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ISRAEL’S RELAPSE INTO SIN, AND THEIR OPPRESSION BY THE MIDIANITES. Judges 6:1-10
CRITICAL NOTES.— Judges 6:1. Did evil, etc.] Not continued to do evil, though that is implied (pp. 158, 186). Deborah and Barak were now dead, and their personal example, the influence of their names, and their warning voices were all buried with them. The shake given to the idolatry of the land by the signal manifestation made of Jehovah’s jealousy had now lost its effect, and a new generation had sprung up. That so long a period as 40 years should have been influenced by the shadow of the great event of the destruction of Sisera and his army shows that a mighty impression had been made of the character of Israel’s God, both on Israel themselves, and also on the nations around them. All seemed to feel that “great fear was due to the God of Israel,” for “there was no God that could deliver after this manner.” The hand of Midian—descendants of Abraham and Keturah (Genesis 25:2). Though not the same race, they appear to have been in close affinity with the Ishmaelites, or were included among that people as a part is included in the whole (Judges 8:22-24). With them, too, they appear to have been engaged in the carrying trade across the desert between the Euphrates and Egypt (see Genesis 37:25; Genesis 37:28). Some regard the word Midianites, as the plural of the old Egyptian Madi [Fausset]. They were a nomadic people and did not till the ground, but lived in tents. They occupied a belt of desert land, extending from Horeb in a line extending north-east, passing Moab on the east, and skirting the territory of Reuben. While Moses was at Horeb, he dwelt with his father-in-law, Jethro, who was the priest of Midian. Their territory, therefore, must have been, at one side, near by Horeb. But being unsettled in their residence, and predatory in their habits, there was probably no very strict delimitation of the boundary lines. Wiseman calls them “wandering corsairs” of the desert. The disposition to plunder had become to them almost a natural instinct, as it was with all the tribes of the desert. They had an old grudge against, Israel on account of the crushing blow that had been inflicted on them in the time of Moses by the express command of God, because of their having wickedly enticed Israel into sin on the plains of Moab (see Numbers 25:1; Numbers 25:6; Numbers 25:16-18; Numbers 31:7-12; Numbers 22:4-7). Quite 260 years had elapsed since that sweeping desolation had passed on them; and now they had recovered their strength, but cherished an undying hatred to their destroyers. They would be readily joined in their raid against Israel by the Amalekites (see p. 158), by the Ishmaelites (Psalms 83:6-7), by the Arabs and wandering hordes generally, along the south and south-east border of Palestine, who were always ready for any work of pillage. The initiative, however, was taken by Midian.
Cassel thinks that the two words Midian and the more modern Bedouin are really one and the same—the Hebrew spelling beginning with מ, while the Arabic language begins with כ. In this last case the word would spell Bidiun, or Bedouin. In the Semitic languages there is a constant interchange of these letters. The word comes from a root signifying the desert.
Judges 6:2. The hand of Midian prevailed.]—bore heavily upon them (p. 97). They had no power to remove it. They made them the dens which are in the mountains, etc.] Some (Keil) make the word סּנְהָרֹוח to signify “mountain ravines,” hollowed out by torrents; being thus found they were fitted up by men’s hands in such a manner, as to make suitable retreats from danger. Others (Cassel and Bertheau) understand by it, “Light holes.” i.e., holes with openings for the light, or grottoes. Wetzstein says, “At some elevated dry place, a shaft was sunk obliquely into the earth, and at a depth of twenty-five fathoms, streets were run off straight, from six to eight paces wide, in the sides of which the dwellings were excavated. At various points these streets were extended to double their ordinary width, and the roof was pierced with air-holes according to the size of the place. These were like windows. Hence the meaning is, caves, with air-holes like windows. Watchers were employed to give the alarm when the enemy approached. Then the plonghmen and herds hurried quickly into the earth and were secure. There was also a second place of exit, for the most part.” Similar must have been the rock dwellings of Petra. In the limestone mountains of Palestine, there are many natural “caves.” but these generally were more fully excavated, and fitted up artificially, when used as human dwellings. The remaining word (מְצָרוֹתַ) signifies fortresses, or (mountain) “strongholds.” These refuges were less used for purposes of personal safety, than as places of concealment for property and necessaries of life. For the propensity of the Bedouin always has been rather to pillage than to kill (1 Samuel 13:6; 1 Samuel 23:14; 1 Samuel 23:19; 1 Samuel 23:29; 1 Chronicles 11:7) These were memorials of the dark times, when the Bedouin host like an over-running flood swept over the land. Sin like a leprosy leaves its scars and its baldness behind it.
Judges 6:3. Children of the East.] This phrase seems to designate the various Arab tribes, not otherwise named, who roamed over the open country between the Red Sea and the Euphrates. We hear of “the men of the east” (Job 1:3); “the mountains of the east” (Numbers 23:7); “the east country” (Genesis 25:6); “the east” specifically (Genesis 29:1). (Isaiah 41:2; Matthew 2:1; Matthew 7:12; Matthew 8:10). These hordes seem to have had no design of conquering the country, nor yet of cutting off its inhabitants. Their object simply was plunder. “Their visits were like the incursions of the Picts and Scots into Southern Britain during the latter part of the Roman dominion (A.D. 1368); or the raids for lifting cattle. which were common from the Highlands of Scotland into the Lowlands at a much later period” (Lias). And he might have added, which visits were returned by the English into Scotland, with a like disregard of meum and tuum, when they could get a safe opportunity. This was but the fulfilment of prophecy upon Israel (Deuteronomy 28:31; Deuteronomy 28:33; Deuteronomy 28:43; Deuteronomy 28:48).
When Israel had sown they came up, etc.] i.e., They chose the time when the fruits of the earth were fast ripening, just before harvest (about March), and remained for weeks or months on the ground, till they had time to clutch the whole produce for the year; and when they had stripped it bare, they returned to their own country, leaving the poor Israelites to sow the land for a new crop in the following season, at which time they would return and repeat the work of rapine. Their route would be along the east bank of the Jordan, until they got as far as Bethshean (now Beisan), the principal ford of the river, when, crossing over, they would have before them to the north-east, the rich plain of Esdraelon and the fertile valley of Jezreel, forming together the very garden of Palestine, whose richness of soil was proverbial everywhere, and formed a most tempting prize to eyes accustomed to look on the sterility of the desert—luxuriant crops of corn, vineyards, olive trees, fig trees, pomegranates, milk and honey—all found in profuse abundance. Here they would revel until feasted to the full, when going along the course of the Kishon, and passing through the mountain gorges on the west. would then turn southward along the rich belt of land that skirted the sea, the southern part of which was occupied by the Philistines, their last city being Gaza. There the forces of the marauders necessarily took end, for there was nothing more in that direction to seize.
 It has long been the practice (till recently stopped) of the marauding Turkomans of Central Asia, to rob the long caravans of camels, laden with the produce of the countries of the Far East, passing to the countries of the Far West (and vice versa), along the route through ancient Media [Has that word any connection with Midian?] which has the Caspian Gates to the north and Persia to the South. These tribes also have long been in the habit of making “alamans,” or raids on their weaker neighbours, their object being robbery and man-stealing, including woman and child-stealing. Their favourite hunting ground has been the eastern frontier of Persia. The people they caught were carried off to the inhospitable deserts of Central Asia, where escape was impossible. For prisoners of importance a heavy ransom was expected; the others were made to work in the fields, or were sold as chattels where a market could be found. These incursions were made sometimes up to the gates of Teheran, while so strangely imbecile or helpless were the governore of Persia, the country once ruled over by a Cyrus and an Ahasuerus, that little or no opposition was offered to the fierce barbarians who came plundering and murdering to within a few miles of the capital. No wonder that all the towns and villages are walled in with towers and gates which are shut at night. Even in many of the fields were towers, as refuges or the people at work, in case of sudden alarm, when there was no time to reach the village. The workers by squeezing themselves through a narrow opening in the bottom, which could be closed with a stone, might thus escape, and the Turkoman would lose his prize. To complete the picture, occasionally some of the governors on the frontier, who could have stopped their raids, allowed them to pass westwards in order to catch them on their return, laden with the spoil they had captured. This was profitable to the governor, who thus bagged everything. Happily Russia by her movement into Central Asia, during the eighth decade of this century, has laid a strong hand on this system, and it may now be said no longer to exist. That movement if it has had few other beneficial effects seems to be breaking up the fallow ground, in what has long been one of the wildest, and most intractable wastes, both of the moral and physical worlds.
Judges 6:4. They encamped against them]—ready to seize their plunder by force of arms, if they could not get it peaceably (Psalms 27:3; 2 Samuel 12:28). But such was the cowardice of the God-for-saken people, that they never once attempted to take the field against these insolent robbers, far less did they dream for a moment that they could be driven out of the country. The same course was taken by the Turks on a larger scale, when they first made their appearance in the east of Europe, and seized one territory after another, crushing all opposition. The increase of the earth]—the annual produce of the soil; such as wheat, barley and grass; wine, honey, milk and oil; all fruit trees’ produce, and such things as are alluded to in the following passages (Exodus 3:8; Deuteronomy 8:8; Deuteronomy 32:14; 2 Chronicles 2:10; 2 Chronicles 2:15; Ezekiel 27:17; Ezekiel 27:19; Isaiah 7:22-23; Micah 4:4). Till thou come to Gaza]—an idiomatic phrase in the Hebrew language (Genesis 10:19; Judges 11:33; Genesis 13:10; 1 Samuel 17:52; 1 Samuel 27:8). Left no sustenance for Israel, neither Sheep, etc.]—no means of support, whether the fruit of the soil, or the flocks and herds. Not only were the rich plains of Issachar devastated, but the uplands of Manasseh were not safe from the hands of these rapacious prowlers, as the case of Gideon illustrates. Their march was “like a sweeping rain which leaveth no food” (Proverbs 28:3). To drive off the cattle has been the practice of the Bedouins all along unto this day; and it is customary, in some parts of Western Asia to make a compromise with the invaders, engaging to pay them a heavy tribute on condition that they shall be left unmolested. Even powerful communities do this to avoid perpetual warfare. Besides the tribute, the chiefs look for substantial presents, and these being received as gifts in one year are exacted the next year as a matter of right. Ere long the pressure becomes intolerable, and they are obliged to leave the settlements altogether.—(Pict. Bible.) Not a solitary sheep, ox or ass which came in their way was left to the Israelites! So complete was the pillage. Their cattle comprising beeves, sheep, asses and camels, would eat up all the herbage and every green thing which they did not require for themselves. For they were most numerous (Numbers 31:32-39).
Judges 6:5. They came up, and their cattle and their tents, etc.]—they and their cattle is emphatic—their tents—those who lived in their tents. All their domestics, as well as fighting men. It was not a sudden assault followed by a hasty retreat; but they came to remain in the land, for a time at least, to fatten themselves on its rich produce. Came as grasshoppers.] Rather locusts—כְדֵי in like abundance to the locusts; also like to them in voracity, of which it is said in Joel 2:3, “the land is as the garden of Eden before them, and behind them is a desolate wilderness.” It was a deluge of human robbers.
 From p. 38 under Judges 6:5, they and their camels were without number]—rather, dromedaries (Isaiah 60:6) which are peculiar to the deserts of the South and East. Camels and asses take the place of horses and oxen in the West. Camels, indeed, were not unfrequently used for ploughing.
Judges 6:6. Greatly impoverished.]—יִדַּל is a strong word, implying more than that they suffered a great loss, or had much taken from them. It implies that they felt utterly desolate and helpless. What a spectacle was before them! Their beautiful country turned into a vast and hideous wreck; countless marauders roaming at will all over the land, devouring or trampling down ruthlessly the choicest fruit of their matchless soil, until scarcely a stalk of grain or a blade of grass was left in Jezreel itself. As far as the eye could reach, the human wolves had done their work with absolute completeness. It was one vast sea of wreckage. On every foot of the sacred land was inscribed “Ichabod.” The curse of heaven was everywhere marked. They were a people forsaken of their God. Hence they were thoroughly dispirited, and hung their heads in despair and shame, under the terrible conviction that on the one hand they had deserved it all, and on the other, that they were utterly powerless to effect a remedy for their condition.
 Many think it was about this time that the great famine occurred in the land which led Elimelech and his family to remove to the land of Moab to sojourn there, and when Ruth through Naomi’s instrumentality became a convert to the faith of Israel’s God (Ruth 1:0).
But this conviction was not arrived at all at once. For the first three years these depredators, Josephus tells us, repeated each year their terrible visit, with such disastrous result, that a large part of the land was no longer sown, while the miserable inhabitants, with their numbers thinned, partly through famine, and partly through oppression, at last, in great numbers quitted their homes and sought to the retreats and fastnesses among the mountains referred to in Judges 6:2. For four years more did they survive the terrible humiliation of their country until they agreed by general consent to return to their allegiance to the God from whom they had apostatized (Hosea 5:15). Now they were virtually saying “come, let us return unto the Lord, for He hath torn and He will heal, He hath smitten and He will bind up.”
Judges 6:7. They cried unto the Lord because of Midian.] (See p. 159). (Judges 3:9; Judges 3:15; Judges 4:3; Psalms 106:44-45; Psalms 107:6; Psalms 107:19; Psalms 107:28).
Judges 6:8. The Lord sent a prophet.] A man, a prophet; not an angel. An unnamed messenger (1 Kings 13:1-2; 1 Kings 20:13; 1 Kings 20:35; 2 Kings 9:1; 2 Kings 9:4). God would send a prophet before He sends a saviour. Before giving the blessing He first deals with that which keeps back the blessing. They were beginning to use the language of penitence; they must learn it more thoroughly. (Acts 2:37, yet the apostle adds Judges 6:38—carry your repentance farther). The message itself etc., is like that of 1 Samuel 10:18, or Joshua 24:17 and Judges 2:1.—I brought you up from Egypt, etc.] It was strange that they should so continually require to be reminded of one of the very first truths in their national history, the day which of all others had a white letter mark in their calendar. Then they for the first time rose up to be a nation. Then was laid the foundation of everlasting obligations to their God, to whom alone they owed their unparalleled history as a people.
10. But ye have not obeyed my voice.] These words contain the charge which their God brings against them. This short sentence would not be all that the prophet would say. It was rather the theme on which he would enlarge; in the same manner in which we have an account of Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost. That sermon may have occupied more than an hour in delivery, and yet as given in the canon, it is so abridged as not to occupy a tenth part of that time in the reading. The line of thought followed by the speaker alone is given; so here—The gods of the Amorites.]—This name is put for the Canaanites, (as in Joshua 24:15; Joshua 24:18; and Genesis 15:16). “In the Egyptian monuments of Ramases 3, Palastine is called the land of the Amori. The prophet may have been addressing the dwellers in the mountains where the Amorites (the Highlanders) dwelt. (Genesis 48:22). The idolatries of that race were specially abominable (see 1 Kings 21:26; 2 Kings 21:11).” [Speaker’s Com.] It has well been remarked that “the existence of a class of men, whose duty it is to convict men of moral declension, is peculiar to revealed religion. Other religions had their priests; Judaism and Christianity alone had their prophets.” [Lias].
MAIN HOMILETICS.—Judges 6:1-10
GOD’S DEALINGS WITH THE UNTEACHABLE HUMAN HEART
Here again we have the same weary go-round. Fresh outbreaks of depravity; new chastisements of the Divine hand; the treacherous heart turning again to its God when it finds that it must; and God, with wonderful tenderness and slowness to anger (at every new stage becoming more wonderful), repenting Him of the evil and granting deliverance. We have—
I. The Picture of Sin Presented.
It is not a case of sinning for the first time, but a case of repeated sinning, and that accompanied with every possible aggravation.
1. The form of their sin was of a heinous character. Idol-worship was peculiarly offensive to their God. It was a direct rejection of Jehovah as their God, not-withstanding all His claims to be so acknowledged. No greater insult could be offered to His Majesty and His Holiness. It was to cast off His authority, to deny His sovereign rights, to refuse Him submission, to contemn His glorious perfections, to trample under foot His law, and to reject His Divine fellowship. It was to do all this in the most offensive manner, by preferring to worship in His place beasts and fourfooted things, or images of sinful objects, the work of their own hands. It was to go lower still—it was to set up the embodiments of sin in the place of God, and to give to these the devotion and the worship which are properly due to God. It was to give external form and embodiment to the worst ideals of wickedness which the human imagination could conceive, and yield up to these the homage which is due only to the Holy one of Israel! In this matter the “desperately-wicked heart” seems to have exceeded itself in its ordinary acting. And to complete the picture, it must take away the one foundation of all possible good (namely, the worship of the Good one), and to expose the heart to the incursion of all possible evils.
Idolatry, indeed, implies the creature striking out for itself in disregard of its Maker, as if its Maker were insufficient to it, and His presence were a burden rather than a pleasure. “Have I been a wilderness to Israel?—a land of darkness? Wherefore say, my people, We will come no more to thee? What iniquity have your fathers found in me that they are gone from Me and have walked after vanity?” This reproach applies to all who put any other objects in place of God, and give to these the homage, the affection, the interest and the obedience which are due to Him alone. It may be riches, or fame, social distinction, the good opinions of our fellows, or any prize which the man who lives without God counts dear (see pp. 110, 111, 123).
2. They sinned against the clearest light. All the means of instruction which that age could furnish in the matter of their duty to their God were employed to press His claims on their attention. If they had no printed Bible, yet at the Red Sea, at Mount Horeb, all through the wilderness, at Jordan, and in every city of the Canaanites, as well as in many startling events of more than 200 years afterwards—they had all the facts and revelations of the Divine character and of human duty which go to make a Bible. And they had these as living facts—events passing before their eyes, coming with the freshness of personal experience—in which they themselves were principal factors. They had an illuminated Bible given them to read, in which the blindest among them could see a great meaning. It was a Bible which spoke with a plainness that the dullest could appreciate, and with a loudness that made the most stolid fall down and worship. But they had no eyes to read such a Bible; no ears to hear its remarkable sayings, for “they did shut their eyes that they might not see, and stop their ears that they might not hear.” They sinned against the clearest light as to the claims which Jehovah had on the allegiance and love of their hearts. “They would not come to the light lest their deeds should be reproved.” Hence they continued as “sottish children—a people of no understanding” (see Deuteronomy 32:5-6; Deuteronomy 32:28; Deuteronomy 4:5-8; Deuteronomy 4:32-36; Luke 12:48; Matthew 11:21-23; Numbers 15:30-31; John 9:41; Romans 2:12-16).
3. They sinned in abusing the highest privileges. They had the continual presence of God among them that they might enjoy His fellowship. A way of access was provided through the appointed sacrifices. The means whereby individual sins might be pardoned, and personal sanctification secured, were set every day before their eyes in the blood of sprinkling and the water of purification. God’s own glorious character as a God of truth and righteousness, of holiness and love, was exhibited very strikingly in the statutes, ordinances, and commandments which were given them as a law for their conduct. They had exceeding great and precious promises made to them from time to time as to their deliverance for the present, and the realisation of bright hopes for the future. They had very endearing and very honourable names given them by their God, and they had continually fresh proofs given that He was among them on all occasions, ever ready to do them such signal service by the events of His Providence as no other people on earth ever experienced. Yet all this was despised and put aside when they “forsook the Lord their God and worshipped Baalim and the groves.” This comes very near the case described in the terrible passage of Hebrews 6:4-6, or that other in Hebrews 10:26-29, making allowance for the difference of the dispensations (Isaiah 5:4; Matthew 21:35-43; Acts 7:51-53; 2 Kings 17:12-18; John 12:35-37; Luke 12:0.) (See pp. 120, 121).
4. They sinned in disregarding the most sacred obligations. Never were a people so sacredly bound by acts of kindness shown them, by great deliverances wrought, by honours conferred, and by hopes opened up. The whole Book of Deuteronomy is a record of the extent and the weight of the obligations laid on that people to love and serve Jehovah as their God. “He hath not dealt so with any nation—the children of Israel are a people near unto Him.” They were set forth as priests among the nations, to make “mention of the loving kindness of the Lord, and the praises of the Lord according to all that the Lord hath bestowed upon them, and the great goodness to the house of Israel, which He bestowed on them according to His mercies, and according to the multitude of His loving kindnesses.” And those who have set before them the rich discoveries contained in the pages of the New Testament truth; who find the Son of God standing before them in the capacity of the Son of Man; who hear from His own lips the free offer of eternal life, in all its immeasurable fulness, to those who are willing to be reconciled to God through His precious blood; and who have many precious promises made to them both for the present and the future life—these have obligations laid on them to love and live for God, which no scales can weigh, and no mind can appreciate. (see Hebrews 1:1-3; Hebrews 2:2-4; Hebrews 10:19-23; Matthew 12:41-42; Psalms 89:15-16; Proverbs 1:20-23, with 24–28; John 3:36, also 16–18; Revelation 3:15-18).
5. They sinned in breaking the most solemn engagements. They not only had many acts of kindness shown them, and great things done for them, but they had entered into a special covenant with Jehovah, and pledged themselves to be His people. They were formally set apart by the sprinkling of blood to be His. God Himself came down on Mount Sinai to enter into this covenant, and the whole proceedings were conducted in so solemn a manner as to be memorable to all future generations. To break this covenant (which was made for all their generations) was to perjure themselves, and increase their guilt to an incalculable degree. To break one’s solemn engagement made to a fellow man is reckoned a sin of deep dye, but how shall we characterise the violation of a solemn oath made to high Heaven? (see p. 121).
