Sermon 13. Jewish Zeal, a Pattern for Christians

"So let all thine enemies perish, O Lord; but let them that love Him, be as the sun when he goeth forth in his might. And the land had rest forty years." Judges v. 31.

{173} WHAT a contrast do these words present to the history which goes before them! "It came to pass," says the sacred writer, "when Israel was strong, that they put the Canaanites to tribute, and did not utterly drive them out. Neither did Ephraim drive out the Canaanites that dwelt in Gezer ... Neither did Zebulon drive out the inhabitants of Kitron ... Neither did Asher drive out the inhabitants of Accho ... Neither did Naphtali drive out the inhabitants of Bethshemesh." [Judges i. 28-32.] What was the consequence? "And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord and served Baalim ... they forsook the Lord and served Baal and Ashtaroth. And the anger of the Lord was hot against Israel, and He delivered them into the hands of spoilers that spoiled them, and He sold them into the hands of their enemies round about ... {174} Whithersoever they went out, the hand of the Lord was against them for evil, as the Lord had said, and as the Lord had sworn unto them; and they were greatly distressed." [Judges ii. 11-15.] Here is the picture of indolence and unfaithfulness leading to cowardice, to apostasy, and to national ruin.

On the other hand, consider, by way of contrast, the narrative contained in the chapter which ends with the text. Ephraim and Benjamin, Machir and Zebulon, Issachar and Naphtali, rousing, uniting, assailing their enemies, and conquering; conquering in the strength of the Lord. Their long captivity was as nothing, through God's great mercy, when they turned to Him. In vain had their enemies trod them down to the ground; the Church of God had that power and grace within it, that whenever it could be persuaded to shake off its lassitude and rally, it smote as sharply and as effectively as though it had never been bound with the green withs and the new ropes of the Philistines. So it was now. "Awake, awake, Deborah: awake, awake, utter a song: arise, Barak, and lead thy captivity captive, thou son of Abinoam." Such was the inspired cry of war: and it was obeyed. In consequence the Canaanites were discomfited in battle and fled; "and the land had rest forty years." Here is a picture of manly obedience to God's will—a short trial of trouble and suffering—and then the reward, peace.

I propose now to make some remarks upon the lesson conveyed to us in this picture, which extends indeed through the greater part of the Old Testament {175} —the lesson to us as individuals; for surely it is with reference to our own duties as individuals, that we should read every part of Scripture.

What the Old Testament especially teaches us is this:—that zeal is as essentially a duty of all God's rational creatures, as prayer and praise, faith and submission; and, surely, if so, especially of sinners whom He has redeemed; that zeal consists in a strict attention to His commands—a scrupulousness, vigilance, heartiness, and punctuality, which bears with no reasoning or questioning about them—an intense thirst for the advancement of His glory—a shrinking from the pollution of sin and sinners—an indignation, nay impatience, at witnessing His honour insulted—a quickness of feeling when His name is mentioned, and a jealousy how it is mentioned—a fulness of purpose, an heroic determination to yield Him service at whatever sacrifice of personal feeling—an energetic resolve to push through all difficulties, were they as mountains, when His eye or hand but gives the sign—a carelessness of obloquy, or reproach, or persecution, a forgetfulness of friend and relative, nay, a hatred (so to say) of all that is naturally dear to us, when He says, "Follow me." These are some of the characteristics of zeal. Such was the temper of Moses, Phinehas, Samuel, David, Elijah; it is the temper enjoined on all the Israelites, especially in their conduct towards the abandoned nations of Canaan. The text expresses that temper in the words of Deborah: "So let all thine enemies perish, O Lord; but let them that love Him be as the sun when he goeth forth in his might." {176}

Now, it has sometimes been said that the commands of strenuous and stern service given to the Israelites—for instance, those relative to their taking and keeping possession of the promised land—do not apply to us Christians. There can be no doubt it is not our duty to take the sword and kill the enemies of God as the Jews were told to do; "Put up again thy sword into his place," [Matt. xxvi. 52.] are our Saviour's words to St. Peter. So far, then, if this is what is meant by saying that these commands do not apply to us, so far, doubtless, it is clear they do not apply to us. But it does not, hence, follow that the temper of mind which they pre-suppose and foster is not required of us; else, surely, the Jewish history is no longer profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. St. Peter was blamed, not for his zeal, but for his use of the sword.

