The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Now these are the divisions of the sons of Aaron. The sons of Aaron; Nadab, and Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar.Gleanings
1 Chronicles 24-26
FROM the twenty-fourth chapter to the end of the book we find much that cannot be turned to spiritual profit, yet here and there we come upon single expressions which are very significant and beautiful. What we lose in continuity, therefore, we may gain in single values. Continuity is not the only excellence to be studied. The string is continuous, but the pearls which are hung upon it are single. Do not despise a single stone, a single flower, a single ear of wheat. Men do not despise pounds sterling on the ground that each sovereign is a separate coin: why then pass over single expressions that are rare or quaint or beautiful or tender? Let us go gleaning and see what we can bring home.
"Thus they were divided by lot [literally, "And they divided them by lot, these with those"], one sort with another" (1Chronicles 24:5).
"The principal fathers over against their younger brethren" [literally, "The elder house equally with his younger brother." That is, "All the Levitical houses enumerated drew lots in their courses on equal terms, the elder families having no advantage over the younger ones"] (1Chronicles 24:31).
This is but an illustration of the previous expression, "One sort with another." Here is a marvellous idea of democracy, "the principal fathers over against their younger brethren." Then men are not all of one age; that ought to be a blessing: then all men are not old; that should be a comfort: then all men are not principal fathers; what a delightful reflection! There may be a vital mutually-helpful relation between the two. The senior ought to be the superior. Let us see how that stands to fact and reason. The proposition is not, A senior is a superior; for then a thousand facts would pour down upon our poor argument like a torrent, and wash it away; the proposition is, The senior ought to be the superior, for he has had more time, more experience, more opportunity; he has seen how things combine, disintegrate, and recombine, and shape themselves into new forms, and betake themselves to uncalculated issues. Yet his own son rebukes him over the table, and gives him to know by the most circumlocutory methods that he is not as wise as he is old; there is no bluntness in the speech, there is a filial euphemism which entirely denudes the senior speaker of his natural crown. A man is not necessarily wise because he is old. People have gone through the world, and have never seen it Many people are tourists who are not poets; many have looked upon the mountains, and have not seen one of them. Many men have allowed fifty summers to pass, in all their daintiness and loveliness and radiance and music, and have not made a single acquaintance among the fifty. Yet there is a democratic principle even in this text which seems to classify men so sharply; for it might be read literally thus, "the chief just like his younger brother." Office did not make men vain; seniority did not inspire contempt towards junior life. Some men have been kings, and yet have been the simplest children in the world; they were above their thrones, verily they sat on their thrones, they were not crushed by them as by a splendid incubus. It is possible for an old man to be quite young in feeling, disposition, aspiration, sentiment, and to be the very centre of the gracious storm of child-laughter.
Still the distribution proceeds, and, taking one sort with another, we have this classification—
"Moreover David and the captains of the host [rather, "the princes" the same persons who are mentioned in 1Chronicles 23:2, and 1Chronicles 24:6] separated to the service of the sons of Asaph, and of Heman, and of Jeduthun, who should prophesy [rather, "divided for the service the sons of Asaph, etc., who prophesied." By prophesying is probably meant public recitation of the sacred services (see 1Chronicles 24:3)] with harps, with psalteries, and with cymbals" (1Chronicles 25:1).
Let us analyse these indications. We want warriors; there is not one in this list: we need builders; there is not a man in the catalogue that ever built anything that could be seen or valued arithmetically: we want legislators, men who can make duty mysterious, and dissolve responsibility in polysyllables; there is no such erratic genius in this guild. Whom have we? Prophets; for the word is "prophesy," and to prophesy means in this connection to teach, to reveal doctrines, to indicate duty, to exhort to service, to reveal the will and purpose of heaven. With what apparatus are these men furnished? Harps, psalteries, cymbals. They were known amongst their fellows as a guild of sacred minstrels. When a man prophesies he utters under a spiritual influence. We do not know how much we are indebted to music. He would be the most combative man that ever lived who would fight with a tune; the tune will not fight. There are atheists who have shed tears under the influence of what is known as sacred music. Then they were not far from the kingdom of God: they were only atheists argumentatively. How many men have committed suicide by the razor of logic! They were never meant to be logicians. When you see a man take hold of a razor you do not exhort him to be careful, because you know that he can handle it wisely; but if you saw a little child open a case and take out a razor, how you would exclaim, how you would rush to the rescue; how you would deprecate the audacity of the thoughtless little creature! It is even so with the Church. There are some infants we cannot keep away from the razor-case: if they would only take their seat within one inch of the organ they might be saved. How are these musicians described in the verse? They are described by a word which some men would begrudge; they are described as "the workmen." It should be put more vividly than this, namely, "the men working." But is music work? Certainly. Is a song a sacrifice? Yes, if sung with the whole heart. He labours who toils with his hands. Probably, but not he only. He labours who gives his brain away, who imparts to others the fragrance of his love, who makes the world welcome to all the hospitality of his prayers. He is a labourer who puts things into sweet musical rhyme for us. Sometimes we get our children to persuade themselves that they are enjoying an amusement when they are learning, in fact, the multiplication table, through the medium of rhyme. Children who would abhor the multiplication table if it were set before them nakedly would come up to it quite loving and sympathetically if they might sing it all through. So there are men who help to sing us into our duties, and who help us to sing in the discharge of those duties, and who show us, by a mysterious power given to them of God, that all work should blossom into play, all service should find its fruition in song. There are those who have distinguished between sacred music and secular music. What a marvellous faculty of analysis such men must have! There are those who talk about sacred and profane history. By what right do they so talk? What history is profane? Is there anything profane that belongs to the development of humanity, the cultivation of the total nature of man? Are we to attach a stigma to the study of history, to the perusal of those documents and records which testify to the progress of all manner of human thought? There are persons who can sing bad common metre in the church, and think it pious; whereas they could not listen to a sweet domestically beautiful song in church without a shudder. The only thing to be done with such is to let them shudder. We must see to it that the religious spirit is maintained, and nothing can maintain it so healthily as music. To think that the enemy has all the brass bands but about a dozen! whereas the church ought to have every one, and he ought to be considered a thief who plays anything on an instrument that could not be played in the church. There was music in the Old Testament sanctuary; men praised the Lord loudly and sweetly in the ancient time.
