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if, therefore, we could wipe out the memory of the past; as if persevering labours of gratitude and love could purchase our release; as if death were to be prevented, disarmed or destroyed, by the efforts of the passing moment, let us awake and arise to the knowledge, the study and the practice of our heavenly Father's will.
The service prescribed to Moses on this occasion was the execution of justice on a nation of offenders. The nature of the offence has been hinted at in a former Lecture; and we may form a judgment of its enormity, from the vengeance which pursued it. The state of Midian, at the period in question, exhibits the last stage of moral depravity-a corrupted people carrying on a temporary political design, by means the most scandalous and dishonorable-the dearest and most delicate interests of human nature vilely sacrificed to its worst. and most disgraceful propensities-husbands countenancing the prostitution of their wives, and parents that of their daughters, in order to gratify ambition, avarice or revenge. A nation of such a character is necessarily hastening to utter destruction, without fire from heaven, or the sword of a foreign enemy. But what vice was accelerating by its own native energy, Providence hastens to an issue by a special interposition, and “the Lord makes himself known by the judgment which he executes.
The force which it was thought proper to employ for the extermination of this debauched race, is indication sufficient how low its character was rated. Im. mersed in sensuality, enervated by luxury, a handful of men was deemed enough to destroy them. A thousand out of every tribe of Israel, twelve thousand men in all, Moses considers as fully competent to the execution of this enterprize; and the event fully justified the estimate he had made. It is likewise remarkable, that he neither commands in this expedition, in person, nor commits the conduct of it to Joshua, or any other of military profession: but to “Phineas, the son of
Eleazar the priest,” furnished "with the holy instruments, and the trumpets to blow, in his hand.” We have here, therefore, the idea of a solemn public execution, rather than of regular war. No resistance is made, no blood but that of the criminals is shed; they dare not meet in the field those whom in the secret chambers they could ensnare. In vain their hoary adviser Balaam, urges them to feats of arms, and sets them an example of courage; supported by five kings and their armies, he falls together with them, by the sword of Israel, an awful monument, how certainly, however slowly, eternal justice overtakes the sinner!
The immense booty which this easy victory transferred to the Israelites, is a farther demonstration of the feebleness and dissolution of their unwarlike enemy. They had wealth without being rich, luxury without enjoyment, policy without wisdom, kingly power without government, and zeal for religion without an object of vorship. Conquered the moment they are attacked, having no resource in public or private virtue; men lost to a sense of what constitutes true female dignity, women precipitating that corruption of which they were the miserable victims—they hold up to mankind a fearful but instructive example of the native, necessary, inevitable consequences of vice. Up to similar causes the downfal of still greater states may be traced; and if sin be the ruin of any kingdom, what individual offender shall dare to flatter himself with the hope of escaping the righteous judgment of God?
The severity with which judgment was executed on the Midianites, helps farther to unfold their charac. ter. An effeminate, luxurious people, generally ex. cites contempt at most; but here a holy and just indignation is kindled. Heaven itself is up in arms against a degenerate race; and Moses, the meekest of men, accuses the exterminators of the whole race of Midian of weak and excessive lenity. How is this to be accounted for? It will be found on inquiry, that
in a very dissolute state of society, vices of the most odious and atrocious kind are necessarily blended with others less offensive. The love of pleasure is the predominant character; but in order to feed and support that passion, arts the most criminal and detestable must be employed. Injustice, violence, perjury and murder follow in the train of lust. The moral principle is destroyed: all sense of shame is lost. The general depravity keeps every individual transgressor in countenance. Appearances are no longer attended to or kept up. Men glory in their shame. The
The very offices of religion are perverted into instruments of debauchery. Such, apparently, was the state of Midian at the period under review; such was that of Israel during the government and priesthood of Eli; and such was that of the Assyrian and Roman empires immediately previous to their subversion. And in such a state, is it any wonder to see heaven and earth combined to root out and overthrow-a holy and righteous God employing the ministration of the gentlest of mankind to cut off the name and memory of such a people from the earth? When punishment so signal is inflicted, we may safely infer, that the guilt which provoked it from such hands was enormous.
On reviewing the little army of Israel, after the victory, a fact turns up unequalled in the history of mankind-not so much as one of the twelve thousand has fallen in battle: and that in attacking and destroying a nation so populous as to contain thirty-two thousand females of a particular description,” Numb. xxxi. 35. The hand of God was clearly visible in this, and thankfully acknowledged. The superfluous ornaments which lately published the shame of Midian, now proclaim the piety and gratitude of Israel; and become part of the sacred treasury of the tabernacle. Every creature of God is good in itself, and intended to do good. Use the world so as not to abuse it, and the Creator is glorified. Every day added to our life is as much a miracle
of mercy, as the preservation of every individual of the twelve thousand in the day of battle. Let our gratitude declare itself in an habitual devotedness of heart and life, to the God of our life, and the length of our days; let us present our bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is our reasonable service: and be transformed by the renewing of our mind, that we may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God.” Rom. xii. 1, 2.
In the punishment inflicted on Midian, we behold a righteous God prosecuting an injury done to Israel, as an insult offered to himself. And indeed every offence against society is a direct attack of the divine au-, thority, which has fenced the person, the fame and the virtue of our neighbour on every side, against all the assaults, whether of violence or deceit. The character and conduct, in connexion with the untimely end of the arch seducer Balaam, are an awful and instructive instance of the justice of God in making signal guilt its own avenger, and furnish a striking illustration of the observations made by the psalmist and his wise son; “Behold, he travaileth with iniquity, and hath conceived mischief
, and brought forth falsehood. He made a pit, and digged it, and is fallen into the ditch which he made. His mischief shall return upon his own head, and his violent dealing shall come down upon his own pate. I will praise the Lord according to his righteousness; and will sing praise to the name of the Lord most high,” Psal. vii. 14-17. “ The heathen are sunk down in the pit that they made: in the net which they hid is their own foot taken, The Lord is known by the judgment which he executeth: the wicked is snared in the work of his own hands,” Psal. ix. 15, 16. “For the ways of man are before the eyes of the Lord, and he pondereth all his goings. His own iniquities shall take the wicked himself, and he shall be holden with the cords of his sins. He shall die without instruction: and in the greatness of his folly we shall go astray,” Prov. v. 21-23.
- In the faint resistance made by the Midianites to a force so small, we behold the native tendency of vice to enfeeble and eneryate. Sunk in effeminacy and sloth, they are overcome as soon as attacked. Strong in cunning, they are destitute of true wisdom, and defective in valour. The foe that assaults, that conquers them, is within. “The wicked flee when no man pursueth, but the righteous is as bold as a Lion.” Ad. dictedness to the pleasures of sense gradually, though insensibly, encroaches on all the nobler principles of our nature, undermines and subverts them. Every spring of the soul is relaxed through disuse; the bodily powers become languid, and the sluggish giant becomes an easy prey to the active and vigorous child. Exercise your faculties, and they will increase and im. prove; neglect them, and they will quickly fall into utter decay. Fear God, maintain “a conscience void of offence,” and bid defiance to what earth and hell can
do against you.
--- In the free-will offering of these grateful Israelites for protection and deliverance in the day of battle, behold a laudable example of attention to the ways of Providence, and of thankful acknowledgment of them. Let friends, after the days of separation are at an end, after the hour of danger is past, reckon their numbers. Do they remain entire, not one missing, is no allay mingled with the joy of re-union? It was the hand of God that supported; he “ gave his angels charge concerning you.” “He covered you with his feathers;
truth was your shield aud buckler; no evil befel you, no plague came nigh your dwelling.” “Give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name; offer unto him thanksgiving, honour him with your substance;" present“ the calves of your lips,” the devotedness of your hearts, the obedience of your lives.
-Does the punishment of this people appear to any rigorous and excessive? Let them consider that they are very incompetent judges of God's moral govern