Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
2 Samuel 23:1-7). Let us look first at the Great King, and then at his viceroy who reigned in Jeshurun.
I. THE ADVENT OF GOD. He is represented as rising at Sinai, as scattering rays from Seir, and as riding forth in sunlike majesty from Mount Paran. The idea is borrowed from the dawn. Just as, before the sun appears in splendor, the mountaintops are tipped with gold, and then the dawn gathers into glory, and the sun at last steps forth in might, so the Lord made his proximity felt on the top of Sinai; there was a still greater impression made at Self, with the mercy of the brazen serpent; and last of all in Paran, in whose wilderness was Kadesh, the scene of chequered experience and yet abundant blessing, the sunlight having then fully come. God had come as the Light-giver. "God is light, and in him is no darkness at all" (1 John 1:5). Next let us notice his court - "myriads [רִבְבות, which may mean a million] of saints." This cannot refer to Israel, as some suggest, but to the holy ones accompanying the Lord from heaven. What a magnificent array! Only the holy can stand in his sight or constitute his train. Next let us notice his gift to men - "from his-right hand went a fiery. Law for them." This fiery Law can only mean that moral law which penetrates unto the heart with its fiery heat. And all was in love (ver. 3), for the God who is light and fire is also love. The saints are safe in his hand, and they gather round his feet.
II. THE VICEROY. He is called here "the man of God," and justly so. He was the man who recognized himself as God's property, as God's servant, as God's minister. And this is why he was "king in Jeshurun." It is consecration to God's glory which secures the real kingship. No kingship is worth the name which consists not in holy influences; and every man is a "king of men" who reigns over them by the sovereignty of intelligent consecration. In these respects Moses was a type of Jesus. Pilate could not understand his kingship through truth; but the world recognizes it. He was so devoted to the Father's glory, and so bent on the good of men, that increasing multitudes every year are owning his sway and accepting of the Law at his mouth. Fiery it is doubtless, fitted to kindle the coldest heart to rapture. As it dwells within us, it molds to highest good the life. - R.M.E.
I. BLESSING CAN COME TO LIES ONLY THROUGH THE CHANNELS OF LAW. It is useless to wish a man some good fortune, unless he is prepared to follow the lines along which good fortune comes. It is useless to wish a man health, while we know that he is wedded to the wine-cup. The only real blessing we can confer is to put men into connection with God's channels of blessing. The man who unveils to us the law of God respecting the expansion of steam, confers real blessing on the race. Similarly, the man who reveals to us the law, or method, through which God's favor flows to sinners, imparts solid blessing. Respecting blessing, God is the only primal Source, but men can be subordinate agents in distributing it. "Order is Heaven's first law;" and, in blessing others, we must observe God's order of procedure. Submission to law is an essential condition of blessing.
II. BLESSING TO MEN HAS ALWAYS BEEN THE PURPOSE OF GOD'S SUBLIMEST MANIFESTATIONS. Desiring to bless the tribes, Moses at once reverted to Sinai, and to God's grand plan for blessing men. Heart and soul, Moses was a legislator. He saw the grandeur, the eternity, the utility of Law. The "ruling passion was strong in death." The splendid manifestation of God's majesty at Sinai again passed before the eye of memory. All those splendors of royal state were destined to illustrate the intrinsic majesty of Law. That magnificent retinue of consecrated ones illustrated the native glory of the Divine Law. That entire epiphany of God culminated in this significant act: "from his right hand went a fiery Law" - a Divine force to soften, melt, purify, and consume. Those honored beings that found a place in the retinue of God received that exaltation and that Grace by virtue of submission to Law; "they sat down at thy feet." To reveal to men his Law is a Divine equivalent for largest blessing. God's Law is the outcome of his love. The spring and motive of this stately display of Law is deep and generous love. "Yea, he loved the people."
III. TO BLESS MEN, THROUGH THEIR OBSERVANCE OF LAW, IS THE AMBITION OF EVERY REAL KING. God is supreme Sovereign of all intelligent beings. The supreme Monarch manifests irrepressible desire to bless his subjects. Amidst impressive solemnities, he declares that blessing can only come through the channels of righteous Law. Moses, too, is a subordinate king - king in Jeshurun - God's vicegerent. Moses, too, desires to bless the people. His life had been spent in their interests. Even during the forty years he spent as a shepherd in Midian, he was undergoing preparation for his great undertaking. But Moses likewise knew that the greatest blessing he could confer on Israel was love of God's Law. No wishes, or hopes, or aspirations, which he could cherish for them would be of any practical value apart from their dutiful obedience to God. Therefore, his legacy was counsel and prayer: "He commanded a Law, even the inheritance of the congregation of Jacob." This is the richest heritage we can acquire on earth, viz. God's Law enshrined in the heart. Then are we living temples, the "habitation of God through the Spirit." - D.
1. Of the holiness from which the Law emanated.
2. Of the fiery sanctions by which it is guarded.
3. Of the threatening aspect which it wears to sinners.
4. Of the purifying effects which it exerts in the hearts and consciences of believers. - J.O.
1. Their happiness - loved of God.
2. Their safety - in God's hand.
3. Their attitude - sitting at God's feet - at the feet of God's Son (Luke 10:3, 9).
(1) Willing to know God's will.
(2) Seeking instruction in it.
(3) Waiting on God for that instruction.
(4) Their duty - to receive of God's words.
The receiving to be of the practical kind of hiding God's words in the heart, and going on to put them in practice (Matthew 13:23). - J.O.
I. THE PRESERVATION AND INCREASE OF EVERY PART OF THE CHURCH IS OF INTEREST TO EVERY OTHER. Reuben's sins had incurred the forfeiture of privilege. His numbers were diminishing. It had been predicted of him that he would not excel (Genesis 49:4). But Moses desires that his tribe should not perish. He prays for its preservation and revival. Or, on another view, he prays that, though its numbers are few, it may not utterly die out. So ought we to pray for any part of the Church that seems in a dwindling condition.
II. THE STRENGTH OF THE STRONG IS STILL TO BE SOUGHT FROM GOD. Judah, though strong, with great promises behind and great hopes before, was yet to recognize that his help and sufficiency were of God. That there may be strength, there must be prayer, "Hear, Lord, the voice of Judah," etc. - J.O.
I. THE UNOSTENTATIOUS DEVELOPMENT OF REUBEN. Deposed from the primacy among the brethren, because of his self-indulgence, he is to content himself with pastoral progress amid the mountains of Moab. The blessing is a good one, quiet life and progress.
II. THE SOVEREIGNTY THROUGH SUFFERING OF JUDAH. In ver. 7 we have clearly the regal strain. It is the struggle and the victory and the reign. The brunt of battle is to fall on Judah, and the sovereignty in the end. That it refers to Messiah ultimately is, we think, quite reasonable. Indeed, Kennicott regards ver. 5 as referring to the Messiah and not to Moses, and consistently therewith he would have the words "bring him to his people" to refer to the king, Shiloh, of Judah's tribe. However this may be, we can discern in this watchword of Judah the keynote of the Savior's suffering life.
