By J.R. Miller
It was in the days of the judges. The Israelites were suffering sore oppression under their ancient enemies, the Canaanites. Deborah was raised up as a deliverer. She called Barak, a brave general, to her aid, and an army of ten thousand men was gathered. With this army, Deborah and Barak went against the army of Sisera and were victorious. Sisera's horses and chariots were put to flight and his men slain in battle. Sisera himself, after playing a timid and unsoldierly part, was slain by a woman, who drove a nail through his head. Thus a great victory was achieved under Deborah's leadership of her people.
In this battle nearly all the people were loyal and enthusiastic. They "willingly offered themselves." But there were some that held back. One village, or hamlet, in particular, is mentioned which took no part in the effort to cast off the oppressor's yoke. When the call for men went forth over all the country, the call to patriots to arise and come to battle with the foe, Meroz did not respond. In Deborah's song of victory after the battle occurs this solemn anathema:
'Curse Meroz,' said the angel of the Lord. 'Curse its people bitterly, because they did not come to help the Lord, to help the Lord against the mighty.' Judges 5:23
What was the cause of this curse? What had the people of Meroz done? They had not joined with the enemies of the country. They had not harbored the foe within their gates. They had not spoken disloyal words when the nation was in danger. They had only not come to the battle when the call rang in their ears. Almost the whole land responded. From north, south, east and west they came--the patriot Israelites--to help drive out the enemy and bring deliverance. But amid this universal outpouring, there was one place from which no soldier came. The curse was for not doing.
The story is old--but the lesson is always timely. Every good cause is the cause of God. The battle is forever going on in this world, and the trumpet is evermore sounding, calling men to the help of the Lord against the mighty. It is not enough not to be against the right, the true and the good; God wants us to come to His help in every contest. Not to act for God--is to act against Him. "He who is not with Me," said the Master, "is against Me."
We are not told why the inhabitants of Meroz did not come to help in the battle that day. We may think of several possible reasons: It may have been from cowardice. Perhaps the men of Meroz feared to go to battle against such strong and cruel enemies. However it may have been that day--there is no doubt that the cause of the inaction of many men in the Lord's work in these times, is moral cowardice. No man wants to be called a coward. It is an insult to his manliness. Yet moral cowardice is a great deal more common than most of us would like to confess. Too many people are held back by it--from faithful service for Christ. Men are not brave enough to be peculiar, to stand out alone, to wear their colors where other people do not wear them. They do not take an active part in Christian work--because somebody would laugh or sneer.
Or the inhabitants of Meroz may have thought there were so few of them that they could be of little use, and that it was not worth while for them to go up to battle. "We cannot do anything to help. We are not warriors. We could not add to the force of the army. We may as well stay quietly at home."
That is the way many Christian people talk about the Lord's work. They have no talents. They would be no strength, to the good cause that lacks assistance. They are not talkers, or they have little money to give, or they cannot do any church work. So they stay in their tents and come not to the help of the Lord. Their conscious littleness is a burden to them. It is a large tribe--this tribe of Meroz. We find them everywhere. They are not of any use to God, because they think they could not do anything, and therefore fold their hands and sit still.
Israel won the battle that day without the men of Meroz. But it might easily have been that the absence of a handful from the ranks had caused defeat and disaster. There are times when the failure of one person to do his duty in his place--has brought disaster to a cause. Miss Havergal tells her experience in a girls' school at Dusseldorf. When she entered the school she discovered that she was the only Christian in a company of a hundred. Her sensitive heart shrank from confessing Christ there. What good could it do? One little voice for Christ, could not make itself heard amid all the din of worldliness and triviality. Her second, better thought, however, was: "I dare not hide my religion. I am the only one Christ has in this school to represent Him among these girls, and I dare not hide my light. I must own myself as Christ's friend."
