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from heaven, by performing the miracle of bringing fire out of the rock, that, feeling the full importance of his high commission, he set himself to perform it with the most active zeal. Knowing that it was the idolatries of his nation that principally caused their sufferings, he began by striking at this root of the evil ; he threw down the altar of Baal, and cut down his grove, and built an altar in their stead to the Lord God of Israel. Having set this example to his countrymen of freedom from spiritual slavery, he proceeded to excite them to take up arms in defence of their temporal liberties : he blew a trumpet in Abiezer, and at the head of those who gathered round him of his own and of the neighbouring tribes of Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali, he went forth to encounter the Midianites, whose host was in the valley of Jezreel, amounting to an hundred and thirty-five thousand
The whole force under the command of Gideon was thirty-two thousand only, an inequality of numbers sufficiently formidable to have induced any leader, not confident of the help of Heaven, to pause before he advanced against an enemy of such disproportioned strength. But Gideon had received from his God an assurance that he should save Israel out of the hand of the Midianites ; an assurance confirmed to him by a double sign : first, that of dew upon a fleece of wool, when there was none upon the ground about it; and secondly, the reverse of this, dryness upon the fleece and dew upon the earth ; and therefore he not only marched cheerfully at the head of his small army, but continued with it when it was reduced, by God's direction, first to ten thousand, and afterwards to three hundred men.
While we are measuring the extent of our means, and doubting of their adequacy to the compassing of some righteous object, let us take encouragement from our recollection of God's dealings with Gideon
army. We may think them too few, while perhaps they may indeed be, as that army was, too many, if they hinder us from putting our whole trust in God. If we have good reason to believe that we are engaged in a work which he approves and requires at our hands, we may be sure that, out of our apparent weakness he will perfect but the more his strength ; and, though not justified in neglecting the use of earthly means, we need not repine at their seeming deficiency, while our God worketh with us to will and to do. The maxim that “there is no restraint to the Lord to save by many or by
was indeed on this occasion most conspicuously illustrated; the whole enormous host of Midian, thrown into sudden confusion by an attack made on them in the dead of night, by the unexpected sound of three hundred trumpets, by the noise and glare, as each man broke his pitcher containing in it a lamp, and shouted “the sword of the Lord and of Gideon,” began first to fight against each other, and then fled, in the hope of escaping to their own country, whither few of them ever returned. Their four princes, Oreb and Zeeb, Zebah and Zalmunna, fell beneath the sword of the conqueror, and “ Midian was subdued before the children of Israel, so that they lifted
up their heads no more.”$ The Israelites, anxious to show their gratitude to their deliverer, offered to make the office of chief ruler hereditary in his family. This, however, he piously refused, as inconsistent with the peculiar kind of government established for them by God; and having accepted from them a present from the spoils, of which he made an ephod, afterwards perverted to the purposes of idolatry, he returned to his own house, where he lived thenceforward, and died at a good old age.
* 1 Sam. xiv. 6.
† Judges viii. 28.
In this period of tranquillity, which lasted forty years, we may place the return of Naomi to Bethlehem, accompanied by her daughter-in-law Ruth, the Moabitess, the widow of her son, who, with the most touching fondness, had refused to be separated from her in her misfortunes. Compelled by poverty, when she arrived, to seek Naomi's subsistence and her own by gleaning in the field of Boaz, a wealthy landowner of Bethlehem, she not only was received by him with kindness and indulgence, but after a time became his wife ; an exaltation which she richly deserved, by her quiet and amiable conduct, as well as by the affectionate spirit with which she had devoted herself to attend and support the bereaved and disconsolate Naomi. She is the second Gentile woman* of whom we find mention in the genealogy of our Saviour Christ -- Rahab being the first, who saved the spies at Jericho, and married Salmon, the father of Boaz- mentioned, perhaps, to intimate that his redemption was for all; that the God, whose work he came to do on earth, was not the God of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles, + and has called the world, without distinction of sex, or rank, or condition, to the marriage supper of his Son.
THE LATER JUDGES.
HEN Gideon refused, in behalf of his family,
that hereditary authority over the children of Israel, which they in the first joy of their deliverance from Midian had rashly offered him, he little thought into what calamities, immediately after his death, that family would be plunged, owing to the inordinate thirst for power and supremacy displayed by one of its members. This person, Abimelech by name, who had not even the pretension to authority, in common with his brethren, of being the lawful offspring of Gideon, determined, by the perpetration of a most bloody action, to remove them all out of his
* Mat. i. 5.
+ Rom. iii. 29.
and to present himself to the nation in the character of their great deliverer’s only surviving son. To this end, having obtained the assistance of the men of Shechem, his mother's city, he laid violent hands upon the sons of Gideon, being threescore and ten persons, and slew them upon one stone, a single individual only, named Jotham, having escaped the general massacre. This person, though the youngest son of Gideon, appears to have been endowed with more quickness and sagacity than the rest : he not only saved his own life, but gave the men of Shechem some excellent advice in the shape of a parable, concerning the trees which chose a bramble for their king; under which image he exhibited to them their own folly in making choice of the base-born Abimelech, and the injurious consequence which would follow such an act. As he predicted, it speedily came to pass ; Abimelech and the Shechemites soon began to suspect and hate each other; and the quarrel being fomented by another ambitious character, Gaal, the son of Ebed, after a time broke out into open war. So rarely is it that confederates in any great wickedness can long remain at friendship amongst themselves ; the bad passions which at first brought them together for evil soon tend to disunite them, and to turn their enmity against each other : there is no real bond of peace but godly love and honesty ; no true dependence to be placed on any, but those who are actuated by sound religious principles, and show themselves to be so by their consistent conduct. Abimelech obtained the advantage over Gaal and the Shechemites, and pursued it with relentless vengeance, burning their city to the ground, and destroying its inhabitants : but when, elated with his success, he attempted to treat the tower of Thebez in a similar manner, he was cut off in the midst of his career by a stone thrown down upon him from its roof by the hand of a woman. During his short and disturbed reign, the idolatries suppressed in the days of Gideon began again to appear ; nor was it likely that he, whose energies were devoted to the maintenance by force of that usurped authority which he had obtained by murder, would have either leisure or inclination to attend to the religion or morals of his people. The evil, once introduced, continued to increase in spite of the efforts of the two following judges, Tola and Jair ; so that, in the days of the latter, or at least immediately after his death, the people seemed to have worshipped any of the gods of the neighbouring nations, rather than their own; and therefore their punishment, as had been the case in former instances of their misconduct, was inflicted on them by means of two of these nations, the Ammonites and the Philistines. The latter oppressed them in the western portions of their land, while the country to the east of the river Jordan was the principal scene of the devastations of the former. The misery they suffered produced its usual effect remorse for their sins, and a temporary repentance, which God out of his great loving-kindness so far condescended to accept, as to afford them deliverance altogether out of the hand of the Ammonites, and to check by degrees, until at last he removed entirely, the domination of the Philistines. Against the Ammonites he raised up a man of Gilead, skilled in