III. THE SELF-DENIAL AND DEVOTEDNESS OF LEVI. The treasure of the oracle was to be with the Levites, and, in prosecuting the work of God, they were to show that they loved their Master more than even father or mother, sister or brother, sons or daughters. In prosecuting their ministerial work, they were to illustrate discipleship as a giving unto God the first place above the nearest and the dearest (cf. Luke 14:26). Moreover, in this holy work the sons of Levi shall need the Lord's blessing on their substance, since they lived by voluntary contributions, and the Lord's help against calamities. A special blessing is thus locked for in connection with special work, of a self-denying character. And the same is applicable to the ministry still.
IV. THE SHADOW OF GOD FOR BENJAMIN. This powerful tribe was to afford shelter to the central government and worship in the time of the monarchy. The Divine presence thus was specially to overshadow the descendants of Benjamin. As Joseph so tenderly overshadowed his brother, so will the central government and worship his seed.
V. THE SPLENDID SUCCESS AND PROWESS OF JOSEPH. All the fatness of the earth and the favor of God and the power to push successfully their way against all opposing forces are to belong to Ephraim and to Manasseh. From Joppa unto Carmel, on the sea across to the pastures of Gilead, the two half-tribes were destined to hold sway, and to enjoy all the wealth this encircled. It was the magnificent central province of Samaria, with any amount of pasture-land beyond the Jordan.
VI. THE HIGHWAY OF ZEBULUN. Its outlets are to be peculiarly important, as we know they proved between the Great Sea and the sea of Tiberias. Through Zebulun the traffic passed from the great Eastern kingdoms. Their situation, mercantilely regarded, was superb.
VII. THE CONFIDENCE AND CONSOLIDATION OF ISSACHAR. Settled beside Zebulun, with a series of mountain fastnesses behind, and Esdraelon's plain down to the sands of the Mediterranean as their coast, the children of Issachar were to feel settled and secure in their tents. The mountain tracts will nurse the piety of the people, while the sea shall yield its abundance, and the sand become a source of treasure. No better home could be found for a trading, manufacturing people.
VIII. THE VANTAGE-GROUND OF GAD. This tribe is represented as hemmed in like a lion at bay, and thus compelled to take a prominent part in critical affairs. Lying between the mountains and the Jordan, it became the battle-ground of the monarchy, and at Ramoth-Gilead and Mahanaim important issues were decided. The watchword was vigilance, because of the vantage-ground.
IX. THE COURAGE OF DAY. He is represented as a lion's whelp, full of courage, though small in size. Leaping from Bashan, he made his lair northwards, but ever ready to shift to better quarters if he heard of them. He found a lair too at the sea, in the borders Of Philistia.
X. EASY-GOING NAPHTALI. This tribe is represented as taking a south-west location after the northernmost Danites, and as rejoicing there in the manifold goodness of God.
XI. BLESSED BY DAME AND NATURE AS ASHER. This tribe is to be blessed, as the very name implies, in domestic relations, in fraternal relations, in the olive-yards yielding such magnificent oil, and in the iron and brass with which, instead of the ordinary wooden bars, they could protect themselves. To this tribe was given the oft-quoted promise, "As thy days, so shall thy strength be." They were to have "strength proportioned to their work." It does not appear why to Simeon no blessing is assigned; and yet it is noticeable that this tribe played but a small part in the drama of Israelitish history. - R.M.E.
I. PRIORITY OF PLACE DOES NOT ENSURE NOBLENESS OF CHARACTER. Reuben was, in Jacob's household, first in the order of time, but not first in native dignity. "Many that are first shall be last." The king has not always the most royal character in the empire. The palace does not always contain the noblest society. The most obscure may yet become the purest and the best. Moral rottenness has often been on the throne, and real royalty on the gibbet.
II. PRESENT LIFE DOES NOT SECURE CONTINUOUS LIFE. Human life is not self-created; it is sustained through every hour by a Divine hand; and whenever Divine wisdom sees Best, that life is brought to a close. As life, with all its advantages, is a trust from God, which may be terminated any moment, we should use every moment well, in order to deserve its continuance. In proportion to the precariousness of life is the value of every moment increased. So, too, in the life beyond the grave, the same dependence on God remains. We hang on him for continued life. Christ is our life. Through eternity we live (if we live at all) by faith on the Son of God. Hourly the prayer ought to ascend, "Let me live, and not die."
III. PRESENT UNITS MAY BECOME FUTURE MYRIADS. At the time of Moses' dissolution, the number of Reuben seems to have been small. Possibly this may have been a penalty for Reuben's incest. In this case it would be an appeal to God's mercy to remove the curse. Beneath the benediction of God, "a little one soon becomes a thousand." Prolific increase is a sign of Divine approval. All the oak forests on the globe sprang from a single germ. - D.
I. TRUE PRAYER PLEADS FOR AN APPOINTED DESTINY. What God has designed and destined for us - this is a proper object of prayer. For although God has designed some good for us, our prayer is the last link in the succession of causes which brings us into actual possession. "For all these things," saith God, "I will be inquired of... to do it for them." Prayer has respect to the will of God. The purpose and oath of God have prepared the blessing. The hand of faith is stretched forth to take it.
II. TRUE PRAYER IS SUPPORTED BY OTHERS' INTERCESSIONS. The prayer of a good man on our behalf is an inestimable boon. Here Moses prayed that Judah's petition might be heard. Example is contagious. When good men see us praying, they will pray with us, and for us too. If only combustible material be at hand, the fiery flame will spread. It is always an inspiration to us, if we remember that while we pray, Christ our Elder Brother is praying for us above.
III. TRUE PRAYER IS ALWAYS SECONDED BY PERSONAL ENDEAVOR. "Let his hands be sufficient for him." What we can do to gain the blessing, God will not do for us. What we cannot do, God will, if we meekly ask him. Prayer without effort is hypocrisy. We are not sincere in our request. Labor without prayer is stark atheism. The boat of human progress must be rowed with two oars - prayer and effort. Unless both wings are in motion, the eagle cannot rise.
IV. TRUE PRAYER OBTAINS THE HELP OF GOD, It obtains help for every undertaking - husbandry, commerce, art, and war. Prayer always has prevailed - it always will. Prayer and painstaking can accomplish anything. Prayer secures for us the best help, the presence of God himself. "Be thou a Help to him." This is an Ally worth having - an Ally who, by a breath, secures success. If the Lord be our Helper, we can wisely speak the challenge," What can man do unto me?" God with me, God in me, inspiring every thought, and purpose, and desire and deed, - this makes a mean man royal indeed. Thus we may all obtain a place in the honored tribe of Judah, and be "kings unto God." - D.
Genesis 49:7) turned into a blessing. Repentance and zeal cut off the entail of a curse, or so transform it that out of the very curse God evokes a blessing (cf. Exodus 32:29; Psalm 106:31).
