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NEW OPPRESSORS AND A NEW DELIVERER
In fixing the date at which Samson appeared, it must be remembered that great diversity of opinion exists, as to the exact chronology of the whole period between the exodus from Egypt, and the building of Solomon’s temple. The entire duration of that period, we are informed in 1 Kings 6:1, was spanned by 480 years. But how to allot the various sections, into which it was divided, forms a puzzling problem. Upwards of 50 different calculations have been made, and most of them differ widely from each other, some reducing the lapse of time during the Judges to 170 or 190 years [Ewald and Bertheau], whilst others lengthen it out to over 600 years [Josephus.]
Without entering into this entangling discussion, it may suffice to remark, that the narrative in this book, in the opinion of several of the best authorities, such as Keil, Bachmann, Vitringa, Cassel, Lightfoot, &c., gives the events as they followed each other in succession, up to the death of Jair, which, counting from the invasion of Chusan, the first oppressor, extended over a period of 300 years. After that date most of the events related seem to have been more or less synchronous. Thus the oppression by the Philistines, and that by the Ammonites, are spoken of as occurring together, the one on the east, chiefly affecting the tribes beyond Jordan, and the other on the west, affecting Judah and Benjamin, Simeon and Dan. (ch. Judges 10:7.) These were not quite simultaneous; the one preceded the other by some years, or may have been over when the other began. First, an account is given of the Ammonite oppression, and the deliverance accomplished under Jephthah, and now, in what follows, an account is given of the yoke imposed by the Philistines, on the tribes that were nearest to them, and the deliverances wrought by the mighty Samson on their behalf.
Part of the time of Eli’s high priesthood must have been coeval with the deeds of Samson. It is scarcely any objection to say, that we hear nothing of him in the account given of Israel’s great hero. For, indeed, we hear little or nothing of the priesthood, or of sanctuary service, all through this book. The purpose in it is chiefly, to give an account of the manner in which the people by their conduct kept their covenant towards their God, and how He, in turn, kept his covenant engagements to them. From first to last they were uniformly treacherous towards Him, while He was uniformly faithful and gracious towards them. We are now, therefore, at a time when the people had been already for some time oppressed by the Ammonites beyond Jordan, and when, on this side Jordan, the oppression by the Philistines was just beginning to be most severely felt, while to the north, the tribes were enjoying a season of comparative quietude, under the administration of wise and righteous judges.
CRITICAL NOTES.— Judges 13:1. Did evil again] or continued to do evil (Jeremiah 17:9; Hebrews 3:12; Genesis 6:5; Jeremiah 13:23). See on Ch. Judges 3:12; Judges 4:1; Judges 6:1, etc. Into the hand of the Philistines.] The land of the Philistines (Exodus 13:17) was on the coast of the Mediterranean, between Joppa and the border of Egypt, to north and south, and between the mountains of Judah and the sea, to east and west. This was one of the most fertile plains in all Palestine; it grew richer crops, and supported a larger population than any other. The people were brave and warlike, and at their hands the Israelites suffered longer and more severely, than at those of any other of the heathen nations. We first hear of them before the confusion of tongues at Babel (Genesis 10:14), where Philistim and Caphtorim are spoken of as grandsons of Ham, the son of Noah. Caphtor, according to Jewish tradition, was Cappadocia. The people settled first in Crete, which is also called Caphtor, and afterwards they went to Palestine. Allusions are made to them in Amos 9:7; Zechariah 9:5-7; Jeremiah 47:4; Deuteronomy 2:23. It is more probable, that they belonged to the Pali, or shepherd race, called by different names—the Pali, Pelasgi, Palatines, Philistines. There seem to have been different immigrations of them into Palestine. First, that of the Casluhim (Genesis 10:14). Next, the Caphtorim, a kindred clan, about the time of the Exodus. The place where they settled was called “the sea of the Philistines.” Thirdly, the Cherethites, not mentioned till the time of Saul, who are spoken of at that time as a Philistine clan, enjoying territory and wealth (see Exodus 23:31; Exodus 13:17; 1 Samuel 30:14; 1 Samuel 30:16). About 300 years before the time of Samson they lost three of their great cities to Israel, but by his time they had received a great accession of power and had recovered them again (Jude 1:18). The Philistines thus consisted of different tribes, who came together in the south-west of Palestine at different times, and took a name suggested by their habits and history, signifying “emigrants,” or “strangers”—just as Saxons, Danes, and Normans, immigrating into our own island at different epochs, became at length amalgamated and united under the one name of English. This mixture of blood tended in both cases, no doubt, to give a character of greater vigour, enterprise, and general superiority.