6. They sinned in the face of the most earnest teachings. Especially the teachings of Divine Providence. What did the fathers gain by serving other gods? Had not the experiment been made once and again, and on several occasions? Did not the history of two centuries and a half prove it to be a palpable folly, and a terrible evil to forsake the true and living God, the only fountain of living waters? Did not all the figures of Israel’s history since they entered into Canaan, each one in his place, condemn with a fearful emphasis the crime of forsaking Jehovah? What a long tale of sorrow and degradation was the history of the generation that went before the present one, when they were so grievously oppressed by the cruel Jabin! Surely twenty years’ pressure of that iron heel might have read a lesson sufficient to teach for a whole century the sin and danger of idolatry. And the mighty acts of Israel’s God, when He rose up from His place to take vengeance on the oppressors of His people, in the discomfiture and ruin of Sisera and his army, might have taught for generations to come that there was no god but Jehovah. Yet though having these and many other lessons of instruction and warning set before them, this generation fell again into the mire from which their fathers had at such cost been drawn. (See pp. 121, 122).
One general remark we must not omit to make as regards this melancholy picture of sin, that when men complain of the awful character of the punishment which God sometimes brings down even on His own professed people, the wonder ought to cease when we look candidly at the terrible character of their guilt. God is just when He smites, as well as when He smiles.
II. The state of heart which this picture indicates.
1. Its inveterate tendency to sin. The propensity must be strong to make its appearance in the face of such solemn remonstrances, and such weighty arguments as God employs to make men desist from it. Sin has a deep root in the heart. “The leprosy is deeper than the skin,” “the scall spreads in the skin”—“it is a fretting leprosy.” “In me, that is in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing.” (Leviticus 13:3; Leviticus 13:36; Romans 7:18). Facts prove, account for it as we may, that the spirit or tendency of backsliding is incorrigible among God’s people. Indeed, in face of the facts that meet us on every page of this book, who can doubt the truth of God’s own testimony—“the carnal mind is enmity against God; it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be (Romans 8:7).” (Jeremiah 13:23; Jeremiah 2:22; Matthew 19:24; John 3:3; John 3:6-7; Romans 7:23-24; Romans 8:8; Ephesians 2:1; Psalms 51:5).
2. The hardness of the heart. This is the feature of character which shows itself in refusing to be impressed by any dealing which God may have with the heart. This was strikingly visible in Pharaoh’s case (Exodus 7-11). (Hebrews 3:8; Hebrews 3:15; Hebrews 4:7; Joshua 11:20; 1 Samuel 6:6; Jeremiah 7:26). It implies that the heart offers resistance to the motive by which God would impress it. It is not only callous—impassive, or utterly indifferent. It is actively opposing the influence by which God seeks to move it. But it includes the want of sensibility.
3. Its boldness in sin. There is a recklessness of consequences; a defiance, wild it may be, yet still a defiance of the Lawgiver, and a refusal to submit to His authority.
4. Its obstinacy in sin. The heart shows a pertinacity in clinging to its sins. It refuses to obey God’s voice (Nehemiah 9:17; Psalms 78:10). It refuses to repent (Jeremiah 5:3; Jeremiah 8:5). It refuses to receive any proper knowledge of God and His ways (Jeremiah 9:6; Jeremiah 13:10). The stubbornness of the heart in refusing to receive any teaching from God’s judgments is strikingly brought out by the prophet Amos in Amos 4:6; Amos 4:8-11; Jeremiah 5:23.
5. Its depth of enmity against God. It is said to be “desperately wicked,” which implies wickedness in an unusual degree (Jeremiah 17:9). If the human heart does not constitutionally consist of enmity against God, it is magnetised with that enmity, and said to be alienated from God (Colossians 1:21; Ephesians 4:18; John 7:7; John 15:23-24; 1 John 2:15-16.
6. Its unteachableness. Notwithstanding all God’s dealing with the heart in this case, and for so long a time there was no reformation. Patience and long forbearance on the one side, to show how reluctant He was to chastise them; severe scourging employed when milder treatment had no effect, to show that God would keep to His word of threatening as well as His word of promise when necessary. Yet the old tendency shows itself so soon as the pressure of trouble is removed.
Forty years had elapsed during which the land had peace, with the invaluable privilege of a Deborah and a Barak at the helm of affairs. But long before that time was expired, the mass of the people had again begun to forsake Jehovah, and to follow after the worship of idols. No sooner are these zealous defenders of righteousness in their graves than the stream of evil, which had been stemmed for a time, flows on as before. Israel was but an example of the general rule. Even the awful catastrophe of the destruction of a world by a universal flood did not suffice to take away men’s depravity, root and branch. After the flood as before, the account still is, “the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” (See Genesis 6:5, with Judges 8:21.) In the days of David the account was similar (Psalms 14:3). In Solomon’s time the same (Proverbs 27:22). In the days of Isaiah matters seem worse rather than better (Isaiah 1:5-6). In Jeremiah’s age the report is as dark as ever (Jeremiah 17:9). After all the plagues, Pharaoh’s heart continued as hard as the nether mill-stone. The Sodomites and Canaanites though forewarned of the issue of their high-handed sins would not hearken, and so were destroyed. And these Israelites, after their settlement in the land promised to the fathers, though dealt with in the most solemn manner to lead them to give up their idolatrous practices, yet clung to them with extreme obstinacy during all the period of the Judges, and also the long reign of the kings, for nearly a thousand years, until the nation was ground to the very dust by the heavy calamities which such apostacy from the God of Israel at last brought on their heads. “My people are bent to back-sliding from Me.” They are “slidden back with a perpetual back-sliding” (Jeremiah 8:5; Hosea 11:7; Hosea 4:16-17; Jeremiah 2:32, also Jeremiah 10:11, Jeremiah 7:28). (See pp. 166, 186, 190.)
III. God cannot in any case tolerate sin.
As often as it is repeated, His anger must come down upon it. It might be said, it was already conclusively proved, that sin was so inwoven into the very nature of this people, that it was hopeless to get it extirpated; for so long as the stubborn propensity of their hearts to apostatise continued, there must be a continually fresh outbreak of sin, when these hearts were left to themselves. That might be a good argument for casting off such a people altogether, when it was fully proved, that they were incorrigibly treacherous to the covenant of their God, but it is no reason, why God should be forgetful of what is due to His own holy name. He cannot connive at sin, and be true to Himself. That He sometimes may seem to “wink” at sin has been inferred from such a passage as Acts 17:30. But it is one thing to “pass over” sin for a time—not to take it up, and give judgment upon it, until a fit period come round, and quite another thing, expressly to tolerate it, while dealing with it in the exercise of His Providential rule. While men sin, God’s anger ever burns against it, even though He should long suffer it to go on, and remain silent. Wisdom must come in to decide as to the proper manner, and the proper time, for showing His anger.
In the present case, this long forbearance with a people so wedded to sin, and the purpose not to cast them entirely off under any circumstances, strongly fits in with Messianic arrangements. The utter depravity of their nature shows the great need of adopting some method out of ordinary course, to cure men’s hearts of their tendency to depart from God. This is what the gospel specially provides (p. 191). Meantime proof must be given that no toleration is allowed to sin, that though ordinary punishment does not suffice to effect a cure (Isaiah 1:5-6), yet evidence must be given that sin is a thing which must be frowned upon under all circumstances. If the heart is ever turning aside like the deceitful bow, then it must ever be chastised anew (p. 170). For,
1. God’s nature is irreconcilably opposed to sin. Psalms 5:4-6. He not only hates sin, but He “cannot look upon it” (Habakkuk 1:13). He cannot let His eye rest upon it for a moment. As light cannot co-exist in the same apartment with darkness, so God cannot dwell in the same heart with sin. He is separated from it not only by distance, but by a strong antagonism of nature (2 Corinthians 6:14-15). All His perfections are against it. He is so holy, that “without holiness no man shall see the Lord.” The very “heavens are not clean in His sight.” He is so just and righteous that it is proverbial to say “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Psalms 11:7; Psalms 97:2). He is so true, that “heaven and earth may pass away, but His words shall not pass away” (Numbers 23:19; 1 Samuel 15:29). “His Yea is Yea, and His Nay is Nay”) Revelation 3:14). He is so unchangeable in the principles of His government, that He is said to be “without variableness or the shadow of turning” (Malachi 3:6; Job 23:13).
It is the greatest mystery of the universe that sin should ever have been allowed to enter it at all under the government of so holy a God; and the next greatest mystery is, that it should have been allowed to continue so long. For God is ever irreconcilably opposed to sin. On the other hand, neither can a nature under the dominion of sin ever be reconciled to holiness. How often are we told that, under all the chastisement which God sent upon this people, they refused to return to him. This whole book is the historical proof (Jeremiah 5:3; Jeremiah 9:3; 2 Chronicles 28:22; Revelation 16:9-11). It is invariable as the law by which water runs down a hill.
2. Sin carries its own punishment in its own bosom. The simple fact that sin means enmity to God involves a terrible penalty. God’s favour is lost, and the life of the creature becomes one of misery. How can a man bear to be at war with God? He has the whole universe against him. Sin is a debt he never can pay; a burden under which he must groan for ever; a leprosy for which in all nature there is no cure; a poison for which neither man nor angel can find an antidote; a serpent that shall without pity sting its victim for ever. There is no peace to the man who clings to his sin. It is a perpetual disturber. There is no rest in sin. It is an unresting trouble. “Many sorrows are to the wicked.” So many miseries accompany sin that all the pleasure it gives is but as a drop of honey in a sea of gall (South). Sin and punishment go together as substance and shadow. They grow together out of one stem. Punishment is a fruit that ripens within the flower of the pleasure that conceals it (Emerson). “The genius of a heathen has taught a striking moral on this subject. He made the model of a serpent, and fixed it in the bottom of a goblet, coiled for the spring, a pair of gleaming eyes in its head, and in its open mouth fangs raised to strike. It lay beneath the ruby wine. Nor did he who raised the golden cup to quench his thirst, and quaff the delicious draught, suspect what lay below till, as he reached the dregs, that dreadful head rose up and glistened before his eyes. So when life’s cup is nearly emptied, and sin’s last pleasure quaffed, and unwilling lips are draining the bitter dregs, shall rise the ghastly terrors of remorse, death, and judgment on the despairing soul (Guthrie).
3. God’s word uniformly condemns it. God’s word is His written law—a compendium of the judgments He passes on men’s principles and actions. On every page sin in every form is condemned. The first act of disobedience, it threatens with death; the same tone is kept up throughout, and its closing statement shows the same unalterable attitude towards sin,—“let him that is unjust remain unjust still,” etc. In unequivocal language it declares that “the wages of sin is death,” that “God is angry with the wicked every day, and if he do not turn, He will whet His sword, and bend His bow,” etc. (Romans 6:23; Psalms 7:11-12). He will “set His face against” the wicked (Psalms 34:16; Leviticus 26:17; Leviticus 17:10; Leviticus 20:3; Leviticus 20:5-6, etc.) and in the day when He visits those who sin, He will visit their sin upon them (Exodus 32:34). “He will by no means clear the guilty” (Exodus 34:7). Their sin “shall surely find them out” (Numbers 32:23). Indeed all the threatenings of the Bible are a manifold condemnation of sin (Deuteronomy 28:45; Ephesians 5:6).
4. His Providence always works against it. He may not indeed visit the sinner with instant destruction. Men may be permitted to go on in sin for a time, while the thunders of justice sleep, yet sin does not pass unpunished. Where there is no repentance, sooner or later, He brings down the rod of chastisement, or the sword of destruction. At the proper time, “He will lay judgment to the line, and righteousness to the plummet.” It is an old but true proverb, “the mills of the gods grind slow, but they grind to powder.” God came not to Adam till the evening, but He came. Though the deluge was delayed for 120 years, yet at the appointed time it came. God waited on the Canaanites for their repentance for 430 years, but as they continued impenitent, the sword of Joshua was commanded to do its work. Joseph’s brethren thought their wicked deed was forgotten, as year after year slipped away, and no whisper was ever made of it. But when the dungeons of Egypt closed around them, and they received unaccountably rough dealing from the strange man who was lord of the country, an accusing voice was awakened within them, memory called up the past, and the old sin rose up as a spectre before them in all its terribleness, as the cause of their accumulated troubles. Silently had that sin dogged their steps, while they slept and awoke from day to day, and much of life passed on. It lay forgotten, but not dead. At the fit moment God held it up before them, and they cried out with one voice, “We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul,” etc.
“Though a sinner do evil a hundred times, and his days be prolonged, yet I know it shall be well only with them that fear the Lord.” etc. “These things thou hast done, and I kept silence.” The silence is ominous. “A dead silence goes before the earthquake. Nature seems hushed into an awful stillness, more dreadful than the storm would be. It is as if she were holding her breath at the thought of the coming disaster. The air hangs heavy; not a breath fans the leaves; the birds cease their music; the hum of the insects ceases; there is no ripple in the streams; and meanwhile houses, it may be cities, are on the brink of ruin. So it is with God’s silence over the wicked. It will be followed by the earthquake of His judgments. “When they shall say Peace and Safety, then sudden destruction,” etc.—(Goulburn).
5. The laws of a man’s own nature cry out against it. Sin is a kind of boomerang which goes off into space curiously, but turns again on its thrower, and with tenfold force strikes the hand, or the person that launched it, after describing singular curves. There is no such terrible punishment known on earth as an accusing conscience. It is like “Tophet of old,” “the pile of which is fire and much wood, and the breath of the Lord like a stream of brimstone doth kindle it.” Wilful and aggravated sin is the fuel of that awful fire. Examples we have in Belshazzar, Cain, Herod, Pilate, Judas, and others. They prove that punishment is the recoil of sin, and that the strength of the backstroke is in proportion to the force of the original blow. Conscience is a clock that strikes loud and gives warning, in one man’s case; in another the hand points silently to the number but strikes not. Meantime the hours pass away, death hastens, and after death comes the judgment.
6. The cross of Christ shows that sin cannot, under any possible circumstances, go unpunished. This is incomparably the highest proof that can be given in the case. The Eternal Father spares not His only begotten Son, because He cannot spare sin! What depth of hatred to sin is here? How supreme the necessity for inflicting death, as the due desert of our sins when such a substitute as this cannot be exempted from bearing the full burden of Divine wrath! The sufferings of mere creatures are small indeed, and of very ordinary consequence, compared with the groans and agonies of Him who made the worlds, and who wrought all the mighty works of Divine power, which distinguished His life in this world. The whole human race are but as a grain of dust before the infinite Majesty of the Son of God, who yet called Himself “the Son of Man.” Yet “it pleased the Lord to bruise Him,” because He became responsible for our sins, and was “made a curse for us.”
Our conclusion is, that if God could not spare our sins, but was so strict to mark iniquity, we too must resolve unalterably, in the strength of God’s grace, not to spare them ourselves. We must wage ceaseless war against them, in all the Protean forms they may assume, saying, Thou shalt die—and thou—and thou! The whole brood must be cast out; while holy thoughts, devout affections, and heavenly longings must take their place. Let our motto be Delenda sunt peccata.
IV. Repeated sin brings heavier chastisement.
God warned His people, that if they would not listen to His first reproofs, but would obstinately repeat their offences afresh, He would not only chastise them again, but would “chastise them seven times more for their sins.” (Leviticus 26:18; Leviticus 26:21; Leviticus 26:24; Leviticus 26:28). He begins with whips, but by and bye proceeds to the use of scorpions. This was strikingly exemplified in the Midianitish invasion—the most overwhelming of all the judgments God had yet brought upon the land. As Bp. Hall remarks, “During the former tyranny, Deborah was permitted to judge Israel under a palm tree; under this, private habitations are not allowed. Then the seal of judgment was in the sight of the sun; now their very dwellings must be secret under the earth. They who had rejected the protection of God, now run to the mountains for shelter; and as they had savagely abused themselves, so they are fain to creep into the dens and caves of the rocks like the wild animals, for safeguard. God had sown spiritual seed among them, and they suffered their heathen neighbours to pull it up by the roots; and now no sooner can they sow their material seed, than Midianites seek to devour it.”
“Jabin mightily oppressed them for twenty years.” but now the distress occasioned by the Midianites was only for seven years. Was not that an alleviation rather than an aggravation? Only in appearance, for it is possible to suffer more in one year than in twenty. It depends on the treatment given; and it is generally admitted that this was the greatest scourge they ever had in the days of the Judges. What a frightful calamity to be robbed of the whole harvest produce of their fertile country, year by year, till seven years had passed over them! only a few scanty gleanings being left here and there in corners, or bleak spots, as sustenance for their vast population. All the miseries of famine were upon them. And the life they otherwise led was like that of brute beasts, that find their lairs by burrowing in the ground! To what a low ebb does sin reduce its votaries! (comp. p. 170).
V. The cowardice and weakness of guilt.
Henry says, “Sin dispirits men, and makes them sneak into dens and caves. The day will come, when chief captains and mighty men will call in vain to rocks and mountains to hide them.”
1. Their former condition. Here was a people who traversed the ground of the wilderness for forty years, during the greater part of which they were crossing and re-crossing part of the territory occupied by these marauders, and yet only once in all that period did these tribes dare to encounter them in the open field, and that not alone but in conjunction with Moab. (Numbers 22:4; Numbers 22:7). Again, when God sent twelve thousand Israelites to punish the Midianites for their sin, in having tempted Israel to sin, they trode them down with ease like the grass of the field, and Midian was by a single blow reduced to the point of ruin. Still, further as we go down the history, beyond the date referred to in the chapter, to the days of Saul, king of Israel, we are told that the transjordanic tribes (Reuben, Gad, and half Manasseh) alone made war on the whole people of the Hagarenes, or Ishmaelites, or Midianites, and inflicted on them a signal defeat. They had long been harassed by raids made by these freebooters into their country, and they resolved, after asking counsel of their God, to take the strong step of rooting them entirely out of that part of the country, and colonising the whole region, as far as the Euphrates, themselves. This scheme was most successfully accomplished (see 1 Chronicles 5:9-10, also Judges 6:18-22; comp. 1 Chronicles 1:31, and Genesis 25:15-16).
2. Their present condition. But now Israel, being deserted by their God, had become so cowardly and weak, that all their tribes united dare not meet this outlandish and despicable people in the open field. They see “an undisciplined mob” come up in the most arrogant manner, and squat themselves down at pleasure amid the very fat of their land, and take all of the best they can find, while they, the degenerate descendants of a once conquering nation, not venturing once to meet them in the open country, are only too glad to skulk into corners, and make themselves cavities under ground for habitations! And the whole country is left at the mercy of the enemy! Not fifty years had yet elapsed, since, on this very plain of Jezreel, Sisera’s mighty army had been scattered as the chaff. Now the children of those who fought under Barak have become timid, terror-stricken fugitives. “These crouching slaves that timidly peep from behind the projecting rocks, or shiver in the damp darkness of the caverns, are they indeed the sons of the men who vanquished the hosts of Sihon and of Og, in whose sight the sun and moon stood still, and great hailstones were rolled down from heaven on the heads of their enemies? Where are now the old traditions of victory? Where is now the shout of a king in their camp? Whence has gone the national character—the energy of this once invincible race?”
3. Sin brings down. Sin degrades (p. 104). It terrible weakens (p. 107, 265, 266). The basis of all true courage of the highest type is a good conscience, which a man can only find in the ways of righteousness. But where there is conscious guilt, the foundations of all real strength are sapped. “The wicked flee even when none pursue.” God speaks to a man’s imagination, and it becomes to him the bearer of fearful tidings, wherever he turns. “He fears each bush an officer.” It is the same now as then. There is no mere chance in the matter. The evil comes expressly from the Lord. “He scares him with dreams, and terrifies him through visions; terrors make him afraid on every side.” Why is a man who has all the conditions of prosperity in his life yet a stranger to happiness, destitute of hope, and a prey to groundless fears? It is because he allows himself to be enslaved by sin, because he allows sinful thoughts to swarm and settle on his heart, and eat up all its strength; or because he is so craven in spirit as not to resist the approaches of evil, but gives way to all manner of temptation with which the wicked one, or the wicked world may surround him. O what need for Divine keeping for such hearts, in such a world, and exposed to such an enemy! “Ye are kept by the power of God” (1 Peter 1:5). “Those whom thou gavest me I have kept,” etc. (John 17:12). What need have the best of men to get themselves purged from the idols of the heart!
VI. All relief at God’s hand begins with earnest prayer.—Judges 6:7. (see pp. 198–200, 202, 224, 225).
We do not say that God never confers a blessing except in answer to prayer. He may sometimes see reason to bestow some spiritual good even where prayer has not been offered up. He gives indeed, “exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think,” in one sense. For we generally have a poor conception of the value of the blessings we pray for; but when He gives them, He puts far more meaning into them than we do. He also sometimes confers blessings which we do not ask at all, according as He sees it to be necessary or fit, just as the kind and watchful parent would give to the child what was needful, though not asked. But the main idea is, that we have no just ground to expect deliverance from trouble, or any other blessing from God till we have prayed for it. The direction given to us is, “ask, and ye shall receive;” “ye have not, because ye ask not.” Our warrant for expecting blessings to be given in answer to prayer is
(1.) such, is the rule laid down in God’s word.
(2.) Prayer itself is in many ways glorifying to God.
(3.) True prayer implies a spirit of penitence, without which the way is blocked against all blessing from the Divine hand. Israel’s cry seemed to be earnest and deep—“out of the depths.” God hears the prayer of the destitute, when penitent. (Psalms 34:4-6; Psalms 34:17; Psalms 102:17-18). (See p. 173).
