations it is possible to conceive. The word translated, “looked” means she bent forward eagerly in looking. Her son was accustomed to return a conqueror, and doubtless she thought he would so return now. But her thoughts seem to have troubled her. She must have heard something of the reports that went, that the mighty God of these Hebrews (of whom all the Canaanites knew but too well in the past), was on this occasion to put forth His power in fighting on their behalf, and if any thing were to occur like what took place in the days of Joshua, she felt there would indeed be reason for alarm. And another thing now disturbed her—the time for returning was fully come, but there was no appearance of her son, nor any tidings from the battlefield. She is in the upper airy room, standing at the window which commands a view of the road to a great distance. She looks keenly and listens, but no object is seen, and the rolling of the chariot-wheels is not heard. No triumphal procession fills up the view, but silence and solitude reign. In spite of her, a sad presentiment steals over the heart that all is not right. It was not accustomed to be thus. She cries through the lattice.] There is more of an anxious heart in that cry than she cares to acknowledge “Why does his chariot delay its coming? Why tarry the wheels?” The “lattice” here is the opening through which the cool air is admitted.
“She cries.”] It denotes feverish impatience, as if she had said, “Is he never coming?—why linger the steps of his chariot team?” How could she fail to be anxious, when he, the pride of his mother’s heart, in whom her every hope was built up, who had brought such renown to her house, the invincible Sisera, before whom the wretched Hebrew people had cowered in abject submission these twenty years, not daring to mutter or to peep, was now so long behind his time in returning from battle, and not a single hint has been received regarding the issue of the great conflict? Can it be possible that a stone has been thrown across his path, or that a spoke has been lost to his wheel?
Judges 5:29. Her wise (used ironically) ladies] or honourable ladies in waiting—not princesses, as some make it; for Sisera was not king. These courtly sycophants are forward to offer their ingenious suggestions to account for the delay. It is caused by victory, not by defeat. What else in all reason could it be? With so vast an army, and Sisera at their head, how could it be otherwise? What other thought could be entertained? To scatter the down-trodden people would be but the work of a moment. It is the taking of an unusual quantity of spoil that accounts for their non-appearance. To search the bodies of the many slain, and to rob the homes of all their treasures must occupy time. The flattered mother allows herself to be persuaded, and her own second thoughts rise up within her to refute her first fears.
Judges 5:30. Have they not been entirely successful? Are they not engaged in dividing the spoil? To every man a damsel, or two damsels.] This allusion, especially as being put in the foreground when describing the expected booty, casts a sad reflection on the character of the speakers, themselves females, and also on the corrupt state of the age when such things were customary. It is similar to the picture given in the Iliad; and generally among those nations that knew not God. To Sisera a booty of dyed (purple) garments-nay robes of double embroidery where gold and silver threads are woven upon the coloured ground.] On such a subject the female mind goes into minute details. “Meet for the necks of the spoil;” not, made originally for the necks of the spoiled, but now they are stripped of all; nor yet, suitable to put on the necks of the spoil, in reference to the rich garments sometimes worn by the captives; but, as in A. V. costly clothing suitable to adorn the necks of the conquerors.
In weaving such tinsel day-dreams as fancy might suggest, they fill up the time, and one hour succeeds another, when suddenly all is changed. A messenger of doom arrives, and brief but terrible is his report. The great battle is lost, Sisera’s mighty army is destroyed; while Sisera himself has met with a tragic death, and that too at the hands of a woman! So the curtain falls! * * *
Judges 5:31. So let all thine enemies perish, etc.] The prophetess winds up with an expressive—Amen to the solemn visitation of God’s Providence, on the heads of those who dare to oppose His holy designs. It is prophetic as well as imprecatory, implying shall as well as let. It is in harmony with such passages as Revelation 19:3; 1 Corinthians 16:22; Luke 16:25-26, and those Psalms which invoke destruction on God’s enemies. Such retribution is the appropriate reward of the incorrigibly wicked, and but for the great propitiation which has been made by Christ bearing the desert of our sins, it would still be the tone adopted by the God of Providence in all His dealings with men. But the language implies also the hopelessness of being able to fight against God and prosper, on the one hand, while on the other, those who have God upon their side shall march on their course after all trials and struggles are over, with the brightness and strength of the morning sun mounting up to mid-Heaven.
Was the conduct of Jael towards Sisera justifiable?
The deed of Jael towards Sisera, and that of Ehud towards Eglon, are so similar in character, that they must be justified on similar grounds. Much, therefore, of what has been said on the narrative in Judges 3:15-30 will apply here (see p. 162–166). The case as regards Jael may be stated thus:—In her conduct towards Sisera, she seems to have been guilty both of treachery, and of murder, while yet her deed and the circumstances attending it are highly commended by Deborah, when speaking under the influence of the Spirit of God. Deborah is manifestly not speaking of herself. In Judges 5:23, it is the voice of “the angel of the Lord,” that is heard making use of Deborah as the medium for pronouncing the curse on Meroz. It was no feeling of Deborah’s own that was expressed. Neither is the blessing, that was now pronounced on Jael, to be regarded as a thing done at her own instance. She was a prophetess, and was acknowledged in this whole transaction by Jehovah, as the medium for conveying the intimations of His will. We cannot, therefore, doubt that the blessing now conferred on Jael was really from God, and signified not only that her act was excusable, but was even meritorious in His sight. Besides, it is admitted on all hands, that the Book of Judges forms part of the inspired canon. Why then except this portion of it? The measure of commendation is most marked—“Blessed above women shall Jael be,” etc. The circumstances are detailed in order, from Judges 5:24-27, as if her conduct described in those verses was matter fitted to hand down her name to the praise of future generations, and the whole account is wound up with the expression of an earnest wish by the prophetess, that all God’s enemies should in like manner perish. There can be no doubt that the prophetess regarded the death of Sisera, the enemy of God, as an act of which God approved. For the expression in Judges 5:31, was practically saying—Amen—to Jael’s act.
This fact, that Jael’s conduct was approved by God, is sufficient to prove that it was not the ruthless act of a bloodthirsty woman. The account must be susceptible of some other interpretation. Sisera was not the personal enemy of Jael, so that the putting him to death could not be an act of personal revenge. As such, it could not have been approved of by God. Nor could it have been an act of pure barbarism, for that could not have been held up to the praise of posterity. It was indeed truly heroic, but, in Scripture, it is always the moral or religious aspect of a thing that renders it praiseworthy. At first sight, indeed, it seems to be the stronghanded act of one who has become ferocious, being stung to madness with a sense of the wrongs inflicted on her people and kindred, by the man who was now wholly in her power. In some such light do most commentators regard it:—
Jamieson says: “The taking of Sisera’s life by the hand of Jael was murder. It was a direct violation of all proper notions of honour and friendship, and for which it is impossible to conceive Jael to have had any other motive, than to gain favour with the victors. It was not divinely appointed nor sanctioned. (How does the speaker know?); and the eulogy must be regarded, not as pronounced on the moral character of the woman and her act, but on the public benefits which God would bring out of it. Yet Jael’s own name is distinctly held up to honour, and her act is circumstantially detailed in the text.”
Fausset holds, that “Jael’s sympathy with the oppressed, her faith in Israel’s God, and her bold execution of her dangerous undertaking, deserve all praise; though, as in Ehud’s case, there was the alloy of treachery and assassination.”
Keil says: “Though Jael acted with enthusiasm for the cause of God, and from religious motives, regarded her connection with the people of Israel as higher and more sacred than either the bond of peace with Jabin, or the dealings of hospitality of her tribe, yet her heroic deed cannot be acquitted of the sins of lying, treachery and assassination.” But how can we suppose that God would make use of means, which implied lying, treachery, and assassination to execute His holy purposes?
