Then sang Deborah and Barak the son of Abinoam on that day, saying,
I. A person who thinks that a Divine lesson-book should present to us exclusively or chiefly high maxims of morality, or perfect models of character and behaviour, finds the Book of Judges a great stumbling-block. There the tribes of Israel are exhibited, not as specimens of excellence, but as disorganised and barbarous; in strife with each other, and with the nations round about. The very champions who rose up in their defence seem to indulge their vices in a more gigantic way than their fellow-men.
We must remember this: God calls these men out that they may act as His servants, as deliverers of their country, as benefactors to mankind. So far as they yield themselves to that calling, God speaks in them and shines through them; men see His image and are raised by it to know what they are meant to be. So soon as these men begin to act and speak for themselves, to use the strength or the wisdom which God has given them on their own behalf, to set themselves up as heroes or tyrants separate from their brethren, that moment they become witnesses for God by their rebellion as they had been by their obedience; making evident the truth of their assertion that He governs the world, since if these His servants governed it without Him, they would soon make a desert of it.
II. In this fifth chapter we have this very puzzle brought before us. Deborah is an inspired woman, yet she praises the murderess Jael. The Bible does not itself applaud this act; it tells us frankly that Deborah the prophetess applauded it. At that instant all other thoughts were absorbed in joy for the rescue which she ascribed to its true source. We must not allow our reverence for Deborah to interfere with our reverence for God. We must not insist that she is right when she contradicts law-givers, prophets, apostles, and the Son of God. Since the Son of God has been manifested, the works of the devil have been manifested also; it is a monstrous contempt of God's teaching to say that we cannot know them; an awful denial of it to say that in certain instances we may identify them with His works who has come to destroy them.
F. D. Maurice, The Patriarchs and Lawgivers of the Old Testament, p. 320.
Reference: Jdg 5:2.—J. M. Neale, Sermons for the Church Year, vol. ii., p. 229.
Jdg 5:7-8I. Perhaps the general idea of a village in the Bible was of a cluster of unwalled huts or houses, without a synagogue; but we may be sure that in most such places, although the priest and the building were not there, there was divine service, the knowledge of God, and the calling upon His name. A religious atmosphere invests the villages of the Bible; human life everywhere is compelled to look up, saved from looking down, from regarding life as a hopeless, grinding fate; the life of the villager is charmed from injustice, oppression, and fraud, by Divine principles taking shape in laws and enactments. God revealed Himself first to villages and villagers. The patriarchs were villagers; the great thoughts of the men who from time to time roused the nation, were born in villages, and the first notes of the Incarnation sounded over the plain in villagers' ears.
II. Almost all the most beautiful imagery of the Hebrew Scriptures clusters round the scenery of village life; the land was full of pictures, on which faith was invited to meditate.
III. The villages of the Bible illustrate this lesson, that national wealth is not in the Divine conception the chief end and purpose of any nation. In the denunciations pronounced on Egypt and Tyre and Babylon, we learn how great, in God's judgment, is the difference between a wealthy and a happy land.
E. Paxton Hood, Preacher's Lantern, vol. iii., p. 31.
References: Jdg 5:11.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xiii., No. 763. Jdg 5:12.—Ibid., vol. vi., No. 340. Jdg 5:16.—Parker, vol. vi., p. 164; Homiletic Quarterly, vol. iv., p. 133. Jdg 5:20.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. iii., p. 352; E. J. Hardy, Faint yet Pursuing, p. 85.
Jdg 5:23I. Many persons would say that this curse was merely a splenetic utterance of an angry woman against a town. And yet that curse was carried out completely. If then in wrath God doomed a city to punishment, yet even in that doom there is mercy, for in the curse pronounced by Deborah there was a warning to the inhabitants of the city to return from their faithlessness.
II. What, then, was the reason of the curse pronounced on Meroz? Of what was Meroz guilty? (1) The omission of a plain and positive duty. They did not join with the enemy, but they refused to help the people of God. (2) A sin of lukewarmness and carelessness. (3) Meroz let slip an opportunity; neglected a crisis in her history.
III. From the conduct of the people of Meroz we may take three great warnings: (1) Against sins of omission. (2) Against the sin of lukewarmness. (3) Against the letting slip of opportunities.
C. Hook, Contemporary Pulpit, vol. vi., p. 42.
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.
Phillips Brooks, The Candle of the Lord, p. 287.
I. The sin of Meroz was that it was found wanting on a great occasion, as it could not have been found wanting had it been sound at heart. (1) It failed first of all in the duty of patriotism. (2) It failed in duty towards its religion. For the cause of Israel against Jabin was not merely the cause of the country; it was the cause of the Church.
II. Meroz is never unrepresented in history. "Curse ye Meroz." The words still live. May they not be heard within the soul when a man has consciously declined that which conscience has recognised as a plain duty? A deliberate rejection of duty cannot but destroy, or at least impair most seriously, the clearness of our mental vision.
H. P. Liddon, University Sermons, 2nd series, p. 264.
References: Jdg 5:23.—W. Baird, The Hallowing of our Common Life, p. 70; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. viii., p. 289; Preacher's Monthly, vol. v., p. 335.
Jdg 5:24The main interest of this narrative lies with a woman. Deborah is one of the most striking figures in Jewish history. She was the leader and guide of her countrymen in the effort which restored to them peace and freedom, civil and religious. She was the judge who awarded praise or blame to those who had been false or true to the cause of God and of Israel. At the close of her song she utters an emphatic and extraordinary blessing upon Jael.
