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"Handfuls of Purpose,"
For All Gleaners
"So when David was old and full of days, he made Solomon his son king over Israel." 1 Chronicles 23:1 .
We are not to carry our kingships too far, and thus keep out other and stronger men. Kings should abdicate before they become imbecile; pastors should not wear out the love of their people by continuing unduly in office. It is always well to take the opinion of others when it will be given frankly and lovingly as to our ability to continue with vigour and happy effect the work in which we have been long engaged. Old age overtakes even David, of whom we once read as a youth "ruddy and of a fair countenance." Time conquers all. The silent days and nights eat up our strength, and leave us weak; consume our inheritance, and leave us poor; and are all the while, in every action of deprivation, teaching us mournful but pithy and useful lessons. Blessed is the man who can bring his son to the throne, not only because he is his son, but because he has a right to the crown, the right of character, wisdom, capacity, and general fitness for high office. The son takes the crown by hereditary right in many instances; it is far better when he takes it after preparation, and after having proved his character, in many trying circumstances. Israel continued, though David withered and died. How true this is in all the relations and outlooks of life! The nation never dies; kings and mighty men, generals and commanders, come and go, but the people, the very heart of the nation, abide from century to century. The countries have seen many occupants of the throne, but the throne itself abides, the symbol and indeed the fact of continuity. Solomon has his day of coming, he will also have his day of going. A great statesmen has said there are only two happy days in the life of a cabinet minister, the day on which he takes office and the day on which he leaves it. Let us have no fear because kings die, because pastors expire, because men of all degrees are known no more in their personality: the one thing we may be sure of is that the life which they symbolise will be preserved, directed, and perfected in the providence of God.
How to Employ Old Age
1 Chronicles 23:0
ALTHOUGH the king was so old, he lost none of his interest in the highest department of his work. It is pitiful to see how soon some people sink into old age; on the other hand, it is inspiring to observe how the noblest workers have disdained to become old and have coveted only the glory of dying in harness. The pathos of David's action will be more clearly recognised if we remember that the literal translation is, "Now David had become satisfied with days." Satisfied with days, but not satisfied with labour: David had seen all the contents of time, in poverty, persecution, honour, and majesty, and yet he was anxious for the consolidation of his empire and the construction of the temple. When the heathen poet described the death of a philosopher it was under the image of a guest who had to the full enjoyed the feast. David, as a guest of the Lord, had himself sat long enough at the table of time, and now he was desirous that his son should take up the service and enjoyment of the empire, whilst he himself went forth to the mysteries of another state. Old age can do for the future what mere youth is not permitted to attempt. Old men are entitled to advise and stimulate those who are likely to succeed them in the ministry of life. Wise old men never omit to infuse into their counsels something of the fire and ambition of youth. They never recommend a mere repetition of the past; they point rather to its enlargement and amendment, believing that all the higher wisdom or providence is always a future blessing. There is no finality in the plans of men. Wait upon God, expect clearer light, listen for fuller instructions and always be prepared to accept and obey heaven's revealed will.
"He [David] made Solomon his son king over Israel" ( 1Ch 23:1 ).
We are to remember that we are now in the hands of a mere chronicler who is entitled to be brief in his statements, but we have a full account of what is here indicated in the first chapter of the first Book of Kings. David might be technically entitled to elect Solomon as his successor, but it would be unjust to his memory to suppose that he availed himself of a mere technicality. In the instruction and exhortation which he addressed to his son we find the larger reason of Solomon's elevation to the throne. David prepared for the temple as we have had ample opportunity of observing, but we are in danger of neglecting to note that he prepared his son Solomon with still more assiduous solicitude. Both the preparations should be taken as one. It would have been a poor preparation had it been merely a direction as to stone and gold and cedar; the true preparation was in the enlightenment and direction of Solomon's mind and heart. Parents cannot always "prepare" a fortune for their children, but it lies within the power of the poorest to enrich the opening mind with solid instruction, and to comfort the tender heart with exhortations and promises against the weakening influence of fear and disbelief.
"Now the Levites were numbered [The tribe of Levi had not been numbered at the general census of the people recently taken (ch. 1Ch 21:6 ); but in preparation for the arrangements now contemplated, a special census was made of them] from the age of thirty [The pattern of the Mosaic census was followed, and those only were reckoned who had attained the age of thirty. We may assume that the other limit mentioned in the Pentateuch (Numbers 4:3 , Num 4:23 ) was also observed, and that none were counted who exceeded fifty] years and upward; and their number by their polls, man by man, was thirty and eight thousand" ( 1Ch 23:3 ).
