At that time Joshua pronounced this solemn oath--"Cursed
before the Lord is the man who undertakes to rebuild this city, Jericho--At
the cost of his firstborn son will he lay its foundations; at the cost of
his youngest will he set up its gates." Joshua 6:26
"It was during Ahab's reign that HIEL, a man from Bethel,
rebuilt Jericho. When he laid the foundations, his oldest son, ABIRAM,
died. And when he finally completed it by setting up the gates, his youngest
son, SEGUB, died. This all happened according to the message from the
Lord concerning Jericho spoken by Joshua son of Nun." 1 Kings 16:34
In the midst of the reign of an idolatrous king of
Israel, we come to an epitaph on the gravestone of two children, within the
city of Jericho.
It is probable that the whole family of Hiel lie entombed
in that rocky cave. Two blossoms, at all events, have been nipped in the
bud--two "little suns" have set on the mountains of Judah--going down
"before it is yet day."
As we stand on the heights of Jericho, beside this
newly-hewn sepulcher, with the Jordan flowing through the green plains
below--let us inquire WHY it is that these two youthful pilgrims have been
called so soon to tread the waves of the typical Jordan--why these
two little lives have been so prematurely taken.
There is always a solemn and saddening interest
surrounding the death-beds and the graves of the young. There are often,
though we understand them not, wise and loving reasons for these early
removals. It is God's own inscription, though it often cannot be read
through our blinding tears--"Taken from the evil to come." Parents
often erroneously infer that the Lord has been inflicting merited
retribution on themselves, for their own sins, by snatching away "the desire
of their eyes with a stroke;" while in reality it was some gracious purpose
regarding the little ones themselves, sparing them unforeseen experiences of
sorrow and sin, and gifting them with an early crown.
In this passage of sacred story, however, we have a
special exception. Jehovah here vindicates His own word and righteousness,
in writing the household of this Bethelite childless. It is a story of
significant warning and instruction. Though dead, these silent tongues still
Jericho, the old city of palms, had been lying in ruins
for five hundred years, ever since the Israelitish conquest. God had
pronounced by the lips of Joshua a solemn curse on the man who would dare to
rebuild it--"Cursed before the Lord is the man who undertakes to rebuild
this city, Jericho--At the cost of his firstborn son will he lay its
foundations; at the cost of his youngest will he set up its gates." Joshua
6:26. That curse had been handed down from generation to generation.
Many, doubtless, as they passed near the site of the old city, and saw the
magnificence of its situation as "the key of Palestine," with its two
valleys behind, each pouring into it a fertilizing stream--the magnificent
forest of palm-trees for miles on every side--the Jordan flowing, with rapid
torrent, amid rare luxuriance, on its way to the Dead Sea--many who
witnessed all these manifold natural advantages, would long to see the walls
of the city again restored, and its ramparts rebuilt, as when Israel first
beheld them from the opposite valleys of Moab.
But any such longing was immediately repressed, when they
recalled the stringent prohibition which threatened bereavement and death to
the man that should dare to violate a Divine decree. It must have been an
impressive sight to see the old ruins, "beautiful for situation," scattered
as they had been for ages, untouched by the hand of man; the shepherd alone,
perhaps, following his flock amid the lush herbage--or the wandering Arab,
then, as now, pitching his tent amid the moss-grown stones. But no builder
dared set his foot among them, lest haply he might be found "fighting
At last a bold, defiant spirit rises up, to make the
daring venture. A dweller in Jacob's old city--which had now, alas! by the
worship of Ahab's golden calves, sadly belied its name as "the House of
God"--Hiel the Bethelite rises up, in impious pride, to brave the
prohibition, and risk the dreadful consequences. But who has hardened
himself against God and prospered? He enters the proscribed ground, and
already, just as he has begun to dig the foundation for a new capital--a
messenger speeds from his dwelling with heavy tidings. In digging these
forbidden foundations, he has dug the grave of his first-born son! On the
first stone of the old ruins being removed, an arrow sped from the quiver of
God with unerring aim, and laid low the pride of his heart!
Will he take warning? Another child still is left--his
youngest--probably his only other--his Benjamin--his best beloved. Amid the
bitterness of the first bereavement, he fastens the severed tendrils of
affection around his surviving boy, saying, "This child shall comfort us."
Surely now at least Heil will profit by the dreadful
voice of warning! The Hebrew workmen will be disbanded from their cursed
enterprise, and desolation will once more be installed amid the lonely
ruins. But, No! it his been well said by the preacher, "The heart of the
sons of men is full of evil; and madness is in their heart while they live,
and after that they go to the dead." The arrow is again on the string.
