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PLEASURES OF TENT LIFE.
XXX. SULAM TO JENIN.
March 31st. This is the very luxury of travel; bright days and joy. ous, air cool and fragrant, hill-side and vale robed in green and spangled with flowers, bird, and beast, and man himself gay and happy. Yes, give me the tent, the open country, and the clear blue sky, at least while spring lasts. And then these nights, so solemn, almost sad, and yet so very sweet—the bustling activities of the day laid aside, every harsh sound subdued, and the soul called home to rest or reverize. It is a sort of bliss merely to lie still and breathe. Thus, half waking and half asleep, hour after hour of last night stole away, while by-gone memories, historic associations, and recent experiences chased each other through all the labyrinths perplexed of Fairy-land. Finally my dreamy meditations arranged themselves into historic sequence, and the wonderful deeds which immortalized this neighborhood in olden times passed in review.
First in order came those sad days when, because of the Midianites, the children of Israel made them dens, which are in the mountains, and caves, and strongholds. And when Israel had sown, the Midianites came up, and the Amalekites, and the children of the East, with their cattle and their tents, and they came as grasshoppers for multitude. Both they and their camels were without number, and they entered the land to destroy it." In precisely the same manner do the Bedawîn Arabs, these modern Midianites, come up this Wady of Jezreel and Wady Sherrar “after the people have sown," and destroy the increase of the earth, and not only destroy the increase of the field, but commit wholesale murder, as those did upon the brethren of Gideon at Tabor. In fact, the sacred historian expressly says that these Midianites were Ishmaelites, and we have under our very eyes the descendants of this ancient people committing similar depredations in the very same spot. Both these valleys are now swarming with these children of the East, come over Jordan to consume the land.
Judges vi. 2, 3, 5.
But have you any Gideon to work out deliverance for this oppressed and impoverished country?
Alas! no; and I fear generations will pass away before any adequate liberator can arise; and, by the way, this history of Gideon is very remarkable, and we are in the midst of scenes immortalized by his glorious achievements. Ophra, the city of his inheritance, was on the general range of mountains south of Zer'in, and when he comes into notice the invaders lay along in this valley of Jezreel as locusts for multitude. It was harvest, and consequently a little later in the season than this. Gideon, instead of carrying his grain to the ordinary threshing-floor, took it into the midst of his vineyard, to hide both it and himself from the Ishmaelites. These summer threshing-floors are in the open country, and on an elevated position, to catch the wind when winnowing the grain, and of course they would be altogether unsafe at such a time, while the vineyards are hid away in the wadies and out on the wooded hills, and thus adapted for concealment. Indeed, I myself have seen grain thus concealed in this same country during the lawless days of civil war. There, by the wine-press, the angel of the Lord appeared, and said unto him, The Lord is with thee, thou mighty man of valor. After confirming his faith by wonderful miracles, he commissions him to destroy the enemies of Israel. The Lord looked upon him and said, Go in this thy might; have not I sent thee?
This whole narrative reads most life-like and stirring here among the scenes described. The angel, who was no other than Immanuel—the Word-in-flesh assumed for the occasion—came and sat under an oak, as you and I would do in one of those mountain vineyards, for the harvest sun renders the shade necessary, and the oak is the tree you will find near the wine-press. I have seen many such. The sacred narrative reveals the sad religious apostasy of even Gideon's family. His father had a grove and an altar to Baal, the abomination of the Zidonians. This Gideon is commanded to destroy, and from that act he received the name of Jerub
Judges vi. 12.
GIDEON-HIS ARMY-BARLEY BREAD.
Baal, the tryer of Baal, to translate according to Arabic, and having performed this daring deed, he blows the trumpet, and assembles about him, out of Manasseh, Asher, Zebulon, and Naphtali, thirty-two thousand men. We are in the centre of these tribes, and can see at a glance from whence he gathered his army. It is worthy of remark that the men of Issachar are not mentioned, and we can from this point readily imagine the reason. The people of Issachar lived here on this great plain, and were, of course, altogether surrounded by and at the mercy of the Midianites, as these villages of Sulam, Shutta, Zer'in, etc., now are in the power of these Bedawîn. They therefore could not join the army Gideon. Of those assembled, twenty-two thousand were afraid, and returned home at the first offer. Ten thousand more were dismissed by divine command at the “water, where " the three hundred” drank" by putting their hand to their mouth," a thing I have often seen done, and not always by heroes either. These three hundred alone were retained, and that very night this small band moved forward to the brow of that steep mountain which overhangs the vale and the fountain of Jezreel. Gideon, with Phua, his servant, let himself cautiously down from rock to rock until he stood among the tents of their enemies.
