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Wars of the Israelites

Wars of the Israelites

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Published by GLENN DALE PEASE
BY THOMAS ARNOLD, D.D.



Deutebonomt viL 2-4.

Thou shall smite them, and utterly destroy them ; thou shalt make no
covenant with them, nor show mercy unto them : neither shalt thou
make marriages with them ; thy daughter thou shalt not give unto
hds son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son. For they
wiU turn away thy son from following me, that they may serve other
gods.
BY THOMAS ARNOLD, D.D.



Deutebonomt viL 2-4.

Thou shall smite them, and utterly destroy them ; thou shalt make no
covenant with them, nor show mercy unto them : neither shalt thou
make marriages with them ; thy daughter thou shalt not give unto
hds son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son. For they
wiU turn away thy son from following me, that they may serve other
gods.

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WARS OF THE ISRAELITES BY THOMAS AR OLD, D.D.

Deutebonomt viL 2-4. Thou shall smite them, and utterly destroy them ; thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor show mercy unto them : neither shalt thou make marriages with them ; thy daughter thou shalt not give unto hds son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son. For they wiU turn away thy son from following me, that they may serve other gods. There is, perhaps, no point on which the weakness of human nature is more clearly shown, than in the difficulty of treading the right path between persecution on the one hand, and indiflFerence to evil on the other. For although we are, it may be, disposed according to our several tempers more to one of these faults than to the other ; yet I fear it is true also that none of us are free from the danger of falling into them both. ot certainly that this can happen at the same time, and towards the same persons ; but if we have to-day been too violent against the persons of evil men whom we do not like, this is no security against our being to-morrow much too forbearing towards the practices of evil men whom we do like ; because we are all apt to respect persons in our judgment and in our feelings; sometimes to be too severe, and sometimes too indulgent, not according to justice, but according to our own likings and dislikings. or is it respect of persons only which thus leads us

WARS OF THE ISRAELITES. 25 astray, but also our own particular sympathy with, or

disgust at, particular faults and particular characters* Even in one whom we may like on the whole, there may be £Ekults which we may visit too hardly, because they are exactly such as we feel no temptation to commit. And again, in one whom we dislike on the whole, there may for the same reason be faults which we tolerate too easily, because they are like our own. There is yet a third cause, and that a very common one, which corrupts our judgment. We may sympathize with such and such faults generally, because we are ourselves inclined to them ; but if they happen to be committed against us, and we feel the bad effects of them, then we are apt to judge them in that particular case too harshly. Or again, we may rather dislike a fault in general, but when it is committed on our own side, and to advance our own interests, then in that particular case we are tempted to excuse it too readily. There are these dangers besetting us on the right hand and on the left, as to our treatment of other men's faults. And if we read the Scriptures we shall find, as might be expected, very strong language against the error on either side. A great deal is said against violence, wrath, uncharitableness, harsh judgment of others, and attempting or pretending to work God's service by our own bad passions ; and a great deal is also said against tolerating sin, against defiling ourselves with evil doers, against preferring our earthly friendships to the will and service of God. Of these latter commands, the words of the text, and other such passages relating to the conduct to be pursued by the Israelites towards the nations of Canaan, furnish us with most remarkable instances. We see how strong and positive the language is : ^ Thou shalt smite them, and utterly destroy them ; thou shalt make no covenant mth them, nor show mercy to them : ' and the reason is given.

