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An angel of the Lord came up from Gilgal to Bochim.
The Israelites at Bochim
I. The Assembly convened: “All the children of Israel.”
II. The messenger employed. This “angel of the Lord “ is said to “come up from Gilgal to Bochim.” Gilgal was the scene of interesting transactions between the Lord and the Israelites. The Lord, therefore, in the riches of His mercy, again visits this people; and at Boehim revives the impressions which had been felt and the resolutions which had been formed at Gilgal.
III. The address delivered.
1. A statement of what the Lord had done for this people: “I made you to go up out of Egypt,” that land of slavery, that scene of degradation and toil, “and have brought you unto the land which I aware unto your fathers.” This was the completion of His work. It was a proof of the exceeding greatness of His power, and also of His faithfulness; for Canaan was the inheritance which He had engaged to give.
2. Next they are told what the Lord had promised to them: “I said, I will never break My covenant with you.” Here was additional favour, and a solemn engagement of fidelity. It had been well if their fidelity had resembled His; then would their peace have been as a river and their prosperity permanent as a rock!
3. They are also reminded of what the Lord required of them: “Ye shall make no league with the inhabitants of this land.” Nothing could be more reasonable. One would naturally have expected their prompt and persevering compliance.
4. But it is affecting to learn what the Lord received from them--the manner in which He was requited for all His favours: “Ye have not obeyed My voice.” The charge is express and pointed. They had leagued with the Canaanites, spared their altars, connived at their idolatry; and all this in direct opposition to the command of Jehovah: “Why have ye done this?” Their sin may be accounted for, but it can never be justified. Indolence may partly account for it: to oppose evil required vigilance and exertion. Covetousness, perhaps, had its influence; they might join with the Canaanites in hope of sordid gain. Love of idolatry, a secret inclination to the practices of heathen nations, might induce them to spare their altars and to palliate their sin. But unbelief was the grand cause, and lay at the root of all their disobedience.
5. Lastly is recorded what the Lord threatened against them: “Wherefore I also said, I will not drive them out,” etc. Here was righteous retribution; they were punished by weapons of their own making; nor can we wonder at this mark of the Divine displeasure.
IV. The effect produced (Judges 2:4-5). From this remarkable fact let us apply a question to ourselves: what influence has the Word preached among us? In other words, where are your tears, and where are your prayers? Thank God, neither the one nor the other are altogether restrained. But why are they not more frequent? It is owing to the hardness of the human heart, and is an affecting proof of the deep degeneracy of man. Terrors do not move; mercies do not melt; the most attractive truths are often heard without emotion or concern; and when some appearance of penitence does exist, how transient its continuance, and how unfruitful its influence! (T. Kidd.)
The voice of that weeping echoes through the ages, and Bochim becomes classic ground in the moral history of the world.
I. There is a terrible physical and moral confusion palpable on the very surface of man’s life, which appears darker and deadlier the more you penetrate the depths; while the profound instinct of his being, made in the image of the one God, demands order and unity. All the heathen hecatombs, all the theodicies of philosophy, are attempts to explain the mystery. They are at least man’s protests against, his struggle to be free from, the desperate confusions of his physical and moral life.
II. There is in man a native tendency to mistake the kind of help which he is to expect from God. From the Old and from the New Testament we hear alike the cry of man’s natural heart, “The rest is near.” There is the undying hope in the heart of humanity that God will give rest. Lamech thought that Noah would give it, Abraham that Isaac would give it, the Jews saw it in Canaan, David in Solomon, Ezra in the restoration, the early Christians in the Church. Suffering is to be destroyed, so runs the human dream, by the destruction of sin. The devil is to be slain, and all things that now tempt man to transgression shall woo him sweetly to virtue and joy.
III. God’s rest, the true Canaan for which we all are pining, must spring from within, and be dependent on the vigour of the inward life.
IV. In this scene of discipline, where man exists of necessity as an imperfect moral being, he must have throngs of tempters around him. He gives them strength by his want of firmness, by his system of foolish and timid compromise. But you have God’s covenant as a rock to stand on, God’s promise as a star to cheer, God’s strength to nerve the spirit and to harden it to endurance, and God’s sword, sharp and gleaming, to cut out before you the path to victory.
V. The bitter truth, discovered at Bochim, is the deep, sad undertone of the music of history. Perhaps those who are most alive to its higher interests and aims find it saddest. But for them this sadness becomes holy; it is part of the sorrow of Christ, which is the germ of everlasting joy. It is not in anger, in its deepest purpose, but in love, that this weeping is ordained to us. Life is richer, nobler, if sadder, under such conditions, as we shall understand at last when we stand white-robed before the throne. (J. B. Brown, B. A.)
The picture here presented to us is that of the people of God stopping short in their career of triumph, not following up and following out the great salvation which the Lord has wrought. They thus incur His stern rebuke and questioning: “Why have ye done this?” Many reasons, more or less plausible, might be given. They were weary of the wilderness and of war; they had had enough of wandering and fighting; they longed for quiet rest and peace. Motives also of seeming pity and prudence might sway them: how hard to cut off with so fell a swoop, and in one wholesale sacrifice, so many hosts and households, of whom some at least might yet be reclaimed to Jehovah’s service, or made useful in some way to His people. Then, as these relentings of tenderness or considerations of expediency occasioned hesitation and delay, their enemies recovered courage and became formidable again. No wonder if, under some such influences as these, proposals of truce and compromise began to be welcome to Israel; and the wisdom of God gave way before the policy of man. It was a policy, however, alike unwarrantable and disastrous; unwarrantable, considering all that God had done for them and the assurance they had that He would not break His covenant with them (Judges 2:1); and disastrous in the issue, for the error was irretrievable.
I. The sin. Let me speak to the young Christian, the recent convert. What now have you more urgent on hand than to make good your position and reap the full fruit of the deliverance wrought out for you? What better opportunity for carrying out fully the sternest injunctions of your Lord regarding them? How does He bid you treat these enemies? “Mortify your members that are on the earth.” “They that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.” Or take another instance. Such a season as I am speaking of is the very season for remodelling your whole plan of life--its pursuits, its habits, its companionship. You come out, O believer, from the secret place of your God, where He has been speaking peace to you--you come out into the world a new man; and now, when all is fresh, and before you have committed yourself, now is the very time for arranging methodically your general course of conduct and all its details. How are you to meet with your former associates? On what terms and with what degree of intimacy? When and how are you to join yourselves to the company commonly called godly, cast in your lot with them, and avow your self partakers of their toils, their trials, and their joys? What, moreover, are to be your rules for the exercise of private devotion and the cultivation of personal piety? What the system of your studious preparation for heaven? You may take your ground, unfurl your standard, and announce your watchword so unequivocally that few ever after will think of trying to shake or to disconcert you. But alas! too generally, as to all these matters, you have no definite plan of life at all. Hence vacillation, fitfulness, inconsistency, excess, and deficiency by turns. The opportunity of setting up a high standard and a high aim is lost; and soon, amid the snares of worldly conformity and the awkwardness of the false shame that will not let you retrace your steps, you deeply sigh for the day of your visitation, when you might have started from a higher platform and run a higher race than you can now hope ever to realise.
II. The inexcusableness of the sin. Hear the remonstrance which God addresses to Israel (Judges 2:1), and consider His threefold appeal. Look back to the past, and call to mind from what a state the Lord has rescued you, at what a price, by what a work of power. Look around on your present circumstances; see how the Lord has performed all that He sware to your fathers; the land is yours; and it is a goodly land. And if, in looking forward to the future, you have any misgivings, has He not said, “I will never break My covenant with you”? “What can you ask more? Are these considerations not sufficient to bind you to the whole work and warfare of the high calling of God, and to make cowardice and compromise exceeding sinful?
III. The dangerous and disastrous consequences of the sin. Hear the awful sentence of God (Judges 2:3), and then see how the children of Israel ilft up their voice and weep (Judges 2:4). Well is the place named Bochim: it is indeed a melting scene. The golden opportunity is lost: their error is not to be retrieved; its bitter fruits are to be reaped from henceforth many days. A sad sight truly; but sadder, if possible, is the spectacle of a Christian professor suffering, in after-years, from the insufficiency of his works and the first foundation of his Christianity; from his having allowed some evil thing in his bosom, some Achan in his camp; from his having stopped short when he should have gone on unto perfection. (R. S. Candlish, D. D.)
From Gilgal to Bochim
Gilgal was the first camp of Israel after Jordan was actually crossed; it was at once a goal and a starting-point. To Christians it represents that position of vantage, that excellence of endowment whence they go forth in obedience and faith to subdue their spiritual foes. Had Israel been wise, they would have abode in Gilgal until their work of conquest was complete and the land all their own. Doubtless the angel first appeared in that deserted camp, doubtless he followed the people thence, in order to remind them that he ought to have found them there. But they had not been wise; they had not extirpated the nations, but had mingled with them and learnt their works; they had abandoned Gilgal, from whence, under the strong restraints of religious and military discipline, they might have carried through the work of conquest, and had settled themselves in some place of their own choosing: therefore, the angel of the Lord followed and found and reproached them; then they wept, and named the place Bochim--“the weepers.” “From Gilgal to Bochim?’ In nature it is an ascent, but in grace it is a tremendous fall; the one named from what God did, the other from what they felt. And surely it is very expressive of a great deal amongst ourselves; surely many of us are settled in a place of feelings without acts, emotions without results, reproofs which only produce tears. “From Gilgal to Bochim.” How often is the story repeated in our spiritual life! Canaan is our kingdom--that kingdom of life and immortality, of light and holiness, which is already ours; not, indeed, for quiet and absolute possession, but for steady and victorious occupation. The seven nations of the Canaanites, alien intruders on the sacred soil, are the seven deadly sins which, with all their evil kith and kin, withstand our entry and dispute our enjoyment of that holy land whereof God hath made us kings and priests in Christ. It is our duty and our charge, as well as our interest, to extirpate these sins--to make a clean sweep of them, great and small. But we do not; we gain some splendid victories, we lay some threatening strongholds low, we deliver some large territories from the dominion of the foe, we do enough to show that we could do all; and then we cease. Because we would not be at the trouble, relying on the grace of God, to cast out all the sins which He detests; because we held our hand and allowed some of them to remain in their old places in our life and character; therefore hath God also restrained the working of His grace, and hath allowed those very faults to become our constant plagues, thorns in our sides, unfailing causes of irritation, self-reproach, and weakness. What we want is to be up and doing, to make a vigorous move, to get back to Gilgal, and from thence to go forth patient and resolved to complete the conquest of our own spiritual realm. Let us occupy once more that place of vantage to which God hath brought us by election and by grace; let us realise the invincible strength which is assured unto those Christians who wait upon their God in prayer and sacraments; let us rely upon that strength not to be the substitute for our own efforts, but to inspire them with supernatural ardour,to crown them with supernatural success. (R. Winterbotham, M. A.)
Bochim; or, the weepers
I. How hopeful. One could not desire anything better apparently than this.
1. They were all attentive hearers. There was not one that looked about him, or that forgot the pointed words that were spoken. It is a great thing to win people’s attention.
2. They were very feeling people.
3. They were all sorrowful hearers. Alas! that such drops did not precede a shower of grace, but passed away as the morning cloud.
4. Aye, and they all became professing hearers; for as soon as ever that service was over they held another, and “they sacrificed unto Jehovah.” Now let me turn to the other side and show you that there was nothing permanently good in Bochim’s sudden water-floods.
II. Their weeping was very disappointing.
1. I half suspect that their tears and lamentations were produced as much by the preacher’s person as by anything else. It was the Angel of the Lord, and who would not be moved at His presence? It may be a great blessing to you to hear a very useful preacher, but if you depend upon him in the least it will be mischievous to you. Seek that your repentance may be repentance which is wrought by the Spirit of God in your heart and conscience. Sham religion is an injury rather than a benefit.
2. Again, I am afraid that the repentance of these people had a great deal to do with their natural softness. They were tender and excitable because there was little grit in their nature; their manliness was of a degenerate type. They feared to go to battle for God; they dreaded the noise and the slaughter. They were, moreover, easily moved by their fellow-men, and took shape from those who lived near them. One grain of faith is better than a gallon of tears. A drop of genuine repentance is more precious than a torrent of weeping.
3. There is another thing about the weeping of these people, and that is, that it was caused a great deal by threatenings of punishment. Every murderer repents at the gallows, they say; that is, he repents of being hanged, but he does not repent of having killed others. We ought clearly to discern between the natural terrors that come of vivid descriptions of the wrath to come and that real spiritual touch of God the Holy Ghost which breaks and melts the heart and then casts it into another mould. These people were deceived as to the depth and sincerity of their own feelings. Doubtless they reckoned themselves choice penitents when they were only cowardly tremblers, labouring under impressions which were as useless as they were transient. Their feeling was but as a meteor’s blaze, shedding strong but momentary day.
4. Next, these people had not repented, for they did not bring their children up rightly. The next generation, it is said, knew not the Lord, neither the mighty works of the Lord. If parents make known the things of God to their children it cannot be said that the children do not know the works of God. If parents teach with affectionate earnestness, their children learn at least the letter of the truth. Woe unto you, with all your tears, if you have no regard for your household, and no care to bring up your children in the fear of God.
5. I know that these people did not repent aright, because they went from bad to worse. They went from weeping before God to worshipping Baal. The more tender you are, if afterwards you harden yourselves, so much the greater will be your guilt; and if you humble yourselves before God in mere appearance, so much the more terrible will be your doom if that humbleness departs and you go back to the sin from which you professed to turn.
6. I know that these people were not penitents, because God did not take away the chastisement. The punishment which He threatened He brought upon them: He gave them over to the spoilers and sold them to their enemies. But where there is a hearty repentance of sin, God will never lay punishment on a man. He will forgive him and receive him to His bosom and restore him. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The failure of obedience
The accusation against them at Bochim was negative rather than positive. They were not charged with any specific act of avowed rebellion, but with having failed to obey the voice of God. But when the Church has begun to habitually neglect any one of her Lord’s known commands--still more when she begins to “break one of these least commandments, and teach men so“--the day is not far distant when, unless arrested in her career by the mercy or the judgments of God, she will be found openly consorting with the mammon-worshippers by whom she is surrounded. Even so it was in the history before us.
1. The Canaanites in this history represent the enemies of the Church of God, and also the inward besetting sins of individual members of that Church. Need we name pride, and lust, and covetousness, and self-conceit, and envy, and worldliness, and impatience, and fretfulness, and revengefulness--a band of brothers, tall sons of Anak, diverse in feature, yet all showing the ancestry and lineaments of the serpent? Need we mention others of the same kindred--jealousy, and sloth, and worldliness, and levity, and procrastination, and presumption, and unbelief?
2. It follows, then, that the believer’s warfare is not completed when he has been made a partaker of peace through believing in Christ; for “we are made partakers of Christ” only “if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end.” “Put off,” says the Scripture, “the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts.” Mighty task!--for this “old man“ is not easily ousted from his ancient habitation. He fights hard for possession; and we must “give diligence,” even after we have obtained our “calling and election,” to “make it sure.”
3. We are reminded that many of the spiritual Israel stop short of a full salvation, for it is to be remembered that these men had partially obeyed. They had begun well.
4. The history illustrates the causes of the weakness of the Church and people of God.
(1) One of these causes was indolence. “They neglected to destroy the nations, not because of want of inclination, but because they were deficient in strength in consequence of their guilt; not from feelings of compassion, but from want of holy zeal and from slothfulness,” The athlete cannot retain his strength without daily exercise; the vocalist cannot retain his power and command of voice without incessant practise; and the child of God cannot go on to perfection without a daily spiritual gymnastic, “exercising himself with a view to godliness,” as an athlete with a view to the games. Faith and love, correcting the indolence of our nature, will make this holy toil delightful.
(2) Another cause of spiritual weakness is a secret love of sin. In our own day there are degraded Englishmen who have settled among the savages of New Hebrides or Fiji on purpose to be free from all moral restraint, and who outdo the worst of the heathen in every kind of abomination. In religious families there are sons and daughters who, although outwardly restrained by the circumstances of their position, cherish a bitter hatred of religion and a secret love for a dissipated life. And even in the hearts of the faithful what strange occasional lingerings towards evil! What treacherous trifling with things fordidden!
(3) Another cause of spiritual weakness is unbelief, if indeed this one cause does not sum up and exhaust the whole subject. Unbelief is vitally connected with that alienation of heart and affections from God in which the deepest ruin of man consists. And is it for this cause, O ye Israel of God, that ye are so slow to believe even in the possibility of being sanctified wholly, and of being preserved blameless unto the coming of the Lord? Is this the reason why ye so stoutly contend that although the inbred foe, the spiritual Canaanite, may be humbled and put to tribute, it is impossible he should be utterly destroyed on this side the grave? When the heart pants after the living God, is it pleasant to think that, in this life at least, He will never take full and complete possession, but that some damnable lust will always be there to dispute with Him for the supremacy? (L. H. Wiseman, M. A.)
The evil of disobedience to God
Mark and note right well that it is an evil thing under any pretext whatever to depart in any degree from the commandment of the Most High God. Whatsoever may be the law which God gives, either to the whole race or to His chosen, they will find their safety in keeping close to it. But Israel forgot this. Soldiering was hard work--storming cities and warring with men who attacked them with chariots of iron was heroic service. All this required strong faith and untiring perseverance, and in these virtues the Israelites were greatly deficient; and so, in certain places, they said to the Canaanites, “Let us be neighbours: let us dwell together.” At any rate, it could do no harm to study their archaeology, and go to their temples, and see the gods they worshipped, and get a general acquaintance with the advanced thought of the period; for the Canaanites were a greatly advanced people--they were the advanced thinkers of the period. Tolerance led to imitation, and Israel became as vile as the heathen whom the Lord had condemned, and the Israelites became a mixed race, in whose veins there flowed a measure of Canaanite blood. Yes, if you depart from God’s Word by a heir’s breadth you know not where you will end. I would to God that in these degenerate times we had back again somewhat of the stern spirit of the Cameronians and the Covenanters; for now men play fast and loose with God, and think that anything they please to do will satisfy the Most High. The offal and the refuse will suffice for sacrifice for Him; but as to strict obedience to His Word, they can by no means abide it. Mischief will surely come of this lax state of things to the Churches of this day as surely as affliction came abundantly to Israel of old. Note, next, that whenever one sin is allowed we may say of it, “Gad, a troop cometh.” It seemed a pardonable sort of sin to be gentle to these people and not to obey God’s severer word; but then, what came next? Why, soon they, the children of Jehovah, were found worshipping before the horrible Baal. Soon they had gone farther, and the unclean goddess Ashtaroth became their delight; and anon they forgot Jehovah altogether amid their deities and demons. With these errors in religion there had come in all sorts of errors in morals, for every fashion of immorality and lewdness defiled the worshippers of Baal-Peor, Baal-Berith, and Baal-Zebub; and the chosen people of God could scarcely be distinguished from the heathen nations among which they dwelt, or if distinguished at all, it was by their greater sin, inasmuch as they were transgressing against superior light, and holding down their consciences which God had rendered by His teaching much more tender than the consciences of those about them. Backslide a little, and you are on the way to utter apostasy. The mother of mischief is small as a midge’s egg; hatch it, and you shall see an evil bird larger than an ostrich. The least wrong has in it an all but infinity of evil. So Israel went aside farther and farther from God because they regarded not their way, and did not in all things obey the Lord. But then comes in a truth which, though it may seem black in the telling, is bright in the essence of it. God did not leave His people without chastisement. The Lord laid His blows upon them thick and heavy. But, before He did this, He sent a messenger to rebuke them. It is ever the Lord’s way to give space for repentance ere He executes vengeance. The axes which were carried before the Roman magistrates by the lictors were bound up in bundles of rods. It is said that when a prisoner was before the magistrate the lictor began to untie the rods, and with these the culprit was beaten; meanwhile the judge looked in the prisoner’s face and heard his defence, and if he saw reason for averting the capital sentence, because of the repentance which the offender expressed, then he only smote him with the rod, but the axe remained unused. But if, when every rod was taken off, the culprit was still hardened, and the crime was a capital one and clearly proven, then the axe was used, and used all the more sternly because space had been given for penitence, and the rods had been used in vain. When the rod is despised the axe is ready. It is certainly so with God: He waiteth to be gracious, but when patience cannot hope for penitence then justice takes her turn, and her stroke is terrible. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The rushing of tears
If this hour we could realise God’s goodness toward us, and our conduct toward Him, a great grief would seize upon us, and repentance would meet remorse, and remorse would meet ingratitude, and memories of the past would jostle the fears of the future, and silence would be broken by sobs and shrieks.
1. I have first to remark that many Christian people have reason for a good deal of mourning. What have you been doing these ten, twenty, thirty, forty years? Did not God lead you out of Egypt? Did He not part for you the Red Sea of trouble, and has He not rained manna all around about your camp? Did He not divide the Jordan of death for your loved ones, until they went through dry-shod, not wetting even the soles of their feet? Has He not put clusters of blessings upon your table, and fed you with the finest of the wheat? And yet, we must confess, we have, like the Israelites, made a league with the world. Three-fourths of our Christian life has been wasted. Oh, weep for our derelictions! weep for our wanderings! weep for our lost opportunities that will never return! There is great reason for sadness on the part of some parents when they look over their families. You know that there must be a mighty change in your household before you can all live together in eternity. Can you placidly contemplate an eternal separation from any of your loved ones? Things are looking that way. Their opportunities of salvation less and less; your opportunities of plying them with religious motives less and less. The prospect that God’s invitation will continue to them, less and less. The day of their mercy almost gone, yet they have not put up one earnest prayer, or repented of one sin, and not given one hopeful sign, and death coming to snap the conjugal bond, and break up the fraternal and the filial tie. An aged woman came to me. I said, “Are you seeking the salvation of your soul?” She said, “No, I have sought and found. I came in to ask your prayers for my sons. They are on the wrong road.” O Lord Jesus, are we to be parted from any we have loved? Will some of us be saved and some of us be lost? Which one will it be missing, missing, missing, for eternity? I say farther: there are impenitent souls who ought to be sad from the fact that there are sins they have committed that cannot be corrected either in this world or the world to come. Suppose a man at fifty years of age becomes a Christian, but he has been all his life on the other side. He is a father. He comes to Christ now; but can he arrest the fact that for twenty or thirty years over his children he was wielding a wrong influence, and they have started in the wrong direction? And if you come to God in the latter part of your life, when you have given your children an impulse in the wrong direction, those ten, or fifteen, or twenty years of example in the wrong direction will be mightier than the few words you can utter now in the right direction. So it is with the influence you have had anywhere in community. If you have all these years given countenance to those who are neglecting religion, can you correct that? Your common sense says “No.” Here is an engineer on a locomotive. He is taking a long train of cars loaded with passengers. He comes on and sees a red flag. He says, “What do I care for the red flag?” He pushes on the train, and comes to another red flag. He says, “I don’t care for the red flag.” After a while he sees that the bridge is down; but he is by a marsh, and he leaps and is not damaged. Does that stop the train? No! It goes on crash! crash! crash! That is the history of some men who have been converted. I congratulate them, but I cannot hide the fact that they started a train of influences in the wrong direction; and though, in the afternoon of their life, they may leap off the train, the train goes on, So, also, there is occasion for sadness in the peril that surrounds every unforgiven soul. And so you may go on placidly, smoothly, gaily for a while in your sin, but the hurricane will swoop upon your souls. Without God, without hope! Oh, what an orphanage, what an exile, what a desolation! Moan! moan! for thy lost estate. Have you not had a chance for heaven? “Ah,” you say, “that is the worst of it. That is what makes me weep.” Was your father bad? Was your mother wicked? “No,” you say. “Say nothing against my mother. If there was ever a good woman, she was one; and I remember how, in her old days, and when bent with years, and in her plain frock she knelt down and prayed for my soul, and with her apron wiped away the tears. Oh, I have trampled on her broken heart. I am a wretch undone. Who will pray for me? I am so sick of sin. I am so weary of the world! “No wonder you weep, for the greatest condemnation of the last day will be for those who had pious parents and who resisted their admonition. But what is a sadder thought is, that some of these people not only stay out of the kingdom of God themselves, but they will not let their children come in. “You never invited me to Christ. You stood in my way. You gave a wrong example. Father, mother, you ruined my soul!”
2. But I remember that there are tears of joy as well as tears of sorrow, and how the foundations of the deep would break up if one hundred or one thousand souls would march up and take the kingdom of heaven! But there are some who have not come. They will not come. They will not repent. (T. De Witt Talmage.)
Sorrow not repentance
“Bochim” might be widely inscribed in the land of Palestine, if thereby to mark the place where universal lamentations have been heard. Crying was a frequent sight and sound there. It was sometimes uncontrollable. It was often mechanical and artificial. Trouble usually provokes it, and fears and tears are closely related. But sobbings and penitence are not so nearly allied as we might expect. The vain Xerxes, as he sat on his silver throne, overlooking his vast fleet and outstretched army, and weeping to think how in a hundred years every life before him would have perished, yet who arrayed his thousands for needless and speedy slaughter, might have better spared his grief, while curbing his pride. Sentiment is not sanctity. Sorrow is not sobriety. In the abodes of shame there are burning tears and pitiful groans without a wish for a better life. The trappings of woe are common; the resolve to remove its cause is not as common. Reformatories are full of victims of their own evil choices, and many a sigh they heave over a wicked past, but it is only because of the ills it has brought upon them. They like the sin as well as ever. Could it be separated from its penalty they would be only too willing to commit it. There are three classes of weepers: the repentant, mourning both over the wrong done and the result it has necessitated, and determined never to offend again; the regretful, intending to keep from the like in future, but only slightly moved because of its evil character; the suffering, thinking only of the disaster, but ready to repeat the deed so soon as it is safe. To the second class, for the most part, the “Bochimites” belong. They wish for prosperity and ease, and are more sorry for the “thorning” and “snaring” in store than for having disobeyed the word of Jehovah. (De Witt S. Clark.)
I. Observe, first, that the reprover of the people is termed “an angel.” “An angel of the Lord came up from Gilgal.” But the first utterance carries us to the thought of One higher than angel or archangel. The speaker describes Himself as the deliverer of Israel out of Egypt, and He finishes with the denunciation, “Ye have not obeyed My voice.” The burden of His prophecy is worthy of the Divine speaker, for it is the simple enunciation of the fundamental truth of all religion--man in covenant with God, and bound to comply with the terms of that covenant.
II. Consider the result of the prophesying. The general result was but transitory. The people wept and sacrificed unto the Lord. But no amendment ensued. The whole effect was a momentary outburst of feeling and a hasty sacrifice. Most true picture of the reception of the Word of God in after-time. It is sensational or emotional religion against which Bochim is our warning. There are two principal elements of this fruitless sorrow.
1. The first is want of depth of soul.
2. The second is the “after revolt of the human mind against the supernatural.” Godly sorrow issues in a repentance not to be repented of, in that thorough turning of the life to God’s service from which, in the hottest fire of temptation, there is never a turning back to the way of evil again. (Bp. Woodford.)
In California, where so much of the land requires irrigation, there is a serious effort being made to devise some scheme by which the water that goes to waste in times of flood can be stored up and used in times of drought. It has long been known that enough flood water flows back to the sea in the rainy season to more than multiply the state’s resource for irrigation. Therefore it is felt that if some system is workable whereby flood waters can be impounded and saved from waste, hundreds of thousands of acres of now useless lands would be made fruitful. What a wonderful thing it would be if some such scheme could be devised in the higher realm of human emotion! There is enough real heart-benevolence stirred up to fill the land with kindness and bring about human brotherhood everywhere. But it often goes to waste without producing any practical result. Many people are moved to tears by a novel or the story of some suffering fellow-being, and for a time there is a flood of charitable feeling that surges through the soul; but it runs to waste, and when opportunity for real helpfulness comes the emotion has passed away. (L. A. Banks.)
The people served the Lord all the days of Joshua.
Joshua and “another generation”
I. The power of a great man to adapt himself to changing circumstances, and to be equally great under varying conditions. Many a man great in conquest is a nonentity in peaceful times. The great warrior does not always make a great statesman. Joshua, on the contrary, was the moral ruler of the nation in peace as well as the military commander of the army in war. The Romans are said to have conquered like savages and ruled like philosophic statesmen. Joshua, too, excelled in war and peace. Perhaps he was greatest in peace, because “he that ruleth his spirit is better than he that taketh a city.” Contrast Napoleon in St. Helena with Joshua at Timnath Heres.
II. The formative influence of one great life in giving character to an age. Such men as Joshua are necessarily exceptional, There is a Divine economy in the sending of great men. Like miracles, they must not be allowed to degenerate into commonplaces. There is a reserve in producing great leaders: they come one in a century--in some instances, one in a millennium. Men of the Joshua type are sent to give a character to their time. The history of the world is largely the history of single champions.
III. The limitations of a personal influence--even one of the most powerful kind; for we see here the strange capacity of one age to prove untrue to the best traditions of that which preceded it: “There arose another generation,” etc.
1. This generation suffered from the lack of direct personal testimony. They could not say, “We speak that which we do know, and testify that which we have seen.” All they knew was by hearsay, and spirituality must be very vigorous and intense to breathe life into hearsay.
2. These people sadly under-estimated, and therefore ignored, the value of historic record--“knew not,” etc. They severed themselves from the past.
3. This was an age of ease, and, as such, the least productive of noble manhood. These were poverty-stricken times. The nation was no longer braced by one common ambition, or bent upon one object. They had lapsed into a state of indolence and indifference. Moreover, there was no central supreme power, for they had leaders only in times of war, and the old leader and his subordinates were dead. This was a time when a great character was most needed to save the nation from degeneracy. Such ages often succeed the iron ages of history. I am not sure that we, as Christians, have not lost much of the robustness of the past age.