VII.—God’s first answer is a call to thorough penitence.
1. He explains the meaning of His Providential dealing. In sending His prophet to the people, He leaves them in no doubt as to the meaning of this disastrous Providence. Disastrous it was, and very grievous, yet not mysterious. It was only what they had every reason to expect from what they had been told all along. If no calamity had befallen them, then they might have wondered; but, as it was, the natural expectation had been realised. These events did not happen by chance. They were specially sent by God to intimate His high displeasure with their sins. God had really gone against them, because they had abandoned His worship and dishonoured His name.
2. He specially reproves them for ingratitude and breach of vows. According to the excellence of the spirit of gratitude is the detestable character of ingratitude (pp. 259, 260, 263, with p. 122). No people had had the one-half done for them that Israel had, and more was justly expected of them than of others. Yet they had turned their backs on the kindest of Benefactors, and had wickedly put out of memory the sacred doings of His mighty hand. Their conduct was extremely offensive in daring to treat so slightingly His gracious deliverances of the past. And it was terribly intensified by their doing all this after solemnly engaging to belong to Jehovah and to serve Him from the land of Egypt. And they not only broke their covenant, but most wickedly went into the service of Amoritish idolatry, though so repeatedly warned against those heinous sins.
3. He insists on penitence before deliverance is granted. Far more stress is laid on penitence than on the means of deliverance. The latter was easy to be found if only the former were thoroughly gone through. Hence the prophet, with his reproof, comes before the angel, with his deliverance. The great difficulty was to find penitence among the people. God’s claims are set forth, and the people’s backslidings emphasised, that they may be duly repented of, and a speedy and general return to the God of their fathers might be made. Penitence was the first step in the process. That taken, all the rest will come right, as happened with their father Jacob when he wrestled with the angel and prevailed, and the conquest of Esau and flight of all his troubles followed. God could, indeed, have struck down the Midianites at one blow, and so saved all the tantalising and harrowing suspense of the circuitous course which He actually did take. But though none had such true sympathy with the deeply afflicted Church as He had, His love was far-seeing and wise. Therefore He delayed for a time until the most useful lessons, which the rod alone can effectually teach, were learned by His erring children. It was only under great sufferings, and by painful experience of the sad fruits of sin, that they could learn effectually true sorrow for sin, self-abasement, submission, faith, patience and entire consecration to God. To get the backsliding people to practise the passive virtues of the religious character, was a valuable purpose to be gained, but if the deliverance had been accomplished in a day, there would have been no opportunity afforded for gaining it.
This seems to be the Divine rule under all circumstances, to send first a “ministry of condemnation,” to produce conviction of sin, self-humiliation, and the casting away of transgressions; and when this has had its proper effect, then comes deliverance. Meantime the terrible character of the sin might be read in the terrible character of the punishment. In this case the prophet would likely travel from city to city, or to those places where he might find an audience, or any considerable number of people assembled all over the land. “It is a good sign when God chides us; His severe reproofs are ever gracious fore-runners of mercy; whereas His silent connivance at the wicked argues deep and secret displeasure. The prophet made way for the angel, reproof for deliverance, humiliation for comfort.”—(Hall).
COMMENTS AND SUGGESTIONS.—Judges 6:1-10
I. BESETTING SINS
1. Every age has its own besetting sins.
The besetting sin of the ancient Israel undoubtedly was that of idol worship. The depraved heart, being in a state of alienation from God, does not like to retain God in its knowledge. But in departing from Him it cannot remain in a state of neutrality. For there is no such thing possible as a negation of good. The feeling that could reject God is itself a positive evil. Hence, in leaving God, it comes under the dominion of sin. Besides, being made for God, all its deepest instincts cry out for something to take His place. A god of some kind it must have, and hence it devises a god after its own liking. Thus from within do we account for idolatry; and not less powerful was the influence operating from without. The universal example of the other nations was always acting with the force of a mighty current in the same direction. It was like the confluence of several mighty streams bearing down with great force.
Idolatry continued as the sin to which the Israelites were most addicted for centuries. It seemed bred in the bone. Not till the frightful calamity of the captivity had befallen them when the nation came near the point of being annihilated, were they cured of it. Even then depravity was not extirpated but assumed a new form. From that time the besetting sin was Pharisaism, consisting of pride in religious profession, systematic hypocrisy in attending to externals, and cold formalism in the discharge of religious duty. In the earlier centuries the age was very much distinguished by the tyrannical and cruel oppression of the weak by the strong. In what is called “the Dark Ages” the characteristic feature was the torpor of spiritual slavery; and when the human mind began to shake itself free, the principal feature of the times was that of persecution for non-comformity of religious belief. In the seventeenth century, the pendulum swung from a rigid austerity of profession and life, to the extreme of laxity in manners and even to open profligacy and vice. In the eighteenth century the prevailing spirit was that of Deistical infidelity on the one hand, along with daring ridicule of Bible Christianity, and on the other nominal religious profession, and empty formality of worship.
And now in the nineteenth century, the most strikingly many-sided age in the history of the world, we have not one besetting sin, but many. There is avarice or the lust for money, in the commercial world, carrying many breaches of the eighth and ninth commandments in its track, the lust for power in the political world, especially as between nations; the lust for self-indulgence in many forms, though visibly curbed by the awakened power of Christianity; the spirit of liberty becoming a rage, and running into licence; the spirit of infidelity assuming Protean forms, and appearing sometimes as scepticism, or mere questioning of Christian truths, sometimes, though seldom, as Pyrrhonism, or absolute doubt; again as Spinozism, or Pantheism; again as Agnosticism; Atheism proper; Positivism and Naturalism; Spiritualism; and Rationalism.
2. Every individual man has his besetting sins.
Wherever the enemy enters, his desire is to have a fortress of evil in the heart, one or more, so that if other parts should come under the influence of good, he might still hold out in that fortress, and possibly from thence reconquer the whole. A besetting sin, or one to which the man is specially addicted, is such a fortress. Or, it might be regarded as that side of the defences of the heart, where some lurking traitor has got command of the keys, and at an opportune moment, he opens the gates to the enemy.
Trench describes it as “that sin which gets advantage over us more easily than others, to which we have a mournful proclivity, an especial predisposition; it may be through natural temperament, through faults in our education, or the circumstances in which we are placed, or it may be through our having given way to them in time past, and so broken down on that side the moral defences of the soul. The soul in such a case resembles paper, which, where it has been blotted once, however careful the erasure may have been, there do blots more easily run anew. A man should watch and pray against all sin, but he must set a double watch, and ‘pray with all prayer’ against an easily besetting sin.”
3. It is through easily-besetting sins that Satan gains most of his victories.
In the case of such a sin, there is usually some charm, or hallucinating influence exercised over the soul by which it is more easily persuaded to listen to the tempter. A man’s will as it were acts under the influence of an intoxication. He is allured into a kind of spiritual debauch. Though our first parents might be said to have a perfect panoply of defence, being entirely innocent, and without any seed of sin in their natures, yet their crafty adversary made the most dexterous use of the less strongly fortified points of the case. He attacked the weaker vessel first, he presented to the eye nothing gross or impure, but what appeared noble and most fit for a pure mind to attain, as the highest possible reach of knowledge, and especially he tried to over-reach an inferior nature with his superior intellect. It was practically assaulting our innocent humanity on its weak side. It has been so all along. He looks for the weak part of the embankment, where the great flood of waters is most ready to burst forth, and he tries to make a breach there.
Every man has a handle. This Satan soon finds out, and deftly uses to serve his own ends. He tempted Judas on the side of his covetousness, and in the same manner Ananias and Sapphira, Demas, Lot’s wife, Lot himself also, though he was saved yet so as by fire. He tempted the Jews on the side of their expecting a Messiah of great temporal glory; Pilate on the side of his fear lest he should be reported to Cæsar as allowing a rival to the throne of Judea to escape; Joseph’s brethren on the side of their fear lest the dreams of their envied younger brother should one day be realised; and guilty Herod the great on the side of his troubled conscience, that God would one day make use of the young child to wrest his kingdom from him because of his sins.
It is, indeed, almost always those points of a man’s character, where he is specially liable to fall into some sin, that Satan attacks. Hence Christians are directed to “watch and pray lest,” etc., and to “take the whole armour of God that they may be able to stand in the evil day,” i.e., the day of temptation. (See also 1 Peter 5:8; Ephesians 5:15; Romans 13:12-14; 1 Thessalonians 5:8; 1 Corinthians 16:13; Hebrews 3:12.) “Indeed Satan baits his hook according to the appetite of the fish.”—Adams. (pp. 168, 191.)
II. THE SINS OF THE PEOPLE OF GOD
1. A man may sin and yet be a child of God.
This is only too easily proved. For “there is not a just man upon earth that doeth good, and sinneth not.” All the good people of whom we have any account given in Scripture, have, every one of them, some spot or stain pointed out in his character. And there is scarcely one who makes reference to his state before God, but laments his sinfulness and pollution (Psalms 51:0; Isaiah 6:5; Job 40:4; Job 42:5-6; Ezra 9:6; Daniel 9:5; Daniel 9:7; Matthew 26:31-35; 1 John 1:8; 1 John 1:10). A good man in this world is really a bad man in the process of being made good. His heart resembles a muddy well, which has got a spring of clear, running water opened in the bottom of it. The purifying process is begun, but there is still much of the muddy element in the well, which requires time to clear it away. The process of sanctification is gradual. The “motions of sins which are by the law still work,” though they are languishing and destined to die. There is “the old man with his deeds.” But the fact that it is called “the old man” assumes that it is destined to die out. See the struggle described in Romans 7:15-25,
2. The sins of the good are specially heinous.
Sin, in place of coming nearer the point of toleration, when committed by a godly man, is only the more aggravated and offensive to God. The sins of these Israelites implied much greater guilt, than the same sins as committed by the heathen. There were many circumstances of aggravation. They were committed under much clearer light; they enjoyed privileges which the Canaanites never had; far more tender, more loving, and more sacred considerations did God use in dealing with their hearts than ever He did with the native idolaters of the land. Besides, they violated sacred vows, most solemnly entered into, and they forgot the most extraordinary acts of loving kindness ever done to any people in the history of time. The sacred position occupied by the people of God adds incalculably to the evil of their sins. Just as a sin committed in the Holy of Holies involves far greater guilt than a sin committed in one’s private dwelling. There theft, which is bad in itself, becomes sacrilege.
If the sins of God’s people are, notwithstanding this, freely forgiven when repented of, it is not because they are not exceedingly heinous, but because of two things:—
1. They have already accepted Christ as their sin-bearer, while He has engaged to be their Advocate; and
2. They have got “the heart of flesh,” and are ready to confess and forsake their sins.
3. These sins are specially dishonouring to God.
Because they represent God before the world. They are His children, and the Father’s likeness is expected to be seen in the child. Though sin in all cases is detestable, yet it is not so surprising to be seen in the wicked. We expect to see more or less of it there. But, when it comes glaringly out in the case of a child of God, we say it is scandalous, and “gives occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme.” If the sun is eclipsed but one day it is more talked of than if it were to shine clearly for a whole year.
“It is terrible when a Christian becomes an argument against Christianity. To induce anyone to sin is for Satan a conquest, but in the case of a Christian it is a triumph.”—(South). God specially hates sin in His own people. It is in gardens that weeds are most noxious, for their appearance there shows that, after all the pains taken, the work is still marred. “When the Lord saw it, He abhorred them because of the provoking of His own sons and daughters.” (Deuteronomy 32:19).
4. Such sins are soon forsaken.
In the case of a wicked man, to sin is only in keeping with his nature. He acts in character. In the case of a child of God, it is quite the reverse. The wicked one for the moment has got an advantage over him, but he will speedily recover, as in the case of Peter (Luke 22:31, etc.).
“Whosoever is born of God sinneth not … and he cannot sin because he is born of God” (1 John 3:9). “He that committeth sin is of the devil,” i.e., one whose nature it is so to do. It is not the nature of a man who is born of God to commit sin. The Spirit of God within him prompts him otherwise and he is now “led by that Spirit.” When he does sin, through the uprising of his native depravity, his better nature rebels against it, and he can give as the explanation, “it is no more that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me” (Romans 7:17). But still he mourns at the victory of sin over him, “O wretched man that I am,” etc. (Romans 7:24). A good watch may point wrong for a season, but if the owner has paid a heavy price for it, he will see to its being repaired without delay, when it will get into its natural position and point right as before.
III.—THE WORTHLESSNESS OF HUMAN CHARACTER BEFORE GOD
1. From this narrative, and, indeed, from the whole book of Judges, we learn with what a fatal facility the human heart can forget all its mercies, its sad experiences, its gracious deliverances, and all the tender dealings of its God (pp. 95–101)! How strange that God should accept of such a people, as those whose character is here depicted, to represent Him in the world, to be called by His name, and to hold up His standard before men on the earth! Most strikingly is the idea brought out, of the utter worthlessness of human character before God. The character of Israel in every age was a continual blot. The descendants of those holy men with whom God entered into covenant—Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—in almost every generation, turned completely round from the attitude of allegiance which the fathers occupied, when God chose them and their seed to be a people to Him on the earth.
2. What a harrowing spectacle to the spiritual eye! As we turn over every page, it is to find some sickening tale of disobedience, treachery, apostasy, and everything that is bad—the very worst. We can hardly read a single paragraph without hanging our heads for very shame, to think that this is the people who are taken as a fair representation of the race to which we belong, and, that, as they were, so we are all judged to be in the roots of character, however different may be the soil in which we are planted, and however more genial the spiritual climate around us is. What a blackening of our human nature is here! Who “does not blush and hang his head to think himself a man?” The simple truth, without a stroke of emphasis, is a melancholy picture, fit only to be framed in black. It is an indelible disgrace to a creature made after the image of God. We dare only say, with trembling acquiescence in the Divine verdict, “Ichabod! Ichabod! The crown is fallen from our heads; woe unto us for we have sinned! We smite on our breasts and cry, God be merciful to us sinners!”
3. What a wonder of grace that God should not at once cast us off! The natural expectation is, that He would banish us from His presence, and consign us to endless darkness, raising up in our place, as He could do in a single moment, another race, all pure and spotless, of nobler rank, of more gifted capacity, and more faithful in their allegiance to the Eternal Throne. That could be done by a single word. But ere the old sinning race could be restored, the Son of God must die! The Eternal Light must be shrouded in darkness, and the Eternal Life must sink in death. How stedfast has the Divine love been to its first idea in the covenant made with Abraham! Man’s faithlessness, and God’s truthfulness appear in striking contrast.
4. The humiliating glimpse we here have of the falsity of human character in all ages.
This record is given intentionally as a specimen of human hearts in every age. What crowds came around Jesus, and yet all melted away before a single spiritual discourse (John 6:0)! How quickly did the warmest friends of the Saviour show treachery when exposed to temptation (Matthew 26:56)! How superficial all the professions of friendship made to the aged apostle when he was in real difficulty (2 Timothy 1:15-16)! What perjury has been committed by those who have solemnly engaged themselves to be the Lord’s people—these Israelites in almost every age, with good words, but perfidious hearts, all apostates, all lukewarm professors, all unworthy partakers of the Lord’s supper, all inconsistent Christians. These are camp followers only.
IV. THE UNSEEN DANGERS FROM WHICH GOD DELIVERS HIS PEOPLE
“He is the Preserver (not Saviour) of all men, especially of them who believe.” Believers have a special promise of protection from danger. “He that keepeth Israel neither slumbers, nor sleeps.” Of His vineyard, God says, “I the Lord do keep it … lest any hurt it; I will keep it night and day.” The whole 91st Psalm is a manifold promise of protection from unseen dangers. It is a most singular fact in the history of Israel, that though they were always surrounded by enemies, they were yet, on the whole, very seldom attacked. The fear of God was upon the nations, as in the case of their father Jacob. (Genesis 35:5).
By all the nations round about the people of God were hated. Why then did they not oftener combine to cut them off utterly, when at some moment they seemed specially weak? In place of Chushan-rish-a-thaim coming alone, Eglon alone, Jabin alone, and the Midianites in like manner, why did not they all come together, or such rulers of those kingdoms as were contemporaries—why did they come singly merely? And as to these Midianites, why do we not read of their coming to attack Israel long before this period, and how do we never hear of their return? And why should not the Philistines, the Moabites, and other nations have come forward now and crushed Israel to the very earth? There were a few occasions of this kind in the history of the people; but they were very few (see Psalms 83:0). “The Lord is a wall of fire round about His Church,” etc.
The missionaries to the Figi Islands, when threatened with destruction from the natives, had no means of defence except prayer. The savages heard them praying, were seized with trembling, and fled. They said afterwards, “We knew that your God was a strong God, and when we saw you crying to Him, we were afraid.” How often are praying people saved just in time from some terrible accident, or from some fatal epidemic, or from some evil purpose of wicked men! (Psalms 34:20; Psalms 34:22; 1 Samuel 2:9). Laban durst not carry out any evil design against Jacob (Genesis 31:24). Neither could Satan himself proceed further against Job, or Peter, than he was permitted (Job 2:6; Luke 22:31-32). God guards His people by putting a muzzle on the lions’ mouths. Sometimes, in punishment for their sins, he takes off the muzzle and they rise up, and fall upon them with the weight of an avalanche.
V. THE READINESS WITH WHICH THE WICKED UNITE TO ATTACK THE RIGHTEOUS
These various tribes of the desert, all had frequent quarrels with each other. But we seldom hear of two of them uniting together to crush a third. Yet when one of them is about to attack Israel, others are wonderfully disposed to join in the attack, as if they had special pleasure in doing so (p. 70). (Judges 3:13). This seems to be a special part of the reference in Psalms 83:0. Pilot and Herod had a bitter feud among themselves. But they could agree in pouring contempt on the Saviour (Luke 23:12). When Christ was crucified it was by a combination of enemies, who could all agree in that, though differing at a thousand points with each other. We see generally how they united in the days of the Judges, from Judges 10:11-12, also Judges 6:7. (Acts 4:27; John 15:19).
CHAPTER 6.—Judges 6:11-24
THE UNSEEN FRIEND
CRITICAL NOTES.— Judges 6:11. There came an angel of the Lord.] Rather, “the angel of the Lord came.” The reference being to one particular person known already by that name (ch. Judges 2:1-5). He almost always personated Jehovah, or speaks in His name (Exodus 23:20-22; Ex. 3:23; Exodus 14:19). He is generally supposed to have been the Messiah, the Son of God, anticipating the appearance He was to make in human form in the fulness of time. He had other names, such as “angel of His presence” (Isaiah 63:9). “Angel of the covenant” (Malachi 3:1). Some think also that the “Shechinah,” and “the glory of the Lord” are names of the Messiah.
Sat under an oak]. Sat down under the oak, or terebinth tree—one special tree of that kind, noted perhaps for its size, its umbrageous character, and its convenient position, so that it formed a suitable public meeting place. Some think there was a grove, or cluster of trees. Such a tree, of magnificent proportions, and wide-spreading branches, would afford a most grateful shade in a land of so much sunshine—comp. the “palm-tree” under which Deborah sat in performing her functions, as a prophetess (ch. Judges 4:5); also the “juniper tree” under which Elijah rested (1 Kings 19:4). Certain trees were certainly of great importance in those times (Joshua 24:26; Genesis 35:4). A well was also an object of great importance, as in the case of the well “Harod” (ch. Judges 7:1); the well of “Hagar” (Genesis 16:14); the well of “Bethlehem” (2 Samuel 23:15-16); and “Jacob’s well” (John 4:6).
Which was in Ophrah]. So described to distinguish it from a place of the same name in Benjamin (Joshua 18:23; 1 Samuel 13:17). This Ophrah was a small town in the south-west of Manasseh, in the hill country, and near to Shechem. It was inhabited by a branch of the Abi-ezerite family, or clan. It appears to have been a secluded spot, in a rugged country, with rocks all round. Abiezer was a son of Gilead’s sister (1 Chronicles 7:18). The name is given as Jeezer in Numbers 26:30, but Abi-ezer in Joshua 17:2, and also here.
That pertained to Joash the Abi-ezrite.] Joash, the father of Gideon, was head of the clan or house of Abi-ezer. The little town of Ophrah was Gideon’s place of birth, of residence, and of burial (ch. Judges 6:11-24; Judges 8:32).
His son Gideon.] The name means hewer or feller, which well corresponds with what he did in hewing down the image of Baal; also with his being a man of great muscular strength, and a warrior. But for what reason he got the name, we are not told. Some think it was given him prophetically, He was the youngest son of the family, perhaps the only son now left (ch. Judges 8:18-19). He was the fifth judge in Israel.
Threshed wheat.] It was customary in those times, and in early times generally, for those who owned property to engage, both themselves and the members of their family, in manual labour connected with their establishments. The ancient Roman senators did the same, Cincinnatus, Curius, Scipio, etc. הֶכַט to beat out with a stick—not to thresh in the strict sense (Deuteronomy 24:20; Isaiah 27:12).
By the wine-press.] The usual manner of threshing wheat was to do it on open floors, or in places in the open field, that were rolled hard for the purpose with threshing carriages or threshing shoes, or else with oxen, which they drove about over the scattered sheaves to tread out the grains with their hoofs. Only poor people knocked out the little corn that they had gleaned with a stick (Ruth 2:17), and Gideon did it so now, showing the extreme distress which prevailed in the laud when a family such as his were reduced to adopt such an expedient as this. He beat it out in the pressing tub גַּת; which like all wine-presses was either sunk in the ground in a hole dug out, or else was a hollow scooped out in the rock (Keil). In either case, the purposes of concealment would be served. The men of the desert would not expect to find wheat in the wine-press; being in a pit, or hollow of the rock, it was not likely to be discovered; oxen not being employed in the process, there would be no lowing heard; and there being no machine, there would be no hum-drumming noise such as it usually makes.
הָנִיס to make it safe from, lit. to make it fly from (Exodus 9:20). Threshing was usually performed by oxen (Deuteronomy 25:4) upon floors (2 Samuel 24:18) prepared for the purpose. At this season the operation of Gideon could be done in the wine-press, for the vintage season was four months after the wheat harvest.
Judges 6:12. And the angel of the Lord appeared to him.] It had already been said, “he came and sat down under the oak.” Now it is said, he appeared. This implies something more than a stranger coming within sight. It seems to intimate that he made a revelation of himself to him. The Hebrew word used justifies this rendering; for יֵרָא is only used when the invisible Divine nature becomes visible (Cassel). It also corresponds with the fact, that after the interview he vanished out of sight. The angel who came forward to withstand Balaam was for a time invisible to him (Numbers 22:23; Numbers 22:25; Numbers 22:27 with Judges 6:31; Judges 6:34; 2 Kings 6:17). Gideon was the only judge to whom the angel of the Lord had yet appeared in calling him to his special work.
The Lord is with thee, thou mighty man of valour.] This, though a common form of salutation (Ruth 2:4), seems to have been spoken with significance in the present instance. The angel speaks of Gideon in a manner which appearances seem to justify. He was a young man, of noble countenance, of muscular build, and great natural strength; like the son of a king (ch. Judges 8:18). Perhaps, too, in this statement there is some slight intimation of the destiny or work reserved for Gideon; q. d., Jehovah has marked thee out as His instrument for doing a great work, being naturally so well fitted for carrying it out, and he is now with thee and in thee for this purpose.
Judges 6:13. O my Lord, if Jehovah be with us, why is all this befallen us? Gideon’s heart was sad, because of the loss of his own brethren (ch. Judges 8:18-19), as well as because of the national calamities. But one thing encouraged him to speak out his mind with confidence to this stranger. He struck the right key-note in addressing a true Israelite. When the whole land was full of Baal, it was a relief to hear a voice raised in honour of Jehovah; and Gideon thought he recognised in this utterance of the stranger the true ring. It was the vein in which Gideon’s heart loved to go out. Doubtless he had loved to think of the bright days of old when Jehovah was held to be Supreme, and all went well. And often must he have wished to find some congenial spirit with whom he could hold intercourse about the melancholy state of religion, throughout all the coasts of Israel. He was a man of the type referred to in Ezekiel 9:4; Malachi 3:16-17; Isaiah 62:1; Isaiah 62:6-7. He therefore felt that this stranger, from the few words he had let fall, was a friend of the right stamp. But he did not know, nor suspect, at this stage, that he was addressed by a person of mysterious dignity.
His language means simply, O sir! how can you say Jehovah is with us, when all this has happened to us? It is impossible that our true King can be among us, when things are brought to the very last extremity! The wave of desolation that is passing over the land is clear proof of the absence of our God; for what god can contend with the God of Israel? His arm is never shortened that it cannot save, etc. (Isaiah 59:1). But it is as He threatened in Deuteronomy 31:16-17. How can we for a moment suppose that the Lord is with us, when “He has delivered us into the hands of the Midianites?”] into the grasp of (lit. the palm of the hands). The word here translated forsaken means the same as castaway (Romans 11:2). Because they were brought so low as to burrow in the ground like beasts, and hide themselves in dens and in caves. Gideon’s reply is significant, as showing what his heart was full of at the time, and God, who looks especially at what is passing in men’s hearts, saw that from the state of his heart, he was a man of the right stamp to undertake the work of the people’s deliverance.
Judges 6:14. And the Lord looked upon him] i.e., He turned round with expressive gesture, and said in the attitude and tone of giving him a solemn charge. Not the angel, but Jehovah (as in Joshua 6:2). This charge to go and deliver Israel manifestly implied the assumption of a prerogative, which belonged only to Israel’s God—the Keeper and Shepherd of Israel. The closing words specially imply this (הַלֹא) “have not I sent thee?” (Acts 7:38). This phrase is a strong assertion of the fact, that the speaker had commissioned him. It is the same as saying, “Does not my statement, now solemnly made, bear witness to the fact that thou art commissioned?” (ch. Judges 4:14; Joshua 1:9).
From the hand of Midian.] From the grasp.
Go in this thy might, and thou shall save, etc.] This is the formal commission given by the Keeper of Israel to him whom He had chosen for His instrument in effecting their deliverance. He now has a duty laid down for him to discharge. This involves a responsibility for himself, and a call to others to assist him in the work. Two things had been referred to as constituting a source of great strength. Jehovah was with him, and as regards his natural equipment as a man, he was a mighty man of valour. Both these are included in the phrase, “this thy might.” It might be said he had an additional source of strength in the fact, that Jehovah had now formally commissioned him. For this necessarily conveyed a promise, that He would in all respects qualify him sufficiently for the performance of the work. He sends “none a warfare on their own charges” (1 Corinthians 9:7). “His God would command his strength, and would make perfect that which concerned him.” His own natural strength, though a small matter compared with the special Divine resources, which would be open to him, would yet not be despised; for it was God’s natural gift, and in its place would go for something.
Judges 6:15. O my Lord! wherewith shall I save, etc.] Rather, O Lord God. He now addresses the stranger as Jehovah; believing from His speech, and whole manner, that he is a Divine person in human form. As such an idea seems too grand for any man to comprehend in a single moment, and as Gideon expressed no great surprise at the discovery made, we are disposed to think that here, as in many other parts of Scripture (as Peter’s Sermon on the day of Pentecost, Acts 2:14-36; Acts 2:40; Peter’s Sermon in the house of Cornelius, Acts 10:34-43; Paul’s Address on Mars’ Hill, Acts 17:22-31—in all which, as well as other places, we have only the heads of the sermon delivered, and not the full verbatim report), we have only an abridgment or outline of what was actually said. It is enough, if the statement given conveys an infallibly accurate conception of what took place, although the whole of what was uttered is not recorded. If more had been said on this occasion than is here given, the discovery of the Divinity of the speaker may have come more gradually on Gideon, than seems to have been the case from what we read in the page.
Gideon does not question the ability of the speaker to accomplish the salvation of Israel. He is only full of doubts, about his own miserable qualifications for the task. “To choose me for so great a work seems passing strange. I am the last person in all Israel to be thought of. Manasseh, my tribe, itself has less influence than the others, for it is only a half tribe, to the west of Jordan. My family, or house, is among the poorest in Manasseh. And I am the least in my father’s house. I am in every way disqualified for so vast an undertaking.” Doubtless the thought often crossed his mind—“O that Israel were free! How cheerfully would I assist, were but an opportunity given, for lifting the nightmare from off my nation! I would lay my life on the altar, did I but see how the Church of God could be restored to freedom and honour.” Now the answer comes, which solves the difficult problem, “I will be with thee, and thou shalt smite the Midianites as one man,” i.e., as easily as thou couldst smite one man, or, at one blow. This was He who had been a wall of fire around Israel hitherto, and who had wrought all the miracles, which the fathers spoke so much of to the children. It was He who fainteth not, neither is weary, in turning round the wheels of Providence. Thus assured, Gideon questions no longer the possibility of the work being done.
My family is poor] lit, “my thousand (Numbers 1:16) is the humblest in Manasseh,” referring to the divisions and sub-divisions made in Exodus 18:25; Micah 5:2; Deuteronomy 33:17. These were tens, fifties, hundreds, and thousands. The “thousand” meant the expansion of the family so as to include several sub-divisions.
I am the least in my father’s house.] The person of least influence—as being the youngest, and his name therefore coming in at the bottom of the roll on all occasions. Also perhaps because of his singular modesty and disinterestedness, as he seems to have underrated his own qualities, and spoken highly of the merits of others. He was in the family of Joash, what David was in the family of Jesse—the least respected boy in the family circle. But God chose them both to do His work.
Gideon had hesitation, but it was the hesitation of modesty and self-distrust, not the hesitation of unbelief. He did not question God’s power, but his own. Compare with the hesitation of Moses (Exodus 3:11, etc., Judges 4:1-14); of Barak (ch. Judges 4:8); of Saul (1 Samuel 10:21-22); of Joshua (Joshua 1:1-10); of Jonah, (Jonah 1:1-3); of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:6); of Amos (Amos 7:14-15). “The least fit are usually the most forward, and the most fit are the most backward, to undertake great offices (ch. Judges 9:8-15). True humility is the usual companion of true greatness (2 Corinthians 2:16; 2 Corinthians 3:5; Ephesians 3:8).” (Pulpit Com.)
Judges 6:17. If now I have found grace in Thy sight, show me a sign. אוֹת]—A miraculous sign. Gideon thought if the mysterious stranger would but eat and drink with him, it would be a conclusive proof of two things: first that he was really human, and next that he was friendly in his intentions (Luke 24:41-43; Acts 10:41; John 21:9-13). But beyond that he was anxious for some decided proof that God had really called him to this work. He wished doubtless to see some work done which only God could do, to prove that it was really Jehovah that was calling him to this work, and it was no delusion. To none of the other judges was such favour shown. But the circumstances were such, as to necessitate a special degree of encouragement, to be given to him who should act the part of a deliverer. The tide of sin was strong, and the infliction of judgments was heavy. Gideon would have many a hard battle to fight all around him, as well as in the open field against the stern foe. He must know that the God who had done wonderful things for His people aforetimes still lived, and that His love to Israel was as strong as ever it had been in all the ages of the past.
The phrase, found grace in Thy sight, is common in Scripture (Genesis 18:3; Genesis 33:10; Exodus 33:13; 1 Samuel 27:5; Esther 7:3).
Judges 6:18. Depart not hence, etc., till I come and bring my present]—offering, or sacrifice. The word minchah may stand for either. The Sept. and Vulg. render it sacrifice. We understand it rather to mean a gift offered to God as King, a meat offering—such food as was given only to the specially favoured guests (Speak. Com.). It was a kind of eucharistic gift presented to God as King (Leviticus 2:1-6), the unbloody meat offering. In Genesis 4:3-5 it means sacrifice generally. To have accepted a meat offering at Gideon’s hands, would have been to confer on him the honour of His friendship, and the favour of His protecting shield.
Judges 6:19. Gideon made ready a kid, and unleavened cakes.] Here are two things in which Gideon showed especial respect to the stranger. He gave him a kid. Animal food is never provided except for visitors of superior rank, when a kid, or a lamb, and sometimes even a calf, is killed (Genesis 18:7). The other circumstance is, that the ephah was generally the quantity used for a whole household of ten persons, being nearly a bushel of flour (Matthew 13:33). It was equal to tenomers, yet one omer was the daily portion of manna allowed to one person, as being amply sufficient to supply all wants (Exodus 16:16). To present a whole ephah to one person therefore was a mark of the deepest respect; and more especially at such a time as this, when great scarcity prevailed all over the land.
Unleavened cakes.] Not soured, but sweet. Also these were quickly prepared, and were best suited as an offering to God (Genesis 19:3; Exodus 12:39; 1 Samuel 28:24; Leviticus 2:11).
Presented it.] Set it before the stranger, and awaited his commands (Amos 5:25). In this interview with the angel, Gideon did not wish any others to be present, and so to dispense with assistants he put the flesh into a basket, and the broth into a pot, and brought it out himself.
Judges 6:20. Angel of God.] Elohim, not Jehovah. Yet it is the same person who is spoken of, implying that both are one. This rock] or stone, used as an altar on which any thing was laid that was presented to God—an unhewn rock (Exodus 20:25).
Pour out the broth] as a drink offering (Genesis 35:14). (Speak. Com.)
Judges 6:21. End of the staff that was in his hand]—that which a traveller carries with him (Genesis 32:10; Exodus 12:11). The sign of fire was given (Leviticus 9:24; 1 Chronicles 21:26). This was the answer to the request made in Judges 6:17. It implied the acceptance of Gideon’s offering (Genesis 15:17; 2 Chronicles 7:1; 1 Kings 18:38). It had also a deep symbolical meaning.
Judges 6:22. Alas! O Lord God!] lit. O Lord Jehovah—an exclamation sometimes of vexation and disappointment (as Joshua 7:7), and sometimes of apprehension that some terrible issue is to come out of what is happening (Jeremiah 4:10; Ezekiel 4:14; Jeremiah 32:17). Here it expresses dread at having seen the angel Jehovah, or God Himself, which according to the popular belief, no man could do, and continue to live. This belief seems to have had for its foundation, Exodus 33:20. But what was really seen on this occasion, and indeed on all other occasions, was not the actual Person of Jehovah, but only the appearance of a man personating Jehovah (Genesis 32:24; Genesis 32:30-31; John 1:18; John 14:9; ch. Judges 13:21). (See also Exodus 20:19; Exodus 33:20; Deuteronomy 5:24-26; ch. Judges 13:18).
For because I have seen.] Lit. for therefore, an idiomatic phrase, which is only a strong form of using the word because (Lias). Others translate it for to this end have I seen an angel—that I might die (Keil). The former sense, which indeed is that of the A. V. seems better (Genesis 33:10).
Judges 6:23. The Lord said, Peace unto thee, etc.] He said, probably by vision, or some audible voice, not by inward suggestion so likely, Peace is meant, not Trouble, by this visit. It has been given to comfort you (Jeremiah 29:11). You are mistaken in your fears. Comp. John 20:21; John 20:26; Genesis 21:17; Genesis 16:0; Daniel 10:12; Daniel 10:19; Matthew 28:5; Luke 2:10; Luke 24:36-38).
Judges 6:24. Built an altar unto the Lord. etc.] Partly out of gratitude for the sparing of his life; partly to mark the spot as sacred, where so glorious a Person had stood; partly to express his sense of the honour that had been done to him; and chiefly perhaps, to consecrate the place where he had received a Divine commission to become the saviour of his people. He manifestly did not intend to make this altar a spot, on which sacrifices might be regularly offered in Divine worship. This would have been expressly condemned as being against the fixed law appointed for Divine worship in Israel. Only in the place which God should specially choose to put His name there, was it allowable to offer sacrifices in the way of regular worship (Deuteronomy 12:5-6; Deuteronomy 12:11-14). The mere semblance of departure from this rule was denounced as a great trespass of Divine law (Joshua 22:16; Joshua 22:19; Joshua 22:28). But any place where God appeared was in some sense sacred, and Gideon’s object appears to have been as described above. It was especially a memorial and witness of the theophany vouchsafed to him, on the occasion of God’s sending him forth to be the saviour of His people.
Jehovah—Shalom.] Jehovah—Peace. Comp. the names, Jehovah-jireh, (Genesis 22:14); Jehovah-nissi (Exodus 17:15); Jehovah-Tzidkenu (Jeremiah 23:6); Jehovah-Shammah (Ezekiel 48:35). Here the phrase means simply, “The Lord, is peace”—or peaceful. It is similar to the New Testament name of God—“the God of peace.” But that is a fixed and permanent name, denoting the settled attitude of God in dealing with guilty men, now that the great propitiation has been made. In Old Testament times, the light shed on God’s character was more flickering. The force of the title on this occasion was, that the Divine visit made to Gideon was one of peace—peace to himself, and peace to Israel. Jehovah’s anger was now turned away, and now He was to bless His people with peace (Isaiah 12:1; Psalms 29:11).
MAIN HOMILETICS.—Judges 6:11-24
THE VISIT OF THE UNSEEN FRIEND
Israel’s darkest night had come. Her last star had gone down, and a pitiless storm swept through all her borders. The enemy had come in like a flood, and swallowed up her every possession. Her beautiful land was turned into a wilderness. Her cornfields were wasted; her fig trees were barked; her vines and olives stripped bare; her harvest fruits were destroyed; and her children were compelled to burrow in the ground for habitations, or to flee to the mountain crags, or to dens and caves, in their search for shelter from their marauding foe. For seven long years, this sinning people lay helpless and bleeding, under the heel of the oppressor, learning the sad lesson, that the greatest enemy of man is man.
But man’s extremity is God’s opportunity. Though no sign in the horizon indicates that help is at hand; though the heavens do not thunder against the oppressor, and the stars in their courses do not fight against him, though no powerful army comes to the rescue, Israel is yet not without a Friend in this hour of extreme peril. one who, though unseen, has been a deeply interested witness of the tragic scene, now steps forward to act the part of a Friend in this emergency. Silently, as the dew falls, and unobserved, he shows himself. As a traveller, staff in hand, but of princely form and expressive countenance. He enters into conversation with one of Israel’s disconsolate sons; a few simple words are spoken; a command is given; a flash of fire springs out of the hard rock, and the stranger disappears. But, during that short interview, a rift begins to appear in the clouds of Israel’s distresses. And though, for a moment the secret is kept, soon it appears, that a movement has begun, which will quickly put another colour on the whole course of events. It gets whispered that He who walks on the waters, and gathers the winds in His fists, has already sent forth the word—Be still! and ere long there must be a great calm! Such is the matter we have now to consider. Though it was the visit of only one friend, His presence to Israel at this time was invaluable. The sheep, however numerous, can do nothing against the attack of the lion without the Shepherd. Little children, in an emergency, are helpless without the presence of father and mother.
1. The Unseen Friend.
1. Who He was. “The angel of the Lord appeared to him” (Judges 6:12). It might be read, the angel-Jehovah. It was manifestly not one of the ordinary heavenly messengers, who, however superior they way be to men, and however brilliant they may be both in wisdom and prowess, yet dare not assume the prerogative of Deity, or speak in the name of Jehovah. But this is always done by him who is styled the angel-Jehovah. The name Jehovah is given him interchangeably with that of the angel of the Lord (comp. Judges 6:11-12; Judges 6:20-22 with Judges 6:14; Judges 6:16; Judges 6:15). None, however, could claim to speak and act as God, and show that he possessed the power of God, but He who really was God. Only one Person corresponds with this description—the second Person of the glorious God-head, who was, in the fulness of time, to become “God manifest in the flesh,” and who now by anticipation, at special seasons, made needful revelations to His Church.
He is sometimes called “The Messenger or Angel of the Covenant” (Malachi 3:1), “The Angel who redeems from all evil” (Genesis 48:16), and “The Angel of His Presence” (Isaiah 63:9).
This friend of His people, if still unseen, is no longer unknown, for “He was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, etc.” (John 1:14). In the man Christ Jesus, we have one who is all, and more, in these New Testament times, than the unseen Guardian was to the church of old. In Him we have not an angel, but a man associated with the Divine name, Who is at once “bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh,” and yet is also “the Mighty God, and the everlasting Father,”—whose appearances are no longer shadowy and vanishing, but are for ever fixed in the form of a man at the helm of universal power, “far above all principality, and power, and might, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come.” We must know Who He is, where He is, and what power He has to preserve every one of His people, till they reach the world of glory.
2. The relation which He bore to Israel. That this angel was something more than a mere spectator of the sufferings of God’s people, however sympathetic, is abundantly manifest from the accounts given of Him in the different places where He appeared.
(1.) It was this angel Jehovah that appeared in the flame of fire in a bush, when Moses was called to arise and deliver Israel from bondage (Acts 7:30). It was He who announced His presence by saying, “I am the God of the Fathers, of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,” and who gave as the reason for His coming down, “I have seen, I have seen the affliction of my people, and I am come down to deliver them.” Thus He stands to Israel in the close relation of being their God, and claiming them for Himself as His special property. He was their Owner or Possessor.
(2.) But He was also their Redeemer, for it was the same Divine Person who spake to Moses at the bush, who also sent him to Pharaoh with the message, “Let my people go that they may serve me;” it was He who sent all the plagues on Egypt, who destroyed the first-born of that country, and brought out Israel with a high hand, who went before them in the pillar of cloud, dried up the sea for them to pass over, went in behind Israel to protect them from the Egyptians, and finally brought the waters on Pharaoh and all his host, so that they were drowned in the sea (Exodus 3:10; Exodus 6:0; Exodus 7-11; Exodus 12:29-42; Exodus 13:21-22; Exodus 14:19-31).
(3.) He also became their Lawgiver. For we are told (Acts 7:38) it was from this same “angel that Moses received the lively oracles to give unto us, on Mount Sinai.” Then He appeared clothed with all the Majesty and authority of the Supreme Jehovah, and exhibiting a special jealousy for all His Sovereign rights in His own Person. We hear of Him also (4 as their Guardian Angel, specially appointed to take charge of this people, during their wilderness journey, to conduct them to their journey’s end, and to put them in possession of the promised inheritance (Exodus 23:20-23). The language is used by God the Father, “My name is in Him,” implying that He, too, is God. This arrangement was confirmed in Exodus 32:34; Exodus 33:2). But there is a marked difference in the two passages quoted; in the one case it is “Mine angel shall go before thee,” in the other it is, “I will send an angel before thee.” In the former case, it is the special angel, the angel-Jehovah, that is referred to, who has no compeer among the angels of God; in the other case, it is one out of the common class of angels. Moses fully appreciated the vast difference, and prayed earnestly that He who represented God’s presence might be sent, and no other. Only one could take this place—the Son of God, the Second Person of the Godhead, whose office it is to reveal the Father, and therefore to represent His presence (Exodus 33:12; Exodus 33:14-15). The language “my presence” is emphatic; it is the same as saying, “He who represents my presence shall go with thee.” Hence the reference in Isaiah 63:9, “The Angel of His presence.”—(See Henderson in loco.)
It was specially in His capacity of Guardian Angel that He now appeared—as “the Keeper of Israel”—their great Friend, who had them in charge, to lead and guide them, to defend them from all enemies, Genesis 48:16, and bestow on them all the blessings of the covenant; but also to see that they should act as an obedient people, and keep the covenant of their God. The relation was thus most intimate and manifold.
To the Church of God on earth in these latter times, the Saviour is intimately allied. With every member of it, He becomes personally and intimately associated on the day when he receives Christ as his Saviour. He then gives himself to Christ, and Christ in all His fulness gives himself to the believing, penitent sinner. From that moment they become one, and are more intimately allied than brothers of the same family circle. Jesus is ever afterwards known as that sinner’s friend, his Redeemer, his Lord and Master, his Guide through Life, his Guardian in danger, his Keeper at all times, his Shepherd to provide him with pasture, and prevent him from wandering, and his Bestower of all the gifts and graces contained in “the everlasting covenant.”
3. His constant presence with them. Though seldom seen, He was ever present with this people to bless them, and to do them good. Being His redeemed ones, and chosen for Himself as His peculiar people, He took the deepest interest in them, and in terms of the promise made, followed them to the place of the appointed rest. In fidelity to the trust given Him by Jehovah, He watched over them every moment, lest any hurt should arise to objects so beloved; and, in all their journeyings, He bore them as on eagle’s wings (Isaiah 27:3; Deuteronomy 32:9-11; Exodus 19:4; Isaiah 63:11-14). All through the trackless desert He guided them, with sleepless eye caring for them, Himself unseen (Psalms 107:2-7), saving them at one time from such enemies as the Amalekites (Exodus 17:13-14), again from the fiery flying serpents (Numbers 21:8), again from the curse of Balaam (Numbers 22:31-35; Numbers 23:5; Numbers 23:16; do. 23), and again from the armies of two mighty kings on the threshold of the territories of the Canaanites, Sihon and Og. He also dried up the Jordan before them, and appeared as the Captain of the Lord’s host, when the wars against the Canaanites were about to begin (Joshua 5:13-15). It was by His mighty power also, that all these nations were slain before the sword of Joshua (Psalms 44:3).
Jesus still goes personally with every one of His people, every step of the way, on to the place of the promised rest, Himself unseen, but not the less really taking charge of His redeemed ones, treating them substantially in the same manner, and acting on the same principles as of old. His language is, “Lo! I am with you alway unto the end.” He is “the Beginner and the Finisher of their faith” (Matthew 28:20; Hebrews 12:2; Hebrews 13:5; Psalms 73:24; 2 Timothy 4:18).
4. The rarity of His appearances. It might be thought if He was so closely allied to this people—more intimately related than father to children, brother to brother, or husband to wife—then it is singular He should so seldom show Himself. If His presence is so essential to the safe conduct and the comfort of His people, why does He not oftener look through the window, showing Himself through the lattice (Song of Solomon 2:9)? Nay, if, in point of fact, He is always near, why does He not give unmistakeable signs of His presence? How much might not the consciousness of His presence do to cheer His people under their sorrows, to lighten their burdens, relieve their anxious fears, and enable them to run with patience the Christian race! Yet we hear of His appearing only once to Joshua on the threshold of His great work, only once, too, at the time when the people were left without a leader, to see if they could of themselves obey the covenant of their God (ch. Judges 2:1-5), and now a third time after a lapse of more than 200 years when the whole nation was brought to the brink of ruin. Why should it be so?
(1.) These visits were too precious to be often repeated. It is but glimpses of glory that can be expected on earth. It is not the normal state of things to make revelations of the Divine brightness in such a world as this. It would be a departure from the fixed rule to do so. The cases are therefore strictly exceptional; and even the glimpses which are given are made only to the people of God. There was only one Mount of Transfiguration scene permitted to the disciples in this world, and that quickly came and quickly vanished. This earth is too polluted a spot for any long continued enjoyment of the Divine presence.
(2.) The rule in the present state, is to walk by faith, and not by sight. This rule is necessary for putting the soul through a most healthful discipline, and enabling it to learn lessons which it could learn so well in no other way. It becomes the means of acquiring a degree of self knowledge from experience, which it never could arrive at otherwise—the knowledge of its entire spiritual helplessness, its want of a righteousness of its own, its innate treachery, its difficulty of loving God, and trusting in Him when unseen, and many other things of a very humbling character. It leads to a gradual exposure of the human heart to itself. It is also the appointed means of our justification before God, through the merits of the Saviour, and so illuminates the fact, that we deserve no manifestations of God’s brightness whatever. Hence, till we learn this lesson thoroughly they are but sparingly made. It is also the means of producing our sanctification, of enabling us to overcome all opposition to our entrance into heaven, and preparing many of the materials of the joy of that state. (1 Peter 1:7; 2 Corinthians 4:18).
(3.) Our sins and backslidings prevent many visits. (Isaiah 59:2; Hosea 5:15; Hosea 6:1, etc.) From those who obey not His voice, but cast His laws behind their backs, He hides His face, and they receive little or no manifestations of His favour, as in the passages quoted (see also Isaiah 57:17; Isaiah 1:15). This was realised often in the days of the Judges, and never more than during the period referred to in this chapter. On the other hand, “His secret is with them that fear Him,” etc. (Psalms 25:14); to the man who walks before Him with a perfect heart He reveals Himself, as to Moses (Exodus 33:11, also 18–23). “The meek He will teach His way.” “To that man will I look, even to him that is poor,” etc. (Psalms 25:9; Isaiah 66:2). “To the man that keepeth His commandments, He will manifest Himself to him” (John 14:21; Genesis 18:17; Genesis 18:19).
5. His appearance at the proper moment. He saw all His people’s affliction at the hands of these cruel sons of the desert, and though they were punished less than their iniquities deserved, His heart was yet touched with pity for them, and long ere the full cup of merited suffering was emptied, He appeared as He did to Moses in the bush, to tell them how “in all their afflictions He was afflicted,” and that now in His love He was come to redeem them. At that point, when they had bitter trial of the severity of the rod on the one hand, but had not yet experienced any wholesale destruction of human life on the other, though nearing that point, the angel appears. His heart yearned over them, as if they had “received at the Lord’s hand double for all their sins” (Isaiah 40:2). At the moment when the metal was beginning to consume, He at once snatches it from the fire. Already a famine seems to have begun (Ruth 1:1), and had the terrible incubus from the desert continued to rest longer on the land, the people must soon have perished in tens of thousands. But just then He appeared for their rescue, “according to the multitude of His loving kindnesses” (Isaiah 63:7). He who “sent out a strong west wind, and swept off the swarms of locusts that covered the land of Egypt, so that there remained not one in all the coasts” (Exodus 10:19), now does a similar thing with these barbarous hordes (Judges 8:10; Judges 8:12; Judges 8:28).
The Jews have a proverb that, “when the tale of bricks is doubled, then comes Moses.” The Redeemer of Israel cannot see the destruction of His people. He never departs from this rule—“I will correct thee in measure. I will not make a full end of thee.” Other nations were mere common property. His people were His jewels. “I gave Egypt for thy ransom,” etc. “I have engraven thee on the palms of my hands.”
6. The purpose of His appearance. He came to rid the land of the enemy and grant salvation to His people. In that people, notwithstanding their present apostasy, He saw the church of the living God, the only people that represented the true God in all the earth, the people whose history carried in it the germ of a great Divine plan, to be revealed to future ages, by which the Divine glory would be far more brightly illustrated than in any other manner, down through unending time. Through this people the name of Jehovah should become known and worshipped, among all nations, in the future of the world’s history. But now all their prospects as a nation were placed in great jeopardy. Wherefore “He looked, but there was none to help; He wondered that there was none to uphold; therefore His own arm brought salvation,” etc. (Psalms 63:5). He appears on their behalf, according to the jealousy He bears to his great name. Formerly He came as a reprover of their sins (ch. Judges 2:1-5). Now He comes to raise up a deliverer, whom He will employ as an instrument to save them from all the consequences of their sins.
The land has first to be purged of its sins. Till that is done, the finger of Jehovah will not be uplifted for salvation. The work of reformation must be proved to exist. Baal’s altars must be thrown down, and the altar of Jehovah erected in their place. It must be made visible, that the name of Jehovah is again accepted as that of the God of Israel. Battle must also be bravely given to the terrible foe, that brooded like a nightmare over the rich plains of Israel. For an undertaking so difficult, no ordinary qualifications were required. The whole power, indeed, came from the Divine Deliverer Himself. Yet, as God is always pleased to work by means, He employs the fittest instrument that can be found.
Notwithstanding all our sins, it is wonderful how often our gracious Redeemer appears for our salvation, when, for many strong reasons, we might have expected Him to come for our destruction (see Psalms 106:43; Psalms 106:45; Psalms 78:37-38).
7. His manner of revealing Himself. He comes in a tone, or manner suited to the conduct, or condition of the people at different times. There is design and meaning in the manner, as well as in the expressed purpose of revealing Himself. Now, there are no lightnings in His hands. He is not compassed about with dark clouds. No earthquake heralds His coming. The earth does not shake and tremble at His goings. The pestilence does not go before Him, nor do burning coals spring up under His feet. He comes like the small rain on the tender herb. As a wayfaring man, leaning on His staff, as if wearied with His journey, and sitting down to rest. He comes peaceably, and not in anger. He disturbs not a leaf on the tree, though it were easy for Him to scatter the everlasting mountains, and cause the perpetual hills to bow. All the power of omnipotence slumbered in His arm; the strength of many armies lay in His word. But He keeps back His resources out of sight, He hides His power from observation to see whether men will trust His word. He will make no vain show of His resources, but put forth only the one atom of His power, which is needed to justify faith in His Divine character.
8. His personal character.
(1.) He is Almighty. There are no cases of distress too hard for our heavenly friend to remove. He is able to make “the worm Gideon thresh the mountains and to make the hills as chaff.” “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” Gideon’s faith was not difficult to awaken. It was kindled at once, when he saw the fire spring up from the rock, and consume the sacrifice. He believed that behind that there was infinite strength—that, indeed, this was He who had done all the wonders from the days of the land of Egypt. Neither should more proof be needed to believe in the resources of the “Captain of our Salvation,” when, besides many other evidences, we behold this one, that He is able to pour out the Spirit from on high, the universal Comforter of the church of Christ. This is the greatest of all the forms of power which God puts forth. Then he creates the soul anew.
(2.) He is faithful. He never forgets nor forsakes the objects of His charge, though centuries had now passed since first He received it, when this people became a free nation. During that long period His faithfulness did not fail, but, amid all the lights and shadows of that greatly chequered history, this covenant-keeping Friend was at his post, and brought His charge safely through every peril according to the terms of his trust. “Those whom the Father gave me I have kept, and none of them is lost” (John 10:28-29; John 6:39; 2 Timothy 1:12; 2 Timothy 4:8; do. 18).
(3.) He is tender. It is not His manner even to “break the bruised reed.” He does not now break forth into a severe reprimand of Gideon, for seeming to find fault with God’s Providence in allowing His people to suffer so much while He stood aloof from them. Though Gideon was charging his God foolishly, He yet knew that at heart he was an Israelite indeed, but was overwhelmed with sorrow at the condition of affairs in the land. There were also other wounds made in Gideon’s heart, and now bleeding afresh, arising from the loss of his brothers at Mount Tabor, who were there barbarously slain by Zebah, and Zolmunna. These wounds he now tenderly upbinds (Psalms 147:3). Instead of upbraiding, He speaks to him “good and comfortable words.” “The Lord turned and looked upon Peter.” How tenderly He deals with the weak side in His disciple’s character, his unsteadfastness to his Master in the hour of peril!
(4.) He is full of sympathy. He felt the afflictions suffered by the various tribes, as if they had been His own. “His soul was grieved for the misery of Israel.” He was now virtually saying to them anew, “he that toucheth you, toucheth the apple of mine eye.” The pain of the members of the body goes at once to the head, the fountain of sensation (ch. Judges 10:16; Zechariah 2:8). “I have seen the affliction of my people, have heard their cry, and know their sorrows, and now I am come down to deliver them.” It is as if He could not enjoy His repose in heaven, while His people were suffering such cruelties on earth. When they are persecuted, it is He that bleeds. “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?” This truly is a Friend in need, and a Friend indeed.
(5.) He is unchanging. His general character is given, as being “without variableness, or shadow of turning.” He is the same trustworthy Friend now that He was in the days of Joshua, when He brought the people into the land, or as in the days of Moses, when He led such a large congregation safely through all the perils of the wilderness. “Having loved His own, who were in the world, He loved them to the end.”
“Nor death, nor life, nor earth, nor hell,
Nor time’s destroying sway,
Can e’er efface us from His heart,
Or make His love decay.”
“Mine is an unchanging love,
Higher than the heights above,
Deeper than the depths beneath,
Free and faithful, strong as death.”
(6.) He is undying. “He carried them all the days of old,” and still while generation after generation dies, He lives on through all ages the ever-present, ever interested, ever-watchful Protector of His Church. For three centuries already He had led this people through all changes, and still to this day, He was as much as ever “mighty to save.” His name at first, when He took this people by the hand, was given as the great “I am”—the ever-living, self-existent One. And now as far on as the days of Gideon, He is still “the Lord of Hosts, strong and mighty in battle.” David sings of Him as One “of whose years there is no fail.” Isaiah adores Him as “The Everlasting Father.” Jeremiah rejoices in “His love as an everlasting love.” Micah hails Him as One, “whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.” And when he changed His form from angel to man, we find Him in the latest ages of the sacred record, “walking in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks, as One like unto the Son of Man,” proclaiming as He looks towards the limitless future, “Behold, I am alive for evermore, and have the keys of hell and of death” (Revelation 1:13; Revelation 1:18). Through all time, His language to His people is, “Because I live, ye shall live also.”
II. The instrument of His choice.
Though God could accomplish His purposes among men, without the intervention of any human instrumentality, it is His fixed rule to act in all ordinary cases by the use of means. Even in cases where miraculous power is employed, this rule is not departed from; for the miraculous power is employed only to do what ordinary means could not do, or it is put forth in special cases to prove that the power comes directly from God. But where ordinary means can serve every purpose, these only are employed; and, when selected, they are always of the fittest. God always honours the use of natural means, for it is the order He has laid down in His creation, and He must respect His own arrangements. Miracle is therefore the exception; natural means the rule. Hence, on this occasion, Gideon was chosen to act as an instrument in God’s hand in doing the work. He was chosen because of his natural qualifications fitting him for the work; and other qualifications were specially given to him to render him still more qualified.
1. He was selected by the Angel-Jehovah Himself. (p. 143). This appears at once from reading the narrative without any confirmatory statement. It was the angel’s express command, that gave Gideon the right to act as a saviour to his people, and this too made him responsible for fulfilling this mission. He was not merely an extraordinary character created by extraordinary times. Several have been so raised up—such as Buonaparte, Washington, Alfred, Cromwell, Knox, and others. But the heroes of Israel were nothing without the Divine aid and guidance of Him who called them to the work. They were always held in the hand of another, and had to obey the will of that other. There was only one real Deliverer, in all the ages of that unparalleled history—the Angel-Jehovah. As held by Him, Israel’s heroes were invincible under any possible circumstances; as acting of themselves, they were weak, and as other men. If then all the power really came from the Angel-Jehovah, manifestly He must choose His own instrument. The commonly received rule, vox populi, vox Dei,” does not apply here.
2. He was taken from a very unlikely place. Othniel was taken from the tribe of Judah, Ehud from Benjamin, and Barak from Naphtali. For the most part God finds His instrument at hand, where the danger is to be met. He does not need to bring him from afar, for anyone close at hand He can make serviceable for His purpose. The danger now to be met, was partly in the tribe of Issachar, and partly in that of cis-jordanic Manasseh. Of all places in the land, in this half-tribe of Manasseh idolatry was the most rampant; and precisely here was the instrument of the angel found. No places suffered more from the inroads of these spoilers, than those which formed the richest portions of this tribe, and none had so determinedly put aside the name of Jehovah, and addicted themselves to the worship of Baal. The old Canaanites had continued in Megiddo, Dor, Ibleam, Taanach, and Bethshean (ch. Judges 1:27). All over this district the altars of Baal were upreared, and there were none zealous enough, or powerful enough to deal with this public scandal, among the people who were pledged in every way to worship only Jehovah. In the heart of this country Gideon was found. It might be said, can any good thing come out of idolatrous Manasseh? and the answer might well be given, Come and see! It is like Saul of Tarsus being taken from among the Pharisees, or Dionysius the Areopagite taken from Athens. He who could raise up an Obadiah in the court of Ahab and Jezebel, can also bring forth a man to fell the image of Baal all over the land, from the very headquarters of idol-worship in his day.
3. In what circumstances did the Angel find him? It is always an important question to ask, where a man is found, or how situated, when God calls him, in the case of conversion from sin to God, at the day of death, or some special occasion of duty when a stern act of self-denial is required. Moses when called was in the “backside of the desert,” a most lonely spot; David was found following the ewes; Elisha was ploughing in the field with oxen; the Apostles were washing and mending their nets; and Gideon was threshing wheat. Similarly Cincinnatus, Curius, Scipio (Roman Senators) were called from agricultural pursuits to occupy high positions in the State—Joseph was even called from a prison to occupy the seat next the throne in Egypt. These were all doing their duty in some humble station meekly and uncomplainingly, content with the lot which God had marked out for them—“faithful in that which is least.” So it was with Gideon. But his thoughts were not in his work. They were with the Church of God, its sorrowful present and its dark future. If any work was to be done for that Church, he was just the man to throw his whole heart into it.
4. The immediate reason of the Divine visit. Most probably in answer to prayer. In the severely abridged account given of all circumstances in the Book of God, it is little wonder if we do not hear much of Gideon’s private exercises before his God. But we can hardly suppose such a man of faith and zeal for the cause of God, to be other than a wrestler with God in secret, that he “would arise and plead the cause that was his own.” Partly in answer to these prayers did the angel come to him. Also his concern was deep at the low state of true religion in the land. Most of those around him were “hasting after other gods.” Jehovah’s altar was deserted; Israel had fallen into the sins of the old Canaanites; and now the tide of judgment had come up in all her borders to such a degree, as to threaten the extinction of the nation. Gideon’s heart was wrung with grief when he saw Jehovah’s name so much dishonoured (Psalms 119:136; Psalms 119:158). Often must he have “sighed and cried in prayer, as he thought of all the abominations done in the land.” If he could but see a way, he was heartily prepared to lay himself on the altar, to devote himself for the emancipation of his country, and for the re-establishment of the worship of God in the land. On the principle, therefore, that God honours them that honour Him, he is now chosen of God to do the greatest work which that age admitted of, in rescuing his bleeding country from ruin, and restoring the name Jehovah to honour and worship all over the land.
5, His personal fitness for the work. His good qualities were manifold, all marking him out as a suitable agent.
(1.) His physical qualities. These, though inferior to others, are yet in their place important. God does not despise any gifts or faculties, with which He Himself has endowed a man. It was an element of fitness for the work on this occasion, that Gideon was a “mighty man of valour;” that he was of princely appearance, was physically strong, and able to go through much bodily hardship; and, further, that he was skilful in the use of weapons, and a chivalrous champion in the field. That a bold and dauntless spirit was needed to meet the emergency was most manifest. One who would skulk behind the bush, and conceal himself from all danger, was of no service whatever. Neither could he be Israel’s leader on such an occasion as this, who could not bravely set his face against terrible odds, and who, though faint with toil, could not yet pursue. But Gideon was robust and muscular, of sinewy, iron frame, and firm nerve. And his whole bearing in this remarkable juncture was marked by intrepid courage and invincible resolution.
(2.) His mental qualities. These are of a higher order, and pre-eminently needed in the conducting of a great enterprise. We do not say he was a man of more than average learning, just as he was not a kings son, nor a prince of the tribe to which he belonged. To be pre-eminent in rank or learning was not essential. But the possession of great natural shrewdness, of sound judgment, and quick discernment; ability to grasp at once the full magnitude and great difficulty of the work before him; the possessiou of wisdom and tact bow best to lay out the few resources within his reach; constructive power in arranging the best plan, or order of battle; fertility in devising expedients and manœuvres, and ways of taking advantage of all the shifting scenes and incidents of the crisis; especially the power of managing men, inspiring hearts with courage and hope to which they had long been strangers, wakening up even the faint hearted to a pitch of enthusiasm, to have the soldiers thoroughly in harmony with their leader, and to gain their entire confidence, and to be able to bring the whole force to bear as one man on the object which is sought to be gained—all these qualities Gideon did possess in an eminent degree, and so was eminently the man for the occasion on this side of his character.
(3.) His moral qualities. These are higher still, and in these Gideon yet more excelled. To be able to rise with the occasion, to realise the worth of the precious interests with which he was entrusted, to appreciate the value of the right moment when it occurred, and to lose not a moment in seizing it, to lose himself in the greatness of his duty, and have no other thought but nobly to discharge it, to be daring and dashing in his movements, while yet full of caution and self-restraint—these are the features which distinctly mark the man of God’s selection on this occasion. Who could have thought that the same man should have been so humble, diffident, and shrinking—so overpowered with a consciousness of his own weakness, putting himself down as less than the least in all Israel, and entirely losing sight of himself in his sympathy with his suffering brethren, and the sacred cause now almost lost, which had been committed to their hands? Yet, these are the very features of character, which fit a man for true greatness in the Church of God. “Before honour is humility.”
Though so disinterested and unselfish as to suppose that the angel’s salutation did not apply to him personally, when He said “The Lord is with thee” but rather to the people of Israel as a whole, and so he replied—“with us;” and though he entirely passed over the flattering allusion to his being “a mighty man of valour,” yet, with all this low estimate of himself, when summoned to do work for his God, he rises to the strongest conviction of the sacredness of his duty, and becomes fearless and defiant of danger, when he has reason to believe that his God is with him ordering the battle.
(4.) His religious qualities. These are highest of all. Pre-eminent among these was the fact of his deep sorrow for the sins of the land. This was distinctive of such men as Ezra, Nehemiah, Daniel, and David, who did so much in their day to bring down a Divine blessing on the land when it seemed to be forsaken of its God. Now it appears to have been so with Gideon. That there should have been so much of Baal, and so little of Jehovah, in Israel in these past years, appears to be the undertone of his lamentation in his first answer to the angel. And the same spirit comes out more decidedly when, in obedience to the Divine command, at great risk to himself, he cut down the grove and the image of Baal. His readiness to obey the Divine call, when assured that he really was called of God, is most beautiful. For his only objection is, not that the sacrifice was too great to make, involving in all probability the loss of life itself, but that he was so weak an instrument to be taken into God’s hand. He was able to do so little. So glorious a cause would suffer by being put into such unworthy hands. But when assured that he was really called, he readily obeys—a pleasing contrast even to the case of Moses, who seemed for a time most unwilling to enter on the duty which God imposed upon him (see Exodus 4:10-14). Gideon seemed never to murmur at any measure of self-sacrifice, which his call to this duty would entail upon him. His whole manner seemed to say, “Here am I send me!”
He had true loyalty to the God of Israel. Though all besides should follow Baal, and though Baal’s altar should be raised in his father’s house, and be acknowledged by all its inmates, he would bow the knee only to Jehovah. He was not ashamed of the name of his God, neither was he afraid, though he should stand altogether alone. If it must be so, he shall be
“Faithful found among the faithless, faithful only he.”
But his chief characteristic of all, was his faith in the God of Israel as his own God. It was the entire trust he placed in his God, and the full confidence he had in Him that enabled him to face the huge mountain of difficulty that lay before him. His case was greatly like that of the stripling king, who was first brought into notice by his faith, when he said to the doughty giant, “Thou comest to me with sword and spear—I come to thee in the name of the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast defied.” (1 Samuel 17:45). Gideon’s heart was given to the God of Israel, and he seemed never to doubt but that He could repeat in his own day all the wonders of the old time, were He but to decide so to do. It was certainly a splendid illustration of faith, and one most glorifying to God, for a man to set himself to the task, without a murmur, simply at God’s call, of advancing with a handful of 300 men, to meet a host of warriors numbering 135,000, and hope firmly that he would gain a complete victory because the God of Jacob had promised to give His presence. His confidence in his God carried him over all the fear he might naturally cherish from man.
III. Lessons taught by the interview.
1. True mourners for sin are sure to meet with God as a Comforter sooner or later. (Matthew 5:4; Isaiah 57:18; Jeremiah 31:18-20.)
2. No case of suffering in this world is so extreme, as to have no comforts left. Gideon lost much by the avalanche of ruffianism, that rolled in upon him from the desert, but still he has some wheat left to thresh, and still has provision enough to set before a distinguished stranger. If temporal things were all swept away together, God is still left, which really means that all is yet safe (Psalms 16:5-6; Habakkuk 3:18). Elijah was for three years without house or home, without friends or money, and yet God kept him. Many can still sing, “The Lord is my Shepherd—I shall not want.” Look at the ravens (Matthew 6:26). What myriads of sea-fowl are seen on the wing amid the inhospitable climate of the Arctic regions! Where do they all find food among perpetual snows, fields of ice, and frost-bound land?
3. All practical difficulties in Providence should be carried to God for solution. Gideon would end all his soliloquies by committing the whole case to God in prayer. “Hezekiah spread out the letter before the Lord” (2 Kings 19:14). “Judah gathered themselves together to ask help of the Lord” (2 Chronicles 20:4).
4. Privations of earthly comforts are no loss in the end to God’s true children. But to want spiritual blessings is a dead loss, which nothing can ever compensate (1 Timothy 6:7-8; Psalms 37:37-38; Proverbs 14:32). Hence the wisdom of Matthew 6:33.
5. God’s presence is the beginning of all true joy. The Angel-Jehovah’s presence was really the presence of God, which implies the presence of all peace, all power and protection, and all blessing of every name, but only to God’s children. All can sing—
“God is the treasure of my soul,
The source of lasting joy,
A joy which want shall not impair,
Nor death itself destroy.”
(Psalms 4:6-7; Psalms 16:11; Psalms 17:15; John 17:24; John 14:23, also Isaiah 41:10; Isaiah 43:2).
6. A true-hearted Christian feels for the whole brotherhood, as well as himself. This is the spirit of all Gideon’s utterances to the angel.
7. The best of men sometimes grievously misinterpret God’s Providences. Gideon’s logic was just the reverse of what it should have been. Our tears often blind our judgment.
8. Correction for sin is a sure sign that God has not left us. He wishes to save us from the precipice. He would destroy the cancerous root while it is yet time. “He that spareth the rod hateth the child, but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.” “You only have I known, … therefore will I punish you for all your iniquities” (Proverbs 13:24; Amos 3:2; also Hebrews 12:6-8). “Sins, not afflictions, prove God’s absence.”
9. Sometimes the best of men pass through the world unknown. “He was in the world—and the world knew him not”—though it may have benefitted much by his prayers, and Christian influence in a small circle (John 1:10; John 1:26). The martyrs were unknown—
“’Till persecution dragged them into fame,
And chased them up to heaven.”
Such a man as Gideon would have remained unknown, had not that God, who seeth not as man seeth, brought him to light. He was not likely to come to the front himself, filled as he was with humility; and he was little appreciated by those around him.
10. Despondency is always unworthy of a true Christian. His true motto is—“I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me.” “Is any thing too hard for the Lord?” It is only a weak faith that desponds. “All the promises of God are yea and amen through Christ.” What a fund of strength!
11. It is highly important to see that we have a firm foundation to our faith. This was really what Gideon wished to be at, and his request was granted.
CHAPTER 6—Judges 6:24-32
THE REMOVAL OF THE BARRIER TO DELIVERANCE
CRITICAL NOTES.—one thing must be scrupulously gone about, ere a step can be taken to secure the much-needed emancipation of the land. The deliverance itself it would be easy for God to accomplish, were the barrier that prevented it taken out of the way. To remove that barrier out of the way, was, in God’s sight, the great thing to be done. Baal stood where Jehovah alone should stand. That which brought all this misery on Israel, was their preferring to have other gods in place of Jehovah. The first thing to be done, in order to restore peace and comfort to the land, was to clear away all other gods, and make Jehovah supreme. Gideon’s first duty then, as the champion chosen to save Israel, was to deal a deadly blow against Baal. It is at this point where the directions in this paragraph come in.
Judges 6:25. The same night, the Lord said unto him, etc.] said either by vision or dream (Genesis 20:3; Genesis 15:4-5; Genesis 26:24; Genesis 28:12-15; Numbers 12:6; 2 Samuel 7:4; 1 Kings 3:5; Job 4:13). It was the night following the day of the angel’s visit; while Gideon’s heart was still all aglow with many mixed feelings of wonder, love, and praise, and, while a strange conflict of thoughts was passing through his mind about the very responsible though noble position, which he had just been called by the Angel Jehovah to occupy—it was then he was called upon to take the first step. Delay, in such a case, would beget irresolution. Besides, on general grounds, there was no time to be lost. Now that the people had repented, and sent up a cry all over the land, it was fit that God’s tender mercy should show itself. Let not a tear too many be shed. Bring the axe and cut down the idol. Let an altar to Jehovah rise in its stead. The idol of the district—that which stood within the grounds of Joash, and which served as the point of worship to all the Abi-ezrites, is taken as a symbol to represent all the other images of Baal throughout the land.
This was in keeping with the fact that Gideon was now a public character, chosen of God to represent the whole people of Israel, so that what was done by him was understood to be done in the name of the whole people. When he cut down the Asherah, and destroyed the altar on his father’s grounds, much more was done than merely the demolishing of the idol worshipped by the Abi-ezrites. Being done by him who was now Divinely appointed as mediator between God and all Israel, it must be taken as a blow given to the idolatry of the whole land. The first step in the work of salvation was to abolish idolatry, and what Gideon, the natural leader, now did was to be understood as striking the key-note to be followed by the whole kingdom. His act in erecting an altar to the Lord, in a place different from that chosen for permanent worship, and offering a sacrifice thereon, though highly irregular, judged by the ordinary rule (Deuteronomy 12:13-14; Numbers 18:7; Hebrews 5:4), was entirely justifiable on this occasion, first, because it was a Divine command that he was fulfilling (Judges 5:25-26), and next, because it was a necessary part of the special office for which he was chosen—viz., to be a saviour to Israel. To make an atonement for the sins of the people by a sacrifice of burnt offering, was indeed the most essential part of all that was required of Gideon to do, as the saviour of his people. In it Gideon was virtually acting as the high priest of Israel.
Take thy father’s young bullock.] Rather, ox-bullock פְּר i.e., a bullock for sacrifice (comp Hosea 14:3)—“we will render as bullocks our lips,” i.e, our praises as our sacrifice (Fausset)
Even the second bullock of seven years old]—not and the second bullock, for there were not two bullocks. Mention is made of what Gideon was to do with one such, but if there had been two, we should certainly have had directions given as to the other also. The phrase, the second bullock, is three times referred to, but no mention is made of any other (Judges 6:25-26; Judges 6:28). But why is a bullock chosen which was seven years old, for the animal was reckoned at its best state when it was three years? This can scarcely be thought wonderful, when we remember the extreme difficulty felt all over the land in getting animals for sacrifice at all. “The Midianites left to Israel neither sheep, nor ox, nor ass.” There was no choice. Besides, in the age of seven years, there was a significant pointing to the period of Israel’s severe punishment, inflicted for their flagrant sin. The phrase, second bullock may indicate its age as compared with others.
Throw down the altar of Baal which thy father hath]. This altar was usually made of stone, though sometimes of wood or earth (2 Kings 23:15). Being massive, various materials, besides the axe, would be needed to destroy it and the Asherah. He required to wrench the altar of Baal out of its grooves, and throw it down. His duty also required him to erect an altar to Jehovah, and for this he dare not use the polluted and broken fragments of Baal’s altar. He must bring fresh stones and earth with him, and as the whole must be done in one night, he required considerable help. Accordingly, he took ten men of his father’s servants for this purpose.
Cut down the grove that is by it]—upon it. Not “grove” but the Asherah, or wooden pillar, the Canaanite symbol of the moon-goddess, representing nature’s passive powers, as Baal, the sun-god represents the active powers. This pillar was placed in upright form on the altar of Baal. In Deuteronomy 16:21, it is said to be “planted” on it (הִטַּע) covered with all manner of symbols.
Judges 6:26. Upon the top of this rock]—the top of a fortification, or fortress built as a defence against the Midianites. It would be near to where the altar of Baal had stood—the highest available spot in the district, to make it as conspicuous as possible, and to show that it must be held superior to all other things (Hence Isaiah 2:1-2). This was reckoned to be honouring to Jehovah. Some think it was on the top of the hill, the highest point at hand, others that it was the castle, or citadel of Ophrah. Baal’s altar must first be cast down, then the altar to Jehovah reared.
In the ordered place.] This is an expression of which many interpretations have been given (בָמַּעַדָכָה) The best, as it appears to us, is that given by Keil, “with the preparation,” i.e., which is necessary for presenting the sacrifice. The specific idea is, the orderly preparation of every thing about the sacrifice, a circumstance to which God Himself, in all offerings, attached the greatest importance. We might indeed translate the sentence thus:—“Build an altar unto the Lord … putting everything in due order,” etc. Thus did Abraham (Genesis 22:9). Thus too did Elijah (1 Kings 18:33). The word עָרַךְ is often used to express the idea of setting sacred things in order, connected with the worship of God (Exodus 39:37; Leviticus 1:7; Leviticus 24:3; Leviticus 4:6). But this orderly preparation for the sacrifice did not refer to his using the materials got from the breaking down of Baal’s altar, for building up the altar of Jehovah. [Speaker’s Com.] The case quoted in confirmation of this view is not in point, viz.: 1 Kings 15:22, for in that transaction there was nothing sacred, whereas the sacred character of the erection here was the all-important point. The materials of Baal’s altar must be held to be polluted; Gideon therefore must build with new materials wherever he can find them. The wood of the Asherah, however, might be used as fuel for the sacrifice, implying that it would be consumed. Hence—
With the wood of the grove (Asherah) which thou shalt cut down], i.e., the pieces or blocks of wood got from cutting down the Asherah. That such a command as this should have been given at all, was entirely owing to the exceptional circumstances of the national history, which required a provisional arrangement to meet the emergency. A case very similar occurred in Elijah’s days (1 Kings 18:18-41).
Judges 6:27. Took ten men.] The number required to form a Church, or to perform publicly any religious service, i.e., in name of the Church. Every part of altar service required to be gone through in a very methodical manner. Being now the only son left in the family, and being high in his father’s esteem, as well as his affection, he had probably delegated to him such a measure of authority over the servants, as would secure their obedience to his orders on this oocasion. His own excellent qualities of character, must also have gained for him an ascendency over several of the domestics, as David did at the court of Saul (1 Samuel 18:14-16). But Gideon, when calling the domestics to such a work, must also have brought forward the far more powerful consideration, that an angel had appeared to him, and given him a commission to deliver Israel from the awful scourge that desolated the land, and that the removal of Baal’s altar was a necessary preliminary to anything being done. Yet with all these arguments to encourage them, it speaks well for these ten men, that they had the boldness to do as Gideon directed them, even if we add the fact, that he would doubtless assure them, that he would take all the responsibility of the iconoclastic deed on himself.
He feared his father’s household, and the men of the city.] This shows what the atmosphere of Joash’s house was, strongly savouring of idolatry. The household must have been large, for after deducting the ten men, Gideon still “feared his father’s household.” We may suppose the ten men to be a fractional part of the entire number, and that, with the exception of that fractional part, the entire number were “wholly given to idolatry,” otherwise, why should he fear them? “The men of the city,” were probably the old Canaanites who still lingered in the townships of Manasseh, and who were naturally special patrons of Baal worship (ch. Judges 9:28).
He did it by night]—not that be was afraid of doing the work itself, for he knew well that whether done by day or night, it was sure to be known that he did it; but he feared the tumult that would be raised about the doing of it, if he did it in daylight, with all eyes upon him. He felt that there must be an uprising against his doing it at all.
Judges 6:28. And the grove was cut down that was by it]—upon it. The Asherah (wooden pillar) was cut down. The second bullock was offered on the altar that was built (to Jehovah).] The wood of the Asherah had been used for the burnt-offering, and traces were still remaining. The altar of Jehovah then, must have been built near the site of the altar of Baal.
Judges 6:29. They said Gideon, the son of Joash, hath done this thing.] Informers are always forth-coming, and Gideon was a man so pronounced for Jehovah, that he could not be hid. From his past proclivities, many would suspect him. It is a noble thing for a man so to live, that he shall be suspected by his fellows, of doing some great thing for the glory of the Eternal God. Some also of the ten men would inform others, that it was Gideon, to save themselves.
Judges 6:30. Bring out thy son that he may die.] It is not certain whether Joash was the owner of the altar of Baal, or merely its custodier, in name of the district over which be ruled. Some think the former from the expression in Judges 6:25—“the altar of Baal which thy father hath.” If so, it shows the extreme intolerance of the Baal party. But the fact that such an outcry should be raised at all in an Israelitish city, shows into what a deplorable stupor the national conscience had sunk, when the rankest possible insult should be publicly offered to Jehovah’s name, without a single voice being raised to frown it down. They ask a father to take the life of his son, because that son had dared to stand up for Jehovah’s interest, and relegate Baal to oblivion in Jehovah’s land!
Judges 6:31. Joash said to all that stood against him.] עָלָיו before him, i.e., as chief magistrate. Happily, he the father himself was now fairly aroused, when he saw that the life of he only son left to him was in danger. It is probable, from all the circumstances, that, before this, he had had serious doubts in his own mind, as to the propriety of giving any farther support to idol worship, when he saw the sad results in the destruction of his country. He may possibly indeed have had secret desires to see a general return of the public mind to the worship of Jehovah, and now seizes the present occasion to speak out his mind. All this could be greatly strengthened, by the detail which his son would give him of his wonderful interview with the angel, and the Divine command to throw down the altar of Baal. If he had got this information beforehand, doubtless he must have thought very maturely over the question, what was the best answer to give the idolaters, when his son should be arraigned before him in public. God helped him with the answer which he gave. It was most admirable. It was an unanswerable answer.
“What!” he says, rising to the full height of his position as magistrate, “will ye plead for Baal?—ye, and not Baal himself? Do ye presume to come forward to speak on his behalf, as if he could not speak for himself? He who dares to insinuate that Baal cannot help himself, is putting an indelible stigma on his name, and deserves to die. He is the man who ought to be put to death, and that without delay, while it is yet morning. If Baal be really a god, surely he can defend himself, and now let him do it, since one man has cast down his altar” This is really the spirit of the few but energetic words of the very capable ruler of Ophrah. The clamour was hushed in a moment. It was of God that this reply was given; so He threw His shield around the man of His choice. Yet we may also say, Joash was the right man in the right place. “A word spoken in season, how good is it!”
Not a few Commentators (Keil, Cassel, Edersheim, Fausset, and others) would put a full stop at the word “death.” and read what follows thus, “till (next) morning let Baal, if he be a god, plead for himself, for now surely there is need for it, since one has cast down his altar” The A. V. seems more simple and natural—“he who (thinks Baal cannot plead for himself, and therefore) stands up to plead for him, (is doing him an insult, and) ought to be put to death this very morning. If he be a god, let him plead for himself, since one has overturned his altar.”
Judges 6:32. Galled him Jerubbaal.] Let Baal fight with him, or the man who defies Baal to fight with him, with impunity; as David defied the Philistine. Variations of the name afterwards occur as Jerubbesheth (2 Samuel 11:21), in which Besheth or Bosheth (shame) is a nickname of Baal. This variation also occurs in Ishbosheth (2 Samuel 2:8), and in Eshbaal (1 Chronicles 8:33; 1 Chronicles 9:39).
MAIN HOMILETICS—Judges 6:25-32
I. All genuine obedience is well pleasing to God.
This is the purport of the present paragraph. It speaks of the first test to which Gideon’s obedience was put, and how he stood it. The obedience which God requires of all His servants is, that His command alone be taken as sufficient reason for obedience, apart from any other motive, and that it be regarded as sufficient to overrule all other considerations. If a host of difficulties and objections should stand in the way, the obedient servant has but one simple question to ask, Does my God require it?—if so, he has no other thought but to obey. This is what may be called pure obedience, and is synonymous with the description so often given in Scripture, of “the man who fears the Lord.” The highest expressions of the Divine regard are made to such a spirit of obedience, as being most glorifying to God, and showing that the creature is nearing the true pivot of his being, which is that of instinctive obedience to the will of his Creator, “He that doeth the will of my Father, the same is my brother, and sister and mother.” The whole Book of Deuteronomy is one continued enforcement of the duty of reverential obedience to the commandments, statutes, and judgments of Israel’s covenant God. The example of obedience afforded in Gideon’s case was most beautiful, on whatever side we look at it.
1. It was prompt. There was no hesitation. The command of his God being given, he has no other thought than to obey. That command alone rules him. “Speak, Lord, thy servant heareth” was his motto. He has full trust in his God without inquiring whether there was a rational prospect of carrying through the work. Thus did Abraham. The command being given, “he rose up early in the morning, saddled his ass … and went to the place of which God had told him” (Genesis 22:3; Genesis 17:23; Genesis 21:14). So did David; “I made haste, and delayed not to keep God’s commandments” (Psalms 119:60). So did Paul; “When it pleased God to reveal His son in me, immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood” (Galatians 1:15-16). (Matthew 4:20; Matthew 4:22; Matthew 9:9; Luke 19:5-6; John 1:48-49).
2. It was done under great difficulties. He had no sympathy from any around him. His very father, so loving in other matters, he believed, in this case, would only give his frowns, or, at the very best, must withhold his good wishes, being virtually the priest of Baal himself. Even though Gideon might acquaint him with the Divine commission, it could only lead the father to try his best to save his son, but not to assist him in the work. The ten men whom he employed as assistants would, doubtless, also raise many objections, and need strong arguments to induce them to give their aid, and the numerous other domestics, Gideon felt he must also regard as strongly opposed to the very idea of offering such an insult to the deity that had for so many years been worshipped in the district. There was no sympathy at home with the duty he had on hand, and among the population outside there was only an unbroken stream of opposition. Gideon’s obedience was boldly done, for it was done in a strongly idolatrous centre, without a single friend to stand by him in the work. Yet he shows no faltering, or fear of man. His act was like that of Luther when he nailed the Theses to the doors of the Cathedral at Wittemberg, or, on that other occasion, when he burned the Papal Bull in the midst of a people who had been under the influence of Popery for many generations.
There are many formidable difficulties ever occurring in the way of religious duty in daily life—difficulties so great that they seem to render the fulfilment of the duty an impossibility. Yet all may be conquered by a strong faith or an ardent love. “Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulchre?” (Mark 16:3). Yet an ardent love in Mary’s case saw no such difficulty, but, on the contrary, thought that she, a feeble woman, could remove the body itself if she only knew where to find it (John 20:15). “Who art thou, O great mountain, before Zerubbabel, thou shalt become a plain?”
3. It was done at the risk of life. Gideon understood the temper of his people and the temper of the times. Notwithstanding their terrible calamities, he knew that they were yet in the mass of them, leavened with the idolatrous spirit, and that to tamper with their God was to commit, in their eyes, a capital crime. It was an unpardonable offence, and all the religious frenzy of the district would be aroused to demand his execution. On this he calculated, and yet he quailed not. The fear of God in him was strong enough to overrule all the fear of man. This pass of mental difficulties which he had to go through greatly heightens our admiration of his heroic resolution. He was willing even to lose his life for the sake of his duty to his God (John 12:25; Matthew 16:25). His fidelity to his God could stand the severest test (Luke 14:26). All that he counted dear in life, including the love of life itself, he was willing to sacrifice, but he could not disobey his God.
4. It was done without a murmur. We hear of no complaints about the severity of the test. Even Moses complained in similar circumstances (Exodus 4:1; Exodus 4:10; Exodus 4:13). Barak raised objections (ch. Judges 4:8). But not a murmer comes from the lips of Gideon, when called to do that which was sure to endanger life. He asks no modification of the command. It is all right when his God requires it. Duty is his; to determine results is God’s. It was an unquestioning obedience. Doubtless he saw the necessity of it, for sin must be put away ere deliverance could come, and Baal, he well knew, was the root of the evil. But manifestly it was not his own sense of the fulness of what should be done that was his guiding motive throughout this whole transaction. From beginning to end he regarded the whole proceeding as coming from the Lord, and therefore to His instructions on every point implicitly he gave heed. Oh, for more of this high-toned confidence in God, as our own God, which lifts the soul far above both the smiles and the frowns of a world that knows us not!
II. Gideon’s support in his obedience.
He might, at first sight, have said, “All things are against me.” Yet, on reflection, he might have added, “they that are with me are more than they that are against me.” For—
1. He had a good conscience. He was sure that God had spoken to him and, therefore, that what he was about, was fulfilling a command he had received from God. He realised the fact, that this was the first and necessary step of a plan of action, which God had marked out for him to do. He felt that he was in the service of God in the whole matter, and that all the steps to be taken were marked out by God, and were not schemes of his own devising. Thus he had all that inward strength which a good conscience always gives. Though, in his father’s house, he had no sympathy, in that home of homes, the innermost home of his own heart, all was with him; in the profoundest convictions which he cherished in the sanctuary of his breast, every feeling within was in full support of the action without. The consciousness of righteousness was “the girdle of his loins.” When he broke down the altar of Baal, he felt as if at Mahanaim, and that two companies of the angels of God, in two crescents, were acting as his shield. “His heart was established, and he was not afraid; he was not greatly moved” (Psalms 112:6; Psalms 112:8; Psalms 62:5-7; Psalms 57:1). “Who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good” (1 Peter 3:13).
2. He had the assurance of the Divine presence. It was God’s work he was doing, and not his own. That alone was enough to foster the belief that he would have the Divine shield thrown over him. For God is a master who “sends none a warfare on their own charges.” His language always is, “I will be with thee.” It was so now. Gideon was expressly assured that the angel Jehovah had not only sent him (ch. Judges 6:14), but also that He would Himself be with him (Judges 6:16). More than that under no circumstances could be needed. For what were all the men of Abi-ezer, or all the hordes of the ruthless invaders, in comparison of the mighty God of Jacob? Gideon felt like David—“The Lord is on my side; I will not fear what man can do unto me. Though the people compass me about as bees, they shall be quenched as the fire of thorns, for in the name of the Lord, I will destroy them.” “If God be for us, who can be against us?” It is because we do not realise how much is included in that—“I will be with thee”—that we get fainthearted and irresolute, in the day of trial. There is a great art in knowing how, when weak in ourselves, to become “strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might.”
3. He was sustained by the assurance of success in his great enterprise. He felt it was no doubtful project in which he was engaged, when the hand of God was at the helm. It was a scheme in which God’s own glory was concerned, and now that he was raised up out of His place, Gideon felt convinced that having begun the work, He could accomplish it to the end. And so glorious a consummation it would be, to see Israel entirely free from the heavy incubus, that had crushed all the energy out of the nation these seven years, that this eminently successful God-fearing and patriotic man was willing to sacrifice all his personal feelings and interests in order to its attainment. He had no doubt begun his duties by arming himself with earnest prayer, that God would no longer “deliver the soul of His turtle-dove unto the multitude of the wicked—that He would remember the congregation He had purchased of old—that He would not remember against them past iniquities, for they were brought very low—that He would turn again their captivity as streams in the south—that the Lord would comfort Zion—that He would comfort all her waste places, making her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the Lord.”
4. He had had long gathering thoughts of revenge against Baal. Many strong purposes have their roots deep in the soil of past experiences. Gideon was one of those who had discerned where the true source of all Israel’s misery lay. And long had he mused how the idols could be abolished. Those musings would lead to a deep purpose of revenge against Baal, so soon as an opportunity occurred. It was the thought of many years, matured and strengthened by the ever fresh calamities which occurred at every new visit of the enemy. When at length the call was made in Providence, “Who is the man that shall fight against Baal, and destroy his power throughout Israel?” Gideon replied in his heart—“Here am I, send me!” God knew the state of Gideon’s heart, and therefore selected him as a sort of agent for doing His work.
THE GENERAL LESSONS TAUGHT
1. Religious duty ought to begin at home. When Christ taught His disciples where to commence their great work of preaching the gospel, He said “Begin at Jerusalem.” Begin where you are—at home. All souls are precious alike. Therefore begin at the point nearest you. This, at least, was one reason for doing so. Abraham began at home, and as a matter of fact almost every domestic he had, of whom we hear any account was a fearer of his God (Genesis 18:19). Jacob when about to draw closer to God, and to have new manifestations of the Divine love, begins with making a strict religious reformation in his own household. He required, that all his household should “put away the strange gods that were among them” (Genesis 35:2-3). And now Gideon is required to begin at his father’s house the important duty, of cleansing their hands and purifying their hearts. The church-office-bearer is required, before entering on his duties in superintending the spiritual well-being of the church, to “rule well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; for if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?” (1 Timothy 3:4-5).
2. Obstacles to religious duty are sometimes found amid the tenderest relations of life. It is singular that Gideon should have had so little sympathy, and have been even exposed to so much danger, in his own father’s house, for doing his duty to his God. That father was the most influential man in the district, and Gideon was now his only son. That son had a singular combination of good qualities of character, fit to call forth the respect and even the love of all the domestics. Moreover, the work which he was now doing was given him by the God of Israel to do, and it was notorious to all who had eyes to read the signs of the times, that the overwhelming distresses under which the land groaned, were owing to the apostasy of the people from the God, whom they were so deeply pledged to love and serve. Yet it required the greatest heroism on Gideon’s part to fulfil an obviously necessary duty, and one which was divinely commanded, having to run the greatest risk of losing his life. So true is it, that for the sake of fidelity to religious principle, “a man’s foes will sometimes be those of his own household.”
Even Abraham had to contend with an idolatrous opposition in his father’s house, before he left the paternal home. His father and brothers, with probably the whole family circle, at first “served other gods.” This must have led to family differences, if, as we must suppose, Abraham was even then a devoted worshipper of the true God. At length the family circle broke up, God directing Abraham to leave his earthly friends, however dear, and promising, probably as a reward for his fidelity in being found “faithful among the faithless,” to bless him and make of him a great nation. With Abraham there went Sarai his wife, his father Terah, and his nephew Lot. The rest appear to have remained where they were, and we hear no more of them (Joshua 24:2-3; Genesis 11:27-32; Genesis 12:1-3). Jacob had much difficulty in performing his duties to his God while living in the same family circle with an ungodly brother, though it must not be overlooked, that he himself greatly increased the difficulty by some grievous faults of his own (Genesis 27:0). The same difficulty followed him to Padan-aram, in the house of the old miser, where he passed more than twenty years (Genesis 31:0). We have a similar example in the case of Korah, Dathan and Abiram, who, as members of the Levitical tribe, ought to have succoured Moses and Aaron in every possible way, in the discharge of their onerous sanctuary and other duties, and yet raised a determined opposition to them, while only fulfilling the trust which God had committed to them (Numbers 16:0). David was often in such difficulties. (1 Samuel 17:28-29; Psalms 41:9; 1 Samuel 30:3-6; 2 Samuel 16:11); Job also (Job 19:13-19); and Jeremiah (Jeremiah 12:6; Jeremiah 20:10-11); in the days of Micah there was much of it (Micah 7:6); and the Master Himself leads His disciples to expect it (Matthew 10:21-22; Matthew 10:34-37; Luke 12:49; Luke 12:51-53).
 Properly speaking, Korah only belonged to the tribe of Levi, while Dathan and Abiram were of the tribe of Reuben. But Korah manifestly took the lead in the movement, so that the remarks made above are substantially correct.
3. Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins. This truth is taught broadly in that Epistle, which professes to interpret the Divine meaning of the whole sacrificial system (Hebrews 9:22). We find the great truth illustrated in Abel’s days, who brought an animal for sacrifice as his offering to God, in contrast to Cain’s offering, which was merely of the fruit of the ground, and therefore showed no thought of a propitiation for his sins (Genesis 4:3-5). Noah offered sacrifices of blood on his altar, “and the Lord smelled a sweet savour,” (Genesis 8:20-21). Abram reared the altar regularly, wherever he went (Genesis 12:8; Genesis 13:4; do 18, etc.). Also Jacob did the same (Genesis 31:54; Genesis 35:3). Moses by God’s direction laid down the whole system of sacrifice, which was to be sacredly observed by all God’s people down through their history, till the coming of the true Lamb of God, who was for ever to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.
As part of this system, we here find Gideon, by God’s special direction, building an altar to God, and on it, shedding blood, as a symbol of that which was needed to atone for the people’s sins. Only thus could God righteously pardon sin. Sin forfeits the life of the sinner (Romans 6:23; Genesis 2:17; Ezekiel 18:4; Ezekiel 18:20). But the blood is the life; therefore to shed the blood is to give to sin its wages. This must be done because it is God’s law. It is both just and true—it preserves God’s character as a God of truth. Hence the sinner must die, or a suitable substitute be found for him (Romans 3:25-26; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Romans 8:3-4; Ephesians 5:2; Colossians 1:20; Heb. passim).
4. God greatly honours faithfulness in a declining time. Fidelity to God’s name and cause, is always a spectacle well pleasing unto God. But when it takes the form of stedfast endurance under sharp sufferings, in the face of stern opposition, without any friendly help, and at serious personal loss, it rises a hundredfold higher in the estimation of Him toward whom it is shown. And a hundredfold greater will be the reward (Matthew 19:27-29). The Master will see to it, that no servant be a loser for his fidelity to Him. Hence the greatness of the reward (Matthew 7:12). The reward is an hundredfold even in this life (Mark 10:30). And in Paul’s history we see it exemplified in the extraordinary outpouring of the gracious influence of the Holy Spirit, when under the greatest sufferings connected with the carrying on of his great work (Acts 13:52; Acts 18:9; Acts 18:20; Acts 21:13; 2 Corinthians 1:4-5; 2 Corinthians 2:14).
Thus it was with Gideon, while passing through his difficult work, doing it so well, and doing it without a murmur, though Satan stirred up opposition to him on all hands. He whom he served looked on with supreme satisfaction, gave him all needed strength to persevere till it was accomplished, gave him complete success in the result, and prepared for him a great reward in the future. For, conspicuous as a star of the first magnitude, shines the name of Gideon, in the Orion nebula of the New Testament heavens (Hebrews 11:32). Gideon, by his fidelity, was now making history, one of the brightest pages, where there are so many bright. He was the iron cable that would not break, but kept sure and stedfast, when so many others were snapping asunder at the pitching and heeling of the vessel, as the waves were carrying it right on the rocks. Such a man deserves to be esteemed through all time; and there never, we believe, will come a time, even in the bright ages of New Testament history, when such a man need be ashamed to show his face. Already he has a place among the fixed stars of the Church’s sky. And this motto may be written under his name:—“Blessed is the man that endureth trial, for when he is tried he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love Him” (James 1:12).
5. God has all hearts in His hand, and all events at His disposal. However hopeless the web of difficulties with which God’s servant in this matter was surrounded, the great Ruler of Providence found ways and means of extricating him from danger, without any miraculous interposition. We are not to forget that God exercises complete control over the workings of every man’s mind, every moment of his life, and leads him to form this or that impression, this or that purpose, this or that idea, without in the least interfering with the full measure of liberty which belongs to him, as a rational and voluntary agent. It was not in any way, a doing violence to the law of the mind’s free agency, if God should (as we believe He did) turn the minds of Joash’s household to think thus on this occasion. “Well! there is little doubt that the worship of Baal is at the bottom of our great misery, and if it should be reckoned by these old Canaanites, such a terrible affront to their god to do as Gideon has done, still it will be a great step to our much needed relief, and since it has been done, let it so remain, for we cannot lay a hand on the noble young man who is the pride of the family, and himself all but the idol of the district. No, we will rally round him, if any hostile hand should be raised. “To think thus would be not unnatural—and yet it would be all of God’s over-ruling.
CHAPTER 6—Judges 6:33-40
PREPARATIONS FOR THE CONFLICT
CRITICAL NOTES.— Judges 6:33. Then all the Midianites and the Amalekites.] As to the Amalekites, see Judges 6:3, and ch. Judges 3:13. God puts a special brand on the name of Amalek. He would “blot out the remembrance of that people from under heaven” (Exodus 17:14; Exodus 17:16). They were in the line of Esau, and carried down through all their generations, a spirit of bitter and relentless malevolence, such as the elder brother at first cherished for the younger. They were the first heathen nation to make war on the kingdom of God. (So some read Numbers 24:20). Their fight with Israel at Rephidim was malicious. They had no reason for it, but bitter hatred. They strove to prevent God’s own people from partaking of the sacred blessing of water, from the smitten rock. They also cruelly slaughtered the sick and feeble, or the women and children, who were in the rear of the camp (Deuteronomy 25:17-19). They joined with the Canaanites in smiting Israel at Hormah (Numbers 14:45). They fought against Israel along with Eglon, king of Moab (ch. Judges 3:13). Now they did the same with the Midianites. They invaded the South and smote Ziklag in David’s time (1 Samuel 30:0). And they seem to have had wars with the tribe of Simeon in the days of Hezekiah (1 Chronicles 4:41-43). It is a dangerous thing to hate those whom God loves.
Valley of Jezreel.] Some read plain of Jezreel, for a large portion of it was level ground. But the Hebrew word (עֵמֶק) signifies deep place, or valley. A small portion of the ground was really a valley, but for the most part it was a plain, and in later times has been generally known as the great plain of Esdraelon, which is indeed the Greek form of the name. This plain is from fifteen to twenty miles long, and about twelve miles broad from north to south. Though not exactly the basin of an amphitheatre, it has hills around it, nearer or more remote, on every side. It stretches the larger part of the way, from the Mediterranean Sea above Carmel, to the valley of the Jordan. On the south are Mount Carmel, the mountain land of Ephraim and the range of hills connecting the two, on the north are the mountains of Galilee, on the west, the southern spurs of the Galilean highland, and on the east, the mountains of Gilboa, and Little Hermon. The soil is extremely rich, and, though less than fifteen miles square, was, at one time, capable of supporting a population of over 100,000 persons. In the spring season, the whole plain presented the appearance of a vast waving corn field, interspersed with olive trees, which seemed a charming contrast to the huge bare masses of hills that bound it on either side. The three portions of the district most spoken of were the valley of Jezreel, the corn fields of Issachar (this principally) and the slopes of the Manasseh hills. It was the great “battle field of Palesstine;” from Barak to Bonaparte. Here Sisera’s host were annihilated, the Midianites were dreadfully slaughtered, Saul and Jonathan fell at Mount Gilboa, thrilling and melancholy scenes in the lives of Ahab and Jezebel, Jehu and Joram, occurred, King Josiah fought with Necho at Megiddo and was slain, the tragic scene of Holofernes and Judith took place, battles were fought by the Roman General Vespasian, also by Saladin the Great and the Knights Templar, Bonaparte and Kleber, and we might have included, by the famous Egyptian conquerors, Thothmes III. and Rameses II., better known as Sesostris, who invaded Syria by this route. Warriors of every race within a wide range, have here faught, Jews, Gentiles, Egyptians, Saracens, Christian Crusaders and Anti-Christian Frenchmen, Persians, Druses, Turks and Arabs. Here Elijah ran before Ahab’s chariot into Jezreel, and here the tragedy occurred of seizing the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, by the cold-blooded murder of the owner. It presents some of the loveliest and most picturesque scenes of nature, but some of the darkest scenes of human history.
Pitched in the valley]—encamped, or bivouacked. This was now the eighth annual visit of the kind they had paid to this, the garden of Israel. The moral significance of this visit was, not only that it was the last, but that while the enemy had no other thought than that of plunder and feasting, at the expense of God’s people as before, God was now really bringing them forward for a signal destruction, because of their daring to touch His anointed ones, in like manner as He drew Sisera and his army to the very same ground, to deliver them into the hand of Barak (ch. Judges 4:7).
Judges 6:34. The Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon.] As on Othniel, and afterwards on Jephthah, and on Samson (see pp. 97, 146–9, 150–158). We have an expression nearly parallel, when describing the outpouring of the same Spirit on the disciples—“tarry in Jerusalem till ye be endued with power from on high”—all the elements of moral and spiritual power, as explained on the pages referred to. The Hebrew word לָבְשָה means, literally, to clothe with. Gideon was clothed with the Spirit, or was enveloped with it, wrapped all round. It is the same also with the more simple expression, “filled with the Spirit” (1 Chronicles 12:18; 2 Chronicles 24:20). Gideon had now a baptism of the Holy Ghost. Greater honour no man on earth could possibly attain to than this. All the crowns in the world were but a trifle of honour compared to this. This distinction would not evaporate in time, but would go with him where he went into any department in the world of spirits.
Blew a trumpet]—to convoke an army of volunteers. Abi-ezer, including his father’s house, and the clan, gathered to him. The clan was an expansion of the family, through several generations, something like “the genealogical tree.” It might include hundreds or thousands, as the case might be. אַחַרָיו after or behind him, i.e., as their leader. Though not a king or a king’s son, though not chosen by public vote, and though the least in his father’s household, and his family connection was poor in Manasseh, yet he had gained their confidence all at once so much, that over 30,000 men were ready to follow him to the field. This surely was the finger of God. The exact translation of the phrase about Abi-ezer is, Abi-ezer let itself be summoned after him (Keil). As if it felt that a Divine call to follow Gideon was in the air, and notwithstanding all its idolatrous proclivities, it made no resistance to the heavenly voice.
Judges 6:35. Manasseh, Asher, Zebulun and Naphtali.] Only Western Manasseh is referred to—the cis-jordanic part. Asher was behind on a former occasion (ch. Judges 5:17), lingering among its ships, in the bays and creeks of a good mercantile coast, afraid to lose its commerce with the Phœnicians, who formed a great part of Sisera’s army. But now it is among the first to join the ranks of Gideon. The other two northern tribes well sustain their high reputation for zeal in the cause of their God—Zebulun and Naphtali (ch. Judges 5:18). Nor are they forgotten. When many generations have passed away, their country and their names are immortalized by the appearance among them of the great light, which came down from heaven to chase away the shadow of death from the abodes of men (see Matthew 4:15-16).
Came up to meet them.] i.e., the Manassites—the nucleus that had gathered around Gideon. But these northern tribes occupied hilly regions. In going to the valley of Jezreel, therefore, they were going down, not up. The explanation appears to be, that the Hebrew word עָלָה means simply, advanced to meet them.
Judges 6:36-37. If thou wilt save Jezreel by my hand, Behold I put a fleece of wool on the ground, etc.] If Thou art saving—intendest to save Israel, etc., I know (by this) that Thou wilt save, etc. נִזַּת הַצּמד what is shorn of the wool. The word occurs here only. Some think this to be too trivial a matter for a miracle, and regard it as unworthy of Scripture. Rather, we think it a clear proof that such an event really happened, that it was in harmony with an uncultured age, but less adapted to the standard of taste in refined, modern times. It was in harmony with the pursuits in which Gideon was engaged, as a tiller of the ground and a dealer in sheep. The “floor referred to was the threshing-floor, or what was used as such, which was open to the sky.
Judges 6:38. Thrust the fleece]—compressed, wringed]—squeezed. That so much dew should have fallen, does not indicate that as much fell on the wool alone, as would have fallen on the whole ground in the ordinary natural way. But it showed that the dew fell as copiously on the fleece, as was the custom in that climate of heavy dew-fall, while the ground on both sides near it was quite dry. The falling of the dew in Palestine is most abundant. Maundrell and his companions tell us, that “their tents, when pitched on Tabor and Hermon, were as wet with dew, as if it had rained on them all night; and others speak of their cloaks in which tbey wrapt themselves, while they slept, as being completely wet, as if they had been immersed in the sea.” (Eadie.)
Judges 6:39-40. Let not thine anger be hot against me.] This statement is important as showing the state of Gideon’s mind, that it was most reverential, and glorifying to God. How tender is God in His dealings with the man that really fears Him like Gideon, or Abraham, or Moses! Where there is a spark of true faith, He is tender in fanning it, till it rise into a flame.
The wool naturally draws the moisture, even when other objects remain dry. Gideon therefore, to make sure in so great a crisis, adds one request more, that what was contrary to the natural law might take place, namely, the fleece might remain dry over night, while all the ground round about it should be wet with dew. And in both instances, it happened as he requested, a sure proof that God was listening to his voice; for none save He who laid down nature’s laws could thus control them at will.
GENERAL LESSONS—Judges 6:33-40
DIVINE ENCOURAGEMENT AND HUMAN WEAKNESS
I. The supports of Christ’s service far exceed its anxieties.
(1.) The angel proved true to His word. “I will be with thee.” Before victory came, before the thousands of Israel came around him, before the trumpet blew Gideon’s fame, while as yet he was only blowing the trumpet of duty, there came the greatest of all blessings to his heart, comforts flowed in to his soul, his peace of mind passed all understanding, and for strength he felt as if the resources of a hundred thousand men were concentrated in his single person. “The Spirit of the Lord clothed him.” No mantle fell, like that of Elijah on Elisha, nor was any high priest’s robe of office specially conveyed to him. But the sublime reality, of which that costly habit was but the poor symbol, now comes into his spirit. The Divine Spirit took possession of the human spirit, and his heart rose within him with a new courage, while his face shone as if it had been the face of an angel of God. “His feet were made as hinds’ feet,” while his “arms were made strong by the mighty God of Jacob.” He felt borne as on eagles’ wings along the course of duty. He had received a baptism of the Holy Ghost, and now could run and not be weary, walk and not faint. He that could make fire to spring out of the rock to consume the sacrifice, could also fill with fire the heart of the desponding disciple. To the fullest extent did he realise the fulfilment of the promise, “they that trust in Me shall not be ashamed.”
(2.) The sentiment applies generally. Christ’s service always gives more happiness to His faithful servants, than is needed to compensate for its sorrows and sacrifices. Who would not rather be with the Master on the raging deep, assured that every billow is subject to His word, and that no wave can rob Him of any of His redeemed ones, than be loitering indolently in dereliction of duty on the shore? It is better to be with Paul in prison, than to be with the wearer of the imperial purple in the palace. Better have the “thorn in the flesh,” however rankling it be, than be without it, and remain ignorant of the sustaining power of Christ’s grace. Never were men nearer heaven, while still outside its gates, than were those who could “rejoice that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for their Master’s name.”
To be clothed with the Spirit, is to be clad with it as the sky is covered with clouds, or the earth with glory, when the meridian sun shines upon it. Or, we might speak of it as a body covered with a coat of mail, making a man at once invulnerable and invincible.”
II. Divine Providence co-operates with human fideliiy.
We have seen how Gideon was brought through his first great trial of duty, by God inclining first the heart of Joash, his father, then of the men who had helped him, then of all the household, and finally overawing the men of the city—the old Canaanites, who would dwell among the Israelites to the last. Now we find the circle getting wider and wider. For all would soon hear of the visit of the angel-Jehovah to Gideon, that He had announced the time of relief from oppression to be at hand, that He had appointed Gideon to be the leader of Israel, and that all this was confirmed by the working of a miracle. A Divine command had also been given to Gideon to break down the altar of Baal, and erect an altar to Jehovah in its stead, which Gideon had done, and no harm came of it. Baal was thereby proved to have no power to defend himself, and was not a true god. A conviction was rising among the people, that all their misery was owing to their worship of Baal and the displacement of Jehovah. The thought, therefore, was now getting up, of making a general return to Jehovah, and the deserted spouse was now saying, “I will go and return to my first husband, for then was it better with me than now.” Gideon had done well to get his father to become his first convert. His influence would go far to determine others, and when a few decisions were obtained, it would be easy among such a people to multiply them. Thus would Abi-ezer be obtained, by the use of natural means, and yet by the controlling influence of Divine Providence. But when the Spirit of God came on Gideon, a mighty impulse was given to the movement. Everywhere this mighty man of valour instilled his own spirit into all his followers, and a general stirring up took place. “The weak became as David, and David as the Angel of the Lord.” All received life as from the dead; the trumpet sound was the sound of a jubilee morning; emancipation was coming; the recovery of the land, and the breaking of the yoke. An electric thrill passed through all hearts, and many were disposed at once to come forward “to the help of the Lord against the mighty.”
III. The memories of the trumpet-call.
“In all ages, the call of the trumpet has been associated with the clang of arms, the evolutions of troops, and the “pomp and circumstance of war.” Often has it aroused the slumbering energies of patriotism, rallied the courage of those who have conducted the attack, and animated the resolution of those who have stood on the defence. Its heart-piercing language has been understood alike on the walls of Troy, at the gates of Rome, among the hosts of the Crusaders, and on the fields of Waterloo and Inkermann.
“But to the Israelite, the sound of the trumpet was associated not more with war than with religion. When the fathers were journeying through the wilderness, the sound of the silver trumpets blown by the priests, was the signal for their marches and for their convocations. The advent of the new year was celebrated by the feast of trumpets, also days of gladness, solemn days, and the beginnings of months. The majesty of the law was attested by the voice of the trumpet, the walls of Jericho fell flat, when on the seventh day the trumpets of rams’ horn were blown by the priests, and the Midianites themselves when, two centuries before, they had troubled Israel, had been dispersed at the sound of the trumpet (Numbers 31:6).
“For years the trumpet had been silent in Israel. God’s ordinances and His Sabbaths had been disregarded, the memories of Sinai and of Jericho had slumbered, the orgies of Baal had ursurped the place of the holy convocations, and now that its sound was once more heard, it spoke to the people of Him whose covenant they had long forgotten, but whom at last they had invoked in their anguish.”—(Wiseman.)
IV. Misapprehension in judging the Character of others.
Not a few express surprise that Gideon should have thought of asking any further evidence of God’s presence and blessing in this enterprise, and speak of it to the disparagement of his faith. Had he not, it is said, got the assurance of of the angel, “I will be with thee?” Had he not successfully destroyed idol-worship in his father’s house, and had he not secured the confidence of the people, so that they came flocking to him in thousands? What further need was there of miracles, to attest that God was really about to deliver the Midianites into His hands? Thus Gideon is judged, and thus thousands of excellent men are judged, not indeed harshly, but inconsiderately. How much more tender is the judgment of our God! No reproof comes from Him for asking a double miracle to be wrought in this hour of trial, but, on the contrary, an immediate compliance is vouchsafed to the request made.
Gideon would indeed have been more than human if he had had no doubts at such a moment. What a responsibility lay on his shoulders! The whole interests of the Church of God at this perilous crisis were in his hands. The very life of the nation was at stake. Everything was to rise or sink according to his success or his failure. Besides, the situation was to him entirely new. He had no experience what it was to be a general at the head of an army. He had no disciplined troops, but raw levies, indifferently equipped, and without trusted officers to lead them. Was it strange, if, notwithstanding many encouragements, he had still some misgivings? But his weakness was that of nature, rather than of faith; it was physical, rather than moral. For a moment his mind sunk under the strain of strong events to which it was unaccustomed, and he felt himself weak as a child in holding the reins when such mighty forces had to be controlled. It was the mind’s natural inability, through sheer agitation, to look calmly at the evidence set before it, on which faith should be exercised. Luther, felt this weakness, as one may see by reading the broken, rugged utterances of his soul, at some of the critical passes of his history, when all alone with his God. Knox did, Augustine did, and doubtless many others did, if only we could get behind the scenes and witness the severe soul struggles, through which the men of faith had to pass when girding themselves for the decisive conflicts of life. Then the good man prostrates himself in weakness before the Divine footstool. He feels himself a mere straw in existence! a broken reed! weak as a dry leaf in the grasp of the whirlwind! This is a necessary part of the training of those whom God sends out to fight His battles. Each and all must be led to say in deep sincerity of heart, “I will go in strength of God the Lord; I will make mention of thy righteousness, of thine only.”
Moses felt thus when the terrible apostacy of the golden calf occurred. The solemn and stern events, which followed each other in swift succession at that period, proved too much for the infirmity of a human nature, and he cried out in earnest prayer, “O Lord! I beseech thee, show me thy glory!” He wished to have a glimpse of the light of God’s countenance to calm down his extreme agitation when painful emotions were rolling like mountain billows through his soul. O what help there is in that countenance! Even the Saviour himself, all perfect and sinless, and incapable, under any circumstances, of being lacking in faith, yet being a true and proper man, snowed the weakness of a human nature when, under the awful pressure that rested on His human spirit in the place of His sorrows. He cried out earnestly, “O, my Father! if it be possible, let this cup pass from me!” “And there appeared an angel from heaven strengthening Him!”
It might be near the mark to add that Gideon did not for a moment question God’s power to save Israel, but in the whirl of his thoughts, he had doubts as to whether he rightly understood God’s intentions in using him as an instrument. His request seemed to be, “Am I really right in my interpretation of God’s meaning, that He intends to save Israel from these Midianites, through my poor instrumentality? Does He really intend to employ one that is confessedly so weak and worthless to accomplish so mighty a work?
THE DEW ON THE FLEECE—ITS LESSONS
The proposal that the dew of heaven should fall on the fleece only, while the ground remained dry during one night, and that exactly the reverse should occur the succeeding night, was one which Gideon himself made, and, as such, it might have little or no significance. But God accepted it, and, as endorsed by Him, we are warranted in regarding it as conveying important instruction. More especially may we so regard it, as it was so common in that age to convey moral and spiritual instruction through the medium of signs.
Nor can we overlook the fact, that this miracle was wrought in the interest of God’s church, and, therefore, the instruction it conveys must have a reference to that church—to its prosperity or decay, for this was the matter in hand. That a fertile imagination could find many meanings wrapped up in this sign is what might be expected, and there is need of caution not to put meanings of our own into that which is employed as a vehicle of instruction by God. We put aside, therefore, all meanings of mere allegorising ingenuity, such as the favourite theory of the old Fathers, that here we have an illustration of the Incarnation in the descent of the heavenly dew into the fleece; and even that other theory, which applies the sign to God’s dealings with the Israelitish nation, in contrast with His treatment of the outlying Gentile world. True, in the early ages, Israel was for a long period filled with the dew of heavenly blessings, while the heathen nations around were left in the condition of a moral wilderness, dry and barren of all good. Now this state of things is reversed—many Gentile lands being visited with the dew of quickening and saving grace, and bringing forth the fruits of righteousness, while the highly-favoured land in which Jehovah once dwelt has long been spiritually “as a salt land not inhabited.” This sign does, indeed, fitly emblematise the past and present condition of Israel in relation to the nations around them. But a mere likeness does not amount to a type. A type is a designed resemblance, and it is going too much away from the subject in hand to suppose that here there is introduced a designed resemblance of the Israelitish nation in its relation to the outlying world during its long history of thousands of years. Or, if we admit the general principle, we must apply that principle, in the present case, to Gideon’s age in its direct bearing.
Before this apostacy, Israel had, in the good times of Deborah, when the nation had anew “lamented after the Lord,” been favoured with the descent of heavenly blessings on the land in copious measure, while the nations all around were without any participation of the fructifying shower; and now things are reversed. Israel’s fields are left dreary and desolate, while other vineyards are covered with blossom and teeming with fruit. Thus, indeed, the passage might be understood to apply in one sense.
But a more important meaning is, to view Israel not so much as one of the nations, as being the Church of God at that time on the earth, and to regard it as represented by the fleece of wool, while the dry ground represents the world as heathen, and so the spiritual meaning of the passage may be expressed by three ideas.
I. The one needful Blessing of a languishing Church is the Heavenly Dew. The dew is referred to, as if all Israel’s needs were summed up in that one item. For a large part of the year, the dew-fall was all in all to Israelitish soil. Hence its regular descent was looked upon as an expression of the favour of heaven. But for a copious fall of dew over night, during the hot season, every tree would wither—every plant, shrub, and flower; indeed, the whole vegetable world would die. Hence Isaac’s blessing—“God give thee of the dew of heaven;” and Job’s acknowledgment—“His dew lay all night on my branch.” That, of which the natural dew is the emblem, is the Divine Spirit’s influences coming down on the Christian Church; and the aspects of the blessing are manifold, such as—
1. Freshness. Under the heat of a scorching sun, the natural world becomes blanched and withered in appearance. But the dew falls copiously, and the sickly, languishing, vegetable world looks cheerful, and smiles again. The face of nature sparkles with delight. Each flower-cup, and leaf, and heather-bell, partakes of the general joy. Every spire of grass shoots up its little head as if in gratitude for the grateful boon of heaven. All nature is in tears, but it is tears of joy which are shed; for a new glow of life is felt at the heart, and the pulse beats with fresh vigour in the veins. Nature revives, and looks green again. The seed springs in the soil, rich pasture covers the fields, “the valleys are filled with corn, they shout for joy, they also sing.”
When the Spirit’s influences are poured out, our souls become “like a watered garden and as a field which the Lord hath blessed.” There is more fervour of zeal, more ardour of love, more firmness of resolution, and greater energy of action. There is enlargement of heart, and quickening of step in running the race set before us. A deeper hue is given to personal piety, and soul prosperity is advanced. There is more prayer and closer watching for God. Faith is stronger, hope is brighter, humility is deeper, joy is more full, and heavenly-mindedness is more confirmed. How refreshing to a drooping church is the falling of the heavenly dew!
2. Tenderness is another aspect of the blessing. “I will be as the dew unto Israel, and he shall grow as the lily.” The lily was a flower of extreme delicacy of leaf and flower, and so very tender. It was not robust as the thorn, nor hard as the oak, nor tall as the cedar; it was simply a modest unpretending flower, all the more attractive because of its lowliness and tenderness. A picture of it we have in Mary weeping at the sepulchre. Weak faith, weaker Knowledge, but love strong as ever. “They have taken away my Lord”—still mine, even in death. There is no cooling of the affection even by death. She loves on as before, and would not go from that sepulchre. Her dead Lord was dearer to her than all those living around her. To find Him, though in the grave, was to find more than father or mother. Ah! that lily had a beautiful and tender blossom, though wet with the dew of tears—all the more beautiful for those dewdrops.
You see the tender blossom of the lily, in the poor woman who elbows her way through the crowd, saying, “If I may but touch the hem, etc., I shall be whole.” You see it in the conduct of the two sisters when they said, “Lord, if thou hadst been here my brother had not died.” You see it in Nathanael (John 1:48); in Ephraim (Jeremiah 31:18-20); in Peter (Matthew 26:75); in Josiah with his “tender heart”; in the publican “smiting on his breast,” etc.; in David (Psalms 119:136); and in the men who sighed over the corruptions of the Church in Ezekiel’s days (Ezekiel 9:4).
All this tenderness of piety proceeds from the falling of the Divine dew.
3. A new rush of life. “Or ever I was aware my soul made me like the chariots of Amminadib” (Song of Solomon 6:12). “Did not our hearts burn within us,” etc.? (Luke 24:32). This dew can make men raise the shout even in this world, “To Him that loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood,” etc. (Revelation 1:5). One feels like Bunyan when his prison walls seemed to grow warm around him, as he traced the progress of the pilgrim, on from the City of Destruction up to the realms of eternal day. The house of God becomes the happiest home on earth, where all the exercises seem like the ripplings and dashings of the “river of the water of life” Those on whom the dew rests are never so glad as when it is said, “Go ye up unto the house of the Lord.” Their hearts are “lifted up in the ways of the Lord,” and with warmest gratitude they exclaim, “Blessed are they that dwell in thy house!” No voices are more grateful than those of the shepherds, while they walk over the “delectable mountains,” and point through the glass to the celestial gate in the distance.
4. Loveliness of piety. Sometimes, under the descent of this dew, the church becomes like a garden of lilies, where every flower has the beauty of the lily. As on the day when the Spirit was first poured out in abundance, after Jesus had been glorified. The “truth as it is in Jesus” was seen in the light of the morning sun, the shadows of night were cleared away, and the words of the Master came all true at last, both in letter and spirit. What earnest breathings of prayer then rose up to the throne! What enlargement of heart and liberty of speech in setting forth the newly-found truth of the cross as the “power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth!” What entire consecration of every one’s self to the Saviour Lord! What warmth of brotherly love! What boldness in “testifying to men all the words of this life!” What steadfastness in receiving the teachings of the despised fishermen! What singleness of heart and what unbounded joy in all the relations of life!
In the case of the individual this character is seen in every form of beauty. It “sits at Jesus’ feet like Mary, and listens to His word.” It “meditates on God’s law day and night.” Meditation returns home to her bower daily, laden with honey culled from every flower she has visited. It is a character, also, that begins with making nothing of self and everything of Christ. It adopts the motto, “less than the least;” it lies low in the dust, crying out, unclean! etc. It “takes the lowest room,” “esteeming others better than itself.” Also, when smitten on the one cheek it turns the other as well, rather than retaliate. It “forgives until seventy times seven,” “bearing all things, believing and hoping all things.” “It worketh no ill to its neighbour,” but “does to him what it would wish him to do to it.” In one word, it strives to live above the world, to cultivate heavenly-mindedness, and to commend the gospel of Christ to all around. It strives so to conduct itself that all who look upon it shall see, as it were, the face of an angel.
5. Stability. “Rooted and built-up—grounded and settled” (Colossians 2:7; Colossians 1:23; Ephesians 3:17). “From henceforth let no man trouble me,” etc. (Galatians 6:17). “Stand fast in the faith,” etc. (1 Corinthians 16:13). Making conscience of one’s religious principles, and not a matter of convenience and time-serving. “Holding fast the profession of the faith without wavering.” Deeds confirm words. Speaking for Christ before kings as well as mean men (Psalms 119:46). Maintaining one’s principles with all good conscience before, the world with few or with many—“faithful among the faithless;” true as steel; the same whatever wind may blow; esteeming it a “small matter to be judged of man’s judgment, knowing that he that judgeth us is the Lord.”
The presence of the dew makes every root take a deeper hold of the earth.
6. Purity. The more strength there is in a plant the better it throws off its impurities. The strength is given by the dew. Where every feature of the Christian character becomes strong through the Spirit (Ephesians 3:16), the wish becomes stronger than ever “to be found without spot and blameless” (2 Peter 3:14; 1 John 3:3). There is a fixed purpose to “cleanse one’s self from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit,” etc. (2 Corinthians 7:1). The command looked at is, “Be ye holy for I am holy.” The pattern copied is one “in whom there is no guile.” The position occupied by such is, to be “separate from sinners” and to belong to God, while “the whole world lieth in wickedness” (1 John 5:19). The twofold aim in life is to be pure in heart (Psalms 51:7-10; Psalms 139:23-24) and to keep the garments clean (Revelation 3:4; Revelation 16:15).
7. Delight in Christ’s fellowship. When flowers are filled with dewdrops, they put forth their best blossoms under the shining of the sun. Christians, when “filled with the Spirit,” long for the presence and fellowship of Christ. Then Christian character unfolds itself most beautifully, when beholding His excellence, basking in His radiance. When the soul is refreshed with the consciousness of the Divine love, and receives new proofs of its being in covenant with God as its own God, it instinctively longs to possess the virtues of the Christian character. Christ is incomparably more precious than other objects. Like the stars disappearing in presence of the sun, all rivals sink out of view.
II. The granting or witholding of this blessing is entirely in God’s hands. On the one night He gave the dew here and refused it there; the next night, He withheld it from the first spot and gave it to the second. Thus he showed that the giving or withholding of the gift rested entirely with Him. The Holy Spirit is said to be “sent from the Father,” and to “proceed from the Father” (John 15:26). God calls Him “my Spirit” on many occasions. He is generally called “the Spirit of God,” or “the Spirit of the Lord.” In the Old Testament when He is given, God is said to “pour Him out” (Isaiah 44:3; Joel 2:28; Zechariah 12:10; Isaiah 32:15), or to put Him on His people (Ezekiel 36:27; Ezekiel 37:13-14). In the New Testament, God is said to give His Spirit (John 3:34; 2 Corinthians 1:22; 1 Thessalonians 4:8, etc). Comp. Philippians 2:13.
III. God gives this blessing in answer to prayer. It was at Gideon’s earnest prayers that the dew was given or withheld. Thus it was with Elijah (see 1 Kings 17:1; comp. 1 Kings 18:42-45). When the land was scorched through want of dew and rain, the King of Israel supplicates that the needed blessing might be restored, in answer to penitence and prayer, and his supplication was heard (1 Kings 8:35-36, with 2 Chronicles 7:1). So it is declared, “our Heavenly Father gives His Holy Spirit to them that ask Him” (Luke 11:13). When so large an outpouring of the Spirit took place on the day of Pentecost, it was found that the whole company of Christ’s disciples in the upper room were engaged for ten days together in prayer and supplication (Acts 1:14, with Judges 2:2-4). There was a similar scene in Acts 4:31-37.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Judges 6". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the <>Sixth Sunday after Easter