Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

wrath against their late tyrant in maledictions, he said: • Who is Abimelech, and who is Shechem that we should serve him? Is not he the son of Jerub-baal, and Zebul his officer ? Serve the men of Hamor the father of Shechem; for why should we serve him?' He asked to be entrusted with the leadership against Abimelech; he obtained it, and made at once preparations for an attack. But Zebul, Abimelech's faithful and vigilant general, was informed of the plans, and frustrated them ; he advised his master to march with his army towards Shechem, to wait in an ambush during the night, and then to fall upon the town. The scheme succeeded completely. Abimelech surprised Gaal, who was compelled to flee, and he took Shechem, which, after a fearful carnage, he razed to the ground. Many Shechemites, with women and children, had escaped to a fortified sanctuary of the god BaalBerith ; Abimelech kindled fire around it, and more than a thousand souls perished in the flames. Then he quickly advanced upon the town Thebez; but here his sanguinary career was to come to a disgraceful end. The inhabitants sought refuge in the strong tower, where they tried to hold out against the besiegers. They climbed up to the top, and looked upon the well-equipped army beneath them. The daring Abimelech had already fought his way up to the very gates; he was on the point of hurling the burning firebrands into the midst of his enemies, when a woman, in her rage and despair, threw down a mill-stone upon his head and crushed him. In the agonies of death, he cried hurriedly to his armour-bearer, 'Draw thy sword, and slay me, lest men say of me, a woman slew me.'

Thus ended the short and evil reign of Abimelech. A unity, which had little of strength and nothing of liberty, was broken up; the Israelites dispersed to their homes; Jotham's curse was realised.

73. TOLA-JAIR-JEPHTHAH.

[JUDG. X.-XII.]

After the time of Abimelech, the Bible mentions briefly two Judges, but gives us hardly more than their namesTola, of the tribe of Issachar, who dwelt in the town Shamir in Mount Ephraim, and judged Israel for twentythree years; and Jair, a Gileadite, who was leader for twenty-two years : he had thirty sons, who possessed as many cities in Gilead, and who are described as “ riding each upon

his ass colt.' After the death of Jair, the Israelites fell back into the darkest idolatry, and worshipped many gods of the surrounding nations. As usual, idolatry was the forerunner of misery and bondage. The heathen nations, ever watchful and ready to take advantage of dissensions, attacked the Hebrews. First the Philistines vexed them, and then the Ammonites fell upon the tribes of Gilead in the east of the Jordan, made them tributary, and imposed upon them heavy burdens, under which they sighed for eighteen years.

Soon afterwards, the Ammonites, forcing their way across the Jordan, attacked the powerful tribes of Judah, Ephraim, and Benjamin. There was mourning and consternation among the Israelites, who could not but feel that their own sins and offences had called down upon them this terrible scourge. They prayed earnestly for deliverance; and promising faithful obedience, they eagerly destroyed their idols. In greater force than ever, and flushed by their victories, the Ammonites were assembled in the land of Gilead, prepared for warfare. The Hebrews held council at Mizpah in trembling fear; for there was none who durst lead them against the mighty hosts of the heathen. At last they bethought themselves of an ab

chieftain, and to him they appealed in their despair. Jephthah, a Gileadite, renowned for his valour, had been driven from his father's house by his brothers, who disputed his share in the inheritance. He had fled to the land of Tob, where he lived a wild and reckless life, surrounded by a band of lawless followers. To him came the elders of Gilead, entreating him to return with them, and lead the Hebrew hosts against their dreaded enemy. He agreed to their request, but he insisted upon one condition, which was accepted—that, should he defeat and drive back the Ammonites, he was to be the sole chief and ruler of the people of Gilead. Then he felt, probably for the first time, that he was chosen to fight as the warrior of the Lord for the glory of His name and the rescue of His people. In this solemn turning-point of his life, inspired by a feeling of religious enthusiasm, he made the following vow to the Lord : “ If Thou shalt indeed deliver the children of Ammon into my hands, then it shall be that, whosoever comes forth to meet me when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be the Lord's, and I will offer him up for a burntsacrifice. And unenlightened as he was, he meant to perform a pious act, a deed of extraordinary devotion.

