Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. AN ELECT MAN, THE BEST OF THE AGE, BECOMES A MEDIUM OF REVELATION BETWEEN GOD AND MEN. As in nature, so in human life, there are numberless grades of office and of function. At Sinai, we have God, angels, Moses, priests. The transparent candor and fidelity of Moses, as a subaltern in God's great host, is a light to all future ages. As the uncreated light left an abiding impress on the face of Moses, so the known will of God shone out lustrously in Moses' life. All that Moses heard, he communicated by word, and temper, and influence, and deed.
II. MATERIAL PENURY A CONDITION FOR HEAVENLY ENRICHMENT. The scene for the revelation of God, is the wilderness. Stripped of earthly luxuries, the mind opens its portals to heavenly visitation. This is not a necessity arising out of the nature of things, but it is a necessity for man in his present state. The son of Zacharias, though a priest, turned his back upon the temple, and chose the wilderness as the theatre most suitable for his ponderous undertaking. This the spirit of prophecy had foreseen. It was in the desert, Jesus fed the thousands by a creative word. In the desert, Paul was equipped for shaking the foundations of paganism. In Patmos, John passed through- the - portals of the spirit-world.
III. HUMAN POWER IS FORMAL - GOD'S POWER REAL. To the eye of mortal sense, the Hebrews, drilled and officered, fought victoriously with Amalek and Moab; nevertheless, a clearer vision sees that it was God that slew Sihon, King of the Amorites, and 'Og, King of Bashan. Let us be sure that what we do, God does by us I Be we the agents; God the principal! In righteous warfare, "He teacheth our fingers to fight." In us hourly let God be immanent. "God wills it," therefore let us will it also. "He worketh in us."
IV. IMMEDITATION AND ACTION INTEGRAL PARTS OF HEALTHFUL LIFE. "Ye have dwelt long enough in this mount." The body may be wrecked by surfeit, as well as by hunger. Knowledge is not entirely ours, until it is reduced to practice. Heavenly wisdom is essentially practical. All light is designed for service. The doctrines of religion are raw materials, which are to be put into the warp and woof of our daily life. Is "the Lamb the light of the heavenly place?" The saints "follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth." Meditation qualifies for action; action demands new meditation. These are the two wings, without both of which the eagle cannot rise. "Come ye into the desert;" "Go and preach;" - these are the twin behests of Christ.
V. GOD'S ABSOLUTE PURPOSES LEAVE FULL SCOPE FOR MAN'S OBEDIENCE. How the two things are co-related, we cannot ascertain. The point of junction is among the incomprehensible - beneath the surface of things. There is now and again seeming discord; but as we listen on there is a profounder harmony. The Lord swore unto the patriarchs to give them the land of Canaan. Yet the spies brought back an ill report; and the people debated and murmured, vacillated and countermarched, as if they had been the umpires of their destiny.
VI. GOD'S PROVISION IS ALWAYS MORE AMPLE THAN MAN'S DESIRE. God's plan for Israel's territory extended from Mount Lebanon to the Euphrates; but Israel never rose to the full height of God's design. "Ask what I shall give thee" is still the message from heaven to every man. "Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it." "We have not because we ask not." There is abundance of sea-room in God's plan for the largest human endeavor; and every day the voice of the Great Proprietor reminds us, "There is yet very much land to be possessed." "All things are yours." - D.
I. THE SPEAKER. "Moses." Though an hundred and twenty years old, "his eye was not dim, nor his natural force abated" (Deuteronomy 34:7) - a statement borne out by the sustained eloquence of these addresses. He speaks with the authority of a prophet, the affection of a patriot, and the earnestness of a dying man.
II. THE HEARERS. "All Israel." A new generation had sprung up from that which had received the Law at Sinai.
1. All are concerned in hearing God's message. "It is your life" (Deuteronomy 32:47).
2. New-comers need new teaching.
III. THE SITUATION. "In the wilderness" - still there at the end of forty years. The places named (ver. 1), suggestive of past wanderings and rebellions. Form a background to the discourses that follow, and point home their lessons. We learn:
1. The value of association as an aid in teaching.
2. Our past cannot be got rid of, but it may be utilized.
3. God's Word is to be pondered in the light of bygone experiences.
4. The comparison of our actual situation with what it might have been (ver. 2) is often a salutary exercise (cf. Luke 15:17).
IV. THE SUBJECT. "All that the Lord had given him in commandment." We find that this does not refer to a new commandment, but to the old commandment which they had from the beginning (cf. 1 John 2:8).
1. Men crave for novelty, but the function of the preacher is to remind them of the truths which do not change, and to give "line upon line, precept upon precept," until loyal and hearty obedience is rendered to the same.
2. Exhortation is most effective when it takes as its basis the sure Word of God.
3. God's Word is to be spoken in its entirety.
V. THE TIME. "In the fortieth year, in the eleventh month" - when the attack on the Canaanites was about to be renewed, and after signal tokens of Divine favor had already been granted (ver. 4).
1. God's mercies call for renewed dedication (Psalm 116:12-14).
3. We need God's commandment in our memories and hearts when entering on work in which formidable opposition is to be encountered, and which will put our fidelity to a severe test.