I. THE GROUND OF THE BLESSING.
1. Levi's fidelity (ver. 8). "Among the faithless, faithful only he." The zeal and constancy of the tribe on critical occasions had been remarkable. Learn how the wicked, returning to God and proving zealous in his service, may retrieve past forfeitures and win great honor.
2. Levi's renunciation of earthly ties (ver. 9). Christ also requires that no earthly tie be allowed to stand between his disciples and the allegiance they owe to him (Matthew 10:37).
II. THE BLESSING ITSELF.
1. Great privileges were conferred.
(1) Levi was to be the medium of God's revelations. Urim and Thummim (ver. 8). This privilege of the tribe receives its highest fulfillment in Christ - God's "Holy One," by pre-eminence, and the Revealer of all his counsel to men. Note: The Urim and Thummim is attributed to the whole tribe, equally with burning incense and offering sacrifice (ver. 10), though no one pretends that the prerogative of consulting through the oracle belonged to any other than the high priest. This shows the futility of the argument that in Deuteronomy all Levites must be held as priests because priestly functions are in Deuteronomy 10:8, etc., attributed to the tribe as such.
(2) They were to teach the Law to Israel (ver. 10). This privilege now preserved by ministers of the gospel, and other teachers in the Christian Church. In Levi's fidelity and spirit of consecration we see the qualifications required for such work.
(3) They were to burn incense and offer sacrifice. This privilege has its fulfillment in Christians in general, in whose personal consecration and offering of spiritual sacrifices, with the incense of prayers, the character of a "royal priesthood" is maintained (1 Peter 2:5, 9). Their sacrifices are acceptable through the High Priest, Christ.
2. Great promises were given (ver. 10). His substance would be blessed, and special protection afforded him. God's servants have all an interest in these promises, especially those whose sacred calling deprives them of the ordinary means of livelihood. - J.O.
I. PURITY AND CONSECRATION ARE THE ESSENTIAL QUALIFICATIONS FOR THE PRIESTHOOD. Levi is here described as "thy holy one." This was God's ideal, though never fully realized except in Christ. If there was not perfect purity of character, there was the nascent germ within - the inner yearning and desire after holiness. Levi was the rude type, the rough outline of the perfect priest. A further qualification was consecration. This personal righteousness was to be practical. It was required to be actively devoted to the service of God. Regard for God was to dominate regard for earthly relatives. When called to God's service, the Levite was to regard his parents as if he had them not; he was to forget his brethren and his father's house; yea, he must love his children as though he loved them not. God first; every one else must find a subordinate place (ver. 9). Here we have the forecast of Christ's axiom, "He that loveth father or mother more than me, is not worthy of me.' Further, this character was a tested one. To an office so responsible, God does not admit a novice. Mere innocence is not a qualification. There must be tried and tested character - character tried in the furnace of temptation. So with respect to this tribe of Levi; him "thou didst prove at Massah," with him "thou didst strive at the waters of Meribah."
II. PRIESTLY CONSECRATION IS A CONDITION FOR RECEIVING REVELATION FROM GOD. "Let thy Thummim and thy Urim be with thy holy one." Although it is confessedly difficult to determine precisely what the Urim and the Thummim were, it is obvious that it was God's ancient method for revealing his will to Israel. In emergencies, whether personal or national, it was the practice to ask counsel of God by means of the Urim and Thummim. It is a necessity that there should be internal fitness in order to receive and transmit the will of God. Light can only circulate through a fitting medium. Music can only be transmitted by a specific conductor. As it is in the natural world, so in the spiritual, only the pure in heart can see God. His will is revealed only to the dutiful. "The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him." On this account, God's priests have often been God's prophets; e.g. Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Samuel, and John the Baptist. Moses too belonged to the tribe of Levi.
III. PRIESTLY CONSECRATION INCLUDES SERVICE GODWARD AND MANWARD. (Ver. 10.) Every true priest is a mediator between God and men. He receives of God and imparts to men; be receives from men and presents unto God. The only perfect Mediator is the "Son of the Highest;" but, in a humbler sphere, earthly priests are also mediators. They receive God's Law from the fountain of his lips, and they convey it unto their brethren. Every real teacher is a real mediator. He delivers unto others that which he has first received. The priest has also a service to perform Godward. He brings human offerings before the Most High - the offerings of gratitude and praise. But men have sinned, and this sad fact must be recognized. They stand in urgent need of Divine mercy. Hence substantial proofs of penitence and confession are required. God has a proper and prescribed method for conveying his mercy. He will be approached in the way of sacrifice, and it is part of the priest's vocation to present "whole burnt sacrifice upon God's altar."
IV. COMPLETE CONSECRATION ENSURES COMPLETE SALVATION. Salvation is many-sided; it is negative and positive. It embraces deliverance from every evil, present and future; it embraces every good that can enrich and ennoble the man. While we care wholly for God's interests, he will most completely care for ours. No external substance will bring us any real advantage unless God's blessing be upon it, ay, pervade it. The Levites were compelled by official duties to be often absent from their families and homesteads, which needed therefore special protection from God. "Bless, Lord, his substance." But more important yet was it for the whole nation that the offerings and intercessions of the priests might find acceptance with God. If anything upon their part should nullify the offices of religion, the effect would be unspeakably disastrous. Therefore, looking along the vista of the future in fervent anticipation, Moses prays, "Accept the work of his hands." It is as if he had said, "Let thy gracious plan for pardoning and saving men completely succeed!" And lastly, he prays for the priest's security against all foes. We may not here confine our thoughts to foreign adversaries. The true and faithful priest will always, find enemies in proportion to his fidelity. His foes shall be those of his own household. They will assail his earnestness, suspect his motives, attack his reputation. But God shall undertake his servant's cause. He will, in his own way, so smite his foes, that they shall be completely silenced; "they shall not rise again." - D.
I. WHOM GOD CHOOSES TO PRESERVE NO FOE CAN INJURE. Benjamin would dwell in safety as between the shoulders of Jehovah (ver. 12). The Lord would cover him all the day long. This is true of every good man. No power can separate him from God's love. No enemy can reach him to harm him (Psalm 121.). Christ's sheep are in the Father's hand, whence no man can pluck them (John 10:29).
II. WHOM GOD CHOOSES TO BLESS ALL THINGS CONSPIRE TO POUR BLESSING UPON, (Vers. 13-16.) All things would "work together" for the good of Joseph - would combine to fill his lap with treasures. They would unite to benefit and enrich him. Precious things of heaven and of the deep, precious things of sun and moon, precious things of the hills, precious things of the earth, and with these "the good will of him that dwelt in the bush" - a better portion than all, would be multiplied to this favored tribe. So all things in the spiritual respect work for the believer's good (Romans 8:28), even afflictions turning to his salvation through prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:19).
