Judges Chapter Five
Praise and glory ascribed to God. (1-5) The distress and deliverance of Israel. (6-11) Some commended, others censured. (12-23) Sisera's mother disappointed. (24-31)
Commentary on Judges 5:1-5.
(Read Judges 5:1-5.)
No time should be lost in returning thanks to the Lord for his mercies; for our praises are most acceptable, pleasant, and profitable, when they flow from a full heart. By this, love and gratitude would be more excited and more deeply fixed in the hearts of believers; the events would be more known and longer remembered. Whatever Deborah, Barak, or the army had done, the Lord must have all the praise. The will, the power, and the success were all from Him.
Commentary on Judges 5:6-11.
(Read Judges 5:6-11.)
Deborah describes the distressed state of Israel under the tyranny of Jabin, that their salvation might appear more gracious. She shows what brought this misery upon them. It was their idolatry. They chose new gods, with new names. But under all these images, Satan was worshipped. Deborah was a mother to Israel, by diligently promoting the salvation of their souls. She calls on those who shared the advantages of this great salvation, to offer up thanks to God for it. Let such as are restored, not only to their liberty as other Israelites, but to their rank, speak God's praises. This is the Lord's doing. In these acts of his, justice was executed on his enemies. In times of persecution, God's ordinances, the walls of salvation, whence the waters of life are drawn, are resorted to at the hazard of the lives of those who attend them. At all times Satan will endeavour to hinder the believer from drawing near to the throne of grace. Notice God's kindness to his trembling people. It is the glory of God to protect those who are most exposed, and to help the weakest. Let us notice the benefit we have from the public peace, the inhabitants of villages especially, and give God the praise.
Commentary on Judges 5:12-23
(Read Judges 5:12-23)
Deborah called on her own soul to be in earnest. He that will set the hearts of other men on fire with the love of Christ, must himself burn with love. Praising God is a work we should awake to, and awake ourselves unto. She notices who fought against Israel, who fought for them, and who kept away. Who fought against them. They were obstinate enemies to God's people, therefore the more dangerous. Who fought for them. The several tribes that helped are here spoken of with honour; for though God is above all to be glorified, those who are employed must have their due praise, to encourage others. But the whole creation is at war with those to whom God is an enemy. The river of Kishon fought against their enemies. At most times it was shallow, yet now, probably by the great rain that fell, it was so swelled, and the stream so deep and strong, that those who attempted to pass, were drowned. Deborah's own soul fought against them. When the soul is employed in holy exercises, and heart-work is made of them, through the grace of God, the strength of our spiritual enemies will be trodden down, and will fall before us. She observes who kept away, and did not side with Israel, as might have been expected. Thus many are kept from doing their duty by the fear of trouble, the love of ease, and undue affection to their worldly business and advantage. Narrow, selfish spirits care not what becomes of God's church, so that they can but get, keep, and save money. All seek their own, Philippians 2:21. A little will serve those for a pretence to stay at home, who have no mind to engage in needful services, because there is difficulty and danger in them. But we cannot keep away from the contest between the Lord and his enemies; and if we do not actively endeavour to promote his cause in this wicked world, we shall fall under the curse against the workers of iniquity. Though He needs no human help, yet he is pleased to accept the services of those who improve their talents to advance his cause. He requires every man to do so.
Commentary on Judges 5:24-31
(Read Judges 5:24-31)
Jael had a special blessing. Those whose lot is cast in the tent, in a low and narrow sphere, if they serve God according to the powers he has given them, shall not lose their reward. The mother of Sisera looked for his return, not in the least fearing his success. Let us take heed of indulging eager desires towards any temporal good, particularly toward that which cherishes vain-glory, for that was what she here doted on. What a picture does she present of an ungodly and sensual heart! How shameful and childish these wishes of an aged mother and her attendants for her son! And thus does God often bring ruin on his enemies when they are most puffed up. Deborah concludes with a prayer to God for the destruction of all his foes, and for the comfort of all his friends. Such shall be the honour, and joy of all who love God in sincerity, they shall shine for ever as the sun in the firmament.
── Matthew Henry《Concise Commentary on Judges》
 Then sang Deborah and Barak the son of Abinoam on that day, saying,
Deborah — The composer of this song.
 Praise ye the LORD for the avenging of Israel, when the people willingly offered themselves.
The Lord-Give him the praise who hath done the work. The people — Chiefly Zebulun and Naphtali.
Offered themselves — When neither Deborah nor Barak had any power to compel them.
 Hear, O ye kings; give ear, O ye princes; I, even I, will sing unto the LORD; I will sing praise to the LORD God of Israel.
The princes — You especially that live near, and have evil designs against Israel, know this for your caution, and terror too, if you presume to molest them.
God of Israel — Who, as you see by this plain instance, is both able and resolved to defend them from all their enemies.
 LORD, when thou wentest out of Seir, when thou marchedst out of the field of Edom, the earth trembled, and the heavens dropped, the clouds also dropped water.
Edom — Seir and Edom are the same place; and these two expressions note the same thing, even God's marching in the head of his people, from Seir or Edom, towards the land of Canaan: while the Israelites were encompassing mount Seir, there were none of the following effects; but when once they had done that, and got Edom on their backs, then they marched directly forward towards the land of Canaan. The prophetess being to praise God for the present mercies, takes her rise higher, and begins her song with the commemoration of the ancient deliverances afforded by God to his people, the rather because of the great resemblance this had with them, in the miraculous manner of them.
The earth trembled — God prepared the way for his people, and struck a dread into their enemies, by earth-quakes as well as by other terrible signs.
Dropped water — That is, thou didst send storms and tempests, thunder and lightning, and other tokens of thy displeasure upon thine enemies.
 The mountains melted from before the LORD, even that Sinai from before the LORD God of Israel.
Melted — Or, flowed, with floods of water powered out of the clouds upon them, and from them flowing down in a mighty stream upon the lower grounds, and carrying down part of the mountains with it.
Sinai — She slides into the mention of a more ancient appearance of God for his people in Sinai; it being usual in scripture repetitions of former actions, to put divers together in a narrow compass. The sense is, No wonder that the mountains of the Amorites and Canaanites melted and trembled, when thou didst lead thy people toward them; for even Sinai itself could not bear thy presence, but melted in like manner before thee.
 In the days of Shamgar the son of Anath, in the days of Jael, the highways were unoccupied, and the travellers walked through byways.
Jael — Jael, though an illustrious woman, effected nothing for the deliverance of God's people, 'till God raised me up.
By-ways — Because of the Philistines and Canaanites, who, besides the public burdens which they laid upon them, waited for all opportunities to do them mischief secretly; their soldiers watching for travellers in common roads, as is usual with such in times of war; and, because of the robbers even of their own people, who having cast off the fear of God, and there being no king in Israel to punish them, broke forth into acts of injustice and violence, even against their own brethren.
 The inhabitants of the villages ceased, they ceased in Israel, until that I Deborah arose, that I arose a mother in Israel.
Ceased — The people forsook all their unfortified towns, not being able to protect them from military insolence.
A mother — That is, to be to them as a mother, to instruct, and rule, and protect them, which duties a mother owes to her children.
 They chose new gods; then was war in the gates: was there a shield or spear seen among forty thousand in Israel?
Chose — They did not only submit to idolatry when they were forced to it by tyrants, but they freely chose it.
New gods — New to them, and unknown to their fathers, and new in comparison of the true and everlasting God of Israel, being but of yesterday.
The gates — That is, in their walled cities, which have gates and bars; gates are often put for cities; then their strong holds fell into the hands of their enemies.
Was there a shield — There was not, the meaning is not, that all the Israelites had no arms, but, either they had but few arms among them, being many thousands of them disarmed by the Canaanites and Philistines, or that they generally neglected the use of arms, as being without all hope of recovering their liberty.
 My heart is toward the governors of Israel, that offered themselves willingly among the people. Bless ye the LORD.
My heart is toward — I honour and love those, who being the chief of the people in wealth and dignity, did not withdraw themselves from the work, as such usually do; but exposed themselves to the same hazards, and joined with their brethren in this noble but dangerous attempt.
The Lord — Who inclined their hearts to this undertaking, and gave them success in it. As she gives instruments their due, so she is careful the sovereign cause lose not his glory.
 Speak, ye that ride on white asses, ye that sit in judgment, and walk by the way.
Speak — Celebrate the praise of our mighty God.
That walk — That is, you that can safely travel in those high ways, which before you durst neither ride nor walk in: so great and mean persons are jointly excited to praise God.
 They that are delivered from the noise of archers in the places of drawing water, there shall they rehearse the righteous acts of the LORD, even the righteous acts toward the inhabitants of his villages in Israel: then shall the people of the LORD go down to the gates.
From the noise — From the triumphant noise and shout of archers, rejoicing when they meet with their prey.
Of drawing water — At those pits or springs of water, which were precious in those hot countries, to which the people's necessities forced them to resort, and nigh unto which the archers usually lurked, that they may shoot at them, and kill and spoil them.
There — When they come to those places with freedom and safety, which before they could not, they shall with thankfulness rehearse this righteous and gracious work of God, in rescuing his people.
Of the villages — Whom she mentions, because as their danger was greater, verse 7, so was their deliverance.
Gates — Of their cities, which were the chief places to which both city and country resorted for public business and matters of justice, from which they they had been debarred by their oppressors; but now they had free access and passage, either in or out of the gates, as their occasions required; and they who had been driven from their cities, now returned to them in peace and triumph; so the citizens deliverance is celebrated here, as the country-mens is in the foregoing words.
 Awake, awake, Deborah: awake, awake, utter a song: arise, Barak, and lead thy captivity captive, thou son of Abinoam.
Awake — Stir up thyself and all that is within thee, to admire and praise the Lord. This work needs and well deserves the utmost liveliness and vigour of soul.
Lead captivity captive — How could this be done, when there was none of them left? chap. 4:16. 1. None were left to make head against them. 2. None is often put for few, and those few might be taken after the battle, and carried captive, and led in triumph.
 Then he made him that remaineth have dominion over the nobles among the people: the LORD made me have dominion over the mighty.
He made him, … — Thus God did not only preserve the poor and despised remnant of his people, from the fury of the oppressor, and from the destruction which Sisera designed, but also gave them the victory, and thereby the dominion over the nobles of Canaan, who were combined against them.
Me — Tho' but a weak woman.
 Out of Ephraim was there a root of them against Amalek; after thee, Benjamin, among thy people; out of Machir came down governors, and out of Zebulun they that handle the pen of the writer.
Ephraim — Now she relates the carriage of the several tribes in the expedition; and she begins with Ephraim.
A root — Of the Ephraimites. By root she seems to mean a branch, as that word is sometimes used. By which also she may note the fewness of those that came out of Ephraim, yielding but one branch or an handful of men to this service.
Amalek — The constant enemy of the Israelites, who were confederate with their last oppressors the Moabites, chap. 3:13, and in all probability took their advantage now against the Israelites in the southern or middle parts of Canaan, while their main force was drawn northward against Jabin and Sisera. Against these therefore Ephraim sent forth a party, and so did Benjamin.
Benjamin — Benjamin followed Ephraim's example.
The people — Among the people of Benjamin, with whom these few Ephraimites united themselves in this expedition.
Machir — That is, out of the tribe of Manasseh, which are elsewhere called by the name of Machir, namely, out of the half tribe which was within Jordan; for of the other she speaks, verse 17.
Governors — Either civil governors, princes and great persons, who were as ready to hazard themselves, as the meanest: or military officers, valiant and expert commanders, such as some of Machir's posterity are noted to have been.
Writer — That is, even the Scribes, who gave themselves to study and writing, whereby they were exempted from military service, did voluntarily enter into this service.
 And the princes of Issachar were with Deborah; even Issachar, and also Barak: he was sent on foot into the valley. For the divisions of Reuben there were great thoughts of heart.
With Deborah — Ready to assist her.
Issachar — Heb. and Issachar, that is, the tribe or people of Issachar, following the counsel and example of their princes.
Barak — That is, they were as hearty and valiant as Barak their general; and as he marched on foot against their enemies horses and chariots, and that into the valley, where the main use of horses and chariots lies; so did they with no less courage and resolution.
Divisions — Or, separations, not so much one from another, (for they seem to be all so well agreed in abiding at home with their sheep) as all from their brethren, from whom they were divided no less in their designs and affections, than in their situation by the river Jordan: and they would not join their interests and forces with them in this common cause.
Great thoughts — Or, great searchings, great and sad thoughts, and debates, and perplexities of mind among the Israelites, to see themselves deserted by so great and potent a tribe as Reuben was.
 Why abodest thou among the sheepfolds, to hear the bleatings of the flocks? For the divisions of Reuben there were great searchings of heart.
Why abodest — Why wast thou so unworthy and cowardly, that thou wouldest not engage thyself in so just, so necessary, and so noble a cause, but didst prefer the care of this sheep, and thy own ease and safety, before this generous undertaking? Reuben thought neutrality their wisest course; being very rich in cattle, Numbers 32:1. They were loath to run the hazard of so great a loss, by taking up arms against so potent an enemy as Jabin: and the bleatings of their sheep were so loud in their ears, that they could not hear the call of Deborah and Barak.
 Gilead abode beyond Jordan: and why did Dan remain in ships? Asher continued on the sea shore, and abode in his breaches.
Gilead — Sometimes taken strictly for that part of the land beyond Jordan which fell to the half-tribe of Manasseh, and sometimes both for that part of Manasseh's, and for Gad's portion, as Joshua 13:24-25,29-31, and so it seems to be understood here; and the land Gilead is here put for the people or inhabitants of it, Gad and Manasseh.
Beyond Jordan — In their own portions, and did not come over Jordan to the help of the Lord, and of his people, as they ought to have done.
In ships — Dan, whose coast was near the sea, was wholly intent upon his merchandise, and therefore could not join in this land expedition.
Sea-shore — Where their lot lay.
His breaches — Either in the creeks of the sea, or, in their broken and craggy rocks and caves.
 Zebulun and Naphtali were a people that jeoparded their lives unto the death in the high places of the field.
Jeoparded — Heb. despised, comparatively; they chose rather to venture upon a generous and honourable death, than to enjoy a shameful and servile life.
High-places — That is, upon that large and eminent plain in the top of mount Tabor, where they put themselves in battle array, and expected the enemy; though when they saw they did not come up to them, they marched down to meet them.
 The kings came and fought, then fought the kings of Canaan in Taanach by the waters of Megiddo; they took no gain of money.
The kings — There were divers petty kings in those parts who were subject to Jabin.
Megiddo — Taanah and Megiddo were two eminent cities, not far from mount Tabor, nor from the river Kishon.
No gain — They fought without pay, whether from mere hatred of the Israelites, and a desire to be revenged upon them: or from a full hope and confidence of paying themselves abundantly out of Israel's spoils.
 They fought from heaven; the stars in their courses fought against Sisera.
From heaven — Or, they from heaven, or the heavenly host fought, by thunder, and lightning, and hail-stones, possibly mingled with fire.
The stars — Raising these storms by their influences, which they do naturally.
Courses — Or, from their paths, or stations. As soldiers fight in their ranks and places assigned them, so did these.
 The river of Kishon swept them away, that ancient river, the river Kishon. O my soul, thou hast trodden down strength.
River of Kishon — Which, though not great in itself, was now much swelled by the foregoing storm and rain, and therefore drowned those who being pursued by the hand of God, and by the Israelites, were forced into it, and thought to pass over it, as they did before.
Ancient river — So called, either, first, in opposition to those rivers which are of a later date, being made by the hand and art of man. Or, secondly, because it was a river anciently famous for remarkable exploits, for which it was celebrated by the ancient poets or writers, though not here mentioned.
Trodden down — Thou, O Deborah, though but a weak woman, hast by God's assistance subdued a potent enemy. Such abrupt speeches are frequent in poetical scriptures.
 Then were the horsehoofs broken by the means of the pransings, the pransings of their mighty ones.
Horses hoofs — Their horses, in which they put most confidence, had their hoofs, which are their support and strength, broken, either by dreadful hail-stones, or rather, by their swift and violent running over the stony grounds, when they fled with all possible speed from God and from Israel.
Pransings — Or because of their fierce or swift courses.
Mighty ones — Of their strong and valiant riders, who forced their horses to run away as fast as they could.
 Curse ye Meroz, said the angel of the LORD, curse ye bitterly the inhabitants thereof; because they came not to the help of the LORD, to the help of the LORD against the mighty.
