« 上一頁繼續 »
abound and increase, that good men might be in succession raised up, each in his day a light to his country, to mankind; going forth as the sun in his might," from lustre to still higher lustre, from usefulness to usefulness, without diminution and without end. By the same simple but powerful imagery the wise man represents the progress of true goodness; "the path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day." And Wisdom itself by a similar suggestion animates the zeal and supports the industry of those who are to teach his religion to the nations of the earth: "Ye are the light of the world. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven."
To the whole is affixed an historical note, short indeed, but highly interesting and important; "And the land had rest forty years." This is the noblest eulogium of Deborah, the most honourable display of her talents and virtues. If there be feelings worthy of envy, they are those of this exalted woman, on reflecting that God had honoured her to restore liberty and peace to her country; and to establish such a system of administration of justice, of civil government, of military discipline, and of religious worship, as preserved the public tranquillity for forty years. How effectually may every individual serve the community! Of what importance, then, is every the meanest individual! How lasting and how extensive is the influence of real worth! There is one way in which every man may be a public blessing, may become a saviour of his country-by cultivating the private virtues of the man and the Christian.
I proceed to illustrate the female character, its amiableness, usefulness and importance, in persons and scenes of a very different complexion; in the less glaring, but not less instructive history of RUTH, the Moabitess, and Naomi, her mother-in-law; happy to escape the scenes of horror and blood which are the subject of the remainder of the history of the Israelitish judges.
HISTORY OF RUTH.
RUTH I. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.
Now it came to pass in the days when the judges ruled, that there was a famine in the land. And a certain man of Beth-lehem-Judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons. And the name of the man was Elimelech, and the name of his wife Naomi, and the name of his two sons Mahlon and Chilion, Ephrathites of Beth-lehem-Judah. And they came into the country of Moab, and continued there. And Elimelech, Naomi's husband, died; and she was left and her two sons. And they took them wives of the women of Moab; the name of the one was Orpah, and the name of the other Ruth and they dwelled there about ten years. And MahJon and Chilion died also both of them; and the woman was left of her two sons, and her husband.
THE perpetual vicissitude that prevails in the system of the universe, and in the conduct of providence, is adapted to the nature, and conducive to the happiness of man. The succession of day and night, alternate labour and repose, the variations of the changing seasons lend to each other, as it returns, its peculiar beauty and fitness. We are kept still looking forward, we are ever hovering on the wing of expectation, rising from attainment to attainment, pressing on to some future mark, pursuing some yet unpossessed prize. The hireling, supported by the prospect of receiving the evening's reward, cheer
fully fulfils the work of the day. The husbandman, without regret, perceives the glory of summer passing away, because he lifts up his eyes and "beholds the fields white unto the harvest ;" and he submits joyfully to the painful toil of autumn, in contemplation of the rest and comfort he shall enjoy, when these same fields shall be white with snow. It is hunger that gives a relish to food; it is pain that recommends ease. The value of abundance is known only to those who have suffered want, and we are little sensible what we owe to God for the blessing of health, till it is interrupted by sickness.
The very plagues which mortality is heir to, have undoubtedly their uses and their ends and the sword may be as necessary to draw off the gross humours of the moral world, as storm and tempest are to disturb the mortal stagnation, and to chase away the poisonous vapours of the natural. Weak, shortsighted man is assuredly unqualified to decide concerning the ways and works of infinite wisdom; but weak, labouring, wretched man may surely repose unlimited confidence in infinite goodness.
During the dreadful times when there was no king in Israel, the whole head was so sick, the whole heart so faint, the whole mass so corrupted, that an ocean of blood must be drained off, before it can be restored to soundness again. Not only one rotten limb, but the whole body is in danger of perishing, and nothing but a painful operation can save it. The skilful, firm, but gentle hand of Providence takes up the instrument, cuts out the disease, and then tenderly binds up the bleeding wounds. Relieved from the distress of beholding brother lifting up the spear against brother, from hearing the shouts of the victor, and the groans of the dying, we retire to contemplate and to partake of the noiseless scenes of domestic life; to observe the wholesome sorrows and guiltless joys of calmness and obscurity; to join in the triumphs of sensibility, and to solace in the soft effusions of nature; to "smile with the simple, and feed with the poor."
The little history on which we are now entering, is one of those which every where, and at all seasons, must afford pleasure and instruction. It is a most interesting display of ordinary life, of simple manners, of good and honest hearts; of the power of friendship and the rewards of virtue. It forms an important link in the chain of Providence, and the history of redemption. There is perhaps no story that has been wrought into so many different forms, transfused into so many different languages, accommodated to so many different situations, as the history of Ruth. It is felt, from the cottage up to the palace, by the rustic and the courtier, by the orphan gleaner in the field, and the king's daughter. The man of taste delights in it on account of the artless structure, elegant diction, and judicious arrangement of the tender tale. The friend of virtuous sensibility delights in it, for the gentle emotions which it excites, and the useful lessons which it inculcates. The pious soul rejoices in it from the enlarged, the instructive, the consolatory, views of the divine providence which it unfolds. The inquiring and devout christian prizes it, as standing in connexion with the ground of his faith, and contributing to strengthen the evidence, and explain the nature of "those things wherein he has been instructed," and on which he rests for salvation. Happy the man, who, possessing all these qualities, shall peruse and employ it as a corrector and guide to the imagination, as a support to the spirit, as a light to the understanding, a monitor to the conscience, a guard to the affections, and a faithful instructer to the heart.
