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Title: Female Scripture Biography, Volume I
Author: Cox, F. A. (Francis Augustus), 1783-1853
Language: English
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Female Scripture Biography:

Including an Essay on What Christianity Has Done for Women.

By Francis Augustus Cox, A.M.



"It is a necessary charity to the (female) sex to acquaint them with their
own value, to animate them to some higher thoughts of themselves, not to
yield their suffrage to those injurious estimates the world hath made of
them, and from a supposed incapacity of noble things, to neglect the
pursuit of them, from which God and nature have no more precluded the
feminine than the masculine part of mankind."

The Ladies' Calling, Pref.



VOL. I.

BOSTON:
LINCOLN & EDMANDS.
1831.



Preface.



Notwithstanding the variety of theological publications of a devotional
class, which are perpetually issuing from the press, the author concurs in
the opinion of those who think they can scarcely be too numerous. It may
reasonably be hoped, that in proportion to the multiplication of works of
this kind, the almost incalculable diversities of taste will be suited;
and that those who may be disinclined to one style of writing, or to a
particular series of subjects, may be allured by their predilections to
the perusal of others.

Amidst the general plenty, however, there is one department which
experiences a degree of scarcity--a department to which these volumes
properly belong. Pious families require a supply of religious reading,
adapted to occupy the intervals of business, the hours of devotion, and
the time which is often and properly appropriated to domestic instruction
in the evenings of the Christian Sabbath. To have the minds of the young
directed at such seasons, not only to the truths of religion in general,
but the more attractive parts of Scripture in particular, seems highly
important. By a happy combination of amusement and instruction, piety is
divested of her formality, and clothed with fascination: the ear is
caught, and the heart gained; while the narrative interests, the best
lessons become impressed even upon the gay and the trifling; and he who,
when summoned to the social circle, sat down with reluctance, may rise up
with regret.

Whoever has been blessed with the advantages of a religious education, and
recurs to his own years of juvenile susceptibility, cannot forget the
strong impressions he received by these means; and must have had frequent
occasion to remark the tenaciousness with which they have lingered in his
memory, and sprung up amidst his recollections at every subsequent period.
In many cases they have proved the basis, of future eminence in piety,
and blended delightfully with the gladdening retrospections of declining
life. In those instances, where all the good effects which might be
anticipated did not appear, these early lessons have checked the
impetuousity of passion, neutralized the force of temptation, and
cherished the convictions of an incipient piety.

The writer of the following pages is aware of the just celebrity acquired
by some of his predecessors in the same line of composition, and he might
have felt wholly deterred from pursuing his design, by an apprehension of
having been superseded by the elegant and comprehensive lectures of
HUNTER, and the simple, perspicuous, and devotional biography of ROBINSON,
had he not remarked that their notices of the women in Scripture formed
but a small proportion of their respective works, and that the present
performance might be very properly considered as a continuation of their
volumes, particularly of those of the latter author.

It will be seen, that some of the same characters which have been given in
preceding writers, appear in the "Female Scripture Biography;" but the
reader may perhaps be conciliated to this seeming repetition, by being
reminded that they were necessarily retouched, in order to complete the
series; while the writer satisfies himself with the reflection that,
whatever subjects are deduced from Scripture, are not only unexhausted,
but will forever remain inexhaustible. The "wells of salvation," from
which preceding ages have drawn, still afford to us, and will supply to
far-distant generations, the same spiritual, copious, and unfailing
refreshment.

The Introductory Essay to the second volume, respecting the influence of
Christianity on the condition of the female sex, has been somewhat
divested of that literary cast which it might have been expected to
assume, the better to accord with the general drift of the work. The
reader will, it is confidently anticipated, deem, it no
unacceptable addition.



Contents of Vol. I.



Preface


Eve--Chapter I

  Superiority of man in the universe: present degradation of reason: the
  mere philosopher and the Christian contrasted: God seen in all his
  works: creation of man: his corporeal and mental constitution: value of
  the soul: Adam in paradise: alone: supplied with a help meet: Revelation
  points out the true dignity of the female character: one woman given to
  the man: the fall: aggravated and complex nature of the sin of Eve:
  consequences, the loss of Eden: loss of the favour of God: loss of life:
  ruin of posterity: remarks to obviate some difficulties attaching to
  this subject in general.


Sarah--Chapter II

  Abraham's departure from Chaldea: his faith: its failure: Sarah and
  Abraham agree to prevaricate: the admonition which Sarah attracted:
  Abraham's dismissal from the country of Egypt: beauty and dress:
  importance of a proper education: parental vanity: source of real
  attraction: Sarah proposes to Abraham to take Hagar: unhappy
  consequencies: Hagar's flight and return: visit of three angels: Sarah's
  laughter at the subject of their commission: her subsequent character:
  general remarks: birth of Isaac: Ishmael's conduct, and its
  consequences: Sarah's death.


Hagar--Chapter III

  Retrospective glance at the history: Hagar: the wilderness: angelic
  manifestation: divine promises: a view of their accomplishment: Hagar's
  piety: her second banishment and distress: another interposition:
  Providence illustrated.


Lot's Wife--Chapter IV

  Delusions to which the young in particular are exposed: Lot's erroneous
  choice: sin brings punishment: advantages of Lot's wife: her remarkable
  deliverance: her guilt: general causes of apostacy traced, fear, love of
  the world, levity of mind, pride: doom of Lot's wife.


Rebekah--Chapter V

Section I.

  Progress of time: patriarchal mode of living: Abraham's solicitude
  respecting the settlement of his son: sends a servant to procure him a
  wife: his arrival in the vicinity of Nahor: his meeting with Rebekah:
  her behaviour, and then conversation: the good qualities already
  discoverable in Rebekah, which render her worthy of imitation: her
  industrious and domesticated habits: unaffected simplicity: modesty:
  courtesy: humanity.

Section II.

  The Servant of Abraham cordially received into the house of Laban
  tells his story: proposes to take Rebekah: consent of her family: her
  readiness to go: the interview with Isaac: Rebekah becomes his wife:
  their anxieties: birth of Jacob and Esau: Isaac's death-bed, and
  Rebekah's unwarrantable proceedings: her solicitude respecting her son's
  future conduct.


Miriam--Chapter VI.

  Proceedings of the new King of Egypt: birth of Moses: conduct of Miriam:
  preservation of Moses: escape of Israel: Miram's zeal in celebrating the
  event: her character formed by early advantages: contrasted with
  Michael: she engages with Aaron in a plot against Moses: God observes
  it and punishment of leprosy inflicted upon Miriam: her cure: dies at
  Kadesh: general remarks on slander: debasing nature of sin: hope of
  escaping punishment fallacious: danger of opposing Christ: exhortation
  to imitate the temper of Moses.


Naomi, Orpah, and Ruth--Chapter VII.

Section I.

  History of domestic life most instructive: book of Ruth: sketch of the
  Family of Elimelech while residing in Moab: reflections arising out of
  a view of their circumstances: Naomi's resolution to return, and that of
  her daughters in-law to accompany her: Orpah soon quits her mother and
  sister: her character, and that of Ruth: requirements of religion:
  arrival of Naomi and Ruth at Bethlehem: feelings of the former.

Section II.

  Time of the return to Bethlehem: Ruth offers to go and glean:
  disposition indicated by this proposal: she happens upon the field of
  Boaz: his kindness: their conversation: additional favours: Ruth's
  return home: her mother-in-law's wish to connect her in marriage with
  Boaz: the measures she suggests, and which her daughter adopts with
  ultimate success: their marriage: birth of a son: concluding remarks.


Deborah--Chapter VIII.

Section I.

  Historical retrospect: Deborah sitting as a judge and prophetess under a
  palm-tree: sends to Barak to confront Sisera: accompanies him
  preparations for battle: victorious result: death of Sisera:
  reflections.

Section II.

  Capacity of Deborah as a poetess: paraphrase of her remarkable song
  composed to celebrate the victory over Sisera.


Manoah's Wife--Chapter IX.

  State of Israel: appearance of an angel to the wife of Manoah: she
  communicates the design of his visit to her husband: second
  manifestation from heaven: result of the interview: reflection of
  Manoah's wife stated and analyzed: considerations deducible from the
  narrative: to avoid precipitancy of judgment: to avow our convictions at
  every suitable opportunity: to feel assured that the providence of God
  does never really, though it may apparently, contradict his word.


Hannah--Chapter X.

Section I.

  Religion a source of peace: account of Elkanah and his two wives:
  Peninnah reproaches Hannah: sin of despising others for their
  infirmities: the family at Shiloh: Elkanah endeavours to console his
  wife: her conduct and prayer: Eli's unjust imputation: Hannah's defence,
  and her accuser's retraction: return from Shiloh: birth of Samuel:
  his weaning.

Section II.

  Samuel is devoted to the service of the sanctuary: uniformity of
  character exemplified in Hannah: her song paraphrased: five other
  children born to Hannah: view of her natural kindness and
  self-denying piety.


Abigail--Chapter XI.

  Many persons naturally capable of great attainments and elevated
  stations have lived and died unknown: the dispensations of Providence
  analogous in this respect to the arrangements of nature: Scripture
  account of Nabal and Abigail: sources of incongruous marriages:
  ambition: wish to maintain the respectability of a family: persuasion of
  friends: early disappointments: Nabal's conduct to David: Abigail's
  interposition: death of her husband: she becomes David's wife.


The Queen of Sheba--Chapter XII.

  David's anxiety for his son: its happy issue: Solomon's prayer and the
  answer of God: Solomon's riches and fame: the queen of Sheba's visit:
  her country ascertained: such solicitude for wisdom not common: she
  proves Solomon with hard questions, her desire of knowledge worthy of
  imitation: Solomon's conduct: his buildings: the queen's congratulatory
  address: reflections: her presents to Solomon, and his to the queen of
  Sheba, Christ's application of the subject.


The Shunammite--Chapter XIII.

Section I.

  Characteristic difference between profane and sacred history: the
  Shunammite introduced: her hospitality; proposes to her husband to
  accommodate Elisha with a chamber: the gratitude manifested by the
  prophet in offering to speak for her to the king: her reply expressive
  of contentment: various considerations calculated to promote this
  disposition, advantages of a daily and deep impression of the transitory
  nature of our possessions, and of keeping another life in view.

Section II.

  Elisha promises a son to the Shunammite: his birth: his sudden death in
  consequence of being sun smitten: She replies to the prophet her
  expression of profound submission to the will of God: her subsequent
  impassioned appeal to Elisha: the child restored to life: the
  Shunammite's removal into Philistra, and return: her successful
  application to the king for the restoration of her property.


Esther--Chapter XIV.

  The feasts of the king of Persia: his queen Vashti sent for her refusal
  to obey the summons: her divorce: plan to fill up the vacancy: Esther
  chosen queen: Morder detects a conspiracy declines paying homage to
  Haman; resentment of the latter, who obtains a decree against the Jews:
  Mordecai's grief, and repeated applications to Esther: she goes in to
  the king, is accepted: invites the king and Haman to a banquet:
  mortification of the latter at Mordecai's continued neglect: orders a
  gallows to be built for the disrespectful Jew: the honour conferred by
  the king upon Mordecai for his past zeal in his service: Haman's
  indignation: is fetched to a second banquet: Esther tells her feelings
  and accuses Haman: his confusion and useless entreaties: he is hung on
  his own gallows: Mordecai's advancement: escape of the Jews by the
  intercession of Esther: feast of Purim.



Female Scripture Biography.



Eve.

Chapter I.



  Superiority of Man in the Universe--Present Degradation of Reason--The
  mere Philosopher and the Christian Contrasted--God seen in all his
  Works--Creation of Man--His Corporeal and Mental Constitution--Value of
  the Soul--Adam in Paradise--Alone--Supplied with a Help Meet--Revelation
  points out the True Dignity of the Female Character--One Woman given to
  the Man--The Fall--Aggravated and complex Nature of the Sin of
  Eve--Consequences, the Loss of Eden--Loss of the Favour of God--Loss of
  Life--Ruin of Posterity--Remarks to obviate some Difficulties attaching
  to this subject in general.

What a glorious pre-eminence in the creation, has Infinite Wisdom assigned
to the human species! As the skilful architect finishes his performance by
the most exquisite specimens of workmanship, so "the great Builder of this
varied frame," after the formation of _matter_, proceeded to impart
_life_, to communicate _instinct_, and to inspire reason. "And God said,
Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have
_dominion_ over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and
over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing
that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his _own image_; in
the image of God created he him; male and female created he them."

The superiority of man to _matter_, however fair, to _life_ however
pleasing, to _instinct_ however perfect, appears in this, that he only is
capable of contemplating and admiring the works of God--he only has an
eye that opens upon the heavens, and a mind adapted to receive impressions
from their diversified glories.

But even _reason_, in its present state, is so degraded, that the wonders
of creative wisdom are, in a considerable degree, overlooked or
undervalued. The heavens, with all their stars, and suns, and systems,
exhibit few beauties to the great mass of inattentive spectators; and the
observance of them, by day and by night, excites no correspondent
emotions. All is a blank! Plunged into an abyss of cares and anxieties,
chained to the oar of constant, unvarying labour; and solicitous only "to
buy and sell, and get gain," to _them_ "the heavens declare the glory of
God, and the firmament showeth his handywork" almost in vain!

Nor can it escape observation, that valuable as the discoveries of
philosophy are, the _mere discoverer_ who converts his knowledge to no
pious purpose, is the most infatuated of human beings. While he
contemplates distances, magnitudes, and number--while he investigates the
laws of motion, and the phenomena of nature--while he points the telescope
to gaze on fiery comets, to pursue wandering planets in their orbits, to
detect hitherto undiscovered globes of matter in the fields of space,
merely to gratify curiosity or to acquire fame--the Christian contemplates
the scene with another eye, and with far different sentiments. He sees
GOD in all. "This," says he, "is _his_ creation--this the work of _his_
fingers--these the productions of _his_ skill"--"by _his_ spirit he hath
garnished the heavens"--_he_ hath appointed "the sweet influences of the
Pleiades, and looseth the bands of Orion"--_he_ "bringeth forth Mazzaroth
in his season, and guides Arcturus with his sons." Yonder sun was formed
and fixed by _his_ mighty power--that moon, which walks forth in
brightness, and those stars, which glitter on the robe of night, were
kindled by _his_ energy, and shine by _his_ command.--"Lift up your eyes
on high, and behold WHO hath created these things, that bringeth out their
host by number; he calleth them all by names."

The God of _nature_ is the God of _truth_, the God of _revelation_, and
the God of _Israel_. If the Christian contemplate the firmament, or look
into the Bible, he sees the same Being. His operations are diverse, but it
is the same God. If he go, like Isaac, "into the fields to meditate at the
eventide," he meets with God in every leaf, in every stream, and in every
star; if he enter into his closet to read the Scriptures, still he finds
God in every page and in every truth; or if he pray, it is to "his FATHER
who seeth in secret." He may change his place, but he can never remove
from this lovely presence. "Nevertheless, I am continually with thee."
Hence nature shines with new glory in his eyes. God in the _sun_, conducts
him by a delightful association of ideas, and a frequent train of
reflection, to "God in _Christ_, reconciling the world unto himself, not
imputing their trespasses unto them."

[Sidenote: Years before Christ, 4004.]

Creation was the work of six days, upon the third of which, the earth was
formed, and clothed with vegetative fertility; on the last "the Lord God
formed MAN of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the
breath of life; and man became a living soul." It is for this reason that
Eternal Wisdom is represented as "rejoicing in the habitable part of his
earth, and her delights were with the sons of men." The _uninhabited_ part
of the earth is surely worthy of divine complacency. It forms a portion of
that universe which the Supreme Architect at first pronounced to be "very
good." The most retired places of this terrestrial globe, those extensive
deserts which were never printed by the human foot, those dens and caves,
deep valleys and cloud-encircled mountains, where silence and solitude
have reigned from the beginning of time, contain innumerable
manifestations of wisdom, power, and goodness. Wisdom might rejoice in a
thousand wonders that lie concealed within the bowels of the earth, or in
the caverns of the ocean, a world of mineral productions which our utmost
research fails to discover; but the _habitable_ part of the earth has ever
excited the highest interest, as the residence of his intelligent
creature, and the anticipated scene where the mediatorial work of his
beloved Son was to be accomplished.

Man has been called "an abridgment of the universe," [1] uniting in
himself in the extremes of being; in his body connected with the material,
in his soul with the spiritual world;--by his corporeal constitution a fit
inhabitant of the earth; by his intellectual faculties, a suitable tenant
of the skies.

The soul of man constitutes the perfection of his nature, being destined
to survive the dissolution of his body, and capable of everlasting
progression in knowledge and felicity. And here a vast, an illimitable
field of observation presents itself to view; but we must pass by it with
only one practical remark. The welfare of this immortal soul ought to
become the object of our principal solicitude. Considering the extent of
its capacities, the indissoluble nature of its constituent principles, the
novel and interesting circumstances under which it will hereafter exist,
its total incompetency to provide for itself under those amazing
vicissitudes which it is destined to undergo in a change of worlds, and
the unalterable perpetuity of its future condition, how inconsiderate and
how presumptuous must that individual be who neglects its interests, and
acts in constant hostility to the first great law of nature,
SELF-PRESERVATION! The protomartyr of the Christian age evinced a wise
anxiety when he exclaimed in his dying moments, "Lord Jesus, receive my
_spirit_." He was aware that his body would soon be consigned by the fury
of persecution to its native dust; but this excited comparatively little
concern. To him it was of no importance whether his grave was with the
rich or the poor, whether his burying-place were an obscure or an
illustrious spot: he was anxious for the salvation of his _soul_.
Unhappily, mankind in general lavish all their cares upon the body, to
embellish or preserve it, to pamper its appetites, or to minister to its
artificial necessities: but what an infatuation is it, to provide for that
which perishes, and to be careless of that which is immortal--to decorate
the walls, and to despise the furniture--to value the casket, and to throw
away the jewel!

The situation of Adam in the garden of Eden, shows that his Creator had
adopted every proper expedient to promote his felicity. The place selected
for his residence was in the highest degree rich and fertile, furnished
with every suitable accommodation, and "well watered" by a large river
which ran through it, and afterward divided itself into four considerable
branches. In being directed to "dress" and to "keep" the garden, the
goodness of God appears in providing him with an employment adapted to a
state of primitive innocence, and calculated by a proper occupation of his
time to promote his happiness. A slothful inactivity is not only
incompatible with true enjoyment in our fallen state, but would have been
inconsistent with the bliss of original paradise; and even when our nature
shall have attained its greatest perfection in a future world, an
incessant exertion of our intellectual powers and moral capacities, is
represent as essential to the joy of heaven. There "his servants shall
_serve_ him."

"When we think of Paradise," observes bishop Horne, "we think of it as the
seat of delight. The name EDEN authorizes us so to do. It signifies
PLEASURE, and the idea of pleasure is inseparable from that of a garden,
where man still seeks after lost happiness, and where, perhaps, a good man
finds the nearest resemblance of it which this world affords." "What is
requisite," exclaims a great and original genius, "to make a wise and a
happy man, but reflection and peace? And both are the natural growth of a
garden. A garden to the virtuous is a paradise still extant, a paradise
unlost." [2] The culture of a garden, as it was the first employment of
man, so it is that to which the most eminent persons in different ages
have retired, from the camp and the cabinet, to pass the interval between
a life of action and a removal hence. When old Dioclesian was invited from
his retreat, to resume the purple which he had laid down some years
before, "Ah," said he, "could you but see those fruits and herbs of mine
own raising at Salona, you would never talk to me of empire!" An
accomplished statesman of our own country, who spent the latter part of
his life in this manner, has so well described the advantages of it, that
it would be injustice to communicate his ideas in any words but his own.
"No other sort of abode," says he, "seems to contribute so much both to
tranquillity of mind and indolence of body. The sweetness of the air, the
pleasantness of the smell, the verdure of plants, the clearness and
lightness of food, the exercise of working or walking; but above all, the
exemption from care and solicitude, seem equally to favour and improve
both contemplation and health, the enjoyment of sense and imagination, and
thereby the quiet and ease both of body and mind. A garden has been the
inclination of kings, and the choice of philosophers; the common favourite
of public and private men; the pleasure of the greatest, and the care of
the meanest; an employment and a possession for which no man is too high
nor too low. If we believe the Scriptures, we must allow that God Almighty
esteemed the life of man in a garden the happiest he could give him, or
else he would not have placed Adam in that of Eden." [3] Traditions of
this state of primeval felicity are current among all nations; they are
discoverable in the Roman and Grecian fables of the gardens of Flora, of
Alcinous, and of the Hesperides; and in the pleasing fictions of the poets
respecting the golden age.

Thus the Lord God formed the nature of man pure, placed him in a garden of
delights, and poured around him rivers of joy. The heavens and the earth,
the visible and invisible worlds, animate and inanimate, material and
spiritual beings, conspired to replenish his cup of bliss; and, as the
perfection of his felicity, God himself condescended to visit
his creature.

Human transgression has disturbed the peace of human life; but man, in his
primeval state, was exposed to no changes; his cup had no bitterness, his
day no cloud, his path no thorn; the _past_ had no regrets, the _present_
no guilt, the _future_, no terror; the stream of mercy flowed into
Paradise with uninterrupted course, and the beam of prosperity shone with
unfading brightness and unsetting splendour.

In this exalted condition there was neither corporeal nor mental debility;
and the body and soul were not more closely connected in the constitution
of their being, than in the harmony of their friendship. There was no
opposition between the flesh and the spirit, no internal warfare, no
unhappy disagreement; the dictates of a pure mind were unreluctantly
obeyed by the faculties of an uncorrupted body; for it appears to have
been the established order of Infinite Wisdom in the constitution of the
universe, that matter should be in subjection to spirit, body to soul,
animals to rational creatures, and man to God; his understanding was
clear, his judgment correct, his affections holy, his will free, his
reason upright; he desired only what was desirable, he loved only what was
lovely; the whole moral machinery was in the most complete order, the
fine-toned instrument constructed by omniscient skill, was in
perfect tune!

But notwithstanding the diversified means of enjoyment with which Adam was
furnished, his paradise was still incomplete; one ingredient was wanting
to his cup of joy. Although the place of his residence was, us the
greatest of poets describes it,

  "A happy rural seat of various view,--"

although diversified with "groves," and "lawns," and "level downs," and
"flocks," and "irriguous valleys," and "umbrageous grots and caves of cool
recess," and "murmuring waters," and "airs, vernal airs--"

                      "while universal Pan,
  Knit with the Graces and the Hours in dance,
  Led on th' eternal spring--"

the favoured lord of this unrivalled dominion was ALONE. The inanimate
creation spread before his view its unparalleled beauties, and nature
furnished a table to supply all his wants; the animal world acknowledged
his superiority, and went to him to receive their names: his Maker
condescended to hold communion with this excellent and intellectual
creature, admitting him to that sacred intercourse, and imparting some of
that divine knowledge which will no doubt constitute the future felicity
of emparadised believers: still he had no COMPANION, no one to share his
pleasures, no one upon equal terms to whom he could communicate his
sentiments. Endowed with a social nature, he had at present no social
means; he seemed as if placed in that solitary point, that fair, but
desolate region, where he saw thousands of creatures below him and above
him, but none upon that pleasing _level_ which conduces to a delightful
and profitable familiarity.

This defect, however, scarcely existed before the goodness of his Maker
supplied it. "And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be
alone; I will make him a help meet for him." The process by which this
merciful intention was accomplished appears truly wonderful: Adam was put
into a profound sleep, and the Lord God took out one of his ribs, from
which he made a woman, and closed up the flesh. What must have been the
emotions of our great progenitor, when, upon awaking from his supernatural
slumber, this help meet was presented to him! He had, it seems, an
intuitive perception of the kind purpose for which this female companion
of his future days was made; or some immediate revelation disclosing both
the manner of her formation, and the reason of his being presented with
this invaluable gift. In the first transports of gratitude he exclaimed,
"This is now bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called
woman (or _Ishah_,) because she was taken out of man." This name was
afterwards changed by him to _Havah,_ or EVE; assigning, as a reason, that
"she was the mother of all living." This name we have placed at the head
of the list of female characters in the present work; and while her brief
history is replete with instruction, it possesses an additional interest,
from the consideration of her being the _first_ woman. We are conducted
back to the infancy of time, to the origin of human being, to the cause of
the present degradation of our race, to an impressive exhibition of the
evil of sin, and to the dawn of redeeming mercy upon this world of
transgressors. In this history we shall perceive reasons both for
humiliation and triumph; we shall see human nature in ruins, and provision
made for its reparation; we shall witness the effects of infernal agency,
the loss of primeval glory, the power of female influence; and, above all,
the INFINITE GOODNESS of our Creator.

It very much enhances the dignity of the female character to reflect, that
of all created things the woman was selected as the only suitable
companion of the first and fairest of men; she was made expressly to
contribute to his mental and social pleasures, and not to be the slave of
his will; if the _mother_, she was intended also as the _instructor_ of
his children; his assistant, at least, in the "delightful task" of
"rearing the tender thought," and "teaching the young idea how to shoot:"
she was qualified to counsel and co-operate with him in his daily
occupations, to aid in the investigation of those laws which regulated the
new-made world, to unite with him in acts of worship, and to enliven, as
well as to participate, his devotional hours.

Revelation is the only system that assigns to woman her natural and proper
elevation in the scale of being, and inspires a consciousness of her real
dignity. The moment that an intelligent being is by any injurious
treatment, or by any prevailing error, induced to form a degrading
estimate of itself, that moment it begins to approximate a state of
meanness which was hitherto only imaginary. Let such an one be conscious
of being held in no esteem, or prized solely as the tool of servitude or
the food of appetite, and all majesty of character is lost; all aim or
wish to rise above the brute, to aspire after a station or character, to
the occupation of which a tyrannic impiety has opposed an insurmountable
barrier, is gone; and those great principles which confer a superiority
upon the human kind, and point to a noble pre-eminence, cease to operate,
and expire for want of action. This state of things is unnatural, contrary
to the original purpose of creation, and in fact, more dishonorable to the
usurper than to the degraded sufferer. In Mahometan and Pagan countries
the rights of women have been sacrificed to the caprices of men; and,
having plucked this fair flower of creation from its original and highly
elevated situation, its beauty has faded, its glory been lost in the
sacrilegious hands of its barbarian possessor. Abject slavery or base
flattery have existed where woman has been displaced from her proper and
original character, and the most mischievous consequences have ensued.
[4]

The first woman is said to have been formed _out of man_; hence, as a
_part of himself_, it seems the law of creation, that man should cherish
the most affectionate sentiments for the woman:--"Therefore," says the
inspired history, "shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall
cleave unto his wife; and they shall be one flesh."

It is observable, that the woman was neither taken out of the _head_, nor
from the _feet_, but from the _side_, and near the _heart_! If, therefore,
on the one hand, she ought not to assume pre-eminence, on the other she is
not to be trampled on and despised, but received as an equal and a friend.

As the original arrangements of Infinite Wisdom were the most perfect in
their respective kinds, the appropriation of _one_ woman only, as the
companion and _wife_ of the first created man, indicates both the will of
the Creator respecting marriage, and the circumstances in which it is most
likely to produce the greatest sum of domestic felicity. Man is neither to
live _alone_, nor to indulge that depravity of taste, which, by seeking
enjoyment in diversity, not only ensures disappointment, but
generates discord.

The advocates for celibacy and for plurality, equally betray an ignorance
of Scripture and of human nature, and can find few supporters, except
amongst the infidel or the barbarian classes of mankind. "They that will
not connect their interests, lest they should be unhappy by their
partner's fault, dream away their time without friendship, without
fondness, and are driven to rid themselves of the day, for which they have
no use, by childish amusement or vicious delights. They act as beings
under the constant sense of some known inferiority, that fills their minds
with rancor and their tongues with censure; they are peevish at home, and
malevolent abroad; and, as the outlaws of human nature, make it their
business and their pleasure to disturb that society which debars them from
its privileges. To live without feeling or exciting sympathy, to be
fortunate without adding to the felicity of others, or afflicted without
tasting the balm of pity, is a state more gloomy than solitude: it is not
retreat, but exclusion from mankind. Marriage has many pains, but celibacy
has no pleasures." [5]

The original law is enforced in the New Testament by an infallible
commentator: "Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning
made them male and female, and said, For this cause shall a man leave
father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they twain shall be
one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What,
therefore, God hath joined together, let no man put asunder." Thus Jesus
Christ sanctions marriage by his authority, virtually interdicts polygamy,
and absolutely prohibits divorce.

As the bestowal of one woman upon one man, at the creation of the human
species, was sufficiently indicative of the divine will, so the near
equality of the two sexes is a strong presumptive argument in favour of
this division of society: if a different proportion were better calculated
to replenish the world with population, the circumstances of Adam seemed
particularly to require such an arrangement; or if it were calculated to
promote human happiness, the Divine Being, who created Eve for the very
purpose of enhancing the bliss of our first parent, would have superadded
this to his paradisaical possessions. The reverse, however, was obviously
the case. Polygamy violates the constitution of nature, and produces
contests, jealousies, distracted affections, a voluptuousness which
dissolves the vigour of the intellectual and corporeal faculties, neglect
of children, with other lamentable evils, for which it furnishes no
compensation. "Whether," says Dr. Paley, "simultaneous polygamy was
permitted by the law of Moses, seems doubtful; but whether permitted or
not, it was certainly practised by the Jewish patriarchs, both before that
law and under it. The permission, if there were any, might be like that of
divorce, 'for the hardness of their heart,' in condescension to their
established indulgencies, rather than from the general rectitude or
propriety of the thing itself. The state of manners in Judea had probably
undergone a reformation in this respect before the time of Christ, for in
the New Testament we meet with no trace or mention of any such practice
being tolerated." [6]

Though man was created in the state we have been representing, encircled
with the divine favour, rich in all the requisites of happiness, and the
tenant of a glorious palace, a melancholy alteration soon occurred.
Seduced by infernal temptation, he forsook his God and forfeited his
paradise; and from the narrative of his fall in the book of Genesis, which
immediately succeeds the account of his felicity, we learn that the WOMAN
was the first transgressor. Assuming the form of a serpent, Satan
presented himself to Eve, and entered into familiar conversation with her.
To his artful inquiry respecting the divine interdiction of one of the
trees of the garden, she at first gave a very proper answer. Satan
insinuated that the terms which God had prescribed, were severe, if not
capricious: but she replied in a manner indicative of her perfect
acquiescence in the commandment, her untainted purity of mind, and such a
sense of the beneficence of God, as prevented even a momentary doubt of
his wisdom or goodness, in the denial of "one tree in the midst of
the garden."

The tempter, in making a second attack, became more positive. In
contradiction to the divine assurance, he affirmed, with unhesitating
effrontery, that they should _not_ die, even though they tasted the fruit
of the interdicted tree; but on the contrary, that they should be "as
gods, knowing good and evil." By the very same representations do the
ministers of satanic malice in every age seduce mankind, suggesting that
the commands of Heaven are extremely rigid, and flattering them that sin
may be committed with impunity.

The fatal moment was come--she _looked_ at _the tree!_--Ah! thou mother of
all living! hadst thou looked at the _command_, and turned away from the
attractive plant and the beguiling serpent, all would have been
well--thine innocence had been uncorrupted, thy posterity uncondemned! But
unhallowed curiosity prompted the fatal experiment--she wished to
be wise--

                      "Her rash hand in evil hour,
  Forth reaching to the fruit, she plucked, she ate.
  Earth felt the wound; and Nature from her seat,
  Sighing through all her works, gave signs of wo,
  That all was lost!"

It does not appear that any ill consequences resulted _immediately_ from
the criminal rashness of this sinner, so that she was encouraged to go to
her husband, who, seduced by a fairer tempter, and one endeared to him by
the tenderest ties, complied with her request to share the violated tree.
Motives of curiosity and pride excited _her_ to sin, and so far as appears
from the history, blind affection influenced _him_. Alas! she who was
given him as a "_help meet_," is changed into his _seducer_, and from his
_comfort_ is become his _snare_! That influence which she naturally
possessed over her husband, ought to have been exerted to _prevent_ his
compliance with any sinful intimation, in case of an unexpected
solicitation, instead of which it was used to _induce_ him to plunge into
guilt and ruin. "We have a right to presume," observes Saurin, "that as no
crime was ever connected with more melancholy results, so none was ever
more atrocious than hers. The more we examine its nature, the more base it
appears, and the more easy is it to exculpate religion from those
reproaches which this statement has so often occasioned. Whatever tends to
extenuate the guilt of other sins, is an aggravation of this.

"Sometimes a confusion _of the passions_ obscures all the powers of the
soul; a man who sins in this manner, is frequently less deserving of
abhorrence than of pity; he acts from a sort of compulsion, and protests
against the crime, even at the moment he is committing it. Eve possessed a
dominion over those passions to which we are become enslaved; she could
easily calm their turbulence, and they had no other influence over her,
than what was on her own part voluntary.

"Sometimes _necessity_ inspires the design of acquiring by unlawful
methods, a supply which nature has rendered requisite, and which cannot be
legitimately obtained. But, what could be wanting to satisfy the
insatiable cravings of this woman? What could she need as an addition to
her happiness? She might be said to be 'crowned with glory and honour;'
she had dominion over the works of the Creator; all things were put under
her feet; all sheep and oxen; yea, and the beasts of the field, the fowl
of the air, and the fish of the sea, and whatsoever passeth through the
paths of the seas. Even her love of variety could not yet be satiated, and
this garden offered a thousand exquisite fruits which she had
never tasted.

"Sometimes _doubt_ blends itself with disobedience. There are but few sins
totally unaccompanied with unbelief; some clouds always obscure our faith;
some veils of concealment overspread the existence of the Creator. Among
the previous pangs which sin occasions, when we deliberate respecting the
commission of it, there always exist certain vague ideas in the mind, such
as these--perhaps no superior being concerns himself about it; or, perhaps
no one has forbidden it;--but Eve could not possibly doubt of the
existence or the will of the Creator. She had herself heard this language
from his mouth, 'In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shall
surely die.'

"Sometimes our abuse of a favour proceeds from _false ideas of its
origin_. Though every sinner be ungrateful, yet every sinner is not a
monster of ingratitude. The first cause of our felicity is sometimes
mingled with the second, which is serviceable in procuring it. Our
industry frequently seems to share with Providence the glory of our
condition, and the nature of a blessing sometimes leads us to forget the
acknowledgments due to our benefactor; but Eve enjoyed no good which did
not in some respect proceed _immediately_ from the bounty of God, and
which ought not to have induced her to glorify him.

"Sometimes a _pure motive_ produces an _impure action_, and the love of
virtue itself sometimes occasions our removal from it; but in the present
case the action is aggravated by the motive. Pride, vain-glory, perhaps
the desire of robbing God of his pre-eminence, his omniscience, or his
jurisdiction over the creature, his most sacred and incommunicable
distinctions, were the dispositions that actuated this woman.

"Can any imaginable pretext serve to palliate so atrocious a crime, or
excuse the woman who first committed it, and the man who joined in the
rebellion? Would they indeed have been less criminal, if a seraph of glory
had proposed to them the impious deed? Was not the faculty of _reason_
which they had received from God, sufficient to make them understand what
revelation has taught us, that if an angel from heaven were to proclaim
any thing contrary to what God has commanded, it ought to inspire us with
no other sentiments than those of _anathema_ and execration?"
[7]

The general consequences of human transgression were:

1. _The loss of Eden_, and the subjection of our first parents to a mode
of life both humiliating and painful. Ease was exchanged for toil, honour
for degradation, peace for distraction and wo.

It is always painful to quit a favourite spot. The heart lingers long
behind, and employs the pencil of memory to paint the absent scene. Adam
and Eve must have experienced inexpressible emotions when driven from
their primeval residence, where all the elements, all the seasons, and all
beings had contributed to their enjoyment. Never, never, could they forget
those landscapes on which the eye paused with rapture; never, never, could
they cease to remember its rich productions, its often-frequented vales,
and hills, and rivers, and woods; never, never, could they obliterate from
their memory the bright sunshine of heavenly love that beamed upon them
there--for by transgression they suffered.

2. _The loss of their God_. The divine favour can alone constitute the
real felicity of a creature; this, in its full manifestation, is
_heaven_--in its total absence, is _hell_. No place, however loaded with
blessings, can constitute a desirable abode, unless God be there. The
fairest Eden without this manifestation must be a melancholy dungeon to an
intelligent and immortal being. It is this which was forfeited by original
sin, and which occasioned "a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep
the way of the tree of life."

It would be inconsistent with the nature of God not to manifest
displeasure against iniquity, however high and dignified the being who
commits it. An angel must lose his crown, if he dare to disobey that Being
who is "glorious in holiness."

3. Mankind incurred by sin _the loss of life_.--"And the Lord God
commanded the man, saying, Of every tree in the garden thou mayest freely
eat, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil thou shall not eat
of it, for in the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die."
This denunciation included an exposure not only to temporal, but to
eternal death, as might be shown from the nature and demerit of sin, the
means which were afterwards employed to destroy its effects in the work of
Christ, the repeated declarations of Scripture, and the peculiar energy
of the original expression; it is literally, "Dying, thou shalt die." The
weight of the condemnation rested on the sinner's head, and in order to
maintain the glory of his character, "the blessed God" rendered his
punishment as extraordinary as his former mercies, and proportionate to
his enormous guilt.--"Thou wilt by no means clear the guilty."--"These
shall go away into _everlasting_ punishment."

4. The sin of Adam and Eve involved the _ruin of their posterity_. As the
first man and woman, they stood in a peculiar relation to all who should
hereafter be born, the representatives of unnumbered millions, whose
future condition essentially depended on their character and
circumstances. Had they continued innocent, it cannot be doubted their
children would have been placed in a far happier condition. They would
have inherited purity and a blessing for the Father's sake, instead of
being "shapen in iniquity." As the streams become polluted when the
fountain is poisoned, or as the branches die when the root is destroyed,
so the race of men are become degraded, accursed, and condemned by their
parent's sin. They inherit a nature depraved by original transgression,
and disposed to every wicked indulgence. Instead of becoming more
assimilated to God, as man had flattered himself he should be by partaking
of the forbidden fruit, he became from that moment assimilated to the
devil. Every dishonorable and hurtful passion took immediate possession of
the breast, and to this hour reigns in the carnal man with unrivalled
influence. Whatever misery results from the gratification of these
passions, is solely attributable to the principle; for man, who is
criminal by nature, is still more so by inclination and practice. The
world is thrown into a state of anarchy. The unbridled dominion of the
passions disturbs the peace of the individual and the harmony of society.
Sin makes a man at variance with himself, with his neighbour, and with the
whole constitution of things. He is restless as the ocean, impelled by
every contrary wind, and tossed about by every sportive billow. The desire
of happiness exists; but he is ignorant of the true means of it, and is
perpetually pursuing it by a method which only plunges him into greater
misery. To this cause must be attributed all the mental distresses and all
the bodily afflictions of the individual--all the disturbances which
prevent domestic enjoyment, the bickerings and jealousies of families with
their various alliances--all the animosities which agitate social
life--all the intestine broils, ambitious emulations, endless contentions,
and opposing interests that distract a state--all the melancholy wars that
convulse nations and desolate empires, the record of which has stained the
page of history in all ages--with every particular, form, and mode of
evil, discoverable in the world.

But sin extends its ravages beyond the present state. It has not only
strewed the whole path of life with tormenting thorns, but enkindled
"everlasting burnings." It has not only introduced disorder into the
world, disease into the body, and distress into the condition of men, but
exposed them to the agonies of death and of hell. It is sin which banishes
every hope and excludes every ray of comfort from the realms of infernal
despair. Justly, then, is it characterized by the apostle, as
"_exceeding sinful_."

There were two respects in which the woman became more deeply affected by
the curse than the man; she not only participated, as a fallen creature,
in the diversified calamities which, from the moment of transgression,
were entailed upon humanity, but suffered as a _female_ in the _conjugal_
and _maternal_ relationships which she was destined hereafter to sustain.
Her husband was to "rule over her," and in sorrow "she was to bring forth
children." The yoke of subjection, indeed, in the one case, and the pangs
of childbirth in the other, are alleviated by the benign influences of
Christianity, whose supplies are intended to heal the wounds inflicted by
the poisonous serpent; but they nevertheless attach, in greater or less
degrees, to the human constitution.

The reason of this marked difference in the dispensation of an avenging
Providence to the two principal parties concerned, was obviously this; the
woman was _first_ in the transgression, and after listening to the
deceptive counsel of her adversary, tempted when she ought to have warned
her husband. It appears consonant to every principle of equity, that the
atrociousness of her guilt should be characterized by appropriate
expressions of displeasure; and that, in the future condition of mankind,
all beings should recognize, not only the general purity of the divine
administration, but its reference to the peculiarities of individual
delinquency. Whatever mystery may at present involve the proceedings of
Infinite Wisdom, and however incapacitated we may be to discover in every
given case, or even in the majority of instances, the distinct traces of a
justice that holds the even balance, and adjusts with nicety the
proportions of sin and punishment, of this we may feel perfectly assured,
that "every one" will eventually "receive the things done in his body,
_according to that he hath done_, whether it be good or bad."

It should be a matter of serious consideration to women to employ the
influence which they possess, as the gift of nature, to wise, holy, and
useful purposes. Let the young female especially see to it, that her
attractions are not dedicated to the service of sin, but to that of virtue
and of Christ. Let her neither be tempted, nor tempt others, but close her
ear against the voice of enticement, and make a covenant with her tongue,
that it neither utter folly, nor propagate slander. Let the daughters of
Eve imitate their mother in her state of unfallen rectitude, when she
shone in all the purity of innocence, and in all the summer of her charms;
but let them avoid that course which tarnished her glory, debased her
nature, and withered her paradise. It is indisputable that society is
materially affected by the character of women; and in very important
respects the moral state, as well as the social comfort of the world, is
at their disposal. Let them beware of the delusions to which they are
exposed, and make virtuous use of the influence which is undoubtedly given
them. Let them aim to be guides to piety, not seducers to sin; and,
instead of presenting to others the forbidden fruit, refuse to taste, or
even to _look_ at it: so shall they regain the dignity they have lost, be
admitted to partake of the untainted spring of happiness, and enjoy at
once a peaceful conscience and an approving God.

The narrative which has here been briefly introduced, stands in immediate
connection with a subject which abounds in considerable difficulties, and
has produced, unhappily, many acrimonious controversies. These it would be
improper to detail; but as our design is chiefly practical, if some of
those objections which occur to almost every mind, can, by a few words, be
in any degree obviated, it will be worthy at least of a short digression.

1. It has been alleged that the first man might have been created
immutable by a necessity of nature, the consequence of which would have
been his own perfect and unchanging happiness, and that of all mankind.
The imagination seizes the transporting thought, and in a moment converts
every spot of this barren wilderness into "the garden of Eden." Does it,
however, become us to prescribe rules to Omniscience? Was the Deity
obliged to impose a miraculous constraint upon the human will, and compel
his creature to choose whatever is best with invariable determination and
promptitude? If a parent were to caution his child against a danger, into
which he afterward plunged himself by his inadvertence or perverseness,
would the child be justified in censuring the parent, because, in addition
to advice, he did not employ bonds and cords? Adam might have been created
immutable by a necessity of nature. True--but Adam would then have been
another being, and not a man. It might with similar propriety be asked,
why men were not created equal to angels, or beasts to men? This sentiment
implies, that it was not proper to create such a being as _man_ at all, an
intimation sufficiently presumptuous. Adam possessed all the perfections
essential to his nature, and conducive to his felicity, and all the
motives to obedience, which a reasonable creature could demand. If he
fell, it was _violating_ and not _concurring_ with the principles of his
nature. And who was culpable for this violation? It is true he was
_tempted_,--but then he was _forewarned_. He was _tempted_--so was the
_second Adam_, the Lord from heaven, who effectually _resisted_ the
temptation.

2. Some have supposed that the punishment was disproportioned to the
offence. A more attentive consideration of the subject, however, will
demonstrate the contrary. The compliance with the seductions of the
tempter, of which our first parents were guilty, betrayed many lamentable
symptoms of degeneracy. Pride, ambition, discontent, unbelief,
presumption, ingratitude, and an undervaluation of the divine favour, are
all plainly discernible through the thin veil of an extenuating apology,
with which they vainly attempted to conceal their baseness.--"The woman,
whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat."
And the woman said, "The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat." Endowed as
they were with knowledge, it was a sin against the greatest _light_;
surrounded as they were with motives, it was a sin against the greatest
_means_; warned as they were of danger and promised eternal blessedness,
it was a sin against the greatest _reason_; and placed as they were at the
head of a numerous posterity, and in a sense the depositories and trustees
of their happiness, it was a sin against the greatest _public good_.

Besides, it was the _first sin_, and consequently justice demanded such an
expression of the divine displeasure as would tend to deter future
transgressors, and evince the purity of God to all holy intelligences.
When justice seized upon the delinquents, and brought them to the
equitable tribunal of Heaven, the whole intelligent universe may be
considered as attentive spectators of the scene. Every eye was
fixed--every ear open--every tongue silent--every harp suspended. The
great Judge with whom "a thousand years are as one day, and one day as a
thousand years," saw, as it were, the unborn generations of men all
present, and tremblingly awaiting the verdict. This was the solemn hour
when the perfections of Deity were to be most sublimely illustrated, and
ten thousand worlds were to learn in one eventful moment the character of
their Creator, "Therefore the Lord God sent him from the garden of Eden."

The nature of sin in itself should also be considered. It is no trifling
affair. From the habit of observing only its outward effects, we overlook
its rancorous principle. The propensity to extenuate sin arises from
ignorance of its vileness. We judge of every thing by comparison, and
self-flattery always renders the comparison favorable to ourselves. But
_small_ and _large_ are terms which, though we have chosen to adopt them,
do not properly belong to the subject. The divine mind contemplates sin in
its principle; and the _least_ transgression, being a resistance of his
command, an insult to his authority, an opposition to his truth, a
violation, of general order, a perversion and misuse of the noblest
faculties, whatever may be the force of the attack or the nature of the
temptation, is infinitely offensive to the blessed God. It is an admission
of that principle which, could it possibly prevail, would produce eternal
discord, universal rebellion, and boundless misery.

3. If, however, we be accounted sinners in Adam, may it not be inferred
that our guilt is incalculably _inferior_ to his, and that in all our
actions resulting from this inherent depravity, we are more _pitiable_
than _culpable_? By no means.--It is sufficient to remark, that though our
original guilt be less than his, not having been personally the
perpetrators of the first crime, our _actual_ guilt is equal, if not
greater. For it is obvious we sin with all the experience of the past to
forewarn us; we sin, though we witness the deplorable effects of his fall,
and hear the denunciations of vengeance in the Scriptures.

Though it be true that sin originates in a depravity of heart, which is
the fatal inheritance of the whole human race, will any one pretend that
such a sentiment justifies its excesses? The perpetration of iniquity in
the course of our daily practice, must not be confounded with the original
tendency. These excesses are in no sense chargeable upon the principle as
its necessary and unavoidable result, because thousands escape "the
pollutions that are in the world." Nor are we less obliged to love God in
consequence of the fall, though unhappily we are become more incapable and
indisposed to it. You ask, why passions were implanted in human nature?
The reply is, to extend the means of our happiness, by rendering us more
capable of glorifying and enjoying God. If they have acquired a sinful
bias, the obligation to devote them to their original purpose is by no
means diminished: But their great Author, to whom we are responsible for
every faculty, requires that we should oppose their perverse propensities,
earnestly repent of the irregularities produced by their seducing
influence, and solicit the aid of his grace to conquer them.

When the apostle of the Gentiles was reasoning before an unjust judge of
"righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come," it is said, "Felix
trembled, and answered. Go thy way for this time, when I have a convenient
season I will call for thee." Unhappy man! Hadst thou but obeyed Paul
instead of dismissing him, hadst thou but yielded to thy kindling
convictions, confessed thy sins, and sought salvation through the blood of
that Jesus whom Paul preached, the church of Christ would have hailed thee
as "a brand plucked out of the burning."

Every one is conscious that, however corrupt his nature, he is under no
irresistible impulse, no constraining necessity. If he commit sin it is
voluntarily. Sin is his choice and his pleasure. He does not sin because
he is _necessitated_ to do it, but because he _loves_ it: and however
willing the carnal mind may be to avail itself of sophistical reasonings
to quiet conscience, every one must, in the hour of dispassionate
reflection, feel himself implicated in the charge, "all have sinned."

Listen to the case of a wretched prodigal.--Crime had reduced him to rags.
He had a _home_--but through perverseness he banished himself from all its
comforts. He had a _father_--but he undervalued his affection, in a moment
of folly demanded his patrimony, and adventured abroad friendless and
alone. A few years brought him to the very gates of death. O thoughtless
sinner, "_Thou_ art the man!" _Thou_ hast forsaken God, the Father of
mercies! _Thou_ art "perishing in ignorance and unbelief!" But this moral
lunatic came to himself, and resolved to return to his father; "I will
arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned
against heaven and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy
son; make me as one of thy hired servants. And he arose and came to his
father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had
compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him." What a son!
what a father! what a meeting! what sighs of penitence! what tears of
fondness! what looks of tenderness! what words of peace! How were
resentment and grief drowned in a sea of love!

God of all comfort, who art thyself this kind, forgiving, bountiful
Father, grant of thine infinite mercy that every reader may prove himself
this humble, sincere, and grateful penitent!



Sarah

Chapter II.



  Abraham's Departure from Chaldea--His Faith--Its Failure--Sarah and
  Abraham agree to prevaricate--The Admiration which Sarah
  attracted--Abraham's Dismissal from the country of Egypt--Beauty and
  Dress--Importance of a proper Education--Parental Vanity--Source of real
  Attraction--Sarah proposes to Abraham to take Hagar--Unhappy
  Consequences--Hagar's Flight and Return--Visit of three Angels--Sarah's
  laughter at the subject of their commission--Her subsequent
  Character--General Remarks--Birth of Isaac--Ishmael's Conduct and its
  Consequences--Sarah's Death.


[Sidenote: Years before Christ, about 1920-1921.]

At a very advanced period of life, and in obedience to a divine
injunction, Abraham went out from his country and his father's house, "not
knowing whither he went." By this cheerful, prompt, and pious submission
to the mysterious will of Heaven, he has acquired a high distinction in
the sacred records, and presents a noble example for the imitation of all
future ages. Here was no debate between a sense of duty and an inclination
to sin--no disposition to question the wisdom or the goodness of the
command--no effort to devise expedients for the purpose of procuring
delay--and no unholy apprehensions respecting the possible or probable
consequences of such a proceeding.

In this removal from Chaldea, the illustrious exile took with him his
wife, his nephew, "and all their substance that they had gathered, and the
souls that they had gotten in Haran." Upon their arrival in Canaan, the
divine declaration respecting his future possession of the country was
renewed, and he erected an altar to the Lord in the plain of Moreh. The
same act of devotion was performed at the next stage of his journey, on a
mountain to the east of Bethel; for no change of place could obliterate
his sense of religious obligation.

This land of promise was soon afflicted with a grievous famine, in
consequence of which, he was necessitated to provide for the subsistence
of his family by removing into Egypt. This was a new trial to his faith;
for by what possible means could a land at present so impoverished, become
a place of plentiful subsistence to his posterity, when multiplied as the
sands upon the sea-shore? Driven even from this promised inheritance, he
did not, however, manifest a spirit of discontent or unbelief, but
hastened to seek a temporary asylum, convinced that he to whose guidance
he had committed himself and his beloved family, could, by the
outstretched arm of his power, not only overcome every obstacle which to
human ignorance might seem insurmountable; but by his concurrent wisdom
render difficulties themselves subservient to the accomplishment of
his purposes.

Alas! on his entering Egypt he is seized with apprehension. The faith
which had hitherto been so conspicuous is mingled with distrust, and he
engages his beloved SARAH, who is now introduced to our notice, in an act
of most unwarrantable duplicity. The whole of this transaction is detailed
with that perfect impartiality which characterizes the histories of the
Scriptures, and which furnishes one very decisive evidence of their
inspiration.

Sarah is represented as very beautiful. Her husband was aware that this
circumstance would attract the notice of the Egyptians, not only because
of the contrast her person would exhibit to the swarthy complexions of
their women, but on account of their licentious character. He dreaded
their illicit attachment, and the probable consequence that they might
assassinate him in order to obtain his wife. This idea of Egyptian morals
was no doubt correct, but how deplorable! They would not commit adultery;
but for the sake of gratifying a guilty passion, were ready to perpetrate
the abominable sin of murder! And thus, under the strange pretence of
reverence for the matrimonial law, they would have violated at once the
dictates of humanity, the principles of reason, and the constitutions of
heaven. So common is it for transgressors to "strain at a knat and swallow
a camel;" and so uniform the course of guilt, which never walks alone, but
draws with it a train of complicated iniquities!

The preliminaries being settled, Abraham and his family entered Egypt. She
was to say, when any inquiries were made, that she was his _sister_,
hoping by this artifice to escape danger. This, it must be observed, was
not a _direct_ falsehood: it was such only by _implication_. It was true
that, according to the Jewish mode of reckoning, Sarah was the _sister_ of
Abraham; but their intention in circulating this statement was, to conceal
the whole truth of her being his _wife_. Notwithstanding the ingenuity
which some learned men have displayed in attempting to vindicate this
conduct, we must without hesitation pronounce it base, mean, and
prevaricating. The purpose was to deceive, and it was the more censurable
for being so deliberately premeditated and so perseveringly practised.
There are cases in which persons have been overtaken in a fault, impelled
by some momentary passion, excited by some brilliant temptation, or
betrayed by some unexpected coincidence of circumstances, and of which
they have deeply and almost immediately repented--a situation which
cannot but excite our pity, as well as our disapprobation; but this was a
transaction which it is impossible either to extenuate or justify. Let it
be improved as a motive for self-examination, and a beacon to warn us from
similar misconduct. "O keep my soul, and deliver me: let me not be
ashamed, for I put my trust in thee. Let INTEGRITY and UPRIGHTNESS
preserve me, for I wait on thee."

Prevarication of every kind partakes of the very essence of lying, being
not only subversive of social happiness, by preventing all confidential
intercourse amongst mankind, but diametrically opposed to the commands of
God. Every species of wilful deceit, as the use of ambiguities in language
for the purpose of misleading; the adoption of expressions which we know
to be understood by another in a different sense from what we really mean;
mental reservations; a studied suppression of part of the truth, as in the
present example, is unworthy the character of any person who professes to
be an honest man, much more of one who sustains the dignified character of
a Christian. "Wherefore, putting away lying, speak every man truth with
his neighbour."

In theory, it seems an easy thing to adhere to truth; but it is too
frequently found difficult in practice. When motives of interest are
balanced against motives of duty, it is well if the former do not
sometimes preponderate. Are we always careful to state facts _exactly_ as
they exist; to avoid all false colouring; to swear even to our own hurt?
If so, we need not fear investigation, because nothing can be detected but
an honourable, undissembled mind.

When Adam disobeyed the divine commandment, and in consequence forfeited
the bliss of primeval paradise, he was seduced by his fair partner, who
had already listened to the wily suggestions of the serpent; but Abraham,
so far from being tempted by his wife, appears to have been the sole
contriver of this disingenuous artifice, and employed all his influence to
induce her to transgress. In following him from his original residence
into Canaan, and subsequently to Egypt, she obeyed the dictates of
affection and of religion; but when she suffered herself to be persuaded
into a deceitful action, she sacrificed the purity of her conscience. It
became her, however painful the conflict, to resist the temptation; and,
when the claims of heaven were opposed to those of affection or human
authority, to obey God rather than man. It appears that we are not only in
danger of being misled by those who are our avowed enemies, or by the
pernicious example of the multitude who do evil, but the nearest and
dearest relatives may become snares to our feet; and even those, in whose
piety and wisdom we should naturally confide, may, under the influence of
temporary delusion, incite us to do wrong. Our affections must not be
implicitly trusted. There is a point where submission to man becomes
treason against heaven. It were better to incur the displeasure even of
the dearest friend and tenderest relative, than of Him who possesses
supreme authority over conscience.

At the same time, let a woman, who thus ventures to disobey her husband,
do it with that caution which results solely from a conviction of
paramount duty, and from a well founded assurance that she is not
mistaken. It is no trifling occasion that will justify opposition to the
will of him whom she is commanded to obey; and if it be done in a proper
spirit, it will be done with a degree of reluctance, and under an
overwhelming sense of necessity. Let the spirit of meekness be prevalent.
Nothing in the _manner_, in which unwelcome opposition is maintained, must
indicate a proud resistance, or an air of triumph. It must not be
litigious, petulant, unconciliating; but the importance of those
principles which occasion the difference, must be apparent in the temper
of mind they produce. Thus, it will be possible to maintain the rights of
conscience, and not to violate the claims of duty: the integrity of the
heart will be indicated, not by words only, but by actions.--It is natural
to feel indignant against a conduct which we suspect to proceed from
improper motives, and a hostile spirit; but we extenuate even the mistakes
of those who differ most widely from ourselves, provided we have
sufficient evidence that their scruples result from conscientious
feelings. While, therefore, in our differences from others, we are careful
not to be actuated by mere frivolous pretences, we must be equally
solicitous not to be deterred from showing a firm consistence of conduct,
lest we should incur the charge of an affected singularity.

The fact was such as Abraham had anticipated. Sarah was the object of
universal admiration. She attracted the attention even of Pharaoh's
courtiers, who, with the view of pleasing their master, recommended her to
the king. Supposing she had been the stranger's sister, she was taken into
his house. Alas! what availed all this timid policy! The very means which
had been devised for the preservation of Sarah from Egyptian
licentiousness, nearly exposed her to all its dreaded consequences; and
Abraham was duped by his own craftiness. His wife was endangered, his
artifice detected, and the household of Pharaoh visited with divine
chastisements on her account. And, in addition to the pain which both he
and his beloved partner must have felt, from the consciousness of having
acted wrong, they were dismissed from the country. "And Pharaoh called
Abraham, and said, What is this that thou hast done unto me? Why didst
thou not tell me that she was thy wife? Why saidst thou, She is my sister?
So I might have taken her to me to wife: now, therefore, behold thy wife,
take her and go thy way. And Pharaoh commanded his men concerning him; and
they sent him away, and his wife, and all that he had."

The _beauty_ of Sarah was obviously the occasion of her committing, in
concert with her husband, the sin of equivocation, and of the misfortunes
which attended their Egyptian journey. If she had not been distinguished
for a fair exterior, she would have escaped the admiration of these
strangers, and the difficulties which she and Abraham afterwards
encountered. Solomon pronounces beauty to be vain; and the history of the
world will show, that, in innumerable instances, as well as that of Sarah,
it has betrayed its fair possessor into many snares. Experience, however,
in this respect, does not seem to teach wisdom; for the wish to acquire
the attraction which beauty confers, seems to be no less prevalent in the
present age, than it was at the earliest period of the world. How many
hours of the day, and how many days of the wasted year, do some females
devote to the improvement of their persons! Impossible as it has ever
been, and ever will be found, to make one hair black or white, to add one
cubit to the stature, to bend one untractable feature into the admired
curve to which common consent attributes grace and loveliness; the
impossible transformation is nevertheless attempted. The treasures of
opulence are exhausted; the more valuable possession of health is often
sacrificed at the shrine of vanity: and while the noble distinctions of
cultivated intellect and solid piety are neglected, the ostentatious
decoration of exterior polish is sought with useless and guilty avidity.

The most effectual means of correcting this error, is in early life to
commence the important business of moral discipline by a solid education.
If a greater degree of attention be paid to showy, than to substantial
acquirements; if young ladies be systematically prepared to shine and
attract, instead of being assiduously formed to be useful in the stations
to which Providence has assigned them; it may be expected that they should
become solicitous of courting admiration, rather than of winning esteem.
They will necessarily be unfitted for domestic management, and
disqualified for the sober realities of life. If the matrimonial connexion
be founded upon no better pretensions, and no superior reasons for
attachment, it is incapable of securing solid happiness. It is, in fact,
at the mercy of every breeze. The wind of adversity may blow upon the fair
flower, wither its exterior charms, and leave nothing but prickles and
thorns. A consciousness of insignificance on the one hand, and a
perception of it on the other, will produce disappointment, and generate
dissatisfaction; and it will be found, too late perhaps, that the _mind_,
instead of the _face_, ought to have been principally regarded.

There is a species of parental vanity against which we would loudly
appeal. Some persons are extremely anxious that their daughters should
possess all the attractions of beauty; and from their earliest infancy, a
concern for appearances is instilled into them, as of the first
importance. If young persons, so unhappily circumstanced, should receive a
wrong bias, we cannot feel surprised; and it will require a long course of
salutary discipline, combined with the inculcation of religious
principles, effectually to teach them that to see, and to be seen, are not
the great purposes of human existence; that they must live for nobler
ends, and secure the approbation of the wise and good by other
accomplishments than a taste for the arrangement of a ribbon, or the
harmony of a tune. Unless they should be unfortunate enough to meet with
none but flippant and vacant admirers, to whose flattering nothings they
are induced to listen, they will find, that persons of real worth are not
to be attracted by tinsel decorations, nor a butterfly exterior, but that

  "Man has a relish more refined;"

and will rather breathe the following sentiments, as the appropriate
language of a noble enthusiasm, connected with rationality and religion;

  "Souls are for social bliss designed--
  Give me a blessing fit to match my mind;
  A kindred soul to double and to share my joys."

That which constitutes the source of attraction to well regulated minds,
does not depend upon the disposition of the features, nor the colour of
the skin. It is possible to every kind of exterior form. "This beauty," it
has been well observed, "does not always consist in smiles, but varies as
expressions of meekness and kindness vary with their objects: it is
extremely forcible in the silent complaint of patient sufferance, the
tender solicitude of friendship, and the glow of filial obedience; and in
tears, whether of joy, of pity, or of grief, it is almost irresistible.

"This is the charm which captivates without the aid of nature, and without
which her utmost bounty is ineffectual. But it cannot be assumed as a mask
to conceal insensibility or malevolence: it must be the effect of
corresponding sentiments, or it will impress upon the countenance a new
and more disgusting deformity--AFFECTATION. Looks, which do not correspond
with the heart, cannot be assumed without labour, nor continued without
pain: the motive to relinquish them must, therefore, soon preponderate,
and the aspect and apparel of the visit will be laid by together: the
smiles and the languishments of art will vanish, and the fierceness of
rage, or the gloom of discontent, will either obscure or destroy all the
elegance of symmetry and complexion.

"The artificial aspect is, indeed, as wretched a substitute for the
expression of sentiment, as the smear of paint for the blushes of health:
it is not only equally transient, and equally liable to detection; but, as
paint leaves the countenance yet more withered and ghastly, the passions
burst out with more violence after restraint, the features become more
distorted, and excite more determined aversion.

"Beauty, therefore, depends principally upon the mind, and consequently
may be influenced by education. It has been remarked, that the predominent
passion may generally be discovered in the countenance; because the
muscles by which it is expressed, being almost perpetually contracted,
lose their tone, and never totally relax; so that the expression remains
when the passion is suspended: thus, an angry, a disdainful, a subtle, and
a suspicious temper, is displayed in characters that are almost
universally understood. It is equally true of the pleasing and the softer
passions, that they leave their signatures upon the countenance when they
cease to act. The prevalence of these passions, therefore, produces a
mechanical effect upon the aspect, and gives a turn and cast to the
features, which make a more favourable and forcible impression upon the
mind of others, than any charm produced by mere external causes.

"Neither does the beauty which depends upon temper and sentiment, equally
endanger the possessor: it is, to use an eastern metaphor, 'like the
towers of a city--not only an ornament, but a defence:' if it excite
desire, it at once controls and refines it; it represses with awe, it
softens with delicacy, and it wins to imitation. The love of reason and of
virtue is mingled with the love of beauty; because this beauty is little
more than the emanation of intellectual excellence, which is not an object
of corporeal appetite. As it excites a purer passion, it also more
forcibly engages to fidelity: every man finds himself more powerfully
restrained from giving pain to goodness than to beauty; and every look of
a countenance in which they are blended, in which beauty is the expression
of goodness, is a silent reproach to the first irregular wish; and the
purpose immediately appears to be disingenuous and cruel, by which the
tender hope of ineffable affection would be disappointed, the placid
confidence of unsuspecting simplicity abused, and the peace even of virtue
endangered, by the most sordid infidelity, and the breach of the strongest
obligations.

"But the hope of the hypocrite must perish.--When the factitious beauty
has laid by her smiles; when the lustre of her eyes, and the bloom of her
cheeks, have lost their influence with their novelty; what remains, but a
tyrant divested of power, who will never be seen without a mixture of
indignation and disdain? The only desire which this object could gratify,
will be transferred to another, not only without reluctance, but
with triumph.

"Let it, therefore, be remembered, that none can be disciples of the
GRACES, but in the school of VIRTUE; and that those who wish to be
LOVELY, must learn early to be GOOD."

In the next transaction, Sarah appears in a still more unfavourable light
than in the former part of her history. In whatever degree the
circumstances in which she was placed may seem to extenuate the guilt of
her conduct in Egypt, they can no longer be pleaded on her behalf. She is
not now overawed by the authority of her husband, or seduced by an
affection, which would, at all hazards, endeavour to save his valuable
life; but becomes the voluntary tempter to a violation of divine
institutions, by which she not only manifested her unbelief, but
sacrifices to unworthy motives her domestic peace.

Notwithstanding the divine assurance, that the posterity of Abraham should
become a great nation, and possess the land of Canaan, Sarah begins to
think that there is no probability of her becoming a mother. Ten years had
elapsed, and no child was born. Reflecting on her advanced period of life,
and incapable of an implicit reliance upon the power of God, she requested
Abraham to take Hagar, her Egyptian handmaid, in order that she might
obtain children by her. It is scarcely possible to imagine a proposal more
calculated to subvert the comfort of her family, or more illustrative of
an unbelieving spirit. She could not rely upon the slow but certain
operations of a superintending Providence to fulfil those promises which
had been given; although a humble faith would have cherished confidence in
his word. He who has filled the volume of inspiration with "exceeding
great and precious promises," will assuredly accomplish them,
notwithstanding every apparent impediment. Omnipotence marches forward
with a steady, undeviating step, to its predestined purpose; and that
infinite wisdom which originally planned the future, can never be
frustrated or confused by any contingencies or vicissitudes; for no
possible event can occur which was not fully anticipated at the moment
when the promise was given.

Sarah was not only under the influence of distrust, but of inordinate
desire. She was impatient for one of those prime domestic comforts which
it was seen fit at present to deny her; and because the time which had
elapsed, exceeded her calculations of probability, she took upon herself
to devise a plan to hasten the accomplishment of her wishes. Let us beware
of an undue eagerness after the possession of any temporal enjoyment. It
will not only produce distrust, but, probably, precipitate us into
irregular means of gratifying our wishes. "Inordinate desires commonly
produce irregular endeavours. If our wishes be not kept in submission to
God's providence, our pursuits will scarcely be kept under the restraints
of his precepts."

It is truly surprising, that the father of the faithful should listen to
this insinuating request. Possibly he thought that, as Sarah was not
distinctly mentioned in the promise, Hagar might become the parent of the
promised seed; and by this specious pretence, being anxious for a son, he
was induced to comply. We are easily persuaded, when our own inclinations
already concur with a proposal; and even good men are very liable to
misinterpret the intimations of Providence, whenever they consult their
own feelings rather than the word of God.

It is remarked, that "Abraham hearkened to the voice of SARAH." This was
his error. There was another voice he should have heard. If he had any
doubts upon his mind, or any suspicion that his present wife was not the
predestined mother of the numerous posterity that were to people Canaan,
he should at least have betook himself to prayer. In a day of such
remarkable revelations, and in an affair of so much consequence, he might
reasonably have expected an express direction from heaven; and he who had
been already so privileged, ought to have unbosomed his thoughts and
explained his desires to the Lord. Let such as sustain the closest
connexion, beware of becoming snares instead of helps to each other!
Previous to a compliance with any important request that may lead to
considerable consequences, Let us, from whatever quarter it proceed, or
however justifiable it may appear, promptly avail ourselves of that
gracious throne, which is always accessible to the humble petitioner. We
are liable to so many misconceptions, exposed to the influence of so many
prejudices, and subject to the attacks of such a variety of temptations,
that our only security is in the exercise of a devotional spirit, our only
help is in the Lord our God. If any man lack wisdom, let him repair to the
fountain of intelligence, and solicit those supplies from heaven which are
not only freely dispensed, but fully adequate to our diversified
necessities.

The consequence of this unsanctioned proceeding, was precisely what might
have been expected. Elated with the honour of her situation, Sarah is
despised by her Egyptian handmaid. She treats her with contempt and
impertinence, as if she were the peculiar favourite of Heaven, and hoping
no doubt, that the ample promises of God were to be fulfilled by her
means. Knowing what human nature is, we cannot wonder at this disposition,
culpable as it was. Nothing is more common than for persons, when raised
above the meanness of their birth, and the inferiority of their former
circumstances, to be guilty of assuming airs of importance, and to forget
their most obvious duties: and we would caution servants especially
against such unwarrantable conduct. If divine favours should be conferred
upon them; if by the grace of God they should be made partakers of that
spiritual dignity which genuine religion confers, and be thus placed upon
a level with their masters or mistresses in the Christian church, let them
remember that they are not exempted from a civil subserviency. They are by
no means elevated above their natural situation as _servants,_ because
they become _Christians_; but all the peculiar claims of domestic duty
remain. An aspiring, or a haughty spirit, is unbecoming their newly
acquired character, and shows that they have very imperfectly learned of
him who was "meek and lowly of heart." Every person is respectable in his
station, exactly in proportion as it is properly occupied; and real
religion, instead of disqualifying for subordinate situations, is adapted
to produce contentment, and to dictate an exemplary and uniform
correctness of conduct in _whatever_ condition we may be placed by
Providence. "Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters,
according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your
heart, as unto Christ: not with eye-service, as men-pleasers; but as the
servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart; with good will
doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men: knowing that whatsoever
good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether
he be bond or free." "Let as many servants as are under the yoke, count
their own masters worthy of all honour, that the name of God and his
doctrine be not blasphemed. And they that have believing masters, let them
not despise them, because they are brethren; but rather do them service,
because they are faithful and beloved, partakers of the benefit."

If Hagar behaved with impertinence and vanity, Sarah manifested a very
censurable degree of resentment. Irritated by her handmaid's arrogance,
she appealed to Abraham, protesting that she could not endure such
insolence, and charging him with a secret connivance, if not an
encouragement of her provoking behaviour. Thus we perceive a specimen of
what will generally prove the case in family dissensions--both were in the
wrong. Hagar was aspiring and rude; Sarah passionate and severe. If the
former should have recollected her obligations, the latter ought not to
have forgotten her own foolishness in raising her above her natural level,
and placing her in circumstances of powerful temptation. The one should
have known her place; the other have kept her temper. Let the modern
mistress and servant take a lesson from this unhappy difference. How many
intestine commotions might be prevented, if inferiors would not overstep
the proper limits of their sphere; and if superiors in station would be
conciliating in spirit; "The beginning of strife is as when one letteth
out water; therefore leave off contention before it be meddled with."

Abraham wisely avoided all interference in this affair; and though his
beloved Sarah had appealed to him in very intemperate terms, he gave a
soft answer. "Behold thy maid is in thy hand; do to her as it pleaseth
thee." He refrained from all self-vindication, to which he seemed called
by the violent appeal of his wife; but if he thought proper either to
defend himself, or to remonstrate with her, he chose another occasion.
When the passions are inflamed, the judgment is seldom sufficiently
unbiassed to listen to reason or to consult propriety. It has been
questioned, however, whether in this instance he was not too submissive.
The Egyptian maid seemed entitled to protection; and, instead of yielding
to the rage of Sarah, he should have interposed his _meditation_, and if
necessary, his _authority_, to restore peace.

Incapable of resisting the combined assaults of jealousy, rage, and
revenge, the poor foreigner is driven from the roof of Abraham. She fled
into the wilderness with the view of returning to her native country, but
was suddenly arrested in her flight by an angelic messenger, who
admonished her to return to her mistress, and pacify her by ready and
unconditional submission. He also predicted the character and habits of
her future offspring, mentioning the name by which he was to be called,
and consoling her in this season of tribulation by an assurance that "the
Lord had heard her affliction." She instantly retracted her steps; and, as
no intimation is given to the contrary, we may infer that the fugitive was
restored to her situation in the family. She was humble, and Sarah
conciliated: and as we hear nothing of her for some years, they probably
lived in tolerable harmony. It was a merciful interposition to send her
back to the family of Abraham; for a connexion with the people of God,
whatever may be their faults, is far more desirable than the richest
inheritance, or the noblest alliance, where religion is discarded
or unknown.

[Sidenote: Years before Christ 1898]

As the birth of the Egyptian's son was attended by no divine
congratulations, Abraham is still permitted to pass thirteen years more in
a state of suspense respecting the promised child; when at the age of
ninety-nine, the covenant is renewed by another revelation. On this
remarkable occasion his wife received the name by which we have uniformly
called her, Abraham being distinctly assured of her predestined privilege
as the mother of the promised seed. A similar change of name was conferred
upon the patriarch. Hitherto he had been called _Abram_, a "high," or
"eminent father;" now he is to be _Abraham_, "the father of a great
multitude." His beloved wife, who had been called _Sarai_, "my princess,"
was in future to be distinguished by the name of _Sarah_, "a princess,"
denoting a more extensive honour. If he were to become the _Father_, she
was to be the _Mother_, of "many nations."

Having already witnessed the misconduct of Abraham's wife on two memorable
occasions, it would be highly gratifying to hear, in the next circumstance
of her history, that she acted worthy of her connexion with so illustrious
a husband, But alas! we are still necessitated to derive instruction
rather from a record of her faults than of her excellencies. We must
expect to witness a variety of these in every human character, combined
only with comparatively a small number of shining graces. Indeed we find,
in general, but one very distinguishing good quality associated with those
of a different complexion; and if the plant of grace spring up and grow in
the human character, it is usually in a thicket of inferior principles and
unholy propensities. While, therefore, engaged in the cultivation of our
hearts, in "keeping them with all diligence," as the wise king of Israel
expresses it; one very important duty we owe to ourselves is to watch the
appearance of these irregularities, and aim, by unremitting attention,
united with fervent prayer, to eradicate them from the moral soil. In
Sarah we see as great a luxuriance of evil as can be imagined to blend
with real piety, without essentially deteriorating it.

Sitting one day at the door of his tent to enjoy the refreshing shade,
[8] Abraham observed three strangers approaching, whom he hastened
to meet, that he might offer them any temporary accommodation in his
power. This act of hospitality was conformable to the usage of the
country; but the peculiar generosity of Abraham seems indicated in his
_running_ to meet them. The invitation is immediately accepted; and the
good old man, with the most obliging readiness, offered water to wash
their feet, and bread to satisfy their hunger. He hastened to Sarah,
directing her to make some cakes of fine meal, and bake them on the
hearth; and then went himself to the herd to choose a tender calf, which
he immediately proceeded to dress. Butter and milk, the produce of their
own pasture, were of course supplied. The venerable patriarch then took
his respectful standing under the branches of a neighbouring tree, which
afforded a pleasant screen from the sultry sun. What exquisite simplicity
is discernible here! what a subject for the painter! what a theme for the
poet! what an example for the good! Three heavenly messengers at the
humble table of one of the greatest men that ever inhabited this world--a
patriarch--a prince--the father of the faithful--the friend of
God--venerable for age--distinguished by his hospitality--still more
eminent for faith!--their canopy the overarching sky--their shelter, the
wide-spreading tree--flocks and herds grazing around, the indications of
an industry which Providence had blessed with remarkable success--and the
plain of Mamre spreading its luxuriance before their eyes!--

But we must hasten to the remarkable subject of their conversation. At
present the patriarch did not suspect the real character of his visiters;
who introduced their intended communication by asking, "Where is Sarah thy
wife?" This must have excited great surprise; for how could strangers know
the affairs of his family, and the particular name of his wife, which had
been so recently changed? He informed them, however, that she was in the
tent, where, according to the prevailing custom of the times, she had her
separate table. One of the angels, immediately personating Jehovah
himself, if he were not, as appears probable, the very "Angel of the
Covenant," gave this solemn assurance: "I will certainly return unto thee
according to the time of life; and, lo, Sarah thy wife shall have a son!"
Sarah, whom curiosity had brought to the door of the tent to listen to
what passed, overhearing this assurance, and looking upon it as an
impossible occurrence at her time of life, laughed in derision. She had
long come to the conclusion that she should produce no son to Abraham,
and, therefore, that all such expectations were chimerical and ridiculous.
This excessive incredulity--excessive, because a distinct assurance of the
fact had been already given to Abraham upon the occasion of their change
of names--was highly culpable; but while we denounce it with merited
severity, let us examine our own hearts. Have _we_ never acted in a
similar manner? Have _we_ never distrusted the providence of God or his
promises? Who can plead exemption from a spirit of unbelief? What surmises
have agitated our bosoms, when the events of life contradicted our
expectations? What despondency have we shown, and what distrust, when the
movements Omniscience were incomprehensible to our reason, and opposed to
our apparent interest? If but one part only of the divine proceedings
seemed incongruous, we have dared to arraign "the whole stupendous plan;"
if but "a momentary cloud" arose upon our prospect, we have begun to fancy
that order was at an end, that the sun had for ever disappeared, that God
had "forgotten to be gracious, and in anger shut up his tender mercies."
Let us then aim to correct these irregularities of feeling, and to dismiss
these misinterpretations of providence.

Sarah imagined that her contemptuous incredulity was only known to
herself: but the heavenly visiter instantly detected it, and appealed to
Abraham on its impropriety. Possibly the reason of addressing Abraham,
rather than calling the culprit herself to an account, was to inflict the
severer reproof. Ah! how vainly do we strive to conceal the secret
thoughts of the mind from the knowledge of God! His eyes, which run to and
fro through the earth, penetrate through every disguise, and perfectly
discern every inward motion as well as every outward action. We live every
moment--in the darkest midnight as well as at the brightest noon--in the
full blaze of Omniscience. "O Lord, thou hast searched me and known me:
thou knowest my down-sitting and mine up-rising; thou understandest my
thoughts afar off."

Incapable of enduring this exposure, the criminal now rushes from her
concealment, and boldly calls out, "I laughed not." This was a direct
falsehood, dictated by apprehension; and it was confronted by the instant
retort of him who knew her heart: "Nay, but thou _didst_ laugh." It is
possible that Sarah had some mental reservation, when she so flatly
denied the assertion of the angel: she might persuade herself that she did
not absolutely laugh, but only smiled, or felt contempt; but whatever mode
she might have adopted to explain away her conscious guilt, it was
unavailable, as every such unworthy subterfuge must always prove.

We cannot help remarking the danger of the least deviation from the path
of rectitude. One sin prepares the way for the commission of another; one
step over the edge and boundary of uprightness may lead us down a
precipice, and plunge us into a fatal series of crimes. We have already
seen an exemplification of this remark; and it is more strikingly
illustrated in the present transaction. Curiosity brought her to the door,
where she was soon betrayed into unbelief: detection soon produced a fear
of censure; this dread produced a ridiculous attempt at concealment and
self-justification; and the pride of her heart issued in exciting her to a
deliberate falsehood. Notwithstanding her incredulity, however, Sarah
shall bear a son, to be the spring of innumerable blessings to her
posterity. Thus infinite goodness overrules the perverseness of his
people, as well as the wrath of sinners, ultimately to promote his
own designs.

If, on this occasion, the daring transgressor had been smitten to the
earth by an instantaneous judgment, it must have been regarded as a proper
expression of the divine displeasure. Her repeated provocations merited
the severest chastisement, and would undoubtedly have justified such a
proceeding. The thoughts of Jehovah, however, are not as our thoughts, nor
his ways as our ways. There is nothing vindictive in the character of the
blessed God; and if he have on certain occasions launched the thunderbolt
upon the guilty heads of sinners, the circumstances have shown that the
atrocity of their iniquities has required a signal visitation. How far
punishment of this nature may be necessary in any particular case, it is
not for beings limited in their views as we are to decide, but simply to
rely on the wisdom of him, who, with a due intermixture of severity and
mercy, justice and grace, conducts the affairs of the universe.

Overawed by the angelic presence, and mortified by an inward consciousness
of her folly and sin, Sarah uttered not another word. She could neither
vindicate her incredulity, nor extenuate her false assertion; and though
she proceeded to great lengths, we are happy to find that she sufficiently
restrained her intemperate passions to retire in silence.

From this moment we trust she assumed another character. Reflection
restored her to her right mind. She dismissed her criminal doubts, and
resigned herself to the divine disposal. As the predestined period of her
giving birth to the child of promise was approaching, her faith produced
the liveliest sensations of joy; and both she and Abraham exulted in the
prospect of a son. That this was the state of her mind, we are assured
from indisputable authority: "Through faith Sarah herself received
strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past
age, because she judged him faithful who had promised."

Perhaps we may be disposed to say, it was time she _did_ believe. After
such remarkable manifestations, and such reiterated promises to Abraham,
it would have been passing strange had she continued incredulous. Surely
there was enough to convince her, that, whatever difficulties nature might
present, grace had determined to overcome them, and that every reasonable
and every possible evidence of the intended miracle had been given. But
is it so unusual for mankind to resist the most convincing arguments, and
to disbelieve even the most obvious truth, that the case of Sarah ought to
be regarded as so extraordinary? Have we not daily proof of a similar
obstinacy and perverseness? If it be observed that Sarah possessed great
advantages, being connected with so excellent a man, and so great a
favourite of Heaven as Abraham, and being visited by angelic messengers,
and instructed by celestial visions; this may be admitted. But do not
those who reject the truth of Christianity, or disobey its precepts, act a
more criminal as well as unreasonable part, inasmuch as they enjoy all the
instruction and all the experience of past ages? And is it not a more
outrageous defiance of Heaven to oppose the reality of its manifestations,
after successive centuries have demonstrated the truth of predictions once
mysterious, evinced the nature of facts once misunderstood, dispersed the
typical shadow which once enveloped the sublimest discoveries of infinite
wisdom, and poured upon a benighted world the full blaze of evangelical
revelations?--Sarah doubted the possibility of an occurrence which was
attended with striking difficulties, and evidently miraculous; but what
censure do not they deserve who shut their eyes against the clearest
light, perplex with sophisms the most intelligible statements, and
endeavour, by every exertion of a slanderous tongue and a malignant pen,
to subvert the basis of our religious hopes, and to undermine a fabric
which has stood the test of ages, giving repose and refreshment to
millions of heaven-bound pilgrims on their journey!

To draw the circle of reflection closer.--If _our_ inconsistencies were
written in a book--if the instances of _our_ unbelief amidst evidences, of
_our_ failures in temper and spirit, of _our_ misimprovement of the
peculiar advantages of our situation, were recorded for the warning of
others--is there any probability that we should acquire much honour by a
comparison with the wife of Abraham? We do not indeed justify _her_
faults, but let us not overlook _our own_. We have better means, and
brighter discoveries. In these last days God hath spoken unto us by his
Son. We are, through faith, become the children of Abraham, interested in
the new covenant, introduced into the family, and admitted to the
friendship of God. We have seen the visions of patriarchal days, the
promises and blessings of the ancient dispensation, the memorable and
terrific descent of Jehovah on Sinai, the prefigurations of the Mosaic
economy, the personal glories, the incarnate love, the agonizing death,
the triumphant ascension of the Son of God: we enjoy means of instruction
which no other age did or could possess. And wherein consists our
superiority to former saints, even those whose imperfections are the most
conspicuous? Surely, the observation may be retorted upon many hearers and
professors of the gospel, in reference to their too frequent instances of
inconsistency--it is time you _did_ believe!

[Sidenote: Years before Christ, 1897.]

The birth of Isaac, the promised seed was attended with great rejoicings.
His very name, signifying _laughter_, was expressive of the happy
occasion; and Sarah, in the ecstacy of her mind, exclaimed, "God hath made
me to laugh, so that all that hear me will laugh with me." The birth of a
child is naturally the subject of joy and congratulation; but the
introduction of Isaac into the world, who had been so long and repeatedly
promised, demanded and excited unusual satisfaction. Sarah, who introduced
him with a mother's joy, nursed him herself with a mother's care. She was
ignorant of the cruel absurdity which modern refinement has invented, of
separating the tender offspring from its proper guardian and provider, and
thus not only exposing it to many inconveniences and hardships, but
nullifying the wise and kind arrangements of Providence. Alas! nature,
reason, and religion, must all be violated in compliance with fashion!
Need we feel surprised that barbarity should produce alienation, and that
she who refuses to show tenderness, should fail of receiving attachment?
Is it at all astonishing, that habits and sentiments foreign to domestic
comfort should be acquired; and that, when proper discipline and personal
superintendence are neglected, the young plant should shoot into unsightly
irregularities of spirit and character?

How soon may the brightest day be overcast with a cloud! How liable are
our best enjoyments to interruption! The weaning of Isaac was celebrated
with great festivities; upon which occasion this favourite child was
recognized as Abraham's heir. This excited the displeasure of Ishmael;
which the jealous eye of Sarah observing, she insisted upon the
instantaneous expulsion of mother and son from the family. We are sorry to
witness any revival of the old spirit; but, in this world, unholy passions
cannot be totally eradicated. We should hope, however, there was more
reason, as well as religion, in her displeasure on this than on a former
occasion. The young man was, probably, ridiculing the whole ceremony, and
deriding the parents, the child, and the promise; for passion and
prejudice are never very discriminating in their censures. Ishmael was, in
fact, of a wild, ungovernable temper; but we have no evidence that the
provocation was sufficient to justify the proceeding of Sarah, in
peremptorily demanding the expulsion of the mother and her child. Thus
did Abraham's concubinage continue to imbitter his domestic peace; and the
good old patriarch was again placed in a most difficult and perplexing
situation.

Whatever feelings may be supposed to have dictated the resolution of
Sarah, it was coincident with the designs of God; and Abraham, who had
certainly sought divine direction, was commanded to comply. This would, no
doubt, quiet the feverish anxiety of his mind; for a consciousness of
doing the will of God, however contrary it may be to our natural
inclinations, is sufficient to smooth the roughest path of duty, and to
lighten the heaviest burden we may be called to sustain. Abraham, in this,
as well as in various other instances, displayed exemplary faith. The
bitter draught, however, was somewhat sweetened. It was difficult to
parental feelings to concur in so severe a measure; but some gleam of
futurity was afforded to enlighten the darksome but appointed path. "And
God said unto Abraham, Let it not be grievous in thy sight, because of the
lad, and because of thy bond-woman: in all that Sarah hath said unto thee,
hearken unto her voice; for in Isaac shall thy seed be called. And also of
the son of the bond-woman will I make a nation, because he is thy seed."

Notwithstanding the faults to which we have found it necessary to advert,
Sarah was unquestionably a great character. She not only stands recorded
in the New Testament amongst those who were illustrious in ancient times
for their faith, but is exhibited as a pattern of domestic conduct. Her
defects were but occasionally visible, being commonly concealed amidst the
brightness of her numerous excellencies. Her obedience to Abraham is
specified by the apostle as a laudable singularity, which, in connexion
with other virtues, he thus recommends: "Likewise, ye wives, be in
subjection to your own husbands; that if any obey not the word, they also
may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives; while they
behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear.--Whose adorning let it
not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold,
or of putting on of apparel; but let it be the hidden man of the heart, in
that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet
spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price. For after this
manner, in the old time, the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned
themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands, even as Sarah
obeyed Abraham, calling him lord; whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do
well, and are not afraid with any amazement."

[Sidenote: Years before Christ, 1859.]

Seven and thirty years after the birth of Isaac and when Sarah had
attained the age of one hundred and twenty-seven, we come to the
conclusion of her "mortal story." Her death, and the respect paid to her
memory, are related with a circumstantial minuteness which is truly
honourable to her character. This affecting event occurred at Kirjah-Arba,
or Hebron, in the plain of Mamre, where Abraham came to bemoan his loss.
Venerable man! thine was no common mourning! Thou didst not merely sit
upon the ground, assuming the customary attitude of grief; but thine were
genuine sorrows! What big tears of undissembled pain poured down thine
aged cheeks! How did affection recal the days, and months, and years of
delightful union, which time had strengthened, but death had now
dissolved! And yet, while nature demanded this tribute of fond
remembrance, religion had taught thee to moderate thy distress, and to
elevate thy hopes to a brighter world, where holy friendship, begun on
earth, shall be purified and perpetuated through everlasting ages!

The longevity of ancient times, and especially of the antediluvians,
naturally excites surprise; but what a dream is human life, even at its
most protracted period! How soon do even centuries elapse! How solemn the
consideration, that the flood of ages, which has swept from the surface of
this globe so many millions of our predecessors, however firm may have
been their health, or numerous their years, or eminent their characters,
is daily impelling us forward to the "house appointed for all living."
_Their_ pilgrimage terminated, and so must _ours: their_ earthly relations
were dissolved, and _their_ places in society were vacated; and soon the
place which we occupy, shall "know us no more." The stream flows on, and
we cannot arrest its course. Happy for us, if it should appear that we are
going to join the society of the blessed; if, possessing the faith of
Abraham, we have reason to indulge the hope of being eventually
transported to his bosom!

Sitting in imagination at the grave of Sarah, and blending our
sympathizing tears with those of her honoured husband, what a lesson may
we learn respecting the vanity of human life! The flower whose exquisite
beauty and attractive sweetness once excited so much desire, is faded, and
mingled with common dust! There lies a form, which _was_ so lovely and so
beloved, to furnish a repast for creeping worms! How bereft of that spirit
which once animated it! How altered and defaced by the putrifying touch of
mortality! Here the race of life terminates; and to this loathsome
dwelling, the proudest, the fairest, the wealthiest, _the_ most
celebrated, and the most elevated of our race, must sooner or later
descend! "Prepare to meet thy God!"

We may take a momentary glance at another consideration. In order to
answer the great end of their being, in order to be furnished with
adequate means for the employment of their immortal faculties, and for
possessing that plenitude of felicity of which their sanctified natures
are capable, the saints of God must be removed out of the present world.
Often do they exclaim, "I loath it; I would not live alway:"--"O that I
had wings like a dove; for then would I flee away and be at rest!"

This prevailing _wish_ accords with the _purpose_ of Heaven. Infinite
benevolence cannot allow a spiritual and sanctified character always to be
imprisoned within the narrow confines of flesh and blood. It could never
be satisfied to assign the objects of its affection so mean a portion as
the pleasures and the possessions of this inferior state of existence.
They must _die_ to be perfectly _blest_. This earth _will not do_ for a
Christian in the _maturity_ of his character. It is too vile, and too
transitory. Its gold is but dust--its applause, a puff of noisy air--its
sparkling pleasures, but polluted cisterns--its richest gifts, but
bubbles, which, if they reflect the fairest colours of the rainbow, break
when they are grasped, or dissolve as we approach them, into mist and
nothingness! "Set your affection on things above:--the things which are
_seen_ are TEMPORAL; the things which are _not seen_ are ETERNAL!"



Hagar.

Chapter III.



  Retrospective Glance at the History--Hagar--the Wilderness--Angelic
  Manifestation--Divine Promises--a View of their Accomplishment--Hagar's
  Piety--her second Banishment and Distress--another
  Interposition--Providence illustrated.


The contention between the wife of Abraham and her Egyptian handmaid, has
already been the subject of animadversion; but although their histories
are considerably blended, some features in the character of the latter,
and some affecting circumstances of her life, have been hitherto omitted,
which seem to claim a separate notice.

That retreat into Egypt, which was in some respects so dishonourable to
the integrity, both of Abraham and Sarah, was overruled for good. Pharaoh
showed great kindness to the patriarch, on account of his fair companion,
who he had been led to suppose was his sister; and according to the custom
of the age, and the high station of her admirer, he presented him with
"sheep, and oxen, and he-asses, and men-servants, and _maid-servants_, and
she-asses, and camels." No doubt it was at this time Hagar was introduced
into this pious family, and left her native country to accompany her
mistress and master upon their return.

The handmaids were a sort of female slaves. They were considered as the
unalienable property of their mistresses, who claimed the produce of their
labour, and even the children they bore. [9]

Sarah's impatience for offspring, and the rash policy of her urging
Abraham to take this Egyptian servant as a concubine, have been already
mentioned, as well as the unhappy differences it occasioned in the family.
We have seen the pride of Hagar, the petulance of Sarah, and the consent
of Abraham that she should be banished from their dwelling. Let us follow
the fugitive into the wilderness, and observe the extraordinary result.

It was the evident intention of Hagar to escape to her native country. She
went into the wilderness of Shur, which extended between Canaan and Egypt,
where she sat down for refreshment by a spring of water. Whatever degree
of blame we may impute to her in this precipitate removal from the house
of her pious master, it is impossible not to pity her melancholy
situation. Alone, and unbefriended by any human being; surrounded by a
thousand perils in the desert which stretched its cheerless solitude
before her; expelled from a family where she had so long resided, and
where she enjoyed so many advantages; uncertain of her future residence;
and in a condition which peculiarly claims our sympathy with the female
sufferer; her history cannot but excite inquiry, and produce interest.
There was an eye that watched her movements and her tears. In a short time
she is addressed by an unknown voice, which proved to be the voice of one
of those ministering spirits that are employed to execute the designs of
infinite goodness. "Hagar," said he, "Sarah's maid, whence earnest thou?
and whither wilt thou go?"

The knowledge of her past history which this question indicated, must have
convinced the poor, fugitive that this was some divine visitation; and she
immediately answered, "I flee from the face of my mistress Sarah." This
was a simple, direct, ingenuous statement. Here was no concealment; no
prevarication respecting the whole truth; and how much better was this
than any attempt at evasion or dishonesty! We are not, indeed, always
obliged to disclose our circumstances to every inquirer; but, if we do,
our words ought to be the exact representation of the case: for, sooner or
later, integrity will be advantageous both to our character and our real
interests.

The reply of Hagar was, moreover, creditable to her _temper_, Sarah and
her handmaid had parted under circumstances of mutual provocation; and the
latter had, no doubt, suffered very indignant treatment. But she does not
avail herself of this unexpected interview to enter upon her own
justification, or to produce a long and formal charge against her
mistress. The mere fact of her expulsion is stated without any comment. It
must indeed be admitted, that her introduction into the family of Abraham
placed her in that inferior condition in which Sarah possessed an
indisputable right over her person; and it must be also admitted, that she
had manifested a very unwarrantable vanity in despising her for
barrenness; yet, judging from her dispassionate language to the angel, we
should infer that she was naturally of a more patient disposition than her
mistress, and is in this view worthy of the imitation of young women whom
Providence consigns to the same menial state. How many would have been
clamorous and peevish, hasty in censuring their mistress, and forward in
vindicating themselves! They would have obtruded the story of the fancied
injuries they had sustained upon every occasion, and wearied with the
ridiculous recital, every one who might be found willing or unwilling to
hear their complaints. But Hagar, simply and without any marks of
irritation or resentment, stated the reason of her being alone in the
wilderness at the fountain of water.

If our idea be correct, we have here a specimen of a no very unusual
case. Some who have no claim to the distinction of religious persons,
which at present was the probable character of Hagar, frequently possess a
mildness and amiableness of disposition which is peculiarly attractive;
while those who undoubtedly belong to the superior class of the pious and
devout, exhibit unhappy defects of temper and disposition. The former
resemble the flowers of the wilderness, beautiful indeed, and fragrant,
but wild; the latter, those of the cultivated garden, blooming like the
rose among thorns. The loveliness of those who are otherwise "far from
God," excites our admiration, and wins our regard; while the unsightly
"temper flaws" of such as generally class with the servants of God are
repulsive and disgusting. In consequence of this, the distinction between
the two essentially different characters, is not always sufficiently
marked, or very perceptible; the excellence of the one elevating them
almost to the dignity of saints, and the defects of the other sinking them
almost to the meanness of sinners. But we should be cautious in passing
our judgment, lest we also be judged. Let us not undervalue the sterling
worth of the genuine Christian, because it is blended with some obvious,
or even some glaring incongruities. Let us equally beware of attributing
undue value to the good qualities of the worldling, and thus annihilate
the distinction between the natural and spiritual character.

It was happy for Hagar that the angel was sent to arrest her progress.
After her explicit declaration of the reason of her flight, she was
directed to return to her mistress, and submit herself. This was, perhaps,
a hard saying, and a haughty spirit might easily have raised ingenious and
perverse objections; but we have additional evidence of this young
woman's good disposition, in her receiving the mandate with a silent
obedience of spirit. Her best interests were likely to be more promoted by
her returning into a pious family, notwithstanding all its faults, than in
going to reside amongst the idolaters of her native country; and thus,
when she knew not how to choose for herself, the goodness of God was
displayed in appointing the bounds of her habitation. This command would
prove to her, and should teach us, that whatever provocations or injuries
we may have sustained, these cannot justify a wrong proceeding; and we
should hasten to retrieve our error by retracing our steps.

This, however, was only the secondary purpose of the present remarkable
manifestation. Words of astonishing import immediately followed. Hagar was
promised a numerous offspring, although the Messiah was not to descend
from her; and the promise was pronounced in a manner so solemn, so
significant, so overwhelming, that her eyes were opened to see it was no
other than the patriarch's God that assured her of a participation in the
patriarch's blessing. "And the angel of the Lord said unto her, I will
multiply thy seed exceedingly, that it shall not be numbered for
multitude. And the angel of the Lord said unto her, Behold, thou art with
child, and shalt bear a son, and shalt call his name Ishmael; because the
Lord hath heard thy affliction. And he will be a wild man; his hand will
be against every man, and every man's hand against him; and he shall dwell
in the presence of all his brethren." Similar promises were afterward
reiterated: "Behold, I have blessed him, (Ishmael) and will make him
fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly; twelve princes shall he
beget, and I will make him a great nation."--"And also of the son of the
bond-woman will I make a nation, because he is thy seed."--"I will make
him a great nation."

These predictions have been minutely accomplished. The posterity of
Ishmael may be traced in the Ishmaelites, the Hagarenes, the Itureans, and
Arabs; especially the Scenites and Saracens, the latter of whom erected
one of the largest empires in the world. To this day the Arabs are not
only a distinct people, but possess the original character of their
father, fierce and unsettled, living in a state of perpetual hostility
against the rest of the world. Every attempt to subdue or extirpate them,
has proved abortive. The Egyptians and Assyrians were equally
unsuccessful, and whatever partial dominion Cyrus and the Persians might
obtain, they could never penetrate the interior of the country, or reduce
them to tributary subjection. In vain did Alexander plan their
destruction; the hand of Providence interposed to prevent it by his death.
The Romans could never conquer Arabia; and they continued to molest their
neighbours by incessant incursions. Under Mohammed they became a mighty
empire, and though it was ultimately dissolved, they still maintained
their liberty in defiance of the Tartars, Mamelukes, and Turks.

"Who," inquires a great writer, "can fairly consider and lay all these
particulars together, and not perceive the hand of God in this whole
affair, from the beginning to the end? The sacred historian saith, that
these prophecies concerning Ishmael were delivered partly by the angel of
the Lord, and partly by God himself: and indeed, who but God, or one
raised and commissioned by him, could describe so particularly the genius
and manners, not only of a single person before he was born, but of a
whole race of people, from the first founder of the race to the present
time? It was somewhat wonderful, and not to be foreseen by human sagacity
or prudence, that a man's whole posterity should so nearly resemble him,
and retain the same inclinations, the same habits, the same customs
throughout all ages. The waters of the purest spring or fountain are soon
changed and polluted in their course, and the farther still they flow, the
more they are incorporated and lost in other waters. How have the modern
Italians degenerated from the courage and virtues of the old Romans? How
are the French and English polished and refined from the barbarianism of
the ancient Gauls and Britons? Men and manners change with times; but in
all changes and revolutions, the Arabs have still continued the same with
little or no alteration. And yet it cannot be said of them, as some
barbarous nations, that they have had no commerce or intercourse with the
rest of mankind; for by their conquests they overran a great part of the
earth, and for some centuries were masters of most of the learning that
was then in the world; but, however, they remained, and still remain the
same fierce, savage, intractable people, like their great ancestor in
every thing, and different from most of the world besides. Ishmael was
circumcised, and so are his posterity to this day; and as Ishmael was
circumcised when he was thirteen years old, so were the Arabs at the same
age, according to Josephus. He was born of Hagar, who was a concubine; and
they still indulge themselves in the use of mercenary wives and
concubines. He lived in tents in the wilderness, shifting from place to
place; and so do his descendants, particularly those therefore called
Scenites formerly, and those called Bedoweens at this day. He was an
archer in the wilderness, and so are they. He was to be the father of
twelve princes, or heads of tribes; and they live in clans or tribes at
this day. He was a wild man, his hand against every man, and every man's
hand against him; and they live in the same state of war, their hand
against every man, and every man's hand against them.

"This, I say, is somewhat wonderful, that the same people should retain
the same dispositions for so many ages: but it is still more wonderful,
that with these dispositions and this enmity to the whole world, they
should still subsist, in spite of the world, an independent and free
people. It cannot be pretended, that no probable attempts were ever made
to conquer them; for the greatest conquerors in the world have almost all,
in their turns, attempted it. It cannot be pretended, that the dryness or
inaccessibleness of their country hath been their preservation; for their
country hath been often penetrated, though never entirely subdued. I know
that Diodorus Siculus accounts for their preservation from the dryness of
their country; that they have wells digged in proper places known only to
themselves, and their enemies and invaders, through ignorance of these
places, perish for want of water; but this account is far from being an
adequate and just representation of the case. Large armies have found
the means of subsistence in their country; none of their powerful invaders
ever desisted on this account; and therefore, that they have not been
conquered, we must impute to some other cause. When, in all human
probability, they were upon the brink of ruin, then they were signally and
providentially delivered. Alexander was preparing an expedition against
them, when an inflammatory fever cut him off in the flower of his age.
Pompey was in the career of his conquests, when urgent affairs called him
elsewhere. Ælius Gallus had penetrated far into the country, when a fatal
disease destroyed great numbers of his men, and obliged him to return.
Trajan besieged their capital city, but was defeated by thunder and
lightning, whirlwinds, and other prodigies, and that as often as he
renewed his assaults. Severus besieged the same city twice, and was twice
repelled from before it; and the historian, Dion, a man of rank and
character, though a heathen, plainly ascribes the defeat of the two
emperors to the interposition of a Divine Power. We who know the
prophecies, may be more assured of the reality of a divine interposition;
and, indeed, otherwise how could a single nation stand out against the
enmity of the whole world for any length of time, and much more for near
4000 years together; the great empires round them have all in their turn
fallen to ruin, while they have continued the same from the beginning, and
are likely to continue the same to the end: and this, in the natural
course of human affairs, was so highly improbable, if not altogether
impossible, that as nothing but a Divine Prescience could have foreseen
it, so nothing but a Divine Power could have accomplished it." [10]

To return to Hagar. The effect of this angelic visitation was her
conversion to the knowledge and love of God. The advantages of her former
situation in the family of Abraham, do not seem to have produced any
remarkable change of character; but in this the day of her affliction, in
this the sad hour of her retreat and solitude, she is taught to pray. So
true is it, that "thy people shall be _willing_ in the day of _thy
power_!" How often have those means which to human apprehension seemed
best calculated to produce a renovation of heart utterly failed, while the
Spirit of God has successfully operated by methods and in situations the
least expected to avail! Happy solitude that brings us into the society
of God! Welcome affliction that subdues us to his will!

In the transports of holy affection, Hagar addressed Jehovah by a phrase,
importing "Thou, God, seest me;" and intimated the unexpected but welcome
nature of the discoveries she had made, and of that influence which drew
her after God in faith, and hope, and love:--"Have I also here looked
after him that seeth me?" As a memento of this wonderful interposition,
she named the spring of water by which she was sitting, "Beer-lahai-roi,"
that is, "The well of him that liveth and seeth me."

Hagar, in adopting this language, expressed her _grateful sense of the
divine interposition_. She felt conscious that in her present
circumstances she might have perished alone and unpitied; or, if she had
survived, and taken up her residence in Egypt she would have remained
destitute of the religious instruction already received, and the future
advantages of pious intercourse. Her gratitude was blended with a feeling
of humility, a consciousness of unworthiness. What could be more
surprising, than that an angel should descend from the splendour of the
divine presence, to converse with a poor wanderer in the wilderness of
Shur, and console her by such wonderful promises? These benevolent spirits
appear to have maintained a frequent intercourse with the best inhabitants
of our globe in former ages, and to have been intrusted with the holy
ministration of attending the Son of God in his incarnate state. If, since
the completion of the canon of Scripture, the necessity of angelic visits
be superseded, we ought nevertheless to record the goodness of a
superintending Providence. He who forms a just estimate of his mercies,
may surely fill the diary of every day with grateful notices, and cannot
take even a cursory retrospect of the years of past existence, without
recollecting some striking interpositions which should often renew his
praise and thanksgiving. Have we not been sustained in weakness, guided in
perplexity, healed in sickness, supplied in poverty, or defended in
danger? Let not insensibility and forgetfulness add to the already large
accumulations of our guilt.

The words of Hagar ought also to be regarded as indicative of _pious
resignation of spirit_ amidst the adversities of life. It is common in
calamitous circumstances, or in afflictions which seem immediately
occasioned by others upon whom we may have been dependent, or with whom we
have been in any way connected, to exclaim against the cruelty of our
enemy, or the malice of such as have been instrumental in producing our
unhappiness; but Hagar utters no complaints against Sarah, who had driven
her into the wilderness, where she and her infant offspring might
have perished.

This is instructive. Admitting that we are not mistaken in our views, and
that others may be really cruel; if we consider affliction aright, we
shall leave the instrument to the judgment of God, and be solicitous only
of glorifying him, by possessing our souls in patience. Joseph afterward
was an illustrious specimen of this disposition. "Now, therefore," said he
to his brethren, "be not grieved nor angry with yourselves that ye sold me
hither; for God did send me before you to preserve life."

All second causes constitute but the machinery on which the great First
Cause operates. If we look merely to _them_, we shall find an endless
source of disquietude: if to _him_, who regulates the whole system of
means, we cannot fail of obtaining satisfaction and peace of mind.
Resignation is to be distinguished from a stoical indifference, or a
sullen insensibility, occasioned by the conviction that, as afflictions
could not be avoided, they must be borne; that it is in vain to struggle
or resist; and that our weakness renders endurance necessary, however
irksome. It consists rather in a pious acquiescence in the will of Heaven,
arising from a persuasion that God knows what is really best for us; and
that his dispensations, however painful or opposite to our wishes, will
prove conducive to our real benefit. He uses the corrective rod, not the
destroying sword. If he amputate the disordered member, it is to save
the life.

_Cheerful hope for the future_ seems also to breathe through the
expressions of Hagar, in which she is worthy of our imitation. Past
interpositions form a solid foundation for future confidence. "Surely,"
said David, "goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life."
Disconsolate believer, be assured that the pillar of cloud, which has
hitherto directed thy path, shall accompany thee to the very borders of
Canaan! "Fear not," says Jehovah, "for I am with thee; be not dismayed,
for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I
will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness--I will never
leave thee, nor forsake thee."

It is natural to wish to pry into futurity. We are impatient to penetrate
the clouds that envelope us, and to discern the distant course which
Providence has prescribed for our feet. Curiosity combines with
self-interest to urge this inquiry; but the reproof which Peter received
is justly merited by ourselves: "What is that to thee? Follow thou me." If
we follow Christ, we have nothing to dread; if we desert him, we have
nothing to hope. Futurity can be no source of alarm to him who is
conscious of acting right. It is filled with no "Gorgons, and hydras, and
chimeras dire," but to the distempered imagination of the guilty spirit;
and, therefore, if we would escape _misery_, we must resist _sin_.

The language in question may be considered as expressive of
_self-dedication._ "Thou, God, seest me," my wants, my wishes, my entire
situation! I have no will but thine; no desire but what I readily submit
that thou shalt gratify or disappoint according to thy pleasure. If thou
inflict chastisement, I will cheerfully sustain it; if thou afford
prosperity, I will humbly enjoy and improve it. I will no longer live to
myself; I am not my own. I agree to the transfer of all my powers,
talents, and possessions to thy service. My whole being shall henceforth
be at thy disposal; it shall become thy absolute and inalienable property:
this is a "living sacrifice" which I admit to be "reasonable," which I
rejoice to believe is "holy and acceptable." In time past I have "sown to
the flesh;" let this suffice--another principle influences me--another
motive shall evermore predominate.

A resolution of this nature must be dictated by the lowest opinion of
ourselves, and the highest idea of God: and what is our proper situation,
but in the dust? and where should we place God, but on the throne? To
acknowledge this in theory, and to abandon it in practice, is to trifle
both with ourselves and with him.

Entire dedication to God is by no means incompatible with the duties of
life. It is possible to be "diligent in business," but "fervent in spirit,
serving the Lord." We contend not for a voluntary seclusion from society,
seeking the retirements of the cloister or the retreats of the wilderness:
but we plead with you, whatever situation you occupy, to set God always
before your eyes, to act as in his sight, and daily to realize the true
character of saints as "strangers and pilgrims on earth." Religion, that
flower of paradise, was never intended to "waste its sweetness on the
desert air;" but to flourish in society, and to diffuse its sacred
perfumes in every walk of life.

This elevation of piety, so far from poisoning the springs of human joy,
so far from imbittering the cordials of our cup, will refine every
enjoyment and purify every pleasure. It will blunt the keen edge of
sorrow, and smooth the asperities of adversity. It will bring down heaven
to earth, and render death itself a desirable passage to everlasting life.
Let us accustom ourselves to contemplate the most eminent examples of this
spirit, that, by daily imitating them, we may, through grace, be
progressively "meetening" for the participation of their inheritance.

If it were not Hagar's immediate intention, her language may at least be
adopted to express a _constant sense of the divine omniscience_. No idea
is so calculated to animate us in the discharge of duty, or to sustain us
in submission to evil. In the ancient Olympic games, how must the
consciousness of twenty or thirty thousand witnesses of their efforts have
stimulated the Grecian combatants, ranged as they were around them in an
amphitheatre, and consisting of the first magistrates of the kingdom! But
how much more impressive and awful is the persuasion that the great eye of
the universe is upon us in our Christian race; that the "King
eternal, immortal, invisible," watches every movement, and beholds with
approbation or kindles into wrath, as we persevere or draw back to
perdition! He sees in solitude and in society, in the crowded city and the
distant wilderness. On the one hand, he witnesses the aversion and
rebellion of the wicked; on the other, he gathers the tears of penitence
into his bottle, records the petitions of faith in his book, and amidst
the music of angels, bends his listening ear to the sighs of the
sorrowful.

Let Christians remember that they have a mighty struggle to sustain, but
their resources are inexhaustible. They have to contend with the powers of
darkness and the corruptions of nature. In the issue of this contest
heaven and hell are interested; the one, that you should fail; the other,
that you should come off "more than conquerors." Angels are waiting on the
shores of immortality to see the final result, and are already tuning
their harps to sound your victory through the universe. The ascended
Saviour addresses you from the skies: "Be thou faithful unto death, and I
will give thee a crown of life."

In the preceding chapter, the occasion of Hagar's second banishment from
the family of Abraham was related. During the festivities which were
observed at the weaning of Isaac, her son indulged himself in profane
mockery; the consequence of which was, that Sarah insisted upon the
instant expulsion of mother and child. Notwithstanding Abraham's
repugnance to this proceeding, he was induced to it by divine a command.
Early in the morning he dismissed Hagar and her son, with a bottle of
water and some bread, with which she hastened away into the wilderness of
Beersheba. This scanty supply was soon exhausted, and the unhappy
fugitives became reduced to the greatest distress. What could an
unprotected female do in such melancholy circumstances, but simply commit
herself to the guidance of Providence, and pursue, though she knew not
whither, her adventurous way? Past deliverances ought to inspire
confidence in every season of suffering; and we cannot but hope that her
mind was long consoled, by the recollection of the heavenly interposition
which she had enjoyed sixteen years ago, in her first banishment. No
resentful feelings, no irritating language is recorded; and doubtless
Abraham dismissed her with as much kindness as the peculiarity of the
circumstances admitted.

But behold a most tragical scene. In a few days the water is spent in the
bottle. Poor Hagar pants along the solitary desert, turning hither and
thither in search of some scanty supply. Not a drop of refreshment is to
be found; till at length, arriving at some shrubs, she sat down with her
exhausted--and, as she imagined, her _dying_ child, beneath the welcome
shade. Nothing but silence and solitude reigned around her. The burning
sun had scorched up every sign of vegetation. She was driven from a pious
family; but she had no home, no friend, no helper! Officious kindness,
which often soothes the agonies of death, was denied her. None were at
hand to soothe her mind, or wipe away her tears; and her maternal heart
was rent by the distracting expectation of her son's dissolution. At the
very point of despair, she left Ishmael under a shrub, and retired to some
distance to avoid the sight of his expiring agonies.

Who can imagine the pain of this excruciating moment, or the bitterness of
the tears she shed! O what lamentations did she utter, and perhaps what
self-reproaches for her undervaluation of past mercies! What regrets that
she encouraged, or probably did not suppress and correct, the perverse
spirit of her son!

While we pity her desperate condition, we must not apologize for her sins.
After the remarkable assurances which the angel had given her on a former
occasion, it was criminal unbelief in Hagar to sit down in despondency,
and conclude that she and her son must inevitably perish: and yet this is
but a specimen of the distrust which is too frequently manifested, even by
those who profess to rely upon the promises of God. Happy for us, if, in
cases of far less extremity, we have not been tempted to forget our
mercies and relinquish our confidence!

The sighs of the lad were heard. An angel again appeared to his desponding
mother--"What aileth thee, Hagar? Fear not, for God hath heard the voice
of the lad where he is: arise, and lift up the lad, and hold him in thine
hand; for I will make him a great nation." At the instant of this address,
God is said to have opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water, whence
she replenished the bottle, and supplied her fainting son. He revived, and
afterward settled in the wilderness of Paran with his mother, and probably
maintained her by the use of the bow. So wonderfully does the providence
of God accomplish its predestined purposes!

This distressing circumstance in the life of Hagar was a link in a great
chain of events, which were connected together by an invisible agency, and
held in the divine hands. A superficial observer might see nothing in all
that transpired but a curious concurrence of ordinary events. The
insolence of Ishmael irritated the temper of Sarah; she procured his
expulsion, and that of his mother from her household; retiring in
disgrace, she narrowly escaped destruction in the wilderness, and
afterward took up a casual residence in the vicinity. But if we pay a
proper attention to these events, we shall view them with another eye.
Every circumstance was connected with a vast providential plan, and tended
to illustrate the power and sovereignty of God in the accomplishment of
his designs. The folly of Ishmael, the conduct of Sarah, the compliance
of Abraham, the various occurrences connected with the settlement in
Paran, concurred to _fulfil a divine prediction_, and thus to evince the
superintendence of God over all human affairs. "Surely the wrath of man
shall praise thee, and the remainder of wrath wilt thou restrain."



Lot's Wife.

Chapter IV.



  Delusions to which the Young in particular are exposed--Lot's erroneous
  Choice--Sin brings Punishment--Advantages of Lot's Wife--Her remarkable
  Deliverance--Her Guilt--General Causes of Apostacy traced, Fear, Love of
  the World, Levity of Mind, Pride--Doom of Lot's Wife.


"Judge not," said our Saviour, "according to the appearance, but judge
righteous judgment." This is a maxim which, though originally uttered in
vindication of his character against the reproaches of the Jews, is
capable of a more extensive application.

Captivated by the fascinating exterior of the world, the prospect of
temporal advantage, and diversified enjoyment, how many neglect to
regulate their desires by those superior principles which Revelation
inculcates, and which alone can secure substantial happiness! The young,
especially suffer by this delusion. Lively in imagination, but immature in
judgment; easily, and therefore frequently deceived; they are hurried into
those premature determinations which cannot be corrected when they come to
discover their mistakes. It is to be deeply deplored, when young persons,
through refusing to listen to the dictates of wisdom or the suggestions of
experienced age, precipitate themselves into misery, and sacrifice to the
fleeting possessions and pleasures of this life, the higher interests of
another existence. Deeming themselves privileged to disregard, if not to
ridicule religion, by virtue of their age, rank, or talents; and living as
though they held their present being by no precarious tenure, they trifle
away their time in criminal indulgences, and "lose their own souls" by a
guilty procrastination. To persons of this class, Solomon suggests a most
important truth, in the form of a sarcastic appeal--"Rejoice, O young man
in thy youth, and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth; and
walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes; but know
thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment."

There are also young persons of another description, who, though partially
influenced by such motives, possess upon the whole a different character.
Their inconsistencies, although highly detrimental, result rather from
temporary illusion than from radical depravity. The passions which through
grace are habitually subjugated to the yoke of reason and religion,
acquire, on some occasions, a momentary ascendency; and, as the apostle
describes it, "they do" that which they "allow not," and that which they
"would," they "do not." They are, for a time, inveigled by their
senses--their eyes are dazzled, and their minds perverted. Their mistakes
both of judgment and of feeling, connect themselves, perhaps, with a long
series of disasters, neither to be foreseen nor prevented. Sometimes the
individual himself does not discover his error for a lapse of years;
continuing under the deception, till the course of providential events
awakens him from the dream of enjoyment, and successive afflictions
restore him to his "right mind."

If at that unhappy moment, when Lot, regarding temporal advantages only,
and forgetting his religious dangers, "lifted up his eyes and beheld all
the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered every where, before the Lord
destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, even as the garden of the Lord, like the
land of Egypt, as thou comest unto Zoar"--if he could have anticipated the
melancholy consequences of one false step, surely he would not have chosen
the plain of Jordan for a residence, or pitched his tent towards the city
of Sodom! Infinitely better had it been for him to have accompanied
Abraham to Mamre, or even to have lived in a retired and desolate
wilderness.

The most exalted piety does not necessarily exempt the individual who
possesses it from the trials of life; but it prepares the mind for
enduring and improving them. In some instances, it obviates those external
calamities which befall an ungodly world, supplying the means of escaping
from many of the punishments and penalties which the wicked suffer; but,
in all cases, it prevents that anguish which arises from the secret
conviction, that the afflictions of life are the consequences of personal
guilt and misconduct--sent, it is true, for their ultimate benefit; but
sent in judgment, and expressive of displeasure. Sin is always pernicious.
It not only involves the impenitent in present sufferings and future wo,
but inflicts even on the people of God, in proportion to the degree in
which it prevails, embarrassments and calamities.

If we direct our course by mere worldly considerations, however fair the
prospect may seem, the luxuriant plain is likely to become overspread with
confusion, and deluged with misery. In consequence of the fatal choice of
Lot, he soon became a captive, then a fugitive. He lost his liberty, his
peace, his possessions, and finally his dearest connexion in life, by one
of those awful dispensations in which the hand of God is so visible, the
punishment of sin so striking, and the lessons of divine justice so
terrible. We are admonished to "remember Lot's wife;" and truly, her
_advantages_, her _deliverance_, her _guilt_, and her _doom_, furnish so
many subjects of instructive reflection.

The ADVANTAGES of Lot's wife were considerable. She was the nearest
connection of a "just or pious man;" who though he dwelt in Sodom, the
very rendezvous of all the vices, "vexed his righteous soul from day to
day," with the "unlawful deeds," and "filthy conversation" of its wicked
inhabitants.

Obvious and lamentable as were the defects in the character of Lot, it
must, nevertheless, be admitted that he was a man of eminent piety--a
piety the more conspicuous, from the circumstances in which he was placed.
His fellow citizens were inexpressibly depraved; so much so, that in all
the annals of sacred and profane history, we find no parallel example.
Sodom was, in fact, one mass of pollution. High and low, rich and poor,
seem to have been infected with moral contamination; and every day their
excessive immoralities dared the vengeance of Heaven. Lot stood alone and
unsupported, struggling against the torrent of iniquity that flowed down
every street, and inundated with its filthiness the adjacent cities of
the plain.

Society animates the desponding spirit amidst discouragements. It inspires
diligence, quickens zeal, and strengthens against resistance. The example
of the multitude often operates with pernicious influence in situations
where the pious experience considerable co-operation; and considering the
weakness of human nature, the force of temptation, the numerous instances
of defection which occur even within the pale of the Christian church,
continuance in well doing is a just cause of congratulation under any
circumstances. But that this holy man should have remained steadfast and
immoveable amidst the abominations of Sodom, is a proof of the confirmed
stability and superior excellence of his religion. Neither promises nor
threatenings, neither ridicule nor flattery could divert him from his
course. He was neither to be cajoled nor coerced; but set his face like a
flint, and pursued the narrow path of obedience to God with undeviating
perseverance. Piety had, in fact, exalted him to a higher sphere, and,
like the sun, that pursues his circuit alike through the calm or the
stormy day, the obstructions which impiety seemed to throw in his path,
proved nothing but cloud and vapour before his resistless progress.

It must have been a singular privilege to have sustained the intimate
relationship of a _wife_ to one so excellent, and at a period, not only
when immorality had acquired such an odious ascendency in the particular
place of their residence, but when there was little religion in the world.
His favoured partner had every opportunity of knowing his views upon the
most important religious topics, and especially of being informed or
reminded of the great designs of eternal Providence respecting the future
mission of our Saviour; to which bright consummation of human happiness
the saints of God, in the remotest ages, look forward with confident
anticipation.

She had, besides, the best means of observing the influence of true
religion upon the character. She saw him in every position, and witnessed
his conduct every day. If she were no stranger to many of his
imperfections, and these attach more or less to every one in the present
state, she could not fail of perceiving a mighty contrast between his
general deportment and spirit, and that of the guilty inhabitants of
Sodom. He was not only unseduced by their example, but detested their
practices; and bore a decided, if it were an unavailing, testimony against
them. She must have seen that his passions were under the regulation of
principles to which _they_ were perfect strangers; and that his whole
character was cast in a different mould. His fellow-citizens, indeed,
possessed the advantage of his public example and judicious reproofs,
although they were too base to receive any impression; but _she_ saw him
at home, and had the privilege of domestic intercourse. There he presented
his private and frequent devotions--there, no doubt, he erected the family
altar, and day by day offered the solemn sacrifices of prayer and praise.
Upon that house the eye of God was fixed, and there his blessing
descended. One voice in Sodom, discordant to the universal chorus of
imprecation and blasphemy was harmonious in the ear of Heaven--one
hallowed flame ascended amidst the fires of lust--one drop of purity
mingled with an ocean of wickedness!

Whether the wife of Lot were benefited by his example, or properly
observant of his actions, or whether she were infected by the general
contagion, it is not possible to ascertain with certainty: her subsequent
conduct renders us suspicious of her having been, if not a practitioner of
atrocious crimes, at least in love with the world, and destitute of
real religion.

Some of the best of men have suffered this severe affliction. The chosen
companions of their pilgrimage have been strangers to their religious
feelings, and could cherish no kindred sympathies. Instead of proving
help meets, they have been hinderances; instead of assisting, they have
retarded their journey. In some cases, this must be imputed to themselves,
as their _own fault_. They have been misled by their passions; and, in
consequence of "entering into temptation," they have plunged themselves
into inevitable wretchedness. This is a sin which, we should hope, is not
often committed; and, as a means of prevention, we would enforce a
contrary conduct by all the authority which can attach to the language of
an inspired adviser. Paul exhorts us to marry "only in the Lord;" and he
sustains his admonitions by irresistible argument: "Be ye not unequally
yoked together with unbelievers; for what fellowship hath righteousness
with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? and
what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth
with an infidel?"

There is one case, in which we must rather pity than censure this
incongruous association. Previous to that essential change of character
which is introductory to the kingdom of heaven, and which the New
Testament represents as being "brought out of darkness into marvellous
light," the woman and the man have, perhaps, become "equally yoked" in
unbelief. At the period of their early matrimonial connection, no
dissimilarity in point of religious principle existed. Both were "lovers
of pleasure more than lovers of God;" and unhappily, neither of them felt
the importance of securing permanent and solid enjoyment, by constructing
it on the basis of genuine religion. Resembling others in the same period
of youth and illusion, they embarked on the smooth and inviting surface,
unaware of what storms awaited them, or what dangers lurked in the
perilous sea of life. It was, morning--the scene was new--the prospect
gay--and their fair horizon seemed to encircle an earthly paradise! They
knew not it was a _painted_ landscape, and that "pure and undefiled
religion" alone could effectually prepare them for the disappointment.

Since that period, one of this happy pair has become "a follower of God,"
the other remains "a servant of sin"--the one has discovered the paramount
importance of the interest of eternity, the other has not yet learned the
necessity of salvation, or the value of the soul. Now is fulfilled the
prediction of Christ, "I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am
come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against
her mother, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man's
foes shall be those of _his own household_."

Let those who are thus united together by the conjugal tie, although
dissimilar in character, be excited to a consideration of their respective
duties. The religious party should pursue a system of conciliation and
kindness, as best calculated to exemplify the excellence of religion, and
_win_ the disobedient yoke-fellow; and the irreligious husband or wife
should study the virtuous peculiarities, and worthy example, of the pious
partner: the one being anxious to exhibit the genuine effect of
religion--the other to examine with impartiality, and an unprejudiced
attention, the operation of grace.

Another circumstance to which our attention is directed, in the history of
Lot's wife, is her DELIVERANCE from the miraculous conflagration of Sodom.
The angelic messengers who were sent to Lot, conducted him and his family
from the scene of danger. They first distinctly predicted the destruction
of the city, on account of its extreme iniquity, and intimated that they
were commissioned to execute this awful purpose of eternal justice. They
then inquired about his relations, commanding him to bring them out of the
place; but, with a spirit of infatuation too common to the impenitent, the
earnest solicitations of Lot were utterly rejected, and even ridiculed.
"Up," said he, "get you out of this place, for the Lord will destroy this
city! But he seemed as one that mocked unto his sons-in-law."

On the ensuing morning, at a very early hour, the two commissioned angels
urged Lot to use all possible despatch in his departure, and to take with
him his wife and daughters. The predestined moment was at hand; the
windows of heaven were opening, and the burning tempest ready to descend.
"And while he lingered, the men laid hold upon his hand, and upon the hand
of his wife, and upon the hand of his two daughters; the Lord being
merciful unto him; and they brought him forth, and set him without the
city. And it came to pass, when they had brought them forth abroad, that
he said, Escape for thy life; look not behind thee, neither stay thou in
all the plain; escape to the mountain, lest thou be consumed."

This narrative intimates with sufficient plainness that Lot's wife and
daughters were spared for _his sake_; and that it was nothing but the
impenitent obstinacy of his other family connexions, that prevented their
escape. They would not listen, even though he "lingered," probably, to
persuade them to accompany his flight; they must, therefore, perish. It
appears that his wife and daughters also were reluctant, as the angels
were obliged to take them each by the hand, and conduct them into the
plain; but, _for the sake of Lot_, they were happily compelled to flee. If
this woman had not been the wife, and these the daughters of a _good man_,
they would have shared the tremendous fate of the other inhabitants of
the city; their near connection with him, unquestionably saved their
otherwise unprotected lives.

Humiliating as the sentiment may be to the enemies of religion, it is
clearly deducible from this affecting narrative, and strikingly confirmed
by other scriptural accounts, that righteous persons are the salt of the
earth; the means, not only of preserving it from becoming an entire mass
of corruption, but of averting the judgments of Heaven from others; and
especially of preserving those from awful calamity, who are more
immediately connected with them by the ties of consanguinity or
friendship.

The escape of Lot's wife and daughters, on this disastrous occasion, was
an illustration of the promise which had but a short time before been made
to Abraham, when he was permitted to commune with Jehovah respecting the
destruction of this city. Having been informed of the divine
determinations, Abraham, deeply affected with the condition of his wicked
neighbours, but feeling a peculiar concern for his nephew, drew near with
holy boldness to inquire whether the righteous and the wicked were to be
involved in the same common catastrophe; and whether, if fifty righteous
persons could be found, the city might not be spared? To this he obtained
full consent: upon which he ventured to limit the pious number, for whose
sake all the inhabitants should be spared, to forty-five--then to
forty--to thirty--to twenty--and to ten; "And the Lord said, I will not
destroy it for ten's sake."

Here it is observable, that the patriarch did not request the preservation
of the wicked for _their own sake_, or because of any supposed severity in
the predicted punishment, but solely for the sake of the _righteous_ who
might be discovered in the place. Value your connexion, then, with the
people of God. To be born of pious parents, or to be situated amidst
religious advantages, is an unspeakable favour. The church of Christ,
especially, is a privileged spot--there celestial mercy takes her
favourite walks--thither she conveys her choicest blessings--and to that
sacred enclosure from the world, she extends her most powerful protection.
How many families, besides the house of Obed-edom, have been blessed
"because of the ark of God!"

[Sidenote: Years before Christ, 1897.] The inspired history, in the next
place, particularly points out the GUILT of Lot's wife. As soon as this
favoured family had reached the suburbs, and at a moment when the rising
sun shed his unclouded radiance over the devoted scene, and, consequently,
indicated no approaching storm, the mighty tragedy commenced. Down came
the burning sulphureous deluge upon Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboim;
which, mingling with the bituminous soil of the valley, and blazing with
inconceivable intensity, spread sudden, awful, and universal desolation.
From this horrible moment, the site of these ancient cities became
converted into a lake, which, from its bituminous quality, is termed the
lake _Asphaltites_, and sometimes the _Dead Sea_, from the idea that no
creature can exist in its waters. [11]

During this miraculous tempest, the wife of Lot, who was now flying to
Zoar, "LOOKED BACK FROM BEHIND HIM;" and in consequence, suffered an
instantaneous judgment, which we shall presently have occasion to notice.

And was this the whole amount of her criminality? Was it a mere glance of
the eye, for which she is become an object of execration, and a warning to
all ages? Was this the single action for which she suffered?--Have we not
been led to suppose, that apostacy is rather a _course of conduct_, than
the perpetration of any particular crime, however atrocious? And yet does
not the wife of Lot appear to have been punished as an apostate?

Beware of forming a hasty judgment, and recollect that, in some cases, a
single action is an infallible criterion of a most impious character. It
is the _last in a series of crimes_, although, perhaps, the only
_discovered_ iniquity. The rest have been concealed by circumstances, or
by artifice; and, like the apex and point of a rock piercing the surface
of the deep, which indicates its immense magnitude and elevation above the
bottom of the ocean, _one_ considerable act of baseness indicates the real
existence of an immense accumulation of secret iniquity. Such was the
character of _Judas,_ and probably of _Lot's wife_.

The recorded action in question indicated, in fact, a very complicated
crime. It was a direct disobedience to an express and solemn command; and
whether the command respected a mere look, or a mighty undertaking, the
_principle_ which influenced the conduct, was equally censurable. We must
abstain from _whatever_ is interdicted, whether it respect the tasting of
fruit, as in the case of Eve, or the looking back to relinquished
possessions, as in the example of Lot's wife. Unbelief was also a probable
concomitant in this transgression. She might doubt the reality of the
threatened destruction, or be influenced by a spirit of unhallowed
curiosity: or, if she heard the descending tempest, some dread of being
overtaken by it might induce her to look back. But, above all, our Lord,
in commenting upon her conduct, intimates that her _heart_ lingered after
the possessions she had left, and her look implied a _wish_ to return to
their enjoyment.

The case of this woman is peculiarly affecting, from other considerations.
It has been already stated, she had peculiar advantages, being the wife of
a righteous man--she had thus far escaped the pollutions of Sodom, and
avoided its destiny--she had obeyed the voice of the celestial messenger,
and was led forth under a heavenly ministration--she was in the company of
the pious--participated the deliverance of her husband, and was on the
point of having completely escaped--Sodom was left behind--Zoar was at
hand--the raging storm was desolating the devoted cities, while the bright
sun of the morning lighted the fugitives on their way. Before, all was
smiling! Behind, all was tempestuous!--Salvation, if they persevered!
Perdition, if they retreated or looked back!--It is written in the book of
God--may it be written indelibly on every heart--"If any man draw back, my
soul shall have no pleasure in him."

It will conduce to the purposes of instruction, if we generalize this
subject, by briefly stating a few of the most usual causes of apostacy
from God; some of which are strictly applicable to the history of
Lot's wife.

Sometimes it originates in _fear_; and though every period could furnish
instances, we must expect to find them principally in times of
persecution. Many, under the awful apprehension of excruciating torments,
and some even from very inferior reasons of alarm, have signed their
recantation of principles which they had long professed to venerate; but
few have imitated the noble heroism of a CRANMER, who publicly denounced
his own recantation, and resolutely thrust the hand that signed it first
into the fire, on the day of his martyrdom, calling it, "this unworthy
right hand!"

But in all ages a _love of the world_ may be justly considered as a much
more prevalent occasion of apostacy than fear. Demas, and the wife of Lot,
live again in a thousand wretched examples. It may be acknowledged
difficult to point out in all cases with perfect exactitude, the precise
line of demarkation between a proper and an inordinate pursuit of worldly
good, and thus to detect the first commencement of an avaricious temper,
the embryo germ of an apostate disposition; but at least no difficulty
should remain with _the individual himself_ in deciding upon his own
actual state, even though he be not guilty of flagrant immoralities, if
conscious that his heart is in his covetousness--if the love of gain have
usurped the dominion of his soul, and dethroned the love of God--if he
gladly embrace every opportunity of promoting his worldly interest, and
obey but slowly and reluctantly the calls of duty. Let him apprehend that
he is drifting along to ruin--let him fear, and fear justly, that the
pleasant gale of success to which he has expanded all his powers, is only
bearing him upon the rocks of eternal destruction. Be not deceived, though
they appear covered with flowers of surpassing beauty, and exquisite
fragrance. "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world.
If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him."

_Levity of mind_ is a frequent occasion of apostacy. It predisposes the
unhappy individual to the ruinous influence of vicious society and
injurious publications. These, most fatally adapted to their purpose, soon
induce the unwary to neglect, and finally to despise all religious
institutions. The apostle Paul intimates that some are "tossed to and fro,
and carried about with every wind of doctrine," like clouds which,
possessing no solidity, are driven in every direction through the
atmosphere. Persons of this description are easily persuaded by a
plausible reasoner, that his opinions are true, and with equal facility
submit to the next artful sophist, who avows even contrary sentiments. The
natural effect of this inconstancy will be, a disregard of ALL truth, and
a ready admission of every sceptical principle. When the mind is in such a
state of fluctuation and uncertainty, or rather the willing slave of every
tyrant, it is well prepared for vice: it will admit a criminal thought, as
well as a sentimental error, and the same plausibility which could
successfully insinuate a sceptical principle, can excite to an immoral
practice. In the circles of gay dissipation, every remaining scruple is
easily dissipated; the poison of "evil communications" is voraciously
swallowed, and "good morals are corrupted."

Such a disposition is closely allied to _pride,_ which often "goes
before, destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall." Praised by their
companions as persons of distinguished genius, or admired for a natural
wit, they sacrifice every thing to flattery. They have been stimulated to
believe that the possession of religion is a decisive proof of
intellectual inferiority; or at least, that a punctilious observance of
its practices, or a fervent attachment to its peculiar doctrines, is
enthusiastic. They listen to the artful seducer, who assures them that
their principles are too evidently drawn from the lessons of the nursery,
and that it is time to shake off--their own penetration, indeed, will lead
them to discard--the mere prejudices of an illiberal education. It is not
improbable they may meet with some advocate of deistical principles or
libertine conduct, who zealously instils into them the maxim of the
well-known Earl of Shaftesbury, that "whoever is searching for truth,
should examine if they cannot find out something that may be justly
laughed at;" and if they can be persuaded as he was, "not to think on the
subject of religion, without endeavouring to put himself in as good a
humour as possible," it is not unlikely they may adopt what he calls a
_natural suspicion_, that "the holy records themselves were no other than
the pure invention and artificial compliment of an interested party, in
behalf of the richest corporation and most profitable monopoly which could
be erected in the world."

