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Review and Prospect
Is it not remarkable that good causes and good men should meet with constant opposition? We are now perusing the history of a journey which was undertaken by divine direction, and again and again almost on every page we come upon the fact that the journey was from end to end bitterly opposed. Probably, if the people had started on a pilgrimage at their own suggestion, they could hardly have encountered severer hostility. We may even go further and say Had the people gone out in direct opposition to the will of God, they could scarcely have been resisted with more obstinate animosity. Looking at the intensity of the hatred which the progress of the Israelites excited, one might say, not without plausible reasoning, that they had wholly mistaken the course which they ought to have pursued; it would be simply impossible to believe that God could lead any people into so many snares, antagonisms, battles, and cruel repulsions. The one part of the story thus appears to contradict the other. If we read the divine direction, we come to one conclusion; if we turn our attention almost wholly to social and national opposition, we come to a totally different opinion and judgment. What then is to be done? We must revert to facts which are known to ourselves and are vividly and completed attested by this day's bitter experience. Were this matter of ancient history, we might, in a happier condition of civilisation and in a happier mood of mind, dispute the theory that Israel travelled under divine direction and guidance; but this very thing is done today in our country, in all countries, in our own heart and life. Never man, surely, went to church without some enemy in the form of temptation, suggestion, or welcome in other directions, seeking to prevent his accomplishing the sacred purpose. Where is the good cause against which some modern Og king of some modern Bashan, does not arise? The argument can be set in so many angles and helped by so many illustrations known to ourselves that we need not have any doubt about ancient history. Does no enemy arise against honesty? Does cleanliness, the simplest of the virtues, pursue an uninterrupted way men, cities, and nations welcoming her and blessing her with thankfulness? Is the cause of temperance an easy, broad, and sunny road on which to travel, and having simply to show a radiant face, and lift up a ringing and pure voice to make converts by the thousand and the million? Name a good purpose which ever arose in your heart that was not instantly resisted by some force, sometimes without a name and without definite measure, sometimes almost a shadow, now and then apparently a mere superstition; still there was the hostile force. There need be no marvel then that precisely this fortune befell the progress of the Christian kingdom even when that kingdom was led visibly by the very Christ of God in the days of his flesh. He was "despised and rejected of men;" men sent after him the message, We will not have thee to reign over us. "He came unto his own, and his own received him not." At every heart he stands in a beggar's attitude and adopts a suppliant's tone. This is mysterious; this is bewildering; now and again it throws the heart into dejection akin to despair. The other course would have seemed so much more probable that men should have seen Christ and instantly bowed down before him and hailed him Redeemer King. But this has not been the history of education, of the higher thought of man, even of science itself, certainly not of the broader and nobler truths, certainly not of the purpose of Christ. He who would be good must fight a battle: he who would pray well must first resist the devil. This makes life very hard: the burden is sometimes too heavy; but the voice of history so concurs with the testimony of conscience and the whole is so corroborated by the spirit of prophecy that we must accept the discipline, and await with what patience God himself can work within us the issue of the tragic miracle.
