Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
2 Samuel 19:1-8. - (MAHANAIM.)
1. The best of men are by no means perfect. David's grief, although natural, and, in some respects, commendable, was unseasonable, excessive, and injurious; and exposed him to just reproof.
2. The worst of men are not altogether bad, but often exhibit admirable qualities. When Joab put Absalom to death against the king's order he was actuated partly by regard for the king's interest and the national welfare, "loyal disobedience;" he was also desirous of preventing unnecessary slaughter (2 Samuel 18:16), and showed a thoughtful concern for Ahimaaz (2 Samuel 18:19, 20, 22); and now, although his bearing toward the king was harsh and cruel (2 Samuel 3:24), he was fully justified in expostulating with him (as on another occasion, 2 Samuel 24:3).
3. The worst of men are often intimately associated with the best of men, and render them invaluable services; but their association is usually uncongenial, and productive of trouble and mischief (2 Samuel 3:39). By his great abilities Joab made himself necessary to David, and became confirmed in his high position (1 Chronicles 11:6); and by his complicity "in the matter of Uriah," he gained a despotic influence over him; hence his daring disobedience and overbearing attitude, and when the king, resenting his conduct, seeks to replace him as captain of the host, he strikes down his rival, then "calmly takes upon himself to execute the commission with which Amasa had been charged; and this done, 'he returns to Jerusalem, unto the king,' and once more he is 'over all the host of Israel'" (Blunt, 'Coincidences'). David's inordinate grief was -
I. REALLY REPRESENTABLE. "And the king covered his face," etc. (ver. 4). It was connected (as cause or effect) with:
1. The lack of due consideration of the moral causes of the event which he mourned over, and which was their natural and deserved consequence; and of the salutary influence which that event would have upon the nation. In surrendering himself to sorrow for the loss of his son, he was in some measure blind to the justice of his doom.
3. The feeling of bitter resentment against those who had despised his commandment and disappointed his hopes. He would at first, perhaps, blame all his "servants;" and, when he was informed (2 Samuel 18:13) of the circumstances under which Absalom came to his end, would naturally regard the conduct of his executioners in its darkest aspect. "To understand this passionate utterance of anguish, we must bear in mind not only the excessive tenderness, or rather weakness, of David's paternal affection toward his son, but also his anger that Joab and his generals should have paid so little regard to his command to deal gently with Absalom. With the king's excitable temperament, this entirely prevented him from taking a just and correct view of the crime of his rebel son, which merited death, and of the penal justice of God, which had been manifested in his destruction" (Keil).
4. The neglect of urgent duties: thanksgiving to God for victory, the commendation of his faithful soldiers, the adoption of proper measures to confirm their attachment and secure peace and unity, the subordination of private grief to the public weal. "The deliverance that day was turned into mourning unto all the people," etc. (ver. 2). "Their hearty participation in the sorrow of their beloved king, for whom they had perilled their lives, soon changed to gloomy dissatisfaction at the fact that the king, absorbed in private grief, did not deign to bestow a look upon them" (Erdmann).
II. RUDELY REPROVED. "And Joab came into the house of the king," etc. (vers. 5-7). His reproof (2 Samuel 12:1) was:
1. Unfeeling, hard hearted, pitiless. He had no respect whatever for the natural feelings of the father; no sympathy with David's intense and peculiar emotion,
2. Unscrupulous and reckless; whilst declaring the truth in part (ver. 5), and as it appeared on the surface, casting unjust reproaches on the king for his heartless selfishness, ingratitude, and hatred (ver. 6).
3. Unbecoming the relation of a subject to his sovereign; in language and manner, as well as in substance.
4. United, nevertheless, with wise counsel and solemn warning. "And now arise, go forth," etc. (ver. 7). No doubt David felt greatly hurt; and "the immediate effect of his indignation was a solemn vow to supersede Joab by Amasa; and in this was laid the lasting breach between himself and his nephew, which neither the one nor the other ever forgave" (Stanley) But, convinced that he had given occasion for reproof, he now patiently submitted to it (Psalm 141:5.) "Hard natures and harsh words have their uses in life after all" (Scott). "The undisciplined word of Joab became a means of discipline to David, and the king turned from the destructive path into which unbridled feeling had led him."
III. READILY RESTRAINED and laid aside. "And the king arose," etc. (ver. 8). "He was stung into action, and immediately roused himself to the discharge of his royal duties." Would we overcome immoderate grief? We must:
1. Listen to the admonitions of truth, however disagreeable; and learn the evil of indulging it.
2. Receive the consoling assurances of Heaven, and pray for needful strength.
3. Repress it with prompt and determined effort.
4. Devote ourselves with diligence to necessary and useful activities.
"Heaven hath assigned
I. THOSE DO SO WHO LOVE ERROR AND HATE THE TRUTH. For truth is one of our best friends, error one of our worst enemies. Moral and religious truth especially is life, health, guidance, happiness, to the soul; it leads to God and goodness and heaven. But error in such matters is death, disease, delusion; producing false peace and leading to destruction. Yet men often love the errors which favour what they are inclined to, and hate the truth which shows them their duties, sins, and dangers. They "love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil" (John 3:19). "Fools hate knowledge" (Proverbs 1:22). Hence they love false teachers and hate the true. "I hate him," said Ahab of Micaiah, "for he doth not prophesy good concerning me, but evil" (1 Kings 22:8).