Judges 13:2. Of Zorah.] A town at first belonging to Judah, but afterwards given to Dan (Joshua 19:41), on the western slope of the mountains of Judah, near to Eshtaol (Joshua 15:33). His wife was barren.] But for a special design to serve, Samson had never been brought into existence. It was the same with the whole nation of Israel. “The Lord had need of them,” otherwise such a nation had never been. They were brought into existence contrary to nature. The family of the Danites.] Mishpachath Dani is used in the same meaning as Shebet Dani, the tribe of the Danites, for at the numbering of the people there was only one family of the Danites, who, however, multiplied greatly (Numbers 26:42-43).
Judges 13:3. The angel of the Lord.] This name usually, if not always, in the Old Testament, applies to “the Angel—Jehovah,”—the uncreated Angel, or the form in which Christ appeared to His people in Old Testament times. Thou shalt bear a son. God “raised up” Ehud and Othniel, called Barak through Deborah, and called Gideon direct. Now Samson is chosen before he is born. The angel comes to his mother. God is not confined to one mode of action. It is something to know, in view of the strange character which Samson exhibited when he came to man’s estate, that God thought of him when as yet he was not, and specially raised him up to do His work. Compare the special messages sent to the parents of those who were raised up to be blessings to the Church and to society, to Abraham and Sarah (Genesis 17:19; Genesis 18:10; Genesis 18:14), to Hannah (1 Samuel 1:17), to Elizabeth (Luke 1:13), and to Mary (Luke 1:31).
Judges 13:5. The child shall be a Nazarite unto God.] Not Nazar, but Nazirite. One separated to God or specially dedicated, according to certain external observances, namely, to drink no wine or strong drink, to eat no unclean thing, and let no razor come on his head, also not to touch a dead body, or attend a funeral (Numbers 6:1-8, &c.) Some interpret these signs to indicate, self-denial, holiness, and humility, or submission. This first two of these interpretations may be included, but the general idea, is that of entire consecration to God for a special purpose. The forbidding of wine, is not so much here a prohibition of self-indulgence, as a restriction of that which would produce ceremonial uncleanness (Leviticus 10:9). Hence it was forbidden to the priests, while doing duty in the tabernacle. The priest had an office and functions which did not belong to the Nazarite, but their absolute consecration to God was practically the same. The latter, was always to look on himself as if he were in the Sanctuary, holy in himself as all things around him were, and all his duties holy duties. “The Nazir is indeed a walking altar of God; and his flowing hair is the visible token of his consecration.” Just as the lifting up of iron on the altar would be a desecration of it (Exodus 20:25), so would the bringing of a razor on the head of the Nazir be inconsistent with the sacred character he bears. The unshorn hair which he wore, was as much his specific mark, as the linen garment was that of the priest. Probably, the prohibition against cutting the hair meant, that there must be no interference with an object so entirely consecrated to God as the Nazir, so as to alter it from what nature has made it, and that as the hair growing to its full length is nature’s protection of the person, it must be hallowed and remain untouched. Some, indeed many, were so devoted to the Lord for only eight days, others for a month, or longer, and we only read of three who were so devoted for life, Samuel, John the Baptist, and Samson (1 Saml. Judges 1:11; Luke 1:15). We read also, that Paul at one time took such a vow (Acts 18:18; Acts 21:24-26).
He will begin to deliver Israel, &c.] This implies that the Philistine oppression had been felt for some time. Let us suppose it to have lasted, as yet, but one year; let us farther suppose that Samson was but 18 years old when he began to act as judge; and again add up the 20 years that his judgeship lasted. This would amount to 39 years from the beginning of the oppression; yet, the whole period of that oppression, was only 40 years. There would thus be only one year left for the inflicting of the final defeat under Samuel. It is also implied, that Samson was not to complete the deliverance; he was but to lift the yoke partially from their neck, and inspire them with the hope that full freedom would come in the end.
He shall be a Nazarite unto God and shall begin to deliver Israel.] There is certainly a connection between his being a Nazarite, and his being a deliverer of his people. It seems to be this. In the case of the other “Saviours,” such as Ehud, Barak, Gideon, and Jephthah, the ground on which God gave them power, and the special fitness for delivering the suffering people, was either the repentance of the people, or what is practically the same thing, their crying to God in earnest prayer. But we bear nothing of this in the case of the generation of Samson’s age. And as there must be some ground of righteous procedure brought forward, if God is to grant another “Saviour” now, He, Himself, appoints a special capacity to be sustained by the man whom He raises up to give deliverance. That capacity is, to be a person specially set apart for God, ceremonially free from all defilement, and hallowed for the doing of any service that God may require at his hand. On a man occupying such a capacity, God could confer His Holy Spirit consistently with his righteous character, and make him strong, wise, fearless, and successful in doing the work set before him. But the question is not what the man is in himself, in his own personal character, but in what he represents. Samson, in his heart and life, was not the spotless person which the theory of Nazaritism required him to be but the signs which he bore, were a standing law, pointing out what the character and conducto those should be whom God would acknowledge as His own, and whom He would deliver from all evil. His Nazarite profession was really a protest against the iniquity of the time, and an illustration of the principles, which the “holy nation” must cultivate anew, if they were to receive the Divine protection.
