Now behold, God Himself is with us as our head, and His priests with their trumpets sound the battle call against you. O children of Israel, do not fight against the LORD, the God of your fathers, for you will not succeed."
1. Jesus Christ has taught us that in the great spiritual campaign in which we are engaged there can be no neutrality; he that is not with the Lord is against him (Matthew 12:30). We have, therefore, to include among those who are in arms against Christ, not only
(1) those who deny him by speaking evil of him and disparaging him; and
(2) those who refuse to recognize the great claims he makes on the homage and obedience of mankind, reducing him to the rank of a fallible human teacher; but
(3) those also who are wholly heedless of his claims, who show an utter disregard to his will, who stand outside his Church, or who do those things which he has expressly denounced and forbidden. These are his enemies, and their name is legion; their resources are great; they compose an army overwhelmingly strong in numbers and material equipments.
2. Before these there come the prophets of the Lord, summoning them to leave the ranks in which they stand, and to surrender themselves to him and his service. These speakers for God entreat them to lay down their arms and to serve under Christ. Their reasons are, at least, fourfold. To be where they are is -
I. To BE OVERTHROWING THAT WHICH THEIR FATHERS BUILT UP. "Fight ye not against the Lord God of your fathers." Long and patiently, with many tears and prayers, often in the face of the most determined opposition, in health and sickness, in youth and in strength and in decline, on to old age and even unto death, our fathers fought for the truth they loved; they built up the Church, the institution, the Christian stronghold in which we found ourselves when we awoke to life and thought. And now are we going to take that sacred building down; stone by stone, are our hands - their children's hands - going to demolish it? Are we content to lower the flag they held' high so bravely and so nobly? Shall it be our function to undo the large and long result of all their toil? Shall we bring into disrepute the name they honoured far above their own? Shall we fight against the Lord God of our fathers?
II.. TO BE OPPOSING THAT WHICH THE BEST MEN ARE SUSTAINING. "God's priests... cry alarm against you." Invested in the sacred garments, with the appointed signals in their hands (Numbers 10:8), the holiest in the land are urging the people to maintain their ground. The cause of Christian truth has not only the presence of a noble host of good and holy men; it is led by the best of the good and wise. Those who are clothed with righteousness, whose voice is the sound of earnest and irresistible conviction, are summoning all who love God and man to oppose themselves to the enemies of Christ. If we league ourselves "with these his enemies" we must make up our mind to contend with the worthiest and the wisest, with the most pure and brave and devoted, that ever drew mortal breath, that ever sounded the note of battle.
III. TO BE FIGHTING AGAINST GOD. "God himself is with us for our Captain." In the Christian Church it is the assured conviction that the invisible Lord is not the absent One; he is the very present One. "Lo, I am with you alway," etc. (Matthew 28:20). We who fight for him fight under him - under his eye, his observant eye; under his direction - the direction of a hand that is not seen, but that is felt. They who fight against his cause are fighting against him himself. They have to overcome the Almighty.
IV. TO BE ARRAYED AGAINST A FORCE THAT MUST PROVE VICTORIOUS. "You shall not prosper." Many times has Christianity seemed to be doomed to defeat and even to extinction, but out of every terrible contest it has emerged successful, even triumphant. Persecution, ridicule, argumentation, corruption, - these have done their worst, and they have failed. To-day the friends of Christ are more numerous, and the cause of Christ is more advanced, than ever. And he who is in arms against the Lord of all love and power, who is seeking to undermine his influence, who is contemptuous of his holy will, who is opposing his own indifference or his worldliness to the commands and the invitations of a Divine Saviour, he is in the ranks of the army that will be defeated; no voice of victory will greet his dying ear, no hope of commendation and award will then fill his heart. - C.
I. GOD'S PEOPLE ARE OFTEN BROUGHT INTO EXTREMITIES.
And behold, God Himself is with us for our captain
I. II. III. (Bp. Montagu Villiers.)
II. III. (Bp. Montagu Villiers.)
III. (Bp. Montagu Villiers.)
(Bp. Montagu Villiers.)
1. By their own foolish enterprises.
2. By the temptations of their enemies.
3. By the providence of God leading them, to test and train them.
II. GOD'S PEOPLE ARE DELIVERED BY HIM IN EXTREMITIES.
1. By prayer: "They cried unto the Lord."
2. By super-natural power.
I. LET US RECONNOITRE THE ENEMY. It is a great mistake, all too frequently made, to ignore the strength of our opponents, to fail to investigate their position and their practices. No general would think of conducting a campaign without the due precaution of reconnoitring. We shall do well in our war against error and iniquity, and all that is not of our God, to make all investigations, to send some forth to spy out the country to discover, if possible, what the enemy is designing against us.
1. Turning to this chapter we shall find that the enemy in this case consisted of rebels against the God-appointed authority. They were, in fact, insurgents, of whom the children of Judah said truly, "We keep the charge of the Lord of God; but ye have forsaken Him." So the men of Judah had this to help them in their struggle — they knew that their position was one that God approved. They had not forsaken Him; they were by no means perfect, but they still held to David's throne and to his rightful successor. They had the strength that always comes of the consciousness of right. "Right is might," though some will have it that might is right. No, no! "He is thrice armed who hath his quarrel just" and I want to encourage my own heart and yours by saying: We are by no means all we should be, but by the grace of God we are what we are. The enemy has rebelled against God. These things with which we do battle are doomed to destruction, and we are authorised to help to hasten the coming of that doom.
2. I find, further, that these men of Israel were idolaters. They worshipped golden calves, and almost any man who wished could become a priest to those that were no gods. Our struggle also is against idolatry. I am speaking on behalf of foreign missions. Believe me, there is idolatry both here and there.
3. I find here again, that the children of Israel are spoken of as vain men, and children of Belial. There had gathered in that north country men of no repute, ne'er-do-wells, and those who had come to grief, empty-headed men — for such is the real meaning of the word "vain." The children of Belial were utterly unprincipled, many of them were doubtless renegades, the castaways of society. We do not fight against those who have lost their reputation, who have sinned against the laws of our land, as well as against high heaven; we go out to try to save them, we do battle against unholiness, uncleanness, debauchery, and insobriety.
4. Further, if you look at this chapter, you will notice that the men of Israel were determined characters, of whom it is written that "they strengthened themselves." They were very numerous, but they did not trust to numbers, they took every precaution to ensure success. We may learn some lessons from our foes. How diligent they are, how active, how united. How earnestly they combine to defeat, if possible, the purposes of God, and our attempts to do His will. Oh, that we were as earnest as they! With a Master infinitely better, why should we not serve Him with twice as much zeal as they who serve the devil?
5. The numbers of Israel were very large, twice as many as Judah possessed; and oh, how many are the forces and principles of evil with which we have to contend! Ah! but let us remember that numbers are not everything. We shall have to remind one another presently that God is with us. How many count you Jehovah for? Yet we must not under-estimate the foe; they are numberless. Oh, that our forces were increased!
6. And, moreover, they are wily. Did you notice, as we read, how the king of Israel set an ambush against Abijah and his men? It was hardly a brave thing to do. Well, our enemy is not very particular how he goes to work. The serpent is still the most subtle of all the beasts of the field, but we are not ignorant of his devices.
II. WHAT ABOUT OUR OWN FORCES? We must not sing our own praises, but to the glory of God, as we review our troops, we will declare, first, that we are His.
1. Moreover, we are well commanded. Did you notice what the king said in the 12th verse? "And behold God Himself is with us for our Captain." When Napoleon went up and down among his troops on the eve of battle, he used to assure them that he was himself directing their battalions. That it was which nerved them for the fray. I think I hear my blessed Master saying, "Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the age." We bow before Thee, glorious Captain! Lead Thou us on! For Thou alone canst lead to victory.
2. Moreover, the priestly service, with the people of Judah, had never ceased. Morning and evening the lamb was slain, and the lamp was lighted, and the incensed waved. This was a sign that God was still honoured and obeyed. Ah, think of it! We are going forth to battle day by day, but our great High Priest before the Throne still pleads. "He ever liveth to make intercession for us."
III. AND NOW ABOUT THE BATTLE. We must not wonder, if, when beginning to fight for God, we find ourselves in a difficulty. These men did. They had not got to the battlefield before they were caught in an ambushment. There were foes behind them as well as in front of them. It is not the easiest thing in the world to fight those who attack us from behind. I know some who go out to serve the Lord, either in the home or in the foreign field, who, as soon as they find the battle wax hot against them, or discover themselves caught in a trap, begin to imagine that the battle is lost already, that they have made a mistake in taking up arms for God, and are like to turn tail forthwith, only the enemy is behind them, and they cannot! Ah! what a mistake is this! If God brings us into a crisis, it is that we may trust Christ. What is the best thing to do when we get into such a state? Why, just what these did. "They cried unto the Lord." Was there time to pray, when there were enemies on either hand? Yes, yes, there is always time to pray. Praying time is not lost time. Let us cry unto the Lord of Hosts.
2. Then the priests sounded the trumpets to animate the people, to call them to their duty, to stir up within them their slumbering energies and dying courage. I warrant you they gave no uncertain sound. Those silver trumpets were made all of one piece, for God will have all His work united, symmetrical, and complete. Those silver trumpets sounded out their sweetest and their loudest at this critical juncture. Be it ours, leaders of the hosts of God, so to sound forth the Word of God that there shall be no mistake as to the meaning, and by our brave demeanour to encourage all the people.
3. Did you notice, next, that the rank and file commenced to shout? "The men of Judah shouted." No, no! let us cry and shout, for great is the Holy One of Israel in the midst of us. The cry of prayer should be attended with the shout of faith, and if we shout not audibly in our services and meetings, let there be shoutings in the soul which the Lord our God can hear. The secret and gist of it all is here.
4. "They relied upon the Lord." There was perfect confidence in heaven. Even in the midst of the clash of arms, even when they saw they had apparently been bested by this ambushment, they still trusted. Father, I will trust thee, for the work is Thine.
5. "They relied upon the Lord God of their fathers." Oh! I like that word. "The God of Abraham!" The history of the patriarch flashes through their minds at the mention of his name. "The God of Isaac, and of Jacob," and of David, with whom He had made a covenant of salt! This was the God they relied on, and this God is our God, the God of our fathers. Did He not treat our fathers well? Did He not glorify His name through them? Did He not make them pillars in the house of the Lord? What God has done, God can do. Let us trust Him.
6. As soon as they fully trusted Him, He began to work, and delivered Jeroboam into the hand of Abijah. Yes, the rule always holds good, "Them that honour Me I will honour." If you trust Him in that little work you have in hand for God, He will use you.
7. Then we must follow up the work that God does. Abijah and his people slew their routed adversaries. "Abijah pursued them."
8. And what about the spoils? When the work is done and the victory won, what about the booty? Ah! it belongs to Him who gave the power. All must be cast at Jesus' feet. Have we not been often mistaken just here? We asked Him for power to serve, and thank God we got it; but when the victory was ours, we wanted to share the honour with the King.
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