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in chastising the Benjamites. For this offence the people of Jabesh were to be punished. An army of the Israelites marched out against the city, besieged and took it, and slew all the inhabitants. Four hundred maidens alone were saved, and brought back to the camp at Shiloh. The 600 Benjamites who still held out on their rock at Rimmon, were forgiven, and invited to return, and finally the four hundred virgins were given to them in marriage. But there were yet two hundred who had no wives. How was the difficulty to be overcome? The Israelites adopted a very curious device. On the day of a festival celebrated annually in Shiloh, the Benjamites were to lay in wait within the vineyards, and as they saw the virgins pass by singing and dancing, they were suddenly to emerge from their retreats, and each of them was to select a maiden and to carry her off to be his wife. This extraordinary measure succeeded : the fathers and brothers of the captured virgins were at first vehemently opposed to it; but when their anger subsided, they gave their consent, and were glad to think that the extinction of a brothertribe would thus be prevented.
What a picture of the time is reflected in the story of the Levite and its sequel--the outrage and cruel murder, the fierce revenge, the impetuous fury of the Israelites, their apparently implacable hatred, and the final pardon of the Benjamites concluding with the strange scene in the vineyards of Shiloh! These are curious glimpses of that barbarous age, and, together with similar incidents narrated in the Book of Judges, form a fitting background for the deeds of the great warriors of Israel.
The first generation of the conquerors passed away, and was succeeded by a race of men who, careless of the Law and the word of Moses, soon fell into dangerous intimacy with the surrounding nations. The Hebrews adopted the rites of the heathen, in spite of the stern warnings they had received. The Hebrew maid left her people to become the pagan's wife, and the Canaanite's daughter brought her idols and her superstitions into the tent of the Israelite. The sacred groves, dotted everywhere over the country, were visited by the Hebrew no less than by the heathen, and countless images were worshipped by both in common. The belief in the one omnipotent God of heaven and earth had hardly yet taken root among the chosen people. In this sad and degenerate condition, they easily fell a prey to powerful neighbours. Thus they had soon to feel the arms of Cushan-Rishataim, the king of Mesopotamia, who completely subdued them, and forced them to pay tribute for eight years. In their shame and despair they prayed to the Lord for deliverance. Their cries were heard, and God imbued with His spirit Othniel, the son of Kenaz, Caleb's youngest brother. He was the first prominent champion or “Judge' of the Hebrews in a troubled and helpless time. He shook off the yoke of the foreigner, and secured peace for forty years.
After Othniel's death, the Israelites relapsed into their old sin of idolatry, bringing in its train, as usual, anarchy and disunion, of which the surrounding nations never failed to take advantage. The Moabites, under the leadership of their king Eglon, in alliance with the Amalekites and the Ammonites, attacked and captured Jericho, the beautiful city with its famous groves of palm
trees. Thus possessed of the key to the whole country, they forced the Hebrews into bondage, in which they held them for eighteen years. Loud and incessant were the lamentations of the oppressed people. At last, there sprung from the tribe of Benjamin a man fearless and resolute, but no less cunning and dexterous, Ehud the son of Gera, who removed the disgrace from his country. He was, with others, selected to carry the tribute to Eglon, the king of Moab, who after receiving the money and presents, politely accompanied him a part of his way homeward, and then returned. When Ehud had arrived near Gilgal, he sent word to the king, that he had a secret message to deliver to him. He wore a long cloak, under which he concealed, at his right side—for he was left-handed his double-edged sword a yard long. The king, a large and fat man, was ready to receive him. When he was reclining in his summer parlour, probably some spacious, breezy room on the roof of the house, Ehud entered and exclaimed, • I have a message from God to thee'; and drawing his sword with his left hand, thrust it into the king's body, and pressed it forward till it came out at the opposite side. He then escaped in haste, shrewdly managed to delay suspicion, and eluded his pursuers till he arrived safely in Mount Ephraim. Here he assembled the Hebrew army by the blast of his trumpet. When the affrighted servants of Eglon found him lying dead in the chamber, they gave the alarm, and the Moabite hosts, certain of victory, and now burning for battle, marched out to avenge their king. In the meantime, the army of the Israelites had advanced to Jericho; they occupied and closely watched the fords of the Jordan ; they prevented all Moabites from crossing; and by Ehud's skilful leadership and daring, they slew on one day 10,000 men of the enemy. Thus the Moabites were expelled from the territory of the Hebrews, who now enjoyed peace and prosperity for eighty years.
It appears, however, that within this period the Hebrews were molested and enslaved by the Philistines; how long they sighed under the yoke, our annals do not record; nor do they enter into details on the manner of their deliverance, briefly narrating: “And after Ehud was Shamgar, the son of Anath, who slew of the Philistines six hundred men with an ox-goad, and he also rescued Israel.'
[JUDG. IV. V.]
Again, however, the Israelites turned to idolatry, and despised the Law which they had sworn to obey. When their vigilant Judge Ehud was dead, they followed their sinful ways unchecked. From the north of Palestine, with nine hundred iron chariots, came Jabin, the powerful king of Hazor, whose famous general Sisera was the terror of his enemies. He easily defeated and subjected the Hebrews, and forced them to pay tribute for twenty years. Grievous was the oppression, and the piteous cry of despair rose to the Lord, who mercifully raised up a deliverer.
There lived at that time between Ramah and Beth-el, in the mountain of Ephraim, a wise and God-fearing woman, Deborah, the wife of Lapidoth, renowned as a prophetess. In the midst of sin and idolatry, she had remained true to God and His word, and inspired all who saw and heard her with love and reverence.
She was recognised and appealed to as the supreme judge by the whole nation. Under a palm-tree which remained famous in after ages, she sat, and there uttered advice, warning, and judgment.
Seeing the oppression of the people, and feeling their misery, she sent for Barak, the son of Abinoam, who dwelt in Kadesh-Naphtali, a city in the far north, and who was
probably known as a bold and valiant warrior. Him she selected as the champion of the nation. She bade him, in the name of God, call an army of 10,000 men from amongst the people of Naphtali and Zebulun, who lived at the northern frontier of Palestine, and assemble them
Mount Tabor ; she would cause Sisera to pitch his camp at the river Kishon, so that the two armies would be confronted in the plain of Esdraelon; there, she confidently predicted, the chosen people would rout the Canaanites. Barak was afraid that this daring scheme, if undertaken by him alone, would not succeed; he believed that it required the assistance and authority of Deborah, to guide and inspire the soldiers ; he, therefore, sent her this reply : 'If thou wilt go, then will I go,
but if thou wilt not go with me, then I will not go.' Deborah rejoined promptly: 'I will surely go with thee, but the journey that thou takest shall not be for thy honour, for the Lord will deliver Sisera into the hand of a woman.' Then sounded the muster call throughout the land. But the days for a general answer to such a summons had passed ; the disunion among the tribes became sadly manifest. The Ephraimites were the first to respond ; Benjamin sent their slingers and archers; Manasseh followed with chosen men; Zebulun and Naphtali came boldly forward, ready to conquer or to die; and Deborah herself, traversing the land from Beth-el to Kadesh and Mount Tabor, aroused the people of Issachar, and bade them follow her to the battle-field. But the powerful tribe of Judah did not appear; Asher preferred his tranquil life on the sea-shore; Dan could not be induced to leave his ships, and risk his gains; Reuben, wavering and irresolute, remained idly among his sheep-folds; and the other tribes of Gilead continued unmoved in their peaceful pursuits. So many, indifferent to the dangers of their brethren, kept aloof both meanly and unwisely!