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Kelly Commentary on Books of the Bible Kelly Commentary
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Kelly, William. "Commentary on Judges 21". Kelly Commentary on Books of the Bible. https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ wkc/ judges-21.html. 1860-1890.
Kelly, William. "Commentary on Judges 21". Kelly Commentary on Books of the Bible. https://studylight.org/
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My object being no more than a sketch, as most of you know, I desire to say but a few words on such of the chapters as bear a similar character to that which has been already pointed out in the early portion of the book. We see that God was faithful; but the fidelity even of those whom He used in deliverance is another matter. Their faith was owned; but it was of a sadly mingled and imperfect character. Indeed this is found regularly throughout the book of Judges. In the case of Abimelech it is seen most conspicuously, yet is it always true, though it may be occasionally more marked than at other times. In him we have a man who took advantage of the reputation for the power of God that had wrought by his father; but where anything of the sort is used for self, and not for God, bitter disappointment must be the result; and if there be anything more marked than another in his history, it is the solemnity of divine retribution. This is always true in the ways of God. What a man sows he must reap: if he sows to the flesh, of the flesh he reaps corruption. And this is just as true of the saint as of the man who rashly or lightly bears the name of the Lord Jesus. In the latter case it is nothing but flesh, which becomes manifest in the long run; but even in the case of him who is truthful, whatever is carnal, whatever lets out that nature which is already judged, the confession of whose judgment is the very starting-point of a Christian, but which it is his calling to act upon and treat as a dead and condemned thing to the end if he forgets this, then, in the measure in which he does so, it brings in that which the Lord must infallibly deal with. Now; in Abimelech's history we see that he had begun with the most intense selfishness taking an utterly reckless advantage of those who had a better claim to represent their father than himself. The end was that he met with the judgment least of all to be coveted by man, most of all detestable to a proud spirit like his own. (Judges 9:1-57)
On Tola and Jair (Judges 10:1-18) we need not pause; but in Jephthah again we have solemn issues brought out But here again is found the same brand of what was worthless or untowardly in the instruments that God used in a day of declension "Jephthah the Gileadite," we are told in Judges 11:1-40, "was a mighty man of valour, and he was the son of an harlot." Abimelech was no doubt the son of a concubine; but here we descend lower still. Nevertheless he "was a mighty man of valour," who lived a kind of freebooter's life the chief of a reckless company of outcasts and desperadoes. So low were things now in Israel, that even this man becomes an instrument of God's deliverance; and so evidently in all this was God stamping on the people His moral sentence of their state. He could not in their then condition employ vessels of greater moral worth. He plainly intended to testify to their state by the agents whom He used for their good. (Judges 11:1-40)
Nevertheless we learn even from the lowest He deigned to work by that, while doubtless there was a most humiliating condition in Israel, God's rights were maintained for His people. Jephthah takes the greatest pains to prove, when he comes forward, that he has clear right on his side. This is an important principle. It was not merely that the people were unworthily oppressed by the Ammonites, but Jephthah does not venture to go to war, nor does the Spirit of God clothe him with energy for the conflict, until he had the certainty in his soul that the cause was a righteous one, and this founded upon the dealings of God with the children of Israel and with Ammon respectively. This is exceedingly instructive.
Nothing justifies, in the work of the Lord, a departure from His mind or will. It does not matter what the line taken may be, no good end will ever be owned by God unless the way be according to His word and righteousness. Even the man who above all others perhaps illustrates the danger of rash vows in the joy of a divine deliverance, and that affecting him in the nearest possible way, was the very reverse of rash in entering on his service for the people of Israel. Hear what a solemn appeal Jephthah makes to the elders before he acts. Undoubtedly the desire of his own importance and aggrandizement is but too manifest; but when he enters upon the service itself, he not only takes care that the right should be felt by Israel to be indisputably with them, but that this should be known and pressed on the conscience of his adversary.
So he "sent messengers unto the king of the children of Ammon, saying, What hast thou to do with me, that thou art come against me to fight in my land? And the king of the children of Ammon answered unto the messengers of Jephthah, Because Israel took away my land, when they came up out of Egypt, from Arnon even unto Jabbok, and unto Jordan: now therefore restore those lands again peaceably." The answer however was incorrect. The king of the Ammonites did not speak candidly. It was not true that the children of Israel had taken those lands as was pretended. The Ammonites had lost them before the children of Israel took them from others whom they might lawfully attack and despoil; but God had forbidden that the children of Israel should spoil either Ammon, or Moab, or Edom. God held even to the distant tie of connection a most striking proof and witness of the ways of our God. There had been in ancient times a link between Ammon and Moab with the children of Israel: a cloud of dishonour and of shame overhung them; yet a link there was, and God would have this at least to be never forgotten. Years might pass, hundreds of years roll over, but moral principles and even natural relationships do not lose their power. And it was of the greatest importance that His people should be trained in this. The lands might be good pasture, the temptation great, the provocation given by Moab or Ammon very considerable. On human grounds there might be a just right of conquest; but all this would not do for God, who must decide everything even in the battles of His people. God does not permit Israel, because this one or that is an enemy, to take the place of enemies to them. He stands to it that they must never have an enemy unless it be God's enemy. What an honour when Israel are permitted to take up only the cause of God! They are not allowed to enter on campaigns out of their own head. What courage and confidence may they not then cherish!
So it was pressed on Israel then. The king of Ammon had forgotten, or had never enquired after the real righteousness of the case. What he felt was that these lands had once been his lands, and that the children of Israel now possessed them. More he knew not, nor wished to learn. But this was far from the true and full history of the case. The fact was that some other races and peoples had dispossessed the Ammonites of these lands. Now it was perfectly lawful for the children of Israel to treat them as intruders and strangers, who had no rightful claim, no valid plea why they should be restored. For we must remember carefully this, in looking at the dealings of God with the holy land and with His people Israel, God had always destined the land of Palestine for the chosen people. Had not He a right to do so? The Canaanites might have retreated from it; the Ammonites might have sought other lands. The world was large enough for all. There was at this time, as at every other, ample space for occupying here and there; and if the reason why they did not move was because they cared not for the word of God, they must take the consequences of their unbelief. They did not believe that God would enforce His claims. They had no faith in the promise on God's part to Abraham or to his seed. But the time came when God would act upon that promise, and when those that disputed the title of God must pay the penalty.
Undoubtedly the children of Moab, Ammon, and Edom, for reasons of relationship at least, were exempted from the sentence to which God subjected the races of Canaan. If some of these had taken away lands that belonged to the Ammonites, it was open and perfectly lawful in this case for Israel to put these intruders out of the land, and to take possession of whatever was their spoil. If Ammon could or would not seek to recover it previously, they had no title to claim now from Israel. It was on this principle then that Jephthah pleads the righteousness of the cause that was now to be decided by the sword between Ammon and Israel. Therefore is it explained with great care.