VI. THE MOTIVE.
1. The natural solicitude of old age. It is characteristic of old age to fall back upon and reiterate previous counsels. Compare Peter in his second Epistle (2 Peter 1:16); the traditional stories of the old age of John; Paul in the pastoral Epistles, "urging and repeating and dilating upon truths which have been the food of his life" (Alford).
2. The lawgiver's knowledge of the rebelliousness of the people's disposition (Deuteronomy 9:24).
3. The Divine command (ver. 3). This had respect to the altered circumstances of the new generation, and to the prospect of their entering the land promised to their fathers, continuance in which was conditional on obedience. - J.O.
I. There was to be NO RESPECT OF PERSONS IN JUDGMENT. And here we may quote a definition which will materially aid us in this subject: "By the word person in Scripture signifies not a man, but those things in a man which, being conspicuous to the eyes, usually conciliate favor, honor, and dignity, or attract hatred, contempt, and disgrace. Such are riches, wealth, power, nobility, magistracy, country, elegance of form, on the one hand; and on the other, poverty, necessity, ignoble birth, slovenliness, contempt, and the like." These Jewish judges, therefore, were directed to allow Bone of these personal accidents to influence their judgments in the cases committed to them, but to decide as matters of pure equity.
II. There was to be NO FEAR OF MAN in their judgments. The consequences to themselves were not to be regarded. They were to be fearless officers, representing the Most High.
III. We see here that WITH GOD THERE CAN BE NO RESPECT OF PERSONS AND NO FEAR OF MAN. The strict impartiality of God has been questioned, if representations of his procedure drawn from the Divine Word are accepted. Now, the whole plan of salvation by grace appears favoritism and partiality. What is the meaning of "grace?" Undoubtedly free, unmerited favor. If, then, salvation is by grace (Ephesians 2:8), must not God be liable to the charge of partiality? Such, at least, is the reasoning of some in the interests of certain systems. But when the matter is looked into more closely, we find that salvation by free grace is the most conclusive evidence of God's impartiality. It is really saying to all men, "Unless you give up the notion of recommending yourselves to me; unless you surrender the idea of some special claim in your being or your life upon me; unless, in a word, you lay aside the fancy that you must be partially and exceptionally treated, which is the whole meaning of self-righteousness, I cannot save you." This is impartiality Par excellence; and this is exactly God's position in offering salvation to men. All who refuse salvation are really refusing to be treated impartially, and are clamoring for exceptional consideration on the ground of some fancied merit. The rejected at the last will be found to be those who wanted favoritism, but put away free grace. The line of thought opened up here may be profitably carried on. - R.M.E.
1. Sin turns short ways into long ones.
2. Sin entails on the transgressor needless trouble and sorrow.
3. Sin fills life with fruitless regrets.
4. Sin delays fulfillment of God's promises.
The path of obedience is in the end the shortest, easiest, safest, and happiest. - J.O.
I. THE CHURCH'S DANGER - to abide at the mount, to settle down into a state of apathy or simple receptivity. This is met by the call to action - "Ye have dwelt long enough in this mount: turn you, and take your journey" (vers. 6, 7). Notice:
1. Israel's stay at the mount was good while it lasted. There the nation enjoyed a season of rest, ratified its covenant with God, received the Law, constructed a sanctuary, and was otherwise equipped and organized. There must be times of getting, of learning, of consulting for one's own edification, else it will go hard with us in the work and battle of life. But
2. There was a danger that Israel's stay at the mount might last too long. So is it with the Church, when she concentrates her attention too exclusively on her own spiritual improvement, and forgets her mission to the world. We have to remember that we get and learn only that we may apply and act. There is the peril of religion becoming a species of enjoyment. We luxuriate in retired communion, in restful fellowship with God, in converse with fellow-believers, in Church ordinances; and we think how sweet it would be if this could always last. But we are wrong. It would not be good for us always to be in this state of simple receiving. Religion, divorced from active employment, must soon lose its robustness, and degenerate into a sickly religiosity. There are many, many Christians who have been long enough, and far too long, in the mount, and it would be welt for themselves if they could hear this voice summoning them to go forward.
II. THE CHURCH'S DESTINY - to possess the land. The type was the land of Canaan; the antitype, so far as it lies in time, is the world, which it is the Church's calling to conquer for Christ, and for her own possession. St. Paul gives this interpretation in Romans 4:13. Taking the passage in this light, and reading the wider truth into it, we get the idea of a land which is:
1. Known to God (ver. 7). Known thoroughly, in all its parts, peoples, districts, conformation, accessibilities, and inaccessibilities. In advancing to take possession of the world for Christ, we have the encouragement of thinking that he knows precisely to what kind of work he is sending us, and yet promises success. India, China, Africa, etc., - he knows them all, yet he says, "Go in and possess."
2. Gifted by God (ver. 8). It is long since the oracle declared that God had given Christ the heathen for his inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for his possession (Psalm 2:8). The Church, as one with Christ, shares in his kingdom, and shall yet inherit the whole earth.
