And Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, she judged Israel at that time.…
It is a suggestive and on the whole perhaps a creditable fact that heroic women are not so interesting to women as to men. We read about that German prophetess who roused her people against the invaders from Rome, or about Joan of Arc, who, simple peasant girl that she was, communing with mysterious angels' voices (as the legend runs), kindled the French nation against the English dominion when princes and statesmen had well-nigh given up the cause; or we read about Deborah, like St. Louis under the oak at Vincennes, sitting under a Judaean palm, not with downcast eyes and folded hands and extinguished hopes, but all on fire with faith and energy, with the soul of courage and the voice of command, and we are constrained to pay homage to her daring and her fearlessness, to her strong will and her unshrinking purpose. But if I were to ask any young girl whether she were ambitious of such a career, there is not one in a score who would say so. A woman's idea of happiness and usefulness ordinarily centres in a home. We have been accustomed to hear the constantly reiterated assertion that "woman's sphere is the home." I confess for one that in view of the actual facts of society, as they exist around us, there is often in such words a sound of cruel irony. Do not you and I know, that there are thousands of women to whom a home is as impossible a thing as a castle in Spain? Do we not know that there are thousands of young girls who have no human being but themselves to depend upon, and who must somehow make their way and earn their own bread in life? Will you tell me how a home or anything else than a room and a hard, stern struggle for life is possible to these? We have now reached a point in the social progress of this age when it is necessary that we should every one of us recognise the crisis that is upon us. A much larger number of women must hereafter support themselves than have ever done so before. There are some callings from which, as it seems to me, women must for ever remain shut out. Any calling which requires conspicuous publicity, masculine activities, and out-door leadership is not, I venture to submit, for a woman. For one, I should not care to see her hanging from a yard-arm, driving a steam-engine, digging in a coal-mine, or vociferating in congress. But when we have eliminated from the question those occupations from which healthy self-respect would restrain any really womanly woman, there remain a vast range of employments on which women have not yet entered, but for which, nevertheless, they have singular and supreme qualifications. Already women have acquired the science of telegraphy, and they are, of course, more expert in it than men can possibly be. Women are already training themselves to be phonographic reporters. And here again their peculiar aptitudes are a pre-eminent qualification. Why should they not oftener provide for them an honourable maintenance? It is a curious and scarcely known fact that in the middle ages, the daughters as well as the sons in a family often inherited and carried on the family art or handicraft. When one goes to Nuremberg, or Prague, or Heidelberg, he will find bits of wood carving, artistic work in metal or stone, which no modern hand can pretend to rival. How are we to explain this earlier perfection? Simply on this wise: the calling of the father was the calling of the children. Exquisite workmanship was a hereditary trait. "Among goldsmiths the daughters executed chasing, among furniture-makers carving, among stone-masons sculpture, among engravers drawing and graving." Could there be more pleasing or wholesome employment of one's best aptitudes? It is time that every woman among us, and especially every young girl with culture and influence and social power, should awaken to the needs of her own sex. What Deborah was under the palm-tree at Mount Ephraim every brave and true-hearted woman is called to be in the service of as holy a cause and as precious interests. We call Deborah a prophetess, and so she was. We regard her as somehow separated by her rare natural endowments and her exceptional inspiration from the other women of her time, and so she was. But in a very real and a very living and lofty sense every woman is a prophetess, with a prophet's gifts and a prophet's calling. For what are prophets' gifts but that Divine insight, that swift and heaven-born intuition, which is your rarest gift, your loftiest endowment? Shall I be opening an old wound if I say that it was a woman's voice and pen that, more than any other, roused this land to the evils and the cruelties of slavery? and as truly I believe they must be women's voices that must waken us men to the cruelties of that other servitude in which too often and too widely the weak of your sex are to-day oppressed. Do not, then, be afraid to lift your voice in any good cause that aims to elevate women to equal chance and equal respect and equal emolument with men in the great struggle of life. Be, each one of you, a Deborah to cry to some slumberous and sluggish Barak, "Up and do the Master's Work, in the spirit of the Master's example!"
(Bp. H. C. Potter.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, she judged Israel at that time.