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SUFFERINGS OF THE ISRAELITES.
DEUTERONOMY xxviii. 67.
In the morning thou shalt say, Would God it were even ! and
at even thou shalt say, Would God it were morning! for the fear of thine heart wherewith thou shalt fear, and for the sight of thine eyes which thou shalt see.
THESE words are taken from the chapter which was read as the first lesson for the morning service on Wednesday last. It was not chosen on purpose, for there are no proper lessons for Ash Wednesday ; but it is the regular lesson in the calendar for the seventh day of March ; and as Ash Wednesday happened to fall on that day, so this chapter was read accordingly. Yet, had it been intentionally fixed upon, it could not have suited the service better. In particular, it well agrees with the commination service, which warns us against falling under the wrath of God for our many and various sins. This chapter is, indeed, an awful commination : it threatens the Israelites with every conceivable evil, if they departed from serving the Lord their God; it leaves them absolutely without hope, unless they turned with all their hearts, and repented them of their disobedience.
It is impossible, I think, to read or to hear this chapter, without being deeply struck by it. It speaks to the Israelites, before they were yet entered into the land of Canaan, to forewarn them lest they should be cast out of it. Amidst all the signs and wonders which God had been shewing in their behalf, they were taught to look for a time when neither miracle nor prophet would be vouchsafed to them, when God would be as closely hidden from them, as his power was now manifestly revealed to do them good. As if, too, warning were far more required than encouragement, we find that the blessings promised for obedience bear a small proportion in point of length to the curses denounced against disobedience. So the Israelites entered Canaan, and took the lands of the heathen into possession, not without much to sober their pride, and to make them not high-minded, but fear. As when Solomon built his temple, and when Hezekiah showed all its treasures to the messengers of the king of Babylon, there was ever a warning voice mingling with the sounds of pride and self-congratulation, there was always something to check
the fuluess of the joy, that so it might be the safer.
The severe judgments spoken of in this chapter, declare also another great law of God's providence, that “to whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required.” It was because the Israelites were God's redeemed people, because he had borne them on eagle's wings, and brought them to himself; because he had made known to them his will, and promised them the possession of a goodly land, flowing with milk and honey: it was for these very reasons that their punishment was to be so severe, if they at last abused all the mercies which had been shown to them. For theirs was to be no sudden destruction, to come upon them and sweep them away for ever: it was a long and lingering misery, to endure for many generations; like the bush which burned, but was not consumed. We know that Ammon, and Amalek, and Moab, that Assyria and Babylon, have long since utterly perished; the three former, indeed, so long ago, that profane history does not notice them ; its beginnings are later than their end. But Israel still exists as a nation, however scattered and degraded: they have gone through for ages a long train of oppressions, visited on them merely because they were Jews. Nay, even yet the end is not : however much their condition is bettered, still, taking them the world through, they have even now much to bear; their
hope is still deferred, and as far as their national prospects are concerned, the morning dawns on them with no comfort, the evening descends upon them and brings no rest.
This is one remarkable part in their history; and there is another which I think deserves notice. It is declared in this twenty-eighth chapter of Deuteronomy, that amongst the other evils which the Israelites should suffer for disobedience, they should endure so long a siege from their enemies, as to suffer the worst extremities of famine. « The tender and delicate woman among you that would not adventure to set the sole of her foot upon the ground for delicateness and tenderness, her eye shall be evil towards the husband of her bosom, and towards her son, and towards her daughter.” Now it is remarkable that this has, in fact, befallen them twice over. Of the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, we have indeed no particulars given ; it is only said, in general terms, that after the city had been besieged for eighteen months, the famine prevailed in it, and there was no bread for the people of the land ; so that the king and all the fighting men endeavoured to escape out of the town, as the only resource left them. But of the second siege, by Titus and the Romans, we have the full particulars from Josephus, a Jew, who lived at the time, and had the best authority for the facts which he relates. And he mentions it as a horror unheard of amongst Greeks or barbarians, that a mother, named Mary, the daughter of Eleazar, from the country beyond Jordan, was known to have killed her own child for her food, and to have publicly confessed what she had done. Now we know that the horrors of war have been felt by many nations ; but such an extremity of suffering occurring twice in the course of its history, and under circumstances so similar, as in the two sieges of Jerusalem, there is hardly another nation, so far as I am aware, that has experienced.
Indeed, the history of the calamities of the last siege of Jerusalem, as they are given by Josephus, are well worthy of our attentive consideration. Not that in general there is any good to be gained by reading stories of horror ; but in this case the value of the lesson overpays its painfulness : it is a full comment on our Lord's words, when he turned to the women who were weeping as he was bearing his cross to Mount Calvary, and bade them “not to weep for him, but to weep for themselves and for their children.” It explains why they should indeed, in those days, say to the mountains, "fall on us,” and to the hills, “cover us;" how, unless those days had been shortened, there could have been indeed no flesh saved. Eleven hundred thousand Jews perished in the course of the siege, by the sword, by pestilence, or by famine. I do not believe that the history of the world contains any record of such a destruction, within so short a time, and