THE ISRAELITES DEFEATED. BY REV. W. THISTLETHWAITE, M.A.

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UMBEKS XIV. 41. And Moses saidy Wherejbre norv do ye transgress the commandment of the Lord? But it sháll not prosper. Man is naturally a self-suflSciept and selfwilled being ; what he wishes to do, he will do; what is right in his own eyes, he will have to be right, and even the authority of God, and much more the authority of man, is not sufficient to secure his obedience, when he chooses to think that any thing ought to be otherwise : he wiU judge for himself, and act for himself, however he may thereby transgress the law, whether human or divine, questioning the justice or wisdom of the law, and presuming to think that he knows better what ought to be enjoined, than the wisest of

THE ISRAELITE8 DEFEATED. 433 lawgivers or even the omniscient God himself. We have a striking instance of tliis perverseness and obstinacy of the human mind in the liistory which now comes before us. We have seen that the Israelites had distrusted the promise and disobeyed the command of God, by not going forward to take possession of the land of Canaan. They had exercised their own judgment upon the case, and because the inhabitants were powerful in body, and their cities strongly defended, they concluded that they could not possibly succeed in the attempt, passionately wished that they had dicd in the wilderness, and proposed to return again into Egypt. For this God had ordered

them to retum ; and had declared that, except his two faithful servants, Caleb and Joshua, they should all die in the wilderness; and the Lord had further shewn his indignation by executing immediate judgment upon the other ten persons who had gone to search the land. Hereupon they were in great tribulation ; they made a loud VOL. III. u

434 THE ISRAELITES DEFEATED. moiiTiuiig and lamentation. like Esan, íbey lifted up their voice and wept, butwith as little of trne lepentance and huTniliation in their hearts, as he had. Thej changed their minds entirely; they would now do what €rod required, and he should reverse his sentence against them. Tbej would not delaj a moment, they would go up imme^ diately to attack the Canaanites. We read, that " The people moumed greatly^ and they rose up early in the moming and gat them up into the top of the mountain, saying, JLo we be here/ and will go up unto the plaoe which the Lord hath promised ; for we have sinned." ow their determinatíon had been a good one^ if indeed they had deeply felt their sin^ and shewn a submissive spint, and prayed that the Lord would permit them to go up^ and be with them in their es^edition. But there was no such spirit of subimssion, and prayer, and waitíng upon God. They were in haste to settle the matter in their own way^ thinking that they had nothing to do but to act as they ought to have done at the first; and all would be well. But God would

THE ISRAELITES DEFEATED. 435 not be thus dealt with. Moaes told them that thej were again transgressiiig the command-

ment of the Lord ; he had commanded them to retnm^ and they had nothing to do bnt to snbmit ; they must not refnse what was laid npon Ihem, and thas again oppose the wiU of God. Besides he told them plainlj that it wonld not prosper; no snccess conld be hoped for^ if thej made the attempt; God was not now among them; the Amalekites had ahready taken an adYantageous post on the hill ; and defeat and slanghter most certainlj awaited them, if they should go against them ; and he gave them the plain reason wh j snch wonld be the issue of their attempt, " Because ye are tumed away from the Lord, therefore the Lord will not be with you.** ow if they had been truly humbled, and really disposed to be obedient, they would have submitted to their punishment; they would have retumed to the wildemess ; they would have sought a removal of the sentence, or a shortening of tbe time of their wanderíng, by sihcere repentance and fervent prayer, and implicit obedience to all u2

436 THE ISRAELITES DEFEATED, Uiings enjoined them ; they would haye said, " Good is the word which the Lord hath spoken;" we have sinned; we wiU go and bear the just punishment of our sin. Bat this was not their temper. They would proceed in their own way : they presumed to go to the hilUtop^ even though Moses refused to accompany them, or to allow the ark to be carried with them, and the consequence was, as might be expected, they were driven back with immense slaughter. ^^ The Amalekitea came down, and the Canaanites which dwelt in that hill^ and smote them, and discomfited them even unto Hormah." The whole circumstauce is emphatically repeated by Moses, forty years afterwards^ when the period of their punishment was fulflUed^

and they were really about to take possession of the land^ in the first chapter of tha book of Deuteronomy j " I spake unto you, and ye would uot hear^ but rebelled against the commandment of the Lord, and went presumptuously up into the hill : and the AmoriteS; which dwelt in that mountain, came out against you, and chased you, as

THE ISRAELITES DEFEATED. 437 bees do^ and destrojed you in Seir, even nnto Hormah. And ye returned and wept before the Lord; but tbe Lord would not bearken to your voice^ nor gíve ear unto you." This history abounds in instruction of a spiritual nature. May the Spirít of God, under whose direction it was written^ enable* us to apply it to ourselves, and to deduce firom it those various warnings which it so impressively proclaims. 1. We leam, first, the duty of submitling meekly to the punishment with which God may at any time visit us for our offences against him. It is most true that we may lawfuUy seek a remission of punishment; and penitence and prayer have oftén caused a threatened judgment to be revoked. But then such revocation must be sought hy penitence and prayer; and penitence in fact implies this very submission to any present affliction, which I am now endeavouring to inculcate. It is most true also that many afflictions befal us, as punishments for our sins : and it behoves us, in all our sufferings.