"Thus saith Jephthah," was his answer, "Israel took not away the land of Moab, nor the land of the children of Ammon." Nothing justifies departure from the word of God. It matters not what is the apparent good that is to be gained, or what may be the mischief that is to be avoided: the only place that becomes a believer is obedience. So says he: "When Israel came up from Egypt, and walked through the wilderness unto the Red Sea, and came to Kadesh, then Israel sent messengers unto the king of Edom, saying, Let me, I pray thee, pass through thy land; but the king of Edom would not hearken thereto. And in like manner they sent unto the king of Moab: but he would not consent: and Israel abode in Kadesh."
And what did Israel? Resent it? Not so: they took the insult patiently; and these were persons who were called to be the witnesses of earthly righteousness. How much more are we, brethren, who are the followers of One who knew nothing but a life of continual sorrow and shame for the glory of God! This is our calling; but we see even in Israel that outside the limits, the very narrow limits, in which God called them to be the executors of divine vengeance even they calmly bear and brook as they best might; and there were those that understood the mind of God, and knew perfectly well why they were not so called to do. They took it quietly, and passed along their way. "Then they went along through the wilderness, and compassed the land of Edom, and the land of Moab, and came by the east side of the land of Moab, and pitched on the other side of Arnon." It was a great way about, and extremely inconvenient. Who doubted the unfriendliness of Moab and of Edom? It was known, but intended to be so; but for all that the children of Israel, as Jephthah showed, would not go against the word of God.
Now the moral importance of this was immense, for if they were simply doing the will and word of God, who could stand in their way? The object of the king of Ammon was to put the children of Israel in the wrong. Jephthah proves in the most triumphant way that the right was all on their side. "And Israel sent messengers unto Sihon king of the Amorites, the king of Heshbon; and Israel said unto him Let us pass, we pray thee, through thy land into my place." They did not wish to quarrel with the king of Heshbon, Amorite as he was, unless he were actually in the holy land; but it was of God that these Amorites, to their own ruin, would not let them pass peaceably through. This again makes the case of Israel still more clear, because it might have been supposed that surely the Amorite must be put out of the way, seeing that that most wicked race was devoted expressly to destruction. But no "Sihon trusted not Israel to pass through his coast: but Sihon gathered all his people together, and pitched in Jahaz, and fought against Israel. And Jehovah God of Israel delivered Sihon and all his people into the hand of Israel, and they smote them: so Israel possessed all the land of the Amorites, the inhabitants of that country. And they possessed all the coasts of the Amorites, from Arnon even unto Jabbok."
There was the plain and sure title of Jephthah. Israel had not taken these lands from Ammon at all They had taken them from the Amorite. If the Amorite got them from Ammon in the first instance, as was no doubt the fact, this was an affair not between Israel and Ammon, but between Ammon and Sihon. It was the business of the Ammonites to have defended their claims as best they could against the Amorites. If they could not make them good, if they had lost their land, and could not recover it, what had Israel to do with their affairs? The children of Israel were in no way responsible for it. They had won the land by the provoked fight which the Amorite had drawn them into. They had sought peace, and Sihon would have war. The result was that the Amorite lost his land. Thus in fact Sihon had assailed the Israelites against their will, who had taken the land from him. The title of the children of Israel therefore to that land was indefeasible.
God Himself had ordered things so. He knew right well that the presence of the Amorites upon their skirts would be a continual snare and evil. He permitted that there should be no confidence in the peaceable intentions of Israel, for the very purpose of putting them in possession of the land. Thus the king of Ammon had lost his old claim, and had no present title to question Israel's right of conquest. "So now." says Jephthah, "Jehovah God of Israel hath dispossessed the Amorites from before his people Israel, and shouldest thou possess it?" The king of Ammon might assail the Israelites, and renew the arbitrament of the sword, but he was unrighteous in demanding the land from Israel. "Wilt not thou possess that which Chemosh thy god giveth thee to possess? So whomsoever Jehovah our God shall drive out from before us, them will we possess."
After having thus completely refuted his claim over the land on the ground of its being Ammonite, whereas in point of fact it had been won from them by the Amorite, and as such had passed into Israel's hand, now he gives them a warning from the blows that God had inflicted on a mightier king than himself. "Art thou any thing better than Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab? did he ever strive against Israel, or did he ever fight against them, while Israel dwelt in Heshbon and her towns, and in Aroer and her towns, and in all the cities that be along by the coasts of Arnon, three hundred years?" Thus it was proved that Israel had, in whatever light regarded, a valid title, not only from long-continued possession, but from a right founded on their conquest of one of the enemies devoted to destruction by God Himself, but an enemy who had wantonly attacked them, when they would have left him unharmed, as they would the Ammonite now. In every point of view therefore the ground taken by Israel was solid, and could not be disputed righteously. The king of Ammon had no just claim whatever
Being thus proved to be in arms without right, the king of Ammon was only so much the more fierce, as is usual with people when convicted of a wrong to which their will is engaged. "Then the Spirit of Jehovah came upon Jephthah, and he passed over Gilead, and Manasseh, and passed over Mizpeh of Gilead, and from Mizpeh of Gilead he passed over unto the children of Ammon. And Jephthah vowed a vow unto Jehovah." Here the rashness of the man enters the scene, the consequence of which is a display of what was painful in the extreme. We have had the power of God acting in deliverance, but man alone is incapable even of a safe vow to Jehovah; and who could fail to foresee the bitter fruit of rashness here? Man is as weak and erring as God is mighty and good: these two things characterise the book from beginning to end. So in this rash vow says Jephthah, "it shall be that whatsoever," etc. The same word means whosoever. There is no difference as to form. I do not myself doubt that it was put in the broadest way. "It shall be that whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me." He could, if he had reflected, hardly expect an ox or a sheep to walk out of the house. It was quite evident therefore that Jephthah was guilty of the greatest rashness in his vow. "Whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be Jehovah's, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering." What came out we know too well. It was his daughter and I do not doubt that he, in his determined unbending spirit, fulfilled his vow.
All are aware there are a great many who try to explain the difficulty away or soften it down. They need not be at the trouble. Scripture does not in any way vouch for the immaculateness of those even who wrought in faith. It does not throw a veil, as man loves to do, over that which is uncomely and distressing in those that bear the name of the Lord; especially as the very object the Spirit of God has here in view is to show the frightful results of a vow so little weighed before God, not at all drawn from His guidance. On the other hand, is there not real beauty in the obscurity in which Scripture treats a matter so painful? We know that men make it a question for ingenious minds to speculate on. The spiritual man understands how it was. As the vow was without God, so an issue was permitted most offensive to the Holy Spirit. We can easily therefore comprehend how the holy wisdom of Scripture avoids details on a fact so contrary to the mind of God, as a man dealing thus with a human being, yea, with his own daughter. It seems to me then that the reserve of the Holy Spirit is as strikingly according to God as the rashness of Jephthah is a solemn warning to man.
