Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. NATURE'S CRAVING. Achsah covets a prize that is as yet beyond her reach. "Give me a blessing. Thou hast given me a south (dry, barren) land; give me also springs of water." How expressive is this of that yearning of the heart by virtue of which it cannot rest content with present possessions, but is ever reaching forth towards something more, a richer inheritance, a completer blessing, the perfect filling up of its capacity, the sense of absolute blessedness.
1. There is an appetite in the soul of man which is not only insatiable but often becomes more intense the more it is fed with finite gratifications. What is the meaning of life's restless toil and endeavour, and the perpetual craving for some new form of excitement in the giddy round and dance of pleasure? It simply shows what power there is in earthly good to awaken hopes and longings that it cannot gratify, to quicken an appetite that it cannot appease. It is not enlargement of possession, the conquering of fair kingdoms either of knowledge, or wealth, or social distinction, or means of enjoyment, that can bring contentment to the soul. This will only feed its discontent unless other conditions are supplied. Man has that within him which spurns all his attempts to satisfy it thus. It is the mark of his essential greatness that he is conscious of a hunger which no earth-grown food can satisfy, a thirst which earthly streams cannot slake, "an aching void the world can never fill." Study the facts of your own consciousness. The day dreams of your imagination and your heart have never been realised. Many a pleasant prospect has proved like the mirage of the desert. Many a fondly cherished purpose has been like a river that loses itself in the sand. Many a stay in which you trusted has been but as a reed that breaks and wounds the hand that leans upon it. The world has not satisfied you. Your fellow creatures have not satisfied you. You have least of all been satisfied from yourself. Amid the happiest arrangement of circumstances you dream of one that is better. Rich as your earthly inheritance may be, there are times when it seems dry and barren to you, and, like Achsah, you crave for something more,
2. When this appetite lifts itself up consciously to the higher level, fixes itself upon the spiritual good, it is the evidence of a new Divine life in the soul. We come here to an altogether peculiar and distinctive element of feeling. The mere experience of the unsatisfactoriness of all other kinds of good does not of itself prepare men to seek after the joys of faith. God said to His sense bound people in the prophetic age, "Thou art wearied in the greatness of thy way, yet saidst thou not. There is no hope" (Isaiah 57:10). Their vain carnal life disappointed them, but they did not repent of it. They were wearied in it, disgusted with it, and still they clung to it. They hoped on notwithstanding the blighting and withering of all their hopes. How true to human nature and human experience in every age! The carnal appetite will never resolve itself into the spiritual. They are essentially different things, and point to essentially different causes. The long series of life's disappointments may be gathered up at last into one sad, deep sigh of conscious emptiness and weariness - "All is vanity," etc. But does it necessarily assume the form and tone of an upward yearning for "the things that are above"? Nay, there is no saving virtue in the mere groans of a discontented heart. One dare not place much confidence even in deathbed confessions of the vanity of the world. The attraction earthwards may have ceased, but perhaps there is no attraction heavenwards to take its place. The lights of earth may be growing dim, but there is no soul-captivating view of brightening lights that shine along the eternal shore; natural desire fails, but there is no longing for the pure satisfactions of a higher and a better sphere. So that it is a momentous revolution in the spiritual history of a man, happen when it will, when he first begins distinctly to reach forth towards the heavenly and Divine. He becomes a "new creature" when there is thus awakened within him the aspiration of a pure and holy life that he has never known before. The appetite of his being has taken a new direction, assumed an altogether new character. He hungers for the "bread of life," and thirsts for the "river of the water of life" - "hungers after righteousness," and "thirsts for the living God."
II. ITS TRUE SATISFACTION. Achsah's request is immediately granted. She receives from her father a completed "blessing" - the richer land added to the poorer to supplement its deficiency.
1. God is ever ready to respond to every pure aspiration of our nature. He who "opens His hand and satisfies the wants of every living thing" will never disregard the cry of His suppliant children. Every true spiritual desire of which we are conscious contains in itself the pledge of its own fulfilment.
2. Christ is God's answer to the soul's deepest craving. In Him is the fulness of all satisfying good. "Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life" (John 4:14). In Him we find the rest of absolute contentment.
