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"And Gideon said unto God, If thou wilt save Israel by my hand, as thou hast said, Behold, I will put a fleece of wool in the floor, (and} if the dew be on the fleece only, and (it be) dry on all the earth (beside), then shall I know that thou wilt save Israel by my hand, as thou hast said. And it was so: for he rose up early on the morrow, and thrust the fleece together, and wringed the dew out of the fleece, a bowl full of water. And Gideon said unto God, Let not thine anger be hot against me, and I will speak but this once: let me prove, I pray thee, but this once with the fleece: let it now be dry only upon the fleece, and upon all the ground let there be dew. And God did so that night: for it was dry upon the fleece only, and there was dew upon all the ground."
among the numerous remarkable things which distinguish this history of Gideon, this is not the least, that he was so slow to believe the reality of the divine commission which was confided to him, as to require of the Lord repeated signs to remove his distrust; and that the Lord so far condescended to his infirmity, as to grant all the signs that he requested; and even more; for the last sign, which was that of the dream related by the Midianitish soldier, and overheard by him, seems to have been granted for his encouragement without his asking for it. No doubt this is designed to instruct us, that in so severe a state of temptation as is represented by the oppression of Israel by the Midianites, after a state of despair of ever experiencing a deliverance, has been induced, and for some time continued (which we have seen in a former discourse is plainly indicated by Gideon's language in his interview with the angel that first appeared to him,) it is only by degrees that the mind becomes re-assured. This, we may conclude, is permitted, in order to render the blessing more real and permanent, and to guard against the danger of man's becoming elated by too sudden a deliverance, and so forgetting the divine hand to whom wholly his deliverance is owing. We also see in these circumstances, even when only viewed in a superficial manner, a striking exemplification of the divine goodness of the Lord in bearing with our imperfections, our distrust, our tardiness to prosecute, or rather to acquiesce in, his benevolent designs towards us,—of that long suffering and tender mercy which is content to lead geutly the feeble, and does not readily turn away from their weakness or their frowardness. It is said of the Lord when in the world, that Himself bare our iniquities and carried our sorrows; and He does the same, though not exactly in the same sense, through all his dealings with us. To look at the case before us in a merely natural point of view, it might be thought that the evidence which Gideon had already had of the divine presence, and of the stability of the divine promises, had been so ample, that to desire more must have offended Him who had granted him already so much, and have been the most likely way to render his hopes ineffectual. He had already been favoured with -a visit from an angel of the Lord, for which purpose the eyes of his spirit must have been opened, though this is not expressed more plainly than by saying, that the angel of the Lord appeared unto him; and this was in fact an appearance of the Lord himself, in the only way in which at that time it could be afforded, which was, by filling an angel so fully with the divine presence, that his own identity was for the time swallowed up by it, and he knew no other than that he was the Lord Himself; whence it is said in Gideon's interview with the angel, that the Lord looked on him, and twice, the Lord said unto him. Then also he desired a manifest proof that it was the Lord or his angel who conversed with him, which was granted by the wonderful manner in which- his offering was consumed. Then he received divine instructions in the night, and was not only delivered from the danger he had incurred by executing them, but had his commission so fully acknowledged by his countrymen that he presently found himself at the head of a great army. But as the day of conflict approached, his confidence began to waver, and he desired the signs mentioned in our text: and they were granted. No doubt the reason was, because, though his trust in the Lord was not yet equal to the work before him, there was a principle of trust within and his fears were only superficial,—because his state was similar to that of the man in the gospel, who applied to the Lord for the cure of his deaf and dumb child, and who, on the Lord's saying to him, "If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth," cried out with tears, "Lord, I believe: help thou mine unbelief." Thus it is that the Lord bears with our infirmities, and removes them as we permit him, when he sees that there is in the heart a real desire for the object in view,—a sincere wish to be delivered from the power of our spiritual enemies, of all our corrupt inclinations and perverse propensities. Where he sees this within, He by the gentlest means and most tender compliances leads us to that state of confidence in Him which is essential to our deliverance from any spiritual thraldom. But where our want of confidence arises from an inwardly cherished love for that, whatever it is, from which we outwardly profess a wish, or offer a prayer, to be delivered; where, even in the cases where we ourselves think we are sincere, but when our seeming desire for the spiritual deliverance arises only from a perception in the intellect of the pernicious nature of all evil attachments, and of the superiority of such a state of love and life as divine truth dictates; but yet, notwithstanding this intellectual conviction, the will still inwardly clings to the deprecated evil; in this case the unbelief is radical, and we cannot hope for those helps to its removal, which, in our hearts, we do not really desire.
To proceed, however, more directly to the subject. And first, to connect the present subject of our meditations with the former, it will be necessary to notice the events that took place between the circumstances recorded in our last text, and in our present.