II. THOSE WHO LOVE THEIR LOWER RATHER THAN THEIR HIGHER SELF. Our lower nature is good in itself, but is very prone to run to excess, and become evil. Then, from a friend, it is transformed into an enemy. Our higher nature is a friend, especially when informed and directed by the Holy Spirit. Man's worth and blessedness depend on his obeying the latter and subduing the former. Too often, however, he takes the opposite course, yielding himself to the government of the flesh, and resisting the promptings of the spirit.
III. THOSE WHO LOVE THE WICKED AND HATE THE GOOD. Associating with the former and finding pleasure in their practices, but avoiding the society of the latter; loving flatterers, and hating faithful reprovers and advisers. Ungodly and unholy men are necessarily, though it may be unconsciously and unintentionally, the enemies of the souls of those whom they influence, whether by conversation or example; and the more attractive they are, so much the more dangerous. "Evil company doth corrupt good manners" (1 Corinthians 15:33, Revised Version).
IV. THOSE WHO DELIGHT IN BAD BOOKS, AND DISLIKE AND NEGLECT GOOD ONES. Good books are good friends, promoting in us that which is good. The Bible is the best of books. Bad books, books which suggest and foster evil, are enemies; and the more they interest their readers, the more they injure them. Yet many delight in them, and dislike the books which would profit them.
V. THOSE, IN A WORD, WHO LOVE, IF NOT SATAN, HIS WAYS, AND LIVE IN ENMITY WITH GOD AND CHRIST. Satan is our chief enemy, the head and ruler of all other spiritual foes. He seeks our ruin by manifold devices, and, so that we serve him, is quite content that we should do so in the fashion we most approve. We may join which company of his servants - the coarser or the more refined, the open or the secret - we may prefer. But to follow him in any way is, in effect, to love our worst enemy. Christ, on the other hand, and God in him, is our best Friend, who loves us most truly and most wisely, who has made greater sacrifices for us than any other can make, who has done for us what no other can do, who proffers us blessings beyond the power of any other to confer, who exalts those who love him to a position of honour and happiness to which no other can raise their friends, and lives on to bless them when others die and pass away. To reject him, to refuse him the love, allegiance, and obedience which he claims, is, in effect, to hate the Friend who is most of all needed by us, and most worthy to be loved with all the power of loving which our hearts possess. Let those to whom these representations apply reflect on the sin and folly of which they are guilty; the incalculable good they are losing; the incalculable evils they are choosing. Their eyes will at length be opened; may it be in time! - G.W.
I. THE ACTUAL AND ABIDING CLAIMS OF CHRIST TO BE ACCEPTED AND OBEYED AS KING.
1. His nature. Divine and human; including all qualifications for rule.
2. His Divine appointment. Signified in manifold ways.
3. The deliverance he has wrought. It is here said of David, "The king saved us," etc. Our Lord has saved us in a more marvellous way, from enemies more to be dreaded than the heathen that harassed Israel. He has conquered, in personal conflict and through suffering unto death, Satan, the world, sin, and death. He has thus "saved us out of the hand of our enemies," including those that, like the Philistines in relation to Israel, are nearest to us and most ready and able to harass us - our own special besetting sins. True, the deliverance is not yet completely accomplished in actual experience; but it is assured, and as really ours, if we are Christ's, as if we were already perfectly freed from all evil
II. THE INSENSIBILITY TO THESE CLAIMS WHICH COMMONLY PREVAILS. Looking at the lives of most men, even where Christ is made known, it is painfully manifest that they have no due sense of his rights and their duty to him; for they do not submit their minds, hearts, and lives to his government.
1. Causes of such insensibility.
(1) A depraved nature, whose spiritual sensibilities are further suppressed and benumbed by the practice of sin.
(2) Absorption in worldly pursuits. Leaving no opportunity for higher matters to attract attention, no time to think of them.
(3) Unconcern as to the enemies from whom Christ delivers. No conviction of sin; no sense of the evil of it; no desire for rescue from its guilt or power. The Deliverer, therefore, excites no real interest.
(4) Familiarity with the truth. The habit of hearing, or reading, or even repeating it, without accepting it; or of assenting to it without really believing it; or of accepting (in a sense) the atonement, and relying on Jesus for pardon, without receiving him as King. The process also of indulging feeling and sentiment about Christ, without rendering obedience; and of resisting the feelings which prompt to obedience, thus resisting and grieving the Holy Spirit. In this way the gospel becomes a means of hardening the heart against itself.
