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Imperative and Desirable Changes
' The Lord our God spake unto us in Horeb.' And He has been saying it at intervals ever since to communities and families and individuals, and often to their pain and wonder.
I. On one side of our human nature we are never satisfied, always craving for enlargement and novelty. But on another side we are satisfied far too easily; we want to settle down in comfort, to be undisturbed, to rest and be content with the amount of knowledge we have, or of goodness, or usefulness; we have found, after hard marching, a sunny and sheltered spot, and we want to stay in it. And the voice which spoke to Moses speaks to us and says, 'Long enough: Arise ye and depart, for this is not your rest'.
Perhaps more often we have no choice in the matter; we are bidden, and though we go with heavy feet and reluctant and remonstrant hearts, we must move.
Our plans are decided for us. Our plans are broken up, we are hustled out of our pleasant abode, the door is slammed upon us, and only one other door is opened, and it is that or nothing.
1. God is saying this to people who are living in the land of dreams and pleasure. You have lived here long enough.
2. He sometimes says it to people who are in ease and prosperity and comfort. Then we are loath to listen. Therein lies much of the pain and the bewilderment of life. It is difficult, almost impossible, for a time to believe in the goodness of God. Blessed is the man who can go from one mountain to another, Horeb to the Amorites, and believe that God is leading. In the old simile 'As the eagle stirreth up her nest, so the Lord leadeth His own'.
3. God is sometimes compelled to say it because of our wrongdoing. Jacob is driven from his home because he has lied to his father and cheated his brother. In the book of Micah (2:10) the reason given for the command to depart is, 'For this is not your nest: because it is polluted '. So men foul their nest and it is overturned; men presume upon a privileged position and are driven from it.
II. Will you observe where it is that they have dwelt long enough? That perhaps is the startling aspect of the situation. It is Mount Horeb, the place of revelation, where these men were alone with God, where the law was given. They had stayed long enough there, and the unmistakable inference is that it was possible for them to stay there too long. Even Horeb the Mount of God may be abused.
I gather from this that God has something else for Israel to do besides receive revelations. They are to go from Mount Horeb to the Mount of the Amorites, i.e. from praying to fighting, to subduing, possessing, and tilling the land. God has His Horebs where He calls His children aside and reveals to them His will, but they are not to stay there. There are times, and you must keep them, for sitting at Jesus' feet and leaning on His breast, but there are times when it is better for us to be doing something else.
III. We may believe that every disturbance of our ease every moving forth to seek fresh settlement is for the expansion and enriching of our life. It is not surprising to be told that Israel shrank from moving on from Horeb. Between them and the Mount of the Amorites lay that great and terrible wilderness, and then beyond that fierce fighting. And it is scarcely surprising, to those who know human nature, that ultimately they failed.
The great and terrible wilderness and the great and terrible warfare that comes after it are not for our destruction they are to be the theatre and the means of our triumph through the strength of God's grace. Through the desert of trial and hardship, through the warfare of questioning and doubt, we come to a richer life and a sure faith.
C. Brown, God and Man, p. 75.
The Witness of the Saints
This is one great value of the saints of God; they are the men who have gone before us to search out the heavenly country and to bring us word again.
The kingdom of God is a kingdom that begins even in this world in the Church; the gift of the Spirit has been bestowed upon us already, and everything that we need has been bestowed upon us in that great gift, and the saints are our witness to what the Spirit can do, and the possibility of living the life of God fully.
I. This Witness of the Saints is a Witness of the Goodness of that Land to which God Calls Us. 'And they took of the fruit of the land in their hand,' says Moses, 'and brought it down to us, and brought us word again and said, It is a good land which the Lord our God giveth us'. The saints are those who bring to us the fruit of the spiritual country. And we know what that fruit is; the fruit of the Spirit, St. Paul tells us, is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, temperance. When the Spirit of God is fully in a man, love at once springs up there, because the love of God is shed abroad in his heart by the Holy Ghost. Joy springs up there because the kingdom of God is righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost; and peace springs up there because the Spirit of God bears witness with our spirits. And all those other fruits that we need in our intercourse one with another, they all spring from the presence of the Spirit, because the Spirit of God brings to us the character of Christ, and all those fruits are included there.
II. The Saints Show Us in their Own Lives that the Spiritual Fruits of the Country are Really to be Won. They are men and women like ourselves. They belong, as Moses puts it, to the very tribes to which we belong ourselves; and yet the fruits of the Spirit are seen in all their wonder and beauty in them; and if in them, why not in ourselves also? So, then, the saints give to us the witness of the goodness of the heavenly country. And they bring to us also the witness that we can certainly gain it for ourselves. The saints never tell us for one moment that we can win the kingdom of God without a struggle, or that our enemies will give way except inch by inch. But they witness that the life-conflict, through the power of God, is also of victory; they tell us that, as St. Paul puts it, though they may be perplexed, yet it is not unto despair, though they may be pressed yet they are not forsaken, though smitten down they are never destroyed; they tell us that God's grace is sufficient for us in whatever position we may be, and that no temptation will ever take us but such as through the power of God we are able to bear. If our enemies are stronger and mightier than we, they are not stronger than God Who goes before us and goes with us. And if the cities of the enemies' country are great and walled up to heaven, not one has a wall that God's power cannot throw down.
III. Are we not Called now to Receive their Witness and to Act upon it? It is fear in one form or another that prevents us from going forward. We are afraid of losing the comforts of our lives, afraid of having to sacrifice our worldly ambitions, afraid of ridicule; worst of all, we are afraid that, if we give ourselves to God altogether, God will not be with us, and our efforts will come to nought. And so we go on in the old lives of the wilderness, just simply trying to obey certain external rules, knowing nothing of love, joy, and peace, nothing of the real glory of the kingdom of God. God does mean us to go forward, God does mean us to give ourselves, all that we are, to Him, that we may be able to return all that He gives to us, receiving continually the very fullness of the gift of the Spirit, and then to look to that Spirit day by day, hour by hour, even moment by moment, to show us what God would have us to do, and to uphold us as we try to do it.
These are the great battles of the world. Not the clang of swords and the roar of kingdoms, but the conflict of man with God, man calling God a liar; these are the disastrous and fatal wars.
I. We are often called upon to contemplate what may be called partial faith. We do believe some things, but generally they are things of no importance. We believe things that cost us nothing. Who believes the thing that has a Cross, wet with red blood, in the middle of it? We are all partially religious, whimsically religious, religious after a very arbitrary and mechanical fashion.
We see what is meant by partial faith when we contemplate a vision which comes before us every day of our life, and that is the vision of partial character. Where is there a man that is all reprobate? The son of perdition occurs but now and then in the rolling transient centuries. Who is there who has not some good points about him? How we magnify those points into character; how the man himself takes refuge in these scattered or detached virtues, and builds himself a reputation upon these incoherent fragments! Always the great challenge falls upon us from the angry clouds, In this thing, in that thing, ye did not believe; at this point you suspended your faith, at that point you were a practical atheist; and know ye, say the angry clouds, the chain is no stronger than its weakest link.
II. We all believe in Providence. Which providence? how much providence? in what seasons do we believe in providence? We are great believers in blossoming-time, but what faith have we when the snow upon our path is six feet deep and the wind a hail and frost? The Lord has many fine-day followers.
Do we really believe in Providence? in the shepherdly God, in the fatherly God, in the motherly God, in the God of the silent step, Who comes with the noiselessness of a sunbeam into the chamber of our solitude and desolation? Do we really believe in the God Who fills all space, yet takes up no poor man's room, and Who is constantly applying to broken or wounded hearts the balm that grows only in old sweet Gilead? Do we believe that the very hairs of our head are all numbered? Are we perfectly sure that if God should take away this one little child of ours, the only child, that all would be well? How deep is our faith in Providence? I want Habakkuk's great sounding faith; he said about figtrees and herbs and flocks and olive-yards that if they were all swept away yet he would trust in God and strike his harp to the praise of the Almighty Father. I am not so old in faith as mighty Habakkuk, I could see many trees blighted without losing my faith, but there is one tree, if aught should happen to any single branch or twig of that tree, my soul's faith would wither as a blossom would wither under the breath of nightly frost; in that thing I should fail. What, then, can be my faith, if it is true, and it is true, that a chain is no stronger than its weakest link? Lord, save me, or I perish!
III. We believe in prayer. How much? At what time do we believe in prayer? Do we believe in a particular providence, and do we so deeply believe in that providence that we would ask God to intervene and save us from the final disaster? Is there not a time when prayer itself becomes dumb? Remember the possibility of our having a partial faith, a partial faith in Providence, a partial faith in prayer, and remember that the chain is no stronger than its weakest point, and if in this thing or that we do not believe the Lord our God we may strike the rest of our faith dead as with a sword-stroke.
Joseph Parker, City Temple Pulpit, vol. II p. 42.
References. I. 32. S. Martin, Westminster Chapel Pulpit (5th Series), No. 24. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. ix. No. 637. W. M. Taylor, Moses the Law Giver, p. 408. II. 7. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. No. 1179. II. J. L. Williams, Sermons by Welshmen, p. 48.
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Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 1". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26