And about the time of forty years suffered he their manners in the wilderness.
The goodness of God to man and the ingratitude of man to God form a very striking and affecting contrast. No one can seriously review his own history or that of the Church of God for any given period without being impressed with these two thoughts. How man tries God! how God bears with maul Consider —
I. THE PERIOD OF TIME. How long? "About the time of forty years." This was the period during which Israel was wandering in the wilderness. This time was appointed by God Himself. Modern travellers go the whole distance in some two or three weeks.
1. Thus we see how more or less of time may be spent in the same journey. The journey of life occupies sometimes a shorter, sometimes a longer period of time. The little infant sometimes accomplishes, in a few hours, all the space which lies for man between the cradle and the grave, while others are forty years, or sometimes forty years twice told, in completing the same journey. There is a strange diversity as to the length of life. Certainty and uncertainty are here wonderfully intermingled. The certainty, as to any number of persons of the same age, that they will on an average live so long — the utter uncertainty, as to individuals, how long this or that person may live — are very instructive. Our conclusion ought to be, "My times are in Thy hand." It is for God to determine the limits of our wanderings; it is for us to use the space allotted us with fidelity.
2. For the time allotted is also throughout a season of responsibility. We surely see this in our text. Throughout that period the Jews were observed by God, as persons responsible to Him for their use or abuse of their privileges. And it is so with us. Our birth in a Christian country, in one age of the world rather than another, with certain advantages and opportunities more or less favourable — all form part of the circumstances of our responsibility. And this responsibility goes with us throughout our life, although some may carelessly forget, and others presumptuously deny it. There is "a book of remembrance" with our God, in which is recorded a faithful history of our lives. We cannot blot out a letter in that book. There is One, who can. "I have blotted out as a cloud thy transgression," etc.
3. The time is also a time of mercies.
(1) Those forty years with Israel were years of mercies. There were mercies in their deliverance from Egypt, in the provisions of the wilderness, in their education by the moral law showing the holiness of God, and by the ceremonial law showing forth His mercies in Christ Jesus — in their guidance by that pillar of a cloud by day and that pillar of fire by night — in their preservation amid hostile nations, etc., etc.
(2) But are not our years years of mercies?
(a) If Christians indeed, have there not been mercies of conviction, conversion, justification, regeneration? Mercies in our education by the law leading to Christ, and by Christ writing the law by His Spirit upon our hearts — mercies also in our guidance by the Word and Spirit, and Providence, mercies too in our recoveries from sickness, etc., etc.
(b) But if some of you are not Christians, yet your past years have also been years of mercies. God has dealt very mercifully with you, in sparing you so long. Seek then that God's mercies of forbearance may lead you to know His mercies of loving kindness in saving you also through His dear Son.
II. THE FACT. "Suffered He their manners."
1. They provoked God in the wilderness. "Harden not your heart," says the psalmist, "as in the provocation," etc. Scarcely had they entered the wilderness, when they began to murmur at Marah. They go but a little further, when again they murmur for bread. Soon after at Massah and at Meribah for water. They come to Sinai, and there they fall into idolatry. Then at Taberah again they complained. Then how badly the spies behaved. After this was the rebellion of Korah, and murmurings again and again. Is not the term used in our text exceedingly appropriate and expressive? Could any people have behaved much worse than this called the people of God?
2. Thus then He had to "suffer their manners," and He did suffer them with a patience that is truly wonderful. Yet, observe, it was not with the weak patience of one who gives up the rod of government, and leaves a people to "do what is right in their own eyes." His patience was that of one who yet showed Himself just and holy. He sent repeated punishments; He gave many warnings; He plied them with remonstrance and expostulation.
III. THE INSTRUCTION FOR US. They were very like us, and we have been very like them. Let any one of you review any definite portion of his life and he will be alike humbled and surprised to see how like he has been to those, whose "manners God suffered in the wilderness." More indeed has been expected from us, because more has been given.
1. They murmured repeatedly, and so displeased God. "Neither murmur ye," says the apostle, "as some of them also murmured." And yet what fault more common? Many murmur if "their bread and their water" be scarce, when they had much better be praying, "Give us our daily bread," and be trusting to Him who has said, "bread shall be given them and their water shall be sure." There are who murmur for "the flesh pots of Egypt," and complain because they are debarred from some of the pleasures of the world.
2. The Israelites were guilty of idolatry, and Christians are exhorted, "Little children, keep yourselves from idols." Nor is the exhortation needless. To love riches as the world do, is to be an idolater of Mammon. To love pleasure is to be an idolater of pleasure. To love sin is to give to sin what belongs to God. Who of us can review life for any term of years, and not now own that in some or in many or in all of these ways we have been idolaters?
(J. Hambleton, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And about the time of forty years suffered he their manners in the wilderness.