Charles Simeon's Devotional Commentaries
Judges 1:6-7. But Adoni-bezek fled; and they pursued after him, and caught him, and cut off his thumbs and his great toes. And Adoni-bezek said, Threescore and ten kings, having their thumbs and their great toes cut off, gathered their meat under my table: as I have done, so God has requited me.
THERE are times and seasons afforded us for the performance of our duty, which, if they be once lost, can never afterwards be recovered. It was thus with the Israelites in the invasion of Canaan: if they had followed up their successes with becoming zeal, their difficulties would have been comparatively light: but at no time did they advance with that ardor which they should have manifested in such a cause. Joshua had reproved them for their indolence Joshua 18:3, and quickened them in some degree; but still, after his death, and fifteen years after their first invasion of Canaan, no one of the tribes had complete possession of the lot assigned them. The Israelites had increased, and now wanted the whole of their inheritance: but the Canaanites had increased also, and, possessing still their strong-holds, were able to cope with Israel in battle. Now therefore the different tribes found the bitter consequences of their past indifference; and, as it should seem, were afraid to resume a warfare with such potent enemies. However, after having consulted God, Judah, by divine direction, took the lead, and, in conjunction with the tribe of Simeon, renewed the conflict with the Canaanites. God gave them success, and delivered into their hand Adoni-bezek, one of the most powerful of the kings of Canaan. Him they treated with great severity: and their conduct towards him forms the subject of our present consideration. We shall consider,
I. The particular dispensation here recorded—
The conduct of this king had been most cruel—
What occasions he had had for waging war against seventy kings, we know not: ambition never wants a pretext for its bloody projects: but to insult over their misfortunes in such a manner as to maim their persons, and compel them, like dogs, to gather up scraps from under his table for their subsistence, argued a degree of cruelty, which one could scarcely have conceived to exist in a rational being. One might suppose it possible that some particular provocation might have caused him to offer such an indignity to a single individual; but when such conduct was pursued towards so many vanquished kings, it manifestly proceeded only from his barbarous and brutal disposition. But here we are constrained to acknowledge, how empty is human greatness; how uncertain the continuance of those honors in which men so vainly pride themselves; and how often it happens that pre-eminence in station leads only to a sad pre-eminence in distress and misery. Nor can we forbear to notice, what desolation and trouble one ambitious tyrant may produce in the earth.
While we see the dispositions of this man exhibited in such awful colors, let us not suppose that we ourselves are altogether exempt from them. The truth is, that the dispositions themselves are common to every child of man, though they have not attained in all the same maturity, or brought forth in all such visible and deadly fruits. We cannot but have seen that children feel a pleasure in vexing and tyrannizing over those who are weaker than themselves; and, as we grow up in life, a fondness for manifesting superiority and exercising despotic sway increases: and, in proportion as our opportunities for displaying these hateful qualities are enlarged, our evil tendencies become augmented and confirmed. How conspicuous is this in the great men of the earth, who can spread desolation over whole provinces without remorse, and invade, as we have seen, even neutral and friendly kingdoms for no other end than to gratify their own insatiable ambition!
But he in his turn was made to feel the judgments which he had so wantonly inflicted upon others—
It was a law in Israel, that magistrates should punish offenders in a way of just retribution Leviticus 24:19-20; and doubtless it was by the direction of God, the righteous Governor of the universe, that the Israelites on this occasion maimed the body of their captive king. To insult over him indeed, as he had insulted over others, would have been inconsistent with those gracious affections, which Israel, as the Lord's people, were bound to exercise. In that part therefore the sentence was relaxed: but, as far as the law required, they "meted to him the measure which he had meted out to others." This brought his sin to his remembrance, and compelled him to acknowledge the equity of Jehovah, who in his righteous providence had so requited him: "As I have done, so God has requited me." And though a feeling mind cannot but regret that such a judgment should be executed on a fallen prince, yet in this case we are constrained to acquiesce in it, and even to feel a secret satisfaction, in seeing that the evils which he had so cruelly inflicted upon others were at last brought home to himself.
Let us now turn our attention from the particular dispensation, to,
II. The insight which it gives us into God's moral government—
"God is still known by the judgments which he executes"—
God has not relinquished the government of the earth: he orders and overrules everything now as much as ever; and in his former dispensations we behold a perfect exhibition of the government which he still administers. Still, as formerly, does he requite the wickedness of men; sometimes on the offenders themselves, as when he smote Uzziah with leprosy 2 Chronicles 26:19; and sometimes on others upon their account; as when he slew seventy thousand of the people, to punish the sin which David had committed in numbering his subjects 2 Samuel 24:15; 2 Samuel 24:17. Sometimes he inflicts the judgment immediately, as on Herod who was eaten up with worms Acts 12:23; and sometimes after a long season, as on the sons of Saul for their father's cruelty to the Gibeonites many years before 2 Samuel 21:1; 2 Samuel 21:6; 2 Samuel 21:9. Sometimes his judgments are sent as a prelude to those heavier judgments that shall be inflicted in the eternal world, as in the case of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram Numbers 16:24-35; and sometimes after the offenders themselves have been forgiven, as was experienced by David in his family 2 Samuel 12:13-14, and by Manasseh, whose iniquities were visited upon Israel after he himself had been received up to glory 2 Kings 24:2-4. Sometimes his chastisements had no particular affinity with the offence committed, as in the plagues of Egypt; and sometimes the offence was clearly marked in the punishment; as in the case of Joram, who had slain all his brothers, and whose children were all, with one exception, consigned to the slaughter 2 Chronicles 21:4; 2 Chronicles 21:17; and as David, whose wives and concubines were openly denied by his own son Absalom, just as he himself had defiled the wife of his faithful servant Uriah 2 Samuel 12:10-12; 2 Samuel 16:21-22. So minutely is this correspondence marked in the Scriptures, that even the time and the place are noticed, as designed to manifest the very offence which God designed to punish; as Israel's wandering in the wilderness forty years on account of their murmuring at the reports which were brought them by the spies who had searched out the land forty days Numbers 14:33-34; and as Ahab's blood was licked up by dogs, on the very spot where dogs had licked the blood of Naboth, whom he had murdered 1 Kings 21:19; 1 Kings 22:38.
We might further notice the correspondence between the spiritual judgments which God oftentimes inflicts for spiritual transgressions. Those who "will not hearken to his voice, he gives up to their own counsels Psalm 81:11-12;" those who abandon themselves to all manner of wickedness, he gives up to vile affections and a reprobate mind Romans 1:26-28; and those who "will not receive his truth in order to salvation, he gives up to their own delusions, that they may be damned 2 Thessalonians. 2:10-12."
We have not prophets indeed at this time to declare the particular instances in which God intends this righteous procedure of his to be discovered: but we have no reason to think that he has altered his system of government, and consequently no reason to doubt but that he still displays his own righteousness in his dispensations, as he has done in every age and quarter of the world. If any imagine that this conduct of his was confined to the nation whose temporal Governor he was, we must remind them, that he dealt precisely in the same way with the heathen nations Isaiah 33:1, and has taught us to expect that he will do so to the end of time Revelation 18:5-6.
Wherein soever he fails to requite either good or evil in this life, he will requite it perfectly in the world to come—
God inflicts some judgments here on account of sin, in order that it may be seen that he governs the world; but he does not do it in all instances, in order that men may know, that he will judge the world. It often happens that the wicked prosper, and the righteous are oppressed; and yet God does not remarkably interpose to punish the one, or to reward the other: but in the last day, all will be made right; and every creature in the universe, the good and the evil, the oppressor and the oppressed, will "receive at God's hands a just recompense of reward 2 Thessalonians. 1:6-10."
From hence we may learn,
1. To investigate the reasons of God's dealings with us—
Every dispensation of Providence has a voice, to which we should give diligent attention. If we more carefully inquired into the design of God in his various dispensations towards us, we should find them an inexhaustible source of most instructive information. We might read in our afflictions some fault which God designs to correct; some mistake which he intends to rectify; some corruption which he desires to subdue; some grace which he is anxious to confirm; or some temptation, against which he purposes to fortify our minds. As in the instance before us, God brought to the remembrance of Adoni-bezek the sins which he had committed, and which perhaps in the fullness of his prosperity he had overlooked; so he often, by a particular chastisement, shows us the evil of some practice which we had justified, or revives in our minds the recollection of some which we had too slightly condemned. I would say unto you therefore, "Hear the rod, and Him that has appointed it." If you see not the reason of it, go unto your God, and say, "Show me why you contend with me?" and let no cross be suffered to escape from you, without having first paid to you that tribute of good, which by the order of Providence you are entitled to exact.
2. To repent of particular sins—
We cannot be too particular in calling to mind the sins which at any time we may have committed. Though we have not walked in the steps of this wicked tyrant, it is highly probable that we have lived in sinful habits, which custom has rendered familiar to our minds; and that we have in many things offended God, while we have not been conscious of committing any offence at all. Possibly Adoni-bezek at first felt a consciousness of doing wrong; but after a season, accounted his rival kings a legitimate prey, whom he might subdue, and torture in any way that he pleased. But at last God made him sensible of the enormity of his conduct. In like manner we may learn hereafter to view many parts of our conduct with far different feelings than we have yet done. God has borne with us indeed; but we must not consider his long-suffering as any proof of his approbation: he is recording everything in the book of his remembrance, and will call us into judgment for it, whether it be good or evil. Let us then search and try our ways: let us pray that he will not "remember against us the sins and transgressions of our youth:" let us, like Hezekiah, "humble ourselves for the pride" or any other evil passion that has at any time been in "our heart." In this way we shall avert many evils from ourselves which unlamented sin would bring upon us, and extract the sting from those which God in his providence may allot us.
3. To abound in every good work—
"The godly, no less than the sinner, shall be recompensed in the earth Proverbs 11:31; Proverbs 13:21;" "for godliness is profitable unto all things, having the promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come." Look into the Scriptures, and you will find that there is nothing that you can do for God or for your fellow-creatures, to which God has not annexed an appropriate reward. "Draw near to him, and he will draw near to you:" "honor him, and he will honor you:" "serve him, and he will gird himself and serve you." Visit and relieve your sick neighbor, and "God will be with you in trouble, and make all your bed in sickness Psalm 41:1; Psalm 41:3;" "nor shall even a cup of cold water given to a disciple, in any wise lose its reward." Would you then have testimonies of God's approbation here? endeavor to "abound in the work of the Lord:" and expect also, that, in proportion as you improve your talents now, shall be the weight of glory assigned to you in a better world.
CHRIST'S COMING TO JUDGMENT
Judges. 1:14-15. Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousand of his saints, to execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against him.
GOD has had in every age some to testify against the ungodly, and to warn them of the consequences of their sin at the future judgment: and though the faithful execution of this office meets with but ill returns from an ungrateful world, yet we trust there will be found, to the end of time, some, who will gladly suffer reproach or even death itself in the service of their God, and in the benevolent attempt to save their fellow-sinners from destruction. We do not indeed hear of many, who were witnesses for God, before the time of Moses; and even his warnings and exhortations were enforced principally with temporal sanctions: yet the certainty of a future judgment was known not only by Moses, but by the antediluvian world; and was solemnly urged by Enoch as a motive to repentance. This prophecy is not recorded in the Old Testament; but, by whatever means Jude attained the knowledge of it, whether by tradition, or by some written memorial, or by immediate inspiration, we may be sure that it was delivered by Enoch; and we may be thankful that such a precious fragment of inspired truth has been preserved to us.
It proclaims to us,
I. The manner in which our Lord shall come to judgment—
Christ, we are assured, is coming to judge the world—
There can be no reason to doubt that Enoch referred to Christ, even to that very "seed of the woman, who was to bruise the serpent's head:" him he represents as coming to complete his victory over Satan and his agents by calling them to his tribunal, and by consigning them over to the punishment they have deserved. The New Testament writers uniformly speak to the same effect: they declare that it is at the judgment seat of Christ we must stand 2 Corinthians 5:10; that it is Christ who is ordained to be the Judge of quick and dead Acts 10:42; and, that all judgment is therefore committed unto him, because he is the Son of man John 5:27; or, in other words, that he, who died for sinners, shall, in that very nature that he assumed for them, be the immediate author of salvation to his followers and of condemnation to his enemies.
And even the manner of his appearing is here plainly predicted—
It is not with "his saints," but with his holy ones, or holy angels, that he will come. The saints will not be his assessors in judgment until they themselves shall have received their sentence: then indeed "they shall judge angels 1 Corinthians 6:3;" but until then, they themselves will stand before him to be judged. But the holy angels will be his attendants in the clouds of Heaven; all the "myriads" of them shall descend with him from their blessed abodes, to increase the solemnity of that day, and to honor him, to whom they owe their very existence. This accords with the description given by Daniel Daniel 7:9-10, by Paul 2 Thessalonians. 1:7-8, and by Christ himself Matthew 25:31. How different will our Lord's appearance then be from what it was when he first visited our guilty world, and lay a helpless infant in the manger! and how earnestly should we now exert ourselves that we may he prepared to meet him!
That our minds may be raised to an expectation of that day, let us consider,
II. The ends of his coming—
It is not to display his own glory that Christ will come; but,
1. To pass judgment upon the whole world—
All, who have ever lived in this wretched world, shall be summoned before him. The old and the young, the rich and the poor, will all come forth out of their graves Revelation 20:12-13, and those that shall be then living upon earth shall be changed in the twinkling of an eye, and all shall stand together at his tribunal 1 Corinthians 15:51-52. Every one shall then be tried as by fire 1 Corinthians 3:13; their actions shall then be weighed as in a balance; and the most secret motions of their hearts be brought to light Romans 2:16. Then shall they that are approved, "have praise of God;" and they that are disapproved, be driven from his presence. Nor will Jesus merely pronounce the sentence of condemnation or acquittal, but he will "execute" it himself, either exalting them instantly to thrones of glory, or casting them headlong into "the lake that burns with fire and brimstone."
2. To manifest the equity of his decisions—
Whatever endeavors be now used to show men their guilt and danger, they have many things to allege in their own favor They will impute their negligence to their situation in life, to necessity, or to anything rather than the true cause, their own utter aversion to God and holiness; nor even "if we could speak with the tongues of angels," could we bring home conviction to their hearts. But Jesus will show them, beyond all contradiction, the futility of their excuses: and will prove by such unquestionable evidence "the deeds they have committed, the words they have spoken," and the thoughts they have entertained, that they shall be silenced and confounded before him. The ministers, who once labored for their salvation, shall then be forced to bear testimony against them: their companions in sin, though to their own confusion, must also testify of those deeds of darkness, which they once fondly hoped would be buried in eternal oblivion. The very places, where their most secret iniquities were committed, should rather stand forth to accuse them, than that they should escape with impunity Habakkuk 2:11. Above all, "God himself will be a swift witness against them Malachi 3:5," and will so thoroughly "convince" them of all their sins, whether of commission or of omission, that they shall be constrained to acknowledge the equity of that sentence, which dooms them to everlasting burnings. Even in Hell will they be compelled to say, "Lord God Almighty, true and righteous are your judgments Revelation 16:7."
1. How needful is it that we should instantly begin our preparation for that day!
Five thousand years ago the prophet spoke of Jesus as so near at hand, that it seemed as if he were already come ëèå; and it is in this way that all, whether Prophets or Apostles, have been inspired to speak. So strongly did St Paul express himself on this subject that the Thessalonians conceived the judgment-day to be almost immediately at hand 2 Thessalonians. 2:2. In the same manner must we say, "The Lord is at hand;" "the Judge is at the door Philippians 4:5. James 5:9." He surely is coming as soon as ever the events that are ordained to precede his advent shall have received their accomplishment. And with respect to us, it signifies little whether it be near or distant, since as death leaves us, judgment will find us. Is it not even madness then to delay our repentance, since we cannot tell but that death may come within the next year, or day, or hour? Beloved, shall your Lord come, and find you sleeping? Is he hastening towards you, and will you not prepare to meet him? O awake from your slumbers, and turn to him with your whole hearts; that so you may "have confidence before him at his coming."
2. How desirable is it to possess an interest in Christ!
It surely is not necessary to prove that we are ungodly, since we have all sinned, times without number, in thought, word, and deed, against the Divine Majesty. Where then shall we go for the remission of our sins? How shall we get our iniquities blotted out from the book of his remembrance? Our tears, even if we could shed rivers of tears, will never avail for this end: nothing but the blood of Jesus can ever cleanse us from the guilt of one sin: and, if we be not washed in that fountain, we shall die in our iniquities, and lie under the guilt of them forever. Let us then seek an interest in Christ. Let us never attempt to substitute any repentance or reformation of our own, in the place of his meritorious blood and righteousness: but let it be our one desire to "be found in him," and to obtain from him those garments of salvation, which alone can "cover the nakedness" of our guilty souls Revelation 3:18.
3. With what confidence and comfort may believers look forward to the coming of their Lord!
Whom will they have for their judge but the very person who bought them with his blood? the very person in whom they have believed; and to whom they cleaved with full purpose of heart? Be it so then; the catalogue of their sins shall be produced, a catalogue reaching, as it were, from Heaven to earth; and they shall not have one word to offer in arrest of judgment: yet, will the Savior pass a sentence of condemnation upon them? Will he not himself stand forth and testify, "I saw their deep contrition; I treasured up their tears in my vial; I was witness to their frequent sighs and groans, and to their cries for mercy through my atoning blood:" "Deliver them from going down into the pit; I paid their ransom:" they were mine; and they manifested that they were mine God represents himself in this very light. Jeremiah 31:18-20, by their obedience to my will, and their conformity to my image: "Come, you blessed children of my Father, inherit my kingdom prepared for you?" Fear not then, you weak and trembling saints; but rather "be looking for and hastening to the coming of the day of Christ 2 Peter 3:12;" you shall surely stand before him with joy; while they, who once justified their ungodliness, and thought, that to be among the godly was a fit matter for derision, shall bewail their folly, and confess the equity of the sentence that fixes you in Heaven, and themselves in Hell. Remember then with gratitude that you are to have Jesus for your judge; and when he says, "Behold, I come quickly," let your hearts reply, "Even so, come Lord Jesus Revelation 22:20."
THE CHRISTIAN'S DUTIES
Judges. 1:20-21. But you, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.
IN every age there has prevailed in the Church a proneness to depart both from the principles and practice of the Gospel. Jude in his day, writing to the whole Christian Church respecting "their common salvation," says, "it was needful for him to write to them, and to exhort them all to contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints."
At the same time he declares, that "ungodly men had crept in among the saints," and had not only grievously dishonored the Gospel, but had "turned the very grace of God itself into lasciviousness," and vindicated their licentious practices as allowed and sanctioned by the Gospel of Christ verse 3, 4. Against the influence of such pernicious examples, the Apostle was anxious to preserve all who yet maintained their integrity. He bade them remember, that the Apostles of our Lord had from the beginning taught them to expect, that such hypocrites and apostates would arise verse 17, 18; and he exhorted them so to walk before God, that they might hold fast their steadfastness even to the end. The directions which he gave them were such as could not but approve themselves to their judgment, and commend themselves to their inmost souls. The same dangers to the Church are existing still; and the same directions therefore are necessary for us, as well as for those in the apostolic age. Permit me then to call your attention to them:
I. To the two former, as instrumental to your welfare—
"Build up yourselves, brethren, on your most holy faith"—
It is here supposed that you have embraced the faith, and that you are standing upon the true foundation which God himself has laid in Zion. But you must not be satisfied with having believed in Christ: for Paul says, "As you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk you in him, rooted and built up in him, and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving Colossians 2:6-7." Your faith is truly a "most holy faith:" in its nature, in its tendency, and in all its practical effects, it is "most holy;" and to build up yourselves more and more upon it is your bounden duty. Seek then to advance continually in the knowledge of it, in all its bearings, and in all its relations. View the whole mystery as planned by Infinite Wisdom, and formed into a covenant of grace; the Father undertaking to accept an atonement in our behalf; the Son engaging to offer that atonement in his own sacred person; and the Holy Spirit engaging to bring to Christ those who should be given him of the Father, and those whom he should purchase with his most precious blood. Eternity itself will not suffice to explore the wonders contained in this mystery; and therefore, like the holy angels, we should incessantly be searching into it, with a view to comprehend, as far as our limited capacities can reach, the wisdom of God displayed in it.
We should seek to grow also in a simple reliance on the Gospel of Christ, as of itself perfectly suited to us, and altogether sufficient for the necessities of the whole world. It is impossible ever to be too jealous upon this head; since the mixing of any thing with this foundation will subvert it utterly, and make void all that Christ has done and suffered for us Galatians 5:2; Galatians 5:4.
In a realizing sense of its excellency, we should also be making higher and higher attainments. There is a rest of the mind, and a satisfaction of the soul, which it is our privilege to possess; and which, in its sublimer actings, approximates very nearly to the felicity of the saints above. There is no measure of this in which we should rest. We are told, that, by believing in Christ, we may be elevated to "a joy that is unspeakable and full of glory, and may already (by anticipation) receive the end of our faith, even the salvation of our souls 1 Peter 1:8-9."
Yet not in these respects only, but in every possible view, we should "be building up ourselves on our most holy faith," and be daily manifesting our progress, and "making our profiting to appear" to all around us.
At the same time be "praying continually in the Holy Spirit"—
Of ourselves we can do nothing: our sufficiency even for a good thought, must he of God alone 2 Corinthians 3:5; and from him it must be sought by earnest prayer. "He will be inquired of by us, before he will do for us" what in his covenant of grace he has promised to us Ezekiel 36:37. If we ask not, we cannot have James 4:2; but, if we ask in faith, we shall have our joy increased to the full John 16:24. We must therefore go to God continually; seeking from him in the first instance the "Spirit of grace and supplications Zechariah 12:10," by whose gracious influences alone we can approach him in an acceptable manner, and pray to him as we ought. "That blessed Spirit will help our infirmities;" and though he may not give us that fluency of utterance, or that enlargement of heart, which we may desire, "he will make intercession in us with groanings which cannot be uttered Romans 8:26," but which will enter the ears of our heavenly Father, "who knows the mind of the Spirit Romans 8:27," and will answer the petitions which are so dictated by him.
We are not indeed to expect any miraculous aid from the Holy Spirit: but a gracious influence we may expect; as Paul says, "Pray always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit Ephesians 6:18." Nor need we be concerned whether we address our God in words conceived at the moment, or in a pre-composed form: it is the frame of mind which God regards: and, if that be spiritual, our prayer, even though it consist only of a sigh, or a groan, shall come up with acceptance before him Psalm 38:9, and shall bring down into our souls all the blessings both of grace and glory.