The particular era of this story is not marked by the sacred penman, neither has he been directed to affix his name to his precious little work. In general it was not in the times of boisterous anarchy and wild uproar, Boaz cut down his barley, and Ruth gleaned after the reapers.
the field were protected to the owner by lawful authority, and justice was ad ministered by the elders in the gate.
If we consider that the life of man was now reduced to the common standard, that David was the fourth in order of succession from Boaz, and allow thirty or thirty-five years to be the medium standard of distance from one generation to another, the marriage of Boaz with Ruth will be thrown upon ort administration of his townsman Ibzan, the successor of Jeptha, of which we have only a brief account : "And after him, Ibzan of Bethlehem judged Israel."*
Samuel is generally understood to have written both this book and the preceding, and thereby to have preserved the historical series of events from Joshua to himself, almost unbroken; and also the genealogical deduction of succession down to David, in whom the royal line of the house of Judah commenced altogether uninterrupted. And while we behold Rahab the harlot, a woman of Jericho, and Ruth the Moabitess, not only admitted to the rank of mothers in Israel, but mothers of a race of kings, mothers in the line of "Messiah the Prince," we are admonished as Peter was long afterward, on a different occasion, "not to call that common or unclean which God hath purified."
Israel was now enjoying the blessing of good government, but the land is visited with a calamity which no sagacity of government could foresee or prevent, and no human power remove,-with famine. Bethlehem itself, the house of bread, so called from the fertility of the circumjacent fields, sinks under the pressure of this sore evil, and Elimelech, one of the chiefs of his tribe, is, like the most illustrious of his ancestors, driven to seek subsistence in a strange land.
Every land according to its place on the globe has its peculiar climate, soil, production. One is watered by the clouds of heaven, another by an inundation of the waters of the earth. Here the rain descends according to no fixed law, either as to season or quantity, there it is measured to a drop, and timed to a moment. On the regularity or uncertainty of these distributions by the hand of nature, or the intervention of Providence, depend the comfort, the very sustentation of human life; on them depends all the variation of vegetable produce, as to plenty or scarcity, as to greatness, wholesomeness, pleasantness and their contraries. Hence the same country is one year as the garden of God, for beauty and abundance, and the next as the waste howling wilderness; Canaan now flows with milk and honey, and gives bread to the full, and anon eats up its inhabitants. We hear an offended and merciful God, by the mouth of the same prophet, reproving and threatening human thoughtlessness and ingratitude in relation to this interesting subject, in these glowing terms: "She did not know that I gave her corn, and wine and oil, and multiplied her silver and gold, which they prepared for Baal; therefore will I return and take away my corn in the time thereof, and my wine in the season thereof, and will recover my wool and my flax, given to cover her nakedness. And I will destroy her vines and her figtrees, of which she said, These are my rewards which my lovers have given me and I will make them a forest, and the beasts of the field shall eat them." And thus relents the God of grace towards penitent returning children, "I will betroth thee unto me in faithfulness, and thou shalt know the Lord. And it shall come to pass in that day, I will hear, saith the Lord, I will hear the heavens, and they shall hear the earth, and the earth shall hear the corn, and the wine and the oil, and they shall hear Jezreel; and I will sow her unto me in the earth, and I will have mercy on her that had not obtained mercy." Such is the myste
*Judges xii. 8.
rious scale of both mercy and judgement. Thus universal nature is combined in one firm league to oppress and confound God's adversary. Thus every creature, every event unites in preserving the existence, and promoting the happiness of his repenting, dutiful, obedient children.
Elimelech seeks and finds refuge in Moab, for "the earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof;" and he has given commandment, "Let mine outcasts dwell with thee, Moab ;" and that one word disarms in an instant national animosity, represses the rage of the lion, quenches the violence of fire. The fugitive of Bethlehem-Judah finds kindness and protection among inveterate enemies; Daniel sleeps secure amongst the fiercest of the savage tribes; and the three children of the captivity walk unhurt in the midst of the flaming furnace.
We see, at first, nothing but one of those instances which every day occur, of the sad reverses to which individuals, families, states are liable; the downfal and distress of an ancient and reputable house, struggling with penury, and forced into exile; but we soon discover, that the eternal eye is fixed on a nobler object, that the hand of omnipotence is preparing the materials and laying the foundation of a more magnificent fabric; that infinite wisdom is bringing low the royal house of Bethlehem, only to restore it with greater, splendour.
