Judges 1:17
Then the men of Judah went with their brothers the Simeonites, struck the Canaanites who were living in Zephath, and completely destroyed the city. So it was called Hormah.
Chariots of IronJudges 1:17-19
What Hinders the GospelHomilistJudges 1:17-19
Zephath and HormahR. A. Watson, M. A.Judges 1:17-19

Of the wisdom and carefulness of Achsah we have here abundant proof. They were nobly and honourably exercised. She is the daughter of a rich man, and becomes the bride of a brave soldier who had evidently little but his sword and his reputation to boast of. She is jealous lest he should be rewarded with a mere titular distinction. He has been nobly oblivious of material rewards, she shall be proportionably watchful over his interests. She therefore urges her husband as he passes in triumph to Hebron to ask for the field through which they march. The thoughts of the hero are not to be directed into any such sordid channel. But she, taking advantage of the occasion as she lights from off her ass, asks her father in symbolic language to compensate her for the poverty to which he had consigned her. "Thou hast given me a south land (i.e. married me to a poor younger son); give me also springs of water." To this reasonable request Caleb makes generous response. "She slides from her ass, suddenly, as if she fell, so that her father asks, 'What is the matter with thee?' Her answer has a double sense, 'Thou gavest me away into a dry land; give me also springs'" (Cassel).

I. A BLESSING WITH A DRAWBACK. Of the bravery of Othniel there could be no question; of his poverty there could be as little. It might be honourable for her to be his wife, but she would have to suffer many sacrifices in leaving the wealthy home of her father, and her husband would have an additional burden to sustain. Are not the dispensations of providence, even when we judge them on the whole to be best for us, frequently as mysteriously qualified and limited? No man would probably care to exchange his life for another's, but "there's a crook in every lot." Material blessings generally contain within them elements of discipline, and sometimes even of punishment. But they are alike the gift of a loving father, and are to be accepted in the spirit of trust and affection.

II. COMPENSATIONS. IS the gift of Achsah's father open to grave drawbacks? It is not therefore unalterable. Something may be done to lessen its inconveniences, if not entirely to remove them. Her father is reasonable, and she at once makes appeal to his sense of what is fit and proper. Her request is granted. So with ourselves. Our heavenly Father who apportioned our lot is surely as reasonable and affectionate as any earthly one. It is for us to exercise the same wisdom as Achsah, and request that God will give us such alleviations to our portion in life, or reveal to us those that already exist. Sometimes there are compensations latent in the very circumstances of which we complain: springs of water to moisten a sun-parched soil. In any case God is able to bestow upon us exceeding abundantly above all that we can ask or think. - M.

Zephath... Hormah.
In the world of thought and feeling there are many Zephaths, whence quick onset is often made upon the faith and hope of men. We are pressing towards some end, mastering difficulties, contending with open and known enemies. Only a little way remains before us. But invisible among the intricacies of experience is this lurking foe who suddenly falls upon us. It is a settlement in the faith of God we seek. The onset is of doubts we had not imagined, doubts of inspiration, of immortality, of the incarnation, truths the most vital. We are repulsed, broken, disheartened. There remains a new wilderness journey till we reach by the way of Moab the fords of our Jordan and the land of our inheritance. Yet there is a way, sure and appointed. The baffled, wounded soul is never to despair. And when at length the settlement of faith is won, the Zephath of doubt may be assailed from the other side, assailed successfully and taken. The experience of some poor victims of what is oddly called philosophic doubt need dismay no one. For the resolute seeker after God there is always a victory, which in the end may prove so easy, so complete, as to amaze him. The captured Zephath is not destroyed nor abandoned, but is held as a fortress of faith. It becomes Hormah — the consecrated.

(R. A. Watson, M. A.)

Judah... could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley
? — Infinite Intelligence has a plan by which He does all things. He never works by impulse or caprice.