While then we are building up ourselves on our most holy faith, we must be "pouring out our hearts before him" through the assistance of his good Spirit, and be bringing down from him such communications of grace and strength as our daily necessities require.
The beneficial tendency of the two former directions being thus clear and manifest, let me call your attention,
II. To the two latter, as perfective of your welfare—
"Keep yourselves in the love of God"—
This was primary in the mind of the Apostle: the two preceding being urged only as conducive to it. And certainly this is the great object which every Christian should keep in view, and at which he should aim day and night. To have a sense of "God's love shed abroad in the heart Romans 5:5;" to "have the light of his countenance lifted up upon us Numbers 6:26;" to be going to him continually as a Father Romans 8:15; to "walk with him," as Enoch did Genesis 5:24; and, like Abraham, to commune with him as a friend James 2:23; to "set him always before us Psalm 16:8;" to have no wish or desire but to please him Colossians 1:10. Hebrews 13:21; to be "delighting ourselves in him Psalm 37:4," as our God, our portion, our eternal great reward Genesis 15:1; this is our wisdom; this is our happiness; this is our security. If we descend on lower ground, we are open to all manner of assaults: but who can reach us there? Who can break through to harm us, when we are "dwelling in God, and God is dwelling in us 2 Corinthians 6:16." We are "encompassed as with a wall of fire Zechariah 2:5;" we are in a fortress that is absolutely impregnable Proverbs 18:10; we may defy the whole universe to "separate us from his love Romans 8:39."
Let me then especially urge upon you this important duty. Live not at a distance from God: rest not in a formal acknowledgment of him: but endeavor to "walk worthy of him unto all pleasing:" get back, as far as possible, to the state of man in Paradise; and labor to walk as on the very borders of the eternal world. My beloved brethren, "let your conversation be thus in Heaven Philippians 3:20;" and let all the faith which you exercise, and every prayer that you utter, be, as it were, a breeze to fill your sails, and bear you forward to your desired haven; that "so you may never fall, but have an abundant entrance ministered unto you into the kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ 2 Peter 1:10-11."
"Look also for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life"—
However close your walk with God may be, you must not on that account lean in the least degree to your own righteousness, but must rely entirely on the mercy of God in Christ Jesus, and expect "eternal life solely as the gift of God for Christ's sake Romans 6:23." And for this you must be waiting, looking, longing, in a state of constant preparation, and of eager expectation. The very perfection of the Christian state on earth is this, to be "looking for and hastening unto the coming of the day of God 2 Peter 3:12." Of many in the Corinthian Church the Apostle says, "they came behind in no gift, waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ 1 Corinthians 1:8." Do you then aspire after the same blessed attainment. "Let your loins be girt, and your lamps trimmed, and yourselves as those who wait for the coming of the heavenly Bridegroom;" that, when he shall come, you may "enter in with him to the marriage feast." While you are in such a frame as this, all earthly things will lose their influence; and all attempts, whether of men or devils, to retard your progress be in vain. From my inmost soul therefore I would offer in behalf of you the prayer which Paul offered for the Thessalonian Church, the prayer which so remarkably coincides with that of Jude in my text, "The Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and a patient waiting for Christ 2 Thessalonians. 3:5."
Settle it in your minds that this is true religion: This is the state in which it is both your duty and your privilege to live: and so living you are sure of mercy, and cannot fail of attaining that eternal life which the Lord Jesus Christ has purchased for you.
AN ASCRIPTION OF PRAISE TO JEHOVAH
Judges. 1:24-25. Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Savior, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.
BY many this Doxology is considered as addressed to the Lord Jesus Christ: but though it is certain that by all the heavenly choir our most adorable Savior is worshiped as one with the Father, without any distinction whatever, and that he is to be honored in all respects by us precisely as the Father, yet we must be cautious never to strain any portion of Scripture for the purpose of honoring him; for, if we do, we give advantage to those who deny his proper Divinity, to represent all our worship of him as unauthorized and erroneous. The more fully we are assured of any doctrine, the more careful we should be not to establish it on a weak foundation; lest, when the foundation on which we have indiscreetly built is shaken, we be led to doubt the truth of the doctrine itself. Of the Divinity of our blessed Lord we have no more doubt than of any other truth of our holy religion: but in the passage before us we apprehend, that it is not to Him in particular that this Doxology is addressed, but to the Father. For, in several other passages, the Father beyond all doubt is addressed, and under the same character as is here described. Paul concludes his Epistle to the Romans thus: "Now to him that is of power to establish you, …. to God only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever Romans 16:25; Romans 16:27." In the Epistle to the Ephesians he again speaks in similar terms: "Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, unto him be glory in the Church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end Ephesians 3:20-21." So again, in his First Epistle to Timothy he says, "Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen 1 Timothy 1:17." Those who would apply our text to Christ, think that it must refer to him, because he alone (as they imagine) presents his Church before the presence of his Father's glory: as it is said, "He loved the Church and gave himself for it, …. that he might present it to himself a glorious Church, etc. Ephesians 5:25; Ephesians 5:27." But the very same thing is spoken of the Father also, of whom it is said, that, "by Christ, the Father reconciled all things to himself, …. even in the body of his flesh through death, to present us holy and unblamably and unreprovable in his sight Colossians 1:19-22." I consider the text therefore as addressed to the Father: and, in order to a suitable improvement of it, will set before you,
I. The character of Jehovah as here described—
His wisdom and his power are altogether infinite: and we might, not improperly, speak of those two perfections as they are delineated in the Holy Scriptures. But I conceive, that, though mentioned generally in the text, we should notice them not as existing in himself, but as exercised towards his Church.
Wonderful is the wisdom which he has displayed in his dealings with his people—
Contemplate the plan of salvation through the incarnation and death of his only-begotten Son: What unfathomable depths of wisdom are here?: Well is it called, "The wisdom of God in a mystery!" To contemplate that, will be the employment of eternity.
Nor, if we entered into his particular dispensations towards his people, would this perfection appear in less bright colors; so "unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out." The experience of every saint will furnish abundant matter for adoration through all eternity; for "he has abounded towards every one of them in all wisdom and prudence".
Nor is the power which he exercises towards them less stupendous—
View the temptations with which every saint is beset: the enemies, even all the hosts of Hell, with whom he has to contend: his utter incapacity to do anything of himself: and yet his conflicts, his victories, and his triumphs: Must not that power be wonderful that is able to keep him, and effectual for his preservation even to the end? Yes truly, it is no less a power than that which was put forth to raise the Lord Jesus Christ himself from the dead, and to exalt him above all the principalities and powers both of Heaven and Hell Ephesians 1:19-21.
It is by the united and continued exercise of these two perfections, that he becomes "our Savior"—
In the name of "Savior" he glories; and under that character he loves to be viewed by us. His perfections would indeed be the same, though never put forth for us, any more than for the fallen angels: but, as they are so exercised for our welfare, it becomes us to contemplate them in that particular view, and to render to him the praise which such manifestations of them demand. Reflect a moment on him as a "Savior!" not merely as preserving us in our conflicts here, but as "presenting us faultless before the presence of his glory" in the world above: One moment's reflection upon his character in that view, will abundantly suffice to show you,
II. The dispositions with which it should be contemplated—
Beyond all doubt our hearts should be lifted up with devoutest affection towards him, as the Apostle's was; and should be filled,
1. With love—
Review the character before described, and say, whether, though you yourselves were not the objects of his care, the very existence of those perfections ought not to endear him to your souls? How much more then, when from all eternity they have been consecrated to your service, and destined to be exercised for your good!: I call you then to love him, with all your heart, and all your mind, and all your soul, and all your strength.
2. With gratitude—
Go to the world above, and see and hear how all the glorified saints are occupied around the throne: what songs of praise are they singing night and day to God, and to the Lamb! How do they all labor for utterance; and, by the very accumulation of the terms by which they strive to evince their gratitude, show how inadequate even the language of Heaven itself is to express the feelings of their hearts Revelation 5:9-13; Thus then should it be with us: our whole life should be, as theirs is, one continued song of praise and thanksgiving Psalm 145:1-7; Only consider what would have been your state at this hour, and to all eternity, if less wisdom or power had been put forth for you, and you will need no inducement to ascribe to him the glory due unto his name.
3. With affiance—
Where will you look for help, if not to him? Of whom besides can it be said that he has either wisdom or power to do such great things for you? With him alone is either wisdom or might sufficient for you. Go then to him: spread before him your every want: expect from him a supply in every hour of need, a supply suited to your wants and sufficient for your necessities. Never for a moment entertain a doubt of his kindness, his care, his all-sufficiency: for he is God, and not man; and therefore you have not been consumed hitherto, nor shall any enemy prevail against you. Only bear in mind that "He is for you;" and you may defy all the assaults both of earth and Hell.
At the close of his Doxology, the Apostle adds, Amen. Do you also add, Amen, in the very same spirit as he did, and in the same spirit that the angelic hosts are doing it above. And seek to live in this spirit every day, and all the day long. Then, when death shall call you hence, you shall change your place, but not your employment; your sorrows, but not your songs.
END OF VOL. 20.
THE DANGER OF INDECISION
Judges. 2:1-5. And an Angel of the Lord came up from Gilgal to Bochim, and said, I made you to go up out of Egypt, and have brought you unto the land winch I swore unto your fathers; and I said, I will never break my covenant with you. And you shall make no league with the inhabitants of this land; you shall throw down their altars: but you have not obeyed my voice: why have you done this? Why I also said, I will not drive them out from before you; but they shall be as thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare unto you. And it came to pass, when the Angel of the Lord spoke these words unto all the children of Israel, that the people lifted up their voice, and wept. And they called the name of that place Bochim: and they sacrificed there unto the Lord.
WE admire the condescension of Jehovah towards his chosen people, in that he raised up prophets to instruct them, and not unfrequently sent angels also to minister unto them. But the person who is here called "an Angel of the Lord," seems to have been no other than "the Angel of the Covenant," the Lord himself. It is certain that Jehovah did sometimes assume the appearance of an angel; as when he visited Abraham, and informed him of the judgments that were about to be inflicted on Sodom and Gomorrah. And it is clear that the person spoken of in our text was no created angel; for if he had, how could he with any propriety use such language? It was not a creature that brought the Israelites out of Egypt; but Jehovah. It was not a creature that made a covenant with them; but Jehovah. It was not a creature to whom they were accountable for their disobedience, or whose threatened dereliction they had such reason to deplore, but Jehovah: and the circumstance of his being said to come up from Gilgal, which is supposed to militate against this interpretation, rather confirms it: for it was in Gilgal, near to Jericho, that this same divine person had appeared to Joshua, as an armed warrior. That he was Jehovah, cannot be doubted; because he suffered Joshua to worship him; and even commanded him to put off his shoe from his foot, because the very ground whereon he stood was, by reason of his presence, rendered holy. In his conversation with Joshua he had called himself "the Captain of the Lord's host;" and therefore there was a particular propriety in his appearing now to the people, to inquire, "Why they had not carried his orders into effect? and to threaten that he would fight for them no longer. Besides, at Gilgal the people had revived the ordinance of circumcision, and had kept a Passover unto the Lord; in both which ordinances they had consecrated themselves to God afresh, and engaged to serve him, as his redeemed people. In coming therefore as from Gilgal, the Angel reminded them of their solemn engagements, and humbled them the more for their violation of them.
The particular address of the Lord to them, together with the effect it produced upon them, leads us to consider,
I. The danger of indecision—
The command which God had given to the Israelites was plain and express: they were "utterly to destroy the Canaanites, and to make no covenant with them Deuteronomy 7:2;" and on their performance of this condition was suspended the continuance of God's interposition in their favor. But they were not careful to execute the divine command: and therefore God threatened, that the Canaanites, whom they had presumed to spare, should become a lasting source of pain to them; that they would gradually draw them into sin, and ultimately become instruments of inflicting on them the vengeance they had merited.
Such is the sin which God's professing people still commit—
The command to every one of us is to make no league with any one of our spiritual enemies; not with the world: on the contrary, we are to "overcome it;" to "come out from the people of it, and be separate;" to be "dead to" all its cares and pleasures, "being crucified to it, and esteeming it as crucified unto us:" we are "not to be of it, any more than Jesus Christ himself was of it." With respect to the flesh also and our corrupt nature, no truce must be made with it, even for a moment: we must "mortify our members upon earth," and "crucify the flesh with the affections and lusts:" we must not spare one evil desire, though it should be dear as "a right eye," or useful as "a right hand;" we must "pluck it out with abhorrence, or cut it off, and cast it from us." It is not sufficient to make them pay tribute: we must slay them; we must "show them no mercy Deuteronomy 7:2;" our hatred of them must be irreconcilable and incessant.
But what is our state? Do we find in ourselves this zeal? Instead of proceeding to the utter extirpation of our spiritual enemies, are we not satisfied if they do not reign? Are we not contented to let them exist, provided they keep themselves concealed from public view?: What then is the declaration of God unto us? Does he not warn us, that the evils which we spare shall become "as thorns in our sides, and prove a snare unto our souls?" And do we not find that it is even so in our daily experience? Let the person who still associates with the men of this world, say, whether he does not find that they are a clog to him in his spiritual course? whether his endeavors to please them do not lead him sometimes into sinful compliances, and his fear of displeasing them do not keep him from testifying against their evil ways? Will any say that he has found it practical for "light to have communion with darkness, or Christ with Belial;" or that the soul can flourish while it is engaged in such a foolish attempt as that of reconciling the services of God and Mammon? Let the person who is still too deeply immersed in the cares or pleasures of the world, say, whether he has not often been led to strain his conscience in order to prosecute his ends, and to adopt some practices which in his heart he disapproved?: Let the person who harbors some besetting sin, ask, whether it has not often risen up with a force that was almost irresistible, and nearly, if not altogether, involved him in some flagrant transgression? Let the person in whom pride, or lewdness, or covetousness, or passion is suffered to dwell, answer this question: He knows but little of his own heart, who does not know, that sin is a flame, which, if not extinguished, may speedily "set on fire his whole nature James 3:6 with Deuteronomy 32:22," and "burn to the lowest Hell." Lastly, Let the person who listens to the temptations of Satan, say, whether there be any way of making him flee, but by perpetual resistance James 4:7..
If such then be the danger of indecision, let us consider,
II. The duty of those who are convicted of it—
Two things were produced by the declarations of the Angel in the breasts of all the congregation of Israel; which also our own experience calls for; namely,
1. An humiliation of soul before God—
The people "lifted up their voice and wept." And who among us has not abundant reason to follow their example? Whether we consider our sin or our punishment, we have but too much reason to weep. Indecision is not so light a sin as some imagine Job 31:25; Job 31:28; it shows an insincerity of heart, which is most odious in itself, and most offensive to God. See in what a light the Israelites beheld it, when once a conviction of it was brought home to their minds! and is not the sparing of inveterate lusts as wicked as sparing the devoted Canaanites? Does it not betray an equal want of reverence for God, of love to his name, and of zeal for his honor? Behold then what is the duty of every one among us: "Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning, and your joy into heaviness; humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, and he shall lift you up James 4:9-10." Nor does the threatened punishment afford us less occasion to weep: for a subjection to sin is the greatest evil that can befall us. If God should once say, "He is joined to idols; let him alone;" it would be a heavier judgment to us than immediate death and immediate damnation; because we should live only to "treasure up wrath against the day of wrath," and should perish at last under an accumulated weight of misery to all eternity. O that the dread of such a punishment might humble us all in dust and ashes!
2. An application to God through the medium of sacrifice—
"They sacrificed there unto the Lord;" and had recourse to the blood of sprinkling for the remission of their sin. Though their weeping was very general, and very bitter, insomuch that the name of the place, which was Shiloh, was called Bochim, or Weepers, from that circumstance, yet did they not hope to pacify their offended God with tears: they knew that an atonement was necessary; and they sought him. therefore in his appointed way. O that we might learn from them! Humiliation is necessary; but it is not sufficient: tears, even if we could shed rivers of them, could never wash away sin: the blood of atonement is necessary; "without shedding of blood there is no remission." We must apply to the Lord Jesus Christ, and "go to God through him." We must acknowledge our obligation to his sacrifice for all the mercy and forbearance we have already experienced; and must look to it as the only means of our reconciliation with God: it is his blood, and "his blood alone, that can ever cleanse us from our sin": And here I would particularly remind you that the sin laid to the charge of Israel, was not of commission, but of omission; not some flagrant enormity, but a lukewarmness and neglect of duty: yet did they see the need of a sacrifice to atone for that. In like manner, though we should have no guilt imputed to us but that of omission and defect, yet must we apply to the blood of sprinkling, and seek for pardon through that one Sacrifice which was once offered for us on the cross.
Learn then from hence,
1. The value of a faithful monitor—
We do not like faithful admonitions, even from those whose special duty it is to reprove sin. We are ready to account them harsh and severe. But what is the office which a friendly monitor performs? Is it not that which the Angel of the Covenant himself executed, yes, and came from Heaven on purpose to perform? But it may be said, that we alarm men, and make them melancholy: true; we show them their guilt and danger, and try to bring them to a state of humiliation on account of it, and to an affiance in the Lord Jesus Christ for the pardon of it. But is this an evil? If the whole congregation were affected precisely as the whole congregation of Israel were, every one weeping for his sins, and seeking the remission of them through the great Sacrifice, would it be a matter for regret? No: we would to God that this very place might this day deserve the name of Bochim; and that the remembrance of it might never be obliterated from your minds! Sure we are that the congregation of Israel felt themselves deeply indebted to Him who thus sought their welfare; and we have no doubt but that, however an ungodly world may hate our reproofs, there is not a contrite sinner in the universe who will not regard his monitor as a father, and "receive him as an Angel of God, even as Christ Jesus Galatians 4:14." They will not hesitate to thank him, who, by bringing them to weep here, has kept them from weeping and wailing and gnashing their teeth in Hell forever.
2. The danger of forgetting the admonitions that have been given us—
During the days of Joshua and the elders that outlived Joshua, the Israelites maintained some measure of steadfastness in their duty to God: but afterwards they fearfully declined, and brought upon themselves the most afflictive judgments. The whole remainder of the chapter from whence our text is taken, elucidates this truth. The impressions which were now made upon them gradually wore away; and the people relapsed into their former state of supineness. Of the unreasonableness of their conduct they were fully convinced: for, when the Angel asked them, "Why have you done this?" they could not offer one word in extenuation of their guilt: but when they ceased to listen to the voice of conscience, they proceeded from one wickedness to another, "until there was no remedy 2 Chronicles 36:15-17." And how often is this seen among ourselves! Many are deeply affected on some particular occasion: they will weep, and pray, and think of the Savior; but in process of time they lose all their good impressions, and "go back with the dog to his vomit, and the sow that was washed to the wallowing in the mire." The Lord grant that it may not prove thus with us! May our "goodness not be as the dew, or as the morning cloud that passes away;" but rather as the sun, which shines brighter and brighter unto the perfect day.
EHUD AND EGLON
Judges. 3:20. And Ehud said, I have a message from God unto you. And he arose out of his seat.
GOD frequently is pleased to make use of his enemies for the correction of his own people: but when he has accomplished by them the purposes of his grace, he then calls them also into judgment for the acts which they have performed. In executing his will they have no respect to him, but follow only the wicked inclinations of their own hearts; and therefore he recompenses them, not as obedient servants, but according to the real quality of their actions. Thus he dealt with Sennacherib, who was only gratifying his own ambition, while, as a sword in Jehovah's hand, he was inflicting punishment on Israel: and thus he dealt with Eglon also, whom he had raised up to power for the purpose of chastising his offending people. Yet there is something very remarkable in the way in which God requited the wickedness of Eglon, and in which he delivered his people out of his hand. The man whom God raised up as his instrument, was Ehud; who, by a stratagem, effected the death of Eglon.
We will briefly set before you,
I. The conduct of Ehud—
Eglon, king of Moab, having subdued Israel, himself resided in Canaan, in the city of Palm-trees: and Ehud was sent, as the representative of Israel, to offer to him their accustomed tribute. But Ehud, hoping for an opportunity to assassinate Eglon, took a dagger with him: and, after having presented the tribute and left the city with his attendants, went back alone to Eglon, pretending to have a secret errand to him. Eglon ordered all other persons to depart from his presence, and thus gave Ehud a good opportunity of accomplishing his design. Ehud availed himself of it with great success: being left-handed, he drew forth the dagger without any suspicion, and plunged it, even the haft together with the blade, into the belly of Eglon, who instantly fell down dead. Ehud then retired from the secret chamber where the transaction had taken place, and locked the doors after him, and went composedly away, as though nothing particular had happened; and thus effected his escape; and instantly stirred up Israel to cast off the yoke of Moab, before their enemies should have had time to concert their measures under another head.
Now to form a correct estimate of this action, we must consider it in two different points of view;
1. As voluntarily undertaken—
In this view it was altogether indefensible. Treachery and murder can never be justified. Though Eglon was an usurper and a cruel oppressor, still the Israelites professed subjection to him; and Ehud went as their messenger, to present to Eglon their acknowledgments of that subjection. If he had chosen to cast off the yoke of Moab, he was at liberty to do so in a way of open warfare: but to become an assassin he had no right: nor could the end which he proposed, sanctify the means he used: the means were wrong; and he had "no right to do evil that good might come."
2. As divinely commissioned—
No created power could have authorized Abraham to slay his son, or Israel to plunder Egypt, and extirpate the inhabitants of Canaan: nor could any human being have executed such things of his own mind, without contracting very heinous guilt. But God is not bound by the rules which he has imposed on us: he may act towards his creatures as he sees best, and may employ instruments in any way that he pleases: nor would even an angel contract defilement in executing any commission that God had given him. An angel slew in one night all the first-born in the land of Egypt; and on another occasion, a hundred and eighty-five thousand Assyrians: yet no one thinks of imputing guilt to him on that account:—so Ehud, if appointed to the work by God, might innocently effect it in the way he did. Jehu was commissioned by God to dethrone Ahab, and destroy his family: and, though he was punished afterwards because he was not actuated by a becoming zeal for the glory of God, yet for the action itself he was rewarded even to the fourth generation. Precisely thus may Ehud at this moment be receiving a reward from God for that act of his, which, under other circumstances, would have been highly sinful. And there is reason to believe that he was directed by God in that action; since not only were his wisdom, courage, and success, beyond all that could have been expected in a merely human enterprise, but we are expressly told that "God raised up this man to be the deliverer of his people verse 15."