We have before us at once the cure of pride and of despair. Behold, O man of an hundred ancestors, and of an hundred thousand acres, behold Elimelech, the son of Abraham, poor and despised; the head of the tribe of Judah, a stranger in a strange land, existing through sufferance, supplied through foreign bounty; and remember by what a brittle tenure thy privileges and possessions are held. Consider, child of adversity, whom no man knows, whom no one regards, consider yonder neglected, reduced, extinguished family, and behold from the ashes of the expiring phoenix, an immortal offspring arising, whose flight neither time nor space can limit, and feel thine own importance, and aim only at high things, and trust in omnipotence for the execution of its own eternal purpose.
In a country and among a people where names were not mere arbitrary sounds, but conveyed a meaning connected with character, with history, with expectation, those of Elimelech," my God is king," and of his wife Naomi, "the pleasant one," from their peculiar import, must have a reference to certain circumstances in their history which are not recorded. The former might be dictated by the spirit of prophecy, and be significant, without the intention of them who imposed, or of him who bore it, of the future greatness to which the family, through the favour of Heaven, should arise, in the person of David, of Solomon, and that long succession of princes which finally centered, and was absorbed, in the person of Christ, David's son; yet David's Lord. The particulars of his own story that have reached us, are too few and too general to admit of our discerning any reference or application of his name to his character, office or condition: but we know enough of the character and history of Naomi to justify the suitableness of the appellation to her person, dispositions and final attainments.
In the disasters which befal, and the successes which attend certain families and individua we behold an apparent partiality of distribution that confounds and overwhelms us. Death enters into that house, passes from couch to couch, spares neither root nor branch; the insatiate fiend never says it is enough. Whatever that poor man attempts, be the scheme ever so judiciously formed, ever so diligently prosecuted, uniformly fails; the winds as they change, the stars in their courses fight against him. The very mistakes of his neighbour turn out prosperously, his sails are always full, his children multiply, his wealth increases, his mountain stands strong. Is God therefore un
wise, capricious, partial or unjust? No, but we are blind, contracted, presumptuous. We can discern, can comprehend, only here and there a little fragment of his works, we are gone, before the event has explained itself; it requires the capacity, the eternity of God himself to take in the mighty whole of his plan.
The house of Elimelech exhibits an affecting instance of the inequality we have been mentioning. The sad account of famine, of banishment, of degradation, of dependence is at length closed with death. Disease of body, cooperating with distress of mind, probably the effect of it, shortens his days and terminating his own worldly misery, dreadfully aggravates the woes of the unhappy survivors. Wretched mother, left to struggle alone with poverty, solitude, danger, and neglect: far from friends, encompassed with enemies, loaded with the charge of two fatherless children, not more the objects of affection, than the sources of anxiety and care! While Elimelech lived, penury was hardly felt as a burden; in exile thou wert always at home; secluded from society, the conversation of one still dispelled the gloom. Thy sons afforded only delight, because that delight was participated in, by him who had a common interest with you in them: but all is now changed, every load is accumulated sevenfold, every comfort is embittered, every prospect is clouded: the past presents nothing but regret; the future discloses nothing but despair.
She seems to have given up at this period all thoughts of returning to her native country, and, making a virtue of dire necessity, attempts to naturalize her family in the land of Moab, by allying her sons, through marriage, to the inhabitants of the country. The sense of the loss she has sustained gradually yields to the lenient hand of time, and to the sweet hope of seeing the house of her beloved husband built up, and his name revived in the persons of his grandchildren. Alas, what is the hope of man! the flatterer has been only decoying her into a greater depth of woe; her two remaining props sink, one after another, into the dust; all that the eyes desired is taken away with stroke upon stroke; and, to fill up the measure of a mother's wretchedness, both her sons die childless, and hope expires with them. Now she is a widow indeed, and exhausted nature sinks under the pressure.
It is the opinion of many interpreters, that the premature death of the young men was a judgement from heaven to punish their illegal intermarriage with strange and idolatrous women. It becomes not man to judge; and we know that God executeth only righteous judgement; and in wrath still remembers mercy.
Thus in three short lines the sacred historian has delivered a tragic tale that comes home to the bosom of every one that possesses a spark of sensibility. It is a domestic story; it represents scenes which may, which do happen every day. It admonishes every one in how many points he is vulnerable, how defenceless he is against the thunderbolts of Heaven. It awfully displays the evil of sin, and the wrath of God against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of man. If such be the temporal effects of his vengeance, how bitter must be the cup which his just displeasure mingles for incorrigible offenders, in a state of final retribution! How pleasing to reflect that trials of this sort do not always flow from anger, that they are the wholesome severity of a father, that they aim at producing real good, that they in the issue really "yield the peaceable fruits of righteousness." The darkness of night at length yields to the glorious orb of day, the shadow of death is turned into the morning, and the desolate is as she who hath an husband.
This makes way for the introduction of the heroine of this eventful history; and we become interested in her from the very first moment. The Jewish writers, to heighten our respect for Ruth, perhaps from a pitiful desire to exalt their own ancestry, make her the daughter of a king of Moab, and as they