Meroz — A place then, no doubt, eminent and considerable, tho' now there be no remembrance of it left, which possibly might be the effect of this bitter curse; as God curseth Amalek in this manner, that he would utterly blot out their remembrance. And this place above all others may be thus severely cursed; because it was near the place of the fight, and therefore had the greatest opportunity and obligation to assist their brethren.
The angel, … — She signifies, that this curse proceeded not from her ill-will towards that place, but from divine inspiration; and that if all the rest of the song should be taken but for the breathings of a pious soul, but liable to mistake, yet this branch of it was immediately directed to her by the Lord, the angel of the covenant.
Of the Lord — Of the Lord's people: for God takes what is done for, or against his people, as if it was done to himself. The cause between God and the mighty, the principalities and powers of the kingdom of darkness, will not admit of a neutrality.
 Blessed above women shall Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite be, blessed shall she be above women in the tent.
Blessed — Celebrated, and endowed with all sorts of blessings more than they.
In the tent — In her tent or habitation, in her house and family, and all her affairs: for she and hers dwelt in tents. The tent is here mentioned as an allusion to the place where the fact was done.
 He asked water, and she gave him milk; she brought forth butter in a lordly dish.
Butter — Or, cream, that is, the choicest of her milk: so the same thing is repeated in different words.
Lordly dish — Which you are not to understand of such a costly dish as the luxury of after ages brought in, which is not agreeable to the simplicity either of this family, or of those ancient times; but of a comely and convenient dish, the best which she had, and such as the better sort of persons then used. Probably Jael at that time intended him no other than kindness, 'till God by an immediate impulse on her mind, directed her to do otherwise.
 The mother of Sisera looked out at a window, and cried through the lattice, Why is his chariot so long in coming? why tarry the wheels of his chariots?
Looked out — Expecting to see him returning: for she concluded, that he went forth not so much to fight, as to take the spoil.
 Have they not sped? have they not divided the prey; to every man a damsel or two; to Sisera a prey of divers colours, a prey of divers colours of needlework, of divers colours of needlework on both sides, meet for the necks of them that take the spoil?
Have they not, … — That is, it is certain they have got the prey, only they tarry to distribute it, according to every man's quality and merit.
 So let all thine enemies perish, O LORD: but let them that love him be as the sun when he goeth forth in his might. And the land had rest forty years.
So let — That is, so suddenly, so surely, so effectual and irrecoverably. Deborah was a prophetess and this prayer was a prediction, that in due time all God's enemies shall perish.
In his might — When he first riseth, and so goeth on in his course, which he doth with great might, even as a strong man that runneth a race, and so as no creature can stop, or hinder him; even so irresistible let thy people be. Such shall be the honour and such the joy of all that love God in sincerity, and they shall shine for ever as the sun in the kingdom of their father.
── John Wesley《Explanatory Notes on Judges》
05 Chapter 5
Then sang Deborah and Barak.
Leaders who lead
This is far better given in the Revised Version: “For that the leaders took the lead in Israel, for that the people offered themselves willingly, bless ye the Lord.” The poetess gives two reasons why her enterprise was successful.
I. The first reason of success was that the leaders took the lead. They were not engaged elsewhere; they did not linger; they were not too excessively modest. They were in the forefront of the enterprise in resource and enthusiasm and execution. The leaders in those days in Israel were the heads of the tribes. In ancient society there was always an arrangement which provided natural leaders to whom the people could look. In spite of what some people may say to the contrary, there is a great deal of loyalty still in the people to what might be called their natural leaders, and I may say this, that our aristocracy have immense advantages on their side if only they have the heart to give themselves to public work. It is the man with the biggest and clearest and keenest brain that is the leader in modern times. The thinker, the orator, the author, the journalist, the inventor, the scientist--these are the men to whom we now look to give the watchword and lead us in public work. I think it is vain to deny that money is great power in modern times, and the making of it is a rough test of ability, although it is a very humble illustration of my text. In politics and in reforms in the Church and the municipality we should get quit of those awful wrongs and abuses which disfigure our life, and we could raise our people to higher and nobler life if only the leaders would take the lead. Unfortunately they do not do it. Very often the best causes have to do without those that should be the leaders. They do not get the people with ten talents, and have to struggle along as best they can with the people who have one talent, and who use it for the glory of God and the good of men. This may be due to the fact that those who should be leaders are occupied with their own affairs, and have no heart for the public interest. Those who have most of this world’s means and influence are often living a life of frivolity and selfishness. Those who are engaged in the struggle of life are often thinking of nothing but enriching them selves. Those who have the finest culture often keep aloof from the profane multitude. Or the fact that the leaders do not take the lead may be due to timidity and over-caution. Any change that alters the status quo must give annoyance and cause loss to somebody. When once a reform is matter of history, and is put down in books of history, all men praise it, but while it is being accomplished few men praise and many oppose. I remember a few years ago there was hardly a newspaper in the country in which there was not a leader in praise of Wilberforce and the noble men who co-operated with him in that great reform. But in his own day Wilberforee and his coadjutors were not praised at all. They were even exposed to personal violence. Every evil name was flung at them. Drunkenness is inflicting on our country evils so vast and potent that any considerable diminution of it, say the reduction of it by half, would be a reform infinitely greater than those reforms by which our statesmen are at present winning their laurels. But if a statesman of the first mark, a man of the calibre of Mr. Balfour or Mr. Chamberlain or Mr. Morley, were to take the lead on this subject, he would simply be shrieked at by all who are engaged in that traffic.
II. The other reason given by this ancient heroine for her success was that the people willingly followed. Leaders cannot win a cause; it is won by the followers. Now sometimes the people do not follow even when the leaders take the lead.
1. Instead of that, they wish themselves to take the lead. Many a cause has been wrecked by the jealousies and suspicions of those who have thought they were fit for positions greater than were assigned to them. We often hear of the need of first-class leaders, but I sometimes think what the world needs most is great numbers of men who are willing to take the second place, or the third place, or the fourth place, and to work as heartily there as if they were in the first place. That requires even more heroism. The man who is in the first place attracts the eyes of all, and may receive his reward in fame, but the man who works well in an obscure place only receives the reward of the cause itself.
2. Another reason why the people do not always follow is that they are criticising instead of following. Now I should not like to conclude without referring to the last words of my text, “Bless ye the Lord.” Deborah attributed the success to the leaders taking the lead and the people following willingly, but she went beyond these means, and traced all to the Lord. (J. Stalker, D. D.)
Now in this text we are called upon to celebrate our leaders, “for that the leaders took the lead in Israel.” Deborah, with a fine instinct, perceived the singular value of great and heroic leaders. In some directions to-day there is a disposition to obscure greatness, to deny, I was going to say, the supreme value of splendid talents. Oh, let us recognise the rights of the people. We must never forget in this world the wonderful importance of the man as against the multitude. The Roman soldier was a master in his art and profession, but what would all the Roman soldiers have been but a rabble without Caesar? I dare say those sailors four centuries ago were brave and skilful Italians and Spaniards, but they would have done very little with that barque on the Atlantic without Columbus. You may have fine masons and painters, but if St. Peter’s is to be built in Rome or St. Paul’s in London you must have Michael Angelo in one place and Sir Christopher Wren in the other. Oh, no, let us acknowledge the multitude, and all the rights that pertain to them, but that need not for a moment obscure our mind as to the appreciation of men of supreme genius. “For the leaders that took the lead bless ye the Lord.” The great architects, the great navigators, the great captains; they are all great gifts of God to humanity. Outside a great leader is the architect of civilisation, and in the Church a great leader is the organiser of victory. (W. L. Watkinson.)
Deborah: a mother in Israel
Deborah was an extraordinary woman. In strength of understanding, in strength of will, in soundness of judgment, in splendid courage, in warmth of heart, and, withal, in what we would nowadays call literary genius, Deborah was an absolute miracle of many sides. There was neither king, nor captain, nor judge, nor prophet, nor psalmist, nor a man to be called a man in all Israel in those evil days till Deborah arose with all those things in herself. To begin with, Deborah’s name came to be known outside of her own house by her strong sense and her open, fair, masculine mind. Her neighbours were constantly falling into disputes and quarrels, and the way Deborah dealt with all those disputes and quarrels soon made her name famous. Her house in Mount Ephraim was a refuge to all the oppressed. Her palm tree was a strong tower to which all the afflicted people continually came up. At the same time, with all that, Deborah’s name would never have come down to us had it not been for the terrible oppression that lay on all Israel from their enemies round about. But while all this went on Deborah was only walking all the closer with her God at Bethel. Deborah does not put it into her song--she cannot put everything into one song--but how she would go out to meditate and to pray under Jacob’s ladder after her day’s work was done! How she would seek wisdom and direction at that House of God. What was it that made Deborah arise at last and come forth from her own house to be the mother in all Israel she was and is? Was it the death of Lapidoth, her husband, that made her a widow indeed, and set her free to fellow out her mighty hopes for the house of Israel? Had her sons been carried into captivity of the King of Canaan; and had it been better for her daughters that they had never been born? It was some of these things, it was all these things taken together that at last roused up the slumbering lioness in Deborah’s bosom, and made her swear beside the sacred stone in Bethel that Israel should be set free. But, after all, Deborah was only a woman. And to discomfit Sisera and his nine hundred chariots of iron demanded a man at the head of ten thousand men; while in all the tribe of Ephraim there was nothing but women. And Deborah sent, says her history, and called Barak the son of Abiuoam out of Kadesh-Naphtali, and said unto him, Hath not the Lord God of Israel commanded, saying, go, and draw toward Mount Tabor, and I will draw out Sisera the captain of Jabin’s army, and I will deliver him into thine hand. Arise, Barak, and lead captivity captive, thou son of Abinoam. In what is perhaps the most beautiful volume of sermons that has been published in England since Dr. Newman came down from the English pulpit, though a very different volume in many ways, the late Master of Balliol says that the first of Christian duties in our day is the removal of the evils of our great towns. Now one of the two worst evils of all our great towns will never be removed till a mother like Deborah arises in our Israel. There is one evil in all our great towns that our Barak-like men may and must remove. And my heart is toward the governors of Israel that offered themselves willingly among the people. But the other great evil is one that the women, and more especially the mothers, of our great towns must take into their own hands. It will need Deborah and Barak too. It will need all Deborah’s strength of understanding, and all her strength of will, and all her soundness of judgment, and all her warmth of heart, and all her splendour of courage, and all her wholeness of devotion, as well as all her genius, to speak it home and to write it home to our slow and selfish hearts. But you are not a queen, or a princess, or a peeress, and because you cannot do everything you sit still and do nothing. No. But have you not a fire-side, and a lady friend or two, and a spare hour on a Saturday or a Sabbath night? Have you no imagination? Have you no heart? Have you no apprehension? Have you no son or nephew? (A. Whyte, D. D.)
National mercies and national sins
I. The grounds of thankfulness which Deborah thought she and the whole nation had.
1. She insists, first, upon the cheerful willingness of the people, their ready alacrity in obeying the call of the Lord their God, when by her voice He summoned them to arms. Oh! that there were such a heart in each one of us! Spiritual readiness is the attitude and the grace of angels. God desires, and will have, from us all, hearty service. Whether as regards our substance or our time, our talents or our affections, the Word declares, “God loveth a cheerful giver.”
2. Deborah notices gratefully the interference of God Himself in behalf of the nation. What could Israel, in their enslaved and enfeebled state, have done against Jabin’s nine hundred chariots? Of what avail would have been the willingness of the people or the valour of the chiefs if the Lord had provided no succours? But the Lord had provided them. And like mercies have been vouchsafed to us with regard to our personal and individual conflicts with sin and Satan. Satan is especially called the “prince of the power of the air “; what would the rude implements of earthly warfare avail against such an antagonist? No; God puts the spiritual against the spiritual; He brings the arms of an invisible providence to bear upon the spiritual fortunes of a child of God, and to keep him from falling. Angels are ministering to us whilst we sleep; the elements are combining for our good, even when we know not the very existence of evil; and never till we are beyond the reach of evil and sin shall we know how the Lord “fought” for our souls “from heaven,” or how “the stars in their courses fought against Sisera.”
3. Deborah finds matter of thankfulness in the peaceful and happy state of the country contrasted with its condition under the oppressions of Jabin; and to this part of Deborah’s song I entreat your special attention. Her picture of two countries, or at least of the same country under two different governments, will be found to have such an astonishing parallel that I hope every heart amongst us will be lifted up to God with silent thankfulness. Observe, then, first, Deborah speaks of a country where all trade was stopped: “In the days of Shamgar the son of Anath, in the days of Jael, the highways were unoccupied.” The great public thoroughfares were all closed; the caravans could no longer convey their merchandise from city to city; the merchants found their occupation gone. Then, secondly, she says that in this country travelling had become unsafe: “The travellers walked through byways.” The complete lawlessness of the people and the bold effrontery of the robber made those who had occasion to travel seek the most lonely and unfrequented byways. Every step they took was taken with fear; they saw death or danger at every turn. Then, thirdly, she says that there was no tilling of the ground: “The inhabitants of the villages ceased.” The constant incursions of lawless hordes had driven the villagers from their peaceful employments; the cessation of commerce throughout the land had closed the market for their grain; whilst for the sake of personal safety the poor villagers were obliged to leave their humble abodes and take refuge in walled and fenced cities. Fourthly, she says that there was no administration of justice. The “people of the Lord” could not “go down to the gates”--“the gates” signifying, as you are aware, in the Jewish language, the courts of justice. In the eighth verse she gives the reason why all judicial proceedings were suspended: “Then was war in the gates.” The courts of justice resounded with the noise of arms; the gravity of the judge was merged in the zeal of the soldier; the magistrates had lost all dignity and the people all respect for law. Lastly, she says that no dependence could be placed on the military strength of the country: “Was there a shield or spear seen among forty thousand in Israel?” All energy was now gone; all public spirit had decayed; anarchy and misrule held sovereign away, and order and good government were banished from the land. I need not stay to tell you where this awful picture of national misery and misrule has but a too faithful counterpart. I pass on to another picture, which, God be praised, hath its counterpart also. “What is the state of our country now?” asks Deborah. “Why, our nobles ride secure on white asses; our judges, without fear, sit in judgment at the gates, undisturbed by the noise of archers in the places of drawing water; and the people, as they walk by the way, rehearse the righteous acts of the Lord. Now all is peaceful among us; our ships ride upon the sea; our caravans throng the highways; our villages revive amid the busy industry of pruning-hook and ploughshare; and now all that remains for us is to testify, by a song of thankfulness, our gratitude to God.” Neither should there be lost upon us Deborah’s invitation to different classes of society to join in this song of gratitude. First, you will perceive, she calls upon the noble and the wealthy: “’Speak, ye that ride on white asses.’ Who gave you your wealth? Who has preserved to you your wealth? To whom alone is the praise due that your substance has not been wrested from you by bands of marauders; that you have not been driven from your country by the insecurity of property; that, under the protecting shadow of equal laws, you can now lie down with safety, none making you afraid?” Then, secondly, she speaks to magistrates and judges. “’Speak, ye that sit in judgment.’ Who has preserved your office in all its reverence? Who has continued your lives in all their sacredness? Who has kept your authority in all the respect in which the people hold it?” Then, thirdly, she addresses herself to those who are engaged in the ordinary occupations of life. “‘Speak, ye that walk by the way’; following your peaceful employments without fear of the public robber, without dread of lawless assemblages, reposing under your own vine and your own fig-tree; rehearse the wonderful works of God. Yes, ‘high and low, rich and poor,’ rehearse the righteous acts of the Lord, even His righteous acts towards the inhabitants of the villages of Israel.” And have we no part to bear in Deborah’s song? Oh! shall there be a British heart cold or British tongue dumb while we think of our signal, eminent--I might almost say solitarily enjoyed blessings? “Awake, awake,” England; “awake, awake, utter a song.” Let us, while we bewail her sins and confess her pride, mourn over her luxurious living when thousands are starving for the bread of life--let us also bless God for His mercies to this our land. Let us bless Him that blood hath not yet stained our streets; that our ears tingle not with the sound of artillery; that the file and the hammer are yet heard in our shops; and that our churches are still open, where we may praise and worship God.
II. Some causes of sorrow and stern rebuke. The Lord’s cause had triumphed, as triumph it ever will, whether we “come to the help of the Lord” or not. Still the names of those shall be told up who come to the Lord’s help, in order that it may be seen who are to be shutout from the triumph, who are to have no part in the joy, who are to have no mention in God’s book of remembrance, save to their dishonour and their shame.