In the scriptural statement of the fall of man, it appears that pride and
sensuality were the first dispositions which polluted the human mind in
paradise, and their contaminating influence has descended upon the whole
human race. From these two springs the torrent of corruption originated,
and has never ceased to pursue its course and widen its channel through
the successive ages of time. "When the woman saw that the tree was good
for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired
to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat; and gave
also unto her husband with her, and he did eat."

The DOOM of Lot's wife is one of the most memorable in the records of
either profane or sacred history. It is said, that "she became a pillar of
salt," or a nitro-sulphureous pillar; the singularity and severity of her
punishment being thus proportioned to the atrocity of her crime. When we
recollect that Jehovah afterward proclaimed himself to Moses as "the Lord,
the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in
goodness and truth; keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity, and
transgression, and sin;" that he is frequently celebrated by the inspired
writers, as "ready to pardon, slow to anger, of great kindness, plenteous
in mercy, full of compassion;" that he is represented by the apostle John
as "love" itself; and that infinite benignity is essential to his nature,
and characteristic of his dispensations--we cannot but tremble at the
sight of such a visitation.

Inexpressibly awful as the overthrow of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboim
appears, there is an additional feature of horror in the destruction of
this woman. Our imagination is bewildered amidst the general ruin of
multitudes; while, by the contemplation of an individual instance,
appointed to a separate and peculiar punishment, we become excited to
deeper feeling. From the very constitution of our nature, we view the doom
of numbers with a diminished impression; we have not time to select and
meditate upon the peculiarities of individual agonies, and regard them
only in one vast heterogeneous mass, consigned to one common portion of
suffering: but the emotion is widely different, and incalculably more
poignant, when a solitary example is presented to us, alike distinguished
for guilt and for punishment. In the present case, too, the degree of
sensibility excited into action is necessarily more acute, from the very
circumstance forbidding us to pity, and demanding an unmingled
overwhelming sense of omnipotent justice. Nor is this a censurable, but a
necessary feeling, indicative of a proper coincidence of mind with the
perfect will of Heaven: it is allied to the sentiments attributed to purer
spirits, who, when they witness the seven angels distributing the seven
last plagues in which is filled up the wrath of God, are represented as
standing on the sea of glass, having the harps of God.--"And they sing the
song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, great
and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy
ways, thou King of saints. Who shall not fear thee, O Lord, and glorify
thy name? for thou only art holy, for all nations shall come and worship
before thee: for thy JUDGMENTS are made manifest." In the same spirit, the
heavens, the holy apostles and prophets, are called upon to rejoice over
Babylon in the hour of her destruction; and a great voice of much people
is heard in heaven, saying, "Alleluia; salvation and glory, and honour,
and power, unto the Lord our God; for true and righteous are his
JUDGMENTS." "And again they said, Alleluia. And her smoke rose up for ever
and ever."

The justice of God displayed even in the awful form which it assumes in
the punishment of the wife of Lot, is, in fact, only a modification of
goodness, and therefore a proper reason both for angelic and human
celebration. The love of order is no less essential to a holy being than
the love of mercy; and therefore it is compatible with the most perfect
goodness, in its association with justice, to punish transgressors either
on their own account or for the sake of others--either for the purpose of
individual correction or of general warning. It would be a far less
display of goodness to suffer men to persevere in sin without any
control, than to arrest them by some powerful stroke. In the former case,
they not only plunge into ruin themselves, but draw others, by their fatal
and malignant attraction, into perdition: in the latter, a salutary
precaution is given to such as lie within the reach of their mischievous
influence. Whatever has a tendency to prevent sin is a benevolent exercise
of power; because sin is the source of individual and universal misery: if
it had never entered into this world, man would still have been happy; and
when, in the merciful appointments of Heaven, the guilt which now stains
the moral creation shall be purified away by the efficacy of the blood of
Christ, paradise will be restored, and the long-renowned tabernacle of God
again descend to be with men. To this glorious consummation of human
felicity, all the dispensations of Providence point; and to produce it,
all his judgments are inflicted: the promises and the threatenings have
each a similar design, and will ultimately promote the same general
object. The tempest and the tornado have their peculiar uses, as well as
the small rain that descends upon the tender herb. "Mercy and truth meet
together--righteousness and peace kiss each other."

In turning our eyes, then, towards the plain of Sodom, we must combine a
sentiment of holy reverence with trembling horror. The destiny of the
atrocious sinner was intended to produce salutary apprehensions in her
surviving relatives, and in all her posterity. Upon that accursed plain
Eternal Justice erected a monument of infinite displeasure; but the hand
which raised the pillar of salt, at the same time inscribed upon it, in
characters too large and legible to be mistaken, "FEAR GOD, AND KEEP HIS
COMMANDMENTS."

The terrific nature of this judgment was enhanced by the _instantaneous_
manner in which it occurred. No sooner did the wife of Lot look back, than
she was converted into a pillar of salt, [12]--_this moment_ in the midst
of life, and apparently escaping from the scene of danger--_the next_, a
monument of wrath! What a transition from happiness to misery! What a
descent from the summit of hope to the depths of despair! Mercy had almost
conducted her to Zoar--Guilt transported her to the abyss of wo! She had
even tasted the cup of blessing; but, dashing it from her lips in the
spirit of daring rebellion, she was made to drink "the wine-cup of fury."

It elucidates the divine condescension and forbearance, when the wicked,
instead of being withered at a touch, are allowed time for reflection.--
The ordinary dispensations of Providence are characterized by a merciful
tardiness: the daring transgressor is addressed by reiterated appeals,
and perhaps placed under a course of moral discipline: he is not smit by
the thunder, or blasted by the lightning; but a series of smaller
precursory punishments precedes a great catastrophe: his way is hedged up;
reproofs, remonstrances, losses, afflictions, bereavements, constitute so
many obstructions thrown across the path to perdition; and if he perish,
it is necessary to force his way through them with a daring and infatuated
heroism: voices from heaven and earth precede the infliction of merited
vengeance, saying with loud and harmonious exclamations, "Let the wicked
forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return
unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he
will abundantly pardon."

But in the present melancholy instance, the wife of Lot was cut off as in
a moment: she was ripe for the sickle, and justice delayed not to gather
her into the storehouse of wrath; she cumbered the ground by her
impieties, and was worthy of no additional cultivation. Here we behold an
awful specimen of the obstinacy of sinners, the effect of disobedience,
and the determination of God, in a visible and striking manner, to
vindicate his holy name.

Reader! flatter not yourself that the circumstance of having hitherto
escaped remarkable judgment is any real indemnification against future
punishment: do not imagine that the supreme God is unobservant, because he
is not vindictive; that it is possible to elude his eye, because you have
not yet been slain by his sword. The delay, which is intended as a
benefit, may, and often does, by perversion, aggravate the sinner's doom:
and indeed it is one of the most lamentable proofs of human degeneracy,
that the very circumstance in which the goodness of God is singularly
apparent, and which ought to lead to repentance, is made the occasion of
more atrocious crime and more resolute perseverance.

But delay is no evidence of indifference; and if justice have hitherto
slept, it is to be apprehended it will rise with recruited vigour. While
you go on still in your trespasses, be assured the glittering sword is
drawing from its scabbard--it is even whetting to the final stroke!



Rebekah.

Chapter V.



Section I.


  Progress of Time--Patriarchal mode of Living--Abraham's Solicitude
  respecting the Settlement of his Son--sends his Servant to procure him a
  Wife--his Arrival in the Vicinity of Nahor--his Meeting with
  Rebekah--her Behaviour, and their Conversation--the Good Qualities
  already discoverable in Rebekah, which render her Worthy of
  Imitation--her industrious and domesticated Habits--Unaffected
  Simplicity--Modesty--Courtesy--Humanity.


Rapid, irresistible, and certain is the progress of time. The few
incidents of which human life consists, transpire in quick succession; the
few years of which it is composed, even in cases of the greatest
longevity, soon elapse: the cradle and the grave seem placed very near
each other; and scarcely does the voice of congratulation cease at our
birth, before it is succeeded by the lamentations of sorrow at
our funeral.

There is a wide difference, however, in the actual impression, between
passing through the details of existence in daily and hourly engagements,
which, from their variety, produce an illusion of slowness and a vague
idea of almost interminable continuance, and looking at expended years
_after their termination_, or at successive lives in the perspective of
history. In the latter case, events appear crowded together, the
intervening spaces are riot distinctly perceptible, and the distance is
diminished. If the life of an Abraham, an Isaac, or a Jacob, had been
presented to us in the form of a daily journal of occurrences, how easily
might it have been expanded into a volume equal in dimensions to the whole
inspired record; and how distant would each eventful period of their
respective lives have appeared! how vast would have seemed the space
between them if minuter circumstances had been formally detailed in the
order of months, and days, and hours! Even a single year assumes a
considerable magnitude when viewed as three hundred and sixty-five days,
each day and night as four-and-twenty hours, each hour as sixty successive
minutes, and each minute or hour as occupied with its appropriate and
necessary engagements: but when we ascend that elevated spot to which
history conducts us, and look back upon the long track of time, and
through the course of revolving centuries, we reflect at once on those
images of Scripture with which our imagination has been so often arrested,
and see that the motion of the "weaver's shuttle" scarcely represents the
"swiftness" of our days; the passing shadows that fly across the plain,
imperfectly display the nothingness of fleeting years; "the little time"
in which the "vapour appeareth," is but faintly expressive of the manner
in which life "vanisheth away." It is almost impossible to observe the
small number of pages which relate all that is really worth recording, of
hundreds and even thousands of years, without being deeply affected. A few
chapters suffice to state the principal circumstances relating to the
creation, destruction, and renewal of the world; and a single book
contains, in addition to this information, the lives of patriarchs the
most distinguished, and the account of ages the most eventful and
extraordinary. Solemn consideration--"one generation passeth away, and
another cometh!"

We have been led into these reflections chiefly by observing how rapidly
the inspired writer passes from one event to another in the life of
Abraham, though many years intervened; and especially by noticing the
_immediate_ connexion in which the death and burial of Sarah are placed
with the marriage of Isaac: so nearly allied, so few are the intermediate
steps between the most joyful and the most painful events of human
existence! A marriage to-day--a funeral to-morrow! This hour
congratulated--the next lamented! "Great and marvellous are thy works, O
Lord God Almighty: just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints."

The family histories of the patriarchs are rendered peculiarly attractive
by the simplicity of their manners, and their pastoral mode of living. We
are transported into ages, around which antiquity throws a powerful charm,
and revelation an extraordinary lustre. What are scenes of blood, and
acclamations of triumph, in comparison with the private history of a man
of peace, and a man of piety? what are heroic deeds to virtuous
achievements? and what the most splendid page of secular history to the
beautiful and interesting account of the various transactions relating to
the union of Isaac and Rebekah?

These are so intimately blended together, that the present chapter must
embrace at least a brief notice of them, in order to form an adequate idea
of the heroine of this inimitable Scripture narrative.

[Sidenote: Years before Christ, 1856]

Abraham had now attained the venerable age of one hundred and forty years;
his beloved Sarah was no more; and after weeping over her grave, and
negociating for the entire possession of the field of Ephron in Machpelah,
where she was interred, as a family burying-place, his thoughts were
forcibly attracted towards the day of his own dissolution. "The Lord had
blessed him in all things," but his affections were detached from earthly
possessions, and permanently fixed upon his unchangeable inheritance in
the skies. He "desired a better country, that is, a heavenly; wherefore
God was not ashamed to be called his God, for he had prepared for him
a city."

Previous to his departure, Abraham felt solicitous respecting the
adjustment of his temporal affairs, and particularly the settlement and
marriage of his beloved son. Actuated not merely by the common anxiety of
a parent, who knows that the credit and happiness of his family depend on
the propriety of the connection which he may form; but contemplating with
the eye of faith his future posterity, the patriarch called his eldest and
confidential servant. This was Eliezer of Damascus, the steward of his
house; and, in case of his death, the manager of his affairs. He was,
unquestionably, under that divine direction, which in this as in every
other concern of life, he anxiously sought. It is pleasing to witness the
result which was so evidently connected with the prudence and piety of his
proceedings, and which points us to the never-failing promise, "In all thy
ways acknowledge him, and lie shall direct thy paths," Isaac is not,
indeed, distinctly mentioned, but he was no stranger to prayer; and
having attained his fortieth year, he had doubtless felt a laudable
anxiety to enter into the honourable state of matrimony, expressed his
desires to God, and after concerting the proper measures with his father,
patiently waited the will of Providence.

Abraham explained his views to Eliezer, and exacted a solemn oath
respecting the punctual fulfilment of his commission, in which some of the
characteristic principles of this illustrious saint were conspicuous. In
the selection of a wife for his son, he seems uninfluenced by worldly
policy. He wishes him to connect him with virtue rather than wealth;
knowing that the latter is not only uncertain, but unnecessary to the
purposes of real happiness.

It has been often said, there are "few happy matches;" but the cause of
this fact is seldom traced or regarded. If our calculations be founded
solely upon a reference to temporal interests, if the importance of a
connexion be measured merely by the probable amount of gold it may
produce, or the degree of worldly influence it is likely to confer, we may
add another item to the sum of probabilities--that of _disappointment_.
The inconsistencies into which this strange match-making infatuation has
betrayed some of the greatest and best of men, is truly deplorable; and if
it do not incur immediate calamity, it certainly excites the divine
displeasure. God requires to be honoured in this, no less than in every
other transaction.

Abraham also evinced his characteristic aversion of idolatry. He desired
his servant not to seek a wife for Isaac in Chaldea, but to proceed to
Haran in Mesopotamia, to the house of Nahor his brother. He was particular
in requiring him to swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and the God of
the earth, that he would not take his son a wife of the daughters of the
Canaanites, among whom he resided. The danger of his posterity becoming
blended with idolaters, and contracting their habits, induced him to use
this solemn precaution; although his faith realized the peopling of this
country, by his descendants. His servant put his hand upon his thigh, in
confirmation of the agreement, [13] and immediately prepared for his
journey. The distance from Hebron, the present residence of Abraham, to
Haran, was about seventeen days' journey; and the servant must have
travelled about four hundred and sixty miles.

Servants may learn, from this example, the kind of conduct which adorns
their station. They should be punctual in the discharge of their duties,
and readily comply with the directions they receive. Eliezer felt himself
bound to comply with his master's injunctions, and not only proceeded on
his distant expedition without reluctance and murmuring, but with that
despatch which proves his whole heart was engaged in his duty. If any
should plead, that it was, no doubt, a privilege to have such a master,
and any one would have been happy in such a situation, let them be
reminded that this is a very questionable position; for it is common for
servants to disregard the authority, or undervalue the character of the
best masters and mistresses; but their duty is not to be measured by the
virtue or even the kindness, of their domestic superiors, the apostle
expressly ordaining obedience "not only to the good and gentle, but also
to the froward."

Upon Eliezer's arrival in the vicinity of the city of Nahor, he made his
camels kneel down by a well, intending to supply them as soon as possible
with water. The whole retinue was, no doubt, sufficiently weary with the
journey. It was evening, and about the customary hour when the women of
the country came out to fetch a supply of water. This faithful and pious
servant was aware of this circumstance, but, previous to the arrival of
any of these strangers, he betook himself to solemn and effectual prayer.
His words are remarkable: "O Lord God of my master Abraham, I pray thee
send me good speed this day, and show kindness unto my master Abraham.
Behold, I stand here by the well of water, and the daughters of the men of
the city come out to draw water: and let it come to pass, that the damsel
to whom I shall say, Let down thy pitcher I pray thee, that I may drink;
and she shall say, Drink, and I will give thy camels drink also; let the
same be she that thou hast appointed for thy servant Isaac; and thereby
shall I know that thou hast showed kindness unto my master!"

While the words of supplication were still upon the tongue of this worthy
servant, behold a damsel of singular beauty approaches the well! It is, in
fact, Rebekah, who was born to Bethuel, son of Milcah, the wife of Nahor;
and whom an invisible but all-wise Providence had sent at this precise
moment, and by this happy concurrence of circumstances, introduced to the
travelling stranger. Beautiful, young, and artless; bearing a pitcher upon
her shoulder, which she hastened to the well to fill for the necessary
supply of the family; we cannot imagine a more finished picture of
loveliness, or one to which the Miltonian description of Eve, as first
beheld by her admiring partner, is more justly applicable:

                                  "Adorn'd
  With what all earth or heaven could bestow
  To make her amiable; on she came
  Led by her heav'nly Maker, though unseen.

  "Grace was in all her steps, heav'n in her eye,
  In every gesture, dignity and love."

She speedily descended to the reservoir of water, and filled her pitcher.
[14] The servant was attracted by her remarkable appearance, for she
seemed "like the lily among thorns;" but, at present, remained silent.
Intent upon her proper business, she did not indulge an idle curiosity,
and waste her time, by stopping to make inquiries respecting the stranger,
and his train of camels, which were reclining near the well; nor would she
have been detained a moment, had not a motive of kindness prompted her to
listen to his solicitations for help. He, at length, hastened to meet her,
and requested to drink a little of the water with which she had just
replenished her pitcher. This was granted with the utmost readiness; she
let down the vessel from her shoulder, and desired him to take whatever he
pleased. After this, she kindly offered to supply all his train of camels;
and, regardless of the trouble which such officious hospitality
occasioned, she did not even wait for a reply, but ran to fill the trough,
by repeated draughts of water.

All this time, the man, who, by the way might have rendered this lovely
young woman some assistance, stood gazing in silent astonishment. There
was so striking a coincidence between her conduct, and the wishes he had
been expressing, that he could not help connecting them together.
"Wondering at her, he held his peace, to wit whether the Lord had made his
journey prosperous or not." It seems strange that he should have felt even
a momentary hesitation upon the subject, but it exemplifies the frequent
state of our minds respecting anticipated blessings. We seek them with an
importunity which procures their communication, but, when actually
bestowed, we scarcely believe them to be in our possession, and are too
reluctant to recognize the divine bounty. But what has been sought with
eagerness ought to be acknowledged with promptitude.

As soon as the camels had been supplied, the good man presented Rebekah
with a suitable token of his thankfulness. It consisted of a golden
ear-ring, of half a shekel weight, and two bracelets for her hands, of ten
shekels weight of gold. These were, probably, the costly ornaments which
Abraham had commissioned his servant to bestow upon the future wife of his
son; and which, as he had now seen the accomplishment of his prayer, he no
longer hesitated to give this interesting young woman.

Availing himself of the present favourable opportunity of entering into
some conversation with her, he inquired whose daughter she might be, and
whether she thought her father could afford him and his attendants; and
camels, sufficient accommodation? In the east this was so common an act of
hospitality, that the question did not appear strange, or the request
obtrusive. It was, besides, dictated by a strong suspicion, if not a full
assurance, that he had attained the object of his journey. She gave a
prompt and kind answer: "I am the daughter of Bethuel, the son of Milcah,
which she bare unto Naoh. She said, moreover, unto him, we have both straw
and provender enough, and room to lodge in," The man bowed in thankfulness
to _her_, but in more expressive praise and gratitude to GOD. His heart
was full, and his tongue could no longer remain silent. "Blessed," said
he, "be the Lord God of my master Abraham, who hath not left destitute my
master of his mercy and his truth. I, being in the way, the Lord led me to
the house of my master's brethren." This was the language of _faith_--he
recognizes the divine "mercy and truth" which had promised to multiply and
extend the family of Abraham. It was the voice of _gratitude_--for he
remembers the way in which God had conducted him, and sees the concurrence
of Providence in all that had transpired. It contained also a delicate
intimation to the young women, not only that he came from her venerable
relative, but had some important business with her family. Rebekah made
all possible haste back, and soon circulated through the family the joyful
intelligence of this arrival.

In reviewing what has been hitherto related of this charming story, and
the circumstances of the first interview between the servant of Abraham
and the future wife of Isaac, we beg to present to our young female
readers, a more distinct statement and recommendation of the good
qualities discoverable in Rebekah.

1. Observe her _industrious and domesticated habits._ She was high-born,
and had great connections--she possessed a commanding beauty of person
and fascination of manners--but yet she did not indulge in indolence, or
in frivolous pursuits. At that period luxury and refinement had not
corrupted simplicity of manners, the affairs of a family were usually
under the more direct inspection and management of its principal members,
and custom did not prescribe an avoidance of all careful, nor even of all
laborious, interference in domestic concerns. But there was a cheerfulness
and an assiduity in the whole deportment of Rebekah, that proved it not
merely custom, but a sense of duty that influenced her. She was attentive
to her proper business, neither omitting nor performing it negligently. It
is very unbecoming to see young persons resisting the wishes of their kind
parents, who having had a better experience than themselves, are desirous
of training them to domestic usefulness. Ill do they requite parental
affection, which has devoted, perhaps, a considerable portion of
hard-earned profits to their education in useful branches of knowledge, or
to their acquirement of polite accomplishments: by refusing to assist in
family arrangements, or to submit to that wise after-discipline, by which
they may be prepared to occupy important situations in future life. It is
not the proper business of a woman to _shine_, to court admiration, or to
display superficial acquirements; nor, on the other hand, does either
reason or religion reduce her to the inferior situation of a domestic
drudge; but her education is ill bestowed, and perversely misapplied, if
it unfit her for the appropriate duties of her station, if it make her
proud and petulent, if it raise her above her sphere, and if it indispose
her to a proper "care for the things of the world, how she may please
her husband."

In modern times it would be unjust to impute the entire blame to the young
women themselves; much is attributable to the _system_ which has been
adopted in their education. Nothing indeed can justify, and few things can
be said in extenuation of the guilt of an arrogant disposition, unyielding
to the wishes of tender though perhaps less educated parents; but it is to
be regretted, that the useful is often far less regarded in public
seminaries than the ornamental; and that, while the exterior is polished,
the mind remains comparatively uncultivated. We shall not be understood to
require a total exclusion of elegant instruction, or polite
accomplishments; but let the understanding be well directed, the memory
amply stored, the judgment constantly exercised, the hands usefully
employed, the temper carefully watched and disciplined--above all, let
religion and the fear of God be the basis of the whole fabric, that "our
daughters may be as corner-stones, polished after the similitude of a
palace."--"By daughters families are united and connected to their mutual
strength, as the part of a building are by the corner-stones; and when
they are graceful and beautiful, both in _body_ and _mind_, they are then
_polished_ after the similitude of a nice and curious structure. When we
see our daughters well established, and stayed with wisdom and discretion,
as corner-stones are fastened in the building; when we see them by faith
united to Christ as the chief corner-stone, adorned with the graces of
God's Spirit, which are the polishing of that which is naturally rough,
and become _women professing godliness_; when we see them purified and
consecrated to God as living _temples_, we think ourselves happy in them."
[15]

2. We see in Rebekah's interview with the servant of Abraham, a pattern of
_unaffected simplicity_. It is this which throws an inexpressible charm
over the narrative. We see nothing but _nature_; not a particle of false
delicacy or finesse. There is no study, no aim to please, no acting a part
to court esteem, no suspicions about her, and no concealments; but, in
every word and motion, the most perfect artlessness. "When unadorned" she
approaches the well to draw the evening supply of water, she seems
"adorned the most."

Let young ladies beware of affectation. It is one of the most disgusting
qualities that can attach to female character. It will never win esteem,
but will excite ridicule. There is reason to believe that it is frequently
produced in a gradual and almost imperceptible manner, but it takes the
deeper root, and extends the wider influence in consequence of a slow
growth. It is not always easy to make the individual herself sensible of
possessing it, but the surest way of preventing its baneful influence, is
to guard against whatever has a tendency to produce it. Be
yourself--simple and natural. The art of pleasing is--to please without
art. Aim not to shine in borrowed feathers, or to acquire the
peculiarities of another, especially when they are obviously incongruous
with your own native character; and avoid thinking of yourself as of a
person of great consequence in every circle, for this is a most infallible
means of really becoming of no consequence at all.

The only sufficient security against affectation of every kind, is
Christian humility. An inspired writer admonishes us to be clothed with
it; and, where this is wanting, every attempt to conceal deformities of
character will resemble only the thinnest veil, which may be seen through
by the most careless observer. This recommendation may possibly appear to
some rather antiquated and obsolete; we shall, nevertheless, persist in
it, as of essential importance; and support it by quoting the reference of
the apostle to him who has best exemplified the principle, and whose
Spirit alone can effectually impress it upon the heart: "Let nothing be
done through strife or _vain glory_, but in _lowliness of mind_, let each
esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things,
but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you which
was also in Christ Jesus; who, being in the form of God, thought it not
robbery to be equal with God; but made himself of no reputation, and took
upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men; and
being found in fashion as a man, he _humbled himself_, and became obedient
unto death, even the death of the cross."

3. The _modesty_ of Rebekah was conspicuous. Vain is the effort to obtain
admiration, without this quality. Confining the term to the general
behaviour of females in society, which is its most common application, it
may be considered as opposed to obstrusiveness, and as contradistinguished
from bashfulness. Rebekah waited till the servant of Abraham addressed
her, before she paid any attention to him; and when he put the questions
which have been related, she readily gave him an answer.

Forwardness is so unbecoming the female character, so opposite to all real
delicacy of mind, that no intermixture of other qualities can render it
tolerable. If it be associated with rare and brilliant powers, or very
eminent acquirements, it is calculated to excite envy and hatred, because
it never fails to produce an overbearing conduct. But whatever another's
consciousness of mental inferiority may be, this unhallowed temper will
produce determined resistance. The very worm that crawls upon the earth
will resent the giant's tread. If, on the contrary, it be united to
shallowness of capacity, it will render its unhappy possessor utterly
contemptible notwithstanding other exterior attractions which might
otherwise command attention. It is, in this case, the effect of egregious
ignorance; and so far from extorting respect, it only serves to expose
that inbecility, which, but for this strange mode of attempt at
concealment, might have remained, in a considerable measure, undetected.

Genuine modesty is also distinguishable from extreme bashfulness. As the
usages of civilized society do, by no means, banish females from social
intercourse, it is requisite in avoiding forwardness to retain a certain
degree of self-possession. Boldness and excessive timidity are the two
extremes to be avoided. The latter is irksome, both to the individual
herself, and to others with whom she may be called to associate. It
produces an unnatural character, and, perhaps, may be classed with
affectation. It is to be feared, that many who blush at the merest
trifles, and are confounded at maintaining the least interchange of
sentiment, are too little ashamed of sin, and too unacquainted with the
state of their own hearts. The young need not be mortified at any
deformity but vice, nor afraid even of confessing ignorance, or making
inquiries, so long as they show a proper solicitude for improvement. It
is, in fact, a consciousness of ignorance that leads to the acquisition of
knowledge. It inspires the desire of information, and stimulates to the
use of every means of acquiring it; but a vain and conceited mind is
really ignorant, and is likely to remain so, while it presumes
upon wisdom.

4. _Courtesy_ was another conspicuous feature in the character of Rebekah.
The stranger had no sooner requested a little supply of water, than she
lets down the pitcher from her shoulder, and manifests the most obliging
disposition to render him service. Her whole proceeding evinces good
humour and affability in the highest degree, and the "law of kindness is
in her tongue." Josephus relates that there were other young females with
her, who were asked for water, but refused; and that Rebekah reproved them
for their churlishness. Her civilities were connected essentially with her
promotion, though she had no selfish purpose in view: they resulted solely
from a pure and disinterested generosity of spirit.

Let young women remember that an unfeeling and disobliging temper is
unworthy of their character, and opposite to their real interest. It is at
once a neglect of duty, and a certain forfeiture of esteem. Courteousness
is peculiarly suited to their age and sex, and particularly expected of
them. Nor should the exercise of this disposition be restricted merely to
their superiors or equals; it ought to characterize their behaviour to
their dependents and inferiors. If young people display affability only
when in company with others, who move in the same, or in a more elevated
sphere of life than themselves, but assume consequence, and betray an
arrogant spirit amongst their servants; we cannot but suspect that their
good qualities are only apparent, and their motives selfish. The true
character of every person is to be learned at home, and at times when no
exterior influences operate to make persons different from themselves.
Then the mask is taken off, meretricious ornaments are dispensed with,
and consequently native qualities appear. Tyrannical conduct may compel
obedience, but an amiable spirit alone can command affection, and render
servitude pleasant. There are, indeed, great constitutional differences;
but it is no apology for petulance to say, it is natural to us, or that we
were born irritable. Our constitutional imperfections ought to be
carefully watched, and resolutely corrected. Irregularities of temper are
capable of being subdued by the vigorous efforts of religious principle.
It is possible, by careful and constant discipline, to subdue the most
untamed spirit; and is equally politic, because it renders its possessor
disagreeable to others, and miserable in herself.

It is on many accounts not only wicked, but foolish, to conduct yourselves
with provoking superciliousness towards inferiors. Courtesy is easily
practised, and the reverse dangerous to your own peace and comfort.
Besides, it is scarcely possible to think of a human being so utterly
contemptible, that his esteem is not worth possessing, or so morose that
he may not be conciliated by kindness: and in a world in which we are
liable to such reverses, and exposed to such reproaches, the friendship of
the meanest person may be advantageous. Hence, it is well remarked by Dr.
Barrow, "the great Pompey, the glorious triumpher over nations, and
admired darling of fortune, was at last beholden to a slave for the
composing his ashes, and celebrating his funeral obsequies. The honour of
the greatest men depends on the estimation of the least: and the good-will
of the meanest peasant is a brighter ornament to the fortune, a greater
accession to the grandeur of a prince, than the most radiant gem in his
royal diadem. However, the spite and enmity of one (and him the most weak
otherwise and contemptible) person, may happen to spoil the content of our
whole life, and deprive us of the most comfortable enjoyments thereof; may
divert our thoughts from our delightful employments, to a solicitous care
of self-preservation and defence; may discompose our minds with vexatious
passions; may, by false reports, odious suggestions, and slanderous
defamations, blast our credit, raise a storm of general hatred, and
conjure up thousands of enemies against us; may, by insidious practices,
supplant and undermine us, prejudice our welfare, endanger our estate, and
involve us in a bottomless gulf of trouble."

5. We may take occasion, from Rebekah's kindness, to commend another
quality for which she was distinguished--_humanity to animals_. Abraham's
servant merely requested some water to quench his own thirst; but she felt
for the dumb creatures that attended him, who could only express their
wants by signs. She offered to supply his camels, and hastened to fill the
troughs, that they might drink. How kind, how considerate was this! There
are few persons of a really amiable temper, who do not cherish an
attachment to animals; still we should distinguish between a proper
attention to their necessities and comforts, and that excessive caressing
fondness which is unbecoming a rational being.

But in what language shall we sufficiently denounce _cruelty_ to animals?
Are they not the creatures of God; and endowed with capacities both of
pain and pleasure? Why should we inflict unnecessary pain, even upon the
meanest reptile? Who has given us authority to do so? By what argument, or
by what sophistry, shall we seek a justification of such conduct? Why
should we abridge the short span of existence allotted to the inferior
creation, especially when we recollect that "the spirit of a beast goeth
downward;" and that, being destitute of immortality, the whole period of
their enjoyment is limited to the short date of their life on earth? It is
the mark of a debased mind to seek amusement from the writhings of
defenceless creatures, to sport even with the agonies of a fly. Parents
and guardians of youth should particularly guard against the encouragement
of a principle of cruelty, by allowing this practice. Children should not
be suffered to indulge in such abuses, but should rather be taught to set
a proper value upon the life and liberty of an animal. The subsequent
maltreatment of the lower creation, many of the outrageous passions that
in maturer life disgrace the uneducated part of society, and even the cold
insensibility to the necessities of others, which so often obtains in the
higher circles, may be traced to this early commencement. The future
tyrant is formed in the hours of sportive cruelty; and he who in infancy
practices on a fly, may in maturity domineer over an empire. It is
important to trace evil passions and principles to their origin, to watch
their developement and first operations, and, at the earliest possible
period, to implant corrective sentiments in the youthful mind.

Solomon represents it as characteristic of "a righteous man," that he is
"merciful to his beast;" and if it be censurable to assail the meanest
insect which is not positively noxious, how much more to abuse those
animals which contribute to our domestic comfort and security? This may be
done, not only by beating, goading, and over-driving the laborious ox, or
the swift-paced horse, by whom we cultivate our fields, or pursue our
commercial concerns; but by stinting them of food, supplying them with
insufficient or inferior provender, or leaving them to careless or
peculating hands. Jacob was a specimen of kindness to animals--Balaam of
brutality. The Mosaic law wisely and mercifully provided for the ox which
trod out the corn, an enactment worthy of the supreme legislator, and
coincident with the feelings of every humane heart.



SECTION II.


  The Servant of Abraham cordially received into the House of Laban--tells
  his Story--proposes to take Rebekah--Consent of her Family--her
  Readiness to go--the Interview with Isaac--Rebekah become his
  Wife--their Anxieties--Birth of Jacob and Esau--Isaac's Death-bed, and
  Rebekah's unwarrantable Proceedings--her Solicitude respecting her
  Son's future Conduct.


We left the good old servant of Abraham at the well of water--we
listened to his grateful acknowledgments to Heaven for prospering his
journey--and we saw the interesting daughter of Bethuel run home to inform
her friends of the extraordinary circumstance that had occurred. She had
met a stranger--he had accepted her assistance, and presented her with
costly ornaments--he had requested the customary rites of hospitality--he
had been praying like a servant of the most high God--he had even
intimated that he was travelling to fulfil some special commission of his
master and their relative, the venerable Abraham! Every heart welcomed the
tidings, and mutual congratulation circulated through the family.

Laban, the brother of Rebekah, whoso mercenary spirit viewed with
peculiar satisfaction the ear-ring and bracelets which had been presented
to his sister, hastened immediately to the well, and gave the messenger of
Abraham a warm invitation to his home: "Come in," said he, "thou blessed
of the Lord; wherefore standest thou without? for I have prepared the
house and room for the camels." If we were quite certain that this pious
language was dictated by a proportionable purity of motive, we should be
highly gratified with it; but, alas! how common is it to use words of
customary congratulation without meaning, and to sacrifice sincerity to
politeness!

The man accepted the invitation; his camels were soon ungirded and
supplied with provender, water was furnished to wash his feet and those of
his men, and the table spread with a plentiful supply of provision for
their refreshment. We need not be surprised, however, that he refuses to
eat till he has introduced the important business upon which he came! the
good man's heart is overflowing, and he prefers the discharge of his duty
before his "necessary food." O that all our obedience to God were
characterized by a similar zeal and fidelity!

"Speak on," said Laban: upon which, with admirable skill and perfect
ingenuousness, he recounts a series of simple facts, interweaving his
narrative with such touching arguments as proved irresistible: he stated
without the vanity of a superior domestic who was actually the steward of
the family, that he was "Abraham's servant;" and then proceeds to mention,
not his own exploits, or merit, or influence, but the opulence and
prosperity of his master; his becoming great and rich in "flocks and
herds, and silver and gold, and men-servants and maid-servants, and camels
and asses," he devoutly ascribes to "the Lord:" but at the same time gives
the fact a prominence in his discourse well calculated to conciliate the
persons he addressed, and prepare them for his subsequent statements. He
now proceeds to mention Isaac, taking care to intimate the weighty
considerations, that he was the son of the illustrious patriarch whom he
served, by Sarah his beloved wife; born at an advanced period of their
lives, and therefore young, as well as the child of promise, and heir of
all the wealth which his master possessed. He then explicitly refers to
the solemn oath by which he had been bound to seek a wife for his son; not
amongst the idolatrous Canaanites near his own residence, but amongst his
kindred in Haran. Dear is the name of _kindred_, especially when families
are separated at such distances of time and space from each other, that
they scarcely expect to meet again in an unbroken circle, and renew the
embraces of friendship. It is then the tenderest sensibilities are
excited, the fondest remembrances renewed, and the heart becomes
accessible to every endearing impression!

Eliezer, having now gained the ear and won the regard of the listening
circle, next adverts to the conversation which had passed previously to
the commencement of his journey; in which he exhibits to great advantage
the faith of his master Abraham, and the particular direction of his
wishes, By repeating the story of his interview with Rebekah at the well,
in connexion with the command to seek a wife for Isaac among the kindred
of the family, he points at once to the object he had in view, and appeals
to their piety in estimating the movements of Providence. They must
consider whether all these concurring circumstances were not evidences of
a divine interposition, and whether some important consequences were not
likely to result from the proposed connexion: "And now, if you will deal
kindly and truly with my master, tell me; if not, tell me; that I may turn
to the right hand or to the left." In all this the very spirit of his
master is conspicuous in the servant; he had not lived with Abraham in
vain; a similar fear of God was before his eyes, and the same solicitude
to fulfil the duties of his station; he could not eat, he could not drink,
till he had disburdened his full heart, and ascertained the probability of
success in his important mission.

Every servant may here take a lesson of fidelity to his master on earth,
and every servant of Christ especially, who sustains the ministerial
character, may see a fine specimen of the ardour, energy, and affection
with which it becomes him to execute his high commission. This delicate
service upon which Abraham's servant was sent to Nahor, was honourably
discharged; but how much more "he that winneth souls is wise!"

What could the friends of Rebekah say to the appeal they had heard? Laban
and Bethuel were overwhelmed. There was a mysterious singularity in the
whole train of circumstances, calculated to impress the most indifferent
and superficial mind, and they bowed to the interposing wisdom of the
Supreme Disposer. As soon as the solemn feeling produced by such an
extraordinary narrative was sufficiently regulated to permit them to
speak, they joined in expressions of devout acknowledgment and submissive
consent; "The thing proceedeth from the Lord; we cannot speak unto thee
bad or good. Behold, Rebekah is before thee; take her and go, and let her
be thy master's son's wife, as the Lord hath spoken."

This was a moment of exquisite satisfaction; but whence did it originate?
Not surely so much in worldly as in religious considerations. The period
was arrived, that anxious period to the parent, for the marriage of his
lovely Rebekah; and now he was satisfied with the disposal of her to a
distant relation. A worldly mind would have rejoiced indeed in the outward
suitability of the match, but especially in the flattering prospect of
great possessions which it presented. These inferior views too generally
and too exclusively influence matrimonial alliances; the hearts both of
the young and the aged are captivated by the splendours of life, as if
they necessarily secured the possession of real happiness, or as if they
could compensate for the absence of those mental and moral qualities which
can alone constitute the basis of substantial comfort. But in the present
instance, whatever pleasure might be lawfully derived from the assurances
which were given of the opulence of Abraham, and from the endearing
circumstance of the already existing relationship between the two
families, it was the perception of a _Providence_, superintending and
guiding the whole arrangement, that occasioned these most delightful
feelings; it was not an idolatrous, but a pious connexion, and God had
given the most striking indications of his will.

Let parents remember, that with whatever temporal prosperities they may
connect their beloved daughters, there is no security for permanent
happiness without real religion; and let children consider, that if the
fear of God do not possess their own breasts, and influence their
matrimonial choice, the delirium of pleasure will soon be past, and a
sense of inexpressible vacuity be left behind. The world is a gay
deceiver, and life a fleeting dream; the mists of illusion which gather
over the morning of existence, gradually disappear as the day advances;
and this imagined scene of enchantment, this fairy-land of pleasure
subsides into the reality of a thorny wilderness. The only preparation for
such a change, is a piety which seeks its happiness on high, and knows
that no earthly condition can form a paradise without the presence of the
blessed God.

The faithful servant, having adored the divine goodness for thus evidently
prospering his way, gave suitable presents to this happy family; jewels of
silver, and jewels of gold, and raiment, were presented to the young and
beautiful bride elect, and "precious things" to her mother and brother:
after this he could eat, necessary food being sweetened by temporal and
spiritual blessings.

The next morning, faithful to his commission, and eager to return, he
presses for a dismission, to which we need not wonder that the brother and
mother object, requiring him to remain at least ten days: still he urges
his request, and pleads that the Lord had prospered his way: but how
natural is their reluctance to part in a moment from so dear a daughter,
never perhaps to see her face again! They at length agree to defer the
decision of the affair to herself: Rebekah, with all the frankness so
remarkable in her whole deportment, instantly replied, "I will go."

It may appear mysterious, that when her parents pleaded only for a few
days, when modesty would even seem to have dictated a little delay; and
when filial tenderness must have powerfully resisted so sudden and
immediate a departure, that she should express so prompt a compliance,
without even stipulating for a single day. Something perhaps may be justly
imputed to the times, but far more to the religious state of her own mind;
a sense of duty overwhelmed a feeling of reluctance, together with every
inferior consideration. She was doubtless in the habit of daily
intercourse with God, and in fervent prayer had sought divine direction:
she saw an overruling providence--God was in the affair--his finger,
visible to the eye of faith, pointed out the way in which she should go,
and with unhesitating obedience she confessed her readiness to part with
all the felicities of home to seek a distant alliance, at the voice of
that sovereign Power to whom she committed her future destiny. Flattering
as the scene before her must have appeared to a mere worldly eye, the
sacrifices she made at this moment of compliance were certainly most
considerable. What could have led to such an answer, when standing between
the tears, the tenderness, the entreaties of parental and fraternal
affection, and the urgency of a mere stranger, the _servant_ too of her
future house--but a faith which overcame the world, and dictated her holy
resolution? _Heaven_ appointed her journey, and _nature_ pleaded in vain.

To every reader we recommend the noble principle which actuated this young
heroine. Let inclination bow to a sense of duty--let God be obeyed rather
than man--let not only authority be resisted, but even the fondest
endearments sacrificed to the divine requirements. Apply this principle to
a higher occasion, and remember that the Son of God has declared, "If any
man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and
children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot
be my disciple; and whosoever doth not bear his cross and come after me,
cannot be my disciple."

How tender, how affectionate is the parting scene! How the heart speaks in
every word! The whole group seems placed before our eyes; and we witness
the tears that flow, the sighs that heave each bosom; we seem to hear the
faltering yet fond accent, in which the dear forsaken family pronounce
the last benediction, "Thou art our sister; be thou the mother of
thousands of millions, and let thy seed possess the gate of those which
hate them."

Behold Rebekah, quitting the scene of her infancy and youth; Painful was
the sacrifice, but pleasant the service: a thousand objects would revive
the remembrance of past occupations and occurrences; a thousand
circumstances rush into her memory; her susceptible mind would often
retrace the scenes once so familiar, now to be abandoned for ever;
affection would often recal the names of Bethuel and Laban, and filial
tenderness would weep at the thought of maternal anxiety. She was about to
commit her happiness to the disposal of another--to form another
connexion--to seek another home--the young plant was removed by Providence
to take root in a new soil and situation. This is always a moment of
trial, and in the usual manner of estimating life, an experiment of
doubtful issue; but he who "commits his way to the Lord," and "leans not
to his own understanding," but at the call of duty, in the spirit of
prayer, dissolves or forms connections, may reasonably hope for the
"blessing which maketh rich" in all the essentials of happiness. Young
people! venture not upon a single step without a previous application for
guidance to the "throne of grace," lest by inconsideration and rashness
you forfeit the favours you might have secured by piety. At your eventful
period of life the transactions of _one day_ are likely to affect the
welfare _many succeeding years_; and if you would reap a future harvest of
joy, you must sow in present tears and prayers.

No incident of the journey is mentioned till the cavalcade was nearly
arrived at Hebron; they then saw a person walking in a thoughtful
attitude; and Rebekah, suspecting probably that he might be one of the
household establishment of Abraham, inquired of the servant, "What man is
this that walketh in the field to meet us?" The servant informed her that
it was his young master, the son of Abraham; he was come into the field
for the purposes of meditation and prayer. She instantly took a veil and
covered herself, alighting from the camel. This was done in compliance
with the usages of the times, as a part of the ceremonial belonging to the
presentation of a bride to her intended husband: the eastern brides are
generally veiled in a particular manner upon such occasions. This custom
seems at once expressive of female modesty and subjection.

Isaac appears to have avoided addressing her when he perceives the veil,
but taking the servant aside, he learns from his mouth the long and
pleasing tale of every circumstance in his journey; he participates the
general feeling, and with emotions of gratitude and gladness conducts his
Rebekah into the tent of Sarah, whose loss he had so deeply regretted,
that now for the first time, he was comforted respecting it. After the
customary mode, Rebekah became his wife, and he loved her. [16]

Peace be to that dwelling, the residence of a dutiful son and a tender
husband--a kind, generous, open-hearted, pious wife! Dear were the ties of
nature which united them, but still dearer the bonds of religion! It was a
day they never could forget--it was a friendship that could never be
dissolved! What could be wanting to complete their bliss? Approving
friends, reciprocal attachment, concurring providences, smiling heaven,
sanctioned the proceeding. At present their cup was full to the brim--not
a bitter ingredient mingled in the portion. But while we congratulate
their situation, let us imitate their example; and if we would participate
a similar felicity, cherish a similar spirit: we may be fully assured that
real piety will sweeten the pleasures and possessions of life; it may even
prevent, and will certainly sanctify, disappointments.

We are, however, easily misled; looking only at the outward appearance,
(and in general little more can be known of the history of families,) it
is common to fancy the prosperous, and persons of the greatest
connections, really possessed of the most abundant share of happiness. In
some cases every earthly good seems to be the allotted portion, and we are
ready to imagine that sorrow has found no means of access, no door of
admission: but a very slight knowledge of the world is sufficient to
ascertain that there is a "crook in every lot," and that this world is not
the destined abode of unmingled enjoyment. This remark is exemplified in
the history of Isaac and Rebekah. Twenty years elapsed, and they had no
children: this must have been a severe affliction, not only because at
that period a general hope of being connected with the Messiah led all
pious persons to be solicitous of a family, but because Isaac was the son
of promise, the multiplication of his seed was distinctly recorded, and he
had formed his matrimonial connection in the fear of God. As he partook
of the trial, he seems to have been endowed with the spirit of his
illustrious father; though he lived childless, he did not cherish
despondency, but "entreated the Lord for his wife," which was the only
effectual means of procuring the blessing.

[Sidenote: Years before Christ, 1836.] His prayer was heard; but this new
favour was attended with unusual anxieties, which proved signs of future
events. She ultimately bore twins, of which the elder was destined to
serve the younger. As names were usually given in reference to the
circumstances attending the birth of children, so _Esau_ signified _red,_
in allusion to his colour, and _Jacob_ signified the _supplanter._ Esau,
and his posterity the Edomites, were of a sanguinary disposition, and
peculiarly hostile to Israel; Jacob supplanted his brother in the
birthright; Esau was "a cunning hunter, a man of the field;" Jacob, a "a
plain man, dwelling in tents."

From the earliest period of their lives we may trace the existence of
those partialities in the two parents which have so frequently disquieted
the otherwise most harmonious families. The Scriptures assign a particular
cause for the fondness which Isaac cherished for Esau, which seems a most
lamentable weakness in so venerable a man: it arose from his eating of his
venison; for he was given to the indulgence of his appetite. Surely when
we observe how the greatest of men have been guilty of some of the most
unaccountable littleness, it should awaken us to holy jealousy over
ourselves, and induce us to establish a system of constant, laborious, and
impartial self-inspection.

The occasion of Rebekah's partiality is not distinctly recorded; it might
possibly have originated in his being more domestic, and attentive to
herself. [17] The usual effects resulted from these partialities: Isaac
was blind to the sins of his son, who soon pursued a course of conduct
that occasioned both his parents the deepest grief; while Rebekah's
fondness involved herself and her favourite child in the greatest
criminality.

[Sidenote: Years before Christ, 1750.]

Having attained an advanced period of life, and becoming conscious of
increasing infirmities, Isaac took measures to convey the patriarchal
benediction and the blessings of the covenant to his posterity. With this
view he called his eldest son, and in accents of fondness requested him to
go and procure him that savoury kind of food to which he was so partial;
after which he expressed his intention of pronouncing the blessing, and
thus securing for him, as he imagined, the mercies of the Abrahamic
covenant. Overhearing this conversation, Rebekah thinks of her favourite
son, and instantly devises a plan to supersede his elder brother. This
was, indeed, conformable to the determination of Providence; but is no
justification of her sinful policy. If it were even her intention to
accomplish the divine promises, the plea would not vindicate her doing
evil, that good might come.

Her object being to countervail the design of her husband, she instantly
commences a system of manoeuvring to carry her point. We must consider her
now as under a particular temptation, and evidently acting inconsistently
with the natural ingenuousness of her character, no less than with the
principles of her religion. The proper course would have been that of
persuasion, entreaty, or remonstrance; but under the apprehension that
Isaac's extravagant attachment to his darling child would render this
unavailable, she deviates at once from the path of rectitude to gain her
purpose. It is most unfortunate when the heads of families are influenced
by opposite wishes, and refuse a fair, candid exposition of their own
views to each other. Confidence is the basis of friendship, and in no case
should be cherished with more assiduous care than in domestic life.

Active in the execution of a scheme she had so promptly devised, Rebekah
states to Jacob all that had passed between his father and his elder
brother; proposing, or rather commanding him to go to the flock with all
possible despatch, and fetch two kids of the goats; "and I," says she,
"will make them savoury meat for thy father, such as he loveth; and thou
shall bring it to thy father, that he may eat, and that he may bless thee
before his death." Jacob hesitates--not, however, as we could have wished,
at the execution of the plan; but solely because he is apprehensive of its
failing, and producing unhappy consequences. Jacob was pacified by his
mother's offer to run all hazards, and incur the whole responsibility of
the transaction. She reiterates her request with all the fervour that a
better cause should have inspired; and has not long to wait in a state of
irksome suspense, before the favourite of her excessive affection returns
with the kids. Not a moment is to be lost--every thing is put in
requisition--the savoury meat is soon prepared. The hunter's speed is
outstripped by management and artifice--in vain he toils over the
lengthening field. Jacob is introduced, by his mother, into Isaac's
apartment, clothed in the goodly raiment of Esau, covered on the more
exposed parts of the body with the skins of the kids, to make him resemble
his hairy brother; and presents the food with due formality and
dissembling eagerness to the blind old patriarch. Some suspicions,
however, are awakened--"Who is it?"--"I am Esau, thy first-born."--"How
can this be--how quickly thou hast returned?"--The young man blushes and
trembles--but he must either confess or persevere--there was no
alternative--the mother's eyes probably intimated that he _must_ persist
in his deception. Awful to relate! he ascribes his good success,
personating Esau, to "the Lord." Isaac pursues other measures to obtain
satisfaction. His voice appears altered, and he begs to _feel_ his
son--the falsehood silences, but does not satisfy him. At length, he is
persuaded--he blesses him, and eats the venison. Though the dupe of
atrocious artifice, Isaac is, nevertheless, under supernatural direction,
and was afterwards unable to revoke his benediction.

But what did Rebekah gain by this detestable contrivance? She saw, indeed,
her favourite son inheriting the blessing; but this would have descended
upon him without her interference, according to the predeterminations of
Providence. She saw also a just recrimination upon her deceit on the part
of observant Heaven. The original dislike of the two brothers was kindled
into a raging flame. Esau burned with indignation at being thus cajoled,
and resolved to avail himself of the day of mourning for his father, to
satiate his resentment in his brother's blood: and Rebekah, to save both
their lives, was obliged to send her guilty, but favourite son, to a
distance. Thus were the latter days of both the parents imbittered by
their indiscreet and criminal partialities!

After the departure of Jacob, the fond mother becomes not merely
solicitous for his safety, but anxious respecting his future conduct. She
reflects on the temptation to form an idolatrous alliance to which he
might become exposed, unchecked by parental authority, and under
circumstances which would naturally induce him to seek a shelter from the
storm of adversity in the bosom of conjugal endearment. If the language of
Rebekah, upon this occasion, be tinctured with impatience, we cannot but
feel gratified to see it founded upon religious sentiment. "And Rebekah
said to Isaac, I am weary of my life, because of the daughters of Heth: if
Jacob take a wife of the daughters of Heth, such as these which are of the
daughters of the land, what good shall my life do to me?"

We are unwilling to part with Rebekah precisely at this point of her
history; but here it is that the sacred narrative drops her name. It is
written, however, we doubt not, on the imperishable pages of another
volume, which is emphatically styled, "the Lamb's book of life."

This abrupt termination suggests, amongst other considerations, the
_truth_ of the narrative. If it had been the purpose of the writer to
exhibit the subject of his story to the admiration of posterity, or to
display his own powers, rather than to represent fact or record
instructive biography, he would have carefully avoided whatever tended to
diminish the interest of the whole, and give it an unfinished appearance.
By concealing some of the more unsightly parts of the picture, and by
rendering prominent others of a more attractive character, he might have
contrived to accomplish an _effect_, though at the expense of truth and
reality. But the sentiments and prepossessions of the writer disappear
from the narrative of Scripture. There is no effort to conceal any facts
which may be supposed to weaken the general impression, or to introduce
explanatory or encomiastic statements which may be thought to strengthen
and enhance it. In every page, in every sentence, it is apparent that the
great object is instruction, and not amusement. The historian has no
private views--no partialities--no misconceptions--the pen of inspiration
is dipped in the fountain of truth, and "holy men of God spake as they
were moved by the Holy Ghost."

Let the sad inconsistencies which disgrace the closing part of Rebekah's
history, awaken every reader to a just sense of the importance of a
persevering uniformity of character. It is of great consequence, that we
adorn the religion we profess, and that our light shine more and
more--that we grow in grace as we advance in years, and that we do not
resemble the changing wind or the inconstant wave. Let us improve the
failure and irregularity of others to the purpose of self-examination;
and, while we neither extenuate nor aggravate their faults, aim to avoid
them. We have enough to encourage, yet sufficient to caution us, A life of
unblemished piety is almost as rare an occurrence, as a day of unclouded
brightness; but many such adorn the annals of the church, and the grace of
God is fully competent to multiply their number.



Miriam.

Chapter VI.



  Proceedings of the new King of Egypt--Birth of Moses--Conduct of
  Miriam--Preservation of Moses--Escape of Israel--Miriam's Zeal in
  celebrating the Event--her Character formed by early
  advantages--Contrasted with Michal--she engages with Aaron in a Plot
  against Moses--God observes it--Trial--Punishment of Leprosy inflicted
  upon Miriam--her Cure--dies at Kadesh--general Remarks on
  Slander--debasing Nature of Sin--Hope of escaping Punishment
  fallacious--Danger of opposing Christ--Exhortation to imitate the
  Temper of Moses.


The family of Amram was distinguished by a very striking peculiarity. All
the three younger branches of which it consisted, Aaron, Moses, and
Miriam, because eminent in ancient Israel. Their history is considerably
intermingled; but the latter, from the design of this work, will claim our
chief attention.

[Sidenote: Years before Christ 1571.]

Sixty-four years had elapsed from the death of Joseph, when the "_new_
king over Egypt," influenced by an ill-founded jealousy of the Israelites,
adopted one of those measures to which weak and wicked princes are
sometimes excited by an unhappy combination of bad counsel, and
mean-spirited perverseness. Instead of regarding this people, who had been
prodigiously multiplied by a series of unexampled prosperities, as the
most valuable portion of his subjects, and the best security to his crown;
this Pharaoh was jealous of their strength, and determined to weaken it by
a course of systematic oppression. This he called "dealing _wisely_ with
them;" whereas it would have been infinitely wiser, even upon principles
of mere political prudence, to say nothing of justice and humanity, to
have conciliated by kind treatment, rather than have exasperated by
barbarous exactions, six hundred thousand of his subjects!

His plan was, in the first place, to set over them taskmasters, to afflict
them with extraordinary burdens; but, to his extreme mortification, "the
more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew." Still his
obstinacy did not permit the least relaxation of that rigorous discipline
he had imposed: although, while he imbittered their lives, he failed of
promoting his own interest. Disappointment exasperated his malignity; and
he issued orders to certain Hebrew women, of whom Shiphrah and Puah are
named as the principal in their office, to destroy every male child that
should be born. They ventured, however, to disobey this mandate; the fear
of God not allowing them to commit murder, though enjoined to do so by
royal authority. The king called them to an account for their
disobedience, and "charged all his people, saying, Every son that is born
ye shall cast into the river, and every daughter ye shall save alive."
When we have such an awful display of the excess of human passions, that
fearful band of banditti that is for ever disturbing the peace of society,
it should inspire us with holy solicitude to suppress the first emotions
of sin in our hearts, and to aspire after the dignity and the bliss of
dominion over ourselves. Alas! how many who have been victorious over
foreign powers, could never achieve this nobler conquest of internal
depravity!

The command of Pharaoh to his too tractable slaves, introduces us to the
story of the birth and preservation of Moses. His mother--unenviable name
in this sad season of calamity!--his weeping mother, by a thousand
schemes, such as maternal fondness and ingenuity would naturally devise
to save the little darling of her heart, contrived to conceal this "goodly
child" for the space of three months; but finding it impossible to hide
him any longer, she took him--and with what feelings, say, ye
tender-hearted mothers!--to the river Nile.

                   --"A dealing parent lives
  In many lives; through many a nerve she feels;
  From child to child the quick affections spread,
  For ever wand'ring, yet for ever fix'd.
  Nor does division weaken, nor the force
  Of constant operation e'er exhaust
  Parental love. All other passions change
  With changing circumstances; rise or fall,
  Dependent on their object; claim returns;
  Live on reciprocation, and expire,
  Unfed by hope. A mother's fondness reigns,
  Without a rival, and without an end."

  H. MORE.

Miriam, an interesting actor upon this occasion, accompanied her mother.
Willing to adopt every possible expedient, even at this last extremity,
the afflicted parent had prepared a little boat of bulrushes, which grew
plentifully on the bank; and, making it water-proof by the use of pitch
and tar, she put the child into it, committed it to the uncertain
elements, and retired from the heart-rending scene. Poor Miriam, his
sister, supposed to be at this time about ten or twelve years of age, was
placed at a distance to watch the event. Dear little sentinel! what heart
can refuse to pity thy sad employment! who does not sympathize with thy
sorrow, and begin to mourn with thee for thy anticipated bereavement!
Imagination listens to strains which seem to strike upon the ear of
distant ages:

  "The flags and sea-weeds will awhile sustain
  Their precious load, but it must sink ere long;
  Sweet bade, farewell! Yet think not I will leave thee.
  No, I will watch thee, till the greedy waves
  Devour thy little bark."

The dispensations of Providence are indeed considerably diversified; but
at what an early period does affliction familiarize itself, even with the
happiest family! Behold Moses, in his cradle of bulrushes, exposed to the
waters and the crocodiles of the Nile! Behold his little sister at some
distance, participating the cares of her mother, and already at the outset
of life deluged with a storm of grief. She had learned to love the
babe--she had fondled it, and felt the kindlings of sisterly
affection--and at an age just sufficiently advanced to realize something
of the nature and extent of her loss, the new-born infant is torn from her
heart by the hands of sanguinary violence. It was because he was a Hebrew
child. His danger, and the distress of Miriam and her mother, arose from
their belonging to the persecuted Israelites; but with all their
disadvantages in this unfriendly world, let the children of pious parents
rejoice, even amidst their tribulations and reproaches, in being connected
with the people of God. It is an honour which, however at present
overlooked, will hereafter be fully appreciated, both by those who have
desired and those who have despised it!

At this juncture, the daughter of Pharaoh, to whom Josephus has given the
name of Thurmutis, came down with her maidens to the river-side; and
perceiving the frame of bulrushes, sent her servant to fetch it. Upon
opening it the little stranger wept. Her heart was touched with
compassion, and she said, "This is one of the Hebrew children."

Miriam, all observant and alert, seized the happy moment, introduced
herself, or perhaps she was called by the royal lady; but dexterously
contrived to propose her going to call a Hebrew nurse to nourish and rear
it as her adopted child. Divinely influenced by him who has all hearts in
his hands, and moves them by his secret touch, she consents; and who
should the well-instructed young messenger bring, but the babe's own
mother! Pharaoh's daughter intrusted the adopted stranger to her care, and
pays her for a service which she would willingly have rendered even at the
hazard of her life. The child grew, and, from the expression of the sacred
historian, appears to have become a favourite with this illustrious
princess. "And she called his name Moses; and she said, Because I drew him
out of the water." Such is the story, which needs none of the Rabbinical
embellishments to make it additionally interesting or wonderful.

Miriam is next introduced to us upon an occasion the most remarkable that
ever occurred in the history of the world. Miracle after miracle had been
performed by the instrumentality of Moses, ere the infatuated king of
Egypt could be persuaded to dismiss the children of Israel; and no sooner
had he given his consent to their removal, than taking an immense army he
pursued them to their encampment, which was by the sea, beside Pihahiroth,
before Baal-Zephon. The terrified fugitives complained to their leader,
who presented fervent supplications to Heaven for their deliverance. The
ear of mercy heard; he was commanded to take his rod, and stretch it over
the waters, upon the assurance that they should instantly divide, and
present a dry channel, over which they might safely pass. Awed by a divine
[Sidenote: Years before Christ, 1491.] power the retiring waves became a
wall of defence on either side, while the pillar of a cloud guided their
adventurous march. During the night, the Egyptian and Israelitish armies
were kept asunder, in consequence of the cloud affording a miraculous
light to the one, and shedding disastrous darkness upon the other.
Pharaoh, obdurate and furious, led on his troops into the new-formed
channel; and already by anticipation seized in the grasp of his mighty
malice, the prey which he intended to tear and devour. "And it came to
pass, that in the morning-watch the Lord looked upon the host of the
Egyptians through the pillar of fire and of the cloud, and troubled the
host of the Egyptians, and took off their chariot-wheels, that they drave
heavily: so that the Egyptians said, Let us flee from the face of Israel:
for the Lord fighteth for them against the Egyptians. And the Lord said
unto Moses, Stretch out thine hand over the sea, that the waters may come
again upon the Egyptians, upon their Chariots, and upon their horsemen.
And Moses stretched forth his hand over the sea, and the sea returned to
his strength when the morning appeared; and the Egyptians fled against it;
and the Lord overthrew the Egyptians in the midst of the sea. And the
waters returned, and covered the chariots, and horsemen, and all the host
of Pharaoh that came into the sea after them; there remained not so much
as one of them."

What a scene did the light of morning exhibit to Israel! Pharaoh's
chariots, his chosen captains, and all his host, had perished; "the depths
had covered them, they sank into the bottom as a stone." But, as if the
waters refused to harbour even the bodies of these enemies of the people
of God, they were no sooner drowned than thrown, by the indignant billows,
upon the sea-shore. See their ranks broken, their persons disfigured,
their glory for ever extinguished! Their unburied and unpitied remains
proclaim how fearful a thing it is to fall into the hands of God, and how
dangerous it is to venture upon "touching" his people, which is, in
effect, "touching the apple of his eye."

Anxious to celebrate so miraculous a victory, a victory achieved without a
battle, and by the special interposal of an omnipotent arm, Moses composed
that celebrated song of thanksgiving which is recorded in the fifteenth
chapter of the book of Exodus. It is remarkable, not only on account of
its intrinsic excellency, but as being composed six hundred and
forty-seven years before the birth of Homer, the best of heathen poets,
and, therefore, the most ancient piece of poetical composition in the
world. It is characterized by the beauty and boldness of its imagery, the
strength of its language, and the piety of its sentiments. If brought into
comparison with the finest specimens of human genius that have since
delighted mankind, its superiority must instantly be established.

According to the practice of the age, Miriam, with whom we are
particularly concerned at present, appeared at the head of the women to
congratulate Israel upon this splendid event, in responsive strains and
dances. She was anxious only to aid the universal joy, and express in
every possible manner her accordance of sentiment with that of her two
illustrious brothers, Moses and Aaron, and the thousands of Israel. Happy
was it for Miriam, that, instead of leading the unhallowed and prostituted
festivities of heathen gods, she was "educated in the Jews' religion;"
and, from infancy to maturer years, had been taught to sing the praises of
the great I AM! Nor did she merely mingle her undistinguishable notes of
joy with her country-women and her nation; but, from the ardour of her
zeal, and the general superiority of her character, she took the lead in
these devotional raptures. Her early advantages, and her pious connexions,
had contributed essentially to the formation of her future character. They
not only contributed to impress a holy bias upon her mind, but to prepare
and mould her into that characteristic pre-eminence, by which she occupied
so conspicuous a station among the Israelites, and was ranked with their
two illustrious leaders. [18] What might not be anticipated from the
singular concurrence of such means in her favour? She was the sister of a
man who refused the honours of a court, and perhaps of a crown, to incur a
voluntary degradation with the afflicted people of God; and with him she
enjoyed a familiar and incessant intercourse. She had, besides, received
her earliest lessons in the school of adversity, and was become an eminent
proficient in sacred knowledge.

Let us duly appreciate, but be cautious of overrating, the advantage of
religious education. It did not necessarily follow, from the means which
Providence so amply and so graciously dispensed to Miriam, that she should
become a truly religious person, much less that she should acquire such
distinction in Israel; but while we gratefully admit, that good
instruction is calculated to effect the best results, and will commonly
produce them, it does not infallibly secure the end; nor can it at any
time prove available, independently of the blessing of God. With the use
of that system of means which is established in the providential
arrangements of Heaven, his concurring sanction may be expected;
although, to show the impotency of mere means, and to fulfil the secret
purposes of the divine government, they are sometimes totally inefficient.
It was the privilege of Miriam to be born an Israelite, and to have pious
relatives; and it is our advantage to live in an age, and to be born in a
country, blessed with the pure light of the Christian revelation. But
religion is personal in its nature; and unless our advantages be improved,
it is in vain that we have possessed them. Providence may give us Abraham
for our father, and impenitence may incur perdition for our portion! It
was to the most distinguished, and to the most boasting of the Jewish
fraternity, that Jesus Christ afterward declared, "I know you, that ye
have not the love of God in you."

The conduct of Miriam, on the triumphal occasion already mentioned,
exhibits a striking contrast to that of Michal, the daughter of Saul, when
at a subsequent period, the ark of God was brought from the house of
Obed-edom into the city of David. Harps, psalteries, timbrels, cornets,
cymbals, and all kinds of musical instruments, were put in requisition
upon that interesting day; and David disarraying himself of the dress of
royalty, and substituting the lighter linen vestment of the priest, danced
before the ark in a devout ecstacy. But Michal, instead of uniting in the
shouts of universal gladness, and extolling her husband's humility and
zeal, addressed him in this taunting language, "How glorious was the king
of Israel to-day, who uncovered himself to-day in the eyes of the
handmaids of his servants, as one of the vain fellows shamelessly
uncovereth himself!" From David's vindication of his behaviour, and from
the punishment inflicted on this inconsiderate woman, we perceive how
little capable irreligious characters are of estimating the nature and
value of those extraordinary acts of piety, for which eminent saints have
been always distinguished; and how displeasing to God is their proneness
to vilify those whom they ought rather to admire. In the present instance,
however, Miriam inspires the song, and leads the dance, vying with the
other sex in expressions of praise, and recognizing with equal joy an
interposing Providence. While Moses exclaims, "I will sing unto the Lord;"
Miriam, with no tardy zeal, utters the responsive and animating strain,
"Sing ye to the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously, the horse and his
rider hath he thrown into the sea."

Union in religious exercises is conducive to holy pleasure, and no sight
can he more gratifying than that of brethren and sisters engaging with
heart and voice in the praises of God. Within the small circle of a single
family, what a considerable portion of happiness--such as the world cannot
possibly supply--is dispensed, when every heart is in tune to devotion,
and no discordant sympathies blend with the universal feeling of pious
delight. It resembles a young plantation, which the gentle gales of the
south bend in the same direction--all under the same divine influence, all
tending to the same point. But never had witnessing spirits before beheld
such a scene on earth, as that of a _whole nation_ assembled to celebrate
the praises of Jehovah--never till the day of deliverance from the Red
Sea, had they before listened to such acclamations as those of all the
tribes and tongues of the thousands of Israel united in one general,
instantaneous, and harmonious song. Now a world, which having been
characterized by its apostacy, was marked by signs of displeasure--a world
from which only a few notes of holy praise, a few strains of sincere
devotion, had ascended to heaven from individual saints during the long
course of more than _two thousand five hundred years_--seemed beginning
to redeem its character; and rise to the dignity of serving God!