Being a Nazarite, God could, consistently with His holy character, bestow on Samson the gift of superhuman strength, but when he suffered his locks to be shorn, he no longer retained the principal sign of his consecration to God, and so the gift which was conferred only out of respect to that consecration, departed from him.
Judges 13:6. A man of God.] Usually applied to “a prophet,” or a man who is authorised to speak messages from God, such as Moses, Samuel, Elijah, Elisha, David, and others. To Manoah’s wife he had a far nobler and more impressive look than men usually have, yet she does not seem to have recognised him as Divine.
Judges 13:8. Manoah entreated the Lord.] The name signifies “Rest.” He was a man of prayer. How often are those who become blessings to the world, children of praying parents? Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Samuel, Solomon, and Timothy, all appear to have been the children of many prayers. The prayer, on this occasion, appears to have been acceptable unto God, and was heard. The same instructions, as to the training of the child, are given as before.
Judges 13:15. Let us detain Thee until.] Not yet having discerned the Divine character of his visitor, Manoah, full of gratitude for the joyous tidings, would offer him a warm hospitality (comp. Genesis 18:7; Hebrews 13:2).
Judges 13:18. Why askest thou after my name, seeing it is secret?] The word is Peli, the same with Pelé, in Isaiah 9:6, which is translated, wonderful. Meaning, that all about Him is most wonderful, or, He is the wonderful one beyond comparison with all others. The true rendering of the clause, therefore is, “seeing it is wonderful.” That is not really telling his name, but describing its character. It is as if He had said, “Why ask after my name? seeing I am not known by a mere name, but by a character and mode of action, which belong only to myself, and cannot be devised or imitated by others. Everything about me is essentially wonderful,” (comp. Psalms 118:23; Exodus 17:0; Exodus 34:10). We must understand it to have the force of “absolutely and supremely wonderful,” which can only apply to God. Bertheau tones it down to mean “neither easy to utter, nor easy to comprehend.” Rather, we are to regard it as one of the hints which He always gives when He appears, that it is one who is Divine that has appeared.
Judges 13:19. Unto the Lord.] In obedience to the direction given in Judges 13:16. They still regarded their visitor as a messenger from God, and nothing more, or as they express it, “a man of God.” So that their sacrifice was not to the visitor but to Jehovah. It was offered there and then, expressly by the direction of the visitor, which to them seemed sufficient to hallow the spot, though no offering, as a rule, could be accepted unless laid on the duly consecrated altar.
Judges 13:20. The angel ascended in the flame.] This was proof positive that he was Divine. Fell on their faces.] Paralysed with fear at the sudden disclosure of the fact that they had been talking with God face to face (Daniel 10:9; Numbers 14:5; Leviticus 9:24; 1 Chronicles 21:0; 1 Chronicles 21:0).
Judges 13:22. We shall surely die because we have seen God.] They regarded Him as the Angel-Jehovah, and that was in their estimation the same as Jehovah himself. Many such appearances were made in Old Testament times (Genesis 18:25-26; Genesis 19:24; Genesis 22:11-15; Genesis 28:13-17; Genesis 32:30; Genesis 31:11; Genesis 31:13; Genesis 35:9-15; Exodus 3:2-5; Exodus 14:19; Exodus 19:17-20; Exodus 20:21-22; Exodus 24:9-11; Exodus 33:19-23; Exodus 34:5-8, etc., etc.). That the visitor in the present case was Divine appears from two things especially—He brought fire out of the rock to consume the offering, and He vanished in the flame. That they should fear death to come to them because they had been face to face with God, is the natural instinct of a guilty mind, even in the case of those, in whom the good work is begun (see Genesis 32:30; Exodus 33:20).
Judges 13:23. He would not have received a burnt offering, etc.] The wife proved a wise counsellor to her husband on this occasion. It is a specimen of excellent reasoning. The mercies God had shown to them were proofs that he regarded them with favour. Why confer such honour on them if He meant to kill them? Why pledge His word in promise to them, and then put them to death, so that that promise could not be fulfilled? Why did He accept their offerings on His altar? Surely the honour of the Divine truthfulness required that they should be preserved. Were not the mercies they had received pledges of the Divine love, and a reason for concluding that, since God had begun to bless them with promises of good, He would continue to bless them still? (Psalms 115:12; Psalms 36:10; Isaiah 26:12).