1. First, some are noticed reprehensibly by Deborah because of the contentions and strifes among them: “For the divisions of Reuben there were great searchings of heart.” Oh! take ye good heed; for if at this moment you are cherishing an unkind feeling towards any human being, you are cherishing that which is an eternal foe to godliness; you are cherishing that which may drive the Spirit of God from your souls; you are cherishing that which in your dying hour will cause you bitter searchings of heart.
2. But another sin which Deborah notices, as excluding the parties who had committed it from all part in Israel’s triumph, is the sin of slothfulness--the love of ease, an unwillingness to endure the hardships and encounter the difficulties of the Christian life: “Why abodest thou among the sheepfolds, to hear the bleatings of the flocks?” Are there not many who never make a sacrifice, never impose on themselves any form of restraint, who are conscious of nothing worthy of the name of effort, whose life is one of gilded, cushioned, luxurious ease, without one struggle or one act of self-denial?
3. But another occasion of unfaithfulness to the Lord’s cause is an absorbing interest in worldly engagements: “Dan remained in ships,” and “Asher continued on the sea-shore.” Oh! be not deceived by that refined artifice of Satan which tempts you to persist in the pursuit of that which he persuades you is lawful. Heaven has fixed its own law of preferences, has determined which of two interests shall be sacrificed if an occasion arise in which we must sacrifice one. What amount of “corn and wine and oil” will compensate us for the loss of the “light of God’s countenance”? What emergency or extremity in our domestic affairs could ever supersede that imperative law, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all other things shall be added unto you”?
4. There is one more excluding sin mentioned by Deborah, the sin of religious indifference--the sin of a Gallio-like, uncaring, unthinking spirit--the sin of a Loadicean lukewarmness about the things of God. “Curse ye Meroz, said the angel of the Lord, curse ye bitterly the inhabitants thereof.” Why? For any positive sin which they had committed? For any great scandal which they had brought on the Lord’s name and cause? No, but “because they came not to the help of the Lord, to the help of the Lord against the mighty.” It seems as if God were speaking from the thick cloud to each one amongst us, and asking, not “What have you left undone?” but “What have you done?”--done for God, done for eternity, done for “the help of the Lord against the mighty”? And think not to escape with the plea that opportunity is wanting for thus serving God. I tell you that every relation in life affords scope for this pious activity. As masters, you may counsel; as parents, you may teach; as friends, you may speak “a word in season”; as rich, you may give of your substance to promote good works; as poor, you may promote benevolent objects by daily and earnest prayer. But if in none of these ways you are conscious of helping the Lord, if neither by your counsel, nor by your encouragement, nor by your example, nor by your prayers, you come to the Lord’s help, then are you included among “the inhabitants of Meroz,” and the curse of Meroz abides upon your souls. (D. Moore, M. A.)
I, even I--
The big “I”
Archdeacon Hare tells us that of all peoples, so far as he knows, the English people are the only people who write the first personal pronoun in one capital letter, “I.” He further tells us that this fact lets in a good deal of light upon the English character, much that is favourable to the Englishman, and perhaps a good deal that is unfavourable. Now I will dwell--
I. Upon two of the favourable things he mentions.
1. He says that the letter “I,” that stands up by itself, expresses the freedom and independency of the Englishman. It is a good thing to be free and independent. But I don’t want you children to be independent in the wrong sense. You are very dependent little creatures, and have all been very dependent ever since you were born--so dependent upon your mother’s care and your father’s love. I want you to feel that you are very dependent indeed, and above all that you are very dependent upon God. But yet there is a sense in which we ought to be independent and free. The boy who does not insist upon exercising his own freedom and independency is very soon despised, and he very soon goes to the bad.
2. The letter “I” also denotes the Englishman’s firmness. It is wonderful how firm we can be if we have planted our foot in the right place. No one is so firm as the man who has planted his foot upon the Rock of Ages, or the Truth as it is in Jesus. When a man has learnt what the Saviour expects of him, and says, “God helping me, I will do it,” he puts down his foot upon a foundation which can never give way.
II. I will mention now two of the unfavourable things referred to by Archdeacon Hare.
1. He tells us that the letter “I” shows a certain amount of arrogance. He says that the proudest word in English, to judge by its way of carrying itself, is this “I.” There it is, lifting its head up above everybody else, and looking down with contempt upon its little neighbours. Now theft is not a good thing. That is utterly unlike the Lord Jesus. He was meek and gentle in spirit: He never looked down upon any one, but welcomed poor broken-down sinners to His presence, and ever spoke a kind word to the world’s outcasts.
2. The capital “I” represents the Englishman’s reserve and isolation. It loves to stand alone, and does not believe in mixing up with others. Let us no longer hold ourselves aloof, but be kind and gentle to all. Whenever you meet another, do not gather yourself up in your little coat, and conclude that you must be better than he; but be ready to draw near and shake hands with another little boy; and, if he is poorer than you, there is a special chance for you to do him a little kindness. Remember that it is the will of Jesus that we should be very kind to each other, and in His name, yea, and for His sake, bless all. (D. Davies.)
They chose new gods; then was war in the gates.
The soldier’s honour
1. The apostasy of the people: “They chose new gods.” This I call the alarm; for ungodliness calls to war. If we fight against God, we provoke God to fight against us. Then--
2. A laying on of punishment. God meets their abomination with desolation; the hand of justice against the hand of unrighteousness: “Then was war in the gates.” This I call the battle. Then--
3. A destitution of remedy: “Was there a shield or spear seen among forty thousand in Israel?” Sin had not only brought war, but taken away defence--sent them unarmed to fight. And this I call the forlorn hope.
I. The alarm: “They chose new gods.” Their idolatry may be aggravated by three circumstances or degrees. They are all declining and downwards: there is evil, worse, and worst of all.
1. “They chose.” Here is a frank choice, no compelling. They voluntarily took to themselves, and betook themselves to, other gods. There is evil, the first degree.
2. “Gods.” What! a people trained up in the knowledge of one God: “Jehovah, I am; and there is none besides Me.” The bees have but one king, flocks and herds but one leader, the sky but one sun, the world but one God.
3. “New gods.” Will any nation change their gods? No; the Ekronites will keep their god, though it be Beelzebub; the Ammonites will keep their god, though it be Melchom; the Syrians will stick to their god, though it be Rimmon; the Philistines will not part with their god, though it be Dagon. And shall Israel change Jehovah, the living God? This is worst of all.
II. We come now to the battle: “Then was war in the gates.” If Israel give God an alarm of wickedness, God will give them a battle of desolation. Idolatry is an extreme impiety; therefore against it the gate of heaven is barred (1 Corinthians 6:9). Let us view the punishment as it is described: “Then was war in the gates.”
1. The nature of it: “War.” War is that miserable desolation that finds a land before it like Eden, and leaves it behind it like Sodom and Gomorrah, a desolate and forsaken wilderness. Let it be sowed with the seed of man and beast, as a field with wheat, war will eat it up. In itself it is a miserable punishment.
2. The time: “Then.” When was this war? In the time of idolatry. “They chose new gods; then.” When we fight against God, we incense Him to fight against us. Yet if timely repentance step in, we escape His blows, though He hath not escaped ours. But if Israel’s sins strike up alarm, Israel’s God will give battle. If they choose new gods, the true God will punish. “Then was war.” It is a fearful thing when God fights.
3. The place: “In the gates.” This is an extreme progress of war, to come so near as the gates. If it had been in the land of their enemies, a preparation of war a great way off, the noise of war--yea, if it had come but to the coasts and invaded the borders, as the Philistines did often forage the skirts of Israel, yet it had been somewhat tolerable, for then they had but seen it only. “Thou hast shewed Thy people grievous things” (Psalms 60:3)--shewed, but not inflicted; shaken the rod, but not scourged us. But here war is come to their thresholds, yea, to the heart of the land, to defy them in the very gates. And now they more than hear or see it; they feel it. You now see the punishment. Happy are we that cannot judge the terrors of war but by report, that never saw our towns and cities burning, our houses rifled, our temples spoiled. We have been strangers to this misery in passion, let us not be so in compassion. Let us think we have seen these calamities with our neighbours’ eyes, and felt them through their sides.
III. We now come to the forlorn hope: “Was there a shield or spear seen among forty thousand in Israel?” Was there? There was not.This question is a plain negative. Here is the want of help; great misery, but no remedy; not a spear to offend, no, not a shield to defend. War, and war in the gates, and yet neither offensive nor defensive weapon! It takes away all, both present possession and future possibility; help and hope. You see now all the parts of the affliction: the alarm in sin, the battle in war, and the forlorn hope in the want of remedy. Two useful observations may hence be deduced--
1. That war at some times is just and necessary; indeed, just when it is necessary: as here. For shall it come to the gates, and shall we not meet it? Yea, shall we not meet it before it come near the gates? There is, then, a season when war is good and lawful. Now there are two cautions observable in the justness of wars--
(a) The peace of the people; for we must aim by war to make way for peace. We must not desire truce to this end, that we may gather force for an unjust war; but we desire a just war that we may settle a true peace.
(b) The health and safety of our country: some must be endangered that all may not be destroyed.
(c) The glory of the kingdom; and that is, the gospel of Jesus Christ. Wars for God are called God’s battles. The destruction of their cities that revolt from God to idols, and the whole spoil, is for the Lord; it is the Lord’s battle and the Lord’s spoil (Deuteronomy 13:16).
2. The other inference that may hence be deduced is this, that munition and arms should at all times be in readiness. Wise men in fair weather repair their houses against winter storms; the ant labours in harvest that she may feast at Christmas. Be long in preparing for war, that thou mayest overcome with more speed. A long preparation makes a short and quick victory. I have held you long in the battle; it is now high time to sound a retreat. But as I have spoken much of Israel’s affliction, so give me leave to speak one word of the prophetess’s affection, and of this only by way of exhortation: “My heart is set on the governors of Israel, that offered themselves willingly among the people. Bless ye the Lord.” Here is the subject in which this affection resides and the object on which this affection reflects. The subject wherein it abides is the heart--a great zeal of love. Not only the affection of the heart, but the heart of affection: “My heart is set.” The object on which it reflects is double, man and God; the excellent creature, and the most excellent Creator; the men of God, and the God of men. Upon men: “My heart is towards the governors of Israel, that offered themselves willingly among the people.” Upon God: “Bless ye the Lord.” Among men two sorts are objected to this love: superiors in the first place, inferiors in the latter. To the commanders primarily, but not only; for if they offered themselves willingly among the people, as we read it, then certainly the people also willingly offered themselves, as the other translations read it, “Those that were willing amongst the people.”
1. To the governors of our Israel; that they offer for themselves willingly to these military designs, not on compulsion. His brows deserve no wreathed coronet that is enforced. Come with a willing mind. In every good work there must be cheerfulness in the affection and carefulness in the action. God loves a cheerful giver; so thou gainest no small thing by it, but even the love of God. “Whatsoever good thing thou doest,” saith Augustine, “do it cheerfully and willingly, and thou doest it well.” You that have the places of government, offer willingly your hands, your purses, yourselves, to this noble exercise. Your good example shall hearten others.
2. Now for you that are the materials of all this, let me say to you without flattery, Go forth with courage in the fear of God, and the Lord be with you. Preserve unity among yourselves, lest as in a town on fire, whilst all good hands are helping to quench it, thieves are most busy to steal booties; so whilst you contend, murmur, or repine one at the honour of another, that subtle thief, Satan, through the crack of your divisions, step in, and steal away your peace. Offer yourselves willingly; and being offered, step not back. Remember that it is base for a soldier to fly. And remember always the burden of this song, which everything that hath breath must sing, “Bless ye the Lord.” (T. Adams.)
Delivered from the noise of archers in the places of drawing water.--
Songs of deliverance
I. Our text tells us of wells cleared from the foe, and speaks of those who “are delivered from the noise of archers in the places of drawing water.”
1. We thank God that we who are children of the Most High have wells to go to. The world is a wilderness, say what we will of it. “This is not our rest; it is polluted.” Our great inexhaustible well is the Lord Jesus Christ. He is, indeed, the great “deep that lieth under,” the “deep that coucheth beneath,” the secret spring and source from which the crystal streams of life flow, through the wells of instrumentality and ordinance. “All my fresh springs are in Thee.” Whenever we come to the Lord Jesus Christ, we drink and are refreshed. No thirst can abide where He is. Arising out of this greatest fountain, we have wells from which we draw the waters of comfort. First there is this book, this golden book, this book of God, the Word of God, with its thousands of promises, suitable to every case, applicable to all seasons. So it is also with the well of ordinances--baptism and the Lord’s Supper. I must not forget the mercy-seat. What a well that is to the Christian when he can draw nigh unto God with true heart! It is a glorious thing to have such a well as that in the family, where, in prayer with the children, you can bring all the necessities of the household before God. Let us never give up that well. But, as for private prayer, this world were drear indeed if we could not pour out our sorrows into our Father’s ear. Over and above this, every form of fellowship with Jesus, wrought in us by the Spirit, is a well of salvation. He is our dear companion, our ever present help in time of trouble.
2. Thus have I mentioned some of the wells. Now, concerning them all, it may be said, that they can never be stopped up by our foes. If outward ordinances be stopped, yet the great deep that lieth under will find a vent somewhere.
3. Moreover, as they cannot be stopped, so neither can they be taken away from us. They are ours by covenant engagements; they are guaranteed to us by the solemn league of the Eternal Three; and none of these covenant blessings shall be wrested from the heirs of life, who are heirs of all things in Christ Jesus.
4. Though these fountains cannot be stopped up or taken away, yet we can be molested in coming near to them. It seems that archers and wells frequently go together. It was the blessing of Joseph.--“Joseph is a fruitful bough, even a fruitful bough by a well; whose branches run over the wall.” But what next? “The archers have sorely grieved him, and shot at him, and hated him.” And so in the text: here are wells, but there is the noise of archers, which greatly disturbs those who go to draw water. I think you know what the noise of archers has been to you when you have tried to draw water. Years ago, with some of us, our sins were the archers that shot at us when we would fain come to Christ and drink of His salvation. When we bowed the knee in prayer a fiery arrow would dart into our hearts--“How dare you pray? God heareth not sinners!” When we read the Word of God another barbed shaft would be shot against us”--What hast thou to do with God’s Word? There can be no promise there for such as thou art.” I thank God, when our faith is in exercise, and our hope is dear, we can see our interest in Christ; we come to Him just as we came at first, and cast ourselves wholly upon him. Then we no longer fear the archers, but are rid of every fear. I should not wonder if another band of archers has sometimes attacked you when you have been at the wells, namely, your cares. Dear mother, the thought of the children at home has frequently disturbed your devotions in the assembly of the saints. Good friend, engaged in business, you do not always find it easy to put a hedge between Saturday and Sunday. The cares of the week will stray into the sacred enclosure of the day of rest, and thus the cruel archers worry you. It is well to be able to cast all our cares on Him who careth for us, and thus, by an act of faith in our heavenly Father, to be delivered from the noise of these archers.
II. The songs by the well. As when the people came to the wells of old they were wont to talk with one another if all was peaceful, so when we come up to the ordinances of God’s house, and enjoy fellowship with Jesus, we should not spend our time in idle chat, but we should rehearse the works of the Lord. Around all the wells, whichever they may be, of which we drink, let our conversation be concerning Christ and His dying love; concerning the Holy Spirit and His conquering power; concerning the providence of God and its goodness and its faithfulness; and then, as we wend our way to our different homes, let us go with music in our hearts, and music on our lips, to take music to our household, each man and woman magnifying the name of the Lord. Did you observe carefully what it was they sang of?--“The acts of the Lord.” But there is an adjective appended, “The righteous acts of the Lord.” Righteousness is that attribute which the carnal man fears, but he who sees the righteousness of God satisfied by the atonement of Christ is charmed even by the severe aspect of God dressed as a judge. Then, if you observe, it was “the righteous acts of the Lord toward His people.” Yes, the very marrow of the gospel lies in special, discriminating, distinguishing grace. Note with care that the works which are to be rehearsed are done towards the inhabitants of the villages of Israel. Does not this suggest that we ought frequently to magnify the Lord’s choice favour and tender indulgence towards the least and feeblest of His family?
III. The text says, “Then shall the people of the Lord go down to the gates,” by which several things may be intended.
1. When the people of God are altogether delivered from their sins, and their cares, and their troubles, by the great redemption of the Lord Jesus and the power of His Spirit, then they enjoy great liberty. The liberty of the man of the world is liberty to commit evil without restraint; the liberty of a child of God is to walk in holiness without hindrance. When the believer’s ways are enlarged, he delights to run in the statutes of the Lord; obedience is freedom to the Lord’s servant. It is a most glorious liberty which a man possesses when he is no longer in bondage to men, to smart under their threats or to fatten in their smiles. Glorious was that ancient father who threw back the threatenings of his enemies, and laughed them to scorn.
2. To go down to the gates, however, means something else, for citizens went down to the gates to exercise authority and judgment. He that is in Christ discerneth spirits, and separateth between the excellent and the reprobate. “The spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man.” Instead of being judged and following others, they who love God become the leaders in right, and are as God’s mouth rebuking iniquity.
3. To go down to the gates signified also to go forth to war. When a Christian man is saved, he is not content with his own safety, he longs to see others blessed. He can now go out of the gates to attack the foe who once held him in bondage, and therefore he girds on his weapon. When will the Church of God be inflamed by the sacred desire of carrying the war for Christ into the enemy’s territory? (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The noise of archer’s in the places of drawing water
I. These words make intelligible what has been called the savage act of jael in killing sisera, and the fierce words with which deborah praises the act. We see the place of drawing water--the well belonging to some little town or village. Thither in the still summer evening come the women and children. The men are absent at the wars. The women come to draw water for household and flock. As they wait their turn, the elder women talk together of their common cares and interests. The fair young maidens group together apart for the merry jest or confidential intercourse. Amongst them, moving in and out, are the laughing, bright-eyed children. What a pretty picture it makes--pretty, peaceful, glad! And then suddenly the whole is changed. The cruel, hated Canaanite is at hand. “The noise of archers” is heard. The mothers fly to guard the little ones, some of whom are laid low by the arrows. In the confusion the band sweeps down upon the group of fair maidens. The brightest and youngest and most beautiful are taken to be the slaves of the tyrant conquerors. Oh, who wonders now at Jael’s cruelty and Deborah’s vindictive triumph? It was not because the fair gardens were laid waste, the homes burned, the cattle and household treasures carried off, that these women so hated the oppressors; but because in the division of the spoil there would always fall “to every man a damsel or two,” each the bright, sweet flower of some home, to be degraded, spoiled, trampled down, and brought to shame. We from our lofty standpoint, in the very midst of the full light of Christ’s gospel--we who have learned to be patient, long-suffering, forgiving, tender-hearted--may be able to condemn them. They lived in a darker age; they had not our advantages. And yet I sometimes think that if we fully realised what that twenty years of mighty oppression must have been, how the hearts of the people will have burned with indignation at the cruelties and abominations they had to witness, we should be forced to acknowledge that Jael and Deborah would have been either more or less than women if they had acted otherwise. Deborah’s song is a thanksgiving to God for deliverance. The one point she wishes to be ever remembered is that the victory was of God alone.
II. There is ever going on around us the great battle of good against evil, in which each of us is called to take our part. He who does not hate the evil with earnest hatred, who rests in selfish indolence like Asher, who lets his searchings of heart and all his religious purpose end in talk like Reuben, who is indifferent and lukewarm like Meroz, he must needs fall under the scathing curse of those who come not to the help of the Lord against the mighty. We are all bound to range ourselves on the side of the good; to fight bravely for it; if need be, to suffer or to die for it. Again, as Sisera fell at last, so will all God’s enemies fall for ever one day.
III. “The noise of archers in the places of drawing water”--that is to say, the attack of the enemy upon those who only seek for peace, as they go about the innocent employment of daily life. How this makes us think of one great mystery of temptation. How depressing and terrifying to many a poor soul! “I began the day with prayer not to be led into temptation; I resolved to be so careful. I was careful, and then all at once in my work it came. I was not thinking of it, till I found myself wounded with the poisoned arrows of temper, lust, selfishness, sloth, avarice, or pride.” More mysterious still, even amid our religious duties, the enemy can make his deadly onslaught--the distraction, the vain thought, the cruel doubt, even the blasphemous suggestion, come whistling like the deadly arrow, striking us back and wounding us, and marking us, as we think, for death. Well, all this is at least no difficulty to us who believe. The arrows do not come by chance. An enemy has done this. Whilst the war lasts, he is to be hated, avoided with watchful care. But there is deliverance. Even now the victory has been won, and protection assured, and none need fear the arrows who are willing to dwell under the defence of the Most High. And there shall be a hereafter, when the noise of archers shall be no longer heard; when we shall have our noble work assigned to us, such work as God has for His saints to do; when we shall go about the work in perfect security; when we shall rehearse one to another the righteous acts of the Lord who has wrought mightily for the deliverance of His people. (R. H. Parr, M. A.)
Awake, awake, Deborah: awake, awake, utter a song: arise, Barak, and lead thy captivity captive.
I. First, then, a stirring up, of all our powers to praise God, according to the words of the holy woman in the text, “Awake, awake”--repeated yet again--“Awake, awake.”
1. What is there that we need to awaken if we would praise God? I reply, we ought to arouse all the bodily powers. Our flesh is sluggish; we have been busy with the world, our limbs have grown fatigued, but there is power in Divine joy to arouse even the body itself, to make the heavy eyelids light, to reanimate the drowsy eye, and quicken the weary brain. We should call upon our bodies to awake, especially our tongue, “the glory of our frame.” Let it put itself in tune like David’s harp of old. Surely we should call on all our mental powers to awake. Wake up, my memory, and find matter for the song. Tell what God has done for me in days gone by. Awake, my judgment, and give measure to the music. Come forth, my understanding, and weigh His loving-kindness in scales, and His goodness in the balances. See if thou canst count the small dust of His mercies. See if thou canst understand the riches unsearchable which He hath given to thee in that unspeakable gift of Christ Jesus my Lord. Awake, my imagination, and dance to the holy melody. Gather pictures from all worlds. Bid sun and moon stay in their courses, and join in thy new song. But especially let us cry to all the graces of our spirit--“Awake.” Wake up, my love, for thou must strike the keynote and lead the strain. Wake up, my hope, and join hands with thy sister--love; and sing of blessings yet to come. Sing of my dying hour, when He shall be with me on my couch. Sing of the rising morning, when my body shall leap from its tomb into her Saviour’s arms! Sing of the expected advent, for which thou lookest with delight! And oh, my soul, sing of that heaven which He has gone before to prepare for thee. And thou, my faith, awake also. Sing of the promise sure and certain. Then let us wake up the energy of all those powers--the energy of the body, the energy of the mind, the energy of the spirit. You know what it is to do thing coldly, weakly. As well might we not praise at all. You know also what it is to praise God passionately--to throw energy into all the song, and so to exult in His name. So do ye, each one of you, this day.
2. But you say unto me: “Why and wherefore should we this day awake and sing unto our God?” There be many reasons; and if your hearts be right, one may well satisfy. Come, ye children of God, and bless His dear name; for doth not all nature around you sing? If you were silent, you would be an exception to the universe. But, believer, shall not thy God be praised? I ask thee. Shall not thy God be praised? When men behold a hero, they fall at his feet and worship him. Garibaldi emancipates a nation, and lo, they bow before him and do him homage. And Thou, Jesus, the Redeemer of the multitudes of Thine elect, shalt Thou have no song? Shalt Thou have no triumphal entry into our hearts? Shall Thy name have no glory? Thou sayest, believer, “Why should I praise Him?” Let me ask thee a question too. Is it not heaven’s employment to praise Him? And what can make earth more like heaven than to bring down from heaven the employment of glory, and to be occupied with it here! Besides, Christian, dost thou not know that it is a good thing for thee to praise thy God? Mourning weakens thee, doubts destroy thy strength; thy groping among the ashes makes thee of the earth, earthy. Arise, for praise is pleasant and profitable to thee. “The joy of the Lord is our strength.” But I ask you one other question, believer. Thou sayest, “Why should I awake this morning to sing unto my God?” I reply to thee, “Hast thou not a cause? Hath He not done great things for thee, and art thou not glad thereof?”
3. “But,” saith one, “when shall I do this? When shall I praise my God?” I answer, “Praise ye the Lord, all His people, at all times, and give thanks at every remembrance of Him.”
4. Yet once more, you reply to me, “But how can I praise my God?” I will be teacher of music to thee, and may the Comforter be with me. Wilt thou think this morning how great are thy mercies. Thou art not blind, nor deaf, nor dumb; thou art not a lunatic; thou art not decrepit; thou art not vexed with piercing pains; thou art not going down to the grave; thou art not in torments, not in hell. And is not this a theme for praise? Oh, must not you praise him, ye chief of sinners, whose natures have been changed, whose hearts have been renewed!
II. “Arise, Barak, and lead thy captivity captive, thou son of Abinoam.” You understand the exact picture here. Barak had routed Sisera, Jabin’s captain, and all his hosts. She now exhorts Barak to celebrate his triumph. This is a picture which is often used in Scripture. Christ is said to have led captivity captive when He ascended on high. He led principalities and powers captive at His chariot-wheels. But here is a picture for us--not concerning Christ, but concerning ourselves. We are exhorted to-day to lead captivity captive. Come up, come up, ye grim hosts of sins once my terror and dismay. Come up, ye sins, come up, for ye are prisoners now; ye are bound in fetters of iron, nay, more than this, ye are utterly slain, consumed, destroyed; you have been covered with Jesus’ blood; ye have been blotted out by His mercy. Arise, celebrate your triumph, oh ye people of God! Arise, my trials; ye have been very great and very numerous; ye came against me as a great host, and ye were tall and strong like the sons of Anak. Oh, my soul, thou hast trodden down strength; by the help of our God have we leaped over a wall; by His power have we broken through the troops of our troubles, our difficulties, and our fears! Arise, and let us lead captive all our temptations. You have been foully tempted to the vilest sins. Satan has shot a thousand darts at you, and hurled his javelin multitudes of times; bring out the darts and snap them before his eyes, for he has never been able to reach your heart. Come, break the bow and cut the spear in sunder; burn the chariot in the fire. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
God’s cause carried on by human agency
I. The cause of true religion is eminently and emphatically the cause of God.
1. It was His cause; for--
2. We have in view, under the blessing of God, the evangelisation of all mankind; and this is unquestionably the cause of God.
II. In carrying on this great work God has been pleased to demand and to bless human efforts. In the case before us the power of God was supernaturally exerted. The stars in their courses, the swelling of the river, the thunder and the tempest, were all effects of supernatural interposition. But, even in that age of miracles, these supernatural means were not intended to supersede those means which were ordinary. Deborah and Barak exerted themselves to the utmost; and, with many others, were required to come up to the help of the Lord, to the help of the God of miracles. And similar is the case as to the conversion of the world to Christianity. God “gave some, apostles; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” It was by the instrumentality of holy, enlightened, zealous missionaries that our own country first received the glad tidings of salvation; it was through their agency that our rude ancestors were induced to change Thor and Woden, and all their bloody rites and awful abominations, for the simple and holy truths of the gospel. And the work we have to do must be done by the same agency. Ambassadors must be sent to the heathen, and they must declare God’s message, trusting in His power and help. This is the established order of God, that they who love His cause should help it by their various instrumentality.
III. The calls of God to engage in this cause experience a very various reception from those to whom they are addressed.
1. Some are hearty in the cause of God.
2. Others cherish a spirit of indolence and carelessness.
IV. God takes especial notice of the conduct of His people in reference to the demand made upon them for this cause; and He makes an important distinction in His conduct towards those who come forward, or refuse to come forward, in His cause. Those who refused to come forward are recorded as infamous, and are covered with everlasting disgrace; those who came forward are mentioned with distinguished honour, and were no doubt blessed ever afterwards. For God will be no man’s debtor; He may make us wait for payment, but, such is His condescension and grace, He will be in no man’s debt. Come up to the help of the Lord, and you shall have the approbation of Almighty God. Come up to the help of the Lord, and you will gain the esteem and good wishes of your fellow-Christians and ministers, who, when they see their humble efforts are not unfruitful, but that you are becoming complete in every good word and work, will gladly spend and be spent in your service. Come up to the help of the Lord against His enemies, and you shall have the increasing influence of God to render beneficial all the means you enjoy. Come up to the help of the Lord, and your happiness shall increase, your consolations shall abound--you shall be blessed in the Lord. Come up to the help of the Lord against the mighty, and you shall have the satisfaction of knowing that your labour is not in vain. For the Word of the Lord shall not return unto Him void. You shall reap in due season, if you faint not. (J. Bunting, M. A.)
By the watercourses of Reuben there were great resolves of heart.
The apology of the non-fighters
On account of their unfaithfulness the children of Israel were oppressed by Jabin for twenty years; then the oppressed people cried unto God, and Deborah and Barak were called to lead them to freedom. In this great song Deborah brings out the characteristics of the several tribes at the national crisis. She sets forth how some of them promptly entered upon the struggle for liberty; how others were miserably indifferent and unpatriotic; and in the text a vivid stroke or two shows that whilst Reuben was deeply interested and agitated by what was transpiring, he refrained from taking any part in the actual fight. “By the watercourses of Reuben there were great searchings of heart,” and that was all. “Great were the debates,” “great were the resolves”; but they never proceeded to action.
I. The text is a rebuke to the theorist. The Reubenites were the thinkers of their age. They were not indifferent to public questions; they recognised the problems of their day, and mentally wrestled with them; but they drew the line at action. All action seemed so unsatisfactory that they could not persuade themselves to reduce their splendid patriotic theories to experiment. So to-day there is a tribe of idealists. They are full of thought, rich in ideas, masterly in systems; but they find it impossible to pass from reflection to effort. Thought is large, action is insignificant; thought is swift, action is tardy; thought is triumphant, action is full of interruption, shortcoming, and failure; and so the theorist abides in his arm-chair watching pictures in the fire. To follow the facts and movements of the world as a supreme game of chess delights the philosophic mind, but to interest ourselves in any commonplace practical endeavour to aid the needy is voted a belittling vulgarism. Amiel says, “Reverie is the Sunday of the mind”; and the whole life of some men is a Sunday, they know no working-days. They deplore personal defects, yet they do not bravely take themselves to task and struggle into a better life; they ponder social evils, but nothing comes of the intellectual agitation; they have their ideas and aspirations concerning the heathen world, yet they take no part in missionary enterprise. Their whole life is spent in observation, reasoning, and soliloquy. This will not do. Deborah scorns the idle theorists, and their position is always ignoble. We account men meritorious as they master the difficult conditions of human life; society has no prizes for mere dreamers. He who gives a cup of cold water to a thirsty soul is infinitely better than the idealist whose sparkling fountains and flowing rivers are mere mirages of the brain. We must have thought, theory, programme; we must have the dreamer, the philosopher, the debater, only the pondering of the mind must be succeeded by the labour of the hands. When Cavour died, Elizabeth B. Browning wrote: “That noble soul who meditated and made Italy has gone to the diviner country.” “Meditated and made.” It is all there. We must meditate and make. Not that we can by any means realise all our dream, but we must strive thereunto. Some hit of reality must testify to the genuineness of our great thought and purpose.
II. The text is a rebuke to the critical. The Reubenites were the critics of the age. “Great were the debates.” They read the minutes of the last meeting; they submitted a resolution as to what might be done; then they ably discussed the whole situation; the ornaments of debate shone out; an amendment was proposed that nothing be done, the vote was taken, the amendment was declared to be carried by a large majority, and the assembly retired to lunch. And one can easily imagine the course of the debate. Some would object to a movement led by a woman; others would question the qualifications of Barak; many would think that it was not the psychological moment; and those with a flavour of military genius would doubt the plan of campaign. The critical tribe is with us still. We have a host of people who are interested in the great struggle of light and darkness, but whose interest ends with information, discussion, and opinion. We have such critics outside the Church. They are prepared, at five minutes’ notice, to discuss any religious, moral, social, or political question; yet they make no practical effort whatever to grapple with the evils they dissect. Especially do these critics love to scourge the Church. How well they can describe the evil! How clearly they can see what ought to be done! How rough they are upon the blunders of philanthropists and evangelists! But all ends there; they spend no time, or gold, or blood in any form of practical amelioration. How false is the position of the critic, and how ignoble the whole spirit of barren criticism! How contemptible the carpet knight lecturing the scarred heroes of the battlefield! How ridiculous the musical amateur exposing the faults of Handel and Mozart! How despicable the scribbler of a day making merry over the shortcoming of literary masterpieces! “Why abodest thou among the sheepfolds?” is the derisive question of Deborah. The Reubenites thought themselves superior persons, but the singer suggests a cutting contrary. A love of ease partly explained their conduct. They liked the shepherd’s lute better than the war-trumpet with its toils and sufferings. The love of gain also explained the absence of the Reubenites from battle. And they were cowards. There was not a spear in Israel, and Jabin had thousands of chariots of iron. Deborah pours scorn on the windy orators. The day is coming, too, when God will pour scorn upon the phrase-makers. He will laugh at the laughers, criticise the critics, scorn the scorners. Let us act. “God’s words are things,” says Luther; and unless we strive to make our words things they become falsities, vanities, mockeries. One of the great heroes of to-day is the hero of the paper-knife, the critic who flourishes his wooden weapon as if it were some famous blade of victory. The poorest plough that will scratch the ground, the most ramshackle basket that will carry a little seed, the rustiest hook that will serve for a sickle, is better than the paper-knife. A drop of blood is more than a vat of ink or a world of talk. The poorest methods of service, the homeliest instruments of practical endeavour, count for far more in the sight of God than a magazine of polished and attenuated shafts which neither smite nor bite. Let us not waste life in opinion, discussion, or criticism, but deny ourselves in daily efforts seeking some real good. Our Master did not redeem us by words, but by tears and blood; and the best thing for us is with fewest words to take up our cross and follow Him.
III. The text is a rebuke to the sentimentalist. There were “great searchings of heart.” The Reubenites were men of fine feeling, of intense emotion; only the emotion evaporated when the resolution was duly entered upon the minutes. A large circle of these sentimentalists survive. They pride themselves on the depth and tenderness of their feeling, yet their feeling never compels action and sacrifice. They feel for the poor, the ignorant, the suffering, the fallen, and most for themselves. In prayers, sermons, hymns, and sacraments the fountains of the deep are broken up without leaving any fertilising stream. It is really a fearful thing that sentiment should be so constantly wasted that the very word itself comes at last to be regarded as expressing something unreal. Sympathy is the richest element in the human heart, and it is an awful loss to society that so much of it should be vainly lavished on unsubstantial scenes and images, on airy nothings. We talk of the loss of force in Niagara, but there is a far more terrible loss of precious energy in the unavailing stream of feeling which passes away in imaginative moods. If we could harness the Niagara of human sympathy, and set it to work in educating the ignorant, in helping the helpless, in nursing the sick, in reclaiming the fallen, what gracious revolutions would be worked in a day! Feeling is worth nothing if it bear no tangible fruit. Our Master wept, but He also bled. (W. L. Watkinson.)
Why abodest thou among the sheepfolds?--
On shirking duty
There is a touch of scorn, as well as of reproach, in the question of the prophetess. And the question is one which, in the spirit of it, may be addressed to thousands to-day. There is a great battle now going on in the world--the battle between truth and error, right and wrong, love and misery. The conflict involves self-denial; and we have simply no right to “abide in the sheepfolds.”
I. We have no right to sacrifice duty to comfort. We are all tempted thus to prefer our own ease to the doing of our duty. There are multitudes, indeed, who will sacrifice comfort for the sake of some selfish end: their love of money, or of fame, or of pleasure, will lead them to take upon themselves a large amount of toil and trouble. But when it is a question of simple duty there are many who will shirk such duties rather than sacrifice their own personal ease. They would like to do good in the world; but it is too much trouble! Many a man shirks the duties of citizenship on the plea that he has no ambition to distinguish himself in public life. He finds his fireside very comfortable; the bosom of his family is his “sheepfold.” Others shirk their duty to the Church and the cause of Christ simply through their love of selfish ease; they will not take the trouble to “do good as they have opportunity.”
II. We have no right to sacrifice duty to peace. It is right that you should shrink from the din of controversy and strife, and that you should prefer to live in concord with your neighbours; but it is wrong that, on this account, you should withhold your testimony and your influence from the cause of truth and justice.
III. We have no right to sacrifice duty to gain. When Christ calls you into the conflict against the world’s evil, when He calls you to protest by your own example against all dishonesty and falsehood, then you must be prepared to sacrifice some of the profits which fall to the lot of less scrupulous men, and you must be content, if necessary, with a smaller sheepfold. (T. C. Finlayson.)
The divisions of Reuben.--
The attitude of Reuben
Could such a thing as actual neutrality have been possible under the circumstances, the men of Reuben would have represented such an attitude. But under the circumstances it was impossible. No member of the favoured race could be actually neutral when his brethren were struggling for liberty and life. Not to assist was to oppose. To look on coldly was to help the foe. They saw their brethren gathering on the opposite bank. They heard the sound of the trumpet and the noise of war. Would they not arise and join them? Could they be indifferent when the very existence of their nation was at stake? But against this higher impulse had to be set considerations of worldly profit and loss. “Why abodest thou among the sheepfolds, to hear the bleatings of the flocks?” It was this fatal sound that decided them. It was with them as it so often is with us--the nearer the temptation, the more powerful it becomes. Had they marshalled themselves for war, and left their homes, the bleatings of the sheepfold would never have reached their ears, and the higher impulse would have prevailed; but as they lingered vacillating by the sheepfolds, the nearer attractions of home and prosperity proved too strong. The great opportunity passed away, leaving an indelible stain on the history of the tribe. “Unstable as water, thou shalt not excel.” Were they happy? A double-minded man is never happy. Unstable in all his ways, he can neither enjoy the world nor God. They might escape danger, but they could not escape the “great searchings of heart.” Their conscience smote them, even while their worldly prosperity continued. They lost the power to enjoy what they had sacrificed their character to retain. Ah, how many Reubens have we still in the Church of Christ!--men who make fair promises under the influence of a momentary excitement or a higher emotion, but whose hearts are not fully surrendered to God. They grasp after the good things of the world, and love them. They seek the good opinion of their fellow-men, and love it. If a Christianity can be discovered which shall cost them nothing, which shall not even lower them in the estimation in which men of the world hold them, such a Christianity they are ready to accept; but the Christianity of the manger and of the Cross, of Gethsemane and Calvary, they shirk from with ill-concealed aversion. (W. Hay Aitken, M. A.)
Divisions should be avoided
How strong it makes a family when all the sisters and brothers stand together, and what an awful wreck when they disintegrate, quarrelling about a father’s will and making the surrogate’s office horrible with their wrangle! If you only knew it, your interests are identical. Of all the families of the earth that ever stood together, perhaps the most conspicuous is the family of the Rothschilds. As Meyer Anselm Rothschild was about to die in 1812 he gathered his children about him, Anselm, Nathan, Charles, and James, and made them promise that they would always be united on “‘Change.” Obeying that injunction, they have been the mightiest commercial power on earth, and at the raising or lowering of their sceptre nations have risen or fallen. That illustrates how much on a large scale, and for selfish purposes, a united family may achieve. But suppose that, instead of a magnitude of dollars as the object, it be doing good and making salutary impression and raising this sunken world, how much more ennobling! Sister, you do your part, and brother will do his part. (T. De Witt Talmage.)
Why did Dan remain in ships?--
Why did Dan remain in ships
I dare say Dan could have given what might have seemed to himself a very sensible answer. Surely it would never have done for Dan to lose his commerce. Surely it was most important that he should retain his mercantile position. To leave his ships and go to fight the Lord’s battle in the field would have been to turn his back upon his most obvious interests. He had no men to spare; no time to spare; no money to spare. Far too busy were the Danites to think of their brethren in the field. It mattered not that national liberty and religion might be lost so long as Dan retained his ships. Go to the streets of one of our great towns, and you will see the same thing re-enacted. Men running to and fro as though life were at stake in every effort, toiling at their business all day long, and when night comes too wearied to think of spiritual things. They have too much to do--are far too busy to think of the business of life! . . . Why! does he not know that his ships are doomed sooner or later to fearful shipwreck? Dost thou not know, O lover of the world, that the day must come when thou and thy darling idols will have to part? What profit on thy dying bed to remember that thou hast laboured here for that which thou canst not carry with thee? Thou hast enlarged thy barns, increased thy merchandise, raised thy family in the world, and left thy children in prosperity; and now the sentence falls upon thy trembling soul, “Give an account of thy stewardship, for thou mayest be no longer steward.” Poor consolation under the sentence of doom to remember that thy coffers are full while thy soul was starved. (W. Hay Aitken, M. A.)
Why did Dan remain in ships?
Early in this century a minister in England, who has since spent many years in the foreign missionary field, was requested to preach, at a meeting of some of his brethren, on the too prevalent disposition among professing Christians to inactivity in religion. Somewhat to their surprise, he read as his text, “Why did Dan remain in ships?” After explaining the text in its connection, and that the Danites resembled many Christians at present, he showed their inactivity to be--
1. Unreasonable. They knew the state of the country, its dangers, and the assurance of victory;--how unreasonable that a whole tribe should under such circumstances remain inactive.
2. It was injurious. By their inactivity the hands of their brethren were weakened, an opportunity was given to the enemy to triumph, and personal injury was sustained.
3. It was sinful. The command of God was disregarded; they availed not themselves of opportunities to be useful, and forbore to destroy their enemies.
That jeoparded their lives unto the death in the high places of the field.--
Life jeoparded in heroic service
The late Wilmot Brooke, the pioneer missionary to the Soudan, who died on March 19th, anticipated his swiftly-approaching end. At the Church Missionary House just before starting on his last expedition in May, 1891, he remarked: “I have five times had African fever of the most deadly kind. No one is ever known to have recovered seven times from this fever. You must expect that some of us will fall; I shall not be surprised if my call comes in six months. Still I am determined to go. Friends tell me what madness it is to run such risks. But when men were called to storm Delhi and Lucknow, they cheerfully came forward, knowing that death was certain. The strongholds of heathenism and Mohammedanism can only be stormed by acting for God in the same spirit. My action is not the outcome of rashness on my part. I am going after the calmest and fullest consideration.”
The stars in their courses fought against Sisera.--
Sisera no match for the stars
All things, even the stars in their courses, fight against every one who, like Sisera, puts himself in opposition to the plans of the Ruler of the universe. If you co-operate with, and act according to the laws of God, then you will in the long run prove victorious; if you do not, why then these laws will crush you. They are stronger than you. A man is powerful or powerless just in proportion as he submits to God’s laws. And, first, to speak of physical laws, or those relating to matter. It is by obeying nature that we learn her secrets. A medical man in the kingdom of nature cures or kills, just in proportion as he has carefully or carelessly studied the laws of health and obeys them. By studying and making use of the physical laws of God’s universe we can improve health and prolong life. On the other hand, there is no favourite of nature who can be intemperate and not suffer from ill-health, or live near bad drainage and escape fever. No matter how intellectual or even religious you may be, if you hold your hand in the fire it will certainly be burned. A Christian is as liable to losses in his business if he does not conform to the laws of commerce, on which wealth depends, as an atheist is. Transgress God’s physical laws, and even the stars in their courses fight against you. Just so there are spiritual and moral laws, by compliance with which we receive blessings, and which, if not obeyed, are as ready as the stars to fight against us. Such laws are these: “If we love one another, God dwelleth in us.” “If any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine.” Without God we can do nothing. Let us conduct ourselves in every relation and occupation of life as if we believed we were what we are--“workers together with God”--and all things must work together for good. Let us put ourselves in opposition to Him, and all things, even the stars in their courses, shall fight against us. (E. J. Hardy, M. A.)
The stars fought against Sisera
I. The literal sense.
1. This lesson is a song of thanksgiving. It reminds us at once of the duty of gratitude to God at all times, but especially after any great deliverance. The miracle of the cleansing of the lepers puts in a picture the rarity of thanksgiving--when ten pray, but one gives thanks.
2. Then, this song was a spontaneous outburst of praise immediately after the reception of the blessing. Thanksgiving was, as it should be, prompt.
3. The victory was ascribed to God: “Praise ye the Lord for the avenging of Israel.” Thanksgiving is only possible when there is faith, when the eye of the soul penetrates beyond what are called “second causes,” and traces the events of this life to the providence of God.
4. But a particular instrument which God employed for carrying out His purposes is recognised in the text: “the stars,” etc. Viewed literally, what is meant by this? It is the description of some wonder wrought by God in the battle, which aided the overthrow of Jabin’s host and Jabin’s general.
II. The figurative sense.
1. “The stars in their courses” have been supposed to represent the angels of God.
2. Warfare against evil is one part of the angels’ functions. Holy Scripture recounts their military operations (Revelation 12:7). St. Jude describes another altercation (verse 9). Daniel relates a third (Daniel 10:13). And again, at the end of the world (1 Thessalonians 4:16; 2 Thessalonians 2:8), the angels “shall sever the wicked from among the just,” and consign them to punishment (Matthew 13:49-50).
3. We may not know how these spiritual beings “fought against Sisera,” any more than we can tell how the angel of the Lord caused the pestilence in the days of David (1 Chronicles 21:15); but we do know that angels are the ministers of God (Psalms 104:4), and carry out His behests.
4. If the stars represent the angels of God, then, on the other hand, the victory over Sisera, and the instrument by which it was achieved, form an apt image of the overthrow of Satan’s power by the Cross.
1. When this lesson is said to contain “praise of Jael’s perfidy,” and that from the lips of an inspired prophetess, it may be urged in reply, that it is a commendation of the brave deed of Jael and her disinterested zeal for the welfare of God’s people, whilst the treachery which accompanied it was in keeping with the low moral condition of the age and person--with “the light of the times.”
2. We may learn from the general subject the duty of thanksgiving, and that its fulfilment involves a belief in the doctrine of Divine providence.
3. According to the literal interpretation of the text, we are led to the conviction that even such matters as the weather may be guided by God to fulfil His purposes, and that His directing touch is effective in a region far beyond the ken of human science, which can only extend to the proximate causes of things.
4. The spiritual meaning should remind us that the angels of God assist us in our conflict with the evil one, and by Divine appointment “succour and defend us on earth”; so that, in our struggles with the power of darkness, we may take the words of the prophet as a ground of confidence, “Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them” (2 Kings 6:16). (Canon Hutchings.)
O my soul, thou hast; trodden down strength.--
Interposition and victory
I. The interposition by which the soul treads down all opposition and gains the victory. It matters not how weak the creature may be if the Lord interpose. They had nothing to do but follow on: it was the Lord that took spirit out of the enemy, and that caused the enemy to err. These things remind us of what an awful thing it is to be an enemy to God--under sin, under the wrath of God, under the curse of the law, and under the powers of darkness; and all the time we are there, we are reckoned enemies, and we are under judgment. What a fearful position! and yet we are by nature unconscious of it, and unconcerned about it. Let us, then, look at these interposing stars, by which we tread down strength. But in so doing we must be careful not to forget one thing, and that is the chief thing; and that is Jesus Christ, the Morning Star. He is that interposing light, by whom we have the victory. But it says, “the stars in their courses.” The people of God at large are called stars, but ministers especially. Hence you read of His holding the seven stars in His right hand; the seven stars are the angels or messengers of the Churches. And so I take the stars, then, if I spiritualise it, fighting against Sisera, to mean the prophets testimonially standing against the powers of darkness.
II. The vain attempt of the enemy to escape The river Kishon swept the enemy away. Many people say, “Well, I am no enemy.” You are, unless you are a friend. (James Wells.)
Curse ye Meroz . . . because they came not to the help of the Lord.
The doom of Meroz
I. The sin of the men of meroz is described in very remarkable terms, although we have grown so familiar with them as scarce perhaps to notice their strange character: “They came not to the help of the Lord.” Everywhere we read of the Lord’s coming to the help of man; but man coming to the help of the Lord seems strange. The Lord employs instruments for the executing of His purposes, though He needs them not. The tribes of Israel were summoned to this war, and the inhabitants of Meroz declined the summons. Well; but God had entered into marriage covenant with Israel. The kingdom of Israel was His kingdom. The interests of Israel were His interests; and He had bound up with them the glory of His own name. Accordingly it is not now said of the men of Meroz that they came not to Deborah’s help, nor to Barak’s help, nor even to the help of Israel, but that “they came not to the help of the Lord.”
1. A little more specifically, the sin of the men of Meroz had in it unbelief--criminal distrust of the word and promise and power of the living God. No doubt it was largely cowardice that led them to refuse their aid. But whence the cowardice? They did not believe that the Canaanites could be subdued. They would keep on good terms with the oppressors to save their own heads.
2. But besides criminal unbelief--that root and strength of all other iniquities--the sin of the men of Meroz had in it a vile preference of their own ease, and fancied present interest before the authority and honour and interest of the God of Israel.