III. WHOM GOD CHOOSES TO HELP NO ADVERSARY CAN WITHSTAND. (Ver. 17.) - J.O.
I. AN ENDEARING NAME. A name given by God is pregnant with meaning. It is no empty compliment. If God regarded Benjamin as his "beloved," there was sufficient ground and reason for it. This tribe may not have been conspicuous for robust energy or for martial enterprise, but it was distinguished for its genuine piety and its devout attachment to the cause of God. If we cannot all be great, we can all be good. To be consistently and thoroughly pious is within the reach of all. Each of us can be knighted and ennobled with this title, "The beloved of the Lord." We have indicated here -
II. THE BEST SOCIETY. "He shall dwell in safety by him." This promise, in all likelihood, alludes to the position of Benjamin's inheritance. His portion in Canaan included the hill of Moriah, on which, in later days, the temple was erected. This was no insignificant honor - no mean token of Jehovah's favor. The successive generations of Benjamin would dwell in closest vicinity to the oracle of God, and would enjoy easy access to the public ordinances of worship. So long as man needs the aid and inspiration of external ordinances, so long will this vicinity to the temple be a real advantage. In our folly we may despise the privilege, but this foolish contempt no way derogates from its value. They who most prize the house of God most prize God himself. We have also -
III. COMPLETE PROTECTION PROMISED. "The Lord shall cover him all the day long." God was pleased, in a very remarkable manner, to disclose himself to the Hebrews by metaphors easily interpreted. In a climate where men suffered most from a scorching sun, a covert from the burning heat was most appreciated. Therefore God was to them just what they needed, "the shadow of a great rock in a weary land." The fervent heat was tempered with a cloud. From every evil thing God covers his saints - from the heat of trial, sorrow, care, excessive prosperity. He never fails as does a passing cloud. He covers his chosen "all the day long." We have promised likewise -
IV. UNERRING GUIDANCE. "He shall dwell between his shoulders." As the temple of God was to rest on Moriah, and the visible Shechinah be enshrined within, this would properly seem as a crown of glory on the head of Benjamin; or, what the head is to the human body, that God would be to this favored tribe. The head informs, enlightens, directs the whole body; so, saith God, "I will guide thee with my eye." That man has reached the perfection of being when Christ dwells in him, as "wisdom, righteousness, sanctification," life. To be most godly is to be most manly. - D.
I. HIS FAITHFUL IMPROVEMENT OF TRIAL. The description of Rachel's firstborn is truly pathetic. He is pictured to us as he "that was separated from his brethren." In a sense he had always been separate. In youth, his temper and tastes and predilections were all superior to theirs. They were coarse, vulgar, cruel; he was refined, thoughtful, gentle - cast in a nobler mold. But the reference made by Moses to separation is, doubtless, to that violent and murderous separation, when by his brothers' hands he was sold as a bond-slave and carried into Egypt. How nobly he had borne that treatment is a matter of historic fact. How Joseph's behavior in captivity had led to the development of Israel's fortunes could never be erased from Jewish memory. His affectionate treatment of his aged father, and his generous forgiveness of his brethren, marked him as "separate" from the common herd of men. This is a kind of separateness we may aspire to emulate. Here is a pattern man.
II. HIS FORESEEN PROSPERITY. This forecast of prolific prosperity was founded on a double basis, viz. on the native resources of the district which was to be his favored portion; and on the abiding benediction of Jehovah. Yet these two sources of prosperity were in reality one - one source flowing through many channels. His hills should laugh in fertility and gladness beneath the sunny smile of God. The vale of Shechem has always enjoyed a wide celebrity for its beauty and fruitfulness. Samaria was the paradise of Canaan. Its hills were covered with olives and vines and figs. Its valleys waved with golden corn. One natural source of abundance is its perennial fountains and flowing streams - the "deep that coucheth beneath." Here it was that Jacob made his first purchase of land, and here he digged the well which to this hour bears his name. To this verdant district Jacob's sons led their flocks when drought and barrenness covered the land. And in this district occurred the shameful deed when Joseph was imprisoned in the pit and then sold to Ishmaelites. By a generous retribution of God's sagacious providence, Joseph obtained his permanent portion in this very territory, and with all the energy of his soul Moses prayed, "Blessed of the Lord be his land."
III. HIS FUTURE POWER. A double portion of property and power fell to Joseph. By the dying bequest of his father Jacob, each of Joseph's sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, was to rank in the first degree, adopted by Jacob in the place and rank of his own. Yet the two sons were destined not to grow in the same proportion of power. While there were to be the "thousands of Manasseh," there were to be the "ten thousands of Ephraim." God "divideth to every one severally as he will." The glory of these young men was to be "their strength," and this would be fostered by the fatness of their land. Yet their strength was not pictured under the image of a lion or an eagle. It was to be rather the quiet, patient strength of the ox - the strength which endures, as did Joseph's in the land of Egypt. Horns are the bullock's natural weapons of defense, and these are significant emblems of power. But Joseph's horns were to be like those of the unicorn. His was to be royal authority and strength. Evidently Moses foresaw the day when the sovereignty of the Hebrews would be divided, and when Joseph should wield a scepter in Israel. The royal emblazonry of Britain thus corresponds, in part, with the heraldry of ancient Samaria. "With the horns of unicorns" he was destined "to push the people together to the ends of the earth." His "horn God exalted mite honor." To this hour, a remnant of Joseph's power remains in Samaria. There still in the synagogue is enshrined the ancient Law, and there yet is observed the Paschal feast. - D.
Exodus 3:2), which, burning, was not consumed. A symbol:
1. Of Divine condescension. God stooping to dwell with men (1 Kings 8:27), using humble and despised instruments (1 Corinthians 2:18-31; 2 Corinthians 4:7). The bush, "a neglected manifestation of God."
2. Of indwelling presence. A symbol of the Church, and of the individual believer, indwelt in by God. Inconspicuous and contemned, yet the seat of the Divine presence - a medium of the Divine manifestation.
3. Of miraculous preservation.
1. God's presence is a fire in the midst of his Church - flaming out upon the adversaries.
2. God's presence preserves the Church amidst fires of persecution and affliction. - J.O.
I. TWO FORMS OF THE BLESSING OF THE ALMIGHTY.
2. Agriculture (ver. 18).
1. Some are fitted for one kind of life, some for another. Varieties of disposition and talent. Variety of situation, giving scope for innate gifts. Divine providence, as here in allotment of the tribes, fits the one to the other.
2. God's blessing is needed in one kind of life as well as in another. Neither in commerce nor in agriculture can that blessing be dispensed with. It may rest on us in both, both being legitimate lines of human activity. It is in both equally efficacious.
3. Prosperity flowing to us from God's blessing is a just cause for rejoicing. Unblessed prosperity is not to be rejoiced in, but prosperity with God's blessing attending it is riches indeed.
II. WEALTH DERIVED FROM GOD'S BLESSING IS TO BE SANCTIFIED TO HIS GLORY. (Ver. 19.)
1. The nations are to be invited to share the blessing. Note here: Commercial nations have peculiar opportunities for being missionary nations. Cosmopolitan in spirit. Come in contact with many nationalities. Usually possess the means. The preaching of Christ was largely in the region of Zebulun and Issachar, ourselves, and duty of consecrating wealth to missionary enterprise.