26 WARS OF THE ISRAEIJTES.

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* For they will turn away thy son from following me, that they may serve other gods.' It is better that the wicked should be destroyed a hundred times over, yea, destroyed with everlasting destruction, than that they should tempt those who are as yet innocent to join their company. And if we are inclined to think that God dealt hardly with the people of Canaan in commanding them to be so utterly destroyed, let us but think what might have been our fete, and the fate of every other nation under heaven at this hour, had the sword of the Israelites done its work more sparingly. Even as it was, the small portions of the Canaanites who were left, and the nations around them, so tempted the Israelites by their idolatrous practices, that we read continually of the whole people of God turning away from His service. But had the heathen lived in the land in equal numbers, and still more, had they intermarried largely with the Israelites, how was it possible, humanly speaking, that any sparks of the light of God's truth should have survived to the coming of Christ ? Would not the Israelites have lost all their peculiar character, and if they had retained the name of Jehovah as of their national Grod, would they not have formed as unworthy notions of His attributes, and worshipped Him with a worship as abominable as that which the Moabites paid to Chemosh, or the Philistines to Dagon ? So had Abraham been called from out his native country in vain ; and Israel had in vain been brought out of Egypt with a mighty hand, and fed with the bread of heaven in the wilderness ; the witness to God's truth would have perished ; the whole earth would have been sunk in darkness ; and if Messiah had come. He would not have found one single ear prepared to listen to His doctrine, nor one single

heart that longed in secret for the kingdom of Grod. But this was not to be, and therefore the nations of Canaan were to be cut oflf utterly. The Israelites' sword.

WARS OF THE ISRAELITES.

in its bloodiest executions, wrought a work of mercy for all the countries of the earth to the very end of the world. They seem of small importance to us now, those perpetual contests with the Canaanites, and the Midianites, and the Ammonites, and the Philistines, with which the Books of Joshua and Judges and Samuel are almost filled. We may half wonder that God should have interfered in such quarrels, or have changed the order of nature in order to give one of the nations of Palestine the victory over another. But in these contests, on the fate of one of these nations of Palestine, the happiness of the human race depended. The Israelites fought not for themselves only, but for us. WTiatever were the faults of Jephthah or of Samson, never yet were any men engaged in a cause more important to the whole world's welfare. Their constant warfare kept Israel essentially distinct from the tribes around them ; their own law became the dearer to them, because they foimd such unceasing enemies amongst those who hated it. The uncircumcised, who kept not the covenant of God, were for ever ranged in battle against those who did keep it. It might follow that the Israelites should thus be accounted the enemies of all mankind, it might be that they were tempts by their very distinctness to despise other nations ; still they did God's work ; still they preserved unhurt the seed of eternal life, and were the ministers of blessing to all other nations, even though they themselves failed to enjoy it. But still, these commands, so forcible, so fearful, — to

spare none — to destroy the wicked utterly — to show no mercy, — are these commands addressed to us now? or what is it which the Lord bids U8 do in these words addressed to His servant Moses ? Certainly He does not bid us to shed blood, nor to destroy the wicked, nor to put on any hardness of heart which might shut out the chaiity of Christ's perfect law. We must not be cruel, we must

28 WAES OF THE ISRAELITES. do nothing against the law of justice and humanity, even to remove the evil from out the land. And to do as the Israelites did would be to our feelings, though it was not to theirs, cruelty and injustice. But there is another part of the text which does apply to us now in the letter, thereby teaching us how to apply the whole to ourselves in the spirit. * Be ye not unequally yoked together in marriage with unbelievers,' is the command of God through the Apostle Paul to Christians, no less than of God through Moses to the Israelites. * For what concord,' he goes on to say, ' hath Christ with Belial ? or what communion hath light with darkness ? ' It is, indeed, something shocking to enter into 80 near and deax a connection bs marriage, with those who are not the servants of God. It is fearful to think of giving^ birth to children whose eternal life may be forfeited through the example and influence of him or of her through whom their earthly life was given. But though this be the worst and most dreadful case, still it is not the only one. St. Paul does not only speak against marriage with the unbeliever ; he speaks also no less strongly against holding friendly intercom^e with those who call themselves Christ's, yet in their lives deny Him. * I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner, with such an one no not to eat; but put away from among yourselves that wicked person.' Here, again,

it is true, that the altered state of things around us has hindered these words also from applying to us in the letter. The church having no power in our days to shut out unworthy members fix)m its society, individuals cannot take such a power upon themselves ; and therefore we do in the world very commonly keep company, as far as the common civilities of life go, with those whose lives we know to be unchristian. Yet here, too, the spirit of the command