After this we find how the pride of the men of Ephraim takes fire at a person of such an origin as Jephthah, spite of the signal deliverance by his means for Israel, so that they come forth to fight. (Judges 12:1-15) Jephthah might little desire such a conflict; nevertheless, where do we see meekness, where patience? And be assured, brethren, that in an evil world patience is morally much beyond power. Thus we may find the most striking manifestations of power in men as disorderly as the Corinthian Christians; but the same persons are a plain proof that it is a far harder thing to do the will of the Lord, and harder still to suffer according to God, than to work any miracles whatever.
The truth of all we find in our Lord Jesus. He was the power of God and the wisdom of God; but what shall we say of His obedience on the one hand, and on the other of His patience? Others may have shown as mighty works, as great displays of power; nay, even the blessed Lord Jesus Himself said, "Greater works than these shall ye do." But where was there such devotedness in doing His Father's will? and where such a sufferer? Indeed, for Him to obey in such a world must have been suffering It could not be otherwise. As long as the world is under the usurped rule of the enemy of God, the path of obedience must always be one of suffering, and this, I may add, increasingly, as we see in Him. Jephthah knew little if anything of this; so the result was, that the Ephraimites, in their pride, meddled with this rude warrior, who dealt with them, we may be very sure, not more mildly than with his own daughter. He not only turned with the grossest insults on their speech, but fell on themselves, and slew at the passage of Jordan forty and two thousand men of one of the chief tribes of Israel. Such then was the bloody crisis at which a deliverer of Israel arrives in his unsparing resentment. Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon follow.
In the next chapter (Judges 13:1-25) we begin a new kind of instrument God raised up for His purpose; and in this case the state of the people was such that God severs him to Himself as a Nazarite. A stronger proof there could not be desired, that the people, as a whole, were far from God. In all ordinary cases a Nazarite was one who had taken a peculiar vow of separation to God, but lasting only for a short time. In the instance before us it was an extraordinary Nazariteship, stretching through the whole life. But what a Nazarite was Samson! Outwardly indeed he was separate. We have here one of the strangest and most humbling of histories recorded in Scripture, and withal singularly marking that very truth that we have so often ere this referred to: how little moral strength keeps pace with physical power as it wrought in and by Samson. Of all the deliverers that grace ever raised up, there was not one who for personal prowess was to be compared with Samson; but of all those, where was the man who fell so habitually below even that which would have disgraced an ordinary Israelite? Yet was he a Nazarite from his mother's womb! It seems therefore that the two extremes of moral weakness and of outward strength find each its height in this extraordinary character.
But we must look a little into the great principles of divine truth that meet us in weighing the history of Samson. His very birth was peculiar, and the circumstances too before it; for there never had been as yet a time when Israel had been so enslaved; and undoubtedly the deliverer, as we have traced regularly hitherto, so here again to the last, is seen to be according to the estate of the people, with whatever might or success God might be pleased to clothe him. "And the children of Israel did evil again in the sight of Jehovah; and Jehovah delivered them into the hand of the Philistines forty years." It was a long time, we might have justly thought, in the days of Gideon, to have known seven years' subjection; but we hear of a far longer period in the case of the Philistines, the hottest and most pertinacious of the hostile neighbours of Israel, and so much the more galling as being within their border. For forty years the people groaned under their hard mastery. We shall find too that Samson's feats of power, great as they were, in no way broke the neck of Philistine oppression. For on the contrary after Samson's days, the sufferings of the children of Israel reached even a higher degree than they had ever attained under Samson or before.
However this may have been, we may notice first the quarter whence deliverance was to come: "There was a certain man of Zorah, of the family of the Danites." It was ordered of God that it should spring from that tribe, which was more than any other marked, not merely by a weakness that portended danger to themselves, as we shall see, but by a moral laxity which would finally afford a suited subject, as indeed from the beginning it had been intimated prophetically in the last words of their father Jacob a-dying, for the fatal result of departure and apostasy from God. Of this tribe Samson was born.
The circumstances also were highly remarkable. "His wife was barren, and bare not. And the angel of Jehovah appeared unto the woman" with the promise that a child should be born, at the same time enjoining that she was to drink no wine nor strong drink, nor eat any unclean thing; and that, when the child was born, no razor was to come upon his head. "For the child shall be a Nazarite unto God from the womb: and he shall begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines."
There was another whom God would employ at a later date to destroy the power of the Philistines, a man of another spirit, and of a hand very different from Samson's. I speak of course of David, the son of Jesse. Whatever might be wrought now was but the beginning of deliverance for Israel. God would magnify His power, but only as a witness now and then; nothing more. Anything like full deliverance must await that day, itself a type of the day of Jehovah.
The woman then tells her husband of the angel's visit, and they both entreat Jehovah, Manoah particularly, that the man of God might be sent again. Jehovah listens, and His angel appears to the woman, who summons her husband, when both see the angel as he repeats his message with its solemn injunction. Separateness from what was allowed to an Israelite was not only commanded but made life-long in Samson's case, as I cannot but believe it significant of what was due to God in consequence of the state in which the people of God then lay.
In due time the child was born, "and the Spirit of Jehovah began to move him at times in the camp of Dan between Zorah and Eshtaol." His chequered history follows. "And Samson went down to Timnath, and saw a woman in Timnath of the daughters of the Philistines, and he came up, and told his father and his mother, and said, I have seen a woman in Timnath of the daughters of the Philistines: now therefore get her for me to wife" (Judges 14:1-20). His father and mother remonstrate in vain. ''Is there never a woman among the daughters of thy brethren, or among all my people, that thou goest to take a wife of the uncircumcised Philistines?" Samson was just as self-willed as he was strong. "And Samson said unto his father, Get her for me; for she pleaseth me well. But his father and his mother knew not that it was of Jehovah, that he sought an occasion against the Philistines."
Now that the occasion calls for it, one may notice by the way the transparent boldness of Scripture, as wonderfully instructive as the reserve we have already remarked. If man had the writing of the story, would he have dared to speak out thus plainly? I doubt that any believer, without inspiration, would have felt it desirable to write that verse, and many more, as God has done it. If unveiling the fact at all, he would have apologized for it, denounced its evil to clear himself, spoken much perhaps of God's permitting and overruling. Now I am far from denying that it is right for us to feel the pain and shame of Samson's ways. But there is one thing that God's Spirit always assumes the perfect goodness and the unswerving holiness of God. And this, beyond all doubt or fear, we are entitled always to keep before our hearts in reading the Bible.
Never then let the breath of suspicion enter your soul. Invariably, when you listen to the written word of God, range yourself on His side. You will never understand the Bible otherwise. You may be tried; but be assured that you will be helped out of the trial. The day may come when nobody appears to lend you a helping hand. What is to become of you then? Once allow your soul to be sullied by judging those living oracles, and real faith in the Bible is gone as far as you are concerned. If I do not trust it in everything, I can trust it in nothing.
So dangerous is apt to be the reaction against one ever so honest; the more you have trusted, when you begin to doubt, the worse it is apt to be, even with poor erring man, who knows not what a serious thing it is. Nor ought anyone to allow a suspicion until he has the certainty of that which can be accounted for in no way save by guilt. And this, I need scarce say, is still more due on the score of brotherly relation and divine love, not merely on the ground of that which we might expect for our own souls.
But when God and His word are in question, it ought to be a simple matter for a child of God. How often it is ourselves who make the difficulties of which the enemy greedily avails himself against our own souls and His glory! For objections against scripture are always the creation of unbelief. Difficulties, where they exist for us, would only exercise faith in God. The word of God is always in itself not only right, but fraught with light. It makes wise the simple; it enlightens the eyes. "The entrance of thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple."
Undoubtedly there are many things in scripture of which we are ignorant; but then we are not entitled to interpret the word of God by ourselves. There is such a thing as to be taught of God. The Holy Ghost is given for this as for other purposes. It may often be doubtless that we are obliged to wait, and a wholesome thing too for our souls it should be. It is well sometimes for all those who teach that they should be obliged to learn; well that they should be forced to feel that they do not know; an excellent moral lesson that they should confess it not only be conscious of it, but own it; for indeed the necessary claim of scripture is that it be confided in as the word of God, though it does not thence follow that we are competent to explain all. By the Holy Spirit only can we enter in and enjoy.
It is not here meant that there is any special difficulty in that which has been the occasion of these general remarks; still less is it implied that he who speaks makes any pretension to know anything as he ought to know, more than those he sees around him. If through the unction from the Holy One we know all, it is equally true that we all are but learners.
Again, it is not of course any attainment of mine that leads me to speak as I have done now. If I have spoken strongly, it is only, I trust, what becomes every believer. I have taken no ground beyond your own, my brethren; but surely this is a ground that calls you to assert the very same inestimable privilege that I boast as by grace a man of faith. It is not the vanity of setting up oneself as possessed of exclusive powers or special means of attaining or explaining anything; for I should distrust anyone who pretended to anything of the sort, no matter who or where he might be. But that which does good to every saint and to every soul is the unqualified confidence in God and His word, which, if it does not reproduce itself in hearts purified by faith, at least deals with the consciences of all others till utterly blinded by Satan. Nor are you thus called to believe anything like an extravagance, though it surely would be so if the Bible were a human book, and so to be treated like any other, which after all even infidels do not: witness their occupation with it and zeal against it. Who troubles himself with the Koran or the Shastres, save their votaries?
But scripture claims always to be the word of God never the word of Isaiah or Ezekiel, of Peter or Paul (1 Corinthians 14:37; 2 Peter 3:15-16); for, whatever the instrument may be, it is as truly God's word as if the Holy Ghost had written it without a single instrumental means. If this be submitted to (and you might more consistently reject the Bible altogether, if you do not submit), one sees the hollowness and falsehood of sitting in judgment upon it: for who can question that to doubt that which comes directly from God Himself would be to take the place, not merely of an unbeliever, but of a blasphemer or an atheist? And if unbelief be probed home, it comes to this: it is a virtual denial of God's veracity, of His revelation, if not of His being.
But returning from this to the simple tale of Samson's life, I take it as the plain fact that God meant us to learn that He saw fit at that time to deliver by an unworthy instrument, by a man who showed how low he was, if only by the moral incongruity of an Israelitish Nazarite seeking a wife from the fiercest of Israel's uncircumcised enemies. The grossness of such conduct is left to tell its own tale; and yet God, by the man that was thus pursuing his own self-willed course, meant to overrule the occasion for His glory, snapping the more violently the ties which Samson's ungoverned passion and low thoughts induced him to form. The descent is great, when one bearing the name of the Lord slights His word and seeks a path of his own. If God permits him for a season to do his own will, what shame and pain he must reap ere long! Meanwhile the man, morally speaking, is ruined his testimony to His name being worse than lost. Even if God interfere and produce the direct opposite of the fleshly enjoyment which self-will had sought, it is in no way to the man's praise if God effects his purposes by his acts, spite of wrong and folly. Never indeed is good the fruit of man's will, but of God's. This only gains the day; for it alone is as wise and holy as it is good. I take it therefore, that in the present case there is nothing to stumble the simplest believer, though no doubt there may be to one who knows not God and His word. Alas! how many there are in these days of audacious free-thinking who are disposed to sit in judgment on His word, and give His revelation no credit for telling us the truth as it was and is.
Whatever then might be Samson's motives and conduct, it was the Holy One, as we are told, who prompted him against the aggressors of Israel. "It was of Jehovah, that he sought an occasion against the Philistines: for at that time the Philistines had dominion over Israel. Then went Samson down, and his father and his mother, to Timnath, and came to the vineyards of Timnath: and, behold, a young lion roared against him." Thus there was an arrest on the road. We know that the spirit of ease and self-indulgence readily finds a lion in the way can make one where none is; but here was a real lion that roared against the self-willed youth. "And the Spirit of Jehovah" to some minds a marvellous fact under the circumstances "came mightily upon him." It is the expression of the agent of divine power in no way the seal of redemption or the earnest of the inheritance, as we know Him dwelling in us now since the shedding of the blood of Jesus. It was the energy of His Spirit who thought of His people showing out by the way, as we have remarked, in that wayward man the fallen state to which they were reduced by their own sin, with the highest claims outwardly but morally in as low a condition as could then be conceived. "And the Spirit of Jehovah came mightily upon him, and he rent him as he would have rent a kid, and he had nothing in his hand."
Samson stands alone; of Israel none with him, as with the others before him. There was the plainest proof of what God could be, even where there was but one man to work by; but this very fact showed to what a depth was Israel now sunk. It was bad enough when Gideon had only three hundred that God would employ. What was it when there was only one, and such an one as Samson? In order to have communion, we must have some good which is shared together. There was, there could be, none any longer as Israel was.
What a picture of the true state of things! Even his father and mother knew nothing about their son's movements. Everything was out of course. Scanty honour paid he to his parents, but ardently gave himself up to the pursuance of his own plans. Yet was God behind and above all; and God, deigning to employ even such a man, at such a time, and under such circumstances, to accomplish, or at least to begin, the deliverance of His people.
Samson was afterwards about to put a riddle to the Philistines from this lion. But did he heed the lesson conveyed in the fact himself? Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Treat Satan as Satan when he betrays himself; and what can he do against the name of the Lord? Yet is the victory won by God's Spirit, without anything in the hand; but it is by direct antagonism to the enemy, not by guilty connection with his instruments. Grave truth! Ah! why did not the strong man learn wisdom in the fear of Jehovah, as he again visited the place where his first lesson was given? His victories had then been as holy as they were brilliant; for he surely needed not to have defiled his Nazariteship by an unholy marriage in order to have punished the Philistines.
Alas! we next hear of Samson's visit to the Philistine woman who pleased him well: no small sin for an Israelite, as it is worse for a Christian, to marry one of the world. "And after a time he returned to take her, and he turned aside to see the carcase of the lion: and, behold, there was a swarm of bees and honey in the carcase of the lion. And he took thereof in his hands, and went on eating, and came to his father and mother, and he gave them, and they did eat: but he told not them that he had taken the honey out of the carcase of the lion. So his father went down unto the women: and Samson made there a feast; for so used the young men to do." Then follows the story of his companions and the riddle a riddle which he was clever enough to put, but which he had little faith to understand or appropriate himself. Is it not evident that Samson feebly knew what God was teaching him by the lion which he slew, and by the lion's carcase which he found with the honey in it? Carried away by his uncurbed feelings (to whatever end God might turn all, for He always governs), he was mighty to act; but as to intelligence, little more than an unconscious instrument. yet did he propose a most instructive riddle, which set forth justly the then condition of the people of God.
In that image we have the enemy in great power, but God infinitely above him, able as well as seeing fit to use the least worthy vessel of His power, and out of the slain enemy to furnish the sweetest refreshment. How triumphantly has it been done in Christ our Lord, but in how different a way! Absolutely immaculate Himself, He was made sin for us, that we might become God's righteousness in Him who for us by death annulled him that had the power of death, and gave us out of that defeat our unfailing comfort. Bright contrast between Samson and the man that overthrew Satan on that cross where He Himself reached the very climax of weakness! For He won by no external strength but by suffering. He was crucified in weakness, but rose in the power of God; but there, instead of folly, instead of shame, instead of unhallowed alliance with the enemies of God, how does unsullied perfection shine in Him of whom we boast! The result in the type alas! is that, whatever might be the victory over the lion and whatever the sweetness of the honey, the effort to connect himself with the woman of Timnath turns out no small trouble to the man of might, whose anger was kindled at the treachery which sold his riddle, and, when his wife was given to the companion he had used as his friend, issued in such vexation for the Philistines as is known to us all. (Judges 15:4-5)
This again leads to a bitter vengeance of the Philistines on those of Timnath who had served him so ill the very fate befalling them at last, to escape which at first the woman had lent herself to the basest treachery. (Compare Judges 14:15 with Judges 15:6.) Now it was that God wrought for His glory. He extricated failing Samson from the direct consequences of his sinful association; but He dealt retributively with treachery by the hands of their own people. For "the righteous Lord loveth righteousness"; and in its measure it is very striking to see the way in which this came out even in the case of the worldly uncircumcised enemy. We can all understand righteousness where the ground is clearly sanctioned of God; but is it not also strengthening to our hearts to find that, even where all was dark and faulty, God knows how to give effect to His principles? He has no doubt secrets of grace above all difficulties and wrongs: of this we cannot doubt for a moment; and indeed we have abundant proofs of it here. The earth is destined to be the theatre where God will display righteousness reigning; but even now, while things are out of course, and His enemy is in power, He holds to His own character, owning and using all He can.
After this we see the Philistines the object of the severest chastisement from Samson, who smote "them hip and thigh with a great slaughter, and went down and dwelt at the top of the rock Etam." There he encounters a new trial, which sets before us the state of Israel in the most painful light. Is it not increasingly true that we can go no lower, whether we look at the people of God or the last deliverer in the book of Judges? Is it possible to conceive a conjuncture of its kind more humiliating? Not till they desired a king like the nations. But alas! even when God gave them one in a man after His own heart, we then trace greater abominations under the lines either of those who broke off in self-will or of those who turned the line of promise to nothing but corruption. We are arrived at the end of this sad history. Picture in imagination, if you can, how God could descend more to meet a degraded people; yet was it just then that the outward exploits against the foe were so brilliant. But if God's people have got into subjection to the world, none are so heartless about, if not bitter against, him who breaks fully with the enemy.
Samson is now absolutely isolated on the rock Etam. There is not a man that sympathizes with him, not even in Judah; yet Judah, we know, was the royal tribe in the purpose of God from the beginning, as in fact its type followed in David. This makes their behaviour the more remarkable here. "Then the Philistines went up, and pitched in Judah, and spread themselves in Lehi. And the men of Judah said, Why are ye come up against us? And they answered, To bind Samson are we come up, to do to him as he hath done to us. Then three thousand men of Judah went to the top of the rock Etam, and said to Samson, Knowest thou not that the Philistines are rulers over us?" Judah! is this the tribe for the praise of Jehovah? is this the tribe that men praise? Could, at the beck of the Philistine, there be found at once three thousand men so willing and prompt to betray the champion of Israel? three thousand men of Judah! One could understand three thousand men of the Philistines; but to what a deplorable pass in Israel were things come, when three thousand men of the worthiest tribe were thus obedient to the Philistines, and joined against the strong deliverer to hand him over, bound a prisoner, to the tender mercies of those that hated him and despised them! Is it they who say to Samson, "Knowest thou not that the Philistines are rulers over us?" Not only were they in slavery, but content to be slaves, yea, traitors. Could a people descend lower in human things?
Alas! it is no new thing to faith; Jesus knew it to the bottom. It was His brethren who sought to lay hold on Him as beside Himself, His brethren who did not believe on Him. It was not for their lives, but for the truth He confessed, that His own people would have Him die.
"What is this that thou hast done unto us? And he said unto them, As they did unto me, so have I done unto them." There is little moral elevation in Samson, little in any way to command respect or love. "As they did unto me, so have I done unto them." We see a man, not without faith indeed (Hebrews 11:32), though his confidence was largely in the strength with which God had invested him, rather than in Him who would yet prove Himself the sole source of it; a man who was roused by personal affront and desire of vengeance, not by a solemn duty; a man who slowly and weakly wakes up to any sense of his mission, who is ever too ready to sink down again into the lowest indulgence of fallen nature among the enemy. In short Samson appears to me a man with as little, or as low, an appreciation of what it was to fight the battles of the Lord, as God had been pleased to use in any epoch throughout inspired history. "And they said unto him, We are come down to bind thee, that we may deliver thee into the hand of the Philistines. And Samson said unto them, Swear unto me, that ye will not fall upon me yourselves." What an opinion he had of them! And as naturally as possible too they take it. They have no shame nor resentment on their part at this accusation of treachery. Their moral condition indeed was the very lowest, below nature itself, towards their deliverer. "And they spake unto him, saying, No; but we will bind thee fast, and deliver thee into their hand: but surely we will not kill thee. And they bound him with two new cords, and brought him up from the rock. And when he came unto Lehi, the Philistines shouted against him: and the Spirit of Jehovah came mightily upon him, and the cords that were upon his arms became as flax that was burnt with fire, and his bands loosed from off his hands. And he found a new jawbone of an ass and put forth his hand, and took it, and slew a thousand men therewith. And Samson said, With the jawbone of an ass, heaps upon heaps, with the jaw of an ass have I slain a thousand men."
Nor was this the only intervention of the Lord, but personal succour follows at His hand. For "it came to pass, when he had made an end of speaking, that he cast away the jawbone out of his hand, and called that place Ramathlehi. And he was sore athirst, and called on Jehovah, and said, Thou hast given this great deliverance into the hand of thy servant: and now shall I die for thirst, and fall into the hand of the uncircumcised? But God clave an hollow place that was in the jaw, and there came water thereout; and when he had drunk, his spirit came again, and he revived: wherefore he called the name thereof En-hakkore, which is in Lehi unto this day." We have seen before, from the earlier part of the book, the remarkable manner in which, either personally or in the weapons that were employed, God was acting mysteriously at this period of Israel's history. To those who discern what a witness it is that the people were far gone from Him here the principle reappears in all its strength the isolation of the man himself, the circumstances that had brought about the rupture with the foe, the mind of Judah, if not treacherous to the Israelite, cowering before the uncircumcised, and now the strangest of weapons for war that Samson uses against them the jawbone of an ass.
Never was there failure of divine power with Samson against the foe; but moreover the pitifulness of Jehovah is marked towards His poor servant (for did He disdain when the thirsty man called on Himself, as he cried to God in his distress?). Bad as were the features we have seen, we have to see even worse still; yet he was heard and answered when he called.
We do not find in Samson the generous disinterestedness of grace that could suffer affliction with the people of God, and is willing to be a sacrifice upon that faith. We have nothing like a Moses in Samson. Not without faith, he was a combatant ready to fight the Philistines at any odds. No doubt it was a wonderful display of physical force on the one hand; as on the other those he vanquished were the unrelenting enemies of God's people. Still the overt thing to Samson seems to have been that they were his enemies. This certainly stimulated him though I am far from insinuating no better underneath. But the good was hard to reach or even to discern, the evil abundant and obvious, "And he judged Israel in the days of the Philistines twenty years." It appears to me that the Spirit of God brings in this little notice of his judging Israel here in order to show that this is the normal close of his history. Nor should we wonder at it. Not that God did not work mightily afterwards, and even more in his death than in his life. But it need surprise none that the proper history of this judge terminates according to the mind of God here; for what has the Lord to tell in the next chapter? We have seen how grace overruled, broke up an evil association before it was consummated, and gave him righteous ground to take vengeance on the Philistines, followed by his judging Israel for twenty years.
"Then went Samson to Gaza, and saw there an harlot;" yet here, though fallen lower than ever, we find power put forth under these deplorable circumstances. "And they compassed him in, and laid wait for him all night in the gate of the city, and were quiet all the night, saying, In the morning, when it is day, we shall kill him. And Samson lay till midnight, and arose at midnight, and took the doors of the gate of the city, and the two posts, and went away with them, bar and all, and put them upon his shoulders, and carried them up to the top of an hill that is before Hebron." The man thus went forth in the confidence of his strength, and to outward appearance did things just to make the enemy feel what he could do, with as little exercise toward God as could well be found in one that feared Him.
But again, "And it came to pass afterward that he loved a woman in the valley of Sorek, whose name was Delilah." And here we confront not simply the old offence repeated, and in the grossest form of fleshly corruption, but along with it an infatuation as extraordinary as his degradation. This indeed becomes distinctly the moral of the tale. Delilah sells herself to the Philistine lords to entangle the champion of Israel, now beguiled by his lusts: else the various efforts to seize him must have otherwise opened his eyes to her guile and their murderous malice. But the wages of transgressors are hard, and the guilty man falls under the strange woman's spell again and again. Such is the blinding power of sin; for was he ignorant of her vileness or of his own danger? But the crisis came; and we see that at last, pressed by the harlot's toils, he tells out the secret of Jehovah. On his unshorn locks hung his invincible might by divine will. There was but one thing really involved obedience. Alas! he fell, as did Adam at the beginning, and all since save one Christ. But how perfectly He stood, though tried as none ever was or could be but Himself! Do we know what a thing obedience is in God's eyes, even though it may be displayed in the simplest manner? It is the perfection of the creature, giving God His place, and man his own; it is the lowliest, and withal the morally highest place for one here below, as for the angels above. In Samson's case, tested in a seemingly little sign but a sign of entire subjection to God, and this in separation from all others, it was obedience; not so in our case, where we have the highest treasure in earthen vessels, but obedience in everything, and this formed and guided by the Spirit according to the written word, now set in the fullest light, because seen in the person, and ways, and work, and glory of Christ. It is no mere external sign for us who know the Lord Jesus. But the secret of the Lord in our case involves that which is most precious to God and man. We are sanctified both by the Father's word and by Christ glorified on high. But we are sanctified by the Spirit unto the obedience and the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus, and are called to obey, as the wife her husband. Therein are involved thus the very highest and deepest privileges that God could communicate to the souls of men on earth.
To Samson, as we see, it was far different. His secret was to keep his hair uncut, with all strength annexed to it. But if it was his hidden power, it acted also as a test; and now the enemy possessed it, disclosed to a harlot, who had wrung it for gold from his foolish heart. Whatever might have been his low state through unchecked animal nature, whatever his delinquencies before, so long as he kept his secret with God, strength never failed him from God, be the strain what it might. Jehovah at least was could not but be true to the secret. But now, as we know, the one whom he had made partner of his sin wheedled it from him that she might sell it to the Philistines.
Degraded to the utmost, Samson becomes their sport as well as their slave. But God was about to magnify Himself and His own ways. "And it came to pass when their hearts were merry that they said, Call for Samson, that he may make us sport. And they called for Samson out of the prison house; and he made them sport: and they set him between the pillars. And Samson said unto the lad that held him by the hand, Suffer me that I may feel the pillars whereupon the house standeth, that I may lean upon them. Now the house was full of men and women; and all the lords of the Philistines were there; and there were upon the roof about three thousand men and women, that beheld while Samson made sport. And Samson called unto Jehovah, and said, O Lord God, remember me, I pray thee, and strengthen me, I pray thee, only this once, O God, that I may be at once avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes." Again we see the man, and his character in its weakness is before us, even at that solemn moment.
I am far from doubting that God wrought in him whom He had made the champion of His people. Let no man question that Samson was in prison or that he lost his eyes for nothing. I feel pretty assured that he saw clearer morally without them than he had seen in any sense with them. He had far too often made a wretched use of them in times that were past; and even now, in spite of the work of God in his soul, was there nothing weightier, was there nothing deeper, was there nothing to lament over more than the loss of those two eyes? It was Samson feeling for himself, yet not unpitied of the Lord; for there was One above Samson Who heard. And this is the great point for us that we can and ought to count on. Let us not forget that we have got a nature exempt from nothing we deplore in Samson, and the person that does not believe it may live to prove it, especially if a believer, who should know himself better; whilst he who does take it home to his soul is thereby enabled to judge himself by the Spirit before God.
But what a God we have to do with, as Samson had! and how He magnified Himself in that hour of supreme chagrin and of his deep agony, when he was made to sport before those uncircumcised haters of Israel, and the witness, as they fondly hoped, of their idol's triumph over Jehovah. Samson felt it easier to die for His name than to live thus in Philistia. But God reserved great things for his death. What a figure of, but contrast with, His death who only pursued to that final point His absolute devotedness to the will of God, not doing it only but suffering it to the uttermost, and thus righteously by His death securing what no living obedience could have touched!
Nevertheless, I have little doubt that, though the dying hour of Samson brought more honour to God than all his life, its manner was in itself a chastening in its character; and in this, too, may one discern a representation of the condition to which Israel had come similar to what was noticed in the life and person of Samson. For what can be more humiliating than that one's death should be more important than one's life? Such was the point to which things had come (an inglorious one it was for those concerned), that the best thing for Israel and Judah, the best thing for God's glory and for Samson himself, was that he should die. "And Samson took hold of the two middle pillars upon which the house stood, and on which it was borne up, of the one with his right hand, and of the other with his left. And Samson said, Let me die with the Philistines. And he bowed himself with all his might; and the house fell upon the lords, and upon all the people that were therein. So the dead which he slew at his death were more than they which he slew in his life." And his brethren, as we find, came up, took him away, and buried him. "He judged Israel twenty years," is the repetition of the word at this point.
The end of the book and it is important to make this remark consists of an appendix. It is in no way a carrying forward of the history. We have come to the close as far as the sequence of persons and of events is concerned. We could not go lower than Samson; but we have what was. exceedingly necessary for us to learn the fact that the dismally wretched condition that we have seen throughout all the Judges was true even from early days; and therefore the Spirit of God giving us this as a sort of supplement, or a conclusion, but with such marks of time as show that it was of a comparatively early date (and this can be proved before we have done with the book), is, I think, of considerable interest and importance. I presume that the reason why these incidents are not given before in the order of time may have been that, if inserted earlier, it would have completely interrupted the course of the history, and the main instruction of the book of Judges. It is only another proof of what we have always to assume in reading the Bible that not only the things given are divine, but that the arrangement, even when they look somewhat disorderly, is just as divine as the communication itself. There is not a single jot in the Scriptures that God has written or ordered which is not worthy of Himself; nor is there the least possibility of improving either.
Here then we have certain facts, apart from the historic course, introduced in these words: "There was a man of mount Ephraim." The great point of the preface is that "in those days there was no king in Israel" the opening words of Judges 18:1-31. "And in those days the tribe of the Danites." It is the Danites again; only the account of Samson is chronologically at the close, whereas the new tale, as we have remarked, was comparatively early.
There was then "a man of mount Ephraim whose name was Micah," who, not satisfied with carrying out the impiety of his mother in making a graven and a molten image of silver dedicated to Jehovah, for this purpose gets a Levite to be consecrated as his priest. What avails the show of Jehovah's name, or form of consecrating a Levite to be priest? Ceremony is easy and attractive to the flesh, and there may be the more, as there usually is, where there is least power or reality. It is at least certain that the whole business was heinously evil, and none the less because Micah settles down with the persuasion, "Now know I that Jehovah will do me good, seeing I have a Levite to my priest" (ver. 13).
Judges 18:1-31 shows that the moral condition, especially of the priest-Levite, was as bad as the religious state. His heart was glad of a better living and of a larger sphere (verses 19, 20), as he goes off from the house of Micah with the lawless children of Dan to blot out Laish with fire and sword, and call their new city after their own name, where the graven image was set up, and a succession that failed not till the day of the captivity of the land; for error takes root faster, and bears fruit more luxuriantly as well as permanently than the truth.* Yet there is little reason to suppose that the exile of the land means Shalmaneser's, but rather under the Philistines; for it was merely all the time the house of God was in Shiloh. There being no king is in contrast with other lands which had kings, as Israel themselves subsequently. (Compare Psalms 78:60-61) Such are the prominent points of instruction in this appendix. The first and gravest departure is that Jehovah could be so forgotten and so shamelessly dishonoured as to set up in His name a rival; and the more seriously it was set about, so much the worse. It was flying in the face of His law and word to have an idol; it was adding profane insult to enter on its worship with such ceremony as to get a Levite consecrated priest in order to invest it with solemnity. We have seen the political confusion: here is the religious aspect of Israel so soon after entering the holy land!
* It is possible that verse 30 may be one of those later additions which Ezra or one of the prophets was inspired to make in putting together at a subsequent epoch the books of Scripture. If this be so, the captivity might be the Assyrian, and not that of the Philistines. But verse 30 seems adverse to this view. There is no difficulty in principle either way.
Is it then a matter of wonder that men went wrong in early days under the Christian profession? The danger was incomparably greater where the trial was to stand to the truth fully revealed and to walk in the Spirit, and not subjection to commandments and ritual observances. The ruin of Christianity was when two systems so distinct got confounded. And be assured that if the people of God fail in their responsibility to God, they are not to be trusted elsewhere. I am not speaking of what men of the world may be, for they may be conscientious and honourable in their own way; but it is different with God's people. Never trust those that bear the Lord's name, if they are false to Him. The case before us, in Judges 17:1-13; Judges 18:1-31, is one where God was openly, deliberately, and systematically dishonoured.