(5) The attractions of some pretender to the throne. As Absalom "stole the hearts of the men of Israel" (2 Samuel 15:6) by his youth, beauty, activity, assiduous attentions, insinuating address, and hints as to the defects of his father's government, and the improvements which he would make if he were in power; so the hearts of many are withdrawn from the Lord Jesus by the attractions of some newly revived system of error in philosophy or religion, or anti-religion, of which the novelty (to them) is charming, and the representations of human nature more flattering, and the demands less exacting. The old king comes to be regarded and treated as worn out, quite unsuited to the needs of an enlightened and scientific age; and the young pretenders are welcomed, one by one class, and another by another, with shouts of joy and paeans of anticipated victory.
2. Effects of such insensibility.
(1) Negatively, in the prevention of faith and love, loyal obedience and active service.
(2) Positively, by leading to disaffection and active rebellion; as in the case of Israel and David.
III. THE HAPPY AWAKENING WHICH IS OFTEN EXPERIENCED. As in the case of the Israelites in respect to David. This may be produced:
1. By calamity. As the Israelites were awakened by defeat and disaster. Troubles stir the conscience, lead the soul to look around for support, throw an unusual light on objects, reveal the vanity of cherished dependencies, prepare for due appreciation of those which are solid and satisfying; and so lead to a right appreciation of Christ.
2. By impressive presentation of forgotten facts. As by the tribes of Israel to each other, reminding of their obligations to David, and the ill requital he had received from them. It may be a sermon heard with unaccustomed interest, or some part of the Holy Book read with a new perception of the significance and importance of its teaching, or the appeals, of a friend, or the statements of a tract, or words of parents or teachers long ago, recurring with new power to the mind; whatever it be that stirs the heart to consideration and renders it sensible of the rights and worth of Christ, blessed are the means, blessed the moment when such effects are produced.
3. Always by the enlightening and convincing Spirit. Whose work it is to reveal and glorify the Son of God (John 16:14).
IV. THE CHANGE PRODUCED BY THIS AWAKENING. Similar to that in the text.
1. In conduct.
(1) Return to allegiance, loyalty, and service to the rightful Sovereign. Incitement of others to return.
2. In position. The returning rebels are accepted, and restored to the privileges of faithful subjects. Not because the heavenly King is, like David, dependent on his subjects, needing them as much as they him, but of pure grace. However long they may have been insensible and rebellious, on coming to a sense of their duty, and seeking forgiveness, they are pardoned and restored to favour. Lastly, the awakening may come too late, producing terror and remorse, but not repentance, and importunate prayers which are unavailing (see Luke 13:24-28). - G.W.
half the people of Israel, vers. 39, 40); came to Gilgal (where all the men of Israel met him, and a new contention arose, ver. 41; 2 Samuel 21:1); and finally (conducted by the men of Judah) to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 21:3). The return of David, like his flight, is described minutely and graphically. As he had been called to the throne by the voice of the people (2 Samuel 5:1-3), so he desired to return to it, not by force, but by their free consent; and would take no active measures for his restoration until he should receive some intimation thereof. "Our Lord Jesus will rule only in those that invite him to the throne in their hearts, and not till he is invited. He first bows the heart, and makes it willing.in the day of his power, then rules in the midst of his enemies (Psalm 110:2, 3)" (Matthew Henry). David's restoration was distinguished by:
1. The returning allegiance of the rebellious. (Vers. 9,10.) "All the tribes of Israel" (except Judah). Popular revolutions are usually followed by speedy reactions. Convinced of their error, ingratitude, and injustice by their defeat, remembering the great services which David had rendered on their behalf, and considering the present condition of affairs, "all the people" manifest a disposition to "bring the king back;" and this gratifying intelligence is reported to him while waiting at Mahanaim.
2. The decisive action of the dilatory. (Vers. 11-15.) "The men of Judah," who, since the rebellion arose in their territory, feared the king's displeasure, or proudly held aloof in continued disaffection under Amasa. But whoa assured of his regard, reminded of their kinship, and urged to activity, they are at once "drawn" unto him "as one man;" send the message, "Return," etc.; and come to conduct him across the Jordan. Judah is again to the front. David's appeal was conciliatory, and seems wise and just (though some think otherwise), however disastrous its ultimate effect.
3. The humble submission of the guilty. (Vers. 16-23.) Shimei, with a thousand men of Benjamin, and Ziba,' etc. "They went eagerly [prosperously, Hebrew, tzalach] over the Jordan in the presence of the king" (ver. 17); and "Shimei fell down before the king in his crossing over (abar) the Jordan" (while the transit was going on). "With a self-control rare in Western no less than Eastern history, every step in his progress was marked by forgiveness" (Maclear).
4. The joyful welcome of the suspected. (Vers. 24-30.) The innocent Mephibosheth, the grandson of Saul, now vindicated and restored to "all that he most cared for - the king's favour, his old place at the king's table, and the formal recognition of his ownership" of the inheritance.
