Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. ALL ARMIES WILL FIND THEIR PLACE IN ONE OF TWO CATALOGUES - THAT OF VICTORS, OR THAT OF VANQUISHED. We lament that to place Israel God must displace others. That heroism conquering a home assumes also heroism fighting in vain to keep one. Life in its deepest action must always be a struggle, ending in victory or defeat. Every foolish life ends in failure, and in a consciousness like that of a beaten general, of plans unwisely formed and forces unhappily employed. Those who follow God's guidance in all the affairs of life are fighters in a combat in which their success confers blessings on themselves and on society at large. All who refuse God's guidance in their general affairs are fighters in a combat in which their success, if achieved, would damage others still more than their failure would hurt themselves. Those who choose wrongly thus find life a losing game, a disastrous battle. It would be well if all realised that not to win a victory with life is to suffer a terrible defeat, is to be left with loss of power, and with infinite damage. In one or other list we all shall be. Crowned as victors, humiliated and discredited as failures.
II. MOST OF THOSE IN THAT LIST NEVER EXPECTED TO BE IN IT. Why should they? They had theories like ours today of the superiority of training in arms, of fortifications, of what they called their civilisation, to any rude force which nomadic hordes could bring. But they are beaten. Pride goeth before destruction. Many reliant in their strength of purpose are destroyed by temptations they despised. Youth dreams of only bright and golden issues to its life. Too often the only issues are deplorable. Do not assume your life is going to be a grand success. Victory is desert - not drift, achievement - not accident. Even to retain requires energy. These men could not transmit to others what had been transmitted to them.
III. THEY WERE NOT SAVED BY PROFESSION OF SANCTITY. Some of the cities here had already had a long reputation for sanctity. "Jerusalem" had been Melchizedek's seat; "Bethel," the old name of the locality (though the city was Luz), means "the house of God." "Kedesh" means "a holy place." These all seem to have been spots consecrated to the service of the true God. Consecrated peoples have God's protection; consecrated places go without. "Judgment" does not spare, it "begins with the house of God." Later inhabitants of Jerusalem may say, "The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord axe these." But the sanctity of the site increases, it does not avert the punishment of those profaning it. There is something very solemn in this removal of the candlesticks which had served the Pre-Abrahamic Church. England is today a great Bethel, a sublime Kedesh. May we have grace to act worthily of, and so retain, our eminence.
IV. THE INDIVIDUAL SHARES THE FATE OF THE COMMUNITY. Some of these kings and their people, doubtless, were worthy of a better fate. But implicated in the fortunes of the general community, leaguing with it for its defence, they come in for its fate. It is strange how the individual has to share the lot of the community. The accident of our birth may determine our calling, our fortune, even our creed, and our character. Advantages for which others have wrought, disabilities which others have transmitted, are inherited by us. "Other men have laboured, and we have entered into their labours." Sometimes other men have sinned, and we have entered into their penalty. There is, indeed, an inner realm whose fortunes depend only on ourselves. But we are members one of another, and must participate the general fortune. We should therefore cherish more patriotism, more religious interest in our country's politics and action. The welfare of those yet unborn depends on the wisdom of the generation today existent. Let us not leave to our successors a "heritage of woe," such as was left to these kings of Canaan. Look on them with pity, with modest humility, asking of your soul, "Who maketh thee to differ?" It may be some Canaanitish bard lamented the dead at the waters of Merom, as the Scottish bard did those who fell at Flodden, and sang tenderly of" the flowers of the forest being a' wede away." Let us be thankful that in the past we have been spared such a doom, and careful in the future to avoid it. - G
I. DIVERSITY OF LOTS IS A NECESSITY. If we could attain uniformity we could not retain it.
(1) Diversity necessarily results from the inevitable differences in the arrangement of the physical world and the course of external events. The world is not large enough for all men to live on the most fertile soil and in the most genial climate.
(2) Diversity is also necessitated by the difference in human capacities. Since these sources of diversity are found in nature, they must be sanctioned by God. Therefore to complain of them is (a) futile, (b) distrustful.