But there follows a second tale of excessive atrocity in a moral way, which begins in Judges 19:1-30. in terms expressly similar to the beginning ofJudges 18:1-31; Judges 18:1-31: "And it came to pass in those days, when there was no king in Israel, that there was a certain Levite sojourning on the side of mount Ephraim, who took to him a concubine out of Beth-lehem-judah." The fact which comes out first is that Gibeah of Benjamin was scarce better than Sodom or Gomorrah, on which Jehovah rained fire and brimstone for their uncleanness. I need not dwell on the deplorable details. Suffice it to say that even in such a state the immediate feeling of the common conscience in Israel (roused, it is true, by an awful appeal to the twelve tribes) could not but reply that "there was no such deed done nor seen from the day that the children of Israel came up out of the land of Egypt unto this day: consider of it, take advice, and speak your minds." So it was. "Then all the children of Israel went out, and the congregation was gathered together as one man."
Be it remarked, that what drew out their unanimous condemnation was not an outrage done to God's name. Where was the just horror at the idolatry of Micah? Contrariwise it was courted and continued down to the captivity. Men then, as now, feel not for a lie or a libel of God; they are sensitive when their own rights are touched. But He knows how to wake them up from such disgraceful insensibility. Therefore does the second part of the appendix (Judges 19:1-30; Judges 21:1-25) find a place directly afterwards. And we see that those who cared not for the injured name of Jehovah have all their feelings drawn out when man was wronged. But God takes means to make them feel what such a state comes to. O what a mercy it is to have God to take care of our walk! But, in order for us to know the sweetness of that care, it becomes us to care for Him, His name and glory. Not as if He could not care for His own; but our strength, comfort, and blessing are in His name. In Him we may confide, who loves us to the end. Should we not then rejoice in the Lord? The truest deliverance from self is in that work where all was judged, and evil put away for ever. Then can we joy in Him, and it is our strength for all service, and is the spring of worship. There is nothing good without His name.
Alas! how the very thought of Jehovah's name seems lost at this time among the children of Israel. Their keenest feelings were in favour of the Levite and his concubine, wounded to the quick by the abominations of the men of Gibeah; and therefore, whatever of human affection may be in evidence, we certainly learn how little faith Jehovah could then find in the land of Israel. As man then was so prominent before their minds, so also their revenge was merciless to the bitter end. God was in none of their thoughts. They spread abroad the revolting tale; they readily respond to the call for their advice and counsel. The result is that "the people rose as one man, saying, We will not any of us go to his tent, neither will we any of us turn into his house. But now this shall be the thing which we will do to Gibeah; we will go up by lot against it; and we will take ten men of an hundred throughout all the tribes of Israel, and an hundred of a thousand, and a thousand out of ten thousand, to fetch victual for the people, that they may do, when they come to Gibeah of Benjamin, according to all the folly that they have wrought in Israel. So all the men of Israel were gathered against the city, knit together as one man. And the tribes of Israel sent men through all the tribe of Benjamin, saying, What wickedness is this that is done among you? Now therefore deliver us the men, the children of Belial, which are in Gibeah, that we may put them to death, and put away evil from Israel. But the children of Benjamin would not hearken to the voice of their brethren the children of Israel: but the children of Benjamin gathered themselves together out of the cities unto Gibeah, to go out to battle against the children of Israel."
Undoubtedly the iniquity was beyond measure on the part of the men of Benjamin, and an utter disgrace to God or even to Israel. But there can be no question that the course taken by the men of Israel was calculated to increase the difficulty a thousand-fold. It was purely human. Where was their humiliation and grief before the Lord? They decide on matters first, and the case becomes only another instance of man's folly in dealing with evil. Having decided out of their own heads, they then turn to God, and ask Him to bless them in their efforts to exterminate Benjamin. Thus, after having made all their arrangements, "the children of Israel arose and went up to the house of God, and asked counsel of God, and said, Which of us shall go up first?" Is not this an instructive as well as striking fact? Still more is what follows; for God fails not to deal with us on our own ground. According to our folly He may answer us, as well as withhold an answer. But in the end He acts in His own way, which will ever be what we little expect.
Here God had to rebuke the people, even when morally right in the main, until the wrong their state and haste mixed up with it was purged out. In judgment He must have righteousness; but He remembers mercy. It is an instance of the same thing that we have often seen before in other forms. Thus He bids the men of Judah go; but the men of Judah were shamefully beaten, and were forced to weep before Jehovah. This, at least, was right. "Then all the children of Israel, and all the people, went up and wept before Jehovah until even, and asked counsel of Jehovah. saying, Shall I go up again to battle against the children of Benjamin, my brother?" another point, still more important, going along with it. When we really are found in sorrow, and in circumstances that call for sorrow, before Jehovah, the heart is open to feel for the wrong-doer. They were filled with thoughts of destruction against Benjamin, and the remembrance that he was their brother had not even entered their minds before.
Now, broken down before God who had ordered their defeat, they are made to feel for their brother, guilty as he was, no doubt. Still this became their relationship, yet the children of Israel have the answer from Jehovah, "Go up against him." Nevertheless they were beaten the next day; for they must be disciplined before the Lord before He could use them to deal with their brother. "Benjamin went forth against them the second day, and destroyed down to the ground of the children of Israel again eighteen thousand men; all these drew the sword. Then all the children of Israel, and all the people, went up, and came unto the house of God, and wept, and sat there before Jehovah, and fasted that day until even, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before Jehovah. And the children of Israel enquired of Jehovah, for the ark of the covenant of God was there in those days."
Here is the proof of the time when all this occurred. It has been already said to have been an early fact in the history of the "Judges," and not chronologically near the close of the book. The evidence is stated here very clearly. Phinehas, we know, was alive during the days of the wilderness, being the leader against Midian before Moses died, and one of those that crossed the Jordan. Yet he is still alive when the tragic deed was done which had nearly uprooted the tribe of Benjamin in its results. "And Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, stood before it in those days, saying, Shall I yet again go out to battle against the children of Benjamin my brother, or shall I cease? And Jehovah said, Go up; for tomorrow I will deliver them into thine hand." They had been at length brought down to their right place before God; they had taken the shame to themselves; the Lord had chastised them, and they had needed and deserved it righteously. Now they could deal with guilty Benjamin. We are not in a position to deal with another until God has dealt with that which is contrary to His name in our own soul; and so it was that the men of Benjamin were utterly smitten and well-nigh exterminated.
The last chapter of the book shows us the ways and means in which their hearts were drawn out, in order to repair the dismal gap which divine judgment had wrought in Benjamin, and indeed in Israel.