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The Hebrew warriors, not numerous but singularly inspired by courage, assembled at Mount Tabor. When Sisera was informed of their advance, he felt that a great struggle for deliverance was imminent, and he determined to crush what he considered an audacious rebellion by the whole strength of his army assisted by his nine hundred iron war-chariots. He drew up his troops along the river Kishon, that was soon to become renowned as the river of battles.'
But Deborah knew that the Lord's help was near; she exclaimed to Barak : Up, for this is the day in which the Lord has delivered Sisera into thy hand; is not the Lord gone out before thee?' Barak with his 10,000 men hastened promptly from the high-lands of Tabor, and rushed valiantly onward against the horsemen of Sisera. A fearful carnage ensued : the corpses of the slain enemies filled the plain, or were swept away by the waters of the Kishon; the formidable chariots were of no avail; Sisera himself, seeing every chance lost and abandoning all hope, leapt from his chariot, and fled on foot for his life. He escaped probably northwards, wandering among his well-known mountain refuges, until he came to the settlement of Heber the Kenite, who had severed himself from the Hebrews, and lived in the plain of Zaanaim and Kadesh, like an independent chief. As Jabin the king of Hazor and Heber the Kenite were at peace, Sisera felt that he had at last found a safe retreat. He went to one of the tents, a worn-out fugitive. Jael, the wife of Heber, came out to meet him. She was a true Hebrew woman at heart, although she dwelt in friendship with the idolaters, and she exulted to find that the powerful general had fallen into her hands. Shrewdly dissembling her feelings, she said, “ Turn in to me, my lord, turn in to me, fear not.' When he had entered, she showed him the most studied attention. He was thirsty and asked for water, she offered
him a draught of sweet milk. He was weary and desired to rest, she covered him with a mantle; but he cautiously bade her, Stand in the door of the tent, and when anyone comes and enquires of thee and says, Is there any man here? thou shalt say, No.' She promised to do as he had requested. Then she waited a while until she was certain that he was asleep. Now the moment for executing her design had arrived. She drew one of the large tent-nails from the ground, and took a hammer in her
then advancing softly to the sleeping man, she struck the nail into his temples, and without fear or mercy, she fastened it firmly to the ground!
In the meantime Barak had hotly continued his pursuit of Sisera. Following his traces, he breathlessly approached Heber's tent. Jael came out to meet him in all the flush of triumph, and exclaimed, Come, and I will show thee the man whom thou seekest. She led Barak into the tent, and there lay the great captain murdered, with the nail in his temples.
In verse and in plain narrative the deed of Jael has been extolled as one of supreme merit. And yet, can we really admire that deceitful and relentless woman, who profaned and disgraced the sacredness of hospitality, knew of no pity or tenderness to a wearied soldier, a fallen enemy, and perfidiously lured him to a terrible death ? Her contemporaries saw in her only the most patriotic lover of her people, and therefore revered her as a heroine. They looked upon Sisera not as a trembling fugitive, but as the representative of heathen might and hatred, and therefore glorified his destroyer as the great instrument that decided the destiny of the chosen people. Though we, in our happier times and with our better experience, justly revolt from an act of treason and ferocity, we can at least understand how it was accepted and even praised by an oppressed and struggling people in that early dawn
of civilisation. Did not the same age bring forth a Deborah, a true heroine endowed with a great and manly soul, but also with the same admixture of unwomanly sternness? In what light did the deed appear to her? Let us see.
Returning, after the victory, to her peaceful abode in the mountain of Ephraim, she immortalised the recent war and herself by a poem of singular and almost unequalled beauty. But second only to its literary merit is its historical importance. It is not merely a jubilant song of triumph, of remarkable vividness of colouring, force of expression, and wealth of imagery, but a precious and faithful reflex of its time, especially with regard to the condition and mutual relation of the Hebrew tribes. So rich and so complete a picture has rarely been compressed within so small a compass.