Judges 13:24. Called his name Samson.] The Hebrew form of the name is Shimshon, the root of which is Shemesh, “the sun.” The meaning in that case would be sun-like, or little sun, or hero of the sun, Josephus, however, makes it shimshom the strong, or daring one while yet others make it to mean to minister, in allusion to the Nazarites’ consecration to the service of God. The Jewish expositors speak of Samson as “called after the name of God,” who is the “sun and shield of Israel” (Psalms 84:12). “The symbol of servitude is night (as in the case of the Egyptian oppression), but the beginning of freedom is as the dawn of day, or the rising of the sun.” one of the legends places at the head of its narratives “the powerful knight, Samson, dark of complexion, like an Oriental, with ‘hair and beard black as pitch,’ and from whom the mighty race of the Amelungen springs.”
The Lord blessed him.] This could hardly be said of a man who had nothing good in his character before God (Psalms 7:11). God’s blessing and God’s curse cannot rest on the same man. He must have the one lot or the other. He may be severely chastised on account of grievous sins, but that does not decide the point that he is an ungodly character. God may do much for a wicked man. He may give him long life, a high station of honour, and many titles and distinctions; he may gratify his natural wishes to the full, and yet give these things without his blessing (Psalms 73:7-9). Nay, all the while these things may be working out his ruin (Psalms 73:18). We regard this statement, if not as decisive, at least as a strong point in Samson’s favour as a religious character.
Judges 13:25. Began to move him in the camp of Dan.] The word here which is translated “to move’ (פָּעַם) signifies to excite to action. He was already conscious of his superior strength to other men, and, in view of what he saw around him, he was stirred up now and again by the Spirit of the Lord, to arise and use his power on behalf of his oppressed people. Moses was so stirred, though not so specially (Exodus 2:11-14). Paul also (Acts 17:16). But this was before his actual exploits, such as slaying the lion, or making great slaughter of the Philistines. It seemed to be certain sudden impulses which the Spirit made him feel, to indicate that he had a mission before him in breaking the power of the oppressor. As the root of the word signifies an anvil, some think that these impulses were an intimation to him beforehand, that he was to smite the Philistines with repeated strokes as from a hammer on an anvil. But surely it was also an intimation that when the time came, he would be made fit for his work, according to the promise, “as thy days, so shall thy strength be.”
In the camp of Dan] or Mahaneh Dan. This was an encampment formed by the armed 600, who formed a temporary settlement, which afterwards became permanent, in a district near Kirjah-jearim, when they went out in quest of the acquisition of new territory. The account is given in Judges 18:11-12, the date of which, was more than 300 years anterior to the days of Samson. This place was somewhat higher up the sides of the mountain than Zorah, but only a few miles distant from the young hero’s home. Thither he must often have climbed as to one of the centres where a few patriots, still left in the land, were wont to congregate, and from them he would hear, from time to time, of fresh deeds of barbarity and oppression that were perpetrated on the homesteads of Israel, by the cruel enemies that occupied the plains below. Even at Zorah, every morning as he looked out at the door of his paternal dwelling, on the western slope of the mountains, his eye could take in not only the rich garden of the Shefelah, which belonged to his own tribe, but also a large sweep of the fertile fields beyond the borders, all over which, the enemy spread their tents, or built their cities, and which, at one time, had been trodden by the foot of the dreaded giants. “Many a band of these cruel plunderers, doubtless, he would see marching up the glen beneath his father’s house, and returning again laden with the spoils of his brethren; many an act of rapine and cruel outrage, or even barbarous murder, left a deep impress on his mind, and stirred within him, thoughts of doing mighty deeds, on behalf of the oppressed.”
Patriotic thoughts or feelings, however, are not to be confounded with the movements occasioned by the Divine Spirit. Any supernatural operation of the Spirit on a man, is indeed ever in harmony with natural law, yet, is quite distinct in itself from natural law. We believe the Spirit took occasion from the impulses of patriotism, prompted by natural causes, to produce a higher class of impulses, that were peculiar to His own special working in the mind.
HOMILETIC REMARKS.—Judges 13:1-25
AN UNTHOUGHT OF DELIVERER RAISED UP
I. The thoughtfulness of God’s mercy to a backsliding people.
1. In sending chastisement at all. That alone shows the considerateness of the Divine love. If the stone which has begun to roll down the steep be not stopped, and stopped soon, by some effectual means, it will inevitably dash on to the bottom, and be broken in a thousand splinters. If a fire be kindled in a house, it must be extinguished at once by any and every means, or it will soon envelope every object in the house in flames. So, if sin is left to do its natural work in the soul unchecked, it will ere long lead to irretrievable ruin. Hence those Divine utterances which tell us—“You only have I known of all the families of the earth, therefore will I punish you for all your iniquities.” “He that spareth the rod hateth the child.” (Psalms 94:12, etc.; Leviticus 19:17; Hebrews 12:6.) The confession is made by the afflicted person himself (Psalms 119:71; Psalms 119:75). The intention of the chastisement is often to remove what would be deleterious, or to assist growth (John 15:2): To let a man alone while he is going on sinning, is a heavy judgment to him (Hosea 4:17; Jeremiah 48:11). Sharp chastisement is incomparably kinder treatment. When a man is asleep on the top of a precipice, the kind thing is to awaken him, however roughly rather than let him fall over into ruin.
