Edited by Rev. John Adams, B.D.
By Rev. Thomas Whitelaw, D.D.
("The Lord is Peace").
The story of Gideon relates to a period more than two centuries later than that of Moses. The forty years of wandering had rolled away* Moses and the people he led forth from Egypt had slept the long sleep. The conquest of Canaan had been completed, and Joshua with his warriors had disappeared. The Tribes had established themselves in a state of semi-independence, each one governed by a chieftain of its own, who attained to sovereign power not by hereditary succession or by popular election, but by the direct supernatural appointment of Jehovah, whose vicegerent he was. Under the rule of these deputies the condition of the people alternated between prosperity and adversity, between sinning and repenting, between slavery and deliverance. The experience of one tribe was that of all After the death of Joshua a generation arose who had no acquaintance with the mighty deeds Jehovah had wrought for their fathers. One after another the Tribes fell away from the pure worship of Jehovah. By and by, in punishment for their apostasy, they were subdued and oppressed by their heathen neighbours — the Philistines, the Canaanites, the Midianites, as the case might be. When their misery grew so heavy that it could no longer be endured they turned to Jehovah, repented, and wept. Then, in answer to their prayers, Jehovah raised up a champion, in the person of one of these Judges, to deliver them. And so the wretched history went on: sinning and suffering; repenting and recovering; apostasy from Jehovah followed by national declension and enslavement; return to Jehovah succeeded by emancipation and prosperity.
The story of Gideon belongs to one of these periods when Israel was oppressed by Midian, a tribe whose habitation lay upon the east of the Dead Sea. Seven years had the people groaned under the incursions of these marauders who came up like grasshoppers for multitude with their cattle and their tents, and carried off the whole substance of Israel in the shape of sheep and ox and ass. In their extremity the people cried unto the Lord, who sent a prophet to instruct them as to the reason of their evil fortune, to point out to them their sin, to convict them of disobedience and lead them to repentance. And so one day it happened that away on the west side of the Jordan, in Ophrah of Manasseh, a farmer's son was engaged in threshing wheat beside or in the winepress, i.e. not out in the open, but in a secluded spot in the vineyard, to hide it from the Midianites. It was a common but a needful occupation. And the farmer's son was carrying it through with a sore heart, thinking of all the calamities that had fallen on the land and wondering whether God had forsaken them, — as Cromwell in England and Wallace in Scotland afterwards did in the evil days that came on their countries, — when lifting up his eyes, perhaps to stretch himself at midday, he saw a stranger quietly seated beneath an oak tree near by. To his amazement, the stranger addressed him as a " mighty man of valour," assured him that Jehovah was with him, and directed him to go in Jehovah's might against Midian, in which case he would save Israel. It was a clear call to undertake the deliverance of Israel, like that which came to Cincinnatus, to Wallace, to Cromwell, to Washington. Like Moses, he deprecated his fitness to undertake such a mission, but was again assured that God would be with him and lead him to victory. Before finally assenting, he asked a sign that the person who talked with him was Jehovah. Having obtained this, he built an altar in commemoration of the interview and called it "Jehovah-Shalom, — "Jehovah is peace," meaning that peace for the individual and for the nation could be found only in returning to Jehovah, and that for both Jehovah alone was the Author and Giver of peace — yea, that Jehovah Himself was peace.
It is hardly needful to say that Gideon's name for Jehovah recurs in the New Testament not only as applied to God, as when Paul styles Him "the God of peace" (Rom. xv. 33, xvi. 20; 2 Cor. xiii. 11; Phil. iv. 9) and " the very God of peace " (i Thess. V. 23), and the writer to the Hebrews designates Him "the God of peace" (xiii. 20), but also indirectly to Jesus, as when Jesus says of Himself, " My peace I give unto you " (John xiv. 27), and Paul writes concerning Him that " He is our peace" (Eph. ii. 14), that " He hath made peace by the blood of the cross " (Col. i. 20), and that "He came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh" (Eph. ii. 17).
