« PreviousContinue »
our own hearts, we should make our very religion vain? Nay, sometimes the mere being of a religion, the mere fact of our being Christians, we think enough: forgetful of the conditions which he who is a Christian engaged himself unto, in that baptismal sacrament which made him so; thinking only of the outward title, but regardless of the truth, that he who is indeed “ Christ's, has crucified the flesh, with the affections and lusts."'*
Let us return now to the conclusion of Micah's history. Shortly after he had thus settled to his own satisfaction his religious affairs, a portion of the tribe of Dan, finding their own allotment of land too little for them, set forth with the lawless intent of seizing some other, no matter whose. Injustice is a sure consequence, when men do that which is right in their own eyes : and so Micah found it; as the children of Dan passed by his house, they learnt from some of their party, who had been there before, and hospitably entertained by him, that he had in it a graven image, and a Levite for his priest. Accordingly, they conceived the design of taking both of them away, and having promised advancement to the young Levite, they readily induced him to abandon Micah, and to take with him the images and other accompaniments of his unlawful worship. Micah pursued them with grievous, but unavailing complaints, against this act of robbery: “Let not thy voice be heard among us,” was their stern reply to him, “ lest angry
fellows run upon thee, and thou lose thy life, with the lives of thy household.”* To this law of the strongest he was compelled to submit: he returned home, perhaps now reflecting that God's favour was not to be obtained by those who habitually despised his laws; while the men of Dan proceeded to their work of rapine and * Gal. v. 24.
+ Judges xviii. 25.
murder, which they executed upon a defenceless city at the extreme northern border of the land, whose inhabitants they destroyed, and naming it Dan, kept up there the idolatrous worship of Micah’s images for many years, even as long as the house of God remained in Shiloh, that is, until the days of David.
The next transaction recorded as belonging to this dreary period, is one which shows upon a still larger scale, and with more terrible circumstances, the barbarity and licentiousness of the ungoverned Israelites. It took its rise in the city of Gibeah, belonging to the tribe of Benjamin. A Levite of Mount Ephraim, bringing home his wife, who had deserted him, but had become again reconciled to him, from the house of her father at Bethlehem, was forced on the approach of night to seek for shelter in Gibeah. Its inhabitants seem to have been savage and brutal in the highest degree:* no one offered the travellers admittance into their houses, a marked proof of want of hospitality in times when that virtue was of most common occurrence; and when they at last obtained a lodging from an Ephraimite, who chanced to be living there, the sanctity of his home was violated by the licentious multitude of the city, and his guest, to avoid worse treatment threatened against himself, was compelled to abandon the woman who had come thither under his protection, to be the victim of their barbarous abuse. In the morning, she was found lifeless at the threshold ; and her husband, urged by an impulse of indignation, at which we cannot be surprised, sent her divided body to every tribe of Israel, appealing unto them for vengeance. The case was one of such atrocity, that even that debased and lawless people felt the necessity of punishing the guilty parties : but when they required the men of
• Hosea ix. 9; x. 9.
Benjamin to give them up, that tribe refused, and chose rather to abide the result of war in the worst of quarrels, than to own themselves, in any degree, subject to the authority of the rest of the children of Israel. The feeling of partiality towards those of our own immediate family or kindred, which was the cause of this, shows itself most openly among uncivilized nations, but exists more or less in all; being in truth deeply rooted in man's nature, and calculated, if kept within due bounds, to supply, in default of better, a good inducement to action : it is liable, however, as in the case before us, to be grievously abused, and is then productive of the most disastrous consequences. We are all but too prone to overlook the faults of those most nearly connected with us, though we cannot injure them more than by so doing : to place them in situations for which they are unfit, though there again our conduct does them more harm than good; to take their part blindly and hastily against all the world, though for the most part we effect nothing but to involve ourselves in their offences, and in the consequences awaiting them.
And so fared it with the men of Benjamin : they were successful indeed at first, having twice defeated the armies of Israel which came against them; but in the third battle, as God promised the Israelites by his priest Phinehas, who then stood before the ark after the death of his father Eleazar, they were utterly overthrown and routed, and the city of Gibeah, for the sake of which they had entered into this desperate warfare, was taken and destroyed. Thus much was due to justice, and was brought upon this haughty tribe as a fit punishment for the wickedness of some, and the obstinacy of all. But the fury of the Israelites, once aroused, did not stop here: they went on to indulge themselves in wanton cruelty, slaying and burning whatever came in their way within the country of Benjamin ; so that only six hundred men, who had fled to a place of retreat in the mountains, were left alive. Then came, as generally it does when too late, remorse for their atrocious conduct—they “ lifted up their voices, and wept,'* and complained of the loss of their brethren unto God; as if he, and not they, had brought about their destruction. Then they thought to make some reparation for what they had done, by procuring wives for the remnant of Benjamin, to whom they had sworn in their first wrath that they would not ever give their daughters : and this they effected in two ways, both savouring strongly of a barbarous state of society; first, by destroying the men of Jabesh-gilead, who had neglected to come up to the general muster, and bestowing the women of that place upon the Benjamites; and, secondly, a sufficient number being not so procured, by authorizing those who were still unprovided to lie in wait in the vineyards of Shiloh, and seize
maidens as might be found there on a certain solemn occasion, engaged in the celebration of a festival. The tribe of Benjamin thus obtained continuance, and Israel was delivered, though at the expense of two cruel and little creditable expedients, from the consequences of its rash and unnecessary oath. It is painful and disgusting to wade through this mass of unmitigated wickedness, to see a whole people thus plunged into a demoralized condition, varied only by the occasional pre-eminence of some enormous crime; but it is not without its use, if it teaches you to estimate man's powers of self-control and self-government at their due value; and gives you by the contrast a more clear notion of the great blessings of order, and of the absolute necessity which exists, that we
* Judges xxi. 2.
should always live, if we are desirous to be secure and happy, under the definite restraints of law, both civil and religious. Those among your fellow-creatures whose office it is to attend to your interests, whether temporal or spiritual, have a fair claim upon you in their turn for attention to what they say, and cooperation in what they do. They are the ministers of God to you for good ; and the laws which they enact, or the instructions which they give, are all subordinate to the great object of carrying out into full effect the intimations of his holy will, and the establishment of his authority and kingdom. May he grant to our lawgivers that they may in every instance have this end in view, and may their acts be such as lead towards it. May he enable the preachers of his word to avoid extravagance and error in its delivery, and to address it with effect to the understandings and to the hearts of men : may he thus show to all his people the things belonging to their peace, here and hereafter ; and give them that obedient, grateful, and trusting spirit, which makes every duty easy, and every burthen light; that knowledge of the truth as it is in Jesus, which will make those things only right in their eyes, that are right also in the eyes of God.
THE EARLIER JUDGES.
We have seen that the people of Israel
, when left to their own guidance, rapidly betook themselves to forbidden paths, and broke, as they fancied, with impunity, the laws of God. He indeed had