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THE BOOK OF JUDGES.
Lessons for the day, Judges IV. and V.
Preached at Lincoln's Inn, on the Second Sunday after Trinity,
June 29, St Peter's Day, 1851.
JUDGES V. 1, 2. Then sang Deborah and Barak the son of Abi
noam on that day, saying, Praise ye the Lord for the avenging of Israel.
PERSON who thinks that a divine Lesson
book should present to us exclusively or chiefly high maxims of morality, or perfect models of character and behaviour, finds the Book of Judges a great stumblingblock. He would rather pass it over ; he would wish it were found in some other place, not as a part of Scripture; he feels that only extracts carefully selected from it can be safely set before a Christian congregation. For the tribes of Israel are exhibited not as specimens of excellence, proofs of the blessed results of the divine government which had been established among them, but disorganised and barbarous, in strife with each other, the victims and slaves of the nations round about. In their extreme need we hear of champions rising up in their defence. The historian seems to wish that we should sympathise with them; to a certain extent we are obliged to do so. But are we not often ashamed of our sympathy, and afraid to indulge it? Are not these champions prone to ordinary vices ? do they not sometimes seem as if they indulged them in a more gigantic way than their fellow-men?
If there is one of the judges for whom we are inclined to feel a more than common interest and reverence, it is Gideon. The different scenes of his life form as clear pictures as the eye or imagination can desire. You see him threshing wheat to hide it from the Midianites; trembling lest he should die because he has beheld an angel of the Lord; rising up by night to throw down the altar of Baal; watching his fleece to know whether the dew will rest upon it while the ground is dry; gathering thousands about him and sending away all but the three hundred who lapped the water with their mouths; going out to see the hosts of the Midianites, the Amalekites, and the children of the East, as they lay along the valley asleep like grasshoppers for multitudes; listening to the dream of the soldier which cheers him for the work of the morrow; arousing his company with their trumpets, their lamps, and their pitchers; leading them forth with the shout, The sword of the Lord, and of Gideon ;' putting the hosts of the Midianites to flight; coming over Jordan with his little band faint but pursuing ; taking vengeance on the men of Succoth and Penuel, slaying with his own hand Zebah and Zalmunna whom his sons dared not look upon;—all these visions rise brightly
before the minds of children, and sometimes return to grown men as if they had once been parts of themselves. But after all it may be asked, “Does the child accurately distinguish between the impressions which are made upon it by these sacred histories and those which it receives from classical or middle-age tales ? Is Gideon essentially a different man from Diomed ? Are his acts more strictly conformable to an ordinary ethical — not to speak of a Christian —-standard ? If Gideon's prowess is referred to an invisible power, so is that of the Greek. Why should one be invested with a halo of sanctity, and the other be called profane ? why are we encouraged to study the one for examples, and told that the other is a legend of paganism?
These questions present themselves to the man as he reviews and compares the different parts of the lore of his infancy. They give rise to a vast amount of perplexity and scepticism.
One common way of solving these difficulties is to say, “We have been mistaken in supposing that the Bible is a divine history at all. It is an ordinary human history. There are continual references in it, no doubt, to supernatural beings; so there are, and must be, in every human history, because men in all times and places have believed in such beings. The Hebrew belief was, no doubt, different from the Greek belief, as that was from the Egyptian. Hence a difference in the accidents of the story. In kind they are the same.'
Another course which commends itself to persons who are not willing to take this extreme one, is to
There are divine elements in the book assuredly; doctrines which must have come from God, illustrations of those doctrines in the lives of holy men. But along with this there is a common, earthly history, which must be treated like
In these lectures I have not, as you know, used either of these methods of explaining the Scripturebooks, and removing the difficulties which occur to the student of them. I have adopted in its fullest sense the ordinary belief of our country, that we are dealing with a divine history, that the Bible is the record of God's revelations of Himself, that each distinct part of it has a worth of its own, that these portions together constitute a real, not an imaginary, whole. Our mistakes originate, I have tried to shew you, not in the rigidness with which we have adhered to this belief, but in our careless deviations from it. Sometimes we confound a revelation of God with a revelation of certain notions and opinions about God. Sometimes we think that a history of God's revelations means a history of certain exceptional heroes. Either of these suppositions is in direct contradiction with the express language, with the inmost spirit, of the Bible. God promises to declare Himself to us that we may believe in Him, trust Him, love Him, not that we may hold a certain theory concerning Him. God tells us that He has made Man in His own image; not a few particular men who are different from their kind, but the kind itself. And He assuredly who is the most perfect specimen of
it, in whom the divine image is fully manifested, will be he who is most entirely at one with the whole race, who the least separates himself even from the most miserable and degraded portions of it. The characteristic of all the books which we have yet examined, have been this ; each man who is brought before us, instead of being a picked man, different in his natural qualities and tendencies from his fellows, raised above them by some accidental advantage, is precisely like all others—his infirmities those which belong to men generally, those which belong to his own class specially. Such infirmities, instead of being hidden, are carefully noted; more pains are taken to exhibit them in those who are the founders of the nation than in others. Jacob is set forth in disadvantageous contrast with Esau; the first presumption of Moses, his subsequent unwillingness to obey God's commands, the unbelief which excluded him from the promised land, are all industriously brought out before us. If we choose to say that these Scripture saints are great by reason of some inherent greatness of theirs, that is our fault. The Bible has laboured to deliver us from an opinion so very mischievous to ourselves, so destructive of the truth which it wishes us to receive. It has tried to convince us that it is making us acquainted with men of the same nature with ourselves, not exempt from our temptations, but sharing in them, frequently yielding to them. And what then are these men good for? Why does it concern us to hear of them? They are good for