Between the Israelites, the children of light, and the Philistines, the children of darkness, there existed for centuries almost uninterrupted hostility. Their position upon the coast, their powerful cities, their formidable warriors, their imposing yet debasing religion, concurred to make them mighty. And the immediate neighborhood of the descendants of Abraham brought the two peoples into frequent collision. The Philistines were sometimes used as the means of humiliating the unfaithful and disobedient children of Israel; and bitterly was the discipline felt when the Philistines rejoiced over them. For the Philistines on the west, as well as for the Ammonites and Edomites upon the east, the day of reckoning was at hand.
I. THE HATRED OF THE PHILISTINES TOWARDS ISRAEL WAS ANCIENT, PERENNIAL, AND UNDECAYING. This may be illustrated from the historical books of the Old Testament Scriptures.
II. THIS HATRED HAD ITS POLITICAL ORIGIN IN THE SETTLEMENT OF THE ISRAELITES IN CANAAN.
III. AND ITS RELIGIOUS ORIGIN IN THE CONTRAST BETWEEN THE PURE WORSHIP OF JEHOVAH AND THE DEGRADING RELIGION PRACTICED IN PHILISTIA.
IV. THIS HATRED DISPLAYED ITSELF OFFENSIVELY IN THE TIME OF ISRAEL'S DEPRESSION AND HUMILIATION.
V. THIS HATRED BROUGHT DOWN UPON THE PHILISTINES THE INDIGNATION AND THE RETRIBUTIVE RECOMPENSE OF THE MOST HIGH.
VI. THIS HATRED THUS FURNISHED AN OCCASION FOR THE VINDICATION BY GOD OF HIS OWN RIGHTEOUS GOVERNMENT AND IRRESISTIBLE AUTHORITY. APPLICATION.
1. There is such a thing as national morality. Apart from the character and conduct of individuals, a nation by its collective action proves itself to possess a certain moral unity.
2. There is such a thing as national responsibility. The people sin, and the people suffer; the people repent and call upon God, and the people are saved.
3. There is especial scope for the display of national virtues, and for the right use of national opportunity and probation, in the relations which subsist between different and sometimes rival communities.
4. National pride, power, and prosperity are of no avail in God's sight, if injustice and malevolence are exhibited by nations in their intercourse and transactions with each other. "The righteous Lord loveth righteousness." - T.
Set thy face against the Ammonites.
At the outset it must be understood that prophecies of this kind form part of Jehovah's message to Israel. Although they are usually cast in the form of direct address to foreign peoples, this must not lead us to imagine that they were intended for actual publication in the countries to which they refer. A prophet's real audience always consisted of his own countrymen, whether his discourse was about themselves or about their neighbours. And it is easy to see that it was impossible to declare the purpose of God concerning Israel in words that came home to men's business and bosoms, without taking account of the state and the destiny of other nations. Just as it would not be possible nowadays to forecast the future of Egypt without alluding to the fate of the Ottoman Empire, so it was not possible then to describe the future of Israel in the concrete manner characteristic of the prophets without indicating the place reserved for those peoples with whom it had close intercourse. Besides this, a large part of the national consciousness of Israel was made up of interests, friendly or the reverse, in neighbouring states. We cannot read the utterances of the prophets with regard to any of these nationalities without seeing that they often appeal to perceptions deeply lodged in the popular mind, which could be utilised to convey the spiritual lessons which the prophets desired to teach. It must not be supposed, however, that such prophecies are in any degree the expression of national vanity or jealousy. What the prophets aim at is to elevate the thoughts of Israel to the sphere of eternal truths of the kingdom of God; and it is only in so far as these can be made to touch the conscience of the nation at this point that they appeal to what we may call its international sentiments. Now, the question we have to ask is, What spiritual purpose for Israel is served by the announcements of the destiny of the outlying heathen populations? Speaking generally, prophecies of this class had a moral value for two reasons. In the first place, they re-echo and confirm the sentence of judgment passed on Israel herself. They do this in two ways: they illustrate the principle on which Jehovah deals with His own people, and His character as the righteous judge of men. Wherever a "sinful kingdom" was found, whether in Israel or elsewhere, that kingdom must be removed from its place among the nations. But again, not only was the principle of the judgment emphasised, but the manner in which it was to be carried out was more clearly exhibited. In all cases the pre-exilic prophets announce that the overthrow of the Hebrew states was to be effected either by the Assyrians or the Babylonians. These great world powers were in succession the instruments fashioned and used by Jehovah for the performance of His great work in the earth. Now it was manifest that if this anticipation was well founded, it involved the overthrow of all the nations in immediate contact with Israel. The people of Israel or Judah were thus taught to look on their fate as involved in a great scheme of Divine providence, overturning all the existing relations which gave them a place among the nations of the world, and preparing for a new development of the purpose of Jehovah in the future. When we turn to that ideal future we find a second and more suggestive aspect of these prophecies against the heathen. All the prophets teach that the destiny of Israel is inseparably bound up with the future of God's kingdom on earth. What men needed to be taught then, and what we need to remember still, is that each nation holds its position in subordination to the ends of God's government; that no power or wisdom or refinement will save a state from destruction when it ceases to serve the interests of His kingdom. The foreign peoples that come under the survey of the prophets are as yet strangers to the true God, and are therefore destitute of that which could secure them a place in the reconstruction of political relationships of which Israel is to be the religious centre. And whether any particular nation should survive to participate in the glories of that latter day depends on the view taken of its present condition and its fitness for incorporation in the universal empire of Jehovah soon to be established. We now know that this was not the form in which Jehovah's purpose of salvation was destined to be realised in the history of the world. Since the coming of Christ the people of Israel has lost its distinctive and central position as the bearer of the hopes and promises of the true religion. In its place we have a spiritual kingdom of men united by faith in Jesus Christ, and in the worship of one Father in spirit and in truth — a kingdom which from its very nature can have no local centre or political organisation. Hence the conversion of the heathen can no longer be conceived as national homage paid to the seat of Jehovah's sovereignty on Zion; nor is the unfolding of the Divine plan of universal salvation bound up with the extinction of the nationalities which once symbolised the hostility of the world to the kingdom of God. This fact has an important bearing on the question of the fulfilment of the foreign prophecies of the Old Testament. As concrete embodiments of the eternal principles exhibited in the rise and fall of nations, they have an abiding significance for the Church in all ages; but the actual working out of these principles in history could not, in the nature of things, be complete within the limits of the world known to the inhabitants of Judaea. If we are to look for their ideal fulfilment, we shall only find it in the progressive victory of Christianity over all forms of error and superstition, and in the dedication of all the resources of human civilisation — its wealth, its commercial enterprise, its political power — to the advancement of the kingdom of our God and His Christ.