3. The joy of the higher, life that Christ gives deepens and purifies every natural joy. As the "upper springs" feed the "nether," so when He has conferred on us the Diviner good we discern a richer meaning and worth in the inferior good.
"Our heart is at the secret source "We thirst for springs of heavenly life,
"We thirst for springs of heavenly life,
I. LOVE IS THE STRONGEST MOTIVE OF CONDUCT. AS Othniel was nephew to Caleb, and therefore must have known Achsah, it is probable that he accepted the challenge to seize Kirjath-sepher from motives of real affection for the daughter of Caleb. God has providentially arranged that human love should serve as a help for the performance of difficult tasks. Christianity appropriates and consecrates the emotion of love by directing it to Christ. Love is worthless when it will not encounter danger and attempt hard tasks. The highest human affection is shown not in mere pleasing emotions, but in sacrifice and toil
II. HUSBANDS AND WIVES SHOULD EXERCISE MUTUAL CONFIDENCE. Achsah first consults her husband and then proffers her request to her father. Though husbands and wives have separate spheres of duty, each should be interested in that of the other. There should be no secrets between them. They should learn to act as one in important questions. True sympathy will be shown in questions of conduct and choice, not merely in circumstances of trouble.
III. THE DESIRE OF EARTHLY CONVENIENCES IS NOT IN ITSELF WRONG. Achsah cannot be accused of covetousness. Her request was reasonable. If we do not put earth in the place of heaven, nor grasp for ourselves what is due to others, nor forget duty and generosity in greed and self seeking, the attempt to improve our condition in the world is natural and right.
IV. CHILDREN SHOULD COMBINE CONFIDENCE WITH SUBMISSION IN THEIR CONDUCT TO THEIR PARENTS. Achsah is an example of this combination. She shows confidence in making her request. She shows submission in alighting off her ass and asking the favour from her father as a "blessing." Reverence and humility are always becoming, but slavish fear is a proof either of the tyrannous character of the parent, or of the mean nature of the child. Confidence joined to submission constitutes the right attitude of Christians in approaching their heavenly Father (Romans 8:15).
V. NO EARTHLY BLESSING IS PERFECT IN ITSELF. The southland is of little use without the springs of water. In every condition of life we feel the need of something more to give us satisfaction. Wealth generates the hunger for greater wealth. As the field is barren without the Waters of heaven, so any earthly inheritance is profitless to us unless there are added the showers of spiritual blessings (1 Timothy 4:8). - W.F.A.
could not take Jerusalem." The reason lay in themselves. The fault was their own They had not enough faith, and of the courage that springs from faith. If they had had more of the spirit of their great leader in them they would not thus have quailed before their foes, or left the work half finished. The historic fact finds its analogue in the moral and spiritual life of men. It suggests -
I. THE FEEBLENESS THAT IS THE RESULT OF FAITHLESSNESS. Want of power is in various ways coupled in Scripture with want of faith. There were times when Christ could not do mighty works among the people "because of their unbelief" (Matthew 13:58; Mark 6:5). The disciples could not cure the lunatic child "because of their unbelief" (Matthew 17:20). Peter could no longer walk on the water when he began to doubt (Matthew 14:31). As the Jews "could not enter in" to the land of promise "because of their unbelief," so may we fail to secure our inheritance in God's everlasting rest (Hebrews 3:19; Hebrews 4:1-14). These examples suggest that faithlessness is weakness, inasmuch as
(1) it severs the soul from the Divine fountain of strength;
(2) it obscures the soul's vision of those spiritual realities which are the inspiration of all high and holy endeavour;
(3) it robs the soul of all firm standing in the hope of the eternal future. That must be a source of fatal weakness to a man which thus disconnects him from the higher interests of his being and leaves him at the mercy of things "seen and temporal." "All things are possible to him that believeth." To him that believeth not, nothing, great or good, is possible in this world.
II. THE ILL EFFECTS OF SUCH MORAL FEEBLENESS. The results of Israel's failure to exterminate the Canaanites are typical of conditions only too common in the moral life of men. The delay it involved in the settlement of the State - politically, ecclesiastically; the perpetual unrest; the national disgrace; the corruption of the national life by the contagion of idolatry; the reproach cast on the name of Jehovah among the nations - all these have their resemblance in the penalties of moral failure.
