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THE BOOK OF JUDGES
ALMIGHTY GOD, we would rest in thee. Thou hast welcomed us to thy rest, and made us, in promise, sharers of thy feast. The Lord will bless his people with peace, yea, with peace that passeth understanding. Thou dost Cause men to possess their souls in peace and confidence when they look unto the Lord and set their expectation eagerly upon him. We have said unto our souis, Look unto the hills whence cometh your help: your help cometh from the Lord which made heaven and earth. Thus the heaven and the earth have become images to us of thy greatness, wisdom, goodness, and continual superintendence; and thus through heaven and earth
ve have found the living God who made them both. All things tell of thy power, and all things sing of thy love. Why should man be silent? His should be the loudest, sweetest voice of all. Let the people praise thee, O God; yea, let all the people praise thee; let the time of silence now past more than suffice, and let the time of singing, and rejoicing, and testifying, come in upon us like a new year. Truly thy mercies deserve our songs. We will sing of mercy, and of judgment: for is not thy judgment a mercy ? and is not thy mercy a judgment ? art thou not continually looking upon us through the cloud, and blessing us every day with sunlight ? We would join the innumerable company of angels in praising God. We would think of the great host in heavenly places joining the hymn of adoration and thankfulness; we would unite in the great and solemn praise, and be as glad as earth will permit its children to be amid its night and winter and cold. We praise thee for a day that is all thine own: the four-and-twenty hours are four-andtwenty jewels; we bless thee for a house that is all thine own, built upon a sure foundation, rearing itself towards heaven, excluding all profanity, offering hospitality to all necessity; and we bless thee for a book that is all thine own, written as it were with thine own finger, having in it gospels from heaven infinite as the love of God and grand as his glory : may we have the seeing eye, the understanding heart, that, beholding the writing we may comprehend the meaning, and then proceed to live it over again in useful and happy life. We desire that our religious aspirations may grow in number, in intensity, in loftiness; may our whole character be lifted up by their energy, so that our citizenship may be no longer upon earth,
but already in heaven. Thy care of us, who can doubt? The very hairs of our head are all numbered. If for a moment we distrust thee, it is that we may pray some nobler prayer, because of contrition and the heart-break of penitent sorrow; if we have turned from the Lord, we will come back again, renewed, stronger than ever in faith, tenderer than ever in love. Oh heal our backslidings, and love us freely. Thou knowest our life, for thou didst make it. We do not know what it is. We suffer it, and are afraid of it; for a moment we enjoy it, as we might enjoy an angel's presence, but all our joy is troubled by a distant and speechless fear, and we say, This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven; and our pulse is as the beat of God's eternity within us. Help us through our life to know somewhat of thine; enable us to know through our hearts somewhat of God's love : then shall our life be profitable, and shall help itself to higher uses because to higher devotion. We pray for one another. The Lord's blessing be upon us every one. Thou hast a portion of meat for each in thy house; thou wilt not send any empty away; if our hunger is great, thy resources are greater still. Blessed are they that hunger: behold, our very necessity is turned into a blessing; our capacity to receive is the measure of our capacity to enjoy. O that we might praise the Lord every day—that we might know that all our time may become sabbatic, restful-a period of peace, an anticipation of everlasting tranquillity! Help us to live out the few more days that remain : they come and go so quickly we can hardly number them; between the sunrise and the sunset there is so brief a time, hardly an opportunity to breathe. May we know the measure of our days, and knowing that, may we redeem the time, buying up every opportunity eagerly, and using it as a trust from heaven. Guide all who need special guidance. Show men where the lock is they cannot find, and when they have found it and cannot open it, put the key into their hands. Send light upon those whose way is wrapped in darkness. Speak a word in season to him that is weary; show the weeper that his tears are but for a time and may be the precursors of joy. Help those who are called to carry the burdens of others, who think about them until they are weary-until their wonder becomes a distress, and their solicitude an intolerable pain. We pray for those in trouble on the sea. We pray for those in trouble because of bodily weakness. We pray that in houses where Sorrow has long been the one guest he may this day flee away. As for our sin, we bring it to the cross: the blood of Jesus Christ is the answer of God to the sin of man. Help us to believe in Jesus, to trust in the Son of God, to give up all hope in ourselves, and to find all satisfaction in Christ. Amen.
