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Entrance of the Church into the promised land. State of the Church from
Joshua to Samuel. Schools of the Prophets. Establishment of Monarchy in Israel. David. Solomon. Érection and dedication of the Temple. Prosperous state of the Church. Additions to the sacred
The Church passed into the promised land through the waters of Jordan, divided by Almighty power, A. M. 2554. Its leader was Joshua, the son of Nun, a man of great cour: age and deep piety; and, in this transaction, an eminent type of the Lord Jesus Christ, the great Captain of our salvation, who conducts the invisible Church into the Canaan of endless felicity. But it was composed of very different members from those who came out of Egypt; for God sware in his wrath that none of that rebellious generation, save Caleb and Joshua, should enter the promised land. The millions who now formed the Church were their children, and were “ holiness to the Lord.”
Having planted his people in that land, which, 430 years before he had promised to Abraham for a possession, God directed every male to be sealed with the seal of circumcision. This sacred rite had been neglected during their wanderings in the wilderness. It was now imposed on the whole nation, and the Passover was solemnly celebrated.
The Canaanites were an exceedingly wicked people. Their abominations cried to heaven for vengeance; and God made his people the rod of his anger. He gave them power over his enemies. By the most simple instruments as well as by fire and sword, they exterminated thousands and millions and took possession of the land.
This was divided among them for an inheritance. Here the Tabernacle was set up in Shiloh; and the Israelites with God for their king, commenced their national existence under the best political and ceremonial institutions. But alas! they were surrounded by enemies who perpetually sought their destruction. They retained among them many of the Canaanites, who were “scourges in their sides, and thorns in their eyes,” and “snares and traps," seducing them to idolatry. They wandered from God; and the first 300 years of their history, was a period of darkness and trouble.
A little before the death of Joshua, the whole Church solemnly renewed covenant with God at Shechem; which
was a most affecting transaction. But after his decease the Israelites had no regularly appointed governor, and appear to have acted in separate tribes. They soon fell into a state of anarchy and forgetfulness of God, for which they were delivered over, first to eight years bondage to Cushan, king of Mesopotamia; and afterwards to the Moabites; the Canaanites; the Midianites; the Ammonites and the Philis. tines. When they were sufficiently chastened and humbled, “ the Lord repented himself for his servants,” and raised up Judges to deliver them and guide them. Illustrious were their exploits. God was with them; and we behold in this conflict between the Church and the world many striking exhibitions of divine justice and mercy. But this long period is one on which the eye dwells with little complacency. The people were ignorant, and vicious. “The highways were unoccupied, and the travellers walked through by-paths.” Few prophets were appointed to guide the people. “Every one did that which was right in his own eyes." Yet, in the darkest seasons, Christ had a seed to serve him. In the characters of Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jepthah,* we have illustrious examples of faith. Enlightened by the gospel, we may see in them many imperfections, but theirs was a holy confidence in God; and they “subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises,” and went triumphant to the rewards of heaven.
In the early part of this period the book of Joshua was written by Joshua himself, and subjoined, by him, to the law of God.
It is worthy of remark, that, during this dark period, though idolatry was prevalent, it never extended to the demolition of the Tabernacle; for it was never as in later ages, commanded by the rulers.
In the 2868th year of the world, Samuel was born; and dedicated by his mother, to the service of God. He became a faithful servant of Jehovah, supreme Judge in the land, and was eminently endowed with the spirit of prophecy.
* Infidel writers have considered the story of Jepthah's sacrificing his daughter, as an indellible blot on the Jewish religion, and utterly inconsistent with his being a good man. But for such a sacrifice the Jewish religion is not answerable, for it did not warrant it, but pointedly condemned it. His vow was rash; and if he acted consistently, his conscience was erroneous, through ignorance of the law of God, and too much intimacy with heathen customs. On conviction of sin, he might, like David, have become a true penitent. To this event may be traced the heathen story of Iphigenia sacrificed by her father Agamemnon.
He was much feared and respected by the whole nation, and was a great blessing to the Church. He doubtless wrote the book of Ruth, and the greater part of the first book which bears his name. It is supposed he died about the 98th year of his age.
The most remarkable event in his life, connected with the history of the Church, was the establishment of the School of the prophets.
Prophecy or the power of foretelling future events, belongs solely to God. The government of the universe is in his hands. He determines in his own infinite mind, what shall be, he has control of the volitions and actions of men; and he only therefore can tell what will come to pass. The accomplishment of prophecy is one of the most striking proofs of the divine unity and of the inspiration of the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament. The heathen nations have ever been filled with diviners, who have professed to derive from their gods a knowledge of futurity; and who have, in this way, been the chief supporters of pagan idolatry. But their whole system has been a system of lies;—an abominable imposition upon the ignorance and credulity of mankind.
By dreams, by flights of birds, by the entrails of beasts, by throwing dice, did the Grecian oracles, the most cunning the world ever saw, give their answers; and these were always so ambiguous, as to admit of different interpretations, and save their credit if they failed of the truth.
We have seen that divine revelations were made to mankind in the earliest periods; and that, through Enoch, and Noah, and Abraham, and Jacob, God was pleased, from time to time, to foretel future events. We have also contemplated Moses as a prophet, whom the Lord knew face to face. But no regular order of men, bearing the prophetic office, existed in the Church until this period. We now find schools of them established at Bethel, Gilgal, Najoth, Jericho and Jerusalem, and “ Samuel standing as appointed over them.” In these schools of the prophets, young men of piety were collected, who were instructed by some eminent teacher in divine things, and fitted for the high stations of prophets, as God should call them. Their dress was plain and coarse; their food, pottage and herbs. They were designed to reprove, rebuke and reform a stupid and backsliding nation; and, by lively admonitions of impending judgments, by bold predictions of future events, to cause kings and priests and people, to turn with fasting and mourning to the Lord. Many of them may have risen no higher than the business of composing and singing hymns to the divine honor, and instructing the people in the common principles of religion; but some of them were exalted to the very highest rank in the nation, and made the most powerful princes tremble before them.
Their predictions were not confined to the Jewish nation, but extended to the rise and fall of all the great empires of the earth, and constantly directed the Church to Him who was to redeem her by his blood; overturn all the kingdoms of men; and establish a spiritual dominion which should never be destroyed. These extraordinary men were continued in the Church from the days of Samuel to Malachia period of about 700 years; when the prophetic spirit was withdrawn for about 400 years, until John the Baptist, the last of the prophets in the Jewish dispensation.
The Israelites having departed from God, demanded of Samuel a king, that they might be like the nations around them. Such ingratitude to Him, who, for centuries, had been their sovereign and had kindly directed all their concerns, might well have provoked immediate destruction; but, for his promise to their fathers, he bore with them and gave them Saul. About 2923 A. M. the monarch was publicly crowned, and God endued him with suitable qualifications for government. But he soon departed from the Lord and showed himself unworthy of his exalted station. God therefore determined to dethrone him and his family; and, since the Hebrews would have a king to reign over them, he was pleased to advance the work of redemption and exalt the Church, by raising that family to the ihrone from which the Messiah, the promised seed should descend. David, the youngest son, was selected and anointed by Samuel to succeed to the government, and be the distinguished ancestor and type of Christ. God brought him to the notice of the nation, to influence and royalty by a series of wonderful providences. He sanctified him early by his Holy Spirit; endued him with the power of prophecy; and excited him to celebrate in a vast variety of beautiful songs, the divine character and government and the glorious scheme of redemption by Jesus Christ.
David was the man after God's own heart. But, in common with all the ransomed of the Lord in this world, he was far from perfection. He sinned in numbering the people. He was guilty also of a gross violation of the sixth and seventh commandments. That sin was of a scarlet dye and crimson hue;- most offensive to God, and injurious to his own soul, and has been the sport of thousands of mockers and scoffers, from that day to this. His heart too was greatly hardened. No man dared directly tell him his sin. Nathan declared it by a parable. It came upon him like a thunderbolt. Out of his own mouth was he condemned. And, upon conviction, he manifested, as every child of God will, a spirit of holiness. He did not, like a proud man, resent the charge. He did not, even as a self-righteous man, plead his meritorious services for a balance to his evil deeds, but he cast himself, in deep repentance, upon the mercy of God for pardon and life. The fifty-first Psalm, written on that occasion, exhibits the deepest penitential feelings.
With this eminent saint, did God solemnly renew the covenant of grace;—that covenant which had been established with Adam, with Noah, with the patriarchs and with the Church in the wilderness: and in his zeal for God, David subdued the holy city, Zion-Jerusalem; brought into it, with joyful acclamation, the Tabernacle; perfected the national worship, especially its sacred music, and gathered materials for a Temple, which should fill the earth with its glory.
His character can never be contemplated but with admi. ration and love. His writings have been a most precious inheritance to the Church. Here saints have, in all ages, read their own experience. Here, they have found their joys and sorrows accurately portrayed; and, as the delineation has passed before their eyes, their soul has been melted and comforted within them. Here, in multitudes of songs, the character and offices of Christ, his glorious work on earth and in heaven, the blessedness of the Church, and its future enlargement and perfection are sweetly sung; --and the pious have been furnished from that day to this, and will be furnished from this to the latest period of time, with the language and sentiments of devout praise. Forty years did David reign. He was a man of war, and he subdued all the nations around him; but he lived solely for the glory of God, and he advanced that glory beyond any monarch that ever sat on a throne. Having made the most magnificent preparations for the national Temple, and appointed his son Solomon his successor, he died A. M. 2985, “ full of days, and riches, and honor."