Lias denounces “the disgraceful treachery of Jael,” and adds, “we need not suppose that, because Deborah sung, and sung under the influence of inspiration, we must therefore accept her judgment on a point of morals.” Indeed! Is the weight of the Divine Spirit’s testimony weakened by passing through a human medium? Can we suppose a person to speak under the influence of the Spirit of God, and yet be in error on a point of morals?
The Speaker’s Commentary says, “Deborah speaks of this deed by the light of her own age, which did not make manifest the evil of guile and bloodshed; the light in our age does.” Was this deed, then, one of bloodthirstiness?
The Pulpit Commentary calls it an act of patriotic treachery. Oppression rouses the dark passions of the oppressed. It was a case where cruelty was rewarded with treachery. Being for the good of others, the act was less wicked than that which is entirely selfish in its motives.”
Dr. Cassel terms it “a demon-like deed, done in the spirit of a woman’s violence which knows no bounds. It also showed woman’s cunning. Yet her motives were mixed. It would have been treason against the covenant of her house with Israel, had she spared Israel’s sworn enemy. If spared he might have raised fresh troops, and continued to act as Israel’s destroyer. The freedom of the sacred nation, with which she had cast in her lot, was now trembling in the balance, and so she makes her decision.”
Edersheim calls her “a fierce woman with a dark purpose, and refers to the wild and weird character of the Kenites her people, as showing the instincts of a fierce race. To her every other consideration was nothing, so that she might avenge Israel, and destroy their great enemy.” If this were Jael’s real character, we do not see how it is possible for the Spirit of inspiration to have held her up, as one to be blessed by all future generations.
Far otherwise are we disposed to think of Jael and of her act. At the first glance of the case, it does appear surprising, that so many able and judicious writers should, when speaking of this case, have represented Jael as little better than a monster of wickedness, while Sisera is virtually assumed to be an unfortunate and very ill-used man. Even if Jael’s act had been one of bloodthirstiness (which we decidedly believe it was not), are we to determine her character from that one act, done in a moment, under very peculiar circumstances, to have been ferocious and fiendish, while we pass over, and drop only a word of pity for her victim, though he had been guilty of bloodshed and atrocities of all kinds for the long period of twenty years, and that too over the breadth of a whole nation. True, the fact that Sisera should have committed a thousand murders does not justify Jael in committing one. But we protest against an unbroken current of condemnation coming down on the head of Jael for this one act, while not a syllable is said of a just retribution for the frightful villanies committed wholesale, by the wretch whom Jael now crushed.
Many considerations require to be taken into account in order to form a just estimate of Jael’s conduct; some general, and some particular:—
I. General considerations.
1. The character of the times in which Jael lived. They were stern times; when in private life men had to “scorn delights and live laborious days,” and in more public life it was customary to use bloody hands, and to look on with unpitying eyes. It was a time when oppression, cruelty, and murder were rampant in the land, and human life had lost half its value. “The ear was pained, the soul was sick with every day’s report of wrong and outrage, with which earth was filled.” And stern times lead to stern deeds. It was Israel’s “iron age,” and the “iron had entered into the soul.” “Desperate evils lead to desperate remedies.”
These Old Testament times were also days, when as yet the great means of propitiating the Divine anger had not been found, and when, in consequence, a certain aspect of severity characterised all God’s dealings with men. The whole tone of life was more stern.
2. No breach of God’s moral law can, under any circumstances, be permitted Right and wrong have certain fixed boundaries in all ages, which are not removable. It can never be right to deceive, or to utter what is false. It must always be wrong to do murder. Treachery cannot at any time be justified. We dare not “do evil, that good may come.” Neither can we act on the principle, that “no faith is to be kept with heretics.” Nor may any creature of himself usurp the prerogative, of taking vengeance on a man for his sins against his God, however glaring they may seem, unless he is specially commissioned by God to do so. It may be as clear as the sun, that the man is sinning with a high hand against his God, and deserves to be cut off for his sins, but his neighbour has no right, out of zeal for his God, to take the punishment of that man into his own hand. “Vengeance is mine! I will repay saith the Lord.” The question is not, what does the man deserve? but, to whom is he responsible?
3. Look now at—The special character of Sisera’s sin. That Sisera was counted a great sinner before God, and that his tragic death was a retribution sent upon him for his sin, there can be no manner of doubt. But what was the particular phase of his conduct that made his sin so heinous? It was not merely that he was a tyrant and an oppressor. It must always be remembered that the standard by which things are judged, in this stirring history of the times of the Judges, is not what is commonly used between rival nations when they have their victories or their defeats. Everything in the history of this people of Israel, was connected with the honour of Jehovah before all the nations of the earth. They were the people of Jehovah. By them and their history His name was known. To touch them for wanton mischief was to lay unhallowed bands on His sacred property. It was to meddle with His jewels—those whom He was bound to protect, as being employed to set forth the glory of His name in all the earth.
Of this the nations were fully apprised, from the days of their deliverance from Egyptian bondage onward. They were all duly informed by the wonderful history which God gave to that people, that His name and their name were inseparably bound up together, that what was done to them was done to Him, and that any act of dishonour, oppression, or cruelty shown to them, He, as the head feels for the suffering members, felt as done to Himself. That this people had many sins, and that for these sins, they deserved chastisement was indeed most true. But that did not alter the obligation of the nations to look on them as a sacred people to Jehovah, while He Himself so regarded them. If the jewels had got rusted, and required to pass through a process of refining, that was a matter for their owner himself to decide. But for others to oppress, and grind them to the dust, while they were regarded by Jehovah as His own people, and while they had the honour of His name to maintain on the earth, was to provoke Him to anger and awaken His jealousy for His Holy name.
Hence Sisera’s sin consisted in the fact, that he, though fully warned as to the character of the God of Israel, and of the relation in which this people stood to their God, did yet, to serve wicked passions or wicked purposes of his own, dare to act as an enemy to Israel and therefore to their God, under whose protection they lay; he dared to touch God’s property, God’s jewels, God’s children; he dared to give the worst of treatment to a people so sacred in the eyes of their God, to treat them with cruelty, oppression, and spoliation, and that for the long period of twenty years—and all this he did out of enmity to the God of Israel, and in bitter hatred to His name.
4. Another general consideration was that this was the day of final decision. The time of Israel’s chastisement was over. They had been brought to repentance and renewed trust in their God; and, according to His promise, God arose for their deliverance. In the Person of the Angel-Jehovah, He takes His place at the head of Israel and their army. A summons is given to all to take their sides. Israel’s God and His people are on the one side; Sisera and his large army are on the other. All who opposed Israel this day also opposed the God of Israel, and were counted by Him as His enemies.
Through all Israel it was known that this was a day for taking sides. From one end of the land to the other the call was heard, “Who is on the Lord’s side?” There was an express command for ten thousand men to follow Barak out of Naphtali and Zebulun, yet many more went of their own accord, for all volunteers were accepted. Nay, many who did not volunteer were reproved and put in the list of dishonour for their neutrality or indifference. But Sisera and his army stood in direct opposition. To sympathise with Sisera, therefore, or in any way to help him this day, by allowing him to escape, or otherwise, was to succour the enemy of the God of Israel when he was taking vengeance on him for his sins. It was, indeed, to take the side of God’s enemy against God, when He was vindicating the glory of His great name. Hence the conduct of the people of Meroz was most daring. They allowed God’s enemy to escape, while He was in the act of vindicating His character against His enemies.
