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"And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord: and the Lord delivered them into the hand of Midian, seven years. And the hand of Midian prevailed against Israel: and because of the Midianites the children of Israel made them the dens which are in the mountains, and caves, and strong holds. And so it was, when Israel had sown, that the Midianites came up, and the Amalekites, and the children of the east, even they came up against them; and they encamped against them, and destroyed the increase of the earth, till thou come to Gaza, and left no sustenance for Israel, neither sheep, nor ox, nor ass. For they came up with their cattle and their tents; and they came as grasshoppers for multitude; for both they and their camels were without number; and they entered into the land to destroy it."
in the discourses which we have already delivered on the remarkable histories in this book of Judges, we have made such general observations as seemed requisite to prepare the mind for the profitable contemplation of their interior contents. We have dwelt at some length upon the necessity of allowing such singular things as are recorded, to be representative of things of a spiritual nature, in order to see how the volume that contains them can be in reality the Word of God; and have noticed the strong arguments which thence arise in favour of the Holy Word's containing a spiritual sense included within the letter. We also have offered such suggestions as presented themselves to meet the thoughts which may arise in the mind, when it learns that all the immense variety of things mentioned and treated of in the Holy Word, relate to distinct states to be experienced by the man who suffers all the divine purposes respecting him to take effect, and who does not stop short at any intermediate station in his spiritual course, but submits to the whole of the process requisite to bring him to the highest state of perfection open to a finite being. This highest state is indeed so glorious a one, that it is not commonly supposed to be open to the attainment of man, hut is erroneously conceived to be confined to a class of pure spiritual intelligences, who were created angels at once, and never underwent a period of trial and probation as men on earth. This, however, is a notion altogether erroneous, founded on one of those Jewish fables to which Paul warns his disciple Titus not to give heed,—on one of those traditions of theirs by which, as the Lord declares, they made the law or Word of God of none effect: and it is a notion that is so utterly destitute of any substantial support, and almost of the appearance of it, from the Sacred Scriptures, that one may wonder how it ever obtained such general credence among Christians. It is on purpose that angels may exist that man was created. The human race is designed to be the seminary for heaven; since the formation of heaven, peopled with angelic inhabitants, is the end Divine Love and Wisdom had in view in the creation of the universe; and if this could have been created immediately, man would never have been formed and placed in this world of nature at all, where, even in his most perfect state, he was liable to fall into vice and consequent misery. But Infinite Wisdom and Divine Omnipotence never act but in conformity to the most perfect order, and this requires that there should be different degrees of life and existence; that those which are interior should have one that is exterior as the means of giving them permanence; and that the formation of the human mind should take place while it dwells in a natural frame, in order that its acquirements may have a termination to give them a fixed existence. Divine Order also requires that all multiplication, and in fact all positive creation, should take place in this ultimate sphere: and thus man was formed an inhabitant of the world of nature, that he might thereby freely choose that order of life which might fit him for transplantation to a higher and more interior residence; since, unless those acquirements are appropriated in a state of freedom, they cannot be possessed at all; and such free appropriation is only possible in the natural state of existence. If, then, this be so: if heaven is to derive all its inhabitants from earth: if the Lord's angels spoken of by the Psalmist, who are called, for their life of wisdom, spirits; His ministers, called, for their ardent love, flames of fire;—even the angels who excel in strength, were once men on earth, partakers, to the full extent, of human frailty: we may cease to think it strange that so many particulars are mentioned in the Holy Word which describe different steps in the great process by which this exaltation of state is to be attained. When we reflect on the idea we commonly entertain of angels, which we may be sure does not rise higher, but is more probably much lower, than the reality; and when we compare this with the weakness and infirmity which we know, by experience as well as observation, adheres to man in this mortal state; the wonder will be, not that such a variety of trials and purifications should be requisite to his passing from the one condition to the other, but that it should ever be possible for him to do so at all. But what a subject of superlative joy and gratitude should it be to him, that such an exaltation of his nature is presented before him, and that he is invited and. empowered