Accordingly, in interpreting the name "Jehovah-Shalom," I shall call to our aid whatever help can be obtained from the disclosures of the New Testament
1. Jehovah is Peace.
By this must be understood not so much that God in Himself is peace but that His attitude towards men in general, and especially towards His people, is one of peace. I am not disposed to exclude the former of these ideas, but rather to include it It is a great thought — that Jehovah in Himself is the Possessor of absolute and undisturbed peace. Strange it may seem that it should be so, considering all He looks down upon in the universe, and more particularly in the world He has made, with its sin and misery. When one reflects how the hearts of good men and women are torn with anguish at the pitiable spectacles of guilt and wretchedness they behold (see Eccles. iv. 1), it is difficult to believe that God can be indifferent to the same (Gen. vi. 6). Nor is He. Yet the thought is that none of these things disturb His peace, reach so far inward as to cast Him into a condition of unrest and disquietude, interfere with His blessedness, or destroy the equilibrium or even balance of His divine mind. Alas! if they did, the fact that they did would prove Him to be like His creatures. It would almost destroy the hope that He could do anything to help and save His creatures. It is, however, certain that while not indifferent to the sins and sorrows of the human race, He is Him" self calm and undisturbed — possessed of a deep peace which passeth all understanding. This was seen in Christ, who while on earth sympathising with men, touched with a feeling of their infirmities, bearing their sicknesses and carrying their sorrows, could yet speak of His own peace — of that inward repose of spirit which belonged to Him in the midst of all life's trials and calamities. Still, the thought I am emphasising here is that Jehovah is peacefully disposed towards men, especially towards His people, as He said to Israel by the mouth of Jeremiah, " I know the thoughts that I think towards you, thoughts of peace and not of evil "; and His dealing with mankind as a whole, and with Israel in particular, proved this. So also did Christ show by His whole walk and conversation that God, whose image He was, was peacefully disposed towards men. "No weapons in His hand were seen, nor voice of terror heard." He neither strove nor cried, nor caused His voice to be heard in the streets: He moved among men with all the serenity of God, whose Son and equal He was.
2. Jehovah makes Peace.
While in Himself Jehovah is peace. His relation towards fallen men is not naturally that of peace. This it cannot be, because of sin. No greater mistake can be made than to suppose that the Divine Being is or can be indifferent to sinę His nature is necessarily at war with sin. His holiness, justice, faithfulness, and love even, are all opposed to it. Nevertheless, it is not His desire that this state of war should continue, or that He should proceed against men by law and judgment. On the contrary. He hath made all the requisite arrangements for establishing an honourable peace between Himself and man, by sending His only begotten Son into the world on an embassage of peace — first to make peace, not merely by furnishing to men an example and calling them to follow it, or even by telling them that God was their Father and desired their love and obedience, but by the shedding of His blood in expiation of their guilt, and then to publish peace by the preaching of His gospel through the ministry of the apostles.
That God's plan of making peace was to be by providing an atonement for man's sin was first hinted at in the promise of the woman's Seed who while suffering in His own heel should bruise the serpent's head, and then foreshadowed by the sacrifices of the Old Testament — by Abel's, Noah's, Abraham's, the Mosaic sacrifices, and here again by Gideon's altar and offering. It was foretold by the prophet who spoke of a suffering Servant of Jehovah, who was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and upon whom Jehovah laid the iniquity of His people. It was announced as at hand by an angel when Christ was born — "Thou shalt call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins." It was carried out by Jesus Himself when, giving His life a ransom for many. He died upon the Cross, saying, " It is finished."
And this sublime arrangement for establishing peace was forthwith, in accordance with the risen Christ's instructions, published to mankind by the apostles whom He sent forth, and who went everywhere, to Samaria, to Asia, to Europe, and by their successors in the gospel ministry, preaching peace to such as were afar off and to them that were nigh. And to this day that gospel message is echoing throughout the world in almost every tongue— certainly in every leading nation — that God is at peace with men, that He has made peace through the blood of the Cross, and that He is in Christ Jesus reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing unto men their trespasses.
