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But whilst they were refreshing themselves at this friendly dwelling, the house was beset by a crowd of brutal men, whose outrages surpassed the enormity of common crimes, and terminated in leaving the woman a corpse at the door.
Whatever may have been her character, or that of her husband, the guilt of the ruffians could not be palliated. The Levite felt the case so aggravated that nothing less than an appeal to the whole nation could meet the enormity of the offence. Nothing indeed could repair his wrongs; but he felt as a Jew, that unparalleled disgrace had fallen upon the nation through the act of these Benjamites of Gibeah, and that the whole people were concerned in vindicating the demands of justice. “ They have committed lewdness and folly IN ISRAEL,” was the Levite's complaint; and adopting a method of appeal which the feelings of the age allowed, he sent to each of the tribes a bloody fragment of the woman's corpse, as at once evidence of the deed, and a call for their counsel. And it was so that all that saw it, said: There was no such deed done nor seen from the days that the children of Israel came up out of the land of Egypt, until this day; consider of it, take advice and speak your minds."
Four hundred thousand men soon assembled, from all the tribes in Mizpeh. The Levite told them his story, and called upon them as Israelites, for advice. The indignant multitude, as with one heart, resolved to proceed at once ogainst the guilty town. They did so ; but not wishing to involve the innocent, they first called upon the tribe of Benjamin (to which Gibeah belonged), to deliver up the persons guilty of the deed of violence and murder. But the tribe instead of yielding to so just and fraternal a demand, espoused the cause of the murderers and flocked to Gibeah, not only to resist, but to attack the army of Israel. Two battles were fought, in both of which the Benjamites prevailed, and with a dreadful slaughter of the other tribes. This surprising result was probably permitted to correct the feelings of revenge and the spirit of self-confidence with which the tribes had gone into the war. For after the two defeats, they humbled themselves before God with weeping, and fasting, and sacrifices. They were now more likely to feel that it was not as avengers of their own quarrel but as instruments of Divine justice—not by the might of their superior numbers, but by the strength of God, that they were to purge the land from the iniquity of Gibeah. The city was for the third time attacked. It was now taken and burned, and so small a remnant of the Benjamites escaped, that the tribes turned from the melancholy victory to weep before the tabernacle of God, and cry, “ O Lord God of Israel why is this come to pass in Israel, that there should be to-day one tribe lacking in Israel!"
This is a specimen of the character of the people of Gibeah
who are referred to in the text; and again in the next chapter, where Hosea exclaims, “() Israel, thou hast sinned from the days of Gibeah: there they stood, the battle of Gibeah against the children of iniquity did not overtake them.” I call it a specimen of their character, for it would be contrary to all history and analogy, to suppose that this occurrence was a sudden outbreak of crime in a community that had until that period been moral and peaceful. Fully set in them to do evil as the hearts of men are, their passions do not venture to burst through the restraints of decent concealment, until they have reason to know that the moral sense of the community will overlook or endure their crimes. The history in fact shows this to have been the case in Gibeah; and the prophet speaks of the “deep corruption" of those days, as if it were characteristic of the people, whom he calls “the children of iniquity.” Their infamy had reached to the time of Hosea, a period of at least six hundred and fifty years from the occurrences, which have been related; it has come to our knowledge twenty-six years later; it is part of the record which is given by inspiration of God for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness, and therefore it behoves us to revive and apply its lessons for our own benefit. The times in which we live seem to make this example peculiarly appropriate; and I shall therefore occupy the remainder of this discourse in an attempt to secure this advantage.
1. It presents a general warning in reference to the corruption of public morals.
We can imagine what must have been the state of morals in Gibeah—a city of sufficient size to furnish seven hundred chosen men of war-when the dwelling of a citizen could be beset by a licentious mob with all the tumult of a riot, and the ruflians allowed to accomplish their purposes without a hand raised to punish them, or defend the helpless strangers. This is partly to be attributed to the absence of any civil authority; for, says the historian, “ in those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes."-(Judges xxi. 25.) But had not the public mind been dead to the commonest sentiment of hospitality, honour and virtue, such an outrage could not have been plotted, or been suffered to be perpetrated through several hours of disorder, closing in murder.
All that is wanting in any community to open the gates of vice, is to withhold the penalty of justice from offenders, and to relax, the restraints of a pure public sentiment. Let intemperance, for instance, be connived at by the laws, let drunkenness be made a matter of sport, let the opportunities and means of intoxication be multiplied by legislators, or the public functionaries, and let the public themselves esteem intemperate habits as no disqualification for stations of trust and honour, or for the alliances of life-and nothing more is wanting to secure the triumph of this corruption.
The same thing is true of all other forms of licentiousnesseven of that which has given infamy to the name of Gibeah. We need not expunge the seventh commandment from the decalogue, in order to give a license, to these transgressions. Satan has more art than to suggest such a measure.
But let the moral sense of the public allow, under the name of fashion or custom, manners from which even the modesty of nature would shrink; let our dwellings be open to receive publications which minister to an impure curiosity, pollute the mind, and accustom it to criminal recitals, let our children find this kind of entertainment in the newspapers we read and the books we buy; let us be careless as to the associates whom we encourage for ourselves or those within our control; and when great crimes occur let us treat the parties to them as heroes and heroines, attributing their vices to imprudence, or even to their very innocence—by such means as these the corrruption of the public morals is sooner secured than if a reward were offered for vice.
