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his project had been in the dust. What had it been better that the king of Moab was slain, if Israel had neither had a messenger to inform, nor a captain to guide them? Now he departs peaceably, and blows a trumpet in Mount Ephraim; gathers Israel, and falls upon the body of Moab, as well as he had done upon the head; and procures freedom to his people. He, that would undertake great enterprizes, had need of wisdom and courage; wisdom to contrive, and courage to execute; wisdom to guide his courage, and courage to second his wisdom; both which, if they meet with a good cause, cannot but succeed. Judges iii.
JAEL AND SISERA.
It is no wonder if they, who ere fourscore days after the law delivered, fell to idolatry alone, now after fourscore years since the law restored, fell to idolatry among the Canaanites. Peace could, in a shorter time, work looseness in any people. And if forty years after Othniel's deliverance they relapsed, what marvel is it that in twice forty after Ehud they thus miscarried? What are they the better to have killed Eglon the king of Moab, if the idolatry of Moab have killed them? The sin of Moab shall be found a worse tyrant than their Eglon. Israel is for every market: they sold themselves to idolatry, God sells them to the Canaanites: it is no marvel they are slaves, if they will be idolaters. After their longest intermission, they have now the sorest bondage. None of their tyrants were so potent, as Jabin with his nine hundred chariots of iron. The longer the reckoning is deferred, the greater is the sum: God provides on purpose mighty adversaries for his Church, that their humiliation may be the greater in sustaining, and his glory may be greater in deliverance,
I do not find any prophet in Israel, during their sin; but so soon as I hear news of their repentance, mention is made of a prophetess, and judge of Israel. There is no better sign of God's reconciliation, than the sending of his holy messengers to any people: he is not utterly fallen out with those, whom he blesses with prophecy. Whom yet do I see raised to this honour? Not any of the princes of Israel; not Barak the captain; not Lapidoth the husband; but a woman, for the honour of her sex; a wife, for the honour of wedlock: Deborah, the wife of Lapidoth.
He, that had choice of all the millions of Israel, calls out two weak women, to deliver his people: Deborah shall judge, Jael shall execute. All the palaces of Israel must yield to the palmtree of Deborah. The weakness of the instruments redounds to the greater honour of the workman. Who shall ask God any reason of his elections, but his own pleasure? Deborah was to sentence, not to strike; to command, not to execute: this act is masculine, fit for some captain of Israel. She was the head of Israel; it was meet some other should be the hand. It is an imperfect and titular government, where there is a commanding power, without
correction, without execution. The message of Deborah finds out Barak the son of Abinoam in his obscure secrecy; and calls him from a corner of Napthali, to the honour of this exploit. He is sent for, not to get the victory, but to take it; not to overcome, but to kill; to pursue, and not to beat Sisera. Who could not have done this work, whereto not much courage, no skill belonged? Yet even for this, will God have an instrument of his own choice it is most fit, that God should serve himself where he list, of his own; neither is it to be inquired, whom we think meet for any employment, but whom God hath called.
Deborah had been no prophetess, if she durst have sent in her own name. Her message is from him that sent herself; Hath not the Lord God of Israel commanded? Barak's answer is faithful, though conditionate; and doth not so much intend a refusal to go without her, as a necessary bond of her presence with him. Who can blame him, that he would have a prophetess in his company? If the man had not been as holy as valiant, he would not have wished such society. How many think it a perpetual bondage, to have a prophet of God at their elbow! God had never sent for him so far, if he could have been content to go up without Deborah: he knew, that there was both a blessing and encouragement in that presence. It is no putting any trust in the success of those men, that neglect the messengers of God.
To prescribe that to others, which we draw back from doing ourselves, is an argument of hollowness and falsity. Barak shall see, that Deborah doth not offer him that cup whereof she dare not begin: without regard of her sex, she marches with him to Mount Tabor, and rejoices to be seen of the ten thousand of Israel. With what scorn did Sisera look at these gleanings of Israel! How unequal did this match seem of ten thousand Israelites against his three hundred thousand foot, ten thousand horse, nine hundred chariots of iron! And now in a bravery he calls for his troops, and means to kill this handful of Israel with the very sight of his piked chariots; and only feared it would be no victory to cut the throats of so few. The faith of Deborah and Barak was not appalled with this world of adversaries, which from Mount Tabor they saw hiding all the valley below them they knew whom they had believed, and how little an arm of flesh could do against the God of Hosts.
