Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
2 Samuel 20:1-3. - (GILGAL.)
"We have no part in David,
I. IT AROSE OUT OF AN EVIL DISPOSITION INDULGED BY THE PEOPLE. They were:
1. Discontented with the government of David; the restlessness, lawlessness, and ungodliness which they displayed in joining Absalom's revolt were only partial? corrected by recent chastisement (2 Samuel 19:9, 10); their complaint to the king concerning the conduct of "the men of Judah" (ver. 41) was due more to regard for their own honour than zeal for his; and was an indirect expression of their dissatisfaction at the disrespect which he bad shown toward them, for "very probably it had been learned that he had a hand in the movement."
2. Contentious in their treatment of their "brethren;" ready to find occasion of offence "because of envy" and ill will; their auger being increased by the proud and contemptuous bearing of the latter. Whatever may have been the motives of the men of Judah in their recent action, they were now as blamable as the men of Israel; each party sought to exalt itself and depreciate the other; and "the words of the men of Judah were more violent than the words of the men of Israel" (ver. 43). "Grievous words stir up anger" (Proverbs 15:1, 18; Proverbs 25:15; Proverbs 29:22). How differently had Gideon spoken to the men of Ephraim under similar circumstances (Judges 8:1-3)!
3. Self-blinded. Indifferent to their true interests, without proper self-control, liable to surrender themselves to the guidance of an ambitious leader, and prepared for open rebellion. Having violated the spirit of unity, they were ready to destroy the formal union of the tribes, which it had cost so much to bring about, and on which their strength and prosperity so much depended. "Where jealousy and. faction are, there is confusion and every vile deed" (James 3:16; James 4:1, 11).
II. IT WAS INSTIGATED BY A WORTHLESS LEADER, "A man of Belial, a Benjamite" (like Shimei, 2 Samuel 16:11); "a man of the mountains of Ephraim" (ver. 21); who probably took an active part in the late rebellion, and had numerous dependents. "He was one of the great rogues of the high nobility, who had a large retinue among the people, and consideration or name, as Cataline at Rome" (Luther).
1. The worst (as well as the best) elements of a people find their chief embodiment in some one man, who is the product of the prevailing spirit of his time, and adapted to be its leader.
"Avarice, envy, pride,
2. Such a man clearly perceives the popular feeling and tendency, with which he sympathizes, and finds therein his opportunity for effecting his own purposes. The design of Sheba was, doubtless, to become head of a new combination of the northern tribes.
3. He seizes a suitable moment for raising his seditious cry; and, instead of quenching the sparks of discord, kindles them into a blaze. "They claim David as their own. Let them have him. We disclaim him altogether. The son of Jesse! Let every man cast off his yoke, return home, and unite with me in securing liberty, equality, and fraternity!" What at another time would have been without effect, is now irresistible with the people. Nothing is more unstable than a multitude; one day crying, "Hosanna!" another, "Not this Man, but Barabbas!"
III. IT ATTAINED A DANGEROUS MAGNITUDE. "And all the men of Israel went up from after David, and followed Sheba the son of Bichri" (ver. 2); "Now will Sheba do us more harm than Absalom" (ver. 6). The insurrection:
1. Was joined in by great numbers of the people.
2. Spread over the greater portion of the country. "He went through all the tribes of Israel," rousing them to action, and gaining possession of the fortified cities.
3. Threatened to produce a permanent disruption of the kingdom. "It was, in fact, all but an anticipation of the revolt of Jeroboam. It was not, as in the case of Absalom, a mere conflict between two factions in the court of Judah, but a struggle arising out of that conflict, on the part of the tribe of Benjamin to recover its lost ascendency" (Stanley). With what anxieties must it have filled the mind of the restored monarch! And how must it have led him to feel his dependence upon God! The influence for evil which one bad man sometimes exerts is enormous (Ecclesiastes 9:18). It is, nevertheless, limited; and, though it prevail for a season, it is at length "brought to nought" (Psalm 37:12, 20, 35-40).
IV. IT ENDED IN UTTER DISCOMFITURE. The first act of David, on arriving at Jerusalem, attended by the men of Judah, who "clave unto the king" (after setting his house in order, ver. 3), was to adopt energetic measures to put down the insurrection; and these succeeded (though in a different manner from what he expected).