5. The friendly greeting of the faithful. (Vers. 31-39). Barzillai, an aged and "very great man," representative of the trans-Jordanic inhabitants; testifying his devotion to the king in prosperity, whom he had aided in adversity, and receiving his grateful benediction. How different is it with David now from what it had been at his former crossing (2 Samuel 17:22) 1 "This passage of the Jordan was the most memorable one since the days of Joshua."
6. The zealous emulation of the tribes. (Vers. 40-43.) Their strife for pre-eminence; "Ephraim envying Judah, and Judah vexing Ephraim' (Isaiah 11:13), leading to a fresh revolt, which, however, is speedily overcome. David's troubles, so incessant, so varied, so great, "from his youth" (ver. 7), are not yet ended; but they are all ordered by the hand of God for his good. "Sanctified affliction is spiritual promotion."
7. The complete establishment of the kingdom. (2 Samuel 20:3, 22-26.) He sees again the habitation of the Lord (2 Samuel 15:25), and rules over a peaceful and united nation. His return is like the commencement of a new reign (ver. 22). "The remainder of David's life - a period probably of about ten years - flowed on, so far as we can gather, in a bright calm, and an undisturbed course of improvements" (Ewald). - D.
2 Samuel 19:16-23. - (THE JORDAN.)2 Samuel 16:5) was base and iniquitous. "The wheel turns round once more; Absalom is cast down and David returns in peace. Shimei suits his behaviour to the occasion, and is the first man, also, who hastes to greet him; and had the wheel turned round a hundred times, Shimei, I dare say, in every period of its rotation would have been uppermost" (Sterne). But he may have been actuated by something better than selfish and time-serving policy; at least, the history affords no intimation that his repentance was insincere and hypocritical. And he was forgiven by David (of whose clemency he had been persuaded) -
I. ON THE CONFESSION OF WRONG DOING (vers. 19, 20) with:
1. Deep abasement. He "fell down before the king."
2. Free, full, unqualified, and open self-condemnation. "Thy servant did perversely," and "doth know that I have sinned."
3. Fervent petition for mercy, "Let not my lord impute iniquity unto me," etc.
4. Professed devotion and zealous endeavour to repair the wrong which had been done. "And behold I am come the first this day," etc. He had brought with him a thousand men of Benjamin, to do honour to the king whom he had formerly despised; perhaps, also, to show the value of his reconciliation and services (which were really important at such a time, in the light of subsequent events, 2 Samuel 20:1). Confession must precede the assurance of forgiveness; and, when made in a becoming manner, should be graciously treated (Luke 17:3, 4). God alone knows the heart.
II. AGAINST THE DEMAND FOR PUNISHMENT (vers. 21, 22); in which Abishai displayed, as before (2 Samuel 16:9):
1. An impulse of natural vengeance toward the evildoer; unaltered by change of circumstances, unsoothed by Shimei's repentance.
2. A desire for the rigorous execution of the Law, according to which the traitor and blasphemer should suffer death "without mercy." Its stern and relentless requirements, unmodified by its deeper and more merciful principles, are represented in "the sons of Zeruiah."
3. A spirit of reckless imprudence; not less injurious to the king's interests on "this day" of his triumphant return than it was on the day of his perilous flight.
4. An assumption of unjustifiable authority, and interference with the king's rights and privileges, feelings and purposes; incurring a repetition of the rebuke, "What have I to do with you," etc.? "Ye will be an adversary [satan, Numbers 22:22; 1 Chronicles 21:1] to me;" hindering the exercise of mercy and the joy of my return (1 Samuel 11:12, 13). "Get thee behind me, Satan" (Matthew 16:23). "Our best friends must be considered as adversaries when they would persuade us to act contrary to our conscience and our duty" (Scott).
III. WITH THE ASSURANCE OF MERCY. "Thou shalt not die" (ver. 23; 2 Samuel 12:13). "And the king sware unto him." From:
1. An impulse of personal feeling of the noblest nature; by which (regarding Shimei's offence as a personal one) he was raised above the level of "the Law," and anticipated the forgiving spirit of a higher dispensation.
2. A sense of the exceeding mercy of God toward himself; by, which he was disposed to show mercy toward others.
3. A perception of the wisest policy to be adopted on such an extraordinary "day" as that of his restoration to the throne. "Shall there any man be put to death this day in Israel? For do I not know that I am this clay king over Israel?" (It is noticeable how frequently he is designated "the king" in this chapter.)
4. An exercise of the royal prerogative of pardon. This prerogative, indeed (though prompted by a generous impulse), he no doubt stretched beyond due bounds. Hence, reflecting on the matter at the close of his life (during which he kept faithfully to his oath), he committed (not from a feeling of personal revenge, but of sacred duty) the vindication of the Law to his successor (1 Kings 2:8, 9). "It can be explained only from the fact that David distinguished between his own personal interest and motive, which led him to pardon Shimei, without taking the theocratic legal standpoint and the theocratic interests of the kingdom, of which Solomon was the representative, and so held himself bound on theocratic political grounds to commit to his successor the execution of the legal prescription which he had passed over" (Erdmann).
1. In showing mercy to private as well as public offenders, due regard must be paid to the claims of public justice.
2. It is better to err on the side of too much mercy than too much severity.
3. How vast is the mercy of God toward men, in him whom he has "exalted to be a Prince and a Saviour," etc. (Acts 5:31)!
2 Samuel 19:24-30. - (THE JORDAN.)from Jerusalem (Hebrew, to; or "Jerusalem came," Keil) to meet him. But he had been preceded by Ziba, who was present, when, in answer to the inquiry, "Wherefore," etc., he said, "My lord, O king, my servant deceived me," etc. (2 Samuel 16:1-4).
1. The unfortunate and helpless are commonly made the victims of a slanderous tongue. Others may not escape its venom; but these become its ready prey. Ziba knew that he could not be pursued and punished; and destroyed the reputation of his master with the king for the sake of his own profit.
2. The voice of slander is put to silence in the presence of honesty and truth. Already, before Mephibosheth spoke, his appearance must have borne witness to his innocence. His explanation of his conduct, the tone of his defence, and the silence of his accuser, would hardly fail to convince the king that, whatever may have been the designs of others concerning the house of Saul (2 Samuel 16:5), the son of his friend Jonathan was not implicated therein. Slander may remain long unchallenged; but it is sure to be ultimately put to shame.
3. No vindication from slander is able to do away with all its mischievous effects. The property of which Mephibosheth had been deprived might be restored in whole or in part; but the feelings and actions induced in others could not be obliterated. "Reluctant to think that he had been too hasty; having a royal aversion to admit that he could err and had been duped; and being, in his present humour of overlooking and pardoning everything, indisposed to the task of calling to account a man of such influence as Ziba, who had been forward in his cause when many tried friends forsook him, the king's answer was something less than generous and much less than kind to the son of Jonathan" (Kitto).
4. Notwithstanding the wrong which he suffers, a man of humble and grateful heart still possesses abundant satisfaction. Seeking no revenge, acknowledging his dependence even for life, thankful for the kindness formerly shown toward him, and foregoing every claim (vers. 27, 28), he is little concerned about worldly possessions in comparison with the honour and welfare of his lord, and finds his chief delight in "the king's favour." "True to his noble saintly nature, all that he desires is to love and to be loved again" (Plumptre). "Let him also take all," etc. (ver. 30).
"Fret not thyself because of the evil doers,
2 Samuel 16:3) rather than Mephibosheth's own, as given in these verses, there seems to be no just reason to doubt his truth and sincerity. He did not go with David because, owing to his lameness and the treachery and cunning of Ziba, he was unable to do so. The narrative suggests such thoughts as follow.
I. INABILITY DEBARS MANY CHRISTIANS FROM SOME DEMONSTRATIONS OF LOVE AND LOYALTY TO THEIR KING WHICH THEY WOULD FAIN MAKE. Indeed, every one, however strong in some respects, is weak in others. The inability may be in body or mind, in understanding, or heart, or speech, or in purse; but to its extent it disables from forms of service which others can adopt. We can only serve Christ with the faculties and powers we have. To attempt what we cannot accomplish is to be hindrances rather than helps.
II. INABILITY IN SOME RESPECTS WILL NOT PREVENT THE TRUE HEARTED FROM MAKING SUCH MANIFESTATIONS OF LOVE AND LOYALTY AS ARE WITHIN THEIR POWER. If Mephibesheth could not follow David in his exile. or take part in the contest, he could mourn for him, and exhibit signs of mourning; and this he did. He thus showed a courage as great as, or greater than, that of those who took part in the war. In like manner, every one, however feeble, poor, or obscure, may do something for Christ; and, if his heart be right, he will. He who cannot preach can speak to a neighbour. He who cannot say much for Christ can bring others where they can hear of him, or give them an instructive book or tract. He who cannot give much money towards the evangelization of the world can give a little, and at least can pray. He who cannot found a hospital can visit the sick poor. All have some power, and, according to the measure of their power, are responsible. All who love their King will employ such ability as they have in serving him. And the service is accepted by him which comes from a true heart and is according to the ability possessed. Work or gift for Christ is valued by him, not for its quantity, or even quality of the material, or merely mental kind, but for the love to him which it expresses; and many a man who wins the plaudits of men for his talents, his outward success in religious work, or his large gifts for its sustentation, is less pleasing to Christ than some poor and humble friend of his who can give and do but little, but thinks much of him, mourns in secret the dishonour done to him, and prays without ceasing for his triumph. Ziba's handsome and timely presents were really of far less worth than helpless Mephibosheth's mourning and self-neglect.