to attain it! How ought we to be animated by so elevated a prospect! The apostle exhorts us to "lay aside every weight, and the sin that doth so easily beset us, and to run with patience the race which is set before us: looking," he especially says, "unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of God." In the latter part of these words, the Apostle speaks of the means by which the Lord advanced to the glorification of his Humanity, till this was exalted to complete divine omnipotence, which is what is always meant when mention is made in Scripture of the right hand of God. This was effected by His fulfilling the whole of the Word, that is, by passing through every state described in the Word, appropriating, as to His human nature, every good and every truth which it contains, and thus becoming as to his external man, what He was from eternity as to His internal, the Word Itself,—which is what is meant when it is said that "the Word was made flesh." As then He repeatedly commands us in the gospel to follow Him, and the Apostle means the same in the words just quoted, where he exhorts us to take Him for our pattern; no doubt we also, in our measure and degree, are to fulfil the Holy Word, passing through the states therein described, and making the goodness and truth it enforces, the rule and guide, and finally the spontaneous dictate of our renewed minds. The Lord, being divine goodness and truth themselves as to His internal man, became, by fulfilling the Word, divine goodness and truth themselves as to His external man, thus essentially God as to both: and of course the temptations which He underwent in the process, must have been such as finite minds can have no idea of. Man is only a form recipient of goodness and truth from the Lord as to his internal man, and he has only to become such a form as to his external man also: of course his trials will be commensurate with his limited capacities; and he never need fear the failure of the divine promise—as thy day is, so shall thy strength be. In reality, the Lord does and sustains all for man: he has only to look steadily to Him, never resting under any intercepting cloud till it is removed—and to attend faithfully to the Lord's requirements, to become one of those sons of God, to "bring whom to glory," the same Apostle declares, "the Captain of their salvation was made perfect through sufferings."
Our present text describes an affliction of the Israelites, from an enemy that one would hardly expect to have again become so powerful, after a great overthrow that they had experienced in the time of Moses. When Balak the King of Moab had failed to arrest the march of the Israelites by the enchantments of Balaam, whom he had hired for the purpose, but whose desire to curse was turned into a blessing by the controlling power of the Lord, the Moabites endeavoured to effect their object by subtlety, and to ensnare the children of Israel into criminal practices and idolatrous worship, in which they so far succeeded as to occasion a plague in the camp, attended with the destruction of twenty-four thousand men. On this occasion they were assisted by the Midianites: for which reason Moses was commanded to send an expedition of twelve thousand men against the latter. This small army of Israelites seems to have come upon the Midianites by surprise, for, without any loss, they destroyed five of their princes, with a great multitude of people, and took an immense booty,—so great indeed, that one would conclude the whole nation must have been cut off, as the terms of the account which is given in the 31st of Numbers, would seem to imply. However, we find they had so recovered themselves, in the two hundred years which intervened between the date of that transaction and of that recorded in the text, as to have become more formidable than ever, and to be able to do, by open force, what they then only attempted by craft and fair appearances. And no doubt the reason of this is, because, there being a difference in degree, between the state represented by the Israelites after they obtained possession of the promised land, and that which they denoted before, the enemies whom they had to encounter, though frequently the same nations as before, and thus representing the same evil lusts and false persuasions as previously, express the manifestation of them in a deeper ground, which of course implies a more full development of their pernicious tendency.
Owing to the human mind at the present day being so little exercised in noting the differences of the various species of affections, whether good or evil, and of perceptions and notions, whether true or false, it is certainly rather difficult to obtain so distinct an idea of the things denoted by the different nations with whom the Israelites had to contend, as to prevent our efforts at explaining them from appearing like reiterations of the same thing. No doubt the time will come, as the church advances to maturity, when the perceptions of her members, on these and all other subjects, will be incomparably clearer: they who shall then attempt to explain such matters will be enabled to set them in a much clearer light than can be done at present; and they will also be assisted by a much more ready comprehension in their auditors. However, there is enough recorded in Scripture respecting the Midianites,—and even in our present text,—to help us, I trust, to form a satisfactory notion of what is represented by them.