II. These general remarks will prepare us for now looking at the special considerations and motives by which Jael was guided in acting the part which she did on this important occasion:—
1. She deeply felt the responsibility of her circumstances. She could appreciate the fact, that the battle was not merely between two human captains, but was really between the Angel-Jehovah and His enemies. She knew that God had now returned to His people, and that, through Deborah, He had given directions about the whole of this battle. She had heard of the terrific thunderstorm, and the mighty movement of the elements of nature against Sisera’s host, the very “stars in their courses fighting against Sisera;” and now here was the very man put in her way, against whom all this artillery of the Divine anger had been directed—could she, dared she, let him go in peace? It was no longer the day of forbearance; it was the day of the Lord’s reckoning with His enemies, when He was “laying judgment to the line, and righteousness to the plummet,” when every loyal subject of His government, as well as every element in nature, was expected to act as an instrument in His hand to do the part assigned him to do in accomplishing the Lord’s purpose.
Jael felt that she was now solemnly called on to make her decision, whether for the Lord, or for His enemy. This was, at the moment, the supreme consideration which overshadowed all other thoughts, and she felt that whatsoever sacrifices might have to be made, all other things must give way before it. In reply to the question thus imperiously put before her—Be for the Lord, or for His enemy—she goes wholly in for the name, and the people of her God, at the expense of violating the ordinary rules of hospitality, of having abuse poured on her name for the commission of a tragic deed, and of running the terrible risk of awakening the wrath of so powerful a king as Jabin, with whom too her house was at peace. But where the honour of her God was concerned, all other considerations were of no account. For this is she so highly commended. She did not seek this position; it was a most trying one; but it was forced upon her; the alternative was put sharply before her, without the possibility of her avoiding it. The circumstances had to her the force of a call of duty, and she nobly rose with the occasion. But this was only one element in the case. We believe that—
2. She felt she was commissioned by God to put Sisera to death. It is not so expressly said in the narrative; but many things must have taken place which are not expressly mentioned in the account given. It is the principle on which Scripture narrative is told, to give it in a very abridged form, with many details left out. The circumstance, therefore, of its not being mentioned in the narrative, is no proof that Jael was not commissioned of God to do as she did. On the other hand, had she not been so commissioned, her act must have been one of murder; and had it been so, it could never have been held up to the admiration of posterity, as this deed undoubtedly has been. Jael’s act also corresponds with the now well known fact, that the Lord would “deliver Sisera into the hands of a woman.” Now when he had been thrown in her way, it may have seemed to her as if this was the finger of God’s Providence pointing out her duty. That alone, however, could not have been regarded as a commission, it was but a confirmation going along with other things. Sisera’s day was now come. It was the Lord’s reckoning day with him for his oppression of His people. And all the arrangements made are of the Lord. The sword of Barak is turned against him, and all the instruments that might be of use in his destruction, all along the course which he took, are turned against him. The hailstorm, the lightnings, the winds, the waters of the district, especially the swelling of the brook Kishon, and now the house of a friendly tribe. Jael then felt she was obeying a Divine command in acting as she did. She must have been instigated by some “instinctu Dei arcano.” to put Sisera to death.
3. She knew that Sisera was now devoted by Israel’s God to destruction, at the hands of Israel. Sisera’s destruction was synonymous with Israel’s deliverance. It was really God’s answer to their prayers. But it was also God’s reckoning with His own enemy. The oppression and cruelty which this proud heathen had exercised towards Israel, though made use of by God for the chastisement of His people, was really meant in a very different sense by the oppressor. His only purpose was to bring down to a state of degrading servitude, or to entire destruction, a people whom he hated both in themselves and in their God. And this was done in the face of all the warnings which Jehovah had given to the nations, not to touch this people. At first God reserved His judgments. He made use of Sisera, first as a scourge to chasten His people; but now the time was come to deal with him as an enemy. The day of retribution for his great sin had come, and he must now know what it is to have the God of Israel for his enemy. Hence the announcement made to Barak was, “I will draw unto thee Sisera and his multitude, and I will deliver him into thine hand.”
This was virtually saying, that his life was now forfeited to Israel by God’s own arrangement. It was not like the case of a man taking his chances of the battle in the open field. Sisera was now brought forth by God, that he might die for his crimes against Israel and their God. It was in some respects like the position of Cain, when he felt that everyone around him was at liberty to slay him. It is clear, that it could not have been wrong in Barak to put Sisera to death. But Barak only represented the nation, and what was said to him was virtually said to the whole of the oppressed people. What, therefore, was not wrong for Barak to do, could not be wrong for any Israelite to do. Sisera was now fighting against the whole nation, and their God. How could it be wrong in the nation, or any one in the nation, to fight against him? It was acting in self defence to do so, when his purpose was to reduce every Israelite to a state of bondage or death. Had Jael now spared him, how much future oppression and cruelty might have resulted to Israel from the act!
But though every Israelite had some justification, in taking action against Sisera on this occasion, on the ground of self-defence, the chief consideration which justified Jael’s deed, was that Sisera was doomed to destruction for the public dishonour he had poured on Jehovah’s name, by the treatment he had given to His people. This was a deeper criminality than that of common murder. It was a defiance of the God of Israel, a profanation of the great name—Jehovah, and treating with insult and cruelty wholesale the people who represented Him on the earth. Murder is taking the life of a fellow worm, but Sisera’s conduct was an attempt to rob the great “I am” of His holy name! For this, sentence was virtually passed on Sisera by the Ruler of Providence, and he was delivered into the hands of Israel to receive a fit retribution for his sins.
4. We believe then that Jael’s principal motive in this deed, was to vindicate the honour of Jehovah’s name, and serve the interests of His Church in the world, by setting His people free from the yoke of the oppressor. Her act was done not to wreak any private vengeance of her own, but strictly in obedience to a Divine commission given to her, so that she was not at liberty to harbour Sisera, or to do otherwise than she did, for it was the day of the Lord’s vindication of his own glory in the sight of the heathen. The very existence of God’s cause on the earth seemed to require the death of this man, for had he lived and carried out his schemes successfully, the issue would have been the annihilation of that cause. Preferring the God of Israel to all other gods, she felt that by obeying the commission given to her, she was striking a blow for the redemption of His great and Holy name.
One question still remains—Did Jael mean to deceive Sisera? Why did she go out to meet him, and receive him in so friendly a manner into her tent? She must have known it was Sisera, and that he was a fugitive from the battlefield. For she must have watched with intense interest how the day went, and had the earliest information that could be supplied. She must have known it was Sisera, from having seen him on former occasions, and now he would very likely have given the information himself. Why did she bid him welcome to her tent, and even encourage him not to fear? Nay, why did she act so decidedly in showing him the rites of hospitality, and give him the best which her house could afford; and so offer the strongest assurance, which the member of a nomad tribe could give, that he was safe while under her roof? The chief difficulty is, that all these circumstances are detailed along with the tragic act, and on the whole put together, the blessing seems to be pronounced. Was all this really sanctioned by the Spirit of God, that now rested on Deborah? How can we possibly justify Jael in saying what she did not mean, or speaking falsely to gain the confidence of a man, when she meant to take his life.
If the narrative had been given in full, doubtless the difficulties would have been greatly relieved, if not entirely removed. As it is, some explanations may be given.
(1.) It is not said that she agreed to tell the lie that Sisera put into her mouth, in Judges 4:20. She made no reply to his request.