In the realm of Israel there may be said to have been three estates, namely, the princes and the priests and the Levites. David, therefore, in consulting the council, showed himself to be what, in modern language, is called a constitutional monarch. The details given of numbers and of ages indicate the military discipline which great leaders of men have never failed to exercise: financiers count their gold and statesmen count the people; before a man goes to war he should realise the exact amount of his resources, lest he begin with a great flourish of boasting and end with the muttering of humiliation. There should be nothing haphazard in the arrangements of the Christian army; we should know how many we are when all told, and a distinct estimate should be formed of the faculty, the genius, the flexibility, and the endurance of every soldier. Classification is an element of strength. The prince could not change places with the Levite, and the priest might make a poor figure if he claimed to be prince. Mark the individuality of David's enumeration the Levites were numbered by their polls [literally, "as to their skulls"]. Every man should have a skull; every skull should represent a man, in knowledge, in faculty, in ambition, chastened by reverence. In modern days we count hands; in ancient days Abraham counted souls and David counted heads. Every hand should be a head, every head a soul, every soul a hand, and thus there should be an inter-working and harmonious cooperation of all the powers and uses of our lives.
"Of which twenty and four thousand were to set forward the work of the house of the Lord" ( 1Ch 23:4 ).
The word that is rendered "to set forward" means "to lead, or superintend." When prisoners were taken in war the Levites were entitled to claim their share of the number, and employ the captives in the menial work of the sanctuary.
The Levites were much more numerous than the priests, hence it was ordered in the division of the prey, in the instance given in the Book of Numbers, that they were to have two per cent. of the spoil, whereas the priests had only one-fifth per cent. of a like amount: the calculation being, according to the best authorities three hundred and twenty maidens, six thousand seven hundred sheep and goats, seven hundred and twenty oxen, and six hundred and ten asses for the Levites. We recall the fact that the Gibeonites were spared on condition of becoming Levitical bondsmen, or, in Biblical words, "hewers of wood and drawers of water." We need superintendence, as well as every other kind of service. The danger is that we pick and choose work that is daintiest, instead of undertaking the work that most needs doing. If all were generals, where were the army? If all were leaders, where were the followers? The right spirit regards even doorkeeping in the sanctuary as an honour to be coveted.
Almighty God, do thou grant unto us light in which to read thy word. Thou didst write the book for us, now do thou tell us what it means, that the heart may be won, that our whole being may go but after thee as after a fountain of living waters. The book is a dead letter unto us until thou dost give it life by giving us life to receive it; then how the book throbs with thy presence, glows with thy love, and offers to us all we need for our hunger and thirst of soul! Open thou our understanding that we may understand the Scriptures! We need no other book; all wisdom is here, all justice, all love; for here is the law of God, and here is the cross of Christ, and here is the gate that opens upon heaven. We bless thee that thou hast also written a book in human life; the chapters are events, the sentences are occurrences marking every day; may we have eyes quick to read, minds eager in quest of knowledge, hearts obedient to all heavenly monition: thus shall we live amid the revelation of God, and thy book and thy history shall be one revelation, and they shall be wise who understand it. Keep us alive to the gracious fact of thy sovereignty; enable our heart to say, when the day is one of darkness and the harvest is a heap, The Lord reigneth: though he slay me, yet will I trust in him: he hath been with me in six troubles, and in seven he will not forsake me. Thus louder than the cold wind may we raise our song of hope and praise and trust in the living God. Thus do thou write another book, thine own living Church, a peculiar people separated and sanctified, crowned with an invisible judgment, yea, with the approval and benediction of God. Men should then wonder, and ask whence this purity and nobleness and self-sacrifice, whence this scorn of time and space and sense, and this yearning after that which cannot now be seized and enjoyed. To the questioning of the world may thy Church be able to return a complete, a tender, and a satisfactory reply. Look upon us as men who want to be better, who take a step forward, then fall back again; who rise up to praise God, and fall down in the act of doing so: thou knowest which is uppermost, the feeling that wants to be right, or the failing that tends towards evil. Thou art a kind and merciful judge; thou art righteous, and yet there are tears in thine eyes; thou dost pronounce woe after woe upon those who are scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, yet at the end thine heart breaks in ineffable pathos, for thou wouldst have gathered the city that slew the Son of God. Help us to believe in our better selves; may we never blow out the lamp of our hope; may we never despair of the fruition of our faith, saying, It cometh to nothing, and tomorrow shall be written all over with disappointment: rather may we speak otherwise to our poor selves, and cheer our hearts by promise and solace sent down from God to make us glad. We have spoiled many a page, but we are going to write better to-day; we are now going to dip the pen