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THE WAYS OF GOD FREQUENTLY
DEUTERONOMY vii. 22.
"And the Lord thy God will put out those nations before thee by little and little: thou mayest not consume them at once, lest the beasts of the field increase upon thee."
IT is scarcely possible, I conceive, to read the above words without looking upon them as a sort of moral chart, by which the whole of God's dealings with mankind are explained, and at one and the same moment presented to our view. The iniquities of the different small nations, or rather tribes, who occupied the land of Canaan during the sojourn of the Israelites in Egypt, are a fact which is strongly and undeniably insisted on in the Mosaic writings, which are corroborated in reference to this point by various allusions contained in other portions of the Inspired Volume. It was for this reason that they were doomed, sooner or later, to be deprived of those territories, of which by these means they had rendered themselves undeserving. And the Israelites were the appointed instruments
of God's vengeance on these idolatrous nations. The selection which the Almighty made of this race for the above mentioned purpose, was undoubtedly an honour of great magnitude, and such as had been without precedent in the annals of the world. The distinguished appointment was conferred upon the Israelites, however, not on account of their own righteousness, for it is impossible that a pretension of this kind could be advanced by any nation whatever, much less by that community which had exhibited such repeated instances of ingratitude for favours received. It proceeded, on the other hand, from the pure and perfect love of the Almighty, which he extended to the Israelites in token of the constant attachment which he had received from their venerable forefathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The motives by which the Almighty was influenced in rescuing the descendants of these, his devoted servants, from the bondage of Egypt, and for putting them in possession of the promised land, were one and the same, according to the explicit declaration of Moses: "Because the Lord loved you, and because he would keep the oath which he had sworn unto your fathers, hath the Lord brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you out of the house of bondmen, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt." And afterwards he says, Speak not thou in thine heart, after that the Lord thy God hath cast them out from before thee, saying, for my righteousness the Lord hath brought me in to possess this land: but for the wickedness of these nations the Lord doth
drive them out before thee: and that he may perform the word which the Lord sware unto thy fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”*
It is, therefore, to be presumed that the Israelites were fully aware that the Canaanites were about to suffer the penalty of their transgressions; that they were to be conquered by themselves, under the superior and all-powerful agency of the Almighty. They were, therefore, persuaded that the Canaanites deserved the punishment which they were about to receive. And, in consequence of this persuasion, they might naturally have expected that the idolatrous nations were at once to be overwhelmed with destruction. Moses, however, explained to them that it would not be thus; but that the work of destruction would proceed by degrees, as otherwise the Israelites would suffer from the devastation which would have been committed. This explanation was given in the words of our text: "The Lord thy God will put out those nations before thee by little and little thou mayest not consume them at once, lest the beasts of the field increase upon thee."
The reason which is here given for proceeding by degrees, must be sufficiently intelligible to us when we consider that the land of the Canaanites formed a portion of the vast continent which is now known by the name of Asia. On this as well as the other divisions of the terraqueous globe, beasts of many descriptions are to be found, possessing the various gradations of gentleness and ferocity which a Deut. vii. 9, and ix. 5.
are to be traced from the majestic lion or the ferocious and deceitful tiger, down to the patient and inoffensive lamb, the emblem of humility and gentleness. Of this extensive variety, the most savage and ferocious abound more or less, in proportion as their respective haunts are more or less frequented by the human species. When man appears, that noble individual to whom dominion has ever been awarded over the whole of the brute creation, then do the brute tribes find it necessary to evacuate those habitations which they had formerly enjoyed uninterrupted and unmolested Not only do the weak and inoffensive seek refuge in distant and more retired parts, but even the most powerful, and the most savage, gladly flee from the assaults of him, the perfection of whose mind has made him so infinitely superior to the greatest force which matter unassisted by reason can ever display.
The inference from the preceding observations is, that when any district or territory becomes forsaken by its human inhabitants, then are the inferior animals glad to return to the places of their former abode. Such would have been the case with the district which was about to be assigned to the children of Israel. During their sojourn in Egypt, the number of these had wonderfully increased, when compared with that of those who betook themselves thither before the death of their father Jacob. And, after the forty years which intervened between the departure from Egypt and their entrance into Canaan, in the common order of events, their num
bers must have increased still more. Yet, it is clear from the hint contained in the text, would they have been insufficient to occupy the whole country of those nations who were doomed to destruction. And if any portion of this had been unoccupied by men, it would, as we have seen, have been taken possession of by the "beasts of the field," which would have again returned to those haunts where they would have found their enemies of the human species too weak and too inconsiderable to molest or annoy them. It was, therefore, to prevent this evil, that the nations of the Canaanites were to be vanquished only by degrees, and in proportion to the increase of those who were destined to supply their places.
Without this explanation which is contained in our text, to judge from the general disposition of the Israelites to murmur when any trifling check seemed to obstruct their progress, there can be no doubt that they would again have expressed their dissatisfaction on experiencing any delay in the completion of that universal conquest which they anticipated with so much reason and truth. They were convinced of the sins of those whose country they were destined to invade, and had these escaped even for a time unpunished, after the promises and the assurances which God had given, they would have found the fact difficult to reconcile with their preconceived notions of Almighty justice. They were forewarned, however, that some of the nations of the territory they were about to occupy were to be permitted to continue unsubdued for