2. Sacrifices of righteousness are to be offered in:
(1) recognition of God's gift;
(2) dedication of wealth to God's service;
(3) personal surrender of the offerer to God. - J.O.
I. SECULAR PURSUITS SHOULD BE FOLLOWED IN A SPIRIT OF GLADNESS. The man of God leaves it as a charge upon these tribes to rejoice in their several avocations. The earthly callings of Zebulun and Issachar seem to have been quite distinct the one from the other. Zebulun's territory abutted on the sea-coast, and enjoyed the advantage of a small harbor under shelter of Mount Carmel. Hence the people had access to the sea; they had a fishery; they possessed opportunities for commerce. Though they had no maritime tastes (like the Phoenicians), yet the ships of other nations would visit their coast, and the merchandise of distant lands would find their way thither. "They shall suck of the abundance of the seas." Issachar was an agricultural tribe. The people dwelt in tents, and their possessions consisted in flocks and herds. But whatever their occupation, it ought to be an occasion for joy. It gave scope to the pleasant exercise of their powers. It furnished them with the means of family subsistence. It was a fine field for the discipline of their virtues, for the exercise of brotherly help and mutual kindness. It enabled them to trace in their daily walk the footsteps of Jehovah, and provided material for daily praise. Whatever our work be, it should be fulfilled with gladness. Happy is the man who sings at his work.
II. SECULAR PURSUITS ARE NOT INCOMPATIBLE WITH DIVINE WORSHIP. "They shall call the people unto the mountain." Although their abodes were far away among the northern hills, they did not hold themselves free to abstain from public ordinances of worship. Yea, not only did they stir themselves up to this delightful duty, but they summoned the surrounding tribes also to keep the sacred festivals. In the absence of modern reminders of the scions - in the absence of almanacs and clocks - these twin tribes noted the revolutions of sun and moon, became the timekeepers of the nation, and called the tribes to prayer and sacrifice. Probably their secular duties as fishermen and as shepherds furnished the opportunities for observing the phases of the moon. New moon or full was the signal in the heavens for the recurrence of the special festivals; then the silver trumpets would ring out the summons from hill to hill, and from hamlet to hamlet. If there be the disposition to worship God, facilities will be found or made.
III. SECULAR PURSUITS FURNISH THE MEANS FOR ACCEPTABLE SACRIFICE. "They shall offer sacrifices of righteousness." Secular pursuits will never satisfy all the yearnings of the human heart. There is a hunger within which no material banquet can relieve. There is a thirst of soul which can be slaked only by the water of eternal life. To gratify all the cravings of the mind we must come to God. But he will be approached by means of sacrifice. This furnishes a test of our sincerity. This awakens a sense of our deepest need. This provides a channel for our highest joy. Whatever form our sacrifices may take - whether corn, or oil, or fruit - whether lambs or doves - whether contrition, praise, or gratitude - it must be a sacrifice of righteousness, or it cannot be accepted. As the act of devout obedience to Divine command, or as the outgoing of desire after holiness, or as the expression of righteous obligation, it will find acceptance on God's altar.
IV. SECULAR SUCCESS IS PROMOTED BY GENEROUS CONSECRATION OF SUBSTANCE TO GOD. "Them that honor me I will honor.' God is the most generous of Masters, but he hates empty pretensions of loyalty. He will not accept words where deeds are possible. The honor is conferred, not on the God who receives, but on the mar, whose gift finds acceptance. "It is more blessed to give than to receive," is a lesson not easily learnt - an experience not common enough. This is not a firstfruit, but one of the latest fruits of Christian living. Yet without the favoring smile of Jehovah no secular pursuit can succeed. Men often sow a bushel and reap a peck. But when God is on our side, our seed multiplies a hundredfold: "a little one becomes a thousand;" "godliness is profitable unto all things." The only real insurance for successful enterprise is the benediction of God. The treasures remain in the land (ver. 19) until God teaches us how to draw them forth. The eye of faith is clearer-sighted than the eye of expediency. - D.
I. PROWESS. (Vers. 20, 21.) The chivalrous heroic spirit, which, as well as in bloodier conflicts, finds scope for its exercise in the battles of the cross, has here its appropriate recognition. A first portion is reserved for it.
II. ACTIVITY. Dan's characteristic was agility. In Genesis, the dart of the serpent (Genesis 49:17); here, the leap of the lion's whelp (ver. 22). A counterpart in minds of bold, nimble, adventurous type; prompt in decision, subtle in thought, swift in action. Such minds, if to the wisdom of the serpent is added the dove's harmlessness (Matthew 10:16), are of immense service in Christian enterprises needing bold pioneers or swift and decided action.
III. CONTENTMENT. (Ver. 23.) Naphtali was less active than receptive. Did less, but received more. Possessed a region of great sweetness and beauty, and dwelt in it with unambitious satisfaction. Such dispositions are needed as a balance to the others.
IV. SKILL IN THE ARTS. (Vers. 24, 25.) Iron and brass. Asher appears to have wrought these metals, whether from mines in its own district or brought from a distance does not appear. Lessons -
1. Talents are diverse.
2. All have their place.
3. A community needs all.
4. The blessing of God rests on a faithful use of all.
5. All should cooperate. - J.O.
I. A HASTY CHOICE OVERRULED FOR GOOD. There can be little doubt that selfishness was the originating motive for this choice. The well-being of other tribes was not, for the time, weighed. Yet it was a choice beset with perils. The district coveted lay on the borders of the wilderness, and was exposed to raid and depredation from foes. It is wiser always to look heavenward and to say, "Thou shalt choose our inheritance for us." Yet, though selfishness was for the hour dominant, other and better qualities dwelt in the tribe. As often happens, God allowed their choice, and then led them through severe discipline to enable them to enjoy it.
II. THEIR CHOICE WAS PURCHASED BY HARD AND PERILOUS WARFARE. "He came with the heads of the people, he executed the justice of the Lord, and his judgments with Israel." To acquire this territory, Moses stated at once the simple condition, viz. that they should fight in the van of Israel's battalions. This condition they accepted, and bravely they acquitted themselves. The event taught them valuable lessons. It taught them that they were an integral part of a great commonwealth, and could not separate themselves, without injury, from it. It taught them to look, not only on their own welfare, but also to consult for the welfare of others. It taught them that rest and quiet possession were more valued after a hard-fought campaign than before.
III. THEIR CHIVALROUS CONDUCT DEVELOPED THEIR LATENT QUALITIES OF MARTIAL PROWESS. The greatest advantage resulting from their military encounters was the personal strength and heroism which were developed in themselves. They were better, braver, nobler men afterwards than ever before. Now, and not till now, they were qualified to protect their own hills and flocks. This advantage they had not foreseen, yet it was the best and most enduring. Now the men of Gad "dwelt like a lion" in fearless possession; now they were able, when assailed," to tear the arm" of a foe, "with the crown of the head." This heroic quality reappeared, in brighter form, in the person of Elijah, and probably also in the forerunner of our Lord.