1. Many who at first followed Sheba deserted him when they had time for reflection and saw the approach of the king's army; so that he found it necessary to seek safety in the far north.
3. All the people returned to their allegiance. "While to men's eyes the cooperation of many evil powers seems to endanger the kingdom of God to the utmost, and its affairs appear to be confused and disturbed in the unhappiest fashion, the wonderful working of the living God reveals itself most gloriously in the unravelment of the worst entanglements, and in the introduction of new and unexpected triumphs for his government" (Erdmann). - D.
I. THE NATURE AND CAUSES OF DEFECTION FROM CHRIST.
1. Its nature. It is the casting off of his rule over mind, heart, life. It may be secret or it may be open, and may be with or without emphatic declaration, with or without open adherence to a leader of rebellion against him. But it ought not to be confounded with separation from a particular Church, or renunciation of a particular humanly constructed creed. We do wrong if we condemn any one as having departed from Christ because he has departed from us. There is room for great variety of conception and expression as to Christian truth, and of modes of sincerely and truly serving Christ; and he recognizes, as loyal subjects of his, many in all Churches, and not a few outside all Churches. At the same time, it must be, and ought to be, distinctly maintained that to reject his supreme authority in matters of belief and practice, to think and express our thoughts without regard to his teaching, to feel and act without recognition of his commands, is to reject him; to openly declare that we no longer recognize his authority is open rebellion against him.
2. Its causes.
(1) Original unreality in professed adherence to Christ. The religion of many is hereditary and traditional, and therefore only formal. They have experienced no radical change of heart. They are without true faith and love. "They have no root," and so "in time of temptation fall away" (Luke 8:13).
(2) Dislike of the government and laws of Christ. Their holiness, the extent of their requirements, their unbending nature, the restraints they impose. Pride revolts against them, and self-will, and carnality in general; and the propounders of religions that are more indulgent to the lower nature are eagerly listened to and accepted.
(3) Superficial feeling as to the need of Christ. He is not felt to be indispensable to the soul; to part from him is not felt to involve very serious loss.
(4) Neglect of devotion. It is by habits of prayer and other spiritual exercises that the soul is kept in communion with Christ, and his Spirit received, through whose influences faith, love, and obedience are maintained in vigour. The kingdom of Christ is spiritual, and can be realized only through the power of the Holy Ghost.
(5) Dissatisfaction with the results of serving Christ. A superficial religion must be unsatisfactory.; and when the vanity of its exercises and fruits is felt, no wonder if it should be given up altogether. To experience the substantial blessedness of serving Christ, we must commit ourselves to him heartily and wholly. Then we shall know too well his preciousness to heed those who would entice us to forsake him.
(6) The influence of others. The men of Israel would not have deserted David when they did, if Sheba had not blown his trumpet and summoned them to follow him. In like manner, the latent disloyalty of men to Christ may remain concealed, and they may appear to be, and regard themselves as being, his good subjects, until some bolder spirit heads a revolt, and "draws away disciples after him!" (Acts 20:30). Or the pernicious influence may come from inconsistent Christians, unworthy ministers of religion, or corrupt Churches. Men do not sufficiently distinguish between Christ and his professed representatives, and find in the evil discerned in them an excuse for deserting him.
(7) Disbelief of Christ's power, or will, to execute justice on those who are unfaithful to him. Did men realize the tremendous issues involved in cleaving to or rejecting Christ, they would not so loosely hold their religion or so readily abandon it. Did they seriously regard his picture of the doom of those who will not have him for their King (Luke 19:27) as representing an awful reality, they would be more concerned to escape it.
II. REASONS WHICH INDUCE THE FAITHFUL TO CLEAVE TO THEIR KING, WHOEVER MAY DESERT HIM.
2. Love to him. Originating in gratitude for his redeeming love, becoming attachment to him from discernment and approval of his infinite excellences, and to his government and laws, because the renewed heart is in harmony with them.
3. Experience of the blessings of his reign. In the heart, the home, the people who truly serve him. Hence, intense satisfaction with his service.
