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actors, than consent. Some men kill as much by looking on; as others by smiting. We are guilty of all the evil we might have hindered.
The noble disposition of Joshua, besides bis engagement, will not let him forsake his new vassals : their confidence in him is argument enough to draw him into the field. The greatest obligation to a good mind is another's trust; which to disappoint, were mercilessly perfidious. How much less shall our true Joshua fail the confidence of our faith!, O my Saviour, if we send the messengers of our prayers to thee into thy Gilgal, thy mercy binds thee to relief. Never any soul miscarried that trusted thee. We may be wanting in our trust, our trust can never want success.
Speed in bestowing, doubles a gift; a benefit deferred, loses the thanks, and proves unprofitable. Joshua marches all night, and fights all day for the Gibeonites. They took not so much pains in coming to deceive him, as he in going to deliver them. It is the noblest victory to overcome evil with good. If his very Israelites had been in danger, he could have done no more. God, and his Joshua, make no difference betwixt Gibeonites Israelited, and his own natural people. All are Israelites whom he hath taken to league. We, strangers of the Gentiles, are now the true Jews. God never did more for the natural olive, than for that wild imp which he bad graffed in. And as these Hivites could never be thankful enough to such a Joshua, no more can we to so gracious a Redeemer, who, forgetting our unworthiness, descended to our Gibeon, and rescued us from the powers of hell and death.
Joshua fought, but God discomfited the Amorites. The praise is to the workman, not to the instrument. Neither did God slay them only with Joshua's sword, but with his own hail-stones; that now the Amorites may see both these revenges come from one hand. These bullets of God do not wound, but kill. It is no wonder that these five kings fly; they may soon run away from their hope, never from their horror. If they look behind, there is the sword of Israel, which they dare not turn upon, because God had taken their heart from them, before their life : if they look upwards, there is the hail-shot of God fighting against them out of heaven, which they can neither resist nor avoid.
If they had no enemy but Israel, they might hope to run
away from death, since fear is a better footman than desire of revenge ; but now, whithersoever they run, heaven will be about their heads. And now, all the reason that is left them, in this confusion of their thoughts, is to wish themselves well dead. There is no evasion, where God intends a revenge. We men have devised to imitate these instruments of death, and send forth deadly bullets out of a cloud of smoke; wherein yet as there is much danger, so much uncertainty ; but this God, that discharges his ordnance from heaven, directs every shot to an head, and can as easily kill as shoot. “ It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." He hath more ways of vengeance than he hath creatures. The same heaven that sent forth water to the old world, fire to the Sodomites, lightning and thunder-bolts to the Egyptians, sends out hail-stones to the Amorites. It is a good care how we may not anger God; it is a vain study how we may fly from his judgments, when we have angered him; if we could run out of the world, even there shall we find his revenges far greater.
Was it not miracle enough that God did brain their adversaries from heaven, but that the sun and moon must stand still in heaven! It is not enough that the Amorites fly, but that the greatest planets of heaven must stay their own course, to witness and wonder at the discomfiture. For him, which gave them both being and motion, to bid them stand still, it seems no difficulty, although the rareness would deserve admiration ; but for a man to command the chief stars of heaven (by whose influence he liveth), as the centurion would do his servant (sun, stay in Gibeon, and moon, stand still in Ajalon), it is more than a wonder. It was not Joshua, but his faith that did this; not by way of precept, but of prayer: if I may not say, that the request of a faithful man, as we say of the great, commands. God's glory was that which Joshua aimed at: he knew that all the world must needs be witnesses of that which the eye of the world stood still to see. Had he respected but the slaughter of the Amorites, he knew the hailstones could do that alone; the sun needed not stand still to direct that cloud to persecute them: but the glory of the slaughter was sought by Joshua, that he might send that up whence those hail-stones and that victory came. All the earth might see the sun and moon, all could not see the cloud of hail, which, because of that heavy burden, flew but low. That all nations might know the same hand commands both in earth, in the clouds, in heaven, Joshua now prays, that he, which disheartened his enemies upon earth, and smote them from the cloud, would stay the sun and moon in heaven. God never got himself so much honour by one day's work amongst the heathen; and when was it more fit than now, when five heathen kings are joined against him?
