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GOD’S MEANS OF TESTING CHARACTER AND CHASTISING FOR SIN.—Judges 3:1-4
Judges 3:1. Which the Lord left.] Allowed to remain, i.e., spared from doom; not—did not mark out for destruction. For all the Canaanites were doomed to be exterminated, including the Philistines, the Phœnicians and Sidonians; also the Hivites, as far north as the Gate of Hamath, which was about one hundred miles farther north than the conquests of Joshua reached (Numbers 34:7-9; Genesis 15:18). God Himself was to do the work; His people were to be the instruments employed (Deuteronomy 7:2; Deuteronomy 7:23-24; Deuteronomy 11:23-24; Deuteronomy 20:16-17). But His engagement to aid them was conditioned on their obedience and trust. When they failed in fidelity to Him, their conquests were arrested, and the tide began to flow the other way (Joshua 23:12-13). When from unbelief or indolence they held back from attacking the Canaanites, God spared those whom they spared. Hence, what is called “breach of promise”—apparent, not real (Numbers 14:34). To prove Israel by them לְנַסּוֹת (Greek ὲπείρασειν). Some regard this phrase as having a different meaning here from what it has in Judges 3:4, and in Judges 2:22, where it is used of moral probation, or testing faith and obedience. Here, they say it means to exercise, or train for war—to give them practice in fighting with the view of keeping up the warlike spirit among them. [Pulp. Com. and others.] This alteration in the interpretation of the word, in one and the same paragraph, is purely arbitrary, and could scarcely have been thought of but for the necessities of a certain theory, as we shall see under Judges 3:2. Here, it means to test character, as in Deuteronomy 13:3; and the point to be tested is stated in Judges 3:4 to be, whether they had the spirit of true allegiance to their Covenant God. As many of Israel as] those who came to man’s estate after the close of the wars of Canaan (Judges 2:10). The survivors of the wars of Canaan did not need this discipline. Had not known all the war of Canaan] i.e., by personal eyesight and experience. They had not passed through them, seen with their own eyes the formidable dangers, and met them boldly, through strong faith in the promise of their God.
Judges 3:2. Only that the generations, etc.] Here we have a statement of the moral purpose served by the wars. It was to prove what the younger generations would do when they had personal experience of those wars. Would they show the same fidelity and courage as the fathers, or not? The construction of this verse is peculiar, arising partly from a difference in the idiom of the languages. Bertheau makes Jehovah the subject of the verb to know, and makes Israel the object—the sense being “that He (Jehovah) might know Israel (by putting them to the proof) in teaching them war (giving them the opportunity of fighting against these nations in dependence on His promise).” This gives a good sense, though it seems more natural to regard “the generations of Israel” as the proper subject of the verb. We prefer to render it thus: “Only for the purpose (רַק לְמַעַן) that the generations of the children of Israel might have the knowledge (דַּעַת) of war, through a personal experience of it (לְלַמְּדָס) (not all the generations of Israel, but) those only (רַק) who before had not known it.” The important question here is, what is meant by “teaching them war.” Many understand it to mean, knowledge of the art of war—to cultivate in them a martial spirit, skill in handling their weapons, and true valour in the field. This, it is said, would be a check on effeminacy, and keep them up to the mark of being always able to defend their country when peril should arise. Trapp has it, that Israel might not rust through long rest … “them slay not lest my folk forget.” “Scipio,” he says, “persuaded the Romans not to ruin Carthage lest their youth should want exercise, and grow wanton with too much ease.” If this be the correct view, it is singular that they should be required to fight with their enemies, in order to be able to fight with their enemies. But passing this, it is significant, that none of the many critics who adopt this meaning quote any parallel passages in its justification. There are no such passages. The whole teaching of Scripture is to the opposite effect, viz., that the people of the covenant must rely, in all conflicts with their enemies, solely on the promised help of their God. (Psalms 20:7-9; Psalms 44:3; Psalms 44:5-8; Hosea 14:1-3; Psalms 147:10-11.) The use of natural means had its place, but the people are never taught to rely at any time on that prop, for the defence of their country. On the contrary, the manner in which they acquired possession of the land, is ever represented as the rule according to which they might hope securely to occupy it, namely, by faithfully obeying the commandments of their God. To learn war after the manner of the “wars of Canaan” we understand to be, to look for victory, not through personal bravery, but through the omnipotent help of Jehovah, given in fulfilment of His promise, in answer to faith and prayer.
Judges 3:3. Five lords of the Philistines. Three of these lordships had been formerly subdued by Judah (Judges 1:18), but seem afterwards to have been lost through the sloth and unbelief of that tribe in failing to follow up their advantage. Where sin is not extirpated, it will, like a noxious weed, take root again—“lords,” or satrapies (Sept.). The original sarnaim, or “princes” literally signifies axles. The chief is so called because the people and public affairs alike revolved around him as the parts of a wheel upon its axis. [Bush.] Joshua 13:3; Judges 16:5; Judges 16:8; 1 Samuel 6:4; 1 Samuel 6:12; 1 Samuel 6:16, etc., 1 Samuel 29:2; 1 Samuel 29:6—(סַרְנֵי) lordships, or principalities. And all the Canaanites.] This list is not quite the same with that given in Joshua 13:3, etc. Changes had occurred; conquests had been won and defeats suffered. But the difference lies chiefly in the fact, that the paragraph in Joshua gives an account of the allotment to the different tribes of the land occupied by the nations, that are here said to be spared to serve as scourges for Israel’s sins. The phrase “all the Canaanites” does not refer to all the nations called by that name who originally occupied the country, for very many of these had been slain; but partly, it refers to those that were still found within the territory conquered by the tribes (both the uplands and valleys having towns that were either wholly or partially filled with Canaanites), and chiefly to that large and formidable nation of the Canaanites outside the conquered territory to the north-west, whom the Israelites had not yet met in arms—the Phœnicians. This people, who are generally identified with the Sidonians, occupied a narrow strip of land of only two miles in breadth, but extending along the coast for a distance almost equal to the entire length of Palestine from Dan to Beersheba. In this strip were the cities of Tyre and Sidon; it was densely populated, and the people were among the most intelligent, enterprising, and powerful nations of ancient times. It began near the point where the territory occupied by the tribe terminated, and extended northward, shut in between the Lebanon range and the sea. It was all within the original limits of the land of promise, and ought to have been occupied by the Israelites, as part of their inheritance, though it never was really subdued by them. Sidon was the firstborn of Canaan, and his descendants were the very worst among races where all were so bad. Take Jezebel for an example (1 Kings 16:31; 1 Kings 21:25). The Canaanites who dwelt among the Israelites were most numerous in the northern tribes, and it was these especially that were “snares and traps to them, scourges in their sides, and thorns in their eyes.” The Philistines.] The plain of Philistia, with a breadth of about twenty miles, ran along the entire seaboard of the Mediterranean from the desert, in a line parallel with Judah, to a point near the middle of Palestine. In the central section of the coast, the plain becomes narrower, being only two miles in breadth, and is shut in by the mountains of Manasseh and Ephraim. This is called the plain of Sharon. And the Hivites that dwelt in Mount Lebanon.] The derivation of “Hivites” is interesting. First comes תָוָה to live, and חָוָּה including the idea of roundness. ὼόν ovum an egg (Sept.), which is both round and the source of life. Hence חַיָה and חַוָּה came to signify encampment (2 Samuel 23:11), and village (Numbers 32:41), from the circular form in which camps and villages were disposed. The people called “the Hivites” are those who reside in round villages. Even down to the present day, the villages are so built that the conically-shaped houses form a circular street, enclosing an open space in the centre for the flocks and the herds. This habit of building distinguished the Hivites from the other nations. [Cassel.] Baalhermon.] from אֲרָס height, or highlands. Hermon is the loftiest peak in the Anti-Libanus range. It is the southern spur, and towers far above all its surroundings. This district and all northward among the hills and valleys of the Lebanon range, for a distance of nearly 100 miles beyond the point of Joshua’s conquests, was occupied by the Hivites (Joshua 11:17; Joshua 12:7). Baal-gad is the same with Baal-hermon. All this district was originally marked out for inheritance by the tribes, but in fact was never subdued by them. The entering in of Hamath. The narrow pass which opens out on Hamath—the most northern point in the land of promise [Eadie.] This is the gate to Canaan on the north.
Note on the “Wars of Canaan.”—These did not belong to the common category of human wars. They were specially made at God’s command for a high moral purpose—to vindicate Jehovah’s character in the punishment of flagrant transgressors. In doing this, solemn displays of the Divine Perfections were made, both before the heathen nations and before the chosen people. They were therefore sacred wars, and on sacred principles were they fought. As compared with other wars, the differentiating element in them was, that God Himself was the chief actor, who always determined the issue, and the principle on which He gave success or permitted defeat, was the possession, or the want of trust in His name, and fidelity in keeping His commandments. These wars were indeed both a test of spiritual obedience and also a discipline to correct and refine. To know them implied a great deal more than to know the art of fighting bravely as warriors. Brave as Joshua and his followers were, there was no proportion between their small resources and weak arms on the one side, and the chariots of iron, with the hosts numerous as the sand on the sea shore, which these nations mustered, on the other. It was a war of children against giants—of sheep against wolves. Never were armies more unequally matched, and never was faith of victory through God’s promised help more thoroughly tried. The fathers knew that the conquest of Canaan was not a thing of easy achievement. And now the children must be trained on the same lines, that they may learn how hard a thing it is, as a condition of their retaining possession of the inheritance, to be firm and loyal to their God in the actual presence of enemies, so superior in all the equipments of war, to themselves.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH
The genius of the history of Israel, as distinct from every other history, lies in the fact, that they were the people of the Messiah. They were His brethren, being, together with Him, Abraham’s seed and members of one family circle. They were His ancestry, for “of them Christ came who is God over all,” etc. They were His people, and represented Him on earth till the times of His personal appearance. Being the people of the Messiah, the Messiah’s God becomes their God. God unites them to Himself in the bonds of an everlasting covenant, engaging with great condescension to make Himself over to them as their God, and adopting them to Himself to become His people. In them and in their history, we see a practical embodiment of the blessings which the Messiah procures for men. In them we see an illustration of what God, for the Messiah’s sake, can do in following sinful men through all their course of disobedience and rebellion, and not only preserve them from utter ruin, but lift them up at last, through faith and repentance, to the full enjoyment of everlasting life.
This is the picture which is set before us in this, and in all the historical books of the Old Testament. The Covenant is the backbone of all the Divine dealings with this people, as set forth in these books. We see there, in the position which God takes up, and from which he never withdraws—I will be your God—the vast resources of love which may be drawn upon, in support of all the demands made on the patient forbearance and forgiving tender mercy of God, by the terrible depravity and highhanded rebellion of a perverse people. We see why it is they are not “consumed in a moment”—why not utterly cast off at any time, not even under the Babylonish captivity—why they are so often forgiven, and such astonishing proofs of the Divine favour are shown on their behalf. From the beginning, Jehovah became their God. That position once taken, their history throughout becomes the medium for a glorious display of all the Divine perfections, in pardoning and blessing men for the Messiah’s sake.
Hence we uniformly find them greatly beloved of God. We see God in close contact with them every moment of their existence; they are never out of His sight, and no hand is allowed to touch them but His own. They are to Him a “peculiar treasure,” and He keeps them in the hollow of His hand (Deuteronomy 33:3; Psalms 121:0). He takes the entire direction of their history, and all its issues are to him. This we shall now endeavour to trace.
TESTS AND CHASTISEMENT.—Judges 3:1-4
I. The work to be done.—The trial and chastisement of an unfaithful people.
1. Chastisement as well as trial. The people had already shown symptoms of apostasy, and there was more than reason to suspect their fidelity. The plague-spot had appeared, and there was need to cauterise. When symptoms of “fretting leprosy” show themselves, an examination must be made. The mere presence of such neighbours as these Canaanites, and the having to dwell among them, was itself a chastisement. The presence of bears and wolves in the family circle, even if they should be muzzled, would be a great affliction to the children, though the object might only be to ascertain whether they would put their trust under the parental wing. But it would be chastisement in terrible earnest, were the muzzle removed. So with Israel, when these wicked were first allowed to dwell among them, and when, afterwards, the reins were let loose, and they were permitted to exercise their savage passions at will.
2. A special mark is put on the reason for this course of dealing. God had already explained with great distinctness the ground of His procedure (Judges 2:20-23). Yet He now repeats it, to put emphasis on the necessity of such a course of dealing with a people who had been the recipients of unbounded mercy, and yet were beginning to show the extreme of ingratitude. “He speaks once, yea, twice.” He calls aloud that men may mark His jealousy for His own honour as a Holy God, while yet so full of compassion for His adopted people. Thus at the outset of this checkered history, He explains—“line upon line”—the ground of his procedure, that it may stand clear to every eye. On this trial and chastisement these things are to be noted:—
I. It was God’s own thought to put them to the proof. “The Lord left these nations.” He kept the guidance of their history in His own hand. He directed it this way, not that way. He put the machinery in motion. It did not fall out in the ordinary course of events. Neither did the nations themselves entertain any such thought.
1. Far otherwise were the thoughts of the nations. “Israel was a speckled bird among the nations—the birds round about were against her.” There was a something about that people which excited the hostility of the other nations. It was the old “enmity between the woman’s seed and the serpent’s seed.” This hatred was not due merely to the successful war which Israel had waged against their cities and armies, though that had its share of the reason. But it was due mainly to the character of Israel’s God and His ways. He was too holy and righteous in Himself—too severe in His condemnation of men’s sins—for a world lying in wickedness to do other than hate His image wherever seen. Their thoughts were—
(a) when Israel was strong, to seek alliance with them—only for their own advantage; to gain the profits of commerce, or obtain security against future possible exterminating wars. When true religion is in power, the world will be obsequious, and multiply honeyed words; but when the opportunity is given, it will stab to the heart, and not pity. So—
(b) when Israel became weak, their thoughts were of conquest and revenge. They gnashed their teeth when they thought how terribly these upstarts among the nations had decimated their armies, destroyed their cities, and robbed them of their soil. Feelings of retaliation, or of self-interest, were their only motives. Depraved human nature, without the grace of God, cannot rise higher. The last thing they would have thought of would have been to serve any purpose of the God of Israel in the matter. But “there be higher than they.” While they thought they were serving only purposes of their own, He was overruling all that they did to accomplish His own holy and benignant ends.
2. The nations could do nothing without God’s permission. God “sets a hedge round about” His people that none may touch them till permission is granted. Even Satan admits this (Job 1:10). The lapidary allows no one to cut or grind his jewels but himself, or if another comes in, it is by express appointment, and the work is done under his own direct supervision. Jehovah would not allow these nations to look Israel in the face, to tempt, chastise, or intermeddle with them, until they were needed as instruments to execute some gracious purpose of His own. Had he not judged it necessary to sift Israel’s character, and put it to the proof, we should not have read a line of the raids of Chushan-rishathaim, or of Eglon, and other marauders, whose tragic deeds constitute so large a part of the story of this book. These rough hammers would never have been employed on God’s precious stones, had he not seen good reason for it, and permitted it to happen. But as soon as the hammer has done its work, it is flung aside, and not another stroke is allowed. The nations did nothing till God gave them a charge; and when Israel became penitent, He applied the bridle to their wrath. “Their wrath He made to praise Him, and the remainder He restrained.”
3. This proving of character was done out of respect to His covenant. It was His own doing, and it was done according to a fixed rule of dealing.
(a) God acted by principle, and not by temporary impulse. He never acts otherwise. He is never in haste, and never under the influence of excitement as man is. Were it so, He would be weak like man. But He acts by fixed covenant arrangement. Covenant implies system—a definitely arranged course for all time to come. It is beneath the majesty of the King Eternal to act by temporary impulse, or to make any real change in His rules to meet what mortals regard as peculiar contingencies. He comprehends from the first all that may happen, and provides against every emergency.
(b) He acted according to His established manner of dealing with His people’s sins. It was foreseen that sin—its existence, its inveteracy, its continual breaking out among the people, notwithstanding all the precautions taken to prevent its prevalence—would constitute, to human wisdom, a perplexing, hopeless difficulty in the way of carrying out the provisions of the covenant. God’s character, as a “consuming fire” against the workers of iniquity, was not changed by His entering into covenant with this people. On the other hand, “His people were bent to backsliding from Him,” and there was an extreme necessity for vindicating the Divine character, in order to the righteous bestowment of covenant blessings.
(c) Provision made for this through the intervention of the coming Messiah, the real Mediator of the covenant. Of His appearance and work in “the fulness of time,” intimation was daily given by fresh victims evermore laid upon the altar, throughout their entire history as a people. Meanwhile some course must be taken to carry home to the hearts of the people a conviction of the flagrant character of their sin, in presuming to break their solemn pledge to the Most High, and to prefer the unhallowed service of heathen gods to the pure worship of Israel’s God. Afflictions serve this purpose. God will not break His promise, for it is an “everlasting covenant.” Neither can He look upon sin. But He will chastise. He will cast into the furnace to “purely purge away their dross, and take away all their tin.” So He leads them back to Himself, in the exercise of unwearying forbearance, “for His mercy endureth for ever.” (Psalms 89:31-34.)
4. God puts His people under discipline to serve wise and holy ends. If enemies are used, they are but the rod in His hand, employed to do a necessary work. They do nothing merely at their own discretion. Any commission given to an earthly power is limited by the charge, “Thus far, but no farther.”
(a) No real injury is ever intended. They are more sacred to Him than any other property. He watches over them as the mother bird fluttering over her young; and, as that mother placeth her own body between her young and the arrow that is aimed at their heart, so he who would smite a child of the covenant must first fight with Him that made it.
(b) Never is the rod without some gracious instruction. “Hear ye the rod, and Him who appointeth it.” “All his works are done in truth and uprightness.” (Psalms 25:10.) This gives confidence to the pious heart, and stills all apprehension as to the issue. How many “Fear nots” are in Scripture. Instances in David’s history. Before Shimei he “accepts the punishment of his iniquity.” “Let him curse, for the Lord hath hidden him!” God put him to the test, and he stood it. (See also Psalms 39:9; 2 Samuel 24:14.
5. God Himself determines the time, manner, and severity of the trial.
(a) The time—not too soon—lest He should seem to be suspicious of His people, and take pleasure in hastening to chastise. His language rather is, “Surely they are My people, children that will not lie” (Isaiah 63:8.) Nor too long—lest the malady should get too deeply-rooted, and require a far more severe operation to eradicate it at a future period. In the one case, the tendency would be to foster a spirit of bondage; in the other, to make light of sin, and presumptuously to cast off the fear of God.
(b) The manner—in such form as to instruct the mind in the evil nature of the sin which has brought down the chastisement. The bitter streams of which God causes them to drink, spring from the very sins on account of which God chastises them. “Thine own wickedness correcteth thee, and thy backslidings reprove thee.”
(c) The severity—not destructive, as if He found pleasure in taking vengeance. “To crush under His feet the prisoners of the earth … the Lord approveth not” (Lamentations 3:34; Lamentations 3:36). “I will not contend for ever,” etc. (Isaiah 57:16). A ruthless enemy may be employed as the instrument, yet he cannot go a step beyond the limit prescribed, nor durst he inflict a single pang to gratify malice or revenge, except in so far as that may be a means of carrying out the purpose of the real actor. “I am jealous for Jerusalem with a great jealousy; I am very sore displeased with the heathen, for I was but a little displeased (with my people), and they helped forward the affliction” (Zechariah 1:14-15). Sometimes His hand is very heavy. He goes the length of “barking our fig tree,” and “laying our vine waste” (Joel 1:7). That which is proverbially fruitful He makes conspicuously desolate. But He has always “a bottle for the tears,” and a balm for the wounds. He may use the “scourge,” but never the “sword.” He “afflicts not willingly.” He “chastens for our profit.”
COMMENTS AND SUGGESTIONS
THE LORD’S THOUGHTS ABOUT HIS PEOPLE.—Judges 3:1-4
I. God has many thoughts about His people. “Many are thy thoughts to us-ward; they cannot be reckoned up in order.” He concerns Himself much with them and their history. “I know the thoughts that I think toward you—thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you an expected end.” They are the children He has nourished and brought up. They are called by His sacred name. He has once taken them by the hand, and His love is unchangeable. He has removed mountains for them, and dried up seas—rolled back rivers in their course, and made the hard rocks gush forth streams of water, and the heavens send down angels’ food. How should He not have many and loving thoughts about His people!
II. God’s thoughts about His people are often anxious thoughts. He has chosen them to show forth His praise; but how can a disobedient and rebellious people serve a purpose like this? He appoints them to illustrate the righteousness of His law, and the tenderness of His dealings; but how can they do this when they are daily sinning before Him, and there is no end of their murmurings? He has engaged to see them all safely through the dangers of the wilderness, and settled in the enjoyment of the spiritual inheritance above; but how can this be accomplished when there is so much unbelief and hardness of heart shown at every step of the Divine leadings? “O, Judah, what shall I do unto thee? How shall I put thee among the children, and give thee a pleasant land and goodly heritage?” “Have I been a wilderness unto Israel—a land of darkness? Wherefore say my people, We will come no more unto thee?”
III. Behind all His thoughts are gracious intentions. They all spring from love at bottom. Not one is dictated by enmity, or even indifference. They are all only different forms of loving-kindness and tender mercy, corresponding with the different or changing circumstances in which they are placed. “How precious are Thy thoughts to me, O God! How great is the sum of them!” Sitting on the throne of the Gospel, God’s thoughts to His people are only of pardon, reconciliation, peace, and the hope of eternal life. The Father’s will is that nothing of “the bundle of life” be lost, but “raised up again at the last day.” And even now His several chastisements are sent to serve the ends of love.
IV. God’s thoughts of what true love is are very different from ours. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” He can forgive without difficulty to any extent, where there is true penitence, and trust in the blood. “He abundantly pardons.” But He often withholds that for which flesh and blood ardently crave. He applies crucial tests to bring out the whole heart, and covers us with shame and humiliation. In place of allowing us to sit down at ease, and enjoy the good things of this life without stint or annoyance, He makes us go through the briers and thorns, and learn to “scorn delights and live laborious days.” “As many as I love I rebuke and chasten.” The permanent rooting out of sin from the heart, though requiring sharp present suffering, is regarded as true love in the end in the estimation of our God.
THE CHASTENING OF THE LORD
“God not only appoints all our chastisements, but they are under His special direction and management as to their nature, degree, continuance and effects. What a comforting reflection this! To have every circumstance of our distress in the management of such a hand! He is most intimately acquainted with our frame and feelings. He is possessed of unerring wisdom and infinite goodness, so that our affairs cannot miscarry in His hand. Not a sparrow falls to the ground without His permission. So minute and tender is His care over us, that He ‘makes all our bed in our sickness.’ ” [McLean.]
“The raising of our troubles, the keeping them upon us, and the removing of them, is all of the Lord. It is His wise disposal, and not an ill chance (Amos 3:2). Do not, therefore, rest in second causes, nor vex yourselves as if spurning against the Lord, but patiently bear them. Whoever may be the instrument, the Lord is the overruling cause.
“When by God’s kindness and many comforts we cannot be brought to cleave to Him with all our hearts, He will take another course to bring us thereto. He will acquaint us with wants, trouble, and sorrow. And yet such is His love, that if they prevail with us, and work kindly upon us, to bring us to repent, He will return to us again graciously and continue His former bounty. Our first parents when they sinned began to know what good and evil meant. Children, while tenderly dealt with by their parents, have all things with ease provided for them; but when they grow up and are put to shifts, they come to know what hardness means, through the rough handling of strangers.” [Rogers.]
“Chastenings from the Lord oftenact as a touchstone of human character. They are an Ithuriel’s spear to reveal every man as he is. When Pliable and Christian came to the Slough of Despond, they both fell in and wallowed for a time in the mire. Pliable was instantly unmasked. He angrily asked his companion, Is this the happiness you have been telling me of all this while? After a desperate struggle he got out of the mire on that side which lay next his own house, and Christian saw him no more. But Christian got out on the side next the wicket gate.
But sharp tests while they sift, also strengthen religious characters. When the wind shakes a young tree, and bends it to the earth, it seems to be retarding its growth, yet it is really furthering it. It makes it strike its roots deeper into the soil, that its stem may rise higher and stronger, till it can struggle with tempests and spread its green leaves to a thousand summers. The winds and storms are the educators of the tree, no less than the sunbeams and the dew. In the intellectual world a strong mind thrives on difficulties. There is no falser method of education than to make all smooth and easy, and remove every stone before the foot touches it. God has ordained that where there is to be progression there must be struggle. Specially is this the case where the alloy of sin has entered, and needs to be smelted out by the hot furnace.” [Ker].
“The country of the Israelites was rich, and abounded in dainties of all sorts, so that they were in danger of sinking into the utmost degree of luxury and effeminacy. They must, therefore, sometimes wade in blood, and not always in milk and honey.”
GOD’S CHANGE OF DEALING
Here we have the first step taken in a new course of the Divine dealings. The change is very marked—similar to that of the attitude of the Lord God towards our first parents in the garden of Eden, when man had sinned. At first his voice was heard in loving intercourse with man at the cool of the day; but soon came the frown, and “He drove out the man.” All the days of Joshua were as a bright morning in the history of the young nation whom the Lord had brought out of Egypt. “He couched, he lay down as a lion; he did eat up the nations his enemies; he brake their bones, and pierced them through with his arrows.” Prosperity flowed “as the waves of the sea.” These were the “lights” of Israel’s history; but alas! the “shadows” followed. In the first chapter of Judges, the atmosphere becomes electrical; in the second, specks begin to appear on the horizon, and the first mutterings of the approaching thunder are heard. Now in this chapter, we see the dark clouds getting settled in the sky, and the elements of destruction being prepared. What could have happened that that same God, who had given up these Canaanites to Israel to be trodden down as the mire, should now permit them to rise up and become Israel’s masters, and even sweep over the land as an over-running flood? The change is too marked to escape notice:—
1. It is rendered necessary by sin. Israel had an “evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God.” This apostacy in the heart was now showing itself in the life. “God who seeth all things, taketh notice of, and is much displeased with the sin of having any other god.”
2. There is no real change in the Divine love. An altered conduct on the part of the people leads to an altered tone on the part of their God. When the child forsakes the father, that does not imply that the father forsakes the child. God did not depart from His purpose, but other means now became necessary to carry it out. If God now speaks in notes of thunder in place of whispers, it is still Love that speaks.
3. A change in the Divine attitude is required from the danger of leaving sin unchecked. When the stone has begun to roll down the hill, it must be stopped at once, if stopped at all, for soon, otherwise, it will become unmanageable. As soon as the heart shows that it has decided to have another god, true love will hasten to take measures to show the folly and ruin in which such a course must end.
4. Apathy in the worship of God led to this change. We note a strange silence in this book on the subject of the observance of Divine ordinances. We hear nothing of the solemn feasts, of the services of the priesthood, and the performance of duties in the sanctuary. The altars and their sacrifices, the sprinklings, washings, and ceremonial requirements of the law, are as if they were not. The few glimpses given of the religious life of the people, show how mournfully they fail in forming the most elementary conceptions of the meaning of the Divine ordinances. Micah had a superstitious parody of the Mosaic rites. The Danites followed his example. Gideon worshipped a visible god. Jephthah had but a slight knowledge of the law of vows. While Samson and his parents had but a very crude knowledge of the Mosaic institutions.
This is instructive. The mind must be filled. If it does not accept the true God, that which is no god, or the things of this world, must occupy His place. If it is not led by the Spirit of God, it must be under the dominion of “ungodliness and worldly lusts.” To “walk in the Spirit” is the appointed means of gaining the victory. (Galatians 5:16.) To neglect to do so leaves the door open, and the danger is imminent.
The very mention of these nations looks like the wolves prowling round the sheepfold. It is the appearance of a dark cloud, ominous of stormy times. It is the first visible frown on the countenance of Him, who bore His people through so many dangers for two generations as on eagles’ wings. There was a change in God’s attitude, but not in God’s purpose.
MAIN HOMILETICS.—Judges 3:1-4
II. It was necessary to put Israel to the proof.
1. Their allegiance to their God must be ascertained. This was indispensable.
(1.) God’s jealousy required it. In this character He reveals Himself in the covenant. “I the Lord thy God am a jealous God—thou shalt have no other gods before me.” The smoke and the thunders of Sinai were a visible confirmation of that character of jealousy. Both the attitude of the Speaker, and what He said, showed that He was intently watchful of the measure of respect that was paid to His character, by those whom He addressed.
(2). Without allegiance the people were not in a fit state to receive Divine blessings. Every promise was conditioned on this. It was no secondary question. The good of the creature cannot be advanced by sacrificing the glory of the Creator. It would have been derogatory to God’s holy name, to have lavished His favours on a rebellious people. Those whom He shall bless must have a fitness of character to receive the blessing. If they are to be a mark toward which His love is to go out, He will see to it that they be worthy of His love. He loves all men with a love of compassion, but He regards those only with a love of complacency, who bear His image and keep His commandments. “He taketh pleasure in them that fear Him.”
(3.) Ways and means were easy where there was allegiance. A consistently religious character on the part of the people being given, all difficulty was at an end for bestowing any needed blessings upon them. As regards deliverance from dangers, however great, it was easy for God to “drive asunder the nations,” to make “one man chase a thousand,” or to make a mighty host melt away in absolute weakness, before a mere handful of men. Nay, even iron chariots, solid walls of masonry, and armies of giants, were as the small dust of the balance before Omnipotence. These things were small in God’s estimation; what was great was—trust in His character, and obedience to His voice. This trust was uniformly required ere He put forth an atom of his power. The refrain of every chapter seems to be, “O that my people had hearkened—I would soon have subdued” (Psalms 81:13-14). Men’s sins block the way to the outgoings of God’s loving kindness (Isaiah 59:1-2). Even the power of working miracles was a greatly smaller possession, than a good title for admission to the heavenly world. A similar principle in Matthew 12:50. Where Jesus found faith, He had no difficulty in working cures. In one short hour He could with ease heal the whole sick list, in any of the towns through which He passed. But when there was no faith He paused. “He could there do no mighty works because of their unbelief.”
2. Human protestations of obedience are little to be trusted. “He that trusteth to his own heart is a fool.” Every page of human life confirms the sentiment—the history of this people pre-eminently. Take two illustrations—
(a) When they first received the law from their God. Awe-struck with the majesty of Him whose terrible voice was echoed by the thunders and the earthquake, and which made even Moses exceedingly fear and quake, never did people pledge themselves more solemnly to keep His law with all care, in all the duties of life (Exodus 24:7). Yet, behind the scene, what is the verdict of the Searcher of hearts? “O that there were such an heart in them!” etc. (Deuteronomy 5:29). Within six weeks, this same people were gathered on the same spot to demand of Aaron, “Up, make us gods to go before us, for as for this Moses … we wot not what is become of him” (Exodus 32:1).
(b) When they were newly settled in their promised home. The human heart was here tried under totally altered circumstances. Formerly, there was indeed the great deliverance from bondage as an accomplished fact before them, but as yet there was nothing possessed. All was wilderness around them. They were in complete destitution, and had nothing to look to but promise, while that seemed to be of impossible accomplishment. Now the thing promised has been accomplished in all its length and breadth. The people are assembled in their thousands to receive the farewell counsel of the venerable captain, who had led them to an unbroken series of victories over mighty armies all over the land, with scarcely the loss of a man. Their hearts within them swelling with gratitude for “the great goodness of their God to the house of Israel,” they are called upon to say, in sight of the thrilling history they had passed through, would they, in all candour and sincerity, resolve from this time and henceforth to fear Jehovah and serve Him as their God, or would they prefer to join with the Amorites around them in the worship of their gods? Instantly and vehemently, they protest against the possibility of their forsaking Jehovah and worshipping other gods (Joshua 24:16). They are warned against a loose decision in so important a matter, and solemnly asked to make it on a broad and well-considered basis. They feel hurt that their sincerity should be doubted for a moment—“Nay! but we will serve the Lord.” The decision was unanimous, unhesitating, firm. Alas! for human protestations! At that very moment there were already strange gods among them, though the welkin rang with the cry of undying allegiance to Jehovah, and not a single dissentient voice was raised throughout the vast multitude, that were assembled on that solemn day. Now the “root of bitterness” has begun to bear fruit.
CAUSES OF FAILURE IN FIDELITY TO THE COVENANT
(1.) Their avowal was made in self-confidence. They did not rely on the promised grace of God, as alone able to make them stand. They trusted to the present warm emotions of their own breasts, when their feelings were raised to flood-mark at the retrospect of their marvellous history, and they supposed they would always feel as they felt then. But good resolutions are not indigenous to the human heart. They do not grow all the year round, nor all the week through. They are not like the stone pillars on which the rough blasts beat in vain, and stand unshaken in all weathers. Rather, they are like the gourd which comes up in a night, and perishes in a night. Our safety lies not in the warmth of present feeling, but in offering up the prayer, “Teach me the way of Thy commandments, and I shall keep it unto the end. Incline my heart unto Thy testimonies.” (Psalms 17:5.) Peter was sincere, though not wise, in what he said, as the result showed. (Matthew 26:33; Matthew 26:35; Matthew 26:72; Matthew 26:74.) His real security lay in the fact, that he was in the hands of a mighty Advocate, who had beforehand prayed for him that his faith should not fail. Good moods, even high moods, may be occasionally reached, but they afford no security for to-morrow. “If God withdraw His grace and leave us to ourselves, we are like a city without gates and walls—a prey to the first enemy that appears, however contemptible.”
(2.) It was made in self-ignorance. Every man is disposed to “think more highly of himself than he ought to think.” This is the besetting sin of our fallen nature. Trying themselves by man’s standard, many think themselves to be something before God when they are absolutely nothing, and so deceive their own hearts. The people that stood before Joshua thought, that the strength of their convictions was so great, they could stand any amount of temptation to turn them aside from their allegiance. The spectacle of all that God had done for them in the wilderness, and in the land of their inheritance, was now fresh before them, and they reckoned that it would always be thus vivid. But it is little that any man knows of “the plague of his own heart.” There is more latent wickedness in the hearts of even the best of men than is ever suspected to exist. It is only when the seemingly clear pool is stirred to the bottom, that a discovery is made of the large sediment of evil that is deposited in it. The heart is not a fountain whose goodness is in itself, and that has power to purify itself, but it is a springhead naturally impure, that has to import from without all its cleansing influence. “Let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall.”
(3.) It was made in ignorance of the evil influences around them. Satan is ever desiring to have the Jobs, the Davids, and the Peters, to sift them as wheat. The wolf does not more thirst for the blood of the lamb, than does the Wicked One show himself ravenous for the ruin of souls. “He goeth about as a roaring lion,” etc. Woe to those that are off their watch, and are unprepared for the spring of the terrible enemy! He ever prowls around the fold of the Good Shepherd, hoping yet one day to be able to seize something out of His hands. Yet there is the precious assurance; “I give unto my sheep eternal life—and they shall never perish.” The world too, both by its smiles and by its frowns, proves a formidable enemy. It has long been an enchanted ground to Zion’s pilgrims. Yet through faith we “overcome the world.”
(4.) It was made without counting the cost. God’s service ever has a cross of some kind, and every man who enters it must have some idea of the weight of that cross. If this is not done beforehand, he will soon come to “take offence at that cross,” for he will find that what he supposed to be a mere pleasure-walk, has turned out to be a steep, rugged, and dangerous course. The rule is—“Crucify the flesh with the affections and lusts”—“cut off a right hand” when that is required—“hate father and mother” rather than lose Christ. We must appreciate the strength of Christ’s claims upon us, and know beforehand the lions we shall have to fight with, if we are to enter His service, and so calculate whether we shall accept it with all its risks, or whether reckoning the cost to be too great, we shall go over and join the standard on the other side.
3. Their responsibility was now greatly increased. God had done great things for them, and the rule now applied—“To whom much is given, of them much shall be required.” For upwards of eighty years they had had a remarkable history of privilege. No nation since the beginning of Time had seen such a sublime series of Divine interpositions on their behalf. It was a unique history, and now the climax was reached. They were in actual possession of the land flowing with milk and honey. God was now saying, “What more could I have done for my vineyard?” The time of a great expectation was come. The fruit of so much nurturing and caretaking, for two generations or more, was at last to be reaped. Settled in the land after so much cost, and with Jehovah himself as their God, it was a reasonable expectation that they should be a pattern of loyalty and allegiance to all the other nations—an oasis in the otherwise wide desert of heathenism—a solitary garden bringing forth the fruits of righteousness, while all around rose up nothing save briers and thorns. No people were more sacredly bound by obligations, and if their devotedness were at all to correspond with the measure of their privilege, it must amount to a “cleaving to the Lord with full purpose of heart.”
4. Their temptations to indolence were increased. Flesh and blood love to be at ease. The “wars of Canaan” were practically over. They were “sitting comfortably under their vine and their fig-tree.” They had long been wanderers; now had reached home at last, and such a home!—The glory of all lands!—“A land of brooks,” etc. (Deuteronomy 8:7-9). Their heads laid on the lap of ease, sweet odours filling the air, and a table of luxury daily spread before them, it was a hard battle to keep in subjection the cravings of sense, and live according to the dictates of a pure and spiritual faith. Some sharp stimulus was needed to prevent a people so situated from “settling down on their lees.” They must be “emptied from vessel to vessel.” By some suitable ordeal they must be prevented from indulging in “the lust of the eye, and the lust of the flesh.” It was wise, it was needful to set them on great searchings of heart”—to cultivate self-denial and watchfulness on the one hand, and on the other to institute such external tests in the course of Divine Providence, as would infallibly indicate how the needle of the heart was pointing from time to time.
COMMENTS AND SUGGESTIONS.—Judges 3:1
GOD OFTEN PROVES BUT NEVER TEMPTS
He never puts any object before the mind with the intention of drawing it into sin, but He oftentimes applies touchstones to a man’s character to ascertain what he really is. When the magnet is presented, immediately it draws the steel filings to it; but if there were no affinity in these filings with the magnet, they would not be drawn. Were evil neighbours brought round a man, if there were nothing in him in common with the characters and ways of these neighbours, he would not be attracted by their society but rather repelled, and induced to make a resolute stand against their errors and wickedness. But if, with a profession of righteousness, he is yet really ungodly in heart, and has no true love to God, then the presence of the wicked around him is certain to disclose the fact, that he is an alien to God. When God tries a man’s character, He only brings to light the character which already exists. He never puts any evil into him which he had not before, nor does He ever stir up a man to commit sin, merely for the sake of committing it.
“Light might as soon become the cause of darkness, as holiness itself become the cause of unholiness. ’Tis a contradiction, that He who is the Fountain of good should become also the fountain of evil. Sweet waters and salt cannot come from the same spring. Men are said to be ‘fitted to destruction,’ but it is not said that God fits them. [The Greek verb is in the middle voice; it therefore must be read self-fitted.] They by their sins fit themselves for ruin, and He by His long suffering keeps it from them for a while. God cannot excite to that, which, when it is done, He will be sure to condemn. Sin would deserve no reproof from Him, if He were in some sense the author of it. If God were the author of it, why should our own consciences accuse us of it? It is God’s deputy, and cannot accuse us of what the Sovereign Power itself inclines us to. Having laid down such severe laws to restrain men from sin, and having crucified His own Son, when acting as our sin-bearer, it cannot be, under any circumstances, that He should stir up or excite us to sin. A pure flame cannot engender cold, neither can darkness be the offspring of a sunbeam.” [Charnock.]
“God neither deceives any man’s judgment, nor perverts his will, nor seduces his affections, nor does anything else that can subject him to the blame of men’s sins. Temptation, in the bad sense, always proceeds from the malice of Satan working on the corruptions of our own hearts. God may, however, consistently with all His perfections, by His providence bring His creatures into circumstances of special probation, not for the purpose of His receiving information, but in order to manifest to themselves and others the prevailing dispositions of their hearts. In this sense of putting to the proof—bringing to the test—the term is used in many other instances. In Deuteronomy 13:3 it is said, ‘The Lord your God proveth you, to know whether ye love Him with all your heart and soul.’ Of Hezekiah it is said, ‘In the business of the ambassadors, God left him to try him (le-nas-soth-o) that He might know all that was in his heart.’ Indeed, we find this kind of trial is sometimes made a subject of petition, on the part of good men, as if they regarded it as an act of special favour (Psalms 26:2). ‘Examine me, O God, and prove me (nassani), try my reins and my heart.’ Also (in Psalms 139:23-24), ‘Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts; and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.’ Also (2 Corinthians 13:5), ‘Examine (πειραζετε)—try yourselves whether ye be in the faith—prove your own selves; know ye not your own selves,’ etc.”
MAIN HOMILETICS.—Judges 3:1-4
III. This testing of character was made in love, not in anger. It was the doing of a wise and loving Father, not of an offended Lawgiver. For—
(1.) All God’s dealings with His covenant-people are necessarily in love. This is the very spirit of His covenant: “Your God”—“God is for you”—always on your side. This is His fixed attitude. His love may assume many different forms, corresponding with the different phases presented of their character and conduct, but it is always love. When He chastens them for their sins, even going the length of scourging, it is still love that leads Him so to act by them. (Hebrews 12:6; invariable as in Judges 3:7.) His threatenings are the hoarse notes of His love. The hidings of His face in dark, providential dispensations are so, as in bereavement, adversity, or a sense of desolation, so that they cry out, “All these things are against me!” All tests of character, in like manner, are still but different forms which the covenant love assumes, working mysteriously, but not less sincerely or fervently. It is the love of an unchangeable God. “He loves to the end.” “He rests in His love.” The whole tone of His dealings is, “I have loved with an everlasting love.”
(2.) It was love to prevent a breach of the covenant. Though the covenant is everlasting, it is expressly on the condition that His law is observed and His name glorified. Most of the Divine promises are conditional; few of them absolute. Were no change of circumstances to take place from those under which they were made, they would remain without change. But where such an alteration of circumstance occurs, the very unchangeableness of the Divine character requires that there be some alteration in the promise itself, or that it be not carried out, for it was made only as applicable to certain circumstances, and where these no longer exist the promise cannot apply. God promised to bless His people with blessings, but it was only as a holy and obedient people that He could possibly do so, in consistency with His character as a holy God. On their ceasing to manifest this character, God’s blessings towards them would cease to flow, yet not because of any change in His desire to love them, or fulfil His promises, but simply from the want of the necessary condition. The same character, however, always continuing, the promise would also always continue. There never was a promise made to carry a disobedient people into the land marked out for inheritance. For only loyal subjects of the God of Israel was it intended from the beginning. When, therefore, God dealt sharply with the sins of His people, He was really taking the direct course to prevent a direct breach of the covenant, and so was acting in the purest love.
(3.) It was love to teach the heart the bitterness of sin. That, in the first instance, is learned from the bitterness of its fruits. “The end of these things is death.” The chain becomes heavier at every step, for “the way of transgressors is hard.”
(a) God hides His countenance when His people sin against Him. “I will go and return to My place till they acknowledge their offence,” etc. (Hosea 5:15.) That is usually the case when they prove stubborn, and “will not frame their doings to turn unto their God.” (Hosea 5:4.) Sin in any form is unspeakably abhorrent to His holy nature. Intercourse with Him, therefore, cannot be granted to His children till they come to view their sins as He does. He would impress on them, that it is an exceeding evil and bitter thing to forsake Him as their chief good, and “cast off His fear from before their eyes.” (Psalms 25:14; Matthew 5:8; Hebrews 12:14.)
(b) An evil conscience troubles the soul. Conscience is either the best friend or the most terrible enemy the soul has. It is the echo of God’s voice in the inner man. The trouble which it can raise in the soul is like a spiritual earthquake, so profoundly are all things unsettled by it. The pleasures of sin are felt to have been purchased at a terrible price. “Thou art the man!” is rung in the ear with threatening emphasis, and the soul is glad at any price to buy back its former quietude. The sinner feels that his way is “hedged up with thorns,” while “trouble and anguish make him afraid” on every side. “A dreadful sound is in his ears. He is scared with dreams and terrified with visions.” He cries out in the bitterness of his soul—
“The fire that on my bosom preys
Is lone as some volcanic isle;
No torch is lighted at the blaze,
A funeral pile!”
At last, feeling the hopelessness of carrying on a war with God, and remembering that His mercies are great, he thinks of confessing his sin and returning to Him from whom he has deeply revolted. He takes up the language of the penitent spouse, and says, “I will go and return unto my first husband, for then it was better with me than now.”
(c) The mere cherishing of sinful thoughts in the soul causes misery. They pollute and degrade. The feelings that necessarily accompany them are shame, dread, and self-reproach. The soul is conscious of being deeply dishonoured, as was Cain when banished from the presence of the Lord. Sin is felt to be a great humiliation. It is like a bird of paradise dropping to the ground from mid-heaven, and trailing its wings in the mire. It is felt to be something abnormal, as if the wheels of life were moving backward. It is something strangely unnatural for the creature to rise in rebellion against the author of its being; and when conscience is awake, the instinctive experience of the heart is a thrill of horror, or a feeling of disquiet that is prophetic of a danger we cannot measure. Sin means the giving over of man’s nature to a vile use. It is the profanation of God’s holy image, and the rendering of the great gift of an immortal life not only practically worthless, but converting it into a boundless and intolerable misery. It implies the perversion of every faculty of our rational nature, and a total eclipse of its spiritual loveliness. It darkens the understanding, deflects the will, deadens the conscience, corrupts the affections, and subjects the reason and the moral instincts to the service of the appetites and the passions. Sin is in all respects the bane of the soul, of which it must absolutely get rid, if life and happinesss are to be enjoyed. Hence it is truest love to teach the bitterness of sin.
(4.) It is love to teach self-knowledge and humility.
(a) Self-knowledge. God’s people knew little of the real state of their own hearts—what a small foundation of goodness there was in them, and how even that was entirely owing to the grace of God. Hence the innumerable mistakes they were ever falling into when giving promises for the future. It was true love to discover the foundation of all these mistakes; and the proof that was made of Israel by the discipline to which it was subjected, was for the instruction of Israel itself, quite as much as for any other reason. To know one’s self is indispensable to make every other kind of knowledge valuable. The knowlege of ourselves as we stand before God is necessary in order to realise our guilt, and need of an Advocate—our vileness and need of cleansing. Heart-searching trials give this knowledge. Then our destitution of good, and natural corruption are made to appear. The man feels he must be speechless when the demand is made for a righteousness such as God can accept. A glance at that standard leads him to cry out, “Woe is me! for I am undone!”—“in me dwelleth no good thing.” The Laodicean Church imagined itself “rich,” etc. until put to the test by the Searcher of hearts; then it was found to be “wretched,” etc. (Revelation 3:17).
(b) Humility goes with self-knowledge. “God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee and prove thee, to know what was in thine heart,” etc. (Deuteronomy 8:2). It is humbling to feel that we are dependent for everything on the will of another. But it is crushing to our pride to be told, at the place of judgment, that, “from the sole of the foot even unto the head, there is no soundness in us, but all is wounds and bruises, and putrefying sores,” etc. The natural man’s natural plea should be, “God be merciful to me—the sinner!” And when the natural man becomes the spiritual man, his natural language will be, “By the grace of God I am what I am!” Poverty of all native goodness, with alienation from God, and a tendency to evil thoughts and desires, will be found to be more or less the state of every heart when discovered to itself.
(5.) It is love where a false character exists to have the discovery of it made in good time. God’s Israel was now beginning to prove “an empty vine bringing forth fruit only to himself.” Had this been allowed to go on, justice must ere long have required that the tree be “cut down as a cumberer of the ground.” Faithfulness to his interests prompted to the use of such means, as would seriously awaken his attention to the fact. Hence the trials which were now brought upon Israel. It is kind to “stony-ground” hearers to impress them with the fact that they have “no root” to their religion while going forward to meet the day of trial. For those who are “building on the sand,” it is truest kindness to have it thundered in their ears, that they may not lose a moment in quitting their ground, and placing all that is precious on the solid rock. Tests of the very strictest will be applied when the day of reckoning comes. As travellers are searched for contraband goods on crossing the frontier, so when the soul passes the boundary line between time and eternity will it be searched, lest it should have about it such forbidden things as unbelief, deceit, pride, lusts and passions, covetousness, and the like. For “they that cherish such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” It is true kindness to have all the chaff winnowed out of our character on this side of time, that we may enter the solemn world beyond with the true wheat alone. Trials put us through this preliminary winnowing process.
SUGGESTIONS AND COMMENTS.—Judges 3:1-4
THE IMPORTANCE OF HAVING THE REAL CHARACTER REVEALED
I. Religious character is the most important thing about man before God. He is more important as a creature of intellect or imagination, of judgment or reasoning, than he is as an organism of flesh and blood. And in like manner he is greatly more important as an intelligence gifted with will, conscience, affections, and moral faculties, generally, than simply as a possessor of intellectual powers. Hence it is a spectacle of deeper interest to the Searcher of hearts, to behold the powers with which man worships and knows God, going out in proper exercise to their legitimate object, than to look on the exercise of the faculties which are either merely intellectual or physical.
God loves to see man’s heart going out to Himself as its chief good, and its affections clinging to Him as the highest and best of all objects. He loves to see the will, amid all the oscillations in the stormy sea of life, always deciding according to God’s will, as the needle follows the direction of the pole. He loves to see the conscience in man responding in perfect harmony to the teachings of the Divine law. He delights to see the whole soul bowing habitually in reverence before him. To his Creator, this is the most pleasing aspect which a creature made after His image can present.
And since man has lost this excellent disposition of his faculties, what God now delights in is, to see his disordered nature beginning, through His grace, to get back somewhat of its original exquisite balance. Hence He loves to try them, especially His own children, that He may see whether the heart will come back to Him in new obedience.
II. The foundation of God’s dealings with men must be made clear. It seems singular that God should apply tests to bring out men’s characters, though He already absolutely knows them. But in ruling over a world of men, God deals with things as they appear at men’s point of view. For Himself, He “knows what is in man,” without any use of means. His eye reads character with equal clearness, as it exists in embryo in the heart, as when it comes to full developement in the life. It reads the first emotion, or purpose of the heart, with equal distinctness, as it does the lines of the countenance, or the doing of the hand. To him “the darkness and the light are both alike.”
But that God may be glorified in the estimation of man, it is necessary that the grounds of His proceedure be to some extent made known to him. That of which He approves or disapproves must be made visible that man may understand the meaning of His providential rule; also men’s characters must appear in their actual conduct, that it may be known why He chastises on the one hand and blesses on the other. The grounds of His moral government with men, are either, what is brought out in their conduct, or what in their hearts they know themselves to be.
III. Men do not know even their own hearts till they are tried. Tests are often used to bring to light unsuspected evils. Peter little thought he was capable, when put under the pressure of a strong trial, of denying his Lord. David little supposed that, when left to himself, he could have gone so far in presumptuous sin, as he did in the matter of Uriah the Hittite. Hezekiah, when he was sick, little dreamt that he could have acted so vainglorious a part, as he did in parading his wealth before the deputies of the king of Babylon. His friends never supposed that in the heart of so meek a man, vanity of so rank a growth should be found.
In like manner, the people who had been called by Jehovah’s name, who had experienced numberless proofs of His fatherly care and love, and had had the most marvellous history the world ever saw, of Omnipotence itself interposing in their behalf, might have been expected to have been the most loyal of all people to their God, and the most unswerving in keeping His commandments. Yet at the very moment they were protesting fidelity, idolatry was appearing among them in the background, and ere long the mass of the people began to show an inveterate tendency to apostatize from the God of the covenant. It was fit that means should be used to bring out their real character, that they might know themselves.
THE DECEPTIVE CHARACTER OF SIN
“Sin deceives with appearing to be so little before it is committed. It seems so shallow, that I might wade through it dry-shod from any guiltiness; but when committed, it seems so deep, that I cannot escape without drowning. Thus I am always in extremities. Either my sins are so small, that they need not my repentance, or so great that they cannot obtain thy pardon.” [Thos. Fuller.]
“Some children, when they first put on new shoes, are very careful to keep them clean. They will hardly touch the ground with their feet, lest they should dirty the soles of their shoes. Yet, perhaps, next day they will trample with the same shoes in the mire up to their ankles. Children’s play is our earnest. On the day of vowing we are overscrupulous in our professions, yet, soon after, we wade in sin up to the ankles—nay; they go over our heads.”
THE USES OF DISCIPLINE
“The stones from the wall said, We come from the mountains far away—from the sides of the craggy hills. Fire and water worked on us for ages, but only made us crags. Human hands have made us into a dwelling, where the children of an immortal race are born, suffer, and rejoice; act their part during the morning of their existence, and perform the duties which belong to their earthly state of existence. But we have passed through much to fit us for this. Gunpowder has rent our very heart; pickaxes have cleaved and broken us; to us it seemed without meaning, as we lay misshapen stones in the quarry. Gradually we were cut into blocks, and some of us were chiselled with finer instruments to a sharper edge. But we are complete now—are in our places, and are of service. You are in the quarry still, not complete, and much seems inexplicable. But you are destined for a higher building; and one day you will be put in it by hands not human—a living stone in a living Temple.” [Parables in Household Things.]
Self-searching is an imperative duty in the first instance, “Examine yourselves—prove your own selves.” Much unsuspected sin exists in the hearts of the best of men which trial brings to light. The pond is often clear on the surface, but when it is stirred much foul sediment is found to have been lying at the bottom.
“ ‘Whose fan is in His hand.’ Well it fits Him, and He it. Could Satan’s clutches snatch the fan, what work he would make! He would winnow in a tempest and throw the best away. Had man the fan, out goes for chaff all that are opposed to the opinions of his party. But the fan is in a wise and faithful hand. Only He who knows the heart is fit to hold it.” [Thos. Fuller.]
MAIN HOMILETICS.—Judges 3:4
IV. Obedience is with God the all-important requirement.
“To keep the commandments of the Lord” was the people’s term in the sacred covenant. To bless was God’s term; to obey was reasonably that of the people. “Fear God and keep His commandments; this is the whole duty of man.” To find the fruits of righteousness in the life, was the revenue of glory, which the Creator looked for in bringing His creature into existence. Never was the duty of obedience to the laws and statutes of the great Jehovah, more solemnly and affectingly impressed on men’s hearts and consciences, than in the illustration which we find in the book of Deuteronomy, from Judges 4:0 and onward. This, too, is the burden of every exhortation addressed by the servants of the Lord to the people. It is the natural condition laid down on which eternal life may be enjoyed. “If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.”
1. Obedience is the index which shows that the heart is right with God. Not more certainly do the movements of the hands on the dial-plate indicate that the machinery is working correctly within, than does a regular walking in the way of God’s commandments prove, that the heart is faithful in its allegiance to its God. As the exercise of walking calls into play all the parts and faculties of the body, so does obedience call into exercise all the faculties, feelings, and principles of the soul, so that it becomes the offering of the whole man to God. It is the complement and the crown of devotion, meditation, and experimental feeling, and is the forthcoming of inward principle and inward purpose.
2. Obedience springs naturally from the fear and the love of God. The fear of God implies reverence for His authority, and shows itself by keeping His commandments. These two are always conjoined together in Scripture, as root and flower. But love must go with fear, for fear without love would be cold; but love produces the enthusiasm of fear.
3. In the Gospel obedience must spring from love. There man is dealt with as guilty, and so as having lost the true fear of God. This can only be got back through love. Love in the form of “love to Christ” becomes the spring of new obedience. “The great God, before whom man has fallen, restores him to obedience by leaving the throne of judgment, and coming down to him as a Friend and a Saviour. He descends, step by step, into closer relations of alliance, and binds men to Himself by personal ties until He reaches the lowest step, which is also the highest, for lowest condescension is highest love. He becomes one with men in all respects, especially in becoming sin that He might fully establish the claim of love, and so create obedience by attraction rather than command it by law. The Christian character of obedience is not built up like a cold and lifeless column, stone by stone—it grows like a tree from within, and its root is love to Christ.” [Ker.]
4. Obedience in the Gospel is the obedience of children. Those who continue to live ungodly after being dealt with by gospel motives, are called “sons of disobedience,” while those who yield to the gospel call are regarded as “obedient children” (see Ephesians 2:2 and 1 Peter 1:14). The love and the honour which are implied in making them “sons of God,” are mighty motives to inspire them with an obedience that “runs in the way of God’s commandments.” “Of all children, the children of God are most obliged to obedience, for He is both the wisest, and the most loving of Fathers. The sum of all His commands is, that they endeavour to resemble Him (Matthew 5:48; Leviticus 11:44). The imitation of this highest pattern—this primitive goodness—is the top of excellency. It is well said, ‘summa religionis est imitari quem colis.’ Children that resemble their fathers, as they grow in years grow the liker to them; so the children of God increase in resemblance, and are daily more and more renewed in His image. [Leighton.]
“All obedient believers are of near kin to Jesus Christ. They wear His name, bear His image, have His nature, are of His family. He loves them, and converses with them as His relations. He bids them welcome to His table, takes care of them, provides for them, and sees that they want for nothing. When He died, He left them rich legacies; now that He is in heaven, He keeps up a correspondence with them, and will in nothing fail to do the kinsman’s part.
5. Obedience must be shown in the face of opposition. To show that it is not propped up merely, but has a root of its own. It must be of a robust, and not a sickly nature—able to withstand the force of a thousand breezes, and be only all the more firmly rooted in the soil. Steadfastness of obedience is very gloryfying to God. “Caleb had another spirit in him, and followed the Lord fully. He had no apprehensions when he looked at the dangers. He offered no objections and raised no difficulties. He had entire confidence in his God. The chariots of iron, the cities with walls up to heaven, the giant sons of Anak—all were nothing. With the eye of faith, he saw the Lord of Hosts going forth to battle before him, and treading down all enemies under His feet. ‘Only rebel not ye against the Lord,’ were his noble words. Consequences he left to omnipotence; his concern simply was to do his duty. Similarly did Nehemiah act. When all around him were giving way before the formidable dangers that were ever rising up, his uniform language was, ‘So did not I, because of the fear of God.’ ” [Gisborne.]
THE KIND OF OBEDIENCE DUE TO GOD
1. It must have respect to the authority of God. It does this or that from the motive, “Thus saith the Lord.”
2. It ought to be the best, and the most exact. The best of the flock was laid on the altar. “Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings as in obeying the voice of the Lord?”
3. It must be sincere, and inward.
4. It must be sole obedience (Matthew 4:10; Acts 4:18-19).
5. It must be universal.
6. It must be indisputable. Readiness in the subject is of the essence of true obedience. This the centurion had from his soldiers, and God ought to have from all His servants. “Speak, Lord, thy servant heareth.” Thus did Abraham (Genesis 22:3).
7. It ought to be joyful. “Meat and drink to do the will of our Father in heaven.” “I delight to do thy will, O, my God.
8. It ought to be perpetual. As man is a subject as soon as he is a creature, so he is a subject as long as he is a creature. God’s sovereignty is of perpetual duration as long as He is God. And as God cannot part with His sovereignty, neither can man be exempted from his subjection. Obedience is continued in heaven.
It should also be:—
Childlike and implicit.
Eager and hearty.
All round the circle of duty.
Pure in motive and aim.
Faithful and true.
Unfaltering and firm.
MAIN HOMILETICS.—Judges 3:1; Judges 3:3; Judges 3:5
II. God’s choice of instruments.
Scripture does not give us history from man’s point of view. It sees God as “King of all the earth,” reigning over the heathen and them that know Him not. So here, when describing the pivot on which the whole history turns, we do not read that the Canaanites, having recovered from the prostration caused them by the desolating sweep of the sword of Joshua, gathered up their strength anew to expel the presumptuous invaders of their territories, or try to crush them with a grinding servitude. But what is brought before us is, what the hand of the Lord did, and the instruments whom He employed to do His work. We are taught:—
1. God designates His own agency to do His work. “The Lord left these nations to prove Israel,” etc. It did not come about through the chances of war, through the turning of the wheel of fortune, or through the changes of time, which are always bringing up results that surprise us. The God who helped His people for the destruction of these nations for their sins, now, because of the apostasy of His people, strengthens these nations against them and employs them as fit instruments for doing His chastening work. He not only permits them to do what they did, but He gives them a Divine commission for doing it. As if He had said, “Go and scourge my people because of their grievous sins.” It is not any agencies at random that are so chosen, but certain specific nations whom the Divine wisdom selects. Besides the glory accruing to the Divine name from the doing of any work, there is the additional glory arising from the manner of doing it, God designates the instruments that He reckons the fittest—those, by whose doing it, most instruction will be conveyed. He puts His finger on the agencies He means to employ, and calls over their names at length in the hearing of all. He gives them in charge the particular work they have to do, and they are told off for the doing of it,—though all the while they know Him not, and do the work in reality from quite other motives, than that of a desire to serve and honour Him. Yet He puts His mark upon them beforehand, that it may be known that they are in His employment, so that what is done by them, may be understood to be really done by Him through their agency.
2. God selects His instruments from the camp of His enemies equally with His friends. His enemies do not cease to be His subjects, and His creatures though they have become rebels. He has not lost His right to command, though they have lost their will to obey. They are equally at His disposal with any of the loyal races, that people His dominions. Nor does He need to put any constraint on their free wills, to make them serve His purposes. He is so superior to them in the conduct of His moral government, as to lead them, all unconsciously, to carry out special designs and purposes of His own, while they have no other thought than to gratify their malicious purposes and cruel intentions.
(1.) God makes use of the enemies of His people as a rod to chastise them. They had ends of their own to serve. They wished to have some severe retaliation inflicted on these intruders from the wilderness, for having the best part of their country, taken from them, also their corn, their wine and their oil, and indeed for a complete spoliation made of their whole stock-in-trade, so that they were left with only fragments of territory, now in their possession. These Moabites, Canaanites, Philistines, Midianites and others, thought they were only favoured with excellent opportunities of taking revenge. Yet God was merely for a time—a time determined by His wisdom and love—delivering over His people to chastisement for their backslidings, that He might ere long convince them of the wisdom and necessity of returning unto Himself.
(2.) God has a place in His plans for the wicked to praise Him. “The Lord hath made all things for Himself, even the wicked for the day of evil.” Even some of the plagues of Egypt, it is said, were inflicted by God’s “sending evil angels among them.” Balaam God made use of to bless His people, when Balak would have cursed them altogether. Satan was made use of as an instrument to bring out, by his wicked devices, the utter spotlessness of the Saviour’s character. The efforts made by principalities and powers against man’s substitute, while they were allowed to do their worst as He hung on the cross, to get Him to mar His great work of silent uncomplaining suffering under the curse—by murmuring against God for the bitterness of the cup He was called on to drink, or by throwing up the cause of guilty men on account of their extreme ingratitude and wickedness—these, from their entire failure to gain their purpose, were overruled by God to bring out the perfect character of the offering made, on which men might build their hopes for the eternal future. Not only was the redeeming work not stopped—till the Sufferer could say, “It is finished”—but the gloriously excellent character of the work is brought out by the very efforts that were made to stop it.
3. A sinning people often supply the means of their own correction. The whole of these Canaanites were marked out for destruction. Their cup was full, the sentence against them was gone forth, and the people of Israel were appointed to execute it. So long as the firm hand of Joshua was at the helm, all went well, but when that hand withered in death, there was no other to strike in, and finish what was so well begun. It became irksome to put to death every idolater, young and old. Forgetful of the sins, of these Canaanites, and forgetful of the sacred charge laid upon them by their God to exterminate them, the people gradually shrunk back from their fulfilment of the duty, partly through sloth, and still more through the risks they ran in measuring swords with these stalwart natives of the soil. They did their work by halves, and came to the best terms they could with these enemies of their God. They lived with them as neighbours, and did business with them as traders. The demand made was virtually, to “cut off the right hand;” they chose instead to disobey their God; and, in righteous wisdom, God made their sin become the means of their punishment.
Did they spare the Canaanites? He also spared them, and allowed them to increase, and become strong in the land—the result being, that they became enemies always lying in ambush, and waiting their opportunity for slaking their thirst for revenge. Too truly did they prove “snares,” “traps,” and “scourges.” Had they been entirely rooted out, how many halcyon days of peace and true happiness would Israel have enjoyed, in a land which seemed little less than Paradise regained! How differently would their story have run! But their “own wickedness did correct them, their backslidings did reprove them.” Had Lot not sat down among the Sodomites, though well aware of the danger of moral contact with them, he would never have had such a fiery trial to go through in the end—with property lost and himself saved only “as by fire.” If David had not put his trust in the Philistines, instead of going forward in the path of duty, with his confidence solely in his God, he would have escaped the dire experience of that miserable morning, when he came upon the smoking ruins of Ziklag, and suddenly found the world turned into a desert before him!
“The sinners’ hands do make the snares
Wherewith themselves are caught.”
4. God can turn the most unlikely persons into fit instruments for doing His work.
(1.) These nations were unlikely instruments for doing God’s work. What purpose can be served by brambles, or upas trees growing in the garden of the Lord? What benefit to God’s church could ever be rendered by a people, that had sold themselves “to do evil, only evil, and that continually.” and who were now regarded as “reprobate”? How could it ever consist with propriety, that animals of the wolf species should lie down in the same fold with God’s sheep? Infallibly the wolf nature must quickly show itself, and deadly mischief be done. Yet the circumstances being abnormal, God uses an abnormal method of meeting them, and a valuable end is gained.
(2.) They served as tests of Israel’s character. As it was of their own choosing, God left His people to live side by side with the Canaanite, looking daily at the spectacle of idolatrous practices set before their eyes, so that it might be seen whether they would be allured by the objects and the ways of sin, and whether the needle of the heart pointed to the pole of allegiance, or that of apostasy. Had they been decided to “cleave to the Lord,” they would have rejected all the overtures used to turn them aside, but if secretly inclined to idol worship, they must certainly show it by the manner of associating with their sinful neighbours. The presence of these ungodly transgressors had the same influence on the ungodly heart, as the magnet has on the steel filings. Israel cannot be passive. If so, they were certain to be carried down the stream; if conscientious in their opposition to every feature and form of the prevailing sin, they must rouse themselves from their apathy, and resolutely take their stand on the side of Jehovah. The presence of these idol-worshippers was a touch-stone of character for the professing people of God.
(3.) Such a presence was a loud call to the exercise of prayer and faith. The Israelites, as a rule, were but children in the hands of strong men before these giant races. It was not by sword or spear they could hope to succeed in war, but only by earnest wrestling prayer, and the pleading of Divine promises specially given. Thus only could they hope that omnipotence would interpose on their behalf, and faith must ever enter into prayer. “Whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.” Great faith in God’s word, and deep dependence on Him for hourly and daily protection, were specially called for. To believe that, in ways known only to Himself, He would deliver His people out of the hands of their enemies in due time, if they but proved true to Him—not to trust in human strength, skill, training, resources, or any thing of that kind, as the origin of the deliverance; but to trust that God Himself would be with them, and find the means of fighting their battles successfully in answer to believing prayer and righteous living before Him—that was to fight the “wars of Canaan” in the old spirit.
COMMENTS AND SUGGESTIONS.—Judges 3:1; Judges 3:3; Judges 3:5
GOD GLORIFIED BY THE INSTRUMENTALITY HE EMPLOYS TO EXECUTE HIS WILL
I. By the variety of instruments He employs. We seldom find that the same nation twice over is employed to oppress Israel. As a rule, in each new case it is a different nation, and different kind of nation from the last that is employed.
(1.) God would have transgressors to learn how full His quiver is of arrows, so that it is impossible to contend with him in battle. He could in a moment make all things become our enemies. It is “as if a man did flee from a lion and a bear met him, or he went into the house and leaned his hand on the wall, and a serpent bit him.”
(2.) He would show how many unsuspected instruments of death are all around the wicked, but for His preventing their action. How easily could all the nations have been turned against Israel together, instead of one at a time! and how many were there of them! But for Divine protection, they were in constant peril. The Egyptians never suspected it was such a terrible thing to contend with the God of the nation they held in captivity, till they found the vast variety and terrible character of the weapons which He could bring against them—in turning their waters into blood, filling their houses with frogs, making the dust of the land become lice, filling the air with swarms of flies, and again with swarms of locusts, smiting down all herbs and trees of the land by destructive hail mingled with fire, sending a murrain on the beasts, and severe boils on the men and women, not to speak of the terrible doom of all the firstborn. “Thou, even Thou, art to be feared, and who may stand in Thy sight, when once Thou art angry?” He does not need to go to a distance for troops to fight His battles. He can raise them up at hand at a moment’s notice when the occasion requires. Happy are the people that are protected by the God of Jacob as their God.
(3.) It suggests the thought that the universe itself is but a vast armoury, full of instruments at the disposal of Jehovah, to carry out His will. (Psalms 103:19.) The armies that are in heaven are His armies—“His hosts,” that do His pleasure. The place of supreme power is also the home of the good, and by all such His will is done. That world is a model of obedience. His will is done naturally, freely, implicitly, universally. It is done joyfully, swiftly, enthusiastically. There “His servants do serve Him, resting not day nor night in His service.” “Their plume never droops, their fervour never sleeps.” The swift-winged seraphim, with outstretched wing, stand ready, at a moment’s notice, to fly through the heavens, to execute the behests that issue from the throne before which they stand. In the kingdom of Providence, He who rules is attended by multitudes of spirits that are in the midst of the wheels, that are “full of eyes,” by whom the wheels are turned, and all of whom “go straight forward.” In fulfilling the instructions given them, these agents “run and return like a flash of lightning,” to show the extreme alacrity of their obedience. The very lightnings of heaven, when they hear His voice, report themselves and say, “Here we are!”
“He has all the creatures at His beck, and can commission any of them to be a dreadful scourge. Strong winds and tempests fulfil His word. He can make an army of locusts become as mischievous as an army of lions; can forge the meanest creatures into swords and arrows, and commission the most despicable to be His executioners. He can never want weapons who is Sovereign over the thunders of heaven, and the stones of the earth, and can, by a single word, turn our comforts into curses. He calls the caterpillar and the palmer-worm His “great army,” that climb walls without opposition, and march without breaking their ranks. He can restrain men from carrying out evil designs against His people. He kept back Saul, who, like a hawk, was pursuing David as a partridge among the mountains, when a special message came, that the Philistines had invaded the land, so that the persecutor was obliged to go elsewhere. He also put a check on the wicked men, who had gone so far in their malice as to crucify the Lord of glory, so that at first they did not absolutely oppose the preaching of the cross by the apostles. He that restrained the roaring lion of hell himself, also restrained his whelps on earth. The lions out of the den, as well as those in the den, are bridled by Him in favour of His Daniels.” [Charnock.]
II. By the liberty of action He allows to those who are held as instruments in His hands. God never restrains the free action of the human will. If He did so, it would destroy the foundation of human responsibility. That rests on the fact, that man is free to decide according to his pleasure. Were he not free so to decide, the decision would not be his, but that of another by whom his will was coerced. We say nothing at present about the depravity of the will, and of its constant inclination to evil. Every man is conscious that, notwithstanding his depravity of nature, his will is still free; he is not compelled either by God to do a good act, or by Satan to do an evil one. However much he may be influenced by others, he yet feels that every act which he does is his own act.
Men’s freedom of action consistent with God’s control over them as instruments. When God employed any of these kings, such as Eglon or Chushanrishathaim, to test the character of Israel and to chastise them, He was not known to either of those kings, nor did He begin by making Himself known to them. Their hearts were already entirely in His hands, and He could turn them as he pleased, though He should remain entirely unknown to them. He has Himself laid down the laws by which the movements of every heart are regulated, and in all His dealings with men, He shows respect to the laws which He has laid down. He has made it a rule of our nature, that the will should be influenced by motives, and of these motives, however numerous they may be, He has such an absolute knowledge—both of actual and possible motives—and also such an absolute control of these motives, in adjusting them in any manner he pleases, in the case of every individual heart, that he can foretell, and even fix beforehand with infallible exactness, what the decision of that will shall be, in regard to any one matter, without in the slightest degree interfering with its freedom of action.
Practical Illustration. The motives present to the minds of these two heathen kings, which induced them to go against Israel to oppress them, were as far as possible, away from any idea of causing Israel to pass through a salutary discipline, and this by the command of Israel’s God. They were altogether the reverse of what could be pleasing to that holy God. Yet He, of set design, allowed them to go forward with their own evil intentions in view, just in so far as it suited His own purpose, but not a moment longer. Then the current was changed, or was entirely stopped. Their motives were a desire for revenge, thirst for conquest, exaction of tribute, an extension of territory, and especially a boasting of the superiority of their gods. The incentives to their action were thus entirely wrong, but the action itself was exactly in the direction of the Divine purposes, and God was pleased to use them as His instruments accordingly. In acting from such motives, or with a view to such ends, they deeply incurred the wrath of Jehovah, more especially for these two things—their maltreatment of a nation that was now sacred in God’s estimation. “He that toucheth you, toucheth the apple of mine eye.” Also, for their daring to slight the authority, and despise the name of Israel’s God. On these two accounts mainly, great wrath went forth from Jehovah against them, which ended in their destruction.
Assyria and Babylon were long employed as God’s instruments in punishing the nations for their sins. But to punish them for their sins against Jehovah, was not their meaning in doing what they did (Isaiah 10:6-7). When therefore the work was done, the manner in which the rod had dared to shake itself against Him who wielded it came before God in judgment, and it was flung out of His hand as fuel into the fire (Isaiah 10:12-15). Babylon also was wielded by the Ruler among the nations as His battle-axe and hammer, and a whole list of nations was marked out for him to destroy (Jeremiah 25:0), and another list was made out to be put in servitude (Jeremiah 27:0). But the executioner of God’s designs in these cases had wicked motives in his heart, and wicked aims before his eyes, and his time of reckoning also came. Babylon was “rolled down from the rocks,” and broken in pieces, because of all the “evil it had done in Zion,” and of the contempt with which it had treated the sacred name of Jehovah (Jeremiah 50, 51)
MAIN HOMILETICS.—Judges 3:1-2; Judges 3:4
III. The tendency of the covenant people to apostatise from their God.
This is always the most visible thing in the page of Israel’s history. Other things may be traced only in faint and indistinct lines; but this is always broadly marked.
1. It is what might have been least expected. Situated as they were, they were the most favourable specimen of the human race to show the spirit of true allegiance. None were so highly privileged; none so well trained; none had such an excellent parentage; none had been the children of so many prayers; none were the heirs of so many promises; none had had set before them such force of motive in the noble obedience of a remarkably pious ancestry; none had had such striking patterns of fidelity to God set before them in the case of their national leaders; none had seen such a series of gracious interpositions of the hand of Omnipotence on their behalf;—in short, nothing but the firmest attachment to the God of their fathers, might have been expected of these children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—Abraham, the “friend of God;” Isaac, the man of devout meditation and readiness to sacrifice his life at the call of his God; Jacob, the man who, as a prince above other men, had power even with God in prayer, and prevailed. What a force of holy example did such men leave behind them for the good of their descendants!” What specimens of faith, of self-denial, and true fear of God did they exhibit!” Under what a hallowed roof-tree were their children cradled! Could a richer or fatter soil be found in which to plant the young shoots of a coming generation? Did ever richer dews or warmer breezes come from the Lord to foster any flowers that were put into His garden, than in the case of that generation which “entered into the rest” of the lion-hearted Joshua? And yet if anything is clear about them, it is that they showed a tendency to apostatise from their God!
2. The root-cause lies in the depravity of the human heart. There is within men an “evil heart of unbelief departing from the living God.” The character of the fountain is seen in the muddy nature of the stream. The disposition of the heart to go away from God, is not occasional or changeable, but it is in the very constitution, and is abiding. “The carnal mind is enmity against God.” The current flows uniformly in one and the same direction. Its tendency is fixed. After the miserable exhibition made by the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, what shall be said for the children of any other class of parents? We fear nothing can come out of it but the old conclusion, which we must write down once more—“there is none that doeth good, no not one!”
3. Remissness of parental training one of the immediate causes. The generation that formed the Israel of the day in this third chapter, were not those who had seen the Divine wonders of power and grace that distinguished the golden age of the immediate past, but those who followed after, and had only heard of such mighty acts. But no duty was more imperative on those who had seen and taken part in them, than to imprint the whole record diligently on the minds and memories of the rising generation. This was the fixed rule with regard to the whole history of this people from age to age—that one generation should instruct the one that followed it, and that again those that followed after, in regular succession. This was a binding duty (Psalms 78:3-8; Deuteronomy 6:2; Deuteronomy 6:7-9; Deuteronomy 6:20-25).
Parental training had a very important place among God’s people, for, first—
(a) God meant the lessons imparted to one age to be learned equally by all succeeding ages. He deals with all the generations of Israel as but one people. He appeals to any one generation by arguments drawn from what He had done to previous generations, or from obligations undertaken by these previous generations, as if they were identical with the generation immediately addressed. And this bond of intimate union of the different generations in one people, could only be sustained by a very full, faithful, and persevering course of instruction and pious example, such as is implied in the exercise of parental training.
(b) The children were taken into the covenant equally with the parents. Hence parental training became a sacred duty. The children are expressly mentioned as being present, along with their fathers and mothers, at the first great convocation, held when they were being devoted to the Lord as a whole people, in view of their being about to enter the land of their inheritance. (Deuteronomy 29:10-13). The charge of obedience is laid on the children equally with the parents (Deuteronomy 30:2).
(c) A special command for instructing the children in God’s law was given in perpetuity. Once every seven years was the great law of the covenant to be read aloud in the hearing of all Israel, and the children were then to be specially instructed (Deuteronomy 31:9-13).
(d) The young people of the early ages of Israel’s history were specially dependant on parental training. In times when writing was rare, reading as an art must have been very imperfect. Thus the young received all their knowledge in the form of oral instruction from the old. Besides, this dependance was all the greater, that the instructions which the young Israelites received from their God, were so widely different from those required of the children whose parents worshipped other gods, and required much greater self-denial.
(e) Difficulties of parental training under the circumstances. This training was conducted with fewer facilities, and amid more discouraging circumstances, than it is with us, so that less good fruit might reasonably be looked for than we are accustomed to do. From the severity of the trial of character, to which the whole people were subjected in so strongly idolatrous an atmosphere, those who were false in profession would quickly become supine in the discharge of duties for which they had no heart, while among the steadfast few there would be many a David, who never said to his Adonijah, “What doest thou?” or many an Eli, who “heard of his sons making themselves vile,” through idolatrous practices, and “he restrained them not.” And there might be few Abrahams, of whom God said as to parental training, “I know Abraham, that he will command his children, and household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord.” Thus may we account, in considerable part, for the subsidence into idolatrous practices, which quickly became general over the land.
IV. Each new generation requires in some degree to be taught by an experience of its own.
Parental training is not enough. It seems strange that both a history, and a law, which were so repeatedly impressed on the minds of the whole people, first under Moses, and then under Joshua, should not have so penetrated into the very heart of the nation, as to have been engraven with an iron pen, to last for many generations, if not for ever. And yet those laws which were proclaimed literally in notes of thunder from heaven, and those facts of extraordinary strength, which make up the stirring history of Joshua’s days, seem not to have got so deep into the minds of the Israelitish nation, but that in the very next generation, there was need for farther instruction in the same lessons. Those who had not actually seen the doing of the Lord, and witnessed the operations of His hand, required to be put through, on a small scale, the experience of the fathers. This teaches the following lessons:—
1. The strange incapacity of the human heart for receiving Divine lessons.
(a) Scripture—makes it the cardinal error of our fallen race, that “there is none that have understanding to seek after God.” as the first thing a creature should do (Romans 3:11). The people that were of all others the best instructed in the knowledge of God, who were taught it all their life, through “precept on precept, line on line,” are yet continually charged with being “a nation void of counsel, neither having any understanding”—“fools and blind”—even “sottish children,” “who have eyes and see not, ears and hear not, whose hearts have waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing,”—who know less of their God in the spiritual world, than “the stork in the heaven, the turtle, the crane, and the swallow” know of the laws which affect them in the natural world. Even the knowledge of “the ox,” and “the ass,” for practical purposes, is said to be superior to that of God’s own people. Well may the account be wound up with the statement, “my people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. And they are suitably addressed in such lines as these:—
“Ye brutish people understand,
Fools! when wise will ye grow?”
(b) Experience. As regards practical proof, we might say, it would take a less force to make water and oil mix together, than to induce the human heart to take an everlasting embrace of God’s holy truth.
(c) The names given to man in his natural state. Take one as a specimen—the name “Fool,” so often applied to those who know not God. This word not only indicates that man is ignorant, and without discretion, but also that he is unimprovable, under a spell, or infatuated. And the difficulty of teaching a fool any lesson of practical wisdom, is that he has no natural receptivity for it. “Reproof entereth more into a wise man than a hundred stripes into a fool.” Yea, “though thou shouldest bray a fool in a mortar, yet will not his foolishness depart from him” (Proverbs 17:10; Proverbs 27:22). Those who cannot catch God’s meaning at once, by a slight indication, or a significant movement of the eye, must be treated like the dull horse or mule who understand nothing save the bridle, or the lash (Psalms 32:8-9). What stubbornness characterises the human heart in receiving God’s holy truth!
2. Personal experience is the most effective method of teaching. The persons now to be instructed are those, who “had not known the wars of Canaan” by personal experience. God was now to put them through some of the experience, which the fathers had to go through. No knowledge is so effectually gained, as that which comes in this manner. Teaching by testimony, or report, exercises but a slight influence, compared with that which is gained by personally passing through all the circumstances of any particular scene.
(a) A more vivid impression is made. It is when knowledge passes in direct, through the five gates of the senses, that it gets the best hearing from the understanding, and makes the deepest impression on the heart. Everything is distinctly realised, and felt to be an actual fact. All passes before the eye and is no dream. There is no comparison, as to vividness of impression made by things known through personal experience, and things known only by hearsay.
(b) Personal interests are more deeply touched. It was one thing for this people to believe it as a tale that was told them, that through the Divine promise given, it was possible to fight all the giants and subdue mighty armies, for that had now become matter of history. But to see the lions at hand, to witness with their own eyes the ferocious Canaanites mustering their forces to battle, with a weight of armour, strength of bone and muscle, and equipment for the field far superior to their own, while yet they were successful in the conflict—this was to give the knowledge of experience, and teach what mighty things prayer could do, when it had Divine promises to plead—what trust in the character of the covenant God could do—and what good issue could arise from obedience to the Divine commandments in the practical duties of life.
Examples.—It was said of the good Richard Cecil, when leaving a sick bed, where he had been confined for upwards of six weeks, a friend remarked to him he had lost much precious time lying on that couch. “No,” he replied, “the time has not been lost. I have learned more within these curtains during these weeks, than I learned during all my academical course at the university.” Joseph, too, learned the lessons which served him so well in after life, more effectually in the pit of Dothan, and the dungeons of Egypt, amid cruelty, injustice, and desertion of friends, than he ever could have done under the wing of parental indulgence in his natural home. Suffering is the most effective of teachers.
3. Each generation must have a character of its own, and answer for itself. The parent cannot believe for the child, neither can the child inherit the faith, the prayerful spirit, and the religious worth of the parent merely from the fact that he is a child. However valuable the inheritance of piety, of faith, and godliness, left by those who had gone before, it was still imperative on the young generations after Joshua’s days, to know for themselves the sacred principles, by observing which they gained possession of their inheritance, and still retained it in possession. God dealt with each generation according to its own character, sending evil and dark days, or days of bright sunshine and prosperity, as their conduct was pleasing or displeasing to His Holy eye.
COMMENTS AND SUGGESTIONS.—Judges 3:1-2; Judges 3:4
THE DIFFICULTY OF GETTING DIVINE TRUTH INTO THE HEART
1. How much care and many arguments are used in vain. Why so much pains taken to instruct the coming generations. If the heart had been ordinarily willing to receive such precious truths, and to be taught such impressive lessons, no argument would have been necessary, and the only difficulty would have been to have rejected them. Yet arguments need to be employed for a whole lifetime, and kept up from generation to generation, to keep the people at the exercise of faith and obedience—sad proof that the “natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God,” etc.
2. The facility with which the heart lets slip the Divine teachings. It is like “the morning cloud and the early dew.” What earnest effort and intense anxiety are needed to retain truth which is already imparted! “Give earnest heed to the things you have heard, lest you should drift away from them.” (see Hebrews 2:1, revised version). “Take fast hold—keep—let not go” (Proverbs 4:13). As oil runs off water without uniting with its drops, so do God’s most impressive teachings pass off without mixing with the deep convictions of the heart. The young Israelites of the next generation, doubtless, heard a great deal about the glorious transactions of their national history, which made them the envy and the wonder of every land. The mere tale of such deeds should have sufficed, to rivet in their hearts for ever a sense of their obligations to the covenant God. Yet how faint the impression made! At the first rough blast of trial, it was found they had such a slender hold of religious principle that they gave up the services of Jehovah and accepted those of Baal.
3. When milder means do not suffice to educate men in religious duty, sterner measures are held in reserve. When these young Israelites would not listen to the quiet teachings of faithful parents, they had ere long to go forth and meet the Canaanite in the open field, and learn, in the stern work of actual war, those lessons which they were so slow to acquire around the domestic hearth. What an illustration of the inveterate tendency of the heart to reject and push aside spiritual appeals! It remains,
“Though woo’d and aw’d,
A flagrant rebel still.”
When the father’s kindly hand and the mother’s soft touch had no effect, God’s people must be given up to the handling of the rugged nurse—Adversity, that through her more rigorous discipline they might, by any means, come to learn practical wisdom.
PIOUS PARENTS MAY HAVE ERRING CHILDREN
1. Religious character does not depend on natural birth.
“That which is born of the flesh is flesh.” The corrupt nature which is common to our race is transmitted by natural law. Proofs of this are unfailingly given in every life. “There is not a just man upon earth that doeth good and sinneth not.” The undoubtedly pious son of the God-fearing Jesse tells us, he did not get his piety from his parentage. He says, “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” And the Saviour affirms that every man, to be fit for His kingdom, must be “born again.” Thus, no generation, however pious, can give security that their children will be the same that they have been. The result is, that none are pious by birth. “Grace does not run in the blood,” as Eli, Aaron, Noah, David, and even Samuel (1 Samuel 8:3; 1 Samuel 8:5), knew to their cost.
2. Yet the children of godly parents are often pious. Though grace does not run in the blood, it does often run in the line. The line of Seth seems to have been the line of the godly, and it continued for centuries. The line of Eleazar’s priesthood appears to have gone on from the day that the people took possession of their inheritance, until the day when they were driven out of it into captivity, with only a few breaks (from Eli to the expulsion of Abiathar, 1 Kings 2:27)—or more than a thousand years—most of whom, if not all, appear to have been men worthy of their office. The line of Abraham is also a strong case.
3. Special advantages belong to the seed of the godly. There is—
(1). The standing special promise which God makes to all believing parents. “I will be a God to thee and thy seed after thee.” It is indeed conditional; but when the condition is fulfilled, or in the degree in which it is fulfilled, the promise is sure.
(2). They are usually the children of many prayers. Where parents neglect this duty it is cruelty to the children. Every parent should not only pray, but “travail in birth” again, till Christ is born in every child that God has given them. Look at the mothers of Augustine and John Newton.
(3). They have commonly the benefit of a good example set before them. This, though not alone sufficient, has in it all the teaching force which the silent presentation of religious realities can give. Example is often more effectual than precept.
(4). They are usually the subjects of a pious training. Parents who fear God themselves are required to “bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” They also have the promise, “Train up a child in the way that he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”
(5). For the most part they are in the company of the righteous. They are led “in the footsteps of the flock.” The natural principle of imitation—so strong in the young mind—is thus utilised to lead them to do as the righteous do.
4. Illustration of a degenerate seed springing from godly parents. The generation that entered Canaan under Joshua, are supposed to have been more pious than almost any other through the whole history of that people. Of this we have proof in the great outstanding fact, that “by faith they Subdued kingdoms,” over the whole length and breadth of the land (Joshua 2-11). Another proof of fidelity to principle we have in Joshua 22:0. Yet a large number of their children, and nearly all their grandchildren, became idolaters, and required dealing of the severest kind to bring them back to God.
MAIN HOMILETICS.—Judges 3:5-11
GREAT SIN AND SEVERE CHASTISEMENT
Joshua 3:5. And the children of Israel dwelt.] Here are two downward steps at once—a refusal to drive out the Canaanites, and this followed by a decision to sit down and dwell among them. “Canaanites, Hittites,” etc.—not ethnological but geographical names, say many. The inhabitants of Canaan were a congeries of various races, who adopted a common Semitic language, and were attracted to the country by the commercial facilities of the sea-coast, the fertility of its soil, and the strength of its mountain fastnesses. The word “Canaanite” signifies lowlander; “Amorite,” highlander; “Perizzite,” dweller in the open country; “Hivite,” dweller in villages, as described above; “Jebusite,” a thresher; “Hittites,” the posterity of Heth, in the mountainous country of Judah, who may have had something of the character of their father, whose name signifies, the terrible. [Lias and Young.]
Judges 3:6. And they took their daughters, etc.] Another downward step naturally following on the first two. To form connection with these wicked people by intermarrying was expressly forbidden, and solemn warnings were given to beware of striking on that rock. (Exodus 34:16; Deuteronomy 7:1-4; also Genesis 24:3; Genesis 26:34-35; Genesis 27:46; 1 Kings 16:31; Ezra 9:2; Ezra 9:11-12; Nehemiah 13:25-28.)
Judges 3:7. The actual narrative now proceeds.—Served Baalim and the groves.] (Sept. and Vulg.) Heb. Asheroth, not Ashtaroth. Not “groves” literally, but upright wooden pillars; for they were often cut down and burned (Judges 6:25-30). (2 Kings 23:6; 2 Kings 23:15; Deuteronomy 12:3). The stone pillars of Baal, on the contrary, are said to be “broken down” (Exodus 34:13; Deuteronomy 7:5). [Douglas.] Some hold that Asherah was a wooden image, or symbol of Astarte. [Bertheau and Hengstenberg.] (See Notes on Judges 2:11-13, p. 32 and 35; also Prof. Lias in loco.) It has been supposed the reference is to Jupiter and Venus. [Douglas.] It is styled the worship of the “groves,” because the “pillars” referred to were placed in the groves, and the worship was carried on there.
Judges 3:8. Sold them.] Taken from the manner of disposing of a slave; means—He gave them entirely over into his hand without any visible protection from their God (Deuteronomy 32:30; 1 Samuel 12:9; 1 Kings 21:20; 2 Kings 17:17). “As the Lord had said” (Leviticus 26:0; Deuteronomy 28:29). “Worthy are they to serve those, whose false gods they have served.” [Hall.] “And they served,” if not formally as vassals and slaves, yet the service must have been a virtual bondage—such cruel treatment as the caprice of a heathen tyrant might dictate. The Hebrew word יַעַבְדוּ implies a worse servitude than being tributary, though that is included.
“Chushan-rishathaim”—“Chushan of double wickedness.” The Targum and Peshito interpret it to mean, “the crime-committing Chushan.” The former calls him—“Chushan the wicked, king of Syria on the Euphrates.” Rawlinson regards him as a powerful king, who is represented on the Assyrian inscriptions as the subduer of rebellious countries. Cush is a general name for a widely-diffused family of nations, and is descriptive of their general characteristics, their mode of life, their darkness of complexion, etc. Kings and heroes beyond the Euphrates are named כוּשַׁן. Probably the first part of the name is ethnological in its reference. Cush was the son of Ham, and the father of Nimrod, and so his name may have been taken by the whole line of warlike heroes who followed each other on the banks of the Euphrates, somewhat in the same manner as the Sultans of Turkey, who formed an almost unbroken line of men of energy and enterprise for a long period. In that case, Chushan would be a mere titular or honorary designation. The latter name may have been given to express the detestation in which he was held as the enslaver of the nations. It would imply a similar odium to that attaching to the phrase, “publicans and sinners,” or it may simply mark the ferocious character of the man. It has been said, “Tyrants delight in terrible names and titles, as Attila the Hun, who styled himself “Ira Dei et orbis vastitas.” [Trapp.] “King of Mesopotamia.” Heb. Aram-naharaim, signifying “the Syria of the two rivers”—the Tigris and the Euphrates—or, “the highland by the two streams.” He must have come a considerable distance (Mayer says 400 miles), which according to Groser made it a punishment less severe than subsequent servitudes to tribes at hand. This raid of Chushan appears to have been similar to the incursion made by the four kings from the plain of Shinar, to the country occupied by Sodom and Gomorrah, and other tribes, in the days of Abraham. (Genesis 14:0) “Served him eight years.” The same length of time, say some, that they had openly practised idol-worship.
Judges 3:9. Cried unto the Lord.] Sad change from the days of Joshua! (Comp. Judges 10:10; Judges 10:15.) “Raised up a deliverer.” מוֹשִׁ֛יעַ—a Helper, or Saviour. (Comp. 2 Kings 13:5; Nehemiah 9:27.) “Raised up.” Prompted, or stirred up. A special Divine influence was exerted on the individual. This phrase forms a striking parallel to Acts 13:23. “Othniel.” The Kenizzite, the younger brother and son-in-law of Caleb, and formerly conqueror of Kirjath-sepher. (Joshua 15:16-17, cf. Judges 1:13.) He bore one of the most honoured names in the royal tribe, was himself a hero, and, above all, was a man who understood the science of the “wars of Canaan,” viz., that all real victory is secured by faith. Thus he was well qualified at this critical moment to step forward and lift from the dust his country’s torn standard. Othniel was not elected to office by the vote of the people, but God Himself made the choice, as He did in all the other cases.
Judges 3:10. The Spirit of the Lord came upon him.] (וַתְּהִי עָלָיו רוּחַ) It is to little purpose to make much (as Keil does) of the distinction between the Spirit of Elohim and the Spirit of Jehovah—between the Spirit, as the principle of the natural life which we receive through birth, and, as the principle of the spiritual life which we receive through regeneration—or between the spirit of prophecy and the spirit of power, with other similar distinctions. The main thing to be noticed is, that the Divine Spirit was specially given and in an extraordinary degree, so that the recipient felt assured beyond doubt God had called him to do a great work, and was endowing him with all the gifts and qualifications that were needful for the execution of that work; whether courage, wisdom, zeal, prophecy, power, or any other quality that might be needed. The man was lifted above himself, and gifted so far as was necessary to make him an instrument entirely meet for the accomplishment of the work set before him. But it was the supernatural rather than the gracious influences that were conferred (Judges 6:34; Judges 11:29; Judges 13:25; Judges 16:6; Judges 16:9). Joshua is described as a man in whom was the Spirit (Numbers 27:18, see also Nehemiah 2:18). “This gift, like every other, has Faith for its foundation; yet human weakness is not excluded.” [Hengstenberg]. It was given in such measure and manner as to secure the entire efficiency of the instrument. No details are given of Othniel’s mode of action. It is likely he conquered in battle. Josephus says, “he collected a band of resolute men and surprised the king’s guard.” The force of the phrase—“came upon him” is, He lighted upon him,—“and the Lord gave Chushan into his hand,” etc., (cf. Judges 1:2; Judges 3:28). The battle was not due to mere skill and courage, but the presiding mind that ordered all the circumstances and brought out the victory, was the Lord. “His hand prevailed”—became strong over him (Judges 6:2). He smote him so that he was compelled to evacuate the country. “He judged Israel”—acted as a head to Israel—became a father to—righted what was wrong, administered justice, and decided for the nation its path of duty in the special emergency. This is the force of the word שָׁפַט. Besides taking a general charge of public affairs, “the judge” specially enforced the law under which Israel lived, and taught the people to recognise in it the authority of Jehovah.
Judges 3:11. The land had rest.]—was hushed to repose, like the stormy ocean when a lull comes on in the evening and not a ripple moves on the surface. This calm is secured by righteousness, Isaiah 32:17. “And Othniel died”—at the end of the forty years.
MAIN HOMILETICS.—Judges 3:5-7
THE DOWNWARD COURSE OF SIN
Prefatory Note. Hitherto we have seen the faithfulness of the Covenant-God in accomplishing His word to His people. From first to last, there had been no failure. All had come to pass, and the whole nation were the witnesses. They had become a great nation. They had been put in possession of one of the most beautiful homes the earth could furnish. Jehovah’s right hand had done it, and done it in such a way as to leave them with a history full of thrilling interest and gratitude to all succeeding generations. No wonder that so many of their spiritual odes begin and end with a call to “Praise the Lord.” This is the gist of the historical portions of Exodus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, and Joshua.
Now in the Book of Judges, we are to read how the people fulfilled their side of the Covenant. Were they loyal to their God and King? Did they appreciate the high distinction conferred upon them, and did they realise the weighty obligations under which they were laid to love and serve their God, notwithstanding the temptations that might be employed to induce them to apostatise? Now that their God has done everything that He promised to do on His part, the time has come to say how they mean to fulfil what they had promised on their side. They are left entirely to themselves, without any Moses or Joshua to guide them, that they may give an unbiassed answer. They are allowed ample time—400 years and upwards—that they may have a thorough trial, and that God may bring out all that is in their hearts. Every security is taken that the verdict shall be entirely their own.
But alas! the response to all this kindness and painstaking is extremely melancholy. On every page, as we read, is stamped the word faithless. They erred from the beginning and they erred all through. In a single line may be epitomised all that needs be said on the subject. “They forsook the Lord God of their fathers, and followed other gods.” For allegiance we have treachery and alienation of heart; for alacrity in keeping the Divine commandments, we find listlessness and disobedience; for ardent gratitude we find cold indifference, and mulish insensibility; instead of lifting up a testimony for the God of their fathers, they seem totally unconscious that they have a mission in the world, and ever betray a tendency to fraternise with the devotees of heathen worship around them. Their history is a long and ever-repeating series of backslidings and punishments, of repentances and deliverances—and this throughout the entire era of the judges! What an expenditure of Divine mercy made to all appearance in vain!
In the downward course of sin related at Judges 3:5, we mark—
I. The form of their sin.—One of omission. A sin of omission stands at the head of the list of the heavy charges which God brings against His people.—“Ye have not obeyed my voice” (Judges 2:2). To clear the land of those wicked peoples, the last sands of whose day of forbearance were run out, was the express injunction of Jehovah, and was most imperative in its character. “Thou shalt utterly destroy them—thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth” (Deuteronomy 7:2; Deuteronomy 20:16-17; also Leviticus 27:29). How faithfully Joshua executed this stern commission appears from Joshua 6:21; Joshua 10:28; Joshua 10:40; Joshua 11:11-12. The heathens themselves seemed to have a premonition that they were all doomed because of their wickedness (Joshua 9:24, also Judges 2:9). Joshua had done much, but much still remained to be done; and now, after twenty years have passed away, the sad account is, that no progress has been made since that good man was laid in his grave, but on the contrary, that the work has been going back very perceptibly. Notice:—
1. No sin of omission is ever small. Usher’s last prayer was, “O Lord! pardon all my sins—especially my sins of omission.” The half-hearted king of Israel thought his sin of omission too slight to be taken account of, when he spared the best of the sheep and the oxen, among the people that were given over to entire destruction. His self-satisfied statement was, “I have performed the commandment of the Lord.” “What then,” was the stern reply—“what meaneth this bleating of the sheep and this lowing of the oxen, that I hear?” (1 Samuel 15:14). Why did “the rich man in hell lift up his eyes, being in torment”? Because of a sin of omission! What will form the ground of condemnation of “the goats on the left hand” at the great day of account? Sins of omission! Why is it that millions of souls are lost that might have been saved? Because of a sin of omission—neglect of the great salvation.
Reasons why it cannot be held small:—
(1.) It slights God’s authority. It may seem at first sight less defiant of that authority, than a sin of commission, and so some regard it as trifling. But this thought is insidious. No sin from its nature can be small. Though not a direct transgression, if it be a non-compliance with God’s law, it implies a slight done to the Majesty of the Lawgiver, and a throwing off the yoke of obedience to His law.
(2.) It implies alienation of heart from God. Obedience is the natural expression of love. (1 John 5:3.) But where obedience is not, there cannot be love. And as there cannot be neutrality, there must be alienation. In God’s estimation, no line of demarcation is more broadly marked than that between a heart where love reigns, and one whose instinct is that of alienation. Sin, in any form, is, in the principle of it, treason against God’s supremacy in the soul, and this principle once admitted, who can tell to what it may grow? Indeed, it is a sin of omission, that forms the chief ground of condemnation of the whole race of man—the want of love to God, with all the heart, soul, strength, and mind.
(3.) There is no fear of God before the eyes. True reverence of God implies the greatest sensibility of response to His word. It is called a “trembling at God’s word” (Isaiah 66:2). It is the opposite of indifference, and implies that the soul is jealously sensitive that God should have from it all the love, obedience, and consideration that is His due. But neglect of God’s law, or any of God’s commands, means the opposite pole from jealous sensitiveness to give to God His due. This neglect, then, cannot be a small sin.
2. Sins of omission may become indefinitely great. Over the space of many years the tribes failed to fulfil a paramount duty. They lingered and doubted, they temporised and put off the disagreeble duty, and so the doomed races were not removed out of the land. On the contrary, they were allowed to recover from their panic, they gathered heart again, recovered ere long much of their lost ground, and began rapidly to multiply in numbers. And now, so far from their being exterminated, we see large cities in the interior filled with them, fertile valleys crowdedly occupied by them, and the sea-port towns in their possession along with fortresses and fastnesses all over the land. Six races out of seven count as before. What had these Israelites been doing, that there seemed scarcely to be any thinning of the numbers of the doomed nations? Rather they seem to be advancing than retreating. What a fatal issue was imminent! Had Divine Providence not interposed, the rising tide of idolatry must soon have swelled up to the Israelitish community itself, and gradually overflowed the only true God-fearing centre among men on the earth. To such a climax must the evil effects of this sin of omission have reached, had there been no check.
Illustrations of this principle. That sins of omission grow when let alone. (a) Neglect of parental training. This goes on from day to day for years, till the result appears in evil habits contracted and evil dispositions fostered in the children, ensuring a bitter harvest of sorrow. (b) Neglect of self-training. When a man neglects day by day to fulfil his duties to his God, he becomes confirmed in the habit of living “without God,” and “living to himself,” the result being the growth of all manner of ungodly dispositions in the heart. It is as in a garden. If no care is taken to clear away the weeds, and turn over the soil, it will gradually become the garden of the sluggard, or, losing the character of a garden, it will become an offensive jungle, or a noisome marsh. “I went by the field of the slothful,” etc. (Proverbs 24:30-32.)
II. The tendency of sin to multiply itself.
1. No sin stands alone. Any sin when tolerated becomes a mother sin. The appropriate name for it is “Gad—a troop cometh.” All history verifies this as a matter of fact. And if we look for the principle, we find it is a natural sequence that one sin should open the door for another sin. The same state of heart that can commit one sin deliberately can commit others, and many others, so long as the heart is not changed. Besides, it is part of the punishment of one sin to have the barrier broken down between the man and another sin. “He that committeth sin becomes the servant (slave) of sin.” The sinner is also given up to the influence of the wicked one who knows too well how to work on the bias of his sinful nature.
2. The root sin here was failure to exterminate the Canaanites. This was an act of direct refusal to obey a Divine command. Had they done as commanded, they would have removed the temptations and the active influences that led to other sins. But this first sin paved the way for all that came after. It led to—
3. Their dwelling among the idolaters. There was no alternative. Either root them out, or live among them. Kill them, or have them for snares. Being permitted to live, these idolaters became interspersed with the tribes in all corners of the land. “The sons of God,” cultivated brotherhood with “the children of the Wicked One.” The professedly holy held fellowship with the unrighteous, and the openly sinful. The eyes became accustomed to look upon sin, and the ears got used to hear the voices of sin day by day, for a long period. They made a perilous peace with a sworn foe. They made the hopeless attempt of trying whether it might not be possible for “light to hold communion with darkness.”
4. Their intermarrying with the ungodly. Their sparing these nations led them to live among them, and now their living among them leads to their intermarrying with them. “The lust of the eye and the lust of the flesh” speedily overcame what remained of their failing fidelity. “The beauty of the Hamite women, and the secular advantages which such alliances promised, exerted a mightier influence than the counsels and the warnings of the noble men who pled the cause of God and truth, or the remembrance of past mercies and past chastisements.” This was no longer walking merely on the borders of sin. It was giving it the right hand of friendship. It was taking hot coals into the bosom, and those who did so could not fail to be burned. It was allowing sin to work under the greatest possible advantages, and to work unchecked. The most powerful of all influences—those which belong to the domestic circle—are enlisted as a means to entice the soul into the commission of “the abominable sin.” Influences leading to idolatry thus came streaming in upon them through all the avenues of daily life. Rapidly a lower descent is reached.
5. Their worship of false gods. It is indeed all put in one sentence, as if there were no appreciable difference in time between the one step and the other. (Judges 3:6.) They intermarried and “served their gods.” as if the two things went together as a matter of course. The spark does not more surely kindle the tinder. But so painful is the fact that the statement is made twice over, first more briefly in Judges 3:6, and then more explicitly in Judges 3:7, as if to put a melancholy emphasis on the statement. “Yes, it was even so. The children of Israel DID the evil, about which so much care was taken to keep them from it—they really did forget the Lord their God, and served Baalim and the groves.” Wonder, O Heavens! and be astonished O earth, etc. A flagrant breach was made of the first and greatest of all the commandments—“Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.” They were indeed casting away the very foundations of their religion as the seed of Abraham. They were formally abandoning the sacred covenant that stood between them and their God. His fear was cast off; they trampled on His laws, and cast His ordinances behind their backs. They shamelessly gave that homage to the lifeless images which was due to the true and living God.
6. The facility with which they made the change. Why should a whole nation, in the short space of twenty years, swing round to the opposite pole from that, to which by their remarkable history they were solemnly pledged to adhere for all coming time? It was another sad example of the fact, that “the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.” Peculiarly offensive such conduct must have been in the sight of the Jealous God. The despising of His great name—the dishonour done to His Majesty—the deep offence given to every perfection of His holy nature—were all fitted to provoke Him to anger, and to say, “Shall I not visit for these things? Shall not my soul be avenged on such a nation as this?” What culpable forgetfulness of all His mighty acts and gracious deliverances! What a slight put on the lavish display of loving-kindness and tender mercy! Tell it not in Tyre and Sidon lest the uncircumcised should triumph!
COMMENTS AND SUGGESTIONS.—Judges 3:5-7
THE UNEXPECTED OUTBREAK OF GREAT SIN
Who could have imagined that a people, exalted to heaven in point of privilege, should have so swiftly slid down the steep to the pit of heathenism? It suggests:—
I. The latent power of sin. Such an event could not have happened without a strong force of gravity towards evil. When temptation can lead astray with such facility there must be much affinity with it in the heart. Not more certain is the action of a spark on tinder than is the influence of evil in alluring our fallen nature to sin. In the present case, though there were no noisy demonstrations, the heart must have been secretly wedded to evil. The stream is deepest where it flows most noiselessly. Three things were remarkable—
(1.) That the depravity of the heart should have gone so far.
(2.) That it should have done so when surrounded by such sacred motives drawing in the opposite direction.
(3.) That it should have done so with so little appearance of apostasy beforehand. “Men love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil.”
II. The fostering causes of this sin—
(1.) Supineness. Sloth. Men love to be at ease. The craving of flesh and blood for self-indulgence is strong. But the spiritual life requires the subordination, and even the crucifixion, of flesh and blood. Constant diligence in the use of means, and the strict fulfilment of duty are necessary, not only to promote advancement in holiness, but also to prevent backsliding into the ways of evil. There is ever a latent current of feeling in the heart downward toward ungodliness, so that the oar requires to be actively handled that the boat may ascend the stream. When the oar is laid aside, instantly there is a going downward. There is no such thing as remaining stationary. But when a difficult duty has to be performed, how many cry out like the slothful man, “There is a lion in the way—a lion in the streets.”
(2.) Neglect of watchfulness and prayer. To “watch and pray” is the Master’s own receipt for not entering into temptation. All who have overcome in spiritual battles have used this receipt, while those who have neglected to do so have sooner or later been overcome. There is much to be opposed within. “I am carnal, sold under sin. I find a law that when I would do good, evil is present with me.” There is much to be guarded against from without. All that is in the world, its bewitching influences, its vain show, its pride of life, its smiles and frowns alike. And there is much of danger coming both from within and without. “The god of this world” is ever wielding its influences for the spiritual injury of men, and as “the spirit that works in the children of disobedience,” he is ever secretly engaged in trying to seduce the heart from the ways of righteousness and truth.
(3.) Faith dying out. Where true faith is once fairly planted in the heart, “He that begins the good work will carry it on” to final accomplishment. But not a few profess to have faith who, on trial, prove to be false, and become as bad or worse than the unbeliever. In other cases true faith may exist, and yet sink so far down as to seem “ready to die,” and so lead to backsliding for a time. Where faith is not in operation there is great risk of violent outbreaks of sin, for without faith there is no ground to stand on in opposing sin. It is “by faith we stand.”
(4.) Being spoiled by luxury. When “Jeshurun waxed fat he kicked; he forsook God that made him, and lightly esteemed the Rock of his salvation.” When Israel got settled down in a rich and fertile country which he could call his own, as abundance flowed around him, he was in danger of losing that sense of dependence on his God which was so necessary to a healthy piety. Hence this is put down as one special cause of apostasy (Deuteronomy 31:20; Hosea 13:6; also Nehemiah 9:25-26; Deuteronomy 8:12-14). The well-watered plains of Jordan, which seemed like the garden of the Lord, became a curse to Sodom. Thus, too, it was with the Egyptians, Assyrians, and Babylonians. (Comp. Proverbs 30:8-9; Psalms 73:7; Psalms 73:18; Psalms 17:10.)
III. The tendency of sin to seek the lowest level. As water ever flows downwards seeking the lowest level, so does a heart that is estranged from God. It is always instinctively seeking to get farther and father away from God. “Cain went out from the presence of the Lord and dwelt in the land of Nod.” Of the wicked, it is said, “God is not in all his thoughts.” and as this alienation grows, he begins to doubt his very existence, because he more and more wishes that no God did exist. He has a memory for everything else, but no memory for the living God.—His name, His law, and our responsibility towards Him. A godless man, who was seventy years of age, once confessed that he had never used the name of God, but twice all his life, and that was as a means of swearing.
The course of sin is ever downwards, and that with accelerating force, as the stone rolling down the mountain side, which moves faster and more furiously at every bound. And it never stops! The sinner finds that
“In the lowest deep a lower deep
Still threatening to devour him opens wide.”
But never does he reach the very lowest. It is a “bottomless pit.” It was hard from the first to convince the Jews that the Christ had really come. But it grew harder and harder as time went on, until it could be said of the very teachers of the nation—“having eyes they saw not, and ears they heard not.” None are so blind as those who will not see. “Jesus said, For judgment am I come—that they who see might be made blind.” There is such a condition as “having the understanding darkened—having blindness of heart—and (as regards the conscience) being past feeling”—showing an advanced growth in evil habits.
THE RELIGIOUS STANDARD NOT TO BE LOWERED
This lay at the root of the apostasy. Joshua nobly put it up to the right mark (Joshua 24:19, etc.). But the people with distempered vision did not see it. Already they pitched it lower while he was speaking, and the ensnaring influences of every day life led them to keep on gradually bringing it down, until they could first bear to look on evil, then to come near, and, by and bye, to embrace and practise it. When Jesus saw the multitudes following Him, He turned to them and said, “If a man come to me and hate not his father and mother, yea and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.”
“By presenting an easy and lax view of religion, many have been brought over nominally to the gospel, who neither knew its nature nor felt its power. Imperfect views of what Christ requires have never done any real service to the Christian cause. It is said of Philip of Macedon, that he conquered less by the sword than by his bribes. No such success is possible in spiritual warfare. We must not keep back any part of the truth—the essential depravity of our nature, the need of a radical change of heart, the necessity of dependence on the mercy of God through faith in the blood of Christ, and the requirement in all cases of a holy life. We must not tell people that every part of their progress will be free from anxiety, that their path will be uniformly smooth, that no opposition will arise without, and no struggle within. We must describe the trials as well as the comforts, the labour as well as the reward, the race as well as the prize, the battle as well as the victory. If these things are kept out of sight, there will be no real success; there may be counterfeit religion, but no vital principle of godliness. There will be no root, and therefore no ‘bearing unto perfection.’ ” [Foote.]
“Nothing does so much harm to the cause of Christ as backsliding. And nothing causes so much backsliding as enlisting disciples without letting them know what they take in hand. Jesus had no desire to swell the number of His disciples by admitting soldiers who would fail in the hour of need. He bids all who think of taking service with Him, to ‘count the cost’ before they enter on it. People are often self deceived, and think they are converted when they are not changed at all. It costs something to be a true Christian. To be a nominal Christian and go to church is cheap and easy. But to believe in Christ with the heart, and to follow Him in life, requires much self-denial. It will cost us our sins, our self-righteousness, our ease, our wordliness. All must be given up. Christ’s religion begins with a sacrifice. The cross appears at the outset.” [Ryle.]
“If we mean to follow Christ, we must reckon on not making anything more than heaven out of our religion, as we must not think of anything less. A true disciple is one that comes after Christ, and does not prescribe to Him. He comes after him as the sheep after the shepherd, the servant after the master, the soldier after his captain; and Christ’s service will bear scrutiny. Satan shows the best and hides the worst, because his best will not countervail his worst, but Christ’s will, and that exceeding abundantly.”
MAIN HOMILETICS.—Judges 3:7
III. The deplorable end to which their evil course led.
1. There was entire abandonment of God as their God. They were exalted to heaven with the privilege of being able to call the great Jehovah their own God. He had made to them a special gift of Himself. What a possession was this to belong to “dust and ashes!” “Blessed were the people whose God was Jehovah” Yet this apostate generation did not covet the incomparable privilege. Dumb images made with men’s hands they preferred to that great Being who made heaven and earth!
(1.) Sin is a great spoiler. It not only robs men of some of their valuable treasures, but it takes God Himself out of the list of their possessions! And what a loss to any man is the loss of his God! What a terrible robbery is here! To have the Divine favour withdrawn; to have the Divine image eclipsed; to be cut off from the source of all righteousness, goodness, and truth; to lose the protecting shield of Jehovah’s arm; no longer to enjoy the watchful care of His loving eye; and especially to put away from them the love of His mighty heart, and the inexpressible joys of His holy fellowship—to give up all this of their own accord, is an extraordinary illustration of how far sin can go through its enchantments in stripping men of their possessions.
(2.) Sin is a great madness. When God Himself is abandoned, this madness is of the very worst type. For immortal beings to be travelling on to a never-ending Future, where the laws of righteousness and truth hold on their fixed course, yet to cast off all thought of God! To see mighty forces in nature around them now slumbering, or only partially at work, before which man is but a straw, liable to be swept away at a moment’s notice, and to know that at the boundary line of the eternal state these forces will awake in all their majesty, yet still to reject the friendship and protecting care of their God! O this is deplorable indeed for those who were once children of the covenant!
2. There was sinking down to the level of heathen worship, and heathen practices. It is difficult to estimate the melancholy character of the announcement—“they forgot the Lord their God, and served Baalim and the groves.” Through the rough discipline of the wilderness journey, the idolatrous spirit had been almost wholly purged out of the nation, and under the strict administration of Joshua “the house had become empty, swept, and garnished.” Now, the unclean spirit was going and taking with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they were entering in and dwelling there, so that the latter condition of the nation was worse than it was in the beginning. The degrading character of the new service. The service of Baalim for the most part consisted in the perpetration of a series of acts of cruelty in honour of the god, while that of the “groves” consisted in the commission of crimes so gross as to court concealment. In both cases, crimes of unrestrained profligacy were converted by them into acts of religious worship! The practice of the most hideous forms of wickedness became their religion! The light they had was “become darkness, and great was the darkness.” The religious sense was for the time practically obliterated, conscience was seared, and the reins were let loose for every measure of practical wickedness. A state of life where all the grosser passions reign supreme, where the idea of responsibility for moral conduct is given up, where there is no thought of an all-seeing eye looking on, where there is no higher object to look up to than dumb wood or stone, and where every suggestion of enlightened reason is drowned amid the wild cravings of evil affection and desire—such is the low level reached by those who had cast off their God.
COMMENTS AND SUGGESTIONS.—Judges 3:7
NECESSITY OF SEPARATION BETWEEN THE RIGHTEOUS AND THE WICKED
1. The rule has always been clear. At the earliest dawn of history we find strict requirement made as to non-allowance of intermarriages between the godly and the ungodly, and also as to intimate intercourse of any kind. In the lines of Seth and of Cain respectively, we read of the distinction of the “sons of God” and the “daughters of men.” Abraham was most strict in arranging that his promised son should not intermarry with a heathen family. It went deeply to the heart of Isaac and Rebekah that their firstborn son should have so recklessly violated this rule. It was a solemn injunction to the nation of Israel to keep themselves entirely aloof from intimate fellowship with other nations. Especially, an emphatic charge was given not to mix themselves up by marriage, or other ties, with the nations that occupied the land of their inheritance. Any violation of this charge was found at all times to lead to disastrous consequences. So it is said, “Israel shall dwell safely, being alone.”
2. Its application to New Testament times. The principle is laid down that Christians should not form intimate relations with the men of this world. They are not to make close companions of them, even when they are led in the course of their calling to do business with them (1 Corinthians 5:9-11).
They are not to entangle themselves in intimate unions with the openly wicked and profane. This is but to follow up the prayer—“lead us not into temptation.” It is to obey the injunction, “be not unequally yoked with unbelievers,” etc. And again, “Come out from among them, and be ye separate.” And it is to act in the spirit of the maxim, “Evil communications corrupt good manners.”
“In unequal matches, the bad are more likely to corrupt the good than the good to reform the bad.” [Henry.]
3. The line of separation. The righteous are not to associate with the men of this world in any of their evil principles or corrupt practices. They are not to act with them while giving way to sinful indulgences, or to arts and acts of dishonesty, deception and fraud, or any conduct whatever which the word of God condemns. But there is a field of action and of thought which the Christian has in common with the man of the world, such as professional duties and engagements, commercial transactions, scientific pursuits, and also the ties of relationship, or trade, or neighbourhood; also benevolent and philanthropic schemes, the rights and duties of citizenship, etc. In regard to these, some measure of intercourse is allowed, if care is taken not to compromise Christian principle.
4. Care must be taken to draw the line. The friends of God, and the friends of sin, if sometimes accidentally brought together, must never become bosom friends. Christians are the holy temple of God, and must not get polluted by contact with transgressors. The intercourse of evil men is very apt to corrupt the hearts of Christians. By the secret influence of their words, looks, and conversation, they do so. We come to have less horror at vice, as we accustom our eyes to look at it from day to day; we feel less alarm while we hear of it frequently; and we gradually get less cautious and circumspect while we constantly mix with the gay, the worldly, and the men of corrupt minds. Even the Old Dispensation could teach that we should “not plough with an ox and an ass together,” i.e., with a clean and an unclean animal in the same yoke. So now under the New Economy righteousness should not have fellowship with unrighteousness, nor should light have communion with darkness. (See Barnes on 2 Corinthians 6:14-18; also on 1 Corinthians 15:33.)
MAIN HOMILETICS.—Judges 3:8-9
THE INEVITABLE ISSUE OF SIN
I. Their experience of a course of sin.
1. It begins with high promises. Its nature is to work by allurement. It glitters and it flatters; it smiles and it enchants; it deceives and it intoxicates. It promises immediate gratification, and that of the richest kind. Its golden apples are easily plucked, and they are to be had at once without the trouble of waiting for them. Its enjoyments are lip-full in measure—all that is agreeable to flesh and blood, all that the “carnal” heart can desire. An air of fascination is thrown around every object, and all things are made to appear “couleur de rose.” Bright flowers are presented to draw the eye, sweet odours to regale the sense of smell, rich harmonies to ravish the ear, and choice delicacies to please the taste. Whatever witchery can be practised on the senses, whatever seductive arts can be employed to win the affections, whatever lulling influences might possibly succeed in soothing the conscience, whatever persuasive power can be brought to bear on the will, all is employed with the skill of a magician to draw the soul across the line of rectitude into the region of transgression. A certain nameless influence is felt to be drawing the soul onward, more difficult to analyse than the ozone of the atmosphere around us.
The Israelites thought they had got a happy solution of their difficulties when they closed hands in cordial alliance with these Canaanites, agreed to live with them as good neighbours, and employed the sacredness of the marriage tie to cement their relations in a lasting peace. Thus would they be saved from carrying out farther the dangerous and murderous work of extermination. Thus the brightest commercial prospects were opened to them, and the full cup of life’s enchanting pleasures, which these nations were accustomed to put to their lip, would also be shared by them. The argument was irresistibly plausible, and they allowed themselves to be beguiled. But one thing it lacked. It was against the express command of their God! And so—
2. Sin soon proves a peace disturber. When the soul is first enticed all things are at peace. There is no thunder in the sky, nor even a single black cloud. The sun shines brightly overhead. The air is balmy and genial. The flowers bloom freshly and sweetly around us, the lawn is verdant, the birds sing among the branches, and all nature by her profoundly peaceful attitude seems to second or support the argument of sin by her tacit approval. The tempted one is thus induced to put forth his hand, and pluck the forbidden fruit. From that moment the wheels begin to move backward. No abrupt external change takes place. The sun still shines, and the birds still sing. But presently a snake appears in the grass. Ere long the flowers droop and the leaves wither. Thistles and tangled brakes begin to appear. The path becomes rugged, and the wildness of the desert replaces the culture of the garden. A black cloud gathers in the heavens, and instead of the warm soft zephyrs, cold moaning winds begin to be heard. At last come the thunder clouds, and the forked lightnings, with the tempest and the hail—too sure evidence as to what is the legitimate issue of sin.
“There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked.” Israel’s peace was gone from the day that they openly threw off the authority of Jehovah, and of set purpose gave themselves up to the worship of idols. Their history from that point became a series of painful surprises and crushing calamities. Instead of being a perpetual summer, their history more resembled a succession of desolating winters, with intervals of not very genial spring seasons between. The high name which the fathers had won in the conquest of the land did not secure to their successors undisturbed repose, whether they continued faithful or not. Sin, true to its antecedents, leads to trouble. From near and far the dangers come. Sometimes one king, sometimes another; in all directions messengers are found to execute the threatened judgments. Israel is not at rest in the land of rest. That which should have been a land of peace is turned into a sea of troubles.
3. Sin is an essential weakness. “Righteousness exalteth a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.” The mighty people before whom the armies of more than thirty kings were hopelessly discomfited now quail and turn their backs at the appearance of a single chief and his trained followers. They were utterly unable to make head against the invader. Chushan walked the course. “Their men of might did not find their hands.” “Their defence was departed from them.”
The one cause of their weakness was, that through their sin God had become their enemy. This was not merely one cause among others, but it was the only cause. For though many instrumentalities may be at work to punish the guilty, one Sovereign Will controls and guides the whole.
(a) A man’s own conscience is turned against him, and he cries out “My punishment is greater than I can bear!” Imaginary terrors make him afraid. “Each bush he takes to be an officer.” “Terrors take hold on him as waters,” and he fleeth from his own shadow. It was an evil time in the history of Israel, when they had a man with a guilty conscience for a king, when his army was scattered, and his few friends followed him trembling. But among the few was one man with a good conscience, before whom and his armour-bearer ten thousand were put to flight.
(b) God can bring adversity against him on every side. Every scheme which the wicked man attempts, God can make to fail. He can set His face against him on every side, so that all things shall work together for his injury and not for his profit. As in the case of Pharaoh’s chariots and horses, He can take off the chariot wheels, so that they shall drive them heavily in endeavouring to carry out their purposes. “Evil shall slay the wicked.”
(c) There is no escape from this misery. God can shut him in on all sides. When God sendeth trouble, who can give quietness? He can arm all the creatures against him, for they are ever ready to avenge the quarrel of their Creator. “If the man should flee from a lion, He can cause a bear to meet him; or if he goes into his house, and leans his hand on the wall, He can cause a serpent to bite him.” If he should “should flee from the iron weapon, the bow of steel shall strike him through.”
4. Sin is a great humiliation This is what it always comes to in the end, though it may reach it in different ways. It was a sad change for Israel from the days of Joshua! The invincible army that fought under that noble captain, before whom all the kings of the Amorites, with their mighty hosts, melted like water, had now fallen so low that they were unable to stand against one king and his army, but become an easy prey to a stranger from the far North-East. “How are the mighty fallen, and the weapons of war perished!” We see the people for whom the Lord burst the fetters of an Egyptian bondage now bowing their necks to the yoke of a foreign prince. “Their Rock had sold them, and the Lord had shut them up.” Those who went on “conquering and to conquer” were not only arrested in their course, but reduced to a condition of slavery, under the iron foot of a rough despot from an unknown land. How galling to those who were accustomed to the air of liberty, thus to be trodden upon as the mire!
II. The preliminaries of punishment. The tale of Israel’s history is exceedingly abbreviated, yet it is given so compactly that much lies on the surface and much more may be picked up without hard searching. There are certain instructive preliminaries which may be so gathered, thus:—
1. The grounds of punishment are clearly stated before it is inflicted. Not a drop of the thunder shower falls till it be fully proved that such a step is necessary. Before proceeding to send forth His judgments, God is careful first of all to vindicate His own character in adopting such a course of action. He will make it clear that, in the government of the world, no doing of His shall lead fairly to the conclusion, that He sometimes takes delight in sending out His arrows merely to show His power, though no provocation be given. He cannot lose His great name as a God—“slow to wrath, rich in mercy, who has no pleasure in the death of the wicked, and whose tender mercies are over all His works”—in dealing with men on the earth. (Ezekiel 18:23; Ezekiel 18:32, Ezekiel 33:11; Lamentations 3:33; Psalms 86:15; Psalms 103:8, etc.; 1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9.)
Hence, before a single speck appears in the sky to indicate the approach of a storm, a whole chapter is taken up with a careful explanation of the grounds of the Divine procedure (Judges 2:0), that “the Judge of all the earth” may “be justified when He speaks and clear when He judges.” Far more importance is attached to that in the general account given, than in the gathering or dispelling of the successive storms that broke over them. The capital charge urged against them is, that they forsook Jehovah, and went after other gods. This is fixed upon as the root evil—the one springhead from which all the streams of their evil practices flowed. They, as a people, had read backward the very first commandment of their sacred law; and their conduct is repeatedly and emphatically condemned (Judges 2:0 Judges 3:2; Judges 3:11-13; Judges 3:17; Judges 3:19; Judges 3:5-7). There was reason enough in this one capital sin for all the rigorous dealing that follows throughout this book.
2. God waits long before He sends His judgments. The work of wrath is not that in which He delights. Had it been so, the terrible calamity recorded in Judges 3:8 would have fallen much earlier. Yet a full generation has passed away since the last convocation, presided over by Joshua (Judges 2:10). At the date of that meeting, symptoms of the cancer of idolatry had began to appear (Joshua 24:23), notwithstanding the apparent earnestness with which the oath of fidelity was taken. Insidiously, but surely, that cancer kept working its way for some 30 or 40 years, until now “the whole head had become sick, and the whole heart faint, and from the sole of the foot, to the crown of the head, there was no soundness in it, but wounds and bruises, and putrefying sores.”
(a) God waited at every stage. When they showed so little heart in driving out the Canaanites, it was forseen that that would lead to fuller-fledged evils, yet their God waits to allow them a fair opportunity of shaking off their indulgence and “doing the first works.” When again they sat down among the Canaanites, and accepted them as neighbours, He still waited that it might be seen, whether there might not be several persons of a Lot-like spirit among them, who, with all his worldliness, still felt his “righteous soul vexed among them from day to day with their unlawful deeds.” And even when they went the length of intermarrying and so becoming amalgamated with these ungodly races, God waited to see whether they would not take alarm at the length of their own wickedness, and, shrinking back from the frightful precipice before them, would adopt the course of speedy and thorough repentance. Not till they had reached the climax of their evil course, and were actually mingling with all the abominations of Baalim and the groves, did God proceed to pour upon them the vials of His wrath.
(b) This waiting was in harmony with other occasions. It was not a solitary, nor even a rare case. Ten generations from Adam were allowed to pass, during which men’s sins were accumulating more and more, ere the old world was destroyed by a deluge. In like manner, ten generations from Noah were numbered, ere the fires of heaven came down on the towers of Sodom. What patience was exercised with the Canaanites! Though they had long sinned before Abraham sojourned among them, yet 400 years more must elapse ere the cup of their iniquity should be filled. Even Jerusalem, though so ripe in wickedness, that it could crucify the Lord of Glory on a tree of shame, has yet, after such an act, forty years of pause given to it, that it might “look to Him whom it had pierced and learn to mourn.” His character is to be “long-suffering” and “slow to wrath.” He does not proceed at once to punish, so soon as a case is made out, but He “waits to be gracious.” When men’s sins begin to cry out against them, He stops His ears for a time that He may not hear them. His sword hangs long in the scabbard, before it is drawn. He does not fly in the sinner’s face at his first provocation. The Jews were accustomed to say, that “Michael, the minister of justice flies with but one wing” and therefore slowly, whereas “Gabriel, the minister of mercy flies with two wings,” and therefore very swiftly.
3. God warns before He strikes. While the people were going on sinning, and advancing from bad to worse, the Angel-Jehovah, who had redeemed them from all evil hitherto, appears before them at Bochim, chides them severely for the past, and utters a solemn warning for the future. The marking out of so many nations for the purpose of testing and chastising them, was also a most expressive warning given of a coming catastrophe. Not more so was the building of the ark from day to day for so long a time, in the days of Noah. He publishes His anger long before He executes it, and when He does punish, it is in the manner and measure that He had threatened (Judges 2:15; Hosea 7:12).
Examples. The old world was warned by Enoch (Jude 1:14); by Methusalah (whose name, Bush says, signifies “he dies and it is sent out”—prophetic of the deluge, which happened in the year when he died); by Lamech, who had his eyes open to the coming calamity (Genesis 5:29); and by Noah, the venerable “preacher of righteousness.” The famine in Egypt was foretold by Joseph. Repeated warnings were given to Pharaoh as to what would happen to him and his people, so long as he refused to let Israel go. The captivity of the ten tribes was predicted by Hosea and other prophets, and many expostulations were used. The overrunning flood of the Babylonian army, and the capture of the sacred city with the massacre of the inhabitants, were all announced beforehand by Jeremiah and others, and warning given that it was for long continued rejection of their God. There is, indeed, scarcely an instance of the infliction of the Divine judgments recorded in Bible history, which is not preceded by suitable warning given beforehand.
4. There is a climax in the Divine forbearance. Up to a certain point, He acts as if He saw not. Perhaps for a considerable time the thunders of heaven sleep, and the transgressors are not consumed. The wicked interpret this forbearance to mean that there is little harm in their conduct, or that God does not see, and will not require. “Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is set in them to do evil.” This misinterpretation usually is not allowed to continue long. “These things thou hast done, and I kept silence; thou didst think I was such an one as thyself; but I will reprove thee, and set them in order before thine eyes” (Psalms 50:21-22). Though God does not punish sin as soon as committed, we dare not suppose that He is at any moment indifferent to it, or that any act of sin separately, as well as a course of sin, fails to excite His intense opposition to it. It is the yearnings of mercy in the Divine bosom that lead to the sparing of the sinner for a time, that means and opportunities may be granted for repentance, and not because the Divine anger does not burn against every transgression.
(a) The object of the silence. After sin is committed, there is a waiting for a longer or shorter period to show that God does not desire the death of the sinner, but is on the contrary intensely willing to save him. Hence the period of inactivity or forbearance which takes place between the date of entering on a sinful course, and the hour when retribution falls. That interval is filled up with calls, remonstrances, and arguments of all kinds to induce repentance. But
(b) All the while God’s anger burns against every sin in the series. When the object of the silence has been gained and there is no repentance, then the laws of righteousness must hold on their natural course, and the Divine anger, which has really existed all the time against the sins committed, must have its due display. However deep the Divine wish that the sinner should not perish, when that has been clearly established, regard must also be had to God’s great jealousy for the holiness of His character, and for the sacred order and purity of His moral government. Hence there is a limit to forbearance. A purpose is gained by it for a time, and another purpose, equally high and sacred, is gained by ceasing to forbear after a time.
(c) When forbearance ceases, it is not merely on account of the heinous nature of the last sin committed. That sin may be less criminal than many that preceded it, but it marks out the limit which Wisdom has determined for the display of mercy, and therefore doom comes with it. Regard is had to the whole series of sins in the list, for “God requireth that which is past.” The whole category of evil deeds, and the cloud of evil thoughts, are together before His eye. For nothing is forgotten till forgiven, and there is no forgiveness till there is penitence. It must ever be remembered that God looks to the whole of a man’s life when making a reckoning with him, and not merely to particular sins, however culpable these may be. “They consider not that I remember all their wickedness.” “God will bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing.”
Illustrations.—Proverbs 29:1; Psalms 7:11-13; Romans 2:5; Matthew 23:35-36; 2 Kings 17:0; 2 Kings 17:0; 2 Chronicles 36:0; 2 Chronicles 36:0.
Cases of Ahab and Jezebel; Pharaoh; the three Herods; Hophni and Phinehas; king Saul; Ahaz, etc.
COMMENTS AND SUGGESTIONS.—Judges 3:7-8
A SPECIAL BRAND PUT ON ROOT SINS
Those sins which form the roots of other sins receive a special mark of condemnation on every page of Scripture. Each of these sins is like a upas tree that distils its poisonous influence on every side, and like the banyan tree it spreads itself in all directions.
1. Idolatry is a root sin, and is pointed out in these chapters as the all comprehensive sin of the people of God. Three times over in as many successive verses (Judges 2:11-13) is this set forth as the leading and terrible iniquity of the people whom God brought out of Egypt. And all down the page it is condemned in the most pointed and solemn manner as implying in itself the very essence of depravity, and as giving birth to all manner of corrupt practices in the life. It was in its nature an apostasy from God—a forsaking the living and true God, and a violation of innumerable sacred obligations to love and serve Him; but it was also a giving that supreme place in the heart, which belonged to Him alone, to other objects the creatures oftentimes of their own impure imaginations and sinful desires. The restraints of sin were thus set loose, for the objects of their fealty and homage were in reality creations of their own wicked hearts. They imparted to their gods such qualities as would permit the gratification of their own evil desires, and so not only did they sin without let or hindrance, but their very religion was made up of the indulgence of those “lusts and passions which war against the soul.” What a long list of flagrant crimes and corrupt practices would be given, were that short statement expanded to specify all the details—“they served Baalim and the groves.”
Idolatry was thus a root sin. It led to multitudes of other sins, and it was the national “easily—besetting sin.” The most careful precautions were taken against it, and the most solemn utterances were made in denouncing its evil character. The very first precept in the Decalogue formally brands it. The second precept details the dreadful insult it offers to the glory of the Jealous God. By all the prophets throughout their history, God warned the people against it saying—“O do not this abominable thing which I hate!” The very spots where this sin was practised were to be destroyed and purged with fire (Deuteronomy 12:1-3). The sacrifice of little children either by immolation, or causing them to pass through the fire, was a frequent practice under this wicked system, and roused the Divine anger (Deuteronomy 12:29-32; Ezekiel 16:20-21). All that might entice to idolatry, whether false prophets, brother, son, daughter, wife, or bosom friend, were on no account to be spared, but summarily to be stoned to death. (Deuteronomy 13:1-11 also 12–17).
But indeed there is scarcely a page which treats of the history of God’s Israel that does not single out this sin for emphatic denunciation as being the prolific source of many practical evils. The Book of “Deuteronomy” is full of warning against temptation to it. “Judges” records the sad issues to which its commission led The same thing is bewailed meditatively in many parts of the Book of “Psalms.” “Isaiah” strikes the keynote of severe condemnation in his second chapter. “Jeremiah” does the same at Judges 2:13. While “Ezekiel” and “Hosea” throughout give melancholy pictures of the awful guilt contracted through idolatrous practices.
2. Unbelief, showing itself by disobedience, is another root sin which is severely condemned here. Unbelief itself is not expressly mentioned, because in a historical account it is more suitable to speak of deeds done in the conduct than of principles at work in the heart. But disobedience in the life had unbelief for its root in the heart. And unbelief again has for its root the alienation of the heart from God. For this sin the whole congregation that left Egypt perished in the wilderness—for “they could not enter in because of unbelief.” (Hebrews 3:8-19; Psalms 95:8-11). For the same reason here the Israelites could not drive out the Canaanites. Judges 1:19-36; Judges 2:2. They could not do it, because they would not in faith go through with it. There was much latent disobedience; and on this the reproving angel puts his finger in the last quoted verse. “They would not hearken”—“they turned quickly out of the way”—“they did not obey the commandments of the Lord”—“they ceased not from their own doings, nor from their stubborn way.” All this is repeated again and again, and given as the ground of the terrible chastisement which followed.
This corresponds with the whole account given of unbelief throughout Scripture. It was by an act of unbelief or disobedience that man fell and lost all his earthly happiness. It is also by an act of unbelief that millions on millions lose heavenly happiness after having had a full offer of all the blessings of the great salvation. It is a root sin, as it lies at the root of all the disobedience to the Divine commandments which prevails in the world. The “works” on account of which the wicked shall be condemned on the day of account, all proceed from unbelief as their cause.
3. All other root sins are singled out for special reprobation. It is so with Pride, which is the cause of a whole brood of sins in practical life—jealousies, envies, evil speakings, hatreds, strifes, and all manner of offences against our neighbour, as also almost every sin that can be named against God. Selfishness also may be so reckoned, as it strikes against the golden rule, and saps the foundation of the fulfilment of all the duties we owe to our neighbour. We put down Covetousness in this list, for we are told that the “love of money is the root of all evil.” Lying also stands at the head of a long catalogue of crimes; and Deceit—Ambition—Ingratitude, with many others might be mentioned—all of which fall under a special condemnation as being the sources whence many other sins proceed.
SIN SURE TO FIND US OUT
These children of the covenant were now sitting at ease in the land of their inheritance, and supposing, notwithstanding their neglect of Divine commands, that they would never more see trouble, that they would “die in their nest, and multiply their days as the sand.” But their “condemnation slumbered not.” Sin has a cry, and that cry came up before God, calling for a reckoning.
“It often happens, that a man who has committed a crime takes his place secretly in a railway train, and is swiftly whirled away to the sea coast. But fast as he travels, there is something travelling faster, namely, the message along the telegraph wires; and when he hurries out at the distant terminus he is instantly grasped by officers of justice, who have been long in waiting. So God often meets startled sinners, who have been vainly trying to escape His notice and retribution.
There was a man who committed a foul murder in a Scottish castle on a young bridegroom, at whose marriage festivities he had hypocritically assisted. The assassin took horse in the dead of night, and fled for his life through wood and winding path. When the day dawned, he slackened his pace, and behold! he was emerging from a thicket in front of the very castle whence he had fled, and to which by tortuous paths, he had unconsciously returned, Horror seized him; he was discovered, and condemned to death. So however far and fast we may fly, we shall find ourselves, when light returns, ever in presence of our sin, and of our Judge.”
“A minister, preaching from the text, ‘be sure your sin will find you out,’ said, ‘If you do not find out your sin, and bring it to Calvary to get it pardoned through the blood of Jesus, your sin will find you out, and bring you to the judgment seat, to be condemned and made the object of God’s righteous displeasure. A young woman who had told a lie before she heard the sermon, thought within herself ‘Oh that lie! I must either find it and bring it to Calvary, or it will find me out at the great day.’ She was alarmed; the thought pursued her, till at length she was led to Jesus, and knew the joy of being forgiven.”
“We need a monitor to remind us that sin calls for a reckoning. A magician once presented a ring to his prince. This ring was valuable, not for the diamonds and rubies that gemmed it, but for a rare and mystic property in the metal. In ordinary circumstances it sat easily enough, but so soon as its wearer formed a bad thought, or wish, or designed a bad action, the ring became a monitor. Suddenly contracting, it pressed painfully on the finger, warning him of sin. That ring is conscience—the voice of God within us, the law written on men’s hearts, according to the scripture statement, ‘their conscience also beareth witness, and their thoughts the mean while accuse or excuse one another.’ ” [Guthrie.]
THE DANGER OF LEAVING ONE KNOWN SIN UNCONQUERED
“Sin is like ‘a serpent by the way—(Genesis 49:17) an adder in the path.’ The reference in this scripture is to a very poisonous kind of viper with horns. It moves with great rapidity in all directions, forwards, backwards, and sideways. When he wishes to surprise one at a distance from him, he creeps with his side towards the person, his head averted, till measuring the distance he turns round and springs upon him. Sometimes he will lie in hiding for hours, till some one come within reach, when, watching his opportunity he will spring a distance of some feet to bite his hand or foot. He is called by the Orientals ‘the lier in wait.’ Pliny says it hides its whole body in the sands, leaving only its horns exposed, which being like grains of barley in appearance, attract birds within its reach, so as to become an easy prey.” [Russell’s Palestine.]
Sin is such a viper—stealthy in approach, and deadly in nature. So the Israelites found it to be, when they were allured by the hope of gain and other attractions to enter into league with the Canaanites. It was the one sin of sparing these wicked, which by degrees brought Israel to the frightful pass of becoming open and systematic idol-worshippers and practisers of all the abominations of the groves.
“Not a Canaanite was to be suffered to breathe. The taint of idolatry seemed to infect the very air of the defiled land; contamination breathed from the trees of its groves. If God were desirous of letting the whole human race drift away from Him into hopeless darkness, and to stultify all His promises, no surer plan for effecting these ends could have been taken than that of sparing this people. The Israelites had not pushed their conquest back into the fortresses and fastnesses of the hills, and in these were growing up and under training fresh troops of young warriors.
“So one unconquered sin often becomes a thorn in the side. We are not careful to make war on our sins in their fastnesses and breeding places—in the lurking places of thought and of our habitual tone. We do not believe that happy is he who dasheth the little ones against the stones. We do not grapple with and put an end to the young things that grow up to be strong and subduing sins. The result is that they become thorns in our sides. We may try to wear the thorn under our garment, and go about smiling as if there were not terrible havoc being made of our peace with God; we may wear it as the ascetic wears his spiked girdle under his frock; but it is there reminding us by pain and misery of our slackness in cleansing our life. One sin thus overlooked cleaves to us and makes itself felt—not a day passes but something occurs to give it occasion; it is a ‘thorn in the flesh’ cleaving to us in all companies, and at all times. Like a cruel foe, it sweeps off our best harvests. When we have made a goodly effort, and offered earnest prayer for a time, so that we seemed to bear fruit, the old sin comes in to cheat us of the fruit of long-continued exertion, and puts us back to the lowest point in the spiritual life. The whole weary work has to be begun afresh; as a land exposed to perpetual invasion, our life is left fruitless, and we have to go through again the same routine of ploughing and sowing.” [Dods.]
The vital point is not to break down the wall of opposition to sin at all. For it is much easier to avoid committing the first sin than, having been once guilty, to avoid going on to a course of sin.
Presumptuous sins are especially to be avoided, as being most provocative to God, and most perilous to ourselves.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Judges 3:8
III. The character of God’s punishments for sin.
1. They are inflicted with a weighty hand. The downcoming of that rough king from the region of “the two rivers” was, as if “the boar out of the forest” had been let loose on the vineyard of the Lord of Hosts, breaking down its hedges, and wasting it at pleasure. It was a sign that “the anger of the Lord had waxed hot against Israel.” When God proceeds to punish, it is done in a manner worthy of His own greatness. His great name must be vindicated. The weight of the infliction must correspond with the majesty of Him who sends it—whose law has been violated, and whose authority must be upheld. God is to be feared in His judgments (Psalms 76:7). It must be seen, as by a flash amid the darkness, that power is really on the side of righteousness, and that sin has a terrible odds to contend with under the government of a holy God. It must also be left in no doubt, that, notwithstanding the greatness of His mercy, God cannot deal with sin as a trifling matter in the exercise of His moral government of the world; nor can He permit men to regard it as a thing which lightly touches their interests, and which a few tears can at any moment wash out.
(1.) Yet the weight of the infliction is great only according to a man’s estimate. It is never absolute. That is not needed, to produce on the minds of creatures a suitable conception of Jehovah’s majesty, and His jealousy for the spotless purity of His character. To do this, the mere putting forth of His finger will suffice. “The pillars of heaven tremble, and are astonished at His reproof.” Many similar wonders take place at His bidding. Yet all this we are told is “but the whisper of Him; the thunder of His power who can comprehend?” (קְצוֹת—borders, skirts, or extremities, as compared with the full body, or entire dimensions, Job 26:14). In anguish of spirit, the afflicted patriarch exclaims, that the mere touch of God’s hand had made him a spectacle of commiseration to all around him (Job 19:21). What then must have been the effect of the blow of His arm! Nay, he says again, “thine eyes are upon me, and I am not” (Job 7:8). David cries in distress. “Remove thy stroke, for I am consumed with the blow of thine hand” (Psalms 39:10). When punishing His people in the wilderness, we are told, that “God did not stir up all His wrath, for He remembered they were but flesh, a wind that passeth away, and cometh not again.” (Psalms 78:38-39). At other times language is used, intimating that God puts forth the greatness of his power in sending out His judgments, i.e., at man’s point of view it seems so. In speaking of the destruction of Pharaoh, and the redemption of the people, these are said to be done with a “strong hand, and a stretched out arm.” And when vengeance is taken on the Philistines for daring to profane God’s sacred ark, we are told, “the hand of the Lord was heavy on them of Ashdod, and it was very heavy on the men of Ekron” (1 Samuel 5:6; 1 Samuel 5:11). Also, when individual afflictions are felt to be severe, God’s hand is said to be “mighty.” “Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God.” etc. (1 Peter 5:6). It is clear that in all these cases, the weight of God’s hand is measured by the relative strength of man to bear it. What is to God insignificant, is to man overwhelming.
(2.) The measure of the infliction is determined by what will suffice to prostrate the soul before its God. Sometimes a mere touch of the rod will suffice to do this, as in the case of the good Hezekiah when he turned sick, and was threatened with death; that pious man was at once led to penitential tears and earnest prayers. A simple look will even suffice, as when “the Lord turned and looked upon Peter, he went out and wept bitterly.” But in dealing with incorrigible sinners, the rod must be grasped with a firmer hand. Emphatic evidence must be furnished, that the righteous Governor of the world “can by no means clear the guilty.” And, in the case of His own people, He will, if necessary, go the length of seeming to violate His holy covenant, and reject the people whom He had chosen rather than not subdue their rebellious spirit, lead them to genuine sorrow for sin, to unreserved confession, and a spirit of new obedience in the life.
(3.) The weight of Israel’s first great trial. The stroke was heavy. They are “delivered up into the hands of men,” and if “the greatest enemy of man be man,” their prospects at this moment might well be regarded with dismay. For the name of the agent employed to execute the purpose of the Divine anger—“Chushan of double wickedness”—whatever its precise import, was sufficiently prophetic of dark days and doleful nights, which they would have to spend for an unknown length of time in the iron grip of that unpitying monster. The sentence was—to be given up for an indefinite time, to become the victim of the wild caprices of this lawless freebooter, who was already the terror of all the East. In this man’s hands they were placed helplessly. That is the force of the expression, “the Lord sold them into his hand.” He who owned them gave them entirely over into his possession for a time, that he might gratify upon them all the savage instincts of his brutal nature, maltreating them as the veriest chattels, and wantonly treading them down as the mire of the streets. It was truly a sentence of “penal servitude.” The expression “they serve” meant much more than that they paid tribute. Where “might was right,” and moral principle was unknown, justice and humanity would alike be cast to the winds. Where barbarism and lust of power reigned unchecked, appeals against cruelty of dealing might as well have been addressed to tigers and hyenas, as to men accustomed to deeds of brutality and of torture. The condition must have been pitiable indeed, implying perpetual exposure to all manner of indignities shown and acts of injustice done, merciless treatment both for individuals and for families, the young and the old, as well as the active and the strong—a condition of grinding oppression, and of virtual, if not of literal slavery. “Their crops for which they toiled would be eaten by another; their goodly houses tenanted by their foes, and themselves turned into the street; their wives and daughters made bondwomen, and their sons made slaves; their national glory turned to shame, and their fondly-cherished hopes withered into despair.”
The bitterness of their distress may be judged from the fact, that a deep cry of anguish rose from every household all over the land, similar to that which was wrung from the groaning multitude in the brickfields of Egypt in the days of their/fathers, during the ever-memorable bondage. For the same word is used here as in Exodus 2:23—יִּזְעֲק֚וּ—an utterance of great distress—shouting aloud for help—as the cry of children to their father when some ferocious animal is upon them. The same word is used in Jeremiah 11:11, meaning—“however bitterly and earnestly they cry, I will not hearken.” For years they thus cried, until eight years were accomplished! Who can tell how much unwritten history is implied in this short statement! A history of robberies, murders, and bonds—of groanings under heavy exactions levied, and savage blows inflicted—of sighs breaking on the midnight air, and sleepless pillows bedewed with tears—of frantic shrieks raised to heaven for help, on the one side, and “souls weeping in secret places” on the other—A history of breaking hearts, and bruised limbs—of backs giving way under their burdens, and spirits fainting within from the extinction of hope—of loud but vain appeals to deaf ears, and steeled hearts—of spasmodic but fruitless efforts on the part of the feeble, to resist the ferocities of the strong—In one word, a history of tragic tales of desolated hearths, and heavy records of grief written over many a once happy home; while oppressions, cruelties, and wrongs, like a Marah sea were rolling all over the land. The dark prince of the house of Ham realised to the full his notorious character of “double wickedness,” in the double destruction which he dealt out to the descendants of the house of Shem, when a mysterious Providence granted him permission.
2. They are calmly inflicted. The statement in Judges 3:8 seems to indicate, that the rod was used with great excitement of feeling. It is said, “the anger of the Lord was hot against Israel.” But this mode of speaking is used expressly in accommodation to men’s conceptions of God’s ways of acting. No such thing as agitation of feeling, far less tumultuous or passionate excitement, can ever consist with the real character of the King Eternal. In the Divine bosom there reigns, and ever must reign, an everlasting calm. Filling immensity with His presence; maintaining absolute control over all beings as His creatures, and over all events as possible to happen only by His permission; no other force being independently at work throughout the universe, but His volition—what can possibly transpire to excite any violent emotion in the bosom of our God! His own nature being in itself an infinite Majesty, it is beneath its mark to be liable to changes of feeling, such as is the common experience of a creature nature. Man yields to the impulse of events; his bosom heaves with excitement, and he is hurried along by the current of ungovernable feelings. But loss of self-command never can be predicated of the unchangeable Jehovah. The statement in Judges 3:8 is, therefore, entirely the language of accommodation to human modes of thinking. God’s nature being infinitely holy—being in fact the fountain head and standard of all holiness, is ever in the fixed attitude of opposition to all sin. When sin is committed, this opposition is awakened, and receives a suitable manifestation. It is however, not the opposition of a dead mechanical law, but the feeling—the abhorrence of a Personal Being; yet exercised with all the instinctive force, and undeviating regularity of a natural law. It is invariable and constant in its action, exercised with all the intelligence and emotion of a living Person, with the wise and tender consideration of a Father, and with the high unswerving principle of a Judge.
3. They are impartially inflicted. God punishes idolatrous practices when committed by His own Israel, equally as when they appear in the conduct of the heathen nations round about them. To sin, in its own essence, He is irreconcilably opposed, by whomsoever committed. Against it His wrath invariably goes forth until satisfaction is given. “He is no respecter of persons.” In some respects, He hates sin more in His own people than in those who know Him not. In their case sin has peculiar aggravations. It is committed against clearer light, in the face of stronger remonstrances, in opposition to still more tender pleadings, in the abuse of peculiar privileges, and under the most sacred obligations to give an unvarying obedience. But in their case, the great fact is, that they have a “Daysman.” This fact, though in no degree diminishing the Divine anger against their sin, entirely alters the complexion of the Divine dealing with themselves; inasmuch as the office of the “Daysman” is to give full satisfaction for their sin, and to put them in a position in which they shall have as complete peace with God, as if they had never sinned. The idolatry of God’s Israel was equally heinous, and more so than that of the heathen around them, and would not less surely have issued in their final ruin, but for the interposition of a system of sacrifice and cleansing, whereby satisfaction was given to the Throne of Eternal Righteousness. To this hope the seed of Abraham were specially called; nor were any excluded from participation in the precious privilege, who complied with the requirement of faith and repentance.
4. They are irresistibly inflicted. God’s special visitations cannot be turned aside. The Israelites could not drive back this Mesopotamian king, though he was but one foe, and they had already in past times been “more than conquerors” over a whole confederacy of monarchs, who brought huge hosts against them in battle array. The mighty God of Jacob was then by their side, and all went down before them. Now He is against them and nothing prospers. Their weapons were the same, their natural courage was up to the mark, they could bring an equal number of men into the field—yet defeat was inevitable. Their God had abandoned them.—Nay, He had specially given them over into the hands of the spoiler, and no means that could be employed, could either secure a victory, or prevent defeat. He who had “exalted their horn” in the days of their allegiance, now “defiled it in the dust.” Those whom “He had lifted up,” He now “casts again to the ground,” and “causes men to ride over their heads.” When He appears upon His throne, what is seen is like a “jasper stone”—a colour of dazzling whiteness—and a “sardine stone”—or a fiery red colour. His spotless holiness, and His great jealousy, combine to sustain His character as the All-perfect One. When He moves forward to vindicate His name, “who would set the briers and thorns against Him in battle? He would go through them, He would burn them together.” “None can deliver out of His hand,”—no more than the tree can save itself from the fire.
5. They are sparingly inflicted. Less than might be expected from the grievous character of the sin committed—heinous ingratitude; the most obstinate disobedience; responding to the most earnest and affectionate pleading with hardness of heart and stubbornness of will. Sins in this world are always punished less than they deserve. The full desert of sin is reserved for the future state. The measure of punishment now inflicted, is only such as to indicate the kind of consequences which sin brings along with it, not the full amount of the penalty which it deserves. The purpose is to save the infliction of that penalty, by putting checks on sin, and showing the necessity of repentance. The infliction of the penalty is in itself a thing in which God finds no pleasure. “As I live, saith the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live.” The infliction of the penalty He calls His “strange act”—that which is not congenial to Him, but against His natural desires—to which He is not inclined of His own promptings, without some reason of righteousness requiring Him to proceed to such an act.
Hence God’s first use of the rod with His people was lighter than it became afterwards. It was not so humbling to be subjugated by a stranger like this Chushan-rishathaim, as it was, afterwards, to come under the more galling yoke of those, whom they themselves had at one time trodden under their feet.
6. They are considerately inflicted. Wisdom, as well as love, presides over all the treatment which God gives to His people. Love prompts, and wisdom guides. No chastisement is inflicted blindly, or rashly. Every thing is considered from man’s point of view, as well as from God’s. There is no harsh disregard of human feelings, nor is the stern brow of the Judge seen so much, as the tender eye of the Father (Hosea 11:3-4, etc.). Not only is the reasonableness and the equity of the law’s requirements looked at, but also the difficult surroundings amid which man is placed for obeying the law, the force of temptation with which he is beset, his infirmities, constitutional and otherwise, his weakness and ignorance, and any other element which requires to be taken into account to form a perfectly just estimate of human character and conduct. This is beautifully brought out in several touching passages in the writings of the prophets, e.g., Isaiah 63:0; Hosea 11:1-4; Zechariah 1:12-17; also in several of the Psalms, such as the 78; 103; 105; and 106.
He always mixes more of mercy than of wrath in His treatment. The years of suffering are far fewer than the years of sinning which led to the suffering. “He stirred not up all His wrath,” “His mercies are great,” and “He afflicteth not willingly.” When the end can be gained without the direct use of the rod, it is not resorted to, and after recourse is had to it, it is immediately lightened when the purpose has been served. “I will not contend for ever, neither will I be always wroth; for the spirit should fail before me, and the souls which I have made (Isaiah 57:16, also 17, 18).”
7. They are inflicted in faithfulness. The whole nation might say, as well as the individual pious man, “I know that in faithfulness thou hast afflicted me.” God’s chastisements of His people are never harsh, nor even stern, but always faithful. Harshness implies disregard of our feelings, and this can never be predicated of our God. He never afflicts for the sake of afflicting, but for the purpose of serving holy and necessary ends. Sternness implies the want of tenderness; and this is never absent from the character of God, though its manifestation may be less prominent at one time than at another. It is always a Father that afflicts the people of God. But the Father is a Judge, and cannot forget what is due to Himself, both in His character and His law. Indeed, God’s afflictings of His people are true to every interest concerned—true to His own glory as a jealous, sin-hating God; true to His people’s well being; and true to His own word, both of threatening and promise. His anger in His chastisements is never in the strict sense vindictive, but is always exercised on the ground of righteous principle.
His chastisement of His people is—
(1.) True to His own glory as a jealous, sin-hating God. He must be faithful to Himself in preserving unsullied His own great name as “The Holy One of Israel”—who “is of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look upon iniquity”—who cannot be the God of a sinful people without showing His marked displeasure with their sins, and sacredly enjoining them to “cast away their transgressions,” and “become holy as He is holy;” for “His eye is only on the righteous, and His countenance beholdeth the upright.”
(2.) True to His people’s well-being.
(a) Sin is a heart disease; and every one must be made conscious of “the plague of his own heart,” and be directed to look for Divine help in its cure (1 Kings 8:38).
(b) Sin is a heavy burden—too heavy for the heart to bear even now (Psalms 38:4), and sure to become greatly heavier if not removed. Bunyan, correctly makes his pilgrim say, “I fear that this burden on my back will sink me lower than the grave, and that I shall fall into Tophet.” Chastisement causes the soul to realise the weight of that burden, and shows the necessity of getting one to act as a burden-bearer. Scripture intimates, that “the Lord hath laid on Him (our Substitute) the iniquity of us all,” and that “Christ Himself bare our sins in His own body on the tree.”
“He seized our dreadful right, the load sustain’d,
And heaved the mountain from a guilty world.”
Taught by the chastising hand, the sinner is led to say—
“I lay my sins on Jesus,
The spotless Lamb of God;
He takes them all and frees us
From the accursed load.”
(c) Sin is the soul’s poison. Its very nature is to destroy life, as it is the nature of fire to consume. “Sin reigns unto death.” To live in sin; to commit it; even to touch it, is to die. Sinners are said, because of their course of life, to be “dead in trespasses and sins;” and, viewing it as a service, the only reward they receive for it is “death” (Ephesians 2:1; Romans 6:23). Means must be used to have this poison purged out of the system.
(d) Sin is the soul’s leprosy, loathsome, painful, and deadly; incurable by any ordinary means, and yielding only to the touch of the Great Physician.
(e) Sin is the venom left in the system from the bite of the old serpent. Chastisement prepares for the application of such means as shall expel that venom from the system; for then the ear is opened to listen to heaven’s remedy of the “sanctification of the Spirit, and the belief of the truth.”
Thus sanctified affliction is faithfulness to the soul’s well-being. It is the office of love to save a child from that which, if allowed to remain, would prove its ruin, as in the giving of medicine under a malady, or performing a surgical operation when life is threatened.
(3.) True to His own word of threatening and promise in the gracious covenant. The threatenings are in the interest of His people’s good, as well as the promises. As the gospel turns all curses into blessings to them that believe, so it turns all threatenings into promises. Hence, when He says, “You only have I known of all the families of the earth, therefore will I punish you for your iniquities.” (Amos 3:2), the threatening is really a promise of benefit made on the ground of friendship. Chastisement is indeed a specific blessing of the covenant, as much as the administration of a course of medicine would be to a sick child to save it from a fatal issue. It shows the wise care of an affectionate father. It acts as a check on the soul’s apostasy from God. It puts an arrest on the wayward tendency of the heart to forget God, and despise His authority. Hence the beautiful stipulation (Psalms 89:30-34). God, in love to His children, “will not suffer sin upon them.” but chastens them now, that they may not be condemned with the world at last. So it is never said of the wicked that God deals with them by chastisement. “But if ye endure chastisement, God dealeth with you as with sons.” The wicked “He knoweth not.” But Israel is precious, and must be refined and preserved. The precious metal must be cast into the furnace that the tincture of alloy may be removed (Zechariah 13:9; Revelation 3:19; Isaiah 1:25). The intention is not to destroy, but to purify; to purge, not to consume. “He chastens for our profit, that we might become partakers of His holiness.” Affliction is indeed love, taking a weird form of showing itself, corresponding with the malignant character of the plague it is intended to remove.
IV. The punishment set over against the sin.
It is important to bring the sin and its punishment before the eye in one view, so as to see how the one answers to the other as seed and fruit, or, as cause and effect. It is too common to look on God’s judgments as events standing by themselves, separated from their procuring causes, and to place them in contrast with what might naturally be expected from the hand of Him “who is love,” and “whose tender mercies are over all His works.” A difficulty is thus created, to account for the unexpected events that have fallen out under the government of a God of love. Doubtless if we keep our eyes half shut to the disagreeable truths of our sinful condition, we are not likely to come to a well-balanced view of God’s ways, and we shall find it hard to reconcile many of His providential dealings with His benignant character. But much of the difficulty disappears, when we look at the aggravated character of the sins, which preceded the judgment, and which rendered it absolutely necessary that such judgments should be inflicted. Though God is infinitely tender of the feelings of His creatures, He cannot allow a shadow of impurity to stain the administration of His Holy and righteous government. To maintain the purity of His own character, is necessarily with Him the first of all considerations.
In the present case, things had gone so far, that a shadow would have been cast on the honour of the Divine name, had something not been done to mark the Divine abhorrence of high handed sin. As an illustration of the extreme wickedness of the age, it may be mentioned, that this is generally supposed to have been about the period when the abominations of Gibeah, recorded in chaps. 19 and 20, and those of the tribe of Dan, referred to in Judges 18:0 took place. But, even if this were not the case, there were special aggravations in the fact of their lapsing into idolatry at all, and it is these we must now look at, as especially occasioning the national calamities. What were these aggravated features, and what punishment did God set over against them?
1. There was deep-seated unbelief on their part, and rejection of them by God. There is in every man by nature “an evil heart of unbelief, tending to depart from the living God;.” and now these children of the covenant showed it by their disposition to forsake the God who had done so much for them in the past, and to seek after the gods of the heathen round about them. If we compare the depravity of the heart to the primary rock system, or that which lies underneath all the series of strata of which a sinful character is made up, then the position of unbelief is that of the lowest of the palæozoic strata.—Or, if we regard the heart’s depravity as the protoplasm, then unbelief is the first organic form which that depravity assumes. From this arise aversion to God, evil thoughts of God, a spirit of rebellion, all manner of lusts and passions in the heart, and all manner of ungodliness in the life.
Here it was distrust that began the downward course. They had not confidence in their God, that He would give them certain victory over these mighty Canaanites. They were feeble while the enemy was strong. They looked to the arm of flesh. They did not trust in the power of their God to aid them effectually against all danger, notwithstanding all the examples He had given of what He could do, to overcome the most formidable opposition. Nor did they trust in His faithfulness to abide by His word of promise, that no man should be able to stand before them, while they were loyally engaged in the execution of His purposes. It was not for them to weigh consequences. Their only question was, What is duty? They were to see no difficulty when God gave the command. Their only thought should have been, how speedily and conscientiously shall we perform the commandment of the Lord. Whatever the strength of their adversaries, as compared with their own, it was an insult to Him, before whom “the nations were as a drop of a bucket,” to doubt whether He could make “the worm Jacob thresh the mountains.”
Their fundamental sin was the rejection of Jehovah as their sovereign, and this He meets by a temporary casting them off as His people. He not only stood aloof from them when danger arose, and no longer acted as their Rock, but “He sold them into the hand” of the enemy. He gave a commission to the destroyer against them. “As they had walked contrary to Him, so now He walks contrary to them.” They had “cast Him behind their back,” and now “He shows them the back and not the face.” He no longer dwells among them, but says, I will go and return to my place, till they acknowledge their offence and seek my face; in their affliction they will seek me early.” The expression, “He sold them,” implies that He handed them over into the hands of their enemies, as if He had no more any property in them, or concern about them. It was as if He had said, “Ye are not now my people, and I am not any longer your God,” or, as if He had said to the heathen, “Take them, and do as you will with them; they are yours, not mine” (see Leviticus 26:0 and Deuteronomy 28:0). [Pulp. Com.] Thus they could read their sin in their punishment. They were “left to eat the fruit of their own ways, and be filled with their own devices.” God said, “they are a very forward generation, children in whom is no faith; I will hide my face from them, and see what their end shall be.”
2. They sinned against their character as a holy people, and Jehovah treated them as if they were no longer holy. Their name was, in great condescension, associated with the great and holy name of Jehovah. The blood of the Covenant was sprinkled upon them. They were “a kingdom of priests,” and, throughout their whole history, were dedicated to holy services. They were appointed to show forth the praise of Jehovah in connection with glorious manifestations of His character that stretched down to future ages. In the conduct of a people so privileged, acts of disobedience were peculiarly heinous. Their sins were a profanation of their sacred position. It was like sinning against Jehovah in the Holy of Holies, as compared with doing any act of irreverence in the outer court of the Gentiles. Wilful sins on the part of God’s people have always a special aggravation in that they are brought so near to God, and bound by the most sacred obligations to show their allegiance. “I will be sanctified of all them that draw nigh to me.”
Jehovah now acts towards them exactly according to the character which they assume. He treats them as no longer a holy people. “He profanes the princes of the sanctuary, gives Jacob to the curse, and Israel to reproaches.” However dear they might be to Him as His redeemed and adopted children, “He delivers over His turtle-dove to the multitude of the wicked.” “He abhors His own inheritance and gives them into the hand of the heathen.” “The Lord God hath sworn by Himself saying, I abhor the excellency of Jacob, and hate his palaces.” Wherefore He “sold them” to a Hamite prince! Imagine the Holy One of Israel selling His Church as a slave, to a hard and cruel master, having more of the instincts of a wild beast than of a man! “Yea the Lord trod the virgin, the daughter of Judah, as in a wine-press; He covered her with a cloud in His anger, and did cast down from heaven to earth the beauty of Israel; He polluted the kingdom, and the princes thereof. All that passed by did clap their hands; they hissed and wagged their head, saying, ‘We have swallowed her up; this is the day that we looked for; we have found it, we have seen it.’ ”
3. They sinned in the violation of solemn pledges; and God acted towards them as if He had forgotten His solemn Covenant. At the foot of Sinai, when the Covenant was first publicly made with the people as a nation, they vowed solemnly in the sight of heaven, “All that the Lord hath said will we do and be obedient.” This Covenant was renewed under very solemn circumstances at the moment they were about to take possession of their inheritance (Deuteronomy 29:10-29). They were also a circumcised people, and so marked off for God. In all their national observances an implied pledge was given of their dedication to God’s service. This was especially the case in their three great festivals year by year. Most emphatic, too, was the manner in which they pledged themselves when Joshua took leave of them as their leader, and they were to be left alone to the trial of faith and obedience. All these pledges they had now violated; they had broken God’s holy covenant, and proved treacherous to their most sacred promises. They had become “a people laden with iniquity.” They were spiritual perjurers. And now God was saying to them, as He said to the congregation that grieved Him so long in the wilderness, “Ye shall know My breach of promise.” For “He made void the covenant He had made with them; He profaned their crown by casting it to the ground.” He had engaged to be their Rock; “the eternal God was their refuge, and underneath them were the everlasting arms.” And the exultant hymn was sung over them, “Happy art thou, O Israel! who is like unto thee, O people, saved by the Lord, the shield of thy help, and the sword of thine excellency.” But though He had thus pledged Himself to protect them, He now “gives them as sheep to the slaughter; He makes them to turn back from the enemy; He makes them a byword among the heathen; He sells them for nought; and makes them a scorn and derision to them that were round about them.” They were to all appearance cast off by their God. “He hid His face from them, and allowed many evils and troubles to befal them” (Psalms 44:0 and Deuteronomy 31:17-18).
4. They sinned in resisting repeated warnings: and now God hears them not after repeated cries. Never were a people more loudly warned of what terrible consequences must ensue should they enter on a course of disobedience and rebellion. The words of the great Legislator, in giving such warning, were like those of the mighty angel at whose call “seven thunders did utter their voices.” What heart, less hard than the nether millstone, could fail to be moved by the solemn appeals made in Deuteronomy 28:29? Scarcely less spirit-stirring, and with like fidelity, are the addresses given on the same subject in the last two chapters of the Book of Joshua. To this has to be added the special warning given by the Angel-Jehovah in Judges 2:1-5. Yet all this line of argument with the heart was resisted by the people, who now “forsook the Lord and served Baal and Ashtaroth.” They stopped their ears, and would not listen. Their sins were of the nature of resisting the strivings of the Spirit of God, and implied a hardening of the heart against His entreating voice (Isaiah 63:10).
When they began to cry to the Lord under their grievous oppression, they found the heavens above them to be as brass. God turned to them the back of His throne, and acted as if He heard not. He virtually said to them, “When ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you; yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear.” “You set at nought all my counsel, and would none of my reproof. Now also I will laugh at your calamity, and mock when your fear cometh,” etc. (Jeremiah 11:14). In all likelihood, shortly after their oppression began, they began to cry; but not till eight years had passed away did God listen to them, so as to relieve them. That was after all but a short period, contrasted with the period of their sinning, which must have been twenty or thirty years at least; yet it would seem a long time to their sensations, when every day would seem a week, and every hour a day, under severe suffering.
5. They sinned by showing deep ingratitude; and God acted toward them as if He had lost all love for them, and would reason with them no more. Their whole history was full of remarkable scenes and episodes, of crises and junctures, setting forth in ever fresh form the workings of the Divine love on their behalf. To forget such a history seemed an impossibility. And yet so ungrateful did they prove, that “they quickly forgot His mighty works, and the wonders that He had wrought.” They acted as if they had no debt of obligation to their God. Amid the brightest beams of sunlight, they could see no claim that God had established on their love and new obedience. They were insensible, as the very stones, to “the great goodness of God toward the house of Israel, which He had bestowed upon them according to His mercies, and the multitude of His loving-kindnesses.” They turned a deaf ear to all the voices of these mercies in the past, and preferred to listen to the syren enticements of the false-god worship. Their sin was one of the deepest ingratitude.
Therefore God acted by them, as if He had given them up, and would reason with them no more. Ingratitude implies that love shown has been despised; and, according to the greatness of the love, was the guilt of this people. Now, therefore, He practically gives them up. “Ephraim,” notwithstanding all the arguments of the Divine love to draw him back, “was joined to his idols—now he is to be let alone!” “The bellows were burnt (through the long trying to take away the coarse metal), the lead was consumed of the fire, the founder had melted in vain.” Now they are held to be “reprobate silver, for the Lord had rejected them.” God said of them, “I have forsaken my house; I have left mine heritage; I have given the dearly-beloved of my soul into the hand of her enemies.”
All this representation must be understood as made from man’s point of view. It is only in that view that we can speak of any change of purpose, or breach of promise. To human eyes, God’s dealings with His people for a time had that appearance. But in reality “He kept truth with them for ever—His Covenant stood fast from generation to generation.”
COMMENTS AND SUGGESTIONS.—Judges 3:7-8
PUT AWAY THE IDOLS
1. “God good to Israel” in requiring the idols to be put away. It is not kind dealing to let a man alone when under a deadly disease, or when hastening to cast himself over the precipice. But the wicked, after a certain measure of dealing which they have resisted, are thus let alone, in righteous punishment for their refusal to repent. “They have no bands in their death—they are not in trouble as other men.” After long and earnest dealing, such as to show that God has no pleasure in their death but ardently desires their salvation, while they still reject all the offers of Divine Love, God at last “gives them up to their own hearts’ lusts,” and allows them to sleep the sleep of death. But “blessed is the man whom the Lord chastens, and teaches out of His law.” The raid of the barbarian king was the Divine loving-kindness in a mystery.
2. It is a hard experience to have the heart purged of its idols. It is one of the “terrible things” by which “the God of our salvation in righteousness answers our prayers.” The penitent cries, “Create in me a clean heart, O God!” The wise love of the covenant God replies, “From all your filthiness, and from all your idols will I cleanse you.”
(1). In the furnace is it done. There the dross is consumed, and the genuine metal is made to shine with greater distinctness. For when the heart is put to the proof, the good principle, if it exists at all, is led to assert itself with more decision, and is quickened into fresh and more vigorous life; and as it gathers strength, the heart begins to slacken hold of its idols. When a man really good at bottom is pushed by force of circumstances to say, that he must either part with his convictions altogether, or carry them out with a more resolute purpose, he is roused from his temporary torpor, and through God’s grace shakes himself loose from those objects, which were competitors for his affections with his Saviour and Lord.
(2.) It is done by the bitter experience which the heart has of these idols, so long as it clings to them. All the enticements of sin—all the allurements of the world, are felt, even while in our hands, to be “a mockery, a delusion, and a snare.” So Lot felt, while actually possessing the rich plains of Sodom, that his “righteous soul was vexed from day to day with the wicked deeds” of those among whom he dwelt. And a similar experience had these Israelites when dwelling with the Canaanites that remained in the land. They were “thorns in their sides,” and “scourges” and “snares,” so long as they had to do with them.
(3). Also by the great miseries which idols bring on a man in the long run. Lot was ruined as regards this world. Solomon lost his God-given peace in his latter days. Jacob spent a great part of his life under an eclipse, on account of his idols, but being a man of great prayer and faith, his star shone out brightly in the end. Hezekiah, for idolising his treasures in the sight of the messengers of the king of Babylon, was assured that in the end these treasures would be all seized, and carried away as spoil by that rapacious monarch. David found that the two members of his family whom he had specially indulged and idolised, turned out in the end to be the two greatest miseries of his life—Absalom and Adonijah. Jehoshaphat very nearly lost his life at Ramoth-gilead, and afterwards had all his ships broken at Ezion-gaber, because he made an idol of his friendship with the house of Ahab. And these Israelites, who accepted the gods of the Canaanites, found ere long that “their sorrows are multiplied that hasten after another god.” All the flatteries of sin, and the promises of the world, after a short experience, not only sting with disappointment, but plunge the soul into untold grief, if not despair. By and bye, the really good man feels that he must cut off a right hand and pluck out a right eye, rather than having two hands and two eyes to be cast into the fire. At last he learns the folly of choosing any other object for his true and proper portion but God Himself.
(4.) The troubles of life generally help this result when sanctified. As the dashings of the wave preserve the salubrity of the ocean, and prevent its waters from lapsing into putrefaction, which a state of stagnancy would certainly produce, so days of trial, though unwelcome to flesh and blood, are most salutary for the purging of the good man’s character and advancing the work of sanctification, in view of entering heaven at last. It is dangerous for the Christian to get settled on his lees, but nothing is more beneficial for health than to be emptied from vessel to vessel.
THE AFFLICTIONS OF GOD’S PEOPLE ARE NEVER PENAL
This distinction is of the utmost importance. Israel being in covenant with God, none of the calamities which befell them at the hands of the nations round about were sent as a legal retribution for their sins before their God. Whatever the measure of their severity, they were but the chastisement of a wise and loving Father, with whom a foundation of peace had already been established. They were the corrections of the rod in a Father’s hand, not the vengeance of the sword in the hands of an angry Judge.
I. The people of God have a sin-bearer. Though alike unworthy with others, there is one provided for them “on whom all their iniquities are laid,” and by whom they are all borne away. What other meaning can be given to all the sacrifices so strictly required to be laid on the altar from age to age, through their whole history, by the covenant people? They were so many fingers that pointed down, through the long period of waiting, to the “Lamb of God,” whose offering should for ever “put an end to sin, and bring in everlasting righteousness.” The privilege of having such a sin-bearer as one’s own is, indeed, open to all, but it is only on those by whom it is accepted that the benefits are actually conferred—the people of God. This gives a new complexion to all God’s dealings with them. The sufferings which they endure in connection with their sins are not the legal punishment due to their sins, nor any part of it. That is already inflicted on a substitute, that they may go free. And this principle of substitutionary sacrifice is steadily kept in view from the days of Abraham, and onward—more visibly from the era of the Mosaic institutions and onwards—and forms the reason for God’s dealing with His people in the way of correction and discipline, and not of retributive judgment. Retribution being exacted on the substitute, there is no need to exact it also on the person of the offender. In the times of the Judges, there is, indeed, little or no reference made to the observance of sacrificial worship among the people, but God had established this system among them with great solemnity; and He Himself pays jealous respect to His own ordinance, whether the people do so, or not.
II. The unusual character of this arrangement. Many object to a proceeding so different from the ordinary course of law as to lay the punishment deserved on another different from the offender himself, and ask in wonder, Why should the innocent suffer for the guilty?” The reply is, that God Himself proposes to us this method for disposing of our sins. He Himself provides the substitute, and in the exercise of His prerogative as Lawgiver and Judge, He necessarily must endorse His own plan. The practical value of the plan is, that all who accept of this substitute receive the full benefit of His substitution, and every sin which they commit is counted to have been legally punished in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21).
When a rational creature violates the laws of God’s moral government, it is not for human reason to determine what should be done in the emergency—whether the laws are to hold on in their natural course by the infliction of death on the offender, or whether Mercy, in some form, is to come in to operate; and if so, in what form? That is a question where there are no fixed rules to guide us—where reason therefore has no vocation—where, indeed, it remains entirely with the good pleasure of the Lawgiver and Father to say what He wishes to be done. Our proper course in such a case is to cease to reason, and receive reverently the Divine testimony as to the method of dealing which He proposes to take.
But sin is something abnormal; we may expect therefore something abnormal in the means devised for disposing of it. And there is much about the method proposed, which marks it as above the sphere of reason to judge of it. Our duty is not to determine the question for ourselves, but to hear the voice of “Him with whom we have to do.” “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God who justifieth”—in the method proposed in the gospel. “Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ, who died”—as the substitute—not any ordinary subject of government, who required to obey the law for himself, and who had no power to give away himself as he pleased, because he was not himself his own property—but “it is Christ who died”—an extraordinay Person, and who therefore could meet the extraordinay condition of things—“yea rather, who is risen again,” etc., sure proof that the penalty has been exhausted, and that no more suffering work has to be gone through. Thus the Lawgiver is Himself the Saviour, and we rely on such a method as He has Himself devised to meet the case, on His own testimony.
III. The legal punishment due to His people’s sins already borne by their sin-bearer. The proper penalty of sin is of the nature of destruction, as opposed to correction or discipline. “The wages of sin is death.” The creature by sinning forfeits his existence, or all that properly constitutes life. He forfeits the smile of Him that made him, and falls under His frown; which means the loss of all possible happiness, and liability to all possible misery. For the smile or frown of his Creator is, to a creature made after his image, the sum total of all possible good, or all possible evil. Such a creature, losing the image of God, and so becoming depraved, or, disobeying the will of his Creator, and so ceasing to serve the purpose for which he was created, according to all rules of righteousness, forfeits his existence. But the principle of a substitute being admitted, that substitute undertakes all the sinner’s liabilities, and suffers death under the frown of the Lawgiver. This is what Christ did. In the room of sinners He endured the full force of the Divine frown against their sins, as an exhibition of the treatment which they deserved; and so infinite in its grandeur is that exhibition, from the fact especially that the Person who was chosen to act as substitute was Divine, as well as human, that nothing farther is required as an expiation for any number of sins, or for any class of sinners. It is the unspeakable privilege of all who trust in Christ as their substitute, that the full effect of what He has done to vindicate the purity of the Divine character, and the honour of the Divine government should be regarded to them as if they had done it personally, seeing it was done expressly in their stead, and with the intention of being for their benefit. Hence the precious statement, that “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone that believeth.” In Him to whom they are united by faith so as to become one with Him, the full desert of their sins has been suffered—of all their sins whatever the number, and there now remains no more any penal consequences for those terrible sins! Who can estimate the magnitude of such a privilege?
IV. What then is the precise character of the afflictions of the people of God? Are they not caused by sin—the consequence either of overt acts committed, or of sin still lingering in their hearts? If so, why should they not be regarded as the proper punishment of sin? If they are called chastisement, how does that differ from proper punishment?
1. Legal punishment is the expression of the Divine wrath directed against sin, bearing death to the sinner. It implies that in giving to sin what is its due, the whole weight of the Divine displeasure must come down upon it, which can result in nothing but destruction to the creature, and that this in fact is the creature’s desert because of his sin. We do not suppose for a moment that God hates any creature that He has made merely as a creature, It is not in His nature to do so. But when a creature cherishes sin, commits sin, and clings to sin, notwithstanding every argument used to induce him to separate himself from it, then He must bear the expression of the Divine wrath which necessarily goes forth against his sin. Thus, punishment is the expression of judicial anger directed against sin, giving to it its due desert in utter destruction. As opposed to this, chastisement is the expression of fatherly displeasure, needed to convey to the child proper views of the evil of his conduct, to show the deep offence given to the father, and to point out the necessity of amendment of ways. It is all in the way of correction, reformation, or discipline, and not of retribution.
2. In chastisement, whatever the sufferings be, they are always partial and limited, never going the length of destruction, but only intended to correct and improve. In marking the difference between retribution and chastisement, God says, “I will make a full end of all the nations, yet will I not make a full end of thee; I will correct thee in measure” (Jeremiah 30:11). And again He says, “I am very sore displeased with the heathen” (i.e., for what they did in afflicting Israel) “for I was but a little displeased, and they helped forward the affliction.” In showing His anger against His people, He never goes the full length of what they deserve. It is never a penal infliction (Zechariah 1:15). Perhaps it is in this sense that the expression is used. “Jerusalem hath received at the Lord’s hand double for all her sins” (Isaiah 40:2)—according to the rule of expressing only fatherly displeasure against His own people, not judicial wrath. The sufferings are limited, not being the expression of the full amount of what is deserved, but being intended to correct and improve.
V. The purpose served by these afflictions.
1. To keep alive in their minds a reverent sense of what is due to God’s character and law. Being yet but very partially sanctified, and the old roots of evil being still strong in their hearts, there is the need of some powerful restraint on the outbreak of evil, in view of the fact that they are entirely freed from the penal consequences of sin. They must learn to “stand in awe, and sin not.” They must be taught the profound reverence which is due to the character and the law of their God—that “great fear is due unto His name,” and that profound regard must be had to His authority in all that He requires—that there must be no transgression of His holy commandments, and no trifling with His merciful forbearance—that right conceptions must be kept up of what is due to His Infinite Majesty and unsullied Holiness, and that there must be no slackening of His Divine authority. It is all-important to notice that in the manner in which this lesson is taught, mercy is so much mingled with judgment, that the element of harshness is entirely eliminated from the dispensation, so that it wears the soft aspect of a chastisement, and not the stern appearance of a retribution.
2. To teach them the offensive and deadly nature of sin. Though forgiven for the Redeemer’s sake, they must be taught that sin covers the Divine face with anger, puts a stop to intercourse with God, and prevents the outflow of Divine blessings. The bitter nature of sin must be seen in the bitterness of its fruits. They must see that sin from its very nature leads to grief and sorrow, and but for the mercy of God in the gospel arrangement, would inevitably lead to their ruin. They must realise that they cannot sin with impunity, for the “end of all sinful ways is death.” And especially they must understand, that by the Gospel itself they cannot be saved, if they were to continue in sin; and that its whole drift and bearing is to save them from sin itself as well as from its consequences.
3. To impress on them the great duty of cultivating personal holiness. “He corrects us that we may become partakers of His holiness.” “He prunes the branches that they may become more fruitful.” (a) They remind of the extreme inconsistency of sin in a child of God. Every affliction as a bitter fruit of sin teaches, that it is not for one that is born of God to commit sin—that his practice in so far as he indulges in sin is most incongruous with his calling. He is kindly but pointedly told that “the flesh must be crucified with the affections and lusts” in the interest of the sanctification of the soul. He is reminded of the great law of the new life, that, in becoming Christ’s, he is “dead to sin.” And “how shall we, who are dead to sin, live any longer therein?”
(b) They prevent the heart from fixing on earthly objects. They break our cisterns which we would fill with earthly joys; they wither our gourds, or fond earthly comforts; they destroy our idols which we would place in the room of our God; they dry up our earthly streams, and lead us to look away to the fountains of living water which Christ has opened up, and to look for our rest under “The shadow of the great rock in the weary land.” They form checks and disappointments to us in our earthly pursuits and hopes, that we may learn that all earthly objects in the end prove to be “vanity and vexation of spirit;” that there is no true happiness but in God, and no home but in heaven.
(c) They lead to the subduing of the evil passions and corrupt propensities of the soul. Afflictions, especially all great trials, which lift a man quite off his feet, when “the floods come in unto his soul,” teach a man most effectually his great helplessness, and feebleness. Thus the foundations of pride and self-sufficiency are shaken, and he learns better the lesson of “not thinking more highly of himself than he ought to think.” The heart of stone is in a condition to become a heart of flesh. There is less of the obstinate self-will, and more of the obedient ear and willing mind. The imperious will is broken, and there is more of “the meekness and gentleness of Christ.” The spirit of patience and submission prevails, and realising the hallowing influence of the Divine dealings, he begins to say, “It was good for me that I was afflicted.”
(d) They reveal to the soul the low mark of its piety. No light is so true by which the soul may test its real character as that of the fires of affliction. There the magnifying influence of self-flattery disappears, and the meagre attainments are seen in their proper proportions. A faithful voice warns the soul to the following effect: Is it fit that one, who is “risen to sit with Christ in heavenly places,” who has been called to live in a Holy world, to breath a Holy atmosphere, to be the associate of Holy companions, and to spend existence in Holy pursuits—should live here at so low a mark of personal piety, should walk so closely on the borders of sin, and make such a poor appearance of the fruits of righteousness in the practical life. Is it seemly that a man who professes to be linked by a tender tie, and linked inseparably with the only-begotton Son of God, who is honoured with His pure fellowship and enjoys His Almighty guardianship, and who is at last to dwell with Him in His home, and share with Him in His joys and honours, should spend his religious life now in a state of languor and gloom, as if “scarce half he seemed to live, and were dead more than half,”—is it fit that such a man should lead a life which is scarcely above the mark of those who are content to grovel among the things of time and sense? O how unbecoming for one who is destined to wear priestly robes of fine linen, white and clean, to be found wallowing in the mire and pollution of the horrible pit out of which he has been drawn! It is little worthy of the heir of untold treasures in the skies, to spend so much of his time and his energies here, in grasping at the dross and the dust of this earthly scene. It looks ill to see a man who has so large an interest in eternity looking with too keen an eye on the few pebbles he may be able to pick up on the shores of time. What a coming down from his high standpoint is it for one whose destiny is brighter than that of a seraph, to be ever complaining of the few trials that are mixed up with his lot in this his temporary dwelling-place?
(e) When sanctified, the afflictions of God’s people lead them to aim at a higher mark of the Christian life. Warned by their sufferings that their time on earth is so short on the one hand, and that the Christian life is the only true life, on the other, they give themselves more sincerely and devotedly to secure the aims of that life. Voices around them seem to say, “Why should one with such prospects as yours live like the drudges of Satan, or the slaves of sin?” “Are you called to be an heir of glory, though equally undeserving with any worldling by your side, and will you not show your gratitude by cultivating a tone of speech and temper of mind, far above that of the grovelling earth-worm? How careful of its speech should that tongue be that is soon to sing so sweetly, and so loudly, the praises of redeeming grace! How high should those feet be lifted above the pollutions of the world, which are ere long to tread the streets of pure gold like unto transparent glass! How pure a sanctuary should that heart be which is destined to become for ever the dwelling-place of the Lord of glory! How clean should those hands be that are dedicated for ever to Temple service! How rapidly should that race be run which leads to a weight of glory! How manfully should that battle be fought, which, you know, shall end in the crushing of every enemy, and gaining a complete and everlasting triumph! Lay aside, then, all weights, and run with patience the appointed race; fight prayerfully the good fight, and soon you shall be a conqueror and more.”
AFFLICTIONS COMING FROM THE HAND OF GOD, AND FROM THE HAND OF MAN
All affliction to God’s people comes either as directly sent by Him, or expressly permitted by Him. “Shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord hath not done it?” There is a difference between trouble as sent directly from God’s hand, as in the case of famine, pestilence, or the earthquake, and trouble as sent through the agency of man, as in the case of being delivered up into the hands of enemies of our own race. David had experience of both ways, and decidedly preferred the former, when he must choose the one or the other (2 Samuel 24:14). What is the difference between the one mode and the other, that there should be a ground of preference? The following considerations will help us to judge how much better it is to have our afflictions coming directly from the hand of God, than coming through the agency of man:—
I. On God’s side there is always much cause for sending the affliction; on man’s side there is little, and often no reason. To God we are responsible for the whole of our moral conduct. In the whole domain of conscience it is “with Him we have to do;” and before Him we have contracted a debt of more than ten thousand talents, so that there is the highest reason to expect He would send upon us the severest use of the rod. But to man we are not responsible at all in the province of conscience; and though we owe him many duties of love and kindness under the second table of the law, it is not to him we have to answer for the manner in which we fulfil these duties, but to God, whose subjects alone we are. Man, indeed, is at best only a subject himself, and not a governor; and he only goes out of his place when he presumes to take any part of the moral government of the world into his hands. Besides, such debt as we owe to man is relatively less than one hundred pence, and therefore trifling compared with what we owe to God. David had grievously sinned against both Uriah and Bathsheba; yet, so much greater did his sin seem which he had committed against God, that he speaks of it as his only sin (Psalms 51:4).
II. God never errs in the judgment He forms of men’s characters and conduct; man is often and greatly mistaken. “The eyes of the Lord run to and fro through the whole earth—His eyes behold, His eyelids try the children of men—there is not a word in my tongue but thou knowest it altogether; thou hast beset me behind and before—He knows what is in man.” He is the Author of that word which “discerns the thoughts and intents of the heart.” In prayer He hears the thoughts of the heart, whether “uttered or unexpressed.” He cannot therefore in any case inflict an unrighteous sentence, either by punishing the wrong person, or punishing where there has been no fault at all, or punishing in excess of the actual requirements of the case when fault has been committed. “The Lord is a God of knowledge, and by Him actions are weighed.” There is never a disturbance of the exact balance of justice when measuring out to men what is due, on the account of not knowing the exact merits of every case. If there is any such disturbance, it is all on the side of mercy to the offender.
Man, however, is often hasty, rash, and greatly mistaken in his judgment of the conduct, as well as the character of his fellow man. His knowledge of the case is always limited—the motives from which his fellow may have acted, his precise intentions in the case, the circumstances in which he was placed, his ignorance of what was duty, and many other elements which must be taken into account in forming a complete judgment. Thus afflictions coming from the hand of God are greatly in contrast with those coming from the hand of man, because in the one case there is a perfect knowledge of every element, and feature of character and conduct while in the other there is always imperfect knowledge, and sometimes serious errors of judgment all through.
III. God is never actuated by any unholy spirit in His judgment and dealings; while man is liable to be swayed by many selfish and evil passions. God always acts from principle, with some holy and wise end in view. No such elements as prejudice, ill will, or evil passion of any kind can exist in the Divine mind, from the very necessity of His nature. “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all.” Neither can a spirit of revenge find a place in His bosom, for there is no foundation for any such feeling in His nature as God. He is therefore always calm and measured in the afflictions He sends on His people. He also exercises great tenderness of dealing and wise consideration of all the circumstances—“staying His rough wind in the day of His east wind, “correcting in measure,” “not always wroth, lest the spirit should fail before Him,” causing the “weeping to endure but for a night and bringing joy in the morning,”—“with the trial making a way of escape.”
With man on the contrary there is often a spirit of malice and revenge, a desire to oppress or crush, or a desire to exalt himself by the humiliation of his neighbour—it may be, a desire to rule over his neighbour, and to make profit by his loss. Or there is often the harbouring unjustifiably of evil thoughts, which have only an imaginary foundation, or a very slight foundation in fact—an evil interpretation of appearances which are susceptible of a satisfactory explanation, with many such feelings to warp the judgment, and bring down affliction unrighteously.
IV. God always thinks of a wise and merciful result; man is often inconsiderate and regardless of consequences. “Happy is the man whom the Lord correcteth, for though He cause grief He will have compassion according to the multitude of His mercies, for He doth not afflict willingly,” etc. It is really for the best interests of the soul itself that He proceeds with the work of chastisement to cure of worldliness, of pride, of backsliding, of some easily besetting sin, or to quicken diligence, zeal, devotedness, self denial, godliness, or some other element of the Divine life. The soul itself often vindicates the hand that smites it by saying, “I know that in faithfulness thou hast afflicted me.” But man, when he has the opportunity to afflict, is often capricious in his acts as well as in his judgments, proceeds with blind indifference, if not intentional cruelty, is indiscriminate in his strokes, and is sometimes even reckless as to results, provided only his own purposes can be carried out.
V. God is more easily entreated by the voice of prayer. Though Ephraim was an incorrigible offender and seemed for the most part unmoved when even “hewed” with the strong words of God through His prophets, the moment he turns again, the ear of his God listens—“I have heard—I have heard Ephraim bemoaning himself thus, ‘Thou hast chastised me and I was chastised—turn thou me and I shall be turned’ ” (Jeremiah 31:18, etc.). Amid all the stern work of the captivity, the afflicting God was yet the Saviour, and assures them, “Then shall ye call upon me, and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. And ye shall seek me and find me when ye search for me with all your heart.” So it was with Saul of Tarsus. The moment he repents and lifts his cry to heaven, the exalted Saviour listens, and says of him, “Behold he prayeth!” Similar assurances are given of God’s willingness to be entreated under the afflictions of the rod (Psalms 50:15.; Matthew 18:27.; James 5:13.; Psalms 34:4; Psalms 34:6, etc.). Man, however, is so different, that he may hear our cry to-day, and be deaf to all entreaties to-morrow; when the case may be most reasonable he is most impracticable; and what he does give the hope of doing at one time, he will fail to fulfil when the period arrives. His decisions are regulated by caprice, or convenience, and not by justice or the kindness required by the golden rule.
HATRED OF THE WORLD TO THE PEOPLE OF GOD
Of this the incursions made by the heathen nations from time to time were striking illustrations. Their purpose was thus expressed—“Come, let us cut them off from being a nation, that the name of Israel may be no more in remembrance.” The confederacy is given in Psalms 83:5-8. They specially disliked the God of Israel, because He could make no peace with their gods, nor even tolerate their very existence. The people too dwelt alone and did not commingle with the other nations, but observed religious customs and manners different from all others. Moreover the God of Israel had been most severe in inflicting overthrow and calamity on all the nations that came in contact with that people. In this we see a type of the hatred which the representatives of the world cherish to the church and people of God.
I. This hatred has always existed. The case given in this chapter is no solitary instance of God’s people being hated by the world, and of a conspiracy being formed for their ruin. This spirit of antagonism was foreshadowed by the case of the “woman’s seed,” and the “serpent’s seed.” On this principle Cain hated Abel (1 John 3:12), and the apostle adds “Marvel not if the world hate you,” for many reasons which he specifies. The child of the bondwoman did persecute the child of the free (Galatians 4:29). Pharaoh and his people tried to crush the infant Church in Egypt—in its cradle; so did Herod seek to destroy the child Jesus. The king of Moab sent to the famous soothsayer among the mountains of the East, saying, “Come curse me this people.” And all through the history of that people, the nations were ever glad when they could get an opportunity of giving a deadly thrust to Israel. The same feeling still prevails and always has prevailed between the world and the Church. The weapons employed have been persecution in all its forms, where that was possible. And when not practicable, all kinds of oppression, unjust and harsh dealing, detraction and slander, proscription, raillery, revilings, and reproaches.
II. This hatred has a deep root. The world hates the image of God, wherever it is seen. Birds of the night hate the sun. Christ says, “Ye know that the world hated me before it hated you.” And again He says, “Me it hateth because I testify of it that the works thereof are evil.” Indeed no two personalities are more antagonistic than Christ and the world. It is the opposition of the embodiment of sin, to the personification of all holiness. The owls and the bats flee from the morning beam. The fifth angel poured out his vial on the seat of the beast, and his kingdom became full of darkness, and they gnawed their tongues for pain. Thus bitterly did they resent it. So when the enemies heard Stephen preach, “they gnashed on him with their teeth.”
III. Christ gives complete victory over the world’s hatred. “In the world ye shall have tribulation, but in Me ye shall have peace.” While the world is doing its utmost to cause trouble, Christ, working more mightily still, is at the same moment producing peace. There is more in Christ’s smile than in all the world’s frown. Madame Guyon, who suffered severely on every side, from an unhappy union in marriage, from the loss of children and friends by death, from the alienation of affection by calumny, from persecution for the truth’s sake—thrown first into one prison, then into another, then into a third, then into a fourth, and finally banished from her home till she died—was yet oftentimes in heart overflowing with joy, because of the peace of Christ. “Oh,” she cries, “the unspeakable happiness of belonging to Jesus Christ! This is the balm which sweetens all pains. The satisfaction and joy I feel in being a prisoner, and in suffering for Christ, are inexpressible. I seem like a little bird which God has placed in a cage with nothing to do but to sing.” Her prison walls grew warm as she literally sang for joy. So felt Paul in the Roman dungeon. Alone—unbefriended—unsuccoured, this was yet the happiest man in Rome. Among the millions within her wide Walls, not another heart was so buoyant with hope, so lifted up with joy. That dark and cheerless cell was his last resting-place on earth. Soon his feet should stand within the gates of the New Jerusalem. One of the loftiest seats around the throne should soon be his. One of the sweetest songs in the land of joy should soon be raised by him. Shielded by such a faith, animated by such a hope, he rose above and beyond all the horrors of is condition. His afflictions became light, and lighter still, until he felt them not at all. So, too, it was with Bunyan in Bedford jail. And thus it was with a long line of martyrs in every age. “The Christian is fed by Christ’s hand, carried in His heart, supported by His arm, nursed in His bosom, guided by His eye, instructed by His lips, and warmed by His love. His wounds are his life, His smile the light of his path, the health of his soul, his rest and heaven here below.” [Balfern.]
The world is a vanquished enemy—it is crucified to the Christian, and he to it.
MAIN HOMILETICS.—Judges 3:9-11
V. The salutary effect of the Divine Chastisement.
“They cried unto the Lord.” Here, in a small nut, we have a large kernel. In all parts of Scripture we are ever coming on unexpected riches, if only we look carefully, and dig deeply. How many thoughts all apposite are wrapped up in this short statement! It teaches the following truths:—
I. Severe chastisement awakens from the sleep in sin. All these many years, they had been living without any proper sense of the evil of their conduct, in leaving off the worship and service of the covenant God, bowing down to idols, and practising systematically known sin. They had been acting as men who were buried in deep slumber. They had become dead to all sense of guilt, and were unconscious of the clouds of wrath that were rapidly gathering over them. Now with rough, but kind hand, they are awakened, and begin to realise, the first time for many years, the aggravation of their sin, and the magnitude of their danger. “Those who would hardly speak to God in the day of ease, now cry to Him with importunity.” [Henry.] Sin leads a man to shut his eyes, that he may not be startled by looking at the wickedness of what he is doing, and to shut his ears, that he may not hear the condemning and warning voices, that are uttered respecting his conduct. By continuing often thus to close both eyes and ears, while the practice of sin goes on, his insensibility grows until it becomes practically a deep sleep.
To be awakened out of sleep is the first beneficial effect of severe chastisement. The sinner comes to know how things stand between him and his God. Sin is seen to be a gift presented by man’s enemy to lure on to man’s ruin. It is a Trojan horse introduced into the soul, full of armed men, and of the instruments of death. It is seen to be a thing serious enough to awaken the thunders of justice, or to bring an earthquake after it as a natural sequence. Every act of sin is felt to be equally solemn with the first act, at the commission of which the poet says,
“Earth felt the wound, and Nature from her seat,
Sighing through all her works, gave signs of woe
That all was lost.”
2. It shows the folly of trusting to one’s own resources against the day of trial.
(1.) Men are ever disposed to pride themselves on their own sufficiency. They boast of their physical strength, or their mental endowments, their stores of knowledge, their skill, tact, social influence, high position, or great possessions.
(2.) In the day of trial these are found to be broken reeds. The Israelites had doubtless their well-smoothed arguments for justifying themselves in their evil course. Yet when the shock of calamity actually came, they were undeceived in a moment. It was an experience they had not thought of. It seemed as if a rock had fallen upon them, and they felt crushed under it. They felt themselves to be entirely helpless. A more bitter cry could not have been raised if the whole nation had been put upon the rack. When they thought of the brave days of old, they fancied themselves equal to any emergency, and trusted accordingly. They had long enjoyed the prestige of being more than a match for all the nations of Canaan, north and south—none had been able to stand before them. And who was this proud bison from the prairies of Mesopotamia, that he should advance against a nation of heroes, that knew no defeat in a hundred fights, under the captaincy of the noble Joshua? Had they not good reason to be self-reliant and dauntless?
(3.) But they were unmindful of the real source of their strength. Vainly assuming that in their own arm slumbered the prowess that overthrew the Canaanite, they counted that the future would be as the past, though “they had forsaken the God who made them, and lightly esteemed the rock of their salvation.” It was thus they met the foe, and, as might have been anticipated, they went down before him as the frail reed before the rushing cataract. Now we see them floundering helplessly in the gulf for a period of eight years, and, with their eyes at length opened to their extreme wretchedness, they come back, with a wailing cry, to Him from whom they had so guiltily wandered.
(4.) This self-trust proceeds from self-ignorance. In the day of peace, men are confident and boastful, while as yet they have not measured their strength with the forces they shall have to contend with in the time of trouble. When they “prosper in the world and increase in riches, they speak loftily, and their tongue walketh through the earth.” “The wicked man saith in his heart, I shall not be moved, I shall never be in adversity. The Lord shall laugh at him, because He seeth that his day is coming.” Men may, for a time, be great in power and wealth, like the vine planted by the waters, which is fruitful and full of branches; they may have strong rods as sceptres of influence in society, and their stature may be exalted among the thick branches, yet if they have neglected to prepare for the great trial of the future, the hour is approaching when they shall be plucked up, and cast to the ground—the east wind drying up their fruit, their strong rods broken and withered, and the fire consuming them (Ezekiel 19:10-12).
3. It shows that idols are worthless as a refuge.
(1.) It is an instructive fact that throughout their entire history the people of Israel never apply to their idols for help, when they get into deep waters. In Elijah’s day, when the tide of idolatry was at its high-water mark, we do indeed hear the cry raised, “O Baal, hear us!” but it was not the people themselves who raised it. King Ahaziah did send to enquire of “the god of Ekron,” as to his cure from the serious injury he had sustained. But he was a son of the wicked Jezebel; and this must be held to be an exceptional case. As a rule, conscience was so far awakened by the occurrence of stern trials, that the make-believes of their hypocrisy were dissipated, and they fell back on their sincere convictions. Days of crushing sorrow proved too clearly that “other gods were but dumb idols,” and that confusion must be the portion of “those who serve graven images” (see ch. Judges 10:13-15; Jeremiah 2:28; Isaiah 10:3). “Idols are the work of men’s hands, but our God is in the heavens” (Psalms 115:0).
Wolsey made an idol of his king, and was cruelly deserted by him at the last. He died with the bitter confession on his lips, that “had he served his God as faithfully as he had served his king, he would not have forsaken him in his grey hairs.” Haman made an idol of worldly honour, but that did nothing to save him when he fell under the wrath of the king. Lot made an idol of his worldly possessions, but he lost them all, and barely escaped with life itself, in the flood of ruin which overwhelmed Sodom. The same truth is illustrated in one of the parables given by the Saviour; and any representation of truth made by Him, even in parable, must be held to be equally correct with any recorded fact of history. The rich man “whose grounds brought forth plentifully,” and who so idolized his wealth that he “resolved to pull down his barns and build greater.” did not on that account save himself from the doom then impending over his head. Judas Achan, Demas, Simon Magus, Ananias and Sapphira, all made idols of this world’s wealth or good things, yet they are all witnesses that idols are worthless as a refuge in the day of trial. Even religion itself, if it is idolized simply as a fashionable religion, will not prove a refuge in the hour of trial. It has been told recently of a man, in a country district, that he walked habitually four miles every Lord’s Day in order to hear a living gospel preached in an humble edifice, though his house was within a few yards of a large and fashionable church, to which multitudes thronged. “The fashionable religion,” he said, “is all very well to live with, but it will not do to die with.”
4. It leads instinctively to prayer to God as the true refuge. “They cried to the Lord.” Though they had forsaken Him, they still believed, in the deepest convictions of their heart, that He, and He alone, was the true God. This is very instructive.
(1.) It is the heart’s spontaneous testimony. So long as the sunshine of peace lasts, and the delusions of sin remain unbroken, the soul keeps chanting to the strain, “I have loved idols, and after them will I go.” But the moment a great peril arises, and a life-struggle is entered on, instinctively it “shuffles off” all the incrustations of false belief, and goes straight to the God of its being, and importunately pleads. Could anything more effectually testify to the lying character of the teachings of sin, and the solid truth of all that God testifies respecting Himself? When appeal is made to the soul’s deepest convictions, the response comes like a trap rock shooting up through all the superincumbent strata of unbelief, that God is the only true refuge of the soul in the day of deep distress. With passionate cry it is confessed that the Creator is necessary to the creature, that His favour is its life, and that without Him all is lost. The innate convictions of the heart give the lie to its acquired creed.
(2.) The cry is as instinctive and sincere in the unbeliever as in the believer. Paine, who spent his days in blasphemy and ridicule of religion, and who boasted that with his axe he had cut down every tree in the forest of Christianity, leaving only a few saplings untouched, when he found himself amid the billows of the Atlantic, the vessel in which he sailed tossed like a straw on their crest, and every moment about to be engulphed, is found on his knees crying aloud to the God, whose existence he had denied, and whose name he had for years profaned, the most earnest praying-man in the ship, as he had need to be, beseeching the Almighty with tears and supplications to have mercy on his soul! What a picture alike of the hollowness, and revolting impiety of infidelity! And when, afterwards, death itself actually came, he found no other protection to cling to but the very God to whom all through life he had reviled in the language of ribaldry and cursing. In “the last alarms” he was heard crying out hundreds of times, “O, God! help me! O, Jesus Christ, help me! help me! In thy great mercy, help me!” Volney, notwithstanding his atheistical belief during a severe storm at sea, was seen running about in the greatest alarm crying out, “O, God, help, help! O, my God! what shall I do? what shall I do?” Even Voltaire, who occupied the bad pre-eminence of being esteemed the arch-unbeliever of his day, and who wasted the most brilliant mental endowments ever conferred on man, in reckless vituperations against the Christian faith and satirical mockery of all things Divine, turned coward in a most humiliating manner at the approach of the last enemy. The prey of anguish and abject terror, he alternately supplicated and blasphemed the God, against whom he had so defiantly raised his puny arm. And while his last sands were running out, so long as speech was continued to him, he called aloud in the most plaintive accents, “Oh, Christ! Oh, Jesus Christ! help me! help me!” Other instances we have in Jonah’s shipmates; the disciples in the storm; Peter walking on the water (Jonah 1:5-6; Mark 4:38; Matthew 14:30), and the general examples referred to in Psalms 107:6; Psalms 107:12-13; Psalms 107:18-20; Psalms 107:28, also Psalms 78:34). Indeed, when anyone is suddenly confronted with death, the ejaculation involuntarily springs from his lips, “May God have mercy on my soul!”
(3.) It proves how impossible it is to banish God from the human mind. The stoutest heart gives the same testimony with the tenderest. When no danger is in sight, “the fool saith in his heart there is no God.” Rather, “he keeps saying this in his heart,” as if to keep down the fears ever rising up that there is a God, or as if to banish the disturbing evidences breaking in here and there, and on all sides. His strong wish that there were none, is the real cause of all his forced repetitions that there is none. For if there is, then it is all wrong with him. But God has so formed the human heart, that, notwithstanding all the violence done to its natural instincts, through the working of its depravity, when the real test is applied, its needle always points to the Great Supreme, as the being who made it, who preserves it, to whom it is responsible for its moral conduct, and who holds its destiny for good or evil entirely in His hands. Even those who, like Cain, “have gone out from the presence of the Lord into the land of Nod (the land of distance),” and have practically tried to spend life without God in any of their thoughts, are, at certain moments, checked by certain upheavals in their own breasts of forces too deep down in their nature for them to be able to control. At those moments, even those who say they are conscious only of the existence of the ego, are constrained to admit that there is also One who made the ego, who made it what it is, and who made it to be responsible to Himself. No gathered crust of atheistical assumptions, or maxims, however compacted by reasoning or speculation, or hardening by habitual practice, shall be able for a moment to resist the subterranean force when it begins to act, or suppress the upstarting conviction, that it is everything for a man to find His favour through the Crucified One of the blessed Gospel.
5. Severe chastisement prepares the way for true penitence.
(1.) Not necessarily so; sometimes it hardens. Some substances become harder as they are exposed to the action of fire. In like manner, certain characters become more stubborn under severe distresses. God puts a mark on King Ahaz, because “in the time of his distress he trespassed yet more and more against the Lord; this is that King Ahaz” (2 Chronicles 28:22). Some, when reproved, harden their necks. Pharaoh’s heart seemed to become more hard as the infliction of the plagues went on. Cain, instead of repenting after he heard of his awful sentence, went out from the presence of the Lord, and dwelt in the land of Nod. He went as far away from God as he could go. He became a restless wanderer. There are some indeed, who, when pursued by the terrors of the Lord, in place of returning to Him by mourning and humiliation for their sins, prefer to commit suicide. Thus did Judas. Similar is the story told of Sardanapalus, the last King of Assyria, who, when his capital was besieged, and seeing no possibility of escape, shut himself up, with all his household and his goods, in the royal palace, and, with his own hands, in despair, applied the lighted torch, turning the whole into a vast funeral pile! So—
“The scorpion girt by fire,
In circle narrowing as it glows,
The flames around their captives close;
Till inly searched by thousand throes,
And maddening in her ire,
One and sole relief she knows
Gives but one pang and cures all pain,
And darts into her desperate brain.”
Others have been so accustomed to give the full force of their wills to sinful practices, that they have become thoroughly enslaved, and though they have their eyes open to its worst consequences, they will not repent, but plunge more wildly than before into the destructive vortex (Isaiah 1:5), etc. But to those who are not altogether infatuated by sin, severe affliction, when the Divine blessing goes with it, prepares the way for true penitence. For—
(2.) The heart must find relief from its misery. The avalanche which now came down on the homes of Israel from the distant north, was an overwhelming evil. They were compelled to cry to their God, through the pure force of their misery. Conscience was awakened, and they became alive to the fact, that all this had happened to them because they had forsaken their God. The conviction would thus arise that there was nothing to be got in a life of sin, but misery, and misery ever deepening. In all directions, where they might look, they found no other result but this. “The end of these ways was death.” They saw that the necessary effect of sin was to put them into a state of war with God; for the man who sins becomes a criminal before his God, and must count on God as his enemy. And who would madly “rush against the thick bosses of the Almighty’s buckler?” Who could dare to contend in battle with the great “I am?” As the soul values its own peace with God, it feels shut up to the step of returning to God. Feeling the hopelessness of opposition to God, they find they must at least feign submission to Him as their God, to save themselves from absolute ruin. Their cry for relief was a necessity, and whatever objection the evil heart might have to holding fellowship with a holy God, under ordinary circumstances, they felt that in their present circumstances there was no alternative. They must come to be at peace with Him under any conditions. Their stubborn wills must bow before an imperious necessity. They are checkmated at every point all round the compass. They cannot carry on the strife against the God of their being; for “woe is unto him that striveth with his Maker!” “Their way was thus hedged up with thorns.”
(3.) The heart is drawn to God by the intimations of His sin-forgiving character. It is shut up by the pressure of its misery to look for help where it is convinced help alone can be found. But mere weight of affliction alone will not dispose the depraved will to accept of God as its object of supreme love. That argument goes no farther than to prove that it is impossible for the soul to keep up war with its God. The strong hand of vengeance might push back the stream of its rebellion to the fountain head, but, so soon as the hand is removed, that stream will flow on as before. Another all-important factor is needed to incline the will, freely and naturally, to submit to God as its rightful Sovereign, against whom it has rebelled. There must be something to draw as well as to threaten. An appeal must be made to hopes as well as to fears. There must be something to dispose the will of itself to go out to God without constraint. What is needed to produce that disposition of will in a guilty man, is the presentation of pardon by Him against whom sin has been committed. This is nowhere done certainly, on just grounds, and in the most soul-subduing manner, except in the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Hence, “the apprehension of God’s mercy in Chris” is an essential preparative to all true repentance. When a sinful man has set before him the warrant, on good and certain grounds, to believe that he shall receive the pardon of all his sins as a free gift on his return to God, and also a complete renewal of the Divine love towards him, as it was before the period of his sin commenced, his obstinacy begins to give way, his heart is melted, he is drawn, he yields himself up to God in true penitence. Instantly he turns against himself, begins the work of self-condemnation, self-abhorrence, shame, and self-abasement—is full of genuine grief for the evil of his ways, spontaneously makes confession, justifies God, and condemns himself in everything, and finally sets himself to walk henceforth in ways of new obedience.
Thus the preparatives to true penitence are, partly, the conviction that sin leads to nothing but misery, and is therefore essentially evil; but principally that the God, against whom sin had been committed, instead of taking pleasure in punishing the sinner, yearns and longs to grant a complete pardon, if he would but repent and accept of the pardon, on the terms which declare God’s righteousness in granting it. In the case of the Israelites, this exhibition of God’s sin-forgiving character was continually set before them, in the prominent place which the institution of sacrifice had in their daily worship. It was also repeatedly confirmed as a most precious truth, in the many times that He forgave their sins in His providential dealings with them, when it would have been just to have consumed them in a moment. Indeed, their whole past history was a history of mercy. Every promise was a spring—all the facts were streams running from these springs. And one great Fountain head they had, which a thousand rivers could not exhaust, in the everlasting promise—“I am your God!”
COMMENTS AND SUGGESTIONS.—Judges 3:9
I. Men hope for peace in the future from their immunity in the past. These Israelites were living under the hallucination that, because, for so long a time, they had escaped from day to day manifestations of the Divine anger, therefore it would always be so, notwithstanding their systematic violations of the Divine law. They shut their ears to the emphatic condemnation which God uniformly gives of sin, and practically formed their judgments more from the peace which reigned around them in nature than from the express assurances of the Divine voice. Hence it was a great surprise to them when the punishment did actually fall.
This is common with mankind. An under-current of reasoning is ever going on in men’s minds, with which the heart has more to do than the undertanding, the drift of which is to bias the decisions of the latter in favour of the wishes of the former. The wish of the criminal is, that there were no day of reckoning, and the wish becomes father to the thought. The calm which now prevails around the sinner, while the bright sun shines, the birds sing, and nature chants sweet melodies in his ear—while the great forces sleep, and all things go well from day to day—all this forms a plausible ground for concluding, that what seems so like a permanent state of things will really never be altered. The men of Noah’s days had lived so long in security, that they went on “eating and drinking, buying and selling,” etc., notwithstanding all the warnings given by the “preacher of righteousness,” “until the day when Noah entered into the ark, and the flood came,” etc. The course of nature was so fixed that there seemed no likelihood the flood should come. “In the last days, too, scoffers will come, saying, ‘Where is the promise of His coming? Since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were!’ ”
Thus it is still. It is part of the “idols of the tribe.” Men are warned solemnly of a coming day of putting to the test the character they are forming now. Partly by express intimations; partly by the appearance of the Son of God in our midst, wearing our human nature; and yet more solemnly, by that mysterious death which He, the Lord of Life, passed through; and by all the solemn issues which must spring out of these facts are they warned. Yet, so accustomed are they to count on immunity from evil consequence, that they hold on in their course of unbelief, regardless of all the voices addressed to them by the God of the Gospel. “Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, the heart of the sons of men is set in them to do evil.” Practically, they disbelieve in a coming judgment. “They see not the smoke of the pit, therefore they dread not the fire” Psalms 55:19. [South.] They go on to-day repeating the folly of yesterday, saying, “To-morrow shall be as this day, and much more abundant.”
II. Men’s misapprehension of the Divine silence. “These things thou hast done and I kept silence; thou thoughtest I was altogether such an one as thyself, and did approve thy sin.” It is singular that men should make this interpretation of the silence, when there is such ample proof passing before their eyes continually, that the time for waiting is fast coming to a close. Without intermission the arrows of death are doing their work, and every man is marked to fall. If men were but half awake, this fact could not fail to strike the dullest mind. Yet “all men think all men mortal but themselves.”
Men mistake the meaning of God’s delay. His own explanation is, “the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance.”
(1.) He would give them time for repentance—time for the case being fully argued and leisurely weighed; also that opportunity might be afforded for their returning to God in sincere and thorough penitence.
(2.) He would show how greatly He desires their repentance, or how far He is from taking pleasure in their death (Ezekiel 33:11).
(3.) It has cost much to open the door for their repentance.
(4.) He would intimate, that where there is repentance all will yet be well.
III. The certain approach of the day of reckoning. How can men be safe to-morrow when they sin to-day? (Romans 2:3.) Must they not give up sin and flee to the refuge? “He hath appointed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness,” etc. Of those who recklessly fill up in sin their present season given for repentance, it is said “their judgment now of a long time lingereth not,” etc. (2 Peter 2:3). Blackwell says, “This represents vengeance as an angel of judgment pursuing incorrigible sinners on the wing, continually approaching nearer and nearer, and meanwhile keeping on them a watchful eye, that he may at length discharge an unerring blow.”
“To-morrow is the wrecker’s beacon, the wily
snare of the destroyer;
When, unrepented, the growing avalanche of
sin rolls down the easy slope,
Alas! so ponderous, and moving on in might,
that a Sisyphus may not stop it.”
IV. The danger of underrating the severity of the trial of the future. This people had come so to underrate the strictness of God’s dealings with them when He should rise up, that they seem not to have counted on more than a moderate discipline, which they could manage to struggle through of themselves. But when the blow fell, it was insupportable, and they shrieked aloud for help. When men find that a day of final trial is coming on in the future, they set to work to abate its serious character. They form their ideas of what God will do, not so much from the intimations which He Himself makes in His Word, as from the views which they themselves form of His character. He is a Father, and the kindest of Fathers. Most true. But does the “righteous Father” (as the Christ expressly calls him), continue to acknowledge men as His children after they have become unrighteous? And if, as the record assures us, “there are none righteous, no, not one,” have not all lost the privileges of children, and can only regain them by faith in Christ Jesus? Is it right—is it safe then, to suppose for a moment, that God will deal with all men as children merely, in the day of account, and not in their character as impenitent sinners—i.e., all who have not reprented and believed? Must not all the impenitent stand as criminals before a judge, and be dealt with according to the laws of Eternal Righteousness? And how can these laws be properly exercised, if God does not express the terribly extent to which He hates sin? Can any punishment which fitly marks the depth of that displeasure be less than insupportably severe? Even in this world His judgments are fitted to strike men with awe. In the plagues of Egypt, the destruction of the cities of the plain, in the flood of waters let loose on an ungodly world, in the destruction of whole nations by the sword of Joshua, on account of their awful sins, we have proofs how terribly severe God’s hand may become in punishing men’s sins, when they obstinately cling to them and take the consequences.
More ominously still we are assured, that a day is coming on when some shall call to the rocks and the mountains—“Fall on us, and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb!” On that day, we are told, “the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.” “God shall judge the secrets of men’s hearts.” “I will lay judgment to the line, and righteousness to the plummet, and the hail shall sweep away the refuge of lies,” etc.; “the rains shall descend, the floods come, and the winds blow and beat against that house,” etc. “He that despised Moses’ law, died without mercy. Of how much soever punishment shall he be thought worthy who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and counted the blood of the covenant an unholy thing,” etc. “Whoso was not found written in the Book of Life, was cast into the lake of fire.”
These statements, however interpreted, prove unmistakably how terrible unsafe it is to underrate the strictness of the standard by which God will try men’s characters in the day of final account. As yet the hour has not come for weighing men in the strictest balances. At most we have but the breezes and the gales here, and many dream we shall never have more. Hereafter we are assured in God’s Word the hurricanes shall be awakened, and the most thorough test applied to the stability of the foundation on which every man is building. Blessed shall they be who shall then be found to have prepared for the worst, and to have fled for refuge to Him “who is able to save unto the uttermost those that come unto God by Him.”
V. The wisdom of preparing for the strictest possible trial. The common difficulties of life are generally not greater than a brave heart and strong will may surmount, without any special helping hand; though the Christian will “in everything by prayer and supplication make his request known unto God.” That, however, is but to “run with the footmen;” how different to “contend with the horses!” There are times even in this life when trials come to the most intrepid with overmastering force, when the man is lifted off his feet, and feels borne irresistibly as a straw on the surface of the torrent. For such seasons he needs the help of an arm stronger than his own. And there are also days of “fiery trial,” where there is no effectual succour all round, save that which is supplied by Him who is “mighty to save!”
But for every man a day is coming on in the future, when his character shall be “sifted as wheat” and “tried as fire”—when he shall become a helpless thing in the hands of infinite forces. What he needs at that dread moment, is the means of meeting every possible contingency—a refuge which can give shelter from the fiercest possible wind that can blow—a fire-escape from the most awful possible conflagration that can burn—a sum which shall meet to the full the largest debt which the messengers of justice can possibly exact. Literally, every man, as a responsible being, will then have to answer all that the Divine perfections can claim of allegiance to the Divine throne—all that love, reverence, purity of character, and obedience of life, which is justly due from a creature made after the image of God. In that hour when God shall decide the final relation in which He is to stand for ever to His creature, His full character shall be revealed in all its aspects—no perfections obscured, but all revealed as they are. What is naturally and properly due from the creature to the Creator must be exacted in full—not more, not less. How much that may imply may be judged of from the fact, that every man is bound to “love God with all his heart, soul, strength, and mind,” every moment of his being. “How shall I know when I have done enough?” exclaimed Dr. Johnson, when looking at the question of God’s claims on the heart, with the light of eternity breaking in upon him!
VI. An all-sufficient refuge we have set before us. In the Person of “the Christ of God”—the God-man, we behold one who, on our behalf, fulfils that “righteousness which is very high,” and renders perfect obedience to that “commandment which is exceeding broad”—one who “magnifies the law (under which we are placed) and makes it honourable.” Placed under that law in our room by the Lawgiver Himself, He meets all its claims according to the loftiest ideas of what is due from responsible subjects, in the presence of the holy and righteous God. Cordially accepting this refuge, no man in the history of our fallen race, need be afraid how high the claims of eternal righteousness, may rise before him. Thus protected, he dwells in absolute security amid the full blaze of the Divine perfections before him. Once united to Christ, all possible foundation for farther charges against a sinner is for ever taken away. No claim of the Divine law can ever rise higher than that fulfilment which has been given by His glorious substitute. “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.” “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth; who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died.”
MAIN HOMILETICS.—Judges 3:9-11
VI. The Divine deliverance and the human instrumentality.
Here we have—
I. The state of mind to which God grants deliverance. This is all-important. All God’s promises are made to those who bear a certain character, or who approach Him in a fit state of mind. The account given here is very abbreviated, but two features are implied in the attitude of the people “when they cried unto the Lord.” They showed—
1. Sorrow for the past. This we may fairly suppose if we are to judge from the fact, that no mention is made of their openly sinning any more for the next forty years. Also, we could hardly suppose, that God would have vouchsafed to deliver them now, had they not repented. Besides when it is said that Othniel judged Israel, surely one of his first duties would be to cleanse the land of its idolatry. Further, when, on a similar occasion, they cried to God for deliverance (ch. Judges 10:10-15), they made unreserved confession of having forsaken their God and worshipped Balaam. They also put away their strange gods, and that with shame and sorrow. May we not suppose, the same was done here. In the days of Samuel, after several years of sin, we are told that all at once, “the whole house of Israel lamented after the Lord.” (1 Samuel 7:2.) Very likely the hidden cause of this revival was the prophet’s prayers. (James 5:16.) Patrick says also, that “Samuel’s reproofs and instructions, along with the representation he would make of their sin, had touched their hearts.” This also was followed by their putting away their sin.
This God always requires. “True penitence consists in the heart being broken both for sin and from sin.” There must be self-condemnation, and an acknowledgment that God is righteous. The sorrow arises, not merely from the sad experience of the calamities, in which sin involves the sinner, but especially from a sense of guilt in rebelling against God, disobeying his commands, acting ungratefully by His manifold mercies and favours, and spending life in entire neglect of His claims, and even of His presence. What need for sorrow, bitter and poignant, at the remembrance of so much sin in the past! It robs God; ruins the soul; and necessitates the death of Christ ere it can “be made an end of.” The sins of these Israelites called for sorrow. They had renounced the most sacred obligations, they had despised the most bountiful of benefactors, and they had trampled under foot the most “holy, just, and excellent” of all laws. Their high calling was to “shine as lights in the world.” Yet, for many years, that light had been eclipsed, and the conduct of these sons of Jacob, instead of being quoted as a reason why the heathen should turn from their idol-worship, to the service of the living God, had become the most powerful reason in the world to justify them in going on their sinful course, and banishing the thought of the God of Israel from the earth. “It is sad when a Christian becomes the chief argument against Christianity.” [South.]
2. All their trust was in prayer to God as their own God. In returning to Jehovah they virtually confessed their error in making idols their confidence. They now anew acknowledged Him to be the only true God, and implored His forgiveness in earnest prayer. This was both faith and repentance, “without which it is impossible to please God.” The heart must rest on God alone as its essential good. It must acknowledge Him, trust in Him, and give Him the homage due from the creature to the Creator. Faith looks to God alone for its portion, and makes Him its all in all. It takes Him as He describes Himself to be, believes Him to be all that He declares Himself to be, and trusts Him accordingly. The most perfect revelation of God ever made, is that which is exhibited in the gospel of His Son; and this the people of Israel had in a rudimentary form, in the Mosaic system that was established among them.
II. God’s readiness to give relief.
It ought never to be forgotten, that the great end of all God’s dealings with this people was, to illustrate the excellence of His own character in that view of it, which is expressed by the phrase, “Mercy rejoiceth against judgment” (Isaiah 43:21). Hence such things are brought prominently before us as these:—His bearing with sin, while yet He shows intense hatred towards it; His restraining its outbreaks on the one hand, while yet there is no infringement of liberty, on the other; His condemning it, and yet His forgiving it; and here, His readiness to deliver from its consequences.
1. He gives relief where there is the appearance of penitence. Even where the reality may not actually exist. Some, perhaps, a considerable number of the people, may at this time have become true penitents, but it is probable that the majority merely assumed a penitent attitude, because driven to it through force of circumstances, while there was no real forsaking of sin in the heart. God says of the men of Hosea’s days, “I have hewed them by the prophets, I have slain them by the words of my mouth. Yet they did not cry to me with their heart (in prayer); they but howled upon their beds.” But though many may not have been true penitents, simply because there was the appearance of it, God raises up a deliverer. So it was with Ahab; when he humbled himself, God said, “I will not bring the evil in his day, but in the days of his sons” (1 Kings 21:27-29). This shows God’s extreme readiness to meet the sinner in mercy, so soon as that which obstructs the way is removed. He virtually says, Let sin be but confessed and abandoned, and the Divine mercy, will flow forth. If penitence is not real but only seeming, He often gives some blessings, to show how ready He is to go the full length, when it can be done consistently with His character. Such blessings, indeed, are but temporal and partial. Spiritual blessings, implying true and proper forgiveness, with the gracious influence of the Holy Spirit, are only given when the sinner really “turns from sin to God, with full purpose of, and endeavour after new obedience,” Yet repentance alone does not entitle any sinner to forgiveness; it only qualifies for it. The title comes through faith in Christ.
2. He allows no earnest cry to go long without relief. It is not probable that they began to cry to God in penitence as soon as they were afflicted. It is more likely that towards the end of the eight years, after trying all other expedients, they at last gave up the controversy with God and laid down their weapons of rebellion. Probably they had not long to wait after their cry became earnest and general throughout the land, ere He responded and granted them relief. This is God’s usual manner. When it became manifest that the prodigal’s penitence was quite sincere, “the father ran, embraced him,” etc. Yet not at the very first moment when the cry of penitence is raised, does God answer. There are reasons for some delay—reasons of wisdom and propriety, why the petitioner should be allowed to cry for some time. To be convinced how extremely far he is from deserving it—how much of a miracle of grace it is that he should receive it at all—that he may have time to consider how long-continued, how deep and aggravated, have been his provocations—that he may have opportunity of showing the sincerity and the earnestness of his repentance—and especially that he may have it rivetted on his heart that he owes his deliverance solely to the grace of God through the atoning merits of his Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Yet it must not be supposed that some time must needs elapse before God becomes willing to grant relief. His willingness may be counted on as instantaneous on a sinner’s really repenting of his sin. His mercy is active not passive. It is disposed to move of itself, without waiting for motives to induce it to act. The spontaneous outgoing of God’s nature to His creatures is to be merciful, or good, where there is no obstruction in the way. “The Lord is good unto all and His tender mercies are over all His works.” Reasons of wisdom and justice permitting, He lingers not for a moment but hastens to the sinner’s relief.
III. The instrumentality made use of in giving deliverance.
1. The instrument chosen was a man like themselves.
(a) No angel was sent down from heaven, as at the slaying of the first-born in Egypt, or at the destruction of the Assyrian army. Neither was an army brought from the West, to fight the host which had descended from the East, against which Israel had no power. Nor was any excercise of miraculous power alone made use of, such as an earthquake, or famine, or pestilence.
(b) But one of themselves is raised up, and is held as a rod in the hand of omnipotence, and so the work is done. God finds the instrument on the spot. He does not need to go to other camps to obtain that which is suited to His purpose. The humblest of the men of Israel, he could make sufficient for the task should He so determine. He is never at a loss for instruments—“babes and sucklings” praise Him in His temple; a little captive maid glorifies His name before a heathen court; a malefactor in the jaws of death illustrates the wonders of His redeeming grace; a forgotten prisoner hid out of sight from all the world, comes forth at the proper moment to furnish sustenance for a famishing world; and unlearned fishermen are taken from their nets to herald the message of pardon to a whole sinning world, through the blood shed on Calvary.
(c) But here there is a deeper reason why the deliverer should be a man like themselves. The sons of Israel were a Messianic people, and all God’s manner of dealing with them was intended to foreshadow the Messiah. He came in human form to act the part of a Saviour. “He took not on Him the nature of angels, but He took on Him that of the seed of Abraham.” In all things it behoved Him to be made like unto His brethren. “And forasmuch as they were partakers of flesh and blood, He in like manner took part of the same.” “There is one Mediator between God and man—the man Christ Jesus.”
2. The selection is made by God Himself. It was not left to the vote of the people. It was not with Israel, as with any other nation.
(a) They were, in a peculiar sense, His own people. He was their king. Their laws and all their arrangements came from Him, and especially everything connected with their salvation, and their advancement to honour and privilege was His gift. They were His diamonds, and no hand was allowed to touch them but His own.
(b) Besides it was not an ordinary ruler that was now needed. A King or a Magistrate to administer civil or social or national law. But a special work was to be done. A salvation was to be wrought from a ruin brought on the people by their sins; and the means of accomplishing that salvation was not the ordinary weapons used in war. The victory to be gained did not depend on the weapons used, but on the manner in which, or the principles on which the war was waged. It was to be seen by all as a special work of God, wrought out through means of God’s own providing. Hence the man chosen to be a saviour was specially selected by God.
(c) And he was to be successful in his work, not from his own natural gifts, but through special qualifications conferred on him by God, and through the special co-operation of the Providence of God in bringing out the result. Everything was special, and everything was sacred; hence the selection must be God’s own. For this same reason no vote of the people was taken in the choice of any of the other judges or saviours mentioned in this book. This selection of a saviour for the people by God Himself is a peculiarly Messianic idea. Isaiah 42:1, etc.; Galatians 4:4, etc.; 1 John 4:14.
3. One man only is employed. He was not, indeed, to fight alone, but to put himself at the head of such a number of the people as could be got together to make head against the enemy. Yet all depended on the leader. He was to be the mainspring of the movement. He had to show a courage and resources equal to the occasion. He had to inspire others with an enthusiasm similar to his own. He was to be the rallying point, the vehicle through which all the energy should flow, and the guide to conduct the whole enterprise, from first to last.
How often does the history of a whole people, or even of an age, take its complexion from the doings of one man! What a blank there would have been in the history of Abraham’s day, had that one good man been removed from his place! It would have been like removing a solitary star of the first magnitude from the spiritual heavens; or had Moses been removed in his day how differently should we have read the history of Israel! And if Elijah and Elisha had not stood forward in their places in their day, we should have lost some of the brightest pages of Old Testament history. Deeper still would have been the eclipse, if David, the sweet singer of Israel, had not arisen, and the man after God’s own heart had not sat on the throne of Israel. The names of Isaiah and Jeremiah among the prophets, and of Peter, John and Paul among the apostles, are surrounded with such sacred yet stirring associations, that had their places remained empty, it would have been equivalent to leaving out the most glowing and most thrilling portions of the Book of God, and shutting up nearly all the wells’ mouths, whence refreshing draughts of water of life are supplied to weary pilgrims, as they pass on to the heavenly Canaan.
IV. The suitableness of the individual chosen.
1. God ever chooses the fittest instruments for doing His work. The hour had come and the man appears. He does not despise men’s natural gifts, when they are found possessed in greater measure by some than by others. For, with these gifts He Himself has endowed the possessors. And when He requires an instrument to do His work, He chooses those whom He has already best qualified for serving His purpose. It is when men become proud of their gifts, and begin to forget the Giver, that they and their gifts together are condemned (Jeremiah 9:23-24; Exodus 9:11; Isaiah 10:12-13; 1 Corinthians 1:19-21; 1 Corinthians 1:27-29; 1 Corinthians 3:18-20; Daniel 4:30-34). Natural gifts, however, are not slighted by the Giver of “every good and perfect gift,” but are employed when they are suited to the end required; beyond that when special qualifications are needed they are specially supplied. Examples we have in Moses, David, and Paul.
2. The qualifications of the instrument employed. On making enquiry as to the man whom God had selected “to make up the hedge, and stand in the gap before Him for the land,” we are agreeably surprised to find that degenerate Israel could produce such a man as “Othniel, the son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother.” The phrase “son of Kenaz,” means simply—of the stock, or family line of Kenaz, and is equivalent to the appellation—“Kenezite” (Joshua 14:6; Joshua 15:17; Jude 1:13). Othniel had many elements of fitness:—
(1) He was naturally brave. Names in those days were often significant of character, and if we are to judge by this criterion, Othniel, “the lion of God,” must have stood among the foremost for natural courage. As a matter of fact, he had the reputation of being a hero all through his past history.
(2) He belonged to an honoured family. He was of the house of Caleb, than which name none stood higher among all the genealogies of the chosen people. Now that Caleb himself was gone, no fitter man could have been selected as a centre around which the tribes might rally, and especially the tribe of Judah, to which the elected “judge” belonged. None would dispute his ascendency, or refuse to follow his lead. He was just the man in whom the people would place confidence. The aroma of the name was still felt through all Israel, though two generations had elapsed since it first became famous.
(3) He had a long experience. He was not a young man, with the flush and ardour natural to youth, and ready to attempt great exploits. However valuable may be the elasticity and enthusiasm of growing years, no qualities are so much required for the leader of a great and difficult enterprise as those which are expressed in the phrase—a large experience. Othniel was now a veteran, probably as old as his brother (or kinsman) Caleb was on the day when at the term of 85 years of age, he set himself with undiminished vigour to expel the men of the giant race from their native strongholds (Joshua 14:11-12). The spirit of Caleb still survived in Othniel. Both instances forcibly illustrated the truth of the promises before they were given, “They that wait on the Lord shall gather fresh vigour; they shall show a strength of wing like the eagle; they shall run and not be weary, and walk and not faint.” On ordinary and extraordinary occasions alike, they shall be adequate in strength to undertake whatever falls to them in the way of duty to do. The language of their God is “Even to old age I am He, and to hoar hairs will I carry you.”
(4) He was eminently a man of God. He appears to have been one of those noble men of true moral greatness, who do not go with the tide of public opinion, or “follow a multitude to do evil,” but stand fast like a rock to the cause of their God, prepared to stand with a small minority, or altogether alone, if that were necessary, rather than swerve from fidelity to the principles of truth and righteousness. To his eye Israel’s weakness did not consist in lack of men of arms, or of martial valour, but in a low condition of piety towards their God. Doubtless “his heart trembled for the ark of God,” when he beheld the tide of apostasy all but universal over the land, and his place would generally be found among “those who feared the Lord and spake often one to another—being deeply concerned for the honour of his name.” The honour of his God was dearer to him than all things else. For this he was prepared to go through fire and water. For this he would fight against any odds. Where the honour of that name was concerned, he was not afraid though a whole troop of Chushans were in the field. “His heart was fixed trusting in the Lord.” Life was indeed precious, but that he would cheerfully hazard a hundred times to redeem the hallowed name of his God, which had so long been vilely profaned on all the coasts of Israel. It was not personal valour in which he trusted; man of strong arm and strong heart though he was, he would spend much of his time in secret “sighing and crying for all the abominations done in the midst of the land.” In secret he had thus honoured God, and now before all Israel God honoured him.
(5) He was specially a man of great faith.
(a) Importance of Faith. To faith, more than to any other feature of character, does God have respect in granting success. “By faith the elders, one and all, obtained a good report;” and “without faith it is impossible to please God.” He had learned long ago the science of the “wars of Canaan,” namely, that all victory came through faith in the God of the covenant, and all defeat happened through unbelief, and departure from the living God.
(b) Character of Faith. Faith begins with giving up self, and looking to God alone. It says self is nothing, but God is all in all. It takes God’s own account of Himself as the true account, believes that all his perfections are as He describes them, and that in everything in which we have to do with Him, He is to be absolutely trusted both as a Father and a Sovereign Ruler. It believes that all the requirements of His law upon us are just and reasonable, that all the principles of His moral government are righteous and true, that He has an unquestioned right to appoint our lot in this world, being His creatures, that we are responsible to Him at all times, and that whatever mystery may hang over his dealings with us in this world, He will always act by us according to the acknowledged principles of His character. It believes all His declarations, takes all His promises as trustworthy, and resigns itself implicitly to His arrangements.
(c) Its foundation. Its great strength lies in the foundation on which it rests. Being guilty we dare not trust God for anything, but a great Redeemer is provided, “in whom we are brought nigh unto God,” and “in whom all the promises of God are yea and amen.” To the ancient Israelite, the Messiah, or Abraham’s promised seed, was the channel through whom all the blessings wrapped up in the covenant, (“I will be a God to you”) were to flow out to all the families of the earth. Assurance of preservation at the line of duty was one of the details of this all embracive covenant of blessing. A man like Othniel, who walked daily with his God, would be able to apply this great genuine promise of the covenant to all the details of duty in practical life. Thus his faith rested on the express testimony of Jehovah in the covenant, and on the provisions made for ratifying that covenant by the institution of sacrifice. All his past experience as a man of piety, and all that he knew of the history of his people, would be as so many confirmations of this grand fundamental promise on which his faith rested.
(6) He had a brilliant name in the history of the past. The storming of Debir was not yet forgotton. Its capture was one of the proudest stories of the heroic age of Joshua. Then the name of Othniel rose as a star of the first magnitude in Israel’s sky. But as in every victory gained through faith, the victor ascribed all the glory to that God who had “covered his head in the day of battle.” His language virtually was “By thee I have run through a troop, by my God have I leaped over a wall.”
(a) Debir’s importance. In the history of that period of conquest, which is so briefly given, and where so many things are left out, the subjugation of Debir receives a special prominence. It belonged to the hill country, and was inhabited by the “Amorites,” who were the “highlanders” of Canaan—and probably those very Anakim at whose presence the spies who were sent out from Kadesh some 38 years before to search out the land, were so much scared. It was one of the cities of the giants, and seems to have been one of the most difficult of them all to subdue. After Caleb had driven the natives from all the other strongholds, he paused on coming to Debir, and offered a special reward to the man who would undertake to reduce it. Its other names may shed a little light on this point. It was called “Kirjathsannah” (Joshua 15:49), which signifies “the city of instruction,” and “Kirjath-sepher,” (Joshua 15:15-16) which means “the city of books.” It is supposed to have been the city of law, where the national records were kept, and perhaps was a seat of learning among the Canaanites. It is farther confirmatory of this view, that the word “Debir” signifies oracle. Here probably were treasured up the archives of these nations, such as they were. For we know that the Phœnicians, and probably too the other Canaanitish nations, were among the first in the world to possess a knowledge of letters. It is not so surprising then to hear of the book-city, though the art of printing was entirely unknown. A very few books would suffice in those days to justify a town taking to itself such a name. The few books there were however would be esteemed very precious. It would be equivalent to their bank of knowledge where would be laid up all the treasures of knowledge, or learning they had at that early date been able to acquire, on such subjects as history and science, the useful and the fine arts, languages, archæology and astronomy, all of which, though of the rudest kind, would be regarded as valuable by the age itself. Here as in a bank-safe were these treasures collected, which would give to that town an unusual measure of importance above the other towns; so that it might be expected to be doubly fortified, and rendered quite impregnable.
(b) Its conquest by Othniel. He was the man found with sufficient confidence in his God, to scale the walls, batter down the gates, and put all the men of might to the sword. “In the name of his God he set up his banner,” and could say in the face of the enemy, “why do ye heathen rage against the God of Jacob? and ye people of the giant city, why do ye imagine a vain thing?”
V. The Spirit of God the source of all real qualification for sacred duties. “The Spirit of the Lord came upon him.” There needs not more to raise a man to the height of an angel of the Lord, or to lift up a people groaning under the heel of oppression to become “more than conquerers.”
1. The Spirit of God is the source of life in nature. In the widest sense He is the source of all power and of all life whatever. When life began to exist in the world, the Spirit of God was moving, or brooding dove-like on the face of the waters—the chaotic mass. It was by His agency that all the laws of the natural world were at first established, and it is by Him they still hold on their course. All man’s natural faculties, both of body and mind, are endowments of the Holy Spirit. These operations may be said to be in the line of natural law. But there are gifts of a much higher order.
2. He is the source of the special gifts of the kingdom of grace. There is a dispensation of grace as distinct from the reign of natural law. The gifts of that dispensation are spiritual in character, pertaining as they do to the dispositions and relations of the heart towards its God. They are such as faith, repentance, love, and all the elements of a new religious character which a man comes to possess when he is “born of the Spirit,” and so enters what Christ calls “the kingdom of God.” This class of gifts, though offered to all men, are yet bestowed only on those who comply with the call to receive them on the terms offered.
3. He is the source of the supernatural gifts conferred. God sometimes confers powers on men so as to raise them above their natural level, by which they come to know what in the natural exercise of their understanding they could never reach, and come to have strength to perform what, by the natural exercise of their physical faculties, they could never accomplish. These high and peculiar gifts, usually called supernatural gifts, were conferred only on those who were called to do some special work for God, such as Apostles and Prophets—those who were commissioned to make some special revelation of the mind and will of God, or who were empowered to work miracles, or who were called to perform duties that required qualifications above the natural standard. Of this latter class were “the Judges,” a special class of saviours,” (Nehemiah 9:27), who were raised up to meet a particular conjuncture of circumstances, when the cause of God was greatly imperilled, when the church of God seemed almost destroyed, and when the tide of sin like a vast flood was overrunning the land. In these times there was special need for the Spirit to be given.
4. Both the gracious and supernatural gifts of the Spirit were conferred on special grounds. It is of the highest importance to notice the grounds on which the gifts were conferred, and the purpose for which they were given. The gifts referred to were all given under—
(a) A special dispensation—a dispensation of grace, and not in natural course. They were conferred in connection with the great scheme of mercy, which God from the beginning has had in store for sinful men through the Mediator, and which is gradually developed in the history of His church.
(b) The gracious gifts, along with pardon of sins, and acceptance with God, constitute the blessings of salvation which that scheme presents, and, as a seal, mark the happy recipients as saved ones.
(c) The supernatural gifts, though usually (not always, e.g., Judas, Balaam and Matthew 7:22-23), conferred on the saved, are not conferred for the purpose of saving their possessors, but for the purpose either of revealing some part of the remedial scheme, of attesting its Divine character, or of preserving and sustaining it under all emergencies. In no other connection have the influences of the Holy Spirit, for purposes of human salvation been given at any time except through the remedial scheme, i.e., through Christ in some form, and always on the footing of grace, or the special and free favour of God.
(d) It was because there was a church in Israel, and a scheme of salvation by grace, having its development in the dispensation that was planted among them, that God gave His Spirit to assist in the furtherance of the interests of that scheme. The people of the Messiah, and of whom He was to come, must be preserved when in danger; there must be no overthrow of the sacred system of rites and ceremonies, laws and ordinances, which God had established among them to prefigure the work of the Messiah, while the religious worship and religious privileges of His own appointment must be continued from age to age, and to enable those who were raised up to be the “saviours” (Nehemiah 9:27) of the people to fulfil their high vocation, the Spirit of the Lord came upon them in a supernatural way. The Spirit was given out of regard to the covenant (“I will be your God,”) which was ratified by the coming of the Messiah.
VI. The special qualifications conferred on Othniel through the Spirit. Generally speaking they were conferred on him in such measure as to fit him in all respects to be not only the leader, but the saviour, of Israel in this emergency. He was not only qualified to direct the movement, but was furnished with every requisite necessary to ensure the complete liberation of his country.
1. He was consecrated to the office of a saviour by the Spirit. It set him apart from a common to a sacred purpose. He became by it “the Lord’s anointed.” When the prophet Samuel, by God’s direction, anointed Saul to be king over Israel, he poured a vial of oil over his head (1 Samuel 10:1). And, again, he anointed David to be king, with a horn of oil (1 Samuel 16:12-13). In both cases it was the same method, the only difference being that a vial was used in Saul’s case—a brittle vessel, and easily broken—emblematic of the after events of the history; whereas a horn was used in anointing David, indicating strength and durability of the kingly power. The oil was emblematic of the Holy Spirit’s influence, signifying that God had called the person to the office, and would qualify him sufficiently for the discharge of its duties. Accordingly, we are told, that after the anointing, the Spirit of the Lord came first on Saul, and afterwards on David—not in His gracious influences, for the personal salvation of the possessor, but to qualify for the duties of a sacred office, held for the good of God’s Church. Also, when Aaron and his sons were consecrated to the priestly offices, the holy anointing oil was poured on their heads. The Christ Himself was so anointed with the Holy Spirit (Isaiah 61:1; Psalms 45:7; Acts 10:38). All true Christians are reckoned anointed ones, because the Spirit of Christ is conferred on them all (John 1:16; 2 Corinthians 1:21-22; 1 John 2:20; 1 John 2:27; Revelation 3:18).
This was the best of all evidences that God had called him to the work before him, both for Othniel himself, and for all the people round about him. It was impossible after this to doubt that a great purpose was to be accomplished, and was to be accomplished through his instrumentality. It was the Lord Himself indicating His choice of an instrument.
2. He felt that all his natural gifts were strengthened in an extraordinary degree. His courage was now truly up to the lion pitch. He could say with simple truth, “Though an host encamp against me, yet will I not fear.” “If mine enemies should compass me about like bees, they shall be quenched as the fire of thorns. In the name of the Lord I will destroy them.” He felt his physical vigour so increased that he was prepared, though but one man, to go against a thousand. His knowledge of men, his skill and tact in making arrangements, his fertility of resources, his capacity for conducting great undertakings, he felt to be all so wonderfully increased, that all difficulties melted away before him, and he felt himself on all sides equal to the occasion. Great mental energy, power of practical endurance, and zeal for God’s honour, were also added, along with a self-denial that could go through any amount of hardship, and a willingness to risk life itself in the holy cause of his God! It was thus that “the Spirit of the Lord stirred him” (Judges 13:25).
3. He became fully conscious that God was with him. It was not merely a persuasion, but a knowledge—an act of direct consciousness that omnipotence itself was on his side. He felt that an infinite force was at his back, which nothing could withstand. Nay, he felt that this force was acting through him as its organ. He knew from personally feeling it, that God was in possession of his spirit, and could no more doubt that He was acting with him in every thing he did, than that when he put forth an act of his will, he knew his arm would be moved by that act of will. He acted, indeed, in the full blaze of the consciousness that Omnipotence was on his side, and that all obstructions must give way as certainly as that matter is moved this way or that by a law of nature—or by that Omnific word which at first brought all matter into existence.
4. His faith became very strong. It rose at once to be a faith of assurance. There was not a single admixture of doubt. He believed that God’s own glory was concerned in the matter; that His faithfulness could not fail, and that He must show Himself jealous on behalf of His people according to His engagements. He also strongly believed that God had but to show Himself, and His enemies would be scattered. “As smoke is driven before the wind, or as wax is melted at the touch of fire.” His trust was unshaken in the character of the God of Jacob, and in the gracious promises He had made to the people with whom He had entered into covenant. When he went out to meet the enemy, he went with the absolute assurance of victory, as if it were already an historical fact. He knew he could not possibly fail.
5. In all things he was instructed by Jehovah Himself. The Spirit of the Lord prompted him in all his plans and arrangements, so that nothing could fall out amiss. “The Lord ordered the battle.” His hand was at the helm of the movement.
VII. The ease with which he conquered. When the Lord delivered Chushan into his hand, the issue was not doubtful, nor was it long in suspense. He who has all hearts in His hand, and all events at His disposal, can always make victory easy for those whom He loves. The Divine Spirit wrought to secure the result; not only by qualifying the instrument chosen to do the work, but also by over-ruling all the circumstances of Providence to bring out the desired result. This was the case in all the wars of Joshua, and it was the case now.
1. Means. Sometimes the enemy were made to feel faint-hearted in the midst of the fight while Israel waxed valiant in the battle. Sometimes a panic was made to prevail throughout the ranks (Deuteronomy 2:25; Joshua 2:9; Joshua 2:24). Sometimes “hornets,” or stinging insects were made to fly in whole clouds in the face of the enemy, so that victory became easy (Joshua 24:12). At other times God turned every man’s sword against his fellow (Judges 7:22; 1 Samuel 14:15; 1 Samuel 14:20). Again He sends a spirit of confusion or bitter enmity against each other into the camp of the enemy (2 Chronicles 20:22-23). And sometimes he rolls down great stones from heaven on those who would seek to destroy His people (Judges 10:11). All the circumstances connected with the position of the two parties concerned, were fully known to God, and also all the causes that could possibly have to do with bringing out the issue of the struggle. And we are told in few words, “The Lord delivered Chushan into the hand of Othniel, and his hand prevailed against him.”
2. Ways and means are easily found when the moral purposes have been served. When the people became penitent there no longer remained any difficulty in effecting deliverance. The “Strength of Israel” could give victory this way or that way, as it might seem good to Him. He has but to will it, and the weak shall become strong, or the strong weak. All these eight years there was no difficulty with Him to grant release from the oppressor’s grasp, at any hour. He might at any moment have said to the raging storm, “Peace! be still! and there should have been a great calm.” But high moral purposes required to be wrought out. His people must be taught the true character of a service of sin—that the “ways of transgressors are hard”—“that the end of these ways is death”—and that “it is an evil and bitter thing to forsake the fountain of living waters.” They required to know by experience the treachery of their hearts, the ingratitude of their ways, and the grievous folly of their apostacy. They must be made to understand that though “God is merciful and gracious and long-suffering, He is yet so holy that He cannot by any means clear the guilty.” These lessons being taught, He was ready at a moment’s notice to arise and show Himself as “the Lord of hosts, strong and mighty in battle.”
VIII. The long peace after so much trouble. “The land had rest forty years.”
1. The elements of disturbance in the atmosphere were completely cleared away. Such rout was given to Chushan, that it was manifest to the nations that the God of Israel had again come to the help of His people; and His “fear was upon them,” so that they did not dare to attack a people that were surrounded on every side by such invisible strength.
2. The people in general had become penitent. The worship of Jehovah was resumed, and probably the idols were all removed.
3. Righteousness again prevailed throughout society. This is always the basis of peace, as sin is always the fountain head of trouble. There are ever two broad features in the Divine character—mercy and righteousness. And in any instrument raised up to do a work of God in His Providence, the reflection these features is seen in the duties given him to discharge. “The judge” in Israel was charged not only with the duty of working salvation, but also with that of establishing the reign of righteousness among the people. This, we believe, included not only the administration of civil justice as between man and man, but also a supervision of the practical observance of those laws and ordinances which God had laid down as rules of righteousness for the life of His people. “Peace flows like a river” in a land, when its “righteousness is strong like the waves of the sea.”
The “forty years” we regard as commencing with the deliverance wrought and terminating with the beginning of the next chapter of oppression. Whether Othniel died during the forty years, or at their expiry, we cannot tell. The long continuance of peace, and the short term of oppression, show what delight God has in making His goodness go forth to His people, and how extremely reluctant He is to visit them with the rod.
COMMENTS AND SUGGESTIONS.—Judges 3:10
THE HOLY SPIRIT, THE ONE SOURCE OF ALL SPIRITUAL BLESSING
“The Judges,” or “saviours” of the church and people of God, had extraordinary duties assigned them to do, for which qualifications above the natural standard were required. Hence their need of what we usually call the supernatural influences of the Divine Spirit; for He is the fountain-head of all real wisdom and strength. But every man who becomes a true Christian needs the Holy Spirit both to begin this new life in him and to carry it on Eternal life is the gift of God the Father; it is manifested in God the Son; and it is enjoyed only through the influences of God the Spirit. God the Father reveals Himself by the Son; and the Son reveals Himself through the Spirit. The Spirit is to Christ what the atmosphere is to the sun—without it His glory would not be revealed, and He would shine in vain—Christ procures eternal life, and the Holy Spirit applies it. The presence and work of the Holy Spirit are equally necessary to the enjoyment of the blessings of salvation, as those of the Father and the Son.
I. The nature of the Divine Spirit’s influence. “In enlightening the mind it is not the office of the Spirit to give new revelations; nor yet does He discover to us mysteries and recondite meanings of scripture. But it is clear from scripture statement, that, until a man have the Spirit of God to instruct him, he cannot “discern” the excellence of spiritual things (1 Corinthians 2:14). The man who has great perspicacity in matters of science, may be stone blind in religion.
“No words however carefully selected could make a man who had been born blind form an idea of light. But those who are taught of the Spirit “behold with unveiled face the glory of the Lord, and are changed into His image,” through the influence of what they are made to discern. Such a manifestation is made of the excellence of the truth of the gospel, as awakens a train of feelings and affections, that were never experienced before. The same words of scripture had often been read before, but without any emotion. Now they possess a loving virtue which penetrates into the inmost recesses of the soul, and fill it with light, and love, and hope, and activity. A similar change would take place if a man of gross mind were suddenly inspired with those refined perceptions, and that delicate sensibility, which are the foundation of taste. A new light would be poured on the face of nature. The scenery at which he looked with languid eye, would present features of sublimity and beauty. Where formerly there was nothing but dull, uninteresting irregularity, he now discovers order, proportion, harmony, and grace.”
“He does not make us wise above that which is written, but makes us wise up to that which is written. He does not tell us anything that is out of the record; but all that is in it, He sends home with clearness and effect on the mind. When a telescope is directed to some distant landscape it enables us to see what we could not otherwise have seen; but it does not enable us to see anything which has not a real existence in the prospect before us. It does not present to the eye any fanciful or fictitious scene. The natural eye saw nothing but blue land, stretching along the distant horizon. By the aid of the glass, there bursts upon it a charming variety of fields and woods, and spires and villages. Yet the glass has not added one feature to the assemblage.
So of the Spirit, He does not add a single truth, nor a single character to the book of Revelations. He simply enables the ‘spiritual man’ to see what the ‘natural man’ cannot see.”
II. Fullness of blessing which the Spirit gives. “The one comprehensive work of the Spirit is to illustrate Christ—Christ in His person—offices—and work—and through Christ to show the evil of sin, to exhibit the glory of the righteous character of God, and to undo thoroughly the work of Satan (John 16:8-11). ‘He convinces of sin and misery, enlightens the mind in the knowledge of Christ, renews the will, and persuades and enables to embrace Christ as He is freely offered in the Gospel.’ He brings a man into a new state; gives him new views of himself, of God, of sin, of salvation; leads him to choose new objects of affection; induces him to cherish new desires and aims; causes him to experience new enjoyments; leads him to form new habits; and stirs him up to begin a new conflict in his soul, a conflict not only between sin and the conscience, but between sin and the will.”
“The Spirit, as ‘water’ cleanses, fertilises, refreshes, is abundant, and is freely given. As ‘fire’ it purifies, illuminates, and searches. As ‘wind’ it is independent, sovereign, powerful, sensible in its effects, reviving. As ‘oil’ it heals, comforts, illuminates, consecrates. As ‘rain and dew,’ it fertilises, refreshes, is abundant, imperceptible, and penetrating. As a ‘dove’ it is gentle, meek, innocent, forgiving. As a ‘voice’ it speaks, guides, warns, and teaches. As a ‘seal’ it impresses, secures, and authenticates. [Anon.]
“It is called the ‘Comforter;’ the ‘Free Spirit;’ the ‘Good Spirit;’ the ‘Holy Spirit;’ the ‘Holy Spirit of Promise;’ the ‘Power of the Highest;’ the ‘Spirit of the Lord God;’ the ‘Spirit of the Father;’ the ‘Spirit of Christ;’ the ‘Spirit of the Son;’ the ‘Spirit of Life—grace—truth—prophecy—adoption wisdom—counsel—wisdom—might—understanding—glory—knowledge—fear of the Lord—holinesss—revelation;’ “Seven Spirits of God;’ ‘Voice of the Lord.’ ” [Anon.]
III. The Spirit needed by every man.
1. On whom he is conferred. “As we press our seals, not on air or water, but on materials capable of receiving the characters, so the Holy Spirit of God is only given to really believing minds capable of receiving and preserving his seal.” [Jean Claude.]
2. He sets free. “To know the way to heaven, sometimes to cast a longing eye in that direction, and by fits and starts to make a feeble effort heavenwards, can end in nothing. We must get the Spirit of God. Thus only can we get free of the shackles that bind the soul to earth, to the flesh, and sin. I have seen a captive eagle, caged far from its distant home, as he sat mournful-like on his perch, turn his eye sometimes heavenwards; there he would sit in silence like one wrapt in thought, gazing through the bars of his cage up into the blue sky; and, after a while, as if noble but sleeping instincts had suddenly awoke, he would start and spread out his broad sails, and leap upward, revealing an iron chain, that, usually covered by his plumage, drew him back again to his place. But though this bird of heaven knew the way to soar aloft, and, sometimes, felt the thirst for freedom, freedom was not for him, till a power greater than his own proclaimed liberty to the captive, and shattered the shackles that bound him to his perch. Nor is there freedom for the soul of man till the Spirit of God sets him free, and by the lightning force of truth, breaks the chains that bind us to sin.” [Guthrie.]
3. We need Him as a Monitor. “He stirs up in us diligence, watchfulness, and earnest endeavours. He is ‘the Word behind thee saying, “This is the way—walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left.’ ” The cares and business of the world often drive the sense of our duty out of our minds. God’s Spirit puts us in remembrance, and revives truth to us in season. A ship, though never so well rigged, needs a pilot; we need a good guide to put us in mind of our duty.” [Manton.]
4. He gives a heavenly instinct. “ ‘Tell me,’ said a father to a son, ‘what difference you can detect between two needles—one of which has received an electric shock, while the other has not, and yet the one has hidden virtues which occasion will show, of which the other has none.’ The electric shock has rendered the one needle a magnet, which, duly balanced, will enable a man to find his way across the trackless ocean. As this needle, so may that soul be which has received the electric shock of the Holy Spirit; on the ocean of a sinful world, it shall point wanderers to the heaven of everlasting rest.” [Anon.]
5. He conveys a knowledge of spiritual things. “You may try to teach a child the meaning of the term ‘sweetness,’ but words will not avail; give him some honey and he will never forget. You might seek to tell him of the glorious mountains, and the Alps that pierce the clouds, and send their snowy peaks, like white-robed ambassadors, up to the courts of heaven; take him there, let him see them, and he will never forget them. You might paint to him the grandeur of the American continent, with its hills, and lakes, and rivers, such as the world sees nowhere else; but let him go and view it, and he will know more of the land than he could do by all your teaching, while he sits at home. So the Holy Spirit not only tells us about Christ’s love, but ‘sheds it abroad in the heart.’ He not only tells us of the sweetness of pardon, but gives us a sense of no condemnation, and then we know all about it better than we would have done by any teaching of words and thoughts.” [Spurgeon.]
“None so blind whose eyes the Spirit cannot open. He who by His incubation upon the waters at the Creation, hatched that rude mass into the beautiful form we now see; and out of that dark chaos made the glorious heavens, and garnished them with so many orient stars, can move on thy darkened soul, and enlighten it, though now it be as void of knowledge as the evening of the world’s first day was of light. The schoolmaster sometimes sends home the child, and bids the father put him to another trade, because not able, with all his art, to make a scholar of him; but if the Spirit of God be the master, thou shalt learn, though a very dunce.” [Gurnall.]
“The most correct and lively description of the sun cannot convey either the light, the warmth, the cheerfulness, or the fruitfulness which the actual shining of that luminary conveys; neither can the most laboured and accurate dissertations on grace and spiritual things impart a true idea of them, without an experience of the Holy Spirit’s work on the heart.
6. He breaks the seal of the Scriptures. “He that hath not the right key is as far from entering the house as he that hath none, yea, in some sense further; for he that hath none will call to him that is within, while the other, trusting to his false key, stands pottering without to little purpose. The Pharisees were not a little conversant with the Scriptures, yet they missed that truth which lay before them in almost every page and leaf of Moses and the Prophets, whom they were in their every-day study tumbling over.—I mean the grand truth concerning Christ, of which Moses and the Prophets everywhere speak.” [Gurnall.]
“Scripture can be savingly understood only by the inward illumination of the Holy Ghost. The Gospel is a picture of God’s free grace to sinners. Were we in a room hung with the finest paintings, and adorned with the most exquisite statues, we could not see one of them if all light were excluded. Now the blessed Spirit’s irradiation is the same to the mind that outward light is to the bodily eyes.” [Toplady.]
“If you go to a sun-dial at night and study it with a brilliant lamp, you may trace every figure and understand the markings thoroughly, but you will learn nothing of its practical use. If you want to do that, you must go to it when the sun is in its meridian, and then you will not only see the structure of the dial, but discover from it the hour of the day. So in reading this sacred book you can by the lamp-light of human reason, or the moonlight of tradition, understand it in its outward facts, but in its inner and saving meaning, you must ask the Author of the book to explain it to you. If on reading any book you find a passage of which you can make nothing, you do not go to others for the solution, but you go to the author himself, if within reach and accessible, and so get from him the best of all explanations. So the Divine Spirit who at first wrote this book waits at all times to explain its contents to those who ask Him to enlighten them.” [Cumming.]
“To unconverted persons a great part of the Bible resembles a letter written in cipher. The blessed Spirit’s office is to act as God’s decipherer, by letting His people into the secret of celestial experience, as the key and clue to those sweet mysteries of grace which were before as a garden shut up, or as a fountain sealed, or as a book written in an unknown character.” [Toplady.]
“Unconverted men often say, ‘If these things are so clear and so important, why cannot we see them?’ And there is no answer but this—‘Ye are blind.’ ‘But we want to see them. If they are real, they are our concern as well as yours. O that we had a preacher!’ But there is no such preacher as they desire. Let him gather God’s light as he will, he can but pour it on blind eyes. A burning-glass will condense sunbeams into a focus of brightness; and if a blind eye be put there not a whit will it see, though it be consumed.
Strong powers of understanding on your part will not serve. The great Earl of Chatham once went with a pious friend to hear Mr. Cecil. The sermon was on the Spirit’s agency in the hearts of believers. As they were coming from church, the mighty statesman confessed that he could not understand it all, and asked his friend if he supposed that any one could? ‘Why, yes,’ said he, ‘there were some plain, unlettered women and some children there, who understood every word of it and heard it with joy.’ ” [Hoge.]
7. He vitalises all means of grace. “Such is my belief in the reality, and existence, and agency of the Divine Spirit, that I think I should have no hope and no faith as a minister and labourer for the enfranchisement of mankind, if it were not that I believed there was an all-prevalent, vitalising Divine Spirit. I should as soon attempt to raise flowers if there were no atmosphere, or to produce fruits if there were neither light nor heat, as I should attempt to regenerate men, if I did not believe there was a Holy Ghost. I have faith in the Divine Spirit spread abroad over the whole human family, which is really the cause of life in the higher directions; and it is this faith that gives me hope and courage in all labour.” [Beecher.]
“Ordinances are but as the sails of a ship, ministers as the seamen that manage those sails; the anchor may be weighed, the sails spread; but when all is done, there is no sailing till a gale come. We preach and pray, and you hear; but there is no motion Christward, until the Spirit of God blows upon them.” [Flavel.]
“In vain do the inhabitants of London go to their conduits for supply, unless the man who has the master-key turn the water on; and in vain do we think to quench our thirst at ordinances, unless God communicate the living water of His Spirit. The word of God is of no avail to salvation without the Spirit of God. A compass is of no use to the mariner, unless he has light to see it by.” [Toplady.]
“An atmosphere without the sun would leave the earth cold and cheerless—a dreary habitation for living men. So the ordinances of the Gospel are streams which gladden the Church of God only, when He makes them the vehicles of His own power and presence to the soul.” [Salter.]
8. Without him no power. “Suppose an army to sit down before a granite fortress, and they intend to batter it down. We ask how? They point to a cannon-ball. Well, but there is no power in that. It is heavy, but not more than a hundredweight, or even half that. If all the men in the army were to throw it, that would make no impression. ‘No,’ they say, ‘but look at the cannon.’ Well, but there is no power in that; it is a machine, and nothing more. ‘But look at the powder.’ Well, there is no power in that; a child may spill it, a sparrow may pick it up. Yet this powerless powder, and this powerless ball, are put into this powerless cannon; one spark of fire enters it, and in the twinkling of an eye, that powder is a flash of lightning, and that cannonball is a thunderbolt, which smites as if it had been sent from heaven. So with our church machinery of the present day. We have instruments for pulling down our strongholds, but, Oh! for the baptism of fire.” [Arthur.]
IV. Demonstration of the Spirit.
“Demonstration is opposed to loose declamation, whereby the affections are captivated, but the judgment is left out. Here the judgment is first enlightened, and then the will and affections obey its decision. “The new man is created in knowledge after the image of Him that created him.” There is not merely rational demonstration. “He that hath heard and learned of the Father cometh unto Me.” He works as the “Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Christ.” Before the eyes of the Galatians Jesus Christ was set forth “evidently,” or drawn to the life. No one could do this but the Holy Spirit. Man can no more communicate this demonstration to his fellow than he can give understanding to an idiot, or sight to the blind.” This good and perfect gift cometh down from the Father of lights.” The things thus demonstrated are “most surely believed.”
A man who has a just sense of the weaknesss and fallibility of his own intellect may have misgivings that there is some flaw in his reasoning. It is, after all, but a chain of deductions, and some link may be left out, or may be weak and loose. But he who is led by the Spirit is assured by direct consciousness, and “needs not that any man teach him,” for in himself he feels “that this is truth, and is no lie.” “The Gospel comes to him not in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost and much assurance.”
The man who knows the truth, as taught by the Spirit, finds it to be “light to the eyes,” and “joy to the heart.” He rejoices in God’s Word “more than in all riches.” It creates a present heaven in the soul, for it is “full of glory.” He knows the paradox, “as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” The man with merely rational conviction does not intermeddle with this joy. The joy of the believer is far superior to that of those who “divide great store of spoil.” He says out of a full heart, “I will delight myself in Thy commandments which I have loved.” Many who could not defend their faith by force of reasoning against the sophistical cavils of their persecutors, could yet give this noble and unanswerable reply:—“I cannot speak for Christ, but I can burn for Him!” There is what the demonstration of the Spirit can do.
V. Indwelling of the Spirit. “Every man who gives himself to Christ, and so belongs to Him, receives the Spirit of Christ to dwell in him as a proof of the same; ‘for if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His.’ All Christians are said to be ‘builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.’ Addressing those who are Christians, the sacred writer says, ‘Know ye not that ye are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you.’ ‘The temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.’ ”
This indwelling of the Spirit displays love, grace, and power worthy of the highest admiration. To enter into a human soul foul with the deepest stains, in which everything revolting to the holiness of His nature is exhibited, and to exert his influence there to purify it, and fit it for the refined and exalted joys of religion is condescension and benevolence, surpassing conception. He meets with resistance but does not retire; all the strength of the corrupt nature is opposed to His design—yet He subdues it with the utmost patience and forbearance. In His plastic hands, man an outcast from His Maker, vile and helpless—given over as irrecoverably lost, is transformed into a being adorned with the likeness of his Creator, devoted to His service, and destined to live in the happy seats of the spirits of light.
As a Divine Person, the Holy Spirit inhabits the temple of the universe, and heaven and earth are sustained and beautified by His influence. But He selects the souls of believers as the scene of His gracious operations. There He is present as the Spirit of truth and consolation. It is His office to diffuse the cheering and tranquillizing light of heaven, to shed a divine serenity over the thoughts and feelings, to inspire and strengthen good principles, to elevate the affections above secular objects, to give a taste of the sweetness of spiritual things, and to awaken hope with all its blissful anticipations. It is compared to a “well of living water springing up to everlasting life.” In youth, manhood, and old age, He promotes the growth of grace, and gives a foretaste of celestial bliss. The joy of the Christian is thus within. No man takes it from him. He is satisfied from himself—from the communications of the divine inmate in his soul, whose presence is life and whose favour is the sunshine of his spirit. Omnia mea mecum porto, said a self-sufficient sage of antiquity; it was a poor stock, and he must have starved upon it without the assistance of pride. But the Christian, with the Holy Ghost dwelling in his heart, can say with truth, that he “carries all his treasures with him,” for wherever he goes his joy remains and is full” (Romans 14:17). [Dick.]
“A house uninhabited soon comes to ruin; and a soul uninhabited by the Holy Spirit of God verges faster and faster to destruction.” [Toplady.]
“This indwelling of the Spirit is a pledge and foretaste of heaven. In the early times when land was sold, the owner cut a turf from the green sward, and cast it into the cap of the purchaser as a token that it was his; or he tore off the branch of a tree and put it into the new owner’s hand to show that he was entitled to all the products of the soil; and when the purchaser of a house received seizin or possession, the key of the door, or a bundle of thatch plucked from the roof, signified that the building was yielded up to him.
The God of all grace has given to His people all the perfections of heaven to be their heritage for ever, and the earnest of His Spirit is to them the blessed token that all things are theirs.
The Spirit’s work of comfort and sanctification is a part of heaven’s covenant blessings—a turf from the soil of Canaan, a twig from the tree of life, the key to mansions in the skies. Possessing the earnest of the Spirit, we have received seizin of heaven.”
VI. Spirit’s work silent and gentle.
“The Holy Spirit leads us as a mother leads by the hand her child of two years old; as a person who can see leads one who is blind.” [Vianney.]
“The operation of the Spirit doth very much imitate that of nature. It is in a very still and silent way, that the sap is drained in by the root, and ascends up the trunk of the tree, and diffuses itself to every branch, so that we may see that it lives, but we do not see how. The case is with souls that are brought to live in the Spirit, as with very infirm and languishing persons, who have been consumed and even next to death, in a corrupt air. Being removed into such as is pure and wholesome they revive, but in a very insensible way; so is this life preserved by a vital spiritual influence, which is a pure air to them, a gentle, indulgent, benign, and cherishing air; they live by it, and never a whit the worse, because it is not so turbulent as to make a noise.” [Salter.]
“Many of the most powerful agents of nature are themselves unseen, and only discovered by their fruits. We do not see the wind, either in the gentle breeze to fan us, or in the hurricane to work destruction among the labours of man. The heat that nourishes the plants of the earth, and the electricity so intimately connected with all atmospherical and organic changes move secretly and in silence. God Himself too, is unseen in the midst of His works. When we go forth to meditate, we are constrained to acknowledge that God is everywhere among these works of grandeur, and yet by intense gaze we cannot discover His person, nor, by patient listening, hear the sound of His footsteps. No jarring sound of mechanism comes across the void that intervenes between us and these heavens—no voice reaches our ear to tell of the Worker—it is the heavens themselves that declare His glory. And why should the God who created us, not be able to renew the heart, and yet be as unseen in the one case as the other?
There is a manifest congruity in the circumstance that the Agent conducts His work so silently and imperceptibly. Only thus can the spirit of man retain its separate action and freedom. There is no violence done to man’s nature in the supernatural work carried on in the heart. The dealings of God are in every respect suited to the essential principles of man’s nature, ‘I drew them with the cords of a man.’ ”
“Can I see the dew of heaven as it falls on a summer evening? I cannot. It comes down softly and gently, noiselessly and imperceptibly. But when I go forth in the morning after a cloudless night, and see every leaf sparkling with moisture, and feel every blade of grass damp and wet, I say at once ‘there has been a dew.’ Just so it is with the presence of the Spirit in the soul.” [Ryle.]
“A young man who had been piously brought up, but who had given himself to vice and folly, at last joined a company of pirates. A voice soft and gentle as a mother’s seemed to be always pleading with him; it was the cooing of a dove. He tried to shake off the effect, but again and again the sound threw his soul into a turmoil. One night when all was still around him, the tender, reproachful murmur seemed to pierce his very heart. He could stand it no longer; but throwing himself on his knees in an agony of contrition, he vowed before God to forsake his evil ways. By God’s help he did so. He went back to his home, became an altered man, and lived henceforward a pious and useful life.” [Anon.]
VII. Sin and folly of grieving or resisting the Spirit. “In times when vile men held the high places of the land, a roll of drums was employed to drown the martyr’s voice lest the testimony of truth from the scaffold should reach the ears of the people—an illustration of how men deal with their own consciences and seek to put to silence the truth-telling voice of the Holy Spirit.” [Arnot.]
“The Holy Spirit of God is our guide. Who would displease his guide, a sweet, comfortable guide, that leads us through the wilderness of this world? As the cloud by day, and the pillar of fire by night, He conducts us to the Heavenly Canaan. If we grieve our guide we cause Him to leave us to ourselves. The people of old would not go a step further than God by His angel went before them. It is in vain for us to make toward heaven without our blessed Guide.” [Sibbes.]
“Take heed, sinners, how you use the Spirit when He comes knocking at the door of your hearts. Open at His knock and He will be your guest; you shall have His pleasant company; repulse Him, and you have not a promise that He will knock again. If once He leave striving with thee, unhappy man, thou art lost! Thou liest like a ship cast up by the waves on some high rock, where the tide never comes to fetch it off. Thou wilt use ordinances in vain. The Spirit is both wind and tide to them, to set the soul afloat, and carry it on, or else it lies like a ship on dry ground which stirs not.” [Gurnall.]
VIII. Invite the Spirit to come again. “Lord, the motions of the Holy Spirit were formerly frequent in my heart. But alas! of late they have been great strangers. It is my great desire they should come again. Let the Spirit be pleased, not only to stand and knock before the door, let me humbly beg of thee, that thou would’st make the iron gate of my heart. I have given it an invitation, and I hope I shall give it room. But O thou that sendest guests, send the meal also; and if I be so unmannerly as not to bid the Holy Spirit welcome, let Thy effectual grace cause me make it so.” [Fuller.]
Return, O Holy Dove, return!
Sweet messenger of rest;
I hate the sins that made thee mourn,
And drove thee from my breast.
The dearest idol I have known,
whate’er that idol be,
Help me to tear it from thy throne,
And worship only thee.
ADDED SIN, RENEWED CHASTISEMENT, AND GRACIOUS DELIVERANCE. Judges 3:12-30
CRITICAL NOTES.— Judges 3:12. Did evil again in sight of the Lord.] The word הָרַע or רָעָה from רוּעַ is used the same both here and in Judges 3:7 to signify evil; but whereas in Judges 3:7 we have the verb יּעֲשׂוּ, meaning simply did, or wrought, in Judges 3:12 we have יֹּספוּ, meaning added to former sin (see also Judges 4:1; Judges 10:6; Judges 13:1), or continued to do evil. God does not forget to count the old sin, when He marks the commission of new sin. Did evil,] not evil generally, but the evil to which they were prone, and on account of which the Lord had a controversy with them, viz., idolatry. The Lord strengthened Eglon, the king of Moab, against Israel,] stirred him up, gave him facilities for carrying out the designs of his own heart against that people, and overruled all the circumstances of Providence, so as to give him easy success in oppressing Israel. The name Eglon signifies “little calf.” In the present instance, the contrary epithet would be more correct.
Judges 3:13. Gathered unto him—Ammon and Amalek.] Allied himself with these near neighbours. Moab and Ammon were brothers, having the same parentage, and might naturally be supposed to co-operate in all great enterprises. In the Amalekites the old spirit of Esau breathed, who looked on Jacob with undying hate, because by him he had been defrauded of the blessing. Now that spirit still rankles in the hearts of generations far down the scale; and if we even go on to the days of Jehoshaphat, we find it burning with undiminished intensity (2 Chronicles 20:0.)—if, as is probable, “the inhabitants of Mount Seir” there spoken of, be the same, in whole, or in part, with the Amalekites (comp. 1 Chronicles 4:42-43). (See also Exodus 17:14; Deuteronomy 25:18-19; 1 Samuel 15:0; 1 Samuel 15:0; Psalms 83:6-7.) “As God raised up deliverers to Israel when they were penitent, so He stirred up enemies to them, and gave them power to oppress them, when they revolted from Him. Since they worshipped the gods of the people round about them (Judges 2:12), it was fit that they should be punished by those very people.” [Patrick.] In this crusade against Israel, all the parties might not have the same motives, but they were at one in their bitter hatred of that people—the seed of the serpent as against that of the woman—the world as against the church of God. Moab was the chief actor, tempted partly by the richness of the country, for Josephus says it was a “divine country.” Cassel says, “The Moabites longed for the excellent oasis of “The city of Palms.” Jericho was indeed destroyed, but the indestructible wealth of its splendid site attracted them. Perhaps, too, they had began to observe signs of a certain weakness among the tribes of Israel, now that Othniel was dead; for it could not escape the notice of surrounding nations, that states of weakness and strength were periodical with Israel, according as God was absent from them, or was with them. This was now, therefore, reckoned a fit time to put in execution a long-cherished design. A large part of the territory occupied by Reuben and Gad, to the east of Jordan, was of old time possessed by Moab. Of this it had been dispossessed by the Amorites. When the Israelites came round on their march to Canaan, they routed and annihilated these Amorites under Sihon, and took possession of their lands. These lands Moab now claimed, and made this a pretext for war. Josephus says, Eglon first subjugated the tribes to the east of the river, and then made a sudden incursion to the west. He probably regarded the site of Jericho as a good strategical point for headquarters, whence he could stretch his hand on either side with ease. It was also the spot to command the fords; and so he could split Israel into two, preventing those on the east and west sides from helping each other. The city of palm trees.] A heavy curse was pronounced against it by Joshua, and a blight seems already to have fallen upon its name; for it is no longer known as “Jericho,” but as “the city of palm trees” (Joshua 6:26). Sixty years had passed since it had been burned, and it was not rebuilt until the time of Ahab (1 Kings 16:34). But the exceedingly desirable character of the site led the Israelites to occupy it as an unwalled town, or village, but not as a fortress, or compactly built city. Eglon would disregard the curse of Joshua.
Judges 3:14. Israel served Eglon.] He became their absolute master, which was very humbling at the hands of an old enemy, who was struck with dismay before them in the days of Balak. But probably the word has the force of stating that they lay at his mercy, i.e., the mercy of a cruel, despotic, and capricious tyrant. “Eighteen years” is more than double the period of their former servitude. But their sin being repeated was now aggravated.
Judges 3:15. Israel cried unto the Lord.] (See notes on Judges 3:9.) Probably “humbled themselves before Him, acknowledged their offence, begged His pardom, and besought His help.” [Patrick.] They may have used such supplications as are recorded in Psalms 44:20-26. The Lord raised.] “The same hand that raised up Eglon against Israel, raised up also Ehud for Israel against Eglon.” He was not chosen by the people on account of any supposed gifts of wisdom and prowess which he possessed, but was the instrument God was pleased to employ in working out His salvation for the people. Hengstenberg says, “the choice of means was left to Himself.” That is at best an assertion, to meet a difficulty. It is not likely that God would leave His chosen instrument to use means of which He would not Himself approve. The deliverance here wrought certainly was from God, whose servant in doing it Ehud was. Son of Gera, etc.], i.e., a. descendant of Gera, who was an immediate son of Benjamin (Genesis 46:21). He was a Benjamite in the line of Gera—of that family-tree. Shimei, who cursed David long afterwards, was also “a son of Gera,” which may mean a descendant of Gera; or there were very likely more persons of that name in the same tribe. Benjamin was the tribe which, being nearest, was likely to be most severely oppressed by the invader, and therefore it was fit that the deliverer should come from it. A man left-handed]—shut up, or bound in, his right hand. Some suppose that Ehud was an ambidexter, and could use both hands alike, corresponding with Judges 20:16, and 1 Chronicles 12:2. It is singular, as appears from these passages was the fact, that the descendants of the man who was “the son of the right hand,” should have coveted the distinction of being skilled in the use of the left. The word used here neither means strictly both-handed, nor one-handed, but rather that from some cause he was disabled as to his use of the right hand, and therefore, as Josephus expresses it, “of the two could use the left hand best.” There was some deficiency of power in the use of the right hand, whether from habitual non-use, or accidental defect, it matters not. It was by a man who had only the effective use of his left hand that God delivered His people. A deliverer] means one to set them free from bondage. Sent a present unto Eglon.] Some say, this was a voluntary offering sent to purchase peace with Eglon, or to secure the, lightening of the yoke he put upon them. But the general opinion is, that it was the annual tribute which they were required to pay in acknowledgment of their subjection, and which it was better for them to pay voluntarily, than to have exactors coming through among their homes. It also gratified the vanity of the monarch, and led him to be better pleased with them. The word מִגְחָה, though used of “meat offerings” in Leviticus 2:1, is generally a euphemistic phrase for tribute (1 Kings 5:1; 2 Samuel 8:2; 2 Samuel 8:6), an acknowledgment of dependence, but also a token of goodwill (Genesis 32:18; Psalms 72:10). Ehud was chosen to be the bearer of it, because he was recognised as raised up of God to be the deliverer or redeemer of Israel, and not because of the high place he held in the estimation of his countrymen. [Fausset.]
Judges 3:16. Made him a dagger which had two edges, etc.] The Hebrew word signifies sword (Sept. and Vulg.). The word dagger or dirk properly expresses it here; or, some regard it as a stiletto, as used by the Italians. It was a somewhat peculiar weapon, made very sharp and short, to be both very effective, and capable of being easily concealed. It was clear that the purpose for which it was eventually used was already in Ehud’s mind. The “word of God” is compared to a “sharp sword with two edges,” because it is a more powerful weapon, as applied to the heart and conscience than any other (Hebrews 4:12; Revelation 1:16, etc.). He did gird it on his right thigh (comp. Psalms 45:3), to be in readiness for use by the left hand, and where its presence would not be suspected, the left being the sword side. A cubit length.] Go-med is not the usual word for cubit. The Sept. translates it σπιθαμὴ, which the Greeks made half an ell, or three-fourths of a foot. Being thus only nine inches in length, and the handle also being short, it could easily be concealed. Put under raiment.] Military cloak, or wide flowing garments. He thus would have the appearance of a man unarmed. “With such daggers in their garments, the Sicarii raged among the crowds at the fall of Jerusalem.”
Judges 3:17. Eglon was a very fat man.] Probably was a luxurious liver, and belonged to the class described as “natural brute beasts” (2 Peter 2:12), “whose god is their belly” (Philippians 3:18), “who spend their days amid wealth, and in a moment go down to the grave” (Job 21:13; Luke 21:34; Romans 12:13). Belshazzar and Nabal are examples.
Judges 3:18. Dismissed the people.] His retinue, here called אֶת־הָעָם, implying that there was a considerable number of persons employed to bear the minchah. Also the phrase “made an end to offer the present” implies it was a matter of great ceremony. It is quite in keeping with Oriental customs to make great parade in presenting such offerings. To enhance the apparent value of the gift, a great number of persons, camels, and horses were employed to convey what might have been carried with ease by two or three. (See account in Pictorial Bible in loco.) This ceremony was now gone through with punctilious order, and signs of due submission.
Judges 3:19. Quarries.] פְּסִילִים. In other places where this word occurs it signifies graven images (Deuteronomy 7:25; Jeremiah 8:19; Jeremiah 51:52). So also the Sept. and Vulg., and the margin of our Bibles. The Targum renders as our version. Lias says it is never elsewhere used of stone qnarries; but it is derived from a word signifying to hew stones (Exodus 34:1; Exodus 34:4; Deuteronomy 10:1; Deuteronomy 10:3), where it is used of the making of the two tables of stone. Keil thinks it unlikely that stone idols were set up in the open air, and prefers rendering it as in the text, “stone quarries,” which is the one adopted by the Chaldee, by Rashi, and most Jewish commentators, also by the Syriac version. Fausset prefers “graven images.” which he says the Moabites would put up to mark the conquered country as under the tutelage of their gods, at the place which marked the boundary line of the Moabitish dominion. This was Gilgal, about four miles to the west of Jordan. The name signifies “rolled.” because here the Israelites rolled off the reproach of Egypt by being circumcised. Now that reproach is rolled back on them again, The sight of these images would fire Ehud’s zeal against Eglon. We prefer Cassel’s interpretation, who translates the word boundary stones—not quarries, for this does not harmonise with the locality, but stones set up to mark the borders of Eglon’s territory, which he had wrenched from Israel. They might be called posts, στηλαι or lapides sacri, which marked the line. Honours were generally paid to them, and hence they were called Pesilim, idol-images, or idolatrous objects. The Targum substantially agrees with this, which makes it to mean heaps of unhewn stones. Bachmann only slightly differs, who thinks the Pesilim were idolatrous images set up as boundary marks of the territory ruled over by the heathen king. So Ehud did not feel secure till he had passed the Pesilim. Edersheim concurs, who makes it signify terminal columns, which were always objects of idolatrous worship, that divided the territory of Israel from that of Eglon. He turned again from the boundary stones, etc.] The account now becomes very vivid and graphic. He returns all alone to the king, perhaps within a few hours. His coming alone both disarmed suspicion, and also consisted with his profession to have a sacred mission to the king. Eglon would doubtless be already fovourably impressed towards the man who had been, only a few hours ago, the bearer of so handsome an offering, and would be prepared to grant any reasonable request he might make. The way was thus open; and Ehud, as if eager and in haste, said—rather, bid say, to the king, “I have a secret word to thee, O king.” On hearing this, the call is given הָס Hush! All present at once understood, and retired, leaving the sovereign liege and his vassal together alone. “All that stood by.” The attendants did not sit in the royal presence; all stood. It was natural to suppose that Ehud wished to communicate something which, at his previous visit, he could not tell in the hearing of the people who were with him.
Judges 3:20. And Ehud came unto him.] At first he appears to have been only in the ante-chamber. Now he is admitted into the inner apartment—the king’s own. This is called a summer parlour, an upper room of cooling. Luther calls it, his summer arbour. It was something like a Turkish kiosk—“a small room built by itself on the roof of the house, having many windows to catch the breeze.” At that part of the course of the river, its bed lies low, and there being high grounds on either side, it is necessarily very warm, so that such a cooling shelter is greatly needed. An Eastern traveller says, “there is often a door of communication from the cooling apartment, or alijah, into the gallery of the house, besides another which opens immediately from a privy stair, down into the porch or street, without giving the least disturbance to the house.” Persons having secret audience with the king might be admitted or dismissed through that private stair, without passing through the rooms of the house. The apartment where the king was sitting was properly intended for purposes of entire seclusion and rest, but might be used as an audience chamber—which he had for himself alone.] It was entirely for his own private use. Possibly Ehud found this out only on the early part of that same day, when he came with the present, and saw how things were arranged in the king’s palace. He then discovered that it would be perfectly possible to get access to him alone, could he but assign a proper reason for asking such a privilege. Doubtless he prayed for Divine direction and success in regard to what he was about to do, for he felt he was working for God. And Ehud said, I have a message from God unto thee]—from Elohim—which Ehud would understand to mean the true God, the God of Israel, but which Eglon would probably regard as a name for the gods. We cannot suppose that Ehud a man chosen by God Himself for doing His work, should directly lie to the heathen king, saying that chemosh or some heathen deity had sent him, and so by a nefarious method seek to gain his end. It is also quite fanciful to suppose, as Cassel does, that the reference is not to the Deity at all, but to the supreme authority of Moab—the reigning monarch, of whom Eglon was only a satrap or liegeman. The reference must have been to the Deity; and even if Eglon had regarded it as meaning the God of Israel, princes sitting on his throne had trembled at that name before and might do so again. The story of Balak and his frantic efforts to get that people cursed by their God, had lived down through the three generations that had elapsed since; and the destruction of the whole of the Canaanitish peoples before the sword of Joshua, created a mighty shock among all the surrounding nations; so that the name of such a God was certain to strike with dismay every heart among the worshippers of idols (Joshua 2:9; Joshua 2:11; Joshua 9:24). To have a message sent direct to himself personally from such a Deity, would inspire Eglon with an undefined awe, and he would almost involuntarily rise from his seat, at the very mention of such a thing. It was really a message from the God of Israel to Moab’s ruler, in a way similar to that which was addressed to Pharaoh. To the latter the message was, “Let my people go, that they may serve me.” To the former, it was a message of doom. “Because thou hast oppressed my people so long, now the hour of thy doom and of their deliverance has come, and thou must die.” Ehud might have supposed that this statement would induce the king to rise, but the principal reason for his so addressing the monarch was to assure him from whose hand the blow came—the God whose people he had been treading down like the mire. We believe that Ehud’s conduct was straightforward throughout, and without deceit, however strong the step he was taking.
Judges 3:21. At once Ehud put forth his left hand, etc.] We now see the value of Ehud’s left-handedness. He could lay his hand on his dagger without exciting any suspicion, till it was too late for the victim to call for help. In like manner Cleander stabbed Parmenio while he was reading a letter. And Clement, a monk, who had obtained a commission to get into the presence of Henry III. of France, stabbed the king the moment he was bidden to draw near. Metillius Cimber, along with other conspirators, pressed closely on Cæsar, making most urgent entreaty for the recall of his banished brother, and so they all closed in upon their victim.
Judges 3:22-23. And the haft also went in, etc.] It appears there was an actual perforation of the body The poniard was so forcibly thrust into the abdomen, that the hilt followed the blade, and, the fat closing on both, it was impossible to draw the dagger out again. To show the force of the blow, it is added that the excrement came out. The king appears to have fallen without being able to utter a single cry; the deed was done so swiftly and so overwhelmingly. Ehud lost not a moment. First, he is careful to lock the door or doors (for there seems to have been two—one leading into the antechamber where the attendants usually stood in waiting, and the other leading to the private stair which conducted down to the porch or front hall and street). He must, at the foot of that stair, down which he went, have had to pass through some of the attendants before getting to the outside of the building. But his demeanour seems to have been so cool and collected, that no suspicion was excited of anything so terrible having happened in so incredibly short a space of time; and more especially, as not even the most distant hint, or sign, of throwing off the yoke of the conqueror had been given, but the very contrary had happened that very day. Nothing therefore was farther from their thoughts than such a suspicion. But what did occur to them we are told of in—
Judges 3:24-25. They said, Surely he covereth his feet, etc.] The rules required that they should not enter into the alijah or private cooling chamber, till the person who had been privileged with the secret audience had gone away, nor, indeed, till called. After waiting for some time, and no call being made, they examined the doors of the alijah, both of which they found locked. On which they concluded that their lord was taking his siesta—it still being the hot part of the day. In this case, it would have been dangerous for them to have awakened him, at any rate for some time. Hence they waited till they were ashamed of having waited so long. Then only they began to suspect that all was not right. These small circumstances, though natural, were yet overruled by Divine Providence to accomplish important ends. To gain time was essential to Ehud’s safety. Had the servants burst open the door at once, he would infallibly have been pursued, and brought back to be put to a certain and cruel death—that which they would reckon suitable to a regicide, and so the great cause of the liberation of God’s people from a foreign yoke, with which Ehud’s life was bound up, would have come to nought. It was of God that such thoughts should be made to rise in the minds of the servants, and so, that much time should have been allowed to elapse, ere a discovery was made of the fearful tragedy which had just been enacted. At length they opened the doors with another key, of which the chief officer of the house was in possession (for it was his privilege to keep a duplicate of the key) and behold their master was stretched on the floor quite dead!
Judges 3:26. And Ehud escaped while they tarried.] That Ehud should make a clear escape was of God. First he got to the boundary-stones. These are referred to, because they marked the border between Moab and Israel as it then existed. Then he took the direction towards Ephraim, and seems not to have halted till he reached “Seirath,” where he reckoned himself safe from pursuit. It was either a forest or weald, that bordered on the cultivated land near Gilgal, and extended into the mountain or hill country of Ephraim (Joshua 17:15-18); or it was a continuation of the bushy, rugged hills, that stretch to Judah’s northern territory from Mount Ephraim (Joshua 15:10). But Seirath is little known, and is not referred to again. It seems to have been in Ephraim, on the southern frontier, and near the borders of either Judah or Benjamin.
Judges 3:27. Having got among his own people Ehud felt there was not a moment to be lost. With vigorous hand he seized a trumpet, and blew a blast loud and long, awakening the whole land with the tidings, that now the door was open for regaining their precious liberties from the yoke of the oppressor. They had but to follow up the blow that had been struck, and every home in Israel would be free. It was a true “reveillé” note. Fresh with hope Israel rose at the call. As awakened out of sleep those who heard it sprung up, and came trooping to the deliverer—from the caves, the thickets, the rocks, and even the pits, in which the country abounded (1 Samuel 13:6), and to which the people in large numbers had betaken themselves, as a refuge from the oppression of Moab. It was chiefly the men of Ephraim and perhaps of Benjamin who responded to the call; and they went as one man, flushed with the hope that victory was already sure, and that God was with their deliverer in the work which had been so well begun. Ehud had already matured his plan of operations. Believing that so much depended on courage and confidence, he himself sets the example, not calling to them to move forward, but going forward himself in front, and then calling on them to follow him. The vital point of strategy was the fords of Jordan. With these in their possession, they could prevent the Moabites on the west side from returning homewards, and equally prevent those on the east side from crossing over to assist their countrymen who were attacked on all sides in the land of Israel.
Note to Judges 3:27. It has been noticed in connection with the people taking refuge in the mountains, that “in those days of cruel warfare and oppression, the home of liberty was always in the fastnesses of the mountains. As the narrative of Xenophon shows, the mountain peoples in the Persian empire were practically independent of the central power. So in the middle ages, the Swiss mountaineers defied alike the power of Austria and Burgundy. And among ourselves, the history of Wales and the Highlands of Scotland, are proofs, that even a powerful government had very little real authority in the inaccessible recesses of the mountains. It is only the rapid advance of modern discovery which has enabled us to penetrate these regions, and to place the invaders of a mountain district upon a footing of something more like equality with its defenders.”
Judges 3:28-29. The Lord hath delivered your enemies into your hands, etc.] This announcement coming from the lips of the man whom God had already owned with such signal success, would inspire them with the assurance of victory. Moving on with leaps and bounds, they soon reached the fords of Jordan; of which they at once took possession, and slaughtered the Moabites who came in straggling bands from Jericho, with the view of crossing the river. Of the whole army of Eglon on the west side of the river, not a man seems to have escaped. There fell of them 10,000 men—all robust or chosen men—(אּישׁ שָׁמֵן robust, well-conditioned, חַיִל power, valour) and men of valour. This had the effect, we are told, in Judges 3:30, of crushing all further attempts of Moab to oppress Israel.
NOTE.—How we are to view Ehud’s conduct. Most commentators pass a severe censure on “the manner in which Ehud acted throughout this whole transaction, and feel difficulty in accounting for the fact, that God should make use of such means to emancipate His people from bondage. Some go so far as to deny to Ehud any grandeur of character at all, and accuse him of duplicity and sleight of hand. Others, while admitting that a measure of admiration is due to the courage he displayed, his heroic spirit of self-sacrifice for the good of his country, and his purity of motive on the whole; yet denounce the means he adopted as treacherous and savage. Most writers regard it as conduct of which God could not approve, and notice that it is not said “the Spirit of the Lord came upon him,” and that no special mark of commendation is put on his conduct, while his name is not found in the list of those “elders who by faith obtained a good report.” Neither, we might add, is it said that “the Spirit of the Lord came upon” Barak, or Tola or Jair, who were all “judges” of Israel, and the first of whom has his name enrolled in the honourable list of the men of faith. As to that list, it is evident, that only a few names are given as a specimen; otherwise, why should no mention be made in it of such men as Joshua, Caleb, Othniel, and many others? As to the means adopted, if these had been displeasing to God, would there not have been some special mark of His disapprobation given, of the manner in which the messenger had fulfilled his duty, as in the case of Saul, when he returned from his expedition against Amalek, and was severely reprimanded for having failed to perform the commandment of the Lord; or, as in the case of Moses, when, standing in the stead of God, he smote the rock, in a spirit of unhallowed impatience, in place of calmly and solemnly speaking to it.
It is affirmed in the record, that “God raised up Ehud to be a deliverer” to Israel (Judges 3:15). Admitting this, Hengstenberg says, “the choice of the means was left to himself.” Fausset adds, that “assassination by a lie and treachery was a method of his own devising.” The Speakers’ Commentary regards his adoption of such a method as due to the age in which he lived, when human society applauded such acts, though viewed in the light of Christianity and the advanced civilisation of the present day, it would be reckoned a serious crime. Dr. Cassell holds that the brilliancy of the act cannot exculpate its highly reprehensible character. Ehud had, indeed, zeal for God, but “the Spirit of the Lord inspires neither such artifice, nor such murder.” While The Pulpit Commentary sees, in this transaction, the Ruler among the nations making use of bad actions as well as good ones, to subserve His purposes. Thus, Jacob’s deceit in obtaining the blessing, is referred to as an illustration. But there the Divine disapprobation was distinctly marked in Jacob’s future history. If the Jews put the Saviour to death, and thereby God’s high purpose in our redemption was fulfilled, they never contemplated any such issue, but thought only of gratifying their own malicious feelings against a Messiah, in whom they were completely disappointed. This was no parallel to the case of Ehud, who had no end of his own to serve, but meant only to carry out the purpose of Him who sent him. Besides, the Divine displeasure with the conduct of the crucifiers has been expressed with unexampled emphasis in the whole of their subsequent history. Ehud’s name, on the contrary, has been handed down to immortality, without a single note of disapprobation at what he did, while the Providence of God wrought along with him, and protected him at every step in his perilous enterprise.
These explanations of Ehud’s act appear to us to be alike defective and erroneous. We do not believe that God would choose an agent to do an important work in which His own glory was concerned, such as the emancipation of His own people from bondage, without both giving him qualification for the work (or causing the Spirit to rest upon him), and also giving him instructions as to how he should act so as to glorify God in the doing of it. Had Ehud out of revenge, and at his own instance, committed a cold-blooded murder on a defenceless man, without a note of warning, hurrying him into the presence of his God all unprepared, with his crimes on his head, even though he was lying under a ban, was a tyrant, a heathen, and an oppressor, we cannot suppose that God would accept such a deliberate act of assassination as the means of working out His holy purposes, without some explicit mark of reprobation of the means used. Had Ehud put Eglon to death of his own thought, it must have been murder, and that is a crime of such magnitude, that when committed by one who was acknowledged by God to be acting as His servant, it must have been marked by the sternest condemnation. Even among men, such an act could not escape severe reprehension, on the part of all who repudiate the principles of retaliation, and who believe it wrong to do evil that good may come. We feel then shut up to the conclusion, that, in what he did, he acted in obedience to Divine command. This agrees with his own declaration, “I have a message from Elohim unto thee,” and the parallel statement in Judges 3:19, “I have a secret errand unto thee, O King,” meaning a message, or errand of doom. In going to the king then, he acted as one commissioned; it was not at his own instance. The statement in Judges 3:28 corresponds, “Follow me, for the Lord hath delivered your enemies into your hands.” This seems to be said oracularly, as by one who was under God’s guidance in the whole transaction, and had received the intimations of His will.
This we believe is the first step to any true explanation of the facts. The matter proceeded from the Lord. The Supreme Ruler took this method of executing sentence on a noted criminal under the administration of His moral government of the world. It is not Eglon’s personal sins as a man that are here referred to so much, as his crimes in his public character as the King of Moab, and the long-known oppressor of God’s people. To oppress any people without cause was a crime of itself; but Eglon was chargeable with something incomparably more heinous. He had dared to attack the people whom Jehovah had set apart for Himself, to be His own, to be His jewels, to be called by His name, and to be entrusted with the high duty of holding up that name for the reverence of the world. That people were the custodiers of the Divine honour, and their history was inseparably associated with the promotion of the Divine glory in the earth. To attempt to crush such a people, as Eglon had done, was to challenge the majesty of Israel’s King as their Protector; it was to stretch forth his hand against the Lord’s annointed; it was to maltreat the beloved children of the living God; it was to lay unholy hands on the sacred property of the Most High; it was to waste the church of the living God, an object incomparably dearer to Him than heaven and earth.
For such a crime Pharaoh and all his host had been cast like a millstone into the the sea. From the days of the redemption from Egyptian bondage onwards, every other potentate that had dared to lift a hand against this people had been ground to the dust. And now here was this Prince of Moab not only trampling them under foot, but taking occasion thereby to magnify his own gods, as superior to the great “I am” of the oppressed Israel. This contempt of the Divine name, and the treading down as the mire of that people whom God so dearly loved, constituted Eglon’s special crimes. It is for the Judge of all the earth to decide as to the time, the form, and the means, whereby any transgressor under His government shall be punished. Pharaoh He overthrew in the waters of the Red Sea. The Canaanites He wasted by the sword of Joshua. The ringleader in the sin of Baalpeor was put to death by the javelin of Phinehas. And now the head of the Moabitish nation must meet death at the hand of Ehud, the man whom God has raised up to deliver His chosen Israel. If such a proceeding should be thought harsh, what shall we say of the hundreds of thousands of Canaanites who were put to death so sternly and unrelentingly, that in all the cities attacked not a man, woman, or child was left to breathe. This was done by Jehovah’s express command on account of the extremely heinous character of their sins. And if such a spectacle is justifiable, where vast multitudes become victims, it is a comparatively insignificant matter to hear of the same thing being done where only a solitary individual is concerned.
But there is no cruelty, or barbarity in either case. Rather in such cases we see the Righteous Governor among the nations giving to the wicked the due reward of their deeds. Should the punishment inflicted seem to us appalling, the natural and wise inference is, that there must be something correspondingly awful in that which could have brought down such a doom upon them, at the hands of so merciful and just a God. If men wonder at the terrible nature of the calamity, which is not only permitted, but appointed, in such a case, to take place, why should they not equally wonder at the terrible character of the cause which has gone before—the greatness of the sins committed? Men are so accustomed to the exercise of God’s forbearing mercy, that they forget what is due to the majesty of His great name. They reflect not, that in conducting His holy government, He must, before all other things, maintain the purity of His own character as God, His authority as Supreme Ruler in His own universe, and give specimens of how He will, sooner or later, visit with just indignation flagrant and long-continued sin. To show forth God’s glory, by making His universe a scene of holiness and happiness, was the grand end for which all things were made, and not to suit men’s wishes by sparing them though running on to any length in a career of sin, and forgetfulness of Him to whom they owe their being. Men’s wishes are not the principal element that guides the formation of God’s purposes; and though He will never forget the length and breadth of His tender mercies in His dealings with men, what is due to His own character as God will ever form His first consideration in the moral government of His intelligent creatures.
It does seem strange, that many persons who write on this subject, and attempt to account for the tragic character of this death, should make little or no mention of the heinous character of the sins of him on whom the judgment fell. May we not suppose that, to fix the eye on the atrocious aspect which this man’s sin presented to the God of Israel, was the real reason why the naked narrative is allowed to stand as it is, without any farther explanation? All the spectacles of mourning and woe in this world are simply the natural consequences of sin. If the woe be so dreadful, even though it is but the beginning of sorrows, how dreadful in God’s estimation must be the character of the sin of which it is the index!
But to rise for a moment to the higher view of God’s method of acting in His government of this world. Human life is justly reckoned more precious in this age of advanced civilisation than it was in the days of Ehud, and especially under the light of a much longer and fuller experience of the value of Scriptural truth, than the early fathers had. Yet, however revolting to us the act of assassinating the King of Moab may seem; though we regard as truly terrible the massacre of whole Canaanitish peoples, the aged and the feeble, the women and the children, as well as those who could carry arms; and though we are appalled at the slaying of all the first-born in the land of Egypt in one night, or at the destruction of a formidable Assyrian army at one fell stroke—all these are but temporary specimens of Jehovah’s jealousy for the honour of His holy name, and fall far short of the height of that eternal monument which He has set up in sight of heaven and earth in the cross of Christ, as a spectacle to be looked at by all, where every eye may read, through everlasting ages, the real estimate in which He holds His own glorious perfections, the measure of reverence which is due to Him as God, and His unalterable determination not to lower His standard in judging of the evil of sin, but to give it a treatment to the full as it deserves, whatever sacrifice it may cost!
To sum up: We regard this act of Ehud as the infliction by Jehovah’s direction, of a special retribution on the head of the heathen monarch, for having dared to insult the majesty of the God of Israel, and for having oppressed the people that were called by his name. But though clearly justifiable as having been commanded of God, it is yet to be viewed as one of those special events that seldom happen, and form almost a class by themselves. It is on no account to be held as a warrant, or precedent, to authorise any one, however zealous, for God’s cause, to rise up against a blasphemer of God’s name, or a persecutor of God’s people, in any other age, and put him to death in like manner. For Ehud did nothing of himself, but only as he was commanded of God—God alone has the right to punish the adversaries of His own truth.
It is also to be particularly noted that this event belongs to the history of the Old Testament period, which takes its complexion throughout from the fact, that the great atonement had not yet been made, and that God, in all His dealings with man, acted as the unpropitiated deity. Hence a certain aspect of sternness and rigour in the divine dispensations, which disappears when the great sacrifice on Calvary has been offered. In that sacrifice, so grand an exhibition has been made of “the righteousness of God” with all its claims, and such security has been taken against all possible lowering of the standard of the evil of sin, that there is not now the same necessity for displays of the divine anger against men’s wickedness or for heavy judgments occurring in Providence to manifest God’s jealousy, as did exist in the anti-christian age. Though sin itself be the same still—ever hateful to a holy God, and though it is attended now with even higher aggravations than under the former economy, so gloriously complete is the satisfaction which has been rendered to the character of Him whose law has been transgressed, that the way is opened for a more benignant exercise of the Divine government among men, and other monuments are not needed to impress men’s minds with the terrible evil of sin, and God’s determination to punish it as it deserves, so far as the present world is concerned. Hence God’s attitude towards men in this the Christian age has in it the character of “the God of peace,” because all His transactions with them are done under the shadow of Calvary.
MAIN HOMILETICS.—Judges 3:12-30
SIN—SUFFERING; PENITENCE AND DELIVERANCE REPEATED
It is to be noticed that the history of mankind generally, and of this people in particular, is represented in the Bible as always taking place under the observation of God as “King of all the earth.” God is the faithful witness and rightful judge. It is His world which men occupy; they are His creatures, made to serve and to glorify Him; His sceptre is over them; and it is before Him, and to Him, that human life is led. Hence it is ever said, the actors, in history, did this or that “in the sight of the Lord.” “The children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord.” He is the constant observer of men’s conduct. “The ways of man are before the eyes of the Lord, and He pondereth all His goings.” He looks on men’s conduct not merely as a spectator, but as the judge who has to reckon with them at last. It is “He with whom they have to do.” To Him all that is done in human life belongs, and He is the proper judge of it all. To Him men are accountable for all their actions; for was not man brought into existence to show forth God’s glory by his love and obedience (1 Samuel 2:3). It is His prerogative to sit in review of men’s actions from day to day, and to pass an absolutely accurate verdict on every man’s character and conduct, with the authority of the judgment seat, from which there is no appeal. That man acts wisely who says, “with me it is a small thing to be judged of you, or of men’s judgment.; He that judgeth me is the Lord.” Here we have—
I. Now sin added (Judges 3:12).—“Israel did evil again in the sight of the Lord.” There is emphasis in saying—“did evil again.” It implies—
1. A painful surprise. After such thorough yet tender dealing on the part of the covenant God, it might have been supposed that the ungodliness of the people would have been effectually cured, and that henceforth no accounts would have been heard, but those of hearty and permanent allegiance to Him, whom they had accepted as their own God. The disease had been so deeply lanced, that it might well have been supposed to be now entirely eradicated, and that we should hear no more of Israelitish apostacy. What long suffering had been shown! What arguments of loving kindness and tender mercy used! What faithfulness in using the rod rather than permit them to continue the infatuation of sleeping on in sin! But alas! for the inconstancy and shallowness of human good resolutions apart from the grace of God! Here they are, sinning as before, in the sight of God’s holy heavens, as if “the Lord did not see, and the God of Jacob did not regard.” After being crushed to the very dust under the weight of Divine chastisements, they yet show themselves capable, when the pressure of the Divine hand is removed, of committing over again the same fatal error, of going astray from the living and true God. But we have the same truth in every part of human history. Go back to the days of the great deluge. We have the same account given of the human heart after that catastrophe as before (comp. Genesis 8:21, with Judges 6:5)—or, come forward to our own times, and after all the superior advantages enjoyed, and greatly multiplied arguments used, the same melancholy truth comes out, that men are by nature “bent to backsliding” from the living and true God. After their long chapter of sad experiences, this people “did evil again in the sight of the Lord.”
2. Deeper guilt. It was heinous sin to apostatise the first time. It was greatly more aggravated sin to do it a second time. On many accounts it was so. It showed more deliberation in the act of rebellion, more stubbornness of will, and greater defiance of the Divine Authority. It also implied the heavy guilt of despising all the argument involved in the close and faithful dealing God had with them, in the terrible chastisements He had already brought down on their heads. To what purpose had all the severe remedies been made use of if the old evil should now break out again? Had the faithful use of the rod, by the wise and kind Father, in the awful scourge of the Syrian invasion, for eight years been wholly in vain? And must the same drastic process be gone through again, ere the cancerous spot be removed? Fearful was the guilt of this people to forget their sacred character so far, as “a holy nation and a peculiar people,” dedicated to the service of God by so many hallowed ties, as even once to cross the line between fealty and apostacy; but what shall we say of their daring to lift an unhallowed foot in that direction again, notwithstanding all the entreaties, warnings, and chastisements used to prevent them, by their gracious and long-suffering God? This was a systematic despising of the voice of their God.
3. A perplexing problem to solve. Why should the children of such holy men as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob become such incorrigible rebels? This is the puzzle that meets us everywhere in the history of God’s Israel. Greater obstinacy in sin, or more wilful persistence in forsaking a holy and loving God, could hardly be found among the worst of the heathen nations. How then can we account for such a tendency among the descendants of the most pious stock that ever existed in the history of our humanity, and who, if any, might be expected to be an honour to our race, for their strictly religious character, and entire consecration to the keeping of God’s commandments? Some reasons, indeed, may be assigned for the present apostacy.
(1) The people had lost their leader. We hear of no outbreak of the tendency to go after other gods, so long as he was alive. Had he been at the helm of affairs now, there is little doubt how he would have acted. Swift and sure would have been the steps he would have taken to restore the spirit of reverence for Jehovah’s character and law throughout the kingdom. At whatever risk, he would have tolerated no disloyalty to the Divine King. He would have said, “It is not necessary for me to live; it is indispensable that I should be faithful to my God.” As a “judge” he was responsible for seeing that the people had at least a visible respect for the covenant of their God. And while he was alive, both by his example and personal influence, not to speak of his authority as judge, he would have deterred many from turning aside to crooked ways. But now that he was gone no barrier remained to the bursting of the banks of the river, so that, almost at once, idolatry again reached the floodmark among the chosen people!
(2) Aspostasy was due in part to the universal evil example. It is not easy to withstand the force of the current when surrounded by a multitude of waters. While the whole human race around them were moving strongly in one direction, it was hard for a single nation to stand out by itself, and dare to be singular. This may in part account for the fact, though it does not afford the slightest justification of the lapse into idolatry. If, on the one side the temptation was strong, the motives on the other side were incomparably stronger. The word and character of their God ought infinitely to have outweighed every other consideration; but to this had to be added the long course of gracious and solemn dealing He had had with them, from the beginning of their history onwards. Besides this general consideration, their aspostacy was inexcusable, on the ground of the strong representation of the dangers arising from giving way to it, and the many helps and encouragements supplied for maintaining their stedfastness in the covenant. The greatest care also was taken to make them live apart from “the world lying in wickedness.” Israel was to “dwell safely, being alone” (Deuteronomy 33:28.) Thus too is it with the people of God in every age. When they are separate from the world they are safe; when they are in it, they are in danger (2 Corinthians 6:17; 1 Corinthians 15:33; Acts 2:40; Acts 2:44; Proverbs 13:20; Psalms 26:8-9; Psalms 101:4-7; Ephesians 5:11).
(3) Idolatry was their easily-besetting sin. While all sin is strong in a sinful nature, there is a specially enslaving power in an “easily-besetting sin.” By it a man is led captive, even when his eyes are open to the terrible consequences which must come out in the end. He is like a captive in chains. Idolatry had a fascination for the eye of the Israelite. It allowed him free indulgence in all the corrupt propensities of his fallen nature. In one word, it allowed him to make his God after his own wishes. This was the great allurement to idolatry among mankind everywhere. No wonder if God should say of it, “Oh, do not this abominable thing which I hate.” It diverted the homage of the creature from being given to the Creator, and led to its being bestowed on the meanest and most grovelling things. Yet it presented to man the form of a religion, and gave room for the exercise of the devout feelings of the heart—so satisfying the craving for a religion which exists in man’s nature. Such a system kept the Israelite abreast of the religious fashion of the age. He did not require to be singular, and look sourly on every other form of religious worship that was practised among the nations.
(4) A new generation had sprung up. It was not the same generation that saw the great deliverance which God had wrought by Othniel. It was a new generation that had not seen God’s mighty works, on behalf of Israel, with their own eyes. Their fathers in all likelihood told them much of the glorious past, and they would listen with interest to the thrilling accounts; but not having personally passed through the scenes described, and regarding them only as matter of hearsay, they would be looked on as little better than beautiful shadows. Out of this circumstance would sin deceitfully construct an apology. The impression made by a bare recital is indeed not of so vivid a character as when one personally passes through the excitement of great perils, and is an eye-witness to sublime deliverances wrought. Yet the bare recital, accompanied by irrefragable evidence of the truth, and astonishing character of the wonders accomplished, was sufficient to inspire the most thorough belief, and to call forth earnest gratitude and devout obedience. It is thus that God always reckons—that after generations should give Him their allegiance and confidence, because of mercies which He has bestowed on generations that have gone before, of which an account is given to those that come after. The whole series of generations He views as hanging together, both as regards duties, and as regards privileges. He never addresses any one generation as if it stood apart from all the rest. Links are always supposed to exist, binding the whole in one—links of duty—of a common heritage—of a common example, instruction, and interest. They are always addressed as one people, allied in blood, as children of one father, heirs of the same promises, and partakers of the same Divine covenant-relationship, with its laws, and ordinances, and privileges, and hopes. The men of this backsliding generation, therefore, were verily guilty in not having been fully confirmed in their allegiance to God by the argument derived from the experience of the fathers. (See pp. 92–94.)
(5) The inveterate depravity of the human heart. This is too truly the principal reason that accounts for the apostacy of Israel from their God. Nothing could more strikingly bring out the fact of this inveterate depravity than the truth that in all ages, under all circumstances, and among all peoples, the heart shows an invariable tendency to depart from the living God. The tendency indeed shows itself with all the force and regularity of a law, and hence we read of “the law of sin.” We have also the distinct testimony of Scripture, “The Lord looked down from heaven on the children of men to see if there were any that did understand and seek God. They are all gone aside—there is none that doeth good; no, not one.” This testimony is given twice over (Psalms 14, 53). A melancholy confirmation of the testimony we have in the history recorded in the book of Judges. Of Israel it may be said that “though woo’d and aw’d” they are “rebels still.” “Neither ministry, nor miracle, nor misery, nor mercy, could mollify their hard hearts, or contain them within the bounds of obedience.” [Trapp.] The unqualified verdict of Him who searcheth the heart is, that it is “desperately wicked”—or incurable by any natural means. Alas! for the honour of our race, that it should pass into a proverb “humanum est peccare,” and yet this is mild compared with the Divine verdict.
II. New chastisement inflicted (Judges 3:12-14).—“The Lord strengthened Eglon against Israel,” etc.
1. The Lord chastises in faithfulness (pp. 118, 119). In all circumstances God marks sin with His abhorrence. As He would be faithful to Himself, He must keep up a due sense of His sovereign authority, and the unsullied purity of His character and government, before the eyes of His creatures. According to an established arrangement with His people (Psalms 89:30-34), He gives them to understand, it is due both to Him and to them, that they should be chastised when they sin against Him. He afflicts them to show His jealousy for His holy name; that He is deeply offended with sin even in His own people; that He cannot love them at the expense of His own glory as a holy God; that He cannot allow them to go on in sin at the expense of sacrificing their best interests; that He cannot trifle with that which would poison their happiness, and sap the foundations of their future good. By chastisement, too, He reminds them that sin implies loss of character, as well as loss of favour; that it brings them under the Divine frown, and sinks them in the scale of honour. And finally He afflicts them, to bring them quickly to a state of penitence and reformation of conduct. He impresses it on them, that while they continue to sin, He must continue to punish; and that if, after all His dealings with them, “they will not hearken, but walk contrary to Him, then He will walk contrary unto them in fury, and chastise them seven times for their sins.” The standard of His holiness as absolutely perfect must not be let down, in the estimation of the subjects of His government, however clamantly certain circumstances may seem to call for a relaxation. His moral government, even of a sinful world, must go on without a stain, notwithstanding that so much sin is ever being committed. How that could be so, consistently with His vast designs of mercy, was a problem for His Divine wisdom to solve. And in the great sacrifice of Calvary, we see the purity and righteousness of the Divine character kept up, for ever, at an absolute height. But as there is need, in every age, for some immediate expression of the Divine displeasure, in the case of individual sins as they are committed, this is supplied by chastisements, both to remind us of the sin-hating character of our God, and to be a check on farther indulgence in sin.
When sin is committed afresh, after the application of costly means of cure, men would be disposed to give up the case in despair, or to inflict summary vengeance once for all on the transgressors. God does neither; but with a patience which is calm and regular as the laws of nature, He proceeds again in the same course which has already proved abortive; and for many times he does so, to show the glory of His long-suffering, and the multitude of His mercies (Psalms 106:43-45).
2. He makes use of a new rod. It is not the same scourge that is now employed. A nation by their side is raised up, apparently one of the weakest of the surrounding nations, certainly one that hitherto had been too much awed by the mighty hand, and outstretched arm of the God of Israel, to dare to meet them in battle array. Moab now becomes “the rod of God’s anger” to chastise his people for their unfaithfulness to His covenant. For the greater part of a hundred years, they had longed to wreak their vengeance on this much hated people, but hitherto had lacked courage and opportunity. Now both are supplied, and with eager foot, they tread the soil of Israel, for purposes of plunder and oppression. God’s quiver is full of arrows, and it is glorifying to Him to show the fulness of His resources, by using a variety of instruments to execute His will. It proves His universal supremacy to make choice now of one, now of another nation, in turn all round, to serve His purpose—not always the most suited, but though the most unfit, yet made by Him most successful in gaining the end. (See pp. 88, 89).
3. He sends a more severe token of His displeasure. When a man has had the character of having been a transgressor in the past, and is brought up anew, charged with crime at the bar of justice, it must go harder with him, than if he had been spotless before. For now he shows more settledness of purpose as a criminal, and greater persistence in defying constituted authority. Thus it was with Israel. Theirs was now a case of sin added to sin. The old sin was remembered when the new sin was committed, and the guilt was accounted to be much greater than before, calling for many stripes. We do not know indeed, that the oppression of the Moabites was heavier than that of the Mesopotamian hordes. Probably there was not much to choose between them. But it was certainly much longer continued. Now it is 18 years of servitude, whereas formerly it was but eight years. In this respect, the scourge was much more severe, not only because the lash was longer applied, but also because God showed that His ear was more heavy to hear their prayer. It was also a deeper humiliation to be trodden upon by a people whom till now they had despised, from their birth onwards, and who had been accustomed for more than three generations to tremble at the name, and the mention of the God of Israel. “It must have been most mortifying to Israel to see Jericho, the very city which had been delivered into their hands by a miracle, now made a Moabite stronghold to guard the passes of Jordan, and to keep Israel down in lasting subjection. Now, too, their old enemies, Ammon and Amalek join against them. Their adversaries seem to flock together to crush them (Psalms 83:5-8). They would not serve the Lord with their corn, wine, and oil, which He had given them; so now they must serve the oppressor, and pay him tribute of all (Hosea 2:5-10; Deuteronomy 28:47-48.)”
As to their groanings under the yoke, the history is silent. These we can only imagine; but doubtless they implied a deep sense of degradation as well as suffering. This feature of passing over details in silence adds greatly to the sadness of the history of so many victims of oppression, in various countries of the world, in the terrible past. How much more miserable has this world been in its numerous wretched homes, than the world itself knows! What heavy clouds of sorrow have discharged their contents on these homes at various epochs, of which no record has been kept! Had that portion of the history of our race which has been left untold, been given in full on the printed page, in what red and dark colours must the pen have been dipped, suitably to pourtray the facts! How many heart-rending cries have gone up before high heaven, which no human ear has heard, from the wretched, down-trodden subjects of tyrannical and despotic rulers in the ages of the mournful past, not only among savage nations, but those also that are the so-called civilised! We need not conjecture what sufferings must have been endured but never told, under the iron hands of such incarnations of cruelty, as Jenghis Khan and Tamerlane, of Tartar notoriety, or the occupants of the throne of the great Mogul; but were the history of it written, what tales of misery might be given to the world from the prisons of Europe, the mines of Siberia, the slave-grounds of Africa and America, and the manifold homes of oppression and hardship in lands which have been ruled over by capricious and cruel monarchs! What cries of bleeding, tortured, mangled humanity have been raised which no ear of sympathy has ever listened to, save that of Him who “looks down from heaven to hear the groaning of the prisoners,” to mark the oppression of the poor, and the sighing of the needy, and who will appear in due time “to judge the world in righteousness, and the people with equity!”
4. He helps His enemies against His own people. “He strengthened Eglon against Israel,” etc. How He did so we are not informed, but in Providence He so ordered it that all Eglon’s schemes and efforts should succeed, while disastrous failure attended all the movements of Israel. On a former occasion, while the Lord was with His people, Balak had no power to curse them, or to lift a finger against them; but now Jehovah not only permits the heathen king to triumph, but Himself actually takes the side of the enemy against His own. How deep must have been the provocation given, when the Divine Father proceeds to take the part of a ruthless stranger, in the enslavement and degradation of His own son! It was even worse. It was giving up His wellbeloved child, whom He had so tenderly cared for all along, to be savagely beaten by a slave; while He, the Father, stands by, not to protect Him from chastisement, but rather to see that a sufficient number of stripes is given! This is the same God, who was always so ready to exalt the horn of Israel, in opposition, or in preference to, all others! How great the offence which He must have taken at Israel’s sins! Yet this mysterious dealing of the God of Jacob was really a blessing in disguise. Seeming to work against them, He was by this course all the more effectually working for them. He was casting the metal into the fire to get the dross consumed. He was thus opening their eyes, and leading them to see that things must be fearfully out of course, when their God deemed it necessary to join Himself to their enemies. It was God fulfilling, in part, the awful threatening which He had long ago made in the days of Moses (Leviticus 26:28), when He would walk contrary to them in like manner as they had walked contrary to Him. In short, it was lifting the veil of warning in time, to prevent the fearful issue of being for ever cast off.
III. New expressions of penitence (Judges 3:15).—“The children of Israel cried unto the Lord.”
1. In distress they flee to the universal refuge. As when a ship is overtaken by a great storm at sea, those who sail in it either cast anchor, or betake themselves to some accessible harbour of refuge, so these Israelites in their extremity fell back on the Divinely-established means of relief in prayer. Taught by a bitter experience that “the ways of transgressors are hard,” the unfaithful Church soliloquises in her bondage thus—“I will go and return to my first husband; for then it was better with me than now.” Prayer is indeed a refuge for all. It is the instinctive cry of the creature to Him who made it, when feeling its feebleness, its wants, its perils, above all its sins and their threatening consequences. “Should not a people seek unto their God?” “Is any afflicted? let him pray.”
Prayer is the cry of the heart in returning to its God. It is a refuge for all. “O thou that hearest prayer, to thee shall all flesh come” (Isaiah 56:7). While we are in the land of the living, we are in the place of hope, and on praying ground. While the gospel trumpet blows, prayer is never shut against the guilty during the day of human life. For all classes, mercy’s gate in prayer stands open—at all times, and under all circumstances. God is said to sit on a “throne of grace” to receive all the petitioners who come to Him. By whatever name miserable men are known, it is the privilege of all to come to this throne, before which a brother-man as mediator between God and man continually pleads.
As the “Creator” of all, God finds an interest in every living being. As the “Father of mercies,” He is “kind even to the evil and unthankful.” Rejoicing in the consciousness of His own fulness, He is naturally disposed to supply the wants of the needy. As being Himself the “ever-blessed God,” He finds pleasure in diffusing happiness among His creatures around Him. But it is a guilty world that He has before Him, and a special mode of approach is established. Christ as sacrifice and intercessor is the way. “Through Him we all have access by one Spirit, unto the Father.”
The voice which Christianity raises among the abodes of our suffering humanity, is one, not only of hope, but of assurance, that the God in whose hands we are, is disposed to listen to all the cries and plaints that come from distressed hearts. The notion of the ancient Epicureans, who represented the Deity as indolently reposing in His own high region of undisturbed happiness, careless of what might pass among men under His footstool, on whom He could hardly deign to look, has long since been exploded as a dream of the murky nights which brooded over men, ere yet the “Day-spring from on high” began to gleam on their dwellings of sorrow. Abortive, too, have proved the efforts of the men of cold intellect, during the past, and a portion of the present century, who would represent the Deity as dwelling apart from men amid the unapproachable splendours of His own heavens, having cut off every tie with His creatures, regarding their history as too insignificant to engage His attention, and their interests too unimportant to claim His aid. On the contrary, Christianity teaches that “The Lord looketh upon all the inhabitants of the earth, and considereth all their works; that He is good unto all and His tender mercies are over all His works; that the eyes of all wait on Him, He opens His hand and satisfies the desire of every living thing; that His eye is on the righteous, and His ear is open unto their prayer; that He is the helper of the fatherless, relieveth the widow, preserveth the strangers, and looseth the prisoners”—in one word, that He is “The preserver of all men specially of them that believe.” To this God all men are taught to pray, coming with penitent hearts, and asking, in the name of Christ, for such things as may be agreeable to His will.
2. They had a special plea with God as children of the Covenant. The plea which men had with God merely as His creatures, is lost on their becoming sinners. “For we know that God heareth not sinners.” He cannot continue to be the Father of apostate children. He cannot bless the guilty, till some great thing is done to dispose of their guilt. But this people were adopted by God into the relation of Father and children, on the ground of the covenant He had been pleased to establish with them; and thus though by nature “far off” from God, they were “made nigh.” The great promise, “I will be a God to thee,” went with them as a pillar of hope in all the steps of their wonderful history. And however often they might come with their requests to His throne, He was never weary of remembering the word of His covenant, and acting according to it in all the difficulties through which they had to pass. “I said not to the seed of Jacob, seek ye me in vain.”
3. Their temporary apostasy did not shut them out from the privilege of prayer. It might be said, that if men as God’s creatures, lost their title to call God Father because of their sins, for the same reason, these children of the covenant ought to be held as having lost all title to any of the blessings of the covenant. This would have been the case but for two reasons;
(1) They had a mediator to plead for them in their priesthood, and the continual sacrifices were laid on the altar, as the means of propitiating.
(2) Their apostasy was not allowed by their covenant God to become permanent. For if so, they must, in the nature of things, necessarily have forfeited every title they had to God’s favour and promised blessings, on the ground of their sacred relationship. That is, God must have cast them off. In these latter times the most solid and permanent security is taken that the privileges and blessings reserved for the people of God shall not be lost—prayer included. The rule which is laid down objectively reads thus: “If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the Righteous.” “We have a Great High Priest that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God: let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace,” etc. No case that is once fairly put into the hands of that advocate can be considered hopeless. For “He is able to save to the uttermost,” etc. And we have “boldness to enter into the holiest, by a new and living way, even by the blood of Jesus, which He hath consecrated for us,” etc. And there is provision made subjectively also. “I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you for ever.” What is the force of this but practically saying, on the one hand, if the Spirit is given, no other blessing can be withheld; and such arrangement is everlasting; while, on the other, it is doing the same thing as “putting God’s laws into the mind, and writing them in the heart,” so that the most effectual security is taken for the fulfilling of the condition of the covenant, and so it is established for evermore.
IV. New Deliverances experienced (Judges 3:15-30).—For an account of this we must read the narrative, and mark how providence overruled events so as to secure the complete emancipation of the people from their state of vassalage. The point to be noticed is, that the hand of the Lord specially directed the events to this issue.
1. This deliverance came in answer to prayer. Thus is it best seen, that all is “of Him, through Him, and to Him,” and so it is the mode most glorifying to God. It is the fixed rule—“Ask, and ye shall receive.” Acknowledge the Fountainhead. “When the children of Israel cried unto the Lord, He raised up a deliverer.” His compassion and tender mercy would prompt Him to save them at the mere spectacle of their misery, but to maintain His character as the Holy One of Israel, He grants deliverance only in answer to their professions of return to God, and suitable expressions of their sorrow for sin. Their professions in most cases might be only in appearance, and in only a few cases might there be “that godly sorrow for sin which needeth not to be repented of.” The majority of the people may only have done what they did in Hosea’s days—“howled to God on their beds,” without crying to Him with their hearts (Hosea 7:14). Yet God is pleased to see even the appearance of penitence, and in cases where temporal blessings are concerned, He often gives these though there should be nothing more than the appearance (1 Kings 21:27-29). There is however, in every age “a remnant”—“the living in Jerusalem”—“the Israelites indeed”—“the tenth”—who “follow the Lord fully,” and whose “hearts are circumcised.” These would now act the part of Ezra (Ezra 9:6), or of David (Psalms 51:17).
2. It was brought about by a suitable instrument. God Himself made the selection. “He raised him up.” As a particular description is given of him, the features of that description must he held to indicate the reason of his fitness to serve as an instrument for accomplishing the Divine purpose. It was a man who wanted the natural use of his right hand, and had only left to him the effective use of his left. He seems likely to have been among the last who could do any great thing by his own power. And his fitness seems to have consisted rather in his defects, than in his powers. God at one time chooses one that is specially gifted, at another one that is defective, to show that He can do his work with any kind of instrument. For while a man’s natural gifts are not despised, but made use of so far as they can be of service, it is not so much by these that he succeeds in discharging his mission, as by the special aid given him by the Spirit of God. “Not by might, nor by power,” etc.
The manner of the Deliverance. We believe the manner of accomplishment, as well as the end to be gained, were matter of Divine direction to Ehud. He was commissioned to deliver Israel from Moabitish bondage. This was to be accomplished.
(1) By the death of the King. The oppressor was marked to die. Eglon had served God’s purpose in being a rod wherewith to chastise His children, and now that the purpose is served, there being no further need for it, He casts it into the fire. [Trapp]. How many illustrations of this kind occur throughout history! All the nations round about the ancient Israel so suffered in the end, because of the injuries or indignities they inflicted on the people of God. How many examples might be found among the kingdoms or powers of Europe during the Christian era, who once persecuted the church of God, and have had troubles and degradation in their future history. For it is specially to be noticed that whilst a valuable purpose was served by the chastisement of the backsliding church, that was as far as possible away from the intention of these persecuting powers. Their only thought was partly to gratify their malice against a religion which they intensely hated, and so they strove to put it down; and partly to extend their own power and possessions. To do this at the expense of the interests of the church of God, was to offer an insult and defiance to Him to whom the church belonged.
Eglon’s sins, therefore, were not merely, that he had acted the part of a public robber, in seizing the property which belonged to another nation, and that as a tyrant and oppressor he had for a great length of time filled the homes of that nation with misery and wailing. But he had dared to stretch forth his hand against the Lord’s anointed—a sin which even David shrunk from after he had himself been anointed, and when the object was the wicked Saul, whom the Lord had now rejected, from being king. Because this monarch had been chosen to the sacred office of being king over God’s people, and so had the Divine seal set upon him in that office, David preferred to risk his own life rather than do harm to one whose person had thus become consecrated. It was therefore a grave crime of which Eglon had been guilty, for Israel had been thus consecrated, and so were regarded by their God as sacred property. Their name He had associated in the most intimate manner with His own great name. By them, and their history, was His name known on the earth. In attacking such a people, Eglon was virtually making war upon Jehovah Himself! A worm of the dust was defying the Omnipotent at arms! God’s jewels he had been appropriating to himself, and treating them as if they were the merest dross! Eglon, though himself an alien, had dared for so long a time to treat God’s dear children as if they had been the veriest slaves! This was the same people before whose march God had dried up the sea, and rolled back Jordan when in full flood; for whose &c in the desert, for He had caused the rock to gush forth streams, and the heavens above to rain down manna; before whom every nation in Canaan, from the one end to the other, had been either annihilated or paralysed, and who still lay under the shelter of the same Almighty arm.
Now the time was come for delivering Israel, and at the same hour, Eglon’s sins come into remembrance before God, not having been repented of, nor a pardon given. Hence the sentence goes forth that the oppressor of God’s Israel must die, and His ransomed ones be set free from the yoke, while Ehud is the man appointed to execute the work.
(2.) Special qualifications were given to the instrument chosen.
(a.) We hold it to be a rule, that in all cases where God sends a man on a special mission, He both qualifies and directs him more or less in the discharge of the duties of that mission. Many have felt a difficulty in supposing that God had given instructions to Ehud in the present case, because there seems to be a cold-blooded and deliberate murder committed, with circumstances of treachery and lying accompanying it. But we have already seen, that before God, Eglon’s death was not regarded as murder, or the unlawful taking away of life, but a just retribution on a daring criminal, under the Divine government, for his great sins, at a point when the time had come for the emancipation of his vassals, and for the infliction of his own doom as their oppressor.
(b.) Objection. As to the charge of duplicity and deceit, our judgment must be guided by the interpretation we put on the narrative itself. To us the main features of the story are consistent with perfect honesty of purpose and truthfulness of statement. His principal statements are, “I have a secret errand unto thee, O King,” and “I have a message from God unto thee.” It has been generally supposed, that by this he meant some statement which he was to make in words, which was used as a mere blind to gain for him admission into the royal presence, and also to deceive the king and throw him off his guard. But why make any such supposition? We believe Ehud sincerely meant what he said. He had a message from God to deliver, but it was one of deeds not words. He meant to say, “I have come with a message from that God against whom you have so dreadfully sinned, whose name you have blasphemed, whose people you have trampled on, and whose power you have defied; and that message is, that your hour is come, and you are doomed by my hand to die! There is no strain in this interpretation; it seems most natural, and yet it vindicates the uprightness of Ehud throughout the transaction. That Eglon put another interpretation on the words is beside the question. He was already a doomed man before Ehud’s visit, and had no right to any mercy shown. Already he had had a long day of mercy, and the last moment had now expired. From Ehud’s words he was given distinctly to understand whence and why the blow came that stretched him a corpse at his feet.
(c.) On Ehud rested the spirit of loyalty to his God. He was specially called by God to be the saviour of his people, who formed at that time the only church of God in the world. Like as God said to Saul, “Go and smite Amalek, and spare them not; slay man and woman, infant and suckling,” or like as Joshua was commanded concerning the Canaanites and other nations, “thou shalt utterly destroy them, thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth.” So now Ehud received the command, “Go and slay Eglon, the oppressor of my people, and spare him not.” It was a very stern duty that was imposed upon him, both very revolting in itself, and involving the greatest risks to his personal safety. It was, we believe, the last thing which he would have chosen to do, if it had been left to himself to decide. But believing that all God’s commands were in truth and uprightness, he went forward in Joshua-like spirit at the call of duty. It was, indeed, not a duty of so bewildering a character as that imposed on Abraham, when required to offer up his only son as a burnt offering, yet it was a severe test of his loyalty to his God, and his staunchness to the call of duty.
(d.) He had the spirit of self-sacrifice for the cause of God on earth. He had to discharge this duty alone. “Of the people there was none with him.” He dismissed all that accompanied him on his first visit to the king. He kept the secret locked up in his own bosom. He prepared the instrument of death unknown to others; and every step of the omnious journey was undertaken alone. Other “judges” were commanded to raise an army, generally one far inferior in number and equipment to the force of the enemy. But in such a case there is something, however little it might be, to sustain natural courage. But here there is nothing. Only such is the will of his God; and the end to be gained is the liberation of his country, and, what was to him more important still, the preservation of the Church of God on the earth. And for that he risks all. Since not only the well-being, but the very existence, of the cause of God on the earth depended on his going through with the perilous duty entrusted to him, he takes his life in his hand; and without a murmur proceeds to discharge it. He stood the test of zeal for the holy cause in which he was embarked.
(e.) He had the spirit of great boldness and courage. Many such cases stand out in history, such as that of the Roman Seæva, a soldier of Cæsar’s, who at the siege of Dyrrachium alone resisted Pompey’s army until he had two hundred and twenty darts sticking in his shield. It was said of the great Caesar that he always said to his soldiers, “Come,” never “Go”—meaning that he himself ever went first. It was also said of Hannibal, the Carthagenian general, that he was always first in the battle and the last out. Truly heroic courage was displayed also by the Swiss Tell, and the Scottish Wallace, and many other great patriots. But in the courage and boldness displayed by these “judges,” there was a higher than the natural element. They went forward in a state of absolute fearlessness, conscious that Omnipotence itself was with them, that all obstacles must give way before them, and that success would attend their action with the certainty of a law of nature. Thus moral considerations were at the root of their courage.
(f.) He had the spirit of strong faith. He believed that God would, by his hand, work a great deliverance; both because he believed that He had such complete control of all events and issues, that He could in any circumstances open a way of escape, and also because he had the conviction that God was with him, and would not fail him. Over all his other armour, this warrior threw “the shield of faith,” and so became not only mighty, but invincible. This accounts for all his high qualities, and for his noble bearing throughout the whole occasion. It was by his faith that he obtained a good report. His allegiance to his God, his spirit of self sacrifice for the cause of God, his courage, coolness, zeal, and fearlessness all arise from his strong faith.
When he left his companions and returned alone, the thought which he carried in his heart was the terrible one of taking a life, and that in cold blood. It was too the life of a king surrounded by all the attendants of his household, and chosen troops within easy call. It was a king too who had long been able to crush Ehud’s people. It was to be done in open day and in the very heart of the palace. He knew that if he should make the attempt and not succeed, his own life was certain to be forfeited, and that he would die a very cruel death. He was single handed in the project; he had no backing; nor any place of shelter to flee to. The deed itself was of the most tragic character, and in all but universal estimation, would be reckoned infamous. Even if successful it was fitted to mark his name with a stigma to future ages. Yet he is calm, intrepid, and decided. There is no hesitation, no flurry, not a doubt as to what he should do—not a trace of blanching seen in his countenance, nor a moment’s misgiving felt in his heart. He is in no hurry, neither before nor after, nor does he show the slightest discomposure in any of the steps taken. How do we account for this demeanour? Was it merely natural courage? Was he a fanatic, or a desperado? Was he nothing more than a patriot in the usual sense of the term? Did he hold human life so cheap, and regard it so legitimate a thing to get rid of tyrants, that he was reckless what means might be used if only the end could be accomplished?
We do not so interpret the character. Ehud, we believe, acted as a man who felt he had received a sacred commission from Jehovah to execute judgment, not on a fellow man merely, or on a wicked man, but on one who held the church of God bound down under oppression, and whom it was necessary to get rid of, now that the hour was come for setting the captive free.
(3.) The Providence of God co-operates in bringing out the issue. Ehud found remarkable facility in carrying out every step of the process. He might have said, “I came; I saw; I conquered.” Not an obstacle remained standing in the way. We hear of no demurring on the part of his companions, that he should return to the city of palm-trees, nor does any suspicion seem to have been awakened among the enemy by his return visit. He had already secured favour at court by the presentation of his handsome gift. The effect of his statement that he had a secret errand to the king (the nature of which he was not bound to explain), was that admission was at once granted to the royal presence, for still there was no suspicion. Nor in Eglon’s own mind was there any apprehension of danger, for he gave the signal for their being left alone together. The other circumstances—his never supposing that Ehud came as an enemy, his rising up to meet him, and his not calling aloud for help—all seemed arranged for the successful execution of the project. Ehud’s firmness of nerve and coolness of manner, his locking the door of the summer-parlour and abstracting the key, his going down by the privy stairs into the porch, and calmly passing through such of the attendants as might be there, while no suspicion of anything wrong having been done was excited, seemed all to be providentially arranged. And still more striking was the fact, of the attendants waiting so long, before they entertained the thought that something wrong had occurred. Every minute of time during which they waited was most precious to Ehud, for it allowed him to get clear away, not only beyond the boundary stones, but also to escape as far as Mount Ephraim, before any arrangements could be made for pursuit.
Farther, the fact that no pursuit was made, and that the Moabites were paralysed from taking any kind of energetic action by the death of their king, specially favoured the success of the scheme. All this was crowned by the activity which was awakened on the other hand in Israel, the spirit of enthusiasm which in a moment took possession of all classes, and the vigour with which they threw themselves on the astonished Moabites, ere they had time to recover from their consternation. In all these items there was not a single interruption to what might be called Ehud’s good fortune, or as we interpret it, not a single break in the chain of favouring providential circumstances. Had there been only two or three particulars propitious, success might either have not come at all, or have been greatly delayed, and so the hand of God might not have been distinctly traceable in the occurrences. But when so many circumstances hang all together in a chain, and several of them were less likely to have happened than their opposites, while yet every one of them directly favoured the result that was sought, we cannot resist the conviction that all was arranged by the Ruler of Providence to effect the emancipation of his chosen people.
COMMENTS AND SUGGESTIONS.—Judges 3:12-30
What constitutes a message from God to any man? Any intimation of His will made, either directly to a single individual alone, or generally to a number of persons together, with individual application to each. It may be made:—
(1.) By words, written or spoken.
(2.) By Providential events or dealings.
(3.) By the workings of conscience, or impressions made on the mind consistently with right reason, or it may be in other ways still. Scripture throughout is generally a Book full of messages from God to each individual reader.
I. God’s messages are of different kinds.
That at now sent from God to Eglon by the hand of Ehud was of a very special character. It was determined altogether by Eglon’s relations to the people with whom God’s name was intimately associated, and under whose special protection they were. It was one, therefore, of an awful character, corresponding with these two facts, that he had dared to stretch out his hand to crush God’s church on earth, and he had dared to blaspheme the name of the Holy One of Israel. Hence, it was a message of doom. But messages addressed to men generally are of all different kinds. In God’s word there are messages of:—
1. Reconciliation. Sometimes an individual man is addressed, as in the case of Nicodemus, Zaccheus, or the jailor of Philippi. More frequently men in masses are addressed with a strict application to each distinctly understood. But either way, this message which is sent to all, is the most important of all messages, and gives colour to all. Nothing can be more important for guilty men than to hear that God is willing to receive them back again into His favour, and has actually provided means complete and effectual for their being so received; and that now He calls them, commands them, and pleads with them to become reconciled to Him. The sentiment of 2 Corinthians 5:18-21, is not only paralleled by many passages, but is the general drift of God’s addresses to men every where in Scripture.
2. Repentance. This is a message which God sends to every man in connection with the message of reconciliation, Matthew 3:2; Matthew 4:17; Luke 13:3; Luke 13:5; Acts 17:30; Acts 20:21; Acts 2:38; Isaiah 1:16-18; Ezekiel 18:31-32; also Daniel 4:27; Jeremiah 3:12-14; Psalms 95:8; Joel 2:12-13, etc., etc.
3. Faith. That every man all the world over should believe in Christ—is God’s message in chief to every reader of the Bible, and every hearer of the preached Gospel. Compliance with that message carries with it compliance with all others. Hence we find this message put in the fore ground in every part of God’s word—for the most part addressed to men generally with an individual application, as John 6:29; John 5:24; John 3:16-18; John 3:36; 1 John 5:11-12. And this call to believe which is so often made is always accompanied by the assurance that pardon of sins, peace with God, and the gift of eternal life shall follow the true exercise of faith, John 6:47; Mark 16:16; Romans 5:1; Romans 10:4; Romans 3:25-26.
4. Life and Salvation. These appear in many forms, but are all messages from God, properly so called to mankind sinners as such. These are offers of pardon, peace, and every blessing through Christ; invitations to come to Christ; calls to accept of Christ as a Saviour; promises to give every blessing from first to last, which the blood of Christ has procured; entreaties to accept what is put within our reach; expostulations employed to overcome men’s backwardness, or reluctance; and threatenings made use of when other means fail, so that men may be appealed to on every side of their nature.
5. Gospel privileges. Such as:—
(1.) Access to God, in prayer and otherwise; as Hebrews 4:14-16; Hebrews 10:19-22; Ephesians 2:18., etc., etc.
(2.) Acceptance with God. This, along with pardon, constitutes justification before God, as in Romans 5:1; Romans 3:24; Galatians 2:16, etc.
(3.) Peace of conscience. Romans 8:1; Romans 8:6; Philippians 4:6-7; Psalms 119:165, etc.
(4.) Adoption. All who receive Christ to become theirs are greatly raised in rank, and cannot be regarded as less than sons. Hence, John 1:12; Galatians 4:4-5, etc.
(5.) lndwelling of the Holy Spirit. Galatians 4:6; Romans 8:9; Romans 8:16-17; 1 Corinthians 6:19; Galatians 5:25; Ephesians 5:18, etc.
(6.) Fruits and witnessing of the Spirit, such as love, hope, joy, gentleness, humility, etc. See Galatians 5:22-23; Romans 8:16; 1 John 4:7-8; Romans 5:2; Romans 5:5; Romans 8:24; Romans 15:13; Philippians 4:4; 1 Corinthians 13:4-7; 2 Timothy 2:24; 1 Peter 5:5.
(7.) Guidance. Psalms 32:8; Psalms 73:24; Psalms 107:6-7; Proverbs 2:1-5; Psalms 37:5; Proverbs 4:13-15; Acts 16:6-7; Acts 16:9-10, etc.
(8.) Support and protection. Psalms 37:3-4; Psalms 34:9-10; Psalms 23:1-2; Psalms 23:5; Psalms 55:22; Psalms 91:0; Exodus 19:4; Deuteronomy 33:27-29.
6. Special tokens of Divine favour. Given to David in 2 Samuel 7:0; to Abraham in Genesis 22:15-18; to Jacob in Genesis 28:10-22, and in Genesis 32:28, also Revelation 3:5; Revelation 3:10, etc.
7. Deliverances. Message to Hezekiah in 2 Kings 19:28; 2 Kings 19:32-36; Isaiah 10:24-34; chariots, of fire round about Elisha, 2 Kings 6:15-17; to Joram, 2 Kings 7:1, etc.; to Joram and other two kings, 2 Kings 3:17-18; to Joash, King of Israel, 2 Kings 13:17, etc.; to Ahab, 1 Kings 18:44, Exodus 3:7-10; to Jehoshaphat, 2 Chronicles 20:15, etc.
8. Messages of warning and threatening to the false prophet, Jeremiah 28:16-17; to Hezekiah, Isaiah 38:1-5; to Pharaoh, Genesis 41:1-8; Genesis 41:25-36; to Eli, 1 Samuel 3:11-14; to house of Israel, Hosea 2:6-7; 2 Kings 8:11-13; to Ahaziah, 2 Kings 1:16; also adverse providences, such as sickness, bereavements, defeating of schemes, losses—each and all of which have a voice of reproof, warning or threatening.
9. Calls to Duty,—to Saul of Tarsus; Acts 9:15-16; Acts 22:21; Acts 13:2; to Joshua, Judges 1:1-9; to the different Judges; to smite Midian, Numbers 31:1-4; to anoint a king, 1 Samuel 8:7-9; 1 Samuel 8:22; to build a temple, 1 Chronicles 22:7-11; to build it after captivity, Ezra 1:1-4; many exhortations to duties.
10. Commands. Messages from Moses to Pharaoh, from Exodus 4:21-23 to Exodus 11:8; all the Decalogue in Exodus 20:3-17; the laws and ordinances given through Moses; all the commands or messages given by the prophets, priests, or kings; many special commands given at different times.
11. Encouragement to Israel at Red Sea, Exodus 14:15-16; the name of Israel’s God, Exodus 34:6-7; Ebenezer, 1 Samuel 7:12; comfort, Isaiah 40:1-2; Isaiah 61:3-11; chaps. 60, 62; to Solomon in 1 Kings 9:2-9; by Haggai, Haggai 2:1-9; Isaiah 41:10; also Psalms 34:8-9; Psalms passim. Hosea 14:4, calls, to trust, wait, hope, be glad, fear, be grateful, be strong, etc. in Psalms.
12. Doom. Eglon as here; Cain Genesis 4:12; Genesis 4:15; Belshazzar, Daniel 5:0; Pharaoh and Egyptians, Exodus 11:4-8; Exodus 14:13-31, Antediluvians, Genesis 6:13; Ahab, 1 Kings 21:21-24; also 1 Kings 22:28-37; Proverbs 1:24-31; Proverbs 14:32; Herod, Acts 12:21-23.
II. Every man has Divine messages sent to him personally. In the Gospel, in the ordinary Providence of God, and in the workings of His own conscience every man has messages sent to him. Thus Herod’s conscience was set to work when he heard of the works done by Jesus. “It is John! it is John!” That good man’s blood was on his hands; and every moment he feared some messenger of judgment would visit him from the other world. Mark 6:16. Thus too did Joseph’s brethren feel as to the past. Genesis 42:21-22.
(1.) God individualises every man. None are passed over, sooner or later every man hears a voice saying to him, “I have a message from God unto thee.” None are lost in the crowd. “Some one hath touched me” said the Saviour, when the multitude thronged around Him. He knew all about every individual that was there; and all over the land where He went, He knew about every case without being told. He knew every individual person on land, as he knew about every individual fish in the sea—where he was, what he was, the life he was leading, and the state of his heart as to receiving or rejecting Christ. He knew Zaccheus—his person, name, character, wants, wishes—all about him, though for the first time He met him on that day when He passed through Jericho. And he addressed him accurately. So does He with all—no inaccurate messages. In God’s vast universe there is not an object great, or small but He knows in its place.
(2.) The wise thing for every man is to act as if he were the only person dealt with. As the Judge dealt with the first culprit, so does He deal still with all culprits. “Adam! where art thou?” every man should count on having his conduct as narrowly scanned, and his purposes and motives as fully known, as if he were the only subject of God’s moral government in the world. We are expressly told that at the final reckoning, “every one of us shall give an account of himself unto God.” It follows that every one now must regard the great message of salvation as sent to him personally, the same as if he were the only person addressed. Men may be addressed in masses, but they are saved only as individuals. Multitudes came around the Saviour, and He spake to them all together, yet the good experienced by each individual hearer depended entirely on how he heard for himself. Of the thousands that were sometimes present, every individual felt that the message was for him equally as if he had formed the sole auditor—the eye of the Master was upon his heart, and the finger of the Speaker was pointed to him, saying, “Thou art the man!” And on the solemn day of account, every hearer will be singled out and dealt with by the judge as if he were the only person placed at the bar.
(3.) The messages are framed so as to have always an individual application. “Ho! every one that thirsteth;” “come ye—he that hath no money, come;” “incline your ear and come;” “hear (thou) and your soul shall live;” “if any man thirst let him come to Me,” etc.; “if any man hear My voice and open the door, I will come in to him,” etc.; “him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out;” believe (thou) in the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved;” “he that believeth shall be saved,” etc.; “whosoever will, let him take,” etc.
III. God’s messages are always to be reverently received. What Mary said to the servants at the marriage is still said to all who have the privilege of hearing Christ’s voice—“Whatsoever He saith unto you, do it.” “Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” This was the final conclusion to which the wise man was brought in all his meditations. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; a good understanding have all they that keep His commandments.” All God’s messages are “holy, just, and good,” most reasonable and wise, never against but always for our interests. And a solemn caution is given respecting the manner in which God’s messages should be received. “If thou be wise, thou shalt be wise for thyself; but if thou scornest, thou alone shalt bear it.” Every message from the officer must be obeyed implicitly by the soldier, otherwise the battle cannot be won; and he would be treated as a deserter from duty if he did not yield such obedience. The farmer must obey the messages he receives from God, in the laws of nature, if he would reap a harvest in due season. The child must obey the messages, or rules for his guidance, which his father laysdown for him, all through his early life, if he would receive in the long run the great promise anrexed to the Fifth Commandment. To “hearken to God’s voice” in all His messages was the one thing indispensable to securing His favour in the former dispensation. And to hearken to the messages of life and salvation sent to men over the blood of His Son, is the one condition of enjoying all the blessings set forth under the new and better covenant.
IV. It is dangerous to turn a deaf ear to God’s messages (Proverbs 29:1). When Pharaoh would not listen to God’s messages though warned by one plague after another, he was at last visited by the death of his first born; and when after a pause, he would not listen even to that, he was drowned and all his host in the waters of the Red Sea! When the Israelites in their wanderings would not believe in God’s course of leading them, but complained of every new trial they met with, He at last condemned them to wander in the desert for life, so that they never reached the promised rest (Psalms 95:10-11). When Eli did not set forth with sufficient reprobation the evil conduct of his sons in the priests’ office, but allowed them to remain in the priesthood, notwithstanding their grievous sins, God punished both father and sons, by the terrible death which befell the latter in one day (1 Samuel 2:26-34; 1 Samuel 4:17). When Saul disobeyed repeatedly the commandment of the Lord by-and-bye “the Spirit of the Lord departed from him, and an evil spirit from the Lord troubled him” (1 Samuel 16:14). This ended in his going to a sorceress for comfort, and finally finding a tragic death in the battle-field (chap. 31). The curse of barrenness in Ahab’s days came because of the wide-spread idolatries in the land, and the refusal of both king and people to hear the Divine messages sent to them (1 Kings 18:18). For a like reason destruction came on Ahab’s house (Judges 21:20-23). (See also 2 Chronicles 25:16; 2 Chronicles 33:10-11), and on the kingdom of Israel first, and then of Judah, for their long-continued idolatries (2 Kings 17:5-18; 2 Chronicles 36:15-17; Jeremiah 25:3-11). Destruction of Jerusalem (Luke 19:41-44).
V. Messages of good to the righteous, and of evil to the wicked often come together. The message of a son at last to be born to Abraham, and so the first step taken to fulfil the great promises made to him, came the same day and by the same hands as the message that the hour of Sodom’s doom was at last come (Genesis 18:10, with Judges 3:20-23). Here, the message of doom to Eglon was also a message of liberty to his captives. Ehud was a death-bearer to the one, but a “Saviour” to the other. The death of the first-born meant deliverance to the bond-men, see also Isaiah 10:5-19, with Judges 3:20-21.
The condemnation of unbelievers always goes with the message of pardon and eternal life to those who believe. The future lot of the righteous and that of the wicked are also set side by side in parallel columns on the page of Scripture, Isaiah 3:10-11; Matthew 13:41-42, with Matthew 13:43; Matthew 25:34, Matthew 25:41, also Matthew 25:46. Here Judges 5:20 with Judges 5:28. See Psalms 37:18-19 with Judges 20:9-10 with Judges 11:34-36 with Judges 11:37.
VI. God sends messages of mercy before He sends messages of judgment. He would prevent the necessity of sending the latter by sending the former first. When Moses gave the final messages of his God to the people, he narrates first the blessings which shall come on the people, if they should obey, and afterwards denounces the curses which shall come on them on their disobedience, (Deuteronomy 28:1-14, with Judges 3:15-31; comp. Leviticus 26:3-13, with Judges 3:14-31). In the Gospel dispensation, God uniformly sends messages of peace and reconciliation to all classes of sinners in the first instance, calling on them to repent and believe, and assuring them that if they do so, the thunder cloud will pass away—but adding that if they refuse “the wrath of God shall abide upon them.” The present is “the day of merciful visitation “to every man; but at death comes the message of judgment to all the impenitent (Acts 17:30-31; Revelation 21:6-7, with 8; and N. T. passim).
VII. It is our duty and our wisdom to be always ready to receive the Lord’s messages. Most men are not ready when the message comes, Luke 17:27-30; Luke 12:20; Luke 16:19, with Luke 16:23; Matthew 25:5; 1 Thessalonians 5:3; 1 Kings 22:26-27, with 1 Kings 22:34-37; Proverbs 14:32; Matthew 7:13; 2 Samuel 18:9.
Some are ready, Luke 2:29-30; 2 Timothy 4:6-8; Acts 7:59-60; Hebrews 11:13-16; 2 Corinthians 5:2; 2 Corinthians 5:9; 2 Samuel 15:26; 2 Samuel 23:5; 1 Samuel 3:18.
HARD TESTS OF LOYALTY
I. Fidelity to God’s cause costs much. If a man would be faithful to God in standing up for the cause of righteousness in a world of sin, he must be ready to sacrifice flesh and blood. Christ lays it down as a rule, that we must “bear a cross,” if we would follow after him. He even goes the length of saying—“If a man come to me, and hate not father and mother, yea and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple” These judges had, each of them to take his life in his hand, in proving his fidelity to his God. Most of them were at the head of armies in the field, yet these armies were small in comparison with the force of the enemy; and all hope of victory according to mere natural calculation was taken away. But Ehud’s case was one that required a greater sacrifice still. He had to do the work of an army all alone; and in this respect bore some analogy to the case of Samson. The work assigned him was to emancipate the church by putting to death the persecutor. The duty was a stern one. It was most revolting in itself—a savage and cruel act, having all the appearance of murder—the murder too of a king, without the least warning, in the midst of his guards and the entire responsibility rested on him alone. But the victim was the oppressor of God’s church, and Ehud’s eye must not spare. The question was how far would he go in loyalty to God’s command, and for the good of God’s church. Would he go through the most disagreeable, revolting and dangerous duty without flinching, when it became a question of duty to his God?
II. Examples from Scripture.
(1.) The case of the Levites. When Moses called on them to go from gate to gate of the camp, and slay every man, his brother, his companion, his neighbour, and even his children, who had been guilty of the capital crime of idolatry. The test was stern; but they stood it, and in proof of their loyalty to their God no less than 3000 perished in this way. A greater sacrifice of their feelings they could not make. Hence they are honoured ever afterwards, and rewarded with the Divine blessing, Deuteronomy 33:9, with Exodus 32:26-28.
(2.) The case of Abraham and his son. Genesis 22:1-3; Genesis 22:10.
(3.) The case of Aaron making no mourning for his sons. Leviticus 10:1-7.
(4.) The case of Phinehas. Numbers 25:6-13.
(5.) The case of Abraham yielding up the richest soil to Lot, rather than have any quarrel; for the Canaanite was still in the land, and strife was a reproach to religion. Genesis 13:9.
(6.) The case of those who acquiesce in the destruction of all that are disloyal to the Saviour. 1 Corinthians 16:22; Revelation 19:3; Luke 16:24-31.
III. General examples.
(1.) At a critical moment in the battle of Waterloo, when everything depended on the steadiness of the soldiery, the iron Duke himself rode up to one of the bravest regiments in the British army, to encourage them in the perilous position which they occupied. It was in the heat of the fight, when the bullets were flying thick as hail. Many had fallen, and many were falling. The men were most anxious to be allowed to meet the enemy with the bayonet. And when they saw their commander so near, the cry went up, “Let us at ’em, my lord! let us at ’em!” “Not yet, my brave men” was the reply; “but you shall have at ’em soon! Stand firm—stand firm!” “Enough my lord!” was the rejoinder, “We stand here till the last man falls!” Severe was the test of loyalty, and nobly did these heroes stand the test.
(2.) Memento of fidelity. That fatal day on which Vesuvius, at whose feet Pompeii stood, burst out into an eruption that shook the earth, a sentinel kept watch by the gate which looked to the burning mountain, and amidst the fearful disorder the sentinel had been forgotten; as it was the stern rule, that happen what might, the sentinels must hold their posts till relieved, he had to choose between death and dishonour. He resolved to stand by his post. Slowly but surely the ashes rise on his manly form; now they reach his breast; and now, covering his lips they choke his breathing. He was faithful to his soldier’s duty unto death. After nearly eighteen centuries, they found his skeleton standing erect in a marble niche, clad in its rusty armour, the helmet on his empty skull, and his bony fingers still closed upon spear.
(3.) An incident of the Seikh war. (1846). At the celebrated battle of Ferozeshahr, when the English Empire in India hung by a thread, an incident is related by one who was present on the field, which forcibly illustrates the stedfastness and loyalty of the British troops under severely trying circumstances. The battle had been raging throughout the day. A deadly storm of lead and iron, consisting of round shot, shells, grape and musketry had been playing on the small British army throughout the day, while mines also were sprung under their feet. Not a man had tasted food, that day, nor had had a drop of water to cool his parched lips. A fearful night followed. The enemy kept firing on incessantly. The glare of the burning camp, the explosion of mines, shells, and ammunition wagons, mixed with the wild cries of the enemy, the huzzas of our men, and the groans of the wounded and dying—the trampling of men and horses, and the continual plunging of the shot among us, altogether formed a scene of terrific and awful grandeur which it is impossible to describe.
Many a gallant fellow was lying in those silent squares, bleeding to death, yet not a murmur was heard. Among other cases, a man of a cowardly spirit was struck with a grape-shot in the shoulder, receiving a flesh wound. The foolish fellow wished to get out of the square, and would not be quiet, but kept on telling everyone he was wounded, as if his wound was of more consequence than that of anybody else. Being refused by a Sergeant of his company, he went to his Colour-Sergeant, saying, “Sir! I am badly wounded; let me go out of the square, that I may get a surgeon.” The reply was, “Lie down where you are, sir!—look at me,” lifting up his leg without a foot! But he was determined to gain his point, and came to a Lieutenant, who commanded his company, and was lying near me, saying, “O, sir! I wish you would give orders to let me out of the square—I am wounded.” “So am I,” coolly answered the Lieutenant, at the same time lifting up his left arm, which hung shattered by his side. Though he was so near me, I knew not till then that he was hurt.
The man still persisted, and went to a higher officer with the same request, who replied, “I too am wounded as well as you.” Still he persevered, and came now to the Colonel commanding the regiment, who was still on horseback. He was only two yards distant from me. “Sir!” the man cried, “I am wounded.” “Oh! you are wounded, are you?” said the Colonel. “And so am I!” I then perceived that he was wounded just below the knee, and the blood having filled his boot, was trickling from the heel to the ground! The Assistant Sergeant-Major was watching the man, and being annoyed at the disturbance he was causing, determined to stop it. He ran and seized him, and was about to give him a severe reprimand. But just at that instant, a large cannon-ball carried away both his head and that of the cowardly complainer at the same moment—so killing both! What a severe test to the loyalty of those noble troops!
PERIOD OF REST.—Judges 3:30-31
30. The land had rest fourscore years.] This must mean the whole country, and not merely the tribes of Benjamin, Judah, and Ephraim. The fourscore years would date from the deliverance by Ehud till the oppression by Jabin. During some part of that long course, Ehud died; and it may have been a considerable time after his death that the invasion by Jabin commenced. The mention of Ehud’s name in Judges 4:1 does not mean that Ehud had just died, open sin again began, and the scourge by that northern power was sent—all simultaneously. But the case stood thus: Ehud, while he lived, was a check on the open exhibition of idolatry, which all the time had been more or less secretly cherished in the hearts of most of the people. On his death, the obstruction being removed, the tide again began to flow, and gradually reached high-water mark. But then there was no Ehud to roll it back. Therefore the Divine judgments again fell, on the land. This may have been a considerable time after Ehud was dead.
It is instructive to notice, what a beneficent influence for good a single righteous man at the helm of power, may exercise in giving a tone to the character of his people and his age. If he is but faithful to his trust, and skilful at the helm, he may, under the Divine blessing, steer the vessel safely through all the mountain waves that threaten to engulph her, and in due time bring her into a smooth sea, with canvas spread to a favouring breeze, giving promise of a prosperous voyage and a rich harvest of results to all concerned. On this topic we do not now dwell, as it will come under review again. But meanwhile it speaks much for Ehud, that he was so much missed after he was gone. This is one of the best testimonies a man can have—that when he is gone things go wrong, and it is hard to get one to fill his place.
After him was Shamgar, the son of Anath.] Not after his example [Cassel], meaning, in like manner as Shamgar did so did Shamgar. Nor yet does it imply, that after Ehud was dead, Shamgar came as his successor. But the next deliverance in the series was that wrought through the instrumentality of Shamgar. Some suppose that this exploit of Shamgar took place during Ehud’s time, at some part of the period of the eighty years. [Jewish Expositors generally, Cassel, etc.] This is most unlikely, both because Ehud while alive acted as the protector of the land, and also because the times of Shamgar were times of great oppression (Judges 5:6), which was not true of Ehud’s time. It is indeed all but certain that Ehud was dead, and that another time of oppression had come on the land, when there was no Ehud to stand in the gap. The people were again going on sinning, and God was again beginning to smite them with the rod—Jabin in the north, and the Philistines in the south. Anath, some suppose to be the same with Anathoth, which was a sacerdotal city of the tribe of Benjamin, a few miles to the north of Jerusalem, and the birthplace afterwards of the prophet Jeremiah.
Slew of the Philistines six hundred men with an ox goad.] The Septuagint uses the word ἀροτροπούς, or the plough handle—that part which the ploughman holds in his hand, and with which he guides the plough. But the Targum version seems more correct, viz., the “prick” against which the oxen “kicked” when struck with it—the ox-goad proper. Jamieson says “this implement was eight feet long, and about six inches in circumference. It is armed at the lesser end with a sharp prong for driving the cattle, and on the other with a small iron paddle for removing the clay which encumbers the plough in working. Such an instrument, wielded by a strong arm, would do no mean execution. He may, however, have been only the leader of a band of peasants, who, by means of such implements of labour (and in particular the ox-goads), as they could lay hold of at the moment, achieved this heroic exploit.”
The Greeks called it βουπληξ. With such an instrument, king Lycurgus is said to have attacked the wandering Bacchus and his followers. In like manner Camillus and Curius went from the plough to save Rome from the Gauls. A tradition in Holstein says, that in the Swedish time a peasant armed with a pole put to flight a multitude of Swedes, who had entered his house and threatened to burn it.
He also delivered Israel.] There is something peculiar in the manner in which these victories of the judges are gained. It is not in the exact proportion in which the spirit of heroism is possessed. There is a deeper element than bravery, or skill, or physical force. There is the element of piety. The victors were more than patriots. They were men of faith. While ardently devoted to their country, they saw in their land a sacred possession given them by their God as a pledge of His covenant love; and they saw in their people the church of the living God, among whom He had planted His institutions and His laws. Faith in the promises He had given His Church and people lay at the root of all their action, both as regards the object they had in view, and the confidence of victory which they cherished. “The Lord of hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our refuge.”
It is for this reason that Shamgar’s act receives an honourable mention in this Book. It was an act of deliverance wrought for the Church of God in an evil time; it was done on the spot where his lot was cast; it was done of his own free will when no others appeared ready to repair the breach; it was done against the greatest odds; and, above all, it was done in faith—that sacred feature of character by which “all the elders obtained a good report.” On this account a single verse is added to notice this noble act of a man of true faith; and through this single verse his name “will be held in everlasting remembrance.” More imperishable is the monument thus raised to an otherwise humble man, than to those mighty Egyptian monarchs who have the Pyramids for their memorial. God has always a few names, in a backsliding age, of those who are loyal to His cause, to show that His Spirit has not left His Church on earth. And now there was at least one man of the Joshua and Caleb spirit still in the land. Though only one man comes to the front, there may have been, as in Elijah’s day, other 7000 hidden behind the curtain, who did not bow the knee to Baal.
Was Shamgar entitled to the honourable distinction of being a Judge over the people of God? Many answer in the negative, because it is not said, “the Lord raised him up,” nor that “the Spirit of the Lord came upon him;” nor is he said to have ruled, but only to have gained a victory with small means. He is also passed over in Judges 4:1. Yet his name stands in the same honourable roll, (“After Ehud rose Shamgar,” etc.) Few could doubt on reflection, that it was the Spirit of the Lord coming upon him that led him to do as he did The value of his act affected the whole land, for it was not merely the slaughter of a few hundred men in some isolated foray; it seems rather to have been the nipping of an invasion in the bud—arresting a calamity at its outset, which but for this timely extinction might have overspread the whole country. There can be little doubt, that if Shamgar had not stood forward to the rescue, this incursion of the Philistines would have rapidly overshadowed the nation.
Besides, it is expressly stated, that he “delivered Israel” like the other Judges. The office of a “judge” in that age was not to administer justice in the ordinary way. It was rather to act the part of a “saviour,” (so it is expressly termed in Nehemiah 9:27)—one who accomplishes a deliverance on the foundation of righteousness. He was to lead the people to penitence, not only to sorrow for the past, but to reformation for the future. His duty was to see that the law of God be kept by the people as the only secure foundation for a lasting peace. On this footing, all the “judges” were types of the Saviour, whose great work in this world was to work out an eternal redemption on the ground of perfect righteousness—to make “grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life,” etc. It is easy for God to work deliverance for any people when His law is kept. When that is not done, He cannot deliver, because He cannot offer a slight to His own character.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Judges 3". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 14 / Ordinary 19