1. Personal dishonour. When a man has not the courage to face and combat the evils of his own heart and life, or that confront him in the world without, he generally falls into the shame of some kind of base compromise. He deals sophistically with his own conscience, suppresses the nobler impulses of his nature, belies the essential principles of his religious faith, disowns the bond of his allegiance to Christ. No greater dishonour possible to a man than this.
2. Spiritual degeneracy. As an enfeebled body is liable to the infection of disease, so moral laxity leaves men a prey to the destroyer. Corrupting influences readily take effect upon them. The gates are open, the sentinel is asleep, no wonder the foe enters and takes possession of the citadel. "From him that hath not shall be taken away," etc. (Matthew 13:12).
3. Exaggeration of opposing difficulties. The sense of moral weakness and falseness conjures up obstacles in the path of duty or endeavour that do not really exist. High moral excellence seems impossible to him who is content to grovel. The faithless heart always "sees a lion in the way."
"The wise and active conquer difficulties 4. Defective witness for God. Every such case of spiritual failure is a hindrance to the progress of the kingdom of heaven among men, thwarts so far the Divine purpose m the triumph of truth and righteousness. The hostile forces of the world laugh at a half-hearted service of Christ. The strongholds of iniquity can never fall before a church enfeebled by the spirit of unbelief. - W.
4. Defective witness for God. Every such case of spiritual failure is a hindrance to the progress of the kingdom of heaven among men, thwarts so far the Divine purpose m the triumph of truth and righteousness. The hostile forces of the world laugh at a half-hearted service of Christ. The strongholds of iniquity can never fall before a church enfeebled by the spirit of unbelief. - W.
I. NO MAN PERFECTLY SUCCEEDS IN THE TASK OF HIS LIFE. If a man is satisfied that he has accomplished all his aims, this is a proof that those aims were low. We are bound to aim at the highest though we never reach it. The most successful life is still a broken life. Like the rainbow with half the arch melted away, like the waterfall blown into mist before it reaches the ground, like the bird's song cut short by the storm, life's work ends ragged and unfinished. When failure arises from the magnitude of the task, we are free from blame if we have laboured our best at it. But it is usually aggravated by our indolence, cowardice, and culpable weakness. Only Christ has perfectly succeeded (John 17:4). We need a higher view of the requirements of duty, a deeper conviction of our own past failure, more trust in God's power to help us, more consecration of soul and earnest, self-sacrificing effort.
II. NO CHRISTIAN WHILE IN THIS WORLD PERFECTLY SUCCEEDS IN EXPELLING HIS SINS. The Christian life is a warfare with sin. Though God pardons sin immediately on our repentance and faith in Christ, and gives us grace with which to conquer it, He requires us to fight against it. The war is not decided by one battle. It is a life-long conflict. He who claims to have completely conquered is deceiving himself (1 John 1:8). This is a fact, but one to cause shame, for it is not a physical necessity. We ought to conquer all sin, and in Christ we have the means for this perfect victory.
III. THE CONQUEST OF THE WORLD FOR CHRIST IS SLOW. The Jebusites were not completely subdued till the days of David (2 Samuel 5:6, 7). Christian mission work proceeds slowly. Strongholds of sin, of heathenism, of unbelief, of worldliness still seem invincible.
(1) This fact should not shake our faith in the truth of Christ, for it was predicted while ultimate triumph was promised (Matthew 13:31, 32).
(2) It should convince us of our own want of faithfulness. Christ has entrusted the extension of His gospel to His Church. It is to the shame of the Church that she is so remiss in carrying out her great mission. IV, NO EARTHLY INHERITANCE IS WITHOUT ITS DISADVANTAGES. Canaan was not paradise. The land flowing with milk and honey also brought forth thorns and briars. Jerusalem, the future capital of the land, was the last place to be subdued. So we find something amiss in the very core of life. This is owing
(1) partly to our failure to make the best use of this world, and
(2) partly to the fact that God has given us natures too great for any earthly satisfaction. Therefore we must expect disappointment here. The perfect inheritance is reserved for the next world. - W.F.A.