The sun and the moon were the ordinary gods of the world; and. who would not but think, that their standing still, but one hour, should be the ruin of nature ? And now all nations shall well see, that there is an higher than their highest ; that their gods are but servants to the God whom themselves should serve; at whose pleasure both they and nature shall stand at once. If that God which meant to work this miracle, had not raised up his thoughts to desire it, it had been a blameable presumption, which now is a faith worthy of admiration. To desire a miracle without cause, is a tempting of God. O powerful God, that can effect this ! O power of faith, that can obtain it! What is there that God cannot do? and what is there which God can do, that faith cannot do?
is a temptof faith, that can here which God
The Altar of the Reubenites. REUBEN and Gad were the first that had an inheritance assigned them, yet they must enjoy it last. So it oft falls out in the heavenly Canaan, the first in title are last in possession. They had their lot assigned them beyond Jordan; which, though it were allotted them in peace, must be purchased with their war: that must be done for their brethren, which needed not be done for themselves. They must yet still fight, and fight foremost, that, as they had the first patrimony, they might endure the first encounter. I do not hear them say, This is our share, let us sit down and enjoy it quietly, fight who will for the rest : but, when they knew their own portion, they leave wives and children to take possession, and march armed before their brethren, till they had conquered all Canaan. Whether should we more commend, their courage or their charity? Others were moved to fight with hope, they only with love : they could not win more, they might lose themselves; yet they will fight, both for that they had something, and that their brethren might have. Thankfulness and love can do more with God's children, than desire to merit, or necessity. No true Israelite can (if he might choose) abide to sit still beyond Jordan, when all his brethren are in the field. Now, when all this war of God was ended, and all Canaan is both won and divided, they return to their own; yet not till they were dismissed by Joshua. All the sweet attractives of their private love cannot hasten their pace. If heaven be never so sweet to us, yet inay we not run from this earthen warfare, till our great Captain shall please to discharge us. If these Reubenites had departed sooner, they had been recalled, if not as cowards, surely as fugitives; now they are sent back with victory and blessing. How safe and happy it is to attend both the call and the dispatch of God!
Being returned in peace to their home, their first care is not for trophies, nor for houses, but for an altar to God; an altar, not for sacrifice, which had been abominable, but for a memorial what God they served. The first care of true Israelites must be the safety of religion. The world, as it is inferior in worth, so must it be in respect. He never knew God aright, that can abide any competition with his Maker.
The rest of the tribes no sooner hear news of their new altar, but they gather to Shiloh to fight against them. They had scarce breathing from the Canaanitish war, and now they will go fight with their brethren: if their brethren will, as they suspected, turn idolaters, they cannot hold them any other than Canaanites. The Reubenites and their fellows had newly settled the rest of Israel in their possessions; and now, ere they can be warm in their seats, Israel is up in arms to thrust them out of their own. The hatred of their suspected idolatry makes them forget either their blood, or their benefits. Israel says, These men were the first in our battles, and shall be the first in our revenge; they fought well for us, we will try how they can fight for themselves. What if they were our champions ? their revolt from God hath lost them the thank of their former labours; their idolatry shall make them, of brethren, adversaries; their own blood shall give handsel to their new altar. O noble and religious zeal of Israel! Who would think these men the sons of them that danced about the molten calf? that consecrated an altar to that idol? Now they are ready to die or kill, rather than endure an altar without an idol. Every overture, in matter of religion, is worthy of suspicion, worthy of our speedy opposition. God looks for an early redress of the first beginnings of impiety. As in treasons or mutinies, wise statesmen find it safest to kill the serpent in the egg; so, in inotions of spiritual alterations, one spoonful of water will quench that fire at first, which afterwards whole buckets cannot abate.
Yet do not these zealous Israelites run rashly and furiously upon their brethren, nor say, What need we expostulate? the fact is clear: what care we for words, when we see their altar? What can this mean, but either service to a false god, or division in the service of the true? There can be no excuse for so manifest a crime: why do we not rather think of punishment than satisfaction ? But they send ere they go, and consult ere they execute. Phineas the son of Eleazar the priest, and ten princes, for every tribe one, are addressed both to enquire and dissuade; to enquire of the purpose of the fact, to dissuade from that which they imagined was purposed. Wisdom is a good guide to zeal, and only can keep it from running out into fury. If discretion do not hold in the reins, good intentions will both break their own necks, and the riders : yea, which is strange, without this, the zeal of God may lead us from God.
Not only wisdom, but charity moved them to this message. For, grant they had been guilty, must they perish unwarned ? Peaceable means must first be used to recall thein, ere violence be sent to persecute them. The old rule of Israel hath been, still to enquire of Abel. No good shepherd sends his dog to pull out the throat of his strayed sheep, but rather fetches it on his shoulders to the fold. Sudden cruelty stands not with religion. He which will not himself break the bruised reed, how will he allow us either to bruise the whole, or to break the bruised, or to burn the broken!
Neither yet was here more charity in sending, than uncharitableness in the misconstruction. They begin with a challenge, and charge their brethren deeply with transgression, apostasy, rebellion. I know not how two contrary qualities fall into love; it is not naturally suspicious, and yet many times suggests jealous fears of those we affect. If these Israelites had not loved their brethren, they would never have sent so far to restrain them; they had never offered them part of their own patrimony: if they had not been excessively jealous, they had not censured a doubtful action so sharply.