Judges 13:1
The heaviest judgments in human history have been secretly charged with such merciful provisions. This circumstance alters the character of the infliction; it ceases to be mere vengeance, and becomes discipline.

I. INSTANCES OF THIS IN SACRED HISTORY. The Fall and promise of the Seed. In Joseph's sale and slavery we see the anticipation of an evil not yet experienced. Esther is raised up in the Persian captivity. The age of the destruction of Jerusalem was the age of the gospel.

II. WHAT THIS PROVES.

1. God does not "afflict willingly and for the sake of afflicting, but for ultimate good.

2. The wrath of God exists at the same time as his love, and is penetrated and overruled by it.

3. The mercy of God is far-seeing, wise, and painstaking. - M.







Say now Shibboleth: and he said Sibboleth:
It is often just such a slight peculiarity which identifies men as belonging to a certain district or family. You know whose son a man is by some motion of his hands or by his walk, by the fall of a lock of hair or the way he lifts his eye: so also some very slight peculiarity in our conduct or conversation is a sufficient index to our whole state. In our Lord's account of the last judgment He describes all men as expressing astonishment that they should be so summarily dealt with, should be allotted to their irrevocable destinies on grounds apparently so trivial. Is it really reasonable that for some trifle of this kind a man should be everlastingly damned, irretrievably and once for all cast in judgment? You will think that it is quite reasonable if, in the light of this incident, you consider that the little things a man does or neglects to do are infallible symptoms of his character. These Ephraimites were not slain because the Gileadites thought it a heinous crime to drop the "h"; but their blood dyed the Jordan because it was Ephraimite blood, and this was manifested by their little peculiarity. And so in a thousand ways that God observes, and that even men of any spiritual insight or keenness of observation notice, we are in little things revealing our character, and in the final judgment one of these little things will be sufficient to condemn us. Try to put away these little faults; if you succeed, then you are safe. But the faults of your character, the little actions that truly express what is in you, you cannot so easily put off. There often arise circumstances even in this life in which a more holy and decided character than we possess were most desirable: we could pass through what has come upon us in a vastly more satisfactory way if only we were other kind of men than we are; but this is impossible. These Ephraimites could not for the nonce become Gileadites; nor for their life could they make that little change in their mode of speech. And so we cannot, on the sudden, change ourselves. If certain little things about you make you suspect you belong to the wrong tribe; if there are little flaws in your conduct which you find it extremely hard to remove, and which hint to you that perhaps or probably the very roots of your character are wrong; then go quickly to God, for you have but this one resource and way of escape, and offer to forsake your old tribe, to be born again, and beseech His grace to effect in you a thorough and real change of heart, such as He has effected in many.

(Marcus Dods, D. D.)

That the language of Palestine was diversely spoken in its different provinces in the days of Christ, is evident from the ready recognition of Peter by the high priest's servant as a Galilean, his "speech betraying him." In the present day the Arabic of one part of Syria is so different from that of another, that a person well able to understand the people of Smyrna finds great difficulty in understanding those of Aleppo; and even in the small island of Malta, where a corrupt Arabic is spoken, the peasants of the several villages are said to be nearly unintelligible to each other. Our own country affords ample illustration. A vanquished army of Northumbrians, retreating across the Tees, might with equal facility be detected by being required to say the word "river," as were the Ephraimites on the banks of the Jordan by being required to say the word "shibboleth," or "stream." As our Northumbrians cannot pronounce the "r," but utter instead of it a guttural sound resembling a "w," the Ephraimites, unable to pronounce the "sh," discovered themselves at once by their saying sibboleth for shibboleth; and so fierce was the revenge of those whom they had taunted, that the blood of forty-two thousand men mingled with the stream of the Jordan. In this tragical scene the vindictive fury of the men of Gilead cannot escape heavy censure. They had been exasperated by bitter words; but in this, as in many other instances in history, we see the terrific madness of popular revenge. No contentions are so bitter as those which arise among brethren: "A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city." Civil wars are usually carried on under greater exasperation of feeling than wars between nations of a different race; nor is the breach, when once made, so readily healed. As the sweetest wine, when acetous fermentation has set in, turns to the sourest vinegar, so it is in families and in Churches. How dismally protracted are some family feuds! And how embittered against each other are the adherents of the two opposed parties in a riven Church! Let us not be too prodigal of our anathemas upon these cruel Gileadites at the fords of the Jordan, at least until we have taken leisure to compare the mutual aspect of civilised nations, and the mutual aspect of Christian Churches, in the later centuries, when a conduct so much less violent might have been expected. Are there not Church parties in our own day which set up shibboleths of their own, and refuse the interchanges of brotherhood to all who do not pronounce the test-word in precisely the same manner as themselves?