(2.) She acted according to the custom of her race in receiving him into her tent. It was a fixed custom with the Arab races to show hospitality to strangers, especially when in very needy circumstances. “No one can repel with honour from the tent a stranger who claims hospitality, nor usually does anyone desire so to do.” [Pict. Bible in loco.] But she seems to have impressed on his mind that he was secure while under her roof. How does this consist with her intention to put him to death? The only explanation is to suppose that—
(3.) No intention to put him to death was yet formed in her mind. This is not only possible but probable. How many surprises come upon her all at once! How proudly Sisera went forth in the morning! What a huge bannered host gathered around him! What a small army lay on Mount Tabor in opposition! How hopeless for them to cope with such a formidable host as those now collected by the waters of Megiddo! Yet but a few hours pass, and that mighty force of men ranged in battle array, the image of incalculable strength, melts away like the baseless pictures of a dream. A hundred elements as in a moment, come down upon them from all quarters, and a frightful and rapid destruction takes place. The army is utterly ruined, and the general is now a solitary fugitive, flying across the hills for his life. Now he appears full of terror, without a solitary attendant, hungry, weary, and athirst, glad to enter the most humble dwelling for refuge. What a series of striking surprises must Jael have experienced; first to have heard so much of the terrible disaster, and then to have seen the renowned captain of the great army himself at her very threshold in such fearful plight? Is it at all likely, that she should, in a moment, with those mighty rocking changes going on around her, have formed any plot at all in her mind? Had she any time to weigh in her mind what was the best course to pursue in such unparalleled and altogether unexpected circumstances? Is it not far more probable that she would take the usual course adopted towards strangers first, and invite Sisera into her tent, giving him the usual rites of hospitality, and afterwards reflect more at leisure as to what was her duty to do. Having got a little time to reflect, all the circumstances, as we have described them, would rise quickly to her view, pointing to the death of Sisera—the enemy of the Lord and his people, “by the hand of a woman,” as an event arranged by God Himself to take place in connection with the issue of the battle. At the same moment, by some Divine impulse, a commission may have been given her by God to execute the Divine sentence. This thought, that she was now under Divine command, would supersede all other considerations and lead her with calm purpose to inflict the fatal blow.
There seems, in fact, to have been no premeditation to bring about this death; and it is only in this way that we acquit Jael of treachery in her conduct. But, however we explain it, we believe that she herself felt at the time, there were overpowering reasons urging her to act as she did.
MAIN HOMILETICS.—Judges 5:23-31
CONTRASTS IN THE DAY OF THE LORD
I. Special days of the Lord are needed.
“Days of the Lord”—a phrase so often used by the prophets—are different from common days. They are days when God makes some striking manifestations of His true character, in correction of the erroneous and defective views into which men are ever falling, from the remarkable forbearance which he usually exercises towards them in his Providential rule. By some strong act or acts, God rises up and declares what is due to His own Holy name. Though on ordinary, as well as special occasions, He hates sin with a great hatred, He is by nature so “slow to wrath,” that even when men sin against Him many times, and that, too, with a high hand, there are for a long while no signs that He is angry, or likely to inflict threatened punishment. He acts as one asleep; though all the time the motive is one of the richest mercy. He has no delight in the destruction, or the misery of His creatures. “He wills not that any should perish.” His inclination is to give pardons to the penitent, rather than retribution to the incorrigible. Hence He waits long, without measuring out their due deserts to the wicked.
But men misinterpret the Divine silence, and wax bolder in sin. They begin to imagine that God is such an one as themselves, and is practically indifferent to their sins. They begin to regard His threatenings as a dead letter, or that, if they are still to be looked at, His mercies are so great, that they will not allow Him to proceed very far with the work of judgment. Thus they go on adding sin to sin, until the fear of God becomes dissipated before their eyes. There is a letting down of what is due to the name of God. Men get settled down in the idea, that God does not practically feel towards sin, as in His written word He declares He does; and, in their interpretation of the threatened penalty, they either greatly minimise its meaning, or cast it aside altogether.
Days of the Lord are thus needed for the vindication of the Divine character. His Providence must sometimes visibly go as far as His word. It must be seen that He makes no abatement of His claims, because of His long silence, while His character must be cleared from the gross misconceptions which men have formed of it, from the long toleration extended to them in the past.
In the present case, a Day of the Lord was needed—
1. To bring men back to just views of what is due to God. (a.) For the Israelites, the long oppression of the Canaanites under Jabin, was a day of the Lord. Then God exhibited practically in His Providence, what He had long told His people so emphatically in His word, that He is a Jealous God, and is much displeased with the sin of their having any other God. He then showed that He could cast them off, notwithstanding His covenant; that He could go over to the side of the enemy, and fight against them, until they were not only defeated, but humiliated and crushed. Yet His faithfulness did not fail, for on their coming back to Him in penitence, He remembered His holy covenant. The end however was gained. They felt at last, and acknowledged it fully, that it was a terrible evil to depart from the living God, that He alone was to be feared and held in reverence, that all the gods of the nations were but dumb idols, while the God of Israel’s favour was to them all in all. Their ideas of the sacred character of their God, of His majesty, holiness, loving-kindness, truth and justice, became raised to the old standard of highest reverence; and they owned, that His claims on the love and obedience of the whole heart, were His simple due.
(b.) The oppressors also had to pass through a very rigid discipline, in getting a rectification of their views of Israel’s God. Long had they railed at His name, mocked His weakness, sneered at His laws and observances, and persecuted at will His people. But now what God so great in power as the Ruler of Israel, who is served by the very thunder and lightnings of heaven, by the sweeping whirlwind, and the rushing mighty waters! In the swift, overwhelming, and irremediable overthrow of the mightiest army which Canaan could produce, and that too through means of a mere handful of patriots, aided by the elements of nature, a grand demonstration was made of the fact, that Jehovah was the only true God, and that He was infinitely superior to all other gods which the nations worshipped. Then men learned to say, “Verily there is a God that judgeth in the earth, by whom the actions of men are weighed.” “Let the God of Israel but arise, and His enemies shall be scattered; as smoke is driven, so are they driven; as wax melted before the fire, so do they perish. He cutteth off the spirit of princes; He is terrible to the kings of the earth.”
(c.) For all spectators of that generation, how greatly was the standard of the fear of God raised! The shock of this mighty act was felt, not only through all Israel, but among all the surrounding nations. The God of Jacob whom they had begun so generally to despise, now rose up before all as the one great reality, amid a countless number of empty nothings. The whole earth kept silence before Him. There was no God that could deliver after this manner. With what a weight of sanction was the name Jehovah surrounded henceforth for all the men of that age! The shadow of the events of this day extended over forty years. Psalms 9:20; Psalms 83:18; Psalms 94:15; Psalms 78:65-66; Psalms 73:20.
2. Such a day was needed to grant the promised deliverance to His people. The standing promise of Jehovah to Israel was, that He would be their God, and on this footing would secure them in possession of the land. For their sins, He acted for a time, as if he had forgotton this promise, and allowed the enemy to overrun the country, and practically to dispossess Israel of their own territory. But now they were penitent and earnest suppliants at His footstool, and it was in the spirit of the covenant, that He should return to them, when they returned to Him (Leviticus 26:40-45; Deuteronomy 30:15). Hence a special time was needed to make a public display of the Divine favour for this people, to prove that they had not been cast off, but that their God was faithful as ever to act the part of their Divine Protector, and deliver them out of the hands of their enemies. “Though he visit transgression with the rod, yet He will not suffer His faithfulness to fail.”
