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Now this victory is instructive, whether we regard it in an historical, or typical, view. As an historical fact, it teaches us, that no power can withstand the arm of the Lord; that, when aided by him, we are infallibly sure of victory; and that all who determinately set themselves against him shall perish. They may boast of their knowledge, and may wish to "die the death of the righteous;" but they shall surely be numbered with the enemies of God at last. As a type, it shews us what shall ultimately be the fate of all our spiritual enemies. Our strength may appear as nothing in comparison of theirs; but it shall prevail, and our exertions be crowned with perfect victory.] II. Their slaughter of the captives
[On the return of the Israelites from battle, Moses went forth to meet them; but finding that they had not slain the women with the men, but had taken them, together with the male children, captives, he was much displeased; and ordered them to destroy all, except the females who were virgins. Our natural compassion for the weak and helpless makes us to shudder at such an order as this: and to wonder how the soldiers could be induced to carry it into execution. But we must remember that God has a right over his creatures, to take them away at any time and in any manner that he sees fit. Whether he sweep them away by a pestilence, or cut them off by the sword, he is no more to be accused of harshness towards them, than if he take them away by the more common means of disease and age. It must be remembered too, that the women in particular had forfeited their lives by tempting the Israelites to whoredom and idolatry. Already had they occasioned the destruction of twenty-four thousand Israelites; and, if suffered to live, might have successfully renewed their former practices. It was necessary therefore in that view also to cut them off, both mothers and daughters indiscriminately; all having, either by action or connivance, been accessary to Israel's ruin. As for the male children, they, though not actually involved in their parents' iniquities, were justly, as in almost all cases they must be, involved in their parents' punishment. With respect to the Israelites themselves, they were no more to be blamed, than any persons are who act as executioners under the orders of the civil magistrate. No one condemns the jury who by their verdict subject their fellow-creatures to the penalty of death; nor the judge who pronounces sentence; nor the jailer who confines the criminal; nor the officers who attend the execution; nor the man that employs the instrument of death. No one condemns the angel who destroyed the Egyptian first-born, nor him who in one night slew a hundred and eighty-five thousand of the Assyrian army: nor can any one justly condemn the Israelites, who executed the divine command in the
slaughter of their captives. The case was peculiar, and not applicable to modern warfare; nor was it intended as an example to us: but, as a lesson, it is of great importance; since it shews us, that peculiar judgments await those who tempt others to sin and that, though they may escape for a time, the most signal vengeance shall fall on them at last. It teaches us also (for this, as well as the foregoing, circumstance admits of a typical application) that we must destroy all our spiritual enemies without exception; not those only that seem more immediately to menace our destruction, but those also, which, though apparently weak and insignificant, may warp us from our duty, or in time become strong and formidable.] III. Their dedication of the spoils
[Immense were the spoils taken on this occasion: and the distribution of them which God appointed, seemed to afford universal satisfaction. Half was given to the congregation at large, and half was reserved for the host that took them. From each was a tribute taken for God: from the half belonging to the congregation, a fiftieth part; and from that belonging to the warriors, a five hundredth part. This shews us, that God must have a portion of all that his providence has allotted to us: whether we earn it ourselves, or receive it as the fruit of others' labour, God must be acknowledged in it, and be glorified with it.
But, on mustering the troops, a most wonderful fact was ascertained. Notwithstanding only twelve thousand went to the war, and the enemy whom they attacked were so numerous, and their success had been so great, not one single man was missing from their ranks. This filled them with utter astonishment, and with the most lively gratitude and all with one accord desired to make their acknowledgments to God, by dedicating to him a part, if not the whole, of the gold and jewels which they had taken, every man for himself. Accordingly, the whole of the spoil having been purified either by fire or water, and the soldiers themselves also having been purified from the pollution which the slaughter of so many persons, and the touching of the dead, had occasioned, the gold and jewels were presented unto God for the service of his sanctuary, "as an atonement for their souls." The word "atonement" which is here used, is not to be understood as importing an expiatory sacrifice, but only (as it is afterwards explained) "a memorial." These spoils were presented, precisely as the half shekel, or atonement-money," was appointed to be, in commemoration of a most wonderful deliverance. The Israelites presented them, first, as an acknowledgment of their desert; (for they deserved death, no less than the people whom they had destroyed:) next, as a memorial of their deliverance; (which was b Exod. xxx. 12-16.
truly astonishing :) and lastly, as a testimony of their gratitude; a sense of which they desired to retain to the end of life; and to transmit to their latest posterity.
