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The history of perhaps no nation exhibits such striking and instructive variety of character and event, as that of the posterity of Abraham. It is interesting in itself, and it is closely connected with the general interests of mankind. That people, through a dispersion of near two thousand years, have preserved an existence. Hated, despised and persecuted by all other nations, they remain unextirpated; a monument at once of the vengeance and of the care of Heaven: and unequivocal intimations, from the oracles of truth, hold them up as the objects of eternal Providence, in events of superior magnitude, yet to take place.
We have followed the successive changes which they underwent, with successive emotions of astonishment, exultation, indignation and sorrow. And we find them, at the defeat of Sisera and his host, in a situation highly critical and interesting. The prophetess Deborah in this celebrated song, goes into a comparative delineation of the respective merit and demerit of the several tribes; and thereby enables us to estimate the particular character of each, at different eras of their political existence. Jacob on his death-bed, and Moses on the wing to depart, in his valedictory address, presents us with a similar opportunity; of which we are now to avail ourselves, in the two-fold view of extending a little our pittance of knowledge of human nature, and increasing our admiration of, and dependence upon, the Divine Providence.
In the dying benediction of Jacob, Judah, his fourth son, and the tribe which should spring from him, maké a most conspicuous figure. The spirit of prophecy 'employs every image expressive of power, greatness, plenteousness and duration, to represent the future eminence and superiority of that tribe. In all the musters which were made of the people during the forty years wandering in the wilderness, and in the distribution of place and station, according to divine appointment, in their encampments and removals, we still find Judab
excelling in number and strength, and occupying the post of honor. But Moses takes leave of that tribe, with a very slight degree of notice; and in the song of Deborah their name is not so much as mentioned, nor is any allusion made to any exploit of theirs, in celebrating the triumph of that eventful day. Indeed the spirit and pre-eminence of Judah seems to have been gradually on the decline, from the days of Caleb, who conquered and dispossessed the sons of Anak; till they were revived, maintained, and extended under David and Solomon., And, for several centuries, we find this prerogative tribe, which was destined to the Tasting honors of royalty and rule, sleeping in oblivion and unimportance with the insignificant tribe of Simeon, which hardly ever achieved any action, or produced any personage worthy of being remembered. Of so much consequence is one man in a tribe, in a nation, in a world.
But the person and tribe the most distinguished in the prophecy of Jacob, and the blessing of Moses, are also the most distinguished in this triumphant anthem, Ephraim, the younger son of Joseph, the beloved son of Jacob, raised by the destination and interposition of high Heaven, to power and precedency over his elder brother. To the exertions of this branch of the house of Joseph, in conjunction with those of Zebulun and Naphtali, the victory now by the blessing of God obtained over the armies of Canaan was chiefly to be ascribed. The spirit of their father Joshua, dead in so many other of the tribes of Israel is alive in them, and happily is propitious to the common cause.
A severe censure of the conduct of the two tribes and a half beyond the river, is more than insinuated; it is brought directly forward. They are represented as totally lost to all public spirit, and wrapt up in cold selfishness and indifference. Jordan was a kind of defence to them from the Canaanitish foe, and the cries of their oppressed brethren beyond the river are drown
ed in the more interesting bleatings of their own flocks. The same spirit of selfishness is represented as pervading the tribes who inhabited the sea coasts, Dan and Asher, and who, subsisting by trade, and absorbed by the love of gain, steeled their hearts to the feelings of sympathy and humanity. Drawing their supplies from the ocean, they forget they have a country; and under the influence of one domineering lust, all the better claims of the human heart are suppressed and silenced. They pursue their merchandize, as the others attended to their sheep farms, regardless what their wretched countrymen meanwhile endured. "For the divisions of Reuben there were great thoughts of heart. Why abodest thou among the sheep-folds, to hear the bleatings of the flocks? For the divisions of Reuben there were great searchings of heat. Gilead abode beyond Jordan: and why did Dan remain in ships? Asher continued on the sea-shore, and abode in his breaches," Verse 15...17.