II. Contrasts of character and destiny in the day of the Lord.
1. Those guilty of indecision on the day of decision. The day of the Lord’s decision was virtually a day when all things were taken according to the strict rule of justice. The acts or decisions made this day determined their character, and as they now showed themselves, so would they receive treatment in the future. The first case set before us in the paragraph is that of Meroz, who were specially noted this day as holding their hand, when they were called on in the most solemn manner to join in the discomfiture of the enemies of the Lord. They draw back undecided in the day of decision; and by that step they had their character fixed for the future. Though so strongly urged to decide, they yet showed no disposition to do anything; which proved in the most decisive manner, that they were not on the Lord’s side in heart (see pp. 284, 285).
The destiny of such is to have the curse of the Lord resting on them—or to be “cursed with a curse”—i.e. emphatically cursed. As the effect of this curse, the city has long since ceased to be. Its very site is unknown. Its name has become unknown in history; and the only vestige of it which remains to tell that once it was, is this curse of the angel of the Lord, announcing that it should no longer continue to exist in God’s world. Such is the fate of those who, however urgently dealt with by argument, yet doggedly refuse to devote themselves to His service. These people virtually turned their backs on the call which the God of Israel now made to them. And the higher the cause is which is to be served, the blacker is the treason which abandons it. Like the cursed fig tree, Meroz began at once to dwindle away.
2. Those who are zealous for God at all risks. This we believe was the spirit which Jael now exhibited. The principal motive, which influenced her to do the deed, was the Divine commission given her, and the end which she sought to gain was the glory of the Lord, in the breaking of the fetters upon His people, and the establishment of the reign of righteousness in the land. For this motive and end, kept steadily amid, doubtless, a conflict of many other motives, is she marked out for pre-eminent honour. It was at a moment of great peril that she decided, and this increased the virtue of her meritorious act. In any case, we dare not curse those whom the Lord has blessed.
The destiny of those who are ready to risk everything for God is, to have a special Divine blessing resting on them. As Jael highly honoured God by her conduct, so she is now highly honoured of Him. For the stand she made this day, her name has been preserved for everlasting honour, in the one really immortal Book of Time. Among all nations shall it become known, and wherever it is known, it will be with blessings heaped upon it. “Them that honour me will I honour.” For the sake of one noble act, how many names have found a niche of honour in the Book of God! The good king Melchizedeck, who shows himself for one short hour, and then retires to the darkness; the unselfish Onesiphorus, who did the office of a faithful friend to Christ’s servant in prison; the God-fearing Obadiah, who acted similarly by the Lord’s prophets, in the perilous times of the wicked Jezebel; or, to take one case somewhat similar to that of Jael, Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, who, by one stern act, in a time of public sin, turned away the wrath of God from the people, so that they were not all slain (Genesis 14:18-20 : 2 Timothy 1:16-18 1 Kings 18:13; Numbers 25:7-8).
3. Defiant enemies of the Lord, and their sympathisers. Such were Sisera and his mighty host, together with Sisera’s household, who awaited his return. They all had a common sympathy in the humiliation of Israel, and in showing contempt for Israel’s God. In Psalms 83:0 there is mention made of God’s enemies combining together against His name, and His people alike—to cut off the latter, so that the very name of this people might cease (Judges 5:4), and in doing this, they really wished to show their hatred against Israel’s God. (Judges 5:2-5; Judges 5:12). Among these enemies, or rather as a parallel case to theirs, are mentioned Sisera and Jabin at the brook Kishon (Judges 5:9-10). The kingdom over which Jabin ruled had already felt the power of Jehovah’s arm in the past, when Hazor and its king were utterly destroyed in the days of Joshua (Joshua 11:10-11). Besides this crushing blow inflicted on themselves, there was the long series of similar blows inflicted on all the other nations of the Canaanites, North and South, so that the true character of the God of Israel could not be misunderstood by them. Yet they dared to attack the people of God, among whom God had set His name, and wickedly treated them as slaves and the very refuse of the earth. Their custom probably was, and long had been, to blaspheme the name of Israel’s God and strive to root it out of the earth. And now, on this special day, when it was given forth by public proclamation, that Israel’s God was risen up out of His place to deliver His people, and that He was about to put Himself at their head to fight their battle, Sisera shows himself a defiant enemy to the last, by mustering a huge host to join issue with Israel’s mighty king.
All such are necessarily doomed to destruction. They have decided to treat God as their enemy, and after due warning given, and forbearance exercised, the only possible issue of such a conflict is, to bring down the Divine wrath upon them. God sets His face against them, for a moment, and they are ruined. For who can stand before His anger? “He looketh on the earth and it trembleth; He toucheth the hills and they smoke. All that were now gathered against the Lord and His anointed, were driven like chaff before the whirlwind.” “The enemies of the Lord became as the fat of lambs; they were consumed; into smoke did they consume away.” (Psalms 7:11-17; Psalms 11:6). Sisera fled from the sword of Barak, and the nail in the hand of Jael did strike him through. (Job 20:24).
COMMENTS AND SUGGESTIONS.—Judges 5:23-31
I. Crucial Testing-days are hastening on for all.
(1.) In this world there are certain times, when God in His Providence applies to every man’s character a crucial test; when he is searched as with lighted candles, and the hidden state of his heart is made manifest. The very channels along which his thoughts flow, are seen and known by himself, if not by others, and he stands discovered before his own eye, as to the secret motives by which his conduct is regulated. All props are taken away, and he is left to stand solely on the foundation which he has really chosen. Then it is known whether he has really determined to be for God at all hazards, and whether he has cast in his lot with the Saviour, at the expense of having to renounce all other friends and refuges. Such a time occurs when he is visited with some dangerous illness, which brings him to the borders of the eternal world, and he feels how helpless fellow-creatures are, in view of possible death. It is also a testing season, when he meets with some severe reverse of fortune, when his worldly prospects are dashed, if not altogether blighted, and when his bright sunny hopes all fade like a dissolving view. Also, when for the first time he makes a public profession of religion, and begins to wear Christ’s Name. Also, when he is called on to choose his appropriate companionships—religious or irreligious. And once more, the time when he feels he must decide what habits he will form, those which imply self-denial and the fear of God, or those which include self-indulgence and love of the world, but without Christ and with the loss of a good conscience.
(2.) In the great future. We are informed that “after death is the judgment”—that when dead the beggar “was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom,”—and that “the rich man in hell lifted up his eyes being in torment.” We are also told, that the penitent thief was at death to “go with the Saviour into paradise,” while of Judas we are told, that when he committed suicide “he went to his own place.” Thus, it would appear, that at the moment of quitting this world, the soul has its sentence passed upon it, according to its character for good or evil. Also at the end of time, we are assured that “all must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that every one may receive the things done in his body,” etc. Then “the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.”
II. The prosperity of the wicked is short.
It seemed a great triumph for the King of Hazor to grind to the dust that once mighty people, who under Joshua, caused all the nations of Canaan to tremble, and all but annihilated the Hazor of that day. Now he could wreak his vengeance upon them at will, for many years, and doubtless looked forward to their final extinction under the iron rule of Sisera. “But He that sitteth in the heavens did laugh, the Lord had them in derision.” How soon is “the candle of the wicked put out.” “He was great in power, and did spread himself like a green bay tree.” The day of the Lord comes round. “And he has passed away, and lo, he is not; yea he is sought for, but he cannot be found.” “How are they brought into desolation as in a moment! they are utterly consumed with terrors.” Yet these men but yesterday were “compassed about with pride as a chain, their eyes did stand out with fatness, and they did set their mouth against the heavens.”
When they think themselves secure from evil then suddenly destruction comes. They do not “watch” nor “number their days.” Witness Belshazzar, Herod, and “the fool” in Christ’s parable. How quickly did Abel’s blood cry for vengeance! and that of Naboth in Jezreel the moment that Ahab went to take possession! Jeroboam was stricken while he spoke (1 Kings 13:4). “The pleasures of sin are but for a season.”
It is a remarkable fact that in the history of Rome, beginning with the period after the Augustan era, over 500 years, as many as 74 emperors came to the throne, of whom only 19 died a natural death and 55 were murdered—having an average reign of 6½ years only for each!
“The prosperity of fools destroys them.” It is because some men are so prosperous, that their life is more brief than otherwise it would be. Prosperity exposes to envy and hatred; and to this cause more than to any other did the wearers of the Imperial Purple at Rome hold their short tenure of office. Sometimes the same man will touch the greatest height of prosperity, and the lowest depth of misery, within the space of a few hours. Henry the Fourth of France, when in the zenith of his power, was struck by a blow from a traitorous hand, and despatched in his coach; while his bloody corpse was forsaken even by his servants, and lay exposed an unseemly spectacle to all. There seemed indeed, but a moment between the adorations, and the oblivion, of that great prince, “all flesh is grass.”
Prosperity also often leads to habits of self-indulgence, which speedily terminate in death. Thus Alexander the Great, could conquer the world, but could not subdue his own evil passions, and quickly they conquered him. We knew a man who was accustomed to earn his bread by the sweat of his brow for many years. Suddenly, through the death of a friend, he came into the possession of a large fortune. He gave up his habits of industry, got into the hands of evil companions, who led him rapidly on the down hill path, and, though in the prime of life, within two years, he was laid in his grave.
III. His supreme folly.
How inexpressibly foolish is it for a man, who has the power of casting his thoughts into the future, and foreseeing the consequences of his acts, to spend a short career of some twenty years like Sisera, in acting the part of a proud tyrant over a helpless people, at the risk of incurring the wrath of that terrible God, who he knew, if it pleased Him, could at any moment rise from His place and consign him to irremediable destruction! “Woe unto him that striveth with his Maker!” How can it fare with him that striketh against a rock, but that his bones should be broken, and his purpose utterly fail? “Who hath hardened himself against God and hath prospered?” What infatuation is it for men, when they get a brief moment of power, to rush against the “thick bosses of the Almighty’s buckler!” With one ray of that supernatural glory with which He was surrounded, could the ascended Jesus, now at the helm of universal government, and having infinite power at His command, have consumed the proud horseman that was on his way to Damascus to persecute those whom the Saviour loved. Yet the worm dares to rear itself against an Omnipotent arm! In tones of pity it is whispered to Him that it is hard to strike against the solid rocks!
In the grey mist of an early summer morning, a troop of horse are seen stealing over a stretch of Scottish moorland, among the moss-hags and wild heath, when suddenly they came on the object of their search. John Brown, of Priesthill, had just finished earnest and fervent prayers with, and for, his family circle, showing more than usual of the wrestling spirit, and had gone to a little distance from his home to begin work for the day. He was taken back to his house, and in the presence of those most dear to him, was told by the bloody Graham of Claverhouse to go to his prayers, for instantly he must die. The most in-offensive of men, most loyal to his God, most just and true in his dealings with his fellow men, with nothing to lay to his charge, but the one circumstance that he dared to worship God according to his own conscience, is told by a representative of law and order, that, for this great offence, he must die, and at a moment’s notice! The command was given to fire—but not a hand was moved to do the work. The callous-hearted leader then himself walked up to his victim, and shot him through the head! The cruelly-used widow put to him the stinging question—“How will you answer in the future for this day’s work?” to which he replied—“To men I can easily answer, and as for God, I shall take Him in my own hand!” We mention this incident, because the names of Sisera and of Claverhouse are fit to be associated together on the same page; and to show the supreme infatuation of both in running such a monstrous career of wickedness, and raising fearful clouds of wrath against them in the future, with scarcely even a shadow of recompense in the present.
IV. His present misery. We cannot think that Sisera could have been a happy man, even at the head of his magnificent army, with myriads of warriors ready to obey his word of command. There was always the consciousness that he was engaged in the work of bloodshed, or trampling down the rights of others—that he was carrying bitter grief or absolute desolation into the homes of a nation, and that he was running up a fearful reckoning with the God of the Hebrews, if He should ever rise up and call him to account. It is impossible to have any pure happiness within a man’s inner nature, while there is a giving way to the darker and viler passions of the heart. Hence it is said, “there is no peace to the wicked.” Even at the best, there are snares in all their mercies; curses, also, and crosses attend all their comforts; and the curse of God follows them in every avenue of wickedness. They carry about with them their prison wherever they go, so that they are always in chains. And when any sudden flash crosses their path, or when any threatening sound makes itself heard in their ears, they feel as if the messenger were on their track, that is sent to summon them to appear at the bar of the Judge. It is but a troubled happiness which the wicked man has at the best: he draws it from impure springs, and he is liable to be robbed of it, at any moment, by forces over which he has no control.
V. His preparation for future misery.
(1.) He lives in the neglect of the great end of life. He has no aim in life but that of living for his own pleasure or profit. There is no ever-present conviction with him, that he has to spend his time chiefly for God, and that he is responsible for doing the many duties which God has set before him in His word.
(2.) He is every day provoking God to anger. By direct and positive acts of sin, or by many omissions in the discharge of duty. By forgetfulness of God, casting off His fear, and in many ways by listening to the world, instead of diligently hearkening to the voice of His word. By banishing God from his thoughts, as far as may be, and giving his affections to a thousand other objects rather than to the greatest, kindest, and best of Beings.
(3.) By delaying to take up the great question of the soul’s reconciliation with God. Every hour’s delay of this great matter is a slight put on the infinite sacrifice which God has made on men’s behalf. It is making light of the offer of boundless love. It is this, which under the name of unbelief, or not believing, is said to form the main ground of men’s condemnation in the gospel record.
(4.) Because he is always adding to his account before God, without in any way reducing it. Though, as time passes, he begins to forget the old sins, not one of them is really disposed of, while he hesitates to accept of God’s terms of reconciliation. When a man is hard pressed for money, and is on the verge of bankruptcy, he gets his bill renewed, but he well knows, that this is not a real payment; and, if it should be renewed again and again, there is still no payment made but only more interest added to the capital, making the debt larger and larger. Thus is it always till the Saviour is really embraced, and the debt is finally and really paid, on condition that the sinner gives himself entirely into His hands.
(5.) Because he is wasting on trifles the time which should be given to the saving of his soul. It is as if a man were to cut down, into chips, a strong oaken plank which is thrown to him to enable him to get across a yawning gulf, when there is no other means of escape. Is it wise for a man to busy himself in painting the door, when the house is on fire? or to spend much time at the toilet, when he is not sure whether his head shall stand on his shoulders another day? Is it fit that he should spend all his care in deciding what kind of dress he should wear, and to neglect a deadly cancer that has already begun to eat into his vitals?
(6.) Because he puts worldly enjoyment in the place of the enjoyment of God. Of worldlings it is said, “they take the timbril and the harp, and rejoice at the sound of the organ; they spend their days in wealth, and in a moment go down to the grave.” But there is “no fear of God before their eyes,” and no love of God in their hearts. “They do not submit themselves to the righteousness of God.” “The world is in their hearts.” God will not dwell in hearts where the world is on the throne. “If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” By allowing a usurper to reign over them, the wicked thus banish God from their presence, and when they cross the boundary line between the present and the future world, that condition becomes fixed, and so they remain for ever under the misery of being banished from God, the fountain of all life and joy.
Thus he carries with him the seeds of future misery wherever he goes, in his ungodly habits and preferences, superadded to his acts of transgression, or his omissions of the performance of duty. His only future must be to be deprived of all the smiles of his God, and to lie under His frown. This is misery.