"Of Jeduthun: the sons of Jeduthun; Gedaliah, and Zeri, and Jeshaiah, Hashabiah, and Mattithiah, six" (1Chronicles 25:3).
There are not six, there are only five: where is the sixth? When an arithmetical number is put before us we are entitled to begin counting. "Of Jeduthun: the sons of Jeduthun; Gedaliah, and Zeri, and Jeshaiah, Hashabiah, and Mattithiah,"—five. But the Chronicler says there were six. Then why did he not write six names down? We are entitled to inquire always for the missing man. Woe unto that shepherd who allows one little lamb to go, and not trouble about him: woe to that friend who can allow one of his comrades to fall out of the ranks, and never ask a question about his doom. How was the sixth name omitted? By a clerical error? Then we should find it again. It is of small consequence to be omitted by the clerk; the clerk is not almighty. It is of small account that our name be not found on the record of the visible church because some careless writer has omitted to inscribe it there. Has he gone out of the list by proved incapacity? Could he not play the harp? Did he make a false noise with the cymbals? Let us ask the question. Has he gone out by moral lapse? Was the fool caught in some snare, the existence of which he did not suspect? Was he treading in dangerous paths, and seized by a ruffian hand, when he ought to have kept near the altar and found his security at home? We cannot tell. In this instance, the sixth man was found again. He is omitted from verse number three, but he is found in verse number seventeen. Do lists dwindle? Do friends grow fewer? They may grow fewer in one sense, and yet may be stronger in another, they may be but transplanted. The dead are not lost; they love the twilight, they can unfold themselves in shadows, they can speak through dreams; call not those dead who have gone up to be ennobled and crowned.
Regarding these six men we read of them still in verse three, as "under the hands of their father." The picture is a lovely one. It is that of six sons being conducted in musical exercise by their father. Let the picture shape itself vividly to the mental eye: six sons, with harps, psalteries, and cymbals, and the father conducting, educating, keeping them together, making all the sounds one, reconciling all the exercise into one blessed harmony. What is a father for if he is not to be a conductor? Some fathers are too separate from their families. What is a pastor to be if not a conductor? and what are children for if they set up for themselves on a basis of absolutely foolish independence? The inquiry is a two-edged sword: take care how you lift it up, for it is a dangerous weapon.
"The sons of Asaph." (1Chronicles 26:1)
That name we know. We find it in chapter 26, 1Chronicles 26:1. Asaph was a sweet singer, Asaph was a psalmist, Asaph occurs again and again in the Psalms; so that when we come upon his name in the Book of Chronicles we feel that we had anticipated the coming in of a friend. Is that not a pleasing reflection? But unfortunately this is not the same Asaph. Do not be led away by letters and syllables, for this man is quite another Asaph; not the chief musician Asaph who has done so much for the church. In this instance we had an abbreviation of the man's real name, which was Ebiasaph. We ourselves sometimes cut names in two. We describe a man by a variation of the name his parents gave him. How we leaped when we saw "Asaph," as if we had known him, whereas it was not the man at all. Some very curious instances of this kind occur in Scripture. The most noticeable probably is this, "Judas, not Iscariot." Why that guarding word? We know why. Shall we take up some sweet human name and so use it that men who bear the same name will have to guard themselves against a ruinous identification with us? Have we spoiled a name? When our mother gave it to us it was pure as morning dew; now it is like a drop of black poison: men who carry that name say in the public journals, "We are not to be mistaken for the other man." "Judas, not Iscariot," not the bag-bearer, not the thief, not the traitor; "Judas," but not the bad Judas. There is also another use for the term. Sometimes we have to say, "Asaph, not the chief musician." The deprecation, then, is on the other side. Men have names that have been rendered illustrious, and because they have been burdened with them they have to apologise for their own littleness. This is cruel to children. A parent ought to think much before he calls his child "John Milton," or "Martin Luther," or "Oliver Cromwell," or "John Wesley," or "George Whitefield." Another instance we have in the expression, "James the Less." That would seem to be really an undeserved stigma upon an obscure person; he might have been let alone. But we must have such criticism if we are to be exact in our identifications. Then we read, "the other Mary." There were many Marys, and there was "the other Mary"; each had her distinctions, peculiarities, or excellences. Let us see to it that our name has attached to it some token of which men are not ashamed. We may be spoken of as the suppliant mighty in prayer, the philanthropist generous with both hands, the father that can always find another seat at the table, the mother that will not put an Amen to her prayer until the prodigal is quite home.
"Zechariah... a wise counsellor" (1Chronicles 26:14).
Not a musician, but a wise counsellor; no use with firearms, if we must modernise the expression, but great in sagacity; nothing with his hands, but an army with his head. "Zechariah" is in the singular number, and also in the plural number. Let us take heed of our parsing. There are terms even in English which are both singular and plural, and there is no atom of distinction between the one number and the other, so far as the shape of the name in type is concerned. "Zechariah" was a man, and "Zechariah" was a tribe, a clan, or a guild. We think the word "Guild" a modern invention. Practically, it is in the Bible as everything else is in the Bible; seek, and ye shall find. Zechariah the man could give counsel; he knew what Israel ought to do, for he had understanding of the times; there was no problem too entangled for him to simplify, there was no case that he could not throw light upon; he had that peculiar insight which amounts to inspiration; he was never consulted in vain; when men thought they had a very great question, Zechariah, by one sentence, showed that after all it was a very small problem; and when men supposed themselves equal to the discussion of the problem, by one inquiry Zechariah widened the horizon, and showed them how gifted they were with simple incapability.
Thus in this field of names we have gleaned somewhat. The gleaner must not be mistaken for the reaper: but he would be a careless husbandman who did not glean his fields as well as reap them. So now and again in these biblical studies it is well to go back to do a day's gleaning, and come home in evening twilight to thank God for handfuls that might have been lost. These chapters bristle with names; there are names we can hardly pronounce: the great lesson is that we may be somewhere in God's list Let each say, Oh, thou who keepest life's book, let me have a place on some page! If I cannot be with the warriors, may I not be with the musicians? If I cannot be with the musicians, may I not be with the porters, the door-openers, the lamplighters, of the sanctuary? If I may not be near the king, may I not be near the door? Of what avail is it to be on any list of man's invention and creation if we are omitted from the record on high? There is a book in heaven—a book called the Book of Life; if a man's name be written there, fire cannot burn it. How are names to be written there? Through him who is the life, the blessed eternal Son of God. What are we doing? Great wonders, famous miracles? Rejoice not that the spirits are subject unto you, but rather rejoice that your names are written in heaven. Crush the demon Envy that says, Try to rise from one list into another; do not be content with being a porter, a doorkeeper, when you might be a wise counsellor or a skilled musician. Rather say, The Lord gave me what I have in the way of faculty and talent; I see the number is only one, but a great deal can be done with one talent; as I have only one I cannot spend time in talking to you; I must leave you and get to work, so as to make as much as possible of the one talent. Or, I see the number is only two, but two is plural, and, once in the plural, who can tell where one may end? I will hasten, and double the dowry. In this spirit let us live, crushing envy, dismissing jealousy, contenting ourselves with God's method of election and endowment, because it is to him, and not to man, we must render the last account.
But Nadab and Abihu died before their father, and had no children: therefore Eleazar and Ithamar executed the priest's office."Handfuls of Purpose,"
For All Gleaners
"But Nadab and Abihu died before their father."—1Chronicles 24:2.
This ought to be regarded as unnatural.—What is it that interferes with the regular flow and progress of natural law? The father should die first; the eldest in the family should be first married; the richest should be the kindest; the oldest should be the wisest: yet continually are all these supposed ordinances and laws turned upside down in practical life.—We should make an idol of continuity if we could reckon upon it in all forms and under all conditions. God destroys the monotony of life, and thus he animates men with various impulses, and brings some to reflection who might otherwise be heedless.—Let it be known that every man shall live a certain number of days, and shall die at a well-known time; let it be known that men cannot succeed to office until this day ten years or twenty years; and life will become benumbed, and in many cases monotony will kill ambition, and put an end to healthy preparation.—Instead of this, however, we live in uncertainty; the king may die tomorrow, and the next man may be wanted; the father may pass away to-night, or the eldest son may die in the morning, and the father may have to follow his firstborn to the grave.—Thus God will not allow us to speculate in the future, to tell fortunes, to forecast events and destinies; he will compel us to live, so to say, from hand to mouth, a day at a time, not knowing what a day may bring forth.—Even insecurity may be so sanctified as to become a blessing.—We are always to take heed, to be watchful, to be on our guard; we know not at what hour the King may come; the only the thing we are certain of is that he will come; and being certain of this one fact we should strive after needful preparation.—We cannot tell who will die first, but we can all be prepared for death, and the father may be able to rejoice that his son has gone home first, and the son may be able to thank God that his father has completed a beautiful and useful life.