If we in this country,—we who live in the large cities or on the great thoroughfares which make accessible to us all the sources of corruption, domestic and foreign, which our large cities attract-if we are in any such danger, let us take timely warning by examples like that of Gibeah. Who shall set bounds to the growth of corruption when it is once suffered to take root? How easy is prevention! how hard is reformation! The authors of the crime recorded in the history before us are called “Sons of Belial.” The race is not extinct; and the imagination of Milton, in depicting the fiend himself, has struck upon the most characteristic marks of these corrupters of society:
“A fairer person lost not Heav'n; he seem'd
Timorous and slothful; yet he pleased the ear.” II. The example of Gibeah shows that a corrupt state of morals is adapted to produce the most flagrant crimes.
The prevailing licentiousness was not satisfied with the secret pursuit of its objects. When the general standard of morality discountenances corrupt manners, the wicked adopt obscure and silent means of accomplishing their ends. Darkness and secrecy veil their habits from observation. But when, as in Gibealı, vice has become to some extent common, and fears no disgrace, it will become bold, both in its excesses and in its publicity. The history of the world is fall of similar examples. · We need not go far back, or far off, td find proof that this is the natural course of all sin. Licentiousness, assassination and suicide still hold intimate fellowship. A relaxation of moral principle cannot be confined to one particular. When the fear of God is thrown off as to one indulgence, what motive is left strong enough to restrain the corrupt heart from other crimes to which it is tempted. The bonds of religion and of society are rotted by such corruption, and can no longer serve either for union or restraint. Let the principles of common integrity, for example, become relaxed ; let men adopt the idea that there is no obligation as to their contracts and debts, if their responsibility can be evaded by legal forms; let this idea be adopted by governments, and the contracts of a commonwealth be anulled by statute, and its creditors be defrauded by law, and á blow is struck at the very foundation of right and honesty, the result of which will soon be perceived in the general imbecility of moral principle in the community which sanctions or abides by such laws. Who can contemplate without amazement and shame the state of morals in our own country in this respect compared with what it was before the late financial revolution disclosed the corruption that had ben secretly spreading throughout our whole community? And who is not conscious that the discovery has tended to encourage the evil and blunt our sensibilities to its enormity?
IIL. The case of Gibeah furnishes a forcible illustration of the danger of giving any manner of countenance to iniquity.
The Benjamites, though the crime at Gibeah was so notorious, took no steps to punish the trangressors. When the other tribes appealed? to Benjamin and asked, as by the polity and customs of the nation they had a right to do, that the offenders should be delivered to them for punishment, they refused ; and not only refused either to bring them to punishment themselves or to yield them up as public criminals, but immediately took measures to oppose the army of the nation by force. Thus they avowed the canse of the authors of the iniquity, and practically sanctioned their conduct. Thus they afford another exemplification of the extent to which moral corruption will carry a community. First, the citizens of Gibeah allow the violence and riot to proceed throughout a whole night anchecked ; then the crime is passed by with impunity; and finally the whole tribe to which Gibeah belonged espouse the part of the murderers, and commence a civil war for their protection.
The first step was wrong, and therefore all that followed was wrong The adınonition which we ought to receive is of the sin and danger of allowing protection to any iniquity. Communities may furnishi this protection, not only by openly espousing the canse of the violators of law, and forcibly rescuing them from punishment, but also by approving their course, exciting a clamor in their behalf, and expressing such a sympathy for the criminal as absorbs the regard due to justice and to the whole interests of the community; aud above all, due to the holiness of God and his condemnation of all sin.
Civil society is founded for the protection of all its members. The administration of justice is consigned by common consent to the publio tribunals; and the laws which these tribunals administer are those which the society has adopted as their compact and bond of uuion. Now this bond is as nothing unless the conmunity which have thus associated themselves, submit to the dominion of their own laws, and sustain their impartial execution, so long as they remain their laws. They may change them in a constitutional manner ; but so long as they exist every member of the body politic is under the most sacred obligation to obey and uphold them. They are the laws—not of the judges and juries and executive--but the laws of the people, and these others are but their servants to apply them. He therefore cannot be a faithful citizeu who attempts either to violate the law himself, or prevent its just administration towards others.
The laws under which we live are so humane that no exception from this principle is admissible on the ground that the circumstances of a crime often demand the exercise of mercy. This may be true. But the laws provide for such cases ; and even mercy should be granted legally and not commanded or compelled by violence. The trial by jury, the gradation of punishment, the prerogative of pardon vested in the Executive, are the legal provision for the adjudication of the penalty of transgressions. If it is an outrage on all law and authority for individuals to redress their own wrongs, or those of the public, by violence, without the trial of the criminal, it is no less an offence to screen a criminal from the operation of the law, or to rejoice in his escape.
We are guilty of encouraging iniquity when we justify crimes on the ground of the temptations and provocations which led to them. No good law allows such grounds of justification; though they may be admitted to qualify the heinousness of the offence. The desperation of hunger may drive a man to robbery. The law will not hold him guiltless on this account; but it will mitigate his punishment, and vidicate its own purity, even if by no more than a noininal infliction. So the heat of passion may impel a man to take the life of another without previous deliberation. But though this characteristic of his offence may exempt him from the fate of the wilful murderer, it requires the severe punishment of the homicide in another form. For the law is established on the very ground that the injuries men may receive are not to be avenged by their own hands, but by the calm and just adjudication of the laws wbich they themselves framed or have voluntarily submitted to. If therefore a man is injured, in person or property or reputation, he may not retaliate, or use voilence to recover his rights, or redress bis injuries, but he must seek his rights or redress in the way which he solemnly agreed to employ when he entered into the social compact ; and if it should happen that the law is defective in the particular point of his wrong, he must abide the consequences of the oversight—he is bound to abstain from any private force to obtain his end. Once admit the principle that temptations or provocations, however great and extraordinary, authorize a mau to avenge his own wrongs,