And I said to you: 'I am the LORD your God. You must not worship the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell.' But you did not obey Me."
The cry of distress is heard instantly by Jehovah, and the answer begins to come at once. But only as is best for the sinning nation. As there was discipline-in the misery to which Israel was reduced, so there is still discipline in the succession and several instalments of the mercy of God. The aim is not merely nor so much to deliver from the material evil to which they were subject, but to root out the unbelief and develop the spiritual life and moral heroism of the people.
I. THE IMMEDIACY OF GOD'S MERCY. "It came to pass, when the children of Israel cried .... that the Lord sent a prophet. There appears to be no interval. God begins to readjust his relations with Israel at once. But the material boon is not granted then. The sting must rankle until true repentance is forthcoming. Deliverance would have been a very questionable blessing under the circumstances. Freedom and independence are responsibilities as well as birthrights. So God hears the cry of the sinner always. Not what we wish, but what we want," that in the end what we wish may be rendered spiritually advisable and blessed. The measure of comfort here was that God was not silent, prayer was not unavailing. There is hope in the opening of mercy's door, even though it be in reproof.
II. THE SUCCESSIONS OF GOD'S MERCY. First the cry of desperation and repentance, then the outward reproof, then the direction, encouragement, and training of a deliverer, then the recovery of national freedom, prosperity, and prestige. Flowerlike. So God adapts his blessings to the moral and spiritual capacity of his people. The Divine view of our misery and its requirements is the reverse of the human; we think of the material suffering, God of the moral defect and sin. These mercies as they come in train are manifestly education, that the work of grace may be effectual. "Grace for grace" is a law of his kingdom. And the dignity of God is never lost.
III. MERCY IN ITS CULMINATION. God did not stop short of ultimate deliverance, although it was not achieved at once. So "he crowneth us with his loving-kindness and tender mercy." It is no mere secular and vulgar deliverance. It is national re-creation. The chivalry of Israel is called forth. It is even more a religious than a military triumph. So the salvation of the soul has its splendours and glories. It is absolute, complete, and magnificent, crowning the life of the faithful. "An abundant entrance will be ministered" into the kingdom of his Son. "We are more than conquerors" through him. - M.
Because of the Midianites the children of Israel made them the dens... and caves and strongholds.
Thus God gets at men through various means. The Midianites came out and spoiled the fields of the Israelites. The camels of the Midianites were without number; they entered the land to destroy it. Wheresoever they laid their hand they crushed the hope of Israel. Has God a way into our life, then, through corn and grass? Has He a way to chastise us through the medium of our business? Can He turn a client away and send a customer in another direction, and blind a man whilst he is counting his money? and can He so arrange things that prosperity shall crumble into adversity and a dense darkness shall settle upon the brightness of prosperity? This is God's way of doing. He gets at men through their skin; He smites them with leprosy that they may learn to pray; He curses their bread that they may cry out about the better life; He drops poison into their water that they may learn that they have committed two evils — they have forsaken Him, the fountain of living water, and have hewn out unto themselves cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water. These things should bring us to study, to reflection, to inquiry. "Why has this adversity come upon me? why do men actually pine and die? Is there not a cause?"
The famished, terror-stricken fugitives, are they indeed the sons of the men of old before whom the elders of Moab and of Midian trembled, and against whom the prince of sorcerers confessed that no enchantments could prevail? These crouching slaves that timidly peep from behind projecting rocks, or shiver in the damp darkness of caverns, are they indeed the sons of the men who vanquished Sihon king of the Amorites, and Og king of Bashan? Where are the old traditions of victory? Where is the national character — the energy of the race? National character, ancestral traditions, energy of race! Yes; such things exist; they have potency and value. But there is one law higher, wider, deeper than all these, and which modifies and controls them all. It is the everlasting law of right and wrong; the law of conscience; the law of retribution. Israel had forsaken Jehovah and had fallen into the licentious practices of the heathen, therefore they became an easy prey to the spoiler, whose audacity increased, while Israel's strength diminished year by year of that calamitous seven. The same laws are still in force, for the whole world is a theocracy. If we act as the Israelites acted, we shall suffer as they suffered. Spoilers will come upon us — spoilers in the form of tumultuous passions; spoilers in the form of mighty lusts; spoilers in the form of wretched, remorseful thoughts, which will devour our happiness, and make us ready to skulk away into the farthest corner of the darkest cave, to avoid the light of the sun. This irruption of the Midianites into the fruitful vales of Palestine was no accident. The world is not governed by chance. Israel had bowed to the gods of the heathen, therefore they must bow to the tyranny of the heathen.