The very commencement introduces us into the midst of the busy scene so full of excitement: “That leaders led Israel, that the people followed willingly, therefore praise ye the Lord. Hear, 0 kings, give ear, 0 princes ; I will, yea, I will sing to the Lord, I will offer praise to the Lord, the God of Israel.' Then, in attempting to describe the power of God and His mercy towards Israel, she recalls to her mind that event, ever present to Hebrew poets and patriots, the miraculous deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt, followed by the grand revelation on Mount Sinai; she describes it with a few vigorous touches, and leaves us to infer that a similar instance of power and mercy had been witnessed in her own time. “Lord, when Thou camest out of Seir, when Thou didst step out of the land of Edom, the earth trembled, and the heavens overflowed, and the clouds poured forth waters. Mountains quaked before the Lord, even that Sinai before the Lord God of Israel.'
Now turning to her own time, she portrays its dangers,
its confusion, and its helplessness with equal precision and impressiveness : In the days of Shamgar the son of Anath, in the days of Jael, the highways were untrodden, and the travellers of even paths went through crooked byways. Chiefs were wanting in Israel, they were wanting until Deborah arose, until I arose, a mother in Israel. They chose new gods; then was war in the gates: was there a shield or a spear seen among forty thousand in Israel?
Unwilling to dwell on this sad picture of humiliation, she hastens, as if by a strong effort, to delineate, with a few dramatic sentences, the rescue, the safety, the present pride of her people : “My heart is towards the rulers in Israel-you that came forward readily among the people, bless
the Lord! You that ride on white asses, you that sit on embroidered covers, and walk openly on the roadgive praise. With the voice of those that divide spoils at the water-wells, they recount the mercy of the Lord, the mercy of His chief in Israel : then the people of the Lord go down to the gates. Awake, awake, Deborah, awake, awake, utter a song; arise Barak, and lead away thy captives, son of Abinoam!'
And now follow the call to arms, the preparations, the war-cry, the meeting of the warriors whose very steps, as they rush onward, we seem to hear: “Then I spoke, Go down, 0 remnant, against the nobles ; people of the Lord, go down against the mighty! Out of Ephraim there came those that have their root among Amalek; after thee, Benjamin among thy people; out of Machir came down rulers, and out of Zebulun they that handle the pen of the writer. And my princes of Issachar were with Deborah ; and Issachar, the support of Barak, rushes with him into the valley. At the rivers of Reuben there were great councils. Why didst thou abide among the sheep-folds, to hear the bleatings of the flocks? On the rivers of
Reuben there were great councils. Gilead remained beyond the Jordan ; and why did Dan abide in his ships? Asher continued on the sea-shore, and rested in his harbours. Zebulun is a people that give up their lives unto death, and Naphtali on the heights of the field.... Curse ye Meroz, says the angel of the Lord, curse ye bitterly its inhabitants; because they came not to the help of the Lord, to the help of the Lord against the mighty.'
How will she describe the battle itself—the struggle so fierce and sanguinary, so decisive and all-important ? A few words suffice to bring before our eyes the fury and the bloodshed, the miraculous aid, and the fearful issue. 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, a river of battles is the river Kishon. Tread, O my soul, upon the strong. There the horse-hoofs struck out on account of the hurry, the hurry of their mighty ones.' Then she touches upon Jael's deed. Has she a word of compassion for the unfortunate captain, defeated foe though he be, or a word of condemnation for the woman who added deceit to cruelty? She is true to her people and to her age; she describes the act with even more than her ordinary power, she lingers over it with apparent delight and glowing admiration, and bursts forth in enthusiastic praise of her countrywoman, who seemed, in her eyes, to have completed in the peaceful tent what she had herself begun in the battle-field: “Blessed above all women shall Jael be, the wife of Heber the Kenite, blessed shall she be above all women in the tent. He asked water, and she gave him milk; she brought forth butter on a lordly dish. She put her hand to the nail, and her right hand to the workman's hammer; and with the hammer she smote Sisera, she smote his head, and she