At her feet he collapsed, he fell, there he lay still; at her feet he collapsed, he fell; where he collapsed, there he fell dead.
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.
A moral perplexity to modern times. This arises from the advance, amounting almost to a revolution, in the spiritual sentiment of the world. It is from the higher platform of the New Testament that we see the deed in its true relations and proportions.
I. ITS JUSTIFICATION. There are several grounds, upon any or all of which the deed may be defended.
1. That of a relative and imperfect morality. Morality in that age was not perfectly revealed or realised. With increasing light of revelation and spiritual experience come new moral levels and tests. A thing may be comparatively or relatively right which is not absolutely so. The fact that we condemn the action is not due to our superior natural light, but simply to the teachings of Christianity, the outgrowth and perfecting of the crude morality of the Old Testament.
2. On the principle that the obligation to tell the truth depends upon the existence of a normal and friendly relation between men; the permission to kill carrying with it that of dissimulation (Mozley).
3. Because Jael followed as a mere instrument the impulse of the Absolute. Is it not credible that persons may be moved by a superior reason to do things justifiable from the standpoint of that superior reason, but which, if they fully realised what they were doing, would be utterly unlawful for them to do?
II. ITS BEARINGS UPON INSPIRATION, etc. OF HOLY SCRIPTURE. The inspiration of Scripture cannot be affected by the inspired sanction of such a deed. Inspiration does not necessarily involve a knowledge of the" whole counsel of God." It has its degrees, and is reliable so far as it goes. A merely human production would have avoided such apparent self-contradictions. That there are moral mysteries and difficulties in the Bible, which are nevertheless seen to have possible solutions beyond the immediate knowledge of man, is a strong presumption in favour of its being Divine.
III. HOW FAR IS JAEL AN EXAMPLE TO BE IMITATED? In no wise. This is an exceptional case, all of whose circumstances must be taken into account She is, like many whom a special destiny seems to isolate from their fellows, almost to be pitied, save for the thought that she acted as the servant of God. The instincts by which we condemn her deed are evidently of God, and must therefore be followed. - M.
Blessed above women shall Jael... be.
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.
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 —(1) An impure and cruel system of idolatry, which had been sentenced to extermination by God;(2) a long career of plunder and murder, which had brought untold miseries upon the poor peasants of Naphtali and Zebulun.
2. Deborah's language about Jael is relative language.(1) Relative to the conduct of other persons than Jael. The contrast is really between the motive and the absence of motive; between the will to do what is right and the absence of will.(2) Relative to the time and circumstances in which Jael lived, and to the opportunities at her command; or, rather, to the absence of such opportunities. Jael's loyalty to Israel, and to the one ray of truth she knew, is admirable; the method she chose for expressing her loyalty, though for her quite a matter of course and custom, is deplorable. For acting fully up to all the light she possessed she deserved the meed of praise awarded her by Deborah.
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.
PeopleAbinoam, Amalek, Anath, Asher, Barak, Benjamin, Dan, Deborah, Heber, Issachar, Jael, Machir, Naphtali, Reuben, Seir, Shamgar, Sisera, Zebulun
PlacesCanaan, Edom, Gilead, Jordan River, Kishon River, Megiddo, Meroz, Seir, Sinai, Taanach
TopicsBent, Bowed, Dead, Death, Destroyed, Fell, Lay, Sank, Stretched, Sunk
Outline1. The Song of Deborah and Barak
Dictionary of Bible ThemesJudges 5:1-31
Why satest then among the sheepfolds, to hear the pipings for the flocks? At the watercourses of Reuben there were great searchings of heart.'--JUDGES v. 16 (R.V.). I. The fight. The warfare is ever repeated, though in new forms. In the highest form it is Christ versus the World, And that conflict must be fought out in our own souls first. Our religion should lead not only to accept and rely on what Christ does for us, but to do and dare for Christ. He has given Himself for us, and has thereby …
Alexander Maclaren—Expositions of Holy Scripture
'All Things are Yours'
'They fought from heaven; the stars in their courses fought against Sisera.'--JUDGES v. 20. 'For thou shalt be in league with the stones of the field: and the beasts of the field shall be at peace with thee.'--Job v. 23. These two poetical fragments present the same truth on opposite sides. The first of them comes from Deborah's triumphant chant. The singer identifies God with the cause of Israel, and declares that heaven itself fought against those who fought against God's people. There may be …
Alexander Maclaren—Expositions of Holy Scripture
Love Makes Suns
'Let them that love Him be as the sun when he goeth forth in his might.' JUDGES V. 51. These are the closing words of Deborah, the great warrior-prophetess of Israel. They are in singular contrast with the tone of fierce enthusiasm for battle which throbs through the rest of the chant, and with its stern approval of the deed of Jael when she slew Sisera. Here, in its last notes, we have an anticipation of the highest and best truths of the Gospel. 'Let them that love Him be as the sun when he goeth …
Alexander Maclaren—Expositions of Holy Scripture
Songs of Deliverance
The results which accrued from the conquest achieved by Barak, are upon a small scale similar to those which come to us through the deliverance wrought out by the Lord Jesus Christ. I shall take our text and spiritualize it, viewing its joyous details as emblematic of the blessings granted to us through our Redeemer. Those who went to draw water at the wells after Barak's victory, were no longer disturbed by the robbers who lurked at the fountains for purposes of plunder; and instead of drawing the …
Charles Haddon Spurgeon—Spurgeon's Sermons Volume 13: 1867
Whether the Orders Will Outlast the Day of Judgment?