We must not however imagine, that his conduct is to be followed as a precedent: for no man can dare to follow it, unless he have infallible evidence that he is called of God to do so: but, as no man can expect such a call at this time, no man can without the deepest criminality presume to imitate his example.
Having thrown what light we can on the dubious conduct of Ehud, we proceed to suggest,—
II. Some reflections arising from it—
Supposing Ehud to have been divinely commissioned, he might well say to Eglon, "I have a message from God to you." At all events his language leads us to observe,
1. That God does send messages to mortal men—
The whole creation is delivering to us, as it were, a message from God, and conveying to us the knowledge of his perfections Romans 1:20; Psalm 19:1-4; Every providential dispensation also has some important lesson to communicate: the mercies of God declare his goodness to us, and invite us to repentance Romans 2:4, and his judgments are intended to discover to us some truths which we did not previously discern: "Hear you the rod," says the prophet, "and Him that has appointed it Mic. 6:9." But it is in his word more especially that God comes down to commune with sinful man. His Gospel is so called from the very circumstance of its being a message of mercy, or, as the word means, good tidings from God to man: and ministers are ambassadors from him, sent to beseech you in his name to accept reconciliation with him through the death of his Son. Indeed this message contains the substance of all that we have to speak to you in God's name; and from hence it is called by God himself, "the ministry of reconciliation." Behold then this day we come unto you and say, "We have a message from God to you!" He sends us this day to invite you to come to him for all the blessings of salvation, and to receive them freely at his hands, "without money, and without price Isaiah 55:1-3."
2. That, by whoever his messages are delivered, we should attend to them with the profoundest reverence—
Though Eglon was a king, and Ehud an oppressed servant, yes, though Eglon was a heathen that did not worship the true God, yet, the very instant that Ehud announced that he had a message from God unto him, he rose up from his seat, that he might receive it with the greater reverence. And does not this idolatrous heathen reproach us, who, when God's servants are delivering messages to us in his name, scarcely pay any attention to them, or perhaps fall asleep in the midst of them? Behold, how Israel listened to the reading of God's word in the days of Nehemiah Nehemiah 8:3; Nehemiah 8:5-6; that is the way in which we should read or hear the word of God at this time. We should not come to the house of God as critics, to sit in judgment; or as curious persons, to be entertained; but as sinners, to "hear what the Lord God will say concerning us." Beautiful is the example of Cornelius and his family Acts 10:33; they did not regard Peter as a man, but as a messenger from God: and in like manner should we also "receive the word, not as the word of man, but, as it is in truth, the word of God 1 Thessalonians. 2:13." O that the spirit of Samuel were more visible in us 1 Samuel 3:10, and that we sought instruction from the word, only in order to obey it John 9:36."
3. That we should ever be prepared for whatever message he may send—
Who can tell but that as his message to Eglon was a message of death, so he may send to us this day, saying, "Set your house in order; for you shall die and not live." He needs not the aid of an assassin to take away our lives: there are millions of ways in which death may seize upon us. As for our security, the more secure we are in our own apprehension, the more likely are we to receive such a message from God 1 Thessalonians. 5:3. It was when the rich fool was looking forward to years of enjoyment, that God said to him, "This night your soul shall be required of you:" and it was when Job fondly expected he should "die in his nest Job 29:18. See also Psalm 30:6-7," that God pulled down his nest, and despoiled him of all that he had. Let us not then promise ourselves an hour's continuance even of life itself Proverbs 27:1; but be standing "with our loins girt, and our lamps trimmed, that at whatever hour our Lord may come, he may find us watching".
Application: This may be more appropriate or more general: in the former case, a message may be delivered as from God himself to Oppressors, and the Oppressed; (to awe the one, as Isaiah 10:5-18 and encourage the other, as Isaiah 10:24-27.) in the latter case, an Address may be made to the Careless, the Backsliding, and the Faithful, with the prefatory Remark to each, "I have a message from God to you."
JAEL AND SISERA
Judges. 5:24-27. Blessed above women shall Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite be, blessed shall she be above women in the tent. He asked water, and she gave him milk; she brought forth butter in 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 off his head, when she had pierced and stricken through his temples. At her feet he bowed, he fell, he lay down: at her feet he bowed, he fell: where he bowed, there he fell down dead.
THE subject of assassination, one would suppose, should not admit of much diversity of sentiment: but there are those even in the Christian world, who think that in extreme cases, where the death of a tyrant would put an end to grievous oppressions and desolating wars, the dagger of an assassin might be employed. I am not aware that any would attempt to vindicate this sentiment by an appeal to Scripture: they would justify it rather on reasonings from expediency: but it is certain that, though in most cases where such actions are recorded they are mentioned with abhorrence, there are some instances wherein they are mentioned with approbation and applause. Such was the case of Ehud, who stabbed Eglon king of Moab: and such was the case before us, where Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, destroyed Sisera, whom she had received under her protection, and to whom she had administered every friendly aid.
The account which is given us of this transaction must be considered in a two-fold view;
I. As an historic fact—
The fact itself is set forth in the foregoing chapter—
Jabin, king of Canaan, had mightily oppressed the children of Israel for twenty years. At last they cried unto God; who directed Deborah, a prophetess, to take immediate measures for their deliverance. She commissioned Barak to raise ten thousand men; and promised, in God's name, that Sisera, the captain of Jabin's army, should be drawn to him and delivered into his hands. The event corresponded with the prediction: Sisera was defeated; and he fled away on foot, and sought refuge in the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, with whom he was at peace. Jael received him most kindly, supplied him with necessary refreshment, covered him with a mantle, and gave him every reason to expect safety under her protection. But, when he was asleep, she took a hammer, and drove a long nail through his temples and through his head: and then went out to the door of her tent, and brought in Barak to see his enemy dead upon the floor.
And what are we to think of this fact?—
Supposing it to be unauthorized by any commission from Heaven, we cannot hesitate to pronounce it one of the vilest crimes that ever was perpetrated. Some have endeavored to extenuate it, by saying, that she did not promise not to betray him. But this is a mere subterfuge: whether she promised or not, in words, her whole conduct was equivalent to the strongest promise: and she was guilty of the basest treachery that we can find, on record in the annals of the world. She murdered a man who was at peace with her, and whom she had undertaken to protect.
Thus strongly have we spoken on the occasion, in order that our subsequent views may not be misinterpreted.
Here a question naturally arises; If the action was so base, how comes it to be so highly commended? how comes a prophetess to pronounce such an eulogy upon her, as to call her "the most blessed of women," for doing that which was in itself such a flagrant act of injustice and cruelty? I answer, (as we before answered in the case of Ehud,) that God is not bound by the laws which he has given to us; and that he may dispense with those obligations which men owe to each other, in order to advance his own purposes in the way he sees fit. He may, as we before observed, order Abraham to slay his son: and therefore he might equally order Jael to slay Sisera; and might make known his mind with equal certainty to her as to him. And, that he did give her this commission, we can have no doubt: for, on account of Barak's unbelief, Deborah told him that he should lose part of the honor which he might have acquired; and that "God would sell Sisera into the hand of a woman." Moreover, this whole chapter is a tribute of praise to God on account of the transaction, wherein Jael in particular is celebrated as having performed a most acceptable service to the Lord.
Our proud hearts are apt to rise up in rebellion against God on this occasion; and to ask, how such an order could consist with his perfections? But let us be careful how we presume "to reprove God Job 40:2." We forget that he is the Creator of all, and "may do what he will with his own Matthew 20:15;" and that "he gives not account of any of his matters Job 33:13." Let us remember too, that we are no more than mere worms, which, as creatures, have no claim to existence for one moment; and, as sinners, deserve to be in Hell: and that, consequently, it is not possible for God to do us any injustice. If, however, we still be disposed to quarrel with this dispensation, the answer of Paul to such objectors must be resorted to; "Nay but, O man, who are you that replies against God?" Consider the objections to which that reply was made; and it will be found abundantly sufficient for every other objection that can be raised Romans 9:16-24.
Let us next consider this account,
II. As an emblematic record—
The words which close this divine hymn, clearly show that we are to consider the history in this view Compare verse 31 with Psalm 83:2-4; Psalm 83:9-10. The transaction was an emblematic representation,
1. Of the judgments that await God's enemies—
Sisera's army was, humanly speaking, invincible, especially by such an handful of men as Barak could muster, and even the greater part of them unarmed, except with such weapons as they might hastily collect Judges. 4:13 with 5:8. Indeed his mother and friends had not the least doubt of a successful issue to the conflict. But when his time was come, he and his army were wholly destroyed: and the very steps which he took for the destruction of God's people, God himself overruled to effect his overthrow Judges. 4:6-7. Thus it shall be with all the oppressors and persecutors of God's Church and people: how potent soever they may be, and however secure they may think themselves, "their judgment now of a long time lingers not, and their damnation slumbers not 2 Peter 2:3." They exult in the thought of what they will effect: but God "laughs them to scorn, for he sees that their day is coming Compare Psalm 2:3-4 with 37:12, 13." The very plans which they concert for the destruction of the Church, God will often overrule for their own destruction Mic. 4:11-12; or, if no particular judgment come upon them in this world, the time is quickly coming, when they would be glad to have "the rocks and mountains fall upon them, to cover them from the wrath "of an avenging God. They think themselves strong now: but "will they be strong in the day that HE shall deal with them, and will they thunder with a voice like his?" O that they were wise and would consider this, before they "be suddenly destroyed and without a remedy!"
2. Of the triumphs that are prepared for the Lord's people—
The Church at large, or individuals in it, may be reduced, like Israel of old, to great distress; but they shall surely triumph at last. However weak you may be in yourselves, you have no cause to fear; for God is on your side; and will suffer neither sin nor Satan to have dominion over you Romans 6:14; Romans 16:20. You need not direction or assistance from man; you need not say to any human being, "If you will go with me, I will go; but if you will not go with me, I will not go Judges. 4:8;" for God is with you; and "through him you shall be more than conquerors." His voice to every one of you is, like that of Deborah to Barak, "Up, for this is the day that the Lord has delivered your enemies into your hand: is not the Lord gone out before you Judges. 4:14." The very "stars in their courses shall fight for you verse 20," rather than that you shall be subdued. This is the testimony of all the prophets; nor shall any one that trusts in it be disappointed of his hope. See how the sun bursts through the clouds that obscured it in the early morn, and shines forth in its might: so shall you rise above all your enemies, and shine forth in everlasting glory verse 31.
The subject addresses itself particularly,
1. To those who are in affliction—
What was the remedy to which Israel had recourse, when their affliction pressed sore upon them? It was prayer: "they cried unto the Lord." And is not the same remedy open to us? is it not also as effectual as ever? Is the Lord's hand shortened that it cannot save, or his ear heavy that it cannot hear? He has given the direction, "Call upon me in the time of trouble, and I will hear you, and you shall glorify me:" "nor will he ever suffer any to seek his face in vain":
2. To those who have been delivered from it—
Delay not to render thanks to your Almighty Deliverer. Whatever means he may have used, remember that HE is the first great Cause, "the Author and Giver of every good and perfect gift." Stir up yourselves then to glorify him, like Deborah of old; "Awake, awake, Deborah; awake, awake; utter a song." Call to mind also the various circumstances both of your affliction and deliverance; that nothing maybe omitted which may enhance the mercy in your eyes, or give glory to your heavenly Benefactor. This is a matter of great importance: if you rest in general acknowledgments, you will feel but weak emotions of gratitude: but if you search out occasions of praise, you will soon be filled with wonder and amazement at the mercies given unto you.
THE PRAYER OF DEBORAH
Judges. 5:31. So let all your enemies perish, O Lord: but let them that love him be as the sun when he goes forth in his might.
OF the victories gained by God's ancient people, many are so incredible, that we could never believe the histories that record them, if we did not know those histories to have been written by holy men, under the direction and inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The destruction of a mighty army by means of trumpets, and lamps in broken pitchers, seems altogether fabulous: yet was this effected by Gideon, in conformity with the direction given him, and in dependence upon God. The overthrow of Jabin the king of Canaan, by ten thousand men under the command of a woman, was scarcely less miraculous, especially if we consider to what a low state the whole kingdom of Israel was reduced, and how exceeding powerful was the army of their oppressors: yet was Sisera, the captain of Jabin's army, routed by this little band, and not so much as a single individual of that mighty host survived the contest Judges. 4:16. The hymn of thanksgiving, wherein Deborah celebrated this wonderful event, is recorded in the chapter before us; and she closes it with a prayer,
I. For the destruction of all God's enemies—
Imprecations, when personal and vindictive, are contrary to the mind of God: but when uttered as denunciations of God's determined purpose, they are not unsuited to the most holy character. Even Paul said, "If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be anathema maran-atha 1 Corinthians 16:22." Thus, in imprecating destruction on God's enemies, Deborah must be understood to express,
1. Her approbation of it as just—
Who does not see, that those who rise in rebellion against their God, deserve punishment?: There is not a creature suffering under the displeasure of the Most High, who must not say, "True and righteous are your judgments, Lord God Almighty Revelation 15:3."
2. Her desire of it as good—
The Law of God, which denounces a curse against every transgression, is declared to be "holy and just and good Romans 7:12." In like manner, all considerate men are agreed in acknowledging it a blessing to live under laws wisely enacted and faithfully administered. What though the execution of the laws prove fatal to some? it is a benefit to the community, who are thereby enabled to live in peaceful security. So the execution of God's laws proves doubtless terrible to those who are called to sustain his vengeance; yet to the whole universe is it the means of displaying the justice and holiness of the Deity, which, if sin were unpunished, would be altogether compromised and eclipsed.
3. Her expectation of it as certain—
In fact, her imprecation has the force of a prediction; a prediction which shall assuredly be accomplished in its season. Of Sisera's army not one survived: and of those who die in their sins, there shall not one be found at the right hand of God in the day of judgment. "Though hand join in hand, the wicked shall not be unpunished."
To this she adds a prayer,
II. For the advancement of all his loving and obedient people—
Well is the distinction drawn between the enemies and the friends of God. The latter are described as "those who love him Ephesians 6:24." If, between men, we could admit a medium between love and hatred, we can by no means admit of it between God and his creatures. Indifference towards God would be constructive enmity. Those only who love him can be numbered among his friends. In behalf of these, therefore, she prays, that they may "be as the sun when he goes forth in his might." Under this beautiful image she prays,
1. That they may shine with ever-increasing splendor—
The sun in its early dawn casts but feeble light upon the world; but soon proceeds to irradiate the whole horizon, and to burst with splendor upon those who but a little before were immersed in darkness. Thus, the goings-forth of those who seek the Lord diffuse at first but an indistinct and doubtful gleam Hosea 6:3; but, through the tender mercy of God, they advance; and "their light shines brighter and brighter to the perfect day Proverbs 4:18." How desirable is this to be realized in us! Let us so walk, my Brethren, that "our profiting may appear unto all."
2. That they may diffuse benefits wherever they come—
The sun is the fountain of light and life to the whole world. Look at the places where, for months together, the sun never bends its course: the whole face of nature wears the appearance of death: and nothing but the return of his kindlier influences restores her to life. Thus in countries where the friends of God are not found, the whole population are in a state of spiritual and moral death: but "in their light is light seen Psalm 36:9," and from them is spread abroad a vital influence, to animate and fructify the sons of men. View the path of the Apostle Paul "from Judea round about unto Illyricum:" in all his way he was the instrument of "turning men from darkness unto light, and from the power of Satan unto God Acts 26:18." Such should we also be, my Brethren, according to the ability which God has given us, and the opportunities he affords us: we should "shine as lights in a dark world, holding forth to all the word of life Philippians 2:15-16," for the illumination and salvation of all around us.
3. That they may reflect honor upon God in the eyes of all who behold them—
Who ever contemplated the sun shining in his strength, and did not admire the wisdom and goodness and power of Him who created it? "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows his handy-work; nor is there any speech or language where their voice is not heard Psalm 19:1-3." Such should be the effect of the light diffused by the saints of God: it should constrain all to confess that "we are God's workmanship Ephesians 2:10," and "so to shine before men, that they may be compelled to glorify our Father which is in Heaven Matthew 5:16."
Inquire, Brethren, to which of these classes you belong: for, however they may be confounded now, there will be an awful difference between them before long; the one "awaking to everlasting shame and contempt Daniel 12:2-3," and the other "shining forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father Matthew 13:41-43." On the one shall the justice of God be magnified; but in the other shall his love and mercy be glorified, to all eternity 2 Thessalonians. 1:6-10.
Judges. 6:36-40. And Gideon said unto God, If you will save Israel by mine hand, as you have said, behold, I will put a fleece of wool in the floor; and if the dew be on the fleece only, and it be dry upon all the earth beside, then shall I know that you will save Israel by mine hand, as you have said. And it was so: for he rose up early on the morrow, and thrust the fleece together, and wringed the dew out of the fleece, a bowl full of water. And Gideon said unto God, Let not your anger be hot against me, and I will speak but this once: let me prove, I pray you, but this once with the fleece; let it now be dry only upon the fleece, and upon all the ground let there be dew. And God did so that night: for it was dry upon the fleece only, and there was dew on all the ground.
IT is a comfort to know, that, however afflicted and apparently desperate our state may be in this world, there is no just ground for despondency. God can never want instruments for effecting our deliverance; or fail in effecting it, however weak and inadequate those instruments may be.
We can scarcely conceive a more hopeless condition than that to which the nation of Israel was reduced at this time by "the Midianites and Amalekites and the children of the east." These enemies "came up with their cattle and their tents, and they came as grasshoppers for multitude; for both they and their cattle were without number; and annually, for seven years, they entered into the land to destroy it; while the children of Israel hid themselves in dens and caves and strong-holds in the mountains, destitute of any sustenance verse 2–6," and incapable of resisting their invaders.
But, in this extremity, God was pleased to visit them in mercy, and to raise up for them a deliverer, "even Gideon, while he was threshing out some wheat, to hide it from the Midianites verse 11, 12." To satisfy the mind of Gideon, who pleaded his utter incapacity for the office devolved upon him, God gave him a sign: he accepted an offering of a kid, prepared as for food with unleavened cakes, and caused "fire to rise up out of the rock, on which the flesh and cakes were placed, to consume them: and then departed out of his sight verse 17–21. It is clear that "the Angel" was no other than Jehovah himself. See verse 14 and verse 22–24." But still, though further encouraged by the success of his endeavor to destroy idolatry in his father's house verse 25–32. and by the willingness which several of the tribes manifested to enlist under his banners, he yet needed to have his faith strengthened; and for that end, he desired a further sign from the Lord, that so he might be assured that the promise made to him should be fulfilled.
In this circumstance we see displayed before our eyes,
I. The weakness of man—
Gideon could not give full credit to the word of God—
It had been declared to him by the Lord, "You shall save Israel from the hand of the Midianites: have not I sent you verse 14." On his expressing a doubt how this could possibly be effected by so weak an instrument as he, God had confirmed his word, as with an oath, "Surely I will be with you; and you shall smite the Midianites as one man verse 15, 16." To remove all doubt from his mind, a sign had been given him, similar to that which had been given at the consecration of Aaron to the priestly office Leviticus 9:24. Yet still he wanted fresh signs, to convince him that God would indeed fulfill his word; and even prescribed to God the signs that should be given, desiring that a fleece might be wet with dew, while all was dry around; and again, that the fleece might be dry, while on all around it the dew should rest.
Do we not see in this the weakness of all mankind?
Abraham repeatedly resorted to a base subterfuge in denying his wife, because he could not trust in God for his protection from Pharaoh Genesis 12:12-13, and Abimelech Genesis 20:13. Sarah, too, though commended for her faith, could not believe that, at her advanced period of life, she should bear to Abraham a son Genesis 18:11-12. When Moses was commissioned to bring Israel out of Egypt, no less than three successive signs were given to him, for the conviction of his own mind, and of the minds of those to whom he was sent: his rod was turned into a serpent, and restored from a living serpent to a rod again; his hand was rendered both leprous, and whole again; and the water which he poured out was converted into blood Exodus 4:1-9. David also, under circumstances of great trial, found doubts arise in his mind; but confessed, upon reflection, "This is mine infirmity Psalm 77:7-10." And who among us has not, on many occasions, "staggered at the promises through unbelief?" The disciples themselves, when a storm arose, were fearful that they should perish, notwithstanding their Lord and Master was embarked with them in the vessel Mark 4:38; and the intrepid Peter's heart began to fail him, when walking on the sea, because the wind became more boisterous than when he first descended from the ship Matthew 14:28-31. So, in seasons of trial, we have found it exceeding difficult to place such confidence in God, as to dismiss all fear, and commit our cause to him without any anxiety about the issue of it. We can know but little of the workings of our own hearts, if we have not discovered, that "there is in us an evil heart of unbelief," and that to place perfect confidence in God is the highest of all attainments. To say under such accumulated trials as Job sustained, "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him Job 13:15," is little short of absolute perfection.
But this weakness of Gideon was the means of displaying,
II. The condescension of God—
God, instead of being offended with his servant, acceded to his request—
A fellow-creature, who had given such solemn promises, would have been quite indignant at finding his veracity called in question. How offensive was the request, "If you will save Israel by mine hand, and do as you have said, behold, I will put a fleece of wool in the floor; and if the dew be on the fleece only, and it be dry upon all the earth beside, then shall I know that you will save Israel by mine hand, as you have said." Nor did even this suffice: no: he must "prove" God a second time by reversing this request, before he can believe "that God will do as he has said." Yet, astonishing to behold! God, instead of being offended with him, gives him the satisfaction he desires, and accommodates himself to the wishes of his yet doubting servant.
A similar instance of condescension we behold in Jesus towards his unbelieving disciple. All the disciples had seen our Lord, except Thomas; and all bare the most decided testimony to his resurrection. But Thomas would not believe: no: the testimony of all his brethren was of no avail: he would not even believe his own eyes, if he should see his Lord: he would not believe, unless he should put his fingers into the print of the nails made in the hands and feet of his Lord, and thrust his hand into the side that had been pierced by the spear. How justly might he have been left to the perverseness of his own mind, and to all the bitter consequences of his unbelief! But no: the Savior appears to him also, and gives him the very evidence he desired.