II. DIVERSITY OF LOTS IS LESS SEVERE THAN IT APPEARS TO BE.
(1) There is much compensation for inequality. We are inclined to notice only the hardships of our own lot and the favourable circumstances of our neighbour's. There are cares peculiar to riches and blessings peculiar to poverty.
(2) Custom accommodates us to our lot. It softens the hardest lot and robs the pleasantest of its interest. The back becomes fitted to the daffy burden. The daffy luxury becomes insipid.
(3) Happiness depends more on the character of the inner life than on the circumstances of the external lot. A peaceful mind is better than all riches. The cheerful poor man is more favoured by Providence than the melancholy rich man (Proverbs 15:17).
III. DIVERSITY OF LOTS IS BENEFICIAL TO US INDIVIDUALLY, Justice is not equality, but fitness. It is not fit that we should all receive equal lots. For some the highlands are most fit, forsome the plains, for some the valleys.
(1) Fitness depends on our capacity. One can serve best in one lot, and another with different faculties in a totally different lot. The talents are given "to every man according to his several ability" (Matthew 25:15).
(2) It depends on our disposition. We are not all capable of appreciating the blessings which are given to others. If we chose for ourselves we could not tell what would be most agreeable to us until we had experienced all kinds of lots. We often think we should enjoy things for which we have no capacity, as weak and timid people, delighting in stories of adventure, imagine they should like to be the heroes of them.
(3) It depends on our need. Our lots are apportioned to us for probation, discipline, and education. The lot which is most attractive may not be most beneficial. Various methods of training are needed according to our various characters. Some plants flourish best in the sunshine, others in the shade. Some souls are healthiest in prosperity, others in adversity.
IV. DIVERSITY OF LOTS IS USEFUL FOR THE GENERAL WELFARE OF MANKIND. Dull uniformity would leave human life at a low level. Civilisation must become complex as it advances. Diversity of lots is necessary for division of labour. "The whole family" is most prosperous when the several members quietly accept their various lots. The mountain lot serves for the shepherd and his flock, the valley for the filler of the soil. Thus the common life of the whole nation is advanced. They who suffer most often have a special part to serve in the ministry of life for the good of their brethren. - W.F.A.
(1) St. Paul in his sermon at Athens said that "God had made of one blood all nations to dwell on all the face of the earth, and had determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; that they might seek the Lord" (Acts 17:26). Thus the natural fatherland has been determined for every nation by God Himself. This is the heritage He has assigned to each, to be received in humble recognition of His fatherly will, and with the grateful acknowledgment of all the capacities for its development. But if God has thus given man an inheritance in this great world, He has done so not only in order that man may supply himself with food and with all that is essential to his bodily well being; it is not even that he may avail himself of all the appliances of a brilliant civilisation. It is that he may fulfil here upon earth his higher destiny; that He may seek God and serve Him. Every nationality has its mission in this great work; it has its special gifts to employ for the common cause. Each one is to rehearse in its own tongue the wonderful works of God, and to glorify Him as it has opportunity.
(2) Every family is in like manner bound to recognise the hand of Providence in its earthly lot. Whether it be straitened by poverty, or abounding in wealth, it is equally bound to serve God in the station wherein He has placed it. All outward prosperity is to be received and held as a trust from Him. It is no more ours of right than the land of Canaan belonged to the Israelites. "The earth is the Lord's and the fulness thereof," and we are His stewards. It is for Him we are bound to use it; and to use it for Him is to use it for the good of our fellows, since He reckons any love and service done to them as to Himself. Nor is it only for our material possessions, but for our whole position and attitude among our fellow men, that we are responsible to God. Whether masters or servants, princes or peasants, our lot has been assigned us by God for one sole end, namely His service. Thus before Him, and in view of this Divine purpose, there is no distinction of rank. All that is done for Him acquires dignity from that fact. The one essential is that in our earthly life, whether high or low, we do His work. The poor are often richest towards God, like that tribe of Levi, which, though it possessed not a foot of land, was, as we shall see, the great spiritual aristocracy of Israel. - E. DE P.