If blessed spirits were not permitted to break silence, and mingle their
congratulations with man, as they did when incarnate mercy descended to
Bethlehem, who can doubt the reality of their sympathy and satisfaction,
when the songs of Moses and Miriam were thus emulating "the song of the
Lamb?" Faith travels onward to a future and still happier day, when
_every_ redeemed individual, from amongst men, shall be permitted to utter
his voice in the great chorus of eternity, in which the millions of the
human race, who have "washed their robes and made them white in the blood
of the Lamb," shall unite with the unfallen universe in the praises of
Heaven. By the visions of the apocalypse, we are admitted to a view of the
employments of that celestial state, and the very prospect of it is highly
calculated to kindle a warm devotion. How truly trifling do all the
pursuits of time appear to the exercises and enjoyments of happy beings
around the throne, who, elevated above this mortal sphere, behold the
unveiled glories of God and the Lamb, and drink immortal bliss from "the
fountain of living waters." The many angels round about the throne, and
the living creatures and elders, whose number is ten thousand times ten
thousand, and thousands of thousands, are represented as _uniting_ in the
same immortal song, adoring the same Lord, and celebrating the same
redemption. It is thus--exhilarating anticipation!--the devotions of time
will expand into the songs of eternity; thus the services of earth issue
in the raptures of heaven!

The course of the history of Israel at length introduces us to a very
different, but perhaps a no less instructive scene. Miriam must not only
be contemplated in a new, but unpleasing light. Hitherto she had been the
coadjutor of her brother Moses, but now becomes his opponent, pursuing a
line of conduct, in consequence of indulging a guilty passion, which
usually produces the most deplorable effects, and which we cannot but
lament should have been so conspicuous in this illustrious woman. The
circumstance alluded to is recorded, with the characteristic fidelity of
the inspired historians, in the twelfth chapter of the book of Numbers.

"Wrath is cruel, and anger is outrageous; but who is able to stand before
_Envy?_" To this latter principle must be attributed the plot in which
both Aaron and Miriam engaged to diminish the reputation of Moses. This
was not indeed the ostensible reason, but it was their real design; and
occasioned the severe, but just chastisement which was immediately
inflicted. Seldom do any of the baser passions act without combining and
blending themselves with hypocritical pretences, in order to conceal from
view their own hateful deformity. This will be found particularly the
case, when they prevail in persons who have acquired respectability and
influence, and who are not given over to total blindness and hardness of
heart. Artifice may sometimes conduce to success, but it usually betrays
character.

Aaron and Miriam spake _against_ Moses, but not _to_ him. If they had
observed any thing objectionable in his administration of public affairs,
it would have been candid, fair, and kind, to have taken a private
opportunity for expostulation or inquiry. Not only was he extremely
accessible, but they were his relatives, and in habits of daily intimacy
and communication. They knew him well, and saw him often. Such a conduct
would have done them honour, and although their surmises had proved
incorrect, Moses would have applauded their ingenuousness. But, alas!
these dear relatives, and otherwise good and great characters, had become
envious of their brother; and acting conformably to the invariable
meanness of such a spirit, they secretly circulated reports in the camp
tending to disparage his excellence, for the purpose of advancing their
own pretensions to popular estimation. Their arrogance is sufficiently
apparent from their words, "Hath the Lord indeed spoken ONLY by Moses?
Hath he not spoken ALSO by us!"

Can this be _Aaron?_ Can that be _Miriam?_ The one the _brother_--the
other the _sister_ of Moses? Persons too, venerable for their years, and
for their office, and only next in honour to the great legislator and
leader of Israel? It may have comported with the ambition of a Pagan to
exclaim, "I had rather be the first man in a village, than the second in a
kingdom;" but is such language befitting the lips of saints and prophets
of the true God? Was not _Aaron_ the person that sought the intercession
of his brother when he had committed idolatry? Was he not consecrated a
high priest unto God? Was not _Miriam_ his elder sister, who acted so
conspicuous a part in his early preservation, watching his bulrush-cradle
when exposed to the waves and the monsters of the Nile? Was it not
_Miriam_ that accompanied him in his prosperities, that hailed his
increasing glory, that aided his triumphant songs when the Egyptian army
was submerged in the Red Sea? and can _Miriam_ be envious? Strange
infatuation!

But, perhaps, we are really censuring ourselves. Listen to the unbiassed
voice of conscience. Does it not thunder in your ears, "Thou art the man?"
Art thou insensible to its powerful and just remonstrances, "Wherein thou
judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doeth the
same things?" O beware of this mean, creeping, reptile spirit! Persons in
eminent stations may, in a certain degree, expect to suffer from the wiles
of envy: But to suffer from those of their own household, and from persons
on whose friendship they have had the greatest reason to rely, must be
peculiarly afflictive. If it be possible to add one drop to the bitterness
of such a portion, it is by being envied, and consequently depreciated, by
those who are _associated in the same sacred office_. A remark upon this
subject cannot be misplaced, the history seems rather to claim it. A
mortal creature cannot be invested with a more important commission than
that of the ministry of the word. So highly did the apostle of the
Gentiles appreciate his work, that, gifted as he was in every requisite to
discharge it with honour and success, he exclaimed, "Unto me, who am less
than the least of all saints, is this _grace_ given, that I should preach
amongst the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ." But if each
heavenly ambassador be really convinced that he and his brethren are
intrusted with an office at once so dignified in its nature, so useful in
its design, so extensive in its duties, that no one can adequately fulfil
for himself what would be sufficient to expend the energies of an angel;
and that the combined exertions of all the preachers that ever have, or
ever will, minister in holy things, cannot _wholly_ occupy the sphere of
possible usefulness, were every power of the mind, and every moment of
time, made tributary to the service--if this were duly considered, surely
instead of envying, depreciating, and thwarting each other, perfect love
must prevail, and mutual assistance be incessantly rendered. The world is
sufficiently disposed to reproach the servants of the sanctuary; they
should not undervalue each other. Nothing can exceed, and no words can
express, the littleness of attempting to construct our own fame upon the
ruins of others; and when this temper exists, as it sometimes
unquestionably does, amongst those who teach humility, it is singularly
detestable. Ministers of the divine word should be guardians of each
other's reputation, aware that the honour, and in some degree the success
of it depends upon the _character_ of its publishers and representatives.
Miriam and Aaron should have been the last, while, such is human nature,
they were the first, to envy Moses!

Mark the origin of those depreciating reports which they contrived to put
in circulation. They had taken some offence respecting Zipporah, his wife,
who is called the Ethiopian woman. The precise occasion of this offence
cannot, and need not, be ascertained. Some have supposed it was on account
of his having married her; but as this had taken place forty years before,
and, being perfectly legal, could have furnished no just ground of
crimination, the probability is, that some recent occurrence, grounded
perhaps on personal and long cherished antipathy, produced a difference.
Some private contention might have existed; that ungovernable member, the
tongue, had inflamed resentments; and a revengeful spirit fastened the
blame upon Moses, whose only offence was, probably, some meek and
pacifying word.

But what connexion subsisted between the marriage of Moses with an
Ethiopian woman, and the pretentious of Aaron and Miriam to an equality
with their illustrious brother? Truly, none at all. Their conduct is a
striking display, not only of the virulence of envy, but of the progress
and resentful nature of anger. It always wanders from its subject, and
ranges around for new materials upon which to operate. It possesses the
perverse capacity of converting every thing into an element of mischief,
of inventing circumstances and envenoming objections. It seeks to enlist
others into its services, and to bring every thing into a confederacy
against the peace of its object. It is limited by no bounds, and
restrained by no considerations; it will often, like the exasperated judge
of Israel, pull down ruin upon his own head, for the sake of destroying
others. The present contention began about Zipporah, but it ended in Moses
himself. It was, perhaps, at first, a common-place strife; but at length
it assumed the shape of a settled hostility. It was but a spark, and if
angry passions had not blown it, soon it might have gone out; imprudence
and revenge raised and extended it into a vast conflagration.

Family quarrels are, of all other dissentions, the most to be deprecated.
We should be careful to prevent them, and if they occur, take effectual
and speedy measures for their extinction. Let us not be tenacious of our
own opinions, or determined upon practising our own plans. It becomes the
Christian, both for his own sake and for the interest of religion, to make
every possible sacrifice to peace. Pour the oil of gentleness upon the
stormy billows of strife: ever remembering that "a brother offended is
harder to be won than a strong city, and their contentions are like the
bars of a castle."

One expression in this narrative merits particular notice. Let the envious
detractor tremble at the words, "the Lord heard it." It requires not the
tone of thunder to penetrate the ear of God: his omniscience perceives the
secret whisperings of slander, and even the inaudible and unexpressed
surmises of a perverted mind. Moses may have been ignorant of the
industrious malignity of his brother and Miriam, or disregardful of any
intimations on the subject; for a person of integrity is unwilling to
believe, without very compulsory evidence, the dishonesty of others; or,
if it cannot be discredited, he will patiently pursue that course which
will eventually place injured innocence in the point of complete
vindication. In this he resembled the great Exemplar of every virtue of
whom he was an eminent antitype, and of whom it is recorded, that "when he
was reviled, he reviled not again, but committed himself to him that
judgeth righteously."

But whether _Moses_ did or did not hear, or, hearing, disregarded the
detractions of his nearest relatives, _God_ observed them, and instantly
came down to express his displeasure. The two delinquents were summoned to
the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, with their much-injured
brother: the glory of the Shekinah appeared, and the solemn voice of the
divine majesty issued from the cloud of his presence. The superiority of
Moses was proclaimed, and an unanswerable question proposed to them,
"Wherefore then were ye not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?" As
an indication of anger, the symbolic cloud instantly removed from the
tabernacle; and Miriam, the most forward, and perhaps the first in this
transgression, became "leprous, white as snow."

Aaron was shocked at the sight, and had immediate recourse to the man he
had before so defamed, humbly requesting him to pass over the sin they had
perpetrated, and entreating his powerful intercession with God on behalf
of their afflicted sister. Moses, obeying at once the impulse of humanity,
piety, and fraternal attachment, pleaded for her restoration. He was
graciously heard. Miriam was excluded from the camp only seven days,
during which the journeyings of Israel were suspended, to express the
displeasure of God at their concurrence in her transgression, and to show
the kind intermixture of mercy with judgment in the divine proceedings.
After this, the people removed from Hazeroth, and pitched in the
wilderness of Paran.

[Sidenote: Years before Christ, about 1451.]

With this instructive story the history of Miriam closes, excepting the
brief notice of her death at The encampment at Kadesh, where she was
buried. Josephus relates, that after interring her with great solemnity,
the people mourned for her a month. This occurred in the fortieth year
after the departure from Egypt, Eusebius says, that in his time her
sepulchre was still to be seen at Kadesh.

Whether the imputation be true or false, that women are particularly
addicted to the vice of slander, it cannot be deemed unsuitable to suggest
a caution upon this subject. Character is a sacred thing, and it is
unworthy of you to trifle with it. To sit in judgment upon others, and to
pronounce a hasty verdict upon actions which may be carelessly
misrepresented, or words, if not intentionally, yet heedlessly misquoted,
without affording an opportunity to the condemned individual to speak for
himself, is unjust in the extreme. But how many excellent persons are made
the butt of ridicule, or tossed about as the playthings of a gossipping
spirit, which, incapable of a direct charge, gratifies its malignity by
infusing calumnies into the too listening ear of prejudice. An idle report
is, by this means, magnified and circulated to an incalculable extent; or
the infirmities of excellent characters animadverted upon, for no other
purpose than to fill up the waste moments of a ceremonious visit. Women
should assume their proper rank, by aspiring to the dignity of rational
intercourse; and not degrade themselves, and disquiet society, by
engaging in petty warfare against the reputation of others.

Let what is termed _religious conversation_ turn rather upon _things_ than
_persons_; otherwise men in public station, perhaps of equal though
dissimilar excellence, will be in danger of undue praise or excessive
depreciation. The favourite preacher will be unmercifully extolled, and
the unpopular one as cruelly degraded. A clashing of opinion will be
likely to produce rivalries, and invigorate partialities; till, probably,
the effect of their respective labours is lost upon these fair but
injudicious critics. Let young women, especially, take the hint, and "set
a watch upon the door of their lips." Beware of indiscriminate censure, or
extravagant applause. Regard the ministers of the word as the servants of
God. Receive instruction from their lips with all humility, pray for their
increasing wisdom, and tenderly cherish their good name. If a Moses, with
all his excellencies, seem to you to assume, or in any respect to commit
an error, do not be the first to publish it abroad in the camp, or to
aggravate, by misrepresentation, a failing which is blended with such
acknowledged worth. Remember, it is as likely that _you_ should be
mistaken in your judgment, as that _he_ should be faulty in spirit or
conduct; and that if your detractions be not visited with an outward token
of displeasure, resembling the loathsome deformity of Miriam, which
required a veil, they render you most unlovely in the sight of God and
man. "The tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue amongst
our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the
course of nature, and it is set on fire of hell. For every kind of beast,
and of birds, and of serpents, and things in the sea, is tamed, and hath
been tamed of mankind: but the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly
evil, full of deadly poison."

The situation of Miriam during her exclusion from the camp suggest an
observation on the debasing nature of sin. When engaged in the exercises
of religion, and taking the lead in the celebration of the overthrow of
the Egyptian army by the interposing providence of God, she appears the
glory of her sex and the ornament of her country; but from the moment she
indulges a guilty passion, her honour is tarnished, her dignity degraded,
and her pre-eminence lost; the moral defilement she has contracted is
marked by an external deformity, and issues in a degrading separation.
Miriam is deeply conscious of her guilt, and confounded at its bitter
consequences: she feels that she is a sufferer because she was a sinner;
and would no doubt have made any sacrifice could it have been possible to
regain the forfeited paradise of peace and innocency. But we have here a
specimen of the inevitable consequence of sin. It does not indeed
generally incur immediate and temporal punishment; but it degrades the
perpetrator of it in the eyes of God, in the opinion of others,
(especially the wise and good,) and in his own sight: it lowers him in the
scale of being, at once diminishing his reputation and contracting his
means of usefulness. If the face of Miriam recovered its beauty, and the
eyes of Israel could discern no external blemishes, it is questionable
whether a scar would not ever after be discernible upon her character: and
even should her indulgent friends have forgotten, and God have graciously
forgiven her past iniquities, Miriam, as a true penitent, would scarcely
ever forgive herself: the very consciousness of pardoning mercy would
often renew the sensations of penitence; and moments of holy joy would
ever after be bedewed with tears of humiliation.

From this example it is further obvious, that the hope of escaping the
divine displeasure on account of sin, under the notion of being the
professed people of God, is altogether delusive; sin is detestable in the
eyes of perfect purity _wherever_ it exists, and can neither escape
detection nor elude chastisement. Its perpetration by his own people is
rather a reason for more signal and exemplary chastisement, than for any
kind of exemption from it; because the motive to obedience arising from
gratitude and other sources is proportionably stronger; and because a
contrary proceeding would tend to disparage the divine government, by
affording a plausible pretence to the doctrine of salvation _in_ sin, and
not _from_ it. The eminence of Miriam rendered her disgrace the more
requisite as a punishment, and the more salutary as an example: the
leprosy in her face was a practical lesson, which every Israelite could
not fail of understanding, and probably would not soon or easily forget.

It is, besides, not only the necessary tendency of sin to procure its own
punishment, but such is the appointment of God: it constitutes an
essential part of the great system of his moral government to unite them
together; and no mortal power can disconnect them. Sooner or later every
transgressor must be humbled; he _must_ fall--by judgment, or by
penitence--before the sword of excision, or into the arms of mercy. Happy
for us if external visitations produce internal prostration of spirit; if,
instead of stiffening ourselves into resistance, we bend to the
inflictions of parental chastisement; and if present and temporary
sufferings excite a feeling which will supersede the necessity of future
and more awful visitations.

If, again, Miriam were so severely visited for speaking against _Moses_,
how fatal will prove the consequences of resisting _Christ!_ The secret
whisperings of envy and ambition against the _servant_ of God, occasioned
a public and awful punishment: what tremendous wrath may not they expect
who reproach or disregard his beloved _Son!_ "If they escaped not, who
refused him that spake on earth, much more shall not we escape if we turn
away from him that speaketh from heaven."

This remarkable manifestation to Miriam, Aaron, and Moses, may remind us
of that period which is hastening on the rapid wings of time, when the
descending Judge of the universe will "come in the clouds of heaven with
power and great glory," "the glory of the Father and all the holy angels,"
to summon every class, and all the generations of mankind, to his
tribunal, and pronounce their final, irreversible, everlasting doom: then,
like Moses, his servants will be vindicated from every charge, honoured by
witnessing celestials, admitted through the gates into the city of the New
Jerusalem, be emparadised forever in the embraces of their God. Then, like
Miriam and Aaron, a guilty race, which has plotted against the righteous,
and opposed by their impenitence, if not their actual persecutions, the
prosperity of his cause and people, will be driven, not into temporary
exile and disgrace, but into ever-during darkness. "These shall go away
into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into life eternal." The
pride of Miriam was intelligibly marked upon her smitten countenance; and
the sin of transgressors will be written by the finger of God in
appropriate and conspicuous characters upon their immortal destinies. Thus
will the perfections of the Deity for ever blaze in the flames of
perdition, and irradiate the temple of glory!

Finally, imitate the conduct of Moses, who, on this occasion, so nobly
displayed a conduct which the Redeemer of the world thus inculcated as an
essential part of his religion: "Pray for them that despitefully use you
and persecute you." His intercession for Miriam, who had so cruelly
injured him, was prompt and ardent; instead of resenting her calumnies, or
triumphing in her merited affliction, he prayed for her recovery! Here we
see the very spirit of the Gospel under the law! a Christian in the habit
of a Jew! Superior to the age in which he lived, he seemed in character
and temper to have anticipated a far distant period of evangelical
illumination; to have caught, so to speak, by ascending the summits of
faith and hope, some of the yet unrisen splendour of the Sun of
Righteousness; to have been in a sense the _disciple_, as he was the most
illustrious _antitype_ of Christ, even centuries previous to his
incarnation! The cross is indeed the centre of union and the point of
attraction to all ages and nations. There the antediluvian and patriarchal
saints associate with those of later times, imbibing one spirit,
coalescing upon one principle, meeting in one sacred spot, conjoined in
one fraternal band! The wise and the good of a former dispensation looked
forward with anticipating pleasure to the great event, which we are
permitted to contemplate with retrospective joy. Hail, happy hour! when we
shall meet with all the redeemed in one glorious assembly; not as at
present, _by faith_, on mount Calvary, but _in reality_, on mount Zion--in
a world where the imperfections of Christians shall be removed, and their
excellencies completed--where Miriam shall not envy Moses, nor Moses be
exhibited in contrast with Miriam!



Naomi, Orpah, and Ruth.

Chapter VIII.



SECTION I.


  History of Domestic Life most instructive--Book of Ruth--Sketch of the
  Family of Elimelech while residing in Moab--Reflections arising out of a
  View of their Circumstances--Naomi's Resolution to return, and that of
  her Daughters-in-law to accompany her--Orpah soon quits her Mother and
  Sister--Her Character, and that of Ruth--Requirements of Religion--
  Arrival of Naomi and Ruth at Bethlehem--feelings of the Former.

Domestic life furnishes the most attractive and the most instructive
species of history. If it do not present an equal diversity of incident
with the narratives of rising or falling empires, in whose mighty concerns
every passion of human nature is interested, it possesses the superior
advantage of "coming home to men's business and bosoms."

The scene of _general history_ is frequently placed in a region which, to
the great proportion of mankind, is inaccessible; and however we may
admire its principal actors, they seldom furnish examples capable of being
exhibited for imitation. The sphere in which they moved is so totally
different, so far remote from that in which our duty usually lies, that
the knowledge of their achievements can conduce but little, to the great
purposes of practical improvement. The story of _private life_ possesses a
very different character; we are at once introduced to our _own_ sphere;
and although it may relate to a class in society either very much inferior
or superior in point of station to ourselves, it necessarily brings into
review relations which we all sustain, situations we have all to occupy,
and duties we have all to discharge. Whether, therefore, a princess or a
peasant be the principal actor, the central point round which every
circumstance revolves, and from which it derives interest and distinction,
it claims and will repay our serious attention.

Independently of these general considerations, the history of Ruth, in
connection with that of Naomi and Orpah, has been always regarded as
singularly interesting: it is a most pathetic tale, illustrative of the
operation of the tenderest of the domestic affections, in unison with
genuine religion: it exhibits the most artless simplicity of manners, the
most virtuous sensibilities, and the most affecting interpositions of
Providence. It is at once romantic and true, sublime and simple,
marvellous and natural: it constitutes, moreover, a connecting link in the
great chain of providence, and an important incident in the history of
redemption.

The sacred book, which derives its name from RUTH, was in all probability
written by Samuel: this is the concurrent opinion of Jews and Christians.
It may be considered as supplementary to the book of Judges, an
introductory to the history of David, whose descent from Judah through
Pharez is distinctly traced in the genealogy of Boaz.

According to Jewish tradition, Ruth was of the royal race of Moab, a
nation descended from Lot, and settled on the borders of the salt sea in
the confines of Judah. She married Mahlon, the son of Elimelech, who lived
in Moab in consequence of a famine which prevailed in Judea. After his
death, relying on the promises made to the tribe of Judah, to which her
husband belonged, she became a proselyte; and thus the Holy Spirit, by
recording the adoption of a Gentile woman into that family from which the
Messiah was to descend, might intend to intimate the comprehensive design
of the Christian dispensation. "It must be remarked also, that in the
estimation of the Jews it was disgraceful to David to have derived his
birth from a Moabitess; and Shimei, in his revilings against him, is
supposed by the Jews to have tauntingly reflected on his descent from
Ruth. This book, therefore, contains an intrinsic proof of its own verity,
inasmuch as it records a circumstance so little flattering to the
sovereign of Israel [19]; and it is scarcely necessary to
appeal to its admission into the canon of Scripture for a testimony of its
authentic character; or to mention that the evangelists, in describing our
Saviour's descent, follow its genealogical accounts." [20]

[Sidenote: Years before Christ, about 1818] This book commences with a
statement of the calamitous situation of Israel in consequence of a
famine, one of those messengers of divine displeasure sometimes
commissioned to scourge a guilty land, and chastise them into obedience.
Elimelech, a resident in Bethlehem-Judah, was compelled, probably with
many others, to quit his beloved home, and seek a temporary subsistence in
the country of Moab, which, although favoured at this time with the
blessings of temporal prosperity and abundance, was destitute of those
religious means, without which, in the view of a good man, Eden would lose
its charms, and life its value. He took with him his wife Naomi and his
two sons Mahlon and Chilion; and, under the guidance of that Providence
which once tamed the lions and restrained the fires of Chaldea, found an
asylum in the bosom of Israel's enemies.

In this exile, a family so ancient and reputable sunk into such
degradation excites our compassion; still more so, when in tracing their
adventurous history, we find them assaulted by new forms of sorrow and
calamity. Elimelech dies, and Naomi is left with her two sons. The young
men afterward marry, the one Orpah, the other Ruth, both natives of Moab.
It seems as though the disconsolate widow were beginning to dry up her
tears, and to rebuild her fallen house by those matrimonial alliances
which tended to naturalize them in the country; but whether the use of
these idolatrous materials was displeasing to God, or whether it was
deemed requisite to detach the mind of Naomi, by repeated afflictions,
from a soil in which her affections were becoming too deeply rooted, her
two sons also died in a few years, and the three females were left to
grapple with adversity alone. The original state and character of the
young women is uncertain, but they became proselytes to the Jewish
religion. They might have become so previously to their union with their
now departed husbands, whom, if the sacred narrative had been more
detailed and minute, we might possibly have had occasion to applaud for
their pious discrimination, rather than to censure or suspect for
impropriety of conduct; at least, under all the circumstances, we are by
no means justified in severe animadversions upon their choice. But,
whatever might have been their intentions, the Supreme Disposer was
working with a wise but mysterious secrecy, to promote his designs which
were linked with a succession of events extending to far distant
generations. Poor Naomi! how desolate thy condition! how deep thy
depression! Wave after wave rolls over thy defenceless head! And yet,
where is the human being to whom no comforts are left? Thy daughters
remain, and even if they had been removed, thy pious spirit would not have
sorrowed over their graves, as one that has no hope! Thy religion has
supplied thee with sources of consolation unknown to the world, and
indestructible by calamity, time, or death--"The eternal God is thy
refuge," "and underneath are the everlasting arms."

The rapid changes in this family cannot fail to remind us of the
instability of earthly possessions and enjoyments; nor ought we to forget
the wisdom and the goodness of that divine superintendence, which holds
all these changes in subserviency to his will. How impressive is the
language of inspiration, "we all do fade as a leaf;"--and how
illustrative of the present tragical history! When the sun of summer beams
upon the growing landscape, and, ascending some eminence, you survey the
valleys covered over with corn, the hills adorned with verdure, the trees
bending their abundant foliage to the gale, the flowers in "yellow meads
of asphodel and amaranthine bowers," perfuming the air with their odours,
you seem for a moment to inhabit regions of enchantment and perpetual
beauty. A month or two intervenes--you reascend your former elevation,
once more to feast the senses--to admire and adore the Dispenser of these
blessings--but O how faded! The bright beams of the sun are shrouded in a
wintry cloud--the corn has disappeared--the flocks retire--the trees are
bereft of their foliage--the flowers lie scattered on the ground. Such,
such is human life; thus we and our families fade! to-day in
vigour--to-morrow in dust! Where are generations past? where are our
ancestors? where our immediate predecessors? where our early associates,
and many of the individuals that have enlivened our social hours in
maturer life? Like the leaves which cluster on the ground in autumn, and
almost obstruct the path of the traveller, they seem to have dropped in
quick succession, and to lie in faded heaps on the road that leads into
eternity. And, alas! with an indifference too nearly resembling that which
is apparent in the unheeding passenger, who tramples autumnal foliage
beneath his feet, we tread on the graves of departed ages, and neglect to
imitate the example of the pious dead.

Pause and reflect, "we _all_ do fade." Whatever our circumstances or
connections, the inevitable dominion of death extends over all. The leaves
may occupy a higher or a lower station on the tree, they may be suspended
on the loftiest or the lowliest branches--but they _all_ drop off; and we
may be rich or poor, learned or illiterate, young or old, the house of the
grave is "appointed for _all _ living." Providence in mercy permits the
union of families long to remain unbroken; and, at length, in _mercy_
too--whatever the suggestions of despondency--dissolves it. The parent
expires, and the children follow; till, perhaps, the _name_ only survives,
like a tree bared to the storm of winter thrown down by the blast, and at
length rotting into dust.

Mournfully fascinating, however, and instructing as these considerations
appear, they must not divert us longer from the narrative. Naomi, at the
distance of ten years, cherished a constant anxiety respecting what passed
in Israel; and, weaned by repeated trials, if not still more so by
Moabitish idolatry, from her present situation, she heard with pleasure,
"that the Lord had visited his people, in giving them bread:" upon which
she determined to return, and take her two daughters-in-law with her into
Judea. This secondary kindred often proves a source of the most unhappy
jealousies and animosities in domestic life, but the harmony in which
these women lived, and with which they concerted measures for their
removal, indicated at least the goodness of all their dispositions. They
were, besides, in equal distress. Affliction, in almost every form, is
beneficial in its tendency; and nothing is more calculated to strengthen
mutual attachment than common calamity.

How often is distress, similar to this, aggravated by unkindness!
Moroseness on the one part, and undutifulness on the other, excite the
mother-in-law against the daughter-in-law, and the daughter-in-law against
the mother-in-law; whereas reason, religion, and even self-love, require a
different conduct. The poverty of Naomi was no objection to Orpah and Ruth
to accompany her in her departure from Moab; but at once, abandoning every
minor or selfish consideration, they prepared to attend her unprotected
way. They would not suffer her to drink alone of the bitter cup, but
resolved to encourage her by sharing it.

A bitter cup indeed it was. Who can imagine, without a painful sympathy,
the situation of three friendless women, each a widow, and quitting a
country where they left behind so many sad recollections! There they had
lost the dearest of earthly connections, who, had they been preserved to
this hour, would have soothed their sorrows, sustained their spirits, and
accompanied their journey! The voice of parental and conjugal tenderness
was silent in the grave! Their natural timidity had no shelter--their
tears were wiped away by no kind hand--their steps were supported by no
sustaining arm--the world was a barren wilderness before them--they seemed
to be alone, as after a ship-wreck--and they had no immediate refuge but
in themselves, and--for there was still another hope, an observant friend,
a helper to the needy in his distress--in GOD!

Having proceeded a short distance, Naomi, overwhelmed with a sense of the
disinterested kindness of her daughters-in-law, even more than with her
own affliction, begged them to leave her, and return to their respective
homes. She adverts to their past amiable and affectionate conduct; and
severe as parting would prove to her maternal heart, she wished them still
to be happy in the Sand of their nativity. Commending them to the
benediction of the God of Israel, and expressing her desire for their
happiness in the formation of future connections, "she kissed them" in
token of a long and last farewell.

What fondness and what agony blended in that embrace! What a separation!
It was no moment for words; the lovely daughters could only weep! A
thousand past endearments recurred to their memory, a thousand
uncertainties springing from the bosom of futurity, presented themselves
to their minds. They had cherished a mutual esteem--they were blended
into one in feeling, in interest, in all that can render life desirable.
Their dark path had hitherto been enlightened by the beam of
affection;--and was the sun to set upon their day for ever?

Alas! what a land of mourning is this! what heart-rending separations are
we called to experience on earth; and what an hour of parting from the
tenderest of connexions will soon arrive, when, death interposing his
authority to break the ties of nature and of friendship, we must bid adieu
to those who would indeed gladly accompany us, but _must_ survive to walk
alone in the wilderness.

We are, however, attributing too much to this formidable power. He may
break the ties of nature--but he cannot dissolve the union of _Christian_
friendship. The pious shall meet again in a region uninfested by
malignity, and where the long annals of everlasting ages shall record no
day of separation, and no instance of death.

It was kind, it was disinterested, it was maternal, in Naomi to propose
this parting; but they were not to be persuaded. As soon as tears
permitted utterance, they exclaimed, "Surely we will return with _thee_
unto _thy_ people."--"We have taken our resolution, and cannot depart
from it. To go _with_ thee is indeed a trial--but to go _from_ thee is
incalculably worse. Thou shall not be forsaken. We will be inseparable."
Naomi remonstrated, and kindly repeated her commands. She called them
_daughters_, an appellation they had well merited by their ardent and
unabated attachment, earnestly entreating them to "turn again; and"
intimating that they could not reasonably entertain a hope of her having
sons whom they might marry, and therefore they could not accompany her
without detriment to themselves. She was afflicted at the idea of their
being widows in the days of their youth; and especially that, for her
sake, they should continue in so solitary a condition, voluntarily
resigning to her comfort the joys of connubial love.

Again they wept--but from this moment, Orpah and Ruth take a different
course. The former fails in her resolution, embraces her mother-in-law,
and returns; the latter "cleaves to her," and remains the solitary example
of unconquerable affection, the heroine of the future narrative.

In the character of Orpah, we perceive an exemplification of that
imperfect obedience which characterizes those who have been induced to pay
some degree of attention to the gospel of Christ, but who have been
influenced by certain subordinate motives to retrace their steps. She
contemplated future poverty with alarm, and cannot be exculpated from a
charge of secretly preferring the service of Chemosh, the Moabitish god,
to the service of Jehovah. Her affection for Naomi had, perhaps, induced
her hitherto to dissemble; and though she persevered to a considerable
extent, when the final resolution was to be taken, she paused--hesitated
--trembled--and drew back. She could not part with _all_ for this
service. In the days of Christ, many treated him with respect, listened to
his words, admired, and like the young ruler, even wished to become his
follower, but excited the best hopes only to disappoint them. Happy,
thrice happy, they who take up the cross, and follow him through much
tribulation; nobly resisting the allurements of the world, the demands of
earthly friendship, and even the interdictions of human authority, for the
sake of Christ and his gospel! The martyr's _crown_ awaits them, for
they display the martyr's _spirit_.

At a superficial glance, the address of Naomi to Ruth, upon this occasion,
seems altogether extraordinary; "Behold, thy sister-in-law is gone back
unto her people, and unto her gods; return thou after thy sister-in-law."
Did she then really wish to urge this young widow to imitate the conduct
of her sister, not only in returning to her relations, but to the service
of the gods of Moab? Whatever opinion she entertained of her
daughter-in-law's piety, could she really be desirous of placing her in
circumstances of such temptation and danger? This supposition would be at
least uncharitable, and contradicts probability. It was rather a trial of
her sincerity in religion, and an evidence of her determination to use no
compulsory measures, not even maternal influence, to coerce her
conscience. Her language was, besides, premonitory and warning, similar to
the permission given to Balaam, who though apparently admonished to go and
curse Israel, was really interdicted.

Ruth received the appeal in a manner worthy of her character, and the
most satisfactory to Naomi. "Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return
from following after thee; for whither thou goest I will go, and where
thou lodgest, I will lodge; thy people shall be my people, and thy God my
God. Where thou diest will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do
so to me and more also, if aught but death part thee and me." If the pious
origin of this attachment were not sufficiently apparent, we should be
tempted to call it romantic; but founded as it was in religion, we must
contemplate it as a rare specimen of a perfection in friendship, scarcely
ever attained in the cold and chilling atmosphere of this world. Nothing
could have so ripened and matured it, but the beamings of heavenly love,
which rendered even an unfriendly soil productive of so choice a fruit.

Notwithstanding the indigent circumstances of Naomi, her daughter-in-law
persisted in accompanying her, and thus voluntarily chose affliction with
the people of God in preference to hereditary affluence and distinction.
With deliberate resolution, and persevering consistency, she adhered to
her purpose, calculating upon all the inconveniences that might result,
but not fearing them. She turned her back upon the glory of the world,
neither dreading its frowns nor soliciting its patronage. She knew that
she could live happily without human applause, but not without divine
approbation. Her early prejudices were subdued by principle, and she felt
no hesitation in discarding the gods of Moab to procure the love of the
God of Israel. In fact she _did_ choose the path of true honour and
renown. The servant of God is the greatest character in the universe, and
will eventually be exalted to a situation which will fully and for ever
disclose the perfect nothingness of terrestrial glory, and the shadowy
nature of all that mortals have been deluded to imagine substantial.

This part of the history may serve to suggest the beneficial inquiry,
whether we habitually cherish an equal zeal for our religion, with that
which this young Moabitess manifested? It would be easy to descant upon
the superiority of our advantages, and to urge our increased
responsibility; but do we equal her in the firmness of our faith, and the
steadfastness of our profession? It may not be a question, whether we are
likely to be called to similar or equal trials; but the most important
consideration is, whether through the grace of God we stand prepared for
_whatever_ trials await us in the path of duty; and whether, with fewer
difficulties and greater advantages, we at least display an equal decision
of character? We have Sabbaths--do we keep them? We have Bibles--do we
read them? We have religious and social opportunities--do we improve
them? We have pious friends--do we, like Ruth, cleave to them? Do we come
out from the world, and are we separate, saying to the church of Christ,
and adhering to our purpose, "We will go with you, for we have heard that
God is with you?" Association is a test of character. The companion
exhibits the man.

Candour and sincerity may be recommended from this example, as the best
policy. We should not be ashamed of our religion: an open avowal, like
that of Ruth, which prevented any farther importunity to return to the
idolatries of Moab, is calculated to prevent a thousand perplexities into
which the wavering, the timid, and the dissembling, inevitably fall.
Persons of this description fail in every respect. They dissatisfy both
parties, sacrifice their own peace of mind, and incur all the pains,
without securing any of the pleasures of genuine piety. Hesitating
between a sense of duty and an inclination to sin, trembling amidst
conflicting attractions and opposing interests, they never attain to
dignity of character or repose of spirit. They lie at the mercy of every
foe, of every passion, of every change. Without the pilotage of principle,
they know not what course to take, and are every moment in danger of a
fatal wreck. "He that wavereth is like a wave of the sea, driven with the
wind and tossed! ... A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways."

It is unquestionably a duty devolving on all who believe in Christ, to
"confess him;" and to this candid avowal he has himself attached, not only
the purest felicities on earth, but the honour of a public acknowledgment
of their persons and services before assembled ages in the day of
judgment, together with a final admission into the paradise of his
presence. It is indeed criminal to profess attachment to him when we do
not feel it, and it is also highly improper to cherish such an attachment
without daring to avow it. If the former must be characterized as
hypocrisy, the latter cannot be exculpated from the charge of sinful
timidity; if the one be presumptuous boldness, the other is unholy fear.

To avow our principles, on all suitable occasions, with unshrinking
firmness, is essential to integrity, and distinctly claimed by religion.
The worldly motives which influenced some of the chief rulers in the days
of our Lord, if not to disavow, at least to withhold their public
concurrence with his doctrines, are mentioned in the gospel to their
everlasting dishonour. They are not exhibited as specimens of violent
hostility, but of that spirit of neutrality which resulted from political
feelings, and which, being no less deemed a real enmity, will receive its
appropriate condemnation. "Nevertheless, among the chief rulers also many
believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him,
lest they should be put out of the synagogue. For they loved the praise of
men more than the praise of God."

This kind of preference seems to be the result of strange infatuation, the
origin of which demands a serious inquiry. In part, it may be accounted
for from the impression which sensible and near objects produce on the
mind, in comparison with those which are less obvious and more distant.
Visible things attract attention, while those which are invisible, being
placed beyond the sphere of sense, remain unnoticed. An object which is
really greater, appears less when it is more remote. Eternity seems, in
human estimation, extremely distant; its crown of glory afar off; all the
possessions of the New Jerusalem disappear from view, when covered with
the mists of futurity. We are easily affected by loud applauses, gay
scenes, and temporal good. The secret whispers of an approving conscience
are less audible, the smiles of God less perceptible to a depraved and
earthly mind. In addition to which, temporal inconveniences or dangers are
frequently connected with a conduct which secures the approbation of God;
a criminal apprehension of which produces indifference and distaste for
religion. When the choice lies between shame, poverty, affliction, the
sacrifice of worldly interest, and even death itself in the one
balance--and temporal distinction, affluence, ease, advancement, in the
other--many will hesitate, with Agrippa, few determine, with Moses. In the
present history one was taken, the other left. The experiment has been
since sufficiently tried upon a large scale, and proofs are perpetually
accumulating, that the temper and conduct of Orpah were coincident with
those of the great majority in the world.

The narrative of the journey to the place of Naomi's early residence, is
comprised in one short sentence; "So they two went until they came to
Bethlehem." We are left in ignorance of those circumstances which
curiosity would wish to explore in so remarkable a removal. Who can doubt,
that in a distance of at least one hundred and twenty miles over mountains
and rivers, these female travellers, unprotected, friendless, on foot, and
seeking day by day a precarious assistance from the wild luxuriancy of
nature, or the occasional hospitality of the stranger, must have
encountered repeated perils, and often deemed themselves irretrievably
lost. But there was an eye that watched them, of whose observance they
were not ignorant; an arm that protected them, on whose powerful support
they leaned by faith, and leaned not in vain. _He_ can never be destitute
who has _God_ for his father; _he_ can never be lost, in whatever region
he wanders, who has _God_ for his guide! In the adventurous journey of
life take his proffered aid, ye children of adversity! repose in his
goodness, having committed your way to him, ye widowed mourners! while God
is on his throne, ye cannot inhabit a fatherless world, ye cannot be
destitute of efficient aid! "A Father of the fatherless, and a Judge of
the widows, is God in his holy habitation."

In a small town, like Bethlehem, the arrival of these strangers would
naturally awaken inquiry. After an absence of ten years, the inhabitants
probably never expected to see Naomi again. Such is the vicissitude of
human affairs, that within a few years many strange mutations occur, even
in places of no great extent. Of her former friends or acquaintances, some
were, no doubt, consigned to the grave; and her own appearance and
circumstances were so altered since her departure, that the voice of
friendship, the congratulation of love, seems to have subsided into the
idle language of wonderment, "Is this Naomi?"

_It is_--but the mention of her name is a caustic to the wounds of her
heart. The endearments attached to that beloved and significant
appellation are fled with departed time, and Bethlehem no longer beholds
her in a situation to command respect, to excite envy, or to purchase
attention. Her husband, her children, are no more!--one, one only comfort
remains--one friend, one solace in adversity--one ray of light in the dark
hour! Amidst universal desertion, RUTH has not forsaken her; but is become
her joy in sorrow, her companion in solitude, her prop in decrepit age!
Can we wonder that she wishes to discard a name which awakened such
recollections, and only recalled the _dream_ of happiness? "Call me not
_Naomi_,--call me _Mara_; for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with
me. I went out full, and the Lord hath brought me home again empty; why
then call ye me _Naomi_, seeing the Lord hath testified against me, and
the Almighty hath afflicted me?"

There is something in these words which charity requires us to excuse. If,
under the peculiar circumstances in which she was at present placed, the
name of NAOMI, which signifies _pleasant_, distracted her, and she wished
rather to adopt that of Mara, importing _bitterness_, her impatience must
not be interpreted in the worst sense. After long absence, it is natural
to anticipate a return home, and a rush of joy pervades even unfeeling
minds, when the spire of their native _village_, the smoke of their native
_hamlet_, especially the roof of their native _cottage_, first strikes
upon the sight. Friends, family, neighbours, early scenes and pleasures,
recur with a force which gives the air of enchantment to the long-lost
scene. But every feeling of this nature was, in the case of Naomi,
checked by different associations; the darkness of the sepulchre converted
this day into midnight, and this lovely spot into a desolate wilderness!

There is, moreover, something in Naomi's remonstrance, which sympathy
would lead as to pity, and experience, in some degree, to blame. She
commits an evident mistake in attributing the dispensations she had
suffered, to a _testimony against her_ on the part of the supreme
Disposer. Viewing past events through the discolouring medium of present
affliction, and incapable of perceiving their secret and concurrent
design, she forms a conclusion, which is rather the effect of temporary
depression of mind, than of a settled conviction of judgment. We cannot
doubt, indeed that the impression was evanescent; but it seems allied to
that of the impatient patriarch, who exclaimed, "All these things are
against me." _That_ eminent servant of God enjoyed the privilege of living
to a period in which the divine purposes were fully developed, and of
seeing that what he deemed hostile circumstances, were really conducive to
the most wise and felicitous results. Had Jacob departed during the
interval, and while the mysterious plan was yet unaccomplished, his grey
hairs would have gone down with sorrow to the grave, and the cloud of
mystery would have been suspended over his dying hour. Such is the usual
lot of the righteous. Life, in general, does not afford a space
sufficiently ample, a period sufficiently protracted, for the complete
execution of the great purposes of Infinite Goodness with regard to our
real interests; and we murmur, because we cannot penetrate his
arrangements. Patience, however, should be supported by the consideration
that either in this, or in a future state of existence, the day of
satisfactory explanation will arrive.

But there is a sentiment pervading the whole of this appeal, which,
notwithstanding its partial defects, piety must warmly approve. Every
thing is imputed to "the Lord." Naomi sees his hand in whatever occurrence
she has witnessed. To him she imputes the fulness of her prosperity, and
the emptiness of her adversity. In _every_ change, in _every_ place, she
beholds and bows, to the ALMIGHTY. When this is happily the prevailing
sentiment, the storm of angry passions will soon subside, the murmurings
of discontent cease, and the clear shining of comfort break forth from
behind the cloud.

"The Lord God omnipotent reigneth." This is enough! Angels and blessed
spirits shall not monopolize the strain of gratitude and acknowledgment.
Mortal voices shall join immortal harps, saying, "HALLELUJAH!"


SECTION II.


  Time of the Return to Bethlehem--Ruth offers to go and
  glean--Dispositions indicated by this proposal--she happens upon the
  Field of Boaz--his Kindness--their Conversation--additional
  Favours--Ruth's return Home--Her Mother-in-law's wish to connect her in
  Marriage with Boaz--the Measures she suggests, and which her daughter
  adopts with ultimate Success--their Marriage--Birth of a
  Son--concluding Remarks,


Tales of fictitious wo, and of splendid distress, may alone be capable of
fascinating those who recline on the lap of luxury, and who seek
amusement, without soliciting instruction; but, among persons who possess
any taste for genuine simplicity, any delight in the sacred employment of
tracing the operations of infinite wisdom in the works of Providence, any
desire for their own mental and spiritual improvement, and who have not
yet learned of dissipated folly to despise

  "The short and simple annals of the poor;"

the remaining circumstances of the narrative introduced into the preceding
chapter, cannot fail of exciting interest.

That God, who promised Noah, that "while the earth remaineth, seed-time
and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night,
shall not cease;" and who "visits the earth and waters it, greatly
enriching it with the river of God which is full of water, and prepares
them corn when he has so provided for it;" having at this period dispensed
fertility to the fields of Bethlehem, the humble travellers from Moab
chose, or rather, were appointed by a superior influence to return in the
season of barley-harvest. This was probably at the commencement of the
month of May. [21]

But whither shall the wretched fugitives turn for assistance and support?
It was indeed a time of plenty, but they were in extreme poverty. Golden
harvests waved around them, but having no fields to reap, they were
sorrowful amidst universal gladness, and depended upon precarious means of
subsistence.

Ruth proposed to her mother-in-law to allow her to go and glean in any
field where she could obtain the permission of the proprietor; to which
Naomi readily consented. _As_ a Moabite, she was probably ignorant, that
what she regarded as a _favour_, was bestowed upon the needy as a _right_
by the God of Israel. "When thou cuttest down thine harvest in thy field,
and hast forgot a sheaf in the field, thou shall not go again to fetch it:
it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow; that
the Lord thy God may bless thee in all the work of thine hands." This law
is more than once repeated, and Ruth had a peculiar claim upon the
liberality of its provisions, as uniting all the three species of
wretchedness in her individual case. She was indeed a _stranger_, an
_orphan_, and a _widow_.

The proposal of Ruth upon this occasion is, in many respects, illustrative
of her estimable character. It furnishes a specimen of that _respectful
treatment_ which is due from the younger relative, to those whom venerable
age and long experience have rendered their superiors. She would do
nothing without Naomi; but consults her wishes, and seeks her concurrence
in attempting to procure subsistence by means which she deemed the best
adapted to their present poverty. A churlish temper would have submitted
with extreme reluctance, and many taunting reproaches to what might easily
have been represented as the drudgery and degradation of the gleaner's
field; but this excellent daughter-in-law displayed a spirit most worthy
of imitation.

Her _reflecting kindness_ may be recommended to the notice of the
inconsiderate and unfeeling. Offering herself to the laborious but
necessary service, she is far from hinting any wish that Naomi should
either accompany her to the field, or take measures to spare her, by
seeking the aid of her richer relations, or the casual contributions of
others. She wished to extend her support to the wearied and decaying
nature of her beloved relative, and to use every possible exertion to
alleviate her anxieties, to minister to her comfort, and to assist her
infirmity. "Let _me_ now go to the field." Amiable, generous, kindhearted
woman! Thou wert anxious to procure for thy poor, afflicted, aged mother,
all the repose which her advanced life seemed to require, to wipe away the
tear from her dimmed eye and farrowed cheek, and as far as possible, to
dissipate the clouds that hovered about the setting beam of her earthly
existence!

If there be one scene of domestic life pre-eminently attractive, it is
that of a lovely daughter manifesting a promptitude and zeal to alleviate
the sorrows, and to aid the weekness of a parent, by those nameless and
numberless assiduities which bespeak a genuine affection. Her own works
praise her, and the mere flatterer's tongue is awed into respectful
silence. How deplorable is it to witness the impatience of some young
persons who think every little exertion an insufferable effort, a trouble,
and a fatigue; and who forget the maternal fondness which cherished their
infancy, the wakefulness that guarded their sickness, the love that
never slept.

As Ruth was characterized by a virtuous sensibility, the proposal she made
distinguished her also as _active and industrious_. Although her
mother-in-law was advanced in years, she being in the vigour of her days,
determined to devote her health and strength to procure subsistence. She
did not waste her time in complaining, or sit down in a state of inactive
despondency; but was alive to the duties of her lowly station. The poorest
individual, who cheerfully fulfils his obligations, and exerts himself by
an honest industry to maintain himself and his family, is inexpressibly
more respectable in a wise man's estimation, than pampered luxury lolling
on the couch of indulgence, and dreaming away existence in slothfulness
and pomp. Real worth unquestionably consists in the proper occupation of
that sphere, whatever it may be, which Providence has assigned us: and
that person who is "not slothful in business," but "fervent in spirit,
serving the Lord," secures the esteem of the good, and what is infinitely
more important, the approbation of God. Idleness is no less a perversion
of the designs of nature, than detrimental to our personal happiness. It
not only renders its unhappy devotees useless to society, but burthensome
to themselves. All beings, through every gradation of existence, from the
toiling emmet to the flaming angel, are formed for activity and exertion.
Nor ought we, who are privileged to live under the Christian dispensation,
to forget, that Jesus Christ himself, by his humble appearance and lowly
occupation, as the Son of a carpenter, has elevated honest industry to a
just and honourable distinction.

Accidentally, so far as related to herself, Ruth went and gleaned in the
field of Boaz; but she was guided by an invisible hand. This proprietor
was a man of great opulence, and a relative of Naomi. Coming from
Bethlehem to his reapers, and having exchanged their mutual salutations
according to the pious custom of the times, [22] he inquired of
the superintendent, or steward, the name of the young woman he observed
gleaning amongst the sheaves. Ruth, it appears, attracted his particular
notice. Even a superficial reader might be struck with the astonishing
providential coincidences in this story; and nothing but the most perverse
infidelity can refuse to admit, that the God who had conducted this
interesting widow from Moab to Bethlehem, and from Bethlehem into the
field of the reapers, guided the steps and awakened the solicitude of Boaz
on this occasion.

"And the servant that was set over the reapers answered and said, It is
the Moabitish damsel that came back with Naomi out of the country of Moab.
And she said, I pray you let me glean and gather after the reapers among
the sheaves; so she came, and hath continued even from the morning until
now, that she tarried a little in the house." The rich are frequently
reluctant to acknowledge their poor connections, and in the great majority
of instances, a discovery like this would rather have averted than
conciliated the regards of an affluent proprietor from the humble
individual he found to be the daughter-in-law of his indigent relative.
Superior, however, to unwarrantable prejudices and ridiculous vanity, Boaz
listened to the tale and immediately addressed her in affectionate terms.
It is by no means improbable, that a blush of shame crimsoned his cheek,
from the recollection of his past negligence in suffering Naomi to pine
away in solitary sadness and penury, when it was in his power to have
afforded her relief. Reasons _might_ have existed to justify this delay,
though they must have been very imperious to furnish even a plausible
pretence for such indifference; but the best construction we can put upon
his conduct is to suppose, that, like many worthy and benevolent men, he
was dilatory in the execution of measures which he might have planned to
discover and relieve the necessities of his kindred. The law of love was
in his heart; he hastened to make reparation, and kindly enjoined her to
glean in no other field, to keep fast by his own female servants, and to
drink whenever she chose out of the vessels which were replenished from
time to time for his reapers. He further issued orders to the young men
employed in his service, to show every kindness, and to observe the utmost
decorum towards her, upon pain of his displeasure.

It is observable, that Boaz addressed her by the tender epithet of
_daughter_, adopting the language while he displayed the affection of a
parental protector. Ruth had forsaken every Moabitish friend and relative,
to share the fortunes of Naomi. Her birth-place, her home, her
connections, all were relinquished for the privileges of her new
relationship and adopted country, although to her eye nothing was
presented but poverty and want. But her loss was gain; in Naomi she found
a mother--in Boaz a father--in Bethlehem a home--in Judaism the religion
of heaven, and the way to God. And shall they be eventually losers, who
forsake all things for Christ and his gospel? Listen, ye youthful readers
of either sex, and be wise--"Every one that hath forsaken houses, or
brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or
lands, for my name's sake, shall receive a hundred-fold, and shall inherit
everlasting life."

The reply of Ruth is singularly expressive of her characteristic modesty,
humility, and goodness, The wealthy proprietor of the field had
unexpectedly discovered in one word the history of this stranger: but she
was wholly ignorant of the string that had been touched, and with
artlessness replies, "Why have I found grace in thine eyes, that thou
shouldest take knowledge of me, seeing I am a stranger?" This is equally
the language of astonishment and gratitude. Little did she imagine the
mighty consequences of this casual interview, or the real origin of this
extraordinary kindness. Her susceptible and affectionate heart would have
acknowledged the _smallest_ favour, while some, and unhappily too often,
the most dependent and the most indulged of the children of indigence seem
scarcely thankful for the _greatest_ obligations. It ought not to prevent
our charity, but it may well excite our surprise, to find that needy
persons are sometimes disposed to claim as a right what is bestowed as
a boon.

Boaz intimated that the principal circumstances of her past life had come
to his knowledge, and conveyed the most delicate commendation into her
modest ear. He said, that he was aware of her whole behaviour to Naomi,
with the sacrifice she had made of her native land and connections, and
pronounced upon her an affectionate, solemn, and pious benediction: "The
Lord recompense thy work, and a full reward be given thee of the Lord God
of Israel, under whose wings thou art come to trust." To the same refuge
from painful convictions and impending judgments may every reader
instantly repair, embracing, by a devout faith, that glorious Light of the
world, and Saviour of men, who was prefigured, in all the splendours of
his love, by that miraculous brightness which shone between the wings of
the cherubim in the ancient temple, and pointed the Jewish worshipper to
"God manifest in the flesh."

Virtually disclaiming the praise which the opulent stranger had conferred,
and far from imagining that she deserved, or had reason to expect any
reward of God for conduct which she considered as no other than what a
proper sense of duty demanded, Ruth thought herself honoured in the notice
which she had received, respectfully acknowledged the condescension, and
solicited its continuance. "Let me find favour in thy sight, my lord; for
that thou hast comforted me, and for that thou hast spoken friendly unto
thine handmaid, though I be not like unto one of thine handmaidens." Boaz
repeats every kind assurance, invites her to share the rural repast, to
"eat of the bread, and dip her morsel in the vinegar;" and with his own
hand plentifully supplies her with "parched corn."

The sentiments of this excellent woman for the comparatively trifling
kindness of her kinsman, may serve to reprove our cold returns, our
disproportionate gratitude to the Supreme Benefactor, who daily loads us
with temporal benefits, and constantly replenishes the cup of spiritual
blessing; he, indeed, "comforts us;" in his word he "speaks friendly to
us;" and we have, individually, abundant reason to confess, "I am not
worthy of the least of all the mercies and of all the truth which the Lord
has showed unto his servant."

The rural repast being ended, and Ruth having withdrawn into the field to
pursue the humble labour of gleaning, which necessity and affection for an
aged parent alike concurred to prompt, Boaz enjoined his reapers not only
to allow her to glean, and to glean among the sheaves, but to "let fall
some of the handfuls on purpose for her, and leave them that she may glean
them, and rebuke her not." Her real thankfulness and amiable diffidence
procured her these additional favours, and seem to have inspired the noble
benefactor with a feeling which was afterward matured into love and
consolidated in marriage. Let the poor beware of that cold indifference in
the reception of benefits which freezes up the stream of benevolence, and
chills the heart of the most liberal friend; let them equally avoid that
forwardness which seems to demand, rather than to solicit kindness. Boaz,
on this occasion, enjoyed a Double feast; with condescending familiarity
he partook the frugal meal with his labourers, encouraging them by his
presence and piety; with pleasure he fed the hungry stranger, cheerfully
dispensing a portion of what he thankfully received from the Lord of all,
whose bounty had enriched his possessions, and thus enjoying the luxury of
doing good: this was indeed to his benevolent spirit, a feast which all
the wealth of a Croesus could not otherwise have procured.

Boaz may be exhibited as a specimen of that prudential charity which
should always regulate our distributions. He might have supplied Ruth at
once from his ample repository of grain, or from the sheaves of the golden
harvest; but he chose, on the contrary, to encourage her industry, though
he kindly mitigated her toil. Indiscriminate gifts may rather favour
idleness than relieve necessity; and it is as much a duty to see to the
mode of distributing help to the needy, as to render them the requisite
aid: besides which, the poor are more likely to value and to use properly
what has been industriously acquired, than what is lavishly, however, as
to its principle, benevolently communicated. Alleviate the toil of the
necessitous, but do not prevent their useful employment of time and means.
Industry is the law of the universe; and the Supreme Disposer of human
affairs has appointed that "in the sweat of his face man should eat bread
till he return unto the ground."

To Ruth this was one of the happiest evenings of a life which had been
chequered with vicissitude, and of late particularly beclouded with,
sorrow. How different were the feelings with which she returned to the
cottage of her mother-in-law from those which afflicted her bosom when she
quitted it in the early part of this memorable day.

Distressed and friendless she had gone forth; "not knowing whither she
went," anxious only to procure some scanty subsistence for the day to
satisfy the cravings of appetite, and to sustain the weakness of her dear
and aged relative; but she returned laden with the spoils of the harvest
field, an ephah of barley; she had been noticed by a very liberal
proprietor of the soil, and invited to continue gleaning in his field.
With what heartfelt satisfaction did she present the fruits of her
first-day's exertion at the feet of Naomi, and sit down to share that kind
of comfort to which Solomon has so strikingly alluded--"Better is a dinner
of herbs where love is, than a stalled ox, and hatred therewith."

What family in Bethlehem was so truly blessed as these two poor women?
Where, in the whole city, was concentrated so many sweet enjoyments, so
many pure unsophisticated pleasures as met beneath this dwelling? Who
would not rather turn into that lowly door, and listen to the inspired
record of the conversation which took place between, its pious inmates,
than hear the music which shakes the lordly roof, or witness the unmeaning
gayety that riots in its apartments?--The good matron inquired where she
had been gleaning; and seeing the ample supply she had procured, eagerly
demanded where she had wrought: but unable, in the exultation and
overflowings of her gratitude to wait for an answer, she pours forth her
benedictions upon the unknown benefactor: "Blessed be he that did take
knowledge of thee!" Her daughter informed her it was BOAZ; a name welcome
to her ear, and calculated to kindle a hope in a bosom long filled with
distracting griefs: she was reminded of former favours: she remembered his
constant friendship to her family, and uttered an instantaneous
supplication to Heaven for blessings upon his head. Unable herself to
requite his kindness, she well knew who could recompense it, and
therefore prayed, "Blessed be he of the Lord, who hath not left off his
kindness to the living and to the dead!"

Such is the commerce between the benevolent rich and the pious poor; the
former bestows subsistence, the latter blessings. How miserable, how
_deservedly_ miserable is an incommunicative selfishness! Happy the man
who can say with Job, "When the ear heard me then it blessed me; and when
the eye saw me it gave witness to me: because I delivered the poor that
cried, and the fatherless, and him that had none to help him. The blessing
of him that was ready to perish came upon me, and I caused the widow's
heart to sing for joy. I was a father to the poor."

With what astonishment must Ruth have heard, "The man is near of kin unto
us, one of our next kinsmen!" but she did not arrogantly assume her right
to what she had received, or, presuming upon the dignity of her
relationship, propose to make immediate application for that support which
he was so well able to afford: this would have been the first thought of an
ordinary or a selfish mind. On the contrary, she expatiates, with a
satisfaction which heartfelt gratitude and pre-eminent goodness alone
could have inspired, upon the marked attention of Boaz--"He said unto me
also, Thou shall keep fast by my young men until they have ended all my
harvest." Naomi advised her to accept this bounty, lest, by gleaning in
any other field she might seem to undervalue the permission, or to cherish
an offensive dependency of spirit. With her characteristic meekness, Ruth
assented, continuing to pursue her mean occupation during the weeks of
harvest, and returning every evening to share with Naomi her humble cot
and her scanty fare.

During all this time, the mind of the affectionate mother-in-law was
meditating a plan to promote the future happiness of her daughter. Past
the period of marriage herself, she knew that Ruth might yet adorn, as
well as obtain an accession of comfort from such a connection. If the
young woman were satisfied with her obscurity, and content to provide a
precarious subsistence for herself and her venerable relative by the
labour of her hands, Naomi was superior to that selfishness which would
rather have aimed to retain her in perpetual subserviency to her
convenience, than seek to augment her joys, advance her interests, and
raise her to her proper sphere of usefulness. Having made every possible
sacrifice to her and her religion, she deemed it the part of maternal
kindness to avail herself of the existing laws respecting matrimony, to
connect her with the noble minded Boaz. This solicitude she took the first
opportunity of expressing, and directed her to measures, which, if they
appear extraordinary to us, might not have been unseemly or unusual at
that period and in that country. A few years are sufficient to operate a
complete revolution in existing customs; it cannot therefore be
surprising, that the manners of another quarter of the globe, at the
distance of more than thirty centuries, should essentially differ from our
own. To judge of their propriety by our standard is manifestly absurd; and
to make great allowances for the state of society is, in cases of extreme
variation, obviously necessary. After all, the conduct of Naomi may not be
capable of entire vindication; though we are certain it proceeded from a
sentiment of pure affection, and was connected with important results in
the order of Providence: it is, moreover, recorded without the slightest
hint of disapprobation.

Ruth was directed by her mother-in-law to repair with the utmost secrecy
to the threshing-floor; and, when Boaz, conformably to the simple manners
of the age, retired to rest among the heaps of corn, to place herself at
his feet. When be spoke, she was to answer frankly, and await the
intimation of his will. She did so: Boaz made the inquiry, and promised
all that a sense of her virtues and a knowledge of her rights dictated.
The law authorized the present application on her part at the instigation
of Naomi, in order that the possessions of the family might not be
alienated. Kinsmen were required to intermarry, and in case of refusal the
near relative was treated with the utmost public indignity. Boaz perfectly
understood this legal claim; and, notwithstanding his evident partiality
to Ruth, ingenuously informed her, "There is a kinsman nearer than I." If
he performed the kinsman's part, law and piety required acquiescence; if
not, he solemnly avowed his own resolution to do so. Ruth departed before
it was light, and carried the intelligence home. Boaz availed himself of
the earliest opportunity in the morning to bring the affair to a decision;
he went up to the gate, stopped the relative to whom he had alluded as he
was passing by, and appealed to ten of the elders of the city. He at first
agreed to the redemption of some family inheritance which belonged to
Naomi; but, upon intimation that if he purchased the land he must marry
Ruth, he declined it, giving full permission to his relative to enter into
this contract. The mutual regard subsisting between Boaz and Ruth rendered
this a most welcome circumstance, and the former immediately called upon
the elders and all the people who were assembled on the occasion, to hear
witness to this, as a fair, public, and honourable transaction. "So Boaz
took Ruth, and she was his wife."

In some cases, where the matrimonial connection has been founded upon a
dereliction of principle, and formed in defiance of the suggestions of
common prudence, of parental kindness, and even of the interdictions of
Heaven itself, we feel compelled to express our grief, rather than offer
our congratulations; but where, as in the present instance, the voice of
nature harmonized with that of reason, conscience, and God, who can
hesitate to approve the union, and to anticipate that delightful result
which has been so well expressed in poetic numbers?

  "Hail, wedded love! by gracious Heaven design'd,
  At once the source and glory of mankind!
  'Tis this can toil, and grief, and pain assuage,
  Secure our youth, and dignify our age;
  'Tis this fair fame and guiltless pleasure brings,
  And shakes rich plenty from its brooding wings;
  Gilds duty's roughest path with friendship's ray,
  And strews with roses sweet the narrow way."

If, in all the circumstances that lead to this union, the interpositions
of Providence be not always, perhaps not frequently, so marked,
incontrovertible, and striking, as in the history under consideration, let
it never be forgotten, that such a wise and good superintendence really
exists, and may, in every instance, be traced in some degree by the devout
observer. If our ways be committed to the Lord, he will direct our paths.
Amidst the ardour of youth, we are not always capable of discerning what
is really obvious, or of fully believing what is infallibly true: but
years teach wisdom; the developements of futurity often throw light upon
the mysteries of the past; in the coolness and quiet of the eventide of
life, and even before that period, how commonly do good men acknowledge
the kindness of those once distressing dispensations that thwarted their
juvenile susceptibility. In the adverse, as well as the prosperous events
of the life of Ruth, she could perceive that "all things worked together
for her good;" and no reflecting Christian will hesitate to appropriate
the same sentiment to himself. A plan was laid in the divine mind, in the
execution of which she often acted unconsciously: the birth, the
education, the original circumstances and residence, the removal, the
final elevation of Ruth, were all essential parts of the scheme, links in
the chain of mercy; and the same may be affirmed respecting the life of
every pious individual.

One circumstance demands particular notice. Neither in Boaz nor in Ruth
can we discern the least symptom of _precipitation_; they suffered
Providence to work its own way, to accomplish, without any obstruction
from their unholy haste and heedlessness, its own purposes; in neither of
them is discernible the least trace of a wish to seek their own
gratification irrespectively of the will of Omniscience; they were in a
sense passive, resigning themselves wholly to the disposal of God; they
did not force a passage through intervening impediments with an indecent
and impious resolution of spirit, as if they could not, or would not be
happy excepting in their own way, but "waited patiently for the Lord."

Young persons sometimes attempt to outstrip Providence, and dare to chide
its lingerings, or to murmur at its decisions; they set up for separate
empire, and imagine they can create their own paradise; a conduct which
ultimately proves as fatal to their comfort as it is now to their
respectability. It is an advantage for young people of both sexes, which
cannot be too highly appreciated, to have judicious, and especially
parental advisers. Let them not impute their kind suggestions to the
frigidity of age when they do not keep pace with their own warm feelings,
but consider that they are likely to know more of the world, and to
deserve their attention after amassing a stock of experience. Why should
their good advice, or even their urgent importunity, be deemed officious
or be treated with contempt? If mistaken, they are not, or ought not to
be, peremptory. If not obliged to _follow_ their opinion, young persons
are certainly required, by every motive of duty, and even of
self-interest, to _hear_ it. Were it admitted that Ruth erred in some
degree from her excessive obsequiousness to Naomi, yet her general spirit
and temper merit the strongest encomium, the deepest study, and the closet
imitation.

Tragical as was the commencement of this history, its termination presents
a very different aspect. We beheld the family of Elimelech sinking fast in
human apprehension into oblivion, and his name beginning to cease in
Israel; we now witness its restoration and prosperity: it has emerged from
its obscurity into splendour, and shines with imperishable glory on the
page of inspiration. The aged tree, which time had well nigh lopped of
every branch, sprouts out afresh, and shoots forth with new vigour and
luxuriancy. We should learn never to despair of Providence, never to
relinquish hope, never to imagine that "any thing is too hard for the
Lord." Time, and change, and death, whatever revolutions they may occasion
in general society or in individual families, not only cannot prevent,
but, by their diversified operations, shall conduce to accomplish the
purposes of Heaven. "Time and change," exclaimed Job, "are against _me_."
True; but they cannot countervail _Omniscience_.

We naturally congratulate our favourites upon their prosperity; and the
interest we must feel in the history of Ruth swells into the highest
satisfaction upon reading the closing part of the narrative. We hear of
the birth of Obed, who derives additional importance from the illustrious
line of his descent. A few generations conduct immediately to the MESSIAH.
All the neighbourhood celebrates the event, and we have equal reason to
hail and proclaim it: "And the women said unto Naomi, Blessed be the Lord,
which hath not left thee this day without a kinsman, that his name may be
famous in Israel; and he shall be unto thee a restorer of thy life and a
nourisher of thine old age: for thy daughter-in-law, which loveth thee,
which is better to thee than seven sons, hath borne him. And Naomi took
the child and laid it in her bosom, and became nurse unto it. And the
women her neighbours gave it a name, saying, There is a son born to Naomi;
and they called his name Obed: HE IS THE FATHER OF JESSE, THE FATHER
OF DAVID."