And the same condescension may we also expect—
It is true, we are not authorized to specify the terms on which we will credit the divine testimony, or to expect any visible signs in confirmation of God's word: yet are we not a whit less assured of his condescension and grace, than Gideon and Thomas were. We shall find, in his very covenant which he has made with us, the very same condescension to our weakness, and the very same desire to satisfy our minds: for "he has confirmed his covenant with an oath, that by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have the stronger consolation Hebrews 6:17-18." And, if we look at the promises, we shall find that they are made in a way purposely to counteract and sustain the weakness of our minds. Mark the repetitions: "Fear you not; for I am with you: be not dismayed; for I am your God: I will strengthen you; yes, I will help you; yes, I will uphold you with the right hand of my righteousness Isaiah 41:10." "Fear not, you worm Jacob: you shall thresh the mountains Isaiah 41:14-16." Mark his answers to the objections arising in our minds: "Shall the prey be taken from the mighty, or the lawful captive delivered? Yes; thus says the Lord: The captives of the mighty shall be taken away, and the prey of the terrible shall be delivered: for I will contend with him that contends with you, and I will save your children Isaiah 49:24-25." We see, then, that at this day God is the same as in the days of old; and that still, as formerly, "he will not break the bruised reed, nor quench the smoking flax, until he bring forth judgment unto victory Matthew 12:20."
In all this, however, we discern,
III. The efficacy of prayer—
It was prayer that prevailed in the instance before us—
Gideon, with much humility and tenderness of spirit, besought the Lord; even as the Prophet Isaiah afterwards did in behalf of Hezekiah. God promised to Hezekiah that his disorder should be healed, and that he should "on the third day go up to the house of the Lord." A sign was then offered to him, and a choice was given him in relation to it: and he, thinking it a much harder thing for the shadow on the sun-dial to go back, than to advance, ten degrees, fixed upon that which he conceived to be the more difficult: and "the Prophet Isaiah," who in God's name had offered him the sign, "cried unto the Lord; and he brought the shadow ten degrees backward, by which it had gone down in the dial of Ahaz 2 Kings 20:8-11."
To us, also, will God grant his mercies, in answer to our prayers—
We are told that "the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much." And in this respect Elijah is held forth to us as an example: for he, "though a man subject to like passions as we are, prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the Heaven gave rain; and the earth brought forth her fruit James 5:16-18." Thus also shall it be with us, under circumstances of peculiar trial. I mean not to say, that we shall have any miraculous answers to our prayers; for the age of miracles is past: but I must say, that, even in relation to temporal matters, our prayers shall not go forth in vain; and, in reference to spiritual mercies, they shall descend almost in visible answers on our souls. Let us suppose the whole neighborhood where we dwell, to be in a state of barrenness, so far as it respects the blessings of salvation: if a man cry earnestly to God, the dew of his blessing shall descend upon him in the richest abundance; (a whole bowl-full shall, if I may so speak, be wrung out from his contracted fleece:) on the other hand, if God's judgments are poured forth on all around him, a merciful exemption shall be given to him; even as it is said, "A thousand shall fall beside you, and ten thousand at your right hand; but it shall not come near you Psalm 91:7." No man can conceive to what an extent God will magnify his condescension and grace towards a humble suppliant, until he has himself besought the Lord, and obtained an answer of peace unto his soul. "We may ask what we will, and it shall be done unto us."
What now shall I further say to you? This only would I add—
Let your faith in God's blessed word be firm and uniform—
Think not of difficulties: "There is nothing too hard for the Lord." Were your enemies as numerous as the Midianites, and you had nothing with which to combat them but a pitcher and a lamp, they should all fall before you. Only be strong in faith: and you shall find, that "all things are possible to him that believes."
GIDEON'S VICTORY OVER MIDIAN
Judges. 7:19-22. So Gideon, and the hundred men that were with him, came unto the outside of the camp in the beginning of the middle watch; and they had but newly set the watch: and they blew the trumpets, and brake the pitchers that were in their hands. And the three companies blew the trumpets, and brake the pitchers, and held the lamps in their left hands, and the trumpets in their right hands to blow withal: and they cried, The sword of the Lord, and of Gideon. And they stood every man in his place round about the camp: and all the host ran, and cried, and fled. And the three hundred blew the trumpets, and the Lord set every man's sword against his fellow, even throughout all the host.
WE are so familiar with scripture history, that we cease to be struck with the most astonishing events. Great events in profane history are handed down from generation to generation, and are made subjects of universal admiration: but those which are related in the Bible are passed over with little notice. How can we account for this? Is it that, in the one, the feats of men are seen, and in the other the feats of God? and that we are gratified with contemplating whatever advances the glory of man, but have no disposition to magnify and adore our God? We fear that this is the true solution of the difficulty. But, if we feel as we ought, we cannot be insensible to the display of God's power and goodness in the passage we have now read. Indeed the whole history of Gideon is so curious and instructive, that, instead of confining ourselves to the particular action specified in the text, it will be desirable,
I. To notice the circumstances which led to this victory—
Here we must notice,
1. His call to his work—
He was by nature qualified for the office of a deliverer, being "a mighty man of valor." Yet that circumstance would not have justified so hopeless an attempt as that which he engaged in, if he had not been called to it by God himself. But God (under the appearance of an angel) called him to it, and assured him of his presence in the undertaking, and of ultimate success in it: "You shall save Israel out of the hands of the Midianites: have not I sent you? Surely I will be with you; and you shall smite the Midianites as one man Judges. 6:12-16."
In confirmation of his call, God accepted his offering, which he caused to be miraculously consumed by fire out of the rock; and thereby gave him an undoubted evidence that he was that same Almighty Being, who had formerly commissioned Moses to deliver Israel from their Egyptian bondage Judges. 6:17-24.
2. His preparation for it—
The work to which he was called was exceeding arduous; and it was desirable that before he undertook it, he should have an opportunity of proving his zeal for God, and of seeing the sufficiency of God to carry him through it. God therefore ordered him to begin the work of reformation in his father's house; to cast down the altar of Baal, and cut down the grove where that idol was worshiped, and build an altar to Jehovah, and offer a bullock for a sacrifice upon it. This was impracticable by day, because the worshipers of Baal would have interfered to prevent it: but he effected it by night; and executed in every respect the divine mandate. The people, as might be expected, demanded that he should be given up and put to death: but, notwithstanding his father was a worshiper of Baal, he was overruled by God to protect his son, and to threaten with death any that should take part with Baal; since, if he was a God, he was able to plead for himself; and, if he was not, his worship ought not to be upheld Judges. 6:25-32.
Thus, by this successful effort, Gideon was prepared for that far greater work which he was now to undertake against the Midianites.
3. His encouragement to it—
The attempt, according to human appearance, was madness itself; so dispirited was the state of Israel, and so great the power of their oppressors Judges. 6:2-6. We wonder not therefore that he should request of the Lord a sign, whereby he might be assured of success in his enterprise. He begged of God that a fleece of wool should be put out into the open air, and be filled with dew, while all the surrounding ground was dry: and on that sign being given him, he entreated permission to reverse the sign, the fleece being kept dry, while all the earth around it was wet. The events corresponding with his desires, he was assured, that God could make that distinction between the Midianites and him, which was necessary to a successful issue of his contest with them.
Thus encouraged, he entered on the office that had been assigned him; and went with two and thirty thousand men whom he had assembled, to attack the Midianites. But God knew that if so many were to go down to the attack, they would ascribe the victory to their own prowess: and therefore he ordered Gideon to dismiss from his army all who were afraid: in consequence of which no less than twenty-two thousand forsook his standard in one night. Still there was the same objection to his retaining ten thousand; and therefore God undertook to determine, by a particular test, who should go to the attack: those who on being taken to the water bowed down on their knees to drink, were not to go; but those who in a more temperate and self-denying way took up water in their hands and lapped it, as a dog laps, were to be the chosen band. But by this test no less than nine thousand seven hundred were cut off from his army, and he was left with only three hundred persons to undertake this arduous work Judges. 6:33-39; Judges. 7:8.
It should seem that this reduction of his numbers filled him with some secret misgivings. God therefore graciously offered him a further sign, whereby his faith should be confirmed, and his fear altogether dispelled. This was a sign that should be given him by the enemy themselves. He was to go down with his servant to the enemy's camp, and hear what they themselves said. Accordingly he went, and heard one telling a dream that he had had, namely, that a cake of barley-bread had rolled down a hill into the camp, and had overturned a tent: which dream was immediately interpreted by his comrade, as importing that this cake was no other than the sword of Gideon, and that God had delivered Midian into Gideon's hand verse 9–14. This perfectly satisfied the mind of Gideon: he had no doubt now but that God would fulfill his promise: and in a full assurance of faith he instantly arranged everything for the encounter verse 15–18.
4. His success in it—
The means he used were, no doubt, suggested to him by God himself. The little band were armed, not with sword and shield, but with a pitcher, a lamp, and a trumpet. They were instructed to surround the camp, and, at a given signal, to break their pitchers, display their lights, and sound their trumpets, and, without moving from their places, to cry, "The sword of the Lord and of Gideon." This was executed in due order: and instantly a panic struck the whole host of Midian, who in their fright destroyed each other; and, when put to flight, were followed by the other troops that had been dismissed, and were thus entirely destroyed verse 19–25.
Thus have we taken a connected view of the most important circumstances, in order that we may have our minds fully prepared for such observations as naturally arise from them.
We proceed then,
II. To suggest some instructions arising from them—
Every part of the history is truly instructive: we may learn from it,
1. To undertake nothing in our own strength—
Though God addressed Gideon as "a mighty man of valor," Gideon did not presume upon his character, or think himself competent to the undertaking: yes, though commissioned by God himself, he shrunk back from the undertaking, saying, "Oh, my Lord, with which shall I save Israel? behold my family is poor in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father's house." We mean not to commend unbelief, but to express our approbation of humility. It is well to be diffident of ourselves, and to confide only in the Lord our God. We are all called to "wrestle, not only against flesh and blood, but against all the powers of darkness:" but "who is sufficient for these things?" Let us bear in mind that "we are not of ourselves sufficient even to think a good thought as of ourselves," and that "our whole sufficiency is of God".
2. To draw back from nothing to which we are called—
When Gideon was assured that God had called him to the work, he cheerfully addressed himself to the performance of it. His question seems to have resembled that of the blessed Virgin, rather than of Zachariah Luke 1:18; Luke 1:34, and to have flowed from a gracious, rather than an unbelieving, principle. Thus should we act: our great labor should be to ascertain the mind and will of God; and being informed of that, we should, like Paul, when he was called to preach the Gospel, "not confer with flesh and blood," but set ourselves to discharge our duty to the uttermost. We indeed cannot expect our call to any particular office to be made as clear as Gideon's; but, having discovered the duties of our respective callings, we should make no account either of difficulties or of danger, but determine instantly, and in all things, to approve ourselves faithful unto God.
3. To doubt of nothing wherein God promises his aid—
Gideon is particularly commended for his faith, to which his success in this enterprise is more especially ascribed Hebrews 11:32-33. And what can we desire more than a promise of God's presence and cooperation? "If he be for us, who can be against us?" God has said, "Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God: I will strengthen you, yes, I will help you, yes, I will uphold you with the right hand of my righteousness:" though therefore our enemies come forth like Goliath, and we be only like David with a sling and a stone, we need not fear the issue of the contest; for "we shall be more than conquerors through Him that loved us".
4. To take the glory of nothing which God does by us—
God is a jealous God: and the ground of his reducing Gideon's army to three hundred men was, lest, if their numbers bore ever so small a proportion to the number of their enemies, they should ascribe to themselves the honor of the victory, instead of giving all the glory of it to God. In like manner has God treasured up for us a fullness of all blessings in Christ Jesus, and required us to live by faith upon him, and to receive out of his fullness our daily supplies of grace and strength. He would have us to glory in Christ alone, and to possess now the very spirit which we shall have in Heaven, when with all the glorified saints we shall cast our crowns at his feet, and ascribe salvation to God and to the Lamb forever and ever.
GIDEON PACIFIES THE EPHRAIMITES
Judges. 8:1-3. And the men of Ephraim said unto him, Why have you served its thus, that you called us not, when you went to fight with the Midianites? And they did chide with him sharply. And he said unto them, What have I done now in comparison of you? Is not the gleaning of the grapes of Ephraim better than the vintage of Abi-ezer? God has delivered into your hands the princes of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb: and what was I able to do in comparison of you? Then their anger was abated toward him, when he had said that.
WE are apt to admire great military exploits, and to account men honorable in proportion to the victories they have gained: but there is a victory over ourselves that far more dignifies a man, than the most extended conquests over others. We certainly regard Gideon as one highly renowned in the feats of war: but his defeat of all the Midianitish hosts with only three hundred men, armed with pitchers, lamps, and trumpets, is less worthy of admiration, than the self-possession he exercised towards the offended and objurgatory Ephraimites. Solomon has weighed as in a balance the different characters, and has decided in favor of him whose victory is over his own spirit: "He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he who rules his spirit, than he that takes a city Proverbs 16:32."
In the transaction before us we see,
I. Whence it is that unreasonable men take offence—
There is scarcely a society or even a single family to be found, where the different members walk in perfect harmony together: in most circles there are frequent disagreements: one or other of the members is unreasonable in his expectations, and by the unquietness of his own dispositions spreads dissatisfaction and disquietude all around him. The inquiry, "Whence come wars and fightings among you?" James answers by an appeal to our own experience; "Come they not hence, even from the lusts that war in your members James 4:1." The chief sources of offence are discernible in the conduct of the Ephraimites. It arises,
1. From the pride of our own hearts—
The Ephraimites had evidently a high conceit of their own dignity, and were offended that Gideon had not paid as much deference to them, as they supposed themselves entitled to. And from this root of bitterness it is that so many disputes arise. "Only by pride comes contention," is the testimony of God himself Proverbs 13:10. See the proud man, swelling with a sense of his own importance: if you differ from him in judgment, or act contrary to his will, yes, if you do not comply with his humor in everything, he is quite indignant, and bursts forth into a rage. Even the best-meant endeavors cannot always please him: as an inferior, he cannot brook the least restraint: as a superior, he never thinks that sufficient homage is paid him: and as an equal, he cannot endure that others should exercise the liberty which he arrogates to himself Proverbs 28:25. To what an extent this domineering principle will prevail, we may see in the instance of Nebuchadnezzar; who, because of the conscientious refusal of the Hebrew youths to bow down to his idol, "was full of fury; and the form of his visage was changed against them; and he ordered the furnace to be made seven times hotter than usual," in order to destroy them Daniel 3:19. Truly there is no principle in the heart more adverse to the peace and happiness of mankind than this.
2. From envy at others—
Great honor accrued to Gideon and the Abi-ezrites from the victory that had been gained: and the Ephraimites were grieved that others should possess a glory, in which themselves had no share. Hence they broke forth into revilings against Gideon. The same principle also prevails more or less in all: "The spirit that dwells in us lusts to envy James 4:5;" and how nearly it is allied with wrath, we see from those words of Eliphaz, "Wrath kills the foolish man; and envy slays the silly one Job 5:2." The examples of Cain Genesis 4:5, and Joseph's brethren Genesis 37:11; Genesis 37:18, and Saul 1 Samuel 18:8-9, sufficiently mark the murderous tendency of this malignant passion. One evil peculiar to it is, that it makes excellence itself the object of its attack; as Solomon has observed, "For every right work a man is envied of his neighbor Ecclesiastes 4:4." Hence that pointed question, "Who can stand before envy Proverbs 27:4." Not the benevolence of the Apostles, nor the blameless conduct of our Lord himself, could ward off its malignant shafts: and wherever it exists, it will be attended with "strife, railings, evil surmisings, and perverse disputings 1 Timothy 6:4; James 3:16."
3. From impetuosity of spirit—
The Ephraimites would not give themselves any time for reflection or inquiry, but instantly began with violent invectives. It should seem that they were a hasty people, full of pride and wrath: and on another occasion precisely similar to this, they suffered for it in no slight degree; for no less than two and forty thousand of them were slain in consequence of it Judges. 12:1-7. Had they been at the pains of making inquiry, they would have found that Gideon had committed no offence at all: he had acted altogether by the direction of God: and so far was he from being at liberty to increase his army by the accession of the Ephraimites, that he was necessitated to reduce the thirty-two thousand troops which he had raised to three hundred. Thus it is that innumerable quarrels arise, when a moment's inquiry would show, that no reason for them exists, or at least no reason for such resentment as is felt by the offended person. Behold David, when Nabal had refused him the refreshments which he desired: nothing short of the death of Nabal and all his adherents was deemed a sufficient atonement for his offence. But when Abigail had brought David to reflection, he found that his vindictive purposes were highly criminal; and that, if his anger was not groundless, it far exceeded that which the occasion called for 1 Samuel 25:32-35. In a word, this hastiness of temper prevents men from listening to the dictates of reason, and makes them deaf to every consideration of truth and equity.
The readiness with which unreasonable men take offence, makes it important to inquire,
II. How judicious men may pacify it—
Truly admirable was the conduct of Gideon on this occasion: and his success may well recommend it to our imitation. Indeed the general rules deducible from it are as good as any that can be suggested. When a person is offended at us without a cause, we should endeavor, as far as circumstances will admit of it, to calm his mind,
1. By patience and forbearance—
Not a word of recrimination dropped from the mouth of Gideon. He might perhaps have justly said, that when the Ephraimites knew his determination to oppose the Midianites, they had never offered their services, or come forward to assist him in the undertaking: but, when the danger was over, they were ready to impute evil to him for omissions which were chargeable only on themselves. But he did not so much as glance at anything that might either betray irritation in his own mind, or strengthen it in theirs. Though "they did chide sharply with him," he bore it with a meekness that was truly amiable and praiseworthy. Now this was an excellent way to conciliate their minds, even if he had deserved all the blame that they imputed to him: Solomon justly observes, that "yielding pacifies great offences Ecclesiastes 10:4." It is recrimination that fans the flame, and causes it to burst forth into destructive quarrels. The common progress of disputes may be seen in the case of Israel and Judah after the death of Absalom; where, each of them justifying his own cause, the result was, that the dispute on both sides grew, until the accused were more incensed than even the accusers; and "the words of the men of Judah were fiercer than the words of the men of Israel 2 Samuel 19:41-43." Silence therefore is the best remedy, at least until the offended person is so far calmed as to listen readily to the voice of reason: and though the advice of Solomon appears at first sight as paradoxical and absurd, yet it is the best that can be offered; "Leave off contention before it be meddled with Proverbs 17:14;" for it will be difficult enough to leave it off when once it is begun.
2. By humility and self-denial—
Gideon might justly have said, "If God has been pleased to honor me, why should that give any umbrage to you?" But he forbore to take to himself the credit that was his due, or to claim from them the approbation he had merited at their hands. Thus he hid from them the light which had pained their eyes, and cast a veil over the actions which had provoked their jealousy. This was a striking instance of that "charity which vaunts not itself, and seeks not her own 1 Corinthians 13:4-5." This is a disposition which tends no less to the preservation of our own happiness than it does to the conciliating of those who are offended at us: for when once we are willing to forego the honor to which we are entitled, it will appear a small thing to us to be censured without a cause; seeing that such censures only reduce us to the place which we were previously in our own minds prepared to occupy. And it will almost invariably be found true, that, as men are ready to hate those who arrogate honor to themselves, so will they be more easily reconciled to those who are humble and unassuming.
3. By commendation and love—
Gideon, instead of loading his adversaries with blame, was glad to search out causes for commending them. The Ephraimites, though they offered not themselves in the first instance, were of great service in pursuing and destroying the routed foe. They took the two hostile princes, Oreb and Zeeb: and though this was only the gleaning of Gideon's vintage, yet does Gideon speak of it as incomparably greater than anything that had been done by him. And it is particularly deserving of notice, that this was the word which produced the desired effect; "Then their anger was abated, when he had said that." Thus it appears, that "a soft answer turns away wrath Proverbs 15:1;" and that, if we would blunt the edge of other men's displeasure, we should study to conform ourselves to that sublime precept; "Let nothing be done through strife and vain-glory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves Philippians 2:3."
On this subject we would found a word or two of advice—
1. Be cautious not too hastily to take offence—
Innumerable circumstances may exist, which, if known to us, would, make us form a very different judgment of men and things, from that which at first sight we have entertained See this illustrated Joshua 22:11-34. To weigh, and consider, and inquire, is the part of true wisdom: but to be precipitate is a certain indication of folly Ecclesiastes 7:9.
2. If offence be taken at you, labor to the uttermost to pacify it—
This was a leading feature in the character of Jesus James 1:19-20; and it must be so in that of all his followers Ephesians 4:1-3 and Colossians 3:12-13; "To feed our enemies, and heap coals of fire on their heads," is the Christian's duty: therefore, "Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good Romans 12:20-21."
FAINT, YET PURSUING
Judges. 8:4. Faint, yet pursuing.
THERE are those who speak of Gideon as a type of Christ. But, excepting as a deliverer raised up in an extraordinary manner to Israel, there is scarcely sufficient correspondence between him and our blessed Lord to justify such a representation of him. As an example to the Church in all ages, and especially as illustrating for our benefit the power and efficacy of faith, we can have no hesitation in commending him to your most particular attention: for he is not only set forth in Scripture under that character in common with many other eminent men, but, together with David and Samuel, he is proposed to us as a pattern which we are bound to follow: "Seeing that we are encompassed with such a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin that does so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us Hebrews 11:32-33; Hebrews 12:1." I would notice him, therefore, under the two-fold character of A deliverer to Israel, and A model to us: or, rather, instead of separating the two, I will combine them; that so the whole subject may come before us in a more luminous and useful point of view.
Let us, then, notice respecting Gideon,
I. His ready obedience to the divine call—
When convinced that God had called him to fight for Israel, he delayed not to execute his commission—
The Midianites had grievously oppressed Israel. By a kind of predatory warfare, they annually desolated the whole land. Gideon was threshing out some corn, in order to hide it from the Midianites: and God sent an angel to inform him, that, through his instrumentality, the country should be delivered from its invaders. This seemed to be an hopeless and almost impossible event: but when God had shown him, by repeated signs, that the office of delivering Israel was committed to him, he cheerfully obeyed the call, and addressed himself to the work assigned him Judges. 6:1-35.
The same promptitude, Brethren, is expected at your hands—
You are called to war against the enemies of God and his people. Satan has exercised a most tyrannic sway over the whole world, "leading them captive at his will." But the Lord Jesus Christ has commanded the trumpet to be sounded throughout all your coasts, that you may flock to his standard, and arm yourselves for the combat. Let none say, The enemy is too powerful for me; I cannot venture to oppose him. The command is absolute; and every one of you must gird on his armor, and prepare to "war a good warfare." Let there be no reluctance, Brethren, no timidity, no "conferring with flesh and blood." It is a disgraceful bondage to which you have been subjected: and the time is come for you to free yourselves from it. I call on all of you, therefore, to obey the summons, and in every possible way to approve yourselves "good soldiers of Jesus Christ."
