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Such is the plan and division of this discourse, which we consecrate to the glory of God, and our common edification. So may it be !
I. The history of Jericho, and of its memorable destruction, is well known to you. It was a royal city, situated about three leagues from the Jordan, in the midst of a delicious plain, covered with palms, and odoriferous trees which distilled an excellent balm. As it was the first city found by the Israelites on their march, after entering Canaan, it experienced their first martial effort; or rather, it was by its miraculous destruction that God signalized his mighty arm, both in behalf of his people, and for the punishment of the profligate nations devoted to his vengeance. Without any human effort, by the presence of the ark, and the sound of the trumpets of the Priests, the walls of this powerful city fell as at the feet of the Israelites; who, entering from all parts, by the express command of God, put all to the sword, without distinction of age or sex, sparing neither man nor beast; reserving only the gold and the silver for God, as the author of the victory : all else was given to the flames, and the city was razed to its foundations.
Joshua—who, in the capture of the city, had appeared at the head of the army of Israelites, in the name of the Lord of hosts, as their General-now, in the character of Prophet, pronounces a malediction on the man who should rebuild it. I say, in the character of Prophet; for on this occasion he spoke not by his own will; he only declared the will of God. This is stated expressly in 1 Kings xvi. 34; where the sacred author, after relating the accomplishment of the malediction, says, that this was “according to the word of the Lord, which he spake by Joshua the son of Nun.” It was, then, in the name of the Lord, -by his inspiration, his command, that this leader of the people of God fulminated this fearful anathema. And some interpreters are of opinion, that this is intimated in the terms of the curse itself: “ Cursed be the man before the Lord, that riseth up and buildeth this city Jericho.”
“Before the Lord,” in virtue of his own decree, which he has made known to me by direct inspiration. In fact, if Joshua, of himself alone, had hazarded this imprecation, the event would not have justified it; and it would have been as the thunder of the Vatican, the excommunications of the Roman Pontiff, which do no harm except to those who choose to be terrified by them, and which possess no divine authority whatever.
We have here, therefore, a prophetic imprecation, similar in nature to those which we find in the Psalms, which mark simply the punishment prepared by the divine vengeance for certain incorrigible sinners, and not the fierce desires of hatred and animosity against private and personal enemies. Judge from this of the spirit in which we should repeat these imprecations after the Prophets. If we lance them as arrows against our own enemies or persecutors, we are utterly mistaken ; we usurp an authority that does not belong to us, and employ in cursing a mouth that was only intended to bless. Are we Pro
phets ? Ilas God revealed to us the final impenitence of this or that sinner,—of this or that persecutor of the church? Are we sure, that of these furious Sauls he will not make Pauls, zealous for his service, and for the comfort and edification of his people? To what are we called as Christians ? Christ himself teaches us, “ Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you,
for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you." These are the bounds which we may not transgress.
I return to Joshua. As Prophet, and interpreter of the will of God, he adjured, or, as the original implies, he caused to swear; that is to say, he engaged the people of Israel, by the execration which he pronounced, never to rebuild the city. “ Cursed be the man before the Lord, that riseth up and buildeth this city Jericho.” “Before the Lord;" that is, he shall be cursed truly, and cursed for ever.
We remark, in ancient pagan history, similar imprecations and prohibitions against rebuilding the cities of enemies, whose power, it was feared, might thus be revived; whose perfidy and violence were particularly detested; or whose insolencies it was resolved to punish. The Romans made a decree, full of execration, against the rebuilding of Carthage, which had been the rival of their empire, and whose situation was too favourable not to occasion apprehensions, were the Carthaginian power re-established. Agamemnon made imprecations in like manner against those who should rebuild Troy; and Cræsus against those who should rebuild Sidon : and this, says Strabo, “ fullowing the ancient custom.” The Ionians devoted to all calamities those who should undertake to re-edify the temples destroyed by the Persians, in order to leave to posterity an abiding monument of the impiety of these barbarians, and to prevent all from confiding in a people who made war against the gods themselves. The Greeks, also, gave like orders as to the temples in their own country, burned by the Persians; always remaining in the same condition, they furnished a perpetual proof and expression of the enmity between the two nations.
