Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. A PLACE OF SOLEMN RECOLLECTION AND RE-STATEMENT. Shiloh, the place of Israel's worship and sacrifice, is also the place of Israel's repentance. A name, Bochim, is given to it. "They named the place from their tears." So the house of God becomes the monument and memorial of our deepest religious experiences. No new revelation is here made. The simple facts of the Divine deliverance of the people, their perfidy and faithlessness, are recited; in contrast with which God's steadfastness is mentioned. The foundation article of the covenant is rehearsed, and the question asked, "Why have ye done this?" And then the connection of their punishment with their sin is set forth.
II. A PLACE OF INQUIRY, REMONSTRANCE, AND SORROWFUL APPEAL. The tone of this address is sympathetic and yet severe. The question, "Why have ye done this?" suggests to the people how foolish and profitless their conduct has been. How fitting would such a question be to many sinners of to-day. We too have broken plain precepts and sinned against the light of truth. What reason has there been in the conduct of God, in the nature of the duties neglected, or in the advantages we supposed we should secure? An appeal to conscience like this is of infinitely more value than a speculative disquisition. He is a true angel who bears such a message.
III. A PLACE OF REPENTANCE. Israel is invited to change its mind. God is solicitous for its repentance. He has sent "an angel" to produce this result. The tears that flow so freely are precious in his sight, and may avail, if followed up, to recover his favour and to reinstate them in their lost possessions. How great a privilege was this; not that it was a place of tears only, but that it might become a place of repentance, a turning-point in Israel's history. This Esau found not, though he sought it carefully with tears. Let it therefore be seized as a blissful augury that God wills not the death of a sinner, but that all men may turn to him and live. Such experiences are not to be artificially produced. A faithful recalling of God's real dealings with us in the past ought to make tears flow from the most hardened of sinners. But let the next step be taken, and beyond the tears, even beyond the ostentatious sacrifice, let reformation commence at once with his help and blessing. Then shall we have reason to recall our tears with gratitude when we discover that our repentance is not to he repented of. - M.
I. THE MISSION.
1. A special messenger is sent to preach repentance. There are men whose peculiar gifts and position mark them out as called to this difficult work, e.g. Elijah, John the Baptist, Savonarola, John Knox.
2. This man was sent by God. It needs a Divine call and inspiration to speak rightly to men of their sins as well as to preach the gospel of peace. He who is thus called must not shrink from fear or false kindness to men.
3. The preacher is simply commissioned to convey a message from God. The voice is a man's, but the words are God's. The true preacher must always regard himself as the messenger of God, not at liberty to indulge in his own speculations, or to claim authority for his own judgment, but simply to declare, and interpret, and apply, the truth which God has entrusted to him (1 Timothy 1:11).
4. The preacher carries the message to the people. He does not wait for an audience to assemble about him; he does not wait for a spontaneous repentance. He journeys from Gilgal to Bochim. They who most need the preacher are least likely to come to hear him. Therefore he must go after them. The visitor, the city missionary, etc., have here a special work to reach those who will never enter the church, but all preachers of repentance must learn to seek their hearers.
II. THE MESSAGE.
1. This commences with a review of God's goodness and faithfulness. If we have been sinful he has still been merciful to us. He has kept his side of the great covenant, so that if we miss the good fruits of it this must be because we fail on our side. It is well to call attention to these facts before pointing out the sin of men,
(1) that this may be felt more deeply in contrast with the goodness of God,
(2) that the purpose of God in calling to repentance may be recognised as gracious, not vindictive (Romans 2:4).
2. The message contains a definite charge of sin. This must be definite to be effective. All admit they are imperfect. The difficult and delicate task of rebuking consists in making men see their special guilt in regard to particular sins.
(1) In the present case the sin consists in guilty tolerance of evil. Religion should be aggressive. The Church is called to separate herself from the world (1 Corinthians 5:11).
(2) The root of the sin is disobedience. All sin is disobedience to the written law, or the law in our hearts; it is the setting up of our will against God's will.
3. The message closes with a warning of punishment. This punishment was to be a direct consequence of their tolerance of evil. Punishment is a natural fruit of sin.
III. THE RESULTS. We see the preaching of repentance producing the most varied results. Some turn a deaf ear; some hear and resent it; some hear and approve, but apply the message to others; some hear and admit the truth of the rebuke, but have no feeling of the sting of it; some feel sorrow under the rebuke, but do not rise to the active repentance of will. In the present instance the people heard meekly, humbly, and penitently, and the word bore fruit in genuine repentance and reformation.
1. They wept. Sorrow for past sin is natural and helpful towards future amendment, though if left to itself it will be a barren sentiment.
2. They sacrificed. Thus they acknowledged guilt, sought forgiveness in the mercy of God, and reconsecrated themselves to his service. It is not repentance, but faith in Christ, the sacrifice for sin, following this, that secures to us God's forgiving mercy.
3. They served the Lord. This is the final outcome, and certain proof of genuine repentance. The depth of our repentance must be measured not by the number of tears we shed, but by the thoroughness of our amendment of life, and the faithfulness of our subsequent service of God (Luke 3:11). - A.
seen,' whereas Joshua 24:31 says, 'they had known. 'To see' is mere definite than 'to know.' The facts of history may be known as the acts of God without being witnessed and experienced. But this generation had stood in the midst of events; the movements of the conflict and its results were still present in their memories" (Cassel). A new generation arises which "knows not Jehovah, nor yet the works which he had done." The "elders" - Joshua and his contemporaries - did this service; not only were they themselves faithful to God, but they kept alive the recollection of his mighty deeds and the national piety of Israel.
I. TESTIMONY IS OF GREATEST EFFECT WHEN IT IS THAT OF THOSE WHO HAVE SEEN AND KNOWN. St. John makes this claim for himself and his fellow apostles (1 John 1:1), and even St. Paul declares that Christ was manifested to him also as unto one that was born out of due time. It is a law of our nature upon which this proceeds. The nearer we are to our own personal experience, other things being equal, the more are we impressed with the reality of events. It was as if the people themselves had seen the miracles of the exodus when they had still amongst them Joshua and the elders. This advantage may be realised by Christians to-day, The gospel facts must become a real experience in the heart of him who would seek to influence others. By faith it may be so. We too may see our Saviour face to face. The preacher's vivid realisation of the supernatural and the Divine often exercises an overwhelming effect upon the hearer; whereas, on the other hand, to speak of our Saviour and his works as if we were telling an idle tale is to expose ourselves to certain failure. A Church that could relive the heroisms of the cross would be irresistible.
II. IT RECEIVES FRESH CONFIRMATION IN THE BEHAVIOUR OF THE WITNESSES. They were holy men. They lived in the constant remembrance of those awe-inspiring scenes. This was the most effective way of conveying to others their own impression and enthusiasm. Witness like this is within reach of all, and does not require scholarship to make it possible.
III. DEATH AND TIME ARE THE GREAT IMPAIRERS OF THIS INFLUENCE. With each good man who dies a witness disappears. The further we get in years from the actual scenes of miraculous power, the less effect are they calculated to produce. But the word of God liveth and endureth for ever, and God repeats spiritually the sigmas and mighty acts of his salvation in the experience of every true believer. - M.
I. THE NATURE OF THE APOSTASY.
1. It consisted in forsaking God. All sin begins here, because while we live near to him it is impossible for us to love and follow evil. If we cannot serve God and mammon, so long as we are faithful to God we shall be safe from the idolatry of worldliness. The guilt of forsaking God is great because it involves
(1) disobedience to our Father,
(2) ingratitude to our Benefactor,
(3) the fall from devotion to the Highest to lower pursuits.
2. This apostasy consisted in the worship of other gods. The shrine of the heart cannot long be empty. Man is a religious being, and he will have some religion; if not the highest and purest, then some lower form of worship. We must have a master, a God.
3. There was nothing inventive in the apostasy of Israel. The people only worshipped the old deities of the native population. They who give up Christianity for supposed novel forms of religion generally find themselves landed in some old-world superstition.
4. The guilt of the apostasy was aggravated by the character of the worship into which the people fell. This was
(1) false - the worship of supposed gods which possessed no Divine power;
(2) materialistic - the worship of idols in place of the unseen spiritual God; and
(3) immoral - the worship of impure deities with impure rites.
II. THE CAUSES OF THE APOSTASY.
1. Defective education. So long as Joshua and his contemporary elders lived the people remained faithful. Apostasy arose in a new "generation which knew not the Lord, nor yet the works which he had done for Israel." But if the former generation had trained its children aright they would not have been thus ignorant. The Church should feel the supreme importance of the religious education of the young. Her continued existence depends on this. Children do not inherit their father's religion by natural succession. They must be trained in it.
2. Circumstances of ease. While the people were surrounded with the perils of the wilderness they displayed a moral heroism which melted beneath the sun of peaceful prosperity. Worldly comfort brings a great inducement to religious negligence.
3. Tolerance of evil. The earlier generation had failed to extirpate the idolatry of Canaan, and now this becomes a snare to the later generation. Indifference and indolence in regard to the wickedness which is around us is certain to open the door of temptation to our children, if not to ourselves.
4. The worldly attractions of the lower life. The service of God involves high spiritual efforts, purity of life, self-sacrifice, and difficult tasks (Joshua 24:19). The service of the world is more agreeable to the pleasures of sense and selfishness. Regarded from the low ground of sense and with the short sight of worldly wisdom, it is easier to worship Baal than to worship the Eternal. - A.
I. THE MERCY OF GOD DOES NOT CONSIST IN ALTERING THE LAWS OF HIS KINGDOM, BUT IN LEADING MEN TO CONFORM MORE PERFECTLY TO THEM. The covenant is still felt as a living power even when it is ignored. The evils foretold come to pass, and in ever-increasing force. But God pursues a plan of restoration. This plan is never one of destruction or reversal. Not one jot or tittle of the law has to pass in order that the gospel may have effect. God seeks to change the hearts of his erring children, and by the punitive operation of the laws of his kingdom to make them loyal subjects. The law that curses will also, when obeyed, be found to bless. The judges were a continuous witness to righteousness and protest against sin, and by the prestige of their mighty acts and the constant influence of their lives they led men back again to God and goodness. They were the embodiments of his mercy.
II. THE VICTORIES OF SIN ARE NEVER CONSIDERED BY HIM AS IRREVERSIBLE. It was said in praise of English soldiers that they did rot know when they were beaten. How much truer is this of God and his people! The most appalling apostasy has not daunted our Heavenly Father, or driven him utterly away from his world. "Where sin abounded, there did grace much more abound." Some of the best of men and most comforting of doctrines were born in ages of spiritual darkness. He has never left himself without a witness. The course of revelation is never stopped. The succession of prophets, apostles, and martyrs is never interrupted. The servants of God in Old Testament times might be driven away or destroyed, but they, being dead, yet speak, and in the fulness of time he sends his Son; he, too, may be crucified, but nevertheless the Father will send the Comforter in his name. And so in the individual life this law will be found to operate. The darkest conscience has not been without its light.
III. ON THE WHOLE THE SPIRITUAL GAINS OVER THE CARNAL IN THE PROGRESS OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD AMONGST MEN. One judge passes away and another rises. The apostasies which they have to correct may become darker and more terrible; but greater deeds are forthcoming. The testimony is more and more emphatic. The principles of God's kingdom are illustrated and honoured, and Israel gradually emancipated from its ignorance and inexperience. - M.
I. TEMPTATION IS NOT IMMEDIATELY SENT BY GOD, Israel had been commanded to expel the Canaanites; it was owing to the indolence and weakness of the invaders that their work was not completed. Having failed on their side, they now find that God will no longer secure them victory over their enemies. The temptation which thus resulted from the presence of the heathen in their midst grew out of their own conduct. God never tempts us (James 1:13). Temptation often arises out of negligence, indolence, needless pleasure, wilful presumption. It is vain to pray, "Lead us not into temptation," while we are creating temptations for ourselves.
II. TEMPTATION MUST OFTEN BE REGARDED IN THE LIGHT OF A PUNISHMENT.
1. It frequently comes as the consequence of former sin. The memory of sin, the contracted habit of sin, the associations of sin, and the weakness resulting from sin are all sources of new temptation.
2. Temptation is one of the most painful consequences of sin. If we have any love for goodness, one of the saddest results of our sin must be the consciousness of new temptations to which it renders us liable. For a good man to suffer temptation is to suffer pain.
3. We must therefore con-elude that all the temptations we meet with are not unavoidable and necessary. We bring them on ourselves; we might have escaped them; they are dangerous calamities which we must deplore. We need not wish to be tried. If temptation is often a punishment, it is better to rest humbly ignorant of our own weakness than to court trial which will reveal the extent of it.
III. TEMPTATION IS USED BY GOD AS A TEST OF FIDELITY. The people of Israel would be proved by the temptation arising out of the presence of immoral idolaters in the midst of them.
1. Fidelity consists
(1) in care and firmness, - "to keep the way of the Lord," - and
(2) in diligence and progressive activity - "to walk therein."
2. This fidelity is tested by the attractions of evil ways. We cannot be said to keep the way simply because we are found in it. But when the way is contested, or a more pleasing path opens out near to it, the strength of our fidelity will be put to the test. Some men need the test of temptation more than others. If they have already shown weakness, the punishment which comes in the form of a temptation may be a useful means of self-revelation. This need of proof, however, is a humiliation. It is better to be so clearly true as neither to invoke the punishment of temptation nor require the test it affords. - A.