Man's duty, perfection, happiness, have always been one and the same. He is not a different being now from what he ever was; he has always been commanded the same duties. What was the holiness of an Israelite is still the holiness of a Christian, though the Christian has far higher privileges and aids for perfection. The Saints of God have ever lived by faith, and walked in the way of justice, mercy, truth, self-mastery, and love. It is impossible, then, that all these duties imposed on the Israelites of driving out their enemies, and taking and keeping possession of the promised land, should not in some sense or other apply to us; for it is clear they were not in their case mere accidents {177} of obedience, but went to form a certain inward character, and as clear is it that our heart must be as the heart of Moses or David, if we would be saved through Christ.

This is quite evident, if we attentively examine the Jewish history, and the Divine commands which are the principles of it. For these commands, which some persons have said do not apply to us, are so many and varied, and repeated at so many and diverse times, that they certainly must have formed a peculiar character in the heart of the obedient Israelite, and were much more than an outward form and a sort of ceremonial service. They are so abundant throughout the Old Testament, that unless they in some way apply to us, it is difficult to see what is its direct use, at this day, in the way of precept; and this is the very conclusion which these same persons often go on to draw. They are willing to rid themselves of the Old Testament, and they say that Christians are not concerned in it, and that the Jews were almost barbarians; whereas St. Paul tells us, that the Jewish history is "written for our admonition and our learning." [1 Cor. x. 11; Rom. xv. 4.]

Let us consider some of the commands I have referred to, and the terms in which they are conveyed. For instance, that for the extirpation of the devoted nations from the land of Canaan. "When the Lord thy God shall bring thee into the land whither thou goest to possess it, ... thou shalt smite" the nations that possess it, "and utterly destroy them; thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor show mercy unto them; {178} neither shalt thou make marriages with them ... Ye shall destroy their altars and break down their images, and cut down their groves, and burn down their graven images with fire ... Thou shalt consume all the people which the Lord thy God shall deliver thee; thine eye shall have no pity upon them." [Deut. vii. 1-5, 16.]

Next observe, this merciless temper, as profane people would call it, but as well-instructed Christians say, this godly zeal, was enjoined upon them under far more distressing circumstances, viz., the transgressions of their own relations and friends. "If thy brother, the son of thy mother, or thy son, or thy daughter, or the wife of thy bosom, or thy friend which is as thine own soul, entice thee secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, ... Thou shalt not consent unto him, nor hearken unto him, neither shall thine eye pity him, neither shalt thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him. But thou shalt surely kill him. Thine hand shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people." [Deut. xiii. 6-9.] Now, doubtless, we at this day are not to put men to death for idolatry; but, doubtless also, whatever temper of mind the fulfilment of this command implied in the Jew, such, essentially, must be our temper of mind, whatever else it may be also; for God cannot speak two laws, he cannot love two characters—good is good, and evil is evil, and the law He gave to the Jews was, in its substance, "perfect, converting the soul; the testimony of the Lord sure, making wise the simple; the statutes of the Lord right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the {179} Lord pure, enlightening the eyes; ... more to be desired than gold, yea than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. Moreover," as the Psalmist proceeds, "by them is thy servant taught, and in keeping of them there is great reward." [Ps. xix. 7, 8, 10, 11.]

A self-mastering fearless obedience was another part of this same religious temper enjoined on the Jews, and still incumbent, as I dare affirm, on us Christians. "Be ye very courageous to keep and to do all that is written in the book of the law of Moses." [Josh. xxiii. 6.] It required an exceeding moral courage in the Jews to enable them to go straight forward, seduced neither by their feelings nor their reason.

Nor was the severe temper under review a duty in the early ages of Judaism only. The book of Psalms was written at different times, between David's age and the captivity, yet it plainly breathes the same hatred of sin, and opposition to sinners. I will but cite one text from the hundred and thirty-ninth Psalm. "Do not I hate them, O Lord, that hate Thee? and am not I grieved with those that rise up against Thee? I hate them with perfect hatred; I count them mine enemies." And then the inspired writer proceeds to lay open his soul before God, as if conscious he had but expressed feelings which He would approve. "Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts, and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting."

Further still, after the return from the captivity, after the Prophets had enlarged the compass of Divine Revelation, {180} and purified and heightened the religious knowledge of the nation, still this rigid and austere zeal was enjoined and enforced in all its ancient vigour by Ezra. The Jews set about a reformation; and what was its most remarkable act? Let us attend to the words of Ezra: "The princes came to me, saying, The people of Israel, and the priests, and the Levites have not separated themselves from the people of the lands; for they have taken of their daughters for themselves and for their sons; so that the holy seed have mingled themselves with the people of those lands; yea, the hand of the princes and rulers hath been chief in this trespass." Now let me stop to ask what would most likely be the conduct of a temporizing Christian of this day, had he, in that day, been in Ezra's place? He would, doubtless, have said that such marriages were quite unjustifiable certainly, but now that they were made, there was no remedy for it; that they must be hindered in future; but in the existing instances, the evil being done could not be undone; and, besides, that great men were involved in the sin, whom it was impossible to interfere with. This he would have said, I think, though the prohibition of Moses seemed to make such marriages null and void from the first. Now, I do not say that every one ought to have done what Ezra did, for he was supernaturally directed; but would the course he adopted have ever entered into the mind of men of this day, or can they even understand or acquiesce in it, now that they know it? for what did he? "And when I heard this thing," he says, "I rent my garment and my mantle, and plucked off the hair of my {181} head, and of my beard, and sat down astonied. Then were assembled unto me every one that trembled at the words of the God of Israel, because of the transgression of those that had been carried away, and I sat astonied until the evening sacrifice." [Ezra ix. 3, 4.] Then he offered a confession and intercession in behalf of the people; then at length he and the people came to a decision; which was no other than this—to command all persons who had married foreign wives to put them away. He undid the evil as well as hindered it in future. What an act of self-denying zeal was this in a multitude of people!

These are some, out of many instances, which might be brought from the Jewish history, in proof of the duty of strict and severe loyalty to God and His revealed will; and I here adduce them, first, to show that the commands involving it could not (their number and variety are so great), could not have related to a merely outward and ceremonial obedience, but must have wrought in the Jews a certain temper of mind, pleasing to God, and therefore necessary for us also to possess. Next, I deduce from that same circumstance of their number and variety, that they must be binding on us, else the Old Testament would be but a shadow of a revelation or law to the Christian.

I wish to insist on the lesson supplied merely by the Old Testament, and will not introduce into the argument the consideration of the Apostle's doctrine, which is quite in accordance with it. Yet it may be right, briefly, to refer to the sinless pattern of our Lord, and {182} to what is told us of the holy inhabitants of heaven, in order to show that the temper of mind enjoined on the Jews belongs to those who are in a state of being superior to us, as well as to those who were living under a defective and temporary Dispensation. There was an occasion when our Lord is expressly said to have taken upon Him the zeal which consumed David. "Jesus went up to Jerusalem, and found in the Temple those that sold oxen, and sheep, and doves, and the changers of money, sitting; and when He had made a scourge of small cords, He drove them all out of the Temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers' money, and overthrew the tables." Surely, unless we had this account given us by an inspired writer, we should not have believed it! Influenced by notions of our own devising, we should have said, this zealous action of our Lord's was quite inconsistent with his merciful, meek, and (what may be called) His majestic and serene temper of mind. To put aside form, to dispense with the ministry of His attendant Angels, to act before He had spoken His displeasure, to use His own hand, to hurry to and fro, to be a servant in the work of purification, surely this must have arisen from a fire of indignation at witnessing His Father's House insulted, which we sinners cannot understand. But any how, it is but the perfection of that temper which, as we have seen, was encouraged and exemplified in the Jewish Church. That energy, decision, and severity which Moses enjoined on his people, is manifested in Christ Himself, and is, therefore, undeniably a duty of man as such, {183} whatever be his place or attainments in the scale of human nature.

Such is the pattern afforded us by our Lord; to which add the example of the Angels which surround him. Surely in Him is mingled "goodness and severity;" such, therefore, are all holy creatures, loving and severe. We read of their thoughts and desires in the Apocalypse, "Fear God, and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment is come." Again, "Thou art righteous, O Lord, which art, and wast, and shalt be, because Thou hast judged thus. For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and Thou hast given them blood to drink, for they are worthy." And again, "Even so, Lord God Almighty, true and righteous are Thy judgments." Once more, "Her sins have reached unto heaven, and God hath remembered her iniquities. Reward her even as she rewarded you, and double unto her double according to her works;" [Rev. xiv. 7; xvi. 5-7; xviii. 5, 6.]—all which passages imply a deep and solemn acquiescence in God's judgments.

Thus a certain fire of zeal, showing itself, not by force and blood, but as really and certainly as if it did—cutting through natural feelings, neglecting self, preferring God's glory to all things, firmly resisting sin, protesting against sinners, and steadily contemplating their punishment, is a duty belonging to all creatures of God, a duty of Christians, in the midst of all that excellent overflowing charity which is the highest Gospel grace, and the fulfilling of the second table of the Law. {184}

And such, in fact, has ever been the temper of the Christian Church; in evidence of which I need but appeal to the impressive fact that the Jewish Psalter has been the standard book of Christian devotion from the first down to this day. I wish we thought more of this circumstance. Can any one doubt that, supposing that blessed manual of faith and love had never been in use among us, great numbers of the present generation would have clamoured against it as unsuitable to express Christian feelings, as deficient in charity and kindness? Nay, do we not know, though I dare say it may surprise many a sober Christian to hear that it is so, that there are men at this moment who (I hardly like to mention it) wish parts of the Psalms left out of the Service as ungentle and harsh? Alas! that men of this day should rashly put their own judgment in competition with that of all the Saints of every age hitherto since Christ came—should virtually say, "Either they have been wrong or we are," thus forcing us to decide between the two. Alas! that they should dare to criticise the words of inspiration! Alas! that they should follow the steps of the backsliding Israelites, and shrink from siding with the Truth in its struggle with the world, instead of saying with Deborah, "So let all Thine enemies perish, O Lord!"

Now I shall make a few observations in conclusion, with a view of showing how meekness and charity are compatible with this austere and valiant temper of the Christian soldier.

1. Of course it is absolutely sinful to have any private enmities. Not the bitterest personal assaults upon {185} us should induce us to retaliate. We must do good for evil, "love those who hate, bless those who curse us, and pray for those who despitefully use us." It is only when it is impossible at once to be kind to them, and give glory to God, that we may cease to act kindly towards them. When David speaks of hating God's enemies, it was under circumstances when keeping friends with them would have been a desertion of the Truth. St. James says, "Know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God?" [James iv. 4.] and so, on the other hand, devotion to God's cause is enmity with the world. But no personal feeling must intrude itself in any case. We hate sinners, by putting them out of our sight, as if they were not, by annihilating them, in our affections. And this we must do, even in the case of our friends and relations, if God requires it. But in no case are we to allow ourselves in resentment or malice.

2. Next, it is quite compatible with the most earnest zeal, to offer kind offices to God's enemies when in distress. I do not say that a denial of these offices may not be a duty ordinarily; for it is our duty, as St. John tells us in his second Epistle, not even to receive them into our houses. But the case is very different where men are brought into extremity. God "maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust." [Matt. v. 45.] We must go and do likewise, imitating the good Samaritan; and as he thought nothing of difference of nations when a Jew was in distress, in like manner we must not take {186} account of wilful heresy, or profaneness, in such circumstances.

3. And, further, the Christian keeps aloof from sinners in order to do them good. He does so in the truest and most enlarged charity. It is a narrow and weak feeling to please a man here, and to endanger his soul. A true friend is he who speaks out, and, when a man sins, shows him that he is displeased at the sin. He who sets up no witness against his friend's sin, is "partaker of his evil deeds." [2 John 11.] The Psalmist speaks in this spirit, when, after praying to God "to persecute" the ungodly "with His tempest," he adds, "fill their faces with shame, that they may seek Thy name, O Lord." [Ps. lxxxiii. 16.]

Accordingly, the more zealous a Christian is, therefore is he the more charitable. The Israelite, when he entered Canaan, was told to spare neither old nor young; the weak and the infirm were to be no exception in the list of victims whose blood was to be shed. "Of the cities of these people, which the Lord thy God doth give thee for an inheritance, thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth." [Deut. xx. 16.] Accordingly, when the people fought against Sihon, they "took all his cities at that time, and utterly destroyed the men, and the women, and the little ones of every city," they "left none to remain." [Deut. ii. 34.] And when Jericho was taken, "they utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox, and sheep, and ass, with the edge of the sword." [Josh. vi. 21.] What an awful office was this, {187} what an unutterably heart-piercing task, almost enough to make a man frantic, except as upheld by the power of him who gave the command! Yet Moses, thus severely-minded to do God's will, was the meekest of men. Samuel, too, who sent Saul to slay in Amalek "man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass," was, from his youth up, the wise and heavenly-minded guide and prophet of Israel. David, who had a fiery zeal, so as even to consume him, was (as we see by his Psalms) most tender-hearted and gentle in his feelings and thoughts. Doubtless, while the servants of God executed His judgments, they still could bend in pity and in hope over the young and old whom they slew with the sword—merciful amid their severity—an unspeakable trial, doubtless, of faith and self-mastery, and requiring a very exalted and refined spirit successfully to undergo. Doubtless, as they slew those who suffered for the sins of their fathers, their thoughts turned, first to the fall of Adam, next to that unseen state where all inequalities are righted, and they surrendered themselves as instruments unto the Lord, of mysteriously working out good through evil.

And shall we faint at our far lesser trials when they bore the greater? Spared the heavy necessity of piercing with the spear of Phinehas, and of hewing Agag in Gilgal—allowed to take instead of inflicting suffering and "to make a difference" instead of an indiscriminate severity—shall we, like cowards, shrink from bearing our lighter burdens, which our Lord commands, and in which He set us the pattern? Shall we be perversely persuaded by the appearance of amiableness or kindness {188} in those whom God's word bids us depart from as heretics, or profligate livers, or troublers of the Church? Joseph could speak strangely to his brethren, and treat them as spies, put one of them in prison, and demand another from Canaan, while he hardly refrained himself in doing so, and his bowels yearned over them; and by turns he punished them, and wept for them. Oh, that there was in us this high temper of mingled austerity and love! Barely do we conceive of severity by itself, and of kindness by itself; but who unites them? We think we cannot be kind without ceasing to be severe. Who is there that walks through the world, wounding according to the rule of zeal, and scattering balm freely in the fulness of love; smiting as a duty, and healing as a privilege; loving most when he seems sternest, and embracing them most tenderly whom in semblance he treats roughly? What a state we are in, when any one who rehearses the plain threats of our Lord and His Apostles against sinners, or ventures to defend the anathemas of His Church, is thought unfeeling rather than merciful; when they who separate from the irreligious world are blamed as fanciful and extravagant, and those who confess the truth, as it is in Jesus, are said to be bitter, hot of head, and intemperate! Yet, with God's grace, with the history of the Old Testament before us, and the fearful recompense, to warn us, which came upon backsliding Israel, we, the Ministers of Christ, dare not keep silence amid this great error. In behalf of Christ, our Saviour and Lord, who yielded up His precious life for us, and now feeds us with His own blood, for the sake of the souls whom He has {189} redeemed, and whom, by a false and cruel charity, the world would keep in ignorance and sin, we cannot refrain; and if His Holy Spirit be with us, as we trust He is, whatever betides, whatever is coming on this country, speak the truth we will, and overcome in our speaking we must; for He has given us to overcome!

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