438 THE ISRAELITES DEFEATED. to enquire whj we are thus afflicted: and when our consciences convince us of áatj

neglected^ or sin committed^ which have justly brought down the righteous punishment of God upon us^ then it behoves us to humble ourselves before him^ to accept the punishment of our iniquitj^ to lie meekly under his hand without murmuring and complaming, bj no means to attempt to throw it off in any unwarranted waj^ but to bear it as our just desert so long as God maj think proper to continue it^ and wholly to renounce that offence^ or faithfuUj to supply that defect, which we are conscious has been the occasion of it. I have ever considered a meek submission to God's chastísements, with a constant acknowledgment of his justice in them^ as a principal part of Christían dutj : and the expostulation in the book of Lamentations should be strongly impressed upon our minds in all such seasons^ " Wherefore doth a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins ?" — ^But let it be also remembered that punishment for sin is sent> not merely as a punishment for the past^ bnt

THE ISRAELITES DEFEATED. 439 to correct aud amend for the future: it is sent in mercy as well as in judgment ; it is ^^ to humble thee and prove tbee, and do tbee good at the latter end/' In the recapitulation of the historj of the Israelites^ in the beginning of the book of Deuteronomy, Moses assigns this object as the end of their being thus condemned to this long sojourn in the vdldemess, " Thou shalt remember all the way which the Lord thy God led

thee these forty years in the wildemess, to humble thee, and to prove thee^ to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments or no." ^' Thou shalt also consider in thine heart^ that^ as a man chasteneth his son, so the Lord thy God chasteneth thee." ow if serious reflection upon this striking exhibition of the Lord's anger against them^ led any of the men of that geueratíon to b^come truly sensible of their sinS; more devout in their minds, and obedient in their lives, their punishment was tumed to a good account; and though they did not see that earthly Canaan with their bodily eyes, yet were they not excluded from

440 THE ISRAELIT£S DEFEATEB. the heavenly rest^ and the happj yision of God and his gloiy. And so, if onr tempoial distresses bríng ns into a meek and hnmble írame, if thej make ns more sensible of onr sin and onr need of mercy, if they lead us to Christ who is the propitíation of onr sins and our peace with God, and if they produce in ns a faithful and uniform obedience to him according to the gospel, then we too may cry ont, ^' It is good for me that I have been afflicted." If temporal chastisements are means which prevent the punishment of eter-

nal fire^ then tmly we may bless the hand that sent them, as many and many a sufferer has had cause to do. 2. In the second place let us see the folly and danger of acting contrary to the will of the Lord. The history shews us that the Israelites doubly rebeUed against him on this occasion. First, in not going forward to take possession of the land, which he had promised tfaem ; and secondly, in attempting to do it, wheu he had commanded them to retum again into the wildemess. This shews that the Lord will be obeyed to the letter of his

THE ISRAELITES DEFEATED. 441 orders. Tbe Israelites might have said, in the second instance, that ihen they were going to do as God had commanded, that then at least they were foUowing his wiU and were in the way of their duty. But it was not so. That which before was their duty, was now their sin ; that which before was commanded, was now forbidden. We are not to prescribe to God, but he is to prescribe to us. When he bids us go, we are to go; when he bids us wait, we are to wait ; we are to do what he commands ; we are not to do what he forbids. There is another instance in scripture history which presses the same truth upon us; that is the history of Saul and the Amtlekites. He was commanded to go and destroy them ulterly. He went and captured one of their dties of which Agag was king ; but instead of destroying all, he spared Agag, and all the best of the spoil. When taxed by Samuel with disobedience, he argued that he had obeyed the commandment of the Lord, and that the things spared had been spared by the people only out of a pious motive, and for a reli^ous purpose, even to make a great u5

442 THE ISRAELITES DEFEATED. sacrífice therewith unto the Lord in Gilgal. The answer which he received deserves to be deeply considered by all who presume to act on their own judgment of what is for the glory of God, and what is acceptable to him, when they have his word to direct them; ^* Hath the Lord as great delight in bumtofferings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the Lord ? Behold to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.'" In both these instances there was the same plea, that God was obeyed ; but in both there was the same disobedience to his prescribed will and order. But we may well observeihere, what displeasure must they incur who transgress the comm'andments of the Lord in matters which cannot be right under any circumstances ! who do things that so far from being ever commanded, are universally and perpetually forbidden ! These must be signally punished. These must be excluded from the heavenly inheritance. These must

not only pass the time of their present delinquency here under the wrath of God, but must be etemally banished from the presence