VI. The wicked’s fearful end. “I saw the wicked buried,” says the wise moralist—and he might have added
(1.) I thought of his fair beginning—the good start he made in life; a bright morning, full of promise; a buoyant heart and mind full of joyful anticipations.
(2.) Next of his brilliant opening career. How he made several decided successes, as he entered into public life; how the world came around him with its smiles; how the tide of good fortune flowed to him; how he was flattered on every side, and marks of distinction were freely conferred.
(3.) Then I thought of the insidious influence of so many smiles and flatteries; of the danger of carrying so full a cup of temporal good things; of the many snares that Satan planted in his path; and of the persistent temptations with which on all sides he was surrounded.
(4.) I thought how, a little farther on in his career, he had already become the slave of “divers lusts and passions which war against the soul;” how he had turned a deaf ear to the warning voice of wisdom; how he had forsaken the uphill path which conducts to life and to God, and had chosen to turn aside into the by-paths and flowery meadows of sin, while fortune yet showered her favours upon him with lavish hand. And finally
(5.) I thought how rapidly he had descended from a lofty height into the valley of years, to fall among the thorns and quagmires that lie at the close of a worldling’s life. I thought of his desertion by the world, his abandonment by God, his being “held by the cords of his sins,” his being the prey of an accusing conscience, and at last entering the dark Jordan, without any provision made to save himself from foundering in the sullen waters.
1. At the best his career ends in vanity.
In some form or other, he substitutes the world for God, which in the nature, of the case, must terminate in vanity.
“’Tis no hyperbole, O man, if thou be told
You delve for dross, with mattocks made of gold.
Affections are too costly to bestow
Upon the fair-faced nothings here below.
The eagle scorns to fall down from on high
(The proverb saith) to pounce upon a silly fly;
And can a Christian leave the face of God
T’embrace the earth and dote upon a clod?”
“The Romans painted Honour in the temple of Apollo, as representing the form of a man, with a rose in his right hand, a lily in his left, above him a marigold, and under him, wormwood, with the inscription (Levate) ‘consider.’ The rose meant that man flourishes as a flower, and soon withers; the lily denoted the favour of man, which is easily lost. The marigold showed the fickleness of prosperity. The wormwood indicated that all delights of the world are sweet in execution, but bitter in retribution. Consider what a lesson of vanity is here?”
“What a deal of pains doth the spider take in weaving her web to catch flies! She runneth much, and often up and down, hither and thither; she wastes her own body to make a curious cabinet, and when she hath finished it, in the twinkling of an eye, the sweep of the besom brings it to the ground, destroying herself and it together, with one stroke. Thus it is with worldly men. They carp and care, toil and moil in this world, which they must soon leave for ever. They waste time and strength to add heap to heap, when quickly all perishes, and they, too, often along with it.”—Swinnock.
2. Often it ends in anguish.
(1.) It comes unexpectedly. “As a thief in the night—while they are saying, peace and safety, then sudden destruction cometh.” While the mind is weaving webs of schemes, while many agencies are set to work, and a great object in view is on the point of attainment; while a great acquisition is about to be made, and a higher platform is almost gained—at this particular moment, when least expected, the last messenger brings His summons, “Thou fool! this night thy soul is required of thee.” “At midnight a cry was made, Behold the bridegroom cometh, go ye out to meet Him.”
A bright morning broke for Sisera over the hills of Israel. Expectation rose high as he surveyed all the plain covered with masses of troops—sword and spear, helmet and buckler, the image of colossal strength. The subject nation would become more prostrate than ever; never would victory be more easily won. There was only one issue possible, when such a huge host were to be met by only a handful of undisciplined volunteers under a man who was no general. Golden dreams of new accessions to former glory filled the brain of the great commander, as he marshalled his troops along the banks of the Kishon, while the sun rose high in the heavens. three or four hours elapse, and that magnificent spectacle of living power becomes one vast Aceldama, while the vaunting general himself is reduced to the plight of running as a fugitive before the pursuing foe, and escaping death on the battlefield only to meet it more ignominiously, at the hands of a woman!
The unexpected character of this end reminds us of the capricious cruelty of the insignificant puppet, who ruled over the millions of ancient Persia (Xerxes), who sometimes crowned his footmen in the morning, and beheaded them in the evening of the same day. Also, the Greek Emperor, Andromachus, who crowned his admiral in the morning, and took off his head in the afternoon! “How are they brought unto desolation as in a moment? They are utterly consumed with terrors.”
(2.) It comes irresistibly. God is Almighty to punish the incorrigible, as well as to pardon the penitent. “The sinner has not a friend on the bench on the day when he is summoned to the highest tribunal. Not a single attribute will be his friend. Mercy itself will sit and vote with its fellow-attributes for his condemnation.” When his time is come, “the wicked is driven away in his wickedness.” “He shall fly away as a dream, and shall not be found; yea he shall be chased away as a vision of the night.” No more power has he to keep back his spirit in the day when God requireth it of him, than has the dry leaf power to defend itself against the rushing tempest. When death comes his soul is forced from him by power of law. “His soul is required of him.” “As a disobedient debtor he is delivered to pitiless exactors; or as a ship which is dragged by some fierce wind from its mooring, and driven furiously to perish on the rocks.”—Theophylact.
“In that dread moment, how the frantic soul
Raves round the walls of her clay tenement,
Runs to each avenue, and shrieks for help,
But shrieks in vain! how wistfully she looks
On all she’s leaving, now no longer hers!
O might she stay to wash away her stains,
And fit her for her passage! But the foe,
Like a staunch murd’rer steady to his purpose,
Pursues her close through every lane of life,
Nor misses once the track, but presses on;
Till forc’d at last to the tremendous verge,
At once she sinks to everlasting ruin!”
“Terrors take hold on him as waters; a tempest stealeth him away in the night. The east wind carrieth him away, and he departeth; and as a storm hurleth him out of his place. For God shall cast upon him and not spare. Men shall clap their hands at him, and shall hiss him out of his place.” On this occasion, Sisera was “chased as the chaff of the mountains before the wind, and like a rolling thing before the whirlwind.”
(3.) It makes a mockery of hopes. “Their inward thought is that their houses shall continue for ever, and their dwelling-places to all generations: they call their lands after their own names.” “But the expectation of the wicked shall perish. Like sheep they are laid in the grave; death shall feed on them. Their breath goeth forth and they return to the earth; in that very day their thoughts perish.” What a mockery did the act of Jael make of all the hopes cherished by the proud leader of the myriads that deployed on the plain of Jezreel! As dreams of the night they vanished away. Like the illusions of the mirage with its visions of silver streams and laden fruit trees, which disappear the moment the enchantment is broken, so is it with the miserable worldling, whom Satan has duped with the hopes of the honours and joys of earth in days to come. Every hope perishes. Bitter “disappointment remains their only comforter.” “Dust is the serpent’s meat,” and the same fare have all the serpent’s seed.
How can it be otherwise? To the wicked man who clings to his wickedness,
“No ray of hope
Dispels the involving gloom; a Deity,
With all the thunder of dread vengeance ’round him
Is ever present to his tortured thoughts.”
Notwithstanding all the diligence and cost, all the art and industry, which the wicked put out in order to perpetuate their names, their hope is, like the spider’s web, which at one stroke of the besom is brushed away, and in a moment it comes to nothing. “A great king, feeling that he was about to be approached by a greater monarch than himself—the king of Terrors—gave orders that when he died he should be put into a royal position, sitting in the attitude of a ruling monarch. In a mausoleum specially erected for the purpose, and in a tomb within this, he was placed upon a throne. The Gospel narratives were laid upon his knees; by his side was his celebrated sword; on his head was an imperial crown; and a royal mantle covered his lifeless shoulders. So it remained for 180 years! At length the tomb was opened. The skeleton form was found dissolved and dismembered; the ornaments were there, but the frame had sunk into fragments, and the bones had fallen asunder. There remained, indeed, the ghastly skull wearing its crown still—the only sign of royalty about this vain pageant of death in its most hideous form.”