I. Jael's action on the one hand, and Deborah's inspired judgment on the other, raise questions to which no reflecting mind can be insensible. (1) We cannot get over the difficulty by saying that Deborah's utterance about Jael is not inspired; that it is only a page of dark human passion occurring in a generally inspired poem. If Deborah's blessing of Jael is uninspired, it is hard to claim inspiration reasonably for any part of her song; and if Deborah's song is not inspired, it is difficult to say what other portions of the Book of Judges are. (2) In weighing Deborah's language, we have to consider, first of all, that Sisera's life was, in Deborah's judgment, rightly forfeited. She speaks of him as the Lord's enemy. And what Deborah knew about him, Jael knew also. Neither of them had any doubt that his life was justly forfeited. The question could only arise as to Jael's method of taking it. (3) Let us notice that Deborah's language about Jael is relative language. It is relative to the conduct of other persons than Jael, and it is relative to Jael's own circumstances as a stranger to the commonwealth of Israel. Jael was blessed among "women in the tent," women, that is, who led such a life as that of the wandering Arabs beyond the confines of Israel. Deborah contrasts the poor heathen woman of the desert with the recreant sailors of Asher and Dan, and the herdsmen of Reuben, and the townsmen of Meroz. She projects Jael's fervid loyalty into luminous prominence, where it stands out in telling rebuke to the indifference of those who had far greater advantages.
II. Notice three points in conclusion. (1) The equitableness of Deborah's judgment of Jael. (2) Note that 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 is only eulogised because she lived in an age and circumstances which exonerated what was imperfect or wrong in her act. (3) Note the presence of unsuspected imperfections in all human endeavour even when God graciously accepts it.
H. P. Liddon, Contemporary Pulpit, vol. vi., p. 65 (see also Penny Pulpit, No. 1159).
References: Jdg 5:24.—T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. vi., p. 57; J. B. Mozley, Ruling Ideas in Early Ages, pp. 126, 153; Bishop Woodford, Occasional Sermons, p. 161; J. Percival, Some Helps for School Life, p. 124.
Jdg 5:31What 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 has redeemed. That zeal consists in a strict attention to His commands, an intense thirst for the advancement of His glory, a carelessness of obloquy or reproach or persecution, a forgetfulness of friend and relative, nay, hatred (so to say) of all that is naturally dear to us, when He says, "Follow me." A certain fire of zeal, showing itself not by force and blood, but as really and certainly as if it did, is 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.
I. Of course it is absolutely sinful to have any private enemies. When David speaks of hating God's enemies, it was under circumstances when keeping friends with them would have been a desertion of the truth. We hate sinners by putting them out of our sight as if they were not, by annihilating them in our affections. But in no case are we to allow ourselves resentment or malice.
II. It is quite compatible with the most earnest zeal to offer kind offices to God's enemies when in distress. God "maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust."
III. The Christian keeps aloof from sinners in order to do them good. He does so in the truest and most enlarged charity.
A true friend is he who speaks out, and when a man sins, shows him that he is displeased at the sin. The Psalmist speaks in this spirit when after praying God to persecute the ungodly with His tempest, he adds "fill their faces with shame, that they may seek Thy name, O Lord."
J. H. Newman, Parochial and Plain Sermons, vol. iii., p. 173.
Reference: Jdg 5:31.—J. Van Oosterzee, Year of Salvation, vol. ii., p. 411.
Praise ye the LORD for the avenging of Israel, when the people willingly offered themselves.
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.
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.
The mountains melted from before the LORD, even that Sinai from before the LORD God of Israel.
In the days of Shamgar the son of Anath, in the days of Jael, the highways were unoccupied, and the travellers walked through byways.
The inhabitants of the villages ceased, they ceased in Israel, until that I Deborah arose, that I arose a mother in Israel.
They chose new gods; then was war in the gates: was there a shield or spear seen among forty thousand in Israel?
My heart is toward the governors of Israel, that offered themselves willingly among the people. Bless ye the LORD.
Speak, ye that ride on white asses, ye that sit in judgment, and walk by the way.
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.
Awake, awake, Deborah: awake, awake, utter a song: arise, Barak, and lead thy captivity captive, thou son of Abinoam.
Then he made him that remaineth have dominion over the nobles among the people: the LORD made me have dominion over the mighty.
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.
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.
Why abodest thou among the sheepfolds, to hear the bleatings of the flocks? For the divisions of Reuben there were great searchings of heart.
Gilead abode beyond Jordan: and why did Dan remain in ships? Asher continued on the sea shore, and abode in his breaches.
Zebulun and Naphtali were a people that jeoparded their lives unto the death in the high places of the field.
The kings came and fought, then fought the kings of Canaan in Taanach by the waters of Megiddo; they took no gain of money.
They fought from heaven; the stars in their courses fought against Sisera.
The river of Kishon swept them away, that ancient river, the river Kishon. O my soul, thou hast trodden down strength.
Then were the horsehoofs broken by the means of the pransings, the pransings of their mighty ones.
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.
Blessed above women shall Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite be, blessed shall she be above women in the tent.
He asked water, and she gave him milk; she brought forth butter in a lordly dish.
She put her hand to the nail, and her right hand to the workmen's hammer; and with the hammer she smote Sisera, she smote off his head, when she had pierced and stricken through his temples.
At her feet he bowed, he fell, he lay down: at her feet he bowed, he fell: where he bowed, there he fell down dead.
The mother of Sisera looked out at a window, and cried through the lattice, Why is his chariot so long in coming? why tarry the wheels of his chariots?
Her wise ladies answered her, yea, she returned answer to herself,
Have they not sped? have they not divided the prey; to every man a damsel or two; to Sisera a prey of divers colours, a prey of divers colours of needlework, of divers colours of needlework on both sides, meet for the necks of them that take the spoil?
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.