4. Hope of a yet happier experience when his reign is fully established and perfected. Hope, as the "anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast" (Hebrews 6:19), keeps the soul steadfast when storms of temptation arise. To give up Christ would be, it is felt, to give up hope of glory in his "everlasting kingdom" (2 Peter 1:11).
5. Perception of the worthlessness of his rivals. Observe the contrast presented between Sheba and David - the one "a man of Belial" (worthlessness), the other "their king." Similarly, when "many of Christ's disciples went back, and walked no more with him," and he, turning to the twelve, asked, "Will ye also go away?" Peter exclaimed, "Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God" (John 6:66-69). And still we may ask, "To whom shall we go?" Where shall we find one to take the place of Christ? Who has equal claims on our confidence and affection? Who can confer equal benefits? Not the irreligious multitude, whether of the coarser or the more refined sort. Not the leaders of sceptical thought, some of whom simply ignore all that renders Christ precious to the Christian; others maintain that nothing can be known of God, and that all that is believed respecting him and his relation to men belongs to the region of imagination, not of truth; and others proffer a religion without a God. The Christian sees that all who would tempt him to forsake his Lord can offer him as substitutes only "vain things, which cannot profit nor deliver" (1 Samuel 12:21).
6. Expectation of the coming of Christ. The account to be then rendered, the judgments to be pronounced, the rewards and punishments to be distributed. The certainty that "he," and only he, "that shall endure unto the end shall be saved" (Matthew 24:13). For these reasons, and such as these, some of which are felt most by one, and some by another; whilst many may follow this or that pretender, Christians who are really such will "cleave unto their King." - G.W.
2 Samuel 20:4-13. - (GIBEON.)2 Samuel 17:25) joined Absalom in his rebellion; and must have been a man of great ability, courage, and influence, from the fact that he was appointed by him "captain of the host instead of Joab," and afterwards promised by David the same post (2 Samuel 19:13). This promise "involved no injustice to Joab himself, for he had long been notorious for too great severity in war, and had just acted with such direct disobedience to the royal command in Absalom's case, that it was impossible to overlook his offence without endangering the royal prerogative" (Ewald). Whilst it was adapted to conciliate the men of Judah, it was, nevertheless, certain to give offence to Joab and cause future trouble. It does not appear that he was formally replaced by Amasa; but the commission given to the latter (ver. 4) "was intended as the commencement of the fulfilment of the promise" (Keil). And when he exhibited undue delay in its fulfilment (ver. 5), David, "wishing to have nothing to do with Joab," sent Abishai to pursue after Sheba (ver. 6). "And there went out after him Joab's men" (ver. 7) under Joab (who deemed himself still commander-in-chief). At "the great stone which is in Gibeon" (2 Samuel 2:13; 2 Samuel 21:1; 1 Chronicles 21:29) he met Amasa returning with his military levies, and on saluting him with the kiss of peace, dealt him his death blow (vers. 8-10); passed on, followed (after a brief hesitation at the spectacle of their murdered captain) by "all the people;" finished the war, and returned to Jerusalem. In this tragedy notice:
1. The danger of holding a responsible position by one who is ill Qualified for it through want of natural ability, proper antecedents, timely appointment, public confidence, adequate zeal and energy. "The cause of Amasa's delay is not stated. It may have been the unwillingness of the men of Judah to place themselves under the orders of Amasa (contrast vers. 13 and 14), or it may have been caused by a wavering or hesitation in the loyalty of Amasa himself. This last is evidently insinuated in ver. 11, and no doubt this was the pretext., whether grounded in fact or not, by which Joab justified the murder of Amasa before David" ('Speaker's Commentary').
2. The tendency of repeated crimes to induce more daring criminality. This was Joab's third murder (2 Samuel 3:27; 2 Samuel 18:14), in addition to his complicity in the death of Uriah; less excusable, more guileful, malicious, and reckless than any other; his motive being jealousy of a rival. "No life is safe that stands in his way, but from policy he never sacrifices the most insignificant life without a purpose" (2 Samuel 2:27-30; 2 Samuel 18:16; 2 Samuel 20:20). "By degrees men grow more and more bold and unfeeling in the commission of crimes of every kind; until they vindicate and glory in their villainies; and when such daring offenders are actuated by ambition or revenge, they will not be restrained by the ties of relationship or friendship; nay, they will employ the guise and language of love to obtain the opportunity of perpetrating the most atrocious murders. The beginning of evil should therefore in everything be decisively resisted" (Scott).
