These were the heads of their fathers' houses: The sons of Reuben, the firstborn of Israel, were Hanoch and Pallu, Hezron and Carmi. These were the clans of Reuben.
I. TO RECOGNISE THE DIVINE SOVEREIGNTY IS THE SELECTION OF ITS INSTRUMENTS.
1. The men selected - Moses and Aaron (vers. 26, 27). Selection, as implying the previous or foreseen existence of variously qualified objects from which the selection is made is scarcely the fitting term to express the fact we have in view, viz. the preparing and raising up at this particular time and place, and from this particular stock, of a man of the special mould of Moses, with an eye to the accomplishment by him of a certain work. The appearance of great men at particular junctures of history is assuredly not to be attributed to chance. It is a shallow view of the Divine election which regards it as simply availing itself of happy varieties of character spontaneously presenting themselves in the course of natural development; as a workman might choose from a set of ready-made tools those best suited for his purpose. Election, if one may so speak, presides at the making of its object (Isaac, Jacob, David, etc.) as well as uses it when made (see Lange's 'Dogmatics'). The question is not simply how, a man of Moses' gifts and qualifications being given, God should use him in the way he did, but rather, how a man of this spiritual build came at that precise juncture to be there at all - broke out at that point in the genealogical tree and not at another. This is the true problem, and the solution can only be found in the Divine arrangements.
2. The sovereignty of the selection. We cannot but be struck by the almost studious departure in this list from the lines of descent which would imply natural pre-eminence.
(1) Moses is not descended from Reuben and Simeon, the eldest sons of Jacob (vers. 14, 15). The only purpose, apparently, served by the introduction of these two names in the genealogy is to show that Moses did not spring from them.
(2) Neither did he spring from Judah or Joseph - the sons of Jacob who fell heirs to the birthright forfeited by the sin of Reuben (1 Chronicles 5:1, 2). The genealogy stops, as having attained its end, before it gets their length.
(3) He sprang from Levi - a tribe originally united with Simeon under a curse (Genesis 49:7) - yet not from the oldest branch of it, but from Kohath, the second son (vers. 16-19).
(4) Moses himself was not the eldest son of Amram, but stood by descent in a secondary relation to Aaron, who was afterwards to occupy so secondary a position in relation to him. What are we taught by these facts, if not the lesson so strongly emphasised in Romans 9., that mere natural advantages constitute no ground of pre-eminence in the kingdom of God; that the spiritual everywhere rules and controls the natural. Examples may be drawn from every part of Scripture history. Isaac, not Ishmael; Jacob, not Esau; Ephraim, not Manasseh; David, not his elder brothers; etc. The Jehovah attributes of freedom and sovereignty, to which this chapter introduces us, find not their least conspicuous illustration in this section of it.
II. TO TRACE, NOTWITHSTANDING, IN THE EXERCISE OF THE DIVINE SOVEREIGNTY, VARIOUS SPIRITUAL LAWS. The sovereignty of God is degraded whenever it is viewed as mere arbitrariness or caprice, as a liberty of indifference, or as anything else than the perfectly free and self-determined action of an all-wise, all-holy, all-good Will, working at every moment for the accomplishment of wise and good ends. Studied in this light, it will be recognised that it has not only
(1) its inherent laws of operation, but
(2) its self-imposed limitations.
Partial glimpses of some of these laws are here afforded us.
1. The natural, while subordinate to the spiritual, is taken as the basis of it. There is to he recognised a congruity between the instrument and the use to which it is to be put; between the man, in respect of his physical, mental, and moral endowments, and the work for which he is designed. Election works in the natural sphere prior to its being revealed in the spiritual. Moses, for example, was, on his natural side, the product of a long line of causes operating through successive generations for the production of just such a man as he was. He was a descendant of Levi, as truly as any other. Inherited organisation was a fact of quite as capital importance in his case as in the case of any of his contemporaries. It had as much to do with the kind and quality of his manhood. Compare also Patti, separated from his mother's womb (Galatians 1:15), and essentially the same man after his conversion as before it. The mould in which he was cast by nature was that which specially fitted him for the work he had to do as an apostle.
2. The purpose of God is wrought out not fatalistically, but in harmony with the laws of human freedom, and through man's moral self-determinations. This principle also receives striking illustration in the names of this list. The derivation of Moses from Levi, and not from Reuben or Simeon, has a connection with facts in the moral history of the respective tribes. Reuben, Simeon, and Levi, the progenitors, were all three originally of so wicked a disposition as virtually to undergo their father's curse. Reuben lost the birthright, and Simeon and Levi were denied an inheritance with their brethren (Genesis 49:3-8). The descendants of the two former followed closely in the footsteps of their ancestors, and consequently never recovered themselves. It was different with the tribe of Levi, which by earnest piety and zeal seems to have risen to the rank of moral leadership even in Egypt, and was honoured to give birth to Moses and Aaron. And greater honour still was in reserve for it; for while in its letter "I will divide them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel" - the curse was not repealed, an entirely new turn was given to it by the election of the tribe to the priesthood and service of the sanctuary. The curse was changed into a blessing. Had Reuben and Simeon followed in Levi's footsteps, who can doubt but that mercy would have been shown to them also?
3. Election flows by preference in the lines of pious descent. Moses and Aaron were the children of pious parents. The names of Moses' father - Amram, "the kindred of the lofty one" - and of his mother - she "whose glory is Jehovah" (ver. 20), testify to the piety of his ancestry. The instruction he received from them in early life, and during the visits he paid to their home, would not be without an important influence upon his character, and he had the benefit of their unceasing prayers. Aaron had even greater home advantages, in being with his parents till character was fully formed. This also is an important fact in its bearing on God's election of them to special service. The faith and prayers of parents have an important influence on the salvation of their children. By far the larger number of pious men and women in the world have come from pious homes. (See numerous illustrations of this in Dr. Norman MacLeod's 'Home School.') The Church historian, Neander, has noticed in how many cases "pious mothers" had to do with the planting of the seeds of Christianity in the souls of those who afterwards produced great effects as teachers of the Church. He instances Nonna, the mother of Gregory of Nazianzum; Arethusa of Antioch, the mother of Chrysostom; the mother of Theodoret; and Monica, the mother of Augustine. (See the whole passage in 'Church History,' vol. 3. sect. 2, 1.)
III. THAT HONOR IN GOD'S SIGHT IS DETERMINED BY SPIRITUAL CONSIDERATIONS,
1. As regards position. The true centre point of honour in this genealogy is ver. 20 - that which includes the names of Moses and Aaron. It was the spiritual greatness of these men which secured for them this honour.
2. As regards rise and fall, Reuben was "the firstborn of Israel" (ver. 14), but he lost through sin the prerogatives of birth. He is eclipsed by Levi, who, through piety, rose from a degraded position to one of honour. Korah, whose name, from considerations of relationship, is honourably prominent in this select list (vers. 21-24), subsequently destroyed himself by his rebellion (Numbers 16.). His posterity, however (another illustration of the same law), rose to high spiritual honour in the minstrelsy of the temple.
3. As regards relationship. The families of the tribe of Levi, grouped around the names of Moses and Aaron, some in nearer, some in more distant relations, draw honour from the association. The chief prominence is given to the Kohathites, as most nearly related to the sons of Amram. This distinction was subsequently confirmed by the appointment of this family to the charge of the sacred Ark, and of the vessels of the sanctuary (Numbers 4:4-16). Relationship with the good thus confers honour, and secures privilege. The highest of all examples of this is the honour and privilege conferred through relationship to Christ. - J.O.
I. WE SEE THE MASS OF LIVES THAT ARE CROWDED INTO A BRIEF ERA. The ages soon empty their contents into eternity.
1. Order in genealogy is useful to give right understanding of the Church's line.
These be the heads of their fathers' houses.I. THAT IT WAS, HUMANLY SPEAKING, OF VERY UNPRETENTIOUS ORIGIN.
II. THAT IT WAS, MORALLY SPEAKING, OF A VERY MISCELLANEOUS CHARACTER. We have names in this list of very varied moral worth. Some noted for their piety, others remark, able for their profanity. The Church has now a mixed genealogy. All down through the ages the tares and wheat have been growing together, and they will do so until the harvest, which is the end of the world. The miscellaneous character of the Church is accounted for —
1. By the diversified temperaments of men.
2. By the diversified thinkings of men.
3. By the diversified character of men.
4. By the diversified alliances of men.
III. THAT IT WAS, SOCIALLY SPEAKING, OF VERY GREAT INFLUENCE. It had a great political influence. The Jewish nation was for a long time a theocracy. God was its king. Heaven was its parliament. The priests were of supreme influence in the nation. The community was eminently religious in idea and sentiment. Hence, from the names here recorded there comes out a great stream of social, moral, and political influence upon humanity to-day.
(J. S. Exell, M. A.)
2. Heads of families in the Church have been too prone to mingle themselves in strange marriages (ver. 15).
(G. Hughes, B. D.)
II. WE SEE HOW THE MINUTE DETAILS OF INDIVIDUAL LIFE ARE LOST IN THE AGGREGATE OF HISTORY. The heroes' battles are forgotten. The remembrance of our great calamities is no more. The life of the greatest king is summed up into a sentence on the page of the world's history.
III. WE SEE THE GREAT EFFORT OF LIFE TO CULMINATE IN, AND GIVE PROMINENCE TO, THE BIRTH OF ITS HEROES AND EMANCIPATORS. The whole of these lives were preparatory to the lives of Moses and Aaron. All before them were introductory. There is a gradual process in life. Life is ever trying to find emphatic expression in the conduct of the good. History makes this apparent.
IV. WE SEE HERE THAT INDIVIDUAL LIVES DERIVE THEIR GREATNESS FROM THE CALL OF GOD TO SERVICE, RATHER THAN FROM SOCIAL CONSIDERATIONS.
(J. S. Exell, M. A.)
( M. Henry..).
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