“In the districts of Rueben there was much searching of heart. Why did you stay among the campfires to hear the whistling for the flocks? … Gilead stayed beyond the Jordan. And Dan, why did he linger by the ships? Asher remained on the coast and stayed in his coves.” Judges 5:15-18
This passage is an excerpt of a ballad written by a legendary leader, general, poet, and composer named Deborah. In her time it was quite atypical for a woman to do what she did, yet under Deborah’s leadership Israel had defeated their enemies.
Her song was unique in that it included a rebuke to those who didn’t show up, people she had expected to fight next to her but didn’t. Those should-have-been warriors were those for whom the bell tolled and who didn’t answer the call. They stayed among the campfires to hear the whistling among the flocks or lingered by their ships, and languished in their safe coves.
In her lyrics she identified those among whom there was “much searching of heart.” Normally, to search one’s heart is a good thing, but to coin a phrase, “too much of a good thing.” Meditation and introspection are both biblically mandated practices, but when rightly employed they should lead us to go do something. But these people were meditative yet not active. We should search our hearts but as a means to an end, not the end.
Yet, let’s scroll to the top of her song where Deborah began by praising those who ventured beyond the safety of the campfires and coves, and showed up:
“When the princes in Israel take the lead, when the people willingly offer themselves – praise the Lord!” (5:2) And then later she sang, “My heart is with Israel’s princes, with the willing volunteers among the people. Praise the Lord!” (5:9)
They are the ones who, though they might not have made the world a much better place, at least they showed up. They may not have won many skirmishes in the cosmic battle, but they were able to say that they “willing,” and didn’t spend all their time lounging comfortably by the campfires, searching my heart while others strapped on their swords and went to war with the evil one in order to free his slaves.
I conclude with my favorite line in Deborah’s song, one that I might someday learn to sing repeatedly:
“March on, my soul; be strong!” (Judges 5:21)