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let us look rather to our weakness with humility than to our strength with pride : let us listen to him who tells us,

“Let not the mighty man glory in his might, but let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the Lord which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth : for in these things I delight, saith the Lord."*

CHAP. XXII.

SAMUEL, THE LAST JUDGE. THE great destruction which Samson had caused

among the Philistines, by that last exertion of his renewed strength, which brought down upon them and upon himself their idol temple, seems to have emboldened the Israelites to make a fresh effort for the recovery of their freedom. They made it, however, without any previous consultation of God, and met with the reward of their rashness in a defeat, which caused them the loss of four thousand of their number. Desirous of providing against the recurrence of such a disaster, they bethought themselves of a method of securing success to their arms, which never had been practised since they entered the land of Canaan. They sent for the ark of God from Shiloh to their camp; and thus strengthened, as they fancied, by his presence among them, they again assailed their enemies, who, though at first confounded by this unusual proceeding of the Israelites, had yet spirit enough left to abide the encounter. The men of Israel, on this occasion, met with the

Jer. ix. 23, 24.

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usual fate of those who proceed in matters appertaining to God by ways of their own, which he has not appointed; they were utterly routed, and overthrown, and the ark of the Lord, in which, without any authority from him, they had superstitiously put their trust, was taken by the Philistines. A man who escaped from the battle, and fled to Shiloh, brought these heavy tidings to Eli, who, blind and aged, sat by the gate of the city, anxiously waiting for intelligence, and doubtless oppressed in spirit by sad forebodings, which the prophetic assurance of ruin to his house could not but cause him to entertain. The defeat of Israel, the death of his two sons Hophni and Phinehas, were indeed grievous tidings, but being in some degree expected, were borne by him with comparative composure ; but when the messenger added that the ark of God was taken, the old man's strength of mind and body at once gave way ; he fell backwards to the ground, and the fall dislocating his neck, he also died on the same day that the glory had departed from Israel. But while God thus severely punished his own people, and taught them how vain it was to put their trust in the visible symbols of his presence while they neglected him, he exacted for those symbols the utmost reverence from the heathen conquerors into whose power they had fallen. The Philistines had placed the ark for safe custody in Dagon's temple at Ashdod : the next morning they found the statue of their god-a monstrous image, with the head and body of a man, but resembling a fish at its lower extremity-fallen upon the ground before it. Thinking perhaps that this was accidental, they took up the statue, and set it in its place again ; but the next day it had not only again fallen to the ground, but its head and both its hands were stricken off upon the threshold: a manifest token, that where God is, no other pretender to divinity can be permitted to abide ; an emblematical assurance, that He whose throne is on the mercy seat, will make his enemies his footstool-will bruise Satan under his feet. Nor was this the only way in which God showed, that even his seeming weakness was stronger than man, or the vain objects of man's worship: whithersoever the captive ark was conveyed in the country of the Philistines, (for the inhabitants of Ashdod were soon compelled, by the infliction of a painful disease, to send it away from them,) the same disease attended its removals; until, by the unanimous consent of the nation, it was restored again to the people of Israel, accompanied by a trespass offering, and wonderfully reconveyed, against the order of nature, by two kine which had lately calved ; and who, although their calves were shut up at home, went straight onward, with no man to drive them, until they entered the border of Israel, at the city of Bethshemesh. The men of Bethshemesh, out of curiosity perhaps to ascertain whether the Philistines had taken out the contents of the ark, or actuated by a profane desire to see and handle what they knew to be forbidden, ventured to look into it; but their presumption was instantly punished by the loss of many of their lives, and, in their alarm, they requested their neighbours of Kiriath-jearim to undertake its custody; who took upon themselves that honourable office, and faithfully and reverently discharged it for many years. We may learn from this, the danger to our souls of too curiously and rashly prying into the mysterious and deep things of God: in so far as they are plainly revealed to us, let them be to us the subject of joyous gratitude, and of devout thanksgiving ; in so far as they are still hidden from us, let us await the time of their further revelation with patient and submissive awe. Many things are far beyond our comprehension now, but nothing absolutely needful is so: let us be

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content with this assurance, and

pass

the time of our sojourning here in preparation for that future state of being, in which we shall know, even as we are known."

For twenty years after the restoration of the ark, the nation seems to have remained in a state of torpid submission to the authority of the Philistines : at the expiration of that period, some symptoms of returning animation began to appear among them; and Samuel eagerly availed himself of their improved disposition, by exhorting them to put away their remaining idolatries, and to prepare their hearts unto the Lord to serve him only, assuring them that, if they did so, he would deliver them out of the hands of their enemies. Thus encouraged, they assembled at Mizpeh, and kept a solemn day of fasting and humiliation: the Philistines, hearing of their assemblage, came down in order to disperse it; but God heard the prayers of Samuel, and, seconding the brave resistance of his people by a storm of thunder, caused them to obtain a great victory over their enemies, who, during the remainder of Samuel's government, were confined to their own territories, and entered no more within the border of Israel. On this occasion, Samuel solemnly acknowledged him to whom the victory was due, by setting up a stone, and calling it Ebenezer, saying, Hitherto hath the Lord helped

:'* and well would it be for christian nations, if they more frequently and more zealously implored his help, and owned it more gratefully when given; well would it be for christian men, if they watched more constantly unto prayer, for each other, and for themselves, and continued in the same with more heartfelt thanksgiving. The period of peace which succeeded this deliverance was devoted by Samuel to the diligent administration of justice: he went year by year in a circuit to Bethel, and Gilgal, and Mizpeh, and judged Israel at all those places: a practice which, with great and evident advantage, has been adopted in our country also, where a similar circuit is performed by the Queen's judges twice in every year, and the inconvenience and expense of removing all causes and trials to the capital city, is greatly lessened, if not altogether avoided. As long as Samuel was able to do this in his own person, things went well; but when the approaching infirmities of age induced him to admit his sons as partners in his authority, their conduct, very unlike that of their father, for they perverted judgment and took bribes, produced naturally dissatisfaction among the people. And being in this state, they did what a dissatisfied people is very apt to do; they required not only a reform in the administration of the government, but a change in the very nature of the government itself: they came unto Samuel, and said, “ Behold, thou art old, and thy sons walk not in thy ways; make us a king to judge us. ."* There were in this request three faults : first, as has already been noticed, they demanded an unnecessary alteration ; secondly, they demanded it in order to be more like the nations round about them, whose manners and customs they had been forbidden to imitate ; and thirdly, in so doing, they threw off their peculiar allegiance to God, who had hitherto been in a special manner their king, and chose rather to make flesh their arm, than to trust in his divine protection, which had been extended over them in a variety of marvellous instances, from the time that they came forth out of Egypt unto that very day. It was no proof that God was not displeased with them upon this occasion, that he thought fit to grant their prayer; as he said long afterwards by the prophet

* 1 Sam. vii, 12.

us:

* 1 Sam. viii. 5.

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