O that there were in all of us such an heart! that we could see in such a view our obligations to God! and that we were thus forward to express our sense of them in every possible way! The preservation of our lives is not indeed so manifest, as in their case; but it is not at all less the work of God. Think of the diseases and accidents to which we have been exposed, and the havoc made by them on those around us; and you shall see that we, no less than the Israelites, are indebted for our lives to the good providence of our God. Apply the same thought to our souls; and then say, whether we have not as abundant calls for gratitude, as theyHow then shall we testify our gratitude to God? I answer, Whatsoever he has given to us for a prey, that let us present to him for a sacrifice of thanksgiving. Has he given us time, and health, and money, and influence; and, above all, has he infused an heavenly life into our souls? let us devote it all to him, and "glorify him with our bodies and our spirits which are his." The Israelites thought their jewels would be ill employed as ornaments for their wives or daughters, when they might be of use for the service and honour of God: thus should we also estimate whatever we possess; not by the gratification it will afford to our pride and vanity, but by the good it will enable us to do to our fellow-creatures, and the service in which it may be employed for our heavenly Benefactor. This only would I observe in relation to it, that we must first give up ourselves to God, and then our property. Without our hearts no sacrifice whatever will be accepted of him: but if we "give ourselves to him as living sacrifices, we shall perform a holy, a reasonable, and an acceptable serviced:" and every victory we gain, together with every blessing we enjoy, whether public and national, or private and personal, demands it at our hands.] d Rom. xii. 1.
c 2 Cor. viii. 5.
MOSES REPROVES THE REUBENITES.
Numb. xxxii. 6, 7. And Moses said unto the children of Gad, and to the children of Reuben, Shall your brethren go to war, and shall ye sit here? And wherefore discourage ye the heart of the children of Israel from going over into the land which the Lord hath given them?
ACTIONS are good or evil according to the motives from which they proceed: but, as these are known
only to God, it must often happen that our conduct is either viewed in too favourable a light, or subjected to unmerited censure. Our inability to dive into the hearts of men should certainly incline us at all times to lean rather to the side of charity, and to hope and believe all things of a favourable nature, as far as circumstances will admit. This consideration however is not to operate so far as to blind our eyes to what is manifestly evil, or to keep us from reproving those who act amiss. Magistrates in particular must proceed with firmness in suppressing wickedness of every kind, and by timely interference must stop the contagion of bad example. Thus did Moses, when the Reubenites and Gadites presented a request to him, which he deemed injurious to all the other tribes. They asked to have the land on the east side of Jordan for their portion, instead of any part of the land of Canaan: and Moses, conceiving their request to proceed from improper and unjustifiable motives, expostulated with them, and reproved them with great severity. Let us consider,
I. The grounds of his jealousy
There was ample reason for the fears he entertained respecting them—
[Their request seemed to be dictated by selfishness, worldliness, and unbelief. As soon as Sihon king of the Amorites, and Og the king of Bashan were subdued, and their fertile territories were seized, these two tribes requested to have the exclusive possession of their land, under a pretence that it was pre-eminently suited to them, on account of the number of their flocks and herds. As for their brethren belonging to the other ten tribes, let them go and fight their way among the Canaanites, and get possession of whatever they could: but the land which was already subdued, and which was of the richest quality, they desired to have allotted to themselves without any further trouble.
This land was not within the precincts of Canaan: moreover, it would be far removed from the ordinances of religion and from the house of God: but they did not seem to regard either of these considerations in comparison of an ample, easy, and immediate settlement.
The inhabitants of the promised land were exceeding numerous and warlike; and could never be dispossessed without
many sanguinary contests. Perhaps, after all, the victory over them might be dearly purchased, or possibly might never be attained: hence also might arise the willingness of the suitors to forego their share in what was uncertain, if they might be permitted to possess what was already gained.
Such was the construction which Moses put upon the conduct of these two tribes, and such was the ground of those reproofs which he administered.]
And is there not ground for similar fears whenever a similar conduct obtains ?
[If a minister at this day see his hearers selfish, mindful of their own comforts, but inattentive to the wants and miseries of others, has he not reason to fear concerning them? When it is eminently characteristic of the true Christian to "mind, not his own things, but the things of others," and there is a manifest failure in this respect amongst his people, ought he not to be "jealous over them with a godly jealousy," and to warn
them of their self-deceit?
Again, if he observe any professors of religion to have become worldly; if he find them so intent on their present interests, as to be comparatively indifferent about the ordinances of religion, and the ultimate possession of the heavenly land; if he see them studious of their present ease, and averse to spiritual conflicts, must he not of necessity "stand in doubt of" such persons? Does not love itself require him to "change his voice towards them," and to adopt the language of admonition and reproof?
Once more, if he see them yielding to unbelief, and resting satisfied with a present portion, through desponding apprehensions respecting the attainment of a better inheritance, does it become him to be silent? Ought he not to exert himself in every way to repress such a spirit, and to stimulate his people to a more becoming conduct? Must he wait for open and notorious transgressions before he opens his lips in expostulations and reproofs? No surely: the example of Moses in the text, and of St. Paul on various occasions, shews, what are the emotions which every such instance should produce, and what methods every faithful minister should adopt to counteract such evils.]
Whilst we justify Moses on reviewing the grounds of his jealousy, we shall find reason to congratulate him on,
II. The effects of it
From himself it produced a faithful remonstrance
a Phil. ii. 4.
b 2 Cor. xi. 2. Gal. iv. 19, 20.