Is there no compensatory consideration or circumstance? The Lord himself must speak very distinctly in some conditions and relations of life. There must be no third party; the interview must be a face to face communion with God. There are times in life when we could not bear even a friend's voice, or a pastor's prayer, when we must verily with the heart's eyes see the very God of heaven. How sweetly the divine voice mingles with the human story! How wondrously the low places are lifted up, and the rough places are made plain, and the mountains are brought low by words full of divine fire and love! The verses seem to alternate now darkness, now light; now dejection, now hope; now the moan of the weary leader who longs to unyoke himself and take rest, now the inspiring voice of God a new promise, or an old promise set in new terms the old, old diamond in a new and beauteous setting. The words with which the second verse opens are familiar words, but their familiarity does not destroy their preciousness. "And the Lord said unto me." That is how the balance is adjusted. In the one verse, Og king of Bashan; in the next verse Jehovah. Thus the story of our life alternates now an enemy, now a friend; now the fight is going to be too severe for us and we shall certainly fall, and now the Lord of hosts is in the van, and kings are burned by his presence as stubble is burned by the fire. What was the divine message? It was a message adapted to the sensitiveness of the circumstances: "Fear him not: for I will deliver him, and all his people, and his land, into thy hand." Get rid of fear, and you increase power. "The fear of man bringeth a snare." He who is touched by the cold shadow of fear is not himself in all the richness of his quality, in all the amplitude of his strength. This is a miracle which can be wrought only by divine energy. The demon of fear cometh not forth but at the Master's own bidding. Disciples may cheer one another, for a moment alleviate the acuteness of the distress, and for a period may suggest thoughts which lift up the mind below the level of darkness; but the demon of fear the demon that makes a coward of a man can only be expelled by the voice of God, at the very bidding of Omnipotence. This should give us comfort. Many men suffer from a spirit of fear who imagine they are suffering from a spirit of doubt, amounting almost to impiety and even blasphemy. Men are thus cruel with themselves because they do not distinguish between things that differ. All men are not equally valorous. We are not equal in intellectual energy and determination. Some men are in bondage all their lifetime through fear not always of death, but of all kinds of difficulty; the very air is full of spectres; every wind that blows brings with it a moan of despair rather than sounds a trumpet of hope. God must judge all men herein. Let us, at all events, try to take the upper and better view, and not allow the enemy to cheat us out of our prayer by the suggestion that we have lost the altar and forgotten the all-prevailing Name. This is Christ's word. "Fear not" is taken from the Old Testament into the New: "Fear not them which kill the body;" "Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom;" "Fear God." We must pray for the fearless spirit. Observe, this is a purely spiritual inspiration. Israel is not equipped with a new set of armour, as of bows or arrows, or swords or instruments of steel, or, modernising the incident, with all that we now call weapons of war. What ally is this who comes to the head? It is God himself. A promise is a victory. A seized and applied comfort of heaven lifts mean men into heroic proportions. How valiant would the Church be could she but realise and claim with thankfulness and energy the exceeding great and precious promises of God! "The weapons of our warfare are not carnal," the armour is spiritual; we live by thought, we fight by inspiration, we suffer in the spirit of hope; and, glorified by the indwelling presence of God, no king that ever came out against us can effectively lift his hand to smite the Christian banner. He who is strong in spirit is strong all through and through his nature; he who is only muscularly strong will fail in the fight. The brave heart, the soul alive with God that will always conquer. Let us live and move and have our being in God.
What was the consequence? We read, the story in the fourth verse: "And we took all his cities at that time, there was not a city which we took not from them, threescore cities, all the region of Argob, the kingdom of Og in Bashan." Opposition to God always means loss. No man can fight God, and retire truly and lastingly rich. He can have a thief's store; he can pillow his head upon heaps of gold; but he will find it hard lying, and in the night-time his pillow may be stolen. Whoso opposes God comes to ruin in this way. There is no bad man who is successful. Do not let us interpret the word "successful" narrowly and partially, as if it were a term descriptive of mere appearances or momentary relationships. In the partial acceptation of the term the proposition will not bear examination; but in discussing great spiritual realities we must take in the full view; and, fixing the attention upon that view, the proposition remains an indestructible truth that no bad man is really prosperous. He has no comfort. He eats like a glutton, but he has no true enjoyment; out of his bread he draws no poetry, no thought, no fire; it is lost upon him, for he is an evil eater In his apparent wealth he is miserably poor. He has more anxiety than the penniless man. We suppose that anxiety is the portion of poverty; anxiety, in a still larger measure, is the portion of wealth, and especially of ill-gotten wealth money that has a bad history behind it; the men who hold it will presently be coming in, setting down the money, and going out and hanging themselves that they may hasten after their elder brother Iscariot. If it could be proved that a man can oppose God and be truly happy, the whole Christian kingdom would be destroyed by that proof. The word of the Lord, as written in the Book, is against the possibility. If a man, therefore, can rise, whose word can be taken, who is of sufficient standing and station in society to have his word accepted, who can say, I have broken all the commandments, I have defied the Spirit of the Cross, I have denounced the God of the Bible; and lived a bad man's life, yet I have purest enjoyment, a sense of sanctity greater than could be boasted by Christ and his Apostles; if a man could bear that testimony, we should have brought into visible conflict the God of heaven and the spirit of earth. But, whilst we are waiting for that witness, we can call up an army, ten thousand times ten thousand strong, to testify that "the way of transgressors is hard" that there is no peace to the wicked; that the mind of the wicked is like a troubled sea. The testimony upon that side is complete and invincible.
