“Gilead settled on the far side of the Jordan and Dan, why did he journey as an alien in trading vessels? Asher dwelt on the shore of the sea and on his landings he dwelt. Zebulon is a people who provoked his life even to death and Naphtali, also — on the high places and the field.”
We are presented with a contrast, now, between Zebulon and Naphtali, who answered the call to war and Gilead (a part of the tribe of Gad), Dan, and Asher. Gilled remained on the east side of the Jordan, afraid to take a stand and join with his brothers. Asher remained by the sea (Asher was located on the north-western coast). Dan, journeyed as an alien on trading ships, again, avoiding war. In many ways, the language regarding Dan is rather prophetic. In a more immediate sense, Dan, by the end of the book of Judges, will be uprooting and traveling north, forsaking their divine inheritance for an inheritance of their own making (more on that when we arrive at Judges 18). We should also note that the city of Joppa was part of Dan’s region (Joshua 19:46) and was one of the oldest Canaanite port cities, mentioned even in the Egyptian records of Pharaoh Thutmose III in the 15th century B.C. It is also the city that Jonah runs to when he is seeking to flee God’s call to go to Nineveh. So, like Dan, hiding from God’s call in his boats, Jonah, too, runs to Joppa to do the same.
There are really two things for which the clans of Dan, Asher, and Gad are being chastised. First, their cowardice in the face of God’s call to rise up and join Deborah and Baraq for battle. The call was issued and they cowered. Second, because of the cowardice of these three tribes, the tribes that did rise to the call of God were put in harms way. Surely to fight as a united body is better than to fight as a body divided. The phrase, “United we stand; divided we fall” is often attributed to Patrick Henry during the Revolution or to Abraham Lincoln in his “house divided” speech (which in itself is an allusion to Jesus’ statement in Mark 3:25), but the idea is far older than the American Union, and is even older than Jesus’ comment. The Greek writer, Aesop, is credited with similar language in the 6th century B.C. and King Solomon again writes of a cord of three strands being difficult to break (Ecclesiastes 4:12) in the 10th century B.C. Yet, even as far back as Solomon, the notion was a notion formed from common sense and experience, for how can one stand if one’s brothers will not rise to his defense. And thus, these three tribes are forever rebuked within the song of Deborah and Baraq.
What a lesson this is for the churches today. We divide and once divided we tend to establish fences and walls to protect our zones of control and woe to the church which encroaches on our territory. Yet, what happens when Christians gather together and labor to accomplish something good to the glory of Christ? This does not mean we put aside our differences, but that we recognize that in Christ our differences do not divide us from fellowship. Broad ecumenicism is useless but vibrant interaction between Christian churches in a community who recognize Christ as Lord and Savior and the Bible as their standard for all things, now that is the embodiment of the body of Christ of which Paul speaks in 1 Corinthians 12.