III. INABILITY IS LIABLE TO BE MISUNDERSTOOD AND MISREPRESENTED. Not only by the malicious or designing, as here, but by the inconsiderate. Men judge of others by their own peculiar standards. If truly zealous in a good cause, they show their zeal in the way most natural and available to themselves, and are ready to condemn as lukewarm those who do not adopt their methods, though these may with equal zeal seek the same ends by the means natural and available to them. Even David judged harshly and unjustly of Mephibosheth. It was, in truth, unreasonable to expect his lame friend to accompany him. He could only have been a burden. It was absurdly unjust to accept Ziba's insinuation that his master was hoping to be placed on the vacant throne. But judgments equally unjust are constantly being pronounced upon zealous servants of Christ, whose only fault is that they are not of the same Order of mind, or cannot practise the same bustling activity as their accusers, or have not equal incomes, or equal physical strength or energy, or do not care to exhibit their "zeal for the Lord" (2 Kings 10:16) in the same manner or to secure similar results. Happily, the King knows his servants better than they know each other.
IV. INABILITY IS OFTEN ASSOCIATED WITH QUALITIES THAT RECONCILE TO THE DISADVANTAGES WHICH BELONG TO IT. Mephibosheth was enabled to bear meekly what he had to endure, because he was humble, thankful, sincerely and disinterestedly devoted to the king, and ready to submit without murmuring to his will. Similar qualities are of great value to those servants of our Lord who are deficient in some endowments or possessions by which others are equipped for Christian service.
1. Thankfulness for, and contentment with, the powers and opportunities granted to them, and the kind and measure of success accorded to them.
2. Humility arising from the consciousness of their defects or unworthiness.
3. Absence of envy of those who are more abundantly favoured in respect to talents or success.
4. Consciousness of sincere devotion to the King, however men may reflect on them.
5. Joy that, by whomsoever and in whatever way, the King's cause is triumphing. Such qualities are frequently found associated with deficient abilities, and go far to compensate those who possess them for the lack of power, or obvious efficiency, or appreciation of them and their work, which may be their lot. Let the less liberally endowed cultivate them.
V. INABILITY WILL AT LENGTH BE EXPLAINED AND JUSTIFIED. When the King comes back, all his servants will receive commendation and reward, not according to their several abilities, but according to their fidelity. Mistakes will be rectified, unjust judgments reversed. Many a plaudit will be hushed; many an inflated reputation will collapse; many a brave looking building will be reduced to a mass of rubbish by the searching fires, and the builder put to shame, if not utterly rejected (1 Corinthians 3:12-15). On the other hand, many an obscure and perhaps disregarded servant of Christ will find himself unexpectedly applauded and exalted. "Lord, when saw we thee," etc.? (Matthew 25:37). Wherefore:
1. "Judge nothing before the time" (1 Corinthians 4:5).
2. Let Christians of limited powers and opportunities be encouraged to do their best. Their Lord appreciates their spirit and services, though men may mistake and misjudge; and he will pass a juster judgment than David did (ver. 29) in the case of Mephibosheth. - G.W.
2 Samuel 19:31-40. - (THE JORDAN.)2 Samuel 9:4), he was loyal, hospitable, and generous (2 Samuel 17:28). One of his sons (1 Kings 2:7), named Chimham, accompanied him to do honour to the king at his restoration. He was an octogenarian, his memory reaching back to the appointment of the first King of Israel, and Saul's brilliant exploit on behalf of Jabesh-Gilead (1 Samuel 11:11). Of his genuine piety, his answer to the king's invitation, "Come over with me, and I will provide (ver. 32) for thee in Jerusalem," leaves no room for doubt. "May we not legitimately infer that his conduct was influenced, not merely by loyalty to his earthly sovereign, but by the recognition of the higher spiritual truths, and the hope for Israel and the world, symbolized by the reign of David?" (Edersheim). More especially, he furnishes a picture of a beautiful old age (1 Samuel 12:2). To every one, if he should live long enough, old age will come, with impaired powers of judgment, sensibility, and activity (Ecclesiastes 12:1); but whether it will be honourable, useful, and happy depends on the course previously pursued and the character possessed. "Clearness and quickness of intellect are gone; all taste for the pleasures and delights of sense is gone; ambition is dead; capacity of change is departed. What is left? The old man lives in the past and in the future. The early child love for the father and mother who hung over his cradle eighty years ago remains fresh. He cannot 'hear any more the voice of singing men and singing women;' but he can hear, stealing through almost a century, the old tones, thin and ghostlike, of the dear ones whom he first learnt to love. The furthest past is fresh and vivid, and in memory of it is half his life. Also he looks forward familiarly and calmly to the very near end, and thinks much of death. That thought keeps house with him now, and is nearer to him than the world of living men is. Thus one-half of his life is memory, and the other half is hope; and all his hopes are now reduced to one - the hope to die, and then to be laid down and go to sleep again beside his father and mother. And so he returns to his city, and passes out of our sight" (Maclaren). Notice -
I. HIS CLEAR RECOGNITION OF THE NEARNESS OF HIS APPROACHING END. "How many are the days of the years of my life?" etc. (vers. 34, 35; Genesis 47:9). Many an old man considers not that he is old, and must shortly leave the world; he rather strives to keep both his age and his departure out of sight. But such a man as Barzillai is accustomed to reflect on his actual condition, deems himself a "stranger and pilgrim on the earth" (Hebrews 11:13; 1 Chronicles 29:15); and feels certain that a few more steps will bring him to the end of his journey. He also understands what is possible and becoming during his brief continuance, and acts accordingly. "Can anything be more amiable than these simple and sensible words? What a cheerful and peaceful spirit do they breathe! and how does he put to shame very many old men of our day, who, the more the years perform their dismantling work upon them, are so much. the more zealously bent on concealing the decay of their strength behind the glittering surroundings of vain dignities, titles, and high alliances!" (Krummacher). "Usually the nearer men approach to the earth, they are more earthly minded; and, which is strange to amazement, at the sunset of life are providing for a long day" (W. Bates).
