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years, the history of the Israelites presents a repetition of series, each composed of the following states: sin, thraldom, repentance, deliverance, rest. No sooner were they at rest, than they began to relapse into idolatry; and, when they went "whoring after other gods"," the Lord delivered them into the hands of their enemies; then, whilst experiencing the bitterness of slavery, they repented and turned to GOD, who, upon their contrition, sent them deliverers, and restored them to rest; and, shortly after their restoration to freedom and rest, they relapsed into their former sins. Such is the humiliating spectacle of human nature, which the history of this people exhibits; and this history is but too descriptive of the conduct of mankind in general. How apt is man, when he is “full," to "deny GoD, and say, Who is the Lord?" to forsake God who made him, and lightly esteem the Rock of his salvation; for "the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness
" Judges, ii. 17.
*The Israelites were delivered out of the hands of their enemies and oppressors several times, during the period now under consideration. Their deliverance was effected by persons whom the Lord raised up to them, and who are called JUDGES. Such, among others, were Gideon, Barak, Samson, and Jephtha, whose faith the Apostle extols'.
of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful," and giveth himself up to "covetousness which is idolatry";" then is he " again entangled with the yoke of bondage," he becomes the servant of sin; and, when the chastisement of sin is upon him, he will, in his distress, call upon the Lord, and if he truly "repent and turn to GoDb," his cry will be heard, and he will be restored to freedom and to rest.
When the Israelites were smitten by the Philistines, they sent to Shiloh, and they brought thence into the camp "the ark of the covenant of the Lord of hosts, which dwelleth between the cherubims";" and the Philistines were afraid, for they said, "GOD is come into the campd." The ark of the Lord's covenant had, indeed, been the seat of God's presence, and it had, as an instrument of His appointment, wrought great wonders for the people. But it was not an instrument with which they were to sport at their pleasure, as if they had the Deity in their power, to use His authority at their discretion, and to cast Him aside when they thought that they required not His aid. "And the Philistines fought and Israel was smitten, and there was a very great slaughter; for there fell of Israel thirty thousand footmen, and the ark of
y Matt. xiii. 22.
z Coloss. iii. 5.
b Acts, xxvi. 20.
c 1 Sam. iv. 4.
the Lord was taken." Thus, although salvation is to be attained by means of Christ's everlasting covenant, and by no other means, yet that covenant is not rendered subservient to the caprices of man; it will not be made effectual to salvation, unless it be adopted after the mode which its divine Author has established. An impious conceit that the mere possession of it, the mere careless belief in its efficacy, can secure to us its sheltering benefits, will render the covenant of Christ as unprofitable and as unavailing in our hands, as the symbol of it was in the hands of the Israelites during their contest with the Philistines.
But, although the ark of the Lord did not, in this instance, protect the Israelites, its efficacy and its holiness continued unabated. "The Philistines brought it into the house of their idol, and they set it by Dagon, and when they of Ashdod arose early on the morrow, behold, Dagon was fallen upon his face to the earth before the ark of the Lord. And they took Dagon, and set him in his place again; and when they arose early on the morrow morning, behold Dagon was fallen upon his face to the ground before the ark of the Lord; and the head of Dagon, and both the palms of his hands, were cut off upon the threshold f." "And the
e 1 Sam. iv. 10, 11.
Y 1 Sam. v. 2-4.
hand of the Lord was heavy upon them of Ashdod, and he destroyed them, and smote them with emerods.-And they said, The ark of the GOD of Israel shall not abide with us, for His hand is sore upon us, and upon Dagon our gods." And they sent it from place to place; but whithersoever it came, the people were smitten. At length, they laid it upon a cart, and tied two milch kine to the cart and sent them away. And the kine took it into the land of Bethshemesh, a city of Judah. And the Levites took down the ark of the Lord, and, because they looked into the ark, the Lord smote themi.
And Samuel spake unto all the house of Israel, saying, "If ye do return unto the Lord with all your hearts, then put away the strange gods and Ashtaroth from among you, and prepare your hearts unto the Lord, and serve Him only, and He will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines. Then the children of Israel did put away Baalim and Ashtaroth, and served the Lord onlyk." And they fasted and said, "We have sinned against the Lord." And the Philistines went up against Israel. And the children of Israel were afraid, and they said to Samuel," Cease not to cry unto the Lord our
1 Sam. v. 6, 7.
i 1 Sam. vi. 19. See Numb.
1 Sam. v. 8-12.
GOD for us, that he will save us out of the hand of the Philistines. And Samuel took a sucking lamb, and offered it for a burnt offering wholly unto the Lord. And Samuel cried unto the Lord for Israel, and the Lord heard him. And as Samuel was offering up the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to battle against Israel; but the Lord thundered with a great thunder on that day upon the Philistines, and discomfited them, and they were smitten before Israel1."
Thus, when the people repented and "served the Lord only," and when Samuel pleaded the covenant of Christ, by offering up a lamb, GoD interfered in their behalf, and smote with His thunders that nation whom He had before permitted to be captors of the ark of His covenant. "This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith;" but that faith must be linked with virtue and obedience"; for mere faith, without these necessary accompaniments, was, in the Israelites, a blind and impious confidence which led them to trifle with the holy ark; and, in the Philistines, superstitious fear, which made them dread the presence of the ark both among their enemies and among themselves; their belief in its power was like the belief of the evil spirits: "the devils believe and tremble"."