Judgments of God
Judgments Of God.
1. This expression is of frequent occurrence in the Scriptures, and its sense is generally determined by the connection. When God's judgments are spoken of, the term may denote either the secret decisions of the divine will (Ps 10:5a; 36:6), or the declarations of God's will revealed in the Scriptures (Ex 21:1; De 7:12; Ne 9:13; Ps 119:7-175), or the inflictions of punishment on the wicked (Ex 6:6; Ex 12:12; Pr 19:29; Eze 25:11; Re 16:7). The Scriptures give us many awful instances of the display of divine justice in the punishment of nations, families, and individuals for their iniquities. See Ge 7; Ge 19:25; Ex 15; Jg 1:6-7; Ac 12:23; Es 5:14, with 7:10; 2Ki 11; Le 10:1-2; Ac 5:1-10; Isa 30:1-5; 1Sa 15:9; 1Ki 12:25,33.
2. In a less legitimate application, the strange trials to which those suspected of guilt were put in the Middle Ages, conducted with many devout ceremonies by the ministers of religion, and pronounced to be the judgments of God! The ordeal consisted of various kinds: walking blindfold amid burning ploughshares, holding in the hand a red-hot bar, and plunging the arm into boiling water. The popular affirmations, "I will put my hand into the fire to confirm this," appears to be derived from this solemn custom. Challenging the accuser to single combat, when frequently the stoutest champion was allowed to supply their place; swallowing a morsel of consecrated bread; sinking or swimming in a river for witchcraft, or weighing a witch; stretching out the arms before the cross, till the champion soonest wearied dropped his arms and lost his estate, which was decided by the very short chancery suit called the judicium crucis.
Those who were accused of robbery were put to trial by a piece of barley bread, on which the mass had been said, and, if they could not swallow it, were declared guilty. Probably the saying, "May this piece of bread choke me," comes from this custom. Among the proofs of guilt was that of the bleeding of a corpse. If a person was murdered, it was believed that at the touch or approach of the murderer the blood gushed out of the body in various parts. By the side of the bier, if the slightest change was observable in the eyes, the mouth, feet; or hands of the corpse, the murderer was conjectured to be present; and it is probable that many innocent spectators have suffered death in consequence.
It is well to mark, in extenuation of these absurd practices of our rude ancestors, that these customs were a substitute for written laws which that barbarous period had not; and as no community can exist without laws, the ignorance of the people had recourse to these customs, which, bad and absurd as they were, served to close controversies which otherwise might have given birth to more destructive practices. Ordeals are, in truth, the rude laws of a barbarous people who have not yet obtained a written code, and not advanced enough in civilization to enter into refined inquiries, the- subtle distinctions and elaborate investigations which a court of law demands.
It is a well-established fact, however, that they were acquainted in those times with secrets to pass unhurt these singular trials. This was especially the case with ordeals of fire and boiling water. Doubtless the more knowing ones possessed those secrets and medicaments which they had at hand to pass through these trials in perfect security. See Jortin, Remarks on Eccles. Hist. 3, 246, sq. SEE ORDEAL. (E. de P.)