But, without pausing at these merely human examples, which surely have served neither as the model, nor the authority, for the divine procedure, let us humbly inquire into what we may suppose to have been the designs which the God of Israel proposed to accomplish, when he thus condemned Jericho to an eternal solitude. And it is plain, in the first place, that he destined the ruins of this Canaanite city to be a perpetual monument of the singular protection with which he had favoured the Israelites in their passage over Jordan, and their entry into Canaan. We are naturally too prone to forget the benefits of God. In the moment of deliverance, and while the favour is yet recent, we appear to be touched by it; but, soon after, the memory of the benefaction passes away, and gratitude along with it. It is necessary, as it were, to render these past mercies of God present and sensi
ble, by certain monuments which place them before our eyes; or by festivals, and religious rites, which commemorate them. If this city had been re-established, the memory of its miraculous destruction would have gradually faded into oblivion ; but remaining desolate, and showing only a heap of ruins, it was natural that the beholder should inquire whence this destruction came; at what time, by whose power, on what occasion, this city, whose greatness its very ruins made apparent, had been reduced to this lamentable condition : and these inquiries would at once lead to the goodness of God to his people, and to his severe vengeance against the ancient inhabitants of the country ; who, having filled up the measure of their iniquities, had drawn upon themselves this fearful judgment.
The city was also devoted to God, as the first-fruits of Canaan. It was one of the chief cities of the land which God had given so freely to his people. He required, therefore, that it should be as a thing separated from all common usage, and given up to himself. This separation was made in two ways: the one, by consecration,—and thus was the gold of Jericho dedicated to God; the other, by destruction,and thus was the city devoted. God willed that it should be separated from all ordinary use, and remain both a monument and a memorial, as well of his bounty for his people, as of his justice against his enemies.
It was his will, likewise, that Jericho should be condemned, and placed as under perpetual ruin and interdict, that such striking severity might intimidate the other inhabitants of Canaan.
Great conquerors are sometimes obliged to treat severely those who resist their arms, that others may submit themselves more promptly, and render proceeding to extremities unnecessary. Thus, as well by the total destruction of the city,—one of the most considerable in Palestine,—as by the anathema pronounced against those who should undertake to rebuild it, it was sought to move with terror the hearts of all the surrounding inhabitants of the country, that they might not set themselves in opposition to a people so visibly favoured of Heaven.
It is for these reasons, and perhaps for others now unknown, that God, under such severe penalties, prohibited the re-establishment of this city. For behold, my brethren, the malediction denounced against the man who should undertake to rebuild it: “He shall lay the foundation thereof," said Joshua, “in his first born, and in his youngest son shall he set up the gates of it.” If any one can be found sufficiently hardy, (so to speak,) to resolve to reconstruct a place thus condemned of God, he shall do it at the expense of the life of his children. He shall lay the foundation on the corpse of his first-born; and if he persists in the criminal enterprise, and resolutely pushes the matter to its close, on the corpse of his youngest son shall he fix the gates. As the fortifications of a city are commenced by the rampart-walls, and then finished by attaching the proper gatos; so Joshua predicts, that
he who should rebuild Jericho, would lose his eldest son in commencing the work, and his youngest in finishing it.
You see in this, my brethren, that God threatens before he strikes, that thus he may prevent the blow. Such is his mercy, even in the midst of justice. Notice its several steps : first, he menaces with his malediction,—“Cursed be the man;" then, coming to the accomplishment, he begins with the oldest son. When constrained to punish a father, he takes not away all the children at once. He strikes one, that he
may spare the rest. He begins with the first; and it is only when this is seen to be insufficient, that he comes to the last. Thus does his vengeance move slowly, and only step by step. But it is, at the same time, plain, that if the sinner will not cease to offend, God will not cease to punish. Ile will pause at the oldest, and will content himself, shall we say, with this one victim. But when the rebellious father, notwithstanding the wound already inflicted, hardens himself in his rebellion, then the youngest son is taken,-it may be, the whole family. So dangerous is it to resist the All-powerful, and to act in determined opposition to his will.