1. God frequently makes human agency the condition of His own action.

2. So entirely does the Almighty abide by this plan, that if the required human agency is not put forth, He will not work. These "chariots of iron" so discouraged and terrified the Israelites that they would not do the part which God designed them to do; and because God would not violate His own plan, He "could not" drive them out. God's plan is the best, and He cannot deviate from the best. Now, the plan by which He promotes the circulation of the gospel amongst men is most clearly revealed in the Bible; and it is this — a proper human representation of it. The Divine idea is to be reflected on man through man. Why the great Author of the gospel should proceed on such a plan is a question which, if proper, it is not necessary to determine. We may as well ask why He has left the life of the world, vegetable and animal, to depend upon the solar beams and the fertile showers. It is enough for me to know, as the reasons of His procedure in any case, that as His nature is love, the ultimate reason of every act is some benevolent idea. Love is the planning genius of the universe: it frames and fashions all. Nor is it difficult to see love in the plan in question. What an honour does it confer on human nature to make it the reflector and exponent of Divine ideas! What benign power, too, is there in the arrangements to stimulate the devout to benevolent effort, and to unite the human family in the bonds of gratitude and compassion! Three general remarks may suffice to show that there has been sufficient mal-representation to account for its present limited influence.

I. THAT THE GOSPEL REGARDS THE CEREMONIAL AS SUBORDINATE TO THE DOCTRINAL. Though the Old Testament had many rites, the New has only two — baptism and the Lord's Supper. But the rites of both the Old and the New were intended to answer the same functions in the economy of revelation, namely, to adumbrate doctrines.

II. THAT THE GOSPEL REGARDS THE DOCTRINAL AS SUBSERVIENT TO THE ETHICAL. And if this is so, a mere theological manifestation is a mal-representation. Christianity consists mainly of two elements — doctrines and precepts: subjects for faith and rules for life — theology and morality. Doctrines and precepts are rays from the same eternal sun of truth; the former, however, throwing their radiance upwards — revealing the vast heavens that encircle us, and impressing us with ideas of infinitude; the latter flowing down upon our earthly path, and guiding our feet in the way of life. Of what use would the sun be to us if all its rays streamed upwards, unfolding the boundless blue, and none reached our earthly sphere, to show us how to act? The theology of the Bible is useless to a man unless it changes his heart and moulds his life anew. The doctrines of Christ are not learnt like the doctrines of Newton or Euclid, by mere intellectual study; they are learnt by the heart and the life. Action alone translates Christian doctrines into meaning.

III. THAT THE GOSPEL REGARDS THE TRUE ETHICAL AS EMBODIED IN THE LIFE OF CHRIST. And if this is so, a mere dry legal manifestation of it is a mal-representation. Where are the ethical elements whose illustration, enforcement, and promotion, all doctrines are to subserve, to be found? Are they to be found in the statutes of governments, the rubrics of Churches, or the practices of religious sects? No! Men have often made sound doctrine subservient to the corrupt ethics drawn from such sources; but the ethics to which all sound theology should ever minister are embodied in the life of one Being — Christ. Our whole duty is summed up in His command, "Follow Me." Assimilation to Christ is the perfection of man. Another train of thought may further serve to illustrate the various forms of the mal-representation, and to sum up our observations upon this truly momentous theme.

1. The ceremonies of the gospel being only intended as the symbols of its doctrines, a mere ritualistic ministry of it is a mal-representation.

2. The doctrines of the gospel being coincident with human reason, any irrational manifestation of it is a mal-representation.

3. The meaning of the gospel being only truly reached by experience, a mere professional manifestation of it is a mal-representation. Christianity is only thoroughly understood by the heart.

4. The genius of the gospel being that of benevolence, any unloving manifestation of it is a mal-representation. Does the Church represent love? warm, self-denying, world-wide love? If not, it does not represent the gospel.

5. The provisions of the gospel being for universal man, any restricted offer of them is a mal-representation. Let the narrow-minded bigot preach that the sun was lit up for a class; or that the ocean was poured forth for a class; or that the sea of air, whose every wave is life, rolls through the world for a class; and his sermons will be as true to nature as those sermons are to the gospel, that proclaim that God's mercy is only for a "favourite few." My conclusion is, that the first thing to be done in order to convert the world is to reform the Church. You may have your missionary societies, you may send forth your emissaries, you may stud the globe with your missionary stations; but unless the Church will give the Christianity of Christ in His own spirit of love, it will be labour lost.


Chariots of iron

1. Great victories.

2. Numerous victories.

3. Brotherly action (ver. 3).

4. God gave great proofs of His presence and power by raising up, here and there, a man in their midst who performed heroic deeds. Caleb shall be gathered to his fathers, but Othniel shall follow him, who shall be as brave as he.

5. The reason why the men of Judah were successful was because they had full confidence in God. The Lord will not fall short of the measure: let us not make the measure short.

II. THE LORD'S POWER RESTRAINED BECAUSE DISTRUSTED. The men of Judah could drive out the inhabitants of the mountain, but they could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley, because they had chariots of iron. As far as their faith went, so far God kept touch with them, and they could do anything and everything; but when they despondingly thought that they could not drive out the inhabitants of the wide valleys, then they failed utterly.

1. They retained too much confidence in themselves. If their confidence had been in God alone, these chariots of iron would have been ciphers in the calculation, The bare arm of God is the source of all power.

2. They believed one promise of God and did not believe another. Beware of being pickers and choosers of God's promises.

3. There was a further reason for failure arising out of this imperfection of their faith: they could not conquer the chariots of iron, because, first, they did not try. The Hebrew does not say that they could not drive them out. What the Hebrew says is that they did not drive them out. Some things we cannot do because we never make the attempt. I wish we had among Christian workers the spirit of the Suffolk lad who was brought up in court to be examined by an overbearing lawyer. The lawyer roughly said to him, "Hodge, can you read Greek? .... I don't know, sir," said he. "Well, fetch a Greek book," said the lawyer, and showing the lad a passage he said to him, "Can you read that?" "No." "Then why did you not say that you could not?" "Because I never say I cannot do a thing till I have tried it." If that spirit were in Christian people we should achieve great things; but we set down such and such a thing as manifestly beyond our power, and, silently, we whisper to ourselves, "therefore beyond God's power," and so we let it alone. No chariots of iron will be driven out if we dare not make the attempt.

4. Next, I suspect that they did not drive them out because they were idle. If cavalry were to be dealt with, Judah must bestir himself. If chariots of iron were to be defeated they must enter upon an arduous campaign; and so, taking counsel of their fears and their idleness, they said, "Let us not venture on the conflict." There are many things that Christ's Church is unable to do because it is too lazy.

5. Then, again, they were not at all anxious to meet the men who manned those chariots, for they were afraid. These men of Judah were cowards in the presence of chariots of iron, and what can a coward do? He is great at running away. They say that he "may live to fight another day." Not he: he will live, but he will not live to fight, depend upon it, any more another day than he does to-day.

6. There was no excuse for this on the part of Judah, as there is really no excuse for us when we think any part of God's work to be too difficult for us — for, recollect, there was a special promise made about this very case holy (Deuteronomy 20:1).

III. THE LORD'S POWER VINDICATED. I could tell you of women, sick and infirm, scarcely able to leave their beds, who are doing work which, to some strong Christians, seems too hard to attempt. Have I not seen old men doing for the Lord in their feebleness that which young men have declined? Could I not tell you of some with one talent who are bringing in a splendid revenue of glory to their Lord and Master, while you fine young fellows with ten talents have wrapped them all in a napkin and hid them in the earth? I wish that I could shame myself, and shame every worker here, into enterprises that would astonish unbelievers. God help us to do that which seems impossible.

( C. H. Spurgeon.)

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