Nadab and Abihu... offered strange fire.
I. Let us inquire, then, into THE NATURE OF THE OFFENCE which called out this startling visitation upon these unfortunate men. The context shows that it was not one isolated and specific act of disobedience. It was of a complex nature, and involved sundry particulars, each of which contributed to make up the general crime for which judgment came upon the guilty ones. The special statute recorded in the ninth verse, of which this occurrence seems to have been the occasion, furnishes ground for the inference, that Nadab and Abihu had indulged too freely in stimulating drinks, and thus incapacitated themselves for that circumspection and sacred reverence which belonged to the priestly functions. And if this inference be correct, we have here another among the many sad exhibitions of the mischiefs wrought by indulging in a too free use of intoxicating liquors. The history of strong drink is the history of ruin, of tears, of blood. It is, perhaps, the greatest curse that has ever scourged the earth. But, although drunkenness was most likely the root of Nadab and Abihu's offending, it was not the body of their came. If these men had not been first "set on fire of hell" by excessive indulgence in drink, they would never perhaps have been driven to the daring impiety which cost them their lives. The head and front of the sin of these men, as I understand it, was the presumptuous substitution of a will-worship of their own, in defiance of what God had appointed. In three points did they offend — first, in the time; second, in the manner; and third, in the matter of the service which they undertook. It was the prerogative of Moses or Aaron to say when their services were needed; but they went precipitately to work, without waiting for instructions, or asking for directions. It was for the high priest alone to go in before the Lord and offer incense at the mercy-seat; but they wickedly encroached upon His functions, and went in themselves. Never more than one priest was to officiate in burning incense at the same time; but they both together entered upon a service which did not belong to either. These things in themselves evince a very high-handed disregard of Divine order. But the great burden of their sin rested in the matter of the service. They "offered strange fire" — common fire — fire wholly foreign to the fire which God had kindled for such purposes. They thus obtruded what was profane into what was holy, desecrated God's ritual, cast contempt upon His institutions, put their own will-worship above His sacred regulations, and thus called down upon themselves a judgment which made all Israel tremble.
II. Let us now consider some of THE IMPLICATIONS, SURROUNDINGS, AND FORESHADOWINGS of this sad occurrence. The shadows of the future were linked in with the facts of the past. Scarcely had Christianity been constituted, until we find a foreign and fitful spirit insinuating itself into the operations of those into whose charge its earthly services had been given (see 2 Thessalonians 2:3, 4; 1 John 4:3). Along with pontifical power, came in great doctrinal and moral corruption. The one was a part of the other. Bishops retired from the pulpits to sit as spiritual lords, superior to all the kings of earth; the Virgin Mary was installed as the world's mediator; earthly priests assumed the work of intercession, and undertook to forgive and license crime for a price; the Church was driven to the wilderness; another Abihu in his drunkenness had entered the Holy Place, and was offering strange fire before the Lord. And the thing that hath been is the thing that is. Philosophy still has its additions to make to the Word of God. Heathenish pomp still moves to lift itself up in our temples. Human reason is still at work to devise ways to worship and please God which He has not commanded. Men are still found who claim authority to perform offices for the souls of others, which belong only to our great High Priest in heaven. Thousands there are who flatter themselves that they are doing great things in their worship, though the spirit that is in them is not at all the Spirit of Christ. But it shall not always be so. There is a price annexed to all these usurpations and irregularities with regard to holy things. God has magnified His Word above all His name; and he that adds to or takes from it, has his reward specified, and his portion reserved for him. Nadab and Abihu were suddenly and miraculously cut off in the midst of their sin; and so shall it be at last with all the confederates in usurpation and wrong, whether secular or ecclesiastical. Fire from the Lord shall slay them.
(J. A. Seiss, D. D.)
I. THEIR OFFENSIVE OFFERING.
1. What rendered their incense odious to God? "Strange fire."
(1) (2) 2. What corresponding offensiveness may mar our offerings? The fire is "strange" when our religion or work is the outcome of (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) II. THEIR RASH IMPIETY. 1. Fearless presumption. 2. Wilful disobedience. III. THEIR ALARMING DESTRUCTION. 1. Remember the God with whom we have to do. 2. The rebuke which presumption will receive. (W. H. Jellie.)
(2) 2. What corresponding offensiveness may mar our offerings? The fire is "strange" when our religion or work is the outcome of (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) II. THEIR RASH IMPIETY. 1. Fearless presumption. 2. Wilful disobedience. III. THEIR ALARMING DESTRUCTION. 1. Remember the God with whom we have to do. 2. The rebuke which presumption will receive. (W. H. Jellie.)
2. What corresponding offensiveness may mar our offerings? The fire is "strange" when our religion or work is the outcome of
(1) (2) (3) (4) (5) II. THEIR RASH IMPIETY. 1. Fearless presumption. 2. Wilful disobedience. III. THEIR ALARMING DESTRUCTION. 1. Remember the God with whom we have to do. 2. The rebuke which presumption will receive. (W. H. Jellie.)
II. THEIR RASH IMPIETY. 1. Fearless presumption. 2. Wilful disobedience. III. THEIR ALARMING DESTRUCTION. 1. Remember the God with whom we have to do. 2. The rebuke which presumption will receive. (W. H. Jellie.)
II. THEIR RASH IMPIETY.
1. Fearless presumption.
2. Wilful disobedience.
III. THEIR ALARMING DESTRUCTION.
1. Remember the God with whom we have to do.
2. The rebuke which presumption will receive.
(W. H. Jellie.)
I. How ELEVATION TO HIGH AND HOLY POSITIONS DOES NOT PLACE MEN BEYOND THE TEMPTATION AND LIABILITY TO COMMIT SIN.
II. HOW THE COMMITTAL OF SIN MERITS, AND MAY MEET WITH SUDDEN CORRESPONDING RETRIBUTION.
III. HOW SUCH RETRIBUTION, WHILE IT CONDEMNS THE SINNER, VINDICATES THE BROKEN LAW AND GLORIFIES THE LAWGIVER.
1. We may note that the punishment they received —
(1) (2) (3) 2. God thus manifesting Himself as a consuming fire showed —(1) His jealousy, that He could not be openly and grossly insulted.(2) His power, that the fire which glowed in the cloud, which had kindly let them out of Egypt, protected them from their foes, and which consumed the burnt-offering on the day of consecration, had power to destroy, and, unless held in check, would consume all sinners.(3) His mercy, that while sin deserved punishment, and God had the right and power to destroy, He made judgment His strange work, and such retribution — as that which visited Aaron's sons — an exceptional thing. Let us learn that though worship must be voluntary yet it must be according to God's own appointed way. Liberty is not to be perverted into lawlessness. 3. Strange fire is offered upon God's altar when worship is presented with — (1) (2) (F. W. Brown.)
(2) (3) 2. God thus manifesting Himself as a consuming fire showed —(1) His jealousy, that He could not be openly and grossly insulted.(2) His power, that the fire which glowed in the cloud, which had kindly let them out of Egypt, protected them from their foes, and which consumed the burnt-offering on the day of consecration, had power to destroy, and, unless held in check, would consume all sinners.(3) His mercy, that while sin deserved punishment, and God had the right and power to destroy, He made judgment His strange work, and such retribution — as that which visited Aaron's sons — an exceptional thing. Let us learn that though worship must be voluntary yet it must be according to God's own appointed way. Liberty is not to be perverted into lawlessness. 3. Strange fire is offered upon God's altar when worship is presented with — (1) (2) (F. W. Brown.)
(3) 2. God thus manifesting Himself as a consuming fire showed —(1) His jealousy, that He could not be openly and grossly insulted.(2) His power, that the fire which glowed in the cloud, which had kindly let them out of Egypt, protected them from their foes, and which consumed the burnt-offering on the day of consecration, had power to destroy, and, unless held in check, would consume all sinners.(3) His mercy, that while sin deserved punishment, and God had the right and power to destroy, He made judgment His strange work, and such retribution — as that which visited Aaron's sons — an exceptional thing. Let us learn that though worship must be voluntary yet it must be according to God's own appointed way. Liberty is not to be perverted into lawlessness. 3. Strange fire is offered upon God's altar when worship is presented with — (1) (2) (F. W. Brown.)
3. Strange fire is offered upon God's altar when worship is presented with —
(F. W. Brown.)
(F. W. Brown.)
I. THE POSITION OF THESE TWO MEN. Regularly ordained priests of the Lord (Exodus 40:12-16). They had a right, therefore, to burn incense before the Lord.
II. THE CHARGE AGAINST THESE MEN (ver. 1).
1. The letter of the law was violated (chap. Leviticus 16:12, 13).
2. The essence of this sin (ver 3).(1) Emphasis to be placed on "I." "I will be sanctified," &c.(2) This implies that when deviations from Divine and clearly-defined instructions occur, the Lord charges that such deviations do not enhance His glory; neither is He sanctified in those who are guilty of such deviations.
III. THE PUNISHMENT INFLICTED ON THESE MEN (ver. 2). The punishment indicates the unspeakable importance with which God regards implicit and strict obedience to the letter of all His ordinances.
IV. THE CONDUCT OF AARON, THE FATHER OF THESE TWO MEN. "Held his peace."
1. How great the grace needed for this.
2. How exemplary the use of needed grace in such a trial as this.
V. THE ACCUSTOMED MOURNING FOR THE DEAD WAS PROHIBITED IN RESPECT TO THESE MEN (ver. 6). Does not the rebellious element oftentimes enter into our mourning, and thus the grace of God, in bereavement, becomes of no practical value?
VI. THE NEW PROHIBITION (vers. 8-11). The connection in which this prohibition stands suggests —
1. That Nadab and Abihu were probably under the influence of some intoxicating liquor when led to offer "strange fire" before the Lord.
2. That such liquors have a tendency to unfit any one for any true spiritual exercise, because of their exciting nature.Lessons:
1. How profound a lesson is here taught in regard to the only acceptable manner of administering the ordinances of God's house — not with the strange fire of willworship, nor by the slightest deviation from the prescribed order.
2. We learn the unfitness of those who minister in holy things, who neglect the proper observance of the ordinances, and teach men so to do.
3. Let us learn to submit to God's judgments, however severe.
4. Let us avoid everything that would. disqualify us for acceptable worship.
(D. C. Hughes, M. A.)
1. No new or strange doctrine to be brought into the Church.
2. God's election free, and of grace, not of any worthiness in man.
3. That God is no accepter of persons.
4. God is to be glorified even in His judgments.
5. Of a double power of the Word, to life or death.
6. The bodies of the dead to be reverently used, and after a seemly manner to be buried.
7. That it is lawful upon just occasion to be angry.
(A. Willet, D. D.)
1. In prosperity we must think of adversity.
2. Not to present ourselves before God with carnal, vile, and strange affections.
3. Wherein a man sinneth, he shall be punished.
4. To submit ourselves to the will of God.
5. That men should not for the occasion of private grief neglect the public business, especially in God's service.
6. Against the sin of drunkenness, especially in ministers.
7. That our sins are an offence unto Christ, and to all the celestial company.
8. Not to be too rigorous toward those who are in heaviness, and sin in weakness.
(A. Willet, D. D.)
1. First, with what severity the Lord challengeth and defendeth His authority in laying down the way and manner of His worship, not leaving it to any creature to meddle with, but according to prescription and appointment from Him. Content He is that men shall make laws for human matters, concerning their worldly estate in this earth as shall be fittest for the place where they live. Laws against murder, theft, oppression, &c., but for His Divine worship He only will prescribe it Himself, and what He appointeth that must be done and that only, or else Nadab and Abihu their punishment expected, that is, God's wrath expected, in such manner as He shall please.
2. But doth not a good intent and meaning prevail with God, albeit the thing be not expressly warranted? Yourself judge by that which you see here, and in many other Scriptures. Had Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, here any ill-meaning towards God, or did they of malicious purpose offend Him and procure their own destruction? No; you must needs think their intent was good, but because they swervest from the Word, that good intent served not. The words out of Deuteronomy are not, you shall not do ill in your own eyes, "But you shall not do that which seemeth good" — good I say, and I pray you mark it, you shall not do that, but shall keep you to My commandment. Be it never so good, then, in my conceit, that is, be my meaning never so good, it profiteth not, neither shall excuse God's destroying wrath more than it did here these sons of Aaron. "There is a way," saith Solomon, "that seemeth good to a man and right, but the issues thereof are the ways of death." Such assuredly are all will-worships not grounded upon the Word, but upon man's will and good intent. "They shall excommunicate you," saith our Saviour Christ, "yea, the time shall come that whosoever killeth you will think that he doth God good service." What then? Shall his so thinking excuse his bloody murder? Joseph had no ill-meaning when he prayed his Father to change his hand and lay his right hand upon his elder son's head. What ill meant Joshua when he wished Moses to forbid those that prophesied? Micah's mother, when, according to her vow, she made her son two idols? Peter's meaning had no hurt in it when he forbade Christ to wash his feet; with a number like places in Scripture. Yet you know no good intent was accepted in these cases. No more shall it ever be when it is not agreeing to the Word, which only is a Christian man and woman's true and perfect guide. Let, therefore, these things take place within us, and never wrestle we against the Lord, for He is too strong for us, and His will must stand, not ours. Oh, why should it grieve .me to be ruled by His word, seeing it is so sure a way for me to walk in? Or why should any teacher deliver to me that which he never received of God to be delivered to His people? If they crave obedience why should they be angry, that I pray to have it showed out of His Word whom only I must obey? Be hath prescribed a form of serving Him, that form He will accept and bless with eternal peace; all other forms He will abhor and punish. Nadab and Abihu preach so unto us and all flesh. They wish us to take heed by their harm. God is in other things full of patience, but in this He is full of wrath, and His authority to appoint His own worship, He will not endure it to be taken from Him by any man.
I. THE CHARACTER OF THE WORSHIPPER IS A FACTOR OF IMPORTANCE. Those who, like the apostle, are "in the Spirit on the Lord's day" — and every day may be a "Lord's day" — are caught up into the realm of spiritual vision, and stand face to face with realities that on lower levels are at best the dreams and hopes of faith. Worship as an offering may be formal, though even for that to be acceptable there midst be some preparedness of heart; but worship, in order to prove a revelation, must be spiritual, and in securing that the attitude of soul is everything.
II. THE PURPOSE OF THE WORSHIPPER IS AN ELEMENT OF WHICH GOD MAKES ACCOUNT. Whatever other reasons influenced Nadab and Abihu to offer "strange fire," it is evident that they had some selfish end to serve. God looks down into every pulpit, and into every minister's heart, and judges every prayer, and criticises every sermon, and estimates the worth or worthlessness of the service offered, according as He finds or furls to find a singleness of purpose to honour Him the sovereign motive that originates and regulates it all. As God looks down on our Sabbath assemblies, in how many pews He sees men and women offering "strange fire," instead of bringing the appointed sacrifice. The spirit of devotion that animates real service is omitted.
III. THE PREPARATION FOR WORSHIP IS A MATTER TO WHICH GOD ATTACHES GREAT IMPORTANCE. The numerous directions in the Jewish ritual looking to personal purity were all symbolic and significant of the value of character in the office of worship (Psalm 24:3, 4; 1 Timothy 2:8; Hebrews 10:22). Both the old covenant and the new are imperative in insisting upon right character as essential to right worship.
IV. THE MODE OF WORSHIP HAS ITS LIMITS OF IMPORTANCE. The Jewish ritual was complicated, but it was in all its parts significant. A distinguished writer has said that "whoever would write out the spiritual symbolism of the Book of Leviticus, would give the world a fifth Gospel." Nadab and Abihu were punished for departing from the Divinely established order of service. The folly of men is never so apparent as when it sets itself up as being wiser than God. Under the Christian dispensation larger liberty of choice is allowed. Men are free to adopt such methods of worship as are most affluent in ministries to their spiritual life. But the old underlying principle which was sovereign in the Jewish ritual still remains in force. Any method of worship which is anything more than a means to an end, any ceremony which suffers the thought to go no further than itself, is radically defective.
(E. S. Atwood.)
I. THE GRIEVOUS SIN OF NADAB AND ABIHU.
II. THE SEVERE PUNISHMENT OF THEIR SIN. The punishment in its severity seems out of proportion to the sin. But on this question two considerations of great importance should be duly weighed.
1. The time at which the sin was committed. They were now getting the sacred ritual into full operation; and it was of essential importance that a people such as the Israelites were at this time should be taught that all sacred things should be reverently regarded, and all religious services performed in a devout spirit and becoming manner, and with minute attention to Divine directions.
2. The persons by whom the sin was committed. They were the elder sons of the high priest, and were consecrated to the holy office of the priesthood, "the very persons whose official charge it was to maintain" the sacredness of religious institutions. A severe punishment was necessary for the welfare of the nation.
III. THE EXEMPLARY SUBMISSION OF AARON.
IV. THE BURIAL OF THE BODIES OF THE OFFENDERS. What a sight that was passing through part of the camp — the dead bodies of two men recently so distinguished in relationship and office, now so distinguished as examples of the awful judgments of God, and in their priestly vestments too! How fitted to impress even the most frivolous with the sacredness of Divine institutions and the dread peril of violating Divine directions!
V. THE MOURNING BECAUSE OF THE JUDGMENT UPON THE OFFENDERS.
VI. THE LEGISLATION TO WHICH THESE THINGS GAVE RISE (vers. 8-11).
1. The law. That the priests should abstain from every kind of intoxicating drink during their sacred ministrations (cf. Ezekiel 44:21).
2. The reasons by which the law was enforced.(1) That their perceptions might be clear, and their judgment true in the duties of their holy office (ver. 10).(2) That they might teach the people all God's statutes (ver. 11).(3) The law was further enforced by a stern penalty for its violation, "Lest ye die."
VII. THE SUBJECT SUGGESTS LESSONS:
1. On worship. We should worship God in the way which He has appointed — with humility, with reverence, &c.
2. On sin and its punishment. Every sin, unless repented and forgiven, must be punished. But presumptuous sins, such as that of Nadab and Abihu seems to have been, are specially heinous and ruinous (cf. Numbers 15:30, 31; Psalm 19:13).
3. On submission to the will of God. Imitate Aaron in this.
4. On fitness for the service of God. Aaron and his sons might not touch or even approach the dead, &c. The servants of God must keep themselves from everything that might defile them. "Be ye clean that bear the vessels of the Lord."
5. On temperance. The wise man wilt be temperate in all things and at all times. When about to enter upon sacred services it is specially advisable to abstain entirely from everything intoxicating. The inspiration for such services should not be spirituous, but spiritual.
I. WHO OFFERED IT. Nadab and Abihu. The last one would have expected to be guilty of such a sin. They were not ignorant, but over-zealous people, who only imperfectly knew the law. But they were the sons of Aurora Could hardly be ignorant of the sin they were committing. The best that can be said of them is that they were not sufficiently thoughtful. Ignorance and thoughtlessness are sinful in those with whom knowledge is possible, and who have many incentives to consideration. We should strive to know that we may more perfectly do the will of God. The great probability is that their sin was not merely sin of ignorance, but presumption. Preferred their choice to God's.
II. WHAT THEY OFFERED. From chap. Leviticus 16., Numbers 16:18, 46, it is clear that they should have taken a coal from off the altar. Every act of worship was strictly prescribed. Intention to beget in the minds of the people a profound reverence for the will of God. In everything to consider His will first. To find their happiness in obedience. Instead of acting in accordance with the will of God they obeyed the impulse of their own proud and selfish hearts. It is likely that the time of offering was also wrong.
III. How THEY WERE RECEIVED. They draw near and swing their censers. And suddenly "there went out fire," &c. (ver. 2). Their strange fire had been replied to with a fire more strange to them. They were struck dead as by a lightning-flash, h sudden and emphatic protest against their presumption. Learn —
1. To study earnestly that we may more perfectly obey the will of God.
2. To avoid trifling with holy things and ordinances.
3. The instruments of sin may become instruments of punishment. With fire they sinned, by fire they were overthrown.
4. The very gospel, if abused, may become an instrument of condemnation.
(J. C. Gray.)
I. "STRANGE FIRE," in direct violation of God's command (Leviticus 10:1). His fire was to be ever burning upon His altar (Leviticus 6:12, 13), continually fed by what ascended as "a sweet savour" to the Lord; and "strange fire," like strange incense (Exodus 30:9), was an abomination to Him. But man is ever prone to think his way, his fire, his incense as good or better than God's. And where God's Fire —i.e., the Holy Spirit — has been manifestly working, there surely does Satan begin to work by his emissaries, as in the case of Jannes and Jambres (2 Timothy 3:5-9; Exodus 7:11, 22; Exodus 8:18); and again with the "vagabond Jews, exorcists" (Acts 19:6-17), in the days of St. Paul. Satan inspires "false teachers," "seducing spirits" (1 Timothy 4:1; 2 Peter 2:1), who, like Nadab and Abihu, shall "bring upon themselves swift destruction."
II. THE SONS OF AARON had been specially privileged. The sons of Aaron represent — as we know — the Church, whose members are also partakers of many privileges (Hebrews 6:4). But — as "they are not all Israel which are of Israel" (Romans 9:6), so all called Christians are not "Christ's "; and it is just in the professing Church that we may expect to hear of "strange fire," and false worship, inaugurated by "false teachers," who shall bring in destructive heresies" (2 Peter 2:1, R.V.); and "many shall follow their pernicious ways" (ver 2, A.V.). Especially will this be the case as we approach the end of the age — "the last days" — when "perilous times shall come" (2 Timothy 3:1).
III. "FIRE FROM THE LORD," sent forth in judgment, as in the case of Nadab and Abihu. That fire is used of the Lord for judgment we learn from many passages in Scripture. See, as to the past —
4. The captains and their fifties (2 Kings 1:10, 12). Then as to the future, we read — "Our God shall come:... a fire shall devour before Him," &c. (Psalm 50:3; see also Psalms 97:3). "The Lord Jesus shall be revealed... in flaming fire," &c (2 Thessalonians 1:7, 8); and "that wicked" — or lawless one referred to — shall be consumed (2 Thessalonians 2:8). "A fire... from God out of heaven" shall devour those gathered against the saints and the "beloved city" (Revelation 20:8, 9). And "the devil, that deceiveth them," shall be "cast into the lake of fire and brimstone" (ver. Revelation 20:10). He who had energised many with "strange fire" will be consigned to the "everlasting fire prepared," &c. (Matthew 25:41). Appalling indeed to think of these judgments to come; and while we speak of such things let us give good heed lest we should seem to have aught of the spirit of James and John, which called forth our Lord's rebuke (Luke 9:51-56). Let us rather first test ourselves, and then in love warn others. He is ready to give the Holy Spirit — His purifying, guiding Fire to all who ask (Luke 11:13). Lastly, observe —
IV. AARON'S ATTITUDE of silent submission to the swift and appalling judgment with which his sons were visited. "Aaron held his peace." Think of the agony of the father's grief, yet not a word l He knew his sons' great sin, and Jehovah's perfect justice. The silence of Aaron may also teach that our "Great High Priest" could not intercede for any guilty of the sin He declared should "not be forgiven" (Matthew 12:31, 32; Mark 3:28-30): "Blasphemy against the Holy Ghost," to which the "strange fire" seems to point.
(Lady Beaujolois Dent.)
(J. A. Seiss, D. D.)
(J. Parker, D. D.)
(J. Cumming, D. D.)
(H. W. Beecher.)
(H. C. Trumbull.)
American Sunday School Times.Contrast with the conduct of Nadab and Abihu the reverence displayed by the young King Edward of England. One of his companions, wishing to aid him in his efforts to grasp something just beyond his reach, placed a large Bible for him to step on. "No," said Edward, stooping to lift the volume, "I shall never tread on God's holy Word." Possibly there was a touch of superstition here; but was not the spirit commendable? What is sacred is to be held as sacred. The meanest thief is the one who runs off with a church-collection; for he adds sacrilege to his other crime. Show how we may in a very real sense offer strange fire. Is there not something of irreverence in the chipped coins and torn bills that find their way into the contribution-box? Custom may make us treat sacred things with levity. Luther tells us that he knew priests whose sacred office had become a mere form, and who, instead of repeating the proper formula in the consecration of the bread and wine, mumbled irreverently, "Bread thou art, and bread thou wilt remain;-wine thou art, and wine thou wilt remain." Has our church-going degenerated into a meaningless form?
(American Sunday School Times.)
Aaron held his peace.
Homilist.I. THE DISTURBING INFLUENCES. Physical sufferings, secular anxieties, social grievances, moral remorse, heart bereavements. To the last of these Aaron was now the victim.
1. He has lost two sons. A double trial.
2. He had lost two sons after they had reached maturity.
3. After they had entered upon the most important and honourable office in life. What a disappointment!
4. In the most sudden way.
5. With no hope for their future blessedness. They were struck down by offended justice, without a moment for repentance.
II. THE TRANQUILISING INFLUENCES OF HUMAN LIFE. "He held his peace."
1. There are three kinds of calming influences that are resorted to by men under trial — the carnal, the stoical, and the Christian.
2. The last of these is the only true tranquilising force. It contains at least four doctrines that tend to pacify the human spirit under the most trying circumstances of life.(1) That all who have implicit confidence in Christ as the Mediator are reconciled to God and delivered from condemnation.(2) That every disturbing event takes place under the superintendence of God.(3) That God has an absolute right to dispose of all things as He thinks fit.(4) That the most painful events to the good are short, and may be rendered subservient to their highest interest. They deepen the sense of our individuality by detaching us from society and making us in our sufferings feel our loneliness; they impress us with the unsatisfactoriness of all things pertaining to this material life. Southey has, with great poetic beauty, described how the calamities of life afflict the pious soul: they are only as clouds passing over the moon, making the queen of night appear more majestic in her march.
I. EVEN A CHILD OF GOD MAY BE EXERCISED WITH SORE TRIALS AND AFFLICTIONS, THAT MAY LIE VERY HEAVY UPON HIM. (Psalm 38:2; Job 9:17). And what wonder, if the children of God meet with trials upon earth, where they were never promised, nor could rationally expect their rest? What wonder, seeing they so often sin, and procure the evils under which they groan? All this is consistent with the love of a father, and our relation to him.
II. WHAT IS IMPLIED IN BEING SILENT UNDER THE TRIALS GOD SEES FIT AT ANY TIME TO EXERCISE US WITH?
1. A deep sense of God's hand in what we suffer. This was the ground of David's silence: "I was dumb, and I opened not my mouth, because Thou didst it" (Psalm 39:9). And Hezekiah, mourning, directs his eye to God and heaven. "What shall I say? He hath both spoken unto me, and Himself hath done it" (Isaiah 38:15).
2. It includes a subscribing to God's justice in all His dealings with us, and that whatever He takes from us or lays upon us, we dare not to conclude the worse of Him in our thoughts or to open our mouths against Him. Thus being silent is opposed to self-justification, as being convinced that He hath punished us less than our iniquities deserve.
3. It includes a resigning ourselves to God, as having the most unquestionable dominion over us, and right to do with us and ours as seems good in His sight (Job 3:12).
4. It includes resting in His pleasure, as that which is wisest and best; in opposition to murmuring and impatience, inward frets and discomposure of soul.
III. WHAT CONSIDERATIONS MAY HELP TO WORK THE SOUL OF A CHILD OF GOD INTO SO DESIRABLE A FRAME, AS TO BE MUTE WHEN GOD'S AFFLICTING HAND MAY BE MOST PRESSING UPON HIM. The reasonableness of this frame may appear —
1. From God's unquestionable right to dispose of us and ours as He pleases. When it is His will which is done upon us, His sovereignty should teach His creatures to be silent (Romans 9:21, 22).
2. It should teach us to be silent in whatever instance God afflicts; as it is He that continues to us many other mercies, which have been all forfeited, and which might have been as justly removed as those He has taken away.
3. We ought to be silent under what God will have us suffer, as considering we have many ways sinned and offended against Him (Job 40:4, 5).
4. We have reason to be silent, as considering that all God's dispensations, how afflictive soever, are conducted by unerring wisdom to His own glory. And if God be glorified, why should we be dissatisfied?
5. The people of God have reason to be silent under every affliction He brings upon them, considering He hath made with them an everlasting covenant ordered in all things and sure, which is sufficient to be all their salvation and is all their desire (2 Samuel 23:5).Application:
1. To be impatient under affliction is unbecoming a child of God, considered as a new creature.
2. To oppose our wills to the will of God is high presumption, and both provoking to God, and dangerous to ourselves (Isaiah 45:9).
3. It is contrary to our covenant engagements. When we yielded ourselves to God, did we not expressly agree that He should lead us to heaven, and that we would follow Him through what way He pleased to show us — through seas or wildernesses, or through any, even the roughest paths, so He brought us safe to the promised land.
4. Impatience under affliction is inconsistent with our own prayers. Submission to the will of God is, or ought to be, our daily request, and especially under such trials.
5. It would bring us under the charge of ingratitude to our best benefactor and friend. Has God heard my main prayer, and drawn me to Christ? Yet, if He lays His hand upon me in this or the other instance, shall I by my complaints drown all the remembrance of His former loving-kindness and grace? Moreover, what a slight should we put on the remaining everlasting rest, should we repine at present sufferings, which are so soon to issue in endless joy!
I. WHAT IT IS FOR THE AFFLICTED AND BEREAVED TO HOLD THEIR PEACE UNDER THE CORRECTING HAND OF GOD.
1. It certainly implies, in the first place, that the afflicted and bereaved should not complain of the Divine conduct towards them. They have no ground to complain, because God takes nothing from them but what He has given them, and inflicts no more upon them than they deserve and He has a right to inflict.
2. For the afflicted to hold their peace implies that they not only cease to complain, but that they cease to think hard of God. It is much easier to suppress their verbal complaints than to suppress all their inward repinings under the correcting hand of God.
3. The only way in which the afflicted and bereaved can get rid of their inward murmuring thoughts is cordially to approve of the conduct of God in causing them to suffer their present afflictions and bereavements. Nothing can remove hatred of God but love to God. Nothing can remove opposition to God but submission to God.
II. WHY THE AFFLICTED AND BEREAVED OUGHT TO HOLD THEIR PEACE AND SILENTLY SUBMIT TO THE CORRECTING HAND OF GOD. This is their duty —
1. Because they always deserve the bereavements which they are called to suffer. They are under the same obligations to submit silently and unreservedly under the frowns of God as to rejoice under His smiles.
2. The afflicted and bereaved ought to hold their peace and silently submit to the correcting hand of God because He has a right to afflict and bereave them whenever He sees it necessary to do it
3. It becomes the afflicted and bereaved to bow in silence to the sovereign will of God because He always afflicts and bereaves them at the proper time. It is well that God does not allow men to choose when He shall afflict them. He always knows the best time, and when He does afflict them they must know that He sees good reasons to afflict them at that time rather than any other. And since He sees good reasons for afflicting them at such a particular time they have no ground to complain but ought silently to submit to His unerring wisdom, whether they are high or low, or whether they are young or old.
4. That men ought to hold their peace under the afflicting hand of God because He always afflicts them in the best way as well as at the best time.Improvement:
1. It appears from the nature of silent submission under Divine corrections, that it must be highly pleasing to God. It is the very spirit which He requires them to feel and express while He lays His chastising hand upon them. He says to them, "Be still, and know that I am God."
2. It appears from the nature of sincere submission under trials and afflictions that insubmission is extremely criminal. When either saints or sinners complain under Divine corrections they practically say that He who has made them shall not reign over them. Can there be anything more displeasing to God?
3. It appears from the nature of true submission under afflictions that it is something different from stupidity. Stupidity consists in despising the chastenings of the Lord. Mankind are far more apt to be stupid than to be faint under afflictions and bereavements. They try to overlook the hand of God in them, and to consider them as mere accidents, or necessary evils, which could not be avoided and must be borne. Such stupidity under Divine corrections in the sinners in Zion God severely condemned. If afflictions do not remove stupidity they increase it; if they do not soften the heart they harden it; and if they do not produce submission they create obstinacy. But the afflicted are extremely apt to misconstrue the effect of their afflictions and to mistake stupidity for submission, and imagine that they feel resigned when they only feel stupid and insensible.
4. True submission is diametrically opposite to stupidity and is perfectly consistent with the keenest sensibility under the correcting hand of God. It becomes the bereaved to view their bereavements, as far as possible, in all their painful effects and consequences, that they may exercise a deep and unlimited submission to the Divine corrections. Though Aaron held his peace and refrained from speaking, yet he did not refrain from thinking. His mind was undoubtedly awake, and all his powers and faculties in vigorous exercise. There is much more danger of feeling too little than of feeling too much under Divine chastisements.
5. If the afflicted and bereaved ought to hold their peace under the chastising hand of God, then they ought to submit to the heaviest as well as to the lightest chastisements.
6. It appears from the nature of submission that it is easy for the afflicted and bereaved to determine whether they do or do not sincerely submit to the correcting hand of God. There is no medium between approving or disapproving His conduct in afflicting them.
(N. Emmons, D. D.)
Isaiah 47:5; Lamentations 2:12, 13).
1. The impressions and the conduct of Aaron cannot be usefully estimated without a knowledge of the event.
2. It is a test of humility to be silent in the bosom of an irreparable loss, of a profound affliction.
3. In the mute sorrow of Aaron, there is more than this wise humility; we must see there also acquiescence.
4. Lastly, it is just to recognise in the conduct of Aaron lowly and firm resignation.
(J. A. Seiss, D. D.)
I. THE POIGNANT CHARACTER OF AARON'S SORROW. The blow came and smote —
1. His patriotism — he would feel that Israel as a nation was disgraced.
2. His piety — religion was dishonoured and God insulted.
3. His paternity.(1) It is a great grief for parents to watch their children die when they have seen the end approaching, but in Aaron's case the bereavement was sudden.(2) It is a great grief for parents to surrender their children even when they feel sure they die in the Lord, but, in Aaron's case, his sons died under the frown of the Lord, and concerning their future he could have no sure and certain hope. To lose two sons under such circumstances was sorrow of the most poignant kind.
II. THE PATIENT CONDUCT OF AARON UNDER SUCH SORROW.
(F. W. Brown.)
(J. H. Hitehen, D. D.)
(John Pulsford, D. D.)
— A certain heathen making an oration, as he was sacrificing to his god, in the midst of his devotion, word was brought him that his only son was dead: whereat being nothing at all moved, he made this answer, "I did not get him to live for ever;" and so went on with his business. Thus when we are entering into the sight of God's favour, it may so please Him to try us by afflictions; there may news come of a ship wrecked at sea, of a chapman broke in the country, of the death of friends and allies, &c. Yet ought we not for all this to leave off our course in the service of Him, but rather whatsoever comes cross, make it as it were a parenthesis, an ornament, not a hindrance, in our progress to heaven.
(H. C. Trumbull.)
(J. Parker, D. D.)
Do not drink wine.Jeremiah 35:6; Ephesians 5:18; 1 Thessalonians 5:7. Intemperance, one of the giant evils of the land, is self-imposed. This is its saddest feature. All the evils connected with it might be swept away if men so willed.
I. THE NATURAL. Use no intoxicants; and thus never acquire a passion for them.
II. THE MEDICAL. Some treat drunkenness as a disease; and by medicine seek to destroy the appetite for alcohol.
III. THE SANITARY. Asylums for inebriates have been opened, which combine physical and moral means to effect a cure; and with success.
IV. THE LEGAL. Its object is to control or arrest the evil; and by prohibition of its manufacture and sale, to remove it from the land.
V. THE VOLUNTARY. This involves the pledge and membership in societies banded together for mutual help and safety. Earnest work for others is a good preventative, so long as it is actively continued.
VI. THE SPIRITUAL. Grace, wherever received, casts out the demon of drink.
VII. THE PHILANTHROPIC. Here is a reform in which to engage. The beneficent change in public sentiment demands devout thankfulness, and is prophetic of what shall be achieved.
(Lewis O. Thompson.)
(H. C. Trumbull.)
(C. H. Mackintosh.)
Wherefore have ye not eaten the sin offering?
Such things have befallen meI. THAT SORE AFFLICTIONS SOMETIMES BEFALL THE SERVANTS OF GOD.
1. The death of two sons by one stroke.
2. The distressing character of their death.
3. The prohibition of any expression of grief.
II. THAT UNDER THE PRESSURE OF SORE AFFLICTIONS THE SERVANTS OF GOD ARE REQUIRED TO ATTEND TO RELIGIOUS DUTIES.
1. The obligatoriness of such duties is not annulled by trial. Trust in God, and prayer and praise to him, are binding in sickness as in health, in sorrow as m joy. So are all religious duties.
2. The need of the help which attention to such duties affords is not diminished by trial, but rather increased.
III. THAT UNDER THE PRESSURE OF SORE AFFLICTIONS THE MIND AND HEART OF THE SERVANTS OF GOD OFTEN SEEM UNEQUAL TO A PROPER DISCHARGE OF RELIGIOUS DUTIES. On the day when this calamity befell them, Aaron and his surviving sons did not accurately discharge their sacred duties. It was expressly commanded that the flesh of those sin offerings, the blood of which was not carried into the Tabernacle of the congregation, should be eaten by the officiating priests (Leviticus 6:24-30). Instead of doing this, Aaron and his sons burnt the flesh of the sinoffering (vers. 16-18). The error may be viewed as —
1. An oversight caused by the things which had befallen them. In great griefs the heart seems dead to every feeling but the predominant one, and the mind seems incapable of sustained attention to anything except what is related to its griefs. Meditation upon the holy Scriptures, prayer, spiritual aspirations, communion with God — these seem impossible to the sorrow-stricken soul. Needing them so urgently, yet the soul seems unable properly to attend to them.
2. Intentional because of felt unfitness to eat of the "most holy" flesh. This seems to receive most support from the words following the text: "Such things have befallen me, and if I had eaten the sin-offering to-day, should it have been accepted in the sight of the Lord?" The bereaved father seems to have been not only sorrowful, but deeply awed and humbled by the things which had befallen him, and to have felt that if he had eaten the "most holy" flesh in such a frame of mind it would not have been acceptable to God. His case reminds us of some who absent themselves from the sacrament of the Lord's supper because of a sincere feeling of unworthiness. But let such persons remember that Aaron's sense of unworthiness did not disqualify him for eating the flesh of the sin-offering; he rather erred in not doing so.
IV. THAT WHEN THE MIND AND HEART OF THE SUFFERING SERVANTS OF GOD SEEM THUS UNFITTED FOR RELIGIOUS DUTIES, GOD DOES NOT ACCOUNT SUCH UNFITNESS AS SIN. When Moses heard the apology of Aaron "he was content"; and we are warranted in regarding his "content" as an evidence that God also was satisfied with the reason assigned by the high priest for his deviation from the line of duty. Surely the Lord knew the intense anguish which His servant was suffering, and regarded him with deepest, tenderest pity. "The Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy." Here is consolation for the sorrow-stricken soul. If in the day of your sore afflictions you seem to have no heart for worship, your efforts to pray end in what seems to you to be utter failure, and religious thought and emotion seem to have entirely departed from you, remember the touching words of Aaron in his great calamity, "Such things have befallen me"; remember also those other words, "And when Moses heard that, he was content."
When Moses heard that, he was content. —
(J. Parker, D. D.).