3. The infliction of deserved punishment by an unauthorized and wicked hand. "Amasa is innocent of the crime of seeking Joab's place, for which he is murdered by him, yet he is guilty before God for his siding with Absalom. Whereupon we collect that ofttimes men suffer innocently for some crimes that are laid to their charge, and in respect of the persons who are the pursuers; yet in God's judgment they are justly punished for other sins, wherein either they have been spared or else have not been noted to the world; and as many at the hour of their death and execution, publicly have acknowledged" (Guild).
4. The commission of a great crime by one who possesses great abilities and renders great public services. Alas! that a man of such military skill, practical sagacity, and tried fidelity as Joab (now far advanced in life), should have been so "hardened by the deceitfulness of sin"! Once more he saved the monarchy; and once more David was compelled to bear with him (2 Samuel 3:39; 2 Samuel 19:13). "He probably felt obliged to show some indulgence to a man who was indispensable to him as a soldier, and who, notwithstanding his culpable ferocity, never lost sight of his master's interests." His indulgence was doubtless also due, in part, to the consciousness of his own sin (Psalm 51:3), which made him unwilling to inflict the penalty of the law on one who had been his partner in guilt. But at length judgment overtakes the transgressor; the Law is vindicated; and the ways of God to men are justified (1 Kings 2:5, 6, 28-35). Near the very spot where his crowning act of perfidy was perpetrated, Joab received his death blow from the hand of Benaiah (1 Chronicles 16:39). - D.
2 Samuel 20:15-22. - (ABEL-BETH-MAACAH.)
1. Hard pressed by the forces of Joab, Sheba threw himself into the fortified city of Abel-beth-Maachah (in the northwest extremity of Palestine). The feelings of its inhabitants toward him are not stated. But Joab soon appeared; and, without entering into any negotiations with them, made preparations for attack. "Taking advantage of an oblong knoll of natural rock that rises above the surrounding plain, the original inhabitants raised a high mound sufficiently large for the city. With a deep trench and strong wall it must have been almost impregnable. The besiegers cast up a mount against the city, 'and it stood in the trench'" etc. (Thomson, 'The Land and the Book'). A deadly conflict was imminent.
2. At this juncture a wise woman presented herself at the wall; and, having obtained a hearing, sought to make peace; nor was her endeavour fruitless. "There was a little city," etc. (Ecclesiastes 9:14, 15). "Wisdom is better than strength. Wisdom is better than weapons of war; but one sinner destroyeth much good" (Ecclesiastes 9:16, 18). As one bad man exposed the city to destruction, so one good woman effected its deliverance.
3. There is often much need of a peacemaker to heal the strife that arises between individuals, families, cities, Churches, and nations. Regarded as an example to others, this "wise woman" of Abel -
I. POSSESSED AN EXCELLENT SPIRIT; observant, prudent, sagacious, peaceful, faithful, just, and benevolent. Hence she was prompted to go of her own accord, individually and independently, to "seek peace, and pursue it" (1 Peter 3:11; Psalm 34:12-16; Genesis 13:8, 9).
1. Being grieved at the sight of strife between brethren, and the prospect of the miseries which they were about to inflict on each other.
2. Being desirous of preventing the evil which threatened them, and promoting their welfare. Her chief concern was about her own city, which was likely to be the greater sufferer; but she was also (like Joab, ver. 20) concerned about others, and the general good of Israel, in which Abel was "a mother city," a part of "the inheritance of Jehovah" (ver. 19).
3. Having faith in the common sense of men, their regard for their own interest (when they saw it, not blinded by prejudice), their love of justice, their generally good intentions (when not under the influence of wrath and revenge), and their susceptibility to the power of persuasion.