Barak went down against Sisera, but it was God that destroyed him. The Israelites did not this day wield their own swords, lest they should arrogate any thing. God told them before-hand it should be his own act. I hear not of one stroke that any Canaanite gave in this fight; as if they were called hither only to suffer. And now proud Sisera, after many curses of the heaviness of that iron carriage, is glad to quit his chariot and betake himself to his heels. Who ever yet knew any earthly thing trusted in, without disappointment? It is wonder if God make us not at last, as weary of whatsoever hath stolen our hearts from him, as ever we were fond.
Yet Sisera hopes to have sped better than his followers, in so sca
sonable a harbour of Jael. If Heber and Jael had not been great persons, there had been no note taken of their tents; there had been no league betwixt king Jabin and them: now, their greatness makes them known, their league makes them trusted. The distress of Sisera might have made him importunate; but Jael begins the courtesy, and exceeds the desire of her guest: he asks water to drink, she gives him milk; he wishes but shelter, she makes him a bed; he desires the protection of her tent, she covers him with a mantle. And now Sisera pleases himself with his happy change, and thinks how much better it is to be here, than in that whirling of chariots, in that horror of flight, amongst those shrieks, those wounds, those carcases. While he is in these thoughts, his weariness and easy reposal hath brought him asleep. Who would have looked, that in this tumult and danger, even betwixt the very jaws of death, Sisera should find time to sleep? How many worldly hearts do so, in the midst of their spiritual perils!
Now, while he was dreaming doubtless of the clashing of armours, rattling of chariots, neighing of horses, the clamour of the conquered, the furious pursuit of Israel, Jael, seeing his temples lie so fair, as if they invited the nail and hammer, entered into the thought of this noble execution; certainly not without some checks of doubt, and pleas of fear: "What if I strike him! And yet who am I, that I should dare to think of such an act? Is not this Sisera, the most famous captain of the world, whose name hath wont to be fearful to whole nations? What if my hand should swerve in the stroke! What if he should awake, while I am lifting up this instrument of death! What if I should be surprised by some of his followers, while the fact is green and yet bleeding! Can the murder of so great a leader be hid or unrevenged? Or if I might hope so, yet can my heart allow me to be secretly treacherous? Is there not peace betwixt my house and him? Did not I invite him to my tent? Doth he not trust to my friendship and hospitality? But what do these weak fears, these idle fancies of civility? If Sisera be in league with us, yet is he not at defiance. with God? Is he not a tyrant to Israel? Is it for nothing that God hath brought him into my tent? May I not now find means to repay unto Israel all their kindness to my grandfather Jethro? Doth not God offer me this day, the honour to be the rescuer of his people? Hath God bidden me strike, and shall I hold my hand? No, Sisera, sleep now thy last, and take here this fatal reward of all thy cruelty and oppression."
He, that put this instinct into her heart, did put also strength into her hand he, that guided Sisera to her tent, guided the nail through his temples; which hath made a speedy way for his soul through those parts, and now hath fastened his ear so close to the earth, as if the body had been listening what was become of the soul. There lies now the great terror of Israel, at the foot of a woman. He, that brought so many hundred thousands into the field, hath not now one page left, either to avert his death, or to ac
company it, or hewail it. He, that had vaunted of his iron cha riots, is slain by one nail of iron; wanting only this one point of his infelicity, that he knows not by whose hand he perished.