The narrative of the sacred historian, though brief, gives a vivid picture of the ravages of the Midianites, and of the pitiable distress to which Israel was reduced. They chose the spring when the seed had been sown, and came up with all the accompaniments of Bedouin life, "with their cattle, their tents, and their camels." They ranged over the entire plain, beginning at the bank of the Jordan, and proceeding farther and farther westward "until thou come to Gaza," on the low-lying sandy shore of the Mediterranean. They carried their plundering incursions far up into the hills of Manasseh, of Zebulun, and of Naphtali. They arranged no regular campaign, but pitched their tents wherever they pleased; roaming in armed parties over the whole country, and spreading terror in every direction. The farmers, instead of combining in self-defence, fled to the hills or sheltered themselves in caves; leaving their produce to the robbers, who "destroyed the increase of the earth," carried off the cattle, and "left neither sheep, nor ex, nor ass," nor any kind of sustenance for Israel. After they had plundered all, they withdrew till the following season, when they again came up from the desert, after the seed had been sown, to renew their depredations. For seven successive years were these ravages committed — ravages more terrible than those of war — until the Israelitish people had become not only "greatly impoverished," but utterly disheartened.
The Lord sent a prophet"Thus saith the Lord... ye have not obeyed My voice." Awful words, but not unmixed with mercy. If the wounds of a friend are faithful — if it be a kindness when the righteous smite us — how much more when our heavenly Father is pleased to reprove! Severe and unsympathising as the utterances of this prophet might sound in the ears of a crushed and dejected people, they were necessary preparation for the coming deliverance. Before the Lord sent them a deliverer, He sent to them a prophet to preach repentance; to remind them that their own disobedience had been the real cause of all their miseries; to prepare them for salvation by piercing them with a sense of sin. It is a mercy if the silence of the skies is broken, even though it be by the voice of correction. If that word which is like a two-edged sword be humbly and dutifully received, the word which heals and restores will presently follow. Thus it was in Gideon's time; a messenger of reproof prepared the way for a messenger of victory.
()God reads the book of history, and says, "See what I did for you, where I found you, how I delivered you, how I interposed for you in the hour of extremity; see how, by a mighty hand and outstretched arm, I wrought out this whole salvation for you, and no sooner did I recover you to life and to hope, than you turned your backs upon Me and stopped your ears with your fingers, and your hearts went astray from My throne." There is, then, a moral explanation of this whole thing that we call difficulty, or pain, or discipline, disappointment, sorrow, and death: "Ye obeyed not My voice." That is the explanation of it all. The explanation of death, pain, poverty, homelessness, friendlessness, sorrow of every degree, is to be found in the fact "that we have disobeyed the voice of God." There has been the moral lapse, the great spiritual slip, the heart has not retained its integrity, and we have got wrong at the centre, and having become disorganised there, all the outwardness of life has gone off into confusion and riot and darkness, and God has justly vindicated Himself by a multitude of pains and penalties, keen distresses and intolerable agonies, all of which are the servants of His righteous and gracious will. How long can God set Himself against the cries of the heart of His people? Not long. Israel cried unto the Lord! Did the Lord remove Himself ten thousand miles further into the depth of the great solitude that is above? No. He is full of compassion, He is tender in mercy, He is gentle in spirit. When Israel cried, God came. Though He might have said, "No," yet He came — for God is love. "He knoweth our frame, He remembereth that we are dust."
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