Why stayed you among the sheepfolds, to hear the bleatings of the flocks?…
The men of Reuben who refused to obey the call to arms appear to have indulged at once in questioning criticism and in selfish inactivity, and thus they illustrate the close association of indolence and indecision. Indolence encourages indecision by checking the energy requisite for choice, and indecision encourages indolence by closing all doors of action. The situation of indolent indecision may be considered from the point of view of indolence and from that of indecision.
I. THE SITUATION REGARDED ON THE SIDE OF INDOLENCE.
1. Private business was one excuse for negligence of public duty. People often make their business an excuse for not undertaking the work Christ calls them to (Matthew 22:5). But this results either
(1) from idleness, since more energy would make time for Christ's service, or
(2) from selfishness, inasmuch as we have no right to devote our whole time to our private interests.
2. Love of ease led to negligence of public duty. It was less arduous to tend the flocks than to assemble for war.
3. Love of peace may have had the same effect. The Reubenites may have been peculiarly men of peace, while the Ephraimites were men of war. There are times, however, when the peaceful habit is sinful, and when we are only hiding our indolence under the cloak of peace, and when it is our duty to take up the cross, which is involved in facing the confusion and harshness of conflict. It is wrong to refuse to maintain the right and to rebuke falsehood and wickedness out of the love of peace.
4. Pleasure may have inclined to indolence. That was no time for dreaming pastoral idyls when the nation was in jeopardy and a Deborah was sounding the war-trumpet. Music and poetry, and the love of nature and art have their place among the innocent amenities of life; but when aestheticism becomes a religion, and the graces of life take the places of its duties, the harmless pleasures which allure us from stern tasks become positive sins. The wretchedness, the vice, the crime which darken the very atmosphere of Christendom leave none of us free to luxuriate in soft dreams of imaginary bliss, instead of doing our utmost to conquer these hideous monsters.
II. THE SITUATION REGARDED ON THE SIDE OF INDECISION.
1. Indecision is often the effect of directing intellectual energy to negative criticism rather than to practical contrivance. Criticism is most valuable in its place; but when it is carried to the point of fastidiousness it becomes nothing less than a fatal, paralysing influence. Reuben was divided in counsel, uncertain as to the best course to pursue, and therefore did nothing. So there are people who waste their energies in exposing the defects of all plans of action, and yet have not the inventiveness and strength to discover and pursue better plans. But it is better to work in an imperfect method than not to work at all.
2. Indecision can only be conquered by cultivating strength of will and convictions of duty It is the will that decides. When the intellect is cultivated at the expense of the will, moral paralysis is the result. Strength of will can be best attained in its right form by the exercise of what will we already have under convictions of duty. We should remember that our chief mission in the world is not criticism, but work. God calls us to action, and even if we work imperfectly and often fail, he will be better pleased at our well-meant, though perhaps mistaken, efforts to do what we believe to be right than at the inactivity which refuses to do anything from fear of committing the smallest error. - A.
Parallel VersesKJV: Why abodest thou among the sheepfolds, to hear the bleatings of the flocks? For the divisions of Reuben there were great searchings of heart.