There he overheard "a man telling his fellow" this strange story, Behold, I dreamed a dream, and lo! a cake of barley bread tumbled into the host of Midian, and came unto a tent, and smote it that it fell, and overturned it that it lay along. And his fellow answered and said, This is nothing else save the sword of Gideon, the son of Joash, a man of Israel, for into his hand hath God delivered Midian and all his host. This dispelled every lingering doubt, and he returned to order the attack at once.
What possible analogy can there be between a sword and a cake of barley bread, that could have suggested this idea to the Midianite?
Doubtless there was divine influence in the matter; but even this does not quite cover the whole case, I apprehend.
"Judges vii. 13, 14.
Divine wisdom ordinarily works with means adapted to produce the intended effect, and there is no conceivable reason why He should not suggest to this dreaming Midianite something calculated to bring Gideon into view; and so he doubtless did, and in a way best of all calculated to bring about the desired result. As to the line of connection in the mind of the “ interpreter," we may remember that barley bread is only eaten by the poor and the unfortunate. Nothing is more common than for these people, at this day, to complain that their oppressors have left them nothing but barley bread to eat. I remember that this was the identical lamentation of a wealthy farmer who rode with me last summer from Zer'in to Jenin. This cake of barley bread was therefore naturally supposed to belong to the oppressed Israelites; it came down from the mountain where Gideon was known to be; it overthrew the tent so that it lay along, foreshadowing destruction from some quarter or other. It was a contemptible antagonist, and yet scarcely more so than Gideon in the eyes of the proud Midianites. That the interpreter should hit upon the explanation given is not, therefore, very wonderful, and if the Midianites were accustomed, in their extemporaneous songs, to call Gideon and his band "eaters of barley bread," as their successors, these haughty Bedawîn, often do to ridicule their enemies, the application would be all the more natural. At any rate, the interpreter read the riddle right, and reached the true intent of the prodigy.
What a strange stratagem was that of Gideon!
And yet it was well adapted to produce the effect intended; nor was the action, in the manner of it, at all remarkable. I have often seen the small oil lamp of the natives carried in a "pitcher” or earthen vessel at night. Armed with this curious weapon, the three companies took up their stations round the slumbering host. They would, no doubt, leave the road toward the Jordan open for the enemy to take in his flight, and so one band of lamp-bearers must have planted themselves along the base of the hill there below Zer'in; another, between that and this Sulam, along the
OVERTHROW OF MIDIANITES BY GIDEON.
west side of the host; and the third band would stand along the brow of this hill, extending down eastward toward Shŭtta. The Midianites, we know, lay in the valley between this and Jezreel. Thus arranged around the slumbering host, at a given signal the three hundred pitchers are broken, three hundred trumpets bray harsh alarms on every side, and three hundred lights, as of so many different bands of assailants, flash upon their blinded eyes. It is not wonderful, therefore, that the Midianites rush in wild dismay and dire confusion one upon another. In the darkness they can not distinguish friend from foe, and thus every man's sword was against his fellow. The very vastness of the army would render the rout more ruinous; and in that horrible slaughter there fell a hundred and twenty thousand men that drew sword.
How was it possible for the men of Manasseh, Asher, and Naphtali to hear the news and join in the pursuit of the Midianites in so short a time, and amid the urgencies of such a day?
This is not difficult to explain. We are here on the very battle-ground, for the host lay in this valley, and, fleeing, they passed this Shŭtta to the east of us. Look around, and you find that we are in the centre of these tribes. The cities given to Manasseh, on the west of Jordan, were along the southern margin of Esdraelon and on the hills above. Asher came up to Carmel, at the bottom of this plain, and a swift runner could reach them in an hour. A portion of Naphtali occupied the western shore of the lake of Tiberias, and could be reached in the same way, and in about the same time. It was possible, therefore, for them to receive the summons and respond to it. Of course, only those who lived adjacent to this scene of action are intended. The attack of Gideon was at night, and, in all probability, just before day. Gideon could not have made his visit, returned, and made all the necessary arrangements before the night was far spent; and, moreover, it is the invariable custom of these modern Midianites to select that hour for their assaults. It is pro
Judges viii. 10.