4. Being determined to make every possible effort and sacrifice, and undergo any personal risk and suffering for the sake of peace. She was doubtless willing (as others have been) to lay down her own life if thereby the lives of others might be spared. "Peacemakers are fire quenchers, who, although they may with plying of engines and much ado, rescue a pile of buildings from the flames, yet their eyes will be sure to smart with the smoke" (R. Harris).
II. ADOPTED AN ADMIRABLE METHOD; thereby justifying the "wisdom" with which she was credited. Perceiving that there was some misunderstanding between the contending parties, her aim was to clear it up; if there were any real cause of contention, to remove it; and thus dispose them to peace. This she endeavoured to effect by:
1. Seizing the opportune moment for interposition; promptly availing herself of the pause before the attack. Instead of "battered the wall" (Authorized Version), read, "were devising to throw down the wall." There is generally such a time for the work of a peacemaker, which, if it be neglected, may be afterwards too late.
2. Making use of courteous, gentle, reasonable, and impressive speech. "Hear the words of thine handmaid." Like the woman of Tekoah (2 Samuel 14:4), she was a mistress in the art of persuasion. "The tongue of the wise is health" (Proverbs 12:18); "a tree of life" (Proverbs 15:4; Proverbs 10:20; Proverbs 18:21).
3. Ascertaining the nature of the misunderstanding, and the occasion of complaint; and, for this purpose, going directly and separately to the persons concerned, and learning it from their own lips. She knew the sentiments of her people, especially that they felt aggrieved that no communications should have been made to them by Joab, and suspected his destructive and merciless designs. And now she sought to discover what were his real thoughts and purposes in relation to them. How much mischief would be prevented if contending parties would only be at pains to understand one another!
4. Removing all misconception, and producing the conviction in each party of the just aims and good intentions of the other. To Joab she said, "You evidently deem this city deficient in good sense; whereas it has been always noted for its wisdom and conciliatory disposition and counsel. You think the people contentious and rebellious; I assure you in their name that we are among the most peaceable and faithful in Israel. Yet, without any communication with us, so as to ascertain our feelings, and without any reasonable cause, you are about to give an important city of Israel to the devouring sword. Why will you bring to ruin what belongs to the Lord?" On the other hand, from his reply, it was made apparent that he was not desirous of their destruction (as they supposed), but only sought to inflict a just punishment on a notorious traitor in their midst, and was under the necessity (if, as he had supposed, they harboured him, participated with him in rebellion, and resolved to defend him to the utmost) of making an attack upon them for that purpose. "Far be it, far be it from me... The matter is not so," etc. (vers. 20, 21). Misunderstanding was now at an end, but a real occasion of difference remained.
5. Obtaining needful concessions on both sides. "Deliver him only, and I will depart from the city... Behold, his head shall be thrown to thee through the wall." If (as is doubtful) the people had (from whatever reason) at first shown favour to the cause of Sheba, they were now persuaded by her to do otherwise, "and so they ended the matter."
6. Requiring no sacrifice of principle; but only urging a course conformable to "goodness, righteousness, and truth," and consistent with professed obedience to the will of the Lord. "The just punishment of one atrocious criminal is frequently mercy to great numbers" (Scott). "Follow peace with all men, and holiness" (Hebrews 12:14; Romans 14:19; James 3:17, 18).
III. ACHIEVED AN EMINENT TRIUMPH - the triumph of peace. "And he blew the trumpet" (ver. 22) summoning to peace, as Sheba had blown it summoning to war (ver. 1). It was a victory over error, distrust, wilfulness, wrath, injustice, rebellion; and one by which:
1. An immense evil was prevented.
2. The general good was promoted.
3. The Divine kingdom (as represented in the government of David) was confirmed.
4. The peacemaker's joy was fulfilled. The wise woman accomplished what she had set her heart upon; and in blessing others was herself blessed. "Blessed are the peacemakers," etc. (Matthew 5:9). "Of the following things," said a Jewish rabbi, "men reap the fruits both in the present and the future life - honouring father and mother, bestowing benefits, and making peace between men."
1. It is hardly possible to estimate too highly the worth of peace among men.
2. Those who would make peace between others must themselves be at peace with God, with their own hearts, and with their neighbours. The peacemaker must not be a peacebreaker.