But what became of Og, the king of Bashan? We read in the eleventh verse, "Behold, his bedstead was a bedstead of iron; is it not in Rabbath of the children of Ammon? nine cubits was the length thereof, and four cubits the breadth of it, after the cubit of a man." What an ending! How appropriate! How bitter the satire! Og king of Bashan came out to fight the people of God; a few verses are written in which battles are fought and cities taken, and at the end the bedstead of Og is nearly all that remains of the mighty king of Bashan! This is worthless fame; this is the renown that is pitiable. But there is no other renown for wicked men: they will leave a name in history, but a name the children will laugh at; they will leave behind them a memorial, but the memorial itself shall be an abiding sarcasm. The Lord turneth the counsel of the wicked upside down; the Lord will laugh at the wicked man and have all his devices in derision. His bedstead will be remembered when he himself is forgotten; he will be spoken of in the bulk and not in the quality; he will be measured like a log; he will be forgotten like an evil dream. The righteous shall be had in everlasting remembrance. Who would be wicked? Who would oppose God? Who would not rather coalesce with the heavens, and pray that the Spirit of God would work in the human heart the miracle of reconciliation with things eternal and celestial?
Now Moses has a desire. In the whole course of the Pentateuch he only spoke twice on his own account in the matter of desire, and in both instances he was refused. Moses said, first, "Shew me thy glory;" and God said, No: no man could see my glory and live: it would blind him and strike him dead; but I will show thee my goodness. Now, towards the end, Moses says, "And I besought the Lord at that time, saying,... I pray thee, let me go over, and see the good land that is beyond Jordan, that goodly mountain, and Lebanon" ( Deu 3:23-25 ). And the Lord said, No. This seems to be cruel. It occurs in our own life. We are sometimes so near, and, behold, the scene dissolves like a mirage vanishes at our approach like a thing that mocks us. The child comes to the twenty-first year, but never completes his majority; the dream is just going to come true, when some rude wind blows it absolutely away; the blossom is beautiful, the fruit is forming, and whilst we are looking on the east wind comes and blights the tree; now and again, in prayer, we are just going to lay both hands upon the answer and bring it back with us like a reaper returning with a sheaf from the harvest field, and before we can touch it we who were mighty in prayer become weak in unbelief; we see so many things come towards maturity which never ripen into the bloom of perfect life. Then what became of Moses? Here is an unanswered prayer. Blessed be God for many prayers that have never been answered! What if at the end we have to thank God more for the prayers he did not hear than for the supplications to which he replied? Let us picture Moses now as an old man: let us, in imagination, see his white hair, his wrinkled face, the fire of his eyes diminishing nearly extinct; let us for a moment imagine a child's emotion swelling his old breast as he says, " Let me go over, and see the good land;" and then imagine him doubling his age and falling into decrepitude as in a moment when the forbidding word falls from the lips of God. That is no romance: it is today's distressing story. But that is not the end. Moses wanted to see the lower Canaan what if he saw the higher? Moses uttered a little prayer what if God denied a reply so small as the intercession and took him up without prayer into the region of eternal praise? The prophets were cut off without seeing the culmination or fruition of their predictions; but what heavens blazed upon their opened eyes in the other and better world what sage may hear, what poet imagine? There we stand. God denies only that which is little, earthly and mean, or miscalculated, or undesirable. He surprises us by the vastness of his answers. He "is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think." Into that sanctuary of promise our souls would fly as into a refuge inviolable. You prayed for the child's life, and the child died what if it were but transplanted from cold climes to the summer air of heaven? You prayed for a certain kind of prosperity, and it was denied what if your soul was enriched with a nobler largess a greater proof of favour divine? Do not interrupt God, or mischievously and narrowly interpret his promise. It is written upon the record, it was spoken by the voice of Christ that God will always do some better thing for us than we have ventured to desire. If the little prayer is denied, it is that God may make room for a larger blessing yea, for the new Jerusalem itself.
"Handfuls of Purpose"
For All Gleaners
"Thou hast begun to skew thy servant thy greatness." Deu 3:24
This is what is always happening.
The broadest revelation is but a beginning of the disclosure of divine riches. Even if there be no more seed given, the possibilities of growth and development are infinite. At the last we shall feel that we have but begun to see the greatness of God. This is the glory of the Bible: no man can read it through with the feeling that he has exhausted its whole meaning. The Bible grows by being read. Without doing any violence to words or to historical forms it is felt that again and again new meanings surprise the soul like unexpected light. The same rule holds good with regard to providence, or the daily ministry of life. There comes a day in every man's history when he sees the beginning of the greatness of God in the outlining and direction of his own life. Looking back to his fancy, his weakness, his poverty, his friendlessness it may be, he is surprised to find how out of the very dust of the earth God has made a man. It is a singular testimony but universal in the Christian Church that God is never regarded as a dwindling quantity or as a contracting revelation; he is always represented as surprising students, believers, worshippers, with new resources. He is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think. When man has overtaken God he will himself be God. It is of the very essence of God that he should be unsearchable and his wisdom past finding out. This should be an encouragement to us in our spiritual education. Progress should be the law and the motto of every process of spiritual inquiry. There is always some unattained height, some unmeasured orb, some un-traversed ocean. "I count not myself to have apprehended." Grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. All human education is but a series of beginnings. Finality in religious progress is impossible, and where it is supposed to have been attained the supposition risks the destiny of the soul.
"Handfuls of Purpose"
For All Gleaners
"Behold... not go." Deu 3:27
This was what was to occur in the case of Moses. He was to have a sight of the promised land, but he was not to go into it. This was no exceptional act on the part of God; on the contrary it is what he is always doing as the ages move onwards. There are men who see what they will never personally enjoy; and however much their impatience may wish to turn sight into still closer uses, they are filled with ecstatic joy even by the vision of the good things which are yet to come. In this way we should live in one another and for one another. Moses could return from the mountain and say that he had seen the good land; even that message would be a comfort to those who were weary, and in whom wonder was fast turning into doubt. There must always be men in a progressive age who see further than others. As some see the time when men shall learn war no more. Others see the time when there will be no need for any man to say to his brother, "Know the Lord," for all shall know him from the least unto the greatest. This method of divine providence is educational, inasmuch as it shows that not to go does not prevent the enjoyment of the soul in the prospect of realised promises. It is something to submit gracefully to a subordination of the individual, and to accept gladly benefits which are intended for the whole commonwealth. There is no tone of impatience in the statement of Moses when he hears the Lord's proposition. We must accept our place whether we are seers or literal travellers. It is no small pleasure to see even in dream or in assured hope the beautiful summer which is yet to spread its glories over the whole land. The enjoyment is, indeed, intensely spiritual, but not, for that reason, the less real. Moses may have had a fuller realisation of the promised land than the children of Israel; they had to endure the battle and the fatigue, and to win their way inch by inch: Moses saw the land, and knew that every foot of it would be given to the people whom he had led. Aged Christians must take this standpoint. Exhausted ministers must content themselves with the view that is before them, and leave others to secure that view in all its detail and literal value. The oldest man should have the keenest sight into the beautiful future. He uses his old age mischievously who uses it as a period of languor or sleep: the oldest man should have the most cheerful voice in the church.
"Handfuls of Purpose"
For All Gleaners
"So we abode in the valley." Deu 3:29
Places have moral interest. Sometimes the valley is in the highland, and is therefore only a valley relatively: as compared with valleys far away down it may actually be a very high mountain. The lesson we have to learn is to abide in the place assigned by Providence. There is a subtle tone of submission and patience in the text. There is no complaining as to the lot. The valley is accepted as a sanctuary. It was a valley of God's making, and therefore was to be regarded as a place on which he had expended special care. In the valley we may have shelter. In the valley we may have harvests. In the valley we may have security. It is the business of the Christian to discover the advantages of his position rather than to moan over its disadvantages. There is another valley in which we shall not abide, but shall pass through it under the comfort of the rod and the staff of the divine Shepherd. Some persons seem never to get out of the valley; they literally abide in it as men abide in a home. Who are we that we should chide the Providence which has made such appointments? How do we know how much the dwellers in the valley are saved from? Who can tell what compensations fall to their lot? The text is not supposed to teach the kind of contentment which it is almost impossible to distinguish from indifference. Such contentment is no virtue. The true contentment is that which accepts the hard lot without repining, knowing that God has some good purpose in its appointment, and assured that even the hardest position may be turned to noble uses. When our superiors attempt to keep us in the valley we may well inquire as to their authority: when God means us to abide in the valley we may be sure that he will not forsake us in our lowest estate.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 3". Parker's The People's Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26