Thus did God with His own people when He gave them into the hand of the fierce enemy here described. He only fulfilled the terms of His covenant (Psalms 89:30-34). Yet it remained true, that “all His paths were mercy and truth to such as kept His covenant.”
2. In not removing the chastisement at once. Were it to be so removed the greater part of the benefit to be gained by sending it would be lost. There is need for realising the bitterness of sin from the bitterness of its fruits (Jeremiah 2:19). Nothing teaches like experience, especially when the father has to deal with “sottish children,” a people of no understanding (Jeremiah 4:22). When the mild whispers are not heard, love raises her voice to the hoarse notes rather than relinquish her object. A discipline is needed to make the heart become broken and contrite. “He subdues its iniquities,” “heals its back-slidings,” and then “loves freely.” It is like driving the ploughshare through the hard, beaten ground, and breaking it up by way of preparing the soil for the good seed. We must “suffer awhile” ere we are “made perfect”—must know something of the sorrows of the sinful state, ere we enter on the joys of the world where sin is unknown.
3. In devising deliverance before the voice of prayer is heard. While we are told in this chapter of the people’s new sins, we hear nothing of their repentance, or their earnest cry for deliverance. The cry of distress with the symptoms of repentance, referred to in ch. Judges 10:10-16, seems to refer to the experience and behaviour of the people under the oppression that was then going on to the east of the Jordan (see Judges 13:8-9), and not to the men of Judah, Benjamin and Dan, to the west. Even, therefore, if the oppressions were synchronous, which they only were in part at the very most, we cannot take the expression of penitence given in ch. 10, as applying to the western tribes that were now crushed under the tyranny of the Philistines.
We are left to believe that here there was no voice of prayer, nor turning of the heart to Him from whom they had so deeply revolted. They were still “enemies of God in their minds and by wicked works.” Yet in these circumstances, thoughts of love sprung up in the Divine bosom, solely because of the great goodness that dwells eternally there.
God is so disposed to bless His people, that He sometimes hears their voice as soon as they begin to cry, and even before they have begun to do so, while, indeed, they are only purposing to do it (Isaiah 65:24) (comp. Matthew 6:8). But always, sooner or later, He hears them when they cry to Him with their whole heart (Jeremiah 29:12-13). Here, however, such is His mercy, that He interposes on their behalf when they do not cry at all. Suffering has been sent, but they are chastised “like the bullock unaccustomed to the yoke.” They do not know the why or wherefore of it all. They seem not to know that it is the hand of their God that is upon them, chastising them for their sins. Hence there is no prayer. They are beaten “like the horse or mule, whose mouth is kept in with bit and bridle.” They do not see any moral instruction in it all, whereas those who have understanding of God’s ways see a salutary course of training in those dealings, dictated by the loving kindness of the Lord (Psalms 107:43).
4. In providing a remedy as soon as He begins to chastise. This is specially to be noticed. The remedy indeed does not appear at once. The antidote is not applied on the very day when the bane is sent. For some considerable time, it looks as if there was no intention to remove the dreadful scourge. And yet all the while steps have been taken to provide a remedy suitable for removing the evil. The birth of Samson was thought of at the very beginning of the oppression by the Philistines. That oppression lasted forty years, of which time twenty years were occupied with Samson’s judgeship, and most of the other twenty were filled up with his growth from infancy to manhood. The Philistines were not fully driven off till at least one year after Samson’s death (1 Samuel 7:13). And if we suppose that Samson began to judge Israel at the age of 18 or 19, then it follows that the message spoken of in this chapter was coeval with the date when the oppression began. The conclusion is manifest, that on the very day when the wound is made, steps are taken to furnish a balm for healing it!
What a touching proof we have in this, that God “afflicts not willingly” (Lamentations 3:33). It is not from feelings of hatred or revenge that He sends heavy judgments. There His nature entirely differs from ours. He bears no grudge, and cherishes no anger, against any class of men merely as men, as we do when provoked. His anger, which is most strong, is directed against sin, so that all who determine to live in sin, and will not give it up, must take the consequences. It is then according to laws that God acts, and not as we do, according to passionate feelings. The sending of this Philistine opp ession on His people was out of respect to righteousness and truth, and not because He had lost His loving feelings to His own. For at the same moment that He applies the rod, He devises means to alleviate the strokes! The love which thinks of deliverance, is at work in the same breast, where jealousy for the honour of His holy name burns.