3. The greatest Peacemaker the world has ever seer. is Jesus Christ, who is "our Peace" (Ephesians 2:14).
4. In proportion as we partake of his spirit we shall endeavour to heal all unholy strife and promote "peace on earth." D.
Romans 14:17); "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness" (Galatians 5:22, Revised Version); "Love truth and peace" (Zechariah 8:19, Revised Version).
I. PEACEABLENESS. This Christian virtue is very frequently inculcated in the Scriptures, especially the New Testament.
1. Its nature. It consists in a disposition to live in harmony and friendliness with all. It shows itself by courtesy and kindness; by avoidance of contention and quarrels; by carefulness not to give just or needless provocation to others; by meek endurance of provocation and even injustice from others; by readiness to give and receive explanation and apology; by quiet, unobtrusive performance of one's own duties, and abstinence from intermeddling with other people's business; by overlooking small offences, and readiness to forgive greater.
2. Its sources. In some it is a natural disposition. As a Christian virtue it springs from:
(1) Christian love - love to Christian brethren as such, and love to all. This prompts those in whom it reigns to seek the happiness of others, and to put the most charitable construction on their conduct. It also subdues the irascible dispositions, and the selfishness which so readily leads to alienation and contention.
(2) Christian humility. "By pride cometh contention" (Proverbs 13:10). The proud exaggerate their own claims, expect too much from others, resent slight offence, insist on unreasonable reparation. But the humble avoid, without effort, such occasions of strife. Thus love and humility promote peace; and all the influences and motives which produce and foster the former are equally favourable to the latter.
3. Its benefits.
(1) To the peaceable themselves. It is itself happiness. It secures the good will of others, the enjoyment of which is happiness. It is a frame of mind favourable to the cultivation and growth of all Christian virtues; and to all those devout exercises by which these are nourished and the favour of God realized.
(2) To society. The absence of the annoyance and discomfort which the contentious occasion. The enjoyment of quietness and rest. The peaceable are also peacemakers, and promote a pacific disposition in others. If all men were peaceable, wars, small and great alike, would cease.
II. FAITHFULNESS. "Faithful," on the lips of the wise woman, probably meant "loyal" to the king. It might well include also uprightness in general. "We are a people not only peaceful, but (as the word is) reliable, trustworthy. We are honest, just, steadily occupied with a faithful discharge of our duties, at once to God, to each other, and to the state." Fidelity must be associated with peaceableness to form a noble Christian character; fidelity to Christ and God, to conscience and conviction, to truth and duty, to promises and engagements; fidelity to those to whom we are variously related in family, social, ecclesiastical, and national life. This gives strength to the character, as gentleness and peacefulness give beauty. The two qualities are not incompatible, but mutually helpful. A peaceful spirit prevents fidelity from becoming harsh, censorious, meddlesome, fierce. Fidelity prevents peacefulness from becoming an immoral weakness, which disregards justice and truth, is ever making unworthy Compromises, and would rather sacrifice the highest principles than run the risk of arousing the passions of men by asserting and defending them. Only "the wisdom that is from above," which "is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without variance, without hypocrisy" (James 3:17, Revised Version); in other words, the teaching of the Holy Spirit, - can enable us to give to each of these virtues, peacefulness and faithfulness, its due place. - G.W.
Deuteronomy 4:20; Deuteronomy 9:26, 29). The "wise woman," in remonstrating with Joab against his assault on Abel, applies the term to that part of the people which dwelt there. It was an assertion of their right, as belonging to the chosen people, to be protected, not destroyed. The corresponding word in the New Testament is used of the everlasting possession which Christians will inherit, not of Christians themselves (unless Ephesians 1:18 be an exception). But the idea is presented in other words (see 1 Peter 2:9, "a people for God's own possession," Revised Version), and the remonstrance might be appropriately addressed to any who seek to destroy the Church of God.
I. CHRISTIANS ARE THE LORD'S INHERITANCE. That part of mankind which is specially his.
1. Which he has peculiarly appropriated. All the world is his; hut, while he has left the larger portion of it for a time comparatively waste, he has in a special manner claimed and separated this for himself.
2. For which he specially cares, bestowing upon it peculiar culture, watching over it with special interest.
3. From which he expects and receives special returns. Of thought, love, confidence, praise, "fruits of righteousness" (Philippians 1:11), glory (Matthew 5:16). The words, "inheritance of the Lord," may be applied to the whole Church; or (according to the analogy of the text) to any part of it, any Christian society; or to individual Christians. And it is fitted to awaken in them reflections as to the degree in which they are worthy of the name, and to encourage the sincere to expect the special protection and blessing of God.
II. THERE ARE ATTEMPTS TO DESTROY GOD'S INHERITANCE. Some are wrongly charged with such attempts. Joab declared truly that his aim was not to "swallow up or destroy" (ver. 20). He only wished to punish a traitor, by doing which he would serve instead of injuring "the inheritance of the Lord." In like manner, men who endeavour to purify the Church from error and sinful practices may be wrongly charged with seeking to destroy what their desire is to conserve. Reformers are often regarded as destructives. Such, however, do need to be cautioned lest anything in their spirit or measures should injure what is good more than correct what is evil. Some, again, injure God's inheritance without deliberate intention. Unworthy ministers of religion, hypocrites, and inconsistent Christians are of this class. But others are chargeable with endeavouring to destroy God's inheritance.
1. Such as attempt to destroy faith in the great Christian verities. Could they succeed, there would be no Christianity, no Church, no "inheritance of the Lord," left in the world.
2. Persecutors of Christians in general, or of particular sections of them. Various bodies of Christians have in turn sought not to convince (which is right), but to root out, their fellow Christians, employing the civil power, if that were at their command, or, if not, using their wealth or social influence to oppress or entice in order to suppress.
III. THE EXPOSTULATION OF THE TEXT MAY BE JUSTLY ADDRESSED TO THOSE WHO MAKE SUCH ATTEMPTS. "Why wilt thou swallow up," etc.? The words may be used to urge consideration of:
1. The reasons and motives which prompt the attempts. Such as:
(1) Hatred of piety and holiness. This often impels infidels in their assaults on the faith of Christians; but many who are called Christians, if they examined themselves, would find that it was also the motive of their endeavours to suppress Christians more in earnest than themselves.
(2) Love of domination.
(3) Pride of superiority, real or supposed.
(4) Indignation at faithful testimony or reproof.
(5) Inability to discern the marks of God's true people. The external being regarded to the exclusion of the internal and spiritual; the essential qualities being overlooked because dissociated from certain overestimated accidentals. A blindness produced by a narrow education, or exclusive intercourse with one kind of Christians.
(6) Unholy zeal, such as actuated St. Paul before his conversion (Acts 26:9; Philippians 3:6; comp. John 16:2). The assailants of the Church or any part or member of it may well be urged to pause and consider their real spirit and motives; and whether these will bear reflection, or are capable of justification.
2. The impiety and unrighteousness of such attempts. The wise woman suggests to Joab, by the words she uses, that he would be guilty of these sins if he persisted in his assault on the town. So those who assail the Church of God:
(1) Sin against God. Whose inheritance they are invading. So far as they succeed, they lessen God's part in society and its affairs; they injure those who are precious in his sight ("He that toucheth you toucheth the apple of his eye," Zechariah 2:8; comp. Acts 9:4; Romans 4:15, 20; 1 Corinthians 8:12). The friends of God should shrink from any conduct which tends to lessen the testimony for him in the world, and cripple those who are desirous of promoting his kingdom according to their lights.
(2) They violate the rights of Christians. Every part of the Christian community is entitled to liberty of profession and "prophesying" (see Bishop Jeremy Taylor's treatise on this subject), and to sympathy and all possible help from the rest. All good citizens are entitled to the protection of the state, and cannot be justly persecuted by it on account of their religion.
3. Their futility. "The inheritance of the Lord" cannot be really swallowed up, although certain portions of it may for a time be injured. "Upon this rock I will build my Church; and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it" (Matthew 16:18).
4. The retribution which will surely follow them. Christians who, in their blindness, make them in any degree, receive loss and injury thereby in their own souls and in their influence for good; the enemies of God will find that he is too mighty for them. He will "plead his own cause" (Psalm 74:22), and "avenge his elect" (Luke 18:7). - G.W.