The circumstance we have already noticed, respecting their former alliance with the Moabites, will alone afford us considerable assistance. The Moabites we have treated of on more than one occasion, and their signification is so extremely distinct from that of any other of the nations with whom the Israelites had to deal, that I trust we have been enabled to form a tolerably clear idea of it. We have seen that they denote such as are in a certain kind of good, consisting merely in natural amiableness of temper, uninfluenced by spiritual considerations;—thus a good that originates in hereditary constitution, is consequently of the natural man alone, and is not a birth from the spiritual man, nor such as owns any connexion with the truths of the church. Thus they who are in such good as this, though it will appear very pleasing for a time, yet if they do not receive genuine good within it by regulating all their affections by the divine commandments, and thus watching against evils in themselves and rejecting them, are easily seduced into evil, when it addresses their inclinations in an alluring form. Now the Midianites represent those who in some respects are of a similar character, denoting, when mentioned in a. good sense, as sometimes occurs, persons of simple but well-disposed minds, who hold the truths of the church in a manner agreeable to their simple state of mind, which prevents them, when false doctrines are prevalent, from being injured by them. Thus, as noticed in a previous discourse, it was to the land of Midian that Moses fled when Pharaoh sought his life: and so it was to Midianitish merchants that Joseph was sold by his brethren, who thus gave vent to their hostility which otherwise would not have been satisfied without taking his life: and thus the Midianites were the means of the preservation of Joseph as well as of Moses: by both which circumstances is represented the preservation of that in which the church essentially consists, at the time when, in the body of its professed members, the church is in desolation. But when the Midianites appear in enmity to the Israelites, they represent a principle of the same general character as before, but turned in an opposite direction;—thus they denote such as are of simple superficial dispositions, but who, instead of holding the truth in a simple manner, have no concern about divine truth at all j in which case, like the Moabites, they are easily seduced into evil indulgences, when they readily imbibe false persuasions to justify them. In this case the Midianites represent such persons as are peculiarly devoted to pleasurable indulgences, and may be considered as representing, abstractedly, external enjoyment, with all its frivolities of idle thoughts and trifling notions magnified into things of supreme importance.
We took occasion to observe, when treating of the Moabites, that there is reason to conclude that there are great numbers of those who are spiritually Moabites in the professing church, and in the world, at the present day: and most assuredly the same observation may be made in respect to the Midianites also. No doubt there are many in the professing church at this day who are Midianites in a good sense,—persons of a plain, well-disposed character, whose simplicity of mind prevents them from imbibing, so as to be injured by them, the false notions which have supplanted the genuine truth of the Word in the creeds of professed Christians, and among whom, in consequence, the spiritual Moses and Joseph,—the Divine Law or Truth and the spiritual principle of the church, so far find an asylum as to be preserved alive. But if there are spiritual Midianites, in their best character, in the professing church of this day, most assuredly there are spiritual Midianites in abundance in their bad signification also. Was there ever a time in which frivolity in every form, a constant immersion in superficial pursuits, and the eager pursuit of paltry enjoyments, formed so leading a feature in the character of the age? What multitudes spend a great portion of their time in what is called, to gloss over the vanity of it, light reading, and consume nearly the whole of the remainder in a round of amusements! So that they have a constant supply of tales of fiction to read, it matters not, with many, what is their moral tendency. Indeed, when the mind is much given up to this kind of reading, it avails little though valuable lessons be inculcated in the book: whatever they professedly inculcate, their effect upon such readers is invariably mischievous. Such persons live constantly surrounded with a sphere of phantasies. The perceptions of their own minds are as injuriously affected by this species of constantly strained excitement, as they would be by the habit of taking intoxicating liquors: and, though coarsely, it was most truly said, by a man not much under the influence of religious principle, that the circulating library, whence constant supplies of such mental beverage are procured, is