3. The conquest of which is commanded by God. Not, indeed, by carnal weapons, as the Israelites were commanded to conquer Canaan, nor yet by the destruction of those against whom we war; but by the nobler weapons of the truth, and by seeking men's salvation. This is a benigner method of conquest, and it will prove successful if we advance with faith and courage. Those who persist in hardening themselves must indeed be destroyed; but not by us. The Lord puts no weapon of a kind to injure any into our hands; but bids us leave vengeance with himself. Our means are the preaching of the gospel, prayer, holy living, organized and beneficent activity to reach the lost sheep of our great communities, and multiplied missionary agencies in foreign lands.
III. THE CHURCH'S DUTY - to obey her Lord, and go forward at once to this great work.
1. He gives no alternative.
2. The command is express.
3. The world sorely needs our work.
4. Every motive of gratitude and compassion should urge us to it. - J.O.
I. A WISE MAN DISAVOWS ABSOLUTE MONARCHY. Legislation, the most difficult department of government, had been furnished for Israel by the Supreme Mind of the universe; yet Moses found the task of administration too much for a single arm. The aim of every ruler ought to be, not personal power, but universal service - the greatest good of the greatest number. No wise man will expose himself to the tremendous temptation of personal aggrandizement. Beside, it is a boon to others to exercise the faculties of discrimination and judgment.
II. POPULAR CHOICE OF RULERS TO BE DETERMINED BY A SINGLE LAW, VIZ. PERSONAL MERIT. To lift the voice for an unqualified ruler is a crime against the State - an injury, and not a benefit, to the person elect. To allow personal qualification to dominate the choice, is to make God the umpire. This is, in civic affairs, "to do his will on earth as it is done in heaven."
III. THERE IS ROOM, BOTH IN THE CHURCH AND IN THE STATE, FOR VARIOUS OFFICES. If a man cannot rule five thousand, he may be able to rule fifty. Service in a subordinate station may qualify for higher dignity. Gradation of rank best conserves the interests of the nation. "Order is Heaven's first law."
IV. ALL HUMAN AUTHORITY IS IN THE STEAD OF GOD. "The judgment is God's." Magistrates act in God's stead. Parents likewise. Every man is bound to act as God would act. He represents God always and everywhere. All talent is a trust. We are the stewards of God's estate.
V. HUMANITY IS FAR SUPERIOR TO NATIONALITY, CLASS, OR SECT. Every man, however poor or ignorant, is to be accounted a brother. In the commonwealth of Israel there are no strangers. Nationality is but a pasteboard separation. "God hath made of one blood all nations." The great divider is sin. A heaven-kindled eye penetrates through every crust of barbarism and vice, and sees a man beneath. Here is a kingly nature, though now enslaved.
VI. GROWTH OF NUMBERS IS A TOKEN OF DIVINE APPROBATION. In the ratio of material abundance and contentment, is increase of population. It was one of the presages of Messiah's kingdom, "they of the city shall flourish like grass of the earth." In heathen lands population is sparse. War and pestilence decimate the ranks. In proportion as sound Christianity prevails, the subjects of the state augment. Every additional man ought to be an increment of strength and usefullness.
VII. PRAYER HAS A RECOGNIZED PLACE IN GOD'S GOVERNMENT. Promise always waits on prayer, as harvest waits on the husbandman's toil. However abundant are the promises, yet for the fulfillment God will be inquired of to do it for us. When prayer has its root in God's specific promise, it must bear fruit in proportion as faith enlarges her boughs. This is wise building, for we found our expectations upon eternal rock.
VIII. GOOD MEN GREATLY DESIRE THEIR COUNTRY'S GOOD. Patriotism is a goodly virtue, though not the noblest. To fence ourselves round with selfish interests is despicable. We envy not that man's narrow soul who has no sympathy nor energy for his nation's weal. The best Christian will take some interest in everything - in municipal matters, international treaties, literature, science, commerce, art. In the broadest sense, he is a citizen of the world. He lives to bless others. This is Christ like. - D.
Exodus 18:13-27.) An instance of a good idea
(2) readily adopted,
(3) generally approved of.
Reminds us that division of labor is as important in Church work as in the arts.
I. THE NEGLECT OF DIVISION OF LABOR LEADS TO SERIOUS EVILS.
1. The work is not overtaken. "Not able" (ver. 9).
2. Those who have to do it are greatly overtaxed. "Cumbrance," "burden" (ver. 12).
3. Energy is wasted on subordinate tasks which might be applied to better purpose.
II. THE ADOPTION OF DIVISION OF LABOR SECURES OBVIOUS ADVANTAGES.
1. Relieves the responsible heads.
2. Expedites business and promotes order.
3. Secures that the work is better done.
4. Utilizes varieties of talent.
But parties must be as willing to co-operate as they were here.
III. RIGHTLY TO SECURE THE ADVANTAGES OF DIVISION OF LABOR THERE MUST BE EFFICIENT ORGANIZATION. When Moses took in hand the appointment of assistants, he did it thoroughly (ver. 15). The work which each is to do must not be left to haphazard, or to "understandings," or to the tastes and inclinations of individuals, but should be definitely marked out. There must be organization and distribution of tasks on a general plan, which, while it affords room for all grades of talent, allots work with a view to the aptitudes which each is known to possess. It is characteristic of Moses' scheme:
1. That it took advantage of existing institutions.
2. That it rested on a broad, popular basis; elective (ver. 13). - J.O.
I. THE CHURCH'S INCREASE AN OBJECT OF DESIRE. "The Lord God of your fathers make you," etc. (ver. 11). Such increase is:
1. A token of Divine favor (Acts 11:24).
3. A source of blessing to the world (Psalm 67.).
4. A fulfillment of the Divine counsels (Ephesians 1:10).
5. Means the ascendancy of true religion.
II. THE CHURCH'S INCREASE AN OBJECT OF WONDER. (Ver. 10.) The rapid spread, the extraordinary victories, the prolonged empire, and the undecaying vitality of the Christian religion are the most wonderful things in history, and a proof of its Divine origin. As Israel increased by the Divine blessing at an unprecedented rate, and in spite of all Pharaoh's attempts to check the increase, so has the Church flourished and spread, proving herself in her unarmed strength more than a match for the deadliest powers which can be arrayed against her. The present century has witnessed a remarkable revival of this propagative energy of Christianity (comp. Numbers 23:23).
III. THE CHURCH'S INCREASE A MATTER OF PROMISE. (Ver. 11.) The promise to Abraham of a countless seed embraced in its widest import the spiritual, not less than the natural, Israel - his seed in Christ (Romans 4:16; Galatians 3:7-10, 14, 16, 26, 29). (Cf. the promises in Isaiah 53:10-12; Isaiah 54:1-3; Isaiah 60:1-12, with Daniel 2:35, 44; Matthew 8:11; Revelation 7:9). - J.O.
Matthew 7:1); but his rebuke of the censorious spirit is not to be read as forbidding the framing of such judgments upon the character, actions, and pretensions of others as the circumstances of our position may render necessary. We are called every day of our lives to form, and frequently to express, judgments upon men, measures, causes, theories, disputes, proposals; judgments as to true and false, right and wrong, wise and unwise, expedient and inexpedient. Matters are appealed to us as individuals, or as a part of the general community, on which judgment is expressly asked. We must judge that we may know how to act. All this involves the possibility of judging rashly; of judging with bias and prejudice; of judging so as to do wrong to individuals; of judging so as to injure truth and retard progress and improvement. The text teaches us, on the contrary -
I. THAT CAUSES, BEFORE BEING JUDGED, ARE TO BE FAIRLY HEARD. How many judgments are passed daily in utter ignorance of the real facts of the case, and without any attempt to ascertain them, perhaps without the means of ascertaining them! Such judgments are ipso facto unjust. It is only by the rarest chance they can be right, and their rightness being accidental does not justify them. Let judgments be reserved for cases in which we have an opportunity of full investigation. Hear both sides, and hear them
(2) candidly, and
II. THAT CAUSES, AFTER BEING HEARD, ARE TO HAVE JUDGMENT PASSED UPON THEM WITH STRICT IMPARTIALITY. "Judge not according to the appearance," said Jesus, "but judge righteous judgment" - an instance illustrating that wider view of judging which we are here taking (John 7:24). Equal measure is to be meted out to all. We are to judge impartially as between brother and brother, fellow-citizen and foreigner, rich and poor, applying the same principles and standards to each case, and keeping in view the essential merits as the one thing to be regarded. This is the plain rule of justice, though we all feel how difficult it is to act up to it.
III. THAT JUDGMENT UPON CAUSES IS TO BE GIVEN FEARLESSLY. "Ye shall not be afraid of the face of man." (Cf. the Regent Morton's eulogy on Knox - "There lies he who never feared the face of man.") Even when just judgment is being pronounced internally, the fear of man, or the desire of man's favor, or the dread of temporal consequences, often leads to a time-serving tampering with conviction, to a saying and doing of the thing we do not at heart approve of. This is the worst kind of cowardice.
IV. THAT JUDGMENT UPON CAUSES IS TO BE GIVEN UNDER A DUE SENSE OF RESPONSIBILITY TO GOD. "The judgment is God's." Judges are his vicegerents, deriving their authority from him, expressing the judgment of his righteousness, anticipating his own final judgment, and themselves responsible to him for the manner in which they exercise their functions. Every biased, untrue, and insincere judgment is a misrepresentation of that truth and rectitude which have their ground in God's own being.
V. THAT IN CAUSES ON WHICH WE ARE INCOMPETENT TO PRONOUNCE, JUDGMENT IS NOT TO BE ATTEMPTED. (Ver. 17.) - J.O.
I. THE CULMINATION OF OPPORTUNITY OFTEN FINDS A MAN UNPREPARED TO OCCUPY IT. The point of time referred to here was the supreme moment in Israel's history. They had relinquished Egypt, endured privation, performed a toilsome journey, for one object, viz. to possess Canaan; yet, when they touched the threshold of the inheritance, they failed to rise to the conception of their privilege. They hesitated, dawdled, feared - and failed. Men play with opportunity as a toy, and when their eyes open to see its value, lo! it has vanished. Possibly, there is a supreme moment in every man's history; yet often he is too indolent to improve it. Every morning is not a May-day. Many reach the margin of a glorious destiny, and then turn back to the desert, The path of duty is very plain; but self-indulgence makes us blind as a mole.
II. THE DISHONESTY OF PRUDENTIAL PLEAS. These Hebrew men thought themselves very sagacious to suggest the experiment of the spies; and God endured their whim. Yet there was no reason for this precaution. With God as a Pioneer and Protector, they might have known that it was safer to follow the fiery pillar than to remain at ease in their tents. The command was plain - "Go up and possess." Therefore all delay, and all reconnoitering, was sin. If we were to deal honestly with inclination, if every whisper of conscience were obeyed, we should often see through the thin guise of our own pretences; we should strip the veneer of insincerity from our deeds. In some dark cavern of our hearts we may find, by honest search, some wish that we are ashamed to avow. There is often a conspiracy in the man against himself. We hunt for excuses to cover disobedience.
III. UNBELIEF DEVELOPS, THROUGH MANY STAGES, INTO RANK REBELLION. The report of the spies confirmed the word of God. This always accords with external fact, and with human experience. God had not said that the Canaanites were few or weak. What mattered it how tall and brawny they were, if so be God were on their side, and fought for them? Old Unbelief is a fool, and ought to be decorated with cap and bells. Unbelief is poison, and saps the basis of our strength, enervates our courage, and melts our iron into flux. Unbelief develops into falsehood, and perverts the truth of God into lying. Unbelief maligns and traduces God - charges him with the basest crime. It calls evil good; purest love it styles blackest hate. It is the essence of blasphemy. It is the crime of crimes - the seed of misery - the germ of hell.
IV. THE RETRIBUTIONS OF GOD ARE SEVERE AND EQUITABLE. Much that human judgment deems to be retribution is not penalty. Bodily suffering is usually corrective, not destructive. The retributions of God are co-related to the sin. Men pamper the passion for drink: inappeasable thirst shall be their doom. Men say to God, "Depart from me!" God responds, "Depart from me!" The Hebrews would not march into possession of Canaan: therefore they shall dwell and die in the desert. Retribution is related to sin as fruit to blossom - as wages to work. There comes a point where return is impossible. God swears that it shall be so. The oath is an oath of righteousness. Nevertheless, out of the crowds of the nameless ungodly, individual liegemen shall be honored, even Caleb and Joshua. These are elect spirits - choice natures. In the day of overwhelming calamity, God does not overlook the solitary righteous. "He hideth him in the hollow of his hand." The proofs of inviolable equity are written in gigantic capitals on the heavens and on the earth.
V. THE FORECASTS OF FEAR ARE OFTEN THE REVERSE OF REALITY, Cowardly and disobedient Hebrews pretended a far-reaching concern for their children. "If we are slain in this invasion of Canaan, what will become of our little ones?" - thus argued these malcontents. "Can we endure to think that they shall become a prey to these human wolves?" They were frightened at a mirage - terrified at the shadow of their own folly. Facts were the very reverse of their fears. These "little ones" God would take into training - drill them by the hardy discipline of the wilderness, and qualify them for warfare and for conquest.
VI. REPENTANCE HAS MANY COUNTERFEITS. There is often confession of our folly, and yet no repentance; promise of amendment, yet no repentance. There may he poignant regret for the past, bitter shame, sharp remorse, deep compunction, severe self-judgment, yet no repentance. For repentance is soul-submission unto God. It brings our feeling, desire, will, into harmony with God's feeling and will. Repentance has not thoroughly penetrated the soul until we love what God loves, and hate what God hates. True repentance works for righteousness. Deceit may so worm itself in the heart as to intertwine itself round every fiber of our being. We may ultimately become so blind as not to discern between truth and falsehood. The repentance of these Jews was a carnal sorrow that produced fruits of death.
VII. PRESUMPTION IS AS CRIMINAL AS PUSILLANIMITY. We dishonor God as much by going beyond the line of duty, as by falling short of it. Each alike is an act of disobedience. We cannot atone for cowardice yesterday by an excess of rashness today. The essence of obedience is promptitude. It is not the same whether we observe the command today, or tomorrow. Between the two there may be a gulf deep as hell itself. The prohibitions of God are as sacred as his positive commands. What is a duty today may be a sin tomorrow, because the precept may be withdrawn. Some commands are eternally permanent; some have only temporary prevalence.
VIII. REPENTANCE OFTEN COMES TOO LATE. During lifetime, repentance has moral productiveness. We may not attain the precise object, which by repentance we hoped to gain; nevertheless, real repentance brings relief and gladness to the soul! Esau was afterwards a better man for his repentance, though he could not recover his birthright. To these Hebrews, repentance came too late for them ever to possess the earthly Canaan: let us hope it availed to gain them the heavenly. It is possible for repentance, long-delayed, to be unavailing. "Because," says God, "I have called, and ye refused ... I also will laugh at your calamity, Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer." "He swore in his wrath, They shall not enter into my rest." When all gracious remedies are exhausted, "it is impossible to renew men unto repentance." It is a perilous thing to tamper with conscience, or to trifle with God. - D.
I. THE FACT OF THIS WILDERNESS DISCIPLINE. We need not exaggerate. We admit all that can be said of the world as a fair and delightful residence, in which we have much to make us happy. But it cannot be denied that the picture has a darker side. The man who has drunk deepest of the world's pleasures is he who can tell best how unsatisfying it is as a portion for the spirit. There are more sad and weary hearts in this same world than a glance at the surface of society would lead us to suspect. There are numbers to whom life is one hard, dreary, terrible, hopeless struggle with adverse conditions. The joy of a life is often blighted by a solitary stroke; and in how many eases does some secret grief embitter what seems from the outside a prosperous existence! The believer is no more exempt than others from these ordinary griefs of life - from poverty, trial, pain, bereavement. But he has thoughts and feelings of his own, which add to the pain of his situation. He is a Christian, and contact with the world's evil tries and grieves him as it will not do a worldly man. His hope is beyond, and this makes earth, with its imperfect conditions, its broken ideals, its unsatisfied yearnings, seem drearier to him. Like his Master, his ear is quicker to catch the strain of human woe - "the still sad music of humanity" - than the strain of noisier mirth. All this compels him to look at life prevailingly under an aspect of privation, discipline, and trial, and it is in no unreal sense that he speaks of it as the "wilderness." When troubles crowd on him, it is literally, as to others, "waste and howling," a "great and terrible" desert.
II. THE ENDS OF THIS WILDERNESS DISCIPLINE. These are numerous.
1. In part the discipline is inevitable - bound up with the conditions of existence in a world "made subject to vanity." But:
2. The discipline is useful.
(1) It tries and proves the heart (Deuteronomy 8:2).
(2) It inures to hardship.
(3) It develops the nobler qualities of character - faith, patience, resignation, etc. (Romans 5:3).
(4) It makes the lest sweeter when it comes (Revelations 7:14; 14:13). - J.O.
I. GOD OFFERED CANAAN TO HIS PEOPLE AS A SUITABLE INHERITANCE. It was the promise of this land which led to the exodus. The sojourn at Horeb was to organize the nation and give it laws. All was ready for an entrance into the land. Its suitability was guaranteed in the Divine promise; and if the people had been willing to walk by faith, then the invasion would have been immediate and successful. (On the suitability of the land, cf. Moorhouse's 'Hulsean Lectures,' the last sermon in the volume, on 'The Land and the People.' In Kinglake's 'Invasion of the Crimea,' we have a similar instance in the allies not taking Sebastopol by assault immediately after Alma.)
II. THE SUGGESTION ABOUT SPIES WAS REALLY A RESOLVE TO WALK BY SIGHT AND NOT BY FAITH. Moses at first approved of it, although it never came from him. He thought that anything the spies saw would only confirm them in the resolution to invade the land. But in principle it was unbelief in God. It was virtually resolving not to follow his advice unless it seemed the best. It was putting clear duty to the trial of prudence. It was a resolve to walk by appearances and not by faith. And this is the universal tendency of the human heart. Prudence often conflicts with faith and hinders wholesome action. Prudence has no voice in the matter after God has spoken. He may lead us through over-prudence, in absence of express commandment; but when the command is clear, prudence should hide its head and allow faith to obey.
III. IT WAS STILL WORSE TO HEARKEN TO THE SPIES WHOSE COUNSEL CONFLICTED WITH THE COMMAND OF GOD. Having embarked on prudential considerations, they must needs follow them out to their unbelieving end. The spies returned, and could not but acknowledge that the land was good. From Eshcol they carried on a staff a bunch of grapes sufficient of itself to vindicate the Divine choice of the land. "But the inhabitants," said ten of the spies, "are gigantic, and the cities walled up to heaven; and there is no use in thinking of successfully invading it." In vain did Caleb and Joshua counsel courage instead of cowardice, faith instead of fear. The people resolved to take counsel of their fears and unbelief. They would not enter the land of promise. So is it often in the lives of men. God offers salvation and a good land to all who will believe upon him. But men fear the giants and their castles. They imagine that the difficulties of the life of faith are beyond their powers, and so shirk them. But when God points out a path of difficulty, it is not that we may encounter its perils in our own strength, but in his. Faith will carry us through, while sense and sight are sure to fail us. - R.M.E.
Joshua 1:7, 9).
I. GOD'S WORK NEEDS COURAGE.
1. The enemies are many.
2. The enemies are strong.
3. Humanly speaking, we are feeble in comparison with them.
Distinguishing between real and nominal Christianity, it might be plausibly held that there is today greater talent, intellectual power, wealth, rank, and social influence enlisted on the side of unbelief than on the side of faith. But the true citadel of unbelief is the evil heart; and what powers of our own are sufficient to storm that?
II. IN GOD'S WORK THERE IS EVERY REASON FOR COURAGE.
1. God is with us. Our cause is his cause.
2. He has promised victory, and he is able to keep his promise.
3. The past should encourage us.
The Church can never come through greater conflicts than those in which she has already proved herself victorious. - J.O.
I. A POLICY OF CAUTION. Caution is in itself a virtue. It is never wise to rush into undertakings without well-planned measures. The more knowledge we have to guide us in entering upon difficult duty the better. The sending out of these spies was fitted to procure for the Israelites valuable information as to the nature of the land, the best mode of attack, the state of feeling among the inhabitants, etc. The Church would do well to improve upon the hint thus given, and have men out on the field, to keep a sharp watch on the fortifications and movements of the enemy, and bring back intelligence which may encourage, guide, or otherwise help those whose time and thought are devoted to the actual warfare.
II. AN UNEXPECTED RESULT OF THAT POLICY. The spies, with two exceptions, brought back a most disheartening and ill-advised report. We see here the danger of a policy of caution, when that springs from over-fearfulness or an original indisposition to advance. When caution is divorced from courage, and gets the upper hand, its natural tendency is to neutralize enthusiasm, to concentrate attention on difficulties, to play into the hands of those who don't want to do anything, and to furnish them with excuses and arguments for delay. It was so here. The real secret of the desire of the people to have spies sent out was their lurking disbelief and fear. The spies themselves shared in this fear. With the exception of Caleb and Joshua, they seem to have had an eye for little else than difficulties. They admitted the goodliness of the land, and brought with them a splendid sample of its fruit (ver. 25). But in every other respect their report was calculated to dispirit, It is a sad thing for the Church when those who ought to animate and encourage her begin themselves to show the craven spirit. Yet over-cautious people are apt, often unwittingly, to do the very work of these spies, by magnifying difficulties, looking only to discouragements, and standing in the way of plans and efforts which would do great good.
III. A REBELLION OF THE PEOPLE. That rebellion was the result of downright unbelief (ver. 32), and illustrates its work (cf. Hebrews 3:19). We see in it how unbelief:
1. Looks only to the seen. They thought only of the size of the people and the strength of the cities (ver. 28). The help of their invisible King was to them as if it were not. They had not the slightest hold upon the reality of it.
2. Looks only the discouragements of duty. There was a bright side as well as a dark one to the report brought to them, but nothing would make them look at the bright one. The same two sides - a bright and hopeful side, and a side of difficulty - exist in every situation, and it is a test of character which we are most given to dwell upon.
3. Misreads the providence of God. What greater perversion of God's kind dealings could human nature be guilty of than that in ver. 27?
4. Is blind to the lessons of the past. They had just been delivered from Egypt, had seen mighty miracles, had been brought across the Red Sea, had been strengthened to conquer the Amalekites, etc.; but all is already forgotten.
5. Issues in flat refusal to do God's will. That is the upshot of unbelief, wherever it exists. The report of the spies, confirmed by the grapes of Eschol, suggests that there is very much in the world which makes it worth conquering for Christ (genius, art, beautiful natural characteristics, etc.). - J.O.
I. TENDER LOVE. The love is likened to that of the best of fathers to a son (cf. Psalm 103:13). The New Testament goes further. It not only likens God to a father, but tells us he is one. He is "our Father in heaven," "the God and Father of Jesus Christ our Lord." This full revelation of Fatherhood only a Son could have given; and as given in the gospel it is the believer's daily comfort (Matthew 6:25-34).
II. CONSTANT CARE. This arises out of the relation and the love. It is a care:
1. Unceasing. "All the way."
2. Provident. "Who went in the way before you, to search you out a place to pitch your tents in."
3. Comprehensive; embracing every want of our lives. God "bare" Israel, i.e. took the entire charge of the nation upon himself; the whole responsibility of seeing them fed, led, clothed, kept, and brought safely to their final destination. So does he provide for his children in Christ.
4. Tenderly sympathetic. "As a man doth bear his son." And God has to bear with, as well as bear us.
III. SPECIAL GUIDANCE. This is included in the care, but is more prominent as a peculiar manifestation of it (ver. 33). Guidance is never wanting to those who need it. It is from day to day - just sufficient to show us present duty. It is given in the Bible, in the indications of providence, and in that inward illumination which enables us to discern the Lord's will in both, It was furnished to the Israelites through the pillar of cloud and fire - the symbol:
1. Of fiery guardianship with grateful shade.
2. Of guiding light with attendant mystery.
3. Of light shining to us in the midst of dark providences.
4. Of the adaptation of God's guidance to our needs - by day the cloud, by night the fire. - J.O.
I. THE EXCLUDED.
1. That whole unbelieving generation, with two excerptions (ver. 35). Note:
(1) Their unbelief and disobedience did not frustrate God's purpose of the occupation of the land. Canaan was occupied after all. So heaven will be peopled, the world conquered, and God's work done, though we in our folly and sin rebel and stand aloof (Matthew 3:9). "It remaineth that some must enter in" (Hebrews 4:6).
(2) Their unbelief and disobedience effectually excluded themselves. God swore it in his wrath, and the sentence admitted of no reversal. A foreshadowing of the final exclusion from heaven of those who persistently disobey (Matthew 7:21-24; Luke 13:24-29; Hebrews 4:11; Revelation 22:11-16).
2. The holy Moses (ver. 37; cf. on Deuteronomy 3:26; Deuteronomy 4:21; Deuteronomy 34:4). The exclusion of Moses will be more fully considered afterwards, but we learn from it here that God's apparent severity is often greatest to his own people (Amos 3:2), and that the share which others have had in leading us into sin does not abate our own responsibility in the commission of it. This greater apparent severity
(1) repels the charge of favoritism;
(2) gives a peculiarly impressive demonstration of the evil of sin;
(3) reminds us that sin in God's people is more dishonoring to him than it is in others;
(4) warns the wicked. For if judgment begin at the righteous, "what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?" (1 Peter 4:17, 18).
II. THE ADMITTED. These were to be:
1. The faithful two - Caleb and Joshua (vers. 36, 38). The former is signalized as having "wholly followed the Lord," and Joshua was a man of like faith and staunchness in a time of general defection. Such persons God will singularly preserve and honor. Their place in heaven will be a high one. "We must, in a course of obedience to God's will and of service to his honor, follow him universally, without dividing; uprightly, without dissembling; cheerfully, without disputing; and constantly, without declining; and this is following the Lord fully" (Matthew Henry, on Numbers 14:24). 2. The younger generation (ver. 39). Instead of the fathers, God would take the children. What a rebuke! -
(1) of their groundless bars. "Your little ones, which ye said should be a prey."
(2) Of their unmanly cowardice. Their little children, types of all that was humanly feeble, would do the work they were afraid to attempt.
(3) Of their inconsiderate Selfishness. They were not ashamed to hand down to these children their own abandoned life-tasks, with all the work and peril, if also with all the reward and honor, attending their accomplishment. Was not this to make themselves objects of contempt to their own offspring? "Let no man take thy crown," least of all thine own child, - J.O.
I. GOD'S GRACIOUS OFFERS ARE NOT TO BE TRIFLED WITH. The Promised Land lay open to the Israelites, who had been mercifully guided to its gates. The all-important "Now," the time for decisive action had come, and it remained with them to determine whether they would go in and receive the blessing, or remain without. They preferred to delay, to trifle with the offer, and so the time went past. So sinners are offered pardon and acceptance as an immediate boon (2 Corinthians 6:2), but when the offer is despised and trifled with, it may be withdrawn (Proverbs 1:24-33).
II. PRESUMPTION IS A POOR SUBSTITUTE FOR FAITH. When the people saw the mistake they had made, they would go up and fight in a spirit of presumptuous chagrin. They now fought without commissions. The result was disastrous defeat, and a hurling of them back from the gates of Palestine to the great and terrible wilderness. God was not with them in their presumption, since they would not follow him in humble faith. So may it be with sinners. Despised mercy may be succeeded by deserved defeat. The wild and proud efforts of presumption are in stalking contrast to the quiet courage of faith. Toil and tears may be insufficient to retrieve disaster when once courted by unbelief.
III. JOSHUA AND CALEB'S GOOD FORTUNE SHOWED WHAT WAS POSSIBLE TO WHOLEHEARTED FAITH. These two spies, in wholly following the Lord and in counseling courage, showed an humble faith. They stood alone faithful in face of an unbelieving majority, and God gave them a corresponding assurance that they should enter into the land. They were greatly honored in being allowed to do so. And they are surely encouragements to believing souls throughout all time.
IV. THE ASSURANCE OF THE CHILDREN THAT THEY SHOULD BE HEIRS OF THE LAND VINDICATED GOD'S PROCEDURE AND FAITHFULNESS. The little ones, for whom they feared, are selected as the heirs of premise. But they are to get the land after discipline and sorrow in the wilderness. God's ways are not ours. Yet wisdom regulates them all. And the Divine grace was magnified in this arrangement. The Israelites, as they died in the wilderness, would be cheered by the thought that, though they were justly excluded from the land because of their unbelief, their children would receive the inheritance in the exercise of faith. The judgment on the fathers would be sanctified, like the sickness of Hymenseus and Alexander (1 Timothy 1:20), and their spirits, let us hope, saved in the day of the Lord Jesus (1 Corinthians 5:5). - R.M.E.
I. HOW UNCHANGED CHARACTER MAY COEXIST WITH A CHANGED FORM OF MANIFESTATION. Underneath these loud professions of repentance, "We have sinned" (ver. 41), it is not difficult to detect:
1. The old unbelief. They disbelieve God's threatening, as before they refused to believe his promise.
2. The old self-will. It is not what God wills, but what they will themselves, that is to be done. They do not ask, "Will God permit us to do this?" but they take the law into their own hands, and ignore God's wishes altogether.
3. The old contumacy. Their wills are wholly unsubmissive. In revolt yesterday against their duty, and today against their punishment. They will not hear warning (ver. 43), but pursue their own way. All this stamps their repentance as not only tardy, but insincere. Analogous to much of the repentance caused by fear of punishment, fear of exposure, fear of death; and points to the defects in superficial repentance generally.
II. How INSINCERE REPENTANCE NATURALLY PASSES OVER INTO PRESUMPTUOUS SIN. It does this inasmuch as there was never in it the element of real submission. The undertaking of the Israelites was typical of many more. It was:
1. Presumptuously conceived.
2. Presumptuously prepared for.
3. Presumptuously persevered in.
It is, therefore, the type of all undertakings set on foot and carried out
(1) in defiance of God's will;
(2) without God's assistance;
(3) in face of God's expressed displeasure.
It is a case, in short, of flying in the face of God; of defying him, and entering into direct contest with him; as every one does whose schemes are in opposition even to natural and economical, and stilt more if they are in opposition to moral and spiritual, laws; or in any way contrary to what we know to be God's will. Presumption may show itself in refusal to be saved, except in ways or on terms of our own dictation.
III. How GODLESS ENDEAVOR RECOILS IN DISASTER ON THOSE WHO PERSIST IN IT. (Ver 44.) So must it be with all schemes that have God's frown upon them. Note -
2. Disobedience may cloak itself in the guise of obedience (ver. 41).
3. The test of obedience is willingness to do what God requires at the time he requires it, and not at some time of our own. - J.O.