He refuses to humble himself by repentance--own the Divine hand, and desist
from his impious enterprise. With "hardened and impenitent heart" he spurns
the dreadful counsel, and will listen to none of the reproof!
He has cleared the foundations. Stone by stone, edifice
by edifice is rising--an imposing city again crowns the Jordan-heights, and
looks forth amid its forests of majestic palms. Hiel, inflated with pride,
forgets the early warning. If staggered at first by the occurrence of the
death of his firstborn, simultaneously with the digging of the city's
foundations, he speaks of it, as we often find many still doing in similar
circumstances, only as "a strange and unhappy coincidence." His
inmost thought is, "Let me bury my vain grief for the loss of my first-born.
I have yet a son called by my name. He will be the pride of my family. He
will transmit my name to posterity as the founder of the second Jericho."
The battlements are raised. The walls are completed.
Perhaps thousands are congregated to witness the last act in the bold
enterprise--raising the ponderous gates of iron on their hinges. Something
like the ovation of a conqueror awaits the hero of the day. Hiel's bosom is
swelling at the moment with the one dominant thought--"This is the great
city I have built." But another messenger, at that moment--like him who
sped to the patriarch of a former age--comes with the heaviest tidings a
parent's heart can hear. The voice of triumph is that day turned to
mourning. "Joseph is not, and Simeon is not," and his own obdurate disregard
of the Divine command compels the taking of "Benjamin also." The first
procession we see treading the new streets is a funeral crowd! Hiel is
the chief mourner. He is bearing his last--his only one--to the rocky vault
where his first-born lies. He has rushed with madness against Jehovah's
shield, and terrible has been the price of his audacity and sin; for "When
he laid the foundations, his oldest son, ABIRAM, died. And when he finally
completed it by setting up the gates, his youngest son, SEGUB, died."
As that mournful procession is pacing the streets, let us
join it in thought, and gather solemn lessons and warning for ourselves.
What could have induced Hiel to brave so solemn a
prohibition, and risk incurring so dreadful a penalty?--A Bethelite--a
"Hebrew of the Hebrews"--he must, like all his brethren, have been
abundantly cognizant of the curse recorded by Israel's leader. It was the
nursery tale of every Hebrew mother to her child. How did he come to be so
mad and foolhardy as to dare the Almighty's displeasure, and serve himself
heir to the curse? To get his name immortalized as the founder of a city,
was a poor equivalent for the irreparable loss. And, independent of natural
affection, to a Jew, (as the possible ancestor of Messiah,) the heaviest
infliction was the deprival of his offspring.
Let us try to conjecture one or two reasons for Hiel's
contemptuous disregard of the Divine command.
To take the extreme view of his character, Hiel
(Israelite by name as he was) may have been in heart, like many professing
religionists still, a practical Infidel and Atheist. We know that,
under Ahab's reign of unparalleled wickedness and irreligion, many were
contaminated with the impiety of the reigning monarch. God, the God of their
fathers, was by multitudes virtually disowned. Hiel may have denounced the
whole story of the threatened curse as a fable--a bugbear and delusion--some
old legend of a lying prophet--the falsehood palmed on an unsophisticated
age and people; and when, passing oftentimes along the valley of the Jordan,
he saw that marvelous site abandoned to ruin and decay, solely, as he
surmised, on account of a foolish superstition, he at length resolved to
expose and unmask the lie. He put forth his hand, like Achan, to touch the
accursed thing; saying in his heart, in the words of the wicked boasters of
old, with a proud, self-confident, infidel sneer, "The Lord shall not
see, neither shall the God of Jacob regard," (Ps. 94:7). But woe to
the worm of the dust that contends with his Maker! As wave after wave
sweeps over his household, the solemn truth is brought home to him, the
confession is forced from him amid the wail of death--"Who has hardened
himself against the Lord, and prospered?" (Job 9:4.) "It is a fearful
thing to fall into the hands of the living God," (Heb. 10:31).
How many are there, it is to be feared, with Hiel's
spirit still among ourselves! God has put a solemn curse on the man who will
dare to upbuild the city of iniquity. He has put a curse, also, on the
neglecter of salvation. He has solemnly declared, "Though hand join in
hand, the wicked shall not be unpunished," (Prov. 11:21). But there are
those (bearing, it may be, like Hiel, the name of Israelite), outward
professors--who carry inwardly Hiel's atheist heart. They spurn God's curse;
they treat His solemn warnings about death, judgment, eternity, as idle
tales. Yes, and there is so much, to them, startling, and apparently
inconsistent, in the providential, government of God, that, in their secret
thoughts, they deny alike a moral government and a moral Governor.
Regardless of consequences, "they will take their chance;" they will
outbrave these denunciations--they will build where God has forbidden to
build. They say, with the people to whom Ezekiel prophesied, "The Lord
has forsaken the earth;" (Ezek. 8:12)--what do we care for lying
prophets--enthusiastic dreamers!--neither nature nor experience endorses
these pulpit utterances and Bible threats. "We will walk in the light of our
own eyes. Who is the Lord, that He should reign over us?"
"Woe unto those who are wise in their own eyes, and
prudent in their own sight!" "Woe unto the wicked! it shall be ill with him;
for the reward of his hands shall be given him," (Isa. 3:11). God may not,
as in the case of Hiel, undeceive you, in THIS world, in your atheist-dream.
He seldom now, as in the old dispensation, makes visible and temporal
retribution to descend on the scorners of His word and warnings; sentence
against an evil work is not now, as it then was, "executed speedily," and
therefore the hearts of the sons of men are all the more "fully set in
them to do evil." But there is a day coming, when, as the gates of death
close upon you, (as Hiel's gates closed on Jericho,) the Divine
denunciations shall be awfully verified; and the conviction be solemnly
flashed upon you, (shall it be for the first time?) before the great white
throne, "Truly there is a God who judges in the earth!"
But let us pass to a more modified view of Hiel's
self-delusion. In rebuilding Jericho, he may have had an honest belief in
the being and power of the God of his fathers, as well as in the
truthfulness and reality of Joshua's warning. But he may have been
influenced by the thought that the stringency of the old prohibition may now
have been relaxed; that what was imperative enough in Joshua's time, was not
so binding after the lapse of five centuries. Time does much in softening
the rigor of MAN. He may have measured the Divine feelings and procedure by
a comparison with the human; he may have concluded that God had now modified
the severity of the olden curse. "There surely" (he would argue) "could be
no great sin, or risk, or danger now, in rescuing such a noble site
from ruin, and erecting a strong frontier-city to guard incursions from the
border-tribes of Moab. The curse, binding and literal at the time, had now,
surely, become obsolete." He may have even made out a case of necessity;
that he was only doing a patriot's deed, for which he would be lauded in
all coming time as one of the heroes of the nation!
MAN may change, but GOD never can. "One day is with
the Lord as a thousand years." When God pronounces a curse, it is not as
a human being, who is influenced by momentary emotion, passion, prejudice.
The WRATH OF GOD is not a passion, but a principle. It is the calm,
deep, deliberate response of His nature to sin. His word is unalterable--His
judgments are subject to no waywardness or caprice.
How many there are, in these days of ours, who apply
Hiel's false reasoning to the Word of God and its solemn averments.
Disciples, as they call themselves, of a dreamy dogma--or theory of
"development," who dare to speak and write of the Bible as an antiquated
book, containing only the utterances of some Jewish shepherds, and
vine-growers, and fishermen; and whose day, and meaning, and obligations are
past. As "progress," say they, is the world's normal law, so there is
advance here, as in everything else. This Bible, with its old-world
threatenings, was all very well for that old-world state of things, when it
was a child, and spoke as a child, and understood as a child. But now the
world has reached its manhood, and "put away childish things." The Bible
curses are contained in the code of "the law which genders to bondage."
We live under the Gospel, and the truth has made us free. The God
that spoke in curses amid the blackness, darkness, and tempest of Sinai, is
not the God who now speaks to us from heaven.
He is! The same "God, who at sundry times and in
diverse manners spoke in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, has in
these last days spoken unto us by his Son," (Heb. 1:1). And hear how
that Son speaks--they are his own living utterances--"Do not think that
I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish
them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth
disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by
any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished." (Mat.
5:17, 18). His word is very faithful. His word and His throne have
immutability to rest upon. "I am the Lord; I change not," (Mal. 3:6).
"These things," he says to every such presumptuous dreamer, "these
things have you done, and I kept silence; you thought" that I was
changed--that I had altered the thing that had gone forth out of my mouth--"that
I was altogether such a one as yourself." But I will demonstrate my
righteous adhesion to every threat against "the workers of iniquity." "I
will reprove you, and set them in order before your eyes." (Ps. 50:21).
Let us beware of measuring God by our puny selves.
Oblivion does its work with us. Time, like the waves of the sea on
the rippled sand, obliterates much of the memories of sin; and because it
does so, we are apt impiously to dream that such is the case with God also.
But He is "the same yesterday, and today, and forever." The past, and
present, and future are to Him alike. There was to Him, no measurable period
of time between Joshua's utterance of the curse against a builder of the
doomed city, and Hiel's futile attempt to fight against it. Be assured, all
that God has said in His Word in ages past remains uncancelled, unaltered,
and unalterable, to this hour. We may well write, "Thus says the Lord,"
on every curse, as well as every blessing. With the memorable example
and signal retribution of Hiel before us, let us make it our earnest prayer,
"Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins."
We have just surmised, that one false idea which Hiel may
have fostered, and trusted in, was, that the lapse of ages had modified the
stringency of the old prohibition. He may also have been influenced in his
undertaking by an expectation that God would not rigidly stand to His
word--that He would not adhere so sternly to His threat, as many supposed
and dreaded He would.
Perhaps he might be strengthened in this supposition by
what he had observed in his own native city of Bethel. He had there seen
that same God of Israel foully dishonored--His name blasphemed--His word and
authority scorned--golden calves and Baal-shrines polluting the sacred
places--and yet, notwithstanding, He had interposed with no visible
judgment. He seemed to "wink" at these heinous sins. He had visited the
idolaters with no retribution. Hiel, from all this, may have drawn the
unwarrantable conclusion that Jehovah was not rigid in the enforcement of
His threats--that He did not mean all He said--that, having apparently
overlooked the Bethel calf-worshipers, He would not be over severe on the
less heinous sin of braving His curse in the building of Jericho.
He makes the dreadful venture. But first, over the grave
of his elder, and then of his younger son, he is brought to read the
inscription--"God is not a man that he should lie, or the son of man that
he should repent." As he returns, through the streets of the new-built
city, to his rifled home, and as he marks the two vacant seats in his
desolate house, he could say--(may we hope it was through penitent tears of
shame and sorrow and devout humiliation)--"God has spoken once, yes,
TWICE have I heard this, that power belongs unto God!"
Ah! is not Hiel's reasoning here, also, the ruinous,
soul-deluding reasoning of multitudes still? There is no more common or
fallacious argument than this--"God will not be so strict as He says He will
be. His nature and His name are love. He never could, and never will, curse
the creature of His own making. These denunciations will be modified and
softened at the Great Day. His justice will merge into compassion. Stern
Retribution will descend these iron steps, and Mercy will ascend triumphant
to her golden throne."
"No, but, O man, who are you that replies against God?"
Go back to these twin graves at Jericho, and read in them the great
principle of God's moral government--that when He says, "Cursed be the
man," He means "cursed," and when He says, "Blessed," He
You remember, when Saul ventured on a similar unworthy
tampering with the Word of God, in the commanded extirpation of Amalek, and
reserved (contrary to an express injunction) King Agag and the goodliest
portion of his flocks and herds. He doubtless imagined that there was no
great evil in the reservation itself--that, at all events, God would
overlook it--that He would visit so trivial a departure from the letter of
His Word with no great severity. What was the result? Saul lost his kingdom.
The prophet of Jehovah stood before the monarch, confronting him with the
question, "What means this bleating of sheep in my ears, and the lowing
of the oxen which I hear?" "Because you have rejected the word of the Lord,
he has also rejected you from being king," (1 Sam. 15:23). The Lord is
not slack concerning His promises, (and that is a blessed truth to
us!) But let us always view it side by side with its counterpart--"The
Lord is not slack concerning his threatenings."
When we see vice apparently unrebuked, walking with
unblushing front, pillowed often in affluence--the wicked apparently with no
bands either in their life or death--we are apt to draw the false inference
that God is, like Baal, "asleep"--that He has flung the reins of His moral
government loose to chance--that He takes "no account of these matters." But
though it is true that His dealings now-a-days are so far altered from those
of the earlier dispensation, that transgression is not followed by temporal
retribution--yet judgment is in dreadful reserve. The sinner treasures up to
himself "wrath against the day of wrath." God is saying now, in words He
uttered of old to Isaiah, "I will take my rest; I will CONSIDER in my
dwelling place," (Isa. 18:4). This is the time for His "considering."
The weapon of vengeance is still sheathed. He has no pleasure in the
death of him that dies. He waits to be gracious.
But let us not misconstrue His forbearance as if it
denoted any alteration in His purposes. If not now, at least hereafter, on
the Great Day, the dreadful truth shall be made manifest--"Be sure your
sin will find you out." "Walk in the ways of your heart and in the sight of
your eyes; but know that for all these things God will bring you into
judgment." (Eccles. 11:9).
The great practical lesson from all this subject is,
BEWARE OF RESISTING GOD.
He ever speaks to all of us solemnly in His providences.
Let us beware of attempts to stifle His voice and precipitate our own ruin.
Hiel's offence was deeply aggravated. When the impious builder, in digging
the city's foundation, carried to the grave his elder-born--he might well
have bowed his head in the dust--owned God's sovereignty, and "turned at His
reproof." But he despised all His counsel. The solemn warning failed to
impede him in his unrighteous resolution. The buildings rose; but he was
only thereby exposing his bosom to another dart of death.
How many there are among ourselves like Hiel! Reader! God
has spoken to you once by some solemn warning--by sickness--by
worldly loss--by opening perhaps the grave of your child. Have you listened
to His voice?--Have you bowed to the rod?--Have you profited by the
warning?--Or is it the case that the monition has passed and gone?--that the
Jericho of pleasure or sin is, rearing just as before--provoking Him to new,
and, it may be, severer judgments?
"Harden not your hearts." "Exhort one another," says
the apostle, "while it is called today, lest any of you be HARDENED
through the deceitfulness of sin." Beware, like Moab, of "settling on
your lees," of getting into that dreadful state of callousness and
indifference, alike under warning and mercy--"fattening your hearts for a
day of slaughter," (Prov. 29:1). In the case of Hiel, it was a
presumptuous hardening after God had solemnly pled with him through tears of
parental anguish. Remember that solemn word--"He that being often
reproved hardens his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without
remedy," (Prov. 29:1). Are any who read these words sinning in the face
of solemn monitions, when God is giving them "line upon line, precept upon
precept"--speaking to them by "earthquake," or "whirlwind," or "fire," or
"the still small voice?" Be assured He will yet make inquisition for these
rejected warnings--this unrequited love! Go in thought to Jericho. Stop and
read the epitaph on that tombstone--"Consider THIS, you that forget God!"
One other sentence in conclusion. Let none suppose, from
all that has been suggested by this subject, that we entertain a repulsive
theology--a theology that would represent God--the loving Father of His
people--as a vindictive Being, armed with curses, stronger to smite, than
"strong to save." He visits indeed "iniquity unto the third and fourth
generation of those who hate him;" but He shows "mercy unto thousands
of those who love him." While "He can by no means clear the guilty," yet
"He delights in mercy." His blessings are more abundant than His
curses. His gospel message begins with the proclamation of "peace on earth
and good-will to men;" and it ends with the invitation, "Whoever will, let
him come and take of the water of life freely," (Rev. 22:17). The infatuated
builders of every city of sin--what can they expect but ruin and disaster?
But "we HAVE a strong city--salvation will God appoint
for walls and bulwarks;" and He who, by His own blood, purchased a right
to bestow upon us that city, says, as He stands by its gates, "Come unto
me, all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."
(Matt. 11:28). Yes, say not that we teach a gloomy theology with such a God
as this--who, in order that He might be a Father to us, "spared not HIS
own Son." Hiel, from pride and vainglory, sacrificed His son in laying
the foundation of an earthly city. But we can tell of a great Being who, in
laying the foundations of a more magnificent city than earth ever saw,
surrendered "His only-begotten," His "well-beloved." He laid
its foundations--He set up its immortal gates in the death of His
First-born; and all in order that guilty, worthless sinners might be
saved!--that in the exercise of His paternal love, He might embrace a lost
world in the arms of His mercy, and exclaim, "This my son was dead, and
is alive again; he was lost, and is found!"
That city expands its sheltering portals to all. None are
forbidden to enter. We are encouraged to "open the gates, that the
righteous (those made righteous through the righteousness of another)
may enter in." A city in which--unlike that of which we have been
speaking--the wail of the mourner is never heard, and where death never
Oh, look away from all human shelters to that "city
which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God." Be assured, all
who are content with building for earth the Jerichos of the present, shall
find there the grave of their hopes. But "they of THIS city shall
flourish like grass on the earth." "The world passes away, and the lust
thereof, but he that does the will of God abides forever!"