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of Jehovah, they once more seek his counsel. Phineas, the high-priest, made the inquiry in behalf of his brethren. "Shall I yet again,” said he, "go out to battle against the children of Benja min my brother, or shall I cease ?"
A far different response from any before given, is heard. "Go ap; for to-morrow I will deliver them into thy hand.”
And so it happened. The third attack was a successful one. With the help of an ambuscade Gibeah was taken, and entirely destroyed by fire; while twenty-five thousand of the Benjamites lost their lives in the battle, only six hundred men escaping, who fled to the wilderness, and secreted themselves in its rocky holds not far from Rimmon.
But the conquerors were not satisfied with the condign punishment which they had already inflicted. Their resentment was roused against the whole tribe. With relentless vengeance they traversed their territory, burning their cities with fire, and putting the inhabitants to death. Such, in the providence of God, was the doom of those who had grossly sinned against him. He used men, and men, too, as he often does, for the exe. cutioners of his justice, who acted under the influence of wrong and cruel feelings. Through their instrumentality, he made the Benjamites a fearful example of the holy indignation with Joshua & Judges.
which he regards flagitious and obstinate of fenders.
When the Israelites were assembled at Mizpeh, their indignation was so strong against the tribe of Benjamin, that they bound themselves by an oath not to furnish to the members of it any wives from among the daughters of their own, and imprecated a curse upon those who should do this. It was a vow made under the influence of passion, alike wrong and unwise. They now felt it to be so. This and the other manifestations of a revengeful spirit which they had shown towards their offending brethren, they began to regard with regret. Remorse of conscience soon followed, and instead of rejoicing in the exulta tions of triumph, we find them overwhelmed with sorrow. They resorted again to the house of God at Shiloh, and there spent a day in humbling themselves before his presence; bemoaning the extermination of the Benjamites, and exclaiming in the bitterness of their grief, "O Lord God of Israel, why is this come to pass in Israel, that there should be to-day one tribe lacking in Israel !"
On the morrow they rose early; built an altar in addition to the one already erected, that they might have the opportunity of making ample sacrifices ; and offered up on it burnt-offerings and peace-offerings. While thus seeking the forgiveness of God, and endeavoring to propitiate his favor, they seem to have discovered a way of relief from their perplexity. An expedient remained for preventing the tribe of Benjamin from becoming extinct. The people who assembled at Mizpeh had bound themselves by an oath, to put to death any portion of the nation who should refuse to come up thither to the meeting. They felt themselves justified in taking this course, and in inflicting so severe a punishment upon such as, by disregarding the summons, not only treated the general voice of the tribes with contempt, but took part with the abominable Gibeahites that had committed the crime.
Had there been any such delinquents? Inquiry was made. None had come up to the meeting from Jabesh-Gilead. This place was on a hill near Mount Gilead, not far from the lake of Gennesaret, and in the half tribe of Manasseh on the east side of the Jordan. Twelve thousand of the most valiant men were sent to destroy this city. 'Go,” were the orders given to them, "and smite the inhabitants of Jabesh-Gilead with the edge of the sword, with the women and the chil dren.” They were commanded, however, to spare the young, unmarried women, that they might be reserved as wives for the few remaining Benjamites. It was altogether unjustifiable in the Israelites to proceed to this extremity. They ought to have sent an embassy to Jabesh-Gilead, to inquire into the matter, and to ascertain whether there was not some sufficient reason for the absence of its inhabitants from the meeting at Mizpeh. The course which they pursued was a rash and wrong one; without any direction, as it would appear, from the Almighty, and involving the innocent in one general and terrible doom with the guilty ; if, indeed, it is certain that any were guilty.
In noticing such transactions, and other similar ones in which the Israelites were sometimes engaged, we need to discriminate accurately between what God does in them, and what man does. When the Israelites had an express divine command to exterminate the heathen around them, who had long merited such a fate by their aggravated wickedness, we must regard them as instruments in the hands of God of carrying into effect the sentence of his justice against the offenders. They acted officially, and in thus acting had no right to indulge any vindictive or malevolent feelings. And if it seems difficult for us to reconcile such overwhelming destruction of whole cities and countries with the tender mercy of God, we must recollect that we have the same difficulty to meet in the equally awful destruction of men, women, and children by the flood, the earthquake, the volcano, or the pestilence. In both cases God acts, but through different instrumentalities, and in both he will see that strict justice is done to all.
Where the Israelites undertook to destroy either the heathen or their own countrymen, without divine direction, we must judge of their conduct from the circumstances of the case ; and if cruel and revengeful, be careful not to connect this cruelty and revenge with the character of God. He had wise and good reasons for permit ting it to take place. Those who suffered may have fully merited their fate, while those who in flicted the suffering may have been under the influence of wicked passions in doing it.
Good men accomplish the purposes of God, and receive his approbation in so doing. Wicked men, also, accomplish his purposes, to gratify their wrong feelings, and in this respect are guilty. In both cases the external acts which thus carry into effect the providential government of God in our world, may be the same, but the motives that lead to these acts essentially different. In this way the power and wisdom of the Almighty can cause the wrath of man to praise him, while his character continues to shine forth in its perfect and unchangeable excellence.
The twelve thousand men whom the Israelites despatched for the destruction of Jabesh-Gilead, soon executed their bloody commission. All the