3. And thus, further, their sin was nothing less than enmity, war, against the living God. Doubtless they would be fain to say, “What have we done so much against Him? we have but sat still in our quiet homes.” Aye, and therein fought against Him. Oh, there is no possible medium between the love of the adorable God and the hatred of Him--between willing, active service rendered to God and hostility, war, against Him--“He that is not with Me is against Me; and he that gathereth not with Me scattereth abroad.”
4. It was to “the help of the Lord against the mighty” they refused to come--against the mighty. Had the enemy, that is to say, been a feeble, contemptible one in numbers and strength, they might have had some plausible pretext for leaving the struggle to others. But all was in reality at stake.
II. Notice the judgment of the Lord against the men of Meroz for this sin. I think there can be very little doubt that there must have been some special aggravation in the case of Meroz which has not been placed on record--perhaps its having been in the immediate neighbourhood of the field of action, together with some more emphatic treachery of dealing in its refusal of aid. Lessons:
1. First, a lesson of duty--very urgent duty. It will help to bring both the duty and the urgency of it better out if it is borne in mind that, from the fall of our race downwards, the Lord has had a controversy, so to speak--a quarrel in this fallen world--a war with mighty adversaries, Satan, sin, the world that lieth in the wicked one--His gracious purpose having all along been in that war to call a people out of the world for the glory of His own name--an innumerable multitude of all kindreds and peoples and tongues, to be “washed, and sanctified, and justified, in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.”
2. Observe a second lesson of a different character, one of precious and varied encouragement to all such as are disposed humbly, yet resolutely and prayerfully, to offer themselves to the help of the Lord against the mighty. See, for example, how He will condescend to receive and welcome your aid (Judges 5:9). And see the grateful mention, if I might so speak with reverence, which God makes of particular services (Judges 5:14).
3. Once more, we have a lesson here of solemn warning--duty, encouragement, warning. For observe that it is by no means any and every kind of help and service that will suffice to separate us from the class, and save us from the curse, of the inhabitants of Meroz. A man may come, for example, with a help so stinted and grudging as to make it quite manifest that it is but the covering up of a desire to be let alone altogether. Or he may come with a help not so stinted in the simple amount of it, yet not offered to the Lord Himself, which is the hinge, you will carefully observe, of this whole matter, “they came not to the help of the Lord”--“Ye did it,” or, “ye did it not, to Me.” Assuredly, by how much the Lord has revealed His condescension and grace, in making offer to us of so marvellous a oneness of cause and interest and blessedness with Himself, by so much the more aggravated a judgment and doom must the contempt and rejection of that grace bring with it. (C. J. Brown, D. D.)
Co-operation in God’s cause required of all
I. From the earliest periods of time God has been graciously pleased to provide for the deliverance of His people from the thraldom and bondage into which they have been brought by sin.
II. In the prosecution of this work Jehovah meets with much and mighty opposition.
III. The people of God are required to co-operate with Jehovah in reference to His designs as to the children of men.
IV. Among those who are thus summoned to the help of the Lord, there are some who disregard the call.
V. To withhold our co-operative aid in reference to the designs of God to bring the world from the bondage of sin to His own blessed service is most criminal and destructive. (W. Roby.)
Why was Meroz cursed?
What had Meroz done to deserve the punishment of God? In the first place, Meroz had omitted to do a positive and plain duty. They did not join with the enemy, but they refused to help the people of God. Then again, the sin of Meroz was a sin of lukewarmness, carelessness. Supposing England to have been overrun by an hostile army. Supposing that at last, gathering all her strength to repel her enemies from her fair country, one town in an important position refused to join in the battle at a critical moment, so that the enemies of England were not crushed as we desired to see them. Surely all England would ring with words of hatred for the people that could so act. Meroz was guilty of lack of patriotism, but a lack of patriotism in the case of the children of Israel was also a lack of proper religious zeal. Well, then, in the third place, Meroz let slip an opportunity; it neglected a crisis in its life. The war led up to the gates of Meroz, the opportunity was given to them of striking a blow for God against sinners. The opportunity was refused.
1. From the conduct of the people of Meroz, then, we may take three great warnings; and in the first place a warning against sins of omission. People are apt to think a very great deal too little about sins of omission. We are all of us apt to slur over the good things which we have left undone, and to think that the only thing hateful in the sight of God or offensive to Him whom we call our heavenly Father are the gross sins which attract perhaps the observation and hatred of others, and from which our own consciences do naturally recoil. How very often do you hear a person say in a satisfied way that they have never done harm to anybody. Such persons who say that are in great danger. They seem to see no sins though there may be many in their lives; but they have forgotten altogether that the object of their own crisis, the very object of their coming into the world, was not to do no sin, but to glorify God by their lives. Neglecting prayers. When we lift up our hands to God on high and call Him our Father, when we have that mighty privilege and that great duty accorded to us and yet neglect it, is it no sin, I say, to go day by day with careless prayers, or neglected prayers, to God? Surely there is some sin in neglecting our Church and our duties of public worship. And then again, while we think of habits of evil and so forth, we are inclined not to think half enough about encouraging habits of good, doing what is right as well as avoiding what is wrong. Then again, faith--a great duty to us. Yet how many go on through life without ever troubling themselves to look into the matters of their faith, or how many dare to live on through life with a sort of lurking or lingering doubt at their hearts, which chills all their acts of devotion and makes their lives unlovely in the sight of God. The curse of God came down on Meroz; doomed to judgment was the city, not because it did that which was wrong in opposing the people of God, but because she neglected a plain duty that God had put before her plainly.
2. Then we see, in the second place, that the sin of Meroz was a sin of lukewarmness. We are warned very frequently and very earnestly in Holy Scripture about the sin of lukewarmness, not being eager to take the part of God, not being eager to proclaim ourselves His children and to show ourselves worthy of the membership of His Church. There are many warnings to this effect, notably, the character of Esau in the Old Testament. And then you remember, surely, those awful denunciations in the Book of the Revelation against the lukewarm Laodicea. We are inclined to be very hot and earnest and keen about matters of business, or about matters of pleasure, or about matters of politics, or perhaps we may even add about matters of Church partisanship. But how about true religion? Oh, we say, “Let us take that easy. Our fathers did, perhaps, before us, why should not we? Do not let us take any trouble about that. That will come all right in the end.”
3. And again, in the last place, we notice that the sin of Meroz was neglecting to seize an opportunity, letting a crisis in its history pass by without making use of it. The opportunity was given for striking a blow for God, and it was let slip by. We are in danger in this way. There are crises in every man and woman’s life, crises in the lives of all of us, which God gives to us; some of very vital importance--opportunities, which may perhaps never come again, of striking some blow for God, or of gaining some great spiritual victory over the sins which beset us. It is very important to remember this. (Cecil Hook, M. A.)
Coming to the help of the Lord
1. Meroz is never again mentioned in Scripture, and its exact site is unknown. Its sin resulted in its extinction. What was that sin?
2. Meroz has perished; but did none of its inhabitants escape? Have they not had a numerous progeny and become a great people spread over the face of the earth? Their descendants are not unknown among ourselves. Is there nothing in our life that corresponds to the sin of Meroz? Consider our position in relation to the gospel of Christ, and we shall see. Our Lord has summoned us to the conquest of the world. All souls are His--His by right of creation and redemption, as they should also be by willing submission. That submission is hindered by men’s ignorance and error, by reckless indifference and deliberate sin, by calculating worldliness not less than by unbridled self-indulgence. Against these foes the whole force of the gospel is directed. Every man, be he learned or ignorant, an Englishman or a Hindoo, is interested in that fact, and needs the help of which it is at once the pledge and the source. Christ, and Christ only, is the Saviour of the world; even as, on the other hand, every man belongs unto Christ, and is bound by the most stringent and absolute obligation to Him who is Lord of all. Christ comes not to this conquest alone, but as “Captain of the Lord’s host.” He summons His people to His side, gives them spear and shield, and equips them for the fight. We have, of course, the power of refusal. Our Lord asks for willing service, and will have no pressed men in the ranks. You can escape this service if you are so minded, meeting Christ’s call and your brother’s need with a flat denial.
Multitudes do so fail, and why?
1. Some are influenced by a false intellectualism. Let us, as far as it is in our power, know the best that has been thought and said, come in contact with master minds, understand their working, see things as with their eyes, and catch the glow of their enthusiasm. To gaze on the fair forms of truth and beauty, to listen to the harmonies of perfect music, is a pure delight, and imparts an added charm to life. But such an aim touches only a small part of our duty. The knowledge of Christ--the crown of all science--can only be acquired by the obedience of faith and love; while no amount of self-culture or of aesthetic worship will justify us in ignoring the sins and sorrows of mankind, or in neglecting the opportunities we possess of meeting the terrible pressure of human need.
2. Other men are absorbed in business. Their main aim is to get on in the world, to become rich and prosperous, to make good bargains, and to ensure at any rate a steady increase of their capital or their savings. Coal, steam, and iron have their devout, if not their disinterested, worshippers. Money, which is designed to be a means, becomes an end in itself--committed to men in trust, it is hoarded or used as if it were their own, and they do nothing to rescue the heathen, because they are themselves the slaves of “covetousness, which is idolatry.”
3. A third class make no response to the call of Christ because of their love of pleasure. They care only for amusement, for sensuous excitement, or something to relieve the weariness and ennui of life, and to make it bright, eager, and thrilling. Enslaved and befooled by passion, “all that is within them doth condemn itself for being there.”
4. Yet others are prevented from joining us in our campaign because of their theological laxity. One religion, they urge, is as good as another, and to convert the heathen is a superfluous, if it be not an impossible, task. And similarly when men excuse their indifference to this great work on the ground of the coldness, the worldliness, and the strife of the Churches at home. The best of Christians are no doubt imperfect, the ideal of their life is but inadequately realised, and many who profess to be Christ’s are sadly inconsistent. We deplore the fact, but it does not exempt us from a plain duty. Still the Saviour asks, “What is that to thee? follow thou Me.” (James Stuart.)
I. The Lord’s people identified with their Lord. Observe the bearing of this principle on--
1. Sympathy (Acts 9:4).
2. Power (Ephesians 1:22).
3. Life and grace (John 15:1-27.).
4. Reproach (Luke 10:16).
II. The sin of Meroz. This disregard of God’s people implies--
1. Ignorance of God’s love to His children.
2. An imperfect sense of the scheme of Divine government. By human means, etc.
3. An imperfect sense of personal responsibility--Cain (Genesis 4:9).
4. Indifference to God’s truth and honour--Pilate.
6. Indecision--Peter in the judgment hall.
III. The sin remains. It is ever displaying itself in new forms.
1. The Church at home indifferent to the evangelisation of the heathen.
2. Wealthy congregations indifferent to poorer localities.
3. Women of ease and leisure to their burdened and weary sisters.
4. Parents unwilling to give their sons for the ministry.
5. Indifference to the conversion of souls.
IV. The result is that punishment comes upon the defaulters.
2. So with our employment of gifts and opportunities. The buried talent and the hidden pound, or their ill-using, involve the “darkness that is without.”
3. So of the “brotherhood.” We are to love it, to promote and defend it. There may be flaws, but this does not justify separation. It calls for prayer and the active operation of faith, sincerity, and truth. “They shall prosper that love thee.”
V. Shun indifference and indecision. They bring men to perish, like Balaam, with the ungodly. Be decided as Paul, though, it bring the loss of all things. What is there so noble as to “fill up that which is behind of the sufferings of Christ for His body’s sake, which is the Church“? (Colossians 1:24). (H. W. Dearden, M. A.)
The moral of the curse of Meroz
In a way that in some respects reminds us of the German prophetess Velleda, of the British queen Boadicea, and of the French peasant girl Joan of Arc, does Deborah revive the national spirit, and summon the people to repel the national foes. In this verse she utters true scorn for those who were inactive and self-contained in a time when the nation was in its throes for liberty and independence.
I. Our work for Christ is very analogous to war.
1. In its fierce opposition.
2. In its reverses of victory and defeat.
3. In its call for a sacrifice.
II. Neglect of such work involves us in a curse.
1. The reproachful cry of the world’s sin and sorrow.
2. Conscious separation from God. Common aim and common work are indispensable for true fellowship.
3. Loss of the rewards of true service.
4. Rebuke of Christ: “Ye did it not.” (U. R. Thomas.)
Notice, first of all, that the sin for which Meroz is cursed is pure inaction. There are in all our cities a great multitude of useless men and of men perfectly contented with their uselessness. Consider some of the various points which uselessness assumes.
I. The first source of the uselessness of good men is moral cowardice. The vice is wonderfully common. The fear is concentrated on no individual, but is there not a sense of hostile or contemptuous surroundings that lies like a chilling hand upon what ought to be the most exuberant and spontaneous utterance of life? Men do not escape from their cowardice by having it proved to them that it is a foolish thing to be afraid. Nothing but the knowledge of God’s love, taking such possession of a man that his one wish and thought in life is to glorify and serve God, can liberate him from, because it makes him totally forget, the fear of man.
II. The second cause of uselessness is false humility. Humility is good when it stimulates, it is bad when it paralyses, the active powers of a man. If conscious weakness causes a man to believe that it makes no difference whether he works or not, then his humility is his curse. Remember--
1. That man judges by the size of things; God judges by their fitness.
2. That small as you think you are, you are the average size of moral and intellectual humanity.
3. That such a humility as yours comes, if you get at its root, from an over-thought about yourself, an over-sense of your own personality, and so is closely akin to pride.
III. The third cause of uselessness is indolence. There is only one permanent escape from indolence and self-indulgence--the grateful and obedient dedication to God through Christ, which makes all good work, all self-sacrifice, a privilege and joy instead of a hardship, since it is done for Him. (Bp. Phillips Brooks.)
Take a heretic, a rebel, a person that hath an ill cause to manage; what he is deficient in the strength of his cause he makes up with diligence; while he that hath right on his side is cold, indiligent, lazy, inactive, trusting that the goodness of his cause will not fail to prevail without assistance. So wrong prevails, while evil persons are zealous and the good remiss. (Bp. Jeremy Taylor.)
Blessed above women shall Jael . . . be.
The blessing of Jael
And whose lips are they which pronounce this blessing? Indeed, it is Deborah the prophetess who sings this song; it is Deborah, by whom God spake, who gives utterance to this strain. It is clear that, revolting as her action appears at first view, there must be a way of looking at it in which it deserves all our sympathy and applause.
I. First, we would observe that human actions are, in God’s holy Word, spoken of as good and righteous, although at the same time it is certain that the best deeds of the best men are alloyed with evil. It would not, therefore, be out of harmony with the tenor of the inspired volume, that Jael should be called blessed for her deed, that her deed should meet with commendation from the prophetess, without it being thereby implied that she was quite undeserving blame. If her act contained some elements of good, amidst much of evil, it might, if the good preponderated, be esteemed and proclaimed as blessed. To this general observation we would add another, namely, that under the Jewish dispensation there was a lower standard of religious perfection than under the Christian. Hence it is that you find the most renowned characters of the Old Testament polluted with sins from which men of ordinary morality among ourselves would recoil. So that Jael’s deed is to be judged, not by itself in the abstract, still less by the light of the gospel, but in reference to the code under which she lived, in reference to the knowledge of the Divine will then published among men; and so judged, it is not requisite that it should have been free from all blame in order to obtain praise.
II. But what were the elements of good in this famous act of the Kenite woman? Now we must here remind you of the real character of the Israelitish warfare. It is of course true that always the sword is God’s weapon, as much as the famine or the pestilence. War is the scourge wherewith the Eternal lashes the nations when they wax proud against Him. But the difference between the case of the Israelites and every other conquering race is this, that the Israelites knew their mission, and went forth to execute it at God’s bidding. And now, again, let us apply these principles to the case of Jael. The people of the Lord were in arms against the enemies of the Lord. We do not know whether Jael was a daughter of Israel; if not, her faith, as we shall see, is more remarkable. She had heard of the violence of the Canaanite for twenty years; she had heard that Deborah, in whom dwelt the spirit of prophecy, had aroused the men of Israel against Sisera. To her mind it was not a mere struggle of hostile nations for liberty and power. To her it was the battle of the Lord of hosts against the heathen who refused to worship Him; it was as the mustering of the armies of heaven against the armies of hell. We are aware that it is still open to you to object, that even if the killing Sisera can be justified, the craft which beguiled him must be reprehensible. In answer to this, we remind you of the observations wherewith we started, namely, that we need not prove Jael’s act to be free from all defect, we are only concerned to show that it had in it many elements of good; and now we set it forth as an act evidencing strong faith in the God of Israel (faith still more marvellous if the Kenite’s wife was not a daughter of Israel), as prompted by love for Him, and zeal for His cause. Such love and such zeal, even when evinced by an action not perfectly faultless, might well earn praise. But we go further. It may be doubted how far the treachery of the act, as it appears, was sinful. Is it wrong to use craft against Satan? May we resist the devil only by open force? May we not use prudence and tact and wiliness in avoiding temptation or in abating its force?