No one can tell what a loss it would have been to the cause of Christ if this one young girl had not come to the help of the Lord in that school. Perhaps you are the only one Christ has at some particular point, where your failure to come to His help would cause irreparable hurt to His Kingdom, perhaps be the occasion of the perishing of a soul. You are the only one to stand for your Master in your home, in your class in school, in the office or store where you are engaged.
In our schoolbooks we have read of the boy who, one evening at his play, found a little leak in the dike that walls the sea off from Holland. He stopped the leak with his hand until help could come, calling meanwhile as loudly as he could. But no one came, and all night the boy held his hand to the place and kept back the floods. Soon the tiny stream would have washed a wide break in the dike, and the waters would have poured over fields and homes. All night long there was nothing between the sea and the ruin of the people's homes, but a boy's hand. Suppose the boy had failed? Suppose he had said: "I cannot do anything. I am not able to keep back these floods"? Who can measure the disaster that would have followed his failure?
Do you know that your life may not stand, any quiet day, and be all that stands between some great flood of moral ruin, and broad, fair fields of beauty? Do you know that your failure in your lowly place and duty--may not let in a sea of disaster, which would sweep away human hopes and joys?
Or even if it would make no difference to the cause of Christ whether we do our part or not, it makes infinite difference to ourselves. You remember the cost to the man with one talent of his failure to use his talent. He lost it! It was taken from him. Not using our gifts, however small, is the sure way to the losing of them. The penalty of indolence, is the loss of the power to be useful. Meroz was cursed because her people came not to the help of the Lord. The battle was won without Meroz--but Meroz never got again what it lost that day.
Or the inhabitants of Meroz may have stayed back from sheer indolence. They had their own little affairs to attend to--their vineyards, their gardens, their fields. They were comfortable in their pleasant homes among the hills. They were interested in the saving of their country. They hoped that Deborah would conquer and that the cruel yoke of the Canaanites would be thrown off. But almost everybody was going to the battle, and the people of Meroz felt sure that victory was certain without them.
So they self-indulgently kept out of the conflict, stayed at home and looked after their own personal interests. They seemed to be saving their lives and sparing themselves much cost and loss and sacrifice. Yes--but when it was all over, when the battle had been fought and the victory won without them, this curse rang out: 'Curse Meroz,' said the angel of the Lord. 'Curse its people bitterly, because they did not come to help the Lord, to help the Lord against the mighty.' This was the outcome of the self-saving of Meroz.
No doubt if the thoughts of men's hearts were read, it would appear that much of the uselessness of people's lives could be traced to this cause, self-indulgence, unwillingness to make sacrifices for the sake of Christ's Kingdom. We are all the time in serious danger of living for SELF, of putting our own affairs first, of neglecting the duties which we owe to others, of withholding ourselves even from service and sacrifice for Christ. The centering of our thought and effort on SELF is always a fatal error in any life--and always brings a curse with it.
It is easy to allow self-indulgence to come to rule in our habits. Others need us--but we are busy with our own affairs, and are not willing to put ourselves out to help them. That was the trouble with the priest and the Levite on the Jericho road. They did not want to give up their time and to be at the expense and pains necessary to assist the wounded man.
Who does not ofttimes commit the same mistake? We see about us those who are in need, perhaps of spiritual help, perhaps of help for the body. But to do that which is required, we would have to miss some engagement, some good time, some season of rest, to give up some ease or gain or comfort or pleasure of our own. There is a little struggle in our heart, and then we decide that we cannot turn aside from our own business, or give up our own convenience, or make the self-denial. The result is that we come not to the help of the Lord. We have saved our life. We are spared the discomfort or the sacrifice. Our hands are not soiled with the rough work. We have our money still in our pocket.
But as we go back to our self-seeking pursuits we hear the words ringing out: 'Curse Meroz,' said the angel of the LORD. 'Curse its people bitterly, because they did not come to help the LORD, to help the LORD against the mighty.' We have saved our life--but we have failed God--and received a curse instead of a blessing!