(4.) There is no mixture of comfort with misery in their death. When death comes to the wicked the day of mercy closes, and with it all that mitigated the bitter cup of life is taken away. God ceases to smile, and all creature sources of happiness become as wells dried up. In God’s frown the whole universe joins, for all are His servants. Sometimes, on this side of time, the dark shadow of the eclipse steals over a man; and, as in the case before us, we see him entering the turbid waters without a single reliable friend to lean on, and without a ray of hope to lighten the gloom. The day of forbearance lasted long; it is now over, and there is no longer mercy mingled with justice. He who would contend with the Almighty at all risks, must now accept the results of his own decision. “The wicked man must now eat of the fruit of his own way, and be filled with his own devices.”
Those who abuse the day of mercy often die without a single friend to whisper peace at their pillow, or to supply a single consolation in the hour of need. There is no Christian friend to point them to the Saviour, to offer up prayer to Him who is able to save from death and all its consequences—to show marks of sympathy, to close the eyes in death, and take charge of the poor body when the spirit has fled. And yet this is but a trifling element in the case, compared with that which is implied in doing the office of a mediator, when the spirit quits its clay tenement to answer in the presence of the Judge for the deeds done in the body. It will then be every thing for a man to have provided a “Day’s-man” to answer to God for him, and to produce reconciliation between an offended God and His offending creature. It is the highest wisdom now to make this provision without the least delay. “The prudent man foreseeth the evil and hideth himself.”
(5.) It comes with marks of dishonour and degradation. That the most renowned warrior of his age should die at all when he had so many legions to defend him—that he should not be able to fight a stroke on the battlefield—that he should die as a fugitive, all alone without any of his chosen friends near him, in the dwelling of a supposed friend but a real enemy, above all, that he should die a tragic death at the hands of a woman!—all this indicated a marked degree of dishonour and degradation in his death. “Save me from the horrors of a jail,” were almost the dying words of one of the most gifted men of genius. A profligate nobleman in England, who long stood on a lofty pinnacle in the world of fashion, and was master of an income of the value of £50, 000 per annum, became at length reduced to the deepest distress by his vice and extravagance, and breathed his last moments in a miserable inn, forsaken and forgotten by his former companions. In a similar manner died one of the greatest statesmen whom England ever produced—in a small country inn, without a single attendant or comforter, though at one time whole nations were entranced by his eloquence. Now, in this humble dwelling, with none to care for him, or sympathise with his sorrows, he dies of a broken heart! Another bright genius, who long gained the most flattering distinctions in society, writes in old age, “I am absolutely undone and broken hearted. Misfortunes crowd on me, and I die haunted by fears of a prison. Forsaken by my gay associates, dispirited and world-weary, I close my eyes in gloom and sorrow.”
“Life ebbs, life ebbs, and leaves me dry,
As the hot desert, empty as the wind,
And hungry as the sea.”
How many leave the world thus “fallen, fallen from their high estate,” who have lived without God, and without Christ while they did live! “Shame shall be the promotion of fools.” At the last “some shall awake to shame and everlasting contempt,” and even during the present life there are not wanting illustrations.
(6.) It comes as an absolute ruin. It is the hour when every thing that a man has becomes lost, finally and absolutely lost—his property, his friends and relatives, his fame, his character, his works in this life, and all his prospects for the life to come! He stands between two worlds, a ruined and helpless man, no friend near, and an angry God for his enemy—all brought upon him by himself It is of all sights the most wretched. Warning was given that the “judgment though long deferred lingered not, and the damnation slumbered not.” And now he is in the hands of irresistible forces, which inflict upon him a terrible humiliation and utter ruin. God sets his face against him in vindication of His holy law, which he has so deeply transgressed; and now rebukes him in the fearful but just language of Proverbs 1:24-30.
His end is ruin. Every thread of life’s schemes is broken; warp and woof together are all torn to shreds. Not a vestige of life’s doings remains to serve as a memorial of the past—nothing save what may serve as material for an accusing conscience. Now the “rains have descended, the floods have come, the winds have blown and beaten against such a man’s house; it has fallen and great is the fall of it!” There was no foundation of rock. He tries to lean on the house which he has built on the sand, but it does not stand; he holds it fast, but it does not endure. It is like a man standing upon ice, or on slippery, shelving rocks. It is now discovered, that during life the wicked man had been carrying omens of sad import in his breast; that, though he stood well before men, he was like a book that is well bound externally, but when opened was found to be full of tragedies.
What a frustration of plans and purposes do we see in the example before us! How many webs were being spun in the loom of fancy, at the time when the awful catastrophe took place! How many vain hopes were buried in that unknown grave! The greatest warrior lies down as the beasts that perish; and there is no blessed resurrection. The name is forgotten, or lives to rot above ground as a warning to others. His destiny otherwise is to be forgotten. (Ecclesiastes 8:10; Psalms 37:10; Psalms 37:36; Psalms 37:38; Psalms 49:19; Proverbs 24:20.)
Melancholy as are these examples of spiritual shipwreck, they will, we believe, form but a small minority in the whole population of the globe at the end of time. If the number of the saved did not greatly exceed the number that shall perish, where would be the victory of “the Son of God in coming to destroy the works of the Devil?” Also, now that a highway has been opened, clear of all obstruction for sinful man to come back to God, where would be the broad evidence that “God will have all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth?” Meantime the Saviour Himself warns every man to strive earnestly for his own salvation, rather than enquire curiously about the number of the saved. (Luke 13:23-24).
N. B.—The Church in every age has its songs.
The bow of hope that is set over its future is the bow of an everlasting covenant, and gives assurance against devastation in the future. The well whence its contents are drawn is deeper than can ever dry up. The army that is engaged to defend it night and day is incomparably mightier than the united force of all that are in league against it. When faith is strong, its bright days always exceed in number those that are dark; in the hardest struggle it is never more than brought to its knees, and in the end it never fails to come off “a conqueror, and more.”
Much of its vocation, therefore, even in this world is to sing; and its songs are lyrics rather than elegies. Its days are never so dark as to be altogether without stars, and therefore not without songs. In the times of Genesis, the Church was scarcely yet old enough to have a history, but the Book does not close until we have a prophetic song on the brightness of her future career (Genesis 49:0). Then says Wordsworth, “We have a song of victory in Exodus (chap. 15); we have a song of victory in Numbers (chaps. 23 and 24); we have a song of victory in Deuteronomy (chap. 32); we have this song of victory in Judges; we have a song of victory in the First Book of Samuel (chap. 2); we have a song of victory in the Second Book of Samuel (chap. 22); we have also the song of Zacharias, that of the Virgin, that of Simeon, in the gospel narrative; and all these songs are preludes to the new song, ‘the song of Moses and of the Lamb,’ which the saints of the Church glorified from all nations, will sing at the crystal sea, when all the enemies of the Church shall have been subdued, and their victory assured for ever” (Revelation 14:15). He might have added that from the days of David more than one-half of all the sacred writings of the Church of God is in the language of song—David and others in the Psalms, and Isaiah and others in the writings of the Prophets. If the subject is not that of victory, it is for the most part that of victory in the days to come, as not less certain than if it had been already accomplished.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Judges 5". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/