Ordinary minds avoid, as much as possible, recurring to past periods of
indigence and inferiority of station. Any reference to such circumstances
is deemed offensive, by people of the world who have been elevated from
low situations to opulence and rank, and whose arrogant nothingness proves
they have descended in moral worth and real respectability exactly in
proportion as they have risen in temporal distinction. But every thing we
know of Ruth tends to convince us that, if a detailed account of her
private life had been given, it would have been highly honourable to her
sensibility and her piety. How often, and with what feelings, would she
pace the field where, in the situation of a humble gleaner, she first met
with Boaz. With what emotions would she trace and retrace her own
eventful story! And especially, with what devout gratitude would she call
to mind the days of her idolatry in Moab, and the happy era of her
spiritual emancipation! In her own past character, in her infatuated
sister's defection, what motives to praise would arise, and what tears of
mingled pain and pleasure would she shed! And shall not we, who have
"tasted that the Lord is gracious," cherish a sense of our obligations to
redeeming mercy, and "remember all the way which the Lord our God hath led
us these years in the wilderness, to humble us and to prove us, to know
what was in our hearts, whether we would keep his commandments or no?"
Sweet are the recollections of piety, and acceptable the offerings of a
grateful mind! How inferior to these the trees of Lebanon in sacrifice, or
all the spicy mountains of Arabia in a blaze! From what depths of sin,
what delusions of mind, and what danger of soul, has "God in Christ"
delivered us! "Once far off," we are now "brought nigh"--"sometimes
darkness, now light in the Lord"--"you hath he quickened, who were dead in
trespasses and sins."

But far more exalted pleasures of memory and retrospection await the
Christian in a future world. Having ascended above this cloudy spot into
the glory of the divine presence, it will be his pleasing and privileged
employment to retrace the events of past existence, when nothing but a
_remembrance_ of the struggles and conflicts of this mortal state will
remain, to enhance the raptures of eternal victory. What is crooked will
then be made straight, what is perplexing will become plain, what is
unknown will be revealed. Amidst the songs of heaven it will heighten our
blessedness to recollect the sorrows of earth as _past_--clothed in the
robe of salvation and triumph, it will be grateful to recall the time
when we _wore the armour_ and _strove in the field_--arrived in port, it
will be inexpressibly delightful to recur to the storm as then for ever
_gone by_!



Deborah.

Chapter VIII.



SECTION I.


  Historical retrospect--Deborah sitting as a Judge and Prophetess under a
  Palm-tree--Sends to Barak to Confront Sisera--Accompanies him--
  Preparations for Battle--Victorious Result--Death of Sisera--Reflections.


After the death of Joshua, which occurred in the hundred and tenth year of
his age, and in the two thousand five hundred and seventy-eighth of the
world, the people of Israel were in a very fluctuating, unsettled
condition, having no regularly appointed governor; and the book of Judges,
supposed to have been written by Samuel, exhibits a striking picture of
the disorders incident to such a state of civil disorganization. "Let
every soul," then, "be subject unto the higher powers;" remembering that,
as "rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil," while we are
properly submissive to their authority, we should be grateful to God for
their appointment.

Although the Israelites, who had been commanded to extirpate the nations
of Canaan, pursued their conquests for some time, they gradually relapsed
into a neglectful inactivity, permitting the inhabitants of the land to
remain in tributary subjection. Whatever personal objections they might
feel, and whatever apparent contrariety there might have been between
their views of strict justice and the explicit directions of Heaven, they
were bound to execute the divine will with a prompt unhesitating
compliance. If general rules of conduct were not perfectly superseded by
the paramount authority of an express direction from God, the great
principle of positive institutions would he annulled, and the prejudices,
passions, and misconceptions of a fallible creature, might, in certain
cases, interfere with the acts of supreme legislation. Though, to
strengthen the principle of obedience, and, as far as possible, to render
"a reasonable service," it may often be proper to inquire "_why_--" such
is our present incapacity, or so profound and vast the mysteries of divine
administration, that in general our inquiries must be limited to the great
question, "_what_--is enjoined?" His conduct does not require our
vindication, while his commands claim our obedience.

Nor does a rebellious spirit merely incur censure; it inevitably exposes
to punishment. The people upon whom Israel neglected to execute the
purposes of Infinite Justice, became, according to prophetic intimations,
"snares and traps to seduce them to idolatry," and "scourges in their
sides, and thorns in their eyes." They were in subjection eight years to
Cushan, king of Mesopotamia, till judges, of whom Othniel was the first,
and Samuel the last, were raised up for their deliverance.

After the signal interference of Heaven on their behalf, in the successes
of their first judge, which terminated in a peace of forty years, the
"children of Israel did evil again in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord
strengthened Eglon, the king of Moab; against Israel," by whom they were
enslaved eighteen years. After which, Ehud, a Benjamite, became their
deliverer, by assassinating the king of Moab, and another peaceful
interval of eighty years elapsed: but such was the strange perversity of
this extraordinary nation, that they abused their prosperity, and again
apostatized from God. Nor will it be difficult or unprofitable to trace in
ourselves some striking points of resemblance to them, and in the divine
conduct that same character of love and forbearance which marks his
dispensations to his church in all the successive ages of time, "They were
disobedient, and rebelled against thee, and cast thy law behind their
backs, and slew thy prophets which testified against them to turn them to
thee; and they wrought great provocations. Therefore thou deliveredst them
into the hand of their enemies, who vexed them: and in the time of their
trouble, when they cried unto thee, thou hearedst them from heaven; and
according to thy manifold mercies thou gavest them saviours who saved them
out of the hand of their enemies. But after they had rest, they did evil
again before thee; therefore leftest thou them in the hand of their
enemies, so that they had the dominion over them; yet when they returned
and cried unto thee, thou hearedst them from heaven, and many times didst
thou deliver them according to thy mercies; and testifiedst against them,
that thou mightest bring them again unto thy law: yet they dealt proudly,
and hearkened not unto thy commandments, but sinned against thy judgments,
(which, if a man do, he shall live in them,) and withdrew the shoulder,
and hardened their neck, and would not hear: yet many years didst thou
forbear them, and testifiedst against them by thy spirit in thy prophets:
yet would they not give ear; therefore gavest thou them into the hand of
the people of the lands. Nevertheless, for thy great mercies' sake, thou
didst not utterly consume them, nor forsake them; for thou art a gracious
and merciful God."

Jabin, king of Canaan, was raised up by Providence to disturb that long
period of national tranquillity already adverted to, during which the
religious character of Israel had so much degenerated: and it must be
admitted to evince the unfailing regard of their divine Protector, rather
to inflict corrective chastisement upon his people, than to suffer them to
proceed with unchecked eagerness in a course fatally injurious to their
real interests. In every individual concern shall we not gratefully
confess, that "whom the Lord loveth--he chasteneth, and scourgeth every
son whom he, receiveth?"

[Sidenote: Year before Christ, 1805 to 1235]

Jabin is said to have reigned in Hazor, a place situated, according to
Josephus, in the tribe of Naphtali, on the lake Semechon. Joshua had
reduced this place to ashes, and slew its former sovereign; but, probably,
the present prince had availed himself of the criminal indolence of the
Israelites to rebuild it. The captain of Jabin's army was Sisera, who was
truly formidable; having, according to the inspired historian, nine
hundred chariots of iron. This, for a petty prince of Canaan, was a most
extraordinary force, by which Israel was kept under tyrannical domination
for twenty years. Ardent cries were presented to Heaven in these critical
circumstances; and he whose ears are ever open to the cries of the
distressed, interposed by raising up an illustrious female to accomplish
the plans of mercy. "And DEBORAH, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, she
judged Israel at that time." As no prophet is mentioned in Israel during
their defection, this was a signal testimony of the divine favour upon
their repentance; and while observing that out of the millions of Israel a
woman was chosen to execute the great purposes of Heaven, we cannot but
admire the inscrutable wisdom that appoints all persons to their stations,
qualifies all agents for their particular instrumentality, and regulates
all the movements of this lower world. Not a sparrow falls to the ground,
nor an angel wings his flight, but in subserviency to the arrangements of
an omniscient mind.

Deborah was a judge, as well as a prophetess; and a ruler over some, if
not all their tribes. Some have supposed, that judges among the ancient
Israelites resembled the Archons among the Athenians, and the Dictators
among the Romans. The office was not hereditary, but conferred for life;
and seems to have been considerably allied, although somewhat inferior, to
royal authority.

We are struck with the simplicity of the age in which this prophetess and
judge of Israel is represented as sitting under a palm-tree, to discharge
her public and eminently important duties. It was between Rama and Bethel,
in mount Ephraim. The subject is curious and interesting; we may,
therefore, enter into some particulars.

The palm, or date-tree, is a native of Africa and the East, where it grows
to the height of fifty or sixty, and occasionally a hundred feet. A
cluster of branches issues from the top of it, eight or nine feet long,
bending towards the earth, and extending all round in the form of an
umbrella. The trunk is upright, and full of cavities, the vestiges of its
decayed leaves, having a flat surface within, adapted to the human foot,
and forming a kind of natural ladder, by which a person may easily ascend
to the top. The lower part produces a number of stalks or suckers, which
diffuse the tree considerably, and form a kind of bushy forest. This
illustrates the scriptural term in the history of Deborah. "She dwelt
under the _palm-tree_;" or, as it might be rendered, _in a forest of
palms_. This tree was very common in Palestine. It abounded along the
banks of Jordan, and particularly about Engeddi and Jericho; the latter
place is designated, in Scripture, _the city of palms_.

"The extensive importance of the date-tree," says Dr. Clarke, "is one of
the most curious objects to which a traveller can direct his attention. A
considerable part of the inhabitants of Egypt, of Arabia, and Persia,
subsist almost entirely upon its fruit. They boast also of its medicinal
virtues. Their camels feed upon the date stone. From the leaves they make
couches, baskets, bags, mats, and brushes; from the branches, cages for
their poultry, and fences for their gardens; from the fibres of the
boughs, thread, ropes, and rigging; from the sap is prepared a spirituous
liquor: and the body of the tree furnishes fuel: it is even said, that
from one variety of the palm-tree, the _Phoenix farinifera,_ meal has been
extracted, which is found among the fibres of the trunk, and has been used
for food." [23]

In the East, it is very common for persons to live in tents, either
entirely or during some of the most sultry seasons of the year. This was
the patriarchal mode, and persons of considerable distinction are
accustomed to pitch them for occasional residence. Mr. Harmer quotes Dr.
Pococke as speaking of a pleasant place not far from Aleppo, where he met
an Aga, who had a great entertainment there, accompanied with music under
tents. Maillet mentions tents as things of course, in an account he gives
of an Egyptian officer's taking the air with his lady in the neighbourhood
of Cairo; and Chardin says, that Tahmasp, the Persian monarch, used to
spend the winter at Casbin, and to retire in the summer three or four
leagues into the country, where he lived in tents at the foot of Mount
Alouvent, in a place abounding with cool springs and pleasant shades; and
that his successors lived after the same manner until the time of Abas the
Great, who removed his court to Ispahan. [24] It is sufficiently probable,
therefore, that Deborah pitched her tent during a considerable period of
the year, under some remarkable palm-tree which stood either alone, or in
a forest of palms. There, for the purpose of convenient shelter in a
sultry climate, and with primitive simplicity of mind and manners, she
received the children of Israel who came to her for judgment,
investigating their causes, and by her integrity and wisdom, promoting the
happiness of her illustrious nation. The homage which mere external pomp
compels is lighter than vanity, compared with that stirling solidity of
character which no less ministers to the general good than to the
individual's own reputation. He who rules over others, should aim to be
enthroned in their affections; and they whom Providence calls to obey,
should readily cherish, and, on all suitable occasions, express feelings
of respect for their appointed rulers.

As the supreme magistrate of Israel, Deborah sent to Barak, of whom we
know only that he was the son of Abinoam, and resided in Kedesh-Naphtali,
requiring him to take ten thousand men of the tribes of Naphtali and
Zebukin into the neighbourhood of mount Tabor; and, as a prophetess under
supernatural influence of immediate inspiration, she assured him of the
most perfect success against the hostile prepartions of Sisera. He was
not only warranted to anticipate a decisive victory, but also the
destruction of this celebrated general, of whom it was expressly affirmed
that he should be "delivered into his hand."

It is not necessary to inquire by what particular means this divine
intimation of success was communicated to the prophetess of Israel,
whither by an audible voice, a nocturnal vision, an angelic messenger, or
a secret impression; suffice it to know, that the great Disposer of human
destiny has often adopted some and all of these methods to disclose the
scenes of futurity to the mind, in proof that he is not only the ruler of
nations, but the guardian of his church. Though he permit the rod to smite
his people, it shall he broken in pieces whenever it has accomplished its
work. On the present occasion, it was revealed to Deborah, that in the
ensuing conflict Israel should certainly be victorious; and this
disclosure of the event might be kindly intended to revive the desponding
feelings of the pious part of the community under circumstances of painful
depression. We are not authorized to anticipate, in our individual or
national calamities, such a miraculous discovery, nor ought we to repine
at the concealment of future events; but of this we may rest assured, if
indeed the people of God, and the "called according to his purpose," the
hostility of our worst enemies cannot eventually injure us--the "Captain
of our salvation" will conduct, us to triumph--and the standard of victory
shall be planted upon the graves of our foes.

Barak, it seems, started some objection to the message of Deborah,
alleging, "If thou wilt go with me, then I will go; but if thou wilt not
go with me, then I will not go." This extraordinary reply may, perhaps, be
explained, by supposing it to be the language of that modesty which has so
often characterized the greatest of men; and which, it must be admitted,
is no less admirable than their most splendid achievements. Thus when the
angel of the Lord appeared to Moses, announcing a divine commission to go
to Pharaoh, and bring the children of Israel out of Egyptian servitude, he
replied, "Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh?" and, during a
long-continued conference, he stated a variety of difficulties, and
manifested a degree of reluctance that excites astonishment. We are ready
to charge him with an infatuation bordering upon insolence and
presumption; nor, upon a first perusal, should we wonder to find him
smitten to the earth for his strange hesitation and timidity; but a closer
inspection of the narrative will convince us, that his reluctance, and
apparent refusal, ought not to be attributed to any unwillingness to
engage in the service of God, with a view of promoting his glory in the
earth, but to a consciousness of his personal unworthiness. His objection
was less to the _work_, than to _himself_; he did not so much tremble
because _that_ was arduous, as because _he_ was, in his own apprehension,
_unfit_. This was a feeling, however, which, under the circumstances of
his call, we cannot vindicate; for, to say the least, it was excessive.
Whatever estimate Moses in the one case, or Barak in the other, might have
formed of themselves, the divine will ought to have been considered the
only rule of action. We must never shrink from the course to which
Providence calls us--allowing God, who cannot err, to choose his own
instruments; and feeling that he who _commands_ can _enable_ us to perform
the most arduous duties.

Animated by a zeal which nothing could repress, Deborah instantly complied
with the condition upon which Barak proposed to engage in the war. In
language expressive of an unconquerable heroism, a masculine energy of
character and a devoted patriotism of spirit, she sent him word, "I will
surely go with thee;" but accompanied this message with an intimation,
that the honour of this exploit would in part at least attach to a woman,
whom Providence had selected to execute the purposes of heaven upon
Sisera. The little army being collected, the general and the prophetess
hastened to the field of battle, anxious to revenge the wrongs of their
insulted country, and to emancipate her enslaved provinces. A patriotism
inspired _her_ breast, and probably by this time animated _his_, which was
kindled by a fire from heaven, which roused into vigorous action all the
respective talents, and energies of their nature; and which, urging them
forward to righteous war, a war against impiety and oppression, undertaken
in the fear, and to promote the glory, of God, excited them to march to an
anticipated victory.

Under these circumstances, it is as much to the honour of Barak, that he
wished for the presence of the prophetess. Heroes are seldom anxious for
the observant eye of piety to watch their movements, and to penetrate
their camps. Alas! those whom we admire as the defenders of our country,
we weep over as the corrupters of our morals; and too often the page which
celebrates their prowess, is stained with the record of their rapacity.
But, however unwelcome an attendant, let them remember that an omniscient
eye witnesses both their private transactions, and their public career.

It is no less honourable to the character of this illustrious heroine and
female head of Israel, that so far from cherishing any petty jealousies of
Barak, and aiming at a monopoly of the reputation likely to result from
the present undertaking, she assigned to him the post of honour, and
contented herself with becoming his adviser. The superiority of her mind
induced her to seek an inferiority of station; anxious only to ensure
success, not to gain applause; to be approved of God, not to be altered of
man. Happy would it be for us all in our respective stations, whether
elevated by opulence or depressed by poverty, were we constantly
influenced by a similar principle. Then should we be stimulated to the
noblest duties, and fulfil the solemn injunction of our God and Saviour,
"Occupy till I come."

Sisera, the captain of the Canaanitish army, having been informed of the
movements of Israel, gathered together all his nine hundred chariots of
iron, and encamped between Harosheth and the river Kishon. This hostile
force, stretching along the circumjacent valley of mount Tabor, must have
presented a formidable appearance; and it would not have been surprising,
if even veteran troops, whose scared bosoms proclaimed their unretreating
hardihood in battle, had been appalled to meet so mighty a preparation
with only ten thousand men. But the spirit of a weak woman, when sustained
by the living God, shall brave every danger. Faith shall triumph over
fear, and the sword shall follow and fulfil prophetic inspirations. "Up,"
said Deborah to Barak, "for this is the day in which the Lord hath
delivered Sisera into thine hand; is not the Lord gone out before thee?"
If from this spirited appeal, it might be unjust to the military character
of Barak, to cherish a suspicion that he manifested some degree of
reluctance to attack the army of Sisera, overawed by his numerical
superiority, we cannot help perceiving the wisdom and promptitude which
actuated the conduct of Deborah. She had an eye to discern, and a courage
to seize, an important crisis. But what most claims our admiration is, an
incessant reference to Providence, which marks all her words and actions.
Nothing of that boastful language, which indicates an arrogant mind
escaped her lips. She evinced no self-adulation, and no undue dependence
upon human resources. How many in similar circumstances, would have vushed
forward to disproportionate battle with a blind impetuosity, trusting to
_chance_, for the result: or, inspired alone by personal hatred against
the foe, and a thirst for renown, would have hastened to conquer or to
die! From our earliest days we have been taught to admire the heroes of
classical story, and have followed with acclamations the conquerors of
later ages, who seem to have rivalled the fame of a Themistocles or a
Leonidas, and to have reacted the tragical sublimities of Salamis and
Thermopylæ; but, in the present history, we see piety clad in the armour
of heroism--the achievements of military valour ascribed solely to the
higher cause of a divine superintendence--"The LORD hath delivered Sisera
into thine hand; is not the LORD gone out before thee?"

Without detracting however from the military genius of Barak, or ascribing
an undue pre-eminence to Deborah, it may be readily believed, that so
disproportionate a force as that of the Israelites at first acted, and
very properly acted, on the defensive, till a favourable conjunction of
circumstances occurred; and, perhaps, some miraculous sign, or some divine
inspiration on the mind of the prophetess, suggested the moment of attack.
[25] It is in fact impossible to determine with any precision where human
skill ceased to operate, and where divine interposition commenced; and so
imperfect is our present acquaintance with the laws by which spirit and
matter are connected, that our speculations will certainly be fruitless,
and may therefore be pronounced unwise. Let us be grateful, that _the
fact_ of divine operation on the human mind is fully ascertained, and by
every sincere Christian pleasingly experienced; and that, though "all the
Lord's people" are not "prophets," the language of kind encouragement can
never be expunged from the sacred page, "If ye being evil know how to give
good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father
give THE HOLT SPIRIT to them that ask him?"

In obedience to the orders of Deborah, Barak immediately put his little
band of intrepid warriors in motion. The result was such, as under these
circumstances might, however astonishing, have been reasonably expected;
for "if God be for us, who can be against us?" The mighty hosts of Canaan,
amounting, according to the estimate of Josephus, to three hundred
thousand foot, and ten thousand horse, vanished before the valiant arm of
Israel, nerved as it was by an energy from heaven. Barak poured the
irresistible torrent of war upon his presumptuous foes, and swept
them away.

Josephus states, that "when they were come to a close fight, there came
down from heaven a great storm, with a vast quantity of rain and hail; and
the wind blew the rain in the face of the Canaanites, and so darkened
their eyes, that their arrows and slings were of no advantage to them; nor
would the coldness of the air permit the soldiers, to make use of their
swords; while this storm did not so much incommode the Israelites, because
it came in their backs. They also took such courage upon the apprehension
that God was assisting them, that they fell upon the very midst of their
enemies, and slew a great number of them. So that some of them fell by the
Israelites, some fell by their own horses, which were put into disorder,
and not a few were killed by their own chariots."

Scarcely does the history of the world furnish an example of so complete a
victory, accompanied by so utter an annihilation of the enemy. Curiosity
might wish to trace the various movements of that memorable day, the plan
of battle, the occasion of defeat, the exploits of individual heroes, and
a thousand other circumstances, with which fancy often decorates the head
of the hero, and amplifies the page of the historian; but with a majestic
simplicity so eminently characteristic of the sacred narrative, it is
stated that "the Lord discomfited Sisera, and all his chariots, and all
his host, with the edge of the sword, before Barak; so that Sisera lighted
down off his chariot, and fled away on his feet. But Barak pursued after
the chariots, and after the host, unto Harosheth of the Gentiles: and all
the host of Sisera fell upon the edge of the sword; and there was not a
man left." Who will compare with this simple record the language of
Cæsar, though so often celebrated, "_Veni, vidi, vici_--I came, I saw, I
conquered;" words at least as remarkable for egotism as for laconic force:
or who would represent the battle of _Zela_, and the defeat of the
_Pharnaces_ as worthy of being named in connection with the memorable
victory of Tabor.

Sisera, defeated, dispirited, and alone, fled to the tent of Jael, the
wife of Heber the Kenite, a family which was at this time at peace with
the king of Canaan. It was an additional reason to hope for security from
the enemy's pursuit, that the custom of the country interdicted intrusion
of all strangers into the woman's apartment. Jael moreover went forth to
invite this defeated general under her protection, and encouraged him to
expect every attention that humanity could dictate in this moment of
extremity. No wonder he resigned himself with a fearless confidence to her
care, and prepared to seek in "balmy sleep" an oblivion of all his
distractions. She furnishes him with a refreshing draught of milk, though
he only requested water; covers him with a mantle, and undertakes to guard
him from all unwelcome intrusion, by standing at the door of the tent, to
answer the interrogatories of any inquisitive stranger. But no sooner did
he drop into a sound sleep, than, seizing upon the first weapons that her
situation afforded, a nail and a hammer, and approaching softly to the
unconscious general, she drove the nail into his temple, and transfixed
him to the ground. Hastening from her tent, in the transport of success,
to meet Barak, who was in eager pursuit, she conducted, him to the corpse
of his prostrate foe. "So God subdued on that day, Jabin, the king of
Canaan, before the children of Israel."

Let us dismiss Jael, for the present, from our meditations, and offer a
reflection or two on the fate of Sisera.

I. No event recorded upon the page of history is more calculated to
impress upon our minds the assertion of Solomon, than that to which we
have just given our attention: "The race is not to the swift, nor the
battle to the strong ... for man also knoweth not his time, as the fishes
that are taken in an evil net, and as the birds that are caught in the
snare; so ere the sons of men snared in an evil time, when it falleth
suddenly upon them." Nothing could have been more improbable, according to
human calculations, than the result of this extraordinary battle. Who that
had seen the far-stretching troops of the king of Canaan overspreading,
like a vast inundation, the vicinity of Kishon and Harosheth, whose
polished armour glittered along the valley to the rising sun, accustomed
to victory, breathing revenge, and headed by the most distinguished
general of the age--who that had viewed their prodigious forces,
consisting of infantry and cavalry, in contrast with the diminutive
strength and contemptible numbers of the Israelitish army, but must have
considered the attack as the feeble effort of an unaccountable
infatuation? But though HE who "sitteth upon the circle of the earth,"
could have interposed at once to crush the foe by the thunder of his
power, ten thousand men of Israel were appointed to execute his purpose
against the devoted Canaanites, to show that it is his will to work by
human means;--he required the employment of _only_ ten thousand, to
prove that all human skill and success is mere instrumentality, and that
the honour of victory is to be attributed to the God of battles.

2. The enemies of God and his people shall perish ingloriously. This is
not the only instance. Pharaoh makes ready his own chariot, and takes with
him all the chariots of Egypt, in eager pursuit of Israel, just escaped
from his relentless oppression. In the pride of his strength he proclaims,
"I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil, my lust shall be
satisfied upon them--I will draw my sword, my hand shall destroy them;"
but there was an arm of superior might that seized the unresisting
elements, and launched them upon the rash adventurer and his guilty
myriads. "Thou didst blow with thy wind, the sea covered them; they sank
as lead in the mighty waters. Who is like unto thee, O Lord, among the
gods?"--Sennacherib, king of Assyria, sends Tartan, and Rabsaris, and
Rabshakeh, with a great host against Jerusalem, in the reign of Hezekiah.
Mark their insolent blasphemy: "Hearken not unto Hezekiah when he
persuadeth you, saying, The Lord will deliver us. Hath any of the gods of
the nations delivered at all his land out of the hand of the king of
Assyria? Where are the gods of Hamath and of Arpad? where are the gods of
Sepharvaim, Hena, and Ivah? have they delivered Samaria out of mine hand?
Who are they among all the gods of the countries that have delivered their
country out of mine hand, that the Lord should deliver Jerusalem out of
mine hand?" A letter was afterward sent to the king to the same effect,
commencing with this blasphemous sentence, "Let not thy God, in whom thou
trustest, deceive thee." Hezekiah instantly repairs to the temple, opens
his letter in the immediate presence of the Eternal, and supplicates his
great name for that interference in the present extremity, which would
deliver his people, and promote his own glory. His prayer is heard. From
the heaven of heavens an angelic envoy is despatched to the Assyrian
encampment, and with the flaming sword of almighty indignation, smites _a
hundred and eighty-five thousand_ of the boasting foe; "and when they
arose early in the morning, behold they were all dead corpses." Herod
ventures upon the dangerous experiment of persecuting the church of God:
he dares, with an untrembling hand, to put James to the sword, and
ultimately imprison Peter for the same horrid purpose: but he who "sitteth
in the heavens" held the presumptuous criminal in "utter derision,"
despatched an angel to break off the chains by which his servant was
bound, and laid his finger upon the royal rebel to extinguish his glory
and his pride for ever; "he was eaten of worms, and gave up the ghost."
Ah! the immortality of the soul elevates it above mortal power, and the
utmost that a persecutor can do is, by a painful stroke, to put a
Christian into speedier possession of his promised blessedness. "A tyrant
is mortal, his empire expires with his life; and were he to employ the
whole course of his life in tormenting a martyr, and in trying to impair
his felicity, he would resemble an idiot throwing stones at the lightning,
while in an indivisible moment, and with as inconceivable rapidity, it
caught his eye as it passed from the east to the west."

"Thou dull stupid man, who art not stricken with the idea of a God, whose
will is self-efficient, and who alone can act immediately on an immaterial
soul, come and behold some sensible proofs of that infinite power, of
which metaphysical proofs can give thee no idea! And thou, proud insolent
man! go aboard the last-built vessel, put out to sea, set the most
vigilant watch, surround thyself with the most formidable instruments:
what art thou, when God uttereth his voice?' What art thou, when the
'noise' resounds? What art thou, when torrents of rain seem to threaten a
second deluge, and to make the globe which thou inhabitest one rolling
sea? What art thou when lightnings emit their terrible flashes? What art
thou when the 'winds' come roaring 'out of their treasures?' What art thou
_then_? Verily, thou art no less than thou wast in thy palace. Thou art no
less than when thou wast sitting at a delicious table. Thou art no less
than thou wast when every thing contributed to thy pleasure. Thou art no
less than when at the head of thine army, thou wast the terror of nations,
shaking the earth with the stunning noise of thy warlike instruments: for,
at thy festal board, within thy palace, among thy pleasures, at the head
of thine armies, thou wast _nothing_ before the King of nations. As an
immaterial and immortal creature, thou art subject to his immediate power;
but, to humble and to confound thee, he must manifest himself to thee in
sensible objects. Behold him, then, in this formidable situation: try thy
power against his: silence 'the noise of the multitude of waters:' fasten
the vessel that 'reeleth like a drunken man;' smooth the foaming waves
that 'mount thee up to heaven;' fill up the horrible gulfs whither thou
goest 'down to the bottoms of the mountains;' dissipate the lightning that
flasheth in thy face; hush the bellowing thunders; confine the winds in
their caverns; assuage the anguish of thy soul, and prevent its melting
and exhaling with fear. How diminutive is man! How many ways hath God to
confound his pride! He uttereth his voice, and there is a noise of a
multitude of waters in the heavens. He causeth the vapours to ascend from
the ends of the earth. He maketh lightnings with rain, and bringeth forth
the wind out of his treasures. Who would 'not fear thee, O King
of nations?"

It is necessary, however, to remark, that we are not authorized always to
expect the strict exercise of retributive justice in the present state.
Some remarkable visitations have, in all periods, roused the attention of
an astonished world, and powerfully appealed to the understanding of men,
in vindication of the character, and in proof of the existence, of a
superintending Providence. Tyrants have been hurled from their thrones,
empires uprooted from their foundations, and the "poor set on high from
oppression;" but these dispensations have not been regular, nor can they
be calculated upon as certain, or in general, perhaps, as probable. They
have been sufficiently numerous to indicate an observant though invisible
eye fixed upon human affairs; but not so frequent as to supersede the
Christian's anticipations of a day of final and impartial judgment. The
present may indeed be considered rather as a time of permitted, confusion,
the period of moral chaos, in which the elements of a new creation
exists, but in a disorganized state; in which the principles of depraved
human nature are permitted to develope themselves, and human passions are
suffered to act in an ample field of exertion with comparatively little
control, and for the purpose of ultimately promoting the glory of God.
Hereafter "the morning stars" will "sing together," and all "the sons of
God" again "shout for joy," when "all things that offend shall be gathered
out of his kingdom," when sinners shall be everlastingly degraded, Christ
for ever exalted, the most mysterious dispensations shine with transparent
brightness in the light of eternity, and the unfading paradise of the
saints bloom amidst the wrecks of time.

3. "Boast not thyself of to-morrow, for thou knowest not what a day may
bring forth." Little did Sisera imagine the fatal reverses he was destined
to suffer, when in all the pride of fancied superiority, sustained by the
recollection of the successes of twenty years, he made his arrangements
for the battle with Barak and Deborah. What a contrast between the moment
of confident preparation, and that of disgraceful retreat! What a mighty
and unexpected contrast between the high-spirited general at the head of
his army, and the trembling fugitive hiding himself in a tent, and slain
by a woman.

Let us apply the reflection to ourselves. How often do we form our
schemes, and calculate on temporal prosperities, without any due regard to
the will of Providence, or any proper consideration of the uncertainty of
life. "We live without God in the world," an omniscient Deity has no
existence in our minds, and we inquire "Who will show us any good?" as if
God were not the chief good, or could not supply our happiness.

Alas! how often have we boasted of to-morrow by neglecting, in a
religious sense, the most important business of to-day. It is not easy to
imagine a more dangerous state of mind, than that of a person, whose
resolutions of repentance and amendment all respect futurity, because he
makes these very resolutions an excuse for his negligences, and even
considers them as an expiation of the guilt of his procrastinating temper.
It is indeed an affecting thought, that so thick a mist surrounds us, we
are not only unacquainted with the events of YEARS to come, we do not know
what a DAY may bring forth. It may produce a change in our
circumstances--our faculties--our friendships--our hopes.--An hour--a
moment, may waft us from time into eternity! "Now," then, "is the accepted
time, behold, NOW is the day of salvation."--"Seek the Lord while he may
be found, call ye upon him while he is near."

4. Mount TABOR has been repeatedly mentioned as the place where Deborah
directed that the forces of Zebulon and Naphtali should be concentrated,
and its immediate vicinity as the scene of the celebrated contest between
Barak and Sisera; but though it may appear a digression from the present
subject, it would be scarcely pardonable to omit a reference to that still
more wonderful circumstance, the transfiguration of Jesus Christ, which
probability and tradition concur in assigning to the same remarkable spot.
Three of his disciples, Peter, James, and John, accompanied him to this
mountain, where two bright spirits from among the glorified saints, Moses
and Elias, descended to join their society. Delightful pledge of that
inseparable union which will one day take place upon the summits of
immortality, when "the general assembly and church of the first-born"
shall associate together in the realms of bliss!

  "O happy, happy company,
  Where men and heavenly spirits greet,
  And those whom death hath severed meet,
  And hold again communion sweet;
  O happy, happy company!"

What though death at present divides them, and while some of this glorious
family have reached their destined habitation, others are left on earth to
struggle with the calamities of life; the separation is but temporary, and
will serve to heighten the raptures of union, when they shall come from
the east and from the west, from the north and from the south, and sit
down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of God.

And what will constitute the heaven of believers? Doubtless the vision of
the Lamb, converse with Jesus, and perpetual intercourse with saints of
all nations and ages. Moses and Elias descended from the raptures of
immortality to talk with Jesus on the mount, and the same divine communion
will form a considerable portion of our felicity in the invisible world.
To be for ever near him, and to "see him as he is"--to converse of the
things of his kingdom--to learn from his own lips the purpose of all his
most inscrutable dispensations to the church and to each believer, the
reason of every sorrow, and the nature of its connection with our ultimate
happiness--to hold fellowship with all his redeemed, holy patriarchs,
distinguished apostles, and victorious martyrs--to be encircled with all
his family, emparadised in his embraces, and united to all who love him in
bonds of indissoluble affection; no sea to separate, no discord to
agitate, no enemies to infest the unbroken circle of friendship--this will
be "joy unspeakable and full of glory." Not the delight of Moses, when
conversing with God in the burning bush, at the door of the tabernacle,
or in mount Sinai--not the transports of David, when his enchanted spirit
waked the lyre of praise and gratitude--not the bliss of the three
favoured disciples, even on this mount of transfiguration, can be compared
with this perfect happiness. All the little streams of felicity which flow
to the church of God in the desert, will then be collected into one vast
ocean, in which the tears and sorrows of time will be eternally lost. The
pleasures of a moment which now solace us by the way, will be exchanged
for the permanent joys of that celestial inheritance, in which "the Lamb,
which is in the midst of the throne, shall lead us, and feed us by
fountains of living waters; and God shall wipe away all tears from our
eyes." By the anticipations of faith, we are "come unto mount Sion, and
unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an
innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the
firstborn which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to
the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the Mediator of the new
covenant."



Section II.


  Capacity of Deborah as a Poetess--Paraphrase of her remarkable Song,
  composed to celebrate the victory over Sisera.


"On a favoured few," says an elegant writer, "has been conferred the
combined glory of acting nobly and writing well; of serving their own day
and generation with credit to themselves and advantage to their country,
and of transmitting useful information to regions remote and generations
unborn. On the list of those illustrious few, stands, with distinguished
honour, the name of Deborah, the judge, the prophetess, the sweet singer
of Israel; and it is with exultation we observe the most dignified,
arduous, and important stations of human life filled with reputation by a
woman; a woman who first with resolution and intrepidity saved her country
in the hour of danger and distress, and ruled it with wisdom and equity,
and then recorded her own achievements in strains which must be held in
admiration so long as good taste and love of virtue exist in the world."

[Sidenote: Years before Christ, 1285.] The remarkable victory we have just
related and remarked upon, is celebrated by Deborah in a poem, which
claims our attention as one of the most ancient in the world, having been
composed upwards of four hundred years before the birth of Homer, and
which is characterized by unusual pathos and sublimity. Many passages in
it are confessedly obscure, which will not be deemed surprising, when it
is recollected how imperfectly we are acquainted, in this distant period,
with the various circumstances, incidents, and localities of the memorable
event it celebrates, and even with the original language in which it
was written.

Dr. Lowth [26] very
properly divides this poem into three parts; first, the exordium: next, a
recital of the circumstances which preceded, and of those which
accompanied the victory; lastly, a fuller description of the concluding
event, the death of Sisera, and the disappointed hopes of his mother;
which is embellished with the choisest flowers of poetry.

It is proposed in the present chapter to furnish an extended paraphrase
of this fine specimen of ancient poetry, for the purpose chiefly of
illustrating its meaning. Its various beauties as a composition can
scarcely fail of striking the most superficial reader. It occupies the
fifth chapter of the book of Judges.

[PG Editor's note: In the original book, the text and paraphrase were
displayed side-by-side. In this case, for each verse, the paraphrase
follows in brackets.]

1. Then sang Deborah, and Barak the son of Abinoam, on that day, saying,
[Deeply impressed with a grateful sense of that remarkable interposition
of Providence for the deliverance of Israel from the long tyranny of their
inveterate enemies, which Deborah and Barak saw accomplished by their own
instrumentality, the one directing by her wisdom, what the other performed
by his valor, they sang a sacred ode on the very same day; a day so
wonderful for its dangers, anxieties, and triumphs. It was to this effect.]

2. Praise ye the Lord for the avenging of Israel, when the people
willingly offered themselves. [Give thanks, ye tribes of Israel, to the
God of battles, who has smitten the daring foe, and thus avenged our
wrongs. "The hearts of all men are in his hands," and instead of internal
dissention enfeebling our energies, he has graciously disposed the people
of Zebulon and Naphtali to offer their zealous services in the war; a war
which patriotism and piety have, under the blessing of Heaven, conducted
to a glorious termination.]

3. Hear, O ye kings; give ear, O ye princes; I, even I, will sing unto the
Lord; I will sing praise to the Lord God of Israel [Let the voice of
praise, uttered from the thousands of Israel, resound to distant nations,
so that Gentile princes and potentates may hear of the miracles of mercy
wrought for the covenanted people of God. Ye idolatrous rulers of the
world, reject forever your gods of wood and stone, for I am called to
celebrate the majesty of Jehovah, who has triumphed over them; and will
sing to the honour of him, who, though no local divinity, has chosen the
children of Israel as his peculiar people.]

4. Lord, when thou wentest out of Seir, when thou marchedst out of the
field of Edom, the earth trembled, and the heavens dropped, the clouds
also dropped water.

5. The mountains melted from before the Lord; even that Sinai from before
the Lord God of Israel. [This illustrious day revives the recollection of
those ancient interpositions of the strong arm of Omnipotence for our
ancestors, which have often excited the our admiration, and of which this
appears like the continuation of a miraculous series. O God! what a period
was that, when Israel marched round the confines of Idumea, and the
majesty of thy protecting presence was displayed before the enemy, in the
pillar of cloud by day, and of fire by night. Edom refused a passage
through their land, but so terrible were thy signs, that the trembling
earth, the tempestuated heavens--all nature seemed to avenge the cause of
thine insulted people; and the surrounding nations were smitten with
terror, as when mount Sinai herself quaked, and for a time disappeared
amidst the tremendous glory of the divine presence. These wonders do not
surpass what we have witnessed to-day, and which prove that none shall
oppress thy people with impunity. [27]]

6. In the days of Shamgar, the son of Anath, in the days of Jael, the
highways were unoccupied, and the travellers walked through byways.

7. The inhabitants of the villages ceased, they ceased in Israel, until
that I, Deborah, arose, that I arose a mother in Israel [Turn your weeping
eyes to the recent miseries of our country Shamgar, indeed, who succeeded
Ehud as judge, effected something for Israel, and Jael shall never be
forgotten for her heroism and her useful exertions, although in a private
station; but alas! the long tyranny of our oppressors continued to produce
the most disastrous effects--trade perished, for no caravans of merchants
dared to occupy the public ways, infested as they were with an armed
banditti, the life of the unoffending traveller became endangered, and the
dejected inhabitants of the country were afraid to venture abroad, except
as thieves, stealing through the most unfrequented paths, and even there
the most dreadful outrages were committed; until I Deborah, arose, and
notwithstanding the weakness of my sex, and the desperate situation of
affairs, became the happy instrument of benefiting Israel, by the
restoration of public justice, general security, and national glory.]

8. They chose new gods; then was war in the gates; was there a shield or
spear seen among forty thousand in Israel? [But trace our former miseries
to their source. Israel relapsed into idolatry, and God punished them with
the scourge of war. The insulting foe pressed to the very gates of our
fortified cities--the means of defence were utterly neglected in
consequence of general despondency, and no adequate supply of arms could
be furnished to repel the infuriated enemy.]

9. My heart is toward the governors of Israel, that offered themselves
willingly among the people. Bless ye the Lord. [My warmest affections are
due to the chiefs of Israel, who, in the hour of calamity and
apprehension, did not shrink from danger, nor tremble at death; but, in
the true spirit of patriotism, accompanied the people to battle, placed
themselves at their head, flew at my first mandate to defend the common
cause, and animated our warriors by their noble enthusiasm. Let _them_
unite in this anthem of praise to Jehovah, who had the best opportunities
of knowing, that nothing but his gracious interposition could have
procured such unparalleled success.]

10. Speak ye that ride on white asses, ye that sit in judgment, and walk
by the way. [Rejoice, ye nobles and judges of the land, who have the
honorable distinction of riding upon white asses, [28] the most valuable
animal of the kind, and therefore appropriated to persons of your rank;
shout for joy, because now there is no impediment to the exercise of your
high offices; and ye, merchants, assist in the song, for no obstruction
remains to commercial intercourse; the ways are clear, communications
open, and your marauding foes shall alarm you no more.]

11. They that are delivered from the noise of archers in the places of
drawing water, there shall they rehearse the righteous acts of the Lord,
even the righteous acts towards the inhabitants of his villages in Israel;
then shall the people of the Lord go down to the gates. [Ye shepherds, who
a short time since scarcely dared to drive your flocks to the watering
places, and ye maidens, who were afraid to go and draw for your daily
supply, or went in silence lest the smallest noise should rouse your
ever-watchful enemies, [29] now sing with a loud voice, and without the
least apprehension, and unite with the husbandmen and vine-dressers, in
extolling that miraculous mercy which has restored to your most
unprotected habitations the blessings of peace and security. The gates of
our cities shall no longer be shut for fear of the enemy, and the people
may again repair to these seats of justice and judgment. [30]]

12. Awake, awake, Deborah! awake, awake, utter a song! arise, Barak, and
lead thy captivity captive, thou son of Abinoam! [Let not my exhausted
powers drop the exulting strain; but rather, O Deborah, kindle with fresh
enthusiasm upon every new view of the glorious subject! Exert thy utmost
powers of praise, upon this inexhaustible theme! And thou, companion and
instrument of victory, Barak, arise! exhibit the captive foe who once led
Israel captive! let the spoils of triumphant war be shown, and thou and
thy father's name shall be had in everlasting remembrance!]

13. Then he made him that remaineth have dominion over the nobles among
the people; the Lord made me have dominion over the mighty. [Alas! to what
a wretched state was Israel reduced: but even this remnant of former
greatness, this weak and dispirited handful, God employed to crush the
power of Canaan and the presumption of her nobles and, be it spoken to his
glory, the Lord made even me, a feeble woman, the conqueror of formidable
armies, and the saviour of a sinking state.]

14. Out of Ephraim was there a root of them against Amalek, after thee,
Benjamin, among thy people out of Machii, came down governors, and out of
Zebulun, they that handle the pen of the writer. [Those noble warriors who
hastened to the conflict with so much courage, and conquered with so much
glory, have not only rendered themselves, but their tribes, for ever
illustrious, Ephraim originated the expedition, who had, on a former
occasion, discomfited Amalek, and now manifested an heroic zeal against
them and the confederates of Jabin, Benjamin caught the holy infection of
hatred against the enemies of the Lord, and first rushed to the fierce
encounter, Machir, the half tribe of Manasseh, despatched her great men
with their forces, and Zebulon sent her sons more famed indeed, as a
commercial tribe, for handling the pen than the sword, but who readily
came forward to aid the common cause.]

15. And the princes of Issachar were with Deborah, even Issachar and also
Barak; he was sent on foot into the valley. For the divisions of Reuben
there were great thoughts of heart. [The chiefs of Issachar repaired to
Deborah and Barak in Mount Tabor, and with them the strength of their
tribe. They descended into the valley as foot soldiers, with Barak, and
trembled not at the chariots and cavalry of Sisera. But alas! for Reuben,
whose internal dissentions issued in a shameful neutrality, a circumstance
deeply perplexing and vexatious to their brethren.]

16. Why abodest thou among the sheepfolds, to hear the bleatings of the
flocks? For the divisions of Reuben there were great searchings of heart.
[Why didst thou obey the dictates of a selfish spirit and a carnal policy,
and while engrossed with thy flocks and herds, refusedst to listen to the
cries of thy brethren in distress, and the loud calls of Deborah and
Barak? Alas, for the dissentions of Reuben! What painful thoughts, what
dreadful anxieties were occasioned by such unaccountable and
unpatriotic conduct!]

17. Gilead abode beyond Jordan, and why did Dan remain in ships? Asher
continued on the sea-shore, and abode in his breaches. [Influenced by a
similar temper, Gilead, or Gad, remained inactive, in their possessions
beyond Jordan, as though, happy themselves, they were insensible to the
miseries of others, and why didst thou, O Dan, regarding only thy
merchandise and thy gainful navigation, continue motionless in the day of
our calamity! And see how Asher imitated the base example, abiding within
the ruined walls of his cities, and in his bays and havens!]

18. Zebulun and Naphtah were a people that jeoparded their lives unto the
death in the high places of the field. [But Zebulon and Naphtah have
acquired immortal renown, by cheerfully hazarding their lives and their
all, when they assembled in the heights of Tabor, and impetuously rushed
upon the foe in the valley where Kishon flows. [31]]

19. The kings came and fought, then fought the kings of Canaan in Taanach,
by the waters of Megiddo they took no gain of money. [Dire was the strife
and vast the struggle when the confederate kings of Canaan fought in
Taanach, and near Megiddo, to which places in the tribe of Issachar their
mighty forces extended. They pressed eagerly and freely to the war, but
how were their vain hopes disappointed when they returned without spoils.]

20. They fought from heaven, the stars in their courses fought against
Sisera. [The awful contest was decided by the God of heaven. His angels,
his elements--all nature aided our righteous cause; and the stars of the
firmament lighted our midnight pursuit, and shone disastrously upon the
fugitive enemy.]

21. The river of Kishon swept them away, that ancient river, the river
Kishon. O my soul, thou hast trodden down strength! [The river Kishon
rising, as if elated with joy at the opportunity, and overflowing its
banks, swept thousands away; that river, celebrated in ancient times, and
the witness of former conflicts. O Deborah, thou art indeed thrice happy
in becoming the favoured instrument of exciting this glorious war, and
thus eventually of crushing a most formidable confederacy!]

22. Then were the horse-hoofs broken by means of the prancings, the
prancings of then mighty ones. [The war-horse, urged in his rapid flight
over the flinty soil, cut his hoofs to pieces; or entangled amidst the
overflowings of Kishon, pranced, and foamed, and perished. [32]]

23. Curse ye Meroz, said the angel of the Lord; curse ye bitterly the
inhabitants thereof, because they came not to the help of the Lord, the
help of the Lord against the mighty. [The angel, who preceded our hosts as
the sword of an irresistible Providence, denounced a curse upon the city
of Meroz, and commanded us to cherish a holy indignation against its
lukewarm inhabitants, who, instead of resisting the giant armies of
Canaan, remained as uninterested or timid spectators of the
dreadful battle.]

24. Blessed above women shall Jael, the wife be of Heber the Kenite, be;
blessed shall she be above women in the tent. [But feminine heroism shall
exhibited in honourable contrast with such shameful neutrality. Let the
benediction of heaven rest upon the head of Jael, the wife of Heber the
Kenite, above all other women! Blessed shall she be above all other
female, heads of families who remained at home, having with
masculine-courage completed in her tent, what was so happily begun in
the field.]

25. He asked water, and she gave him milk; she brought forth butter in a
lordly dish. [Sisera, famished and fainting, requested water to allay his
thirst; she opened a leathern bottle, and with feigned respect presented
him with butter-milk; yes, she poured him out butter-milk in a vessel of
copper, such as nobles use. [33]]

26. She put her hand to the nail, and her right hand to the workmen's
hammer; and with the hammer she smote Sisera; she smote off his head, when
she had pierced and stricken through his temples. [Lulled into a fatal
security by her deceptive homage, he slept--to wake no more! She seized a
nail of her tent, and a hammer, approached in cautious silence the
sleeping adversary of Israel, and, animated by an irresistible impulse of
patriotic zeal, she drove it through his temples, and cut off his head.]

27. At her feet he bowed, he fell, he lay down; at her feet he bowed, he
fell: where he bowed, there he fell down dead. [Thus fell the great
instrument of Canaanitish oppression at the feet of a woman; thus
ingloriously he perished [34]]

28. The mother of Sisera looked out at a window and cried through the
lattice, Why is his chariot so long in coming? Why tarry the wheels of his
chariots? [O day of triumph! Methinks the mother of Sisera, anticipating
the fruits of victory, and the final subjection of all Israel to their
oppressor's yoke, stood at her window, chiding the tardy moments, and
impatiently exclaiming from behind the lattice-work, Why is the chariot of
our victorious general so long in returning? Whence this painful delay?
Hasten, ye fleet animals that draw his chariots, and restore him to our
embraces!]

29. Her wise ladies answered her, yea, she returned answer to herself,

30. Have they not sped? have they not divided the prey; to every man a
damsel or two, to Sisera a prey of divers colours, a prey of divers
colours of needle work, of divers colours of needle work on both sides,
meet for the necks of them that take the spoil? [Her maids of honour, who
were scarcely less eager than herself to see the laurelled conqueror,
answered her; yea, chiding for a moment her own impatient expressions, as
if they indicated a doubt of success, she said within herself, Have they
not succeeded in discovering the enemy?--Doubtless they have, Have they
not enriched them selves with immense booty, and apportioned an
Israelitish damsel two to our brave warriors?--Yes, yes, this must
occasion some delay, and let them enjoy the reward of their valour. As for
Sisera, the most beautiful captives are his portion, and shall be the
slaves of his will; the most elegant dresses, curiously interwoven and
wrought with the needle, such as may well be deemed worthy of heroes,
shall grace his triumph and heighten his renown.]

31. So let all thine enemies perish, O Lord let them that love him be as
the sun when he goeth forth in his might. [But who can describe their
utter disappointment! So shamefully, so totally, let all the enemies of
thy people, and all the opponents of thy dominion in the earth perish, O
Lord, from before thy face forever! But let all those who are animated
with a sacred zeal for thy glory resemble the morning sun as he advances
rapidly to his meridian splendour; let them increase in usefulness,
influence, and esteem, the honour of human nature, and the lights of
the world.]



Manoah's Wife.

Chapter IX



  State of Israel--Appearance of an Angel to the Wife of Manoah--She
  communicates the Design of his Visit to her Husband--Second
  Manifestation from Heaven--Result of the Interview--Reflection of
  Manoah's Wife stated and analyzed--Considerations deducible from the
  Narrative--to avoid Precipitancy of Judgment--to avow our Convictions at
  every suitable Opportunity--to feel assured that the Providence of God
  does never really, though it may apparently, contradict his word.


Obscurity of station or of birth has no tendency to prelude the favour of
God. In this respect, he "seeth not as a man seeth," but, in the past
dispensations of his mercy, appears to have preferred the lowly as objects
of high and distinguishing manifestations. This is the case in the
Christian era, and to the present hour the stream of celestial goodness
pursues its silent and chosen course, chiefly down the vales of poverty
and wretchedness.

We see from the histories of Scripture, that in seasons of national
defection, there have existed pleasing instances of individual piety.
Amidst universal darkness, some stars of considerable magnitude have shed
a light, though comparatively feeble, athwart the moral hemisphere. God
has never totally suspended his intercourse with man, even in the worst of
times, nor suffered the series of his communications to be entirely
broken. If, during certain disastrous periods, truth has been eclipsed, it
has not been extinguished: the watchful eye of Providence has never been
removed from the earth, nor has the divine hand ceased to interpose in
terrestrial affairs.

[Sidenote: Years before Christ, about 1156.]

The history of Manoah and his wife is introduced by an allusion to the
state of Israel. This people, in consequence of returning to the
commission of those sins for which they were so notorious, were delivered
up to their oppressors forty years. The Philistines were, in fact, very
inconsiderable, in comparison to the Israelites, having only five cities
of any importance; yet they were the appointed scourge in the divine hand
to chastise his people. Thus he imparts power to the weak, or enfeebles
the energy of the strong, to accomplish his omniscient purposes.

On a certain occasion, an angel of the Lord appeared to the wife of Manoah
with most welcome tidings. She was a sufferer from the same cause which
tried the faith and patience of so many of the illustrious females of
patriarchal age: and, to alleviate those painful anxieties which good
people at that period were accustomed to cherish for a family, but
especially to evince the unceasing regard of Heaven to the interests of
Israel, the commissioned spirit announced to her the conception of a son;
and giving her at the same time some directions respecting her own mode of
living, and the devotement of the future Samson as a Nazarite from the
womb, assured her that be should become the deliverer of Israel from
Philistine subjection. It does not seem as if she were commanded to tell
her husband; nevertheless, she immediately hastens to disclose to him
every circumstance that had transpired. To whom could she so properly
confide this important secret? who, excepting herself, could be so deeply
interested; or who so worthy of sharing her utmost confidence? Between
relatives so dear, and so closely allied, there should be few or no
concealments. On every subject they are entitled to reciprocal confidence,
which is the life of friendship and the soul of love: and whither it be
for advice or for congratulation, the husband should share the feelings,
the sympathies, the unreserved affections of the wife, and the wife those
of her husband. These tender relatives may derive advantage especially
from reciprocal communications on religious topics, and points of pious
experience. By this means, they may sweeten and sanctify domestic
enjoyments; by this renew and purify the flame of affection.

The simplicity and veracity of the wife of Manoah appear in her address to
him. "Then the woman came and told her husband, saying, A man of God came
unto me, and his countenance was like the countenance of an angel of God,
very terrible; but I asked him not whence he was, neither told he me his
name. But he said unto me, Behold, thou shalt conceive and bear a son; and
now drink no wine, nor strong drink, neither eat any unclean thing; for
the child shall be a Nazarite to God, from the womb to the day of
his death."

The injunction respecting her own abstinence was no arbitrary requirement,
but was founded in nature and reason. The temper of the mind, is
materially affected by the state of the body, and both may concur in
communicating permanent impressions from the mother to her offspring,
which often affect the comfort of existence.

The condition to which her child was thus devoted requires a brief
historical elucidation. The term Nazarite signifies _separated_; and is
commonly applied to persons who make a vow to live in a more holy manner
than others, either during a certain specified number of years, or ever
after the pledge is given, without recantation or change. The Nazarite
abstained from every kind of intoxicating liquor, "from wine and strong
drink," from vinegar of wine, or vinegar of strong drink, and from grapes,
whether moist or dried; he was to let his hair grow, and upon no pretext
whatever to approach a dead body, though it were to render funeral honours
to a father or mother. If, during the period of a vow, the Nazarite
neglected any of these injunctions, the whole ceremony was to recommence.
The least admissible time for this consecration was, according to some of
the Jewish Rabbins, thirty days; and the perpetual Nazarite whose hair had
been allowed to grow for many years, might cut it once. At the expiration
of the appointed term, various sacrifices were to be offered, a particular
enumeration of which is given in the sixth chapter of the book of Numbers.
After this, the priest shaved the head of the Nazarite at the door of the
tabernacle, and burnt his hair on the fire of the altar. If the person
died previous to the expiration of his vow, his son was required to
fulfil the time, and offer the same sacrifices. Perpetual Nazarites, like
Samson, were consecrated by their parents; but there is a peculiarity
attaching to him above all others of whom we read, being devoted even
before his birth. Similar rites were observed amongst the heathen,
especially the Egyptians, the Greeks, and the Romans, the origin of which
is unquestionably to be referred to the Jewish law. [35]

As soon as Manoah was informed by his wife of the visit she had received,
and the delightful promises she had heard, he entreated God to permit the
return of the messenger, whom he supposed to have been a prophet. "When,"
says Bishop Hall, "I see the strength of Manoah's faith, I marvel not that
he had a Samson to his son: he saw not the messenger, he beard not the
errand, he examined not the circumstances; yet now he takes thought, not
whether he should have a son, but how he shall order the son which he must
have; and sues to God, not for the son which as yet he had not, but for
the direction of governing him, when he should be. Zachary had the same
message, and craving a sign, lost that voice wherewith he craved it.
Manoah seeks no sign for the promise, but counsel for himself; and yet
that angel spake to Zachary himself, this only to the wife of Manoah; that
in the temple like a glorious spirit, this in the house or field, like
some prophet or traveller; that to a priest, this to a woman. All good men
have not equal measures of faith; the bodies of men have not more
differences of stature, than their graces. Credulity to men is faulty and
dangerous, but, in the matters of God, is the greatest virtue of a
Christian. Happy are they that have not seen, yet believed. True faith
takes all for granted, yea, for performed, which is once promised.

"He that before sent his angel unasked, will much more send him again upon
entreaty; those heavenly messengers are ready, both to obey their Maker,
and to relieve his children. Never any man prayed for direction in his
duties to God and was repulsed; rather will God send an angel from heaven
to instruct us, than our good desires shall be frustrated."

Upon his reappearance, the angel did not present himself to Manoah, though
he came in answer to his supplications; but to his wife as she sat alone
in the field. She immediately hastened to her husband, who gladly returned
with her to the spot; and hearing from her own lips, that it was the same
remarkable visitor she had so recently seen, he expressed his faith in the
promise, and his solicitude for the child. His wife concurred in every
desire; and his inquiry was, in fact, equally her own. "How shall we order
the child, and how shall we do unto him?" The angel repeated his former
injunctions, which this pious female was ready to observe.

Good people commence their plans, and offer their prayers, in behalf of
children, even before their birth; feeling the weight of that
responsibility which the parental relationship incurs, and knowing well
the early trials and dangers that await their little ones. The tears and
concerns that attend the period of parental anticipation, mingle with the
transports which accompany their nativity, and stimulate their future
exertions to train them up in the ways of religion. How gladly do they
make considerable sacrifices of time and property to this object; and how
richly are the maternal pangs repaid, when true wisdom guides the steps
of their youthful charge into paths of pleasantness and peace! The mercies
of Providence are ill requited, when the parents never inquire, like
Manoah and his wife, "How shall we order the child?" If incapable of
properly cultivating the infant mind themselves, either on account of
their own ignorance, from their too abundant occupation, or from an
unprincipled disregard to the best interests of the little immortals
intrusted to their care; it is a happiness for the present generation,
that so many benevolent institutions exist, which invite the poor and the
neglected to their parental guidance. But let parents, and especially
Christian parents, consider it one of their first duties, one of their
noblest privileges, to implant the good seed of knowledge in their hearts,
which in its future developements, may not only expand their faculties and
dignify their characters, but render them the ornaments' of society, the
comfort of their parents, the guides and examples of posterity, and the
objects of divine approbation.

Hitherto these two favoured individuals had no idea of the being they were
addressing, but still supposing him to be an ordinary prophet, Manoah, in
the true spirit of eastern hospitality, requested permission to dress a
kid for his refreshment. He was, besides, animated with a sense of
gratitude for the joyful news he communicated. The angel declined his
offer, assuring him, though he remained with him a little while, he should
not take any food; but that if he designed to offer a burnt-offering, he
ought to be careful not to imitate the prevailing enormity of sacrificing
to strange gods, but to worship God.

Manoah now became anxious to know the stranger's name, that he might have
an opportunity of hereafter expressing his gratitude and affection, by
informing him of the birth of his predicted offspring, and making suitable
acknowledgments for his kindness. This request was refused; and he was
assured it was "a secret," and must remain concealed. This was a
sufficient reply to Manoah and his wife, who did not presume, with an
impertinent eagerness, to press the question. Many secret things belong to
God; and it is the province of true piety to repress curiosity, where it
is not authorized, or would be useless. All impatience, we should often
take wing, and pursue our adventurous flight through all the regions of
possible knowledge, and beyond the limits of Scriptural revelation; but,
"Why askest thou?"--"What is that to thee?"--Truth is disclosed in all its
essentials--regard thy duty, and listen to thy Saviour--"follow me."

Many expositors have concurred in rendering the words of the angel thus,
"Why askest thou after my name, seeing it is WONDERFUL?" and for an
explanation of the epithet, they refer to the sublime description of
Isaiah, "His name shall be called WONDERFUL, Counsellor, the mighty God,
the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace." If this be correct, the
ministering spirit, concealing his glory in the form of a man, was no
other than the Angel of the covenant, the Wisdom, the Word, and the Son of
God. If, after his resurrection from the dead, and immediately previous to
his reascension to the glories of eternity, when invested with the
character of the Conqueror of death and hell, he appeared to two of his
disciples on the way to Emmaus whom he had so recently left, without their
suspecting who it was, "for their eyes were holden, that they should not
know him?" it cannot be deemed an improbable circumstance in itself, that
on this occasion he should have been divested of all his splendid
peculiarities, to fulfil so interesting a mission to these worthy
Danites, to authorize so unusual a sacrifice, and to accomplish so
glorious a mode of disappearance.

Manoah now proceeded to present an offering to the Lord, presenting, as
was customary, a meat-offering with his burnt-offering. He was not indeed
a priest, nor was this the place; but it was not requisite to go to the
tabernacle in Shiloh, when his divine visiter had already dispensed them
from the circumstantials, by sanctioning the sacrifice here. "Audit came
to pass, when the flame went up towards heaven from off the altar, that
the angel of the Lord ascended in the flame of the altar; and Manoah and
his wife looked on it, and fell on their faces to the ground." This was,
at once, a proof of the full acceptance of their sacrifice; and
irresistibly convinced them, they had been conversing with a divine
personage. "And Manoah said unto his wife, We shall surely die, because we
have seen God. But his wife said unto him, IF THE LORD WERE PLEASED TO
KILL US, HE WOULD NOT HAVE RECEIVED A BURNT-OFFERING AND A MEAT-OFFERING
AT OUR HANDS; NEITHER WOULD HE HAVE SHOWED US ALL THESE THINGS, NOR WOULD,
AS AT THIS TIME, HAVE TOLD US SUCH THINGS AS THESE."

Considering all the circumstances, this was very remarkable language, and
merits attention; not only as illustrative of the character of this
excellent woman, but as furnishing a principle of sound and legitimate
reasoning in the concerns of religion.

At first, being overawed by the majestic manifestation, both these pious
people fell prostrate in the dust. A reverential awe pervaded their
bosoms, at a sight so wonderful and so unexpected. The sentiments they
felt were, doubtless, allied to those which dictated the exclamation of
Jacob, "How dreadful is this place! this is none other than the house of
God, and this is the gate of heaven:" or the humble tone of Isaiah, "Wo is
me, for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell among
a people of unclean lips; for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of
Hosts." But if the divine appearance in mercy proved so terrific and
overwhelming to pious persons in those extraordinary times; how tremendous
will the second appearance of Christ in judgment be to his enemies, with
the glory of his Father, and all the holy angels! If the splendour of his
grace confound a mortal eye; what must be the lightning of his
indignation, how intolerable the flaming fire of his displeasure!

On this occasion, Manoah appears the weaker believer. He thought of
nothing but death; he expresses his confidence of perishing, and assigns a
reason, which, however weak, is sufficiently accounted for by the extreme
terror of his mind, and the universal prejudice of that age: "We shall
surely die, for we have seen God." Even good men are sometimes tempted to
listen to the suggestions of nature, rather than to the assurances of
revelation; and to dread as an evil, what in their better moments is
anticipated as a good. If death were the extinction of being, it might
excite alarm; but, if it be only the means of our purification, and the
preparatory process to fit the spiritual character for the felicities of a
higher existence, it should, and often does, awaken pleasure. If, even
while the shroud is worn by the body, the spirit is clothed with the
garments of salvation, and that shroud will soon be exchanged for the
white robe of purity and heaven; what is there to prevent our adopting the
words of an apostle, "I have a _desire_ to depart, and to be with Christ,
which is far better?" If the apprehensions of Manoah had been really well
founded, and himself and his beloved partner had yielded Up their spirits
on that memorable spot; who can say it would have proved an undesirable
exchange? As the servants of the living God, they were prepared for all
events, and for either world. Their union could never have been dissolved,
and the sphere of their spiritual discoveries would have been amply
enlarged. To see God is the antidote, and not the occasion, of death; the
hope, and not the terror, of the believer.

It is not difficult, however, to ascertain the reason why this prejudice
so early and so extensively influenced the pious in primitive times. It
arose from a consciousness of guilt, and a dread of merited punishment. As
a sinner, man must necessarily tremble at the thought of his approaching
God, or at the communication of any message from his throne: when God
opens his mouth, he naturally fears the sentence; when tidings arrive from
the invisible world, he dreads their purport, and conscience suggests that
even the most favourable manifestations may be blended with tokens of
displeasure. Every approach of the Deity is liable to excite confusion to
a guilty world; and a sense of demerit may lead us not only to expect a
war-rant for execution when a reprieve is coming; but at first, like
Manoah, to mistake and misinterpret the sign.

The wife of this good man entertained no such fears. With a faith which
penetrated the divine intentions, at least in part, and which elevated her
not only above the prejudices of the age, but gave her a decided
superiority over her trembling partner, she suggested a far different
conclusion, and intimated the reason on which it was founded. Her
conclusions, the very opposite to his--so different are the _degrees_ of
grace in different characters--were deduced from three considerations.
Each of these, in her view, was a decisive evidence against his
suggestion, and a consoling reflection in this extraordinary and
ambiguous moment.

The first was, _the acceptance of their sacrifices_. "If," said she, "the
Lord be pleased to kill us, he would not have received a burnt-offering
and a meat-offering at our hands." The law which prescribed the
presentation of sacrifices, expressly represented them as "a _sweet
savour_ unto the Lord;" which implied not only an approbation of the
offering, which was indeed of divine appointment, and could not therefore
be rejected, but complacency in the worshipper. The _person_ could not be
disowned, while the _presentation_ was acknowledged. If this sentiment
needed any corroboration, the history of Cain and Abel would have
furnished it. The acceptance and rejection of each was evinced by the
divine treatment of their respective offerings. "The Lord had respect unto
Abel, and to his offering: but unto Cain, and to his offering, he had not
respect." When God entered into a solemn covenant with Abram, "a smoking
furnace and a burning lamp passed between the divided pieces of the
sacrifice, and consumed them." At the dedication of the tabernacle, when
"the glory of the Lord appeared unto all the people, there came a fire out
from before the Lord, and consumed upon the altar the burnt-offering and
the fat; which when all the people saw, they shouted and fell on their.
faces." The dedication of the temple was signalized by a similar
manifestation. "Now, when Solomon had made an end of praying, the fire
came down from heaven, and consumed the burnt-offering, and the
sacrifices; and the glory of the Lord filled the house!" The same
principle is fully-recognized by David, in the following supplications:
"The Lord hear thee in the day of trouble, the name of the God of Jacob
defend thee: Send thee help from the sanctuary, and strengthen thee out of
Zion: Remember all thy burnt-offerings, and accept thy burnt-sacrifice."
The argument, therefore, of Manoah's wife was pious, legitimate, and
conclusive: "if _we_ were to be destroyed, our _services_ could not be
approved."

The people of God too frequently resemble Manoah; but their doubts and
fears would soon subside, could they be persuaded to adopt the reasoning
of his wife. Past experience is a solid basis for future expectations. A
succession of spiritual mercies is a pledge of kind intention, and of
continued favour. In periods of despondency, recur to days of religious
prosperity and happiness, when the candle of the Lord shone upon you, and
spiritual enjoyments were dispensed in the use of means. Have you not good
evidence, that your sacrifices _have been_ received--your prayers heard,
your dedication to God accepted? Have the spirit and efficacy of his
promise evaporated in the lapse of time, "I will never leave you, nor
forsake you?" or have you no reason to say with holy anticipation, "Surely
goodness and mercy _shall_ follow me all the days of my life, and I will
dwell in the house of the Lord for ever?"