II. HIS CHEERFUL RESIGNATION UNDER THE INFIRMITIES OF ADVANCED AGE. He utters no complaint (such as is too common with others) at the failure of his mental and bodily powers, the loss of earthly pleasures formerly possessed, his incapacity for new enterprises and excitements, which, at an earlier age, might have been suitable and desirable. His language is singularly free from fretfulness, disappointment, and discontent. He perceives and acquiesces with a "glad contentment" in the will of God, who "hath made everything beautiful in its season" (Ecclesiastes 3:11), and, although deprived of some enjoyments, he is not destitute of others of a higher order. "It is this, the tasteless meats, the deafness to the singing men and singing women, the apathy to common pleasures, for which old age is pitied and deplored; but this is God's mercy, it is not his vengeance; he deadens the keenness of our bodily senses only to guide us to immortality; we are disgusted with the pleasures of youth, we deride the objects of manly ambition, we are wearied with one worldly trifle or another, that Our thoughts may centre at last in God" (Sydney Smith. 'On the Pleasures of Old Age'). "Old age may be not only venerable, but beautiful, and the object of reverence untinctured by compassion. The intellect, the emotions, the affections (the best of them) all alive, - it is the passions and appetites only that are dead; and who that is wise and has felt the plague of them, does not, with the aged Cephalus, in Plato's 'Republic,' account a serene freedom from their clamorous importunities a compensation for the loss of their tumultuous pleasures?" ('Sel. from the Correspondence of R.E.H. Greyson, Esq.').
III. HIS COURTEOUS REFUSAL OF THE PROFFER OF EARTHLY FAVOURS. What can even a monarch give him now? The society, the pleasures, the honours, of a court; enlarged influence, increased responsibility, more abundant wealth. Is it worth while for their sake to be transplanted to a new soil from the place where he has been so long growing; and when he must so soon be removed from the world altogether? If he had been a sensual, ambitious, or avaricious man, the craving for such things would have remained, and led him (like others) to grasp at their possession, though no longer able to enjoy them or employ them aright. "What so distressing as to see the withered face of old age dull and dead to every consideration of eternity, and kindling with life only at the mention of earthly vanities?" (Blaikie). He declines them, not because they are sinful and worthless in themselves, but because they are unsuitable to him. His heart is set on ether pleasures; his immediate duties are determined and sufficient for his strength. He will not take new burdens on himself, nor be a burden to others. He will accompany the king "a little way," to show his loyal devotion, and then return (2 Kings 4:13). "With all the dignity of self-respect, with the courtesy of a true gentleman, undervaluing not the king's offers, but his own service to him, with the prudent love of a father for the son whom he recommends to his kindness, having outlived nothing really belonging to the true character of the life of man, he returned with the royal kiss and blessing, master of his own will, to his own place" (W. Romanis).
IV. HIS CHERISHED REMEMBRANCE OF PARENTS AND THE FAMILIAR SCENES OF HIS EARLY DAYS. "Let thy servant, I pray thee, turn back," etc. (ver. 37). His thoughts turn back to his native place, his childhood, his father and his mother, whom he must have loved and honoured (Exodus 20:12); and the memory of whom, tender, affectionate, and reverent, is a fountain of pure and undying joy in his breast. How much does the happiness of old age depend upon its memories! Whilst in one case old age is tormented by the recollection of "the pleasures of sin," in another it is gladdened by the recollection of the practice of piety; and such recollections mingle with and, in great measure, determine its anticipations.
