And he stood and blessed the whole assembly of Israel in a loud voice, saying:
I. WHEN MEN MAKE VOWS AND PROMISES. Compare ver. 31 with the ordinances of Moses (Exodus 22:7-9). The oath was taken in the presence of God, because the thought of Him as the Searcher of hearts would induce serious consideration and careful exactitude, and because He was tacitly invited by His providence to confirm or to punish the spoken word. Show how the principle, right in itself, became abused and vitiated, so that Christ condemned the practices of His day (Matthew 5:33-37). Learn from the ancient practice
(1) that our utterances should be made as by men conscious of the nearness of the God of truth. Apply this to the immoralities of some business transactions, to the prevalence of slander in society, etc.
(2) That our resolutions should be formed in a spirit of prayer. How vain the pledge and promise of amendment, unless there be added to the human resolve the help of God's providence in circumstances, and the grace of His Spirit in the heart! Give examples of each.
II. WHEN MEN ARE INJURED OR DEFEATED BY THEIR ADVERSARIES. "When thy people Israel be smitten down before the enemy" (ver. 33). National defeat in war should lead to self examination on the part of those smitten. Too often the investigation is applied only to material resources: incompetent officials are dismissed, weakened regiments are strengthened, new alliances are formed, etc. The mischief may lie deeper. Sometimes God is calling the people not to redeem national honour, but to seek national righteousness. The teaching of the verse may be applied figuratively to defeats suffered by Christian controversialists or by philanthropic workers, etc. Every check in onward progress is a summons to thought and prayer. "In the day of adversity consider." Illustrate by examples.in Scripture, e.g., by the defeat of Israel at Ai, and its issues.
III. WHEN MEN ARE TREMBLING UNDER NATURAL CALAMITIES. Reference is made in ver. 35 to the withholding of rain; in ver. 37 to "famine, pestilence, blasting, mildew, locust, and caterpillar." Such troubles were sent in vain to bring the Egyptians to repentance. Compare those plagues with Elijah's message to Ahab, and with the threats of other prophets. Such statements as Deuteronomy 11:17 enshrine an abiding truth. In the long run the violation of God's laws do bring disasters of the very kind specified here. If the law of industry be violated, the harvests fail; if the law of mutual dependence be ignored by nations, commerce is crippled, and impoverishment comes; if the laws against self indulgence, pride, ambition, etc., be defied, the spendthrift has the result in poverty, the proud nation in the miseries of war, etc. Even the disasters which are accounted "natural phenomena," then, should lead the wise hearted to prayer, the sinful to penitence; and God will hear in heaven His dwelling place, and answer and forgive. Show how, during the ministry of our Lord, the cripples, the blind, the diseased came to Him. Their misery made them feel their need of what He alone could give, and many of them became conscious of their spiritual wants from considering first the want that was physical. As they were thus led, so the Church has been which in the Old Testament was oppressed most by the earthly wants, and in the New by the spiritual. Those in the far country learn, by beginning to "be in want," that God is calling them to arise and return to Him.
IV. WHEN MEN ARE CONSCIOUS OF THEIR SIN. All through this prayer reference is made to sin and to the consequent necessity for pardon (vers. 38, 46-50). Point out the climax in ver. 47:
(1) "We have sinned" - have not kept in the ways of God - sin in its negative aspect;
(2) "have done perversely" - acts of perversity;
(3) "have committed wickedness" - the overwhelming passion which drives into corruption. The necessity of humble confession as an integral part of prayer from the lips of fallen man can readily be shown from Scripture. Examples of conscience of sin impelling to prayer seen in David (Psalm 51.), the publican (Luke 18:18). "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9).
V. WHEN MEN ARE GOING FORTH TO CONFLICT IN GOD'S NAME. "If thy people shall go out to battle against their enemy whithersoever thou shalt send them," etc. (ver. 44). We must not forget that Israel was a theocracy. David, for example, spoke of his foes as being God's foes. So had it been with Moses, Joshua, etc. The consciousness of that gives almost superhuman power. "Man, being linked with Omnipotency, is a kind of omnipotent creature," says Bacon. Even when the belief that one is on God's side is false, the belief itself is an inspiration. Examples from history of such belief well or ill founded - Joan of Are, the Puritans, etc. In actual war no nation can fairly put up this prayer unless the cause of war is that of which we can say, "whithersoever thou shalt send." No mistake need exist in reference to foes whom Christ came to destRomans The promise, "Lo! I am with you," was the inspiration of the apostles as they confronted false philosophies, crass ignorance, brutal customs, degrading superstitions. Hence, if they were going forth to battle with such evils, the prayers of the Church went up on their behalf. Men were set apart for their Christian mission by prayer (give examples), and in their work they often turned to their intercessors, saying, "Brethren, pray for us!" Feeling our insufficiency to overcome the adversaries of the gospel, let us, like the apostles, "continue in prayer and supplication" till we are "endued with power from on high." - A.R.
And he stood, and blessed all the congregation of Israel with a loud voice.
1. Note the thankful retrospect of the nation's past (ver. 56).
2. Note the prayer for obedient hearts (vers. 57, 58). The proper subject-matter of this petition is "that He may incline our hearts to walk in His ways," and God's presence is invoked as a means thereto. The deepest desire of a truly religious soul is for the felt nearness of God. That goes before all other blessings, and contains them all But Solomon desires that God may be with him and his people for one specific purpose. As in his choice in his dream, so now, he asks, not for these things, but for an inward influence on heart and will. What he wants most for himself and them is moral conformity to God's will. All will be right if that be right. The prayer implies that, without God's help, the heart will wander from the paths of duty.
3. Note the prayer for God's defence (vers. 59, 60). The proper subject-matter of this petition is that God would maintain the cause of king and nation; and it is preceded by a petition that, to that end, the long former prayer may be answered, and is followed by the desire that thereby the knowledge of God may fill the earth. The prayer for outward blessings comes after the prayer for inward heart-obedience. Note the grand aim of God's help of Israel — the universal diffusion of His name among all the peoples of the earth. Solomon understood the Divine vocation of Israel, and had risen above desiring blessings only for his own or his subjects' sake. God's choice of Israel was not meant for the exclusion of the Gentiles, but as the means of transmitting the knowledge of God to them. The one nation was chosen that God's grace might fructify through them to all. The fire was gathered into a hearth, that the whole house might be warmed.
4. The blessing ends with one brief, all-comprehensive charge to the people, which seems based, by its "therefore," on the preceding thought of Jehovah as the only God. The only attitude corresponding to His sole and supreme Majesty is the entire devotion of the heart, which leads to thorough-going obedience to His commandments. We, too, are tempted to bring Him divided hearts, and to carry some of our love and trust as offerings at other shrines. But if there be one God, and none other but He, then to serve Him with all our hearts and strength and mind is the dictate of common sense, and the only course which He can accept, or which can bring our else distracted natures peace and satisfaction. His voice to us is, My son, give Me thy whole heart. Our answer to Him should ever be that prayer, "Lord unite my heart to fear Thy name."
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
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