III. The whole history of the Israelites is typical of the history of the redemption of mankind by Jesus Christ. The delivery of the Jews from their enemies, often as it occurs, is symbolical of the greater deliverance of all people from the thraldom of Satan. And whilst the general history is thus broadly significant, the distinct parts of that history lead us almost irresistibly to the remembrance of particular features in the history of Christ’s salvation. (Bp. Woodford.)
The blessing of Jael by Deborah
I. The difficulty is not to be surmounted by denying the inspiration of Deborah’s utterance. If this were so--if it might be maintained that Deborah is wrong when she pronounces Jael blessed--how are we to know that she is right in her other statements? Upon what principle are we to draw the exact line of demarcation?
II. In what sense are we to understand Deborah’s language, and how are we to reconcile it with what would seem, at first sight, to be the true character of Jael’s action?
1. Sisera’s life was, in Deborah’s judgment, rightly forfeited. He was the Lord’s enemy. He represented, in Deborah’s eye--
2. Deborah’s language about Jael is relative language.
III. Concluding lessons.
1. Note the equitableness of Deborah’s estimate of Jael. How often do we, in our judgment of others, measure their failures by some standard of which they have never heard, and refuse them credit for excellences which in them are even consummate! Their standard is a very poor and low one, it may be, but if they have had no chance of learning something better, it is the standard by which they will be judged. We do not risk loyalty to higher truth than any of which they know if in judging them we are strong enough to be equitable.
2. This history would be sorely misapplied if we were to gather from it that a good motive justifies any action that is known to be bad. Jael could not have been pronounced “blessed” had she been a Jewess, much less had she been a Christian. The blessings which the ignorant may inherit are forfeited when those who know, or might know, more act as do the ignorant. (Canon Liddon.)
Deborah’s praise of Jael
We need not weight ourselves with the suspicion that the prophetess reckoned Jael’s deed the outcome of a Divine thought. No; but we may believe this of Jael, that she is on the side of Israel, her sympathy so far repressed by the league of her people with Jabin, yet prompting her to use every opportunity of serving the Hebrew cause. It is clear that if the Kenite treaty had meant very much, and Jael had felt herself bound by it, her tent would have been an asylum for the fugitive. But she is against the enemies of Israel; her heart is with the people of Jehovah in the battle, and she is watching eagerly for signs of the victory she desires them to win. Unexpected, startling, the sign appears in the fleeing captain of Jabin’s host, alone, looking wildly for shelter. “Turn in, my lord; turn in.” Will he enter? Will he hide himself in a woman’s tent? Then to her will be committed vengeance. It will be an omen that the hour of Sisera’s fate has come. Hospitality itself must yield; she will break even that sacred law to do stern justice on a coward, a tyrant, and an enemy of God. A line of thought like this is entirely in harmony with the Arab character. The moral ideas of the desert are rigorous, and contempt rapidly becomes cruel. A tent woman has few elements of judgment, and, the balance turning, her conclusion was be quick, remorseless. Jael is no blameless heroine; neither is she a demon. Deborah, who understands her, reads clearly the rapid thoughts, the swift decision, the unscrupulous act, and sees, behind all, the purpose of serving Israel. Her praise of Jael is therefore with knowledge; but she herself would not have done the thing she praises. All possible explanations made, it remains a murder, a wild, savage thing for a woman to do; and we may ask whether among the tents of Zaanaim Jael was not looked on from that day as a woman stained and shadowed, one who had been treacherous to a guest. Not here can the moral be found that the end justifies the means, or that we may do evil with good intent; which never was a Bible doctrine, and never can be. On the contrary, we find it written clear that the end does not justify the means. Sisera must live on and do the worst he may rather than any soul should be soiled with treachery or any hand defiled by murder. There are human vermin, human scorpions and vipers. Is Christian society to regard them, to care for them? The answer is that Providence regards them and cares for them. They are human after all--men whom God has made, for whom there are yet hopes, who are no worse than others would be if Divine grace did not guard and deliver. Rightly does Christian society affirm that a human being in peril, in suffering, in any extremity common to men, is to be succoured as a man, without inquiry whether he is good or vile. What, then, of justice, and man’s administration of justice? This, that they demand a sacred calm, elevation above the levels of personal feeling, mortal passion and ignorance. Law is to be of no private, sudden, unconsidered administration. Only in the most solemn and orderly way is the trial of the worst malefactor to be gone about, sentence passed, justice executed. (R. A. Watson, M. A.)
Why is his chariot so long in coming?
why tarry the wheels of his chariots?
The delayed chariot
The language of this hoping, yet half-despairing and disconsolate mother, has been, I presume, the language of multitudes some time or other in the stern fight of existence and the moral campaign of consecrated life. When God has tarried in His pavilion of cloud, withholding both Himself and His blessings, our hearts have struggled and our lips quivered with wondering desire to know the reason “why,” until impatience has bubbled over in anxious inquiry, “Why is His chariot so long in coming? why tarry the wheels of His chariots?” God stays not from us because, like Sisera, He is a dismounted general and a slain warrior: men fall, but He never. He always has a sublime design in His tarrying, a good and satisfactory reason for His delay, which He does not always make known, but leaves us to spell out as best we can for ourselves. He tarries to do us good, and not to taunt; to check our impatience and correct our hurrying spirit, and not to discourage or distress. He will come to us if we only wait long enough: and His coming shall be as the morning--fresh, fragrant, and radiant.
I. Let us look at this text as the language of the universal church. The Church in the wilderness, the Church militant, for nearly nineteen centuries has been breathing fervently the prayer commanded by her Founder--“Thy kingdom come.” And in her anticipation of the answer and the advent, in her longings after complete victory, universal regeneration, when truth and peace shall sway her sceptre in every land, and the Christ-King shall be enthroned in every heart--I say, in her longings after this glorious era, she plaintively ejaculates, “Why is His chariot so long in coming?” “Why does my Lord delay His coming?” The progress of Christianity, the achievements and triumphs of truth, we are told, have been so slow, so few, so limited, for the time in which it has been at work, that our learned doubters and avowed foes have written upon it in big letters, “Failure!” Well, we are not surprised at that. Had there not been something about it which largely savoured of success, they would not have been so hasty to label it with failure! Moreover, slowness of progress, of growth, is no proof of failure. Are not the greatest works of God and man the result of slow processes? I would ask, must the corn be pronounced a failure because it does not wave in golden harvests after a night and a day’s growth? Must the old sun be pronounced a failure because it does not march instantaneously, but by degrees, to the meridian? What if Christianity has been slow in its march?--it has been sure. It has been moving in no circle of uncertainty, no region of doubt and ill-based probabilities! It has been making solid headway. And if other systems of religion--false and flashy--have sprung up with the rapidity of the mushroom, they have been as fragile and unenduring.
II. Look at this text as the language of the individual Church desiring and expecting a special visit from heaven. The chilling winds of worldliness have swept over the Church, or the mildew of indifference has fallen on some, and the cankerous rust of idleness on others, while some have become intoxicated with pride, and others poisoned with heresy, numbed with doubt, and wild with the delirium of controversy. So that the Church is bordering on lifelessness, its strength low, its energies exhausted, its influence and glory almost gone. The few in her that have not defiled their garments nor indulged in worldly ease, who are true and loyal, and steadfast and earnest, tremble for the “ark of God,” and grieve to see it drifting to the fatal rocks; and in agony of soul cry, “Why is His chariot so long in coming to our help?” Hold on faith, hold on patience, hold on pleading--loosen not your grasp of Omnipotence, your Jacob-like grip on God--cease not to ask, to seek, to knock, to wait: in Jehovah’s own time the golden gates will open, the flaming steed will rush out. He who speeds His way through a wilderness of worlds, through untraversed solitudes of space, will steer His glad “chariot” to your sanctuary and in the midst of the Church, and scatter the gifts of His grace and the benedictions of His love.
III. Look at this text as the language of the penitent sinner seeking and desiring Christ. A penitent soul is one of earth’s grandest pictures. When the obdurate heart melts and weeps, and the unwilling knees bend in lowly submission, and the prayer uprises to heaven, “What must I do to be saved?” and the poor sinner is passing through the sharp ordeal of repentance, then it is we read in the mystic language of tears and sighs the plaintive words of my text, “Why is His chariot so long in coming? why tarry the wheels of His chariot?” Should there be one such penitent soul waiting for the coming of Jesus, listening for the rumbling of His chariot wheels to give him “beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, and the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness,” tarry on your knees, tighten your grip of faith, wait! and He that will come shall come; and His arrival shall be all the more welcome and blissful for the delay and the waiting.
IV. Again, we may regard the text as the language of the consecrated but clouded child of God, mourning protracted delay of conscious communion. For a time God has seemed to depart: He has withdrawn His light, His conscious presence. No voice speaks, no face beams, no hands leads, no presence remains; the soul presses, as it thinks, near to Him, but lie is not there; it speaks, but there is no response; it gropes in the distressing darkness, but finds Him not. We should, however, never forget that the halting of Jehovah is not to tantalise, but to test; not to inflict unneeded pain, but to produce great spiritual profit. The hiding of His face is simply for the multiplying of His grace. Suspended communion is intended to do for us what the storm does for the tree, what the fire does for the silver and gold, what the lapidary’s wheel does for the jewel. Such absence only makes the heart grow fonder. The longing desire for repossession and renewed fellowship is a pledge of a consecrated heart, and a prophecy that sooner or later He will return.
V. Again, look at this text as the language of God’s afflicted child daily expecting his chariot to take him home. Home, sweet home! what a precious monosyllable! God sometimes keeps His chosen ones a long time in the final fires, in the finishing process--a long time lingering between the two worlds--suffering, dying. With what a “spirit of expectant hope” and holy calm did Francis Ridley Havergal contemplate and wait for death. There was acute and continued suffering--at times most severe; but the presence of “the King” was fully realised, and His grace was sufficient for her. She startled her medical adviser on one of his early visits by the emphatic inquiry, “Now tell me, doctor, candidly, is there any chance of my seeing Him?” Later on she said, “Not one thing hath failed, tell them all round: trust Jesus: it is simply trusting Jesus.” “Spite of the breakers, not a fear.” “I am just waiting for Jesus to take me in.” “I thought He would have left me here awhile, but He is so good to take me so soon.” “I have such an intense craving for the music of heaven.” Then, as if “longing to depart and be with Christ, which is far better,” she said, “Why tarrieth His chariot?” (J. O. Keen, D. D.)
So let all Thine enemies perish, O Lord.
The imprecations of the Old Testament
I have chosen this verse rather than any detailed utterances from the imprecations that are found in the imprecatory Psalms, because I believe it contains the key that will enable us to solve the inner meaning and the spiritual relations of these imprecations. It is always, I think, a wise thing to get a principle, if possible, where it is clearly stated, rather than where it is hidden by a mass of obscure material. Once we get the principle--the key of the question--we can then use it to bring order into what may appear at first sight to be disorder. I examine the modern theory that asserts that these imprecatory passages were inspired by unholy personal vindictiveness. The recoil from rigid theories of inspiration has caused some to run riot. They make swift work of anything that offends their taste or that they cannot immediately comprehend--they cut it out with the ready pen-knife. This seems an easy way of getting over difficulties. Yet, theory or no theory, there is a living unity and congruity in the Scriptures which demands recognition, and will revenge itself upon indiscriminate mutilation. But, someone may ask, is it not reasonable to suppose that even some of the Old Testament saints, under a fit of provocation, may have indulged in fierce imprecations, in such curses as these. I hesitate even to answer that in the affirmative. But that is not all you have to suppose. You have not only to suppose that one of these saints could lose his self-control and his spiritual sense so far as to indulge in terrible curses, inspired by personal malignity, but you have also to suppose that he deliberately threw that vindictive outburst into a high form of literary composition, bestowing upon it great literary care and skill; that he put it into the form of a sacred psalm, and deliberately designed that that furious outburst of evil and vindictive passion should be preserved and perpetuated. You have yet further to suppose that that man, inspired by the Satanic passion within him, having composed his psalm, was able to induce the elect nation, the people whose religious and spiritual intuitions were so marvellous, whom God was training in such a special manner, you have to suppose that that people adopted into their sacred book some of the most Satanic utterances ever given expression to by a member of their own or any other race. I would have you also note this. The most terrible imprecations occur in the Book of Psalms, and the Book of Psalms reaches the high water mark of spiritual thought and conception among the Jews. Such a supposition reduces the spiritual history of Israel to complete chaotic confusion. There is another consideration that is worthy of notice. These imprecatory Psalms, especially the 69th, are quoted in the New Testament more frequently perhaps than any other passage in the Old Testament Scriptures, quoted as forming a true and legitimate part of the sacred Scriptures of the Jews, quoted, mark you, not by fossilised and prejudiced Jews, but by the apostles of Jesus Christ.
II. place these utterances in their true setting in the writings of the Old Scriptures. You will now understand why I have chosen these words as my text. “So let all Thine enemies perish, O Lord.” “Thine enemies.” This is the key that unlocks the whole matter. The ancient inspired writers never asked for the descent of judgment on their own personal account simply, but always as a vindication and assertion of eternal righteousness. There are two things we must remember, however, in considering these prayers for the extermination of the ungodly. The first is that these prayers refer primarily, almost, if not altogether, exclusively to the government of God upon this earth. When the psalmist prays that the wicked may be “blotted out of the book of life,” he is not speaking in the language of the New Testament, but in that of the Old, and from the standpoint of the earth. He is not praying for spiritual and eternal condemnation; he is praying that the race of the ungodly may be exterminated from this world. We must remember, further, that it is the wicked, as such, upon whom these judgments are denounced. The imprecation has force only in so far as the wicked continues in his wickedness.
III. Compare these utterances with the New Testament standpoint. It is easy to see, first, that the New Testament has a clearer view of the eternal scope of God’s government. It does not trouble us as it did the Jew when we see the ungodly flourish here, because we know that this life is but a short time in the annals of human life. We know that this earth’s history is only a speck in the history of the human race. Then there is another advance. We have larger conceptions of the love and forbearance of God. The ancient Jew could not understand the possibility of salvation for all. The world was divided into two parts for him--the righteous and the wicked; and they stood on each side of the moral line, and there was scarcely any crossing over. And especially did the Jewish nation in its entirety stand out in opposition to the other nations of the earth. The Jew had very little hope of God’s loving them, and bringing them into the joy of His grace. The ancient Jew desired righteousness to be vindicated by the victory of the righteous over the wicked; we rather desire that righteousness may be glorified by the victories of love, and that all men may be brought out of the sphere of destruction into the life and glory of God. But do not forget that that old principle of judgment was true. It is still in force, although it is now subordinate to the principle of life and hope; but we must not lose sight of it. Do not spurn these old solemn, terrible denunciations because Christ has set them in a blaze of love. (John Thomas, M. A.)