T the close of the song of Deborah “the land had rest forty years."
The sixth chapter begins with the usual black line :—"And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord.” These comings and goings of evil in human history seem to be fated. Men never get so clear away from evil as never to come back again to it; at any moment the course of life may be reversed, and the altar, the vow, the song, and the prayer may be forgotten like vanished summers. This makes the reading of human history a weary toil. We have only to turn over a leaf, and the saints who have been singing are as active as ever in evil. It would be difficult to believe this if we did not know it to be true. This Bible-history is indeed our own history written before the time. Our life seems to be spent upon a short ladder, in going up, in coming down : in going up to pray, in coming down to sin, and drying the tears of penitence; and climbing again, and then coming down; miles short of heaven. The weariness is not in the literature—it is in the fact. We are many men : when we would do good, evil is present with us; when we would do evil, the angel looks at us and reproaches our purpose. The history of Israel is the history of the world. Israel was given over to the hand of the Midianites seven years. This was not, as in the former case, an oppression; it was an attack. In our last study we saw Israel oppressed ; here we see a foreign invasion, crowding upon the land inhabited by Israel. Whether in this way or in that, God will not let the battle end until he has punished evil and destroyed it. He is continuing the same policy now. Seated in the heavens, he is watching the earth as if it were the only world he had,-blessing the good, punishing the evil, threatening everything that is of another nature than his own, and keeping perdition for those only who must inevitably be lost. In the olden times there were oppressions, invasions, assaults, and the like; to-day Providence seems to be operating by subtler methods, but always operating to the same end : 'to punish the evil, and bless the good. A very vivid picture is given of the state of Israel in chapter vi. 2. Israel was dwelling in “the dens which are in the mountains, and caves, and strong holds." The proud and princely Israel was burrowing in the torrent gullies, instead of building cities that should have lifted their towers and spires like ascending psalms to the approving heavens. Think of it well! It is the same to-day. Men who might have been in the thoroughfare are hidden away in some distressing obscurity. Men who ought to have been foremost are left so far behind they can hardly be seen,-dim spectres in the far-away distance. The Midianites were coming up like locusts. No sooner did the Israelites sow their seed than the Midianites had their eye upon it; and it was only by strategy, cunning almost surpassingly human, that Israel could save a handful of corn for itself. Israel was “impoverished.” A very remarkable word is that. It means that they were like a door swinging on broken hinges. Israel, the redeemed people, Israel without whom there might have been no history, Israel had so sinned as to be at last like a door swinging on hinges that were broken : the door could not be shut, the door was no security, the door was a perpetual irony, yea, a daily reproach and taunt. There is a poverty that is the result of what we call misfortune ; that is to be pitied and to be assisted : there is a poverty that is only the social and punitive side of sin; that is to be recognised as such-a black blot on the snow of God's holiness, a sad brand on the righteousness of things. Or the figure may be changed, for it is a double one. Israel was like a sear leaf, just hanging by one frail thread to the branch, all the juice gone, all the beautiful green dead for ever, all possibility of fruitfulness exhausted; and there hung great Israel, a leaf-sear, yellow, dead, just hanging to drop! We must realise this condition of things before we can understand the arduousness of the mission of Gideon. If we do not understand the situation we cannot understand Gideon's distress, hesitation, hopelessness. · The times were out of joint. All things beautiful were dead. The whole time was given over to idolatry. There was but one man who kept to the true faith, and he seemed to worship in secret; he alone was not swallowed up in the great idolatrous passion; his father had gone religiously astray, but he himself still thought of old histories, and had in him flickering, but, oh, quite dyingly, some hope of returning faith.
Then came the inevitable “cry":—"The children of Israel cried unto the Lord” (vi. 6). It was a mean prayer. Some cries must not be answered; they are unworthy screams or utterances of selfish desire. The Lord will not be too critical about these “cries," for who then could stand before him and hope for any thing from his hand ? What prayer is there worth being heard, not to say worth being answered ? Search it, probe it,