a moral dram-shop. These then, we may say, are the Midianites' studies: and the tendency of them certainly is, to give their votaries a distaste for the sober, common-place, un-romantic duties of life, and to disqualify them, in a great degree, for filling with propriety their stations in it. So again, when one observes how many there are who seem absolutely to live upon public amusements, how can one forbear to recognize the character of the Midianite? Into how many companies may you enter, in which nothing is talked of but new plays, new actors or old ones in new characters, and the various other species of fashionable entertainment! What multitudes are there whose supreme enjoyment is in playing at cards,—who do not know what to do with themselves till the card-tables are set out, who engage in the game as if it were the very business of their lives, and who find in it the whole of their delight,—if delight that can be called which frequently manifests itself, (because fortune cannot always be propitious) in ill-humour and vexation, either openly exhibited or ill concealed. Are there any among us, in whom the Midianitish character, under these or any other of its manifestations, displays its influence? The doctrines of the New Church, it is true, do not altogether prohibit any recreation which is not criminal in itself and does not go beyond the bounds of order and propriety: but most strictly do they prohibit all whenever they would rise out of their proper sphere, and demand entertainment as objects of anxious pursuit: and, most assuredly, the less every one accustoms himself to think of or wish for them, the better. Whenever amusements begin to be thought of with solicitude, and especially when," by thinking of or pursuing them our proper duties begin to be felt as irksome, the Midianite is beginning to assume the upper hand with us, and, unless promptly repressed, will either subdue us entirely, or make our return to a state of true order and real happiness a matter of difficulty, only to be accomplished by the path of repentance, attended with much bitterness and pain. Though the doctrines of the New Church do not proscribe amusements so far as they tend to preserve both mind and body in a more healthful state, and both better disposed and better able to discharge with effect their proper duties, they describe the state of those who make pleasure their business, as deplorable, vile, and wretched indeed. But to proceed to the particulars of our text.
The consequence of such unworthy objects attaining any prevalence in the mind, is strongly described when it is said, that because of the Midianites the children of Israel made them the dens which are in the mountains, and caves, and strongholds. The Israelites represent the principles that constitute the church in the human mind; and these are said to dwell in dens and caves when they are in a state of obscurity—the dens of the mountains denoting a state of obscurity as to good, and the caves, or, as is sometimes said, the caves of the fields, denoting a state of obscurity with respect to truth: And great indeed is the obscurity in which a man is plunged, as to the things that properly constitute the church, when external pursuits and their gross delights occupy any considerable share of his attention! But it is necessary here to bear in mind the difference between being in a state of temptation in consequence of the infusion of such things from an infernal source, and the being in the things themselves: in the former case we belong to those who, notwithstanding their lapses and infirmities, are still Israelites; but in the latter we are really Midianites ourselves. We are instructed in the doctrines of the New Church on the subject of temptations, that in them evil and false sentiments are indeed present in the mind, being infused from the tempting powers in such abundance as to make it appear as if they could not be resisted: deluges of false suggestions of different kinds, sometimes tending to the direct denial of the most important truths, and sometimes consisting merely of a continual turning of the thoughts to idle and unprofitable things, are unceasingly poured into the mind, while tendencies to evil at the same time solicit the will, accompanied by a feeling of the delight which they who are in such evil find in its indulgence: these however arc at the same time felt as most hateful and undelightful to the real will of the mind, this being so renewed as to have delights of a very different nature. Of course, where there is inwardly an opposite will, what is thus suggested by the infernal influence, is not adopted or reduced into practice: and it is the determined inward resistance to this, in which the Lord supports the mind, that constitutes it a temptation. Such then, when applied to the case of individual regeneration, is what is denoted by the oppression which the children of Israel suffered from the Midianites, and indeed by all the other afflictions recorded of them.
The Midianites, it is to be observed, were a migratory people, having no fixed habitations, and whose riches consisted in their cattle, as is evident from the description of the spoil that the Israelites took from them in the conflict before noticed, in the time of Moses: they were in fact a tribe of the people who are now called wandering Arabs, who have retained their manners to the present day. Their mode of ill treating the Israelites, referred to in our text, does not appear to have consisted in holding them regularly in subjection, dwelling in their country as its constant masters, but in making occasional inroads, seizing their cattle, and applying the produce of the land as pasture for their own herds. For it is said in the 3rd, 4th, and 5th verses, that "when Israel had sown, the Midianites came up, and the Amalekites, and the children of the cast, and they encamped against them, and destroyed the increase of the earth, and left no sustenance for Israel, neither sheep, nor ox, nor ass: for they came up with their cattle, and their tents, and they came as grasshoppers for multitude; for both they and their camels were without number: and they entered the land to destroy it." So that it appears, that after they had seized every thing, and fed off the growing crops with their cattle, till the land could support them no longer, they retreated, according to their usual migratory habits, to their own country; that then the Israelites, hoping that they would not return, again sowed the fields and endeavoured to repair the damage, in the expectation, no doubt, that their enemies would leave them some respite to enjoy the fruit of their labour; but that the Midianites and their companions returned again the next season, and made the same devastation as before.
In these particulars we have a description of the desolation to which all things of the church are reduced in the external man, so long as a regard to external delights is so far indulged, or is permitted to intrude itself, as to occupy in that part of our constitution a pre-eminent station. The seed sown by the Israelites is the knowledge and understanding of divine truth, and of the good to which it leads, inseminated in our natural part by an influx from the spiritual, in consequence of which it is that things of a spiritual nature engage our attention, that the Holy Word and the doctrines of the church thence derived, are studied, and, by virtue of an influx from the internal, and primarily from the Lord, are understood, and in some measure appropriated: but in this state the prospect of fruit is cut off by the rising up from beneath of evil delights and false persuasions, which destroy what is thus inseminated, and even apply it in favour of themselves. How similar is this history to the Lord's parable of the Sower, in which it is said that, sometimes because the wicked one catcheth away that which was sown in the heart, sometimes because tribulation or persecution occasion offence, and sometimes because the care of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, it becometh unfruitful!
The Midianites are said to be as grasshoppers, or, as the word ought to be translated, as locusts, for multitude; to which they arc compared, because the state represented is similar to that of Egypt, when it was visited by the plague of locusts. Locusts are explained in the writings of the New Church to represent falsities in the extremes, by which phrase are meant false persuasions and thoughts of the lowest and most superficial description, such as arise from the fallacies of the senses, when separated from all interior light, so that their fallacy remains undetected. A plague of them, or an inundation such as is here spoken of, consists in the thoughts being kept by infernal influence perpetually occupied with frivolous things, which are then seen only in the lowest sensual light, and, if the mind has better things within, are felt to be extremely annoying, though they are poured in so fast that it finds it difficult to extricate itself from them. And if the Midianites, as has been observed, represent an exclusive regard to external things, we see with what propriety the state of the thoughts which such an attachment brings with it, is compared to an inundation of locusts.
The mode in which deliverance from this state is commenced, is described in the sequel of this chapter by the calling of Gideon, which we propose to take as the subject of our next discourse. What we have now been considering may teach us the danger of suffering a regard to external things—an attachment to natural pleasures, to obtain the preponderance in our minds. There is nothing in true religion of a gloomy nature, or that tends in any degree to restrict the enjoyments suitable to a rational being: on the contrary, it tends greatly to increase and exalt all rational enjoyments; as affections of a spiritual nature—affections of heavenly good and perceptions of divine truth, are attended with delights of their own of a far more exquisite kind than the slave of merely natural and corporeal affections and the gross sentiments which accompany them, can have an idea of; and the rational and natural pleasures which they permit, are, by their connexion with them, improved and made more truly pleasing: for true religion does not require the total renunciation even of natural pleasures, but only their restriction within the limits of order. But let us be ever careful to attend to what order requires, which, is, that spiritual things should be exalted to the highest place in our minds, and be made the governing ends and motives, and that natural objects, pursuits, and delights should be kept in strict subordination below them. Then will not the Israelites be shut up in dens and caves, whilst all that they sow is made the prey of the Midianites, but they shall eat in peace of the increase of the earth:—the acquisitions of the natural man, being from a heavenly origin and standing in heavenly order, will be subservient to and support the spiritual man in life and activity, and heavenly rest will be his portion.
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