WAES OF THE ISRAELITES. 29 applies to us, when we cannot fulfil it in the letter. We need not actually refuse to eat with those whose lives are evil ; but woe to us if we do not shrink from any closer intimacy with them ; if their society, when we must partake of it, be not painfully endured by us, rather than enjoyed. We may put away from among ourselves that wicked person ; put him away, that is, fix)m our confidence, put him away from our esteem, put him altogether away from our sympathy. We are on services wholly different ; our masters are God and mammon ; and we cannot be united closely with those to whom our dearest hopes are their worst fears, and to whom that resurrection which, to the true servant of Christ, will be his perfect consummation of bliss, ¥dll be but the first dawning of an eternity of shame and misery. But whilst, above all other things, I would desire for every one of us an intense abhorrence of evil, yet we must not forget how fatally we may deceive ourselves by hating evil for our own sake, and not for God's. Here, indeed, we had need to examine ourselves carefully, lest we do but serve our own passions under the name of God. And if you ask what this means, I will explain it more clearly. I call it serving oui own passions under the name of God, if we shrink from those kinds of evil only which we ourselves happen to dislike, while we do not shrink from all that God abhors. It is very easy for one who is of a gene-

rous nature to keep away from those who are mean and niggardly ; for one of a high and active understanding to despise the grossness and lowness which accompany ignorance and folly. But if the generous person, while he avoids the company of the mean and low-spirited, has no such objection to the sensual or the extravagant ; if the strong understanding, while it revolts from the low vices of ignorance, has no distaste for those who unite with great abilities and knowledge an indifference for the ser-

30 WABS OF THE ISRAELITES. vice of God, then we are but pleasing ourselves in what we like, and in what we dislike ; we are not trying to please God. But his is a true and sincere love of God who, passing by all else in a character, whether it be of good or of evil, merely asks whether there be contained in it the one thing needful. Infinite, indeed, are our differences of taste and of knowledge. Kudeness and coarseness may pain us, ignorance may disgust us ; but let us strive to find out Christ's mark, and, wherever found, to love it; to think that as our neighbour has his imperfections so have we ours ; that these may be as painful to him as his to us ; but that both his and ours have been washed away in the sight of God in the same most precious blood, and that what God will not condemn in His judgment, we ought to forgive in ours. It is indeed a grievous thing to know and to feel how many good men are divided from one another by trifling difierences, not of opinion only, but of temper, of taste, and of manner. It is a fault which besets us all ; one of the last, perhaps, which our nature, ripening into Christ's full resemblance, can cast away. But as our faith becomes stronger, as Christ becomes more and more to us our all in all, as eternity seems more real and more enduring, and ^s earth and earthly things dwindle into their proper proportions, then our eye fixes upon the one pearl of great

price which is to be discerned in our neighbour's breast ; and although it be not set oflF by the other parts of his dress, nay, though its lustre be somewhat obscured by their poverty, — still it is the seat of Christ's Spirit, the pledge that he who wears it shall be our companion for ever, that our ears shall drink in together, our voices eternally join in the same hymns of praise, our eyes and hearts and perfected spirits for ever repose in the incomprehensible communion of the same God and Saviour. And not less grievous is it, that for the love of any

WARS OF THE ISRAELITES.

31

perishable thing we should be drawn closely to him who loves not Christ. Our tastes may be the same, our knowledge kindred, our faculties alike vigorous, our prevailing feelings towards earthly things may all beat^ in harmony. But all these things must be destroyed ; and where is the pledge that we shall with equal joy awake to the call of His trump who shall bid the dead arise ? Be that our only bond of friendship, the only communion which our souls shall thoroughly acknowledge. All else is but the slight acquaintance formed on a journey with one who is to part from us at the next town to meet us no more. Whoso loves Christ, may we love him to the death, in spite of unkindness, in spite of all differences of earthly tastes and opinions : for the hour will come when all these things shall pass away. Whoso loves not Christ, and Christ's Spirit, may our hearts shrink from him evermore, in spite of all sympathy in our pursuits of worldly things ; for our paths are wide asunder as the most infinite dis-

tances. We are of the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus, and he is of the children of the wicked one.

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