5. In doing all this for a people hardened in sin. It is when obstacles are placed in the stream that we see the strength of the current. The people with whom God was so considerate and tender in His dealings, were inveterately obstinate in clinging to their wicked ways. Every heart was determinedly barricaded against admitting Him. To bestow His mercies on them seemed like casting pearls before swine. “They were all grievous revolters,” their hearts like “brass and iron” for hardness. Yet it is long before the Divine mercy goes away. “How shall I give thee up—thee—My own Israel, whom I have redeemed, with whom I have entered into covenant! No! I will not give up. I will not execute the fierceness of Mine anger, for I am God, and not man. If they will not hear the gentle zephyr, I will bring the thunder cloud. But I will not leave.”
II. The salvation of Israel is entirely of the Lord.
A common place remark, but how valuable to see it always standing out before us on every page of this interesting history! The thought of it ever begins with Him. It springs from the abundant goodness of His own nature (1 Peter 1:3). So strong is the welling up of that goodness that it overflows the mightiest obstacles which sin in so many forms is ever putting in its way—by its stubbornness, its manifoldness, its malignity, its inveteracy, its intense antagonism to His holy nature, its mischievous influence, its ingratitude, and dishonour done to all His sacred perfections, and finally, its incurableness. How sincere and cordial His pity for the sinning people before Him! To the generation that has provoked Him to bring on them the terrible calamity of the captivity, He said, speaking through the weeping prophet: You may not think me sincere in prolessing loving kindness towards you because of these troubles, but in myself “I know the thoughts which I think toward you; thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you an expected end.” In all the different crises which occurred in Israel’s history as recorded in this Book, their refuge in the background when things came to the worst, was their God; though they had cast Him off, put other gods in his place, and provoked Him to anger daily by their systematic wickedness. For all that, “He only was their rock and defence—their expectation was only from Him.” Let it be treasured up in the memory of every reader to His everlasting praise.
III. God’s honours are free to all His own people alike, though not to strangers.
It was the highest honour in that age which any Israelite could enjoy, to be raised up by God to act as the “Saviour” of the people, in a great crisis. This honour was distributed impartially among the various tribes. From Judah was taken an Othniel; from Ephraim, an Abdon and a Samuel; from Benjamin, an Ehud, and perhaps a Shamgar and a Deborah; from Issachar, a Tola; from Zebulun, an Ibzan and an Elon; from Gad (if the same with Gilead), Jair and Jephthah; from Naphtali, a Barak; from Manasseh, a Gideon; from Dan, a Samson; and perhaps from Simeon, a Shamgar, though it remains undecided. The only two tribes omitted are Reuben and Asher, and that may well be accounted for by the fact, that the deliverer was usually raised up near the point where the danger was greatest; and the tribes just named seem never to have been in such risk of destruction by an enemy as the other ten at some part of their history. But we never hear of any man outside Israel being raised up to be a defender of God’s Church. All God’s battles were fought by men of faith. All others were rejected, whatever might be their skill and prowess. The Church does not need the world’s help. Her resources are within herself.
IV. The real guardian of the Church never deserts his post.
As we read through the account, one naturally inquires—Who is this kind friend, that now and again makes His appearance in the darkest nights of this people’s history, to save them from threatened ruin? He comes unsought, and even unknown; or the moment that He is known, He disappears from view. He does not appear before the public gaze, but shows himself to a solitary individual, whom He appoints to act for Him in carrying out plans for the redemption of the people. He seems always to be in the background, His step noiseless, His voice calm; no pomp of appearance, and no retinue surrounding Him. But He is there—with this people, knowing all that happens to them, knowing all their provocations and sins, but never losing sight of them or ceasing to interest himself on their behalf. He was with the Church in the wilderness; He appeared as the “Captain of the Lord’s host,” when the Church was about to fight her first battle with her enemies; when the people had lost Joshua and were about to pursue their course without a leader, again He appears to reprove them for the symptoms they were already beginning to give of their apostasy (Judges 2:1-5). In the days of the great oppression by Midian, when the land was groaning under the weight of its troubles, He appeared to Gideon and gave him a commission to become “the Saviour” of his Church. And now here we see the same never-forsaking friend, always throwing His shield round about them when they are getting under the paw of the lion.
No other people has such a protector. They stand alone among the nations. They have a friend that never dies, and his love never cools. He lives through all the ages and ever sits at the helm. What can it mean, but that He has a special charge of the church, never resigning his post and never permitting her enemies to accomplish her destruction. All this we find gloriously realised in the guardian care exercised over the church of the New Testament era, “He is head over all things to the Church which is His body,” “He ever liveth to make intercession,” “I am with you always to the end of the world,” “On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it,” “I have graven thee on the palms of Mine hands, thy walls are continually before me.”
V. God is glorified by the diversity of the instrumentality He employs.
The deliverance of Israel is not always effected by one uniform method. Rather there is every possible variety. At one time, a member of one of the best families of Israel is selected to lead the people against the invader, and he is driven back. At another time a left-handed man is employed, who, by a single stroke, smites the head of the oppressor, and the enemy is thrown into confusion. Again a single man with an ox-goad makes such havoc in the ranks of the foe, that their inrush is arrested. Now it is a man from the woods of the north, who appears at the call of a woman, with a handful of mountaineers to meet a huge host with iron chariots in the plain, and in one short hour the imposing array is swept from the field. Again it is a man of sterling worth, but greatly upappreciated by those around him, that is found out by the Searcher of hearts, and brought from the operation of threshing wheat, to lead a small band of lion-hearted heroes against a countless multitude of invaders, and ere the next sun arose, the whole living wave has passed away. Still again it is a refugee, who has found shelter in a foreign land, that is recalled and put at the head of the armies of Israel, and the legions of the enemy are scattered as the chaff before the wind. Now it is no longer a leader with an army at his back that stands before us—one man forms an army in himself, and an army so formidable, that the enemy fall in “heaps on heaps” before him. Before one single arm a whole nation is kept in terror.
What an illustrious display is thus given of the resources of the God of Israel. These resources are never exhausted. What is the practical lesson? “Trust in the Lord for ever, for in the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength—resources.” “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” On and on indefinitely, this series of diversity of ways of redemption might be carried, without the necessity of repeating the old forms. What magazines of resources are at the disposal of Him, who has all hearts in His hands, and all events under His control! Man as God has made him, is a witness to this power in the Divine nature of producing an infinite diversity of expedients to accomplish the Divine purposes. For man is made with a craving after perpetual freshness of knowledge, which can only be met by the inexhaustible resources that are stored up in the mind of Him who made him. Whatever brings out this fulness of resources glorifies God.
VI. Israelites indeed are found in the most degenerate times.
The men of that generation appeared to be sunk in what might be called the lethargy of sin. It seemed as if nothing could quicken them, or raise them out of their stupor. When they were smitten again and again, they could not be brought to see that it was for their sins. They were of that doltish nature, that they could not read their sin in their punishment. It would have required a Hosea to rise up and describe their character. The terrible Philistine scourge could awaken no other sound among them than that of “howling on their beds” like stubborn beasts under the smart of the lash. “Their root was dried up, and bore no fruit.” “Ephraim was like a cake not turned.” Over the length and breadth of the land God’s judgments were rolling, yet no voice of prayer is heard in the high places, nor is there any symptom of the heart of the people turning to the Lord. There is no confession of sin, nor are any Bochims found among their cities or places of public resort.
Thus it was with the masses. But God never leaves Himself without a witness. Here is one family known to the all-seeing eye among the hills of Dan, where in the two heads of the household, both faith and prayer seem to be in healthful exercise. The fear of God is in this home, the knowledge of His laws and statutes is still preserved, His word is law, offerings are made to Him on the altar, His promises are trusted, and His requirements are complied with. Northward, even in Ephraim itself, is another home of these times which forms an oasis in the desert, at the head of which stand an Elkanah and a Hannah, who, like Zacharias and Elizabeth, “walked in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless”—the home of a praying mother and a God-fearing father, a meet birthplace for such a child as Samuel. And near by is old Eli, the resident priest of Shiloh, whose dwelling-place was the tabernacle itself, and whose heart in these stormy times trembled for the ark of God all his life. There were also others in that age to whom everything about the name of God, and the service of God was dear. The daughter-in-law of Phinehas, who gave the name “Ichabod” to her child, because the ark of God was taken; Abinadab in the hill near where Manoah dwelt, and his son Eleazar; and by and bye a large company of penitents sprung up, doubtless in answer to the prayers of the few Israelites indeed, who had all along been left in the land (1 Samuel 7:1-2).
Thus it has been in every age. A Noah was found at a time when the earth was filled with violence, a Job in the land of Uz, and the family of a Terah, when the twilight of heathenism was beginning to overspread the earth, an Abraham and his seed for many generations while the gross darkness of heathenism prevailed, and many striking individual cases of true piety were ever coming up to relieve the dreary history until the great Light at last arose, which is destined in due time to dispel the darkness for ever. For it cannot be that the good man should entirely perish out of the earth.
(1) Then the earth would be ripe for destruction, and the thunders of heaven could no longer sleep. It is for the sake of the righteous in it that the world is not destroyed, and were they all removed there would be no argument to plead for its preservation. The case of Sodom is the proof.
(2) It would be too great a triumph to allow Satan to win over the cause of God on the earth. All Satan’s triumphs take place only by permission. The little finger of Him who defends the church in this world has more power in it, than all the hosts of the dark empire unitedly possess. But for wise reasons that hidden power is meantime held back, to allow the most ample liberty to the powers of darkness to bring forth their boasted strength. It is really weakness placed against strength, that we see on the spiritual battlefield, so that when victory comes, as it is sure to do, the victory may be all the more glorious on the one side, and the defeat all the more crushing on the other. Were the side of Truth, however, to become extinguished altogether, even for a time, it would be allowing one real triumph to the side of Error, and so leave a stain on the record of Truth’s victories in the long run, as being less than perfect.
