The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
And after Abimelech there arose to defend Israel Tola the son of Puah, the son of Dodo, a man of Issachar; and he dwelt in Shamir in mount Ephraim.After Abimelech
WE have had much excitement in many of the pages through which we have inquiringly passed. We now come to a period of extreme quietness. For five and forty years nothing occurred in Israel worth naming in detail. Tola and Jair, though judges in Israel, lived and died in the utmost quietness. They occupy about four lines each in the history of their people. Quietness has no history. Events are recorded; stories, anecdotes, incidents,—these claim the attention of the historical pen; but peace, quietness, industry, patience, inoffensiveness, these have no historian: a line or two will do for them,—the war must have chapter after chapter. The popular proverb is, "Blessed are the people who have no annals." Within a narrow sense that is true; the sense is very narrow. Read Judges 10:1-2 :—
"And after Abimelech [who is not counted among the judges] there arose to defend [or save, equal to deliver] Israel Tola the son of Puah, the son of Dodo, a man of Issachar [probably the only judge furnished by this indolent tribe]; and he dwelt in Shamir in mount Ephraim. And he judged Israel twenty and three years, and died, and was buried in Shamir."
Is that dull reading? Of what tribe was the man? "Issachar." Has Issachar any fame? Let us bethink ourselves: who can remember anything said in the Bible about Issachar? The solution of the mystery may be in that direction. The individual man may have no great repute, but he may belong to a tribe quite renowned for some virtue. Mark these words: "The children of Issachar, which were men that had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do." Then Tola the son of Puah, the son of Dodo, belonged to a tribe of statesmen. It was nothing to them to propound great schemes, work out great reforms, propose wholesome ameliorations: great things came naturally in their way. If a little tribe had attempted any one of the reforms proposed and executed by Issachar he would have become famous. A very short pedestal would make a giant of a dwarf. But the men of Issachar were accustomed to statesmanship; they were famed for their sagacity; they had the piercing eyes that could see through all surfaces, veilings, sophisms,—that could read the necessity of the age, the temper and desire of the heart of Israel. So we must not pass by these negative characters as if they were really nothing. A touch of their hand might be equal to the stroke of a powerful instrument. One word spoken by a man of the tribe of Issachar might have in it a volume of wisdom. We must not measure men by the lines which the historian spends upon them. There is family history, household training, sagacity that makes no noise, farsightedness that disappoints the immediate ambition, but that prepares for the discipline and schooling and perfecting of a lifetime. Let those who spend their lives in the shadow think of these things: they may have a fame distinctively their own, not noisy, tempestuous, tumultuous, but profound, healthful, lasting,—blessed are they who have the renown of wisdom, the fame of understanding: that will endure when many a vaporous reputation has been exhaled, forgotten. The men of Issachar were wise men,—men of solid head, clear brain, comprehensive vision; men who put things together, and deduced from them inferences which amounted to philosophies; they had understanding of the times: they were not fretted and chafed by the incidents of the passing day; they saw the meaning that underlaid the event, and they knew what Israel ought to do. Bless God for good leadership—in the state, in business, in the family, everywhere; the greater it is the more silent it may sometimes be.
"And after him arose Jair, a Gileadite, and judged Israel twenty and two years. And he had thirty sons [representing an ostentatious polygamy] that rode on thirty ass colts [implying the great wealth of the household], and they had thirty cities which are called Havoth-jair [Havoth, meaning villages] unto this day, which are in the land of Gilead. And Jair died, and was buried in Camon" (Judges 10:3-5).