THE ISRAELITE8 DEFEATED. 443 of the Lord and the glory of his pow^er, and driven away into the waste howling wilderness of the devils and damned spirits for ever. 3. lu the third place we leam from this history the impossibility of succeeding in any attempt without the blessing of God. There is a practical Atheism in the world whicb dethrones God of his power^ and places his ^ovemment in other hands. Men calculate upon second causes^ they look at earthly means and human instraments, upon these they place their dependance, and go forth in the strength of them to their undertakings, without taking God at all into the account, without enquiring if the thing be such as he ai^roves, and without praying for his blessing and presence to prosper it. This is reproved by St. James in these words, " Go to now,

ye that say, to-day or to-morrow we will go into such a city and continue there a year, and buy and sell and get gain : whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life ? It is even a vapour that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away, For that ye ought to say, if the Lord

444 THE ISRAELITE8 DEFEATED. will^ we shall líve, and do this or that." Again, when men have sacceeded in any of their attempts, for the Lord often gives power to get wealthy to prosper in the world, to obtain honours and distínctions, and other earthlj advantages, even to those who neither ^cknowledge nor know from whom these gifts proceed, then again appears a practical disregard of all reference to the providence of God, and the vain and self-snfficient feeling seems to express itself thus, ^^ My power and the might of my hand hath gotten me this wealth." ow the reallj religious mind has a constant eye to God's providence, permission, and blessing in all things. It is ever dependant upon him for success in whatever it may plan or undertake : it is ever thankful to him for whatever it is permitted to accomplish, and it acquiesces in his wiU iu every instance in which it fails. He who thus recognizes the superíntending providence of God in all his ways^ wiU find himself dírected in a safe and ríght path, and will at length be brought in peace to the happy end of all his desires and labours. — ^But I may especially observe, with

THE ISRAELITES DEFEATED. 446

more particnlar reference to this history, that it is utterly impossihle that we can succeed in our spiritual conflict with the enemies of our salvation, except the Lord go wilh us to it. Iiv this^ ahove all other cases^ let us feel^ that we must prevail, not hy might nor by power of our own, but by the Spirit of the Lord ; in every successful issue of the contiuual contest let us say, " ot unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but imto thy name, be the glory." In this especially we must learn that without him we can do nothing. And yet let us always connect with that humbling sense of our own insufficiency a fuU assurance that in the Lord we have strength, that his grace is sufficient for us, and that when be is with us, he will make all the powers of the world, of sin, and hell, to flee before us. 4. Lastly, let us learn the dauger of neglecting our present opportunities. Had the children of Israel gone up at once to the conquest of Canaan, they had achieved it: when they attempted it afterwards they were too late : God was provoked by their foi-mer distrust and disobedience ; he therefore left

446 THE ISRAELIT£S DEFEATED. them to adyenture bj themselves, and they were greatly discomfited. How apposite is our Lord's intimation that when once the master of the house hath risen up, and hath shut the door, it is in vain to seek admittance ! How useful are the admonitions^ ^^ Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near :" " To-day, while it is called to-day, harden not your hearts." Alas, how many have there been who have neglected their day of grace! There have been times with them when, like Israel on the borders of Canaan, they have seemed to be not far from the kingdom of God ; times in which all things appeared ready for them to enter

into it. But they were then unwilUng ; their hearts were not decided for God ; they were not prompt to avail themselves of the grace afforded ; and therefore they have been sent back; they have plunged again into the world, have wandered therein the remainder of their lives, and lost their souls eternally. This, my brethren, is, I doubt not, a very common case. Far more than these many thousands of Israel have, since their day, miserably

THE ISRAELITES DEFEATED. 447 períshed through their fatal neglect of opportunities^ which if laid hold of at the time^ might have issued in their salvation. Thousands* upon thousands have regretted on their deathbeds the days in which they neglected the meicies of Christ, and the grace of the Holy Spirit. They have died iu grief and terror, and have left to their surviving relatives an awful uncertainty, to say the very best that can be said^ of the etemal condition of their souls. Hear then the wise man's instruction^ " Whatever thine hand findeth to do, do it with thy might." Let neither sloth^ nor cowardice, nor unbelief, nor love of sin and the world, nor any principle that can find a place in a careless^ carnal mind, withdraw the purpose of your soul from an immediate obedience to God according to the gospel. You know not how little time you may have wherein to make your choice ; and perhaps if the present moment be lost^ it may never more be retrievable. Let this be the accepted time, and this the day of salvation ; and let every purpose and every energy of your soul be put forth to win Christ, and

448 THE ISRAELITES I>EFEATED. to gain possession of tbe kingdom of God through his sacrifice and righteousness.

My beloved brethren, let me again most earnestlj exliort you all to sb«w a deep sublnission to the Lord's wiU in all your afflictions ; to lie as peuitents before bim and make fervent prayers for mercy whenever you have offended ; and to give an implicit and immediate obedience to all that he com« mands you. Otherwise you can never prosper. Whatever plans you adopt, or determinations you form, they will be scattered in the dust, ií they he contrary to God, nay, even i( they have not his blessing. Believe in and obey the Lord, so shall ye be established in faith and holiness, in peace and hope and joy; believe in and obey his word, so shall ye prosper in every stage of your journey to the rest of heaven. Your enemies shall all be discomfíted before you, and you shall take fuU possession of every part of God's promised kingdom.

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