Feeble, imperfect, and disproportionate to our obligations, as all our
offerings must be, they are acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. He has
presented a sacrifice, "once for all," upon the cross, to which this
subject naturally directs our attention, which constitutes the foundation
of human hope, and secures a welcome reception, and gives an available
power to all the future offerings of faith. The figurative nature of the
ancient dispensations renders it not improbable, that these humble
Israelites perceived, in the memorable transactions they witnessed, some
typical representation of the work of redemption, some glimpses of the
great atonement, and of the principle upon which what they offered was
accepted. This event was not intended merely to astonish or overawe, but
to instruct; and the wife of Manoah presents a noble example of that
profound attention, which it becomes us to pay to all the revelations of
Heaven. If, in particular, the "angels desire to look into" the mysteries
of redeeming love, and consider the sabbath of eternity well employed in
this research; mortals surely, who are more nearly interested, cannot
devote the less sacred hours of time to a more important inquiry. Nor
should they be satisfied with superficial, or indeed with _any_
attainments in spiritual wisdom, which is so unfathomable in its depths,
and illimitable in its extent.

The second consideration, which led to the inference in their own favour
drawn by Manoah's wife, was _the wonders which the angel had shown them_.
These were of a nature, in her belief, to justify her conclusion, that God
did by no means purpose their ruin, but the reverse. It appears from the
general expression, that "the angel did wondrously," in connection with
the mention of "_all_ these things," that some other manifestations,
probably of a hieroglyphic or typical nature, were given antecedently, or
as an immediate preparation to his miraculous ascent in the flame of the
altar. This at least is certain, making a general application of the
statement, that we are not only authorized to conclude from the privileges
we enjoy, but from the spiritual discoveries we have made, that God is our
Father and our Friend. He would not have pointed out our danger, and
exhibited our remedy, if he had designed our ruin. Were we appointed to
perish in our guilt, "the Physician of souls" would never have been
commissioned to visit us. To be shown, by Scriptural statement, by
ministerial instruction, and by providential guidance, the way to heaven,
is no indication of an appointment to destruction. Have you not discovered
the evil of sin, the value of the soul, and the excellency of Christ? Have
you not felt the sorrows of repentance, and the joys of faith? Have you
not touched the outstretched sceptre, submitted to the chastising rod, and
gloried in the cross? God does not impart a fixed aversion to all
iniquity, an intense desire after holiness, habitual delight in his word,
and desire after his presence and glory; he does not impress a sense of
the infinite excellence of the Saviour, and a readiness to sacrifice every
thing to his will, and for his sake, excepting to holy souls, which are
"born, not after the flesh, but after the Spirit."

The wife of Manoah adverted to a third source of consolation, at the
period of this miraculous disappearance. She refers to _what they were
told_. The assurances they had received of the birth of a son, rendered it
impossible they should die. She had received very minute directions, both
respecting her offspring and herself, who was to be consecrated as a
Nazarite, and to rise up as the deliverer of his country from the yoke of
Philistia. Possibly, during the preparation of the sacrifice, the
inquisitive spirit of this thoughtful woman induced her to seek a
conversation, which the celestial messenger was not unwilling to
encourage, and during which they might have received some further
instructions. Our fears are apt to betray us into absurdities, and confuse
the memory; so that good men, like Manoah, speak or act inconsistently
with themselves, and their own more deliberate convictions. Happy they who
are blessed with an intelligent awl pious companion, whose kind
suggestions may detect their errors, refresh their recollections, quell
their fears, and comfort their desponding hours! Thus "two are better than
one, because they have a good reward for their labour. For, if they fall,
the one will lift up his fellow: but wo to him that is alone when he
falleth; for he hath not another to help him."

Obvious but important considerations are deducible from this narrative,
which seem capable of an application to the general concerns of life, as
well as to the inquiries of religion.

1. We should avoid precipitancy of judgment. The wife of Manoah, in this
view, appears in advantageous contrast to her hasty husband. She did not
suffer herself to be hurried into a discouraging inference, without
reviewing the circumstances of the case, and allowing time for reflection.
In the common affairs of life, an inconsiderate eagerness, either to
escape from danger or to possess good, is often itself productive of the
disappointment it dreads; while a proper deliberation prepares the mind
either for failure or success: and, in the pursuit of moral and religions
inquiries, the same precipitancy is calculated to plunge into error,
which, if it do not always endanger our salvation, may disturb our peace.
Jesus Christ has expressly exhorted us to close and deliberate
investigation, intimating that our labour will be repaid by discovery; for
"searching the Scriptures," and acquiring a knowledge of him respecting
whom they "testify," and "whom to know is life eternal," are inseparably
connected. On another occasion, when describing the true hearer of his
word, he suggests a comparison equally and beautifully illustrative of the
necessity of a diligent use of the means of instruction, and that serious,
profound, and careful inquiry, which is calculated to prevent an implicit
submission to the opinion of others, or taking our religion upon trust.
"Whosoever cometh to me, and heareth my sayings, and doeth them, I will
show you to whom he is like. He is like a man which built a house, and
digged deep, and laid the foundation on a rock; and when the flood arose,
the stream beat vehemently upon that house, and could not shake it, for it
was founded upon a rock."

2. It is wise, and may be useful, on all proper occasions, to avow our
convictions. Selfishness and timidity may concur to suggest a different
proceeding: but religion requires that we act upon principles superior to
those of worldly policy. Manoah had every reason to be grateful to his
wife, for the distinct and prompt avowal of her sentiments; which, though
contradictory to his, were adapted to rouse him from his despondency and
stupor. She was, no doubt, ready to sympathize with his distress; but duty
to God, attachment to her husband, a consciousness of knowing the truth,
and even a proper respect to herself, prompted a statement of her
disagreement with his opinions. When religion claims our services, we must
not withhold the offering of our lips, or the labour of our hands, through
fear of danger or hope of gain. When truth demands that we should speak,
or Providence that we should act, it would be criminal--it would be
disgraceful, to continue silent or inactive.

To generalize and apply these remarks to the circumstances in which
Christianity has placed us--it is required not only to believe in Christ,
but explicitly to avow our sentiments of attachment to his Gospel by a
public profession, whether we meet with the concurrence, or suffer the
opposition, of our dearest friends. Timidity is natural to the female
mind; but religion requires even the youngest and the weakest of the sex,
not to suffer even natural delicacy to degenerate, by excessive
indulgence, into criminal shame. It does more, it enables women to become
heroes and martyrs! Inflamed with the love it inspires, they have learned
to see no lions, to fear no dangers, to feel no pains in the path of duty;
not only evincing patience, but expressing joy.

Jesus Christ was "not ashamed to call us _brethren_," to assume our
nature, to fill our humble station, to suffer our sorrows, or to die for
us an ignominious death; he is not ashamed to own his connection with us
now he is in the highest heavens, or to be engaged in preparing a mansion,
in his Father's house, for our final reception. Shall we be ashamed of
him, or of his cause? Shall we tremble to avow our attachment, if we feel
it? This would expose us to the censure of our own consciences, to the
reproach of a dishonourable, hesitating, indecisive conduct; and, above
all, to the Saviour's final malediction, as the Judge of mankind. It is
the design of Christ to establish an interest in the world; and this is to
be maintained, not by fear, but by firmness: not by temporal compliances,
but by holy resistance; not by sloth, inactivity, and shrinking into a
corner, but by "putting on the whole armour of God." Not to be _for_
Christ is to be _against_ him--neutrality is enmity--a refusal to enlist
under his banners is disloyalty, rebellion, and treason!

3. The providence of God does never _really_, though it may _apparently_
and to human apprehension, contradict his word or discredit his character.
The present manifestation of the angel in flame and terror, did not
subvert the confidence which the wife of Manoah felt in his past
declarations, nor excite despondency respecting future events. The fears
of her husband did not shake her faith in the promises of God, nor did the
incomprehensible nature of the mystery blind her perceptions of the
concealed mercy. We are very inadequate judges of the divine conduct. It
is neither possible, nor proper, that we should know the mighty plan of
his operations; and it can never be a sufficient reason, even under the
most disastrous circumstances, for questioning the goodness or wisdom of
his dispensations that _we_ cannot comprehend them. The designs of God are
very imperfectly unravelled in the present world. We can see but to a
short distance, nor is it necessary that we should. _Some_ light from the
sacred page beams across the path of life; but if we cannot at present
attain all we may wish to know, let us be contented to wait for the
manifestations of eternity. In the mean time we may rest assured, that
whatever is thought contradictory in the dispensations of Providence to
the written word, is but _seemingly_ so. It is so merely because we cannot
now see the connecting links, the unbroken chain of events, which, when
the clouds that obscure this earthly atmosphere shall be finally
dispersed, will become distinctly and for ever visible.



Hannah.

Chapter X.



Section I.


  Religion a Source of Peace--Account of Elkanah and his two
  Wives--Peninnah reproaches Hannah--Sin of despising others for their
  Infirmities--the Family at Shiloh--Elkanah endeavours to console his
  Wife--her Conduct and Prayer--Eli's unjust Imputation--Hannah's Defence,
  and her Accuser's Retractation--Return from Shiloh--Birth of
  Samuel--his Weaning.


"Where there is _piety_," says an excellent commentator, "'tis pity but
there should be _unity._" There is, however, too frequent occasion to
deplore the dissentions of families, whose religious profession induces
us to expect the prevalence of peace and harmony. Nevertheless, these
inconsistencies are so far from being justly chargeable upon religion,
that they furnish the most decisive evidence of its value. It is in
consequence of a departure from its genuine spirit, and a compliance with
the suggestion of evil principles and passions, that individuals are
rendered miserable and families distracted. The renewal of that "right
spirit" which it inculcates, is the direct means of restoring personal
comfort and domestic tranquillity.

The Psalmist represents "the law of the Lord" as "_perfect:"_ it is the
only solid-basis of human felicity; and every hope that is differently
founded, must prove, inevitably prove, a shadowy super-structure. A
deviation from the order and appointments of Heaven is a proportionate
departure from happiness; for this order and these appointments do not
result from caprice, but a perfect combination of goodness and wisdom. The
divine system of legislation is formed with a merciful regard to our best
interests, and an entire knowledge of our nature. Its arrangements are not
arbitrary, but kind; and obedience is no less essential to our real
welfare, both present and eternal, than it is expressive of a just regard
to our obligations. In opposing the requirements of God, man is an enemy
to himself; his resistance is not only culpable, but ruinous.

These observations are fully exemplified in the history of Hannah, and the
family of which she was the female head. Her husband, whose name was
Elkanah, resided at a place in the tribe of Ephraim, called
Ramathaim-zophim. He is mentioned as having descended from Zuph an
Ephrathite, or inhabitant of Bethlehem-Judah, which is Ephratah, probably
with the view of showing his connection with David. As persons have
sometimes conferred distinction upon places, so places have occasionally
dignified persons. Who would not have thought it an honour to be born at
Bethlehem, whence the light of the world first proceeded, and where such
wonderful events were to be afterward transacted? And yet it is but an
adventitious honour, which will soon fade, if it be not sustained by
personal character and real excellence.

Elkanah had two wives; Hannah, the subject of this history, and Peninnah.
Here we trace the origin of the infelicity of this religious household. It
is strange that the experience of past ages, the incongruity of such a
practice in itself, and the unauthorized nature of such a proceeding,
should not have prevented him from forming two matrimonial connections at
the same time. If polygamy were not expressly interdicted by a law, but
rather tolerated in an age of imperfect revelation, like the plan of
divorce to which our Saviour alludes, for "the hardness of their hearts;"
it had plainly no foundation in reason, no sanction from Heaven; and not
only no good consequences attached to it, but it was commonly attended
with calamitous results. Every recorded instance of it proves its extreme
inexpediency. It seldom failed to involve the comfort of all parties, and
must be regarded as a proof of weakness, if not absolutely of a criminal
indulgence of passion, even when adopted under the most plausible
pretences. If the Creator had at first perceived that a plurality of wives
was conducive to human felicity, he would have bestowed more than one upon
man in his paradisiacal state. Infinite wisdom must have known what was
really best; and the inspired narrative shows that infinite goodness
pursued every conceivable method of completing the enjoyment of him who
was placed, both in point of capacity and authority, at the summit
of creation.

There is a marked difference between the two women whom Elkanah had
espoused. In most cases of contention, considerable blame attaches to all
the parties concerned. We hear of provocations and insults on the one
hand, of recriminations and resentments on the other. Whoever originates
the dispute, an irreconcilcable spirit in both usually perpetuates it.
Hannah, reproached as she was by Peninnah for her barrenness, does not
seem to have returned railing for railing. The haughty behaviour, indeed,
of her rival, made her the more deeply sensible of her affliction, and
fretted her almost into despondency. Day after day, she was ridiculed for
what implied no blame, and admitted of no remedy. With how much greater
reason might she have retorted upon Peninnah her malignant temper and
provoking tongue! What was her natural infirmity, in comparison with the
slanderer's moral defilement! How misplaced the censures of the one! How
admirable the patience of the other!

This disagreement presents a fair occasion of remarking upon a practice
too much tolerated in society, for which young persons especially cannot
be too strongly reprehended. It is the cruel conduct of despising others
for their natural imperfections, turning their blameless deformities into
ridicule, and speaking ill of them for defects which ought rather to
excite the deepest commiseration. Perhaps the persons who suffer this
unmerited contempt, possess qualities of a mental and moral description,
which ought to conciliate the esteem and excite the imitation of the fair
and graceful slanderer. Perhaps they have a cultivated mind and a pious
spirit, while she has nothing but a pretty countenance or an attractive
form. But how ill is wisdom compensated by beauty, and how disgraceful is
it to despise the work of God's hands! If the object of offensive remark
should happen to be endowed with neither wisdom nor symmetry, is it
becoming of you, my reader, to institute an arbitrary standard of
gracefulness, and despise every one who has not attained it! Is it for you
to aggravate as a crime, what reason teaches is, at worst, a misfortune?
Is it for you to calumniate those who have given you no personal offence;
who are, notwithstanding their disadvantages, good members of society; and
if in some respects defective, may not be vicious? But if the latter were
the case, if they exhibited a combination of exterior deformity and
interior depravity, they would not then be the proper objects of
_ridicule_. The former peculiarity would still merit pity, and indeed
forbid observance; the latter would require more serious treatment.

In many instances, perhaps in the majority, young persons are guilty of
this misconduct through inadvertency. They have been stimulated to it by
others, or they have never been impressed with a sense of its impropriety.
It has been the result of thoughtlessness, rather than of malignity. It
was not their design to injure, but to seek amusement. Let parents and
tutors, therefore, explain the evil of such practices; let such as read
these pages meditate upon its enormity, and be solicitous of cultivating
those benign and benevolent feelings which peculiarly adorn their early
age, and are inculcated by the religion and the example of Christ.

To return to the family of Elkanah. This worthy man did not allow domestic
dissentions to interrupt his religious duties. He went up to the worship
of the Lord in Shiloh at the yearly festivals, according to the
appointments of the law. "Unto the place which the Lord your God shall
choose out of all your tribes to put his name there, even unto his
habitation shall ye seek, and thither thou shall come; and thither ye
shall bring your burnt-offerings, and your sacrifices, and your tithes and
heave-offerings of your hand, and your vows, and your free-will-offerings,
and the firstlings of your herds and of your flocks. And there ye shall
eat before the Lord your God, and ye shall rejoice in all that ye put your
hand unto, you and your households, wherein the Lord thy God hath
blessed thee."

In the services of religion, it becomes us to ascend above all temporal
considerations, and regard exclusively the will of God. Elkanah, however,
even at the solemn and public festival, unhappily gave a worthy or double
portion to Hannah, which was the ancient mode of expressing peculiar
affection. This was likely to inflame, rather than to extinguish strife;
and though done, no doubt, with the kind attention of alleviating the
sorrows of his best beloved partner, was a sad display of weakness, and a
miserable profanation of the worship of God. Peninnah had children, Hannah
the affections of her husband; the former persecutes, and the other weeps.
Who would not have indulged the pleasing hope, that the worship of God,
that cement of society, that healing remedy for the disorders of the moral
world, would have quieted contention; and that the flames of animosity
would not have mingled with the hallowed fires of sacrifice! It was well
meant in Elkanah to bring all his household together to the tabernacle
in Shiloh--

  "Religion should extinguish strife,
  And make a calm of human life."

If we cannot be reconciled at the altar, it is an indication of rooted
antipathy, and will neutralize the effect of our entreaties for divine
forgiveness. "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord," said David,
"will not hear me." The salutary effect of Elkanah's measure was prevented
by the continuance of discord. Year after year this mischievous spirit
prevailed. Elkanah was unable to conciliate Peninnah, or to sooth Hannah.
The good man was rendered wretched, both by the temper of the one and the
tears of the other: the latter, however, was the most intolerable.
"Hannah," said he, "why weepest thou? why eatest thou not? and why is thy
heart grieved? Am not I better to thee than ten sons?"

There is something soothing and gentle in this remonstrance, which
bespeaks the affection of Elkanah, and exhibits his pacific character in
an advantageous light. He does not directly interpose to settle the point
of domestic difference by the stern dictation of authority, but with a
kind hand endeavours to wipe away the falling tears of his disconsolate
wife. Nothing is more difficult than properly to administer reproof,
except it be properly to receive it. Elkanah seems, on this occasion, to
have managed it with extreme delicacy, and with happy success. He kindly
insinuated, that she ought to feel consolation in her husband's regard;
and that a becoming submission to Providence is at all times our duty. She
might have suffered not only the affliction which she so deeply deplored,
but the still greater distress of her partner's aversion. If he had been
alienated, or even if his regard had been only diminished, there would
have existed a more plausible pretence for incessant grief; but although
Peninnah was blest with children, Hannah was best beloved. Would the
latter have been willing to exchange advantages? would she have descended
from a pre-eminence so justly valued, for the sake of a family? Doubtless
it was her wish to unite these comforts; to retain the love of Elkanah,
and to rival the children of Peninnah. But it is our duty, and would prove
eminently conducive to our happiness, to improve the blessings we enjoy,
rather than to cherish undue solicitude for what Providence does not see
fit to confer.

There does, by no means, exist that inequality in the distribution of
divine favours, which our impatience tempts us to imagine. One thing is
set over against another; comforts are associated with crosses: and if we
were in a situation, or possessed a capacity, to estimate with exactness
the proportion of good and evil in the individual condition of mankind, it
is more than probable we should find the balances by which these
proportions are determined most accurately poised. We _may_ safely, and
_ought_ unhesitatingly, to trust the hands in which they are placed, and
the power that regulates their distribution.

If the language of Elkanah may be considered as honourable to his general
spirit, the silent obedience of Hannah was no less illustrative of her
extraordinary excellence. How many tempera would have been exasperated by
such an appeal; and instead of drying up the tears of grief, and
proceeding to partake food, would have instantly retorted both upon the
intercessor and the rival! She might have demanded why her husband,
instead of asking her to conceal her sorrows, did not rather reprove the
provoking conduct of Peninnah, and silence her exasperating tongue?
Availing herself of the decided preference shown her, she might have aimed
at making her husband a party in the dispute; and, by his means, have
triumphed over her adversary. But Hannah was influenced by far different
sentiments. To her husband's remonstrances she appears to have returned no
answer: nor was it a sullen silence; for she took food, interrupted no
longer the festivities of the occasion, but, painful as the struggle must
have been, heroically concealed her own feelings till the termination of
the public solemnities.

"After they had eaten in Shiloh, and after they had drunk," Hannah
continued in "bitterness of soul," and rose up to withdraw. But whither
did she go? Whither, under circumstances like these, was it natural for
her to fly? Perhaps into solitude to bemoan her sad situation, to pour out
her unrestrained tears, to anathematize her insulting rival, to plot
revenge, to curse the day of her birth. The stream of grief and complaint
might be expected to flow, in the secret hour, with accelerated force and
rapidity, proportioned to the restraint which publicity had imposed. She
did not, however, yield to this influence, or retire for such a purpose.
Perhaps she withdrew to seek the counsel of a friend, or solicit the
prompt interference of others who pitied her sufferings, to check
Peninnah, or to stimulate Elkanah to stronger measures. Such a proceeding
was not unlikely; it was not, however, the one she adopted. Perhaps, then,
it may be supposed, she went home to wait for some favourable opportunity
of urging her husband to discard Peninnah, and of exasperating his
prejudices against her. It was indeed _natural_ for her to pursue either
or of all these courses; but she chose a different one. The pious mourner
has another and a better resource. If she look around her for comfort in
vain, she can look above. She may be pressed on every side--difficulties
and distresses accumulating in every direction--foes behind, and seas of
trouble before--but the opening into heaven is free; the ear of mercy is
not shut; the way of access to God never can be closed! "And she vowed a
vow, and said, O Lord of hosts, if thou wilt indeed look on the
affliction of thine handmaid, and remember me, and not forget thine
handmaid, but wilt give unto thine handmaid a man-child, then I will give
him unto the Lord all the days of his life, and there shall no razor come
upon his head."

This solemn address to Heaven exemplifies some of the essential qualities
of genuine prayer. It is marked by _reverence_ and _godly_ fear; for she
appeals to "the Lord of hosts," whose prerogative it is to marshal the
celestial armies, and to regulate with undeviating skill and irresistible
influence the affairs of this lower world: it displays profound
_humility_; for she repeats the simple and self-abasing term, "thine
handmaid:" it expresses _submission_ and _dependence_ of spirit; for she
refers with implicit obedience to the determinations of the divine will,
as comprising whatever is best calculated to promote her real interests,
though without presumption, she solicits Omnipotent interference to remove
her affliction, if it should comport with the arrangements, and seem
proper to the wisdom of God; it manifests an importunity which will always
operate with more or less intenseness in every genuine prayer. Her solemn
vow, her judicious repetitions, her whole phraseology, evince this
prevailing disposition. She kindles with holy fervour, and seems to
stretch forth her eager hand to take the blessing which she cannot
persuade herself will be refused. She is fully aware that power and
goodness combine in perfect proportions to influence the dispensations of
the God whom she addresses, and pleads with success, because she pleads
with fervour.

Nor is Hannah the first or the last witness to the apostolic assurance:
"the effectual fervent prayer of the righteous availeth much." It is not
indeed insinuated, that importunity in soliciting favours is invariably
successful. Unquestionably, many considerations of propriety, necessity,
and adaptation, must be understood to enter into the account. The spirit
of dictation must not blend with that of earnestness, nor must we deem
ourselves qualified to determine the time, the manner, or the proportion
of divine communications; but, so far as relates to the spirit of prayer,
importunity is materially connected with success, and coldness with
failure: the former advances, and the latter negatives our supplications,
even while we present them. There are cases of extraordinary ardour, which
can be measured by no common standard; moments of outgoing after God,
seasons of inexpressible sensibility, when the mind possesses an
invincible persuasion of success, which is at once the dictate of the Holy
Spirit, and the certain indication of acceptance. Faith discerns the
blessing, with a distinctness hitherto unknown, and love burns with a
vigour hitherto unfelt. A certain persuasion pervades the soul that its
entreaties cannot fail, that the contemplated good is its destined
portion; and amidst the deepest, the most unusual impression of
unworthiness, its assurance is sustained by a vivid remembrance of the
promises, and an overwhelming consciousness of personal interest in them:
all obstacles seem to remove, or to vanish at the first touch; every thing
yields before the pursuit of zeal, distance disappears, time dwindles into
a moment, and the mind at once enters upon a paradise of possession. In
the very midst of discouragements, the supplicant becomes a hero, and
triumphs by _a prevailing power_, analogous to that of a great conqueror,
whose very consciousness of superiority wins an otherwise doubtful battle,
and gives him a victory even by anticipation. Amidst the provocations of
her rival, and the soothings of her husband, Hannah could only weep and
fast: but at the footstool of mercy, she wrestles like Jacob, and
prevails like Israel. She rises above herself, no longer the despised and
desponding mourner, but the accepted and the triumphant suppliant. Thus
devotion not only sanctifies, but ennobles character. It awakens all the
energies of our nature, directs them to their proper object, and supplies
an ample sphere for their exercise. It produces extraordinary elevation,
and creates a heaven in the exercise of faith, and in the sphere of duty.

It cannot excite surprise, that a mere spectator, even though he be a
pious spectator, should, on such occasions as these, mistake the outward
indications of inward feeling. Objections will sometimes arise in persons
of cooler temperament or more constitutional apathy to the enthusiasm of
younger and more ardent Christians, founded altogether in misapprehension,
not like those of the world, in impious dislike. That the latter should
miscal the holy ecstacies of religion enthusiastic and rhapsodical, we do
not wonder; since they _cannot_ understand them by that medium through
which alone they become comprehensible, the medium of _experience_: nor
need we feel much astonishment at the occasional mistakes of the former,
when it is recollected, that the external indications of the passions are
often equivocal.

This was the case with Hannah. Eli, the venerable priest, was sitting upon
a seat by a post of the temple; and either from want of charity, or a
defect of eyesight, he pronounced a precipitate judgment upon this good
woman, whom he strangely imagined to have been in a state of intoxication.
Hannah, it appears, "spake in her heart; only her lips moved, but her
voice was not heard." This excited the unjust suspicions of Eli, who
immediately charged her with gross immorality. "How long" said he, "wilt
thou be drunken? Put away thy wine from thee."

It may be admitted, as an extenuation of this rude attack, that the good
priest was jealous for the honour of his God, whose temple he supposed was
suffering profanation by indecent conduct: and that, instead of turning
tale-bearer and whisperer, he openly expressed his sentiments to the party
concerned, affording an opportunity for acknowledgment or explanation.
Still his precipitancy cannot be justified. It was his duty to have
obtained better evidence, before he ventured upon such a crimination; or,
at least, to have been more ceremonious and considerate. Reproof may be
well merited; but, in order that its end be answered, it should be
properly administered. Gentleness and mercy should blend their benign
influences with justice. We are ourselves liable to error, and have no
right to assume the tone of severity, or the air of triumph, when required
to notice blameable conduct. If we should be mistaken, either in the
general fact, or in the circumstances, upon some of which we may have
dwelt with unkind severity, the reproof will not only affect us by a
strong and most unwelcome reaction, but in many instances furnish the
transgressor with means of defending himself in what was actually wrong,
and thus nullify _our_ testimony, and harden _his_ mind.

Admirable, indeed, was the reply of Hannah. "No, my lord," said she, "I am
a woman of sorrowful spirit, I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink,
but have poured out my soul before the Lord. Count not thine handmaid for
a daughter of Belial; for out of the abundance of my complaint and grief
have I spoken hitherto."

Nothing could be a more complete vindication of herself than this
respectful, dispassionate, and dignified language. She merely disclaims
the unjust imputation of her accuser, and explains the true cause of her
emotions. If she had been resentful and clamorous, the suspicion of Eli
would rather have been confirmed than removed; but her innocence shone
forth as the noon-day, unclouded by irritability or violence.

There is usually a marked difference between innocence and guilt, in the
mode of treating accusations: the latter boisterous and impatient; the
former gentle, calm, and moderate, comparatively careless of
misrepresentations, and often silent; the latter adopts any artifice to
shun the light, the former affords every facility to investigation. If a
character be free from the stain of guilt, it will not shrink from those
proceedings which tend to hold it up to the light, and which of course
only exhibit its perfect transparency.

Eli, perceiving his mistake, disdains to persist in it. Like a man of
integrity and piety, he corrects himself at once, dismisses her with a
blessing, and prays for her success. This was making the best possible
reparation, and it was done with a promptness which evinced its sincerity.
The good man was as ready to express his approbation, when convinced of
Hannah's innocence, as he had been to censure her conduct, when he
imagined it to be culpable.

In this transaction, we perceive him practising one of the most difficult
of duties; and if the wife of Elkanah be worthy of imitation for a
respectful and modest defence against a false accusation, the pious priest
of the Lord is no less so for retracting a hasty judgment, and instantly
exchanging frowns for smiles, reproof for applause, cursing for blessing.
In most cases, the offending party is the last to be reconciled; and
mistake is frequently adhered to with an obstinacy, and defended with a
pertinacity, proportioned to the haste with which it has been adopted.
Look inward. What is the present state of your minds respecting the errors
you have committed, or the wrong steps you have taken, and of which you
are deeply conscious? Have you adopted any measures to give satisfaction
to an injured party, or, are you disposed to that concession which you
know your past improprieties require? To trifle with the character of
another is cruel--to persist in misrepresentation is wicked. Can you
expect pardon of God, while living in the indulgence of an unforgiving
spirit towards your fellow-creatures? Justice requires, and Christianity
insists, upon reparation. O listen to their united voice! Hasten to wipe
off the stain which your carelessness, or your malignity, has flung upon
the white robe of innocence! Hasten to dry up the tears which you have
caused the sufferer to shed: hasten to heal the wound you have foolishly,
perhaps wickedly, inflicted.

This duty, remember, is not superseded even by the ill conduct of the
person you have made your foe. If, instead of submitting to your
unkindness, or bearing your mistake with the meekness of Hannah, you have
been loudly denounced--if you have been represented as a calumniator, and
railing has been rendered for railing--if the injured person have even
taken advantage of your error to reproach you in turn, and circulated a
thousand mis-statements to your disadvantage, you are still under the
greatest obligations to correct and apologize for your original error.
Never can you be justified in the eyes of impartial men; never can you
stand upon the high ground of an unblemished reputation, and become
invulnerable to attack; never can you obtain the divine approbation, till
you have adopted this measure. Neither conscience, reason, nor religion,
will admit that the aspersions of another justify your slanders. His
persistance is no reason against your concession.

Restored to tranquillity and happiness, Hannah withdrew from the temple,
and "her countenance was no more sad." Her innocence was apparent to the
priest, her petition heard in heaven. She went up weeping, she returned
rejoicing. Devotion had pacified her troubled breast, and since
"committing her way to the Lord," the tide had ebbed, the sky had cleared.
She knew that her request would be granted, or, if denied, that she should
see occasion ultimately to feel perfect acquiescence and satisfaction in
the determinations of Providence. She, therefore, wiped away her tears,
and dismissed her anxiety. Such is the relief afforded by humble prayer.
How often has sorrow been transformed into joy by religious exercises!
From the dark vale of life, where the winds blow and the rains descend,
how often has the pious mourner ascended to that sacred mount of communion
with God, _the closet_, or to the "_holy hill of Zion_," and dwelt in the
sunshine of heaven! Agitated no longer with conflicting elements, and
mysterious events, the clouds have appeared far, far below; while the
omnipotent hand has been seen engaged in regulating their movements,
directing their course, and preparing to disperse them in every direction.

It is obvious that no combination of happy circumstances, no human power,
no earthly friendship, could have afforded substantial consolation to
Hannah, if she had not repaired to the mercy-seat. Already had her
affectionate husband attempted, in vain, to sooth her grief. He had
renewed his love, wiped off her tears, kindly remonstrated and reasoned
with her.--Hannah! "am not I better to thee than ten sons?" Ah! what
avails it! Elkanah can sympathize, but he cannot relieve--he can reason,
but he cannot remove the cause of her sorrows--he cannot turn the course
of nature, or renew the springs of existence--he cannot change weakness
for strength, or convert barrenness into fertility: but he who has all
resources in his hands, all elements and worlds at his disposal, _can_;
and, at the voice of prayer, _will_ accomplish the holy desires of the
mind. See, Christians, your best resource, your ultimate appeal, your
distinguished privilege! "God sitteth upon the throne of his holiness."

Henceforward, the sacred narrative omits the name of Peninnah, and there
is nothing in her history to induce a wish to penetrate the concealing
veil. She was, in fact, originally introduced to notice for the purpose of
illustrating the more valuable qualities of Hannah, whose excellence
continues to shine with indiminished lustre to the end of her days. It is
indeed profitable, as a warning, to contemplate specimens of moral
deformity as well as examples of moral worth; but we naturally hasten from
the offensive, to the pleasing and attractive forms of female character.
Peninnah perishes unregretted from the page--Hannah continues to adorn it,
and obtains an everlasting remembrance.

On the day fixed for the return of this pious family, it is stated that
they rose early in the morning, and worshipped before the Lord. It is
deplorable, that so many of our thoughtless race should live from day to
day, and from year to year, in a state of perfect estrangement from the
duties of devotion. Whirled about in the circle of dissipation, or busied
with the cares of the world, they forget God their Maker; and, though the
constant recipients of mercies which flow to them in uninterrupted
succession, they never acknowledge, they can scarcely be said to know the
Giver. The most important transactions, schemes, and journeys, are
undertaken without once committing themselves to the guidance or
protection of that Providence which is observant of their steps, and
supplies them, notwithstanding their ingratitude. How pleasantly do _they_
proceed, who, like the family of Elkanah, first solemnly present
themselves before the Lord, and commence every business and every day with
an act of worship! It is true they are not exempted from misfortune, or
rendered invulnerable to the attacks of evil; but they are well prepared
for, and will be graciously sustained in every vicissitude.

[Sidenote: Years before Christ, 1155.]

The predestined hour having arrived, a son was born to Hannah, whom she
named _Samuel_; "because," said she, "I have asked him of the Lord."
Sometimes, what has been sought with importunity, is received with
coldness, or enjoyed with ingratitude. No sooner is the blessing bestowed,
no sooner is the tear of agony dried up, than every pledge is forgotten,
and the mind relapses into thankless indifference. The sun shines, and our
impressions pass away with the storm. But Hannah adopted a measure well
calculated to excite every member of the family, and his mother in
particular, to a perpetual recurrence to the goodness of Providence. She
was resolved upon an expedient, by which the flame of gratitude might be
kept incessantly burning in her breast. Could she ever look upon _Samuel_
without recollecting he was "asked of God?" Could she ever repeat the
name of her beloved first-born, without thinking of the Hearer of prayer?
Amidst the ecstasies of maternal love, when she witnessed the infant
sportings, and traced the expanding faculties of her Samuel, how often
would she remember the stirrings of her spirit, and the sad days of her
reproach. Once she had scarcely indulged the hope of being a mother, much
less the mother of so remarkable a child. Once she wept in bitterness of
soul, now she shed tears of parental transport.

Assiduity in the discharge of maternal duties is the next distinguishing
excellence of Hannah to which our attention is invited. The sensibilities
of her character seemed to have remarkably qualified her for the new
station she was called to occupy after the birth of her child.

Providence has so wisely and so kindly ordered the connection subsisting
between the parent and the offspring, and has rendered human nature, even
in its depraved state, so susceptible of fine impressions and feelings,
that the moment this relationship commences, a sort of new character is
superinduced.

When a dependant little being is presented, a careful and protecting
disposition is generally displayed; the arm of support is readily held
forth to the weakness of infancy, and the most inconsiderate and volatile
of women are, by a natural instinct--a certain powerful, indefinable
transformation--converted to sober habits and necessary attentiveness--Who
can withhold his admiration of this singular economy, or refuse to admit
the interference of an invisible and wonderworking God! If this be the
effect in ordinary instances, it is easy to imagine that the wife of
Elkanah proved an exemplary instance of diligence and goodness when she
became a mother. For such an honourable situation she was peculiarly
qualified by her gentleness and piety. The precious gift, for which she
had been so solicitous, was nursed with fondness, and eventually presented
with all a mother's, with all a Christian's joy, to the Lord in Shiloh.

At the next anniversary festival, Elkanah went up to fulfil a vow he had
made, and to renew the dedication of himself and his family to the divine
service. Hannah accompanied him in spirit, but was prevented from a
personal attendance by her little lovely dependant: she intimated to her
husband the propriety of her remaining at home, pledging herself to
undertake the pleasing journey when the child was weaned. "Then," said
she, "I will bring him, that he may appear before the Lord, and there
abide for ever." It is no honour to religion for its professors to neglect
the duties of civil life under the pretence of superior sanctity: in vain
do those who disregard their families apologize for their misconduct by
pleading their diligence in pious services. Religion not only requires a
punctuality of observance in reference to its more public engagements, but
demands an unremitted attention to those of a more private, social, and
domestic nature: these ought not indeed to be viewed apart, in a separate
and disunited form, but as constituting a beautiful whole. Religion, in
fact, consists both in diligence and devotion, in the occupation of our
stations in society, as well as in fulfilling the services of the
sanctuary; in nursing and educating the child, as well as in presenting
the sacrifice, or keeping the holy festival of saints.

Elkanah fully concurred with the arrangements of Hannah. Happy is it for
that family where the domestic hearth is cheered by love and the altar by
piety. Happy they, whose affection, planted in religion, resembles a
flourishing tree that spreads its shade over the united household. Hannah
consulted her husband, and stated the reasons of the plan she had
devised--Elkanah listened to the representations of his wife, and
instantly assented.

"Do," said he, "what seemeth thee good; tarry until thou hast weaned him;
only the Lord establish his word. So the woman abode, and gave her son
suck until she weaned him."

How beautiful is the allusion of the royal psalmist to this important
period in the history of infancy: "Lord, my heart is not haughty, nor mine
eyes lofty, neither do I exercise myself in great matters, or in things
too high for me. Surely I have behaved and quieted myself as a child that,
is weaned of his mother: my soul is even as a weaned child."

It costs, indeed, a severe struggle to alienate the little offspring from
the breast from which it has drawn the means of subsistence, and, for a
short time, uneasiness and fretfulness may be the result; but when the
days of weaning are accomplished, the long-valued provision is regarded
with total indifference. Strong is the conflict and sharp the encounter
between a sense of duty and an inclination to sin, when the world presents
those fascinating pleasures which are so adapted to the appetites of
nature; but having obtained the victory--having, through the grace of God,
triumphed over the enticement, a real Christian will contemplate the
glories of this world which once enchanted him, with an indifferent eye,
and seek more substantial blessings. What naturally afforded satisfaction,
will, in a renewed state of mind, excite aversion or be treated with
neglect. The propensity being conquered, will never, or but partially
return, and if not absolutely exterminated, it can never again acquire an
ascendancy. The soul is become, in reference to the fleeting honours and
possessions of time, like a "weaned child."

It is at once our duty and felicity to aim at this detachment of affection
from the vanities of life, to cherish a holy disinclination toils
allurements, and to seek our bliss in the unfading good which Scripture
recommends and Heaven dispenses. An interest in the love of God, by faith
in the Redeemer, is the supreme enjoyment to which we are encouraged to
aspire, and which alone can fill the capacities and consummate the
blessedness of intelligent and immortal creatures. Pitiable is the
situation of those who are still attached, with childish fondness, to what
cannot promote their spiritual growth, and befits not their advancing
maturity. "Let Israel," then, "hope in the Lord from henceforth and
for ever."



Section II.


  Samuel is devoted to the Service of the Sanctuary--Uniformity of
  Character exemplified in Hannah--her Song paraphrased--five other
  Children born to Hannah--View of her natural Kindness and
  self-denying Piety.


As soon as the time proposed by Hannah had elapsed, she thought of
fulfilling her vow, and hastened to Shiloh. In the days of her distress
she had pledged herself to devote her child to the service of God; in the
days of her prosperity she does not forget the obligation. Never, so far
as we can discover, was a more perfect example of female excellence and
persevering religion: in adversity and in prosperity, in sorrow and in
joy, the light of her piety shone with undiminishing splendour. She had
virtues appropriate to every season, and conspicuous in every situation:
in affliction she cannot be reproached with impatience, nor in success
with ingratitude.

When Samuel was weaned, she took him with her, with three bullocks, an
ephah of flour, and a bottle of wine, determining to leave him with the
priest, for the purpose of being trained up to the service of the
tabernacle. It was an equal honour to the pupil and the tutor, the one to
have such a priest as Eli, the other to have such a child as Samuel. With
all the dignity of innocence and all the pleasure of devotion, she
presented the little stranger to Eli, reminding him of the occasion when
she first pledged herself to consecrate the child she requested to the
work of the sanctuary, and explaining a vow of which he was previously
ignorant. It is true that God and her own soul were the only witnesses and
hearers of this vow; but she did not deem it the less obligatory though it
was made in secret, nor was her upright mind the less anxious for its
punctual fulfilment: "And they slew a bullock, and brought the child to
Eli. And she said, O my lord, as thy soul liveth, my lord, I am the woman
that stood by thee here, praying unto the Lord. For this child I prayed;
and the Lord hath given me my petition which I asked of him: therefore
also I have lent him to the Lord: as long as he liveth he shall be lent to
the Lord."

There is an exquisite delicacy in this language. The allusion to her
former appearance in the house of God is as cursory as could be devised to
enable the good priest to recognize her. Eli is reminded of her former
prayers; but not a syllable is uttered tending to criminate or to reflect
upon his past precipitancy and misrepresentation. She tells a simple
story, in a candid and respectful manner. The points of deepest interest
are introduced, and her darling child is devoted forever, and with
unreluctant zeal, to the God of her salvation.

Let the impatient and revengeful study the example of Hannah, who did not
allow herself to utter an angry word, or even to cherish a resentful
feeling against Eli, when he preferred against her an inconsiderate and
aggravating accusation; much less did she indulge a spirit of malignity.
How many would have felt an invincible aversion, even though his frank
acknowledgment had compelled them to a momentary reconciliation; and,
viewing his character ever after through the medium of prejudice, would
have magnified every feeling, and flung their public reproaches, or
circulated their secret whispers and surmises against this venerable
minister of the tabernacle. It becomes the people of God to be careful of
the reputation of their brethren, and aim to wipe off the aspersions with
which the world is apt to depreciate their characters, rather than to
unite in the clamours of defamation. Men in official situations are placed
upon a pinnacle which renders them conspicuous, and envy is always ready
to shoot at them its envenomed darts. They have their faults indeed, but
let charity cover them: they may have also their counterbalancing
excellencies--let piety observe and imitate them. Should the criminal
conduct of such persons belie their general profession, dishonour the
religion they profess, and render it necessary to displace them, we ought
to tremble for ourselves, and not triumph in their fall. Who would be
qualified to cast the first stone, if his offences were all detected,
exposed, and treated with merciless severity? The practice of dedicating
children to God, is, we perceive, sanctioned by the usage of high
antiquity; but, what is far better, it is conformable to reason and
Scripture. Sometimes, indeed, it is accompanied with much absurdity and
superstition; but, when properly attended to, it secures many advantages.
Prayer, at all times important, is peculiarly effectual when offered in so
solemn a manner: and if, in ordinary cases, it procure the blessings of
Heaven, a well-founded hope may be excited, that the interesting little
object of such a service will reap some substantial benefits. It tends
besides to purify the domestic affections, and to regulate their exercise.
The child which is bestowed in answer to prayer, and by prayer is, at the
very dawn of existence, consecrated to God, and committed to the future
care and guidance of his providence, is regarded with a new kind of
feeling even by its parents; their fondness receives a peculiar tone and
character from their piety; the motive to seek its spiritual interest is
strengthened by their holy vows; and they cannot but feel an additional
motive to impart early instruction, to cultivate its expanding faculties,
and form the young immortal both for its present and ultimate destination.

Devote, then, ye mothers of Israel, devote your babes to piety and God!
Hesitate not to incur the solemn responsibility which a vow implies in
reference to your tender offspring: it is the most immediate method of
making them your future comforts in this life, and your companions in a
better. Your solicitude will at least afford you personal satisfaction;
you will inherit the delightful consciousness of having done your duty:
you may be happily instrumental in producing early impressions, and
preparing them for their future crown. Then, should they depart from the
world before you, to be "forever with the Lord," they will rise from their
thrones of light to hail your approach, and mingle their thanksgivings and
praises with yours in the songs of eternity.

Uniformity of character is a high attainment, of which Scripture history
presents some pleasing specimens, though perhaps it affords more numerous
instances of irregularity. The early life of some is nothing but the
record of crime and folly, when the passions were indulged in unbridled
licentiousness, and the moral creation groaned beneath the burden of
their vices; but afterward retrieving their errors, they have become
examples of sobriety, kindness, and religion. Others shone, forth at first
with preeminent brightness, attracting the eyes of an extensive community
to their juvenile excellence, and holding forth the best promises of
futurity; but their goodness has proved like the morning cloud, and like
the early dew, that passeth away; the eyes of parental tenderness, that
once glistened with rapture and admiration, are suffused with tears; the
church of God, that once hailed their zeal, is filled with regrets to
witness its faded ardours and its altered nature. "How is the gold become
dim, and the fine gold changed?" There is another, a sort of intermediate
class, who have rather a doubtful complexion, some of whose actions
indicate piety, others the reverse: at a distance they may be admired,
but, upon a closer inspection, their principles are questionable, and, as
our acquaintance with them increases, our respect irresistibly diminishes.
Candour itself, which would put the most favourable construction upon
them, is compelled to see new spots and blemishes in proportion as we
perceive more distinctly their entire character.

The illustrious female, however, before us, exhibits a singular contrast
to all these diversities. From the first to the last mention of her name
in the page of Scripture, she challenges unmitigated admiration; she is
uniform in every character: adversity and prosperity find her the same
woman: she does not murmur in the one, she is not vain in the other. There
is but a single variety in her character, arising from its progressive
excellence. She is not _the same_, only because she is _better_; our
veneration keeps pace with our knowledge. Her character does not, like
that of many others, suffer by investigation; it does not resemble an
object seen at some distance through a mist, which is magnified into
unnatural dimensions, so that the illusion vanishes when you come near;
but is like a tower seen afar off under a clear sky, swelling in majesty
at every step of approximation.

We are now brought to the close of Hannah's history; it is even more
splendid than its commencement. We have traced her through the various
characters of a persecuted wife, a weeping suppliant, a misrepresented
worshipper, a joyful mother, and a grateful saint, fulfilling her vows and
devoting her first-born to the service of God. In some respects the latter
must have proved a trying occasion, a duty of difficult execution; and we
could have forgiven, we could have sympathized with the tears of a mother
who was placed in the situation of violating her vows or giving up her
darling; we could have pitied her struggles, while we commended their
successful issue, in leaving her Samuel behind her at Shiloh. But she
assumes a higher tone and spirit: the mother is absorbed in the saint;
and, at the moment when we expected the language of parting regret and
anxiety, behold, she bursts into a song of praise, and soars to the
heights of prophecy.

This holy effusion is somewhat analogous to that of the mother of our
Lord, which we shall hereafter have occasion to illustrate. In the mean
time the hymn of Hannah claims our examination. It is called a _prayer_,
because it was addressed to God as an act of worship, and because the
acknowledgment and celebration of divine mercies constitute an important
branch of devotion.

"_My heart rejoiceth in the Lord; mine horn is exalted in the Lord: my
mouth is enlarged over mine enemies: because I rejoice in thy salvation_."

A vain mother might have celebrated her _son,_ and, if she had expressed
a general sense of divine goodness in his bestowment, would have dwelt
with satisfaction upon his premature indications of greatness. Inordinate
attachment to the gift is apt to obliterate from the mind a grateful
recollection of the giver; and to this forgetfulness we are liable to be
seduced by our affections. But Hannah cannot taste of the stream without
being led to the fountain; she cannot receive mercies without viewing the
hand that bestows them; nor be so enraptured with the blessing as to sink
the Creator in the creature. In fact, Samuel is unnamed. His beauty, his
pliability--whatever he really possessed, or whatever the fond eye of a
mother fancied he possessed--all was forgotten, lost, and annihilated in
God. Every valued blessing--her child, her husband, her possessions;--the
whole creation vanished into nothingness before the thought of the
"eternal ALL!"

The "horn" is an emblem of power and pre-eminence, and Hannah speaks of its
exaltation. She had been degraded and despised for the childless
condition, and had suffered reproach from the daughters of Israel, in
particular from Peninnah; but she had now, through the mercy of God, risen
to distinction, and obtained the object of her warmest solicitude. The
lips which before moved in secret whispers or inarticulate prayer, are now
taught to praise! The horn was also an instrument of music, and was lifted
up to be sounded in the sacred chorus. In the days of David we read of the
sons of Heman, who were to "lift up the horn;" and this pious woman
perhaps borrowed the allusion to represent the ardour of her worship and
the triumph that inspired her tongue.

If, with her solemn praises, Hannah blended a momentary recollection of
the unkindness with which she had been treated, it was solely to express
her thankfulness for deliverance, and not to produce a charge against her
enemies. "Her mouth was enlarged," indeed, but not to utter the language
of retaliation, not in passionate exclamations or in threatening words,
but to memorialize the goodness of the Lord. Nor was this her only source
of joy. Temporal interposition served but to remind her of spiritual
blessings; and, while her spirit exulted in the birth of Samuel, she
looked forward to a more auspicious day, and rejoiced in the "salvation"
which should hereafter be accomplished by the incarnation of the Redeemer.

Winged with holy rapture, she now ascends far above all earthly interests
and concerns; and quiting the subject, to which she had made but a
transient allusion, though of the deepest personal importance, she
meditates alone on infinite perfection:

"_There is none holy as the Lord: for there is none besides thee: neither
is there any rock like our God. Talk no more so exceeding proudly; let not
arrogancy come out of your mouth; for the Lord is a God of knowledge, and
by him actions are weighed_."

The attributes of the Divine Being excite in the bosoms of the wicked
unmingled dread. Every manifestation of his character is an appeal against
their impieties, and hence they "desire not the knowledge of his ways." In
a state of innocence the presence of the blessed God enhanced the
felicities of Paradise, and nothing but the estrangement which sin has
occasioned could have so altered the views and perverted the inclinations
of mankind as to render the best of beings an object of terror; but in
proportion to the renewal of the mind will be the return of that feeling
of complacency which was cherished by unfallen man, and is felt by sinless
immortals.

In all the principal events of her own life, and in the general
regulation of human affairs, Hannah perceived a display of those
perfections which she now celebrates; the perfections of holiness, power,
omniscience, and justice. Nothing is better calculated to suppress the
arrogance of man than the contemplation of these divine excellencies,
which are so many rays of one ineffable glory; distinct yet blended;
separate, yet harmonious in their operations. The history of pagan nations
supplies ample proof that the spirituality of the divine essence, which
implies the existence and exercise of these attributes, is too high an
idea for a creature sunk under the dominion of his senses: he cannot
ascend to the conception of infinite purity and wisdom: God is not known,
and cannot be discovered as the searcher of hearts, and the righteous
dispenser of good and evil, life and death: he cannot realize his
unlimited dominion, nor imagine the pervading presence of that all-seeing
eye which looks through the universe, penetrates every concealment, and
observes, with leisurely and perfect survey, every movement of the soul.
It is the province of revelation to disclose these great facts, and the
privilege of piety to triumph in them.

"_The bows of the mighty men are broken, and they that stumbled are girded
with strength. They that were full have hired out themselves for bread;
and they that were hungry ceased: so that the barren hath borne seven: and
she that hath many children hath waxed feeble_."

The dispensations of Providence illustrate his perfections. Often, indeed,
they do not accord with human plans or expectations, but they are
nevertheless marked with wisdom and equity. In accomplishing the mighty
purposes of omnipotence the strong are sometimes weakened, and the feeble
supplied with power; the wealthy are impoverished, and the poor enriched;
the childless blessed with families, and those whose tables are surrounded
with a smiling offspring made to weep over their fading health and
glory. For,

"_The Lord killeth, and maketh alive; he bringeth down to the grave, and
bringeth up. The Lord maketh poor, and maketh rich: he bringeth low, and
lifteth up. He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth up the
beggar from the dunghill, to set them among princes, and to make them
inherit the throne of glory: for the pillars of the earth are the Lord's,
and he hath set the world upon them_."

These changes are frequently ascribed, by unthinking mortals, to mere
chance, or at least to the uncontrolled operation of second causes. Hannah
ascribes them "to the Lord." Her faith discerned an invisible hand, and
rejoiced in an omniscient superintendance. Whatever confusion appears to
the eye of sense to prevail in the world, religion has access behind the
scenes, observes the finger that touches the prime spring of this vast
machine of providence, and sees nothing but harmonious movements,
concurrent designs, merciful and intelligible plans, perfect and universal
order. The perspective of human affairs is to such an one complete; he is
placed by the fear of God in the very point of observance; he looks to the
distant results, to the termination of the series, and every object, to
his renewed sight, appears in just and proportionate dimensions. Unless
seen from this point, every thing will be out of place and contradictory;
and human arrogance will naturally arraign as irregular, imperfect, or
unwise, what genuine piety will acknowledge to be best.

"_He will keep the feet of his saints, and the wicked shall be silent in
darkness; for by strength shall no man prevail. The adversaries of the
Lord shall be broken to pieces; out of heaven shall he thunder upon them:
the Lord shall judge the ends of the earth; and he shall give strength
unto his king, and exalt the horn of his anointed_."

There is a _progressive_ energy in this sacred song. Hannah warms into
enthusiasm as she proceeds, till, under the influence of a heavenly
inspiration, she assumes the language of prophecy, and becomes "wrapt into
future times." At the opening, she expressed her gratitude for personal
blessings; hence she is led to celebrate the perfections of Jehovah: then
she proclaims the interference of his providence in the vicissitudes of
this lower world: and finally, proceeds to contrast the destinies of the
righteous and wicked, as resulting from the manifestation of the Messiah
to rule over all nations by a spiritual and everlasting dominion. In that
name which is above every name, in the hallowed name of the ANOINTED ONE,
the song of Hannah terminates. What greater honour could be conferred on a
woman than to be gifted with that spirit of prophecy which first announced
the approaching Redeemer, to whom all the prophets gave witness? She
speaks of his authority as a "King," his administration as a "Judge," his
work as a Priest and Prophet, prefigured by that oil which was poured upon
the most eminent of mankind, who were types of the distinguished Personage
who was to come, and who is therefore designated as the Lord's "Anointed."
How great his influence! "he will keep the feet of his saints!" How
terrible his power! "the adversaries of the Lord shall be broken in
pieces: out of heaven shall he thunder upon them." Preposterous indeed is
the hope of his enemies, that they shall evade the destruction of his iron
rod; while pleasing and well-founded is the expectation of his saints, who
bow with unreluctant submission, with grateful acceptance, to his
golden sceptre.

Almost twelve hundred years were yet until when Hannah uttered this
prediction of the Messiah; and yet her faith, overleaping the ages of
intervening time, beheld his glory, and triumphed in his salvation. No
darkness could blind her perceptions, nothing could repress her love: she
lived as it were, in advance, and, like many of her illustrious
predecessors and of her posterity, believed in Christ to the saving of
her soul.

These ages are passed away, and many more are numbered since the actual
manifestation of the Son of God in human nature. We are partakers of his
day; we live in the light of his glory: from the ages of prediction, we
are advanced to those of accomplishment; from the time of shadows to the
era of reality. And have we _improved_ upon the past, in the strength of
our faith or in the warmth of our attachment to the Lord of glory? Would a
fair comparison of our state of mind with that of early saints, in far
distant ages, prove advantageous or unfavourable to our character? Is our
piety proportionate to our privileges? Does the intensity of our love
equal the clearness of our discoveries? These are salutary questions, and
questions of practical importance. Let us aim to be able to put them often
to our consciences without a blush.

Very little more information is communicated respecting Hannah: her
history is merged in that of her distinguished son. We have, however, a
beautiful picture of her maternal character, a record of the blessing
which the aged priest pronounced upon the family, and an account of five
other children which Providence gave them: "Samuel ministered before the
Lord, being a child girded with a linen ephod. Moreover his mother made
him a little coat, and brought it to him from year to year, when she came
up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice. And Eli blessed
Elkanah and his wife, and said, The Lord give thee seed of this woman, for
the loan which is lent to the Lord. And they went unto their own home. And
the Lord visited Hannah, so that she conceived and bare three sons and two
daughters."

The good mother and the eminent saint are delightfully blended in the wife
of Elkanah, and the influence of each is obvious in Samuel. Eli seems to
have beheld him with unusual affection. He had been early trained to
gentleness, docility, and goodness. Discipline at home commenced from his
first infancy, and continuing to the moment of his removal to Shiloh,
prepared him for the course of life to which he was so soon introduced.
Too often the petulance and frowardness of children indicate the defective
nature of their education: indulgence has permitted the wild plant to
shoot forth its branches with irregular luxuriancy, and it has become both
unsightly and enfeebled for want of being properly pruned. To suffer the
propensities and passions of children to go unrestrained is the extreme of
cruelty, being the most direct means of rendering them burdens to society
and tormentors to themselves.

Hannah, with admirable firmness, relinquished her youthful charge to the
care of Eli at the call of duty, and with no less admirable affection and
prudence, continued to maintain that kind of intercourse which tends to
promote mutual love. A _passionate_ mother would have urged her husband to
remove to Shiloh, for the sake of having her little darling perpetually
under her eye; a _prudent_ one chose to remain at Ramah, only bringing her
present at the annual festivals. True love knows when to separate, and is
ready to make necessary sacrifices to the good of a valued child. He was
in excellent hands, training to a noble work, under a venerable priest,
and in conformity to a solemn vow. Providence was not unobservant of his
mother's heroism and piety, and she is amply repaid, not only by his
superior excellence, but by her own increasing family. _One_ child is lent
to the Lord, _five_ are given. She possessed with gratitude, she resigned
with magnanimity, and she is recompensed by multiplication.

Let children never forget the debt they owe to maternal tenderness, a debt
which the devoted affection and kindness of a whole life can scarcely
discharge. Let the fond parent who nursed your infancy, corrected your
frowardness, sowed the seeds of knowledge and piety in your heart,
watched, wept, and prayed over you, be ever dear, ever respected, and
loved. She who has sustained your weakness, may live to need support from
your strength; she who hold you up in the helplessness of infancy, may
require your supporting arm, and deserves your sympathizing aid in the
years of her decrepitude.

Young persons need to be reminded, however, that even the impiety of
parents is no sufficient reason for disrespecting them _as parents_; and
if you possess the inestimable treasure of religion, it will be best
evinced in soothing the cares, ministering to the necessities, and setting
an example of every duty before the eyes of those who are still so unhappy
as to be destitute of it. But you who are born of the children of God, and
who have been nourished and educated under the wing of parental piety, can
never be too thankful to the God of your salvation, and at some future
period may have to adopt the poet's elevated strain:

  "My boast is not that I deduce my birth
  From loins enthroned, and rulers of the earth;
  But higher far my proud pretensions rise--
  The son of parents pass'd into the skies."

  Cowper.



Abigail.

Chapter XI.



  Many persons naturally capable of great Attainments and elevated
  Stations have lived and died unknown--the Dispensations of Providence
  analogous in this respect to the Arrangements of Nature--Scripture
  Account of Nabal and Abigail--Sources of Incongruous
  Marriages--Ambition--Wish to maintain the Respectability of a
  Family--Persuasion of Friends--early Disappointments--Nabal's Conduct to
  David--Abigail's Interposition--Death of her Husband--She becomes
  David's Wife.


Millions of the human race, naturally capable of great attainments and
mighty exploits, had they been differently circumstanced, or had their
mental and moral energies been properly cultivated, have died as they have
lived, in a state of obscurity. Unknown to the rest of mankind even by
name, they have scarcely wandered from the precincts of their native
village, or the cottage that gave them birth; but, like the wild flowers
of the untrodden wilderness, have sprung up, and bloomed, and perished
upon the same spot. Successive generations have occupied the identical
sphere of their ancestors, living in the same unenvied seclusion, and at
last carried to the same undistinguished grave.

Whoever has had an opportunity of knowing the state of society and the
character of man in retirement, must be aware that the amazing disparity
subsisting between the extremes of rusticity and of polished life arises
far less from original disproportions of capacity than from the accidental
circumstances which attach to the two conditions. Education has a
tendency to remove these differences, to elevate the inferior classes of
society from their degradation, to raise them in the scale of being and to
unite man to man: but still more important effects result from religion,
which, by fixing the thoughts on holy and heavenly objects, and firing the
breast with incessant ardour in the pursuit of them, advances the
character to a dignity otherwise unattainable. How much humble piety has
bloomed in the by-paths of life far from the crowded highway of the world,
amidst the recesses of privacy! How often has the beauty of holiness
adorned the most misshapen, or otherwise unattractive exterior! How many
great and pious individuals have occupied the vale of poverty, the objects
of divine approbation and of angelic joy; who, under different
circumstances, might have been ornaments of the political world, or lights
in the church of God; and will be pillars for ever in the
celestial temple!

These dispensations of Providence are analogous to certain arrangements in
nature. How many showers descend, and how many vegetable productions grow
in barren wildernesses! It is not till after ages of research that a few
species and varieties have been discovered; and it may be questioned
whether an equal, if not a far greater number, still exist in the
unfrequented solitudes of creation, which science may not visit for
centuries yet to come: and of those which are at present known, a few only
of their qualities, and the uses for which they were formed, have been
ascertained. To pronounce a condemnatory sentence upon that wisdom which
assigned them their places, merely on account of our incapacity to
discover their precise destination, would be presumptuous and impious in
the extreme; nor would it be less so to contemn the unsearchable mysteries
of Providence, whose arrangements surpass the comprehension and confound
the inquiries of man.

Some of those "lights shining in a dark place" have, however, been
occasionally brought into view by unexpected circumstances; and more than
one is exhibited through the medium of the inspired word. They would have
for ever remained in concealment, and their names have perished, excepting
from the book of God's remembrance, but for some apparent casualty. A
history of _incidents_ would furnish a most delightful record of
Providence, showing its secret, but certain operations, and its
connecting, though, to superficial observers, invisible links. One of
these, in the life of David, presents the brief, but interesting account
of ABIGAIL, who, like Job in Uz, Joseph in Egypt, and Daniel in Chaldea,
exhibited a specimen of solitary excellence, which at length emerged from
obscurity, and, by means of her connection with one of the most eminent of
mankind, shone in an appropriate sphere.

[Sidenote: Years before Christ, about 1058.]

She is thus introduced to our notice, in the scriptural narrative, at a
time when the son of Jesse was "hunted like a partridge upon the
mountains" by his royal persecutor. "And David arose, and went down to the
wilderness of Paran. And there was a man in Maon, whose possessions were
in Carmel: and the man was very great, and he had three thousand sheep and
a thousand goats: and he was shearing his sheep in Carmel. Now the name of
the man was Nabal; and the name of his wife, Abigail: and she was a woman
of good understanding, and of a beautiful countenance: but the man was
churlish and evil in his doings; and he was of the house of Caleb."

The contrast which the characters of Nabal and Abigail exhibit, may well
excite astonishment, that persons so dissimilar should have become united
by the tender ties of matrimony, and may lead us to inquire a little into
the sources of some incongruities of this kind, which not unfrequently
make their appearance in society. How is it, that _adaptation to each
other_, in point of mental and moral qualities especially, which seems so
great a prerequisite to happiness, should seldom form the basis of an
union voluntarily contracted, and incapable of dissolution--an union of
the closest nature, and an union for life?

Frequently an ill-assorted connection arises from an _ambitious motive_;
one party is wealthy, the other aspiring. Attracted by the gilded bait, it
is seized too eagerly to admit of prudential considerations respecting the
possibility of concealed mischief, from which, like the fish once caught
by the hook, it is too late to be disentangled. It cannot be asserted that
Abigail was induced to marry her churlish husband from such a motive,
though it will not be deemed improbable by those whose experience of the
world convinces them that even persons like her, of good understanding,
beauty, and piety, are sometimes guilty of similar improprieties. Riches
are, on many accounts, attractive to those whose immaturity of judgment is
dazzled by the glare of life, and who are consequently too apt to
associate in their conceptions things which, in reality, have no
connection--_splendour_ and _happiness_. The mind is naturally gratified
by a sense of elevation above the usual level of mankind, as persons
ascending in an air-balloon become elevated, even amidst their dangers, in
consequence of attaining a height impossible to others, and attracting the
idle gaze of spectators on the ground. It is supposed also, that wealth
will furnish some covert from the storms of adversity, if not a perfect
security against them; and, forgetting that it tends to multiply and
extend our wants in a ten-fold proportion to the means of supplying them,
the sheep and the goats of a Nabal are viewed with ardent but mistaken
fondness. It is difficult to convince the young of their errors upon this
subject; nevertheless, we forewarn them that the experiment is hazardous,
the prospect delusory, the possessions of life uncertain, and utterly
incapable of compensating for the absence of moral qualities and social
suitabilities; above all, we proclaim the criminality of cherishing an
avaricious disposition, and the practical falsehood of giving it the name
of love. A young woman acting upon this principle literally fulfils the
common representation of the case, by _throwing herself away_, and, in one
rash moment, forfeits her reputation and her happiness.

This unsuitability of connexion in married life sometimes originates in a
mutual, but foolish _wish to maintain the respectability of the family_.
In such instances both are wealthy, and join their fortunes as a sort of
compromise to the opinion of the world and their own pride, for the sake
of maintaining their rank. It is true, an equality, or some fair
proportion in point of fortune, as society is constituted, seems in itself
_desirable_, and, if it can be accomplished, is as legitimate an object of
pursuit as similarity of age or of mind; but the practice of making this
an absolute prerequisite, of sacrificing to it the affections of the
heart, and, qualifications of far greater importance, of rendering the
want of it a sufficient ground of refusing a matrimonial alliance, though
age, temper, religion, and every commendable quality, may be placed in the
other scale, and of deeming the possession of it enough when other great
requisites are absent, is both foolish and wicked. No reason can exist, in
such a case, why an Abigail--a woman of "good understanding," should
connect herself with a Nabal--a man "churlish and evil in his doings."

Occasionally the same evil arises from the _persuasion of others_,
especially of those who are entitled to respect, and who sometimes, very
improperly, interpose authority instead of suggesting advice. The parties
immediately concerned would by no means, if left to themselves, select
each other as companions for life, but marry merely to satisfy their
friends. It can never be regarded as otherwise than extreme cruelty in
those who compel their children to gratify _their_ predilections, instead
of allowing them their _own_ choice. As this is a connexion, the happiness
of which so essentially depends upon the affections, and as no argument
can force the heart into an attachment from which it naturally, or perhaps
capriciously revolts, and as moreover, the comfort of existence results
from the state of the mind far more than from any external circumstances
whatever; reason and religion prescribe, that, after due caution and
admonition, persons should be permitted to determine ultimately for
themselves, without being subjected to the miserable alternative of
accepting parental choice or forfeiting parental fondness.

Incongruous connexions may also originate in one or both of the parties
having suffered _previous disappointment._ Young persons under the pang
occasioned by the failure of a romantic attachment, foolishly resolve no
more to consult affection, or even to allow it any share in the
determination of their choice. They imagine it needless any longer to
expect happiness, because they cannot possess the individual they supposed
alone capable of promoting it, and repair to marriage merely as a refuge
from solitude or from reproach. In such cases, they deem it of
comparatively trifling consequence with whom they connect themselves,
refusing to admit it possible that they should ever more obtain peace
of mind.

Nothing, however, can be more delusive than such a feeling. The immaturity
of the judgment at the early age of first attachments, renders it probable
that they may not, in reality, have made the best selection, and that
their preferences were determined rather by casual circumstances and
accidental impressions, than any knowledge of character or any perception
of solid qualities. If the comfort of life depended upon the success of
early predilections, it is probable few would be happy; but Providence has
wisely ordered it otherwise, by constituting it independent of arbitrary
associations. Let not the young, therefore, precipitate themselves into
improper connexions--into connexions not founded on principle, and not
cemented by love, through indulging the notion that the gratification of a
first romantic attachment is essential to happiness, and that if
disappointed, it is of no importance whether they become united to a
gentle Isaac or a churlish Nabal; because, in reality, the prize is yet to
be won, the jewel is yet attainable, and Providence may have kindly
frustrated a present wish, to bestow ultimately a more substantial
benefit. "The way of man is not in himself; it is not in man that walketh
to direct his steps." Our utmost efforts cannot arrest or accelerate the
wheel of destiny, which is turned by a secret and invisible power, that
raises or depresses, subserves or frustrates our purposes, _irresistibly_
indeed, but not _arbitrarily_; making "all things work together for good
to them that love God."

The history before us represents David as still a wanderer from wilderness
to wilderness, and reduced to great extremity. Hearing of the
extraordinary festivities observed upon the occasion of Nabal's shearing
his sheep, from which he inferred his opulence, ten messengers were sent
to him to solicit, in the most respectful manner, a supply of provisions.
It was intimated, that David had not availed himself of the power which
the Arab emirs are accustomed to assume, of seizing whatever they need,
but on the contrary, had afforded protection, instead of exercising
violence. [36]

Nabal not only refused to comply with the request, but returned an
insulting answer, which the young men carried to their master. David felt
the utmost indignation, and instantly prepared to resent the affront. The
persecutions of Saul being no more than he expected, were borne with a
fortitude, and requited by a forbearance which cannot but excite our
admiration; but the unlooked-for barbarity of Nabal took him by surprise,
and threw him into a rage. We cannot justify his hostile preparations, nor
look without regret upon his rash proceeding, in taking four hundred of
his armed followers to destroy Nabal. How unlike David, the man after
God's own heart, who had been so long trained in the school of
affliction, and so often manifested a very different spirit! Alas, bow
easily are the best of men "led into temptation;" and how necessary is it
to exercise vigilance, not only over our "easy besetting sins," but over
what we deem the least vulnerable points of our character! Neglecting the
requisite precautions, we may be taken even on the strongest side, and at
the most unexpected moment.

One of the servants informed Abigail of what had occurred, stating the
message of David, and the behaviour of her husband; and, at the same time,
representing the civility with which the former had conducted himself
towards the shepherds.

A person of less understanding might have said, "Let these rival chiefs
settle the matter between themselves; my husband had an undoubted right to
do what he pleased with his own, and he has the means of defending himself
from a vindictive stranger." But Abigail wisely listened to the
information communicated by the servant, and instantly adopted a plan,
which seemed indeed the only one calculated to avert the threatened blow.
She took two hundred loaves, and two bottles of wine, and five sheep ready
dressed, and five measures of parched corn, and a hundred clusters of
raisins, and two hundred cakes of figs, which she hastened to present
to David.

This was excellent management. Had she repaired to her husband, and
endeavoured to pacify his turbulent spirit by remonstrance, reason, or
entreaty, the probability is she would have met with a repulse, and
disabled herself from any further interference. Had she merely _sent_ the
supply with which the asses were laden, the indignant son of Jesse might,
very possibly, have returned it as insufficient, or pressed on with his
armed men to compel Nabal to make reparation for the affront he had
ventured to offer. This skilful negotiator, however, goes herself to
settle the contention which had so suddenly arisen; and never, surely, was
a better arranged or more successful expedition.

The moment Abigail perceived David, she alighted from her ass, and,
falling prostrate at his feet, addressed him in language well calculated
to accomplish her wishes. Every thing was in perfect contrast with the
behaviour of Nabal--her suppliant posture--the respectful term she
chooses, calling him _lord_--the appropriation of her husband's fault to
herself--the apology she offers for him, by representing his conduct as
resulting rather from a momentary impulse than any settled malignity, as
the general failing of his nature, not the effect of any personal
malevolence--the ignorance she professes of the request which David had
sent, insinuating that otherwise he would have received a very different
return--her apparent assurance of success, delicately intimating the happy
circumstance of his being restrained from shedding blood in a momentary
fit of passion--her offer of the magnificent present she had prepared--her
congratulation upon his achievements--her confident anticipations of his
future triumphs, and final establishment in the kingdom--her reference to
Providence--her suggestion, that it would hereafter prove a source of
satisfaction that he had been prevented from committing an act which,
whatever were the provocation, must be painful to recollect, and which
must rather afflict his conscience than grace his laurels--all these
topics were well introduced, and urged with a tone of eloquence that
proved irresistible. David takes the present, thanks Abigail for her
interposition, and dismisses her, with the assurance that he had
"hearkened to her voice, and accepted her person."

Upon her return she found Nabal in a state of intoxication, totally
disregardful of danger, and ignorant of the ruin from which his prudent
wife had procured his deliverance. Thus do multitudes sport upon the brink
of everlasting destruction, heedless of the justice they have provoked,
and solicitous only of consuming those hours, and days, and years, in
indulgence, which ought to be devoted to repentance. Let the "lovers of
pleasure" reflect on three short maxims, "He that will not fear, shall
_feel_, the wrath of Heaven--He that lives in the kingdom of _Sense_ shall
die in the kingdom of _Sorrow_--He shall never truly enjoy his _present_
hour who never thinks on his _last_." [37]

Abigail properly resolved to defer any conversation with Nabal till the
morning, when she disclosed the whole affair. The surprise was so great
that "his heart died within him, and he became as a stone." Ten days
afterward he was smitten by the hand of God, and descended without honour
into the grave. No one could esteem him while living, and no one regretted
him when dead.

The news of this event having been conveyed to David, he expressed his
grateful sense of the divine goodness in keeping him from the execution of
his rash project, and in thus vindicating his cause by a signal
interference. As he had been deeply impressed with the personal charms and
good understanding of Abigail, and as no obstacle seemed to exist to
prevent their union, he took the first opportunity of proposing to marry
her; to which, with becoming expressions of humility and modesty, she
consented.

"It was a fair suit," says Bishop Hall, "to change a David for a Nabal; to
become David's queen, instead of Nabal's drudge! She, that learned
humility under so hard a tutor, abaseth herself no less when David offers
to advance her: 'Let thine handmaid be a servant to wash the feet of the
servants of my lord.' None are so fit to be great as those that can stoop
lowest. How could David be more happy in a wife? He finds at once piety,
wisdom, humility, faithfulness, wealth, beauty. How could Abigail be more
happy in a husband, than in the prophet, the champion, the anointed of
God? Those marriages are well made, wherein virtues are matched and
happiness is mutual."



The Queen of Sheba.

Chapter XII.



  David's Anxiety for his Son--its happy Issue--Solomon's Prayer, and the
  Answer of God--Solomon's Riches and Fame--the Queen of Sheba's
  visit--her Country ascertained--such Solicitude for Wisdom not
  common--She proves Solomon with hard Questions--her Desire of Knowledge
  worthy of Imitation--Solomon's Conduct--his Buildings--the Queen's
  congratulatory Address--Reflections--her Presents to Solomon, and his to
  the Queen of Sheba--Christ's Application of the Subject.


The pious solicitude of David, the king of Israel, in his last hours, for
his son and successor, is thus recorded in the closing chapter of the
first book of Chronicles: "Give unto Solomon my son a perfect heart, to
keep thy commandments, thy testimonies, and thy statutes." With this
prayer he connected suitable and impressive advice, "Thou Solomon my son,
know thou the God of thy father, and serve him with a perfect heart and
with a willing mind; for the Lord searcheth all hearts, and understandeth
all the imaginations of the thoughts: if thou seek him, he will be found
of thee; but if thou forsake him, he will cast thee off forever."

Parental piety does not always influence, as it ought, those who by their
domestic privileges are most favourably situated for witnessing it: to all
human appearance, the language of kind remonstrance or entreaty has been
often useless, the petitions of fervent desire have failed, and the tears
of pure affection have flowed in vain. The present instance, however,
furnishes a pleasing exception to this remark; for upon Solomon's
accession to the throne, he appointed a solemn festival at Gibeon before
the tabernacle of Moses; and during the night, in which the God of Israel
desired that he would ask what he should bestow upon him, he presented a
petition, no less distinguished by its singularity in such circumstances,
than by its excellence and success. "And Solomon said unto God, Thou hast
showed great mercy unto David my father, and hast made me to reign in his
stead. Now, O Lord God, let thy promise unto David my father, be
established; for thou hast made me king over a people like the dust of the
earth in multitude. Give me now WISDOM and KNOWLEDGE, that I may go out
and come in before this people; for who can judge this thy people that is
so great? And God said to Solomon, Because this was in thine heart, and
thou hast not asked riches, wealth, or honour, nor the life of thine
enemies, neither yet hast asked long life; but hast asked wisdom and
knowledge, that thou mayest judge my people over whom I have made thee
king; WISDOM AND KNOWLEDGE is GRANTED UNTO THEE; and I will give thee
RICHES, and WEALTH, and HONOUR, such as none of the kings have had that
have been before thee, neither shall there any after thee have the like."

The inspired description of Solomon's magnificence may justly excite
astonishment--a magnificence which extended to "all his drinking vessels,
which were of gold; and all the vessels of the house of the forest of
Lebanon were of pure gold; none were of silver: It was nothing accounted
of in the days of Solomon." It is natural to imagine, that the fame of so
remarkable a prince, concurring with the comparative ease with which gold
and silver were procurable, would contribute to establish that taste for
splendour which has ever distinguished the potentates of the East. It is
stated by Sir J. Chardin, that the plate of the king of Persia is of pure
gold, originally made by Shah Abbas, the most glorious of the princes of
the Sefi royal family; who, for this purpose, melted seven thousand two
hundred marks, or nearly thirty six thousand English troy ounces of _the
purest gold_. But Solomon, according to the testimony of Scripture, was
the most opulent prince that ever sat upon a throne. His annual revenues
were six hundred and sixty-six talents of gold, exclusive of the supply he
received from the customs and from tributary nations. A talent weighed
three thousand shekels, and a shekel two hundred and nineteen grains. The
king employed a navy, which, with the assistance of Tyrian vessels and
navigators, who were esteemed the most skilful in the world, fetched gold
and silver, ivory, apes, and peacocks, from Ophir, by the way of the red
sea. This voyage occupied three years.

In comparing the extremes of human society, the riches of a Solomon with
the poverty of a Bartimeus, it becomes us to recognize the hand of a
mysterious though wise Providence. He who fixed the stars of the firmament
in their proper places, determines, independently of all human control,
the orders of society and the sphere of the individual; and it is no less
consolatory than obvious, that the equitable rule by which a final
judgment of our character is to be determined, will measure the extent of
our responsibility, by an impartial estimate of our situation, our
opportunities, and our respective talents.

Attracted by the celebrity of Solomon, the QUEEN OF SHEBA came to
Jerusalem, with a train and presents suited to his dignity and her own.
Although the sovereigns of neighbouring nations paid similar visits of
ceremony and of curiosity, yet this illustrious woman is particularly
noticed in the sacred page, on account perhaps of her sex, her
inquisitiveness, the remoteness of her situation, the magnificence of her
equipage and offerings; but especially the piety of her views, and the
impressive language of her devout admiration.

The date of this interview with the king of Israel may be referred, with
sufficient accuracy, to the year of the world three thousand and twelve,
or nine hundred and ninety-two before the Christian era. This was
subsequent to the completion of the temple and of the royal houses. A
variety of opinions have prevailed respecting the kingdom of Sheba; and
some have supposed, though without sufficient reason, that this is the
name of the queen herself, and not of her country or capital. The
probability is, that _Sheba_, situated in the southern part of Arabia
Felix, and on the eastern coast of the Red Sea, is intended. Moses speaks
of Sheba, the son Joktan, a descendant of Eber, and more remotely of Shem;
and ancient authors represent his descendants, the _Sabeans_, as peopling
this district of Arabia, the metropolis of whose kingdom was denominated
_Sheba_ or _Saba_. It appears from authentic testimony, that they were
accustomed to female government; and Bochart proves, by numerous
citations, that the kingdom of Sheba was called by the Jews _the country
of the South_, which explains the phraseology of our Lord in the twelfth
chapter of Matthew. The geographical accuracy of this statement is further
corroborated, by comparing the description which the inspired historian
records of the gifts presented by this queen to Solomon, with the language
of Pliny and Herodotus: the former of whom says, "that odoriferous woods
were in use only in this country, and that the Sabean consumed them in
dressing their food;" and the latter, "that the Arabians took a thousand
talents of frankincense every year to Darius." We deem it proper to avoid
involving ourselves in a labyrinth of geographical difficulties, and have
therefore simply stated the result of our inquiries; which however may
furnish us with, at least, one serious reflection. How transitory and how
contemptible is human glory! It is not peculiar to the poor and the
destitute to be forgotten, to have their dwellings and their names perish
amidst the desolations of time; such is nearly the fate of one of the most
remarkable sovereigns of antiquity, whose visit to the greatest potentate
of the eastern world is so celebrated in Scripture. What mean our trifling
cares--our incessant solicitude about temporal possessions and worldly
distinctions? The house we now inhabit will soon be demolished and swept
away by the flood of time--the name by which we are distinguished, and the
annals of our short period of temporal existence, will soon be scarcely
remembered by our successor--all our glory will be covered with the
darkness of death! Shall we not, therefore, aim to secure an incorruptible
inheritance in the skies, and an unfading pre-eminence in the records of
eternity? "The _righteous_ shall be had in everlasting remembrance."

The design of the queen of Sheba, in repairing to Jerusalem, was not
merely to pay a visit of ceremony. She "heard of his fame concerning the
name of the Lord," and "she came to prove him with hard questions." The
report, not only of the riches, splendour, and wisdom of Solomon, but also
of the miraculous interferences of the God of Israel on behalf of his
people, and of his peculiar favour to this monarch, had reached the
distant residence of this Arabian queen; and so deep was the interest it
excited in her bosom, that she determined to undertake a journey, long and
hazardous as it might be, for the sake of investigating these
extraordinary facts. It is evident she attached a considerable degree of
credibility to the representations she had received; and relying no longer
upon subordinate means of information, she resolved upon a course of
diligent inquiry. When and where shall we discover a similar zeal to
acquire a knowledge of "the glorious Gospel of the blessed God?" How often
have Christian ministers occasion to adopt the prophetic strain, "Who hath
believed our report, and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?" How
often do all the personal excellencies, the moral glories of him who is
described as "a greater than Solomon," fail to attract mankind? Satisfied
with mere report--few apply to the sacred Scriptures as the immediate and
purest means of instruction in "the truth as it is in Jesus," after the
long-recorded example of the ancient Bereans, who "received the word (of
Paul and Silas) with all readiness of mind, and searched the Scriptures
daily, whether those things were so."

Bishop Hall very pertinently remarks, "No doubt many, from all coasts,
came to learn and wonder, none with so much note as this noble daughter of
Cham; who herself deserves the next wonder to him whom she came to hear
and admire: that a woman, a princess, a rich and great queen, should
travel from the remotest south, from Sheba, a region famous for the
greatest delicacies of nature, to learn wisdom, is a matchless example. We
know merchants that venture to either Indies for wealth; others we know
daily to cross the seas for wanton curiosity; some few philosophers we
have known to have gone far for learning; and among princes, it is no
unusual thing to send their ambassadors to far distant kingdoms, for
transaction of business either of state or commerce: but that a royal lady
should in person undertake and overcome so tedious a journey, only to
observe and inquire into the mysteries of nature, art, religion, is a
thing past both parallel and imitation. Why do we think any labour great,
or any way long, to hear a greater than Solomon? How justly shall the
queen of the South rise up in judgment, and condemn us, who may hear
wisdom crying in our streets, and neglect her?"

Among princely cares, the ardent search of truth can seldom be enumerated,
though it be a most honourable and beneficial employment. Those whom
Providence has placed in an elevated situation are usually too much
occupied with themselves, their pleasures, their pomp, and their ambitious
projects, to listen to the dictates, or to search out the mysteries of
wisdom. The concerns of an extensive empire furnish a plausible pretext
for neglecting the great interest of piety, which a deceived heart is
ready to plead in extenuation of a conduct condemned alike by reason,
conscience, and revelation. But let the rulers of nations observe David,
Solomon, and others of the kings of Israel; the splendour of whose earthly
glory was eclipsed by the superior brightness of their heavenly wisdom;
and whose names are written upon, the sacred page, not so much, because
they were _men of rank_, as because they were _men of God_. The command
of Jesus Christ is of prime importance and of universal obligation, "Seek
FIRST the kingdom of God and his righteousness;" and unless it can be
demonstrated that he has made one code of laws for the prince and another
for the peasant, or that his precepts possess an accommodating flexibility
suited to the prejudices and passions of mankind, no exception can be for
a moment admitted. As there is no royal road to the heights of human
science, but all who attain them must ascend by assiduous and persevering
application, so there is none to the summit of celestial felicity; but
persons of every class, rank, sex, and age, must follow Christ in the same
unsmoothed path of repentance and self-denial. Hence, such is the
bewitching influence of worldly splendour, so numerous and so powerful the
attractions of opulence, that we have daily and hourly proofs of the
apostle's statement: "Not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty,
not many noble, are called; but God hath chosen the weak things of the
world, to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the
world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things
which are not, to bring to nought things that are; that no flesh should
glory in his presence." But happily the long scroll of history is here and
there embellished with a name, which combines the glory that confers
pre-eminence in the present world, with the grace that secures everlasting
distinction in the next.

[Sidenote: Years before Christ, about 892.]

This celebrated princess is said to have visited Solomon, "to prove him
with hard questions," by which have generally been understood enigmatical
puzzles. Some of these are to be found in sacred writ, of which the riddle
which Samson proposed to the young men of Timnath, is a very ancient and
curious specimen. It appears from the writings of the ancients, that the
Greeks and all the Eastern nations, were singularly attached to enigmas.
Plutarch, in his Feast of the Seven Sages, introduces the following
questions proposed by Amasis, the king of Egypt, to the king of Ethiopia:
"What is the most ancient thing--what the most beautiful--what the
largest--what the wisest--what the most common--what the most useful--what
the most hurtful--what the strongest--and what the most easy?" To which the
king of Ethiopia replied, "The most ancient thing is time--the most
beautiful is light--the largest is the world--the wisest is truth--the
most common is death--the most useful is God--the most hurtful is the
devil--the strongest is fortune--and the most easy, to follow one's own
inclination." In the book of Proverbs, we find several series of this
description, which originally might have been answers to questions of a
similar nature. Among others, we have this very curious and beautiful
statement: "There be four things which are little upon the earth, but they
are exceeding wise; the ants are a people not strong, yet they prepare
their meat in the summer; the conies are but a feeble folk, yet make they
their houses in the rocks; the locusts have no king, yet go they forth all
of them by bands; the spider taketh hold with her hands, and is in kings'
palaces." To the same class may be referred the following paragraph in the
third chapter of Ecclesiastes: "To every thing there is a season, and a
time to every purpose under the heaven: a 'time to be born, and a time to
die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; a time
to kill, and a time to heal: a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time
to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to get, and a
time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to rend, and
a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to
love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace."

Enigmatical questions and answers may easily degenerate into mere childish
amusement: but it is due to the celebrity of the queen of Sheba, to
suppose that her inquiries were principally directed to the great purpose
of information. She was indeed curious to _prove_ Solomon, to ascertain
whether his reputation for wisdom were the result of mere courtly
panegyric and flattering report, or whether it really originated in a
supernatural endowment--but still more anxious to acquire knowledge
"concerning the name of the Lord." While, therefore, she discovered a
laudable desire of information upon subjects connected with the
improvement of her mind, in general knowledge, and in political wisdom;
she aspired after a more intimate acquaintance with that heavenly truth,
which had hitherto been almost exclusively communicated to the descendants
of Abraham. In this she may be exhibited as a pattern for the particular
imitation of her own sex. No exterior accomplishments, no personal
attractions can reconcile an intelligent observer to an ignorant mind;
while such an one would be easily persuaded to dispense with external
beauty, for the sake of mental and moral worth. He would prize the jewel,
and overlook the inferiority of the casket. Curiosity is one of the most
powerful principles of our nature, and may be indulged where it is not
perverted. Let a woman assiduously cultivate, in early life especially,
her mental faculties, and cherish an inquisitive spirit upon all the
subjects of knowledge within the reach of her pursuit, still under the
constant regulation of modesty and her sister graces; and let her never
for a moment imagine, that knowledge is inimical either to her personal
happiness and influence, or to her domestic duties. So far, indeed, as an
intemperate persuit of learning disqualifies a woman for the sphere which
Providence has allotted her, so far as she is rendered proud, pedantic,
unsocial, assuming, and negligent of the proper business of every day in
her family, it is to be discouraged; not from the consideration that
_knowledge_ is an evil, but the _misuse_ of it. Its legitimate tendency is
to improve the female character--to polish off the asperities and
roughnesses occasioned by the indulgence of pride--to teach her the proper
duties of her station, and the best means of discharging them--to elevate
her into the interesting and intelligent companion of social and domestic
life--to constitute her the best instructor of her children, at that early
period when the first buddings of intellect are discernible, the first
tendencies of the mind begin to be developed, and the character for time,
perhaps for eternity, is to be formed. It is then under the hand of
maternal tenderness the model of the future man or woman is to be made;
for it is seldom, even in the most unhappy cases of apostacy, that traces
of this early formation are by any circumstances totally obliterated.

But while we plead for the cultivation of the youthful mind, by a diligent
use of all the advantages which are afforded to impart knowledge, be it
remembered, that the "wisdom which is from above" must not only be
sought--but sought _first,_ as of paramount importance. With all our
conscious superiority in other respects, if destitute of the knowledge of
"the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom he hath sent," we shall prove
but as "a sounding brass, and as a tinkling cymbal." Our boasted
attainments, as enhancing our responsibility, will minister to our final
condemnation; and while imagining we have been defective in nothing, we
shall feel the everlasting remorse connected with the conviction of having
forgotten or despised the "ONE thing NEEDFUL."--

  "'Tis Religion that can give
  Sweetest pleasures while we live;
  'Tis Religion can supply
  Choicest comforts when we die."

Solomon conducted himself to the queen of Sheba in a manner highly worthy
of his wisdom, and instructive to those who are distinguished from others
by any natural or acquired superiority. He was neither reserved nor
impatient, but suffered her to "commune with him of all that was in her
heart. And Solomon told her all her questions; there was not any thing hid
from the king, which he told her not." It ill becomes those who can teach,
to be supercilious and uncommunicative. As the rich are required to supply
the necessities of the poor with a judicious liberality, being expressly
appointed as the trustees of Providence, and dispensers of its bounty; and
as those who withhold, when it is in the power of their hands to give, are
unfaithful stewards; so, persons qualified to be the instructors of
others, or who assume a station which presupposes such a qualification,
ought to exert their talents and employ their time for the benefit of the
uninformed. Is not this a lesson for the ministers of the sanctuary? For
what purpose is "heavenly treasure" committed to "earthen vessels?" Is it
not for distribution? Are they not made rich in spiritual gifts, graces,
and knowledge, that, instead of monopolizing their spiritual possessions,
they may aim to supply and enrich an impoverished world? The true
ministerial spirit breathes in the language of Peter to the lame man, who
was laid daily at the gate of the temple, "Silver and gold have I none,
_but such as I have give I thee_; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth,
rise up and walk."

Every thing her eyes beheld at Jerusalem produced, in the queen of Sheba,
surprise and admiration. Accustomed as all the eastern nations were to
splendour, she had never before witnessed such an universal and surpassing
magnificence. Solomon's wisdom--his house--his luxurious table--his
servants--his ministers--the temple, and the devotional manner of his
attendance upon its services, struck her with overwhelming astonishment.
When she had seen all these, "there was no more spirit in her."

It is easy to imagine that the TEMPLE, a structure which has been admired
in every age for its unparalleled glory, and for which such minute
directions were given by Jehovah himself, must have attracted particular
notice; especially when it is considered, that the science of architecture
was, at that period, in a very infantine state, compared to its subsequent
progress amongst the Greeks and Romans, and that temples were a species of
building probably unknown to the queen of Sheba. It is notorious that the
Persians, who worshipped the sun, erected no temple, from a persuasion it
would be derogatory to his glory who had the whole world for his
habitation; and hence the magi exhorted Xerxes to destroy all the temples
in his expedition to Greece. The Bithynians worshipped on the mountains,
the ancient Germans in the woods; and Diogenes, Zeno, and the Stoics,
expressly condemned the erection of such edifices. The Arabians rendered
homage to the sun, stars, and planets; and their religion resembled the
ancient Chaldean superstition. The illustrious visitor of Solomon must,
therefore, have been confounded at an architectural magnificence so
superior to any thing she had ever before witnessed.

The inspired historian also mentions the house of the forest of Lebanon;
his own palace, which occupied thirteen years in building; a house for
Pharaoh's daughter whom he married; with other expensive erections. "All
these were of costly stones, (according to the measures of hewed stones,
sawed with saws,) within and without, even from the foundation unto the
coping, and so on the outside towards the great court. And the foundation
was of costly stones, even great stones; stones of ten cubits, and stones
of eight cubits. And above were costly stones, (after the measures of
hewed stones) and cedars."

Josephus gives the following amplified description of these buildings:
"This house (the king's palace) was a large and curious building, and was
supported by many pillars, which Solomon built to contain a multitude for
hearing causes, and taking cognizance of suits. It was sufficiently
capacious to contain a great body of men, who would come together to have
their causes determined. It was a hundred cubits long, and fifty broad,
and thirty high, supported by quadrangular pillars, which were all of
cedar, but its roof was according to the Corinthian order, with folding
doors, and their adjoining pillars of equal magnitude, each fluted with
three cavities; which building was at once firm and very ornamental. There
was also another house so ordered, that its entire breadth was placed in
the middle; it was quadrangular, and its breadth was thirty cubits, having
a temple over against it, raised upon massy pillars; in which temple there
was a large and very glorious room, wherein the king sat in judgment. To
this was joined another house, that was built for his queen. There were
other smaller edifices for diet, and for sleep, after public matters were
over; and these were all floored with boards of cedar. Some of these
Solomon built with stones of ten cubits, and wainscotted the walls with
other stones that were sawed, and were of great value, such as are dug out
of the earth for the ornaments of temples, and to make fine prospects in
royal palaces, and which make the mines whence they are dug famous. Now
the contexture of the curious workmanship of these stones was in three
rows, but the fourth row would make one admire its sculptures, whereby
were represented trees, and all sorts of plants, with the shades that
arose from their branches, and leaves that hung down from them. Those
trees and plants covered the stone that was beneath them, and their leaves
were wrought so prodigiously thin and subtle, that you would think they
were in motion: but the other part up to the roof was plastered over, and,
as it were, embroidered with colours and pictures. He moreover built other
edifices for pleasure; as also very long cloisters, and those situate in
an agreeable place of the palace; and among them a most glorious
dining-room, for feastings and compotations, and full of gold, and such
other furniture as so fine a room ought to have for the conveniency of the
guests, and where all the vessels were made of gold. Now it is very hard
to reckon up the magnitude and the variety of the royal apartments; how
many rooms there were of the largest sort; how many of a bigness inferior
to those; and how many that were subterraneous and invisible; the
curiosity of those that enjoyed the fresh air; and the groves for the most
delightful prospect, for the avoiding the heat, and covering of their
bodies. And to say all in brief, Solomon made the whole building entirely
of white stone, and cedar wood, and gold, and silver. He also adorned the
roofs and walls with stones set in gold, and beautified them thereby in
the same manner as he had beautified the temple of God with the like
stones. He also made himself a throne of prodigious bigness, of ivory,
constructed as a seat of justice, and having six steps to it; on every one
of which stood, on each end of the step, two lions, two other lions
standing above also; but at the sitting-place of the throne, hands came
out and received the king; and when he sat backward, he rested on half a
bullock, that looked towards his back, but still all was fastened together
with gold." [38]

If human happiness were uniformly proportionate to the degree of elevation
in the scale of society, and the extent of worldly riches, some plausible
pretence might be framed for that eager ambition which characterizes so
large a part of mankind; but, if Solomon may be congratulated as
remarkably happy, this arose not from his being unusually rich, but
pre-eminently wise. In vain does any one expect substantial enjoyment, who
despises or neglects religion; while he who possesses it can never be
miserable. "Having nothing, he yet possesses all things." If it be not our
condition, but the state of our mind, that constitutes the blessedness of
life, exterior circumstances can neither confer nor deprive us of real
peace. The "contentment" which "godliness" imparts, is "great gain;"
because it renders its possessor, in a high degree, independent of the
vicissitudes that agitate this terrestrial scene, raises him above the
tempests of this transitory state of existence to a higher sphere, and
admits him into the very precincts of heaven. If Solomon had been endowed
with _wealth_, but remained destitute of _wisdom_, we should have looked
down upon his earthly splendour as a fading dream, or as the tinsel
decoration of a littleness which, by this means, became the more
contemptible; had he been possessed of _wisdom_ without _wealth_, we
should still have regarded him as the first of our species, and rich in
all the requisites of real felicity.

Having recovered from the ecstacy which the first impression of Solomon's
wisdom and magnificence produced, the queen of Sheba said to the king, "It
was a true report, that I beard in mine own land of thy acts and of thy
wisdom. Howbeit, I believed not the words, until I came, and mine eyes had
seen it; and, behold, the half was not told me; thy wisdom and prosperity
exceedeth the fame which I heard. Happy are thy men, happy are these thy
servants which stand continually before thee, and that hear thy wisdom,
Blessed be the Lord thy God which delighteth in thee, to set thee on the
throne of Israel; because the Lord loved Israel for ever, therefore made
he thee king to do judgment and justice."

Many reflections occur upon reading this noble panegyric. Nothing is so
conducive to the true glory of a monarch, and the real interests of his
people, as an entire self-devotement to the proper business of government.
He who avoids the splendid course of ambition, to cultivate the arts of
peace, and to promote, by judicious regulations, the internal welfare of
his dominions, may not always glitter upon the page of history; but will
live in the hearts of his people, and be embalmed in their grateful
recollections. He will have the satisfaction, when commanded by Providence
to lay aside his crown, to leave to his subjects what is infinitely better
than extended empire, an _example_ worthy of their imitation.

It becomes us to recognize a superintending providence in the appointment
of rulers to their stations--to remember that "promotion cometh neither
from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south; but God is judge, he
putteth down one, and setteth up another"--and that the gift of a good
king is a mark of favour, and ought to excite a people's gratitude. It was
because "the Lord loved Israel forever," that Solomon was placed upon the
throne. Confining our attention solely to second causes, and the limited
horizon of the political theatre, we may frequently perceive nothing but
confusion--the struggles of ambition--the uproar of passion--the ravings
of impiety--the clash of arms--the subversion of thrones--the desolation
of provinces--the flow of human blood--and an interminable series of
changes, both unexpected and mysterious;--but when the light of Scripture
breaks upon the dark and troubled scene, it discloses the footsteps of
Deity walking in the midst of the storm, regulating all human affairs, and
rendering every occurrence subservient to his own omniscient purposes.
With these discordant elements he is moulding future events, and preparing
to exhibit to the admiration of the intelligent universe, "a new heaven
and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness."

Comparing, further, the situation of the servants and courtiers of
Solomon, with that of others in Pagan countries, we cannot help uniting in
the congratulations of his noble visiter, and remarking the advantage of
religious connexions in general. Wicked association is the bane of human
society, and fatally conducive to the confirmation of evil habits and
principles, or to the excitement of them. Such persons, therefore, as are
connected with the people of God, who have pious parents or friends, or
who are servants in religious families, cannot be too grateful to
Providence, or too solicitous of improving their advantages. Let them be
attentive to the instructions they receive, and anxious to understand and
join in the devotions which are offered on the domestic altar.

But this congratulatory strain of the queen of Sheba may be applied to the
Christian age, and to "a greater than Solomon." Jesus Christ is "king in
Zion," and happy are his servants which stand continually before him, to
hear his wisdom; happy they who have "the glorious Gospel" in their
possession, and, by means of the evangelical historians of the New
Testament, witness the actions and hear the words of this divine
Instructor! The intelligence that distinguished the king of Israel was but
a single beam of light from the "Sun of Righteousness," by whom all
spiritual knowledge is communicated to the world--who is the fountain of
all wisdom, and whose glory will for ever irradiate and beautify a
redeemed universe. When believers ascend above this inferior state of
existence into the presence of God and the Lamb, notwithstanding all the
communications of inspired penmen in the sacred page--owing to the
imperfection of human language, and the circumstances of man, which, in
some cases, render further instructions _impossible_, in others
_improper_--such will be their discoveries of the glory of Jesus Christ,
that the language of the queen of Sheba will prove peculiarly descriptive
of their feelings, "behold, the half was not told me." And even here
experienced piety exclaims, "whom having not seen we love; in whom, though
now we see him not, yet believing, we rejoice with JOY UNSPEAKABLE AND
FULL OF GLORY."

The queen of Sheba did not return to her country till she had given
Solomon a hundred and twenty talents of gold, besides a great quantity of
spices and precious stones; a present, for which the king made suitable
acknowledgments, by giving her "all her desire; whatsoever she asked,
besides that which Solomon gave her of his royal bounty." Harmer remarks,
"this appears strange to us; but is perfectly agreeable to modern Eastern
usages, which are allowed to be derived from remote antiquity.

"A reciprocal giving and receiving royal gifts has nothing in it strange;
but the supposition of the sacred historian, that this Arabian queen
_asked_ for some things she saw in the possession of king Solomon, is what
surprises us. However, the practice is very common to this day in the
East--it is not there looked upon as any degradation to dignity, or any
mark of rapacious meanness.

"Irwin's publication [39] affords many instances of such a custom, among
very considerable people, both in Arabia and Egypt, though not equal in
power to the queen that visited king Solomon. They demanded from time to
time, such things as they saw, and which happened to please them; arms,
vestments, &c. What the things were that so struck the queen of Sheba, as
that _she asked_ for them, and which Solomon did not before apprehend
would be particularly pleasing to her, the sacred historian has not told
us, nor can we pretend to guess.

"Many other travellers have mentioned this custom, and shown that the
great people of that country not only expect presents, but will directly,
and without circumlocutions, ask for what they have a mind to have, and
expect that their requisitions should be readily complied with; while,
with us, it would be looked on as extremely mean, and very degrading to an
exalted character." [40]

This reciprocation of presents may be considered as illustrative of that
homage which it becomes every heart to render to the Son of God, and of
those divine communications of grace with which he will ever enrich the
believer. We cannot indeed enhance his glory by the most splendid
liberalities, or the most costly offerings; but he solemnly requires, and
graciously deigns to accept our penitence and our obedience. "The
sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O
God, thou wilt not despise." Whatever be the present state of the world,
it is pleasing to reflect that an omnipotent Providence is hastening the
triumphs of Christ; and to this wise and glorious King of Israel, all the
tribes of the earth shall ultimately present their best offerings and
their united affections. "The kings of Tarshish and of the Isles, shall
bring presents; the kings of Sheba and Seba shall offer gifts. Yea, all
kings shall fall down before him; all nations shall serve him."

But what shall be said to those who refuse submission to the authority of
Jesus Christ, and reject the blessings of his salvation? How pungent was
his address to the Jewish nation, and how applicable to such characters in
the present age! "The queen of the south shall rise up in the judgment
with this generation, and shall condemn it: for she came from the
uttermost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and, behold, a
greater than Solomon is here." The queen of Sheba only had access to the
wisdom of _Solomon_--but you have access to the wisdom _Christ_--she came
from a _very distant region_--but "the word is _nigh thee,_ even in thy
mouth and in thy heart; that is, the word of faith which we preach"--she
came _uninvited,_ and upon the hazard of a favourable reception--but you
are _requested_ and _urged_ to come to Jesus, and partake of the
provisions which cover the well-spread table of his grace. His supplies
are spiritual, and therefore invaluable. He does not promise gold, but
dispenses "grace and glory."--He confers not the fading honours and
transient distinctions of this life, but the joys of _salvation,_ the
blessedness of _heaven_, the riches of ETERNITY!



The Shunammite

Chapter XIII.



Section I.


  Characteristic Difference between profane and sacred History--the
  Shunammite introduced--her Hospitality--Proposes to her Husband to
  accommodate Elisha with a Chamber--the Gratitude manifested by the
  Prophet in offering to speak for her to the King--her Reply expressive
  of Contentment--various Considerations calculated to promote this
  Disposition--Advantages of a daily and deep Impression of the transitory
  Nature of our Possessions, and of keeping another Life in view.


How strikingly different is the course of profane and sacred history! The
former, searching out the most prominent characters that figure upon the
stage of life, exhibits them in pompous language, and, by emblazoning
their actions with the lustre of high-wrought description and extravagant
panegyric, conceals from view those moral blemishes which a nearer
inspection, through the medium of a more dispassionate narrative, would
discover in all their enormity. Hence the Alexanders and Cæsars of the
world, whose mighty ambition, in marching to take possession of
unoffending empires, has trampled on the rights of man, the fruits of
industry, and the comforts of domestic life, and whose laurels are died
with the blood of humanity, have nevertheless had their names transmitted
with loud applause from age to age. High station, noble birth, great
talents, or marvellous exploits, though associated with daring crime,
constitute a sufficient passport to the historic page, which too often
extols where it ought to censure: and instructs us to venerate a name
which should rather be execrated.

Sacred history pursues a different course. It records, indeed, the actions
of the unworthy as well as of the pious; not that we should be roused to
rapturous admiration of their achievements, but, by tracing the dreadful
outline of their characters, and the fatal consequences of their guilt, be
incited to avoid their vices. In general, those individuals whom civil
history overlooks, are found in the inspired records, while "the mighty"
and "the noble" remain unnoticed. Some few instances, indeed, of the lives
of great men, in point of station and rank, furnish exceptions to this
observation; but they are introduced, not because they were _great_, but
because they were _pious_; or, if impious, because they stood connected
with the church of God. Scripture does not so much furnish the history of
the world as the history of the church and of human nature. It aims to
instruct, not to amuse or astonish; and that, by the exhibition of
characters remarkable in any respect for their efforts to oppose or to
promote the purposes of eternal wisdom, or for the exhibition, in a
private sphere, of those principles, the knowledge of whose diversified
operations might prove useful to posterity.

Shunem, or Sunam, a city of the tribe Issachar, would have been scarcely
noticed or known but for the residence of an opulent female, who is
Herself rendered forever illustrious in consequence of her friendship for
the prophet Elisha, and the eminence of her religion: but, though "a great
woman," her name is omitted in the narrative--of so little importance are
those distinctions upon which mankind value themselves so highly! She is
simply designated _the Shunammite_, after the name of her city.

[Sidenote: Years before Christ, about 835]

The inspired narrator notices, in the first place, the warmth of her
hospitality, and its unabating continuance to Elisha. On a certain
occasion, when he went to Shunem, she urged him to visit her, which issued
in such a mutual esteem, that "as oft as he passed by, he turned in
thither to eat bread." Among the ancients, and in a simple state of
society, where the accommodations of modern travelling were unknown, the
entertainment of strangers was considered as one of the first of duties.
In all the Arab villages this necessary practice prevails. The sheikh, or
principal person, generally invites strangers to his house, furnishes them
with eggs, butter, curds, honey, olives, and fruit, when there is not
sufficient time to dress meat: and, if they choose to remain during the
night, they are treated with the utmost kindness. The Arabs value
themselves highly upon their hospitality. "How often," says one of their
poets, "when echo gave me notice of a stranger's approach, have I stirred
my fire that it might give a clear blaze. I flew to him as to a prey,
through fear that my neighbours should get possession of him before me."
[41]

The Scriptures furnish many examples of this duty. Abraham, in
entertaining three strangers, is said to have "entertained angels
unawares;" Lot received two angels into his house, who appeared as
strangers in the streets of Sodom: Job affirms of himself, "The stranger
did not lodge in the street; I opened my doors to the traveller;" a good
widow, in the apostolic age, is described as washing the saints' feet,
relieving the afflicted, and _lodging strangers_; and Gaius is represented
as receiving Christian ministers into his house as his own children.

Although a considerable difference of circumstances exists in more
civilized countries, and in this age, so as to render such an extensive
hospitality impossible, as well as in many cases unsafe; yet no change of
custom and no lapse of time can preclude the duty itself, or diminish the
force of the apostolic admonition, "be not forgetful to entertain
strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares." If an
indiscriminate admission of strangers into the domestic circle might, in
our case, be productive of great inconveniences, benevolence requires that
those acts of kindness should be shown to others which comport with our
means and opportunities, and that we should aim at such moderation in our
usual expenditure as shall enable us to discharge the obligations of
Christian charity. How, otherwise, can we "do unto others as we would that
others should do unto us?" The wheel of Providence is perpetually
revolving, and who knows but that he who is now at the summit of worldly
prosperity, or in the full enjoyment of an easy competence, may soon be
brought down to the level of the needy; and, though he may be in a
condition to _confer_ kindness to-day, may have to _solicit_ it to-morrow?
Who can be insensible to the privilege of the Saviour's final benediction,
"Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from
the foundation of the world: for I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat;
I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink; I was a stranger, and ye took me in;
naked, and ye clothed me; I was sick, and ye visited me; I was in prison,
and ye came unto me."

The Shunammite did not entertain a stranger merely, but a prophet; and,
from the conversation of Elisha, doubtless derived that spiritual
edification which induced her to solicit his future friendship. Others
came, departed, and were forgotten; but religion in each heart converted
these strangers into friends, and cemented a holy union, which neither
time, nor change, nor death, could dissolve.

It is to be lamented, that the converse even of holy men in Christian
families is not always tinged with that piety which renders it as "a sweet
savour," and too frequently the ministers of the sanctuary fail to enforce
the admonitions of the pulpit and fix the sacred impressions of the
sabbath by "a conversation becoming the Gospel of Christ." What fine
opportunities do they possess of "winning souls to Christ," or "building
up the saints in their most holy faith," by the very nature of their
office, and the extensive private intercourse to which it admits them! It
would be well for _all_ to cultivate that sort of spiritual adroitness for
which _some_ are truly remarkable, who can, with the utmost facility,
glide from general topics of discourse to religious communications, which
are so piously, and yet so delicately managed, that the most hostile are
in some degree conciliated, and even pleased. The apostle of the Gentiles
thus exhorts Timothy, "Be thou an example of the believers in word, in
conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity."

This excellent Shunammite proposed to her husband to accommodate Elisha
with a _little chamber_ appropriated to his own use, with which he seems
readily to have complied. This is much to the honour of both; to the one
for her proposal, to the other for his compliance. It is a happy
circumstance where those who have joined hands are united in heart, and,
avoiding the spirit of domination, are equally anxious to fulfil the
respective duties of their domestic character. The ground of her
solicitation, was that of his being "a holy man of God," which, it is to
be feared, would prove a very decisive _objection_ to such a measure in
many families, who wish to conceal their gay and licentious habits from
such observance. The suggestion of this pious lady to her husband
respecting the accommodation of their agreeable visiter, may remind us of
the duty of women, 'to avail themselves of the opportunities with which
providence favours them in married life, to give such useful hints to
their husbands as their benevolence will naturally dictate. The
multiplicity of engagements in which the husband is involved, in the
prosecution of his daily concerns, often precludes those thoughts which
might issue in plans of public utility or more private kindness; while the
wife has leisure for this very important purpose. And to the honour of the
female sex let it be recorded, that the poor and the destitute are
indebted to the ladies of Britain for originating, and in many cases
carrying into execution, some of the noblest schemes of Christian charity.

Separate buildings, resembling the prophet's chamber, are frequently
attached to houses in the East, sometimes rising a story higher than the
house, at other times consisting of one or two rooms and a terrace: others
are built over the porch or gateway, having most of the conveniences
belonging to the house itself: they communicate by a door, into the
gallery of the house, which the master of the family opens or shuts at
his pleasure; besides another door, which opens from a private staircase
immediately into the porch or street, without giving the least disturbance
to the house. These back-houses are called _olee_ or _oleah_, and in them
strangers are usually lodged and entertained. The little chamber built by
the Shunammite for Elisha was probably of this description. To this he had
free access, without interfering with the family, or being interrupted by
them in his devotions, and from it he might privately retire whenever he
pleased. [42]

The peculiar simplicity of the furniture in the prophet's chamber cannot
fail of striking attention: it consisted of a _bed_, a _table_, a _stool_,
and a _candlestick._ This scanty fitting up of his room is by no means to
be attributed to disrespect or negligence: it is rather to be considered
as characteristic of the simplicity of the times. The intention certainly
was to accommodate Elisha in a manner expressive of reverence and esteem.
The original term, unhappily rendered _stool_ in our English version,
signifies one of the most honourable kind of seats usually placed in an
apartment, and is sometimes translated _throne_. In ancient times, the
nations of the East were not so universally addicted as they are at
present to sitting on the ground upon mats or carpets, but accustomed
themselves to raised seats or chairs, which were sometimes sufficiently
elevated to require a footstool. The _candlestick_ is likewise to be
considered as a mark of respect, if not of magnificence, and its
particular use was to keep a light burning the whole night. Dr. Chandler
mentions a lamp being placed in his room for this purpose in the house of
a Jew, who was vice-consul for the English nation, at the place where he
landed when about to visit the ruins of Asia Minor.[43]

In general, however, the prophets chose to live in the plainest manner:
they built their houses with their own hands, and wore a coarse dress of a
dark brown colour. Instead of availing themselves of the opportunities
with which they were often presented of acquiring riches, or of
frequenting the luxurious tables of the great, they sometimes refused the
most valuable presents. Of this we have a remarkable specimen when Elisha
declined the gifts of Naaman, and inflicted a dreadful punishment upon
Gehazi for his contrivance to secure them. If the mean attire and mode of
living which distinguished the ancient prophets cannot be viewed in the
light of an authoritative example to future ages, and if something may be
reasonably conceded to the practices of different nations, this may be
received as an axiom, that those whom Providence has appointed to the
sacred office ought to avoid all unnecessary show in their appearance, and
all ambitious aspiring after the vain splendours of life; for "the fashion
of this world passeth away." On the other hand, it is the duty, and should
be considered as the privilege of pious individuals, to whom Providence
has dispensed riches or competence, to minister to the necessities of the
poor servants of God, who, while devoting their lives to promote their
spiritual comfort, and that of their families, have neither time nor means
to rescue themselves from a state of dependence and poverty. "If they have
been partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister
unto them in carnal things."

Elisha was not insensible to all this kindness, but, on the contrary,
feeling anxious to devise some means of requiting it, he intimated,
during one of his visits, his wish to render his hostess any service in
his power, and proposed what he thought might be the most acceptable;
"Behold," said he, "thou hast been careful for us with all this care; what
is to be done for thee? wouldst thou be spoken for to the king, or to the
captain of the host?" It is gratifying to find that Elisha possessed so
much influence at court, and that Jehoram, though an impious prince,
honoured the man of God. But, perhaps, the king of Israel was more
influenced in his attachment by the miracle which the prophet had lately
performed in his favour, and the victory he had promised to him and his
royal friends Jehoshaphat and the king of Edom, than by any proper regard
to his person or his office.

The answer of this Shunammite to the prophet's proposal was brief, but
expressive: it indicated a mind full of contentment, and actuated in all
its liberal devices by the purest motives. "I dwell," said she, "among
mine own people;" _q. d_. "I am satisfied with my lot--I am happy in the
circle in which I move--I have no wish to emerge from obscurity, persuaded
that though I or my family might gain in point of distinction or wealth by
your kind interference, we should lose a considerable portion of that real
comfort which, in our estimation, is better than the greatest of earthly
possessions."

The sentiment of this pious lady is to be distinguished from the opinion
which has prevailed in some parts of the world, that the perfection of
religion consists in a total retirement from the intercourse of life to
the cell of the monk or the cave of the hermit, and in passing the days
and nights of existence in mere speculative contemplation. That separation
from the world which the word of God enjoins, is a separation of
_spirit_, a withdrawment of the affections from its criminal pursuits and
guilty indulgences. It does not interdict all intercourse with mankind, or
censure a diligent pursuit of business, but inculcates purity of
character, and teaches us so to act in the particular sphere assigned us
by the arrangements of Providence, that "our good works," may be "seen,"
and our "light" may "shine before men."

Religion is not an abstract principle, or a mere speculation; it is
operative: God is its source and end, but society its proper sphere of
action. In circumstances of perplexity and trial its real nature is best
developed, as conquering the irregularity of desire, pacifying the
turbulence of passion, purifying all the principles of the corrupt heart,
and forming men into the future associates of angels and "saints in
light." The Shunammite did not retire from her people, her family, or her
friends; but "_dwelt_ amongst them," exemplifying those virtues which
adorn domestic and social life, and securing, as we may infer from her
expressions, that general esteem which such exalted goodness is calculated
to procure. She discharged scrupulously and zealously the appropriate
duties of her situation, and shone in the orbit allotted to her by Him
whose infinite wisdom disposes all the arrangements of the natural and
moral worlds, with conspicuous brightness and useful influence.

Moreover, the language in question presents us with one of the finest
specimens of contentment in the records of history. It may be affirmed
without hesitation, that nothing can secure the exercise of this temper,
in the present constitution of the human mind, but genuine religion. In
cases where no such principle exists, dissatisfaction imbitters the cup of
our earthly portion, and all those ambitious feelings which agitate and
distress the life of man, acquire an uncontrolled ascendency. The
discourse of Pyrrhus with Cineas is only a transcript of the impatient
ambition of the generality of mankind. "If it please Heaven that we
conquer the Romans," said the philosopher, "what use, sir, shall we make
of our victory?"--"Cineas," replied the king, "your question answers
itself. When the Romans are once subdued, there is no town, whether Greek
or Barbarian, in all the country, that will dare to oppose us; but we
shall immediately be masters of all Italy, whose greatness, power, and
importance, no man knows better than you." Cineas, after a short pause,
continued, "But after we have conquered Italy, what shall we do next,
sir?" Pyrrhus, not yet perceiving his drift, replied, "There is Sicily
very near, and stretches out her arms to receive us; a fruitful and
populous island, and easy to be taken: for Agathocles was no sooner gone,
than faction and anarchy prevailed among her cities, and every thing is
kept in confusion by her turbulent demagogues."--"What you say, my
prince," said Cineas, "is very probable; but is the taking of Sicily to
conclude our expeditions?"--"Far from it," answered Pyrrhus, "for if
Heaven grant us success in this, _that success shall only be the prelude
to greater things_. Who can forbear Libya and Carthage, then within reach,
which Agathocles, even when he fled in a clandestine manner from Syracuse,
and crossed the sea with a few ships only, had almost made himself master
of? And when we have made such conquests, who can pretend to say that any
of our enemies, who are now so insolent, will think of resisting us?" "To
be sure," said Cineas, "they will not; for it is clear that so much power
will enable you to recover Macedonia, and to establish yourself
uncontested sovereign of Greece. But when we have conquered all, what are
we to do then?"--"Why then, my friend." said Pyrrhus, laughing, "we will
take our ease, and drink, and be merry." Cineas, having brought him thus
far, replied, "And what hinders us from drinking and taking our ease NOW,
_when we have already those things in our hands at which we propose to
arrive through seas of blood, through infinite toils and dangers, through
innumerable calamities, which we must both cause and suffer?_" [44]

One motive to contentment, which probably influenced the Shunammite, and
which is calculated to inspire a similar feeling in every situation, arose
from the conviction, that _happiness is much more equally diffused than we
commonly imagine_.

Whatever may be the diversities of human condition, and however preferable
the situation of some above others may _seem_, to an inexperienced or
careless observer, looking only at the _exterior_ of society, Providence
has so wisely adjusted its various inequalities, that it becomes extremely
difficult to determine who possesses the most happy lot. Wherever
particular advantages exist, they are balanced by proportionate evils, and
the reverse: the golden cup often contains a bitter potion, while sweet is
the draught and refreshing the supply, that is brought in a broken
pitcher. The poor are apt to suppose, that opulence furnishes an
inexhaustible fund of enjoyment; and that luxurious tables, sumptuous
palaces, and a splendid retinue, confer a never-failing enjoyment;
forgetting that riches create a thousand artificial wants, a thousand
fantastic desires, which it is utterly impossible to supply. The wealthy
look with pity upon the indigent, as condemned to an irksome and perpetual
drudgery, and destitute of all means of enjoying life; a pity they might
well spare, did they know that labour sweetens rest, and that unpampered
appetite has none of those loathings which luxury superinduces. Riches and
poverty are not then, according to the miscalculations of mankind, terms
of synonymous import with happiness and misery. The most exalted have many
afflictions, the most depressed many comforts. The shafts of envy fly over
the lowly cottage, and smite the towers of greatness; and while the
peasant sleeps soundly in his humble cottage,

  "Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown."

It has been well remarked by Bishop Hopkins, that "there is scarcely any
condition in the world so low, but may satisfy our _wants_; and there is
no condition so high, as can satisfy our _desires_. If we live according
to the law of nature and reason, we shall never be poor; but if we live
according to fond opinion and fancy, we shall never be rich."

The diversities of our temporal condition, therefore, illustrate the
remark which Solomon has connected with very important advice; "In the day
of prosperity be joyful, but in the day of adversity consider; _God also
hath set the one over against the other_, to the end that man should find
nothing after him."

Independently of these considerations, it may be questioned whether that
change after which so many eagerly aspire, would really conduce to their
happiness. The probability is, that _any_ material alteration of
circumstances is unfavourable to enjoyment, and that our respective
destinies are so wisely arranged, that each one is, upon the whole, most
likely to secure the greatest proportion of temporal felicity in the
sphere originally assigned him, than in any other. His habits, his views,
his friendships, are all fixed by his position and place in society, and
all his mental faculties have been trained, so to speak, to this very
spot. Any removal or change would be hazardous and more likely to impair
than consummate his happiness. After the growth of years, the tree cannot
be transplanted into another soil and air without long exhibiting symptoms
of languishing, and sometimes a total decay.

Another reflection calculated to promote a contented spirit is, that _if
we were capable of tracing the tendencies, connexions, and ultimate
results of all things as they are seen, by the eye of Omniscience, and
established by omnipotent power, we should perceive as much reason to be
thankful for what is denied us, as for what is bestowed_. The fancied good
which we are so eager to obtain would, in many cases, be a real evil in
possession. Our prejudices and passion prevent our forming a proper
judgment, and were not our heavenly Father influenced by a truly parental
solicitude for his people, the most fatal mischiefs would arise.

Providence has two ways of punishing a repining or an impatient temper;
the one is by _counteracting_ it, by placing the imaginary good beyond the
reach of attainment, and forcing back the wandering heart to its home and
its God, by disappointing its expectations of happiness in earthly
possessions. Such refusals, or rather obstructions to temporal success,
are indications of the purest regard, as parents, _severely_ kind, take
away from their froward children those destructive weapons which had
attracted them by their glittering appearance. Another, and a more
dreadful mode of inflicting necessary chastisement, is, by _complying_
with their wishes, and making them feel the insufficiency of what they
desired to render them happy. They "forsook the fountain of living
waters," and the "cisterns" they resolved to possess, prove to be "broken"
and empty. In this case, they suffer the double penalty of dissatisfaction
_in_ the imaginary good for which they had sacrificed so much, and of deep
remorse for a misconduct which has incurred the divine displeasure. It is
said of Israel, "he gave them their request, but sent leanness into
their soul."

In considering the _denials_ of Providence, it should not be forgotten,
that what is in part an evil, may be a good upon the whole; the amputation
of a disordered or fractured limb, as it necessarily produces great
personal suffering, is in part an evil; but, inasmuch as it saves life, it
is, on the whole, an important good. On the other hand, that which as in
part good, may, on the whole, be an evil; the rich cargo with which a
vessel is freighted may be considered in itself a good, but if it be
retained to the destruction of the vessel tossed by a tempestuous ocean,
and struck upon a sunken rock, it is, on the whole, a dreadful evil; and
yet, in the vast concerns of the soul and eternity, what multitudes act
upon this fatal principle--clinging to their treasures, though they sink
them into perdition!

It is obvious, therefore, that in order to understand the dispensations of
Heaven, it is necessary to know the circumstances of each particular case,
which the very limited extent of our present knowledge and capacities
renders utterly impossible; and it cannot be doubted, that if we were
acquainted with the _whole_ subject, the most afflictive events of life,
no less than the most pleasing, would be seen to form essential parts of
that great system of mercy, by which the universal Disposer is promoting
the ultimate and perfect felicity of all his children. "But let patience
have her perfect work," for eternity will discover these mysteries of
time. "_Now_ we see through a glass darkly, but _then_ face to face; now I
know in part, but then shall I know even as also I am known."

A third consideration, which, doubtless, influenced this contented
Shunammite, was, _the vanity of the world_. The wise have always
admitted, that the three principal objects of human desire, pleasures,
riches, and honours, when weighed in the balances of truth, are "found
wanting," and that, although the misplaced eagerness of mankind attributes
to them a thousand charms, they are in reality, but "airy nothings."

"As bubbles blown into the air," says Bishop Hopkins, "will represent a
great variety of orient and glittering colours, not (as some suppose) that
there are any such really there, but only they appear so to us, through a
false reflection of light cast upon them; so truly this world, this earth
on which we live, is nothing else but a great bubble blown up by the
breath of God in the midst of the air, where it now hangs. It sparkles
with ten thousand glories; not that they are so in themselves, but only
they seem so to us through the false light by which we look upon them. If
we come to grasp it, like a thin film, it breaks, and leaves nothing but
wind and disappointment in our hands; as histories report of the fruits
that grow near the Dead Sea, where once Sodom and Gomorrah stood, they
appear very fair and beautiful to the eye, but, if they be crushed, turn
straight to smoke and ashes." If, from general reflections, we descend to
the particular details of life, it will still be found, that "while we
eagerly pursue any worldly enjoyments, we are but running after a shadow;
and as shadows vanish, and are swallowed up in the greater shade of night,
so when the night of death shall cast its thick shade about us, and wrap
us up in deep and substantial darkness, all these vain shadows will then
disappear and vanish quite out of sight."

The vanity of the world arises from the instability and mutation of human
affairs, as well as from the comparative insignificance of all its best
enjoyments. We say, "What a large estate does that distinguished
personage _possess!_"--vain word and false--he is only a tenant for a
day--to-morrow he will become the inhabitant of a sepulchre! What a
mansion is yonder!--what a lovely family! what prospects in business! what
admirable connexions! what charming society! O what an edifice of human
happiness is here!--The Providence of God blows upon the four corners of
the house, and it falls! "Here we have no _continuing_ city"--no fixed,
unalterable enjoyments--no permanent rest. Mutation is inscribed in
characters clear and legible to the eye of reason, upon all terrestrial
things; and so uncertain are our property, our health, our enjoyments, our
friendships, our ALL upon earth, that, as the thistle-down is scattered by
the gentlest breeze, these light and fair possessions may be wafted away
by the first wind that rises, or the first touch of unexpected adversity.

The impressive language of Scripture corroborates and illustrates these
representations. Man that is born of a woman is of few days, and full of
trouble. "He cometh forth like a flower, and is cut down: he fleeth also as
a shadow, and continueth not." ... "Lord, make me to know mine end, and
the measure of my days what it is, that I may know how frail I am. Behold,
thou hast made my days as a hand-breadth, and mine age is as nothing
before thee: verily, every man at his best state is altogether vanity.
Surely every man walketh in a vain show: surely they are disquieted in
vain; he heapeth up riches, and knoweth not who shall gather them." ..."
We spend our years as a tale that is told." ... "My days are like a shadow
that declineth; and I am withered like grass," ... "As foreman, his days
are as grass, as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth; for the wind
passeth over it, and it is gone; and the place thereof shall know it no
more." ... "Man is like to vanity; his days are as a shadow that passeth
away." ... "I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and,
behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit." ... "What hath man of all
his labour, and of the vexation of his heart, wherein he hath laboured
under the sun? For all his days are sorrows, and his travail grief, yea,
his heart taketh not rest in the night. This is also vanity." ... "Who
knoweth what is good for man in this life, all the days of his vain life
which he spendeth as a shadow! for who can tell a man what shall be after
him under the sun?" ... "Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher, all is
vanity." ... "Go to now, ye that say, To-day or to-morrow we will go into
such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell and get gain;
whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It
is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and than
vanisheth away."

A fourth reason for contentment, and which we cannot doubt influenced the
pious woman of Shunem, is to be derived from a _view of that future
happiness which infinite goodness has provided for the children of God_.
In the early period to which we are now adverting, "life and immortality"
were not so distinctly "brought to light" as they are in the Christian
dispensation by "the Gospel;" but from the day of the first promise of a
Saviour, the believing mind perceived the grand purposes for which he was
to descend into the world, and enjoyed some pleasing anticipations of that
paradise, which it was his prerogative to confer upon one of his
fellow-sufferers on the cross. If, as we believe, the Shunammite were
acquainted with the existence, and, in some degree, with the glory of a
future state; if with Job she felt convinced, that "though worms destroy
this body, yet in her flesh she should see God;" if she knew any thing of
that inexpressible charm which attaches to the blessedness of "a better
country," arising from its unfading permanence,--the language of
contentment which she uttered, was but the natural expression of a feeling
which such discoveries were calculated to excite. It was sufficient, in
her apprehension, to all the purposes of real happiness, to "pass the time
of her sojourning," among her "own people," without seeking those
distinctions which constitute only the vain decorations of a scene that
passeth away. Nor did her principles merely promote satisfaction with her
lot: they fortified her against the assault of temptation, a temptation
presented in the least exceptionable form, and recommended by the sanctity
of a prophet, who deliberately proposed to her an interference with the
king, or the captain of the host, for her temporal advancement. Her words
express an unalterable resolution of mind: "I dwell amongst mine
own people."

Every thing earthly possesses a character of insignificance from its
transitoriness, while every heavenly object becomes inviting on account of
its durability. A single hour may precipitate us from the highest worldly
elevation--the proudest laurel that ever decked the brow of the proudest
hero quickly fades; and he who sits out upon a journey of discovery to
find the extent of human enjoyments, will soon "see an END of all
perfection." But religion has laurels which never fade; crowns of glory
which pass to no envious successor. Religion does not lay her foundations
in the sand, but erecting her temple upon the shores of eternity, bids us
enter in, to "go no more out."

An apostle states, that "godliness hath the promise of the life which now
is, and of that which is to come;" intimating the certainty of the
existence of a future state, the nature of its felicities, and the
essential connection between the _pursuit_ and the ultimate _possession_
of it. The value of this promise respecting the life to come, is not a
little enhanced by its being accomplished precisely at that critical
moment when every earthly hope expires, and every human joy departs.
Godliness has, indeed, the promise of the life which "_now_ is;" but, if
it had _not_, the life which "now is" will soon terminate: the successive
generations of mankind are hastening to the grave; _our_ breath will soon
cease--our possessions must soon be left--our days soon covered with the
shadows of the last evening--all we fondly called _our own_ scattered to
the winds;--but at such a moment of desolation, the religion of Jesus
points to regions of deathless felicity. His voice seems to sound across
the gulf of death, in accents soft and sweet as the harps of angels, "I am
the resurrection and the life." And the "life to come" is no other than
the perfection of the Christian's life which "now is"--a life of love--a
life of peace, purity, and praise--a life of incessant activity in the
service of the blessed God. Hence his present spiritual life, is a kind of
pledge and promise of his eternal life; the pantings and breathings of a
holy mind after that world, are proofs that it is his _home;_ and the
believer in Christ becomes assured, that as he advances in spiritual
attainments here, he is making so many approaches, hastening by so many
steps, to the perfection and joy of eternity.

A few brief observations on the advantages resulting from a daily and deep
impression of the transitory nature of terrestrial possessions, and
keeping the scenes of another life in constant view, shall close the
present section.

1. This will tend to moderate our earthly attachments. Affections were
not implanted in our nature to be suppressed and extinguished. We may
love, but we must not love inordinately. Love must be proportioned to the
value of the object, and must be regulated by scriptural principles,
otherwise we shall commit offence, and suffer injury. There is a remedy,
and but one _effectual_ remedy, for the errors of the heart. It is
suggested by an apostle: "Set your affection on things above, not on
things on the earth."

2. A due impression of the present, and a just conception of the future,
will conduce to the purification of our moral principles. Intermixture
with the world, its business and concerns, and those solicitudes which
occupy the attention in reference to transactions merely temporal, tend to
vitiate the mind. In the pursuits of traffic we seem to live, as if we
were destined to live here always. The interests of a moment engross and
captivate the passions, and kindle ardours which burn with incessant
vigour. The mind is brought close to present objects, in consequence of
which they assume an unnatural magnitude, filling the whole sphere of
vision, and excluding external realities from view. The effect of this is
depraving: it contracts the soul, misdirects its energies, and blunts the
edge of its spiritual sensibility.

3. The sentiment we are wishing to inculcate will furnish us with
consolation amidst adversities, and reconcile the spirit to bereaving
dispensations. The present is a probationary state; and although the
particular mode of suffering be unknown, afflictions are not unexpected by
Christians. But whatever is transitory is tolerable--

                      "----the darkest day,
  Live till to-morrow, will have pass'd away."

As their own condition is subject to vicissitude, they know also the
uncertainty of every other, and realize the possibility of separation from
their nearest and dearest connections. The severity of disappointment is
here diminished; for what cannot be retained, or is precarious, or _ought_
to be resigned, is dispensed with, if not without a sigh or tear, at least
without a resentment against the smiting hand of Providence.

4. This comparative view of our two states of being, and this just
estimate of their proportionate importance, will prepare us for our own
dissolution. The feeling that we have no fixed, no permanent abode on
earth, will familiarize the mind with the consideration, that "it is
appointed unto men once to die." If, when a fatal disease attacked the
constitution, we thought for the first time of our removal from the
present scene, the effect would be unspeakably painful, and hence arises
the despondency which often pervades the mind of such as have moved only
in circles of gayety and dissipation; but a Christian frequently meditates
upon the final hour. While looking at this or that valued possession, he
reflects, "I must soon leave it: the loan will, in a short period, be
reclaimed."

Nor is this all. The prospect before him is exhilarating. "To die is
gain." If the death of a man resembled that of a beast, if the termination
of life were the extinction of being, the prospect would be inexpressibly
alarming: but the religion of Jesus confers a victory over every fear by
revealing immortality. A Christian knows there is something worth dying
for; and this animates him to walk with a firm step down "the valley of
the shadow of death." He is guided through a darkness impervious to
reason. A beam from the "excellent glory" lights him HOME!



Section II.


  Elisha promises a Son to the Shunammite--his Birth--his sudden Death, in
  consequence of facing sun-smitten--she repairs to the Prophet--her
  expression of profound Submission to the Will of God--her subsequent
  impassioned Appeal to Elisha--the Child restored to Life--the
  Shunammite's Removal into Philistia, and Return--her successful
  Application to the King for the Restoration of her Property.


Defeated in his benevolent intentions by the unambitious spirit of the
Shunammite, Elisha consulted his confidential servant Gehazi, through whom
the former communication had been made, respecting what could be done for
her benefit. Sincere as her refusal had been, he found it impossible to
satisfy himself without some further attempt to express his gratitude; and
upon the suggestion of Gehazi that she had no child, the prophet directed
that she should be again called into his presence. "And he said, About
this season, according to the time of life, thou shall embrace a son."

It is not improbable, that although Elisha addicted himself to great
retirement, Gehazi might be in the habit of familiar intercourse with this
pious family, by which means perhaps he found that they were anxious upon
this point; at least, if that spirit of perfect contentment which breathed
in the language on which we have already offered some observations,
influenced them on this as well as on other occasions, they no doubt had
intimated, in a moment of unreserved intercourse, that a child would prove
a most acceptable gift of Providence.

The brevity of the sacred history precludes that detail of circumstances
attending any particular transaction which it sometimes seems necessary
to suppose.

In the present case, it is not to be presumed that Elisha would have
ventured, _immediately_, upon the mere suggestion of Gehazi, to give so
important a promise to the Shunammite as that which is here recorded,
without first consulting the will of Heaven, or receiving some divine
intimation of an event which no human being could foresee, much less make
the subject of a solemn prediction.

Upon his announcing so unexpected a mercy, she manifested that sort of
incredulity which extreme astonishment blended with joy is calculated at
the first moment to produce; and the well-known effect of which accounts
for what, under other circumstances, would appear like disrespectful
language: "Nay, my lord, thou man of God, do not lie unto thine handmaid."
She was too much acquainted with Elisha's character to intend to charge
him with deliberate falsehood; but her feelings were suddenly overpowered,
and consequently, she was at no leisure to weigh her words. The prophet's
prediction was completely verified; and she had a son, "at that season
that Elisha had said unto her, according to the time of life,"--"Lo!
children are a heritage of the Lord; and the fruit of the womb is
his reward."

In reviewing the scriptural account of remote ages, we cannot fail to be
struck with several instances of the extreme anxiety of good women for the
possession of children; an anxiety which requires some other reason than
the general causes to be assigned for domestic and social congratulations
common upon such occasions. Sarah, for example, the wife of Abraham, was
induced by this desire to practise a piece of wretched and criminal
policy, in giving Hagar, her Egyptian handmaid, to her husband. Rachel,
the beloved wife of Jacob, was so impatient of her own barrenness, and so
envious of her sister, that she exclaimed, "Give me children, or else I
die." The fact was, that they were influenced by the promises of God to
Abraham, whose posterity were to inherit the most invaluable blessings,
and from whom the Messiah himself was to descend in the fulness of time.
As in him "all the families of the earth were to be blessed," who can be
surprised that the most distant probability or possibility of introducing
him, who was to be "born of a woman," into the world, should excite an
ardent wish in every pious woman to become a mother? And here it must be
admitted, that whatever reproach the first transgressor might have cast
upon the female sex by her misconduct, it is forever wiped away by the
enviable distinction of becoming instrumental to a Saviour's birth.

The time hastened in which the Shunammite was to be subjected to a species
of trial different from that with which she had been hitherto exercised.
The congratulations of her connections on the birth of her child were
scarcely expressed, and her earthly happiness consummated, when she was
destined to suffer acutely by the death of her little favourite.

Those who have never felt a similar deprivation are necessarily
disqualified from forming any adequate idea of the bitterness of parental
grief, when the objects of their fondest solicitude are suddenly snatched
from the grasp of their affections. It is difficult to say in what period
of youthful history this stroke is severest, or when it is most tolerable;
because every point of age has its peculiar attractions, and parental love
will always imagine that to be the most afflicting in which the event
occurs. Happy those who can adopt the language of one of the sweetest
epitaphs that ever adorned a monument!--

  "Liv'd--to wake each tender passion,
    And delightful hopes inspire;
  Died--to try our resignation,
    And direct our wishes higher:--

  "Rest, sweet babe, in gentle slumbers,
    Till the resurrection morn;
  Then arise to join the numbers,
    That its triumphs shall adorn.

  "Though, thy presence so endearing,
    We thy absence now deplore;
  At the Saviour's bright appearing,
    We shall meet to part no more.

  "Thus to thee, O Lord, submitting,
    We the tender pledge resign;
  And, thy mercies ne'er forgetting,
    Own that all we have is thine." [45]

It is not unusual for the providence of God to deprive us of those objects
we had too exclusively and too fondly called _our own_, and the long
enjoyment of which we had confidently anticipated. This is no capricious
proceeding: it is marked by wisdom and goodness, since our real happiness
depends on the regulation of those passions which, but for such
dispensations, would rove with unhallowed eccentricity from the chief
good. It is necessary that we should be trained in the school of
adversity; and that by a course of corrective discipline, nicely adapted
to each particular case, our characters should be gradually matured for a
nobler existence.

The manner in which the calamity to which we have referred overtook the
Shunammite, is thus detailed by the faithful pen of inspiration. "And when
the child was grown, it fell on a day that he went out to his father to
the reapers. And he said unto his father, My head, my head! And he said to
a lad, Carry him to his mother. And when he had taken him and brought him
to his mother, he sat on her knees till noon, and then died."

From this brief statement it is evident that this child was smitten by the
sun, in consequence of exposing himself in the harvest field to the
intensity of the season. In northern climates it is difficult to realize
the danger; but in the torrid zone great precaution is necessary to avoid
such calamities. Observing the effects of the sun's rays, Apollo is
represented, in heathen mythology, as holding a bow, and shooting his
arrows upon the earth.

  "Pay sacred reverence to Apollo's song,
  Lest watchful the far-shooting god emit
  His fatal arrows."

                     PRIOR'S Callimachus.

The heat in some parts of Judea has often proved fatal, even at a very
early period of the year. In a battle fought by king Baldwin IV. near
Tiberias in Galilee, as many are said to have died in both armies by the
heat as by the sword; and an ecclesiastic of eminence, although carried in
a litter, expired under mount Tabor, near the river Kishon, in consequence
of the excessive heat. Shunem was in the neighbourhood of Tabor. [46]

As soon as the Shunammite found that her son was dead, she took him to
the prophet's chamber, and laying him on his bed, shut the door and
departed. The only reason of this proceeding probably was, its being the
most retired part of the house, and therefore the best suited to such a
melancholy occasion. But who can express the yearnings of her maternal
tenderness, when she left behind her this precious, but now insensible
clay! That tongue which had so often pleased her by its innocent prattle,
so often uttered

              ----"the fond name
  That wakes affection to a flame,"

was now silent in death; and those artless and attractive smiles, which to
a mother's heart were more lovely than the looks of the morning, were
subsided into the fixed and motionless aspect of one whose spirit has
ceased to animate the body.

An impatient temper might have invented many reasons for discontent, on
this affecting occasion. It might have reproached the father for
permitting the child to accompany him, at this sultry season, into the
harvest field--the child for an infantine eagerness to go--or herself for
indiscreetly allowing of so dangerous a gratification. A comparison of the
happier lot of other families might have been drawn, whose children went
out on the same day, and returned unsmitten by the infectious atmosphere,
or the burning sun; and by aggravating the painful peculiarity of her own
affliction, she might thus have driven the barbed arrow still deeper in
her bosom, and censured, at least by implication, the Supreme Disposer.
But we have to admire a conduct which bespeaks the fullest conviction that
it was a _providence_ and not a _casuality_ that occasioned the death of
her beloved offspring, and evinces the most entire acquiescence in the
mournful event.

While our attention is confined solely to second causes, the mind will be
involved in a labyrinth of difficulties, in judging of the changes and
trials incident to the present life; but when our faith ascends above this
low and limited scene, to contemplate the arrangements of an universal
Providence, the deepest mysteries become unravelled, and the greatest
seeming inconsistencies in a considerable degree reconciled. Or, if we
cannot develope the whole plan, and ascertain the reason of every movement
of almighty Wisdom, we at least acquire a spirit of submission and
obedience.

Some persons are so overwhelmed by their sorrows as to be totally
disqualified for their duties: but, although the world may applaud this
acute sensibility, religion condemns it. As the effect of mere passion, it
has nothing in it which can secure the approbation of God; on the
contrary, it is offensive to him, who, while he permits us to weep, does
not allow us to despond, and who often sees it best to humble a refractory
spirit by a repetition of chastisement.

This excellent Shunammite, after making the necessary arrangements for her
poor departed son in the prophet's chamber, instead of sitting down to
indulge her own melancholy feelings, or court the compassion of her
domestics and friends, despatched a messenger to her husband, to request
that a servant might be sent to her with one of the asses, for the purpose
of going to pay a visit to the man of God. As she had not told him the
motive of this sudden determination, he remonstrated, because it was
"neither new moon nor sabbath," that is, neither the usual time of secular
or sacred journeys. [47] He was, however, easily satisfied when she
intimated that she had a good reason for wishing to pay this visit. "She
said, It shall be well."

"See," says pious Matthew Henry, "how this husband and wife vied respects;
she was so _dutiful to him_ that she would not go till she had acquainted
him with her journey, and he so _loving to her_ that he would not oppose
it, though she did not think it fit to acquaint him with her business."

Equipped according to the eastern mode of travelling, the Shunammite
mounted an ass, and ordered the man appointed to attend her and goad on
the animal, to make all possible haste to mount Carmel. As soon as Elisha
saw her coming, he sent Gehazi to salute her with these inquiries: "Is it
well with thee? Is it well with thy husband? Is it well with the child?"
As she came at so unexpected a moment, and with such evident haste, the
prophet was naturally apprehensive that some calamity had befallen her,
and, as he felt a deep interest in all her concerns, first inquired
respecting what he well knew lay near her heart, the welfare of her
family. Her reply was short, but remarkable: "IT IS WELL."

Some have considered this merely as an evasive answer, made for the
purpose of avoiding conversation with Gehazi, with whom she did not wish
to enter into the particulars of her present situation. This, however, is
an improbable interpretation, because it would by no means comport with
the general integrity of her character, nor with the respect which was
due, and which we know she cherished, for the prophet. This was doubtless
the message with which Gehazi returned to his master, who, from his
ignorance of her precise circumstances, could not, till her own subsequent
explanation, comprehend the elevated sentiments implied in such a general
reply. A pious mind in similar circumstances would not hesitate to affirm,
"_It is well_"--_well_ with the living--_well_ with the dead--_well_ with
those who, notwithstanding all their bereavements, are under the care of
Heaven and enjoy the smiles of God--_well_ with those whose disembodied
spirits, escaped from the imprisonment of time, have ascended to the
unfettered freedom, the unbounded felicity, of eternity.

In this view the Shunammite recognized the sovereignty of God; his
indisputable right to dispose of her and her affairs as he pleased. "Shall
the clay say to him that formed it, What doest thou?" The unbending temper
of infidelity will, perhaps, receive this as "a hard saying;" but it is
affirmed in the inspired page, and must ever be admitted by him who is in
his "right mind." Uncontrollable power, acting irrespectively of wisdom or
goodness, would be indeed a terrific idea, and must issue in a state of
universal anarchy; but the _perfection_ of that Infinite Being who
"sitteth upon the circle of the earth," secures the _righteous_ exercise
of the most irresistible authority; and of this we may ever be assured,
that although his arm is omnipotent, it is never unmerciful.

The Shunammite intended also to express her confidence in the goodness of
God, however disguised by the afflictive nature of his dispensations. In a
proper state of mind it will not be requisite, in order to produce
resignation, that we should comprehend the whole design of every sorrow.
We should bow to the mysteriousness of the event; and the patience of our
endurance will not depend on the full developement and explanation of the
mystery. Whether events accord with our wishes or oppose them, "It is THE
LORD" will strike us into silence and submission.

Upon this subject the declarations of the Scriptures are most encouraging.
They affirm, that "he doth not willingly afflict or grieve the children of
men"--that their own benefit requires the chastisement, of whatever
description it may be--that not a needless sigh heaves the human bosom, or
an unnecessary tear is made to flow--and that "all things work together
for good to them that love God, to them that are the called according to
his purpose." It cannot be doubted, that the all-wise Disposer could, if
he had pleased, have prevented a single cloud from rising to darken the
Christian's day, and by the interdictions of his Providence, as formerly
by the blood sprinkled upon the door-posts of Israel in Egypt, have
secured his people from the visitation of all the messengers of wo; but he
knows that affliction is conducive to our real welfare, that it is a means
of improving our character, and of preparing us for that state of perfect
enjoyment where it shall be no longer necessary; and that it furnishes
occasion for the exercise of those graces which adorn the Christian's
character, and glorify his God.

"We should endeavour," to use the words of a profound writer, "not to be
distressed about any thing, but to take every event for the best. I
apprehend this to be a duty, and the neglect of it to be a sin: for in
truth, the reason why sin is sin, is merely because it is contrary to the
will of God. If, therefore, the essence of sin consists in having a will
contradictory to the known will of God, it seems clear to me, that when he
discovers his will to us by events, we sin if we do not conform ourselves
to it." Again, "Our own will, though it should obtain all it can wish,
would never be contented; but we are contented from the very instant that
we renounce it. We never can be contented with it," [48] nor otherwise
than contented without it.

It is highly proper to investigate the causes of our sorrows, to inquire
how far they are occasioned by any thing sinful in ourselves. It becomes
us to be humble and penitent before God, when we discover that our own
misconduct has rendered it necessary for him who is "slow to anger" to
inflict chastisement. It is to be feared that while we abhor the blasphemy
of uttering the language of complaint, and of saying, like Jonah, "I do
well to be angry," we often do not suspect the criminality of cherishing
hard thoughts of Providence, doubting the propriety or repining at the
continuance of afflictive dispensations. There exists, perhaps, a secret
suspicion of his goodness, a latent spirit of revolt, which we dare not
express, or which we flatter ourselves, because we give it another name,
that we do not cherish.

The people of God sometimes receive affliction with a gaze of wonder, as
if it were the most unlikely of all occurrences. We feel no surprise when
it attacks _others_, but live in the true spirit of the poet's
representation,

  "All men think all men mortal but _themselves_."

In general terms we even acknowledge that we are not exempted; and yet,
when actually visited by personal or relative troubles, we seem like a
traveller suddenly overtaken by a thunderstorm; all is confusion and
alarm: our faith, and hope, and joy, take wing, and leave us solitary and
sad. In our alarm we forget God, think it "strange," brood with a
melancholy, but guilty pleasure, over our sufferings, and act as if we
thought that "God had forgotten to be gracious." But "let them that suffer
according to the will of God, commit the keeping of their souls to him in
well doing, as unto a faithful Creator."

"Four things," observes Melancthon, "ought to be well impressed upon our
minds respecting afflictions.

"1. They are appointed. We do not suffer affliction by chance, but by the
determinate counsel and permission of God.

"2. By means of affliction God punishes his people; not that he may
destroy them, but to recall them to repentance and the exercise of faith;
for afflictions are not indications of displeasure, but of kindness--'He
willeth not the death of a sinner.'

"3. God requires us to submit to his afflictive dispensations, and to
expend our indignation and impatience upon our own sins; and, since he
determines to afflict his church in the present state, submission tends to
glorify his name.

"4. Resignation, however, is not all; he requires faith and prayer, that
we may both seek and expect divine assistance. Thus he admonishes us,
'Call upon me in the day of trouble, I will answer thee, and thou shalt
glorify me.'

"These four considerations are applicable to all our afflictions, and are
calculated, if properly regarded, to produce that truly Christian
patience, which essentially differs from mere philosophical
endurance." [49]

As soon as the Shunammite came to Elisha, she fell at his feet and
embraced them. Gehazi attempted to thrust her away, but the prophet told
him to desist, intimating that he perceived she was in some deep
affliction with which he was unacquainted. Then bursting out in the abrupt
language of impassioned grief, she exclaimed, "Did I desire a son of my
lord? Did I not say, Do not deceive me?"

If these words wear a complaining aspect, we must make allowance for the
strength of maternal feelings; perhaps, too, notwithstanding her
characteristic equanimity of temper, and the elevated piety of her mind,
she was betrayed, in this instance, into some degree of impatience. It is
remarkable, that some of the most eminent of saints have failed, in
particular periods of their lives, in the exercise of those very
dispositions for which they are particularly celebrated. That faithful
page, which delineates the characters of men with perfect impartiality,
represents Moses, distinguished for his _meekness_, as in a state of
_violent irritation_ when he saw the idolatry of Israel; in consequence of
which he broke the two tables of stone to pieces on which the finger of
God had inscribed his own laws--Job, to whom sacred and profane history
have assigned extraordinary _patience_, in language the most emphatical,
"_cursed his day_"--Peter, whose _courage_ and _ardent zeal_ in the
service of his Divine Master were apparent on every other occasion, not
only _trembled_ before the simple intimation of a servant-maid that he was
one of his friends, but _denied_ him with _oaths_ and _curses_. Such is
the inconsistency of human character! Such are the shades that darken the
brightest names. Such the salutary warnings that preceding ages transmit
to those who have to follow the long train of heaven-bound travellers to a
better existence!

Let us turn our eyes for a moment from these specimens of mortal
excellence to Him who was "holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from
sinners;" and who has left us "an example, that we should follow his
steps: who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth ... who his
own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to
sins, should live unto righteousness."

Compassionating the distressed Shunammite, Elisha immediately adopted
measures to afford her effectual consolation. He commanded Gehazi to
hasten to the chamber appropriated to his use, and lay his staff upon the
face of the child. He was to avoid the usual compliments upon meeting
friends or strangers, in order that not a moment might be lost. [50] The
bereaved mother, in the mean time refused to quit the prophet, to whom she
was so much attached, and in whom she cherished such unbounded confidence;
and he, affected by her sufferings, arose and accompanied her home.

Gehazi fulfilled his commission; but finding no symptoms of life, he
returned to inform his master, whom he met on the way. "And when Elisha
was come into the house, behold, the child was dead, and laid upon his
bed. He went in, therefore, and shut the door upon them twain, and prayed
unto the Lord. And he went up, and lay upon the child, and put his mouth
upon his mouth, and his eyes upon his eyes, and his hands upon his hands,
and he stretched himself upon the child; and the flesh of the child waxed
warm. Then he returned and walked in the house to and fro; and went up and
stretched himself upon him; and the child sneezed seven times, and the
child opened his eyes. And he called Gehazi, and said, Call this
Shunammite. So he called her. And when she was come in unto him, he said,
Take up thy son. Then she went in, and fell at his feet, and bowed herself
to the ground, and took up her son, and went out."

It is observable, that the attempt to reanimate the child by despatching
the servant to place the prophet's staff upon its face utterly failed,
possibly because "this act was done out of _human conceit_, not out of
_instinct from God_." [51]

Elisha, however, came, _prayed unto the Lord_, and succeeded in effecting
a miraculous restoration of the departed child. The grateful mother may be
classed among those who, through faith, "received their dead raised to
life again." How animating the prospect of that moment when almighty power
will be displayed in raising every human body from the grave, and
reuniting it with its kindred spirit in a state of deathless existence!
May we attain the "blessedness and holiness" of such as have "part in the
_first_ resurrection!"

Only one other circumstance is mentioned in the history of the Shunammite.
When Israel was threatened with a famine of seven years, Elisha forewarned
her of the danger, and advised her retirement into some place of security
and plenty. She accordingly removed with her family into the land of the
Philistines. At the expiration of this period she returned; but finding
that her property had become the prey of rapacity, or was alienated by
some royal edict, she applied to the king for its restoration. This was
perfectly consistent with her former character; for although she felt no
eagerness for worldly advancement, and, indeed, refused it, piety did not
require a total negligence of her civil rights, or of measures calculated
to preserve her and her beloved family from a state of indigency.

Providentially, at the precise moment of her application the king was
conversing with Gehazi, who was informing him of Elisha's miracles, and in
particular of the miracle he had performed upon the deceased son of the
Shunammite. She was of course introduced under the most favourable
circumstances; and having ascertained the identity of the present
applicant, "the king appointed unto her a certain officer, saying, Restore
all that was hers, and all the fruits of the field, since the day that she
left the land even till now."

Thus is afforded a striking exemplification of the remark of Solomon, "The
king's heart is in hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water: he turneth it
withersoever he will."



Esther.

Chapter XIV.



  The Feasts of the King of Persia--his Queen Vashti sent for--her Refusal
  to obey the Summons--her Divorce--Plan to fill up the Vacancy--Esther
  chosen Queen--Mordecai detects a Conspiracy--declines paying Homage to
  Haman--Resentment of the latter, who obtains a Decree against the
  Jews--Mordecai's Grief, and repeated Applications to Esther--she goes in
  to the King--is accepted--invites the King and Haman to a
  Banquet--Mortification of the latter at Mordecai's continued
  Neglect--Orders a Gallows to be built for the disrespectful Jew--the
  Honour conferred by the King upon Mordecai for his past Zeal in his
  Service--Haman's Indignation--is fetched to a second Banquet--Esther
  tells her feelings, and accuses Haman--his Confusion and useless
  Intreaties--he is hung on his own Gallows--Mordecai's
  Advancement--Escape of the Jews by the Intercession of Esther--Feast
  of Purim.


One of the most delightful employments of the heavenly state will probably
be, to investigate the past dispensations of Providence, and to make
perpetual discoveries of its mysteries. In that world of light, events
which are now covered with clouds and darkness impervious to the eye of
sense, will become obvious to the view of "just men made perfect" in all
their proportions, connexions, and combinations. The shadows of the
morning having disappeared, the brightness of eternal noon will irradiate
our existence.

We are by no means to imagine, however, that it is inconsistent with the
present arrangements of divine goodness to afford us information, even in
this world, respecting his plans and purposes; we do "know," though it be
but "in part." The book of providence is indeed the least intelligible to
us of all that the wisdom of God has written: but we can read _some_ of
its pages, and understand _some_ of its hieroglyphical characters. The
histories of Scripture constitute a volume of elementary instructions, of
which the narrative of ESTHER has always been regarded as singularly
interesting.

[Sidenote: Years before Christ, about 460.]

In order to introduce this story, it will be requisite to take a cursory
view of some previous occurrences. The scene is laid in Persia, in the
days of Ahasuerus, another name, as learned men have generally agreed, for
Artaxerxes Longimanus. After struggling with those perplexing competitions
for empire which often obstruct the path to a crown, and agitate the first
years of power in arbitrary governments, he at length secured the dominion
of Persia with its hundred and twenty-seven provinces. To proclaim his
undisputed possession, and to display his glory, he appointed a feast,
which may perhaps be deemed unrivalled in the majesty of its circumstances
and the length of its continuance. At the expiration of a hundred and
fourscore days the king gave another entertainment of seven days, for "all
the people that were present in Shushan the palace, both unto great and
small." It was held in the court of the garden, for the purpose of
accommodation, and with great magnificence. Vashti also, his royal
consort, in conformity to the usages of the times, which, it must be
admitted, were admirably calculated to preserve the purity of morals,
prepared a separate entertainment for the women in another part of the
palace. "Vashti feasted the women in her own apartment: not openly in the
court of the garden, but in the _royal house_. Thus, while the king showed
the _honour of his majesty_, she and her ladies showed _the honoux of
their modesty_, which is truly the majesty of the fair sex." ... HENRY.

Alas! how little did Ahasuerus comprehend wherein true riches and dignity
consisted; and how little are these heathen "lovers of pleasure" to be
envied by us, who are invited as welcome guests to a nobler table and a
better banquet! "Wisdom hath builded her house, she hath hewn out her
seven pillars, she hath slain her oxen, she hath mingled her wine." Into
the highways and hedges, into every quarter of the world, and amongst
every class of mankind, the messengers of heaven are commissioned to go
and call the poor as well as the rich, the peasant as well as the prince,
to the "feast of fat things," which celestial mercy has provided in the
Gospel, where admission is not exclusive, where indulgence cannot be
construed into excess, where not a brutal appetite, but a mental and
spiritual taste, is amply supplied. The princes of Persia congratulated
themselves upon the favour of Ahasuerus; but how much greater reason have
Christians to rejoice in the friendship of Christ! Now they are admitted
to participate the blessings of his grace and the sacramental festival;
hereafter they have substantial reasons to anticipate a diviner
intercourse and a more exalted familiarity, when they shall drink new wine
with him in his Father's kingdom.

On the seventh day of the feast already mentioned, the king commanded the
seven chamberlains of his household to wait upon Vashti, and bring her
before him arrayed in the crown-royal. His heart is said to have been
"merry with wine," or he would not have thought of indulging his own
vanity, and insulting his queen's dignity, by such an exhibition. She
ventured to refuse a compliance with this royal order, in which she was
probably countenanced by the concurring opinion and feelings of the ladies
who were present at the entertainment. As a woman she felt for the honour
of her sex, and as a queen for her individual reputation and dignity. It
was unquestionably a foolish command, contrary to the Persian customs, and
dishonourable to the character of Ahasuerus as a sovereign and a husband.
It is not by indulging pomp that the glory of a prince is best displayed,
but by useful enactments, virtuous associations, and an upright uniformity
of conduct.

Unreasonable, however, as the demand of Ahasuerus was, Vashti ought not to
have been so peremptory. In such an age, and under such a government, a
moment's consideration must have excited in her an apprehension of danger.
Besides, it was not the time for remonstrance. She was no private
character; it was, therefore, an injudicious resistance of his authority.
Obedience would have involved no guilt; but disobedience, even though the
command were ridiculous, necessarily exposed her husband's authority to
contempt. It must be admitted in Christian communities, that the Gospel
requires submission on the part of a wife; nor is this requisition limited
solely to those commands which the woman herself may deem just and proper,
otherwise her own humour, caprice, or misconception, would perpetually
infringe upon a positive law, and in fact, render it nugatory. On the
other hand, if the husband would secure a cheerful obedience, and cherish,
instead of spoil, an amiable temper, or regulate a peevish one, let his
wishes be reasonable in themselves, and uttered without a look or a term
expressive of an insolent consciousness of superiority.

Ahasuerus instantly resented the refusal of Vashti. His passion became
outrageous, sensible that his dignity was insulted and his authority
questioned. He not only felt the uncomplying message of the queen as a
sufficient mortification to his personal vanity, but as a public attack
upon his influence and power as a king. It was not in a retired apartment,
or on a private occasion, but, in a sense, before the eyes of a _hundred
and twenty-seven provinces!_

Immediate recourse was had to his counsellors, who concurred in the
opinion of Memucan, that it was a public question of great importance to
the future welfare of the state, and affecting the domestic felicity, not
of the king only, but of every family in the Persian empire. The advice he
gave them, which Ahasuerus promptly followed, was to divorce Vashti, and
interdict her forever from reappearing in the royal presence. "If it
please the king, let there go a royal commandment from him, and let it be
written among the laws of the Persians and the Medes, that it be not
altered. That Vashti come no more before king Ahasuerus: and let the king
give her royal estate unto another that is better than she. And when the
king's decree which he shall make shall be published throughout all his
empire (for it is great,) all the wives shall give to their husbands
honour, both to great and small." It is not surprising that such a
gratifying, but _unchristian_ proposal, should be adopted by an arbitrary
heathen monarch. Neither Memucan nor his royal master had drunk at the
purifying fountain of evangelical truth.

God was now making "the wrath of man to praise him." Human passions,
prejudices, and errors were promoting divine designs. The feast, and the
riot, and the vanity, and the rage of Ahasuerus, all concurred, though
unconsciously on his part, to fulfil the mighty arrangements of
Providence, and to introduce, a train of events which now march through
the page of sacred history in rapid and wonderful succession.

After the divorce of Vashti, the ministers of Ahasuerus advised him to
adopt speedy measures to fill up the vacancy in his affections and his
throne. Their plan exhibits the barbarity of the age and the sensuality of
the king. He was to have his choice of all the "fair young virgins,"
collected from the provinces of the empire: and it devolved upon Hadassah,
or Esther, an orphan educated under the inspection of Mordecai, her cousin
and guardian, one of the captive Jews at this period attached by some
employment to the royal establishment. That God, who had bestowed upon
this young Jewess unusual beauty, gave her favour in the eyes of the king,
and secretly accomplished his own gracious purposes respecting his people
by her advancement.


Little did any of the persons immediately concerned in this affair imagine
the predestined results. Ahasuerus was gratifying his passions; Esther and
Mordecai conforming to an irresistible influence; Hegai, the keeper of the
women, following the impulse of a secret admiration, and, perhaps, aiming
to ingratiate himself in the favour of one whom he might suppose likely to
become the future queen; while the Supreme Disposer was making use of all
this variety of feeling and design as the means of securing the ends in
his omniscient view.

Esther retained her humility of spirit after her elevation of
circumstances; for she "did the commandment of Mordecai like as when she
was brought up with him." She was one of the very few that resist the
allurements of splendour--that cherish kindness for their poorer
relatives--and remember with gratitude the guardians of their youth.

Mordecai, having detected a conspiracy against the king, mentioned it to
Esther, who named it to her royal consort; by which means the traitors
were soon brought to execution. This circumstance rendered the faithful
Jew known to his sovereign. It was attended, indeed, by no immediate
recompense; but he felt a satisfaction in having done his duty,
incomparably more grateful to an unambitious mind.

The danger to which the great king of Persia was exposed by the
machinations of his domestics, shows the counterbalancing disadvantages
which attach even to the most prosperous condition of human life; the
conduct of Mordecai, on this occasion, teaches the allegiance we all owe
both to our lawful king, and to the Sovereign of the universe; and the
circumstances of the whole transaction, though for the present otherwise
unnoticed, being "written in the book of the Chronicles before the king,"
reminds us of the "Lamb's book of life," that faithful register of the
pious services of his people, which, if not in this life, shall be fully
requitted in another.

Great princes often act capriciously, and advance to the highest stations
those whose personal insignificance or baseness must otherwise have
rendered them contemptible. Thus Ahasuerus promoted Haman, the Agagite, to
the place of his prime minister; who received that homage from the
multitude, which persons of rank and eminent station usually secure in all
countries, but which is peculiarly exacted under arbitrary governments.
The flattering incense of the king's servants was accepted by Haman as a
fragrant offering, while his vanity feasted itself most luxuriously upon
popular admiration.

But, in proportion to a man's eagerness after honour, will be his
sensibility to the slightest affront, and his readiness to interpret, in
the worst sense, even unintentional neglect. It will not appear
surprising to those who are acquainted with the heart of man, that this
new favourite should have felt even more pain from the disrespect of one
individual, than pleasure from the reverence of ten thousand others: and
this, not because of any extraordinary importance which the dissentient
had acquired, but simply on account of the extreme susceptibility to
applause which the dignity and the pride of Haman had superinduced.
Mordecai, in fact, refused to pay that homage to the prime minister which
the king commanded; and he persisted in his refusal, notwithstanding the
remonstrances of the king's servants, who "spake daily unto him." The
known loyalty of Mordecai renders it certain that this determination did
not proceed from any disesteem of the king; his character is an equal
pledge that it did not originate in envy, or any ridiculous pique: it must
have been a conscientious scruple, and the probability is, that the king
required for his favourite a _religious_ homage, similar to what the
Persian monarchs were accustomed to claim for themselves. The minister
was, besides, an Agagite, and therefore, probably, of the race of Amalek,
a people against which Jehovah had proclaimed a perpetual and
exterminating war. If these were his motives, he is rather to be extolled
for his heroism, than censured for his temerity. A man of God should
persevere in his duty at all hazards, unseduced by the flatteries, and
unawed by the threats of mankind. He must contend against spiritual
wickedness, oppose internal lust, and resist external temptation. He must
brave alike caresses and sneers; the importunity of the timid, and the
insistance of the powerful; so, however reproached by men, he will be
honoured by God.

The officers of the king, at length, resolved to inform his favourite of
this determined omission to pay him reverence. Haman became incensed, and
his rage burned with destructive violence. Having been told that Mordecai
was a Jew, he instantly vowed to revenge his mortification, not only by
punishing the individual, but by destroying the nation: and as the Persian
monarchy, at this period, included Judea, had not Providence signally
interposed, few if any could have escaped. How cruel is wrath, how
outrageous anger! Thousands are devoted to death for an individual's
conduct, who were utterly incapable of participating in it, and who had
never even heard the name of their offending countryman! Supposed guilt
and unquestioned innocence were doomed alike to perish in one
indiscriminate massacre! O let us daily pray for that "wisdom which is
from above, which is first pure, then _peaceable, gentle, and easy to be
entreated, full of mercy_, and good fruits!"

With a view of discovering the will of the gods, according to the common
practice of Pagan antiquity, Haman ordered the lot to be cast, which was
supposed to discriminate between lucky and unlucky days, little aware that
"the whole _disposing_ thereof is of the Lord."

His address to the king was artful and insinuating. Instead of stating the
real cause of his desire for the extermination of the Jews, he touches
only upon what the principles of policy might seem to dictate; and induces
Ahasuerus to accede to his sanguinary proposal, by lending him his ring to
use at his own discretion. Thus the weakness of favouritism combines with
the wickedness of pride, to destroy a people whose name was scarcely known
to their prince, and whose crime was not even attempted to be proved by
their malignant accuser.

The decree was at length issued, and letters were despatched into every
province of the empire, "to destroy, to kill, and to cause to perish, all
Jews both young and old, little children and women, in one day, even upon
the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month Adar, and to
take the spoil of them for a prey." After this inhuman proceeding, "the
king and Haman sat down to drink; but the city Shushan was perplexed."

It is an outrage upon public decency, which even modern times and
civilized nations have unhappily witnessed, to see princes dissipating
their days in festivity, and enfeebling their reason by excess, riot, and
intoxication, when the calamitous circumstances of their country have
demanded a serious investigation, a sympathizing regard, and a prompt
relief; but still more lamentable is it to observe such conspirators
against the lives of mankind as Haman and Ahasuerus, sitting down to
indulge in merriment, while Persia was bathed in tears, and innumerable of
her inhabitants written for execution. Was not one governor then to be
found, to return an answer similar to that which the king of France, in a
later age received, who had commanded the massacre of the Huguenots? "In
my district," said one of his virtuous lieutenants, "your majesty has many
brave soldiers, but no butchers!"--This was a people, however, ignorant as
the haughty favourite of Ahasuerus was of the fact, that no human power
could annihilate--a people under the immediate protection of the eternal
God--a people respecting whom important prophecies were yet
unaccomplished--a people of whom it is affirmed, Jehovah "kept him as the
apple of his eye."

Mordecai was no uninterested spectator of these transactions; but went
about the city, and approached even to the king's gate, attired in
sack-cloth, and uttering cries of grief and lamentation. Esther, who was
no less accessary to sorrow in the palace than in the cottage, being
informed of this circumstance, sent him a change of raiment, that she
might enjoy a conversation to which he could not be introduced in the
habiliments of mourning. Alas! though the _signs_ of affliction may be
interdicted, the unwelcome visitant herself will intrude even into the
most splendid residences and most elevated conditions! Mordecai refused
the dress, not out of disrespect to the queen, but to express his poignant
anguish, and to incite her to deeper sympathy. Esther immediately
despatched her attendant, one of the king's chamberlains, to inquire into
the cause of his distress; and this faithful messenger soon hastens back
to detail all the proceedings which had been adopted in reference to the
Jews, with a request from Mordecai, that "she should go in unto the king,
to make supplication unto him, and to make request before him for
her people."

This was a dangerous requisition. She, therefore, sent back her attendant
to Mordecai, to remind him that it was a matter of universal notoriety,
whoever, man or woman, should venture into the royal presence without
being called, must suffer death, unless the "golden sceptre" were held out
as an intimation of mercy; and that she questioned the probability of this
in case of her intrusion, since her not having been sent for during thirty
days past seemed to indicate some alienation.

It must be confessed, there is less of the heroine and the martyr in this
reply than we could wish to have witnessed; but, on the one hand, we may
observe that a similar blemish disfigured the early conduct of Moses: and
on the other, as some extenuation, that she does not _refuse_ to comply
with Mordecai's suggestion; but merely referred to the danger awaiting
such a proceeding, in order perhaps to induce him, if possible, to
contrive some safer and no less effectual expedient. The love of life is a
principle of human nature implanted by our Creator for the purpose of
self-preservation, a principle which, in ordinary cases, cannot be
violated without guilt; and, on no occasion, can be dispensed with but
from some imperious necessity. He who gave life, however, has a right to
reclaim it; and that sacrifice which it would be a vice to make to our own
passion, becomes a virtuous and pious offering when yielded to divine
requirements.

Mordecai sent another message to Esther, at once spirited, pointed, and
effectual. It was a moment that demanded instantaneous action; and if the
timorous queen cherished apprehensions on her own account, he showed her
that she was even more likely to suffer by an ignominious retreat than a
bold advance. He reminded her of her Jewish extraction, and the consequent
danger to herself in the arrangement to exterminate all that hated race.
For though the prime minister probably would not have lifted his hand
against the queen; and though her connexion with his master, who married
her from affection as great as we can imagine a sensual and despotic
prince capable of cherishing, seemed to promise security; yet there could
be no absolute dependence, and the favourite of to-day might be discarded
to-morrow. He added to this other and weighty considerations--"If thou
altogether boldest thy peace at this time, then shall there enlargement
and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place; but thou and thy
father's house shall be destroyed; and who knoweth whether thou art come
to the kingdom for such a time as this?"--_q.d_. 'Thy timidity may prevent
thy becoming the means of rescuing the people of God; nevertheless, they
shall assuredly escape--his resources are inexhaustible--his chosen
nation shall not be annihilated--and he will not only perform the work
without thy instrumentality, but inflict an awful but merited chastisement
for thy misconduct. After all, I have better anticipations--perhaps thy
wonderful advancement to the crown was intended by him who sometimes
conceals his plans of mercy in clouds of mystery, for the very purpose of
accomplishing the deliverance of Israel at this critical emergency.'

Mordecai, in this appeal, shines as a "wise reprover;" and it was "upon an
obedient ear." He is, moreover, illustrious as a man of _faith_. The
confident tone he assumed did not arise merely from that solicitude he
felt upon the subject, and which will sometimes inspire a boldness not
commonly manifested; but from a knowledge of the prophecies, and a trust
in the faithfulness of God respecting their fulfilment. The lyres of
Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel, celebrated in accordant strains the
restoration of the Jews from captivity, and the advent of Messiah; and he
was persuaded that infinite Wisdom could not be deceived, nor infinite
power frustrated. O that in every minute affair of our lives, as well as
with regard to every great event of time, we could cherish a similar faith
in the providence of the "God of salvation!"

Observe, in passing, that it is reasonable and just to expect services
from us proportioned to the situations which we occupy. Favours involve
obligations; and whatever influence, talent, or means of any kind we
possess, ought to be conscientiously appropriated to the great Bestower.
Every being in the universe has duties arising out of his condition by
doing which he glorifies, and by omitting which he displeases, his
Creator. Esther was, therefore, responsible for her actions as a queen, as
a Jewess, and as one furnished with extraordinary opportunities at a
crisis most singular and important, and the remonstrance of Mordecai
proved irresistible. With what exultation must he have received this
message from her--"Go, gather together all the Jews that are present in
Shushan, and fast ye for me, and neither eat nor drink three days, night
or day. I also, and my maidens, will fast likewise: and so will I go in
unto the king, which is not according to the law; and if I perish,
I perish!"

These devotional preparations for the experiment about to be hazarded,
were not only highly proper in themselves, but expressive of the piety of
Esther. Abstinence from food, an ancient practice of the church sanctioned
by divine authority, is an evidence of humiliation before God; and at the
same time, adapted to produce it, by inflicting a salutary mortification
upon the corporeal appetites. If carried to excess, it will indeed hinder
rather than promote piety; but when adopted on proper occasions, and
observed with judicious regulations, it is attended with consequences
manifestly beneficial. The queen did not impose a service on others which
she was indisposed to practise herself; but sympathizing with the
condition of her countrymen, she participated in their self-denying
duties. Let us never forget the promise of eternal mercy, which has
consoled the church of God in her deepest afflictions, and upon which
every pilgrim in Zion may depend with unhesitating confidence, "Call upon
me in the day of trouble; I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me."
[52]

When it is recollected, that the proceeding of Esther, in going in to the
king uncalled, was a deliberate violation of a law of the state, and that
Vashti had been discarded for an offence of far inferior consideration; we
cannot but notice the overruling providence of God, in giving the queen
acceptance in the eyes of Ahasuerus. On the third day she laid aside her
mourning dress, and putting on her royal apparel, presented herself in the
inner court of the palace, opposite the king's private apartment, where he
sat upon his throne. What a moment of suspense and of secret agony! If
previous devotion had not, in some measure, tranquillized the agitations
of her bosom, and inspired a holy courage, it is scarcely conceivable how
a woman could sustain the trial of such an hour. If the sharp conflict had
smitten her to the ground, and she had expired upon the spot, we should
not, religious considerations apart, have been greatly astonished; but
hope in God, and a composure gained, no doubt, at the mercy-seat, and
diffused over her spirit by recent intercourse with heaven, prepared her
to hear the mandate of death, or receive the outstretched token of
clemency. Her splendid attire--her attractive mien--her beautiful
countenance, in which grief, anxiety, and devotion blending their
influence, produced a new and interesting character, fixed the king's
attention, and reinspired his love; but neither the one nor the other of
these, nor all of them in the most happy combination, could have produced
the effect, had not the tears, the prayers, the fastings of Israel and of
Esther, brought down the blessings from above. How _important_ are means!
how _essential_ is religion!

Behold the golden sceptre! The queen trembles with rapture at the
anticipated sign--it is held out--she approaches--touches--triumphs--and
lives! "Let us come boldly unto the THRONE OF GRACE, that we may obtain
mercy, and find grace to help in time of need!"

Instead of rejection and death, Esther soon found herself treated with
perfect familiarity, and more than usual kindness. Imagining that some
important business had occasioned this visit, the king desired to know it,
and promised to gratify the queen "to the half of the kingdom." She
thought it prudent, however, at present, to waive the particular request
she had to present, simply inviting Ahasuerus and his favourite to a
banquet, by which mark of attention she hoped more effectually to confirm
his reviving fondness, and thus secure the accomplishment of her ultimate
purpose. Her invitation was accepted. He repaired with Haman to the
festival, where, being highly delighted with the entertainment, he renewed
his protestations in reference to whatever petition she might have to
present. The wary queen ventured only to request a renewal of the royal
visit on the morrow, at which time she assured him of a full explanation
of her wishes.

There is an appearance of undue timidity in this procrastination; and yet,
if we were better informed of her secret motives, we might perhaps award
her the praise of wisdom. The partiality of the king for Haman might
render her doubtful of success in the contest with that favourite; and she
might think it necessary to excite both the curiosity and the affection of
the king still more, in order that he might not, through being startled at
the magnitude of her demand, instantaneously refuse it. Extremes are
dangerous. It would be well for us always to avoid both dilatoriness and
precipitancy in our conduct; in order to which we should implore, with
habitual fervency, the "wisdom from above."

Whatever were the views of Esther, the designs of God were secretly
maturing. Haman retired to his own house, full of mortification at the
continued neglect of Mordecai, which disturbed him even when every
external good seemed to concur in promoting his enjoyment. He called his
friends together, expatiated upon all his possessions and glory, noticing
with peculiar emphasis the favour of Esther in admitting him as the sole
companion of his sovereign and queen at the day's festivity, to a
repetition of which he had the honour of being invited on the morrow;
"yet," he added, displaying at once the festering wound of his heart, "yet
all this availeth nothing, so long as I see Mordecai the Jew sitting at
the king's gate."

Never, surely, was a more complete exposure of the insufficiency of
worldly glory to constitute happiness, and never a more impressive
exhibition of the littleness of vanity. What an insignificant
disappointment is sufficient to mar the comfort of him who depends upon
creatures! The merest feather may be turned into a weapon of hostility,
and destroy his peace; and whatever he may possess or acquire, he must
necessarily he as remote from true felicity as at the first step of his
pursuit, since something will always he wanting to _complete_ his bliss,
and the phantom of _ideal_ good will continue to dance before his eyes.

Zeresh, the wife of Haman, advised him to have a gallows made of fifty
cubits in height, upon which he should instigate the king to hang
Mordecai. To this advice, in which all his friends concurred, he listened,
and gave immediate orders for the construction of this instrument
of death.

What is to be done--what can be _attempted_ by Esther or by Mordecai, in
this critical emergency? Neither of them were, indeed, aware of the
murderous determination. The queen had delayed her petition till the
succeeding day, at the intended banquet; but malevolence was hastening to
frustrate her designs, without her knowledge, and previously to her
intercession. Could she ever pardon herself for this delay, when Mordecai
is suspended? Could she recall the past hours of festivity, in which so
favourable an opportunity seemed to present itself for urging her
supplication to the king?--

"Stand still and see the salvation of God!" He who "sitteth upon the
circle of the earth," is about to fulfil his own purposes, which no human
projects can frustrate, and no apprehension of contingencies need hasten.
"On that night could not the king sleep." But little did he know the true
cause of this unusual wakefulness, or suspect that God was about to render
it subservient to accomplish his divine intentions. "And he commanded to
bring the book of records of the chronicles; and they were read before the
king." But why did not a prince like this, addicted to pleasure, seek a
diversion of his restlessness, by calling in the aid of music, rather than
that of history? It seems more natural, that, he should wish for temporary
amusement, rather than sold instruction. What more soothing than the
"concord of sweet sounds?" True; but that Providence which kept him awake,
influenced him to the choice of this extraordinary expedient. "And it was
found written, that Mordecai had told of Bigthana and Teresh, two of the
king's chamberlains, the keepers of the door, who sought to lay hand on
the king Ahasuerus." But how came this particular circumstance in his
personal history, to be selected on this occasion? The Persian records
contained events of astonishing magnitude, and romantic interest. They
told of mighty exploits, and splendid conquests!--Again we discern that
divine superintendence, by which Ahasuerus was _led_ to a circumstance
of his own time, in which that very individual was named, whose life was
now in imminent danger, and upon whom depends so many of the incidents of
this story. The king inquired, whether the fidelity of Mordecai had been
properly rewarded! To which his servants replied, "There is nothing done
for him." The cares of empire are so multifarious and complicated, that we
ought to make considerable allowances for those omissions in princes,
which would be utterly inexcusable in others; yet it does appear
surprising, that so signal a service as that which Mordecai had rendered
in the discovery of a dangerous conspiracy against the throne, should have
been totally unrequited. Happily for Christians, they serve a Master who
cannot forget even "a cup of cold water, given in the name of a disciple"
to one of his "little ones!"

Early the ensuing morning, Haman hastened to the palace, for the purpose
of obtaining the royal consent to his malignant preparations. Now he was
about to rid himself at a stroke of the disdainful Jew that refused him
homage; and anticipated the hour when he should witness his enemy on the
gallows, so soon and so eagerly prepared! It was, indeed, a strange
coincidence. Ahasuerus is as anxious to see his minister, as Haman to be
introduced to the apartment of his king. Each has a great object in view,
for which the other's concurrence is desired--each too is solicitous
respecting the disposal of the same individual, and each ignorant of the
other's wishes and projects.

After the usual salutations, the king entreated, the opinion of his
favourite minister with regard to the best mode of expressing his
attachment to one whom he "delighted to honour." Haman concluded that his
royal master, of course, alluded to _him_, since he well knew no other
shared so largely in the royal confidence; and thinking to gratify the
vanity of his little soul, he proposed that the favourite alluded to
should be, for once, clothed in the royal apparel and crown, carried
through the city upon the horse which was appropriated to the king,
attended by one of the first princes of the empire, and have proclamation
made before him, "Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king
delighteth to honour." Approving of this mode of testifying the regard he
wished to express, extraordinary as it was, Ahasuerus instantly commanded
its punctual execution. "Make haste, and take the apparel and the horse,
as thou hast said, and do even so to"--whom? to my favourite
Haman?--No--insufferable mortification;--"to _Mordecai the Jew_!"

Behold Haman again in his house, "mourning and having his head covered,
and expatiating upon the misery of his situation." His wise men and his
wife agree, that if Mordecai be of the seed of the Jews, all his
contrivances to ruin him would prove ineffectual; so fully aware were even
the heathen of the peculiar interposition of Providence, in former times,
on behalf of that scattered people.

In the midst of their consultations, the king's chamberlain came to attend
Haman to the banquet prepared by Esther. He goes--but rather like a man
led to execution, than one invited to a festival. But he must conceal his
chagrin, and assume the smile of gayety.

Having partook of the feast, Ahasuerus requires of Esther the fulfilment
of her promise, in the explanation of her wishes. He assures her with
reiterated protestations, that her petition shall certainly be granted,
"even to the half of the kingdom." How was he astonished, when she
entreated for her own life, and that of her people! It had never entered
into the mind of the king, that such a request was necessary. Is it
possible that he hears aright? Ignorant that he had really prostituted,
his authority to sanction the destruction of the queen as a Jewess, he
looks at her and Haman with wild confusion, while she proceeds in a strain
of firm, dignified, and eloquent statement: "For we are sold, I and my
people, to be destroyed, to be slain, and to perish; but if we had been
sold for bondmen and bondwomen, I had held my tongue, although the enemy
could not countervail the king's damage."

Who can paint the terrors that gathered, at this moment in the countenance
of Haman, or the indignant frown of Ahasuerus, when he thundered
forth--"Who is he? and where is he that durst presume in his heart to do
so? The hour of detection was come. Detestable conspirator, thou shall not
escape! Truth shall, at length, come from her concealment, and wither at a
touch thy unmerited and unenviable distinctions!" Esther said, "_The
adversary and enemy is this wicked Haman_."--"The word was loath to come
forth, but it strikes home at last. Never till now did Haman hear his true
title. Before, some had styled him noble, others great; some magnificent,
and some perhaps virtuous; only Esther gave him his own, 'wicked Haman.'
Ill-deserving greatness doth in vain promise to itself a perpetuity of
applause." Bp. Hall.

Overwhelmed with astonishment and indignation, the king hastily withdrew
from the banquet into the palace-garden: while the offender, who was too
well acquainted with the countenance of his master not to perceive that
"there was evil determined against him," writhing in all the agonies of
despair, produced by a consciousness of guilt, and a dread of merited
punishment, implored the queen to intercede for his safety. He who was
profuse of the lives of others, with a consistency which is characteristic
of villany and despotism cannot endure the thought of forfeiting his own,
but betrays a cowardice proportioned to his recent insolence. The king
returning at the moment in a state of the utmost exasperation, imputed the
worst motives to his suppliant attitude, and allowed his servants to rush
forward and cover Haman's face, as a person under sentence of death. The
miserable criminal had, probably, many flatterers in the days of his
greatness, but his adversity shows that he had no friends. Every one is
eager to accelerate his destruction. Harbonah, especially, a chamberlain,
proposed his being executed on the gallows of fifty cubits in height,
which he had prepared for Mordecai; to which the king immediately
assented. In this manner did Providence take the cunning persecutor in his
own snare, and vindicate the cause of his oppressed people. Let the
enemies of religion tremble, while the children of God are joyful in their
King. The arrows which malignity shoots at the church of Christ shall
either be broken against her walls, and fall pointless to the earth; or
rebounding on the foe that ventures upon the attack, shall pierce his
own heart.

The advancement of Mordecai was the natural result of Haman's ruin. Esther
having fully informed Ahasuerus of her relationship to the much-injured
Jew and his nation, she was empowered to bestow upon him the house of the
fallen minister. The Jews, however, were not yet exempted from the decree
which the wickedness of Haman had inveigled the king to issue against
them! so that Esther, not merely solicitous for her personal security or
that of her friend and relative, ventured again before the king, "and fell
down at his feet, and besought him with tears to put away the mischief of
Haman the Agagite, and his device that he had devised against the Jews."
The king renewed the testimony of his kindness, by stretching forth the
golden sceptre; and the queen addressed him in these words, "If it please
the king, and if I have found favour in his sight, and the thing seem
right before the king, and I be pleasing in his eyes, let it be written to
reverse the letters devised by Haman the son of Hammedatha the Agagite,
which he wrote to destroy the Jews which are in all the kings' provinces:
for how can I endure to see the evil that shall come unto my people? or
how can I endure to see the destruction of my kindred?"

The king was ready to concede every thing it was in his power to grant:
but as the laws of Persia were irreversible, and he could not rescind an
edict already issued in his several provinces, he adopted the plan of
putting his ring into the hands of Mordecai and Esther, to seal whatever
decree they might think it right to frame in the present emergency.
Accordingly, they gave unlimited permission to the Jews to defend
themselves, which it was likely would so plainly evince the royal wishes
to nullify his former edict, that few if any would indulge their malice
against this people, or endanger their own lives by availing themselves of
the first order. Many, however, did so; and even in the royal city five
hundred men attacked them, probably some of the partisans of the late
minister; but their temerity hurried them on to their own destruction. The
ten sons of Haman, were also slain, and at the request of the queen, hung
on the gallows.

An annual festival, called _Purim_, [53] was established in commemoration
of the deliverances we have recorded, which the Jews continue to observe
at this day. It seems to have been appointed by Mordecai and Esther, as a
civil, rather than a religious feast; unless it be supposed, that they
received some special revelation to authorize such a measure. It is
observed in the month _Adar_, which corresponds with our _February_
and _March_.

The interesting history we have been reviewing, is calculated not only to
impress those general sentiments of Providence, to which we cannot too
often recur, but to awaken in the minds of Christians a pleasing
conviction of that minute inspection of their affairs, and that unremitted
care for their welfare individually, which God exercises towards them. Is
it possible to imagine a doctrine more elevating than this, or more
calculated to produce sensations of reverence, gratitude, and joy? It is
not presumptuous, even in a mortal "worm," to believe that his interests
engage the attention of the INFINITE BEING; and that to promote them, the
immense machinery of moral and natural means is put in motion--the animate
and inanimate creation--mortal agents and spiritual beings--events great
and small, past and present. _Worm_ as thou art, still the central point
in the vast circle of Providence! _Worm_ as thou art, God has "graven thee
upon the palms of his bands, and thou shalt never perish." _Worm_ as
thou art, but for thee "the brightness of the Father's glory" had not left
his radiant sphere to become incarnate, to endure reproach and execration,
and finally to be "brought as a lamb to the slaughter!" To hear _thy_
supplications the King of heaven has erected a _throne of grace_--to
vindicate _thy_ character, to condemn _thy_ foes, to perfect _thy_
felicity, he is preparing, and will soon come to sit upon _a throne of
judgment!_

Review past dispensations, and gather encouragement for present
confidence! "If God be for us, who can be against us?" Did he not choose
_Abraham_, and call him his "friend?" Did he not release _Joseph_ from
the pit, and raise him to princely glory? Did he not rescue _Moses_ from
the destructive waters, and constitute him the leader of his people
Israel? Did he not deliver _David_ from the lion and the bear, from the
giant of Philistia, and the royal madman of Israel! Did he not feed
_Elijah_--advance _Esther_--promote _Mordecai_--support _Job_--save
_Jonah_--rescue _Peter_, and honour _Paul_? Has he not, in all ages,
supplied the necessities of his saints--alleviated their
sorrows--sweetened their bitter cup--turned death itself into life? Can he
not extricate them from all difficulties--preserve them amidst ail
temptations--render them invulnerable to all attacks--make them more than
conquerors over external misery, internal pollution, and satanic
malice?--Can he not eventually elevate them above the reach of all evil,
the fear of death, and the possibility of falling? Can he not array them
in the robe of light--adorn them with a crown of glory--make them "drink
of the rivers of his pleasures"--associate them with holy angels, in a
state of immaculate purity--stamp immortality on their blessedness, and
"wipe away all tears from their eyes?"--HE CAN--HE WILL--"Our Father which
art in heaven ...thine is the POWER and the GLORY, forever. Amen!"



End of Volume I.



Footnotes



[1]: Bates.

[2]: Young's Centaur not fabulous, p. 61.

[3]: Sir William Temple's Gardens of Epicurus. Horne's Discourses, vol. I.

[4]: This subject is more fully illustrated in the Essay prefixed to the
second volume of this work.

[5]: Dr. Johnson.

[6]: Paley's Moral Philosophy, vol. i. p. 316, 8vo.

[7]: SAURIN, Discours historiques, critiques, theologiques, et moraux, sur
les Evenemens le plus memorables du Vieux et du Nouveau Testament. Tom. I.
p. 41-43. 8vo.

[8]: The following quotation is illustrative of this circumstance: "At ten
minutes after ten in the morning, we had in view (says Dr. Chandler)
several fine bays, and a plain full of booths, with the Turcomans sitting
by the doors, under sheds resembling porticos; or by shady trees,
surrounded with flocks of goats." Harmer's Observations, vol. i. p. 132.

[9]: Fleury's Manners of the ancient Israelites.

[10]: Newton's Diss. on the Prophecies, vol. i. p. 34--36.

[11]: The ancient authors, Tacitus, Pliny, Diodorus Siculus, and others,
furnish abundant testimony in undesigned confirmation of the scriptural
account. The following quotation is from Strabo: "There are many
indications that fire has been over this country; for, about Massada, they
show rough and scorched rocks and caverns, in many places eaten in; and
the earth reduced to ashes, and drops of pitch distilling from the rocks
and hot streams, offensive afar off, and habitations overthrown; which
render credible some reports among the inhabitants, that there were
formerly thirteen cities on that spot, the principal of which was Sodom,
so extensive, as to be sixty furlongs in circumference, but that by
earthquakes, and by an eruption of fire, and by hot and bituminous waters,
it became a lake as it now is, the rocks were consumed, some of the cities
were swallowed up, and others abandoned by those of the inhabitants who
were able to escape." _Lib xii_

Tacitus states, that the traces of fire were visible in his time "At no
great distance are those fields which, as it is said, were formerly
fruitful, and covered with great cities, till they were consumed by
lightning, the vestiges of which remain in the parched appearance of the
country, which has lost its fertility." _Hist lib v_

A modern traveller, who was recently an eyewitness of the scene, is
particularly entitled to be heard on this interesting subject, even at the
risk of extending this note to a disproportionate length: "The Dead Sea
below, upon our left, appealed so near to us, that we thought we could
have rode thither in a very short space of time. Still nearer stood a
mountain upon its western shore, resembling in its form the cone of
Vesuvius, and having also a crater upon its top which was plainly
discernible.

"The distance, however, is much greater than it appears to be; the
magnitude of the objects beheld in this fine prospect, causing them to
appear less remote than they really are. The atmosphere was remarkably
clear and serene; but we saw none of those clouds of smoke which, by some
writers, are said to exhale from the surface of the Lake Asphaltites, nor
from any neighbouring mountain. Every thing about it was, in the highest
degree, grand and awful. Its desolate, although majestic features, are
well suited to the tales related concerning it by the inhabitants of the
country, who all speak of it with terror, seeming to shrink from the
narrative of its deceitful allurements and deadly influence. 'Beautiful
fruit,' say they, 'grows upon its shores, which is no sooner touched, than
it becomes dust and bitter ashes.' In addition to its physical horrors,
the region around is said to be more perilous, owing to the ferocious
tribes wandering upon the shores of the lake, than any other part of the
Holy Land." _Clarke's Travels_, part ii. sect. i. p. 614.

[12]: The design of this work being rather practical than critical, the
author conceives it generally proper to avoid subjects of doubtful
disputation; and rather, in particular cases, to give the _result_ of
his inquiries, than to detail the process by which it had been obtained.
On this account, he has forborne to introduce the different notions that
have prevailed among the learned respecting the real nature of the
punishment inflicted upon the wife of Lot, but has simply stated what is
the most common, and, upon the whole, the most satisfactory opinion. It
seems conformable to the words of the historian to suppose a _real
conversion into a pillar of salt_, and not that Lot's wife was merely
_smitten dead upon the spot_. If further information be wished, the
reader is particularly referred to a French work of well-merited
celebrity, and which contains on this and many subjects of Biblical
criticism, much valuable and curious information--Saurin, Discours
historiques, critiques, theologiques, et moraux, sur les Evenemens les
plus memorables du Vieux et du Nouveau Testament. Tom, i.

[13]: This appears to have been the ancient mode of concluding an
agreement, or solemn covenant. Josephus says, that if two persons bound
themselves mutually by an oath, they put their hand upon each other's
thigh. Grotius states, that anciently they wore the sword upon the thigh,
so that to swear by putting the hand upon the thigh, was intimating, "I am
willing to be pierced through by this sword if I break my promise."

[14]: "Sir J. Chardin observed this difference in the East between wells of
living water, and reservoirs of rain water; that these last have
frequently, especially in the Indies, a flight of steps down into the
water, that as the water diminishes, people may still take it up with
their hands, whereas he hardly ever observed a well furnished with those
steps through all the East. He concludes from this circumstance, that the
place from whence Rebekah took up water was a reservoir of rain water.
This is the account that he gives us in his sixth MS. volume, and it
explains very clearly what is meant by Rebekah's _going down_ to the
well, Gen. xxiv. 16." HARMER'S Observations, vol. ii. p. 184, 185,
_note_.

[15]: HENRY in loc.

[16]: "We do not find that their (the Israelites') marriages were attended
with any religious ceremony, except the prayers of the father of the
family and the standers by, to entreat the blessing of God: we have
examples of it in the marriage of Rebekah with Isaac, of Ruth with Boaz,
and of Sara with Tobias. We do not see that there were any sacrifices
offered upon the occasion, or that they went to the temple, or sent for
the priests; all was transacted betwixt the relations and friends, so that
it was no move than a civil contract." _Fleury's Manners of the ancient
Israelite_, Part ii. chap. 10.

[17]: Most commentators attribute a higher principle to the partiality of
Rebekah; they imagine that it was founded upon the prophecies, choosing
him whom the Lord had chosen: but I can perceive no good reason for this
opinion.

[18]: "For I brought thee up out of the land of Egypt, and redeemed thee
out of the house of servants; and I sent before thee Moses, Aaron, and
_Miriam_." Mic. vi. 4.

[19]: Hieron, in Trad. Heb. ad 1 Kings 3. Calmet's Preface to Ruth, and Ch.
iv. 22.

[20]: Gray's Key to the Old Testament.

[21]: Comp. HARMER'S Observations, vol. i. p. 78, 79.

[22]: There is something inimitably beautiful in this ancient practice, and
in language of their mutual address, which is preserved in the inspired
narrative, "And behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem, and said unto the
reapers, The Lord be with you. And they answered him, The Lord bless
thee." Ch. ii. 4.

[23]: Clarke's Travels, Part II, Sect, ii. p, 302.

[24]: Comp. Harmer's Observations, p. 232-237.

[25]: It has been thought probable, that from the expression "Is not the
Lord gone out before thee?" some angelic messenger or visible appearance,
similar to that of the Shekinah, prompted the words and animated the zeal
of Deborah. The Targum favours this sentiment: "Is not the angel of the
Lord gone out before thee to prosper thee?"

[26]: Lectures on the Sacred Poetry of the Hebrews.

[27]: The historical reference appears to be to the narrative in the
twentieth chapter of Numbers, in which the refusal of Edom to allow the
children of Israel to go through their borders is recorded. Some
extraordinary circumstances seem referred to, not mentioned in the sacred
page, but possibly transmitted by tradition to the times of Deborah. Sen
is a mountain of Idumea. The language is highly figurative, and denotes
earthquakes and storms. "The mountains melted," that is, part of their
surface was carried down, by the force of excessive torrents of rain.

[28]: The ass derives its name from a Hebrew word signifying _redness_,
the usual colour of this animal, but some are white. The word translated
white is _zechorot_, and may, perhaps refer to the _zebra_, which the
Ethiopians call _zechora_, and which is generally considered as one of the
most beautiful of living creatures. It is sometimes called the wild ass.

[29]: "Dr. Shaw mentions a beautiful rill in Barbary, which is received
into a large basin, called _shrub we krub,_ (drink and away,) there
being great danger of meeting there with rogues and assassins. If such
places are proper for the lurking of murderers in times of peace, they
must be proper for the lying in ambush in times of war; a circumstance
that Deborah takes notice of in her song, Judges v. 11." Harmer.

[30]: _Gates_ were anciently the places where they held their courts
of judicature. In the towers there were very spacious and handsome
state-rooms.

[31]: The Vulgate reads, _in the country of Merom,_ alluding to the
place where Joshua fought a former king of Canaan. The waters of Merom are
supposed to be the same as Kishon. Comp. Josh. xi. 5 Ps. lxxxiii 9.

[32]: There is a remarkable alliteration here in the original Hebrew,
[Hebrew: _middaharoth daharoth_.] Some have supposed it a poetical
imitation of the sound of the trampling of horses, and compare this
passage with the celebrated line of Virgil--"Quadrupedante putrem sonitu
quatit ungula campum." VIRG. Æn. viii. v. 595.

[33]: Comp. HARMER'S Observations, volume i. pp. 216 and 445.

[34]: It has often been inquired, on what principle this action of Jael,
which is so apparently repugnant to the laws of honourable warfare, and
even of common humanity, could be so eulogized by Deborah. The Kenites and
the Canaanites were in alliance, and besides, the rights of hospitality
have always been most scrupulously regarded, especially in the early ages
of the world. To these considerations the ingenious Saurin replies, that
in order to judge of this affair, it would be necessary to know the nature
of the treaty between Heber and the Canaanites; because, according to
Puffendorf, if two agreements cannot be performed, of which the one was
made _with_ and the other _without_ an oath, the latter ought to
yield to the former; and we cannot tell but this latter might be the
nature of the agreement between the Kenites and the Canaanites. He
conceives also, that a justification of Jael's conduct might be found in
the character of Sisera, pleading that we are not required to keep good
faith, or to show lenity to those execrable persons who only avail
themselves of our regard to these virtues, to violate them in their
conduct to others, to falsify their promises, and carry blood and carnage
wherever they go. Under this impression, he prays that Providence may
never raise up among us Jabins or Siseras; but if the justice of God
should see fit to employ such scourges for our correction, that his mercy
would send Jaels to effect our deliverance. Comp. SAURIN Discours
Historiques, tom iii. _La defaite de Jabin et de Sizera_, p. 318-322.
I confess this reasoning is not quite satisfactory; nor indeed will any
reasoning upon this remarkable transaction be so, till we allow that there
were circumstances which the Spirit of God has not seen fit to disclose,
and that Jael most probably acted under the influence of some divine
intimation. Long was it the revealed will of God that the Canaanites
should be exterminated, and Israel had been criminally negligent of his
commands. It must, doubtless, be admitted, that the general authority
which they had received, independent even of any acts of oppression, was
paramount to every other consideration, and sufficient to justify the most
implacable hostility.

[35]: Illustrations may be found in Saurin, "Discours Historiques,
Critiques, Theologiques, et Moreaux, sur les Evenemens les plus memorables
du Vieux et du Nouveau Testament." Tom. iv. p. 14-20, 8vo.

[36]: The Septuagint rendering of David's message to Nabal explains the
rapaciousness of the Arabs, and the forbearance of David. "Behold, I have
heard that thy shepherds are now shearing for thee; they were with us in
the wilderness, and we have not _hindered_ them, ουχ απεχωλυσαμεν, nor
have we _commanded_ them ουχ ενετειλαμεθα all the days of their being in
Carmel." "This," says Harmer, "is translating like people perfectly well
acquainted with the management of the Arab emirs, whose manners David,
though he lived in the wilderness as they did, had not adopted. One of
them at the head of six hundred men, would have _commanded,_ from time to
time, some provisions, or other present from Nabal's servants, for
permitting them to feed in quiet; and would have driven them away from
the watering-place upon any dislike. He had not done either."
_Observations_, vol. i. p. 173.

[37]: Young's Centaur, p. 119.

[38]: JOSEPHUS, Book viii. ch. 5,

[39]: Voyage up the Red Sea, and Route through the Desarts of Thebais.

[40]: Harmer's Observations, vol. iv. p. 192, 193.

[41]: From the _Arabian Anthologia_, quoted by SCHULTENS.

[42]: Shaw's Travels, p. 214-317, quoted in Harmer's Observations, vol. i.
p. 251.

[43]: Comp. Harmer's Observations, vol. ii. p. 503.

[44]: Plutarch's Life of Pyrrhus.

[45]: Epitaph in Bunhill Fields burying-ground on a child that died at the
age of nine months. The writer of these pages knows not the author, or
whether these lines have ever appeared in any other place than on the
stone whence he has transcribed them.

[46]: HARMER'S Observations, vol. i. p 4.

[47]: The first day of the month was kept with burnt-offerings and
peace-offerings. Vide Numb. x. 10. and xxviii. 11. In imitation of the
Jews, the calends, or first days of the month, and the fourth and seventh
of the week, were sacred to Deity.

[48]: PASCAL'S Thoughts, pp. 229, 244.

[49]: See The Life of Philip Melancthon, by the author of this work, p.
225, second edition.

[50]: "The salutations of the East often take up a long time. The manner of
salutation as now practised by the people of Egypt, is not less ancient.
The ordinary way of saluting people, when at a distance, is bringing the
hand down to the knees, and then carrying it to the stomach; marking their
devotedness to a person, by holding down the hand; as they do their
affection, by their after raising it up to the heart. When they come close
together afterward, they take each other by the hand, in token of
friendship. What is very pleasant, is to see the country-people
reciprocally clapping each other's hands very smartly, twenty or thirty
times together, in meeting, without saying any thing more than _Salamant
aiche halcom?_ that is to say, _How do you do? I wish you good
health_. If this form of complimenting must be acknowledged to be
simple, it must be admitted to be very affectionate. Perhaps it marks out
a better disposition of heart than all the studied phrases which are in
use among us, and which politeness almost always makes use of at the
expense of sincerity. After this first compliment, many other friendly
questions are asked about the health of the family, mentioning each of the
children distinctly, whose names they know," &c. MAILLET, Descript. de
l'Egypte.

"If the forms of salutation among the ancient Jewish peasants took up as
much time as those of the modern Egyptians that belong to that rank of
life, it is no wonder the prophet commanded his servant to abstain from
saluting those he might meet with, when sent to recover the child of the
Shunammitess to life. They that have attributed this order to haste, have
done right; but they ought to have shown the tediousness of Eastern
compliments." HARMER'S Observations, vol. ii. pp. 331, 332.

[51]: BISHOP HALL.

[52]: Ps. I. 15. The thirteenth and fourteenth chapters of the apocryphal
book of Esther contain appropriate prayers for this occasion, attributed
to Mordecai and Esther, well worthy of perusal.

[53]: In the Persian language _Pur_ signifies a _lot_; and the
reference is to Haman's casting lots to ascertain the lucky month for the
execution of his iniquitous project against the Jews.





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