(L. H. Wiseman, M. A.)

The word on which this tragical occurrence hangs has passed into a proverbial word. Were any casual reader of Scripture asked what the word signifies, he would hardly reply, a stream or flood. The incident mentioned in the text has given a new meaning to it. Shibboleth is now an English word, with an English meaning distinct from its root. It means any word, doctrine, form, or fashion which, whether we will or no, whether rightly or wrongly, justly or unjustly, we are required to pronounce or agree to as a test, in short, which is intended to try on whose side we wage war, whose leadership we acknowledge, whose dominions we belong to. There are God's shibboleths and man's. "Except a man be born again, he cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven." "Without holiness no man shall see the Lord." "Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish." "No man can say that Jesus is the Christ, except by the Holy Ghost." There are also man's shibboleths. "You must believe that the world stands still while the sun revolves." "No," said the wise old man, "I cannot believe that, for I have discovered a new system." "Then you must die, and your soul be lost." So the poor discoverer was tortured into pronouncing the shibboleth of human ignorance. Notice, as a leading truth, that all are not Israel that are of Israel. However much we may speak, dress, and look alike, there is a hidden difference which time or a severe test will show. Also that difference may sound trifling, and yet be of such importance as to embrace the life or death of the soul. Also we may live in the same land, the same street, the same village, the same house; may fight in the same camp, and wear the same uniform; and yet be part Ephraimites and part Gileadites; part God's people and part Satan's; part hastening to destruction and part in a state of safety. The sight of any great swaying and swelling multitude, any waving ocean of humanity, causes many a quiet thought, and sorrow, and prayer to ascend from Christian souls, respecting the divided future of the ofttimes unanimous-looking crowd. For a Christian may lament and pray for his brother, without lapsing into the Pharisee's censoriousness.

I. LOOK WE NOW FOR THE VAIN SHIBBOLETHS OF MAN, those heavy burdens which are laid on men's shoulders, and laid too often by those who will not themselves touch them with the tips of their fingers.

1. "I believe that I am forgiven?' This is one of the unfair shibboleths required by man. Seldom a saint departs without sight of the broad seal of God's forgiveness. But he may be afraid to take it. Still he is forgiven. To be forgiven is of the first importance. To know we are forgiven is of importance too; but not indispensable.

2. "I am a member of this Church." Here is another human shibboleth. The Lord will not ask what earthly Church — so it be but a branch of Christ's vine — a soul belongs to. "Come with us and we will do thee good," is the utmost length to which our invitation may go.

3. "I understand Scripture in the literal sense. I agree to no new interpretation. I admit no light from science." These requirements form another human shibboleth; this shutting up of the Bible from that free, and full, and fair inquiry, which, if it were afraid of it, it would be well nigh worthless. Having first prayed reverently, "Lead me not, O Father, into temptation," a man may wear away his Bible by the daily attrition of diligent study; for it contains what no study can wear down — the very truth of God. Such a reader Christ smiles upon as his fingers turn over the sacred page. For such a man, after God's own heart, the Holy Spirit will strike forth new discoveries; will lead such an one by still waters, and feed him in pleasant pastures, far away from the rivers of Babylon; will guide such an one into all truth, and save his soul in peace.

II. THERE ARE ALSO SOME TRUE SHIBBOLETHS OF GOD, WHICH WE MUST PRONOUNCE WITH A FULL, ROUND UTTERANCE, OR WE ARE LOST.

1. Repentance. "If I were to die in the pulpit," said Philip Henry, "I would desire to die preaching repentance; and if I were to die out of the pulpit, I would desire to die practising repentance." "Except ye repent," says the Holy Spirit, "ye shall all likewise perish." Can we say, "shibboleth"? Have we repented? Or is it only the "sibboleth" of a worldly sorrow?

2. Another shibboleth of God is faith in Christ. Not the form of words, "I believe"; but the diligent, faithful life; the earnest, converted soul.

3. We must believe the Bible to be inspired. Reverently and freely interpreting it, we must take it from God's gracious hand, and follow out its leading as the clue to salvation. Else it will hang like a millstone about our necks, and sink us to perdition, 4, We must learn the true language of heaven, the true ways of holiness. We must leave the lispings, formalities, and affectations of the world, and say, "Shibboleth," as the angels and spirits of the just, and the just who yet live upon earth say it, and have said it before.