But be sure to follow in this,
II. His simple dependence on divine aid—
Admirably did Gideon's faith display itself on this occasion—
Most particularly is this noticed in the Epistle to the Hebrews: "By faith Gideon and the others subdued kingdoms Hebrews 11:33." There came, in obedience to his summons, two-and-thirty thousand men. But God directed him to dismiss from among them all who were timid: and instantly was his army reduced to ten thousand men. But even these were more than God chose to employ: and therefore Gideon was ordered to bring them down to a stream, and to separate those who lapped like a dog, from those who bowed down to drink like cattle; and to reserve the former only for his companions in arms. Of those who lapped, there were only three hundred; and these were all who were left him to go against the Midianites, who amounted in all to one hundred and thirty-five thousand men. But not even these were to be employed in one compact body: no: scarcely two of them were to be together: they were to occupy an immense tract of ground, surrounding the whole camp of Midian. Nor were they to make a simultaneous attack: but to take, every one of them, a pitcher and a lamp and a trumpet, and to break their pitchers and blow their trumpets, and to stand in their place, crying, "The sword of the Lord and of Gideon." What an armament, and what a disposal of the troops, according to the judgment of sense, was this! It was the direct way to have every soul among them slain in an instant: for not one of them could escape through darkness; since every one held his lamp, as it were, for the express purpose of making himself a mark for the spear or sword of his enemy Judges. 7:1-21. But Gideon presumed not to sit in judgment on the directions given him. It was sufficient for him to know what God's appointment was; and to that he submitted, without hesitation or delay.
It is also the good fight of faith which you are now called to fight—
There must be no dependence on an arm of flesh. You must "go forth in the strength of the Lord," and of him only. To overcome through the simple exercise of faith, may appear strange; but it is the way appointed by God himself, who will have all the honor of your success, and will suffer "no flesh to glory in his presence." "To stand still, and see the salvation of God" with you, may appear to savor of presumption: but it is infinitely greater presumption to invade the prerogative of God, and to take on ourselves the work that belongs to him alone. The proclamation of his name, and the exhibition of his light, are doubtless proper, as his appointed means for advancing his own glory; but of themselves they can effect no more for the subjugation of our enemies, than could the blowing of trumpets to destroy the walls of Jericho, or the breaking of pitchers to subdue the armies of Midian and of Amalek. It is "by faith you are to walk, and not by sight:" and "according to your faith it shall be done unto you."
You must further imitate,
III. His full determination never to relax his efforts—
Gideon, "though faint" from the excess of his exertions, "yet pursued" his enemies—
A panic having struck the Midianites, they, by mistake, slew one another, so that not less than one-hundred-and-twenty thousand of them fell that night. The remaining fifteen thousand fled. Now Gideon might well have said, The enemy is so weakened, that they cannot invade us any more: I will now, therefore, with my little band of soldiers, take my rest. But he would not on any account act thus. As long as there were any of his enemies remaining, he would pursue them. Though he was quite "faint" with fatigue, he would not cease from his exertions; but followed them, and fell upon them, and slew them, and took captive both their kings, both Zebah and Zalmunna.
What a bright example is here for us!
There must, of necessity, be times and seasons when we are ready to faint in our great warfare, and to wish, as it were, for some relaxation from our labor. Who has not experienced both weariness in duties, and dejection of mind, too, in the conflicts which he has had to sustain? But it must be time enough for us to rest when we get to Heaven. Paul was "troubled on every side, yet not distressed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed 2 Corinthians 4:8-9;" "for which cause he fainted not 2 Corinthians 4:16." So must it be with us: whatever progress we have made, we must "forget the things which are behind, and press forward to that which is before." "We must never be weary in well-doing," or, if weary in it, we must never be weary of it. Whoever sees us, must see us still "pursuing," and determining never to rest, until every enemy be subdued, and "Satan himself be forever bruised under our feet."
Above all, we must follow him in,
IV. His assured expectation of ultimate success—
This was very conspicuous—
His own countrymen, both of Succoth and Penuel, refused even to administer food to his weary soldiers, lest the Midianites should visit it with signal judgments, after having recovered from their present panic. They even ridiculed the sanguine expectations of Gideon, saying, "Are Zebah and Zalmunna yet fallen into your hands, that I should incense them by giving relief to you?" But, notwithstanding the Midianites were fifty times as numerous as he, he expresses no doubt of final victory over them, and declares to his ungrateful countrymen how he will punish their ingratitude on his return from the expedition.
Thus should we also "hold fast our confidence firm unto the end"—
Whatever victories we may have gained, our enemies would soon vanquish us, if we were left to ourselves. But we should never for a moment give way to unbelieving fears. We should neither consider our own weakness, nor the strength of our enemies; but should regard the mightiest foes merely "as bread for us;" as bread, which we shall devour, even "as the ox licks up the grass of the field." We should "know in whom we have believed;" and "be confident of this very thing, that He who has begun the good work in us will carry it on, and perfect it until the day of Christ." However powerful our adversaries may appear, we should say to them, "Who are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain." Has God said, "No weapon that is formed against us shall prosper?" We should go on in full anticipation of victory, and in a certain assurance, that, whatever conflicts we may have to maintain, we shall be "more than conquerors, through Him that loved us."
Are any of you faint, my beloved Brethren? I will not act the part of the men of Penuel or Succoth, but will most gladly set before you all the richest provisions which we possess. Here is bread of the finest quality, "the very bread that came down from Heaven," that will not only strengthen and refresh your souls, but actually give life to the dead: and, if you eat to the full of that, you shall go on in the strength of it to the latest hour of your lives. Consider under whose banners you fight; even under the banners of the Lord Jesus Christ himself: Consider with whom you are contending: they are vanquished enemies; as our Lord himself has told us: "Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world": Consider where your strength lies: not in yourselves, but in the Captain of your salvation, who has said, that "his grace shall be sufficient for you," and "his strength be perfected in your weakness": Consider, finally, what will be the fruits of victory; even glory and honor and immortality, in the presence, and in the bosom, of your God: Will you, then, draw back? God forbid! Let me rather urge you to proceed: for, faint as you are, you shall surely overcome. Of Gideon's army, so far as we know, there died not one; while the entire host of his enemies were slain. So shall all the powers of darkness fall before you, and not so much as a hair of your head shall perish. "It is not the will of your Father that one of his little ones should perish." In a word, "Be not weary in well-doing: for in due season you shall reap, if you faint not."
GIDEON CHASTISES THE MEN OF SUCCOTH AND PENUEL
Judges. 8:15-17. And he came unto the men of Succoth, and said, Behold Zebah and Zalmunna, with whom you did upbraid me, saying, Are the hands of Zebah and Zalmunna now in your hand, that we should give bread unto your men that are weary? And he took the elders of the city, and thorns of the wilderness and briers, and with them he taught the men of Succoth. And he beat down the tower of Penuel, and slew the men of the city.
CONSISTENCY is essential to the character of a child of God. But pious persons are very apt to err in judging of the consistency of others: they would have been ready to condemn the conduct of Paul in relation to many things which he did at one time and forbore to do at another. We do not in general make sufficient allowance for a change of circumstances, which may not only warrant, but demand, a change of conduct. All would admire the gentleness and forbearance of Gideon, when the Ephraimites blamed him so vehemently for not summoning them to the battle against the Midianites verse 1–3; but probably they would accuse him of severity and injustice towards the men of Succoth and of Penuel: whereas his firmness in chastising these was no less proper under his peculiar circumstances, than his kindness in forgiving them. The two cases were not at all parallel: the Ephraimites at least thought honorably of the cause in which Gideon was embarked; but the men of Succoth and of Penuel treated it with contempt. Now the cause was that of God himself: and for despising it, the men of Succoth and of Penuel deserved all that they suffered. Let us consider,
I. The punishment inflicted on them—
The provocation they gave was exceeding great—
Gideon had already destroyed one-hundred-and-twenty thousand of the Midianitish army; and was now pursuing with his three hundred men the remnant, who had escaped the general carnage. He had crossed over Jordan, and was following them with all possible ardor; but his men having been engaged all the preceding night and day without any intermission or any refreshment, were faint: Gideon therefore, in passing through Succoth, a city of the tribe of Gad, requested in the kindest manner some provisions for his men: but the elders of the city only insulted him, and endeavored to weaken his hands by deriding the vanity of his attempts. Gideon would not lose any time in debating the matter with them, but warned them, that when God should have delivered the Midianites into his hand, he would scourge them all with briers and thorns verse 7. He then went forward to Penuel, a neighboring city; but was insulted by its elders precisely as he had been by the men of Succoth. It should seem that the men of Penuel confided in a tower which they had, and thought themselves safer in that, than they could be by any efforts of Gideon, or of God himself in their behalf. Gideon therefore threatened them with heavier vengeance, when God should have delivered Zebah and Zalmunna into his hands: for, though their ingratitude was the same with that of the men of Succoth, there was in their answer somewhat more of atheistical impiety, which was the ground of a severer sentence against them verse 9.
The punishment he inflicted on them was just—
Gideon pressed forward, weak and faint as he was, and came upon the Midianites, when they conceived themselves to be perfectly secure: and God blessed his efforts, so that the fifteen thousand Midianites were destroyed, and their two kings, Zebah and Zalmunna, taken, without the loss of a man belonging to the host of Gideon. Instantly did Gideon return, with his royal captives, to the two ungrateful cities which had refused him sustenance; and executed on their elders the vengeance he had threatened: he punished those of Succoth with briers and thorns; and those of Penuel with death, and the destruction of their boasted tower.
Now we say that this was just. Had the injury which he had sustained been purely personal, it would have become him to pass it by, and to leave the punishment of it to a righteous God, who says, "Vengeance is mine; I will repay." But he acted as a magistrate who was authorized to punish the treason of which these persons had been guilty. Considered as an act of ingratitude only, it was exceeding sinful; for what could be more base than to refuse a meal to those who had at the peril of their own lives delivered the whole nation from the yoke of Midian; and were now, though only three hundred in number, following the remaining fugitives, fifty times as numerous as themselves, in order to extirpate them entirely? But it was treason, both against the state, and against God: it was the very way to prevent the execution of Gideon's designs against the enemies of God and his people: and, if God had not miraculously renewed the strength of the victors, this refusal of food to them would have done more to vanquish them than all the hosts of Midian had been able to effect. If Gideon had demanded that the men of Succoth and of Penuel should join in the pursuit, he would have required no more than he was authorized to do The Ephraimites had not only acknowledged this, but had thought themselves slighted because it had not been done, verse 1; and he might justly, considering whose cause he was engaged in, have punished them severely for a refusal See Judges. 5:23; but when his request was so moderate, and his necessity so urgent, and the probable consequences of their refusal so injurious to the whole nation, he did right in making an example of such wicked traitors.
Having vindicated this act of justice, let us proceed to notice,
II. The lessons it suggests to us—
It is very instructive to us both,
1. In a civil view—
The men of Succoth and of Penuel well illustrate the character and conduct of many among ourselves. The burdens of war must of necessity be borne by all the nation Preached at the time of the French Revolution. Of course, if made the subject of a discourse, it must be accommodated to existing circumstances. But it will be found generally applicable in a time of war; and methinks they should be cheerfully borne by every member of the community: for, to whom do we owe our security, but to those who are standing forth in our defense, and, under God, are combating our enemies with success? It is true, we feel the pressure of the taxes as a burden; and by means of them we are deprived of comforts which we might otherwise enjoy: but what are our privations in comparison of those which are experienced by our fleets and armies? Little do we think what they have to bear; or what obligations we owe to them for exposing themselves to so many fatigues and dangers in our defense. Shall we then grudge to the state whatever is necessary for their support? Is not the murmuring on account of our burdens, and the striving to elude them, highly criminal? The men of Succoth and of Penuel had some excuse for their ungenerous conduct: for they intimated, that, by contributing to aid Gideon in the pursuit, they should only bring on themselves the heavier vengeance from the Midianites, as soon as ever they should have recovered from their panic. But what excuse have we? Their interest seemed to lie on the side of neutrality; but ours is altogether on the side of energy and exertion. Let us only consider what our enemies would exact of us, if they were to reduce us under their power: truly "their little finger would be heavier than the loins" of our own governors: instead therefore of grudging what is necessary for the support of our government, we should rejoice and bless God for the security that we enjoy under their watchful care.
2. In a religious view—
The whole of that astonishing transaction tends to inspire us with confidence in God, and to encourage our exertions in his cause. But there are two lessons in particular which we shall do well to learn from it: the one is, To prosecute the spiritual warfare under all discouragements ourselves; and the other is, To put no discouragements in the way of others.
That we shall find discouragements in our warfare is certain; sometimes from the number and power of our enemies; sometimes from the fewness and weakness of our friends; sometimes from the inefficacy of our past exertions; and sometimes from the protracted continuance of a struggle which we had fondly hoped to have seen terminated long before. But we must go forth, like Gideon, in the strength of the Lord, and, though "faint, must yet be pursuing verse 4;" nor must we ever look for rest, until we have gotten the final victory over all our enemies. We must remember, Whose cause it is; Under whose banners we are enlisted; Whom we have for our Guide and Protector; and, Whose word is pledged for our final success. What though he reduce the number of our friends to ever so low an ebb? What though he send us forth with no better armor than a trumpet and a lamp? What though our enemies be so great and numerous, that, after having been vanquished by us a thousand times, they still appear, according to human apprehension, invincible by such an arm as ours? What though we be so feeble that we seem incapable of continuing the contest any longer? Shall we give over? No: we must still fight on, assured of victory; knowing, that "when we are weak, then are we strong;" that "God will perfect his own strength in our weakness;" and that, "if God be for us, none can" possibly succeed "against us."
At the same time that other lesson must be attended to, Not to put any discouragement in the way of others. Almost all people are ready to obstruct, rather than to aid, the Christian in his spiritual progress. Those of the same family and kindred will discountenance his zeal; and even some who profess to be of the true Israel, will represent his duties as impracticable, and his efforts as hopeless. But God is indignant with those who would weaken the hands of his people. He would have us rather encourage one another to the utmost of our power. His command is, "Strengthen you the weak hands, and confirm the feeble knees; say unto them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not; your God will come and help you Isaiah 35:3-4 and Hebrews 12:13." It is said of our Lord, that "he will not break the bruised reed, nor quench the smoking flax, but will bring forth judgment unto victory:" let us, like him, "carry the lambs in our bosom, and gently lead those that are with young;" yes, let us so unite our efforts with theirs, that we may be sharers in their triumphs, and partakers of their glory.
Judges 9:7-15. And when they told it to Jotham, he went and stood in the top of Mount Gerizim, and lifted up his voice, and cried, and said unto them, Hearken unto me, you men of Shechem, that God may hearken unto you. The trees went forth on a time to anoint a king over them; and they said unto the olive-tree, Reign you over us. But the olive-tree said unto them, Should I leave my fatness, with which by me they honor God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees? And the trees said to the fig-tree, Come you, and reign over us. But the fig-tree said unto them, Should I forsake my sweetness, and my good fruit, and go to be promoted over the trees? Then said the trees unto the vine, Come you, and reign over us. And the vine said unto them, Should I leave my wine, which cheers God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees? Then said all the trees unto the bramble, Come you, and reign over us. And the bramble said unto the trees, If in truth you anoint me king over you, then come and put your trust in my shadow: and if not, let fire come out of the bramble, and devour the cedars of Lebanon.
THE method of instructing by parables is of great antiquity: it obtained among the Jews from the earliest period of their history: but the first that is recorded, and indeed the first extant in the world, is that which we have just read. The peculiar excellence of that mode of instruction is, that it arrests the attention more forcibly, and conveys knowledge more easily, than a train of reasoning could do; and convinces the judgment, before that prejudice has had time to bar the entrance of truth into the mind. The parable before us is exceeding beautiful, and admirably adapted to the occasion on which it was spoken. That we may open it fully, we shall consider,
I. The occasion of it—
Gideon had refused the promotion which all Israel had offered him—
After the expulsion of the Midianites, "the men of Israel proposed to make Gideon their king, and to perpetuate that honor in his family: but Gideon, having no reason to think that this invitation was from God, and being desirous that God alone should be the king of his people, declined the honor, saying, "The Lord shall rule over you Judges. 8:22-23." At the same time, wishing to preserve the remembrance of those astonishing victories which God had wrought for them by him, he requested his victorious soldiers to give him the golden earrings which they had taken from the Midianites, together with the chains which were about the necks of their camels: and with them he made a very splendid ephod, which was consecrated unto God. Whether he intended to make use of this ephod in the place of that which had been made for Aaron Exodus 28:6-12, we cannot say; but we have no doubt of his having sincerely intended to honor God by it; though, alas! through the proneness of the heart to superstition and idolatry, "it became a snare to him, and to his house Judges. 8:27." In a word, he affected not honor for himself and his family, but desired only that God should be glorified.
After his death however, Abimelech aspired to, and gained, the throne of Israel—
Gideon had seventy sons by many different wives; and, by a concubine, one, whom he called Abimelech. This bastard son, being of an ambitious mind, made use of his mother's relations to impress the minds of the Shechemites with an idea, that all the seventy sons of Gideon would be so many petty tyrants among them; and that it would be better for them to have one king over them, than so many; and that, if they were of that opinion, they would do better to choose Abimelech, who was related to them, than any of the others, who had no particular interest in their welfare. Having thus insinuated himself into the favor of the Shechemites, he prevailed upon them to supply him with money out of the treasury of Baal-berith, their idol: and with that "he hired vain and light persons" to go with him and murder all his seventy brethren. What an awful proof is this, of the cruel nature of ambition, which could instigate him to such an inhuman act; and of the ease with which instruments may be procured to perpetrate any evil that the human heart can conceive! The deliberation with which this bloody man executed his project, was truly astonishing: one would have supposed, at least, that he would murder them all hastily in their beds; but, as though he delighted in that accursed work, he brought them all forth, and "slew them all on one stone verse 5, 18." Jotham alone, the youngest of them all, escaped: and, when he was informed that Abimelech had been made king, he availed himself of an opportunity which some public meeting of the Shechemites afforded him, to stand on Mount Gerizim, and address the principal inhabitants. His address was short, as one would naturally expect: but it was much to the purpose; and it was contained in the parable which we have read, together with a brief application of it to their own conduct.
Such was the occasion of the parable: we proceed to explain,
II. The import—
Two leading truths are contained in it;
1. That worthless men affect the honors which the wise and good decline—
The character of the wise and good is fitly represented by those valuable trees, the olive, the fig, and the vine. The olive-tree was useful for the honoring of God in the sacrifices, and man in his attainment of royal or priestly honors: the fig-tree was productive of most delicious fruit: and the vine, by its generous juices, cheered the heart of man, at the same time that it afforded acceptable libations unto God. What more beautiful images could have been found, whereby to portray the character of a man who lives only to honor God, and to benefit his fellow-creatures? Such a man was Gideon; who, sensible of the snares and difficulties of royalty, was desirous rather to do good in the station in which God had placed him, than, by an elevation to a higher sphere, to encumber himself with anxious and unproductive cares The marginal reading is, "To go up and down for other trees;" which is strongly expressive of this idea.
On the other hand, the bramble fitly represented a worthless person, who, grasping at power, is ready to obtain it by any means; and, while he is extravagant in his demands of confidence, is cruel and oppressive to all who are not subservient to his will. Such exactly was Abimelech: he promised great things to Shechem, while he gave them, in the first moment of his advancement, an evidence of his atrocity, and a sure pledge of his future tyranny.
What was primarily intended to mark the characters of Gideon and Abimelech, is applicable to man in every age. The wise and good are unambitious. If clearly called of God to any office, they undertake it, as Gideon did, for the Lord's sake: but they do not seek advancement for themselves: they do not affect situations of dignity and power: they cultivate a humble and contented mind; and study rather to be good than great. Not so the noisy demagogue, who depreciates and defames others, only the more effectually to exalt himself.
2. That they who unduly affect honor, and they who unjustly confer it, will prove sources of misery to each other—
This was intimated in the parable, but more fully explained in the subsequent application of it. Jotham appealed to the consciences of the men of Shechem, whether they had acted as they ought to have done towards Gideon and his family: if they could say they had, he wished them every benefit from Abimelech's administration, which they themselves could desire: but, if not, then he warned them that they would prove a curse to each other verse 16–20.
And this also is a general truth, that usurpers seldom fail of being a curse to the people whom they govern, and that those who aided them in their usurpation rarely continue faithful to them in a day of adversity. Were an instance wanted to confirm this truth, we need only look at all the powers of Europe who have been successively cajoled and injured by the great oppressor of the continent; who, having waded to his throne through seas of blood, stops not at any measures that may consolidate or extend his ill-gotten authority. And what returns he will receive from those who have contributed to his exaltation, time will show: but, as he is even now regarded by them as a plague to the earth, it will be a miracle if they do not, when a fit opportunity occurs, prove also a plague to him How abundantly has this been verified, since the Tyrant's Retreat from Moscow! Many of his Allies in the invasion of Russia contributed afterwards to his downfall, and to his present humiliation at Helena. (Written in 1825.).
This parable was in the nature of a prophecy; of which we now proceed to consider,
III. The accomplishment—
Never was a prophecy more exactly fulfilled. "The triumph of the wicked is short." For three years Abimelech enjoyed the fruit of his wickedness: but then God "sent an evil spirit between him and the Shechemites," and stirred them up to "deal treacherously with him verse 23." What the cause of their disaffection was, we know not: but they so hated him, as to set assassins to lie in wait for him, and destroy him verse 25. Their disloyalty appearing, one soon rose up to foment the division, and to head the conspiracy. Turbulent persons are never wanting to fan the flames of discord, and to seek their own elevation on the ruin of others. Such an one was Gaal, who, though probably a Canaanite, proposed himself as the fitter person to govern the state, and encouraged them at a drunken revel to curse and execrate Abimelech. Zebul however, a chief officer in the city, retained, though covertly, his allegiance to Abimelech; and sent him word of all that passed, together with directions for crushing the conspiracy. At the same time he endeavored to lull asleep the fears of Gaal, so that he might be taken by surprise; and, when Gaal could no longer be deceived, he urged him, in the same derisive strain, to go forth and meet his adversary in the field of battle: but no sooner had Gaal gone forth, than Zebul interposed to cut off his retreat to the city verse 26–38, 41. The plan of Zebul succeeded: Abimelech speedily overthrew Gaal and his adherents; then he proceeded to fight against the other conspirators in the city; and, having taken the city, he slew all its inhabitants. Some indeed took refuge in a tower; which however, by cutting down branches of trees from an adjacent wood, and setting them on fire, he instantly destroyed, together with a thousand people that were in it. Having desolated thus the whole place, he beat down the city, and sowed it with salt, in token that its destruction should be perpetual verse 39–49.