IV. THIS FEARLESS COURAGE OBTAINS A PRAYER FOR STEADY ENLARGEMENT. "Blessed be he that enlargeth Gad." It was a boon to the whole of Israel to have such a martial tribe occupying an outpost in the land. To enlarge and strengthen Gad was to strengthen their military defense, was to increase their own safety, was to perpetuate their own peace. So long as the lion-hearted tribe of Gad had a numerous generation, no foe could invade Israel from that side. The very reputation of Gad eastward kept the nations in salutary awe. The welfare of Gad was the welfare of all. - D.
I. YOUTHFUL STRENGTH. This is confessedly not the highest form of blessing; yet, in some conditions of civic society, it is essential to the preservation of independence, property, and life. The picture is that of a young lion.
II. DESTRUCTIVE STRENGTH. This has its place in God's kingdom. The destructive strength of Samson was an inestimable boon, when the Philistines threatened to overwhelm the land. We cannot otherwise regard the prodigious strength of Samson but as God's scourge for the chastisement of gross idolaters. Yet, what prodigies of good might such strength accomplish if directed into beneficent channels!
III. STRENGTH UNDER THE DIRECTION AND CONTROL OF SAGACITY. "He shall leap from Bashan." Strength is ofttimes wasted from want of prudence. The strength of Dan was reserved for suitable occasions. It displayed itself in forms surprising and unexpected. The close vicinity of the Philistines to one part of Dan's allotment necessitated this training of muscular strength. It is instructive to note what latent energies there reside in man, which come into view only when great occasions require. - D.
I. WE OBSERVE HERE THE BEST HUMAN AMBITION, "Satisfied with favor." It is scarcely conjecture that imports into Moses' words the meaning, "the favor of God;" for in the next clause he mentions distinctly the "blessing of the Lord." No other favor can satisfy save the "favor of Jehovah." This is all-sufficient - an ocean, in which the soul of man can bathe itself with amplest delight. This phrase, "the favor, or grace, of God," includes everything which God can supply for human need. In it is embraced light, pardon, Divine friendship, purity, peace, strength, liberty, rest. A comprehensive prayer is this, "Oh, satisfy me early with thy mercy!"
II. WE NOTE THE BEST AMBITION SATISFIED. "Full with the blessing of the Lord." We often desire inferior good, and desire in vain. The love of God is too deep and wise to indulge our foolish requests. But when we ask for highest good, and desire it earnestly, we never fail to obtain. What man ever sued for grace and was sent empty away? No; God's chief complaint is that we come too seldom, and ask too little at his hands. Still he says to us, "Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it." The possession and wise use of God's grace enlarges our capacity to receive. It is a cure for all murmuring and discontent.
III. WE SEE HOW, WITH THE HIGHEST BLESSING, GOD GIVES THE LOWER UNASKED. Naphtali desired to be satisfied with the Divine favor; and a voice was commissioned to say, "Possess thou the sea and the south." It is a recognized method of God's procedure that when men ask for spiritual riches, God grants both spiritual and temporal good. In Gibeah, God appeared to Solomon, and proposed to him, "Ask what I shall give thee;" and when Solomon craved to possess the gift of wisdom, his generous God assured him that not only should wisdom be his, but things he had not asked-even unprecedented riches and honor. To the same effect, our Lord affirmed, "Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all other (needed) things shall be added unto you." He is" able to do for us exceeding abundantly above all that we can ask or think." - D.
I. NUMERICAL INCREASE. By a natural law of God's providence, rapid increase of the people is a fruit of material prosperity. When scarcity of food is a permanent condition, infanticide prevails, or children perish for lack of nutritious food. This increase of children was, in former times, a distinct token of God's favor, and a frequent subject of promise. As the numbers of Israel increased, so would their strength to resist aggression. It was when Israel's numbers were diminished by intestine wars, that the Eastern potentates gained decisive triumphs. Occupying, as Asher did, the extreme north-west of Canaan, numerical increase was a source of defensive strength. To the Christian parent - to the Church, children are a blessing. "Happy they who have their quiver full" of these Divine arrows.
II. THERE IS SET FORTH SOCIAL REPUTATION AND GOOD WILL. "Let him be acceptable to his brethren." So long as the tribal relationship was maintained in strength, there was a constant danger of mutual jealousies and animosities. Occasionally this evil passion took fire and broke into open flame. From tribal suspicion and dislike Asher would be free. It is an honor and a joy to live in the esteem and good will of brethren. The outward reach of influence is enlarged. Life is felt to have nobler interests. The better part of human nature finds development.
III. THERE IS FORESHADOWED AGRICULTURAL PROSPERITY. Upon the northern hills of Palestine the olive tree flourishes, and authorities affirm that no agricultural produce is so abundant and so remunerative as that of the olive. It is hardy, will flourish in rocky soil, and attains venerable age. Its fruit is valuable, is utilized for domestic purposes, and has always been a staple commodity of commerce. So prolific were the olives of Asher to become, that the people should have, not only the head, but the feet also, in the abundant oil; or the language may be designed as a bold figure, to indicate that so full should be the oil-vats at the base of every olive-clothed hill, that the very land should seem to be foot-deep in golden oil.
IV. THERE IS PREDICTED IMPREGNABLE DEFENSE. The poetical imagery here may be better translated, "Thy bars shall be iron and brass." It may be that these metals were found in veins among the hills, or rather iron and copper, it may that the gates of their cities were, in some cases, fashioned with these metals. Doors and gates of iron are still to be seen in the district of Bashan. But it is better to treat the language as elegant imagery, to indicate the matchless strength of Asher's fortresses. Over all her internal wealth there shall be a sure defense. The Chaldee paraphase reads, "Thou shalt be strong and bright, like iron and brass."
V. THERE IS PLEDGED INTERNAL STRENGTH PROPORTIONED TO NEED. "As thy days, thy strength." A precious promise this of universal application. Our days are under Divine inspection; our circumstances are under Divine control. It is better for the man every way that his strength should be increased than that the trial should be abated. The outcome is that the man emerges stronger, nobler, more highly developed. The supply is always adjusted to the particular need. God is the model of frugal economy. In his administration there is no waste. But there would be waste if the supply of strength daily given were in excess of the requirement. This would be a blot upon his wisdom. What should we say of the water company that sent daily into our houses ten times the quantity of water that is required? Or, what advantage would it be to us if the supply of light from the sun daily were a hundredfold in excess of this world's need? Our God is perfect wisdom, as well as infinite love. Strength shall be supplied, not in superabundant waste, but in exact proportion to our need. "As our days, our strength." The infant would be crushed with the strength of the full-grown man. - D.
Matthew 25:14-31). The tribes, speaking generally, used theirs badly, and the blessings were not fulfilled. What applies to the blessing as a whole applies especially to this magnificent concluding passage. It is the ideal, not the actual Israel which stands here before the great lawgiver's eye, and the language applies to the actual, only in so far as it was also the ideal, people of Jehovah. Its full application is to the Church of Christ - the Church catholic and invisible.