That is the great danger of times of quietness. When there is little to excite attention and develop energy the tendency is that men may notice little things and make much of them. There was not much to do in Israel when it could be noted how many sons any man had, and whether they rode on ass colts or otherwise. That danger besets all life. In the absence of great questions, thrilling problems of an imperial or social kind, men betake themselves to little pedantries, frivolous amusements, trifling inquiries: the greater nature sleeps, and little, active, nimble fancy presides over the life, and fritters it away. We want every now and then some great heroic occasion that shall swallow up all our little fancies, whims, and oddities, and make men of us. We need visitations of a providential kind to shake us out of our littleness and frivolity, and make us mighty in prayer, almost sublime in thought, certainly heroic in self-control and patience. Thus God has educated the world. Mark how the marvellous history has gone; in what measured undulation: sometimes the mountains have been very high, and have been untouched except by the feet of the eagle, unploughed except by the lightning of God,—far away, lost in the cloud; sometimes the heights have been quite accessible, so green, so velvetlike in their sward, and so rich in new and surprising flora; then we have come further down into great gardens, quiet villages, places sacred to slumber, and whilst we were revelling in the luxury of quietness a great clang tore the air and a trumpet summoned us to sudden war. So the Bible story has proceeded, and as the sun has set upon the day quiet, or the day of strife, we have felt a sense of incompleteness, which has often become quite religious, and has said to itself, This is not all; the punctuation is intermediate, not final; surely all these occurrences mean a greater incarnation than we have ever yet beheld. We need great excitements or solemn occasions in the family, or we should drivel away into the most frivolous existence. Given sound health, abundant prosperity, everything the heart could desire,—what is the issue of it all? Satiety; great difficulty in being pleased; an outworn appetite or desire; taking up with trivial things; a sensitiveness that is easily offended; a pride that would be contemptible if it were not so transparent. How they talk who have much goods laid up for many years! How difficult to please with their books, which they never read, and their pictures which they only buy because others have recommended them! How difficult to please with their friends, their feasts, their entertainments! How sensitive to cold! How extremely sensitive to draughts! How altogether peculiar! The Lord could not allow this to be going on, or the people would decay, fall away from manhood, and disappoint the very purpose and decree of heaven. So affliction must come, and loss, and the whole house must rock under the wind; then the people will become themselves again; they will think, pray, ask serious questions, and look at the reality and gravity of life. So must it be with the Church and with the nation. We must not have too much quietness. Our quiet periods must be alternated by periods of great stress and difficulty. Watch how God has trained the world. We do not see the method in any one verse or incident. Herein is the peculiarity of the Bible, that it must be read consecutively, page after page in sequence, until we begin to feel we are perusing a great architectural design, or a marvellous plan of war, or a sublime philosophy of education. Men may read the Bible in fragments, and know nothing about it. The Bible must be read continuously and cumulatively, until it prove its inspiration by its unity, and arrest human confidence by manifest proofs of divine dictation. Therefore we cannot stop in the historical books. We are thankful for them: so full of life, colour, action; many chapters have been written with the sword, others with rough pens, and others are but living hints of things that cannot be expressed; yet on we must go to the end, until the time when the whole book satisfies itself and satisfies its readers by a grand Amen.
"And the children of Israel did evil again [added to do evil] in the sight of the Lord, and served Baalim, and Ashtaroth, and the gods of Syria [see Genesis 35:2, Genesis 35:4,], and the gods of Zidon [1Kings 11:5], and the gods of Moab [1Kings 11:7], and the gods of the children of Ammon [Leviticus 18:21], and the gods of the Philistines [observe how the seven idols correspond with the seven retributive oppressions], and forsook the Lord, and served not him" (Judges 10:6).
We are sometimes afraid of religious excitement, but who ever is afraid of irreligious enthusiasm? It is supposed that all the exaggeration and sensationalism must be on one side; hence Christians are often foolishly and unjustly charged with religious fanaticism. There are revivals of godlessness; there are revivals of worldliness. What think ye of that? This sixth verse burns with unholy enthusiasm. Hear the list:—Having taken to idolatry, Israel took to it earnestly, with both hands—"and served Baalim, and Ashtaroth, and the gods of Syria, and the gods of Zidon, and the gods of Moab, and the gods of the children of Ammon, and the gods of the Philistines,"—any number of gods. Yet if Christian people are at all warm in their subject, they become "fanatics," and are blamed for sensationalism, by men who work seven days in the week to increase their balance at the bank! Let us keep the matter steadily in view. Which is better, a great excitement in the Church in the direction of bringing men to Jesus Christ, saving souls from death, converting the world; or a devotion to Mammon, in which the name of God is never mentioned, in which the Church is forgotten, in which every religious impulse is annihilated? One or the other of the enthusiasms we must have—an enthusiasm of life (and it is hardly a contradiction in terms so to say) or an enthusiasm in death. Christians must not allow themselves to be too easily rebuked: they must rather say with the Apostle, "Whether we be beside ourselves, it is to God: or whether we be sober, it is for your cause." Israel could hardly have gods enough. There is a marvellous licence in irreligion. Even Cicero said it was not sufficient for the majesty of Rome to have but one god; Rome must have a multitude of gods, said he, for reasons of State. There is then enthusiasm in idolatry; a keeping up of idolatry to its very highest pitch. These revivals are published, too. The idolaters were not ashamed to say to how many gods they had bowed down. Is all courage to be on the side of the opposition? and are Christians to sit down in the quietness of death, because they are afraid of the criticism of the world?
"And the anger of the Lord [compare 1Samuel 12:9] was hot against Israel, and he sold them [or, gave them up] into the hands of the Philistines, and into the hands of the children of Ammon. And that year [imperfect, as no year is specified] they vexed and oppressed the children of Israel: eighteen years, all the children of Israel that were on the other side Jordan in the land of the Amorites [the kingdoms of Og and Sihon], which is in Gilead. Moreover the children of Ammon passed over Jordan to fight also against Judah, and against Benjamin, and against the house of Ephraim; so that Israel was sore distressed" (Judges 10:7-9).
Desperate diseases require desperate remedies. The Lord said in effect: If you will have the gods of the Philistines, you may take the Philistines also; if you will have the gods of heathen, you may have the whole yoke of heathendom to carry: you must not pick and choose, taking out the gods and leaving the customs, following the idolatry and escaping the tyranny. This is the reason why the Lord sends upon us all manner of evil,—because we have forsaken him. We may not have forsaken him nominally, but there is a forsaking that is worse than a merely nominal and formal renunciation. A man may not be forsaken in any public or mechanical manner by his family, but if they neglect him, if they allow him to mourn in his loneliness, and to cry in the bitterness of an unrelieved solitude,—if they hear his complaints without replying to them, he is indeed forsaken. It is impossible, therefore, to have a church, and an altar, and a merely nominal God, and a creed full of points innumerable, and yet never to turn the living, loving heart to the Father in heaven. Providence is full of chastisement in relation to evil-doers. The Lord is very pitiful and kind, but pity may be exhausted, and kindness may come to an end. So health is broken; the strong man is bowed down; those who were proud of their vigour have now to sigh their wants because they cannot express them in words. And the business is all broken up. Nobody can account for it. All the arrangements have been as usual; every appointment has been kept; attention has been paid to the whole circle; but there is no response: everything goes wrong; every figure is turned into a cipher, old books become practically blank. And bereavement is sent,—the choice one is taken away, the best one dies, and the bird with the brightest wing takes flight; the sweetest singer becomes dumb. And the way is shut up; yet no man can see where the bars are: there is no gate of wood or brass or iron that can be touched, for then it might be broken through or opened; but the air is full of bars, and we cannot make any progress. We earn wages, and put them into bags with holes in them. Is God always going to allow himself to be mocked? The point of sovereignty must be found somewhere: shall it be found in the riotous mob, God-forgetting, God-insulting; or in the eternal unchangeable throne of righteousness? Blessed be God for broken health, depressed trade, graves without number, ways that are. barred up with invisible iron, if our use of these things should lead us to thought, repentance, and better life. Israel was "sore distressed." There is a moral in agony. It is not every pain that will make a man pray. Some pain may be treated lightly, referred to as a momentary inconvenience; but the pain becomes sharper, the agony more burning, the fire more intolerable, and men who thought they could not pray are made to "cry," for they are "sore distressed." Do not let us suppose that we can outrun or outwit the living God. He will overtake us, and trip us, and scourge us, and it shall be found that among the multitude of the deities there has been in reality but one God.
"And the children of Israel cried unto the Lord ["cried they had before, as very brutes will do when they are hurt, but not with their whole heart; their cries were the fruits of the flesh for ease, not of faith for God's favour "] saying, We have sinned against thee, both because we have forsaken our God, and also served Baalim" (Judges 10:10).
That is a true conception of the case. Both the points are put effectively. Not only was there a forsaking of God, but there was a taking up with Baalim. Men cannot throw off their church robe without putting on some other garment. It is impossible simply to "leave the church." Yet there are men who deceive themselves with the idea that they have simply given up attendance upon religious duties and observance—have merely withdrawn from church appointment and action: nothing else has occurred. That is a profound mistake. No man leaves the true Church, wherever and whatever it may be,—no man abandons its ceremonies and observances and duties without exposing himself to a thousand assaults and temptations: he is more easily trifled with; he listens more eagerly to temptations which appeal to his ambition or his cupidity. He who goes down in veneration goes down in every faculty of his nature that pointed towards heaven or aspired after nobler life. Israel proved this. Having forsaken God, Israel took up with Baalim, with all the gods of the heathen; with many gods—yea, countless in number—absolutely forgetting the true God. There are losses which never can be made up. Loss of character is never made up by gain of wealth: there is no correspondence between the two quantities. Loss of the true God cannot be amended by the multiplication of false gods. The many do not total into the one.
Now comes a sad word. The Lord said in the course of his reply,—
We do not wonder at the "cry." The wonder is in heaven, not in man: the wonder is that we have anything, not that we are left with a solitary staff; the surprise is that we have a coal in the grate, or a loaf in the cupboard, not that we die of cold and perish with hunger. The taunting word we must all approve, if it comes to a question of bare justice, fair and honourable revenge. But when God laughs the universe grieves. "I also will laugh at your calamity." Who can bear it? There is a laughter which we can return with disdain equal to its own contempt. But there is another laughter, the laughter of mocked love, the laughter of avenging affection, the laughter of dishonoured holiness: who can abide its scorn? "I also will laugh at your calamity," I will refer you to the gods you have served; I will say, "Cry aloud: for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awakened." Cry aloud! "Acquaint now thyself with him, and be at peace." The day of "sore distress" overtakes every life. Is the Lord Jesus Christ only to be sought after when everything gets darkened, and when the pathways round about the house are so treated as to prevent any noise reaching the dying life? Is he never to be invited to the wedding, where he would make the water wine? Is he never to come to the evening feast, where all the children would grow in his presence like flowers opening in the sun? Is he never to go out with us into the fields, golden with vernal and summer flowers? Is he never to be invited into the best rooms of the house, but always to be kept outside until he is asked into the chamber darkened because light means pain, and only to be spoken to when we need something from him? The question is a solemn one, and the answer is with ourselves. The voice of warning we have heard; the voice of redemption we have also listened to. "Choose you this day whom ye will serve." Keep to your god! If Baalim be god, keep to him, serve him; if the Lord be God, cleave unto him with full purpose of heart. That the Lord is God we know—we know in our heart, in our best feeling, in our least-perverted instincts; that there is a throne in the universe we know by the history of humanity upon the face of the earth,—a living Bible, a moving apocalypse, and obvious inspiration. Many deliverers have arisen, many redeemers have appeared in time of stress and sorrow, but each of them has said in mysterious language, "I am not he: there cometh one after me." We pass through a whole array of deliverers, emancipators, soldiers, ardent in patriotism,—the meaning of them all being that there is one coming whose name is Jesus Christ. He must reign till he hath put all enemies under his feet. In heavenly vision I see him, and on his vesture and on his thigh is written, "KING OF KINGS, LORD OF LORDS." On his head are many crowns, and all heaven is filled with the thunder of his praise. Be Christ our captain. Be the Son of God our infinite deliverer.
"The children of Ammon passed over Jordan" (Judges 10:9). These were the descendants of the younger son of Lot (Genesis 19:38). They originally occupied a tract of country east of the Amorites, and separated from the Moabites by the river Arnon. It was previously in the possession of a gigantic race called Zamzummims (Deuteronomy 2:20), "but the Lord destroyed them before the Ammonites, and they succeeded them and dwelt in their stead." The first mention of their active hostility against Israel occurs in Judges 3:13 : "The king of Moab gathered unto him the children of Ammon and Amalek, and went and smote Israel." About one hundred and forty years later we are informed that the children of Israel forsook Jehovah and served the gods of various nations, including those of the children of Ammon, "and the anger of Jehovah was hot against them, and he sold them into the hands of the Philistines and of the children of Ammon" (Judges 10:7). The Ammonites crossed over the Jordan, and fought with Judah, Benjamin, and Ephraim, so that "Israel was sore distressed." In answer to Jephthah's messengers (Judges 11:12), the king of Ammon charged the Israelites with having taken away that part of his territories which lay between the rivers Arnon and Jabbok, which, in Joshua 13:25, is called "half the land of the children of Ammon," but was in the possession of the Amorites when the Israelites invaded it; and this fact was urged by Jephthah in order to prove that the charge was ill-founded. Jephthah "smote them from Aroer to Minnith, even twenty cities, with a very great slaughter" (Judges 11:33). In the writings of the prophets terrible denunciations are uttered against the Ammonites on account of their rancorous hostility to the people of Israel; and the destruction of their metropolis, Rabbah, is distinctly foretold (Zephaniah 2:8; Jeremiah 49:1-6; Ezekiel 25:1-5, Ezekiel 25:10; Amos 1:13-15).
Almighty God, it is our joy to know that thou art on the throne, and that thy judgment is true and righteous altogether. We trust our all to thee, for thou didst give us all. The mystery of our being we cannot understand; but when it is most painful, we see how truly great is thy meaning towards us. Surely thou didst not make man in vain; thou didst purpose concerning him great glory and honour, because great service, in the spheres which thou thyself wilt appoint. Some come into the world under infinite disadvantages; still, they are thy children; thou knowest their whole story; thou wilt not leave them without a friend; the burden is very heavy, the cloud is very threatening, but the Lord reigneth, and his name is Love. They wonder why they are here; they dare not escape from the little prison; they would gladly do so, but thou hast wrought within them the mystery of patience, which most sweetly says, Not my will, but thine, be done. And others are crowned with advantages which they cannot use: they are filled with pride and haughtiness, and the self-trust which they boast is only idolatry; they cannot tell the meaning of all the riches with which thou hast crowded their life: behold, their wealth is multitudinous, and they listen not to the cry of the poor, nor understand the pain of necessity. Others thou hast gifted until their gifts become temptations and snares, and seem to lie close to the dread region of madness; thou dost give them dreams they cannot realise, and flash upon their eyes visions which dazzle them; they seem to be able to pluck what they want, and yet they just fall short of the tempting fruit. So life is very hard to some men, most difficult, full of pleasure, full of pain—a great distress; the joy seems to be occasional, the sorrow permanent; the delight is but for a moment, and then the bright heavens close again in great thunder-clouds. Yet still thou hast so made us that we cling to life. Herein is a great mystery. We cannot give it up. We still hope that to-morrow will redeem today, and that in the coming gladness we shall forget the sorrow that is gone. So we stand in a great mystery. Come to us with the light of Christianity, the glory of the Cross, the revelation of thy love in Christ Jesus thy Son. May he bring life and immortality to light, and show us that in the by-and-bye, which we hope for under the name of Heaven, we shall see thy purpose, and glorify thy goodness, and say thou hast done all things well. Amen.
And they put away the strange gods from among them, and served the LORD: and his soul was grieved for the misery of Israel."Handfuls of Purpose"
For All Gleaners
"His soul was grieved for the misery of Israel."—Judges 10:16.
We must first have sympathy, then action.—Action based on sympathy is likely to be permanent and pure.—If we do not see the miseries of mankind we shall not be moved to preach the gospel of salvation or to do the necessary work of mercy.—He who denies the existence of poverty will not be likely to become liberal in his donations.—He who does not pity the wounded traveller will not be likely to dismount and attend to his wounds.—We have learning, genius, eloquence; but what about our grief for the miseries of the world?—Men who are moved by sympathy may have to listen to many a bitter tale, and may often have to be shut up in face-to-face communion with scenes that shock and pain the heart.—Some men can only see the misery, and then relate it to others, and thus move them with their larger resources to go forth to its relief, or empower agents to represent them in the ministry of help.—The first thing we have to do is to consider the length and breadth of the case—the case of poverty, oppression, helplessness—and then our hearts having become affected by the presence and action of indisputable facts, we are to ask what can be done by way of remedy or redress.—"If thou forbear to deliver them that are drawn unto death, and those that are ready to be slain; if thou sayest, Behold, we knew it not; doth not he that pondereth the heart consider it? and he that keepeth thy soul, doth not he know it? and shall not he render to every man according to his works? "—We do not destroy the miseries of the world by shutting our eyes to them,—No man can be truly grieved for the miseries of the world without instantly attempting to mitigate them. He may fail in his attempt, but he will make it resolutely and self-sacrificingly.—If we are merely attempting to satisfy the fancies of the world, or gratify the whims of the world, we shall often fail in our service, and continually be disappointed with its results; but if we are fellow-workers with Christ in attempting to relieve the miseries of the world we shall find that the work is its own inspiration and its own reward.