3. Jehovah sends Peace.
"The Lord will bless His people with peace," said David. Probably this same thought was in Gideon's mind when he named his altar " Jehovah-Shalom." Gideon had been alarmed at the appearance of the angel, as afterwards Daniel was at the vision of the Heavenly Man, and as the disciples were when Jesus presented Himself before them on the Resurrection morning. To allay Gideon's fear, Jehovah said to him, "Fear not," as the Heavenly Man said to Daniel (x. 19), and as Christ said to His disciples (Luke xxiv. 38), Thus the great gift Christ bestows upon His people is peace — upon the individual believer, peace with God, peace of conscience, peace of heart and mind; upon the ransomed Church, peace amongst themselves, peace with one another; upon the world, peace ' throughout and amongst all tribes and nations.
First, to the individual believer Jehovah-Jesus sends peace in the most comprehensive sense of the expression — peace with God, so that henceforth there is no condemnation, the demands of God's law having been satisfied; peace of conscience, so that there is no more self-accusation, the blood of Jesus cleansing the conscience from all sense of guilt; peace of heart and mind" so that all unrest and disquiet pass away, the child of God knowing that God has promised to keep him in perfect peace, and that Christ has bequeathed to him peace, His own peace, and remembering how an apostle has assured him that the peace of God which passeth all understanding will keep his heart and mind through Jesus Christ; peace throughout life, —"peace, perfect peace, in this dark world of sin "; peace in death, the King of Terrors having been disarmed and the grave despoiled of its victory; and peace in heaven and throughout eternity.
Secondly, to the Church of the ransomed He gives peace in the sense that He binds all its members into one holy brotherhood and fills them with a spirit of concord, removing from between them all barriers of separation and causing them to dwell together in unity. If He sometimes sends among them a spirit of division as He did in Rehoboam's time and at the Reformation, and at such periods as those of the Secession and Disruption in Scotland, it has ever been that He might purge out from them the old leaven, that He might bring them together again as a new lump. This unifying process He began when He reunited Ephraim and Judah after the Exile: He advanced it a stage when He removed the partition wall between Jew and Gentile, and made both one. In our own land He may be said to have begun the peace-making process with the bringing together of the Antiburghers and Burghers in 1820; and to have continued it from time to time by gathering in the scattered remnants — by uniting the Secession and Relief in 1847; the Free Church and the Reformed Presbyterians in 1876; the Congregational and Evangelical Union in 1897; the Free Church and the United Presbyterians in 1900; and by and by, before long we cannot doubt. He will gather into one the United Free Church and the Church now Established. And finally the great work of peace will be completed when all have been made one in glory.
Thirdly, to the world at large He gives peace. No doubt since Christ came there have been many disastrous and unjustifiable wars, but there have also been powerful forces making for peace. The principles of Christianity have been gradually leavening society, so that all over the world among civilised nations there is a growing abhorrence of war and a deepening desire for peace. Without making too much of the Hague Tribunal as a sign of the times, or as a prophecy of the golden era of Universal Brotherhood, it may be said that the mere establishment of such a Court of Arbitration is a proof that the Prince of Peace is on the way to His kingdom — that the time is drawing every day nearer when nations will not decide their quarrels by the barbarous arbitrament of the sword, when men shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks, hang their trumpets in the hall and study war no more. The Christian conscience understands perfectly that war is never, or at least seldom, reconcilable with the doctrine of Jesus Christ. Every one knows that the grand end and purpose for which Christ came to earth was to establish peace on earth and goodwill among men; and although Christian nations have often gone to war, that has only proved that they have not acted up to the principles of that religion they have professed — not that war and Christianity agree. And while one regrets the wars into which Christian nations are often dragged, one cannot but see and rejoice at the sight, that the Christian nations are coming gradually to the conviction that the war spirit should be held in check and the instincts that make for peace should be fostered.
What is true about the wars of nations holds good about the strifes of classes, of rich and poor, of capitalists and workmen, of the upper ranks and the proletariat, the gentlemen of the pavement, — the religion of Jesus will eventually put an end to these and introduce the Golden Age of which Burns sang, when
Meantime this happy era may seem distant, and men's efforts to hasten it may appear comparatively fruitless; but once more, the simple fact that men are in several ways trying to hasten it shows that the peace-principles of Jesus are laying hold of men's hearts and consciences, and will one day subdue these and make men sing: " Behold, how good and how pleasant it is, for brethren to dwell together in unity! "