April 6.—Morning. [Or July 10.]
“A soft answer turneth away wrath.”
Judges 8:1–3; 22–27; 32–35
AND the men of Ephraim said unto him, Why hast thou served us thus, that thou calledst us not, when thou wentest to fight with the Midianites? And they did chide with him sharply. (When there is a success, everybody thinks that he ought to have been in it, and blames somebody else that he was away. It is not quite so clear that had these complainers been invited they would have welcomed the invitation. Those who grow angry because they cannot claim a share in the honour, are usually the very persons who would have had least taste for the conflict.)
2 And he said unto them, What have I done now in comparison of you? Is not the gleaning of the grapes of Ephraim better than the vintage of Abi-ezer?
3 God hath delivered into your hands the princes of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb: and what was I able to do in comparison of you? Then their anger was abated toward him, when he had said that. (A soft answer turneth away wrath. It shewed a noble spirit in Gideon, that though the sole conqueror by right, he covets no monopoly of the praise, but even magnifies the exploits of others beyond his own. Better yield to absurd people, than engender strife among brethren.)
22 ¶ Then the men of Israel said unto Gideon, Rule thou over us, both thou, and thy son, and thy son’s son also: for thou hast delivered us from the hand of Midian.
23 And Gideon said unto them, I will not rule over you, neither shall my son rule over you: the Lord shall rule over you.
Here again Gideon shines. He had no eye to a dynasty, his eye was single for the Lord only. At the same time, it is natural that our deliverer should be our ruler, and if the Lord Jesus has indeed set us free from sin and Satan, it is but meet and right that he should rule over us.
24 ¶ And Gideon said unto them, I would desire a request of you, that ye would give me every man the earrings of his prey. (For they had golden earrings, because they were Ishmaelites.)
25 And they answered, We will willingly give them. And they spread a garment, and did cast therein every man the earrings of his prey.
26 And the weight of the golden earrings that he requested was a thousand and seven hundred shekels of gold; beside ornaments, and collars, and purple raiment that was on the kings of Midian, and beside the chains that were about their camels’ necks.
27 And Gideon made an ephod thereof, and put it in his city, even in Ophrah: and all Israel went thither a whoring after it; which thing became a snare unto Gideon, and to his house.
What a pity that so good a man, with so good a motive, should do so wrong a thing. What need or right had he to fashion sacerdotal garments, when the only high-priest was elsewhere, and was adorned with all needful priestly robes and ornaments? A world of evil has come into the world through priestly dress. There is One Priest above arrayed in glory; how foolish and how wicked to dream of making priestly vestures for mortal men.
32 ¶ And Gideon the son of Joash died in a good old age, and was buried in the sepulchre of Joash his father, in Ophrah of the Abi-ezrites.
33 And it came to pass, as soon as Gideon was dead, that the children of Israel turned again, and went a whoring after Baalim, and made Baal-berith their god. (From worshipping God in a wrong way, to the worship of a wrong god, is an easy step. Alas! Gideon, what evil didst thou do.)
34 And the children of Israel remembered not the Lord their God, who had delivered them out of the hands of all their enemies on every side:
35 Neither shewed they kindness to the house of Jerubbaal, namely, Gideon, according to all the goodness which he had shewed unto Israel. (It is no wonder if those who forget God, forget also all others to whom they are indebted.)
This chapter practically admonishes us to keep close to God’s rules of worship as laid down in Scripture, for the slightest divergence therefrom may lead to deadly errors and innumerable evils.
Lord, from habits keep me free
Which incline the least to sin,
Lest they prove a snare to me,
And my soul be held therein.
Reverent to thy sacred will,
May I all thy word obey;
Shun the very shade of ill,
From each idol turn away.
April 6.—Evening. [Or July 11.]
“My people are bent to backsliding from me.”
Judges 10:6, 7; 9–18
AND the children of Israel did evil again in the sight of the Lord, (It is clear that afflictions are unavailing to change the heart; their best results are only temporary, and as soon as they are withdrawn, men return to their old ways,) 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, and forsook the Lord, and served not him.
The multiplicity of these idols should have provoked the scorn of those who knew the one only living and true God; but such is the besotting influence of sin that the Israelites became universal image-worshippers. The rites used in the adoration of many of these false deities were to the last degree degrading, and this rendered Israel’s sin all the more heinous. Observe, that they forsook Jehovah altogether when they became votaries of idols; men cannot serve God and Mammon; and where falsehood enters, truth leaves in disgust.
7 And the anger of the Lord was hot against Israel, and he sold them into the hands of the Philistines, and into the hands of the children of Ammon. (As they idolized on all sides, so were they oppressed on all sides—on the west by Philistines, and on the east by Ammonites.)
9 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.
When all alike were crushed beneath the heavy yoke of the oppressor, their cry went up to heaven with great vehemence.
10 And the children of Israel cried unto the Lord, saying, We have sinned against thee, both because we have forsaken our God, and also served Baalim.
11, 12 And the Lord said unto the children of Israel, Did not I deliver you from the Egyptians, and from the Amorites, from the children of Ammon, and from the Philistines? The Zidonians also, and the Amalekites, and the Maonites, did oppress you; and ye cried to me, and I delivered you out of their hand.
13 Yet ye have forsaken me, and served other gods: wherefore I will deliver you no more. (Past favours aggravate present rebellion. If God had dealt hardly with them, there might have been some excuse for forsaking him, but it was base to turn from him after so much help received. O how often might the Lord have said to us, “I will deliver you no more.”)
14 Go and cry unto the gods which ye have chosen; let them deliver you in the time of your tribulation. (This was but justice, but what a dreadful sound it must have made in Israel’s ears. Suppose the Lord should deal thus with us and beat us back to the false confidences and sinful pleasures which we have at any time set our hearts upon. Imagine his saying, “Go to your self-righteousness for comfort”—“turn to your merrymakings or to your money bags”—what would desponding souls be able to reply?)
15 ¶ And the children of Israel said unto the Lord, We have sinned: do thou unto us whatsoever seemeth good unto thee; deliver us only, we pray thee, this day. (It was their wisest course to confess their sin, and surrender at discretion. Every awakened penitent should do the same.)
16 And they put away the strange gods from among them, and served the Lord: and his soul was grieved for the misery of Israel.
This practical reformation proved the sincerity of their repentance. True repentance is not only for sin, but from sin. Those who turned to worship the Lord, even though he continued to smite them, were genuine penitents. Not long would the Lord retain his anger when he saw his people in so hopeful a condition of heart. He loves them too well to retain his wrath against them.
17 Then the children of Ammon were gathered together, and encamped in Gilead. And the children of Israel assembled themselves together, and encamped in Mizpeh.
18 And the people and princes of Gilead said one to another, What man is he that will begin to fight against the children of Ammon? he shall be head over all the inhabitants of Gilead. (Under renewed invasion the downtrodden Israelites assembled in self-defence, but they were without a leader. They agreed to submit to the rule of any man who would be bold enough to commence the conflict against their cruel enemy. At this juncture the Lord raised up Jephthah, and through his instrumentality answered their prayers.)