After fruitlessly attempting a peaceful settlement with the king of Ammon, Jephthah went forth at the head of the Hebrew army. He fought well and bravely, utterly subdued the Ammonites, smiting them in the length and breadth of their country, and taking twenty cities. The Hebrew tribes of Gilead were delivered from their bondage. The news of the glorious victories reached Mizpah, where Jephthah's household was established. He had an only child, a daughter, affectionate, devoted, and heroic. She went out joyfully, playing the timbrel and dancing, to meet her father, when he returned from the battle-field. As he saw her approach in her unconscious gladness, bitter

agony pierced his soul; he rent his garments, and a cry of anguish burst forth from his lips: Alas, my daughter, thou bendest me low indeed, and bringest me to destruction, for I have opened my mouth to the Lord, and I cannot go back. The maiden was equal to the great occasion; she felt that the vow was sacred and inviolable, and she shrank not from its accomplishment. She accepted her fate with resignation, merely entreating that for two months she might be permitted to live with her companions in seclusion on the mountains, there to bewail her untimely death. Was Jephthah unable to see that the vow was in itself impious, that it could not be acceptable in the eyes of the Lord, and that it was detestable blasphemy to offer such a sacrifice? Great beyond our present means of realising it must have been the confusion of the lawless times in which such deeds could be publicly done and regarded as meritorious. Jephthah granted his daughter's last request; and when she returned to his house after two months, “ he did with her,' the Bible tells us, considerately veiling the awful scene, “according to his vow. The memory of the unhappy maiden was cherished

country-women; for it became a custom for the daughters of Israel annually to go up to the mountains, and to praise her obedience and fortitude.

When the war was concluded, the Ephraimites appeared with an army in Gilead, and addressed to Jephthah the same haughty remonstrance which they had before made to Gideon: Wherefore didst thou proceed to fight against the children of Ammon, and didst not call us to go with thee? We will burn thy house upon thee with fire!' Jephthah replied, that in the time of distress he had invited the Ephraimites to join him, but they had sent no help; and he at once marched against them, drove them back to the Jordan, and occupied the fords. Now,

among her

when fugitives came and desired to pass, they were bidden to say the word shibboleth (meaning stream); if they pronounced it sibboleth, they were recognised as Ephraimites (for in their dialect sh was pronounced like 8), and they were put to death. Thus fell twenty-two thousand men of Ephraim.

74. IBZAN-ELON-ABDON-SAMSON.

[JUDG. XII.-XVI.]

After the death of Jephthah, who judged Israel for six years, we have a string of mere names presenting but little importance to us. Thus we hear of Ibzan of Bethlehem, with his thirty sons and thirty daughters-in-law; of Elon, a native of Zebulun; and Abdon of Pirathon in Ephraim, who had forty sons and thirty grandsons—the three together ruling over Israel for twenty-five years.

But the person and history of the next Judge are associated with features and events which seem to lead us to the old mythical traditions of Greece, rather than to the annals of the chosen people. The life of Samson, so vividly told in the Book of Judges, so full of hazard and risk, of buoyancy and rude humour, finds its counterpart in the fabled deeds of Hercules. Unlike the other Judges, Samson performs all amazing feats of valour and strength alone and unaided; he never leads the people to great enterprises; he is their sole champion, rejoicing in his strength, and rushing into perils for the mere delight he feels in braving them. There is a quaintness and lightheartedness about this giant warrior, which give to his adventures a wonderful interest, enhanced perhaps by the fearful tragedy which concludes his career. The story is peculiarly life-like, and yet it sounds almost legendary in its details. His exploits are ever listened to with wonder

« AnteriorContinuar »