I. THE BASIS OF ISRAEL'S HAPPINESS, viz. the relation which the tribes sustained to the eternal God. He was the God of Jeshurun - of the righteous people. He was a God bound to them by covenant. They had been saved by him. He was their changeless Dwelling-place, Defender, and Support. All power in heaven and earth was at their service, and engaged for their defense. They had nothing to fear with a Protector so almighty; they had everything to hope for from one so able to save and bless. Precisely similar is the relation of God in Christ to the Church of believers.
II. THE GREATNESS OF IT.
1. Complete as regards its elements. No element of good a-wanting. Rising from natural blessings, and safety and protection against enemies, they had also, in the favor of God and communion with him, every pledge of spiritual blessing.
2. Permanent. Enduring as the eternal God.
3. Exalting and ennobling to the soul of its possessor. Such a relation to God as Israel sustained should have wrought in the people, did in part work in them, a surpassing elevation of consciousness; was fitted to raise thought and feeling to the pitch of sublimity; should have made of them a great nation, in the best sense of the words, a nation great in thought, aspiration, and endeavor - heroically great. A like elevation of spirit should characterize the people of Christ. - J.O.
I. THE INCOMPARABLE EXCELLENCY OF GOD. This is brought out in several particulars. And:
1. God is incomparably excellent in himself. He "rideth upon the heaven in his help, and in his excellency on the sky." The reference is believed to be to the Shechinah cloud, which passed in calm majesty along the upper heavens to indicate to Israel, or "Jeshurun," as Israel is here called, the way they should take. In no more beautiful way could God's essential sovereignty be brought out. He moves in calm majesty among the spheres, the Ruler because Maker of them all. No one can for a moment be compared with him.
2. God is incomparably excellent as the Savior of his people. Israel experienced his help in the deliverance from Egypt, in the pilgrimage to Palestine, and they were about to experience still further favor in the success of the invasion. The language is most beautiful by which all this is conveyed. "The eternal God is thy Refuge;" to him who dwells in the eternities and who orders their processions, the difficulties of time must be as nothing. "Underneath are the everlasting arms," no weariness ever overtaking arms which are full of everlasting strength. "He shall thrust out the enemy from before thee; and shall say, Destroy them." Now, in all this we have a figure of the salvation which God extends still to men.
(1) He delivers us from the bondage of sin;
(2) he justifies us freely from all things;
(3) he sanctifies us by his Spirit;
(4) he protects and delivers us from all our enemies.
II. THE CONSEQUENT HAPPINESS OF ISRAEL. What distinguishes Israel and renders them a happy people is the possession of such an incomparable Savior. It is not in Israel themselves, but in their God, that the cause of their happiness dwells. And is is well to remember this.
1. Frames and feelings are no proper foundation for our spiritual confidence. Anxious souls prolong their anxiety and postpone their peace by excessive introspection. Instead of occupying themselves with the incomparable excellency of their Savior, they occupy themselves with the incomparable vileness of their own hearts. No peace and joy can come from within.
2. The changeless Savior is a true Foundation for our confidence and hope. It is "Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever," in whom we are asked to confide. He has every excellency which our necessities demand. He has the atonement and the sympathy and the intercessory powers we need to free us from deserved penalties and fit us for undeserved blessing.
3. We stand in consequence as an expectant people awaiting our entrance to the land of promise. For it is to be noticed that Israel were not only happy in their experience, but happy also in their hopes. They were about to enter the Promised Land. There they were to dwell safely alone, like the heavenly state where "the wicked cease from troubling and the weary are at rest." They are to have plenty of corn and wine, as the redeemed have in heaven, where they eat angels' food and drink the new wine of the kingdom. They are to dwell under the fertilizing dews of heaven, as the redeemed shall under the benedictions of God. In hope, then, Israel was happy: and we too may "rejoice in hope of the glory of God." - R.M.E.
I. OBSERVE ISRAEL'S SOURCE OF GREATNESS. Without question, Israel's source of greatness is God. Inconceivable as it is to mortal minds, the eternal Sovereign of the universe has come into intimate alliance with his chosen people. He is not simply God - the abstract Deity - he is the "God of Jeshurun." His eternity is brought into human use - is available for human needs. In the eternal and unchangeable God we may dwell. He is our Refuge, our Dwelling-place, our Sanctuary. All the resources of his omnipotence are for us: beneath us "are the everlasting arms." But hath God arms? Hath he human members and organs? "He that formed the eye, shall he not see?" He that fashioned our arms and hands, hath he no instruments with which to support our sinking frame? Yea, "in him we live." All the activities of his providential government are for us. "He rideth upon the heavens," like a king in his chariot, for our help. This is true, both for Israel collectively, and for every individual believer. In every decree that issues from his throne, he has us in view. All the machinery of his extended providence works with one design, viz. our advantage. He thinks, and plans, and executes, and overturns for one main end - the final redemption of his people. God and we are one.
II. ISRAEL'S SAFETY. "Thou shalt dwell in safety alone." From the foregoing premise, this is a sound and certain conclusion. "If God be for us," who can assail us successfully? What can prevail against omnipotence? What can penetrate the thick bosses of Jehovah's shield? Fear in suck a case is unreasonable disloyalty. This globe must be shivered into a thousand atoms, all the forces in God's universe must be rendered powerless and ineffective, the scepter of Jehovah must be broken, before any danger can touch the elect of God. Safe, beyond the specter of a fear, are hose whom God defends.
III. ISRAEL'S ABUNDANCE. "The fountain of Jacob shall be upon a land of corn and wine." Jacob is represented as the fount or source of many people, all of whom shall find an abode in the land of corn and wine. Every want shall be met. In this "mountain, shall the Lord of hosts prepare a feast of fat things." In the paradise of God there flourishes on both sides of the stream, the tree of life, which bears twelve manner of fruits, and yieldeth her fruit every month. Here is a perennial supply and satisfying variety. And though this is expressed by material images, it sets forth substantial and eternal truth - the very truth of God. In the kingdom of God there is provided whatever can please the eye, delight the ear, regale the appetite, relieve a need, gratify a sense. For perpetually does the voice of the King ring out a hearty welcome, "Eat, O friends; yea, drink abundantly, O beloved."
IV. ISRAEL'S TRIUMPH. God's triumph is Israel's triumph also. God will not dissociate himself from his people. "His covenant is an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and sure." Yea, God's conquests are not separate and distinct from ours. He conquers through us - yea, by means of us. If we belong to the true Israel, God's foes are our foes, God's weapons are our weapons, God's interests are our interests. Our excellent Sword in this warfare is God; he himself is" the Shield of our help." The contest may be protracted, severe, wavering; success may seem to hang in suspense; but beyond the smoke and dust and uncertainty of battle, faith clearly sees the final triumph, and hears the immortal pen, "Thou shalt tread upon their high places."
V. ISRAEL'S TRANSCESDEST HAPPINESS. "Happy art thou, O Israel; who is like unto thee?" Surely, their happiness is complete, and impossible of enlargement, who repose themselves in the very heart of God, and dwell perpetually in his love! The utmost capacity of human speech is impotent to express their deep and satisfying joy. It is a thing to be experienced, not expressed. Such joy hath no vocabulary, no tongue. It is "joy unspeakable, and full of glory." What the noonday sun is to a glowworm's spark, so is the joy of the righteous compared with the joys of earth. God's own joy is conveyed to godly hearts. - D.
I. THE SUBLIMITY OF THIS PROMISE. IS there one who can open his mind sufficiently to take in anything like the grandeur of this thought? To think realizingly of God at all is to many a difficulty. It shows how little we do think of him; how habitually our minds are occupied with other objects; that when we wish to bring even his existence clearly before our minds, we find it difficult to do so. It is not a difficulty which would be felt if our relations with God were close and intimate, if our communion with him was habitual, if we were trying to live continually as in his presence and under his eye. "I believe in God the Father Almighty!" Is not that just what most of US do not do? Is there one who would not tremble far more in the presence of many of his fellow-mortals than he ever does at the thought of standing in the presence of his God? What sort of a belief is it which leaves us so destitute of all real apprehension of what God is, and even of a habitual realization of the feeling that he is? We think of him, but often how coldly, how distantly, how notionally, how unbelievingly! We speak of "revivals," but, sooth to say, we need a revival of living belief in the first article of the Creed. We need to have our eyes opened, thought set to work, faith made more real. If that were given, then should we know, as we had never known before, how wonderful, how sublime, how infinitely grand a thing it was to have this God as our Refuge, and to know that underneath us were these everlasting arms. If it is difficult to attain to a steady persuasion even of God's existence, vastly more difficult is it to frame a just conception of his eternity. Before worlds were, God existed; when they shall have waxed old and disappeared, he shall exist still. Time flows, but, like the rock in the midst of the stream, which, from its stable base, laughs at the flood whose impetuous course it overlooks; so, amidst the flow of ages, God endures, "the same yesterday, today, and forever." Does it not, then, seem as something incredible that this eternal God should constitute himself a Home and Refuge for weak, sinning, mortals; should even stoop to press himself on such mortals as a Friend, Savior, Protector, Support, Helper? If we see nothing strange in this, it is impossible that anything should seem strange to us; if we can believe this, we need not stumble at much else in revelation. For this is just the central truth the Bible has to tell. It tells of a God, infinite, everlasting, almighty, inflexibly righteous, unutterably pure, incomprehensibly great and wise and good; from whom men have indeed wandered in numberless paths of error; but who has revealed himself for the very purpose of bringing them back to himself, that they may be saved from death and may enjoy eternal life; who will by no means clear the guilty, but who waits to be gracious to every penitent sinner returning to his care; and who has provided all means for that return in the atonement of his Son, our Savior Jesus Christ, and in the grace of his Holy Spirit. That is the message the Bible has to bring, and it is nothing else than the almighty and eternal God offering himself, in his grace, as a Refuge for our otherwise defenseless souls; stretching out, those everlasting arms of which the text speaks, to draw us to himself and save us from otherwise inevitable ruin. Say not, you do not need this refuge! The son of man is not yet born who does not need it, and who will not one day, whether he does so now or not, acknowledge that he needs it. And say not, you will delay in seeking it! for even could a day or a year be guaranteed in which to rethink the question now proposed, it is plainly folly in itself, and grievous dishonor done to God, that so vast and glorious an opportunity should stand for a single day unimproved; that God should sue to you, and you refuse his gracious invitations. Rather, "seek the Lord while he may be found," etc. (Isaiah 55:6).
II. THE COMPREHENSIVENESS OF THIS PROMISE. View it in three relations. In relation:
1. To our temporal existence. Having God as our Refuge does not indeed imply that we are to have a great abundance of this world's possessions, or be absolutely free from cares and sorrows. It does not secure that we are to be either the richest or the least tried of all around us. God knows how often it is otherwise. Some of the best of God's saints have been, like Paul, the worst off of humankind. "They were stoned, they were sawn asunder," etc. (Hebrews 11:37). Was God therefore not the "Refuge" of those saints because they were so ill off in this life, or did the "everlasting arms" not sustain them? Or was it not in the midst of these "great fights of afflictions" that they first realized how true a Refuge God was to them? When Paul was at his work, "in journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of his countrymen, in perils of the heathen, in perils of the city, in perils of the wilderness, in perils of the sea, in perils of false brethren; in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in lastings often, in cold and nakedness" (2 Corinthians 11:24-28), had God in these circumstances falsified his promise, and failed to be a Refuge to him? The question needs only to be put to be its own answer. Yet it is certain that, even in outward things, God is a Refuge for his people, and that under his care they ordinarily enjoy both unusual blessing and a quite especial protection. Jesus teaches us to trust our Father in heaven, while of course using the means he gives us, for all our temporal necessities (Matthew 6:25-34). He pledges himself that, so long as it is the Father's will that we should live in the world, we shall be protected from harm, and suitably provided for. This was David's confidence, expressed in many of the psalms, and it has been the confidence of all God's people. Experience verifies that the good man's dwelling is the "munitions of rocks;" his bread is given him, his water is sure (Isaiah 33:16).
2. To our spiritual existence. God is the soul's
(1) spiritual Savior. Though our Lord and Judge, it is only in his bosom, in his forgiving grace, we can find refuge from our sins, from the unhappiness they cause us, and from the ruin they have brought upon us. The child that has offended his parent may seek the whole world through in vain for the rest he can find at once by coming back, confessing his sin, and being forgiven. God has devised means "that his banished be not expelled from him" (2 Samuel 14:14). The way is open. "O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself; but in me is thy help" (Hosea 13:9).
(2) Unfailing Retreat in trouble. No matter what storms beat without, what blessings of an outward kind are given or withheld, what threatening forms the enmity of man may assume, the soul has in God a Retreat, a place of resort and Refuge, which never fails it. There it dwells in a region of love, breathes an atmosphere of peace, holds a communion with the Father of spirits, which only grows the sweeter the longer life lasts, and the more the outward cup is bitter to the taste. In this inward home of the spirit it renews its strength and drinks of living waters, has meat to eat which the world knows not of, finds satisfaction for its deepest needs (Habakkuk 3:17, 18).
(3) Unfailing Support. He upholds the soul. Has the believer trials to come through? He is upheld to bear them. Has he temptations to face? He is upheld to conquer in them. Has he work to do? He is upheld and strengthened to perform it. Has he enemies to fight? His courage is sustained, and he is made "more than conqueror." But for the upholding of the "everlasting arms," how many of God's saints would never have come through what they have experienced!
3. To our eternal existence. "The eternal God," etc. Heavenly and eternal existence are wrapped up in this promise. God does not make his eternity a refuge for beings of a day. There would be an utter disproportion between an everlasting dwelling-place and a creature of some three score years and ten. All eternal good is here implied, and this crowns the promise and carries it beyond all comprehension of its greatness. "Eye hath not seen," etc. - J.O.
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