Such is the general view of the state of Israel at this period, which the words of Deborah convey. The import of many of the expressions which the prophetess employs to convey her feelings on this occasion, we pretend not to understand or to explain. Is it any wonder that in a poetical composition upwards of three thousand years old, in a language so little studied, referring to a history of which the outline only is drawn, there should be many things difficult to be understood? This much is evident upon the face of it, that Israel at that unhappy period exhibited a spectacle, bearing but too near a resemblance to what our own times * have seen dreadfully realized. A whole host of foes, aworld in arms, combined to work the downfall of a sinful, devoted country. Internal discord, the extinction of public virtue, the dominion of bare-faced iniquity... but, the arm of the Lord is revealed, and salvation is wrought.
Great-Britain embroiled with France, Spain, Holland, America, and an armed neutrality.
The picture which the poetess draws of the desper. ate state of Israelitish affairs is truly affecting; and is a happy preparation for a display of that unexpected and astonishing relief, which had just turned their sorrow into gladness. Judah lulled asleep in listless inaction, without exertion, without existence; a fourth part of the national force, on the other side Jordan, careless tennidg their flocks; another fourth devoted to their private traffic; the sword of judgment in the feeble hand of a female; confederated kings threatening their utter extirpation; enemies numerous," strong and lively, and hating them with a cruel hatred;" what power can dissipate the gathered storm? That power which says to the roaring ocean, "Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further, and here shall thy proud waves be stayed." "They fought from heaven: the stars in their courses fought against Sisera," Verse 20. Behold, all nature engaged in the cause of Israel's God. The heavenly host first take up the quarrel; angels, legions of "angels that excel in strength:"" the least of whom could wield these elements." The most powerful and splendid parts of inanimate nature feel the alarm, and join their influence;"" the stars in their courses." The earth quickly hears the heaven; the waters swell and rage; Kishon increased, most probably, by the recent dreadful tempest which had fallen from the air, rises suddenly upon them, and, like the Red Sea of old, swallows up, as in a moment, the enemy and the avenger.
There is a singular force and beauty in the repetition of the name of the river, with the addition of the epithet" ancient." It is natural for men to value themselves on the antiquity of their country, and its cities. It is the fond term which, in the honest pride and exultation of our hearts, we affix to our own land; it seems to confer additional dignity and importance we associate in the idea, the valor and success of f times; we feel our hearts attracted as to a cr
parent; filial affection and brotherly love revive at the sound. In the enthusiasm of pious and poetical inspiration, she bestows animation and passion on the
od; she represents it as rising in pride and joy, and overflowing its banks, to serve the cause of ancient friends, lying under the rod of insolence and oppression. And the period pathetically closes, with the prophetess, in a single word, apostrophizing herself as the honored, happy instrument of co-operating with intelligent and animated nature in trampling pride and cruelty into the dust. "O my soul, thou hast trodden down strength."
I have already anticipated much of what I had to say, on the subject of the glowing eulogium which Deborah pronounces on the conduct of "Jael, the wife of Heber." Permit me only to repeat, that in order to our fully adopting the sentiments of the Israelitish poetess, we must be acquainted with many circumstances of the case, which the conciseness of the sacred history enables us not to discover; that there is a singularity in the whole conduct and occasion of the business, which forbids it to be drawn into a precedent, and pleaded in ordinary cases as an example or an excuse; that we are to distinguish carefully betwixt the poetic ardor and enthusiasm of a female hard and patriot, and the calm, unimpassioned praise and censure of sound reason, or the deliberate approbation of the God of truth, mercy and justice. We know certainly, that God cannot love nor commend perfidy, cruelty or revenge. But he justly may, and often does employ the outrageous passions of one great offender to punish those of another. And that through ignorance, prejudice, or wilful misconception, the wisest of men are very incompetent judges of the ways and works of the Almighty.
The winding up of this sacred poem, suggests the most satisfactory apology for the conduct of Jael, and accounts at the same time for the warmth of the strains