and begin to write, thou holding our hand; we care not for the shaking of the letters, or for the grammar of the record, if so be we can but write out of our heart, and make our meaning clear, and feel that having written our record we are so much nearer God. If we do blot the page thou wilt not send us away in wrath without end; thou knowest how infantile we are and weak, and how soon our attention is diverted to frivolity, and how soon our best emotion is disennobled: but thou didst make us, and not we ourselves; thou knowest our frame, thou rememberest that we are dust: what are we in our fullest strength but a wind that cometh for a little time and then passeth away? Lord, pity us; expect not from the little what the great alone can do; our days are but an handful, we know nothing of thine eternity; we have only time to be presumptuous and insolent and foolish, we have no time to gather solid wisdom. Thou wilt make time for us when we have escaped the limitations of the body, and thou wilt give us time enough, light enough, work enough, and we shall praise thee for thy service, for in it there is no sting of reproach, and in it there is no token of weariness. Let our houses be precious to thee; watch the roof that the storm break not through; secure the foundation that it be not burned up; send a plentiful light upon the windows, and keep the enemy far away from our door; and let the interior of our house be full of heaven's own colour and home's sweetest music. Make the bed when no other hands can make it, because of our affliction and soreness and infirmity; speak to us when no other voice can reach us, and let thy whispered love strengthen us with conscious immortality, be with the old, the weary, and the sad; the young, the energetic, and the buoyant; and find for us, by way of the cross, by way of Calvary, a common home, a meeting place in heaven, where we shall forget all darkness, all sin, all pain, all death, for the former things have passed away. Amen.
"Handfuls of Purpose,"
For All Gleaners
"Moses the man of God" 1 Chronicles 23:14 .
A beautiful description of any man. A possible description of every man. A needful description of each man if he is to abide in his Father's house for ever. Some men have attained eminence in godliness. No renown is to be compared with this, no influence is equal to that which arises from such recognition. When is a man a "man of God"? When he believes in God's existence, when he is assured of God's providence, when he has sunk his will in the divine purpose, when he lives and moves and has his being in God. "Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God." Is there not something suggestive in this continuity of terms? Moses was the man of God, Jesus was the Son of God, and every believer in Christ may claim his own degree of that same sonship. Moses was faithful as a servant, Christ was faithful as a Son. Jesus Christ advances us in nomenclature; once he called us disciples, then he called us servants, then he called us friends: what he will call us when we meet him in heaven, life's conflict over, who can tell? He will then find some new and dearer name for us, and by the bestowal of a new designation he will awaken still warmer love, and bring us to some higher estate of life. When God gives a name he expresses by it some growth in character. God's names are not mere appellations, signs by which men are known one from another; they are characters, they are credentials, they are approbations. There is no higher title than to be a man of God, a slave of Christ, a temple of the Holy Ghost. At the time of the writing of this Book of Chronicles, Moses had long been dead, yet still he was remembered by his piety; he might have been called the legislator of Israel, the statesman of Israel, the greatest mind ever known in Israel: yet by none of these designations is he recorded, but by the simple yet grand indication that he was "the man of God."
"Handfuls of Purpose,"
For All Gleaners
"... their office was to wait on..." 1 Chronicles 23:28 .
That is enough, if it be accepted in the right spirit. The men themselves might have complained, saying, We are as good as the sons of Aaron: why should they not wait upon us? But they recognised a divine appointment and not a human arrangement in all this ministry of the house of God. The man who opens the door might complain that he is not in the highest places in the church, but in so far as he is a wise man he will say that he too is indispensable to the happy execution of the offices of the sanctuary. To wait may be an office. Who shall say that those who wait on us are not necessary to the completeness of our ministry? Thus the servant in the household may have an indirect place even in the pulpit; thus the wife may be the true co-pastor of her husband; by patience, by sympathy, by foresight, by dealing with many cases as she only can deal with them, the wife may double the pastor's usefulness. We think of a man being great who is at the front or on the highest seat, but he himself will be the first to acknowledge that he could not have been where he is, and could not do the work that is expected of him, but for many minor people, assistances, co-operations at home, little attentions and sweet benedictions which find no place in public record. "They also serve who only stand and wait." Our character is tested by the way in which we accept office. If we are petulant and resentful, ungrateful and negligent, we show that we do not deserve any status in the house of the Lord; if we are faithful over a few things we shall be made ruler over many things. Let us prove our fitness for the highest office by doing well the things which pertain to the lowest.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on 1 Chronicles 23". Parker's The People's Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany