Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. IT IMPLIES PREVIOUS AND TERRIBLE PROVOCATION. And, indeed, there had been such:
1. In sins actually committed. What a catalogue of them the psalm contains! Sin at the very beginning (ver. 7). The former psalm reviewed the history of God's people as a subject for adoring praise, because of God's never-failing care. Here, also, a "Hallelujah!" is raised, in view of the same history, because of God's never-failing forgiveness. And the sins that needed this forgiveness are confessed here - the shortlived gratitude (ver. 13); the shameful murmuring (ver. 15); the wicked envy (ver. 16); the disgraceful idolatry (ver. 19); their unbelief (ver. 24); their sacrifices to Baal-peor (ver. 28): their murmuring at Meribah (ver. 32); their disobedience (ver. 34). What a melancholy list it is! And this is not all; for see:
2. The mercies of God despised. (Ver. 13.)
3. Their treatment of Moses. (Vers. 16, 23, 32.)
4. Their hardened resistance, so that God's punishments had no power to change their evil will (cf. John 1:5). Yes, there had been provocation indeed.
II. IT PROCLAIMS THE INFINITE COMPASSION AND FORBEARANCE OF GOD. Sin is the dark foil on which the brightness of God's mercy is all the more seen. That is why the angels of God can never render the praises of the redeemed. What a marvel it is that he should have spared Israel! It is equalled only by the marvel of his sparing us.
III. WHEN THE SOUL BECOMES CONSCIOUS OF ALL THIS, IT IS OVERWHELMED IN GRATITUDE, LOVE, AND PRAISE. See the opening of this psalm and its close. Thus is God's mercy the spring and abiding impulse of the new life unto him. See the well known verse -
"Oh the sweet wonders of that cross
Psalm 105 treated Israel chiefly as the passive recipient of Divine favour. Psalm 106 portrays Israel as continually set in opposition to Jehovah; faithful only when afflicted, and succoured only to apostatize again. Eight illustrative instances are given.
I. GOODNESS IN THE LIGHT OF MAN'S RELATION TO GOD. In that light goodness is rightness; it is accordance with an authoritative standard. A good man is a good creature who is right with his Creator, a good servant who is obedient to his master, a good son who does the will of his father. This being man's goodness, and man's idea of goodness, he tries to transfer it to God, who then becomes the eternally right One. The "Judge of all the earth does right." God is good in the sense of being right, in the sense of willing that which is right, and in the sense of approving those who do the right. "Righteous in all his ways, and holy in all his works."
II. GOODNESS IN THE LIGHT OF GOD'S RELATIONS WITH MAN. In this psalm with man corporate. But the national relations do but illustrate the personal and individual. Here comes in a difficulty. God, the infinitely right One, dealing with creatures who were right in all purpose and endeavour, would not need to show the special characteristics that are gathered into the word "gracious." God had to deal with a nation that was wayward, wilful, and self-pleasing, with a stiff-necked generation, one that was troublesome as any spoiled child. Goodness in dealing with such a nation must show itself as patience, pitifulness, considerateness, gentleness, or, to sum up in one word, "graciousness." Illustrate it as
(1) goodness that can chastise;
(2) that can limit chastisement;
(3) that can restore, and give fresh opportunity;
(4) that cannot be wearied out;
(5) that gives the fullest influence to all qualifying considerations;
(6) that keeps on hoping for the best, and working for it.
It may also be shown that the gracious goodness of God makes necessary judgments inflicted on some educational and moral forces for the warning and guiding of all. - R.T.
I. SUCH LIFE IS POSSIBLE. It would not be spoken of here and throughout the Scriptures as it is, if it were only an ideal but not a possible life. Surely, if sin be the abominable thing which God hates, he must have contemplated, in his redemptive work, our deliverance from it. What is the first and great commandment, but a command to cherish that spirit towards God which is the spring of the holy life?
II. IT IS ENTERED INTO BY A DEFINITE WAY.
1. By self-surrender, which consists in the abandoning of whatever we know to be contrary to the will of God; giving it up, though it be dear as the right hand or eye; and in the surrender of all our powers and possessions to the absolute control and direction of God.
2. Then, when we have thus given ourselves up to God, we are to believe that he accepts us, and we are to keep trusting him, day by day and hour by hour, to cleanse us by the blood of Christ from all sin. If we will persevere in this surrender and trust, nothing can hinder our entering into this holy life. Then -
III. IT IS MOST BLESSED.
1. For what it escapes: the misery of a condemning conscience; of paralyzed power - for none can effectually work for God if they are abiding in sin; of knowing that your influence has been evil rather than good; of God's face hidden from you.
2. For what it wins: the blessedness of inward peace; of confidence towards God; of power with God for man, and with man for God; of the possession of God's loving kindness, which is better than life (Psalm 63), and of assured hope. When the people of God live this life, then there will be a turning to God on the part of the world, as now there is not, and for long ages has not been. For men will see that God's people possess a secret spring of joy, and peace, and purity, and strength, and they will come to covet it with a great desire (vers. 4, 5). - S.C.
I. THE ASPIRATION.
1. "That I may see the good of thy chosen. He regards God's people as the subject of a Divine choice; as, indeed, they are. There were many others who, to human eyes, seemed more worthy and more likely to bring glory to God. But God had chosen them. And he had appointed good" for them. Good outwardly, in the possession of the promised land; good inwardly, in the possession of God's Holy Spirit and the Divine Law written on their hearts; good instrumentally, in the blessed influence they should exert on others (cf. Psalm 67.). And all this abiding evermore. And this he craved to see; that is, to share in. It is a good desire.
2. "That I may rejoice in the gladness of thy nation. He believed Israel to be God's nation; as, indeed, the true Israel of God are. And he believed that the mark of their life was gladness. In their best days Israel was a glad people (Psalm 144:15). And the Israelite, indeed, is ever a happy man. We are made for gladness - the ways of the Lord lead surely to it; but men do not believe this. Nevertheless, these ways are ways of pleasantness," etc. (Proverbs 3:17). And in this gladness the psalmist would share.
3. "That I may glory with thine inheritance. Note, again, the title given to the people of God. They will glory in God himself, for he is their exceeding joy;" in what he has done for them, in them, through them. What themes for glorying there are in all this! "Worthy is the Lamb," etc. (Revelation 5:12). Now, this holy aspiration is preceded by ver. 4.
II. THE PRAYER for what is needed for its fulfilment. He prays:
1. "Remember me, O Lord, with," etc. What a humble prayer it is! as if he feared he might be overlooked and forgotten, and felt that he deserved to be. And what a holy prayer! And it is one that has never yet been refused.
2. "Visit me," etc. He would that God would have compassion on him, and actually bring him his salvation. - S.C.
not failed in obedience and trust. Think what a mighty host it was, yet how imperfectly organized. Think of the strain of their manifest peril at the Red Sea, and the exceeding toil and weariness of their climb up the wadies to Sinai. Think of the difficulty, in that arid region, of providing food and water for so many creatures. Think kindly of them, and though the sense of their sin is not lightened, considerateness for the sinners is nourished. The disobedience that roots in unbelief, or in despondency, puts men into the pitifulness and mercy of their God.
I. DISOBEDIENCE ROOTED IN UNBELIEF. Here a distinction is necessary. Here is an unbelief which is wilful, which a man chooses, and for which he seeks reasons, and this is wholly sinful, and needs humbling punishment. And there is an unbelief which is the natural human response to difficult and trying circumstances, which seem to force doubts upon us. All are liable to this kind of unbelief in sharing the trials of human life. But there is a Divine gentleness in the dealing with the disobedience which has its root in this unbelief.
II. DISOBEDIENCE ROOTED IN DESPONDENCY. This reminds us how differently things affect different dispositions. Some are naturally despondent. They always see the dark sides, are ever ready to give up in despair. And this spirit often leads to failing obedience. Men have not spirit enough to do what they ought. But God "knoweth our frame." - R.T.
I. SEE INSTANCES OF IT.
1. Israel here. The leanness in their souls was caused by a sense of God's condemnation - they knew they had done wrong; terror of his wrath; hardening of their hearts in sin; the plague that followed.
2. Israel's desiring a king (Hosea 13:11).
3. Judas. He had plotted and planned, and thought success was sure; but when he saw Jesus was condemned, those thirty pieces of silver burnt him as with the fires of hell.
4. The rich fool. His desire for wealth had been granted; but the Lord had said, "Thou fool" (cf. also 2 Samuel 13:15). The full purse and the lean soul are common companions.
5. The "whips with which our pleasant vices scourge us. Cf. Ecclesiastes: Vanity of vanities; all," etc.; cf. Ahab's getting Naboth's vineyard, and Elijah along with it. "Hast thou found me, O mine enemy?" (1 Kings 21:20).
II. THE CAUSES OF IT.
1. Not necessary. If God give us our heart's desire, that need not send leanness into our soul. Cf. Psalm 116.: there was no "leanness" there, but the reverse. And, indeed, the sense of God's favour and help does aid the soul's true life.
2. But are found in the motive of the prayer, which may be sinful and selfish only; and in the use we make of the answer. If we love God's gifts better than the Giver of them, then "leanness" will be sure to follow.
III. THE LESSONS OF IT. The lines which follow tell them -
"Not what we wish, but what we want,
Numbers 11:4 we are told that "the mixed multitude that was among them fell a-lusting," and the Israelites joined them in crying for flesh to eat. What ought they to have done?
I. SINFUL DESIRES WILL SOMETIMES ARISE EVEN IN GOOD MEN. Wanting what is not provided, or what is contrary to the Divine will, under the urgings of bodily passion, is a constant experience. It is even illustrated in the idea of making bread out of stones, to satisfy hunger, which came to Jesus in the wilderness. Every man must take account of the fact that his bodily passions may at any time become temptations.
II. SINFUL DESIRES MUST BE REPRESSED WITHIN SAFE LIMITS. And this we do by refusing to let them say anything or do anything. Compelled silence soon weakens them. That power of self-mastery a man may have and hold if he gains it in the first occasion of struggle with uprising desires; but it is very hard to win again if once it is lost.
III. SINFUL DESIRES INDULGED GAIN RUINOUS MASTERY. The common law of wanting to do a thing again which we have once done acts in this. And all indulgence tends to weaken moral power. Illustrated by the drunkard and by the devil possessions (Legion) of the New Testament. - R.T.
holy, every one of them, and that Moses replied, 'The man whom the Lord doth choose, he shall be the holy one'" (Numbers 16:3-7). Every man, to be studied fairly, must be viewed both in his public and his private character. Officialism may but present to us a character put on. It may be the fair and honest expression of what a man really is.
I. THE CHARACTER OF AARON AS A MAN. It has been summarized in this way: "Aaron was of an impulsive character, leaning for the most part on his brother, but occasionally showing, as is not infrequent with such minds, a desire to appear independent." It must be borne in mind that Aaron received no such personal revelations from God as Moses received, and that he never occupied other than a subordinate place, and so never felt the sanctifying pressure of supreme responsibility. He was a man who could follow, but could not lead; who could serve, but could not rule. There are such among us; men who are good and trustworthy servants, but who ruin every business of which they have control. And these very men are often like Aaron, hankering after the positions for which they are unfitted. There is tinder of jealousy in such men at the success of others, which a spark will easily set alight. Aarons can carry out; they cannot initiate.
II. THE CHARACTER OF AARON AS A PRIEST. This office suited him precisely, because in it he could be wholly occupied with providing details. A priest is a man who is not required to have a will of his own. A course is prescribed; he is to be loyal in following out that course. Aaron's official character comes out well, but it was subject to some severe strains. He would have kept all right if things had continued in their regular routine. Routine does not weary the Aaron-type of man. But the unusual upset him. He felt nervous. He could not decide and stand firm; he let others overrule him, and unduly influence him; he could not rely on his own judgment; he tried to master difficulties in the weakest of ways, by compromises. - R.T.
glory of Israel. But this revelation they did not rightly value, but, at the first opportunity, bartered it away for a material god, of sensual character, who was served by the licence of self-indulgence. In this they were not merely disobedient; they showed their incapacity for high things, their unfitness to become the agents of God's most gracious designs for the human race. The sin was a fourfold one.
I. IT WAS THE SIN OF DISOBEDIENCE TO COMMAND. It should be clearly shown that Israel was bound to obedience to Jehovah before the Decalogue was given. The scene of Sinai is improperly called the giving of the Law; it is properly the formulating of the Law. The people owned allegiance to the God of their fathers, to the God who had delivered them from Egypt; and their willingness to obey was actually pledged afresh before Moses ascended the mount (see Exodus 19:7, 8). They were bidden wait to receive a communication from God; they disobeyed, and acted without direction. Disobedience is often due to the restlessness that cannot wait.
II. IT WAS THE SIN OF UNFAITHFULNESS TO TRUST. The spirituality of God was the supreme national trust. Neither Abraham, Isaac, nor Jacob ever saw God, but he was a real Power in their lives. In Egypt God was never seen, but he did mighty deeds. Put fully, the unity, spirituality, and holiness of Jehovah were committed to the care of the Abrahamic race, and that race was to preserve these truths while the rest of the world freely experimented on constructing religions and deities for itself. To make idolatrous images of God, the spiritual Being, was unfaithful to trust.
III. IT WAS THE SIN OF "FOLLOWING THE DEVICES OF THEIR OWN HEARTS." Or self-willedness. They asked what they liked, as if they were independent; not what God liked, as if they were dependent on him. The essence of sin for a creature is self-will. Triumph over self-will is the supreme aim of religion. That golden calf was a self-willed thing; as such there could be no religion in it. Through, and by means of, that golden calf the people did but worship themselves; what they personified was their own will, not God. Men deceive themselves when they fashion their own gods; they can only rightly take God as revealed to them.
IV. IT WAS THE SIN OF DISHONOURING GOD. The symbol they chose was an insult. True, their associations in Egypt suggested no other; and perhaps the ox was in some sense their national symbol. So their god was the personified nation. The spiritual Jehovah is degraded in men's minds when associated with a mere beast. - R.T.
Ezekiel 22:30. The account of Moses' intercession is found in Exodus 32:10-14. The point on which we dwell is the fitness of Moses to be the mediator on this occasion.
I. THE FITNESS ARISING FROM HIS OFFICIAL POSITION. He was the agent appointed by God, through whom his will might be sent to the people. He was the representative of the people, appointed by them to conduct all negotiations with Jehovah in their name. He was the proper person; and foreshadows the Lord Jesus Christ as revealer of God to men, and negotiator for men with God.
II. THE FITNESS ARISING FROM THE CONFIDENCES MOSES HAD WON. He had gained both power and right by his faithful service of the people, and by his holy familiarity with God. We may say that God had proved him, and so had confidence in him. And the people had proved him, and knew well that they had no better friend. Christ is "beloved Son," and our best Friend.
III. THE FITNESS ARISING FROM THE PERSONAL FEELING OF Moses. He was supremely indignant at the sin of the people; so much so as to have lost his self-control, and flung down the tables. That right feeling towards the sin fitted him to mediate. He made no excuse; he could but plead for pardon. A man with no adequate sense of the iniquity could not have been acceptable as a mediator. But Moses was also supremely pitiful towards the erring people, and this gave him the fitting tenderness in pleading for their forgiveness. So in Christ we find deepest impressions of the evil of sin, uniting with supreme love for the sinners.
IV. THE FITNESS ARISING FROM THE VIGOUR OF MOSES' RULE. God knew that Moses could punish; and if the more serious judgment on the sin was removed, still there must be such punishment as would adequately impress the evil of the sin. Moses was a fitting mediator, because God was assured that he would not neglect this educative and disciplinary judgment. God, if we may so speak, graciously yielded to Moses' persuasions, because he knew that his honour was safe in Moses' hands. So Christ in his mediation "magnifies the Law, and makes it honourable." - R.T.
Numbers 25:11-13.) "Phinehas, himself perhaps a judge in authority, became the type of a righteous zeal, exercising summary vengeance, informal and unbidden, against outrage on decency and on reverence for God" (Dr. Barry). "It is a picture of the one zealous man rising up from the midst of the inactive multitude, who sit still and make no effort." The incident occurred toward the close of the wanderings, when the Israelites were in the neighbourhood of Moab. Unable to gain the right to curse Israel - as Balsam wished, and as it would have paid him well to do - Balsam persuaded King Balak to allow free intercourse between his people and them. "Let the Israelites fall into immorality and sin, and then their God will destroy them, and your end will be accomplished." The scheme succeeded. The vice and iniquity of Israel was full in God's sight, and the immediate execution of the Divine judgment was commanded. Some great public act of vindication was called for; such a manifest upholding of the Divine authority and holiness as would make a sin-cover, occupy the Divine attention, gain the Divine approval, and be a basis on which judgment might be stayed. Phinehas was the man to do it. A flagrant case of unlawful intercourse had occurred, and when he saw the wicked couple he "rose up from among the congregation, and took a javelin in his hand, and he went after the man of Israel into the tent, and thrust both of them through, the man of Israel and the woman. So the plague was stayed from the children of Israel."
I. PHINEHAS WAS ZEALOUS FOR THE HONOUR OF JEHOVAH.
II. HIS PUBLIC ACT OF VINDICATION MADE A SIN-COVER.
III. BECAUSE OF THAT SIN-COVER, JEHOVAH'S JUDGMENT MIGHT BE STAYED. See, then, what we must look for in the great atonement, made for us by the Son of God, is some fitting vindication of the outraged honour of God our Father, and so restored relations. Reconciliation can only come with solemn honouring of God's authority and claim by some public act of loyalty. Scripture presents to us different things that made atonement. A man's prayer made atonement (case of Moses). An act of official duty made atonement (case of Aaron). An act of judgment made atonement (case of Phinehas). We are left to think what act of Christ's made atonement for us all. - R.T.
I. GOD LOVES ALL HIS CREATURES, BUT HATES THEIR SINS. (Ver. 40.) That is, he makes us feel sensible that he is forever opposed to our evil conduct, and creates in us a terror of the consequences of our sins - the punishment they entail.
II. PART OF THE PUNISHMENT OF SIN IS THAT WE ARE GIVEN OVER TO ITS TYRANNY. (Ver. 41.) Give ourselves over. This is a natural consequence, a Divine law of our constitution, and is a galling and terrible penalty of the habit of transgression. Our passions come thus to rule over us, instead of our ruling over them.
III. WHEN WE ATTEMPT TO RESIST THIS TYRANNY, WE FIND THAT OUR SLAVERY IS MORE OPPRESSIVE THAN WE THOUGHT. (Ver. 42). Men often may make some effort to break off from evil ways, but discover that they are under a heavier bondage to their sins than they had supposed. This, too, is a part of the punishment of sin - its enfeebling, debilitating influence.
IV. MEN WHOM GOD SEEMS TO HAVE DELIVERED FROM THEIR SINS, AFTER A TIME RETURN TO THEIR FORMER INIQUITY. (Ver. 43.) They are then brought low, or impoverished, or weakened - lower than they were before, because now they begin to lose all hope of recovery. House "swept and garnished" is prepared for the return of sevenfold powers of evil, that rule more absolutely than ever.
V. SUCH HELPLESS MISERY EXCITES THE DIVINE COMPASSION. (Ver. 44.) "Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him." God pities those whom he cannot save - because of their unwillingness. "How often would I have gathered thee as a hen doth gather her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!"
VI. GOD DOES NOT REPENT TILL MEN REPENT. (Ver. 45) God does not change his laws to relieve the disobedient from suffering; but when they change from disobedience to obedience, the result is so great that God seems to them to have changed. To row against the current and to row with the current seems like rowing upon a different river. - S.
I. SOME OF THE SOURCES WHENCE COME OUR SINS.
1. Fear. Illustrate by provocation at Red Sea (ver. 7).
2. Lust. Inordinate desire. Putting God to the test (ver. 14). Envy.
3. Story of Dathan (ver. 17).
4. Unspirituality. Incident of the calf (ver. 19).
5. Impatience. Despising the pleasant land, because it did not come to them at once (ver. 24).
6. Licence. Case of immorality at Beth-peor (ver. 28)
7. Distrust. Waters of strife (ver. 32).
8. Imperfect obedience, a sign of self-will.
They did not destroy the Canaanites, which they were commanded to do (ver. 34).
II. THE SORROWS WHICH OUR SINS HAVE CAUSED GOOD MEN. These help us to realize how bad those sins must be. See what sorrow Moses felt in connection with the sin of the golden calf. See what sorrow Aaron felt in the matter of Dathan's rebellion. See what sorrow Phinehas felt in the matter of Ball-peor.
III. THE PITIFUL PATIENCE WITH WHICH GOD HAS EVER DEALT WITH OUR SINS.
1. Waiting until we came to a better mind. Let evil do its own work; it will be sure to punish and humble. God often does so much for us by doing nothing, leaving us to suffer the natural consequences of our sins.
2. Helping us by chastisements to come to a better mind. There may be occasions on which the infinite wisdom decides that it is better not to wait, because there may be active leaders in the evil, or strong self-will, which needs to be dealt with at once. Judgment for some, as in Dathan's case, may be chastisement for all. The worst thing that could happen to us would be to be finally "let alone." If God is in our life - acting in our life - all is right, however trying the circumstances of life may be. - R.T.