Praise you the LORD for the avenging of Israel, when the people willingly offered themselves.
There are two other renderings of this verse, viz., "That in Israel wildly waved the hair in the people's self-devotion, - praise God" (Cassel); and, "For the leading of the leaders in Israel, for the free self-offering of the people, praise Jehovah (Stanley, after LXX.). It is immaterial which of these we prefer; the chief thought is evidently that which appears in all. It is the key-note of this heroic song, as it is the essence of heroism and true religion always - self-sacrifice to God.
I. THE SPIRIT IN WHICH GREAT DEEDS ARE WROUGHT. The outburst has its source in Divine patriotism or religious enthusiasm. A consciousness of a representative character and destiny animates the Israelites. Religious devotion binds them into complete communion. Private aims and interests are forgotten.
1. It is this spirit which rescues the war of deliverance from objections to war simply as such. As an act of self-devotion it was a truly devout, and therefore religiously legitimate, war. No hope of personal gain animates the host of Israel. It is patriotism in its noblest form. These soldiers are all volunteers; they obey a Divine voice. How many wars would cease were such feelings consulted! The saints' contest with evil should be con- ducted from a like principle. We should know what "manner of spirit" we are of.
2. It was this spirit which made so effectual the struggle in which they were engaged. They were desperate, devoted men. No half-measure would be tolerated. Having counted the cost, they were willing to carry it on a outrance. God's battle with error and wickedness has suffered because of the half-heartedness of those who wage it.
3. It was this spirit which conferred upon the deed its aesthetic beauty and epic grandeur, It is a fine question to determine what that is that gives the essential character to the noble, chivalrous, and religious enthusiasms of men. A careful survey of any considerable number of them will show that not only unselfishness, but self- sacrifice, is their fundamental principle. Selfish aims, or the impulse of self-aggrandisement, vitiates the deed, however externally magnificent; and vice versa, the magnanimous forgetfulness of self, the conscious foregoing of personal ends and aims, will give nobility and piety even to works externally indifferent or apparently ignoble. The sentiment of a deed is its true character. Here it assumes a dignity and glory that command the admiration of the poet and the artist. It is part of the excellence of noble deeds to inspire. There is nothing so inspiring as self-devotion. But this is the vital breath of all true religion. Religious enthusiasm is contagious. The pious hero cannot long remain alone. True worship is the praise of the cross, where the power of darkness sustained its signal, final defeat. "By the obedience of one shall many be made righteous." If we are truly religious our lives also will blossom forth in acts that poets might sing and orators extol.
II. THE INSPIRER OF GREAT DEEDS. That they are not a spontaneous outgrowth of our nature is the general confession of those who have wrought them. The object of Israel's admiration and obedience was Jehovah. It was in the inspiration derived from him the deliverance was wrought. God in Christ, as embodying the highest excellency in sympathetic relation with ourselves, is an even more powerful stimulus to heroism and piety. "For Christ's sake" is a formula that covers a vast proportion of "whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, and pure, and lovely, and of good report," in the world's history. - M.
Parallel VersesKJV: Praise ye the LORD for the avenging of Israel, when the people willingly offered themselves.