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The Thistle and the Cedar
2 Kings 14:9
There are two striking fables in the Old Testament: that of Jotham, and this of Jehoash the King of Israel.
I. The Fable Illustrates the Variety of Humanity. 'The thistle that was in Lebanon:' the word may mean a thorn or a brier; whichever it be it represents what is mean, contemptible, low, troublesome. And quite near it uprose 'the cedar that was in Lebanon' grand, majestic, sublime. Thistles and cedars are alike part of the economy of God. Which are we in spiritual character? No man need be a moral thistle. Every man may be 'a cedar Christian'. By grace each of us may be a righteous soul, and 'the righteous shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon'.
II. What Inadequate Self-knowledge is here Displayed? A thistle on Lebanon abides a thistle withal. The thistle of the fable forgot this, and it desired to treat with a cedar on quite equal terms. It is ever the small and mean and worthless that lack self-knowledge most conspicuously.
III. Empty and Ambitious Pride is here Rebuked. 'Give thy daughter to my son to wife,' cried the pompous little thistle. Well does Dean Farrar characterize it as 'ludicrous presumption'. Surely there is no room for pride in any man.
How shall we be enabled to think nothing of ourselves? The great evangelical hymnist gives us the sacred clue:
When I survey the wondrous Cross,
On which the Prince of Glory died
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.
IV. In this Fable we see a Want of Appreciation of Nobleness. Many a cedar has been unrecognized by the thistle community amid which it has dwelt. It is possible to live with nobleness and never perceive it. This is one of the tragedies of human history. Supremely was it exemplified when the Son of God was Incarnate here.
V. Here Incongruous Aspirations are Represented. The vanity which expresses itself in 'vaulting ambition which overleaps itself was never better delineated than in this old-world fable. Said the thistle to the cedar, 'Give thy daughter to my son to wife'. For ourselves and those we love we do well to dread unwise and unholy ambitions. All ambition is dangerous, much ambition is ruinous. 'I was afraid of ambition,' said the great and good Dean Vaughan when asked why he had refused a bishopric.
VI. See in this Old Fable the Retributive Ruin of a Life. How did the comedy end? In a tragedy as so many of the comedies of life end. 'And there passed by a wild beast that was in Lebanon and trode down the thistle.' There was no need for the cedar to send a reply to the self-deceived thistle. Retribution came, and came soon.
Quite casual the retribution seemed: the wild beast 'passed by'. But it was not so casual as it seemed. Law lies behind all things and that law essentially moral. What appears a fateful accident may be a Divine retribution. The wild beasts of the forest belong unto God. And He sends them forth on His errands. When a wrongdoer least expects such a visitation the wild beast passes by on its destructive mission.
Dinsdale T. Young, The Travels of the Heart, p. 85.
References. XV. 13-18. W. Hay M. H. Aitken, The Highway of Holiness, p. 63. XVI. 15. C. Brown, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxii. 1902, p. 398.
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Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on 2 Kings 14". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/
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