"Son of Jesse, let me go:
V. HIS CONSTANT DESIRE FOR REST in his "long home" (Ecclesiastes 12:5), "the house of eternity." It is now a pervading and increasing feeling. He longs for repose in the sacred spot where his parents lie, as a pilgrim longs for home. The grave for him has no terrors. "He looks for a city which hath foundations," etc. (Hebrews 11:10, 16); and desires to be "gathered with his fathers," and to be forever at rest in God (1 Samuel 25:1; 2 Samuel 7:12; Psalm 49:15; Proverbs 14:32; Daniel 12:13). "Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace" (Luke 2:29). "A man should still be bound for home as you see all creatures be. Let a bird be far from the nest, and it grow towards night, she will home even upon the wings of the wind. Every poor beast, and every creature, though the entertainment be but slender at home, yet if you let it slip loose, it will home as fast as it can. Everything tends to its place; there is its safety, there is its rest, there it is preserved, there it is quiet. Now, since it is so with every creature, why should it not be so with us? Why should not we be for our home? This is not our home; here is not our rest. That is our home where our chief friends be, where our Father God is, where our Husband Christ is, where our chief kindred and acquaintance be, all the prophets and apostles and martyrs of God departed are; that is our home, and thither should we go" (R. Harris). "I am now passing through the latest stage of my pilgrimage on earth. My sun is speedily going down; but ere it wholly disappear, its parting beams stream sweetly forth upon the face of all things, and cover all the horizon with a blaze of glory. My Father's house shines bright before my eyes. Its opening door invites me onward, and fills me with an earnest longing to be safe at home. My richest treasures and my dearest hopes are all packed up and gone before, while my whole soul is on the wing to follow after" (W. Gilpin).
VI. HIS CONSIDERATE REGARD for the welfare of those who survive him. "Let thy servant Chimham go over," etc. (vers. 38, 40). He is not wholly absorbed in thoughts of past time or of his final rest; but is interested in the younger man now present with him, and sympathizes with his enjoyments and aspirations. He remembers his own youth. What he declines for himself, he seeks and obtains for his son (Jeremiah 41:17). "When the king could not persuade the father, he gladly accepts the charge of his son. He seems to feel as if the care of this young man would bring comfort to his heart, which was still bleeding for the loss of Absalom. It was not in lightness that he made the request, and when on his death bed he remembered it and charged Solomon to show kindness to the son for the sake of what his father had done for him when he fled from the face of Absalom. In Barzillai we have
(1) a man who knows that he is old, but is not distressed by the thought of it;
(2) who is rich, but is satisfied with his natural possessions;
(3) of long experience, who has kept up his love of simple pleasures;
(4) and is attached to the past, but does not distrust the future" (John Ker). "It is a very reasonable conjecture of Grotius, that David, having a patrimony in the field of Bethlehem, the place of his nativity, bestowed it on Barzillai's son; and from thence this place took the name of Chimham, which remained unto the days of Jeremiah" (Patrick). His descendants continue for ages to partake of the fruit of his piety and beneficence, to perpetuate his name and honour his memory (Ezra 2:61; Nehemiah 7:63; Psalm 102:28). - D.
I. THE PRIVATIONS OF THE AGED.
1. Enfeebled or annihilated powers. Blunted or extinct senses; dulness or loss of sight, hearing, taste, smelling; feebleness of body and mind. Consequent inability for active employments. Loss of the pleasures which the exercise of vigorous faculties confers.
2. Increasing dependence on others. Possibly, unlike Barzillai, for the means of subsistence; certainly for much besides. Hence the old man is apt to become, and feel himself to be, "a burden," putting the kindness and patience of others to a severe test. The discomfort arising from such dependance is often very great.
3. The sense of loneliness. Sometimes the aged survive all who have loved and cared for them, and, if not, they commonly feel themselves cut off from the interests and pleasures of the new generation.
II. HOW THESE PRIVATIONS SHOULD BE BORNE.
1. With cheerful submission and patience. Remembering that the order of nature which brings such ills to the aged, and the circumstances which occasion their own particular troubles, are the appointment of the infinitely wise and good Creator and Father. Recalling also their many years of vigorous faculty and lively enjoyment, and cherishing a gratitude which will suppress discontent.
2. With thankfulness for what remains. The love and care which provide for, or minister to, their needs and alleviate their troubles. Above all, the unchanging love of God and the Redeemer, and the spiritual blessings hence enjoyed.
3. With watchfulness against the temptations incident to old age. Such as those to fretfulness, irritability, impatience, envy of the young, and needless interference with their enjoyments. The revival with new power of old sinful propensities, ill tempers, and bad habits.
4. With joyful hope. Of speedy deliverance from all burdens and troubles, and the recommencement of life with renewed and perfected energies. Nothing can keep the aged Christian long out of heaven.
III. HOW OTHERS SHOULD REGARD THEM.
1. With respectful tenderness, sympathy, and readiness to alleviate them.
2. With diminished desire for the great prolongation of their own lives.
3. With steadfast aim and endeavour so to live that, if old age come, it may not be oppressed with the needless burdens and anxieties which a godless life leads to. Let the young keep in mind the admonition, "Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them" (Ecclesiastes 12:1). - G.W.