The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
The sons of Levi; Gershon, Kohath, and Merari.Aaron—Eleazar—Unknown Workers—Religious Uses of Music
1 Chronicles 6
This chapter traces the line of Aaron through Eleazar to Jeho-zadak. The chronicler takes infinite pains to trace the genealogy of Aaron from the period of his descent from Levi through his successors in the line of Eleazar until the Babylonian exile, and after setting forth the double series of the three sons of Levi, viz., Gershom, Kohath, and Merari, he repeats the line of Aaron from Eleazar to the age of David and Solomon as preliminary to an account of cities of the Levites given in 1Chronicles 6:49-81. We ought now to be in good company seeing that we are in the lineage of priests. Every man's white robe will symbolize his holy character, and every man's official duties will indicate the nobler exercises of spiritual worship. Society has a right to draw inferences from the occupations of men. No surgeon should be inhuman because by profession he is a healer and restorer. No lawyer should be seditious, rebellious, dishonourable, because he is supposed to know the law and to have entered upon its exposition, because of his love of high study and the discipline of citizenship. If this is so in high professions, what shall be said of the priests of the living God? From them we look for whatsoever things are true, lovely, pure, honest, and of good report, and in so far as they fall short, they themselves must bear the responsibility, for they, and they only, are to blame for every lapse. But are we to look for absolute perfectness even in consecrated men? We may look for it, but certainly we shall not find it in any real sense. It is unjust to expect more from men than men can render. There must however be a steady determination to realise the ideal and to attain the divine. The apostle Paul did not count himself to have attained, but he continually pressed toward the mark, and by so much proved the earnestness of his spirit. There is an infinite difference between falling short of an ideal and seeking to accommodate the life to the lowest level of purpose and service. It should never be forgotten that the man who selects a high ideal is himself the creator of the very standard which his enemies may turn into a taunt against him. If he had not made known his determination to climb the highest of all hills he might have secured some reputation by ascending much lower elevations. When he said he meant to go to heaven, he put into the hands of his enemies a rod with which they might chastise him. It must therefore never be forgotten that even an imperfect Christian may be a better man than the loudest boaster of virtue who knows nothing of spiritual motive or ideal standards. As a speck is more easily seen upon a white surface than upon a coloured one, so the flaws and drawbacks of Christians are the more conspicuous because of the dazzling purity of the Christianity which is professed.
We read of Eleazar that he was "priest in Aaron's room." This reminds us of the commonplace, that the first and best of the priests must succumb to the law of death. When God appointed Aaron as priest, he did not only elevate an individual, he founded an office which was not to be abrogated until it was fulfilled as to its highest purpose in the man Christ Jesus. Aaron, therefore, may be said to have continued to the very end of the priesthood, which was begun in him through his legitimate successors. It is nothing to the point to say that the individual man has died, if so be the office is continued in full vigour and efficiency. The popular view is that the king never dies. So may it be said of the Christian ministry. Consecrated apostles, enterprising evangelists, learned teachers, individually die and are forgotten, but the great work of the ministry never ceases. Nor does the ministry ever go permanently back in efficiency. On the surface there may be great differences as to what is called pulpit power, but within the view of God, the motion of Christian influence is always towards increase and consolidation. The sentence however that Eleazar was priest in the room of Aaron is pathetic, as reminding us how difficult it is to fill the room which great men have occupied. In many instances we do not know how much a man has been really doing until we endeavour to find a successor to bear his mantle and carry forward his obligations. No man is less valued than a spiritual teacher. In many cases he is regarded as little better than an intruder and a meddler, who comes with an uncertain message, and is expected to deliver it in the least offensive form. When to outward disadvantages, often concealed in the form of distrust or contempt, there is added a sense of personal inferiority to the Aaron who went before, the position of the Christian teacher becomes one of positive distress. The only mitigation of such sorrow must come from looking at the work rather than at the worker, steadfastly looking beyond and having respect to the recompense of the reward. If Eleazar thinks only of Aaron, he may well tremble to succeed so renowned a priest; the Christian teacher however is not to think that he has succeeded Paul or John, but to consider that he directly represents Jesus Christ, and that to represent Jesus Christ is to be assured of spiritual sustenance and final reward.
In this chapter as in others, we come upon a long list of unfamed priests and workers. Who ever heard of Bukki, Uzzi, Zerahiah, Meraioth, Ahitub, Ahimaaz, or Johanan! There were twenty-two successors of Aaron in the interval between his death and the Babylonian exile. It is quite uncertain how many centuries that interval comprised; but in the lengthened period through which the succession ran we cannot but be struck with the absence of illustrious names. What social advantages are necessary to the development of men of supreme power? Can such men be born in slavery? Are they the product of ignorance and darkness? Are the great men of any period the natural issue of their times, or are they created on purpose to throw their times into contrast. Of some of these men we hear a little, but that little only shows how far short they fall of the highest reputation. Of Uzzi we hardly know more than that he was contemporary with Eli. Scripture is absolutely silent as regards the six persons named in 1Chronicles 6:6 and 1Chronicles 6:7. We know little more of Zadok than that he was appointed sole high priest by Solomon who deposed Abiathar (1Kings 2:27, 1Kings 2:35). Ahimaaz is chiefly known as a young man and a fleet runner, who rendered service to king David at the time of the revolt of Absalom. Johanan is utterly unknown. Yet all these men were either priests, or workers, or recognised persons in the social and official circles to which they belonged. So again and again we come upon the familiar lesson that there is a middle point between renown and contempt; there is a point of life-influence—thorough downright good work which never blossoms into the kind of conspicuousness which belongs to world-wide and enduring fame. Even amongst the disciples of Christ there were only three who really stood out so as to attract the attention of all men. At the last indeed, one did stand out, not in fame, but in infamy, a man whose name can never be pronounced without horror and disgust. It must ever be true that the great majority of men must work within narrow limits and be content with the eulogium of domestic recognition. At the last the whole matter of reputation will be adjusted and determined by the Judge of the whole earth. The first may be last, and the last may be first. The very fact that all our awards may be reversed should make us cautious in the distribution of primacies which concern themselves more with the coronation of genius than with the recognition and encouragement of simpler merits. We are not to hesitate to give honour to whom honour is due, but we should never be so far carried away with pomp and grandeur, however real, as to neglect the least of Christ's servants or the humblest ministrants who wait upon his altar.
In reading 1Chronicles 6:19—"And these are the families of the Levites according to their fathers"—we must remember that the word "families" does not mean single households but groups of households or clans. This is important as showing the beginning of an enlargement which is to continue until the whole world shall be regarded as constituting one family. Towards this consummation we can but proceed with painful slowness. The work of grace within us is long in subduing the idea that God is partial in his choices and blessings. The heart almost secretly cherishes the idea that walls of separation between men and men must in some degree continue for ever. It is hard for one nation to believe that other nations are as near to God as themselves. All this may not be admitted in theory, but an examination of the heart will lead to the conclusion that every man clings more or less to the notion that God is interested in his fortunes more than in the fortunes of other men. The spread of Christianity is important in a social as well as in a theological sense as tending to the instruction of men in mutual interpretation of motive and purpose. Christianity brings men together; never divides and antagonises men; it always points towards brotherhood, mutual confidence, reciprocal honour, and united action. All this is possible of Christianity simply because Christianity represents the second Adam, the one man who idealises and crowns humanity. Nothing is more noticeable in the progress of Christianity than the disillusioning of the apostolic mind as to God's partiality for the Jews. [See the case of Peter and Cornelius as representing the whole Biblical idea upon this question of humanity.] Christianity is opposed to all limitation, narrowness, bigotry, exclusiveness; its noble watchword is the world, the whole world, the whole world for Christ.
In the thirty-first verse we are introduced to what may be called the larger ministry.
"And these are they whom David set over the service of song in the house of the Lord, after that the ark had rest." (1Chronicles 6:31).
They were made to stand, according to a literal interpretation, by the sides [hands] of song as if to minister to the sacred music. They continue ministering, before the dwelling of the tent of meeting, with the music. The religious uses of music is a question which the Church has hardly yet considered. Possibly there will never be wanting those who look upon music as an alien, and regard every advance made by it with suspicion and condemnation. There are not wanting those who would describe thorough attention to music in the church as turning the church into a concert room. All such opposition however must end in nothing. It is now beginning to be recognised that music may be turned into a grand evangelical instrument, and the sneer about "singing the Gospel" is gradually losing the confidence of those who first ignorantly applauded. As a matter of observation and experience it is beyond all doubt that people will gather in great numbers to listen to music when no attraction of an ordinary kind will bring them to the sanctuary.
The wise religious guides of any age will watch the temper of the people, and will respond to it in a way which will involve nothing of degradation, but which will secure the attention which may be turned to the highest ends. On all such matters argument is simply needless. Obstinate bigotry is not to be put down by reasoning; it is simply left to be converted by events. Let the church be open night and day for music; let the music always be religiously rendered; let every singer make the words heard as well as the notes; and in the end it will be found that the music of the appeal has found an entrance for the truth of the doctrine. The service of song in the house of the Lord should be the most beautiful of all religious exercises. The heavenly ones are continually praising God in the upper sanctuary. We read nothing of preaching in heaven, but we do read of songs and harps, thanksgivings, and of praises louder than the sound of many waters. We are perfectly well aware that there are persons who would pervert the use of music and do injury to the very spirit of the Church, but we must not take our rule of procedure from them; but endeavour to displace them by a right adaptation of music; and to supersede them by pointing out and following a more excellent way.