THE judgments of God, still the further they go, the sorer they are: the bondage of Israel under Jabin was great, but it was freedom in comparison of the yoke of the Midianites. During the former tyranny, Deborah was permitted to judge Israel under á palm-tree; under this, not so much as private habitations will be allowed to Israel. Then, the seat of judgment was in sight of the sun; now, their very dwellings must be secret under the earth. They, that rejected the protection of God, are glad to seek to the mountains for shelter; and as they had savagely abused themselves, so they are fain to creep into dens and caves of the rocks, like wild creatures, for safeguard. God had sown spiritual seed amongst them, and they suffered their heathenish neighbours to pull it up by the roots; and now, no sooner can they sow their material seed, but Midianites and Amalekites are ready by force to destroy it. As they inwardly dealt with God, so God deals outwardly by them. Their eyes may tell them what their souls have done; yet that God, whose mercy is above the worst of our sins, sends first his prophet with a message of reproof, and then his angel with a message of deliverance. The Israelites had smarted enough with their servitude, yet God sends them a sharp rebuke. It is a good sign when God chides us; his round reprehensions are ever gracious forerunners of mercy; whereas his silent connivance at the wicked, argues deep and secret displeasure. The prophet made way for the angel, reproof for deliverance, humiliation for comfort.
Gideon was thrashing wheat by the wine-press. Yet, Israel hath both wheat and wine, for all the incursions of their enemies. The worst estate out of hell hath either some comfort, or at least some mitigation. In spite of the malice of the world, God makes secret provision for his own. How should it be, but he, that owns the earth and all creatures, should reserve ever a sufficiency from foreigners (such the wicked are) for his houshold? In the worst of the Midianitish tyranny, Gideon's field and barn are privileged ; as his fleece was afterwards from the shower.
Why did Gideon thrash out his corn? To hide it; not from his neighbours, but his enemies: his granary might easily be more close than his barn. As then, Israelites thrashed out their corn, to hide it from the Midianites; but now, Midianites thrash out corn, to hide it from the Israelites. These rural tyrants of our time do not more lay up corn than curses: He that withdraweth corn, the people will curse him; yea, God will curse him, with them, and for them.
What shifts nature will make to live! Oh that we could be so careful to lay up spiritual food for our souls, out of the reach of those spiritual Midianites! We could not but live, in despite of all adversaries.
The angels, that have ever God in their face, and in their thoughts, have him also in their mouths: The Lord is with thee. But this, which appeared unto Gideon, was the Angel of the Covenant, the Lord of angels. While he was with Gideon, he might well say, The Lord is with thee. He that sent the Comforter was also the true comforter of his Church: he well knew, how to lay a sure ground of consolation; and that the only remedy of sorrow, and beginning of true joy, is the presence of God. The grief of the Apostles for the expected loss of their master, could never be cured by any receipt but this, of the same angel, Behold I am with you to the end of the world. What is our glory, but the fruition of God's presence? The punishment of the damned is a separation from the beatifical face of God; needs must therefore his absence in this life be a great torment to a good heart: and no cross can be equivalent to this beginning of heaven in the elect, The Lord is with thee.
Who can complain either of solitariness or opposition, that hath God with him? With him, not only as a witness, but as a party. Even wicked men and devils cannot exclude God: not the bars of hell can shut him out: he is with them perforce, but to judge, to punish them; yea, God will be ever with them to their cost; but to protect, comfort, save, he is with none but his.
While he calls Gideon valiant, he makes him so. How could he be but valiant, that had God with him! The godless man may be careless, but cannot be other than cowardly. It pleases God to acknowledge his own graces in men, that he may interchange his own glory with their comfort; how much more should we confess the graces of one another! An envious nature is prejudicial to God: he is a strange man in whom there is not some visible good; yea, in the devils themselves we may easily note some commendable parts, of knowledge, strength, agility: let God have his own in the worst creature; yea, let the worst creature have that praise which God would put upon
Gideon cannot pass over this salutation, as some fashionable compliment; but lays hold on that part, which was most important; the tenure of all his comfort; and, as not regarding the praise of his valour, inquires after that which should be the ground, of his valour, the presence of God. God had spoken particularly to him; he expostulates for all. It had been possible God should be present with him, not with the rest; as he promised to have been with Moses, Israel: and yet when God says The Lord is with thee, he answers, Alas, Lord, if the Lord be with us. Gideon cannot conceive of himself as an exempt person; but puts himself among the throng of Israel, as one that could not be sensible of any par ticular comfort, while the common case of Israel laboured. The main care of a good heart is still for the public; neither can it en