IV. What a responsibility is involved in this succession of ages to maintain the continuity, to be worthy followers of those who through faith and patience have inherited the promises; to be, of a truth, successors of the apostles and of other holy men!
V. Thank God, the record in our text is only fragmentary. That age was not a final break upon the progress of revelation. History is progressive after all. Span the centuries. Don’t let the point of observation be too narrow or near. Ascending from lowlands to highlands there are undulations; but take a span large enough, and you will find that it is an ascent all the way. So in the history of our race. God has been advancing throughout all time in spite of the ”dark ages“of the world, and in spite of human relapses into sin. (D. Davies.)
I. The moral obligation of every member of our race (Judges 2:7).
1. All creatures are the servants of God, but they serve Him in different ways.
(1) Some without a will. Inanimate matter and insentient life.
(2) Some with their will. Brutes--instinct.
(3) Some against their will. Wicked men and fallen angels.
(4) Some by their will. Saints and angels.
2. To serve Him in this way is the obligation of the race. But there is one condition indispensable to this--supreme love for Him as the Sovereign. This will--
(1) Induce man to attain an understanding of His law;
(2) prompt him cheerfully to obey it.
II. The service of one good man to our race.
1. That a man can induce his race to serve the Lord. Joshua did.
2. That a man, to do this, must himself be a servant of the Lord. Joshua was.
3. That, however useful a man may be to his race in this respect, he must die. Joshua died.
III. The melancholy succession of our race (verse 10).
1. The succession involves no extinction. The mighty generations that are gone live on some other shore.
2. The mode of the succession involves a moral cause. We say the “mode,” not the “fact.” If the race continue to multiply as now, the limitation of the world’s area and provisions would require a succession. This planet was probably intended as a stepping-stone to another. Had there been no sin, however, instead of the succession taking place through the grave, it might have been through a “chariot of fire,” as in the case of Elijah.
IV. The degenerating tendency of our race.
1. This degenerating tendency is often found stronger than the most elevating influences of truth. Peter fell in the very presence of Christ.
2. This degenerating tendency indicates the necessity of a conscious reliance upon the gracious help of God. (Homilist.)
I. The character of the Jews at the death of Joshua.
II. The apostasy of the succeeding generation.
1. The nature of their apostasy. God is jealous of His own honour; and to unite His name with idols, and to His worship to join the revolting orgies of Ashtoreth, was diabolism, and must be judged and punished.
2. Their apostasy was intensified by all the distinguishing privileges and blessings they had enjoyed. As virtue is proportioned in vigour to the temptations resisted, so transgression is proportioned to the forces of conscience, education, example and blessing which have been fought with and conquered. Nor was this all their sin. To the list must be added disobedience. They refused to execute the Divine command to expel the Canaanites from the land. It was terrible surgery, and not murder, that the Israelites were commanded to perform as touching the heathen idolators--a true and just surgery, cutting away unflinchingly the diseased part, that themselves might remain sound. Stopping short in the operation, they became infected with the moral leprosy which made the Canaanites loathsome to heaven and earth (Leviticus 18:21-30; Deuteronomy 12:30-32).
(1) Mercies despised, privileges scorned, pledges made to God in covenant and broken, become the foundation for towering iniquity. The best things perverted are the worst.
(2) Nothing is more fatal to the Christian calling than alliances with the ungodly. He who makes the experiment of such entangling alliances will speedily discover that his power is lost; that what he builds with one hand he pulls down with the other; that he does not win the world to God: the world wins him. It is a notorious fact that alliances with the wicked do not command the respect of the very men for whose favour they are formed. The world scorns those who sacrifice their religious principles to worldly policy or social ambitions.
III. The punishment of their apostasy.
1. No two ideas are more inseparably linked together than these two of sin and suffering. The one follows the other by a law as fixed and imperative as the agony of a burning hand. They are the “twin serpents” of the race, inseparable companions.
2. But all suffering is not penal. With respect to God’s people it is remedial and corrective. Moses Browne truly saith, “A great deal of rust requires a rough file.”
IV. God’s merciful provision for Israel’s deliverance. God answered the cries of distress by sending them Judges--men chosen and qualified to act as His vicegerents in the emergencies of the nation. Let no Christian despair or be discouraged even in the most adverse circumstances. Evermore it is true that “Man’s extremity is God’s opportunity.” (W. G. Moorehead, D. D.)
There arose another generation after them, which knew not the Lord.
Israel forsaking God
With ages of schooling, and always the same lessons, mankind is slow to learn the absolute and unalterable conditions of prosperity; equally slow to note and steer clear of the reefs and shoals on which nationality after nationality has gone to wreck.
I. The drift of human nature. It is towards sin, and away from God. The Israelites were men no better and no worse than other men. Sentimental philosophers of the modern type may write out in soft phrase their exalted estimates of human nature; they may enlarge upon its beauties and excellences; but, in spite of their fancies and ecstacies, here the fact asserts itself in the record, as it does on every page of history, that human nature, left to itself, gravitates downward.
II. The influence of men in high station. The significant fact is recorded that “the people served the Lord all the days of Joshua,” etc. A great responsibility rests upon those who occupy prominent places in society or in the State--a responsibility that is not discharged by fidelity to the specific duties of their position. There is that undefined, incalculable something of influence which is inseparable from their station, which they are to guard and direct.
III. The danger of religious insensibility. It is twofold. There is danger that men will come into a state of mind and heart where they will be unmoved by Divine truth, and there is great danger in that state. The children of Israel did not sweep over at once and in a body into idolatry. They drifted, by slow and unrecognised gradations, from the service of God to the worship of Baal and Ashtaroth. Carelessness about single duties, indifference to single truths--here were the causes of their final detection. The process has been often repeated, is still in progress. Men and women walk our streets to-day utterly indifferent to the most solemn truths of religion, to whom all the truths of God were once intensely real. There was a time when conscience was quick, and the least wandering from duty brought sorrow and repentance. There was a time when immortality, with its heaven of blessedness and its land of infinite sorrow, loomed colossal on the horizon of thought. There was such a time, but it has passed, perhaps for ever. Neglect of duty, lack of watchfulness against sin, disobedience to many a heavenly calling--things like these, slight and unnoticed in themselves, have swept them away from the moorings of faith and interest, and they are adrift on the dark sea of unbelief and indifference.
