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The most ancient race of the earth seemed about to pass away, or to lose its identity in subjection to another people. The Israelites had been twenty years in subjection to Jabin king of the Canaanites, who held his court in the city of Azor, with an armed force of 300,000 infantry, 10,000 cavalry, and 3,000 chariots. His general, Sisera, had vanquished them in several pitched battles, and reduced them to become tributaries, or enslaved subjects. "No humiliation was saved them,” says the most favourable of their historians, " and this was permitted by God to punish them for their pride and their ingratitude.”*
In this depressed state, the descendants of Abraham and Sarah, however, kept up some forms of their old republican and spiritual government-a nucleus of their future power, —a sign to rally their prostrate spirits, in moments of hope and faith! They had still a judge in Israel, (the successor of Moses, and of Joshua, and, like them, believed to be inspired by the Divine Spirit) one in whom the virtue, and the wisdom, and the courage of their ancient prophets, statesmen, and warriors, were still extant. This judge or ruler, "whose seat of judgment was not in the gorgeous tabernacle,” where the great tribunal of the people was held in the time of Moses and Eleazer, "but under a palm-tree," "this judge to whom the children of Israel still came up for judgment," was a woman !—" Deborah, the prophetess, of Lapidoth." "For she judged Israel at that time, when Jabin mightily oppressed them."+
Her name, Deborah, is said to signify the bee-the natural image, not less of sagacity and public utility, than of female pertinacity and forethought. Deborah seems to have been supreme, both in civil and religious affairs; and if Lapidoth were her husband, and not her birthplace, as some suppose,§ he is not mentioned as being any thing
Josephus, book v. chap. vi.
+This," (says Doctor Clarke) "is the first instance of a Gynæocracy on record." The Salic law was no item in the Mosaic code. Doctor Clarke.
Lapidoth the termination," says a learned commentator, "is not common in the name of a man, and some make it the name of a place." Others take it appellatively-Lapidoth, signifying a lamp: and the Rabbins relate that Deborah was first discovered feeding the lamps on the altar of the tabernacle: they also suppose that the epithet alluded to her intellectual illumination.
either in the government, or in the victorious army raised by his inspired wife.
A Rabbinical commentator writes that "those among the Israelites, who, before her time, had secretly lamented the impurities of the people, and knew not where to apply for the means of reformation," now came up to "the palm tree of Deborah," and, in their confidence in her spiritual mission upon earth, sought her mediation with God, that they might be delivered out of the hands of their
But the scripture, a far better authority, says explicitly "that Deborah judged Israel;" and that when the children of Israel, in the moment of their direst exigency, and deepest despondency, "came up to her for judgment" or counsel, she acted at once vigorously and promptly upon their appeal-made an effort to rouse the dormant spirit of the now degraded conquerors of kings and kingdomssent for the chief captain of their inglorious host, Barak, and giving him his commission from on high, under the broad seal of Heaven, which, as Heaven's minister, she was warranted to affix, she spoke these bold words, in which the spirit of the prophetess consecrated the strong volition of the valorous woman :-" Hath not the Lord God of Israel commanded, saying, Go and draw to Mount Tabor, with those 10,000 men, &c.; and I will draw unto thee, to the river Kishon, Sisera, the captain of Jabin's army. For, with his armies and his multitudes, I will deliver them into thy hands.'
But Barak doubted-hesitated; he had no confidence in so daring an enterprise, without the influential presence of her who had prophesied it. "If," said the timid general, "If thou wilt go with me, then I will go; but if thou wilt not go with me, then will I not go."
The spirited, reproachful, and contemptuous answer of Deborah is full of life and truth-" I will surely go with thee, notwithstanding the journey thou takest shall not be for thine honour; for the Lord shall sell Sisera into the hands of a woman.". "And Deborah arose and went with Barak to Kedesh."
The movements and numerical force of Barak were betrayed to the enemy by the treachery of Heber. Sisera, too, marched with a disproportioned force upon Kishon,
which may have made the heart of the Israelite captain quail; since Deborah had again to pour her spirit in his ear. "Deborah said unto Barak, 'Up! for this is the day in which the Lord hath delivered Sisera into thy hands; is not the Lord going before thee?' So Barak went down from Mount Tabor, and 10,000 men after him."
Under the spirit-stirring influence of the inspired Deborah, Barak recovered his courage, fought, and conquered; and, of the powerful enemy, of the hitherto victorious leader of the Canaanites, "there was not a man left." "From that hour, the children of Israel prospered, and prevailed over Jabin, the king of Canaan, whom they destroyed."*
When the battle was fought and won, which saved Israel, then Deborah,-the wise judge-the brave warrior, came forth in the face of her people, in her higher quality of prophetess and priestess, and raised that glorious, canticle, that Te Deum, which for poetry, sublimity, and historical interest, has never been surpassed. Her invocation to her own high spirit, "Awake! awake! Deborah!”—“ Awake, awake, with a song!" is abrupt and sublime. Her fearful description of the state of Israel, when she "awoke" it to its salvation,-when "the highways were unoccupied, and travellers walked through byways, when the inhabitants of the villages ceased in Israel, and when they chose new gods,' '-"when there was war at the gates" and when, there" was neither a shield or spear seen among 40,000 in Israel,”—is eminently graphic." Speak, ye that ride on white asses"
*Judges, chap. iv.
+ This canticle of Deborah was sung 2285 years before the birth of Christ. A fine immortality! a grand celebrity! There are among the learned some who believe that Homer took it as his model, and found in it the germ of his own immortal poem. In an article in the British Quarterly Review, in which the intellectual nature of Woman is treated with contempt, their supporters (few in number) are called on to produce any thing that can compare to the poetry produced by men. The first ode on record was the joint effusion of a brother and sister, Moses and Miriam; and Deborah's canticle, which succeeded it, besides its higher poetic inspiration, has the distinction of preceding Homer's epic by thirteen centuries.
+ Persons of quality, it seems, were distinguished by the colour of the asses they rode on; the white, being more rare, were more valued.Exposition of the Historical Books of the Old Testament, by M. H. of the Gospel.
(the aristocracy of the land)" Ye that sit in judgment" "Ye, the nobles among the people," are interrogations not less strikingly grand. Her allusion to the former glories of Israel, when "the mountains melted from before the Lord God of Israel," contrasting to the abject state in which she found it, is artfully and poetically conceived. Lonely, and silent, and desolate, the cities and villages lay prostrate. The clank of foreign arms, "the noise of archers," were alone heard in the once most frequented places and all was in prostration, "until I, Deborah, arose! Î arose, a mother in Israel!"* "and my heart was towards the governors of Israel that offered themselves willingly. The Lord made me have dominion over the mighty;" "out of Machir came down governors, and out of Zebulun they that handle the pen of the writer."
"And the princes of Issachar were with Deborah ! and Barak," "who was sent on foot into the valley." To this enumeration of her faithful allies, the brave and the intellectual of her nation, follows that indignant reproach to the deserters of the holy cause of national emancipation. "For the divisions of Reuben there were great thoughts of heart ;" and of his tribe, she asks, tauntingly, “Why abidest thou among the sheep-fold to hear the bleatings of the flocks?" Gilead, too, is reproached as remaining "beyond Jordan! and Dan, in his ships, and Asher, abode on the sea, in his breaches (creeks).” "While," she adds, "the tribes of Zebulun and Nepththali jeopardized their lives unto death, in the high places of the field." The victory of the popular army, she had raised, is thus beautifully sung: "They fought from Heaven. The stars, in their courses, fought against Sisera! the river of Kishon swept them away (that ancient river!)" "Oh, my soul, thou hast trodden down strength; so let all thine enemies perish before the Lord; but let them that love thee be as the sun when he goeth down in his strength."
To this splendid effusion, all the power and faculties of an ardent soul, in their closest intensity and application,
*This canticle is given conjointly to Deborah and Barak. But Deborah says throughout, in her own person, " I, Deborah." And Barak is mentioned in the second person as being according to the historical fact," sent by her on foot into the valley."
were evidently brought to bear! Deborah was in earnest, "as she was spiritually, said to be, inspired;" and something may be allowed in extenuation of her seeming selfglorifying, on account of the extraordinary position in which she was placed;-the ruler of one nation, the conqueror of another, and the first great reformer which had risen among the Hebrews, since the mission of their mighty legislator, Moses.
Deborah reigned and maintained an unbroken peace in Israel of forty years (an indefinite term),* in which there was nothing to record; happy the nation whose bloodstained chronicles are thus interleaved with the white pages of peace and prosperous obscurity!
It has been remarked by scriptural commentators, that Deborah alone, of all the rulers of Israel, has escaped, unreproved by the prophets and inspired historians; and the murmuring Israelites, who denounced Moses as deceptive, accused Joshua as indiscreet, revealed the vices of Samson, the frailties of David, and the idolatry of Solomon, have left the pure and active life of Deborah of Lapidoth without spot or reproach.
The peace of forty years, "given to the land by Deborah," terminated, after her death, in the war with the Midianites and the Arabs, by whom, for their sins, "the Israelites were oppressed." This event, ascribed to the ingratitude and idolatry of the restless factious tribes, brought forward the genius and founded the fortunes of the valiant Gideon, who refused the prayer of the people he had saved, to rule over them, otherwise than through the influence of his consideration and patriotism.
When his death had relieved the Israelites from all moral and spiritual restraint, "again they remembered not the Lord their God, who had delivered them out of the
*The frequent occurrence of the number forty in scriptural text is very remarkable. The Flood lasted "forty days," the Israelites were forty years" in the Desert, Moses "forty days" in the Mount, Ezekiel prophesied that Egypt should be desolated for "forty years," and our Saviour was" forty days," in the Wilderness. The modern Arabs still employ the word "forty" to express an indefinite period. The Hebrew is said to be a sister-dialect of the Arabic, and the Jews and Arabs may have mutually borrowed from each other.
† Judges, chap. vi. Josephus, book viii.