Jewish zeal, a pattern to Christians
What a contrast do these words present to the history which goes before them! Here is the picture of indolence and unfaithfulness leading to cowardice, to apostasy, and to national ruin. On the other hand consider, by way of contrast, the narrative contained in the chapter which ends with the text. Here is a picture of manly obedience to God’s will--a short trial of trouble and suffering--and then the reward, peace. What the Old Testament especially teaches us is this: that zeal is as essentially a duty of all God’s rational creatures as prayer and praise, faith and submission; and, surely, if so, especially of sinners whom He hath redeemed; that zeal consists in a strict attention to His commands--a scrupulousness, vigilance, heartiness, and punctuality which bears with no reasoning or questioning about them--an intense thirst for the advancement of His glory; a shrinking from the pollution of sin and sinners; an indignation, nay, impatience, at witnessing His honour insulted; a quickness of feeling when His name is mentioned, and a jealousy how it is mentioned; a fulness of purpose, an heroic determination to yield Him service at whatever sacrifice of personal feeling; an energetic resolve to push through all difficulties, were they as mountains, when His eye or hand but gives the sign: a carelessness of obloquy, or reproach, or persecution, a forgetfulness of friend and relative, nay, a hatred (so to say) of all that is naturally dear to us, when He says, “Follow Me.” These are some of the characteristics of zeal. Now, it has sometimes been said that the commands of strenuous and stern service given to the Israelites, for instance, those relative to their taking and keeping possession of the promised land, do not apply to us Christians. There can be no doubt it is not our duty to take the sword and kill the enemies of God as the Jews were told to do. But it does not hence follow that the temper of mind which they presuppose and foster is not required of us; else, surely, the Jewish history is no longer profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. Man’s duty, perfection, happiness, have always been one and the same. What was the holiness of an Israelite is still the holiness of a Christian, though the Christian has far higher privileges and aids for perfection. It is impossible, then, that all these duties imposed on the Israelites of driving out their enemies, and taking and keeping possession of the promised land, should not in some sense or other apply to us; for it is clear they were not in their case mere accidents of obedience, but went to form a certain inward character, and as clear is it that our heart must be as the heart of Moses or David if we should be saved through Christ. This is quite evident if we attentively examine the Jewish history and the Divine commands which are the principles of it. For these commands, which some persons have said do not apply to us, are so many and varied, and repeated at so many and divers times, that they certainly must have formed a peculiar character in the heart of the obedient Israelite, and were much more than an outward form and a sort of ceremonial service. Let us consider some of the commands I have referred to, and the terms in which they are conveyed. For instance, that for the extirpation of the devoted nations from the land of Canaan (Deuteronomy 7:1-5; Deuteronomy 7:16). Next observe this merciless temper, as profane people would call it, but as well-instructed Christians say, this godly zeal, was enjoined upon them under far more distressing circumstances, viz., the transgressions of their own relations and friends (Deuteronomy 13:6-9). Now, doubtless, we at this day are not to put men to death for idolatry; but, doubtless also, whatever temper of mind the fulfilment of this command implied in the Jew, such, essentially, must be our temper of mind, whatever else it may be also; for God cannot speak two laws, He cannot love two characters--good is good, and evil is evil (Psalms 19:7-8; Psalms 19:10-11). A self-mastering, fearless obedience was another part of this same religious temper enjoined on the Jews, and still incumbent, as I dare affirm, on us Christians (Joshua 23:6). It required an exceeding moral courage in the Jews to enable them to go straight forward, seduced neither by their feelings nor their reason. Nor was the severe temper under review a duty in the early ages of Judaism only. The Book of Psalms was written at different times, between David’s age and the captivity, yet it plainly breathes the same hatred of Sin and opposition to sinners (Psalms 139:21-24). Further still, after the return from the captivity, after the prophets had enlarged the compass of Divine revelation, and purified and heightened the religious knowledge of the nation, still this rigid and austere zeal was enjoined and enforced in all its ancient vigour by Ezra. The Jews set about a reformation; and what was its most remarkable act? Let us attend to the words of Ezra (Ezra 9:3-4). Now, I do not say that every one ought to have done what Ezra did, for he was supernaturally directed; but would the course he adopted have ever entered into the mind of men of this day, or can they even understand or acquiesce in it, now that they know it? for what did he? He offered a confession and intercession in behalf of the people; then at length he and the people came to a decision, which was no other than this--to command all persons who had married foreign wives to put them away. He undid the evil as well as hindered it in future. What an act of self-denying zeal was this in a multitude of people! These are some out of many instances which might be brought from the Jewish history in proof of the duty of strict and severe loyalty to God and His revealed will. There was an occasion when our Lord is expressly said to have taken upon Him the zeal which consumed David (Matthew 21:12-13). Surely, unless we had this account given us by an inspired writer, we should not have believed it! To put aside form, to dispense with the ministry of His attendant angels, to act before He had spoken His displeasure, to use His own hand, to hurry to and fro, to be a servant in the work of purification, surely this must have arisen from a fire of indignation at witnessing His Father’s house insulted which we sinners cannot understand. But anyhow it is but the perfection of that temper which, as we have seen, was encouraged and exemplified in the Jewish Church. Such is the pattern afforded us by our Lord; to which add the example of the angels which surround Him. Surely in Him is mingled “goodness and severity “; such, therefore, are all holy creatures, loving and severe. We read of their thoughts and desires in the Apocalypse (Revelation 14:7; Revelation 16:5-7; Revelation 18:5-6), all which passages imply a deep and solemn acquiescence in God’s judgments. Thus a certain fire of zeal, showing itself, not by force and blood, but as really and certainly as if it did--cutting through natural feelings, neglecting self, preferring God’s glory to all things, firmly resisting sin, protesting against sinners, and steadily contemplating their punishment--is a duty belonging to all creatures of God, a duty of Christians, in the midst of all that excellent overflowing charity which is the highest gospel grace and the fulfilling of the second table of the law. And such, in fact, has ever been the temper of the Christian Church, in evidence of which I need but appeal to the impressive fact that the Jewish Psalter has been the standard book of Christian devotion from the first down to this day. Now I shall make a few observations in conclusion, with a view of showing how meekness and charity are compatible with this austere and valiant temper of the Christian soldier.
1. Of course it is absolutely sinful to have any private enmities. Not the bitterest personal assaults upon us should induce us to retaliate. We must do good for evil, love those who hate, bless those who curse us, and pray for those who despitefully use us. It is only when it is impossible at once to be kind to them and give glory to God that we may cease to act kindly towards them. We hate sinners by putting them out of our sight, as if they were not, by annihilating them, in our affections. And this we must do, even in the case of our friends and relations, if God requires it. But in no case are we to allow ourselves in resentment or malice.
2. Next, it is quite compatible with the most earnest zeal to offer kind offices to God’s enemies when in distress. I do not say that a denial of these offices may not be a duty ordinarily, for it is our duty, as St. John tells us in his second Epistle, not even to receive them into our houses. But the case is very different where men are brought into extremity.
3. And, further, the Christian keeps aloof from sinners in order to do them good. A true friend is he who speaks out, and, when a man sins, shows him that he is displeased at the sin. (J. H. Newman, D. D.)
The enemies and friends of Jehovah
I. The true character and certain doom of the ungodly.
1. The term “enemies” will apply to all the unrenewed portions of mankind. The heart is positively hostile, etc.. “Carnal mind is enmity against God,” etc.
2. Now as to the doom of the enemies of God they will all perish except they repent; all have one condemnation, sentence, woeful abode. It will include--
II. The illustrious representation given of the friends of Jesus: “Them that love Him.” In the enemy we look for hate; in the friend, love. Now love to Jesus is--
1. A Divine principle of God and from God. The result of regeneration.
2. A pre-eminent principle. Above all, it has the centre, it reigns, it subordinates.
3. It is manifest. Lives, breathes, speaks, acts. Moves all the springs of the heart. Affects all the machinery of life. Loosens the tongue, employs the hands and feet. Mark the representation--“Let them that love Him be as the sun,” etc. Now, the metaphor will apply--
1. Let the subject be the test of character. Are we enemies? etc.
2. Learn the supreme excellence of true religion. Godliness leads to honour, usefulness, blessedness, and glory.
3. Let the enemies of God consider. “Kiss the Son lest He be angry,” etc.
4. Let the professed friends of Jesus exemplify their principles. (J. Burns, D. D.)
The rival armies
I. the enemies of the Lord.
1. Their character.
2. Their doom. They perish,
II. The friends of the Lord. “As the sun when he goeth forth in his might.” The figure refers not to the period from sunrise to sun set but from sunrise to the meridian of his splendour. It is a striking metaphor as setting forth the glorious ongoing and enlivening influence of the Christian character.
1. Very quiet.
3. Regular and sure.
4. Increasing in brightness. (H. G. Parrish, B. A.)
Rejoicing at the death of an oppressor
Hearing a whole choir of birds chirping merrily together, my curiosity was excited to inquire into the occasion of their convocation and merriment, when I quickly perceived a dead hawk in the bush, about which they made such a noise, seeming to triumph at the death of an enemy. I could not blame them for singing the knell of one who, like a cannibal, was wont to feed upon their living bodies, tearing them limb from limb, and scaring them with his frightful appearance. Over this bird, which was so formidable when alive, the most timid wren or titmouse did not now fear to chirp or hop. This occurrence brought to my mind the case of tyrants and oppressors. When living, they are the terror of mankind; but when dead, they are the objects of general contempt and scorn. “When the wicked perish, there is shouting” (Proverbs 11:10). The death of Nero was celebrated by the Romans with bonfires and plays; birds ate the naked flesh of Pompey; Alexander lay unburied thirty days; but a useful and holy life is generally closed by an honourable and lamented death.
The victorious course of the Divine kingdom
The song closes with an apostrophe or prediction of a similar and sure disappointment and fatal issue for every evil cause; while brighter and brighter must wax the course of God’s kingdom on the earth, like the sun shining forth in its strength towards the effulgence of perfect day. It is at once a principle, a prediction, and a prayer.
1. A principle: for there is a Divine cause and interest of God in the world, often obscured by human passion, often clouded with sad disaster, like the sun wading through mist and storm, but destined ever to re-assert itself and establish its bright ascendancy.
2. A prediction. Every inimical interest must and shall give way and succumb to His undying kingdom, with the seed Divine of immortal youth within its bosom--
“And the power of each foe, as if smote with the sword,
Shall melt like the snow in the glance of the Lord.”
3. A prayer. So is it, so it shall be: and so says the singer, let it be. (A. H. Drysdale, M. A.)
Let them that love Him be as the sun.
Christians like the sun
I. The character of God’s people: “They love Him.”
1. This love has been implanted in their hearts by the Holy Spirit. Formerly they hated Him and His service.
2. Their love is sincere. It must be so if the Spirit has created it in the heart (Ephesians 6:24). The love of many, however, is merely professional.
3. This love is supreme: “Whom have I in heaven but Thee?” etc.
4. This love is practical. It dwells in the heart and shows itself in the life.
5. It is self-denying.
II. The similitude by which the character of God’s people is illustrated.
2. Christians resemble the sun in beauty: “Truly light is sweet, And a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold the sun.” So Christians are beautiful in their individual spiritual character--in their associated character.
3. The sun is a visible object; it excites attention and inspires admiration. The course of Christians is not hidden; they are lights of the world, cities set on a hill, living epistles (Matthew 5:16).
4. The Christian resembles the sun in usefulness. What a dark world this would be if the natural sun were to cease its shining? What would the world be without Christianity?
5. The light of the sun is irresistible. Who can say to it, “Hitherto shalt thou come”? etc. No one can stop the work of the Church, for it is God’s work (Isaiah 55:11). O Christians, like the sun, shine more and more unto the perfect day. They grow in grace, in knowledge, purity, peace, joy, till their course terminates in the meridian noontide splendour of heaven. (Helps for the Pulpit.)
Love makes suns
If we think of the singer, of the age, and the occasion of the song, such purely spiritual, lofty words must seem very remarkable.
I. Note, first, how here we have a penetrating insight into the essence of religion. This woman had been nourished upon a more or less perfect edition of what we know as the “Mosaic law.” Her faith had been fed by forms. She moved amidst a world full of the cruelties and dark conceptions of a mysterious Divine power which torture heathenism apart from Christianity. She had forced her way through all that, and laid hold of the vital centre. And there, away out amidst cruelty and murder, amidst the unutterable abominations and terrors of heathenism, in the centre of a rigid system of ceremonial and retaliation, the woman’s heart spoke out and taught her what was the great commandment. Deborah had got as far, in a moment of exaltation and insight, as the teaching of the apostle John, although her thought was strangely blended with the fierceness of the times in which she lived. Her approval of Jael’s deed by no means warrants our approving it, but we may thankfully see that though she felt the fierce throbbing of desire for vengeance, she also felt this--“Them that love Him; that is the Alpha and Omega of all.” Our love must depend on our knowledge. Deborah’s knowledge was a mere skeleton outline as compared with ours. Contrast the fervour of emotional affection that manifestly throbbed in her heart with the poor, cold pulsations which we dignify by the name of love, and the contrast may put us to shame.
II. Further, note the grand conception of the character which such a love produces: “Let them be as the sun when he goeth forth in his might.” Think of the fierce eastern sun, with “sunbeams like swords,” that springs up from the east and rushes to the zenith, and “nothing is hid from the heat thereof”--a sun the like of which we, in our cloudy skies, know little about, but which, to the Oriental, is the very emblem of splendour and of continuous victorious power. There are two things here--radiance and energy, light and might. “As the sun when he goeth forth in his strength.” Deborah was a “prophetess,” and people say, “What did she prophesy? “Well, she prophesied the heart of religion in reference to its essence, and, as one sees by this phrase, in reference to its effects. What is her word but a partial anticipation of Christ’s saying, “Ye are the light of the world”; and of His disciple’s utterance, “Ye were sometimes darkness, and now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of the light”? “Is Deborah’s aspiration fulfilled about me? “Let each of us ask that. “As the sun when he goeth forth in his strength”--would anybody say that about my Christian character? Why not? Only because the springs have run low within is the stream low through the meadows. Only because the love is cold is the light feeble. There is another thing here. There is power in sunlight as well as radiance. On that the prophetess especially lays a finger. “As the sun when he goeth forth in his strength.” She did not know what we know, that solar energy is the source of all energy on this earth, and that, just as in the deepest analysis “there is no power but of God,” so in the material region we may say that the only force is the force of the sun, which not only stimulates vegetation and brings light and warmth--as the pre-scientific prophetess knew--but in a hundred other ways, unknown to her and known to modern science, is the author of all change, the parent of all life, and the reservoir of all energy. And so we come to this thought: the true love of God is no weak, sentimental thing, such as narrow and sectional piety has often represented it to be, but it is a power which will invigorate the whole of a man and make him strong and manly as well as gentle and gracious; being, indeed, the parent of all the so-called heroic and of all the so-called saintly virtues. If you love God you will surely be a strong man as well as an emotional and affectionate Christian. That energy is to be continuous and progressive. The sun that Deborah saw day by day spring from his station in the east and climb to his height in the heavens and ray down his beams, has been doing that for millions of years, and it will probably keep doing it for uncounted periods still. And so the Christian man, with continuity unbroken and progressive brilliance and power, should shine more and more till the unsetting noontide of the day.
III. Here is a prophecy of which the utterer was unaware. There is a contrast drawn in the words of our text and in those immediately preceding. “So,” says Deborah, after the fierce description of the slaughter--“so let all Thine enemies perish, O Lord! but let them that love Thee be as the sun when he shineth in his strength.” She contrasts the transiency of the lives that pit themselves against God with the perpetuity that belongs to those which are in harmony with Him, because the livers are lovers of Him. The truth goes further than she probably knew; certainly further than she was thinking when she chanted these words. Let us widen them by other words which use the same metaphor and say, “They that be wise”--that is a shallower word than “them that love Thee”--“they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever.” Let us widen and deepen them by sacreder words still, for Jesus Christ laid hold of this old metaphor and said, describing the time when all the enemies shall have perished and the weeds have been flung out of the vine-yard, “Then shall the righteous blaze forth like the sun in the kingdom of My Father.” A brilliancy that will fill heaven with new galaxies, bright beyond all that we see here, amidst the thick atmosphere and mists and clouds of the present life! (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
I. The object: “Them that love Him.”
II. The request: “Let them be as the sun.” I think the chief doctrine here intended is that of infallibility. First, the sun is a faithful witness in heaven. The sun has never failed yet, and never can fail. “When He goeth forth in His might.” The Scriptures are clear that the people are all predestinated to be conformed to the image of Christ; that what He is they are to be. Did not Jesus Christ go forth in His might in His humiliation; and doth He not also go forth in His might in His exaltation?
III. The repose here mentioned: “The land had rest forty years.” How is it that they had rest forty years? Well, they had rest, liberty, and quiet, enjoying all the privileges of the promised land during these forty years, by one of the most simple things. It was by simply rejecting all false gods, and abiding by the God of Israel, and just bringing up a little of past history, and learning that this God, who had delivered them from Egypt, this God, who had sustained them through the wilderness, this God that brought them into the promised land and planted them there, He, and He alone, was God; and the consequence was that their liberty remained, their harvests were good, their vintage was good, their flocks and their herds increased, and they were every way happy. Just so now; if we would have spiritual rest, spiritual settlement, and real prosperity, it must be by simply abiding by that truth that represents the great God to us as a Saviour, that represents Him in a covenant ordered in all things and sure--simply abiding by that. Now how was it they had rest no longer than forty years? I can hardly tell; but you do not get through the next chapter before you stumble upon an altar, and say, “What altar is this?” This is not the Lord’s; no, it is Baal’s. And here is a beautiful grove and gardens--everything made pleasant to the flesh, a great display. Well, how in the world Baal got in again I do not know, but I should not wonder if it was either by trade affairs, or else by matrimonial affairs, or else by both. (James Wells.)
──《The Biblical Illustrator》