(S. B. James, M. A.)

The Church of God is divided into a great number of denominations, some of them founded by very good men, some of them founded by very egotistic men, and some of them founded by very bad men. But as I demand liberty of conscience for myself, I must give that same liberty to every other man, remembering that I advocate the largest liberty in all religious belief and form of worship. The air and the water keep pure by constant circulation, and I think there is a tendency in religious discussion to purification and moral health. In a world of such tremendous vicissitude and temptation, and with a soul that must after a while stand before a throne of insufferable brightness, to give account for every thought, word, action, preference, and dislike — that man is mad who has no religious preference. But our early education, our physical temperament, our mental constitution, will very much decide our form of worship.

1. In tracing out the religion of sectarianism, or bigotry, I find that a great deal of it comes from wrong education in the home circle. There are parents who do not think it wrong to caricature and jeer the peculiar forms of religion in the world, and denounce other denominations.

2. I think sectarianism and bigotry also rise from too great prominence of any one denomination in a community. All the other denominations are wrong, and his denomination is right, because his denomination is the most wealthy, or the most popular, and it is "our" Church, and "our " religious organisation, and "our" choir, and "our" minister, and the man tosses his head, and wants other denominations to know their places.

3. Bigotry is often the child of ignorance. You seldom find a man with large intellect who is a bigot. It is the man who thinks he knows a great deal, but does not. That man is almost always a bigot. There is nothing that will so soon kill bigotry as sunshine — God's sunshine. So I have set before you what I consider to be the causes of bigotry. What are some of the baleful effects?

1. It cripples investigation. You are wrong, and I am right, and that ends it. No taste for exploration, no spirit of investigation.

2. Another great damage done by the sectarianism and bigotry of the Church is, that it disgusts people with the Christian religion. Now, the Church of God was never intended for a war barrack.

3. Again, bigotry and sectarianism do great damage in the fact that they hinder the triumph of the gospel. Oh! how much wasted ammunition! how many men of splendid intellect have given their whole life to controversial disputes, when, if they had given their life to something practical, they might have been vastly useful! A quarrel in a beehive is a strange sight. I go out sometimes in the summer and I find two beehives, and these two beehives are in a quarrel. I come near enough, not to be stung, but I come just near enough to hear the controversy, and one beehive says, "That field of clover is the sweetest," and another beehive says, "That field of clover is the sweetest." I come in between them, and I say, "Stop this quarrel; if you like that field of clover best, go there; if you like that field of clover best, go there; but let me tell you that that hive which gets the most honey is the best hive!" So I come out between the Churches of the Lord Jesus Christ. One denomination of Christians says, "That field of Christian doctrine is best," and another says, "This field of Christian doctrine is best." Well, I say, "Go where you get the most honey." That is the best Church which gets the most honey of Christian grace for the heart, and the most honey of Christian usefulness for the life. Besides that, if you want to build up any denomination, you will never build it up by trying to pull some other down. In England a law was made against the Jew. England thrust back the Jew, and thrust down the Jew, and declared that no Jew should hold official position. What came of it? Were the Jews destroyed? Was their religion overthrown? No. Intolerance never yet put down anything. Now, what is the remedy for sectarianism? I think we may overthrow the severe sectarianism and bigotry in our hearts, and in the Church also, by realising that all the denominations of Christians have yielded noble institutions and noble men. There is nothing that so stirs my soul as this thought. Moreover, we may also overthrow the feelings of severe sectarianism by joining other denominations in Christian work. Perhaps I might more forcibly illustrate this truth by Calling your attention to an incident which took place some years ago. One Monday morning, at about two o'clock, while her nine hundred passengers were sound asleep dreaming of home, the steamer Atlantic crashed into Mars Head. Five hundred souls in ten minutes landed in eternity! Oh, what a scene! Agonised men and women running up and down the gangways, and clutching for the rigging, and the plunge of the helpless steamer, threw two continents into terror. But see this brave quartermaster pushing out with the life-line until he gets to the rock; and see these fishermen gathering up the shipwrecked, and taking them into the cabins and wrapping them in the flannels snug and warm; and see that minister of the gospel, with three other men, getting into a lifeboat, and pushing out for the wreck, pulling away across the surf, and pulling away until they saved one more man, and then getting back with him to the shore. Can these men ever forget that night? And can they ever forget their companionship in peril, companionship in struggle, companionship in awful catastrophe and rescue? Never! Never! Well, our world has gone into a worse shipwreck. Sin drove it on the rocks. The old ship has lurched and tossed in the tempests of six thousand years. Out with the life-line! I do not care what denomination carries it. Out with the life-boat! I do not care what denomination rows it. Side by side, in the memory of common hardships, and common trials, and common prayers, and common tears, let us be brothers for ever.

(T. De Witt Talmage.)

I. SOCIAL LIFE HAS ITS SHIBBOLETHS. Goodness of heart and purity of life and language are not always the tests of admission to what is termed choice society. Anything before that. With some it is education. How much do you know? With others it is elegance of manners and accomplishments. We do not admit awkward people to our company. And some estimate the worth of their neighbours by the length of their purses. How much are you worth? With multitudes dress is the countersign. The idol of fashion is set up, and we are expected to bow down daily and offer devout homage. In many assemblies the garment decides the position. One of our great generals, it is said, went modestly to one of our fashionable churches on a great funeral occasion. Upon his applying for a place, it transpired that the plain cloak which wrapped his person was barely sufficient to gain him a seat inside the door. It was almost literally, "Stand thou there." During the service the cloak fell back far enough to reveal the mark upon the shoulders. Then came most profuse apologies, with the pressing invitation, "Come up higher, and sit thou in a good place."

II. RELIGIOUS LIFE HAS ITS SHIBBOLETHS, and there is no place where the overbearing requirements are more unseemly or mere to be deprecated. The spirit of Christianity, as taught by its Divine Author, is a spirit of kindness, tenderness, forbearance. It commends and enjoins the charity that beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things. In the gospel we are to make allowance for each other's differences, and bear with each other's infirmities, and bid Godspeed to each other's efforts. There are shibboleths which are legitimate, and essential to the maintenance of vital truth and goodness among men. There are principles which constitute the very foundation stones of God's temple. These are to be defended and guarded without compromise. It is not our measuring line which is thus applied; it is not our standard set up; it is not our speech to which conformity is required. It is the pronunciation which God demands. And yet it becomes us to be extremely cautious in the pressing of the pass-words, lest we should substitute our own pronunciation for God's and shut out any of the children of the kingdom. "Take heed lest ye offend one of these little ones." There are different phases of the same doctrine; there are various explanations and interpretations which do not invalidate the truth.

(Goyn Talmage.)

We may learn here the worth of the essence of a thing as it stands in contrast with the mere accent — something like that which Paul set forth in the noble words — I read and the need there is now, as there was then, that we shall stand free if we can from the letter and cling to the spirit. The letter may be, as it often is, the mere difference between the two sides, while the spirit is the Divine reality that lies and abides within them both, the only thing God ever did care for, as I believe, or ever will care for while the world stands. Shibboleth and sibboleth, you know, still make mischief when they can get a chance, as surely as they did on the banks of the Jordan, and they fall out, and divide, and weaken all the chances of right against wrong. Let others fall out as they will about the way to say the word, but be sure that the gates of life never did open and never can to this mere turn of the tongue, this sesame, but only to the grand old password: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and soul and mind and strength, and thy neighbour as thyself," I notice, again, when I bring shibboleth and sibboleth home to my heart and life, that there is no other way open to me if I would be a man, let alone a Christian, but just to say what he says, the good apostle (1 Corinthians 12:13). Our belief is far less a matter of free-will than we imagine. If we are sincere in regard to truth we must believe as we do, and there is no ground for reviling. And as oaks grow best alone, and as vines need a standard, and as some flowers like a day with three quarters shadow, and others want all the sunshine that heaven can pour upon them; as all the fruits in Covent Garden Market to-morrow will be better than any one of them; as all herbs are good in their place, sweet and bitter, mellow and sharp; and as some love Rembrandt's pictures with their deep shadows, and some Raphael's, with their floods of glory and hosts of angels, and no great gallery could be complete if you leave out any of these great masters: so I think we must make up our minds that any Church which can include all these diversities of thinking and believing is better than those which leave any out, and breed "in and in," like the chickens in Hawthorne's story that were so careful of the separateness of their breed that there were only two of them left in the end, and they could do nothing but croak. We cannot always think alike or believe alike in the most sacred relations that men and women can sustain to each other in their homes; and we ought not to look for any finer harmony than the holy spirit of well-mated Christian people, least of all in the Churches where this bond of fellowship is maintained, against all comers, that every man may make something good enough for heaven out of the nature that God has given him and the life he has to live, and that the best form in the Churches and in the nation is that in which men can manage wisely and well to govern themselves.

(R. Collyer, D. D.)

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