The revenge of Abimelech, one might have supposed, would by this time have been satisfied: but it was not so: for, as there were many dissatisfied persons at Thebez also, a neighboring city, he went and slew them also: and, when some of them also took refuge in a tower, he proceeded to use the same stratagem against them: but being grown incautious from success, he went too near the tower, so that a woman threw a piece of a millstone upon his head, and brake his skull: and he, indignant at the thought of being killed by a woman, "ordered his armor-bearer to slay him, that it might not be said, A woman slew him verse 50–54."
Behold now how exactly the parable was verified! "God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and his subjects," on purpose that their ingratitude to Gideon and his family might be punished verse 23, 24; and the issue of the contest, as' the historian remarks, was a literal accomplishment of Jotham's prediction; Abimelech and the Shechemites mutually proving a scourge and a curse to each other verse 56, 57.
From this history then we may learn,
1. To be unambitious in prosperity—
Never had man a better opportunity to gratify ambition than Gideon: yet he forbore to do it, and preferred the station which God in his providence had assigned him. In this he was truly wise. The acquisition of power is, in fact, the dereliction of ease. The increase of comforts by means of it bears no proportion to the increase of cares. Solomon in all his grandeur found nothing but "vanity and vexation of spirit." Jeremiah's advice to Baruch is worthy the attention of all: "Seek you great things unto yourself? seek them not."
2. To be patient in adversity—
Great indeed was the cause of complaint which Jotham had both against Abimelech and the Shechemites: yet behold, here were no invectives against them: he contented himself with simply declaring in God's name his testimony against them. Had he been an uninterested person, he could not have borne his testimony in milder terms. This is a pattern which we shall do well to follow. Let us therefore "not render evil for evil, or railing for railing," but "commit ourselves to Him who judges righteously."
3. To look forward to a future time of retribution—
We may appear for a season to succeed, and to reap a pleasant fruit from the iniquities we have sown. But what did Abimelech's success avail him at the end of three years? and what thinks he of all his murders at this hour? So we may appear to succeed in the acquisition of unlawful pleasures or dishonest gains: but what shall we reap from such practices in a little time? and what comfort will our confederates in iniquity afford us at the last day? Now the vile seducer or the base adulterer may rejoice in, and with, his guilty companions: but what execrations will they mutually vent against each other, when God's time is come! Know you, Beloved, that "evil pursues sinners;" and "though hand join in hand, the wicked shall not be unpunished."
Judges 11:30-31. And Jephthah vowed a vow unto the Lord, and said, If thou shalt without fail deliver the children of Ammon into mine hands, then it shall be, that whatever comes forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Amman, shall surely be the Lord's, and I will offer it up for a burnt-offering.
VOWS were common under the Mosaic dispensation: they were even encouraged by God himself, in order that his people might have opportunities of manifesting the love that was in their hearts by offerings that were not enjoined, and services that were not commanded. In cases of difficulty, where it appeared of more than ordinary importance to secure the divine favor and protection, the patriarchs had resorted to vows, and bound themselves, in case he should grant to them the desired blessing, to render unto him according to the benefits he should confer upon them. Thus Jacob, when he had just left his father and family in order to seek in a foreign land a refuge from his brother's vengeance, vowed, that, if the Lord would be with him and restore him to his home in peace, he would take God entirely for his God, and devote to him a tenth of all that he should possess Genesis 28:20-22. In the time of Moses, the whole people of Israel resorted to the same measure, in order to obtain success against the Canaanites Numbers 21:2. This, it must be confessed, has a legal appearance, and looks like offering to make a bargain with God: but vows may certainly be made in perfect consistency with the liberal spirit of the Gospel: for it is intimated, that under the Gospel, yes even in the millennial age, such a practice should obtain Isaiah 19:21; and we know that Paul both made a vow himself Acts 18:18, and united with others in services to which by a voluntary engagement they had bound themselves Acts 21:23-24.
The vow of Jephthah has engaged the attention of learned men in all ages: but they are by no means agreed as to the import of it. We propose,
I. To explain his vow—
It must be confessed, that the Jewish writers in general, together with their great historian Josephus, were of opinion, that Jephthah offered his daughter to the Lord as a burnt-offering. Of the same opinion also were the generality of writers in the early ages of the Christian Church. Multitudes also of the most approved authors among the moderns take the same side of the question. But we are constrained to differ from them; and the more attentively we have weighed their arguments, the more fully are we persuaded that Jephthah did not offer up his daughter as a burnt-offering, but only devoted her to the service, the exclusive service, of the Lord.
In confirmation of this opinion, we would call your attention to the particular circumstances of the vow:
1. The making of it—
In opposition to the idea of his offering her up for a burnt-offering, we say, that No pious man would have made such a vow. Jephthah was undoubtedly a pious man, as his whole history declares: for at his first acceding to the proposals of his countrymen to stand forth for their deliverance, he laid the matter before the Lord verse 11; and his vow was expressive of his affiance alone in God for success: besides which, he is celebrated by Paul as one of those eminent men who obtained a good report through their faith Hebrews 11:32. Moreover, he was at this time under the influence of the Spirit of God verse 29. Now can we suppose that such a man, under such influence, should deliberately vow to God that he would commit murder? that he would murder the first person who should come forth to congratulate him, whether it might be man, woman, or child, yes even if it should be his own, his only daughter? or, if a dog or other unclean animal should come forth, he would offer it up for a burnt-offering? Could he conceive that this would be pleasing to the Deity, and that such a vow as this would be likely to procure success? Had not the law said, "You shall not kill Exodus 20:13." and had not God expressly forbidden his people to imitate the heathen in offering human sacrifices Deuteronomy 12:31. Had not the law prescribed, that if a man should unintentionally kill his slave, he should be punished Exodus 21:20. and could he imagine that the law permitted him intentionally and deliberately to kill his own daughter? It may be said, that the Spirit ordered him to offer up this sacrifice, just as God commanded Abraham to offer up his son Isaac: but I ask, Where if any such thing expressed in this history? and why, if the Sprit of God had ordered a human sacrifice to be made, and he under the influence of the Spirit had vowed to offer one, whence came the rending of his garment, and all his vehement lamentation, upon finding that his daughter was the appointed victim? If he had been called to Abraham's trial, we may well suppose that God would have given to him the faith of Abraham; or at least, that, if he had so greatly failed in this duty, he would not have been so highly commended as an example of faith. But, we say again, that there is not the smallest intimation that the Spirit of God did give any such order to him: nor can we conceive that if, for the trial of his faith, God had given it, he would have ever suffered it to be carried into execution; but would rather have interposed to prevent it, as he did in the case of Isaac.
But, as no pious man would have made such a vow, so, if Jephthah had made it, the law itself had provided a ransom for her. We have before said, that vows were encouraged under the law; and persons, as well as things, might be devoted to God. But if either persons, or things, were devoted to him, the law permitted that a valuation should be made of the devoted thing or person, and that the money should be regarded as a ransom for it, or an offering be presented in its stead. If a human being were devoted, the estimation should vary according to the gender and age of the person: but if it were a beast, then the offerer should give in addition one fifth more than the estimated value as the price of its redemption Leviticus 27:2-13. When the enemies of God and their cities or possessions were, as accursed things, devoted to destruction, they were not to be redeemed at all: they were accursed of God himself, as the Amalekites and Canaanites were, and were therefore not to be spared Leviticus 27:29; and Saul, in sparing Agag, whom God had devoted to destruction, sinned as much as if he had murdered one whom God had ordered to be spared 1 Samuel 15:3; 1 Samuel 15:9; 1 Samuel 15:22-23; 1 Samuel 15:32-33. Now, if we call to mind how eminently conversant Jephthah was with the history of Israel, so as to be able to refute all the claims of the king of Ammon verse 12–27, we can feel no doubt but that he was well acquainted with the law that prescribed the mode in which devoted things were to be redeemed: indeed his vow was evidently founded on the knowledge of that law: for if a dog had met him first, he would never have dared to offer that in sacrifice to God: consequently he would never have made his vow so indefinitely, if he had not known that the law admitted of an exchange, in case the devoted thing should be improper to be offered.
But supposing that he was ignorant of this law, were the high-priest and all the priests in the kingdom ignorant of it? and, when the execution of the vow was postponed for two months, and great lamentation was made all that time throughout the kingdom on account of the vow, was there no person in all Israel who once thought of this law? If but one person had thought of it, would he not have been very glad to mention it? and would not the mention of it have been most acceptable to Jephthah, when it would have put an immediate end to all his mourning and lamentation? Would he not have been glad enough to pay thirty shekels, about 3l. 8s. 6d, the sum prescribed by the law, to save the life of his daughter? But it may be said, that this was a period of gross darkness; and that idolatry with all its horrid rites prevailed to a great extent Judges. 10:6. To this I answer, that though idolatry had recently prevailed, this was a time of singular reformation; for the people had put away the strange gods from among them, and served the Lord Judges. 10:16;" and in such a state of mind, considering what obligations they felt to Jephthah, even if they had not thought of this law, they would have interposed to rescue his innocent daughter from destruction; just as the people, at a later period of their history, rescued Jonathan from the hands of Saul, when the sentence, to which his father's oath had doomed him, was just ready to be executed 1 Samuel 14:45.
These arguments, we grant, would have no weight against an express declaration of Holy Writ: but it is no-where said, that such a vow as doomed her to death was ever made. On the contrary we affirm, that the terms used by Jephthah do not imply any such thing. The word that is translated And, is not unfrequently used in a disjunctive sense, and should be translated Or. In many places it must of necessity be translated Or, and actually is so translated in our Bible See Exodus 21:16-17; Leviticus 6:3; Leviticus 6:5; 2 Samuel 2:19; and in the margin of our Bibles it is so translated in the very passage before us. Thus translated, the words of Jephthah involve no difficulty: he says, Whatever comes forth of the doors of my house to meet me, shall surely be the Lord's, or I will offer it up for a burnt-offering;" that is, it shall be consecrated to the Lord; or, if it be fit to be offered in sacrifice to the Lord, (as a lamb or kid would be,) it shall be offered to him as a burnt-offering. It is really strange, that, when so easy and obvious a translation occurs, any one should prefer one so replete with difficulties, as that which has been usually received.
Thus in relation to the making of the vow, we have shown, that no good man would make such a vow as this is supposed to be; that, if made, the law admitted of an exchange; and that the terms used on the occasion do not imply that she should be put to death.
2. The execution of it—
Observe the language used by all parties on this occasion, and it will manifestly lead to a very different conclusion from that which has been usually adopted.
Observe the language of his daughter's acquiescence. There is a delicacy in it which throws considerable light on the subject. In noticing the effect of the vow upon herself, she studiously avoids the mention of it. This, if we understand the vow as subjecting her to a state of perpetual virginity, is what might have been expected from her; but, if she was to be offered in sacrifice to God, there is no reason whatever why so solemn an event should not have been expressed in plainer terms. In requesting a respite of the sentence, which involved in it a seclusion from the world, somewhat like that which has been practiced by Nuns in later ages, she does express what in the first instance she had only glanced at; "Let me alone two months, that I may go up and down upon the mountains and bewail my virginity, I and my fellows." Here she mentions that which constituted the substance of the vow. Had she been consigned to death, she would rather have bewailed her premature death, and not merely her virginity. If it be thought, that her piety kept her from bemoaning her death, and that she bemoaned her virginity merely as a circumstance that seemed to render her death opprobrious; I answer, that the same piety that reconciled her to death, would certainly have reconciled her to the opprobrium of dying in a virgin state; exactly as Isaac was willing to forego his prospects in relation to the promised Seed, when he yielded up himself to be slain in sacrifice to God.
If it be said, that, on a supposition she was doomed only to a state of perpetual virginity, there was no occasion for her having two months given her to bewail her fate, since she would have had her whole life wherein to bewail it; I answer, that, in the apprehension of Jewish women, it was a great calamity to be childless, since they had not the honor of increasing the number of the Lord's people, or a hope that the Messiah might spring from them: and this was a peculiarly heavy calamity to her, because she was the only child of Jephthah verse 34; and her doom cut her off from all prospect of raising up a seed who should inherit his honors, and follow his example. Therefore it was proper that there should be a public kind of mourning observed, not only in honor of her who thus freely sacrificed all her prospects in life, but in honor of Jephthah also, who in this instance exercised most eminent self-denial, and might be considered as almost dead.
Next observe the language in which is recorded his performance of his vow: "Her father did with her according to his vow which he had vowed: and she knew no man." Why is this latter circumstance mentioned, but to show wherein the accomplishment of the vow consisted? Is it not strange that this should be mentioned so often, and her death be never once noticed, if indeed she was put to death? But, if she was only doomed to a state of perpetual virginity, the reason of the expression is clear enough.
In addition to all this, observe the language in which the commemoration of the event is mentioned: "It was a custom in Israel, that the daughters of Israel went yearly to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in a year." If she was dead, there was scarcely any adequate reason for the daughters of Israel to go four times a year to one particular place to lament her; for they might as well have lamented her at home: but if she was alive, and secluded from company all the rest of the year, there was reason enough why they should visit her then. But the word which we translate to lament, is in the margin of the Bible translated to talk with: and this assigns the true reason of those stated convocations: her female friends went to condole with her on the occasion, and to do her honor. Even the manner in which she is mentioned in this passage seems to bespeak her a living person; they went to talk with "the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite." Had she been offered in sacrifice to God, there would probably have been something more descriptive of her character; but, if she was still living, this is the only description of her that we should expect to find.
But there is yet a third source from whence we may derive arguments in confirmation of this point. We have noticed the vow in reference both to the making, and the execution of it: let us now proceed to notice,
3. The honor God put upon it—
In consequence of this vow, "God delivered the Ammonites into the hands" of Jephthah verse 32, 33. But would God have sanctioned in this manner a gross act of deliberate murder? Would not this have been the very way to deceive his people, and to make them think that he was pleased with such offerings as the heathen presented unto Moloch? And when in future ages he punished his people for offering human sacrifices, might they not justly have pleaded, that he in this instance had both approved and rewarded them?
Again: Paul, in his catalogue of eminent believers, particularly mentions Jephthah, and with an express reference to this event. Jephthah had shown his faith by looking to God for victory, and by going forth against the Ammonites in an assured dependence upon him, as the protector of Israel, and the rewarder of all that trust in him: and this act of his is a subject of high commendation with God himself. Now I ask, Would this act have been so commended, if it had been ushered in with such an impious vow, and been followed by such a deliberate murder? But if the vow imported only that whatever met him first at his return should be consecrated to God, and if, in consequence of that vow, he did with such steady self-denial proceed to the performance of it, then is God's approbation easily accounted for, even while we condemn the indefiniteness and rashness with which the vow was made.
It may be objected to this, that no other instance of devoting a person to virginity occurs. It is true: but neither does any other instance of devoting a person to death. The instance of Abraham and Isaac is not at all in point: for there the determination to offer Isaac was not the result of a rash vow, but of a divine command: and God had a right to dispose of Isaac's life in any way he pleased; but Jephthah had no right whatever over his daughter's life. The right usurped by wicked Saul over his son Jonathan (which however was properly and successfully resisted) will scarcely be brought in justification and support of such a claim.
It may further be objected, that parents had no right to devote a daughter to perpetual virginity. This also may be true Some right of this kind however seems to be acknowledged; 1 Corinthians 7:37-38; but much less had they any right to devote her unto death.
The most specious objection however against our interpretation is, that, supposing he only devoted her to God, there was no reason why she should remain unmarried; since Samson and Samuel, both of whom were devoted to God from the womb, were both married. But the case is extremely different between a man and a woman: they were at liberty to serve God in any way that they judged to be agreeable to his will; but she, if she had married, would have been under the control of her husband, who might in a variety of ways have interfered with such a discharge of her duties as the vow implied: and therefore it was necessary that she should remain unmarried, and that she should also be secluded in a great measure from society itself; that being the way in which a woman might serve the Lord, as men served him by waiting on him continually in the tabernacle.
As to the objection, that if he had only devoted her in the sense that we maintain, he would not have so deplored her fate, it has no weight; for as she was his only child, all the distress occasioned to her came with double force on him, who was thereby doomed, and by his own folly too, to have his name and posterity cut off from Israel.
Such, we are persuaded, was the vow that Jephthah made: we proceed,
II. To suggest some instruction from it—
Both the father and the daughter afford us very instructive lessons. We may learn,
1. To avoid the rashness of Jephthah—
We cannot be wrong in condemning this, since Jephthah himself lamented it. It may be thought that we are in no danger of imitating it: but what do we in rash oaths? do we not tread in the very steps of Jephthah? There is scarcely an office to which we can be introduced, whether civil or religious, that is not entered upon by first taking an oath to fulfill the duties of it. Yet if there be a post of honor or profit to be obtained, how little do men in general think of the oaths by which they are to gain access to it! Would to God that this matter were considered by the legislature; and that penalties were substituted in the place of oaths! Truly "by reason of oaths the land mourns," and the consciences of thousands are greatly burdened. I cannot but consider the frequency of oaths, the ease with which they are administered, and the indifference with which they are taken, as among the most crying sins of the nation.
There is another way also in which we follow the steps of Jephthah, namely, by undertaking so lightly the office of sponsors for the children of our friends. The providing of sponsors to supply the place of parents who shall be removed, or disqualified for the instruction of their children in the fear of God, is excellent: but the engaging solemnly before God to perform their office is no light matter. Let any one read the baptismal service, and see what it is that he undertakes; and then let him see what little attention is paid to these vows in general, or, perhaps, what little attention he himself has paid to them. It will be well if we lay this to heart in future. Perhaps we have, like Jephthah, inconsiderately opened our mouths to the Lord: let us then at least, like Jephthah, proceed to the performance of our vows. The duty we have undertaken may be difficult and self-denying; but if he, after having unintentionally devoted his only daughter to the Lord, would not go back, notwithstanding the sacrifice was so exceeding great, so neither should we hesitate to perform the most difficult of our vows.
But there is yet another way in which we follow the steps of Jephthah. Who has not in a time of sickness, or danger, or trouble, or alarm, determined with himself, that, if he should be delivered, he would devote himself more unto the Lord, and to the pursuit of heavenly things? Look back, all you who have been restored from sickness, you who have been delivered from the pangs of childbirth, you who have seen your friends or relatives cut off by death, you who have been in a storm at sea, or been alarmed by thunder and lightning; look back, and call to mind the vows that are upon you; and see how Jephthah will rise up in judgment against you for your violation of them.
How this subject applies to Ministers, I need not say: but if I were addressing them, methinks the subject would apply with ten-fold force to them, seeing that their vows were all taken with foresight and solemnity, and involve duties more important than pertain to any other situation under Heaven.
But, whatever be their office or character, two things I would say to all: first, Be cautious in making vows; and next, Be conscientious in performing them. Inquire into the nature and extent of any engagements before you enter into them: for, as Solomon says, "It is a snare to a man to devour that which is holy, and after vows to make inquiry Proverbs 20:25." If we have rashly engaged ourselves to do what the law of God positively prohibits, we must recede from our vow, and humble ourselves before God for our temerity. The forty conspirators who swore that they would neither eat nor drink until they had killed Paul, and Herod who swore that he would give his daughter whatever she should ask of him, had no right to bind themselves to such an extent, and would have sinned less in violating, than they did in keeping, their engagements. But where our vows are practical, they must be kept, even though the observance of them be attended with great cost and trouble Deuteronomy 23:21-23; and the attempting to set them aside by the plea of inadvertence or of difficulties attending the observance of them, will only deceive our own souls, and bring upon us the heavy displeasure of our God Ecclesiastes 5:4-6. We remember the judgments which God inflicted upon the whole Jewish nation in the time of David, for Saul's impiety in violating an engagement which had been hastily contracted by Joshua four hundred years before in favor of the Gibeonites Joshua 9:19 with 2 Samuel 21:1; and much more will God visit upon us in the eternal world the violation of engagements entered into by ourselves. "Vow then unto the Lord," if you see it good, "but pay it Psalm 76:11;" and say with David, "I will go into your house with burnt-offerings; I will pay you my vows, which my lips have uttered, and my mouth has spoken, when I was in trouble Psalm 66:13-14."
2. To imitate the piety of his daughter—
Very eminent was her deportment on this occasion. Great was her love of her country, great her love towards her father, great her reverence for an oath, and great her zeal for God. O that there were such a spirit in all the daughters of our land! Assuredly the conduct of this pious female may lead them to consider how much they are bound to consult the judgment of their parents in relation to marriage: for though we do not think that a parent's authority extends to a prohibition of marriage, which is an ordinance instituted by God himself, yet we have no doubt but that it is the duty of children to pay a deference to the judgment of their parents, and never, unless in extreme cases, to form a connection contrary to their commands.
Need I say however, that when engagements are formed, they are not to be broken? The whole world unites in condemning so base, so iniquitous a conduct, as that of repudiating a person betrothed. But it has been thought by some, that if one who has in his unconverted state formed an engagement, becomes converted, he may then break his engagement, because he is "not to be unequally yoked with an unbeliever." But does religion justify the violation of our vows? God forbid! The very thought is a libel upon God himself. None but the person with whom the engagement is made, can liberate us from our vows. If indeed a woman to whom one was engaged, were to disgrace herself by some gross misconduct, it might be a reason for refusing to continue the engagement with her, because she has ceased to be the person with whom the engagement was formed. So, if an engagement were formed with a person on account of his supposed piety, and he were to cast off all regard for piety, his change of character would warrant a termination of the contract that had been made with him; because the very grounds of the engagement are subverted. But where, for the gratifying of our own inclination, excuses are sought out for receding from an engagement, God himself will be the avenger of the injured party.
There is one point in particular which the conduct of this pious virgin may well impress on the minds of all who belong to the Established Church; I mean, the observance of those vows which were made for us in baptism: Of those vows our parents will never have reason to repent; nor can we ever regret that they were made for us. No mournings, no lamentations will ever be excited by our performance of them. The ungodly world indeed may regret that we have renounced its ways and vanities; and Satan may regret that we have cast off his yoke; but all the saints and angels will rejoice; yes, "there is joy among the angels in the presence of God over one sinner that repents." Even God himself will "be glad and make merry with us," and will "rejoice over us to do us good." True it is, that such a consecration of ourselves to God is difficult and self-denying; but it is our truest wisdom, and our highest joy. To all of you then I say, "Dedicate yourselves to God by a perpetual covenant not to be forgotten Jeremiah 50:5;" yes, "I beseech you by the mercies of God that you yield yourselves to God a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service Romans 12:1."