(3) It would be contrary to the promises made to the church. “His name shall endure for ever.” “The gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” “I will make thee an eternal excellency, a joy of many generations,” etc., etc.
(4) It is for the honour of Christ’s providential rule, that the cause of unrighteousness and error should not gain a single real victory in their conflict with truth. The Son of God is at work in the history of this world in destroying the works of the devil. It is to His honour, therefore, that amid all the seeming defeats of a Christian cause, there should not be one real defeat. As He loves His own name, He will see to it that the cause of evil shall never really conquer, but that uniformly in the end “dust shall be the serpent’s meat.”
VII. In all Divine deliverances wrought there must be respect paid to principles of righteousness.
No repentance, no salvation—is the uniform tone of New Testament teaching; and throughout the Book on every page, we find it was the same in the days of the judges. These “saviours” could not save until the people repented. On the occasion before us, as there was no public manifestation of penitence, the man who was raised up to deliver Israel has no army with him, for it would have been hard to find an army, even a small one, of men of faith at that time in the land; and of such materials usually did Israel’s conquering armies consist. Since, however, there was to be deliverance, some means must be found to show respect to principles of righteousness in granting it. These we have in the conditions laid down for Samson while holding his office, which have been already explained. It was as a man professedly dedicated to the Lord and His service, hallowed in his person, and keeping himself separate from the world, that extraordinary strength was given him through the power of the Divine Spirit resting upon him.
This was indeed but a ceremonial dedication. Yet it was a picture of the principles, out of respect to which, the holy Lord gave to sinning Israel the benefit of a Samson’s strong arm. And it is added, He only “began to deliver Israel.” In point of fact, the crushing defeat of the enemy only took place in the days of Samuel (1 Samuel 7:10-13). Pull deliverance could not be granted until there was a living expression of penitence, such as is recorded in 1 Samuel 7:2-4. The whole Bible might be quoted to show the absolute necessity of repentance where there is to be salvation. In the cross of Christ “grace does indeed reign, but it is through righteousness by Jesus Christ.” God must have regard to His character as a just God, while He justifies, in place of condemning a sinner. And so “Jesus Christ is set forth as a propitiation through faith in His blood to declare His righteousness in order to the remission of sins.” Having shed His blood as a propitiation, “Christ is now the end of the law for righteousness, to every one that believeth.” Every sinner who goes to Jesus for salvation necessarily repents, for he admits the supreme necessity of the vindication of the Divine righteousness, ere his sins can be forgiven, and that the awful sufferings of the Cross alone can do that. To take salvation on that ground is to condemn his own sins in the most emphatic manner, and to admit that God must have the fullest satisfaction for them. That implies conviction of sin, and naturally leads to sorrow for it, and turning from it unto God.
VIII. Man’s inability to see God’s face without ceasing to live.
It was the general belief at that time that no man could see God and live. This may have been due to what Jacob said at Peniel (Genesis 32:30), or to what God said to Moses at Sinai (see Exodus 33:20, &c.). In three ways this is true.
(1.) On account of guilt. To a guilty man, God out of Christ is “a consuming fire.” So it is expressed in Hebrews 12:29. Not that He is less loving than at other times, nor that any real change has passed over His character. But so intense is His love of purity, and so profound is His jealousy for the glory of His name, in the eternal calm of His nature, that without the slightest discomposure, His attitude to sin, and all that cling to it, must be like a fixed natural law, that of strong antagonism—an antagonism so strong as to mean the death of the soul. This antagonism of an infinite nature to one that is finite has all the effect of an irresistible fire, and is substantially the same with that which is called “everlasting fire” in the New Testament. It is the frown of the Lawgiver on the transgressor of His own law. Who can doubt that that will come down on those who die impenitent, precisely according to the manner in which they have sinned.
(2.) On account of a creature’s weakness. When any strong manifestation of God’s character is made, a man naturally shrinks from it, and looks for some means of concealment. This is because of guilt. For why should innocence flee from purity? The holy angels in light who see the King’s face are not afraid. Neither should we be so if perfectly pure. But even though spotless, the full blaze of the Divine glory might be overpowering to the holiest of creature natures, simply because of its transcendent brightness. No human eye could withstand the effulgence of the mid-day sun, so with a human soul before the full vision of God. For this reason many think there will never be a complete display of the glory of God made to the redeemed in heaven itself, but that there will always be some veil put on the Divine countenance, perhaps as many veils as there were curtains of goats’ hair on the tabernacle, which were eleven in number. The general belief is that the form in which God will be seen by us in Heaven, will be the man Christ Jesus.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Judges 13". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany