Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
Deuteronomy 7:1-6). These commands had -
I. A GROUND IN RELIGIOUS FEELING. Even the dumb memorials of iniquity will excite in pure minds feelings of horror and revulsion. It is positive pain to look upon them. The only sentiments which these monuments of a dark polytheism - suggestive of every species of wickedness, and steeped in foulness through the cruel and lustful rites once associated with them - could awaken in the minds of devout worshippers of Jehovah were those of inexpressible abhorrence. The sooner they were swept away the better. Healthy moral instincts will lead us to hate "even the garment spotted by the flesh" (Jude 1:23).
II. A GROUND IN PRUDENCE. It removed from Israel's midst what would obviously have proved a snare. Prone of their own motion to idolatry, how certainly would the people have been drawn into it had idol sanctuaries, idol altars, idol groves stood to tempt them at every corner, met their gaze on every hill-summit. A wise legislation will aim at the removal of temptations. The business of legislation, as has been well said, is to make it as easy as possible for the people to choose virtue, and as difficult as possible to choose vice.
III. A GROUND IN POLICY. The design of Moses, to gather the life and religion of the people round a central sanctuary, would plainly have been frustrated had innumerable sacred places of repute, associated with the old idolatry, been allowed to remain unshorn of their honors. On the same principle, missionaries, in order to prevent relapses into idolatry, have often found it needful to get their converts to collect their idols, and unitedly to destroy them - burning them, it may be, or flinging them into some river. - J.O.
iconoclasts, and they were to leave no vestige remaining of the Canaanitish worship.
I. IT WAS THUS MADE EVIDENT THAT THE INVASION WAS RELIGIOUS IN ITS CHARACTER. Palestine, as we have already seen, was not a country of exceptional natural advantages. It was a good training school for a spiritual people. When the Lord, then, sent his emancipated people in to carry out such a program as the destruction of the Canaanitish worship, it was evident to all that religion lay at the basis of the invasion. It was no tribal feud, but a contest for religious supremacy. As Abraham, their forefather, came to Canaan to be the exponent and founder of a new religion, so the descendants are required to expound the religion still more forcibly by putting clown all traces of the heathen worship.
II. THE MULTIPLICITY OF CANAANITISH PLACES OF WORSHIP REALLY EXPRESSED THE POLYTHEISM OF THE PEOPLE. The Canaanites believed in the "gods of the hills," and "gods of the valleys," and "gods of the grove." Hence they erected altars with melancholy frequency over the land. It was not a sense of the omnipresence of a Supreme Being, but a belief in a multiplicity of gods, which led to such multiplicity of places of worship. The land was polluted with idols. Every green tree was supposed to overshadow a god. Altars, pillars, and groves sheltered and surrounded graven images. The desecration was all-prevailing.
III. THE POWER OF ASSOCIATION NECESSITATED THE COMPLETE DESTRUCTION OF THESE SIGNS OF IDOLATRY. If polytheism expressed itself so universally, then association would assert in the Israelitish mind a corresponding power, and lead weak minds to the idea that an idol was surely something in the world, when it secured such recognition. No wise leader could allow such temptations to remain before his people. Hence the Israelites are instructed to spare no trace of the old worship. Intolerance may be a duty in pure self-defense. It was a duty in this case divinely ordained.
IV. CURIOSITY IS NOT TO BE LEFT ANYTHING TO FEED UPON. For there is a prurient curiosity which only leads to sin. All humoring of this is evil. When a soul insists on tasting the fruit of forbidden trees, as a matter of curiosity, he only repeats the act of our first parents in Eden. No possible good can come of it. Much curiosity is indulged only to the deterioration of soul and body. Now, this would have been a danger with the Israelites. The worship of the Canaanites was so sensual and horrible, that the less known about it the better. Hence the command to destroy every vestige of it. It would be well for Christians more frequently to restrain their curiosity than they do. In many cases it would be well if every vestige of sinful practices were destroyed, instead of being preserved to satisfy an "idle curiosity."
V. THE WHOLESALE DESTRUCTION OF THE PARAPHERNALIA OF IDOLATRY WOULD BE THE BEST OF ALL DEMONSTRATIONS OF THE NOTHINGNESS OF THE IDOLS. For if these gods of Canaan had any power, they might be expected to vindicate their majesty against these spoilers. But Israel never suffered anything from the destruction of the idolatry. The only danger arose from the destruction not being as complete in some cases as God intended it should be. And it is important to have the impotence of God's foes made matter of demonstration. Sooner or later this is the case.
VI. THE GOSPEL OF JESUS CHRIST HAS ALSO ITS INTOLERANT, AS WELL AS ITS TOLERANT, SIDE. In a sermon on Matthew 12:30, "He that is not with me is against me," Vinet, the greatest of the moral analysts, has expounded L'intolerance de l'Evangile, just as in a companion sermon on Luke 9:50, "He that is not against us is for us," he expounds La tolerance. It is well to realize that religion is not an easy-going matter, making things pleasant all round, but something requiring stern and uncompromising conduct oftentimes. We may suffer as much by an unenlightened latitudinarianism as by an unenlightened attachment to non-essentials in use and wont. - R.M.E.
I. BOTH NATURE AND ART HAVE BEEN PROSTITUTED TO BASEST USES. If men cannot find God in themselves, they cannot find him in material nature. Some "look through nature up to nature's God." Some look through nature to darkness, sensuality, and despair.
II. THE BEAUTIFUL MUST BE SACRIFICED TO MORAL NECESSITIES. Esthetics must yield to ethics. Our moral exigencies are paramount. The voice of taste is the voice of a charmer. The voice of conscience is the voice of a king. If the creations of art are inimical to the interests of righteousness, they must be destroyed. Eternal life is beyond all price. Whatever keeps man from the living God is doomed.
III. TRUE LIFE HAS A DESTRUCTIVE SIDE. The growth of a plant involves the death of the seed. The life of the body is sustained by manifold death. Eternal life comes by the death of the Son of God. The inner life of piety is quickened by the death of self. True love to God is the hatred of his foes. Jesus Christ "came to destroy the works of the devil." - D.
I. CENTRALIZATION IN WORSHIP SEEMS A CONVENIENT STEPPING-STONE FROM THE DANGERS OF POLYTHEISM TO UNIVERSAL SPIRITUAL WORSHIP. Abraham, in setting up the new worship in Canaan, had erected altars at the different places where God appeared unto him. His fine intellect realized that it was the One God he worshipped at the different places. His descendants also, in their pilgrimage to Palestine, realized that it was the One God who called upon them out of the cloudy pillar to halt from time to time, and to erect his altar, and whom they there worshipped; and they would also feel that this direction about a single central altar was but the necessary corollary to the entire legislation. The ideal of worship, to which the Old Testament dispensation pointed, was, "when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him" (John 4:23); meanwhile it was most important to have the Divine unity publicly recognized and expressed by a central altar. At this they were to aim when settled beyond the Jordan.
II. THE CENTRAL ALTAR IS TO GATHER ROUND IT JOYFUL WORSHIPPERS. (Vers. 6, 7.) Burnt offering, sacrifice, heave offering, etc., were to reach their climax in the eating before the Lord the peace offering, and in the joy which springs from fellowship. This is the purpose of all worship. If joy be not reached, then the worshippers are living below their privileges.
III. ALLOWANCE IS MADE FOR THE EXIGENCIES OF THE MARCH AND OF WAR. Means of grace have to be extemporized often in times of battle and marches, and men must do what is right in their own eyes, in a way that would not be lawful in times of settled avocations and of peace. Moses is instructed, therefore, to remind them of the freedom they necessarily practice in the unsettled condition, which must be relinquished when they settle down beyond the Jordan (vers. 8, 9).
IV. GOD RESERVES THE RIGHT OF CHOOSING THE CENTRAL PLACE OF WORSHIP. (Vers. 10-14.) This prevents all license in such an important matter. It is not what they think advisable, but what God directs, that they are in the locality of worship to follow. This reservation is surely most significant. It indicates that in worship, which is the payment of due homage unto God, his will and wisdom are to be regarded as supreme. The right God holds in his hand of indicating whether he is to be worshipped in one place or everywhere.
V. GOD REVEALED THE CENTRAL PLACE IN DUE SEASON. A good deal of the current criticism seems to overlook the distinction between the principle of centralization in worship and the place where it was to be observed. The principle was stated long before the place was indicated. It was centuries before Jerusalem became the recognized center of the Jewish religion. Had the name been indicated earlier, it would have prevented the natural development of the ritual in Canaan. It is not necessary to suppose that Moses had any definite idea of the central place when he uttered on the banks of the Jordan the will of God. God can express his will through historical developments, just as he can through natural developments. "The nature of things" may be justly regarded as the expression of the Divine mind; and so may a historical procession. Meanwhile, it is well for us to rejoice in the freedom and universality of spiritual worship to which we have come. Now the true worshippers, emancipated from the cumbrous ritual through its fulfillment in Christ, can "worship the Father in spirit and in truth" in every place. - R.M.E.
Ephesians 4:3-7). It is required in it -
I. THAT GOD BE PRESENT WITH HIS PEOPLE. We meet in his Name. His presence is promised (Matthew 18:20). Without that presence sought and obtained, worship is in vain.
II. THAT IT BE PURE AND SCRIPTURAL. Not "will-worship" (Colossians 2:23); not corrupted by the ingrafting upon it of heathen superstitions. Christianity has often been thus corrupted. The papal mariolatry and worship of images, with the wholesale importation into Christianity of rites and ceremonies drawn from paganism, is a glaring instance. God forbids any mixture of the old worship with the new. The very names of the gods of the Canaanites were to be destroyed (ver. 3). Worldliness, not less than superstition, may intrude itself into worship, and destroy its purity (John 2:13-17; James 2:2, 3).
III. THAT IT BE ORDERLY. (Ver. 8.) Paul pleads for order in the Christian Church (1 Corinthians 11., 12.).
IV. THAT IT GIVE EXPRESSION TO THE VARIED WANTS OF THE RELIGIOUS NATURE. (Vers. 6, 7.) The prescribed sacrifices constituted a complex medium for the expression of the complex life and aspirations of the nation. It is to be noted that, save on days specially devoted to the remembrance of sins, a predominatingly joyful tone pervaded the services. This tone of joy should characterize yet more decidedly the services of Christians, coming before the Lord, as they are commanded to do, "to offer up spiritual sacrifices" (Philippians 4:4; Colossians 3:16; 1 Peter 2:5).
V. THAT IT BE ASSOCIATED WITH REMEMBRANCE OF THE POOR. (Vers. 7, 12, 18; Deuteronomy 16:11, 14.) One of the first effects of Christ's love in a heart should be to open it up in sympathy and kindness to all in need (Acts 2:45; Acts 4:34, 35; Romans 15:25; 1 Corinthians 12:26; 2 Corinthians 8:9.). - J.O.
I. A SINGLE, GOD-SELECTED SHRINE. As the heathen had gods many, they had plurality of temples, altars, and shrines. The single, central temple of Jehovah promoted at least two worthy objects.
1. It kept alive in the people's memory the unity of God. In that age, so addicted to idolatry, this was of the first importance. Intellectual belief in the one God would not, in itself, go for much; yet it would be the foundation for reverence, love, and loyalty.
2. It promoted most vitally the unity o the nation. In the absence of representative institutions and periodic literature, the common worship of the people at a central shrine was the most active factor in national unity. On this largely, as an instrument, the strength and safety of the nation depended. In the absence of this cementing element, the tribes would speedily have become factions - distinct entities - like the Canaanites who had preceded them.
II. GOD'S WORSHIP WAS CHARACTERIZED BY PROFUSE AND VARIOUS OFFERINGS. Every event in the life of the Hebrews to be connected with God, and to be associated with religion. Earth was to be joined to heaven by vital arteries of intercommunication. Thus the favor and benediction of God would be enjoyed in every circumstance of daily existence, and a joyous sense of God's fatherhood be kept alive. The arrangement would check avarice and earthly-mindedness. It would make conscience tenderly alive to sin, and promote in a thousand ways practical righteousness.
III. GOD'S WORSHIP WAS A DELIGHTFUL OCCUPATION. "Ye shall eat before the Lord... and shall rejoice." In observing the rites of idolatry, the Canaanites practiced wanton self-mutilations. They stained the altars with their own blood. They made their children to pass through the fire. This was the invention of the diabolic spirit. But in God's temple is the sunshine of joy, the light of his face. For man's hunger he prepares a "feast of fat things," fat things "full of marrow," "wines on the lees well refined." At prodigious cost to himself, he has supplied the "bread of life," and living water from deep wells of salvation. And his gracious voice greets every comer thus, "Eat, O friends... yea, drink abundantly"
IV. GOD'S WORSHIP HALLOWS ALL RELATIONSHIPS AND BRIGHTENS ALL PURSUITS. In the temple, men became conscious of a Divine presence, and felt within the stirrings of a new life. Religion developed their better nature. It made them acquainted with new relationships, and opened their eyes to the value of old ones. It created new and more generous emotions. Fountains of kindly feeling were unsealed within them, and sweet waters of practical kindness flowed out to the poor and the stranger. A new light beautified all toil, and they rejoiced in all they put their hand unto. Those who had been the ministrants of this fresh life and joy - the Levites - were to have a special place in their sympathy and regard. Sacred ties of generous affection were to knit them in one brotherhood.
V. THE WORSHIP OF GOD SANCTIFIES THE COMMON MEAL, The recognition of God and his claims allows us to enjoy all the provision of God with thankfulness and content. Every meal reminds us of God, and leads to fellowship with him. Each meal becomes a minor sacrament, and all food is consecrated to highest use. In this state of mind, excess of every kind becomes impossible, and the amplest enjoyment is not incompatible with vigorous piety.
VI. THE WORSHIP OF GOD TEACHES THE SUPERIOR WORTH OF HUMAN LIFE. All the requirements of the Levitical Law set forth the sacredness of life. Highest sanctions surrounded all life. The lives of inferior animals were generously cared for. But when the life of men was to be sustained, and sustained in richest vigor, the lives of animals were to be sacrificed. Yet even while this was done, the minds of men were to be impressed with a sense of the value of life; hence the blood of victims was to be poured upon the earth. As in redemption, so in daily sustentation, we are taught the costly price at which our life is procured. So high a value has God set upon man, that large sacrifices of herds and flocks are daily made for his behalf.
VII. CEREMONIAL LAWS POSSESSED AN ELASTICITY TO SUIT MEN'S ACTUAL NEEDS. Every moral law had an innate power and value, which never allowed a concession. To infringe a moral law, even the least, became a personal loss. But ritual law possessed a value only as the type and memorial of better things. Righteousness is of higher value than human convenience, but ritual is the servant of expediency. The showbread was for the priests; yet David, in his hunger, might eat thereof and not sin. During the exigencies of desert life, circumcision was often deferred, the Passovers were irregularly observed, and to a large extent the Hebrews became "a law unto themselves." "If the Law of the Spirit of life" be within us, we shall discern when ritual may be profitably used and when it may be suspended.
VIII. THE WORSHIP OF GOD WAS FRUITFUL IN BLESSING. The design of God in every particular was solely the good of families, that "it may be well with thee, and with thy children." We do well to write this with a diamond pen on memory and heart, that God's claims and man's advantage are identical. The plan of human life is laid on the lines of righteousness, and along these lines alone is the road to immortal bliss. We cannot add to or take from the commands of God, without injury to ourselves and dishonor to him. - D.
1. From the lack of evidence that the law was in force in the days of the judges and earlier kings.
2. From the practice of judges, kings, prophets, and other good men in offering sacrifices elsewhere than at the prescribed center.
1. Ver. 10 shows that it was not contemplated that the law should come into perfect operation till the land was settled, and till a place for a fixed center had been definitely chosen. In point of fact, the unsettled state of matters lasted till the reign of David (2 Samuel 7:1). Accordingly, in 1 Kings 3:2, it is not urged that, the law did not exist, or that it was not known, but the excuse is advanced for irregularities that "there was no house built unto the Name of the Lord until those days" (cf. 1 Kings 8:29; 1 Kings 9:9; 2 Chronicles 6:5, 6).
2. While the law lays down the general rule, it is not denied that circumstances might arise, in which under proper Divine authority, exceptional sacrifices might be offered. This fully explains the cases of Gideon (Judges 6:18, 26), of Manoah (Judges 13:16), of David (2 Samuel 24:18), of Solomon (1 Kings 3:4, 5), of Elijah (1 Kings 18:31).
3. Even while the tabernacle was at Shiloh, the ark, for reasons unknown to us, was moved from place to place - a circumstance which accounts for sacrifices being offered at the spots where, for the time being, it was located (Judges 21:2). We may infer the presence of the ark in Judges 20:26 and on various other occasions.
4. It is not fair to plead, as contradictory of the law, the falling back on local sanctuaries in periods of great national and religious disorganization, as when the land was possessed by enemies (Judges 6:1-7), or when the ark was in captivity (1 Samuel 6:1) or separated from the tabernacle (2 Samuel 6:11); much less the prevailing neglect of this law in times of acknowledged backsliding and declension. In particular, the period following the rejection of Eli and his sons (1 Samuel 2:30-35) was one of unusual complications, during which, indeed, Samuel's own person would seem to have been the chief religious center of the nation.
5. It may further be remarked that the worship at local sanctuaries, having once taken root, justified perhaps by the exigencies of the time, it would be no easy matter to uproot it again, and a modified toleration would have to be accorded. Whatever difficulties inhere in the view of the early existence of this law, it will be found, we believe, that equal or greater difficulties emerge on any other reading of the history. This law was -
I. AN ASSERTION OF THE PRINCIPLE THAT GOD'S WORSHIP MUST BE ASSOCIATED WITH HIS PRESENCE. (Vers. 5-11.) The sanctuary was constituted by God having "put his Name" there. Under the New Testament the worship of the Father "in spirit and in truth" is liberated from special sacred places (John 4:24), but the principle holds good that his being "in the midst" of his people is essential to worship being acceptable (Matthew 18:20).
II. AN IMPORTANT MEANS OF KEEPING ALIVE THE SENSE OF NATIONAL UNITY. The union of the tribes was far from being close. Tribe feeling was often stronger than national feeling. A powerful counteractive to the local interests, and to the jealousies, rivalries, and feuds which tended to divide the nation, was found in the central sanctuary, and in the festivals therewith connected. Like the Olympic games in Greece, the sanctuary festivals formed a bond of unity for the entire people, helped them to realize their national distinctness, and awakened in them lofty and patriotic aspirations. In the Christian Church, everything is valuable which helps to develop the sense of catholicity.
III. A MEANS, FURTHER, OF INFUSING WARMTH AND VITALITY INTO RELIGIOUS SERVICES. In religion, as in other matters, we need to avail ourselves of social influences. We need public as well as private worship. The self-wrapt man grows cold. There is a time for outward demonstration, not less than for internal meditation. Sharing our gladness with others, it is multiplied to ourselves a hundred-fold. The importance, in this view of them, of the sanctuary festivals, was very great. They were, from the nature of the case, "events," matters to be looked forward to with interest, and long to be remembered after they had taken place. They involved preparations, and often long journeys. Everything about them - the journey in company with neighbors, the season of the year, the friendly greetings, the exhilaration of the scene as they neared the sanctuary, the varied and solemn services at the sanctuary itself - was fitted in a singular degree to exalt, awe, quicken, and impress their minds. Such influences, even in gospel times, are not to be despised.
IV. A COUNTERACTIVE TO IDOLATRY. It; put something in place of that which was taken away. It provided counter-attractions. Negation is not an effective instrument of reform. If we remove with one hand, we must give with the other. Our methods must be positive. - J.O.
Leviticus 16:1-8). Probably the rule was not strictly observed (ver. 8), but in view of the occupation of the land, the prohibition is relaxed. Note -
I. OUR BIGHTS IN THE USE OF FOOD TAKE THEIR ORIGIN FROM GOD. This is taught in the account of creation (Genesis 1:29, 30), in the grant of flesh to Noah (Genesis 9:3, 4), in the Levitical restrictions on animal food (Leviticus 11.), and in passages like the present.
II. OUR MANNER OF THE USE OF FOOD OUGHT TO BE GLORIFYING TO GOD. "Eating and drinking" is to be to God's glory (1 Corinthians 10:31).
1. God's gift to be recognized in food. A motive for thankfulness.
2. God's blessing to be sought upon it. The example of Christ in this respect is noteworthy (Matthew 14:19, etc.).
3. Self-restraint is to be exercised in the partaking of it. The blood was not to be eaten. - J.O.
I. THERE IS A GREAT TEMPTATION WITH LUKEWARM PEOPLE TO MAKE PRIVATE WORSHIP DO DUTY FOR PUBLIC. It is insinuated that the Bible can be as well studied, and prayer as faithfully observed, and praise as joyfully rendered, amid the sanctities of home as in any congregation. But the fact is that the private worship is a sorry substitute for the public. Not to speak of the promise," The Lord loveth the gates of Zion better than all the dwellings of Jacob," there is in the public congregation a power of sympathy, solemnity, and attention which is missed elsewhere. The private services, when separated from the public, fail to reach the professed ideal, and religious feebleness is the usual result.
II. PRIVATE CELEBRATIONS OF PUBLIC SOLEMNITIES ARE MOST PROPERLY FORBIDDEN. The Jew might have excused himself from journeying to the central altar by resolving on the solemnities at home. "I can share the tithes, and firstlings, and vows, and freewill offerings, and heave offerings with my neighbors, and not bother taking them to the tabernacle." And so men can still abstain from membership in Church organizations under the plea of private baptisms and private "tables;" but all this presumption is an abomination unto the Lord.
III. IT DENIES TO THE PUBLIC MINISTERS OF GOD THEIR DUE RIGHTS. For Levitical support, so carefully guarded in the commandment here, is surely equivalent to "ministerial support" still. The ministry of the Word means an order of men set apart from the secularities of life to give themselves unto prayer and to the ministry of the Word (Acts 6:4). If it is highly expedient, as well as divinely ordained, that such an order should exist, then it is a serious responsibility on the part of any private person to refuse to acknowledge this Divine ordinance and its attendant rights. The pitifulness of the excuse, moreover, in refusing ministerial support because of private scruples, must strike the most superficial judge.
IV. THE LORD LEAVES THE LEVITE AS A CHARGE UPON THE GENEROSITY OF THE PEOPLE. The Levite was to be as a guest within the gates of the Jew (ver. 18). All the rights of hospitality, so to speak, were to be his. Moreover, it was to be an unending charge. "Take heed to thyself that thou forsake not the Levite as long as thou livest upon the earth." Thus an order of men are left upon the generosity of the people, to have their share as long as the world lasts. So is it with the Christian ministry. Public services, the public organizations of the Church, are all to be continued till the end of time, and hence the ministry will continue. Nor will its support severely tax the loyal Christian people. We see how intimately the interests of God's servants are bound, up with proper views about private and public worship. If these are judiciously disseminated, there is no fear of the Lord's servants being neglected. God's rights in the ordering of his worship must be first vindicated and recognized, and then-his servants' rights will follow. - R.M.E.
1. His calling deprived him of the usual means of livelihood.
2. His office was one of service for the people.
3. His relation to the altar made neglect shown to him a dishonor done to God.
Paul applies, in 1 Corinthians 9:13, 14, to the gospel ministry. - J.O.
to the appointed place. Hence they were allowed to deal with the domestic animals as with the products of the chase (ver. 22). It is to this fact of the sanctity of blood that we would now direct attention.
I. THE HEATHEN NATIONS WERE ACCUSTOMED TO MAKE DRINK OFFERINGS OF BLOOD. David refers to the fact when he says, "Their sorrows shall be multiplied that hasten after another god: their drink offerings of blood will I not offer, nor take up their names into my lips" (Psalm 16:4). These drink offerings of blood arose, doubtless, out of the bloodthirstiness of the heathen themselves. Men of blood thought their god delighted in blood shedding as they did; it was human passion projected into the religious domain.
II. GOD SO DIRECTED HIS WORSHIPPERS ABOUT THE DISPOSAL OF THE BLOOD THAT THEY COULD NOT REGARD IT IN ANY OTHER LIGHT THAN AS A MOST SACRED THING. It was to be carefully carried to his altar and disposed of by the officiating priests, or, if this was not possible, it was solemnly poured into the earth, and covered carefully from all profane uses. On no account was it to be eaten: this would have profaned it.
III. THE REASON ASSIGNED WAS THAT THE LIFE WAS IN THE BLOOD. "Life" is the gift of God, the mysterious something which escapes our observation in analysis, which baffles our productive powers, and which works such wonders in the world of nature. As God's gift, it is to be holy in our eyes, and disposed of as he sees best.
IV. THE VICARIOUSNESS OF SUFFERING GAVE IT ADDITIONAL SANCTITY. For shed blood meant life sacrificed to sustain other life. Our bodies depend upon vicarious suffering for their sustenance. Sacrifice underlies the constitution of the world. It was meet, then, that this principle should be recognized and sanctified in the sight of men.
V. BLOOD HAD ITS RELIGIOUS FUNCTION, NOT A PHYSICAL FUNCTION, TO DISCHARGE IN THE MOSAIC ECONOMY. The God of Israel did not delight in blood, as the gods of the heathen were supposed to do. He singled it out for a religious use. It was to be the material of a holy act, wherever shed. This was undoubtedly to keep it so out of the sphere of physical elements that it could symbolize fully "the blood of Jesus Christ," by which the world is to be saved. - R.M.E.
I. BALEFUL SUPERSTITION. The ground of these inquiries about the gods of the place was a lurking belief in their reality. There was a superstitious feeling that the woods, hills, streams, etc., must have their deities, whom it would be well to propitiate and worship. The country as a whole, and special districts of it, had gods, and, Jehovah notwithstanding, the superstitious part of the community stood in dread of them. Superstitions are hard to eradicate. We have examples in the survival of the belief in witches, fairies, charms, omens, lucky and unlucky days, etc., among ourselves. Till a recent period, it was the custom in parts of the Scottish Highlands to sacrifice bulls to local saints. And the practice of burying a live cock for the cure of epilepsy is said to survive till the present hour. Born of ignorance, and acting as a check on all enlightenment and progress, superstition is the parent of innumerable evils, besides debasing and enslaving mind and conscience. Its influence should be combated by every legitimate means.
II. PRURIENT CURIOSITY. The superstitious motive did not act alone. This itching desire to hear about the gods of the place, and how the nations served them, was symptomatic of a prurient disposition. There was, unfortunately, too much in the way in which these nations had "served their gods" to excite and interest the passions of the dissolute. It is a dangerous token when those who ought to know better begin to manifest a prurient curiosity about what is evil. It leads to prying into matters which had better remain hidden, to inquiries at persons whose very society is dangerous, to the reading of obscene books, the visiting of bad places, the keeping of immoral company, etc. At the bottom of such inquiries there is invariably a secret sympathy, which is bound, as time advances, to yield fruit in evil practices.
III. SERVILE IMITATION. The idolatry of the Israelites was signalized by a strange want of originality. They invented no gods of their own. They were content to be imitators. The nations before them had gods. The nations around them had gods. They wanted to be like the rest, and have gods too - hence their inquiries. A curious illustration of the force of the principle of imitation. It is one of the ruling principles in human nature. Imitation is easier than invention. The tendency invariably is to "follow the crowd." It matters nothing that it is "to do evil." The fashion of the time and place must be observed. There are people who would almost rather die than be out of the fashion. Yet what a weakness is this, and how opposed to all true and right manhood! "Be not conformed to the world" (Romans 12:2). - J.O.
I. IDOLATRY HAS GREAT FASCINATIONS FOR MAN'S SENSUOUS NATURE. There is in all men a yearning for visible signs of God. "Show us some sign!" is the natural demand of the human mind. Even Moses had passionately asked, "I beseech thee, show me thy glory." Satan employs a thousand wily artifices to corrupt the spiritual impulses of the heart. Speciously, idolatry asks to be tolerated as a symbol, and then detains our faith as if it were the substantial object.
II. IDOLATRY IS THE FRUITFUL PARENT OF VICE AND CRUELTY. We can never deal with forms of idolatry as if they were mere intellectual vagaries. The worship of material images has always been associated with sensuality, obscenity, and vice. It deteriorates human nature, hardens sensibility, and clips the wing of aspiration. When the seed has grown to the mature tree, human victims are demanded as oblations. "The children were compelled to pass through the fire." Atrocious cruelty is the last effect.
III. IDOLATRY IS HATEFUL IN GOD'S ESTEEM. It is impossible for us to err if we make the supreme God our model. To the extent that we know God, we must endeavor to assimilate our tastes to his, to love what he loves and to hate what he hates. Idolatry, in any form (whether of graven image, or material wealth, or human friend) is overt treason against God. If we cannot see the inherent wickedness of idolatry, it should be enough for us to know that it is an abomination before God, "a smoke in his eyes; a stench in his nostrils."
IV. IDOLATRY IS A SOURCE OF NATIONAL AND INDIVIDUAL RUIN. In that early period of human history, the spirit of idolatry must have been rampant. It was the curse of the age. Although the Hebrews had seen the practical effects of idolatry in Egypt; although they had themselves been the executors of God's vengeance against idolatry in Canaan; nevertheless the tendencies to idolatry were, humanly speaking, irresistible. It had been the source of Pharaoh's overthrow. It had been the occasion of a great slaughter among the Hebrews under the peaks of Sinai. It was the parent of the vices and crimes that prevailed among the Amorites. Idolatry is doomed by an eternal decree, and if men persist in identifying themselves with it, they are doomed also. Let us be well guarded against so insidious an evil! - D.