Judges 13:22-23. And Manoah said unto his wife, We shall surely die, because we have seen God. But his wife said unto him, If the Lord were pleased to kill us, he would not have received a burnt-offering and a meat-offering at our hands, neither would he have showed us all these things, nor would as at this time have told us such things as these.
AFTER a brief mention of several judges who successively bore sway in Israel, we are led to the contemplation of one, whose birth, as well as life, deserves particular consideration. To his parents a revelation was made respecting him; which revelation, together with the effects of it on their minds, will form the subject of our present discourse.
Let us notice,
I. The revelation made to them—
The Israelites for their iniquities were brought under the power of the Philistines, who oppressed them sorely and for a long period. But God of his own grace and mercy raised up unto them a deliverer. Other deliverers had been raised up at once, and at the precise time that the deliverance was to be effected: but, in the present instance, the person who was to be God's instrument of good to the nation, was not even conceived in the womb. He was to be born, as Isaac and Jacob had been, of a mother who was barren; in order that he might more eminently appear to be a special gift of God. "There was a man of the family of the Danites, whose name was Manoah: and his wife was barren, and bare not. And the Angel of the Lord appeared unto the woman, and told her, that she should conceive and bear a son," who should be devoted as a Nazarite to the Lord, and should in due time become, in part at least, a Savior to his country verse 2–5,. The law relating to Nazarites required a total abstinence from wine, or strong drink, or from anything unclean Numbers 6:2-8; And as his consecration to this state was to commence from his first formation in the womb, his mother was immediately to observe all that kind of abstinence which was required of the Nazarite himself, and to continue it until the child should be both born and weaned. This occurrence she mentioned to her husband, together with the charge given to herself respecting the abstinence that was required verse 6, 7. Manoah, being strong in faith, entertained no doubt respecting the accomplishment of the Angel's words: but being desirous that the mercy intended to the nation should not be obstructed by any error or neglect on his part, he besought the Lord, that the same person should be sent to them again, to teach them more fully whatever was necessary for them to know, or do, respecting the child. The visit was repeated, according to his desire; and the testimony was confirmed by a visible display of the divine power. Manoah, not knowing who this angel was, whether he was only a man, or an angel in human shape, or whether he was not the Angel of the Covenant, even the Son of God himself in human shape, requested permission to set before him a banquet, or an offering, as might be most suited to his character: but when he had presented an offering, fire, probably from the rock or from Heaven, consumed the sacrifice; and the Angel ascended in the flame to Heaven; and thereby testified the acceptance both of their persons and their sacrifice.
Let us now notice,
II. The effect produced upon them—
Great was the faith both of Manoah and his wife: but she, being the more eminent of the two, experienced a very different effect. The revelation produced,
1. In Manoah, fear—
He now perceived and knew, that the person who had announced these tidings to him was God, in human shape: and Therefore he conceived that both he and his wife must die. This idea was not without some foundation; for, when Moses had entreated the Lord to show him his glory, the Lord said to him, "You can not see my face; for there shall no man see me and live:" and for this very reason God put him into a cleft of a rock, and permitted him to see, as it were, only "his back parts Exodus 33:20-23." And, when Jacob had been favored with a visit from the same divine person in the shape of an angel, he expressed his astonishment that "his life was preserved Genesis 32:29-30." Indeed, when only an angel has appeared to some of the most distinguished servants of the Almighty, they have been so agitated, as scarcely to retain possession of their minds Judges. 6:22; Revelation 19:10. We wonder not therefore at his apprehensions; but we the more admire the composure of his wife.
2. In his wife, confidence—
She argued in a very different way. She considered the mercies already given to them as tokens for good: for why should God confer such singular honor upon them, if he intended to kill them? Why did he accept at their hands the burnt-offering? Why did he stoop to give them such information? Why give them such gracious promises? Was all this done to mock them? Indeed, if he should kill them, how could the promises be fulfilled? or for what purpose were they given? This was a just mode of arguing; for such mercies were both evidences, and pledges, of his love: and therefore were rather to be considered as earnests of future blessings, than as harbingers of ill. This was precisely the view which Paul entertained of the mercies conferred on him by God, "who," says he, "delivered us from so great a death, and does deliver: in whom we trust that he will yet deliver us 2 Corinthians 1:10;" and it is the true light in which every instance of his goodness should be considered.
Let us learn then from hence,
1. To guard against low and unworthy thoughts of God—
It is realty no uncommon thought, even among good people, that their blessings are too great to be of any long duration. This sentiment does not arise from a view of the instability of human affairs, but from an apprehension that a continuance of their blessings is too great a thing to expect even from God himself, and that his grace, though rich, is not sufficiently extensive for such a gift. But how dishonorable is this to God! and what an unworthy return for all his goodness to us! Why should we entertain such a suspicion? why should we harbor such ungenerous thoughts? why should we so limit his glorious perfections? Let such apprehensions be checked in their very first rise; and let us remember that his disposition to give exceeds our utmost capacity to receive Ephesians 3:20.
2. To make a just improvement of the mercies he bestows upon us—
We shall do well to magnify the grace of God in our thoughts, and to inculcate upon others the same heavenly disposition. See how David argued, on a review of his past mercies; "You have delivered my soul from death: will you not deliver my feet from falling, that I may walk before God in the light of the living Psalm 56:13." And, when under peculiar temptation he was led to doubt the continuance of God's goodness to him, he checked himself, by calling to mind the marvelous mercies that had already been given unto him Psalm 77:7-11.
Nor is it for the comfort only of the person himself that God imparts these glorious hopes, but for the encouragement of others also: and this was the improvement which Paul made of his own happy experience 2 Corinthians 1:3-4. Only let it be recollected what God has done for us, in giving up his Son to the accursed death of the cross; and can we then limit his tender mercies? can we doubt his willingness to give us anything else Romans 8:32. Whether therefore it be for the comfort of our own minds, or for the encouragement of others, this is the thought which we should ever bear in remembrance, and enlarge our own expectations from God in proportion as he multiplies his benefits to us: we should look on all present blessings as the first-fruits that precede the harvest, or as the drop before the shower.
Judges. 14:12-14. And Samson said unto them, I will now put forth a riddle unto you: if you can certainly declare it me within the seven days of the feast, and find it out, then I will give you thirty sheets and thirty change of garments: but if you cannot declare it me, then shall you give me thirty sheets, and thirty change of garments. And they said unto him, Put forth your riddle, that we may hear it. And he said unto them, Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness.
OF all the Judges that were in Israel, there was not one who committed so many faults, or by whom God wrought so many miracles, as Samson. His character is dark and inexplicable; insomuch that, if he had not been celebrated in the New Testament as an eminent Believer, we might reasonably have doubted whether he was possessed of any true piety. It must be recollected however, that his history is very short, and that the peculiarity of the dispensation under which he lived may account for many things, which, if done at this time and without the special appointment of Heaven, would be highly criminal. Besides, there might be in him many exercises of true piety, which, if they had been recorded, would have reflected a different light upon his character. The circumstances of his birth we have noticed: those of his marriage are next to be considered.
We cannot approve his conduct in connecting himself with a Philistine woman, though we commend it highly in not forming that connection without having first obtained the consent of his parents. It should seem as if his choice was sanctioned by God, because we are told, that "it was of the Lord that he sought an occasion against the Philistines verse 4." But this circumstance does not necessarily make the action good: it may be that God only overruled the evil propensities of Samson, to accomplish his own purposes against the oppressors of his people See Joshua 11:20; 1 Kings 12:15. However, in going down with his parents to Timnath, where the woman lived, he turned aside from them into a vineyard, and, when separated from them, was attacked by a young lion; whom, though unarmed, he rent, as easily as he would have rent a kid verse 6. This he did through the mighty power of God: yet though the exploit was so astonishing, he concealed it utterly from his parents, and proceeded with them as though nothing particular had happened unto him verse 6. What a rare instance of modesty was this! How few people are there in the world, who, if they had performed such an act, could have suffered it to remain hid from their dearest friends!
Having obtained the consent of the woman, he returned home, and, after a time, went to Timnath with his parents again, in order to take her for his wife and complete the nuptials. In his way, he turned aside again, to view the lion, whom he had slain. His intention probably was, to revive in his soul a sense of the divine goodness to him, in having given him so signal a deliverance: but behold, to his utter astonishment, he found a swarm of bees and honey in the carcass of the lion verse 8, 9. Upon this he took of the honey, and ate it, and gave it to his parents; but still concealed the miracle which had been wrought in his favor.
Everything being prepared for the nuptials, he, according to the custom of the country, made a feast of seven days' continuance, at which thirty young men of the Philistines attended as his friends and companions. On this occasion he proposed to them a riddle, which will be profitable for our present consideration.
We will consider it,
I. As proposed on that occasion—
In the proposing of it we see no evil whatever—
There was nothing improper in the riddle itself; it had nothing of an unfitting nature couched under it; and it served as a trial of their ingenuity, and as an occasion of innocent mirth. Indeed its ultimate design was good, inasmuch us it would of necessity lead to a disclosure of the miracle that had been wrought, and consequently to a display of the power and goodness of Israel's God.
But the manner of proposing it was replete with evil—
A wager was laid with all the thirty companions respecting it: and that wager was in itself evil, as being both the root and fruit of covetousness. But, if any one be disposed to deny that the laying of wagers is evil in its nature, no one, after reading this history, can doubt whether it be evil in its tendency. After three days' fruitless inquiry, the pride of these thirty companions was greatly mortified, and their covetousness excited to a most fearful degree. Not being able to bear the thought of losing their wager, they were filled with indignation, and threatened to burn the bride, together with her father's house, if she did not get the secret from her husband, and reveal it unto them. She, partly through fear, and partly from a partiality for them, labored incessantly to gain from her husband the solution of the riddle. With this view, she wept before him during the remaining days of the feast, pretending that his reserve was a proof of his want of affection for her: and at last, having quite wearied him with her importunity, she obtained from him the secret, and then revealed it to them, and enabled them to gain the wager. He might justly have disputed the point with them, because they did not find out the riddle themselves, but obtained the knowledge of it by treachery. But, though he told them, "If you had not plowed with my heifer, you had not found out my riddle," yet he determined to pay the wager. But what a terrible resolution did he adopt! He determined to kill thirty men of the Philistines, and with their garments to pay the wager that he had lost. It is said indeed that "the Spirit of the Lord came upon him, and he went down to Askelon and slew them:" nor can we presume to question for a moment the justice of God in inflicting such judgments on the enemies of his people: He may take them off when he will, and by whom he will. But viewing the action by itself, we see in it altogether a most dreadful exhibition of the effects of gaming: in his friends, pride, covetousness, wrath, cruelty, and a confederacy to gain by fraud what they could not obtain in any other way: in his wife, hypocrisy, deceit, and treachery: in Samson, revenge, robbery, and murder. Perhaps in the annals of the whole world we shall not find a more striking display of the manner in which debts of honor, as they are called, are contracted, acknowledged, and discharged. They are contracted at friendly and convivial meetings; they are acknowledged as of greater obligation than all the common duties of justice and charity; and the peace of whole families, that were wholly unconnected with the transactions, is invaded, yes, many are reduced to poverty, to prison, and to death, in order to discharge the debts contracted by the cast of a die, or by the turning up of a card. I may go further still, and say, that of all the sources of suicide, this is by far the most fruitful. As to the endearments of friendship, or the sweets of conjugal affection, gaming almost invariably produces the same result as in Samson's case, who left the place in disgust, deserted his treacherous wife, and had the mortification to find her afterwards in the embraces of one, who had just before professed himself his greatest friend. Would to God that every gambler in the universe would duly consider this history!
We will now proceed to consider the riddle,
II. As applicable to other subjects—
We mean not to assert that it was intended to be applied to other subjects; though, considering the nature of that dispensation, and the peculiar circumstances of his history, it seems highly probable that everything related of him had either a typical aspect or a mysterious import. We wish, however, always to lean to the safer side, and to suggest only in an accommodated sense any observations, which would admit of doubt, if applied to the Scripture as expressive of its real import.
With this caution we think the riddle may be applied,
1. To the Lord Jesus Christ himself—
We know that he came down from the bosom of his Father, assumed our nature, sojourned many years upon the earth, and was at last put to death, even the accursed death of the cross. Now what good could we expect to result from this? Must we not rather suppose that the greatest possible evil must accrue from it, even the more aggravated condemnation of the whole world? Yet behold, "out of the eater came forth meat;" out of that, which we should have imagined would prove the destruction of the whole human race, has proceeded the salvation of ruined man! In this light was this mystery announced to Adam in Paradise; "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed: it shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel Genesis 3:15." Here the very wounds which Satan should inflict on the Lord Jesus, are spoken of as the means of effecting his own destruction. Isaiah speaks to the same effect, that the Messiah, by making his own soul an offering for sin, should secure to himself a seed who should live forever Isaiah 53:10; Isaiah 53:12. In the New Testament, the same mysterious representations are given us of Christ: "He was made in the likeness of sinful flesh, that he might condemn sin in the flesh Romans 8:3;" and "that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is the devil, and deliver those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage Hebrews 2:14-15. See also 2 Corinthians 5:21; 2 Corinthians 8:9 and 1 Peter 2:24.": Amazing! that his death should be our life; his sufferings, our happiness; his humiliation, our glory! Yet so it is; for when he appeared to have been utterly vanquished, he rescued us from the hand of his great adversary, and spoiled all the principalities and powers of Hell, and triumphed over them openly on his cross."
2. To every member of his mystical body—
Great and multiplied are the trials of the Lord's people; yet the very billows that threaten to overwhelm them, bear them forward to their desired haven. View the trials which they have in common with the rest of mankind; these are sent them by God for their good Hebrews 12:10-11, to improve their graces Romans 5:3-5, and eventually to augment the eternal weight of glory that shall be given them at their departure hence 2 Corinthians 4:17; View the trials which they meet with on account of their Christian profession; these are rather a ground of joy than of sorrow Matthew 5:10-12, and are occasions of holy glorying, inasmuch as they are the means of bringing to us much richer communications of divine aid 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, and of advancing that very cause which they are intended to repress Philippians 1:12.
Whether therefore the riddle was intended to comprehend these things or not, sure we are that it was not more applicable to the occasion on which it was used, than it is to the trials and deliverances of the Lord's people. But, in order to unravel this mystery, we must plough with the Lord's heifer, and seek the teachings of his Spirit 1 Corinthians 2:11; Matthew 13:11.
Two words of advice I would suggest as arising out of this subject—
1. Be frequent in reviewing the mercies of your God—
There is no one who has not met with mercies and deliverances, on account of which he has reason to bless his God. And if we took frequent occasions of reviewing these mercies, what sweetness might we not extract from them; and that not for our own refreshment only, but for the comfort and refreshment of all connected with us! Though, as must frequently be the case, there may be things in our private experience which we cannot communicate even to our dearest friends, yet it would be impossible but that they must derive benefit from converse with us, after we ourselves have extracted the honey which God's dispensations towards us are calculated to afford. Let us then frequently turn aside even from our dearest friends, or in the midst of the most important business, to contemplate the mercies we have received; and we shall often be surprised at the rich stores of wisdom and consolation which we shall derive from them.
2. Be not hasty to complain of his judgments—
The troubles which we may be called to endure, may appear insupportable; and we may be ready to say, like Jacob, "All these things are against me." But, if we wait, we shall find, that they are all working for our good; and that though "clouds and darkness may be round about the Lord, righteousness and judgment are the basis of his throne." How many thousands after a time have been constrained to say with David, "It is good for me that I have been afflicted!" Know you, Beloved, that there is no trial so heavy, but, if you acknowledge God in it, it shall yield you a rich supply of heavenly consolations. The most striking illustration of this truth will be found in Jehoshaphat's victory over three confederate armies: he was no less than three days in gathering the spoil 2 Chronicles 20:2; 2 Chronicles 20:25; Even that last of enemies, death itself, however formidable he may appear, shall yield sweets to the believing soul: the conflict with him may be severe; but the triumph over him shall be complete, and the fruits of victory eternal.
SAMSON'S CHARACTER AND END
Judges. 16:28. And Samson called unto the Lord, and said, O Lord God, remember me, I pray you, and strengthen me, I pray you, only this once, O God, that I may be at once avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes.
SCARCELY any part of Scripture has afforded more occasion for the doubts of sceptics or the scoffs of infidels, than the history of Samson. True it is, that many strange things are contained in it; but there is nothing in it which may not easily be accounted for by those who consider the nature of that dispensation, and the power of the God of Israel. The doctrine of the Resurrection appeared to many incredible: but our Lord said to them, "You do err, not knowing the Scriptures, nor the power of God." The same reply we would make to any persons who would question the facts contained in this history. Samson was raised up by God on purpose to chastise the oppressors of Israel: and he was strengthened by God to effect that by his own arm, which seemed to require the united exertions of the whole nation. The circumstance of his being recorded as a man of faith and piety, gives a great additional interest to his history; because it is difficult to conceive how such inconsistencies should be combined in one person. We must not however attempt to cloak his impieties, because he was a saint; nor must we contradict an inspired Apostle, because he was a sinner: we should rather examine the different parts of his conduct, that so we may form a just estimate of his character: and we shall find our labor well repaid by many instructive lessons which his history will afford us.
Let us then consider,
I. His character—
It must be confessed that there was in him much amiss. He appears to have been too much actuated by,
1. A vindictive spirit—
He knew indeed the peculiar commission given him: but yet in executing that commission he seems to have been influenced more by personal considerations than by true patriotism. His first slaughter of thirty Philistines was an act of revenge for the treachery which he had experienced at his bridal-feast, both from the bride herself, and all his pretended friends. When he returned afterwards to be reconciled to his wife, and found her given by her own father to another man, he executed the strange device of tying three hundred foxes together, two and two, by their tails, with a fire-brand or torch between each couple, and sending them in among the ripe corn, and the sheaves already cut, as also among the vines and olives; by which he devastated a great extent of country This was not so impracticable a thing as we are ready to imagine: for the foxes in that country were very numerous; Son. 2:15; Ezekiel 13:4. And Samson, being the chief governor of the Jewish nation, would have many at hand to execute his commands. And, notwithstanding the Philistines themselves, on hearing of the reason of this conduct, avenged him on his wife and father-in-law by burning them to death, yet was he bent on further vengeance, and "slew the Philistines, hip and thigh, with a great slaughter."
After this we do not wonder that the Philistines sought to take him: we only wonder that his own countrymen did not embrace this opportunity of uniting with him to shake off the yoke of their oppressors. The tribe of Judah, among whom Samson had taken refuge, were only alarmed for their own safety; and, to screen themselves, engaged to apprehend him, and deliver him up to the Philistines. On their swearing not to destroy him themselves, Samson surrendered up himself to them; and suffered them to bind him with two new cords. The Philistines seeing him brought to them a prisoner, exulted greatly, and shouted aloud for joy: but their joy was soon turned into sorrow: for Samson burst the cords asunder, as easily as flax is consumed by fire; and, with the jaw-bone of an donkey, which he found near him, he slew no less than a thousand men.
Now we do not mean to ascribe the whole of this to mere revenge; for we doubt not but that he was moved to it by the Spirit of God: but as Jehu afterwards was actuated by pride even while in other respects he was under a divine impulse, so was Samson too much under the influence of a vindictive spirit, while in other respects he was executing the designs of Heaven.
2. A vain-glorious spirit—
On this last occasion, when God had given to him so great a deliverance, we should have expected that he would have been forward to give God the glory: but behold, he took all the honor to himself: "With the jaw-bone of an donkey, heaps upon heaps, with the jaw-bone of an donkey have I slain a thousand men Judges. 15:16." How lamentable, that at such a time he should forget by whom this miracle had been wrought, and should so provoke to jealousy his heavenly Benefactor! This, it is true, is but too common: but how evil it is in the sight of God, we may see in the judgment inflicted for it on a heathen prince; who, when applauded for his eloquence, omitted to give the glory unto God: he was smitten with a mortal disease, and "eaten up of worms Acts 12:22-23."
3. A spirit of lewdness and incontinence—
Here was his great failing. His first connection in marriage was imprudent, but not sinful: but when that tie was dissolved by the death of his wife, he seems to have entertained no more thoughts of an honorable connection, but addicted himself to an unlawful commerce with harlots. On one occasion, for the gratification of his sinful appetites, he put himself in the power of his Philistine enemies, and would have fallen a sacrifice to their rage, if he had not, beyond all reasonable expectation, risen at midnight from the harlot's bed, and, by supernatural strength, borne away the gates of the city which had been barred against him verse 1–3. At another time he became enamored of a woman, called Delilah: and the violence of his attachment to her was before long the occasion of his death. Bribed by the Philistines, she sought to obtain from him information respecting the source of his great strength. He to amuse her, and to avoid a disclosure of so important a secret, told her various things, and submitted to various experiments; all of which issued in wonderful displays of his strength. But at last, "wearied to death" by her incessant importunity, he madly confided to her the secret, 'That his strength would vanish if only his locks were cut, since they were the badge of his Nazariteship, and the token or seal of his consecration to God: that seal once broken, the blessings which God had conferred upon him as a Nazarite would be forfeited and lost.' She now saw that she had gained her point, and prepared every thing for his destruction. But would not one have thought that after such a disclosure he would have taken care not to put himself in her power? Yet behold, he soon afterwards fell asleep with his head in her lap; and afforded her an opportunity of employing a man to cut off his hair. This being done, she woke him, as on former occasions; and he, unconscious that the Lord had departed from him, went forth to shake himself as at other times. But now his strength was gone; and the Philistines seized him and put out his eyes, and bound him with fetters of brass, and made him grind in a prison. What an awful example is here of the miseries consequent upon unbridled lust! The infatuation it produces is beyond all conception. Truly the fetters of brass id not form a stronger bond for his feet, than ungoverned passions make for the souls of men. Even reason and common sense often appear to fail the persons who are under their influence; insomuch that, with temporal and eternal ruin before their eyes, they rush on, until they bring upon themselves the miseries which they would not shun.
How in the midst of all this wickedness can he be deemed a saint?