Objection 1: It would seem that the orders of angels will not outlast the Day of Judgment. For the Apostle says (1 Cor. 15:24), that Christ will "bring to naught all principality and power, when He shall have delivered up the kingdom to God and the Father," and this will be in the final consummation. Therefore for the same reason all others will be abolished in that state. Objection 2: Further, to the office of the angelic orders it belongs to cleanse, enlighten, and perfect. But after the Day of …
Saint Thomas Aquinas—Summa Theologica
Why is it that Our Lord Has Tarried Till Now? Why Has not the Redeemer Returned Long Ere This?
At first sight perhaps this inquiry might appear almost irreverent and some may feel inclined to remind us that "secret things belong unto the Lord." In response we would say, It is not in any spirit of idle curiosity nor is it to indulge an inquisitive speculation that we take up this question, but simply because we believe that a humble examination of it will prove profitable to our souls, inasmuch as the answer to our inquiry demonstrates the wisdom and grace of Him with whom we have to do. Of …
Arthur W. Pink—The Redeemer's Return
Hindrances to Revivals.
Text.--I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down. Why should the work cease, whilst I leave it, and come down to you."--Nehemiah vi. 3. THIS servant of God had come down from Babylon to rebuild the temple and re-establish the worship of God at Jerusalem, the city of his fathers' sepulchres. When it was discovered by Sanballat and certain individuals, his allies, who had long enjoyed the desolations of Zion, that now the temple, and the holy city were about to be rebuilt, they raised a great …
Charles Grandison Finney—Lectures on Revivals of Religion
The Publication of the Gospel
The Lord gave the word: great was the company of those that published it [or of the preachers] P erhaps no one Psalm has given greater exercise to the skill and patience of commentators and critics, than the sixty-eighth. I suppose the difficulties do not properly belong to the Psalm, but arise from our ignorance of various circumstances to which the Psalmist alludes; which probably were, at that time, generally known and understood. The first verse is the same with the stated form of benediction …
John Newton—Messiah Vol. 2
Salvation Published from the Mountains
O Zion, that bringest good tidings, get thee up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, that bringest good tidings, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid: say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God! I t would be improper to propose an alteration, though a slight one, in the reading of a text, without bearing my testimony to the great value of our English version, which I believe, in point of simplicity, strength, and fidelity, is not likely to be excelled by a new translation …
John Newton—Messiah Vol. 1
The Sovereignty of God in Operation
"For of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things: to whom be the glory for ever. Amen" (Romans 11:36). Has God foreordained everything that comes to pass? Has He decreed that what is, was to have been? In the final analysis this is only another way of asking, Is God now governing the world and everyone and everything in it? If God is governing the world then is He governing it according to a definite purpose, or aimlessly and at random? If He is governing it according to some purpose, then …
Arthur W. Pink—The Sovereignty of God
Appendix ix. List of Old Testament Passages Messianically Applied in Ancient Rabbinic Writings
THE following list contains the passages in the Old Testament applied to the Messiah or to Messianic times in the most ancient Jewish writings. They amount in all to 456, thus distributed: 75 from the Pentateuch, 243 from the Prophets, and 138 from the Hagiorgrapha, and supported by more than 558 separate quotations from Rabbinic writings. Despite all labour care, it can scarcely be hoped that the list is quite complete, although, it is hoped, no important passage has been omitted. The Rabbinic references …
Alfred Edersheim—The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah
The Hebrews and the Philistines --Damascus
THE ISRAELITES IN THE LAND OF CANAAN: THE JUDGES--THE PHILISTINES AND THE HEBREW KINGDOM--SAUL, DAVID, SOLOMON, THE DEFECTION OF THE TEN TRIBES--THE XXIst EGYPTIAN DYNASTY--SHESHONQ OR SHISHAK DAMASCUS. The Hebrews in the desert: their families, clans, and tribes--The Amorites and the Hebrews on the left bank of the Jordan--The conquest of Canaan and the native reaction against the Hebrews--The judges, Ehud, Deborah, Jerubbaal or Gideon and the Manassite supremacy; Abimelech, Jephihdh. The Philistines, …
G. Maspero—History Of Egypt, Chaldaea, Syria, Babylonia, and Assyria, V 6
For the understanding of the early history and religion of Israel, the book of Judges, which covers the period from the death of Joshua to the beginning of the struggle with the Philistines, is of inestimable importance; and it is very fortunate that the elements contributed by the later editors are so easily separated from the ancient stories whose moral they seek to point. That moral is most elaborately stated in ii. 6-iii. 6, which is a sort of programme or preface to iii. 7-xvi. 31, which constitutes …
John Edgar McFadyen—Introduction to the Old Testament
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