In the 25th and following verses it is recorded, that Gideon was directed by the Lord in the night, to throw down the altar of Baal that his father had, and to cut down the grove that was by it, and to offer his father's second bullock of seven years old as a burnt-sacrifice with the wood of the grove. These circumstances denote that offering of the affections of the external man to the Lord signified by the bullock, which corresponds with the state of goodness previously received in the internal man, and which cannot take place till the love of evil, denoted by the altar of Baal, is dislodged from its inmost seat, so as no longer to form the chief object of attachment even to the external man. The manner in which Gideon executed the injunction is thus related: "Then Gideon took ten men of his servants, and did as the Lord had said unto him: and (so) it was, because he feared his father's household, and the men of the city, that he could not do it by day, that he did it by night:" by which is represented, in general, the state of obscurity in which the removal of evil from its inmost seat in the interior affections takes place, so that man scarcely knows when it is effected, owing to there still being contaminated principles in the lower regions of the mind which prevent him from knowing what is passing in the higher: so true is it, as the Lord declares, that the process of regeneration, as to its interior operations, is deeply hidden from man, when he says, "The wind bloweth whe're it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh and whither it goeth:—so is every one that is born of the spirit." The narration proceeds, "And when the men of the city arose early in the morning, behold, the altar of Baal was cast down, and the grove was cut down that was by it, and the second bullock was offered upon the altar that was built. And they said one to another, Who hath done this thing?" These words describe a a state of elevation, and thence of illumination from whence the change in the state of the interiors becomes manifest to those principles of the mind, which, although originally from the Lord (for these people were Israelites), are yet so contaminated by self as to favour the evil which has been removed, and a consternation among them in consequence. "And when they enquired and asked, they said, Gideon the son of Joash hath done this thing. Then the men of the city said unto Joash, Bring out thy son that he may die, because he hath cast down the altar of Baal, and because he hath cut down the grove that was by it." These words describe a perception in this part of the mind, that there is within a principle of genuine truth from good from the Lord, which is Gideon the son of Joash, which no longer suffers evil and its falsity to have the preeminence; but with a disposition as yet not to yield to this heavenly principle, but by not suffering it to descend into open manifestation, to destroy it: for it is a momentous truth that unless heavenly principles within are suffered to come into outward acts, they soon vanish from the mind; according to that important doctrine of the New Church, that charity and faith are mere perishable things, unless they are rendered fixed and permanent by being brought into suitable deeds and actions. "Joash however," said unto all that stood against him, "Will ye plead for Baal? will ye save him? he that will plead for him, let him be put to death while (it is yet) morning: if he be a god, let him plead for himself, because (one) hath cast down his altar. Therefore on that day he called him (that is, Gideon,) Jerubbaal, saying, Let Baal plead against him, because he hath thrown down his altar." These words imply a perception that evil, or the principle of evil, in itself is nothing, and has no power: it only becomes something and possesses power, as man gives it an existence in the forms of his own mind, the consequence of which is, his own destruction.
"Then," it is said, "all the Midianites, and the Amalekites, and the children of the east, went over, and pitched in the valley of Jezreel;" which words express the state of devastation and temptation in which the external of the mind was still held, by the infusion of evil suggestions in great quantities, keeping the thoughts fixed oil external and frivolous things, and rendering it incapable of delight or enjoyment in things of a heavenly nature. "But the spirit of the Lord," it proceeds, "came upon Gideon, and he blew a trumpet, and Abiezer was gathered after him;" which words describe the entrance of a spirit of divine life into the principle of genuine truth from good in the internal man represented by Gideon, and an influx thence, signified by his blowing a trumpet, into such things as were nearest of kin to it, denoted by Abiezer, which was the name of the family to which Gideon belonged. Then "he sent messengers throughout all Manasseh, who also was gathered after him:" this denotes that every thing belonging to the will of good, which also was of kindred to the principle represented by Gideon, he being of the tribe of Manasseh, also received the divine virtue, and stood prepared to resist the enslaving power. "And he sent messengers unto Asher, and unto Zebulun, and unto Naphthali; and they came up to meet them:" Asher denotes whatever has relation to the delight of spiritual affection, which is charity, Zebulun whatever is in the spiritual marriage, or the desire for the conjunction of goodness and truth, and Naphthali whatever is of a willingness to suffer the trials and temptations necessary for the attainment of regeneration.
Now it was when Gideon was surrounded by this powerful army, that he began to feel that anxiety about the event which is expressed by the signs he asked in the words of our text. "And Gideon said unto God, If thou wilt save Israel by my hand, as thou hast said, behold, I will put a fleece of wool in the floor: and if the dew be upon the fleece only, and (it be) dry upon all the earth, then shall I know that thou wilt save Israel by my hand, as thou hast said."
This wish of Gideon seems to express a desire, to experience the divine influx in so special a manner, as to be assured that it is not merely the common operation of the Lord which is given at all times, but that it is a communication expressly designed to support the mind on this particular necessity and occasion: but as this sign desired and obtained by Gideon, though so remarkable, is no where treated of in the writings of the New Church, I shall only offer such general remarks upon it as may be suggested by the known signification of the several things that are mentioned.
Dew is often spoken of in Scripture, and is the appropriate emblem of an influx of divine truth from a celestial origin, of such a nature as to bring with it a sense of inmost peace and tranquillity. It denotes an influx, in fact, of such a description, as to elevate the mind to the Lord, and enable it to repose in Him with full confidence. It is an influence of the softest and most gentle kind, removing all anxiety, lulling to rest all contending cares, and so watering the soul as it were in its inmost recesses, preparing it to become fruitful in all the graces of the regenerate life. Its sweet and tender nature may be seen by its application in that beautiful Psalm, where the inspired penman describes the blessings of mutual love by a few most striking corresponding images: "Behold," says he, "how good and pleasant a thing it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron's beard, that went down to the skirts of his garments; as the dew of Hermon, (and as the dew) that descended on the mountains of Zion: for there the Lord commanded the blessing, (even) life for evermore." Here the happiness of mutual love is compared to the holy ointment with which Aaron was inaugurated into his office, because that was significative of the influx of divine love, flowing through the mind from its inmost to its outmost—from the head to the beard and the skirts of the garments; and it is compared to the dew of Hermon and of Zion, because this denotes an influx of divine truth answering to such love, and which is sweet, pacific, and diffusing through the mind a sense of indescribable serenity and blessedness.
Now the threshing floor, into which the fleece was to be put that was to receive the dew, denotes a state in which goods and truths are separated from falsities and evils, as the grain is from the chaff, thus it denotes also a state of trial and temptation, which was that of Gideon, or of the man of the church that he represents, on the present occasion: and to put a fleece, or the wool of a sheep, herein, is to preserve in this state a principle of good,—to have respect to good therein; for as lambs and sheep are representative of the principle of love and charity, so is their wool, being their outward covering, representative of the same in its outward manifestation—to which also it corresponds by its warmth and softness. This is the reason why, when the Lord appeared to John, in the Revelation, it is said that "his head and his hair were white like wool, as white as snow," because his hair represented His divine truth or divine proceeding in its most extreme or ultimate manifestation, and this is denoted as to good by wool and as to truth by snow:—for what is called divine truth, as proceeding from the Lord's divine love, is not truth alone, but truth united to good.
To lay the fleece then to receive the heavenly dew, no doubt must mean, to receive the influx of divine truth in a ground of good: and when it is added that "it was so, for he rose up early on the morrow, and thrust the fleece together, and wringed the dew out of the fleece, a bowl full of water;" the meaning is, that in consequence, truths in abundance, in their more ultimate form, in which they are not merely perceived as imparting an inward peace and blessedness, but become plain objects of the thought, are imparted and received.
But what can be implied by the repetition of the sign, with a change in the manner of it? For it is added, "and Gideon said unto God, Let not thine anger be hot against me, and I will speak but this once: let me prove, I pray thee, but this once with the fleece: let it now be dry only upon the fleece, and upon all the ground let there be dew." Doubtless this change of the miracle was granted, to represent the two states which take place in the course of the regenerate life in general, and which must also occur in all its particular states, or in respect to every new acquisition that the regenerating subject makes: the first is, when truth with him has the preponderance, and he does good because truth requires him to do so, but not as yet from a decided affection for good itself: the second is, when the love of good itself is his ruling principle of action; in which case he no longer makes account of truths, except as means to advance his states, and promote the objects to which his love of good inclines him. The first of these states is represented by the dew being received in the fleece; which denotes that his will of good was as yet not properly such, but only an affection for truths, and receptive of them; but when the fleece remained dry, and the dew was on the ground around it, it denotes that change of state in which the ruling and inmost love is truly a will of good, and truths are arranged around and below it as its instruments for proceeding to its ends. Hence, when Gideon begins his request with saying to the Lord, Let not thine anger be hot against me, it does not, in the internal sense, mean that there was any thing in his request that could be displeasing to God, but a prayer for a further removal in himself of whatever is opposed to the divine will, in order that he may receive in greater fulness the Lord's love, and may come into that state in which good, and not truth, as before, has the pre-eminence. Therefore the request was granted: "And God did so that night; for it was dry upon the fleece only, and there was dew upon all the ground."
In the signs then thus granted to Gideon, we see how beautiful a lesson of spiritual wisdom is conveyed. It would be presumption in us at this day, and could do our spiritual state no good, to wish for external signs of the Lord's presence and protection: but we ought to desire to become the subjects of all that is included in the signs granted to Gideon, and to find the subject of their spiritual import fulfilled in our own experience. His desire, we have seen, implies, a wish in the spiritual man to obtain a perception, even in the temptation which is represented by the whole of this history, of the Lord's presence in the interiors of the mind, communicating a manifest sense of the heavenly gifts of which he is the Author. How happy must it be, whatever storms may be raging without, to experience the outpouring of a divine influence,—the dew of divine blessing, filling all within with the sense of tranquillity and happiness! To this end, however, in the midst of the threshing floor, the fleece must be spread: there must be a principle of good, of love, of desire, in the inmost of the otherwise agitated mind, aspiring to be replenished with the quickening influences of the Divine Truth and Goodness! And how must the blessedness of the state be exalted, when the tranquil dew of heavenly peace, after having first watered the holy affection thus prepared for receiving it, diffuses its influence even through the lower principles of the mind, and fills the whole man with a sense of the beatifying presence of Infinite Goodness; while the inmost affection of all is now elevated to the Divine Goodness itself, and is filled with a sense of pure good and love.
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