We must make great allowance for the dispensation under which he lived, and the peculiar darkness of his times. But God forbid that we should vindicate such conduct as his! We apprehend that we must look for his piety rather in his latter days than at any time previous to his confinement at Gaza. Certainly his early days were marked with a pious submission to his parents: and it is probable, that, in his wonderful exertions, there was more of affiance in God, and a regard for Israel's welfare, than appears upon the face of the history. Moreover, when God rebuked his pride by suffering him to be in danger of perishing through thirst, he betook himself to prayer, and obtained a miraculous supply of water from God, by a well opened, not in the jaw-bone, as the translation imports, but in Lehi, as the marginal rendering more justly intimates "En-hak-kore" means, The well of him that cried: and it continued in Lehi for many years. Judges. 15:19; the place being by anticipation called Lehi, in reference to this feat wrought by the jaw-bone.
But in our text we see the greatest proof of his piety; as will more fully appear, while we consider,
II. His end—
Like Manasseh, this ill-fated Judge humbled himself in his affliction, and sought the Lord. Of this there is abundant evidence in his prayer. We grant that even here there seems to be a remnant of that vindictive spirit which we have before noticed: but we are willing to hope, that it was the cause of God and of Israel that he desired to avenge, rather than his own. The compliance of God with his request seems to warrant this conjecture. Indeed God's honor, if we may so speak, required such a signal act of vengeance to be inflicted on his enemies. The Philistines had assembled in a spacious edifice, to offer a great sacrifice to Dagon, their idol-God. To him they ascribed praise and honor, as having triumphed over the God of Israel. Thousands of their chief men and women were assembled in the place, and three thousand others on the roof; and Samson was brought forth, to be made an object of profane mirth and triumph. Then it was that Samson offered this prayer, and willingly devoted himself to death, that he might be an instrument of God's vengeance on them. The place was supported by two contiguous pillars: and God enabled him, by a wonderful exertion of strength, to pull down the pillars in an instant, and thus to overwhelm at once the whole assembly. He fell indeed himself in the common ruin: but in his death he reminds us of that adorable Savior, who "triumphed over principalities and powers upon the cross," and "by death overcame him that had the power of death, and delivered those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage."
Here we cannot but contemplate the benefit of affliction. At Lehi, it was rendered serviceable to humble his pride; and at Gaza it brought him fully to repentance. We are ready to pity the degraded Judge of Israel when we see him reduced to such a state of misery by his enemies: but, if we pity the man, we congratulate the sinner; to whose final salvation these heavy trials were made subservient: and we congratulate all, whatever their afflictions be, who find them overruled for so great a good.
This subject may well be improved,
I. For warning—
How painful is it to see a person, who had been consecrated to God from his first conception in the womb, and who had given early hopes of fulfilling the desires of his parents and the designs of God, abandoning himself to the lawless indulgence of his appetites and passions! Yet thus it is with many, whose parents have watched over them with the tenderest care, and prayed for them with the most pious solicitude Proverbs 5:22; O that those who think lightly of such sins would ponder the cautions given them by Solomon Proverbs 5:1-13; Proverbs 6:25-28; Proverbs 7:6-27; and learn early to "abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul!"
2. For encouragement—
Great as was the sin of Samson, and justly as he merited the judgments which he brought upon himself, he found mercy of the Lord at last: and sure we are, that every penitent, whatever his crimes may have been, shall obtain mercy, if only he flee for refuge to that Savior whose "blood cleanses from all sin." We mean not by this observation to encourage any in the indulgence of sin, from a hope that they shall at last repent of it and be saved: for how do they know that they shall live to repent, or that, if their lives be prolonged, repentance will be given them? But, if any are desirous of humbling themselves for sin before God, let them not despair of mercy: let them rather expect, that God, who delights in mercy, will be gracious unto them; that he will refresh their weary souls in their deepest extremity Isaiah 41:17-18; and that, before he take them hence, he will give them victory over all their spiritual enemies; so that with their dying breath they shall sing, "Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!"
MICAH'S FALSE CONFIDENCE
Judges. 17:13. Then said Micah, Now know I that the Lord will do me good, seeing I have a Levite to my priest.
IN the history before us we see the commencement of that defection to idolatry, which at no distant period prevailed throughout all the tribes of Israel. The account in point of time precedes the reign of the Judges; for it occurred while Phinehas, the grandson of Aaron, was the high-priest, and consequently soon after the death of Joshua Judges. 20:28. And, as being the first step of Israel's departure from God, it is related more circumstantially than its intrinsic importance seems otherwise to have deserved.
Micah was of the tribe of Ephraim. He had stolen from his mother a large sum of money which she had amassed: but from a dread of the curses which she had imprecated on the head of the guilty person, he had confessed his crime, and restored the money. She, pleased with the repentance of her son, would have given him the money: but he persisting in the refusal of it, she gave two hundred shekels of silver out of the eleven hundred which she had recovered, to form a graven image and a molten image; which she gave to her son, that he might have them to consult on all occasions. He on his part appropriated to them an apartment of his house for a temple, and consecrated his son to be a priest, to officiate before them with an ephod, which was made for his use verse 2–5. But a Levite, who wanted employment, coming that way, Micah engaged him to minister before the idols; and concluded, that now he could not fail of being happy, since he had a duly authorized person for his priest.
Just at that time the Danites, who had not yet gained possession of all the land that had been as signed them, determined to go up to Laish, and seize it for their inheritance. But previous to their attack upon the inhabitants, they sent forth spies to search out the state of the people, in order that they might the better judge what force to send against them, and what prospect there was of ultimate success. These spies coming to Mount Ephraim, where Micah lived, desired him to consult God through the medium of his idols; and received from him an encouraging reply. The report of the spies being favorable, six hundred Danites went forth upon the expedition; and coming to the house of Micah in their way, robbed him of his idols, and bribed his priest to accompany them, and to minister to them, as he had done to Micah. After they had succeeded in destroying the inhabitants of Laish, and in taking possession of their land, they set up these idols for their gods, and thus established idolatry, which in process of time spread over the whole land.
But it is not of idolatry in general that we propose to speak, but only of that particular modification of it which Micah established, and of the confidence which he expressed, when his newly-invented religion was made to bear some faint resemblance to the Mosaic ritual. This so exactly represents the false confidences to which ungodly men of every age resort, that we shall find it a very profitable subject for our present consideration.
We take occasion then from our text to notice,
I. The false confidences of ungodly men—
The worship established by Micah was a mixture of heathenism and of the Jewish ritual: it was heathenism, as far as it had respect to idols; and it was Judaism, as far as the use of an ephod and the ministration of a Levite were concerned. But, faint as its resemblance was to anything authorized by God, it was sufficient in Micah's judgment to justify a most assured confidence in the divine favor.
Somewhat of a similar mixture is the religion of the generality in the present day—
It is a combination of Heathenism, and Judaism, and Christianity. It is in part Heathenism. What are the views which men in general have of God, but such as were entertained by the heathen philosophers? We have, it is true, clearer views of the unity of God: but of his perfections we have scarcely juster apprehensions than the heathen had. Christians in general account of God as a Being who is but little interested about the affairs of this world, either in a way of present control, or of future retribution. All, in their apprehension, is left either to chance, or to the will of man: and, provided only some of the more heinous sins be not committed by us, the state of our minds and the habits of our lives will pass altogether unnoticed by him. To see the hand of God in everything; to expect from him the blessings which we ask at his hands; to be sensible of his favor or displeasure; to regard him as pledged to order all things for his people's good; and to rest assured, that he will fulfill to us his promises; is, in the estimation of the world at large, no better than presumptuous pride and enthusiastic folly: so entirely do they exclude Jehovah from the government of the world, and reduce him to the state of the God of Epicurus. In like manner the morality of men in general is simply that of the wiser heathens; the more refined and exalted requirements of Christianity being deemed unnecessarily precise, and absurdly strict. An entire deadness to the world, and devotedness to God, are never contemplated by them, but as the dictates of ascetic gloom or fanatical conceit.
While in their principles they sink into heathenism, in their adherence to forms they trench on Judaism. Every sect has its favorite forms, which, though of human origin only, are of more weight in the estimation of the generality than either principles or morals. A man may be skeptical in his principles, and licentious in his morals, and yet offend no one: but let him violate the forms which have been established by his own particular sect or party, and he will raise an outcry against him immediately. This is common both with Papists and Protestants, yes, and with Protestants of every description. The rules of their own particular denomination are more to them than the oracles of truth; and a neglect or violation of a human institution is more heinous in their eyes than any departure from the commands of God. Thus it was with the Pharisees of old, who made void the law of God, and regarded only their own self-appointed usages: and thus it is at this day among multitudes who name the name of Christ.
A small portion of Christianity is for the most part added to this, to complete the system. Christ is acknowledged to have purchased for us such a relaxation of the divine law as we are pleased to claim, and a power to save ourselves by any measure of obedience which we choose to pay to the code we have devised.
While such is the religion of the generality, it is supposed to constitute a just ground of confidence before God—
Micah had now no doubts or fears but that all would go well with him both in this world and the next. And similar to this is the confidence which almost universally obtains among ungodly men. They have no fears but that God will do them good, because they are free from those crimes which outrage the common feelings of mankind, and serve God according to such rules as they have laid down for themselves. Whoever dies in such a state, they send to Heaven, as a matter of course; thinking, that to entertain a doubt of their safety would be the height of uncharitableness. It is surprising to what an extent their confidence is carried. The bare possibility of such persons having perished in their sins is never once contemplated by them: and, if a doubt were expressed respecting the issue of their own expectations, they would be quite indignant. Were a truly pious man to express the same confidence as arising from the promises of God, they would inveigh against his presumption: but in their own delusive speculations their confidence is such as to preclude all doubt. We may see this exemplified in the Jews of old. To have Abraham for their father, and the temple of the Lord for their religious services, was in their estimation sufficient ground of hope, though they lived in a constant violation of every known duty Matthew 3:9; Jeremiah 7:4; Isaiah 48:1-2. And precisely thus it is with the generality of Christians: they have been baptized into the faith of Christ, and they have lived according to a system which the world approves; and therefore they can say without fear, "I know that the Lord will do me good."
But while ungodly men are buoying themselves up with such delusive hopes, let us contemplate,
II. Their bitter disappointments—
What was the issue of Micah's confidence? Was it justified by facts? Could his idols help him in the day of adversity? or did Jehovah interpose for his support? No: his idols could not even protect themselves: and when he complained of the spoilers who had robbed him, his pathetic expostulations were of no avail; and he was constrained to submit in silence to the loss of all wherein he had put his trust. Hear to what straits he was reduced: "You have taken away my gods; and what have I more Judges. 18:24." And thus will it be with the ungodly in the last day.
Their "refuges of lies" will be swept away—
The religion in which they now so confidently trust, will be proved a baseless fabric. No foundation will then stand, but that which God himself has laid: nor will any superstructure endure, but that which is able to abide the fiery test which shall be applied to it 1 Corinthians 3:11-13. The law, which sinners reduce to their own standard, will be found immutable: the obedience which they pay to it will be found so imperfect, as to be incapable of affording the smallest ground of justification before God. The Lord Jesus Christ will then be seen to have been the only Savior of sinful men; and his obedience unto death the only hope of a ruined world. The religion of the Bible will then appear to be, what it really is, the only means of a sinner's access to God, and acceptance with him.
Their destitution and misery will be then complete—
"You have taken away my gods; and what have I left?" may then be considered as the bitter lamentation of every self-deceived soul. How gladly would they who were once so confident in their expectations of bliss, take refuge, if it were possible, under rocks and mountains! How thankfully would they accept of utter annihilation, instead of a protracted existence under the wrath of God! In vain are now their pleas, "I thought that I was right." Why did they rest in vain conjectures? Why did they presume to substitute a system of their own in the place of that which God had revealed? Why would they not submit to be saved in God's own way? Why would they venture the salvation of their souls on plans and systems of their own devising? Alas! it is now too late to rectify their error: they are gone beyond redemption; and are consigned to those regions of darkness and despair, where not a single ray of hope can ever enter to dispel their gloom. "They have walked in the light of the sparks which they themselves have kindled: and now they lie down in sorrow Isaiah 50:11."
Thus it will be, whatever men may now say to the contrary Job 15:31; and, if they will not believe, they shall soon "see whose word shall stand, God's or theirs Jeremiah 44:28."
See then from hence,
1. The importance of having right sentiments in religion—
If we consider religion only as influencing the mind in this present life, it is no unimportant matter whether we have such a vain system as men form for themselves, or such a grand and glorious system as God has revealed in his word. Compare that of Micah with that of Daniel and the Hebrew Youths, and say, which of the two was the more effectual in the hour of trial?: But extend your views to the eternal world; and compare the states of the Pharisee and the Publican, or of the martyred Stephen and his self-applauding murderers; and then say, what principles are most beneficial, and, what practice is most conducive to our true happiness. Away with all the systems then of man's device; and embrace with your whole hearts "the glorious Gospel of the blessed God."
2. The comfort of having the Lord for our God—
Who can ever rob us of that? Who can take our God from us? or what can we want, if we have him for our friend? We may be spoiled of all else; but still we shall be rich. With his favor secured to us, and his love shed abroad in our hearts, we shall be truly happy; like Paul, "having nothing, and yet possessing all things." Seek you then to have the Lord Jesus Christ abiding with you. Seek to have him for your sacrifice; him for your altar; "him for your Priest;" and you may then be as confident of the divine favor as your hearts can wish. You may then safely adopt the language of Micah, and say, "I know that the Lord will do me good." God's favor is then made over to you by an everlasting covenant: it is confirmed to you by promise and by oath, "by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie." So that from henceforth you "may have strong consolation, if only you flee for refuge, to lay hold on the hope that is set before you Hebrews 6:17-19." Then you may look forward also to the day of judgment with assured confidence, that he who has witnessed the desires of your heart, will acknowledge you as his, and "claim you as his own when he shall make up his jewels Malachi 3:16-17." Then shall it be seen, beyond all contradiction, who was right; the self-confident framer of a human system, or the humble follower of the Lamb: for "then shall all discern between the righteous and the wicked; between him who served God, and him who served him not Malachi 3:18."
THE BENJAMITES' WICKEDNESS
Judges. 21:25. In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes.
SUCH is the depravity of human nature, that man is always prone to depart from God; and departures once begun, extend rapidly through individuals, communities, and kingdoms: the departure of a few righteous persons, like the removal of a dam, soon opens a way for iniquity to inundate a whole country. During the life of Joshua and his co-adjutors in the government, the Israelites retained a good measure of piety: but no sooner were they called to their eternal rest, than impiety began to deluge the land. The transactions recorded respecting the Danites in the 17th and 18th chapters, and of the Benjamites in the three last chapters, though placed after the history of the Judges, all took place while Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, was high-priest; and consequently, very soon after the death of Joshua, and before any Judge in Israel had been raised up Judges. 20:27-28; and it is repeatedly noticed in all those chapters, that these overflowings of ungodliness were occasioned by the want of those beneficial restraints, which a wise and righteous governor would have imposed upon the people. This is particularly specified in our text; from whence we are very forcibly led to show,
I. The obligations we owe to Civil Government—
Where there is no government, all manner of iniquities will prevail—
This is most remarkably illustrated in the history before us. The idolatry of the Danites is ascribed to that Judges. 17:6; Judges. 18:1. The ease with which the inhabitants of Laish fell a prey to a small handful of invaders, was owing to the dissoluteness of its inhabitants, and a total want of magistrates to enforce some beneficial laws Judges. 18:7. The whole account also of the Levite and his concubine, as connected with the horrid wickedness of the Benjamites, and the extensive miseries consequent upon it, are all referred to the same cause, a want of a civil governor, who should exercise a watchful care over the people, and impose such restraints as should keep them within the bounds of decency and order Judges. 19:1 with the text. To appreciate these evils aright, the three last chapters should be attentively perused: the unheard-of wickedness of the Benjamites; the determination of the whole tribe of Benjamin to protect the offenders; the civil war arising from it; the repeated defeats of the tribe of Judah; the ultimate destruction of the whole tribe of Benjamin, men, women, and children, with the exception of six hundred men who had fled from the field of battle; the demolition of all their cities; the destruction also of the whole population of Jabesh Gilead, except four hundred virgins, who were preserved in order to prevent the utter extinction of the tribe of Benjamin; these and other miseries all arose out of this single circumstance, a want of a regular government sufficiently strong to prevent or punish the violations of the laws.
There is one circumstance in this history which seems unaccountable; namely, That when the eleven tribes were united against Benjamin solely for the purpose of demanding justice against the perpetrators of that enormous wickedness, and when Judah led the battle by divine appointment, no less than forty thousand of that tribe should be slain by Benjamin in two battles, while the impious Benjamites suffered no loss at all. But God intended by this to punish the supineness of all the tribes, who had neglected to espouse his cause against the idolatrous Danites. They had united as one man, when the interests of society demanded their interposition; but they had taken no steps to vindicate God's honor against the introduction of idolatry, though God had expressly required in his law their most determined interference in his behalf Deuteronomy 13:12-16. On this account God first made use of the Benjamites to punish them, and then delivered the Benjamites into their hands, that justice should be executed on them also.
But whatever was God's design in these desolating judgments, they must still be all referred to that cause which we have already noticed.
If any further illustration of the point be wanted, we need only behold the evils which are perpetrated even in the best regulated governments, in defiance of the laws; and then we shall see what evils would obtain, if all the restraints of law and justice were withdrawn.
But a vigilant and energetic magistracy stems the torrent of iniquity—
Where a good government is, there are known and established laws, to which the highest, as well as the lowest in the state, are amenable. Our persons, our property, yes even our reputation, are secured from injury; or, if any injure them, the law affords us suitable redress. If any sons of Belial will break through the restraints which the law has imposed upon them, no sooner are they convicted of the crime, than they pay the penalty with the loss of their liberties or lives. Hence every man feels himself secure: the weak fears not the invasion of his rights any more than the strong; but all sit under their own vine and fig-tree, none making them afraid.
This security we are apt to overlook: but we can never in reality be too thankful for it. If we were to estimate our state according to truth, we should all consider ourselves like Daniel in the lions' den: the lions have not lost their nature; but they feel a restraint, which, though invisible, operates for our preservation: if that were once withdrawn, we should then, like Daniel's persecutors, soon become a prey to the violent and oppressive.
But the subject may justly lead us also to consider,
II. The obligations we owe to the Gospel of Christ—
The restraints of Civil Government are external only, and have respect chiefly to the welfare of society: they cannot reach to the thoughts or dispositions of the heart. Hence
Ungodly men do precisely what they please—
They keep within the regulations of human laws, so far at least as to avoid a criminal prosecution; but they will indulge their lusts in ways which come not within the cognizance of the civil magistrate, and will live altogether "without God in the world." All indeed do not run to the same excess of riot; but all will equally "do what is right in their own eyes." All mark out a line for themselves: some give themselves a greater latitude; and some are circumscribed within narrower bounds; but all lay down to themselves certain rules, to which they annex the idea of propriety: and if a minister of the Most High God stand forth to testify against their ways as evil, they will find an host to vindicate their cause, and to inflict the deadliest wounds also on those who dare to assault them in the name of God. The language of their hearts is, "Who is Lord over us?" In vain do we endeavor to convince them of their errors; they are determined to think themselves right: to be "right in their own eyes" is with them a perfect vindication of their conduct: they will not come "to the word and the testimony" of Scripture; that is a test to which they will not submit: and, if only they are free from gross and open sin, they despise the sword of the Spirit, and defy the sharpest arrows that are taken from his quiver.
What we here speak is as applicable to the most righteous among them, as to the most unrighteous. Solomon tells us that "there is a generation that is pure in their own eyes, who are not washed from their filthiness Proverbs 30:12." Their standard of duty, be it what it may, is of their own making: and they follow the laws of God no further than will consist with the regulations which they have formed for themselves.
But the Gospel produces in them a most blessed change—
This establishes a King in Israel: it represents the Lord Jesus Christ as the Redeemer and the Lord of all; and erects his throne in the hearts of men: The Gospel rectifies the views also, of all that receive it. His law, and not our own vain conceits, becomes now the rule of judgment: the smallest deviation from that, whether by excess or defect, is regarded as evil, and nothing is approved any further than it agrees with that perfect standard: We may also add, It regulates the conduct. Those who receive the Gospel aright, instantly give themselves up to the Lord Jesus Christ, accounting his service to be perfect freedom, and desiring to live no longer to themselves, but "unto Him that died for them and rose again.": Of course, we must not be understood to say that these effects are produced equally in all, or in any to their full extent. Men are still corrupt creatures, even the best of men; and consequently they will, like brands out of a fire, still bear the mark of the fire, though the flame be extinguished: but still they differ as widely from the unconverted world, as those who live under a well-regulated government do from the most licentious savages: they are thankful for the restraints under which they live; and are ready to die in defense of that King whom they venerate, and that law which they account it their highest privilege to obey. In civilized society, men are happy in being secured from external violence; but, under the Gospel, they are happy in being secured from the assaults of Satan, and from the corruptions of their own hearts.
From this subject we would take occasion to recommend,
1. A self-diffident spirit—
By nothing are the delusions of men more strengthened than by a confidence in their own wisdom and judgment. No reasons will weigh in opposition to the conceits of self-opinionated men; nor will an appeal to the Scriptures themselves be allowed to be of any force. Hence men perish in their errors, until it becomes too late to rectify them. How happy would it be if men would distrust their own judgment; and if, when they see how thousands of their neighbors err, they would admit the possibility of error in themselves I God has given us an unerring standard of truth: to that let us refer all our pre-conceived opinions; and remember, that, "if we walk not according to that rule, there is no light in us."
2. A cautious judgment—
Persons are apt to form their judgment on very inadequate grounds. Any one who should have seen the two defeats of Judah, would be ready to conclude, that the cause for which victory had decided, was the right: but we are not to judge from events: righteousness is not always triumphant in this world: it may be oppressed; and the supporters of it may be trodden under foot: but there is a time when God will vindicate his own cause, and evince the equity of all his dispensations. The unalterable word of God must be our only rule of judgment in everything: if we suffer in following that, let us not doubt the goodness of our cause, but betake ourselves to fasting and prayer, and, above all, to that great Sacrifice which was once offered for sin. Then, though suffering, we shall reap good to our souls; and, though vanquished now, we shall surely triumph at last.
3. An unreserved submission to the King of Israel—
This is true happiness: this once attained, no enemy can hurt us, no occurrence can disturb our peace. "I will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on me, because he trusts in me." O that we were all brought to surrender up ourselves sincerely to him! Whether we will submit to him or not, "God has set him as his King upon his holy hill of Zion;" and "He will reign, until all his enemies be put under his feet." "Kiss the Son then, lest he be angry, and you perish from the way:" and "let every imagination that is contrary to his will be cast down, and every thought be brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ."