« AnteriorContinuar »
dashed to pieces and pierced through his temples. At her feet he sinks, he falls, he lies; at her feet he sinks, he falls; where he sinks, there he falls down destroyed !'
But the stern poetess is capable of gentler feelings; she can understand the grief of Sisera's family; she leads us from the bloodstained tent of Jael to the palace of the warrior's mother bent down by mournful forebodings : “The mother of Sisera looks out at the window, she calls through the lattice, Why is his chariot so long in coming ? why tarry the footsteps of his horses ? The wise among her ladies reply to her, and she returns answer to herself: Will they not find, will they not divide the prey ? to every man a damsel or two, to Sisera a prey of manycoloured garments, a prey of many-coloured, embroidered garments, a many-coloured, two embroidered garments for the neck of a captured animal ?'
But lest she be supposed to sympathise with the mother's grief, she concludes, almost abruptly, with a few words powerfully and grandly expressing her wishes and aspirations: “So let all Thy enemies perish, O Lord! But let those that love Him be as the sun when he
forth in his might!'
After forty years of peace, the Midianites, in conjunction with the Amalekites and other tribes of the eastern desert, tempted by the fertility and beauty of Palestine, invaded the land from the south. “They came as grasshoppers for multitude; both they and their camels were without number.' They caused terrible devastations, and forced the Hebrews to flee from the cities panic-stricken, and to seek refuge in the mountains, in caves, and rocks.
To save themselves from starvation, the Israelites continued to cultivate the soil as well as they could ; but when the crops were ripening, the fierce enemies swept over them, destroying everything in the length and breadth of the land, the produce of the field, the flocks and herds. This sad and humiliating condition lasted for seven years. In trembling and despair, the Israelites prayed to God for rescue, and He sent them a deliverer.
There dwelt in Ophrah, a city of Manasseh, on the western hill overshadowing the plain of Esdraelon, a man of the name of Gideon, the son of Joash, the Abi-ezrite. All his brothers had been put to death on Mount Tabor by the Midianites; he was the only surviving son of his father, the last of a grand and heroic family, each one resembling the children of a king'; and he, in his valour and manly thoughtfulness, represented his race nobly. But even this family was tainted by idolatry; for Joash had in his house an altar of Baal, on which he had placed an image of Ashtarte, and where probably he and his whole tribe worshipped. Gideon alone seems to have remained uncorrupted by the evil influences that surrounded him, and to have kept firmly to the service of God. One day he was threshing out some ripe corn by the winepress, to hide it from the Midianites, when an angel of the Lord appeared to him in human form, and greeted him with the words, "The Lord is with thee, thou mighty man of valour. But Gideon answered, 'O my Lord, if the Lord be with us, why then has all this befallen us? and where are all His miracles of which our fathers told us, saying, Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt ? And now the Lord has forsaken us and delivered us into the hands of the Midianites. Go in this thy might,' rejoined the angel, and thou shalt save Israel from the hand of the Midianites; indeed, I have sent thee. These words fell upon a wondering ear; how could he, without prominent
position and influence, lead his people to war and victory? Yet willing to accept the great mission, he asked for some sign to assure him that he had indeed heard a message from God. Entreating the angel to stay, he hastened into the house; and when he returned again, he brought the meat of a kid, with unleavened cakes of flour and a pot of broth. But the angel, declining to taste of it, requested Gideon to lay the flesh and the unleavened cakes upon the stone, and to pour out the broth.
As this was done, he touched the food with the end of his staff, when fire rose up out of the rock and consumed the meat and the cakes. Gideon then felt that he stood in the presence of the Lord; fear overcame him; he trembled for his life, because he had seen an angel of God; but he received cheering promises; and he built on the sacred spot an altar which he called Jehovah-Shalom (The Lord of Salvation).
In the silent hour of the night, the Divine voice came again to Gideon, bidding him to hew down the altar of Baal together with the image of Ashtarte, which polluted his father's house. He was then to build an altar to God upon
which he was to offer a bullock seven years old as a burnt-offering, using for the sacrifice the wood of the destroyed idol. Aided by ten of his servants, Gideon executed this daring scheme by night. In the morning, when the deed was discovered, the men of Ophrah, full of rage, searched for the perpetrator; they discovered and convicted Gideon ; they surrounded the house of Joash, and exclaimed angrily, · Bring out thy son that he may die, because he has cut down the altar of Baal, and because he has cut down the image of Ashtarte that was upon it.' Joash, anxious to rescue his brave son, answered shrewdly, • Will you fight for Baal ? will you save him? . . . If he be a god, let him fight for himself, since some one has destroyed his altar.' By this reply he silenced the
incensed multitude, and Gideon received the name of Jerub-baal, that is, 'Let Baal fight against him.'
The campaign against the Midianites was now to commence, and Gideon conducted it as general. He easily collected round him the men of his own family and clan; then sending out messengers throughout the northern districts of the land, he roused the warriors of Manasseh and Asher, Zebulun and Naphtali. The renown of his name and the reliance placed in his valour and wisdom, induced very large numbers to answer his call. Yet though filled with the spirit of the Lord, he could not divest himself of doubt and diffidence. He again prayed earnestly for a sign, this time to guarantee his success in the impending war. He spread the fleece of a sheep upon the ground, where he left it during the night; should he find the earth around dry, but the fleece saturated with dew, he would be convinced of the Divine assistance. On the next morning, he saw the ground dry, while the fleece was steeped in dew. Still a remnant of doubt lingered in his mind, and he prayed for the same sign reversed. The following day, copious dew lay on the ground, but the fleece was dry. Now at last Gideon's fears were quieted, and his resolution taken.
Thirty-two thousand men had answered to his summons; but that number was deemed by him too large, for the defeat of the enemy was to appear mainly as the work of God, not of men, and Israel was not to say, ' My own hand has saved me. Therefore Gideon proclaimed, “Whoever is fearful and afraid, let him return and depart early from Mount Gilead.' Twenty-two thousand soldiers left the camp. But as even the remaining ten thousand men were considered too many for the purpose, a curious device was adopted for weeding out the least energetic. Gideon took the men to the water: those who threw themselves on their knees and drank leisurely were sent home;
while those who, gathering the water in their hands, rapidly “ lapped it as a dog laps,' were retained: of the latter there were but three hundred men; and with this small band Gideon boldly undertook to meet the enemy, who lay in the valley of Jezreel “as the sand by the sea-side for multitude.' It was night, and the Lord bade Gideon arise and approach the camp of the heathens, which was sure to fall into his hands : if he was afraid to go alone, he might take his armour-bearer Phurah with him. So both stole softly, in the stillness of the night, into the valley. When they had reached the outskirts of the camp, they heard one man tell his dream to his comrade: ‘Lo, a cake of barley tumbled into the host of Midian, and came to the tents, and struck them that they fell, and overturned them, and the tents lay along’; after which he heard his comrade give this interpretation : This is nothing else but the sword of Gideon, the son of Joash, a man of Israel; for into his hand has God delivered Midian and all the host.' When Gideon heard these auspicious words, he worshipped God in gratitude, and returned hopefully to his men. He told them that the hour of action had come. The plan of attack was promptly made: the three hundred men were arranged in three divisions; each man was provided with a trumpet, an empty pitcher, and a torch within the pitcher; and all the soldiers were in every respect to imitate Gideon's actions. The latter went onward accompanied by a hundred men; the rest followed. Gently they ascended the hill, and stood close to the unsuspecting enemy. Gideon advanced, blew a stirring blast on his trumpet, broke his pitcher, and held aloft the lighted torch. His example was instantaneously followed by his soldiers, who rushed forward to the war-cry, 'Sword for the Lord and for Gideon.' The deafening din of the trumpets aroused the sleeping Midianites, and the blazing torches alarmed them. Utter confusion reigned in their