IV. The secret of prosperity. The Israelites had all the human factors of success--a fruitful country, a genial climate, experience in the arts of war and peace, and the prestige of a triumphant march from Egypt to Canaan. These were seemingly enough to make them a power among the nations. But one thing, the indispensable thing, was missing--the Divine favour which they had forfeited by their sin. Is God for us or against us? is the decisive question. If He frown, empires with the glow of centuries of art and culture transfiguring them may crumble to dishonoured dust, and the shame of their defeat become greater than the splendour of their conquests. From the tawny sands that cover the old-time magnificence of Babylon and Nineveh, and the scores of historic centres that have faded out of sight, comes one and the same declaration, voiced by the desert wind that moans over their graves, “Even so shall it be with the nations that forget God.” And what is true of men in the mass is true of individuals. The conditions of real and enduring success in life are always the same. “If God be for us, who can be against us?” Many things are rightly estimated as elements in what is called a successful life. Enterprise, thrift, patience, energy--all these are helpful and desirable forces; but it still remains unalterably and everlastingly true that the sovereign maxim of political and social economy is that given long ago by Jesus on the mount: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God,” etc. (Sermons by the Monday Club.)
They forsook the Lord God of their fathers.
Israel’s obstinacy and God’s patience
This passage sums up the Book of Judges, and also the history of Israel for over four hundred years. Like the overture of an oratorio, it sounds the main themes of the story which follows. That story has four chapters, repeated with dreary monotony over and over again. They are: Relapse into idolatry, retribution, respite and deliverance, and brief return to God. The last of these phases soon passes into fresh relapse, and then the old round is gone all over again, as regularly as the white and red lights and the darkness come round in a revolving lighthouse lantern, or the figures in a circulating decimal fraction.
1. The first is the continual tendency to relapse into idolatry. The fact itself, and the frank prominence given to it in the Old Testament, are both remarkable. As to the latter, certainly, if the Old Testament histories have the same origin as the chronicles of other nations, they present most anomalous features. Where do we find any other people whose annals contain nothing that can minister to national vanity, and have for one of their chief themes the sins of the nation? As to the fact of the continual relapses into idolatry, nothing could be more natural than that the recently received and but imperfectly assimilated revelation of the one God, with its stringent requirements of purity and its severe prohibition of idols, should easily slip off these rude and merely outward worshippers. Instead of thinking of the Israelites as monsters of ingratitude and backsliding, we come near the truth, and make a better use of the history, when we see in it a mirror which shows us our own image. The strong earthward pull is ever acting on us, and, unless God hold us up, we too shall slide downwards. Idolatry and worldliness are persistent; for they are natural. Firm adherence to God is less common, because it goes against the strong forces, within and without, which bind us to earth. Apparently the relapses into idolatry did not imply the entire abandonment of the worship of Jehovah, but the worship of Baalim and Ashtaroth along with it. Such illegitimate mixing up of deities was accordant with the very essence of polytheism, and repugnant to that of the true worship of God. These continual relapses have an important bearing on the question of the origin of the “Jewish conception of God.” They are intelligible only if we take the old-fashioned explanation, that its origin was a Divine revelation, given to a rude people. They are unintelligible if we take the new-fashioned explanation that the monotheism of Israel was the product of natural evolution, or was anything but a treasure put by God into their hands, which they did not appreciate, and would willingly have thrown away.
2. Note the swift-following retribution: “The anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel.” That phrase is no sign of a lower conception of God than the gospel brings. Wrath is an integral part of love, when the lover is perfect righteousness and the loved are sinful. The most terrible anger is the anger of perfect gentleness, as expressed in that solemn paradox of the apostle of love, when he speaks of “the wrath of the Lamb.” God was angry with Israel because He loved them, and desired their love, for their own good. The rate of Israel’s conquest was determined by Israel’s faithful adherence to God. That is a standing law. Victory for us in all the good fight of life depends on our cleaving to Him, and forsaking all other. The Divine motive, if we may so say, in leaving the unsubdued nations in the land, was to provide the means of proving Israel. Would it not have been better, since Israel was so weak, to secure for it an untempted period? Surely it is a strange way of helping a man who has stumbled, to make provisions that future occasions of stumbling shall lie on his path. But so the perfect wisdom which is perfect love ever ordains. There shall be no unnatural greenhouse shelter provided for weak plants. The liability to fall imposes the necessity of trial, but the trial does not impose the necessity of falling. The devil tempts, because he hopes that we shall fall. God tries, in order that we may stand, and that our feet may be strengthened by the trial.
3. Respite and deliverance are described in verses 16 and 18. The R.V. has wisely substituted a simple “and” for “nevertheless” at the beginning of verse 16. The latter word implies that the raising up of the judges was a reversal of what had gone before; “and “ implies that it was a continuation. And its use here carries the lesson that God’s judgment and deliverance come from the same source, and are harmonious parts of one educational process. Nor is this thought negatived by the statement in verse 18 that “it repented the Lord.” That strong metaphorical ascription to Him of human emotion simply implies that His action, which of necessity is the expression of His will, was changed. The will of the moment before had been to punish; the will of the next moment was to deliver, because their “groaning” showed that the punishment had done its work. But the two wills were one in ultimate purpose, and the two sets of acts were equally and harmoniously parts of one design. The surgeon is carrying out one plan when he cuts deep into quivering flesh, and when he sews up the wounds which he himself has made. God’s deliverances are linked to His chastisements by “and,” not by “nevertheless.”
4. A word only can be given to the last stage in the dreary round. It comes back to the first. The religion of the delivered people lasted as long as the judge’s life. When he died, it died. There is intense bitterness in the remark to that effect in verse 19. Did God then die with the judge? Was it Samson, or Jehovah, that had delivered? (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The anger of the Lord was hot against Israel.
God’s methods with nations
I. Some characteristics of national sins (Judges 2:11-13). There is an amazing tendency in communities to commit the same sins. We are such creatures of imitation that every community develops a certain individuality; all composing it, while having personal peculiarities, do yet have many modes of speech and thought and habits of life in common. Every nation, every city, has its characteristic virtues, its characteristic sins. It is easy to “follow a multitude to do evil.” So the Jewish people developed a propensity to idolatry. But a still more striking fact regarding national sin is the way it is promoted by the influence of other nations. Israel followed the gods of the people that were round about them.
II. The retribution of nations (verses 14, 15). A nation must be punished in this life if at all, for it has no hereafter. Consequently, in national experience the connection between sin and the loss of prosperity is most distinctly seen.
III. The importance of good men as leaders (Judges 2:16-18). It is God’s method to elevate and save nations by the influence of men whom He brings forward for the purpose. They may hold very different positions in public life, they may be men of very different character and abilities, but we are to recognise the work they do as made possible through the goodness of God. We must trust God more in national emergencies, and pay more heed to the counsels of men who are appointed of God to be our leaders. It is worth our notice here that the judges of Israel were simply the vicegerents of God. God was the Chief Magistrate of the nation. He claimed absolute authority. The government was a theocracy; that is, God enacted the laws of the nation, interpreted them, and enforced them. He combined in Himself the three departments of government--the legislative, the judicial, and the executive. Our governments are under equal obligation with the judges of old to bring God’s thought before the people and to enforce His will. Our rulers show themselves to be raised up of God, and are delivering us from the misery of our national sins only as they act for God and express His will in their government of the people.
IV. The amazing tendency of nations to relapse into sin (Judges 2:19). It is a sad record, but true to nature and repeated in every age of the world. Reform makes progress, as the tide advances, by refluent waves, only each succeeding wave rolls a little higher up the beach. The wave sweeps in, but it does not stay there. It rolls back and leaves the shore bare, and everything seems swept out to sea. That is a very discouraging feature to the eager reformer. There is need for us of to-day, in view of this law of retrogression in progress, of two things. One is never to be discouraged by any seeming discomfiture. There are undoubtedly moral lapses in communities. In Cromwell’s day, in England, there was a great advance in morals and high purpose, but with the death of Cromwell and the accession of Charles
II. the wave of progress flowed back again and left the unhappy kingdom demoralised and given over to folly. But this was only a temporary reverse. In time the right re-asserted itself, morality triumphed, and the nation rose to a higher level than ever before. We may be sure this is God’s design for us.
V. The probation and discipline of nations by trial (Judges 2:20-23). Just as David was fitted for kingship by the rude discipline of his life as an outlaw, so was Israel fitted to introduce Christ to the world by its bitter experiences in the time of the judges, in the days of the captivity, and under the hated Roman yoke. God is doing the same thing for this nation, training it for great usefulness, or at least giving it opportunity to be so trained, by its successive trials. (A. P. Foster.)
The Lord raised up Judges.
The judges, their choice, function, and administration
I. These men, in some of whom the miraculous operations of the Holy Spirit were singularly manifested, were not chosen, like the suffetes of Carthage, with regal powers for a year; nor like the archons of Athens, with divided and carefully defined responsibilities; nor like the dictators of Rome, chosen to exercise uncontrolled power during extraordinary emergencies. They were not chosen by the people at all. They were sent forth by the Divine King of Israel--impelled by an inward inspiration, which was in several instances confirmed by outward miraculous signs to act in His great name. They were raised up as the exigencies of the times required; and their presence and their absence were alike calculated to keep alive in the nation a sense of dependence upon its invisible King.
II. The functions which the judges were called upon to discharge may be partly understood by referring to the position in which Moses and Joshua stood in relation to the twelve tribes. The judges were God’s vicegerents. The parallel between the office of the judges and that of Moses or Joshua was not, however, complete. In so far as they were specially raised up to be God’s vicegerents in Israel, it holds good; yet it was a separate and distinct form of government, and is recognised as such by St. Paul. Moses and Joshua was called, each of them, to introduce a new order of things. But during the period of the judges, nothing, in respect of God’s covenant, was put upon a new footing. The history of the people is a succession of various fortunes, afflictions, and deliverances, alternating according to their public sin or their repentance: but no change occurred, permanently or deeply affecting their public condition. As often as the sins of the people brought down God’s chastisements, and chastisement produced repentance, judges were raised up to repel the invader, and to restore peace and tranquillity. Hence they are frequently called, in the sacred history, “deliverers and saviours.” The judges were the chief magistrates of the Hebrew commonwealth. As such, they had to deal with religious, no less than with civil, affairs; for the sharp line of separation between these which modern ingenuity has invented did not then exist. It became the duty of the judges to stir up the people to return to the Lord; and hence they needed to be themselves men of faith.
III. With regard to the effect of their administration upon the nation of the Jews, I think the period of the judges was, upon the whole, a period of national advancement. For, in the first place, the rule of the judges secured long periods of public tranquillity. Gloomy and fearful as are some of the details furnished in the Book of Judges, the Hebrew nation was nevertheless in a better state during that period, morally, politically, and spiritually, than it became afterwards during the reigns of the later kings. Not only the intervals of repose, but also the periods of warfare, must be taken into account in estimating the benefits of their rule. In general, they exerted themselves to prevent idolatry, dissuading the people from their besetting sin; but there were times when the people “would not hearken unto their judges”; and further, “when the judge was dead,” they took advantage of the interregnum which sometimes occurred, and “returned, and corrupted themselves more than their fathers.” These apostasies were followed by chastisements. The Lord forsook them; He permitted their enemies to oppress and torment them; “the east wind from the wilderness” dried up the fountain of their strength, until, at the point to die, they bethought themselves of His holy name. Miserable and forsaken, their name might have been blotted out for ever but for the “saviours”--figures of a greater Saviour--whom their God raised up to deliver them. Nor was success denied to these men in that which they undertook. The kings of Mesopotamia, of Moab, and of Canaan, the fierce mountaineers of Ammon: the innumerable hordes of the Bedouin; the lordly and persistent Philistines, were in turn humbled and subdued by these men who, through faith, “quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the ninnies of the aliens.” (L. H. Wiseman, M. A.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Judges 2". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany