Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THAT MILITARY VALOUR FORMED A LARGE PART OF ANCIENT VIRTUE. The history of the ancient peoples, Egyptians, Assyrians, Greek, Romans, etc., proves this statement with only too monotonous a repetition. The history of the Jews, the ancient people of God, adds one more note of confirmation. We might have supposed it would be otherwise; we might have judged that they would constitute the one exception to the rule. But, so doing, we should have erred. War involves certain most painful incidents, but it is not absolutely and intrinsically wrong. The simple fact that God sanctioned it in many instances, that he commanded his people to engage in it, and that he desired to be inquired of and supplicated in regard to it, distinctly settles that point.
1. It has to be remembered that war does call out the heroic virtues of
(1) patient endurance,
(2) implicit trust in a faithful leader,
(3) courageous daring of utmost danger, and consequent
(4) readiness to resign that which is most precious at the call of duty, on behalf of country or in obedience to what seems to be the will of God.
2. It has to be remembered that men have engaged in it without any conscious departure from the obligations they were under to their kind; therefore without any sense of its evil, and therefore without any injury to their conscience and character. The idea that all warfare is positively wrong is a modern sentiment. With quite as clear a conscience armies have gone out to battle as merchants have left home to traffic, or travellers to explore, or even missionaries to evangelize. Other thoughts are in our minds, other feelings in our hearts, because we have learnt -
II. THAT HUMAN LIFE IS NOW TO BE REGARDED AS A VERY SACRED THING. At the feet of Christ we have learnt that one human soul is a thing of inestimable worth. Hence we have come to prize, as most precious, one human life; and hence we have learnt to shrink from voluntarily taking it away. That which God only can give or renew, from which he requires so much, and on which such great and lasting issues hang,-this is something to be reverently treated. And we have been led to regard with aversion, with deep repugnance, that ruthless system, war, which mows down human bodies without remorse, and which counts amongst its triumphs the number of the slain. We gratefully recognize the fact that, under the beneficent reign of the Prince of peace, we are arriving at the conclusion -
III. THAT THE WORTHIEST TRIUMPHS WE CAN WIN ARE THOSE WE GAIN IN PEACEFUL CONTESTS.
1. In the struggle we maintain against the enemies within us: the privation we inflict on ourselves in foregoing things which are evil and injurious, the perseverance with which we contend against recurring passions that will not be soon silenced and slain.
2. In the war which we wage against the adversaries of God and man: the hardship we suffer (2 Timothy 2:3), the risk we run (danger sometimes ending in death itself, as many a missionary chronicle will tell), the loyalty we show to our great Captain, the faith we exercise in the overruling mind and the conquering arm of our redeeming God. - C.
1 Chronicles 7, 8earthly book - the baptismal register only, of which these earthly registers of Israel may be considered as figures - but in the "Lamb's book of life." They know their genealogy, they can trace their pedigree. They are "sons and daughters of the Lord God Almighty." Christ is their elder Brother. And they are all "soldiers. They were redeemed for this end, that they should be good soldiers of Jesus Christ," and "war a good warfare." But how are they to become "valiant," "apt," "fit"? By the discipline of the Holy Spirit, by the afflictions and trials and sufferings of the way, which often make the heart to bleed and the eye to weep. We are told that Solomon bad "eighteen thousand stone-squarers" in preparing the stones in Lebanon for the temple on Zion. God has many more than these in preparing his "living stones" in this Lebanon-world for the glorious temple on Mount Zion. We have an instance of this spiritual discipline in this chapter (1 Chronicles 7:21-23). It seems to have been an episode in Egypt before Israel had left it. The patriarch Ephraim was then alive, and at a very advanced age. The men of Gath came suddenly down upon the family of Ephraim (for they, not Ephraim, were the aggressors, if we substitute the word "when" in ver. 21 for "because," the correct rendering) for the purpose of plundering their flocks. Ephraim's sons were slain. The aged father was deeply afflicted. In accordance with Eastern custom (see Job 2:11; John 11:19), distant relatives came to offer their condolences. So deeply did the bereavement weigh upon the aged father that he perpetuated the memory of his sorrow by calling his next son "Beriah, because it went evil with his house." So suddenly do calamities overtake us here l We know not what a day may bring forth. The postman's knock may dash the fairest schemes to pieces and drape our landscape in gloom. Oh, what is there sure here? Nothing but Christ. And, like the mother of Jabez and Ephraim here, our sorrows come, and we, in our unbelief and short-sightedness, look at our sorrows and see nothing else. We see not the bow of mercy spanning the cloud - the love that is behind - and so we hang our heads in sorrow, and we write "Jabez" on this and "Beriah" on that. Oh that we could trust that love more in darkness as well as in light! - W.
bodily strong. They are spoken of as "valiant men of might." In the line of this endowment came their life-mission, and in the use of this trust they would be finally judged. On St. Paul's principle that the "body is for the Lord, and the Lord for the body," we are delivered from sentimental undervaluing of our physical frame, and consequent neglect of its culture into health and vigour, or monastic efforts to humble it into a due subjection to the spirit. In view of the relations between bodily strength and religious life, we ought to regard health, vigour, energy of frame, as great gifts from God and, as all Divine gifts are, great and responsible trusts. In the older times physical strength found its readiest sphere in armies and wars. So the vigour indicated in these verses took the form of valour. The modern sentiments concerning peace and war materially differ from those of earlier ages. The modern admiration of peace and horror of offensive war befit a condition of advanced civilization and the tolerably complete division of the earth's habitable countries among the different races and nations. Still, we must fully recognize that war has had its important place in the ordering and training of the world. It has often proved to be the best judgment on, and corrective of, serious moral evils; and so there has always been a place and a work for the "mighty man of valour." On Joubert's principle, "Force till right is ready," the physical restraints of social order must come before the intellectual and moral ones; and in such early times and first stages of national development, physical strength, warlike skill, power of command, and valour, are properly recognized as Divine gifts, and they are as truly such as are the gifts of statesmanship, diplomacy, and arbitration in quieter, more developed, more civilized times. The laws that regulate the use of all our bodily gifts may be effectively illustrated in relation to this one of valour. It may be pointed out:
1. That it may never be used for schemes of personal aggrandizement.
2. That it may act be prostrated to any evil uses, of tyranny or passion.
3. That it is for use in all ways of loyalty, obedience, brotherhood, and piety. And there is still the place and the work for the gift of physical strength, though not so much call for it in armies and battlefields. Great things have been done for humanity by the physical endurance of explorers and travellers, such as Livingstone and Stanley and the members of Arctic expeditions. Great things are done in the saving of life by strong-armed and brave-hearted sailors in our lifeboats, and by firemen in our great cities. Still the demand for manual labour and bodily strength is made, in field and workshop and yard. And though so large a proportion of modern toil is mental rather than bodily, and consequently physical vigour is unduly despised, it remains true that the man of mind imperils his mind by failure to culture his body into strength. It remains true for the intellectual nineteenth century, as for every other, that bodily strength is a gracious Divine gift, which should be treasured, kept, cultured, exercised, and put to all noble and holy uses. Appeal, especially from the Christian standpoint, that Christ expects faithfulness to the whole trust which he commits to us; and holds us responsible for the measure of bodily health and energy we maintain, as well as for the culture of character, mind, and soul which we may gain. "Body, soul, and spirit" together make the living sacrifice, which is our "reasonable service." - R.T.
Numbers 27:1-7), on the ground that their father had not died under any such judgment as disabled his children, and they asked to be authorized to stand as his heirs. The matter was a new and difficult one, and Moses took it directly to God, and by Divine direction established the new rule that when there were no sons the daughters might claim the rights of heirs. A remarkable illustration of the wise adjustment of law in its practical application to new and unanticipated cases. Bishop Wordsworth says, "It seems to have been God's design in the Levitical dispensation to elevate woman from the degradation into which she had fallen, and to prepare her gradually for that state of dignity and grace to which she is now advanced in the gospel by the incarnation of the Son of God, the Seed of the woman."
I. WOMAN'S PLACE IN FAMILY LIFE. There she properly takes a headship, bearing rule over both children and dependents. Illustrate by the interesting picture of the "virtuous woman and wife" given in the Book of Proverbs. If the woman be but a member of the family and not the head, still there is the due and honourable place of childhood, sisterhood, and friendship. No woman lacks a sphere of kindly useful service save the woman who wants none, because life is for her a mere low self-sphere. Plead for the nobility of womanly duties and relations in the home. Martha and Mary could even prove ministers to the bodily needs of a Friend who was the world's Saviour; many a woman since has "entertained angels unawares."
II. WOMAN'S PLACE IN PUBLIC LIFE. Home, in most cases, provides ample and satisfying spheres. But for women who are free from family ties suitable public spheres are found among other women, among the suffering, the poor, and the children; and where there is endowment literature finds work for woman. These spheres are daily enlarging. They should be fully detailed, and an earnest plea should be made against the wasting of woman's powers when such broad spheres claim her abilities and energies, and on them she may enter into the joy of "serving Christ." - R.T.
I. THAT GRIEVOUS AFFLICTION SOMETIMES FALLS ON A HUMAN HOME WITH OVERWHELMING SUDDENNESS. Several sons of one "house were slain in one day. Whichever party was the aggressor, and whether the Israelites were guilty or unfortunate, the blow fell with terrible effect on the elders of the family. Ephraim their father mourned many days" (ver. 22). "Misfortunes never come alone" is only a hasty and false generalization: they generally do come alone. It is far truer to say, "One by one our sorrows meet us." For usually God tempers our griefs by sending them singly and with more or less of interval as also of preparation. More often than not the evil which awaits us" casts its shadow before it," and we prepare our hearts for the coming trouble. But sometimes it is otherwise. Occasionally, awful, aggravated, multiplied sorrows surge around us, and all the waves and billows of distress go over us without forewarning; from the height of prosperity and joy we go down, in one bitter hour, to the dark depth of loss and woe. No man can tell what tragedy is at hand for himself and his house. The holiest, the most beloved of God, may be standing, at any moment, in immediate peril of an almost unendurable calamity.
II. THAT GOD HAS MERCIFUL COMPENSATIONS IN STORE FOE HIS STRICKEN CHILDREN. He wounds that he may heal; and that, as he heals, he may bless and save. It may be that he will send:
1. Human sympathy. Ephraim's "brethren came to comfort him." Though the sympathy of human hearts cannot "do" anything for us, as men of coarse minds say, it can and does introduce into our hearts a soothing balm which is very precious to sensitive and responsive souls. It is seldom wasted; it is generally appreciated, and is often most highly esteemed. Or God may provide:
2. That which replaces the loss. To the bereaved Ephraim he gave another child, whose name, Beriah, was pathetically suggestive of this sad breach, but whose presence in the home must have gone no small way to repair it. And now it often happens that, instead of the child that is taken, comes the infant who is sent to fill its parents' hearts as well as its mother's arms; or instead of the fortune that is lost the competency that is gained. Or God may send:
3. Some other compensating gift. From this stricken house he took away some parental love by the death of sons, but he gave a large measure of parental joy by the enterprising spirit of a daughter (ver. 24). It may be well for us that God should exchange one source of happiness for another. Long-continued enjoyment of one satisfaction often begets a false and guilty notion of independence, and even right of possession in the human heart. So God withdraws his gift which is ceasing to be a blessing; but he gives in place of it some other good which will work no evil to the soul.
4. Spiritual acquisition. When Ephraim was" mourning many days," his heart was tender, his mind docile, his soul receptive. Then, we may venture to say, he looked up to God with special earnestness, with filial submission, with peculiar devotion. Great sorrows, sweeping away earthly satisfactions and revealing our own helplessness, make the aid and arm of man seem but feebleness and cast us back on God. Then we hide in him; then we find that he is the Refuge and the Strength of his people, the true Dwelling-place of the human soul in all generations. In great and deep affliction, as at no other time, we
(1) see the meaning and feel the force of sacred truths;
(2) come into close fellowship with the Father, the Friend, the Comforter of the human spirit;
(3) realize the littleness of earthly life and the preciousness of the heritage which is beyond. Bereft of human wealth, we are "rich towards God." - C.
that family life becomes a moral training for us all; and as the experiences of sickness, sorrow, and loss go round to one after another, we all come under the great Father's sanctifying, and find out how "good it is even to be afflicted."
I. THE LOSS OF CHILDREN. Here especially the greater loss of their death rather than the toss by removal, which never quite quenches hope. Such loss comes at various stages, and we never know at which of their ages the stroke falls lightest. It comes in various ways, slowly or suddenly, and we never can tell which way seemed to crush us most. The reaper cuts the "bearded grain" and the "flowers;" beautiful infants fly away, bright childhood fades, and blooming youth is smitten; and all we can say about it we say after Jacob, "If I am bereaved of my children, I am bereaved." On this we may dwell somewhat more fully.
II. THE PARENTAL GRIEF AT THE LOSS OF CHILDREN. "Ephraim mourned many days." Such grief is well illustrated in David's wailing over Absalom, Elijah's friend's grief over her dead child, and the poor Nain widow going out to bury her only son. The Eastern thought about the children helps to explain the intensity of their grief. Easterns conceived of their own earthly existence as continued in their children - they had a kind of immortality in their children, and they pleased themselves with the idea that their descendants would reach higher dignity and place than they had done. So for their children to die was a plucking down of lofty imaginations, an uprooting of carefully raised hopes. And so it is in measure for us, as may be most tenderly illustrated in the case of the talented young Hallam, whose early death Tennyson deplores in his "In Memoriam."
III. THE FAMILY BONDS SANCTIFIED IN THE LOSS OF CHILDREN. Such points as these may be unfolded and illustrated. If rightly, piously borne, the death of children may be used:
1. To the producing of a hallowing tenderness of feeling on all the members.
2. To a solemnizing estimate of the relative interests of this brief life and the coming eternal one.
3. To the self-denying efforts of each member to comfort the others, often involving most precious lessons in self-restraint.
4. To the reknitting of the family bonds. One member of a home realized as being away in the heavenly brings wondrously near and makes affectingly real all that belongs to the "unseen and eternal." And in family griefs we are "comforted, in order that we may be able to comfort them that are in any affliction, through the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God." - R.T.
I. BEREAVEMENT. From the first it has been the fate of men to endure this sorrow, for our days on earth are as a shadow, and death takes away from us all in turn the joys of our hearts, the desire of our eyes, the objects of our hopes. And it is to be observed that the sudden and violent death of our beloved ones is peculiarly distressing. When the young are cut down by wicked hands, in tumult or in war, the shock to survivors is especially painful.
II. MOURNING. Lamentation for our dead is natural and right. "Jesus wept" at Lazarus's grave. There is such a thing as sanctified sorrow. In certain cases, even poignant grief and prolonged mourning are excusable. "The heart knoweth his own bitterness." The parent weeps for the children because they are not.
III. SYMPATHY AND CONSOLATION. Those who are near akin or intimate friends are expected to offer their affectionate condolence to the bereaved in the hour of sorrow and desolation. This is the obligation of friendship and its privilege also. Helpful and consolatory is true sympathy; for who would wish to bear his heaviest burden alone? Yet the most profitable ministrations in bereavement are those by which the heart of the bereaved is directed to take refuge in the fatherly wisdom and love of God, and in the tender sympathy of that High Priest who "in all our afflictions.., is afflicted," and who is "touched with the feeling of our infirmities." - T.
I. A WOMAN MAY BE SELECTED BY PROVIDENCE TO FULFIL SOME VAST DESIGN. History records great feats of feminine valour; for women have defended castles and cities by their heroism, and delivered nations, by personal bravery and by the enthusiastic support they have commanded. Some nations, as e.g. our own, number among their sovereigns queens of singular sagacity and statesmanship. In art and in literature, and even in science, women have, in our own times, won for themselves a high position and a wide renown.
II. THE WORK OF NOBLE WOMEN IS ESPECIALLY TO BUILD. If not cities, societies and families have again and again been built up in strength and stateliness and serviceableness through feminine wisdom, sympathy, and devotedness. A gifted and fascinating woman has often been the architect of fortune, and, as the centre and inspiration of intellectual and social life, has not only laid the foundations, but reared the edifice of political and social power.
III. A GIFTED WOMAN'S WORTHIEST WORK IS WORK FOR GOD. How many such shine from the pages of inspiration! Sarah, Miriam, Ruth, Hannah, Esther, in the Old Testament; the Maries, Priscilla, Dorcas, Lydia, in the New Testament, may serve as examples. No work is so congenial to the female character, so truly graceful and ornamental to the feminine life, as work for Christ.
IV. A WOMAN WHO SERVES THE LORD AND LEAVES AN EXAMPLE OF PIETY AND USEFULNESS IS WORTHY OF BEING HELD IN LASTING REMEMBRANCE, If the inspired writer thought well to record the name of the builder of Beth-heron, surely the memory of the noblewomen of our Lord's spiritual kingdom should never fade. - T.
Hebrews 4:8.) There are certain resemblances, though the contrasts are as striking if not as numerous.
I. RESEMBLANCES BETWEEN JOSHUA AND JESUS.
1. They both bore the same name.
2. They both brought to the people of God deliverance from the enemies of God.
3. They were both obedient to "him that sent them," and wrought out the work which he gave them to do.
4. They both led (or, lead) the people of God into the promised land.
5. They both began their earthly life in obscurity, and rose (or, have risen) to the highest point of human honour.
II. CONTRASTS BETWEEN THE HUMAN CAPTAIN AND THE DIVINE DELIVERER.
1. Joshua was engaged in the work of his life for (at least) thirty years; the Lord for (at most) three.
2. Joshua fought with carnal weapons, and won victories with sword of steel; Christ fought only with spiritual weapons, and his conquest is the triumph of truth and grace.
3. Joshua had good reason to fear that by his death his life-work would be undone; the Saviour had the best reason to know that by his death his lifework would be sealed and crowned.
4. Joshua led a nation into a land which would prove a temporary inheritance; the redeeming Lord leads the human race "into everlasting habitations," into the one city which is eternal. Better the humblest post amongst the followers of Jesus than the proudest place in the ranks of Joshua. - C.