“He shall lay the foundation thereof in his first-born, and in his youngest son shall he set up the gates of it.” The punishment answers to the crime. The crime consists in raising up a city which God had condemned to perpetual desolation. The punishment consists in the overthrow of his own house ; for the children, in Hebrew phrase, are the edifice, the pillars of a man's house; and the moment he begins to restore what God has doomed to ruin, his own house begins to shake, and shall soon be sapped in its very foundations.
“He shall lay the foundation thereof in his first-born, and in his youngest son shall he set up the gates of it.” Terrible judgment! The oldest is the chief of the family. As he possesses the first affections of his parents, so, ordinarily, he preserves them. The first-born had always, in Israel, distinguishing privileges. But the youngest, also ; his condition, too, is peculiar. He seems to re-animate paternal tenderness. You know what Benjamin was to Jacob. Is it possible
, then, for a father to receive a heavier blow than thus to lose, by a gradual but continuous punishment, both his oldest and his youngest son? It is this double wound with which the hardened rebuilder of Jericho is menaced.
But why not punish the man himself ? Are the children answerable for the crime of their parent? And would not the criminal be more severely punished, if smitten in his own person, and taken from the world by a tragical death? I reply, my brethren, that all men, fathers and sons, being guilty before God, he may choose among victims as to himself may appear proper. I add, that when the children follow the vicious example of their parent, God may begin to execute upon them his vengeance, without any saying to him, “Why doest thou thus ?” If, on the contrary, they have avoided the exam.
ple thus unhappily set before them from infancy, and God, notwithstanding, removes them by a premature death, there are the recompences of the life to come; and these are more than sufficient to counterbalance the loss of the life that now is.
And for the culpable father,-if he have the heart of a father,—the tragical death of his own children, especially when he knows himself to be the cause, cannot but be more painful than his own. A father sees himself re-born in his children. It is his consolation, when bodily decay tells him that he is not far from the tomb, that he shall continue to live in his posterity. What wretchedness, then, must he experience, when, as in the case of Zedekiah, and the Emperor Maurice, he beholds his beloved children, the hope of his name and family, dying, perhaps slaughtered, before his eyes? And is not his affliction redoubled when he has to accuse himself as in effect their murderer ? Could he do it, he would purchase their life with his own. Judge of the feeling by the affecting language of David, at the death even of his rebellious child, perishing in his own sin: “O my son Absalom; my son, my son Absalom ! Would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!”
It was setting before the daring rebuilder of Jericho the most terrible of all menaces, thus to assure him that his criminal design should cost him the life of his oldest, and that of his youngest, son. we suppose, after all, that even to this the punishment of such a crime would be confined. The vengeance of God passes from the children to the father; and the longer the blow is deferred, the more heavily it falls, and the more certainly it overwhelms.
II. Such, then, is the curse and the prediction pronounced by Joshua. I say, "prediction ;” for terrible as was the imprecation, there was found, in after-days, a man sufficiently regardless of the word of the Lord, to undertake the fearful enterprise. To the circumstances connected with the undertaking, the second part of this discourse will be devoted. They are related by the sacred historian, in the first Book of Kings. In the last verse of the sixteenth chapter we read, " In his days” (those of Ahab) “did Hiel the Bethelite build Jericho : he laid the foundation thereof in Abiram his first-born, and set up the gates thereof in his youngest son Segub, according to the word of the Lord, which he spake by Joshua the son of Nun." You have here the name of this bold, bad man, his crime, and its punishment; and thus the full and entire accomplishment of this prophetic malediction.
This Hiel must have been some Israelite of distinction ; for to build a city, to fill it with houses, to surround it with ramparts, to people it with inhabitants, requires no common share of authority and wealth. It was apparently by avarice and ambition, too commonly the vices of the great, that this man was moved to his perilous enterprise. The place was convenient, not far from the Jordan, in one of the most fer